In a statement early Monday morning, the Ministry of Defence in Moscow claimed it had killed 250 Ukrainian soldiers and destroyed tanks – or if this was the long-anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Russia says it has thwarted a large Ukrainian attack in the eastern province of Donetsk, although it’s not clear if this is the start of a long-anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive.
The Ministry of Defence in Moscow released a rare early morning video saying its forced had pushed back a “large scale” Ukrainian assault on Sunday at five points in southern Donetsk, one of four Ukrainian regions Russia illegally annexed last autumn.
“The enemy’s goal was to break through our defenses in the most vulnerable, in its opinion, sector of the front,” said the ministry’s spokesman, Igor Konashenkov. “The enemy did not achieve its tasks. It had no success.”
Konashenkov claimed 250 Ukrainian personnel were killed, and 16 Ukrainian tanks, three infantry fighting vehicles and 21 armoured combat vehicles were destroyed.
There is no way to verify those Kremlin claims.
Ukraine has so far not commented, but often waits until the completion of its military operations to confirm its actions, imposing news blackouts in the interim. It was unclear why the Russian Defense Ministry waited until Monday morning to announce the attack, which it said started Sunday morning.
When is the Ukrainian counteroffensive happening?
For months, Ukrainian officials have spoken of plans to launch a spring counteroffensive to reclaim territory Russia has occupied since launching a full-scale invasion on 24 February 2022, as well as the Crimean Peninsula it seized in 2014.
But they’ve given mixed signals about what would constitute a counteroffensive — preliminary, limited attacks to weaken Russian forces and military facilities or a full-fledged simultaneous assault across the entire 1,100-kilometre front line.
A social media campaign launched on Sunday urged silence about the subject of military planning.
“Plans love silence,” the short video clip said, showing Ukrainian military personnel putting their fingers to their lips. “There will be no announcement about the start,” read a caption in Ukrainian.
At least two factors have been at play in timing the counteroffensive: awaiting improvement of ground conditions for troop and equipment movement after the winter, and deployment of more advanced Western weapons and training of Ukrainian troops to use them.
The Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said Ukraine used six mechanized and two tank battalions in the attack, and it released a video claiming to show destruction of some of the equipment in a field.
In a rare specific mention of the presence of Russia’s top military leaders in battlefield operations, the spokesman said the chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, General Valery Gerasimov, “was at one of the forward command posts.”
Announcing Gerasimov’s direct involvement could be a response to criticism by some Russian military bloggers and mercenary group head Yevgeny Prigozhin that Russia’s military brass hasn’t been visible enough at the front or taken sufficient control or responsibility for their country’s military operations in Ukraine.