Russian offensive expected to include Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia regions -Ukraine security chief
By Dan Peleschuk and Max Hunder
KYIV (Reuters) - Ukraine's national security chief said on Tuesday Kyiv expects Russia to include the northeastern Kharkiv or southern Zaporizhzhia regions as targets of an anticipated offensive aimed at reclaiming the initiative in its year-old invasion.
Oleksiy Danilov, head of the National Security and Defence Council, said Russian forces were probing Kyiv's defences in partially Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia, part of a Moscow-controlled land bridge between eastern Ukraine and Crimea on the southern Black Sea coast.
In an interview with Reuters, he also said Kyiv "doesn't exclude" a new Russian push in the Kharkiv region, from which Moscow's forces were repelled by a lightning Ukrainian counter-offensive last summer.
"Attempts at an offensive in either the Kharkiv or Zaporizhzhia direction will of course be made," he said, speaking in his office in the capital, Kyiv. "How successful they'll be will depend on us."
Top Ukrainian officials including President Volodymyr Zelenskiy have said Moscow will attempt to mount another major offensive with freshly mobilised troops in the coming weeks.
Danilov echoed earlier predictions by Kyiv that Russia still wants to capture all of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the east that Moscow claimed as its own territory last year in referendums dismissed by Kyiv and the West as a sham.
Fighting has raged particularly around the Ukrainian government-held city of Bakhmut in Donetsk province. Russian forces have been trying to encircle and capture Bakhmut for weeks at a steep cost.
Danilov said Kyiv expected Russia to seek to achieve demonstrable results around the one-year anniversary of its full-scale invasion on Feb. 24.
"They need to have something to show before their people, and have a major desire to do something big, as they see it, by this date."
Earlier, Ukrainian officials said Russian forces could try to attack from Moscow's ally Belarus to the northwest. But Danilov said it was "doubtful they will be able to come from that direction" because "there are clearly not enough forces there".
MORE AMMO, STRIKES ON RUSSIA
Ukraine is also planning a spring offensive while awaiting delivery of promised Western battle tanks and longer-range missiles, including a new rocket system from the United States that would double the strike range of Ukrainian forces.
But Danilov said heavy armour and artillery shells, particularly 155mm calibre, are among Kyiv's immediate needs as it faces a potential new onslaught of Russian heavy firepower.
"Very many questions depend on the amount of supplies of shells," he said. "Because if you have weapons, but nothing to fire, then this is a challenge."
Moscow's forces have also unleashed regular waves of air strikes in recent months using missiles and drones to target critical Ukrainian infrastructure and other civilian targets.
Danilov said Ukraine would be justified in striking targets inside Russia, though Kyiv officials have not publicly admitted to attacking beyond the Ukrainian border.
"Let's say there is a given point in Russia where we know for sure a device is firing missiles at our children," he said. "Do we have to calmly watch this point and close our eyes - or to destroy it if we have the capacity?" he said.
"If there is a facility which is causing destruction to our country..., we have to destroy these facilities. This is war."
Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Sunday Ukraine would use longer-range weapons pledged by the United States to hit Russian units only in occupied Ukrainian territory.
(Reporting by Dan Peleschuk and Max Hunder; Writing by Dan Peleschuk; Editing by Mark Heinrich)