The Russian military has intensified its operations and troop movements around key areas in Eastern Ukraine, as the US warns of an impending surge in fighting. Analytical groups have determined that the preparations put in place by the Kremlin, including the training and mobilization of hundreds of thousands of troops, appear to be the prelude to a major offensive.
The Institute for the Study of War, which has been closely monitoring the Russian military movements since the 2014 invasion, believes that the pace of Moscow’s operations in western Luhansk has accelerated in the past week. Open-source reporting of new skirmishes along the front line suggests that the Russian forces are making marginal advances in the region, particularly near the city of Kharkiv.
It seems that Russia is now committing more forces that were held in reserve since the controversial military draft ordered by President Vladimir Putin last fall. The commitment of major elements of at least three Russian divisions to offensive operations indicates that the Russian offensive has already begun, even if Ukrainian forces are preventing Russian forces from securing significant gains.
The Russian offensive has not yet reached its full tempo and Ukrainian forces have a limited window to defend against the Russian attempts to recapture the provinces. Meanwhile, Russian officials and state media have ramped up their assessments of progress in Luhansk and the neighboring region. Putin himself has issued a statement claiming that the four provinces in Ukraine, including Luhansk, will come back under the Kremlin’s authority “the sooner the better.”
Reports have emerged that 30 settlements in Luhansk, Donetsk and Kharkiv came under intense fire on Wednesday, with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claiming that the operations in the area are “developing successfully.” Western analysts believe that the new offensive will be more focused and different from the failed initial invasion of 2014. Moscow is likely to prioritize a major advance aimed at seizing Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts between late February and mid-March.
The Biden administration has accelerated its support for Ukraine and has provided sophisticated tanks, clearing the way for other European and NATO allies to do the same. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently visited European capitals to petition for more supplies for his forces, particularly fighter jets. The Pentagon considers the preparations for the offensive a very important focus and the US and its allies are doing everything they can to support Ukraine on the battlefield going into spring.
With warmer weather in the Donbas forecasted, snows will melt and the ground will soften, making the swift movement of troops and heavy vehicles near impossible. Both sides will likely avoid scheduling major offensives during such times, but political or operational opportunities can override such concerns, as demonstrated by Russia’s invasion in late-February 2022.