Russia pouring troops into Eastern Ukraine ahead of new offensive

Ukrainian artillery teams fire Pions toward Russian positions in Bakhmut, Eastern Ukraine - Madeleine Kelly/SOPA Images/Shutterstock
Ukrainian artillery teams fire Pions toward Russian positions in Bakhmut, Eastern Ukraine - Madeleine Kelly/SOPA Images/Shutterstock

Listen to The Telegraph's team of experts analyse the latest Russian movements in today's episode of "Ukraine: The Latest". 

Russia is pouring reinforcements into Eastern Ukraine ahead of a new offensive that could begin next week, reports suggest - but its plans are "unrealistic" as it doesn't have enough munitions or men to achieve a breakthrough, according to the UK Ministry of Defence.

Serhiy Haidai, the Ukrainian governor of Luhansk, said Russia is assembling troops and equipment in the area in preparation for an attempted offensive, echoing observations from analysts in recent days.

"We are seeing more and more [Russian] reserves being deployed in our direction, we are seeing more equipment being brought in," said Mr Haidai.

"They bring ammunition that is used differently than before - it is not round-the-clock shelling anymore. They are slowly starting to save, getting ready for a full-scale offensive. It will most likely take them 10 days to gather reserves. After Feb. 15 we can expect [this offensive] at any time," he told Ukrainian television.

The Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank, also noted over the weekend that Russia is concentrating troops and military equipment around Western Luhansk and Bakhmut in order to “stage a decisive offensive” along the Eastern front, where there have been relentless battles for months.

However, Russia is not currently in a position to achieve this, with strategists making "unrealistic" plans due to pressure from Russian leadership, according to a UK Ministry of Defence assessment.

In its intelligence update on Tuesday, it noted that Russia has likely "been attempting to re-start major offensive operations in Ukraine since early January. Its operational goal is almost certainly to capture the remaining Ukrainian-held parts of Donetsk Oblast.”

Yet “Russian forces have only managed to gain several hundred metres of territory per week. This is almost certainly because Russia now lacks the munitions and manoeuvre units required for successful offensives."

The ministry added that “Senior commanders likely make plans requiring undermanned, inexperienced units to achieve unrealistic objectives due to political and professional pressure.

“Russian leaders will likely continue to demand sweeping advances. It remains unlikely that Russia can build up the forces needed to substantially affect the outcome of the war within the coming weeks.”

The war is reaching a pivotal point as its first anniversary approaches, with Ukraine no longer making the kind of gains it was achieving in the second half of 2022 and Russia inching forward with hundreds of thousands of mobilised reserve troops.

Movement has been largely stalled in recent weeks, with both sides preparing for new offensives. Ukraine has long anticipated that Russia could launch a major offensive for "symbolic" reasons around the Feb. 24 anniversary of the invasion.

Despite the focus on the Eastern front, Ukraine's Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said over the weekend that he was also watching other risk areas.

"Their [Russia's] dream is to expand the land corridor to Crimea in order to continue supplies. Therefore, of course, the key risks are: the East, the South, and after that the North," where there have been fears that Russia could attempt an offensive via its ally Belarus.

Ukraine itself is believed to be planning a spring offensive as it awaits supplies from the West and is likely to maintain a defensive position until then.