Chris Lange, FISM News
Kyiv continues to sound the alarm that Moscow is readying its forces for a massive offensive in the coming weeks.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said that around 500,000 Russian troops have recently been relocated to the border.
“Officially, they announced 300,000, but when we see the troops at the borders, according to our assessments it is much more,” Reznikov said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military call-up announced in the fall.
“Now Russia is concentrating its forces. We all know that. It is preparing to try to take revenge, not only against Ukraine, but against a free Europe and the free world,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said at a press conference alongside European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, The Hill reported.
Senior Ukrainian defense ministry official Yuriy Sak told NBC News: “We should understand that the threat of a new and another offensive will remain until we defeat Russia.”
While there has been talk for some time of an anticipated new Russian offensive in the spring, the warnings have taken on new urgency as the war nears its one-year anniversary mark on Feb. 24. Not only is the Kremlin desperate for a face-saving victory following a string of battlefield defeats and corresponding criticism from pro-war Russians, but looming deliveries of more advanced Western-made weapons to Ukraine has ratcheted up pressure on Moscow to make as many gains as possible before their arrival. The U.S. is expected to announce another $2 billion weapons package for Ukraine today that will include longer-range rockets following last week’s promised delivery of 31 high-tech Abrams combat tanks.
Zelensky’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak wrote on Twitter Thursday that he had spoken with U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley about the anticipated Russian offensive.
Thanked the 🇺🇸 for the strong support for 🇺🇦 and strengthening our defense capabilities. Assured that @ZelenskyyUa and all the government team are determined to comprehensively contribute to corruption risks removal.
— Andriy Yermak (@AndriyYermak) February 2, 2023
Elsewhere, Russian forces are moving closer to capturing Bakhmut, making major advances around the eastern-Ukrainian city made possible by the capture of nearby Soledar last month.
Ukrainian military analyst Yevhen Dikiy said that Kyiv’s forces are pressing in on Bakhmut from the north and south “using superior troop numbers to try to cut it off from re-supply and force the Ukrainians out,” Reuters reported on Friday.
CIA DIRECTOR: NEXT SIX MONTHS ‘CRITICAL’
U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director William Burns warned that the next six months of the conflict in Ukraine would be “critical,” CBS News reported. Speaking at an event at Georgetown University Thursday, Burns, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, said that Putin is counting on dwindling Western interest in the war and “political fatigue” to give his forces the opportunity to turn the tide in his favor.
“Putin, I think, is betting right now that he can make time work for him,” Burns said. “The key is going to be on the battlefield in the next six months, it seems to us.”
Burns said that, with each passing month, Putin “runs a greater and greater risk of losing the territory that he’s illegally seized from Ukraine so far. So this next period, I think, is going to be absolutely crucial.”
EU LEADERS HOPE TO IRON OUT DIFFERENCES OVER RUSSIAN SANCTIONS AT KYIV SUMMIT
European Union leaders gathered in Kyiv this morning amid the piercing sound of air raid sirens as they sought to reassure Ukraine of continued support and resolve internal disputes over how to deal with Russia.
“There will be no let up in our resolve. We will also support you every step of the way on your journey to the EU,” EU chairman Charles Michel tweeted ahead of the meeting Friday.
Reuters reported that Germany approved the delivery of Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine from its industrial stocks in addition to the Leopard 2 tanks promised last week. Berlin is currently engaged in talks to buy back 15 of its Gepard tanks from Qatar to send to Kyiv, according to German news outlet Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
Diplomats who spoke to reporters on the sidelines of the summit said that the 27-member bloc will attempt to strike a deal on a proposal to put price caps on Russian oil amid ongoing disputes between member states.
US SENATORS URGE PRESIDENT BIDEN TO PUT PRESSURE ON TURKEY TO APPROVE SWEDISH, FINNISH NATO BIDS
A group of U.S. lawmakers fed up with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s refusal to ratify NATO accessions for Sweden and Finland are urging the Biden administration to ramp up pressure on Ankara.
Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) co-chairs of the Senate NATO Observer Group, led 25 of their colleagues in a letter to President Biden urging him to withhold fighter jet upgrades from Turkey until it formally approves the Swedish and Finnish accessions.
“Congress cannot consider future support for Türkiye, including the sale of F-16 fighter jets, until Türkiye completes ratification of the accession protocols.”
Turkey and Hungary are the only two nations in the 30-member bloc that have yet to ratify Sweden’s and Finland’s accessions, though Hungary insists that its delay is merely procedural. New membership applications require unanimous approval, under the treaty’s terms.
Erdogan has long accused the Nordic countries of harboring Kurdish rebel groups Ankara considers to be “terrorists;” however, he openly threatened to block Sweden’s bid last week, furious over anti-Muslim protests that took place in Stockholm during which a copy of the Quran was burned.
“Failure to ratify the protocols or present a timeline for ratification threatens the Alliance’s unity at a key moment in history, as Russia continues its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” the senators wrote.