Ukraine is bracing for the possibility that Russia will escalate the war sharply in a winter offensive while Moscow seeks to turn the tide on the battlefield and limit the political backlash at home, a senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Sunday .
Despite severe setbacks in the first 10 months of the war, the Russian military is now planning mass infantry attacks similar to Soviet Union tactics in World War II, adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said in written responses to questions.
Mr. Podolyak’s comments came as Ukraine’s top military and political leaders warned in a series of recent interviews that Russia is massing troops and weapons in a bid to launch a renewed ground offensive by spring that very likely will include a second attempt would conquer the Ukrainian Kyiv capital.
Russia has already conscripted and is training soldiers who could be used in mass infantry attacks, Mr Podolyak said. It’s one of several possible threats Ukraine faces from Russia over the winter months, he said, as officials in Kyiv see little sign that Russian President Vladimir V. Putin is seeking an end to the war.
“Russia’s political leadership clearly refuses to recognize the tactical defeats that have already taken place and seize every illusory chance to change the situation in their favor,” Podolyak said.
Ukrainian officials said they base their assessments of Russia’s war goals on intelligence from their military and foreign intelligence agencies, as well as consultations with allies.
In his comments, Mr. Podolyak said that Ukraine takes the risk of a new Russian offensive seriously and stressed that its allies must also understand this. As Western governments plan future arms shipments to Ukraine, he suggested that equipment should match future threats.
“It is extremely important that our partners do not take these risks any less seriously,” he said. “Russia is not interested in ending the war until it suffers a significant military defeat and is forced to focus on its own internal political transformation.”
Ukraine’s top military commander, General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, said in an interview with The Economist published last week that Ukraine is training and equipping reserves to defend against a new Russian offensive coming in January, February or March could.
“The Russians are preparing about 200,000 fresh troops,” he said. “I have no doubt that they will try again in Kyiv.”
The statements by senior Ukrainian officials appeared to be part of a coordinated campaign to ward off complacency among Ukraine’s allies while the Russian army fights on the battlefield. Since launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, Russia has retreated in three major retreats – from the Kyiv area, to the northeastern Kharkiv region and last month to the southern Kherson region.
The warnings also appear to be an attempt to counter the Kremlin’s efforts to persuade Ukraine’s western allies to press Kyiv for a negotiated settlement.
In parallel with fighting on the front lines, Russia has been bombing civilian infrastructure targets across the country, cutting off heating, water and electricity for millions of Ukrainians. In his nightly address to Ukrainians on Saturday, Zelenskyy said six million people who lost power after Friday’s volley of rocket attacks have been restored to power. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Sunday that the neighborhood’s heating systems, damaged by the strikes, have been fully restored.
Military analysts say this campaign is aimed at demoralizing Ukrainians and urging the Ukrainian government into a ceasefire that could give Russia time to regroup and rearm for future offensives.
But analysts who rely on open-source intelligence said it’s difficult to know what’s going on at Russian military training bases. The Kremlin said in September it would mobilize 300,000 additional troops, some already stationed in Ukraine.
Mr Podolyak said the kind of mass infantry warfare Moscow seems to be preparing for would not be effective against Ukraine’s increasingly sophisticated arsenal of precision-guided weapons and surveillance drones. But the Russian military leadership bowed to the Kremlin’s demands for on-site advances for domestic reasons.
Russian commanders, he said, “diligently maintain Putin’s illusion of the possibility of ‘victory,’ firstly to maintain Putin’s personal power and secondly to avoid harsh punishment for admitting losses.”
In their latest setback, Russian forces retreated from the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson last month but remain within artillery range on the opposite bank of the Dnipro River. Throughout Sunday, Russian forces fired artillery at Kherson, injuring three people, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, a deputy chief of staff to the president, said in a post on Telegram.
In its morning battlefield status update on Sunday, the Ukrainian military said it had repelled 15 ground attacks on its positions in the past 24 hours and that several towns and villages on the front lines had been attacked by Russian artillery.
Most of the attacks occurred in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, the only section of the front line where the Russian army regularly conducts offensive strikes. Along much of the remaining crescent front line in south-eastern Ukraine, Russian forces are in a defensive posture, building fortifications along new lines following their withdrawals in early autumn.