Russian offensive ‘to launch in February’; axe hangs over Ukraine defence minister

Russian offensive ‘to launch in February’; axe hangs over Ukraine defence minister
Ukrainian soldiers fire an anti-aircraft gun at a position near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, on 4 February 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Sergey Shestak)

Ukraine’s government expects Russia’s new offensive to start this month, defence minister Oleksii Reznikov said at a press briefing in Kyiv. The first anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of its neighbour will be on 24 February. Separately, Reznikov addressed reports he might soon be replaced.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz dismissed concerns that Germany’s supply of battle tanks could make his nation an active party to the war with Russia. Western allies also have a “consensus” with Ukraine’s leader that weapons provided to Kyiv will not be used to attack Russian territory, he said.

Russia’s defence ministry claimed, without offering evidence, that Ukraine planned a major “provocation” in Donetsk as a way to extract more promises of military aid from Western allies. Earlier, Russia struck the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv with missiles, damaging a university and residential neighbourhoods.

Key developments

On the ground 

Two Russian S-300 missiles hit the centre of Kharkiv in Ukraine’s northeast on Sunday morning, mayor Ihor Terekhov said on Telegram. Emergency services were still at work; at least five injuries were reported. Ukraine’s Black Sea port city of Odesa and the surrounding area are still struggling with power outages, the energy group DTEK said. Over the past day, Ukrainian troops repelled assaults near nine settlements in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in the east, Ukraine’s General Staff said on Facebook. Civilian targets in the southern Kherson regions were shelled more than 60 times from multiple launch rocket systems, according to the General Staff.

Clarity on defence minister within days, Zelensky aide says

The government in Kyiv will continue its crackdown on graft, as demanded by the public and to retain the trust of foreign donors amid recent corruption scandals, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff said on Sunday.

Defence chief Oleksii Reznikov will “undoubtedly resign” if the president insists on it, said Mykhailo Podolyak. The minister’s fate may be decided within days, he said.

Podolyak said that Reznikov had been an effective negotiator with Ukraine’s foreign partners on key weapon supplies.




Russia claims Ukraine plans ‘provocation’ with hospital strikes

Ukraine is planning a “massive provocation,” striking hospitals and health clinics in Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region, as a way to speed up military donations from allies, Russia’s defence ministry said.

Russia cited unnamed independent sources, without offering evidence. It has regularly forecast provocations by Ukraine during the almost year-old conflict.

Kramatorsk last week was hit by Russian missile strikes that destroyed a dozen residences, a children’s clinic, a school and garages, killing three and injuring at least 17 people. Russia shelled the Kramatorsk railway station in April, killing an estimated 60 people, including children, who were waiting to evacuate by train.

Moscow, Tehran ‘plan drone factory in Russia’

Moscow and Tehran are moving ahead with plans to build a factory in Russia that could make thousands of Iranian-designed drones for the war in Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal reported.

A high-level Iranian delegation flew to Russia in early January to visit the planned site, the newspaper reported, citing officials from “a country aligned with the US”.

Defence minister defers to Zelensky after resignation report

Oleksii Reznikov said it was up to President Volodymyr Zelensky whether he stays or goes, amid reports he would soon be ousted as Ukraine’s defence minister. No post is forever, he said at a press briefing.

The Ukrainian news outlet Ukrainska Pravda, citing government and military sources, reported on Sunday that Reznikov may be replaced soon by Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence agency.

Local media reported that Reznikov may be removed amid probes into food procurement for the military. Reznikov on Sunday said his ministry’s anti-corruption department would have to be “rebooted”.

Reznikov: Continued Bakhmut offensive a ‘political’ question

The question of whether Ukraine’s troops should cede Bakhmut to Russia is “political” and will be decided by Ukraine’s chief commander, said defence minister Oleksii Reznikov. The Donetsk town has been the site of an extended battle.

At a press briefing in Kyiv, Reznikov said that on average, 500 Russian soldiers were being killed or wounded every day in the Bakhmut offensive. The figure can’t be verified. Reznikov didn’t estimate Ukrainian losses.

Reznikov also said that Ukraine would not use long-range weapons pledged by allies including the US to strike targets within Russia.

Reznikov says new Russian offensive may begin this month

Ukraine’s government expects a big new Russian offensive to start this month, defence minister Oleksii Reznikov said at a press briefing in Kyiv. The first anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of its neighbour will be on 24 February.

Reznikov said the main directions of Russia’s attack were likely to be from the east and south. He discounted the possibility of an invasion from the north, saying Ukraine didn’t see signs of Russia amassing a large enough strike force there.

Ukraine was amassing reserves ahead of Russia’s expected offensive, he said.

Former Israeli PM says Putin promised not to kill Zelensky

Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said President Vladimir Putin promised not to kill Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky when the pair met in Moscow weeks into Russia’s invasion.

Bennett, who left office in June, made the comments on a podcast broadcast on Sunday. He briefly emerged as a potential intermediary in the conflict after making a trip to Moscow in March.

“I asked ‘what’s with this? Are you planning to kill Zelensky?’ He said ‘I won’t kill Zelensky,’” Bennett said.

Ukraine concerned about sluggish tank deliveries

Deputy Foreign Minister Andriy Melnyk urged European states with Leopard 2 tanks to contribute to the tank coalition without delay. In an interview with Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Melnyk warned that “every day counts,” referring to the threat of new Russian offensives.

Melnyk, who until October was Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, this weekend also suggested allies should provide naval vessels, including submarines.

Germany, which has decided to supply the German-made main battle tanks, is waiting for concrete offers from several states that promised such deliveries. Finland and the Netherlands, for instance, haven’t yet made concrete offers, Sueddeutsche reported.




Ukraine specialists training on anti-ballistic missile defence

A team of Ukrainian military specialists is headed abroad for training on SAMP/T-Mamba air defence systems provided by the governments of France and Italy, the country’s air force commander said.

The service members will return in the spring with the systems, Mykola Oleshchuk said. The SAMP/T-Mamba systems guard against tactical ballistic missiles.

Bakhmut ‘increasingly isolated’ by Russian advances, UK says

Kremlin forces have continued to make small advances in their attempt to encircle Bakhmut in Donetsk, leaving the town increasingly isolated, the UK defence ministry said.

The M03 and the H32 — the two main roads into the city for Ukrainian defenders — are now both likely to be threatened by direct fire following the Russian advances, the UK ministry said. Earlier, Wagner paramilitary forces were highly likely to have seized a subordinate route which linked Bakhmut to the town of Siversk.

Germany’s Scholz Says ‘joint approach’ in Ukraine will prevent escalation

Chancellor Olaf Scholz has rejected concerns that war with Russia was bound to escalate after Germany’s move to donate Leopard battle tanks to Kyiv.

In an interview with the Bild on Sonntag tabloid he said, “We have carefully weighed every arms shipment [to Ukraine], coordinated them closely with our allies, first and foremost with the United States.

“This joint approach prevents an escalation of the war,” Scholz told Bild.

Scholz said there was a “consensus” involving Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that weapons provided by Western allies would not be used to strike Russian territory. DM


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