KIEV, June 5 (AP) — For the second day since Ukrainian troops are working to break through Russia’s defenses in southeastern Ukraine, a Moscow-appointed official said Monday that Russia’s defense ministry announced it had foiled an illegal attack. Attack the dependent areas of the invaded country.
Authorities in Kiev said the reports of the attack were a ruse of Russian misinformation as the Ukrainian military prepared for a widely expected counteroffensive.
Vladimir Rogov, a government official in Russia-backed Ukrainian part-occupied Zaporozhye province, said the conflict between its and East Donetsk regions on Monday came after Russian defense forces repelled a Ukrainian offensive the previous day. Fighting resumed on the border.
“The enemy is attacking with greater force than yesterday (Sunday),” Rogoff said, while new attempts to break through the front line were “bigger and more organized,” adding that “a battle is underway.”
Rogoff explained the Ukrainian military move as part of Kiev’s efforts to reach the coast of the Sea of Azov and cut off the land corridor to the Crimea peninsula, which was annexed by Moscow in 2014.
Analysts have long considered the strategy viable because it would split Russia’s military in two and severely strain supplies in Crimea, which is locked in a war that begins on Feb. 24, 2022. It has always been an important military center of Russia.
Rogov’s comments came after Moscow also claimed to have thwarted a massive Ukrainian attack in the eastern Donetsk region bordering the Zaporozhye region.
Donetsk is another of four provinces that President Vladimir Putin claimed as Russian territory last fall and that Moscow partially controls.
The Russian Ministry of Defense said it had postponed Sunday’s “large-scale” attacks in five places in Donetsk province.
The announcement could not be independently verified, and Ukrainian officials have not confirmed any attacks, but the reports have fueled speculation that Ukraine may be conducting a large-scale ground operation as part of an expected counteroffensive.
A video released by Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense showed soldiers putting their fingers to their lips in a sign of silence.
“The plan likes silence,” it said on the screen. “There will be no start notification.”
The Strategic Communications Center of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in a cable that the Russian military was “intensifying information and psychological warfare.”
“In order to demoralize Ukrainians and mislead the community (including their own), Russian propagandists will spread disinformation about the counteroffensive, its direction, and the losses of Ukrainian troops. Even if there is no counteroffensive,” read a statement on Telegram road.
Ukrainian officials have kept Russia guessing when and where it might launch a counteroffensive, or even whether it has even begun. More than 15 months after Russia began its full-scale invasion, the possibility of a counteroffensive using advanced weapons provided by its Western allies could provide a huge morale boost to Ukrainians.
Recent military activity, including drone strikes on Moscow, cross-border raids on Russia, and sabotage and drone strikes on Russian rear infrastructure has unnerved the Russians.
Analysts say the moves could represent the start of a counteroffensive.
The Russian military said on Monday it repelled a recent Ukrainian incursion into Russia’s Belgorod region on the Ukrainian border. The Russians, who claim to have fought alongside Ukrainian troops, said they carried out the attack on Sunday. They were repelled by air strikes and artillery fire, according to the Russian Ministry of Defense.
Repelling the Kremlin’s troops presents a daunting challenge for Kiev’s planners. Russia built an extensive defensive line, including trenches, minefields and anti-tank obstacles.
Analysts said Ukraine could launch simultaneous offensives on different parts of the front that stretches about 1,100 kilometers (nearly 700 miles).
Michael Clarke, former head of the Royal United Services Institute think tank, said the “increased pace” of activity in recent weeks could mark the start of a counteroffensive, while June could see the start of ground operations in Ukraine.
“Something is going on,” he told the BBC.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said 250 Ukrainian personnel were killed in the fighting in Donetsk province, 16 Ukrainian tanks, 3 infantry fighting vehicles and 21 armored fighting vehicles were destroyed.
“The enemy’s goal was to break through our defenses in the areas of the front that they considered most vulnerable,” Konashenkov said. “The enemy did not complete the task. It did not succeed.”
The Russian Defense Ministry said the so-called Donetsk attack began on Sunday morning. It was unclear why the announcement was delayed until early Monday.
Ukraine often waits until its military operations are complete to confirm its actions, imposing a news blackout during that time.
For months, Ukrainian officials have talked about planning a counteroffensive to retake territory Russia captured during the all-out invasion, as well as the Crimean peninsula.
At least two factors were at play in the timing: better ground conditions for troops and equipment to move after winter, and the deployment of more advanced Western weapons and the training of Ukrainian troops to use them.
Ukraine’s Western allies have provided the country with more than 65 billion euros ($70 billion) in military aid to help it fight Russia.
A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry said Ukraine had used six mechanized battalions and two tank battalions in the Donetsk attack. The ministry released a video that purportedly showed the destruction of some equipment at the scene.
Konashenkov made a rare specific reference to the presence of Russia’s top military leader in field operations, saying General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff, was “in one of the front-line command posts”.
The announcement of Gerasimov’s direct involvement was likely in response to criticism from some Russian military bloggers and Yevgeny Prigozin, head of the Russian mercenary organization Wagner, that Russia’s military high command does not have sufficient visibility on the front lines, Nor have they taken sufficient control or responsibility over their country’s military power. Military operations in Ukraine. (Associated Press)
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