President Volodymyr Zelensky, in a nationally televised speech on Tuesday evening, added his voice to a growing chorus of senior Kyiv officials messaging that the Ukrainian army is fully intent on kicking off a major counteroffensive by May, if not earlier.

The Ukrainian leader said that he had met with top officers in the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) and other members of the national military leadership, and that the preparations are fully in progress, with the army readying itself for a major attack.

“As always, we looked at logistics in detail and how to deal with [material] shortages. We are preparing for the return of our troops to active efforts for the liberation of our lands. We have this righteous goal in mind every day, and every day it comes closer to fulfillment. Ukraine will be free. All of Ukraine,” Zelensky said.

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The AFU is currently locked in heavy battle in multiple sectors in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas regions, particularly around the city of Bakhmut, and the immediate objective for the Ukrainian military is to keep the Russian assaults contained, he said.

The President’s evening remarks, the most senior official Ukrainian confirmation yet that Kyiv intends to kick off a major attack against Russian forces during the spring months, came less than 48 hours after Vadym Skibitsky, deputy head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, told the German media platform WAZ that the Ukrainian army is actively preparing for a spring offensive.

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The immediate objective of the upcoming Ukrainian assault will be “to drive a wedge in the Russian front in the south” to cut Russian supply routes to the Crimean peninsula and mainland Russia, Skibidsky said.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry on Tuesday put out a similarly offensive-minded message, publishing an interview with Oleksandr Bakulin, commander of the AFU’s 57th Motorized Brigade, praising AFU units that have launched attacks. Aside from a pair of limited offensives in the Kharkiv and Kherson sectors, in September and October 2022 respectively, the AFU has almost always fought on the defensive against Russian forces.

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“Like I told one of my [subordinate] commanders, ‘If you haven’t attacked, you haven’t fought in a war.’ Our Brigade has done that, so now I can tell anyone with confidence, that we really have done some fighting,” Bakulin said, in an AFU-published video.

Vitaly Kim, head of the regional defense administration of Mykolaiv, in recent public comments likewise was combative and frank that, in his view, the AFU will head south soon, and in force.

“We now have a lot more weapons than before. We’re now prepared in terms of morale. Our people are motivated. Right now we’re digging in on the right bank (of the Dnipro River) and are getting ready for the left bank. Our spirit and that of the [Russian] occupiers is very different. They’re sitting in their foxholes waiting for our gifts. [I say to them,] ‘Wait a bit, wait bit.’”

Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov the same day on his official Facebook page said Ukrainians had decisively defeated the Kremlin’s attempt to destroy public morale with attacks on civilian infrastructure over the winter, and that payback time for Moscow is coming.

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“We will strike harder and further, in the air, on land, at sea and in cyberspace. There will be our counteroffensive. We are working hard to prepare and support it. In a few days, Ukraine will meet the spring that the Kremlin wanted to steal from us,” Reznikov said.

Practically all monitors of the Russo-Ukrainian War, including even pro-Russia information platforms, suggest AFU commander Valery Zaluzhny is likely to be waiting for new troops trained in NATO states and armed with top-of-the-line Western equipment to complete training and marry up with their weapons in Ukraine before launching a major offensive.

On Feb. 17 Pentagon officials announced that the first group of 632 Ukrainian soldiers taught to operate the U.S.-manufactured M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle completed training at the Army’s Grafenwoehr Training Area in Germany.

The training focuses primarily on platoon-, company- and battalion-level battle drills, and more Ukrainian combat units of battalion will cycle through in coming weeks and months, a staffer participating in the training told Kyiv Post. Some units will learn to operate Bradleys and others will learn to operate the U.S.-made Stryker armored personnel carrier, a faster but more lightly-armed infantry fighting vehicle compared to the Bradley, he said.

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Other Ukrainian soldiers are training in Poland to operate German-made NATO-standard Leopard 2 tanks donated by several European states to the AFU, and in Britain to operate the powerful Challenger 2 tank. Trained tank crews and their vehicles should be in Ukraine and available for commitment to battle starting in March or April, British and Polish news reports said.

New NATO-trained Ukrainian units equipped with first-line combat vehicles are very likely to be at the spear tip of the upcoming Ukrainian offensive, and date and location of its launch will depend on how quickly a sufficient number of the formations can reach the fighting line. When they get there Moscow’s troops will face a new, more agile and lethal kind of opponent, some Russian sources said.

“[NATO battle drill] sharply reduces delays, and the enemy facing it will need to react to changes much faster than before,” wrote the pro-Russia Starshe Eddy Telegram channel in a March 1 tactical analysis of the impending Ukrainian attack.

“Operating with [NATO situational awareness] systems gives an advantage over an equal or even more powerful enemy. [A unit trained and equipped to NATO standards] will detect that enemy earlier, transmit information about him [faster], and defeat him more easily,” the analysis said.

 

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