The last days are excessively reminiscent of those experienced in January and February 2022, which is not a good sign at all. The same confusion, the same alert messages and the same feeling that at any moment something horrible can happen. The difference with respect to last year is that now it is easy to put a date on our fears: the anniversary temptation it is powerful and practically everyone assumes that February 24 will be the day the new Russian offensive will begin.
We have been talking about this offensive since November, when both the Zelenski government and the US chief of staff, General Milley, agreed to warn of a Russian attack by late winter/early spring 2023. It would depend on the weather conditions: if the winter was harsh and freezing, the attack would be easier. If, on the contrary, it was calm and rainier, generating more mud, the attack would have to wait. The images of Russian tanks stranded in the middle of nowhere unable to move forward or back are still very present in our memories of that 2022 invasion.
The issue is to clarify where the shots are going to come from. Initially, there was a certain consensus that something similar to last year would be attempted, that is, an attack from various positions with kyiv as one of the main targets, even contemplating the possibility of attacking Lviv from Belarus. Those were the days of constant meetings between Lukashenko and Putin and the latter’s requests that Belarus will enter the conflict with its own troops. The movements and military exercises on the border were constant during those days, inviting us to think about the need to protect kyiv as it was not protected at the time due to an excess of confidence.
[Nueva ofensiva rusa sobre Vuhledar: resiste después de 300 días de asedio, más que Stalingrado en 1942]
However, as the days have passed, Ukrainian intelligence seems to have changed its mind. If in December 2022, Valeriy Zaluzhny, head of the Ukrainian army, stated in The Economist their conviction that Russia was going to go for the capital to decapitate the resistance as soon as possible, now the high command seems to be in favor of a direct attack in the east, to once and for all take the Lugansk and Donetsk regions In its whole.
too many uncertainties
The disturbing thing about this shift in focus is that US intelligence has yet to rule on it. In 2022, they were right when they predicted a full-scale attack intent on taking over the entire country. In kyiv, they were convinced that such an attack would focus on Donbas, as now. There is talk of a mobilization of 500,000 men, fruit of the last levy plus forced recruits. While it is true that 500,000 men seem too few to attack an invasion attempt from the north, south and east, they also seem too many to focus on a single region.
Does kyiv know for sure that the attack is going to come from Russia and not from its neighbor to the north, or is it limited to some extent by intuition? It is what we do not know. Is February 24 announced as the date of the new attack for a cabalistic issue or is there specific and reliable information about Putin’s intentions? In principle, it is rare that someone attacks just the day that the others anticipate said attack and that they do so by entering exactly where they are expected. It seems somewhat risky right now to rule out that Russia once again try to open several fronts, hoping that this time the bet will pay off.
In his favor is the fatigue of the Ukrainian troops, their limited ability to replace them, and the fact that the new shipment of weapons promised by the West will not be ready until spring or even summer. Against it, the aforementioned orographic problems and the loss of surprise factor, apart from the proven resistance capacity of the Ukrainian army. It seems that Gerasimov’s only tactic consists of accumulating men and sending them to the front to die until some unit manages to break through the enemy lines.
[Putin avisa a Occidente: Rusia responderá “no sólo con blindados” al envío de tanques a Ucrania]
Ukrainian loss of initiative
What remains clear, in any case, is the imminence of the attack and the new change of trend in the war. The Ukraine defended itself like a cat on its back for the first three months, stopped bleeding for the next three and experienced moments of true war splendor from August to November, three months in which it managed to drive the Russians north of Kherson and southeast of Kharkov. , recovering even territories in Lugansk and dreaming of the possibility of advancing towards the Crimea.
However, that initiative has been lost again. In January, for the first time since August, Russia has gained more ground than it has lost and has generally managed to turn the tables and take the offensive of operations. The price to be paid in the form of human lives is unknown to us at the moment, although we understand that it is very high. The advances are minimal, yes, only 0.1% of the total Ukrainian territory has changed hands, practically all in the vicinity of Bakhmut, although the city in the Donetsk region still resists all the offensives of both the Wagner Group like the Russian regular army.
However, the lack of resources has cost Ukraine the opportunity to deal a heavy blow to Russia. The Kreminna front has not moved at all when no one doubted in October that it would eventually fall. Zelensky has been asking for more and more weapons for some time, but they have not arrived yet. Now, he will have to defend himself against a threat that he is not able to specify in size, place or date with what remains of previous shipments and the thrust of his men. All in all, if Ukraine repeats the feat of 2022 and for that Russian first push, the summer promises to be clearly hopeful.