Ukraine war latest: Intelligence warns Russia preparing for ‘massive offensive’ to capture Donbas by March

Key developments on Feb. 2: 

Ukraine’s intelligence warned on Feb. 2 that Russia was redeploying additional assault groups and military equipment ahead of “a massive offensive” to capture Donbas, an industrial heartland comprising Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, by March.

The stark warning comes as Russian forces claimed to be advancing toward the embattled city of Bakhmut in the northern part of Donetsk Oblast and toward the town of Vuhledar, near the Russian-occupied Donetsk city, over the past few days.

Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov and the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces issued similar warnings on Feb. 1, each saying that Russia appeared to be preparing for a major offensive.

In an interview with French media BFMTV, Reznikov said that “we must be ready” since Russian forces may launch an offensive in either the Donbas or in Ukraine’s south.

Reznikov also claimed that Russia had mobilized 500,000 troops, citing the abnormally high number of Russian troops at the borders. Reznikov’s estimate is nearly twice as many as the 300,000 claimed by the Kremlin after its fall mobilization campaign.

“We do not underestimate our enemy,” Reznikov told BFMTV.

While many Russian conscripts reportedly lack military experience, Ukraine’s Chief Commander Valerii Zaluzhnyi acknowledged in December that they still caused a problem on the battlefield, and Russia’s mobilization campaign has worked.

Moscow claimed to have ended its fall draft in October, but Estonia’s intelligence said Russia appeared to be still mobilizing troops covertly. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington D.C.-based think-tank analyzing the war in Ukraine, said that Russia likely was still conscripting “a limited number” of troops as of November.

Top Ukrainian defense officials have warned that Russia could be preparing a second wave of mobilization in early 2023, but such an announcement has not been made by Moscow yet.

Modern Western tanks that Ukraine is set to receive from NATO allies would help Ukrainian forces fight against hundreds of thousands of Russian conscripts. But it’s expected to be months before they finally arrive in the country.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Feb. 2 that Russia appeared to be regrouping troops to seek revenge against not only Ukraine, but also “the free Europe, the free world.”

As NATO allies vow more heavy weapons for Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that Russia has what it needs to respond with if it feels “threatened.”

Moscow has repeatedly threatened Western nations against supplying tanks to Ukraine, saying that they would “regret” making such a move.

High-profile visit

Nearly the entire College of the European Commission arrived in Kyiv early on Feb. 2, promising further military aid and restoration assistance for Ukraine.

More than a dozen senior officials from the European Union’s executive branch held a meeting with the Ukrainian government, sending a strong message to Moscow that the bloc would continue helping Ukraine defend itself.

The highly symbolic visit comes nearly a year after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The delegation of top EU officials arrived on the eve of the EU–Ukraine Summit to be held in Kyiv on Feb. 3 – the first of its kind since the 2022 invasion.

At a joint press conference with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Zelensky called upon the bloc to speed up with sanctions against Russia. He stressed that the EU’s pace had “slightly” slowed, while Russia began adapting to them better.

“It is a common European task to reduce Russia's ability to circumvent sanctions, and the faster and better this task is carried out, the closer we will be to defeating Russian aggression,” Zelensky said.