Ukrainian defence chiefs predicted Russia will launch a new offensive early next year that could include a second attempt to take the capital Kyiv, as Western allies stepped up their support with additional funding and military training.
Moscow’s new offensive could happen as soon as January, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, General Valery Zaluzhniy and General Oleksandr Syrskiy were quoted as saying in interviews with The Economist magazine on Thursday.
The push could be launched from the eastern Donbas area, the south or neighbouring Belarus, and could include another ground assault on Kyiv, which Moscow failed to capture early in the invasion, the officials said.
“The Russians are preparing some 200,000 fresh troops. I have no doubt they will have another go at Kyiv,” Zaluzhniy was quoted as saying.
Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said in remarks published in The Guardian on Thursday that evidence was mounting that Russia planned a broad new offensive.
He speculated this could occur in February when half of the 300,000 troops conscripted by Russia in October to support the war would complete training.
“The second part of the mobilisation, 150,000 approximately … do a minimum of three months to prepare. It means they are trying to start the next wave of the offensive probably in February, like last year. That’s their plan,” Reznikov told The Guardian.
Both sides have ruled out a Christmas truce and there are currently no talks aimed at ending the conflict, Europe’s largest since World War Two.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed, millions more displaced and cities reduced to rubble since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 in a “special military operation,” saying it needed to protect Russian speakers from Ukrainian nationalists. Ukraine and its allies call it an unprovoked war of aggression.
With Russia’s invasion in its 10th month, European Union leaders agreed on Thursday to provide 18 billion euros in financing to Ukraine next year and hit Moscow with a ninth package of sanctions. The measures designate nearly 200 more people and bar investment in Russia’s mining industry, among other steps.
“Our joint determination to support Ukraine politically, financially, militarily and in the humanitarian area for as long as necessary remains unbroken,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said after talks among the 27 national EU leaders in Brussels.
In Washington, the U.S. military announced it will expand training in Germany of Ukrainian military personnel. Starting in January, 500 troops a month will be trained, building on more than 15,000 Ukrainians trained by the United States and its allies since April.
The programme is on top of those to teach Ukrainians to operate billions of dollars worth of specialised Western military equipment that the United States and its NATO allies have provided.
The U.S. Senate passed a bill for a record $858 billion defence budget next year, authorising $45 billion more than proposed by President Joe Biden. The bill, which Biden is expected to quickly sign into law, provides Ukraine at least $800 million in additional security assistance in 2023.
Ukraine has repeatedly urged its allies to send more air defences to counter Russian missile bombardment including against its energy infrastructure.
Russia has fired barrages of missiles on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure since October, disrupting power supplies and leaving people without heating in freezing winter conditions.
Russian shelling killed two people in the centre of Kherson, the southern city liberated by Ukraine last month, said Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the president’s office on Thursday. The shelling also knocked out the city’s electricity, officials said.
In his nightly video address, Zelenskiy said Russian forces had shelled Kherson more than 16 times on Thursday alone and were continuing what he called a brutal large-scale offensive in the eastern Donbas region.
Ukraine’s military General Staff said Russia’s main focus remained on the eastern cities of Bakhmut and Avdiivka, but that it was also trying to get a stronger foothold in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia.
Reuters was unable to immediately verify the battlefield accounts.
Earlier this week, Reuters reported that the United States is finalising plans to offer Ukraine the Patriot missile defence system – one of the most advanced systems, and one which could require months of training.
The Kremlin said the United States was getting “deeper and deeper into the conflict” and that Patriot systems would be legitimate targets. Russia’s foreign ministry said on Thursday this applied to all weapons supplied by the West.