Russian officials said their forces thwarted large Ukrainian attacks in two provinces of Ukraine illegally annexed by Moscow. Ukraine did not confirm the attacks, making it unclear whether they marked the start of an anticipated counteroffensive.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a rare early morning video released Monday that its forces pushed back a “large scale” assault Sunday at five points in southern Ukraine’s Donetsk province, one of four regions that President Vladimir Putin claimed as Russian territory last fall but is only partially controlled by Moscow.
“The enemy’s goal was to break through our defenses in the most vulnerable, in its opinion, sector of the front,” Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said. “The enemy did not achieve its tasks. It had no success.”
Konashenkov said 250 Ukrainian personnel were killed, and 16 Ukrainian tanks, three infantry fighting vehicles and 21 armored combat vehicles were destroyed.
Vladimir Rogov, a Moscow-installed official in southeast Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia province. said Sunday that Kyiv’s forces also attempted to breach Russian defenses there but were repelled after advancing 400 meters (less than a quarter-mile) into Russian-occupied territory.
Active hostilities resumed early Monday, Rogov said, adding that “the enemy threw an even bigger force into the attack than yesterday.” The new attempt to break through the front line was “more large-scale and organized,” he said, adding: “A battle is underway.”
Ukrainian officials did not confirm the attacks. The Center for Strategic Communications of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said on Telegram that Russian forces were “stepping up their information and psychological operations.”
“In order to demoralize Ukrainians and mislead the community (including their own population), Russian propagandists will spread false information about the counteroffensive, its directions and the losses of the Ukrainian army. Even if there is no counteroffensive,” a statement on Telegram read.
Ukraine often waits until the completion of its military operations to confirm its actions, imposing news blackouts in the interim. The Russian Defense Ministry said the alleged Donetsk attack started Sunday morning, and it was unclear why it waited until Monday to announce it.
For months, Ukrainian officials have spoken of plans to launch a spring counteroffensive to reclaim territory Russia has occupied since invading the country on Feb. 24, 2022, as well as the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized in 2014.
But they’ve given confusing signals about whether preliminary, limited attacks to weaken Russian forces and military facilities would mark the start of the campaign, or only a full-fledged simultaneous assault across the entire 1,100-kilometer (684-mile) front line.
At least two factors have been at play in the timing: the improvement of ground conditions for troop and equipment movement after the winter, and the deployment of more advanced Western weapons and training of Ukrainian troops to use them.
The Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said Ukraine used six mechanized and two tank battalions in the attack. The ministry released a video claiming to show destruction of some of the equipment in a field.
In a rare specific mention of the presence of Russia’s top military leaders in battlefield operations, Konashenkov said the chief of the general staff of the Russian armed forces, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, “was at one of the forward command posts.”
Announcing Gerasimov’s direct involvement could be a response to criticism by some Russian military bloggers and by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russian mercenary group Wagner, that Russia’s military brass hasn’t been visible enough at the front or taken sufficient control or responsibility for their country’s military operations in Ukraine.
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