Ukrainian forces were making a major effort to end months of a battlefield stalemate and punch through Russian defensive lines in southeast Ukraine for a second day, with Russian officials saying that Moscow’s forces have foiled at least one assault.
Kyiv authorities said their forces were indeed increasing offensive operations and making gains, but suggested some of the Russian announcements were misinformation as speculation grows about a widely anticipated counteroffensive after more than 15 months of war.
Vladimir Rogov, an official in the Russia-backed administration of Ukraine’s partly occupied Zaporizhzhia province, said fighting resumed on its border with the eastern Donetsk province on Monday after Russian defenses beat back a Ukrainian advance the previous day.
“The enemy threw an even bigger force into the attack than yesterday (Sunday),” and the new attempt to break through the front line was “more large-scale and organized,” Rogov said, adding: “A battle is underway.”
Rogov interpreted the Ukrainian military movements as part of an effort to reach the Sea of Azov coast and sever the land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014. Analysts have long viewed that strategy as likely because it would cut the Russian forces in two and severely strain supplies to Crimea, which has served as a key Russian military hub in the war that started Feb. 24, 2022.
Rogov’s comments came after Moscow also said that its forces thwarted large Ukrainian attacks in Donetsk province, near its border with the Zaporizhzhia province.
Reacting to Russia’s declarations that it repelled Ukrainian offensives, a US official said on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters that “We have no reason to believe any Russian action has had any spoiling effect on pending or ongoing Ukraine operations.”
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said the Ukrainian military has scored gains.
“Despite fierce resistance and attempts of the enemy to hold the occupied lines and positions, our units moved forward in several directions during the fighting,” she said.
Malyar drew no distinctions between phases of the war, insisting that Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s invasion “contains everything, including counter-offensive actions.” She acknowledged that Kyiv’s forces “in some areas … are shifting to offensive operations.”
Retired British General Richard Barrons, co-chair of the UK-based strategic consulting firm Universal Defence & Security Solutions, said Ukraine was “clearly in the preliminary phase” of its counteroffensive.
“The focus will be on the tanks and artillery, and infantry — that’s the most visible tip of the spear,” he told The Associated Press, noting that the counteroffensive will also include politics, diplomacy, information and cyber warfare.
Ukraine often waits until the completion of its military operations to confirm its actions.