Ukraine’s defense minister has stated that Russia is planning a major new offensive, which could begin as soon as February 24.
According to Oleksii Reznikov, Moscow has amassed thousands of troops and may “try something” to commemorate the first anniversary of the invasion last year.
The attack would also coincide with Russia’s Defender of the Fatherland Day on February 23, which honors the army.
Mr Reznikov stated that Moscow had mobilized approximately 500,000 troops for the offensive.
In September, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a general mobilisation of some 300,000 conscripted troops, which he said was necessary to ensure the country’s “territorial integrity”.
However, Mr Reznikov suggested that the true number of people recruited and deployed to Ukraine could be much higher.
“Officially, they announced 300,000 troops, but when we see the troops at the borders, our estimates are much higher,” he told the French BFM network. This figure cannot be independently verified by the BBC.
Despite heavy fighting in the eastern Donbas region, the war has come to a halt in recent months, with Ukraine retaking the southern city of Kherson.
With the exception of Russia’s seizure of Soledar, neither side has made significant territorial advances.
However, ahead of the rumored Russian advance, Ukraine’s commanders will seek to “stabilize the front and prepare for a counter-offensive,” according to Mr Reznikov.
“I believe that 2023 will be the year of military victory,” he said, adding that Ukraine’s forces “cannot lose the initiative” they have gained in recent months.
The defence minister was in France to strike a deal to purchase additional MG-200 air defence radars, which he said would “significantly increase the capacity of the armed forces to detect air targets, including winged and ballistic missiles, and drones of various types”.
Mr Reznikov’s remarks come as Ukrainian intelligence claims that President Putin has directed his forces to seize the Donbas by the end of the spring.
However, Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned on Monday that there were no indications that Mr Putin had limited his military objectives to seizing eastern Ukraine.
“They are actively acquiring new weapons, more ammunition, ramping up their own production, but also acquiring more weapons from other authoritarian states such as Iran and North Korea,” Mr Stoltenberg said.
“Most importantly, we have seen no indication that President Putin has changed his overall goal of this invasion, which is to control a neighbor, Ukraine. So, as long as this is the case, we must be prepared to be patient.”
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said that heavy fighting was still going on in the Donbas region, where Russian forces and Wagner Group mercenaries are attempting to take Bakhmut.
“Russian troops are actively attempting to reach the borders of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” she wrote on Telegram. “Our soldiers protect every centimetre of Ukrainian territory,” she said.