Speaking to French media on Wednesday, Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said that Russia he had 500,000 troops ready for an assault in the coming weeks, nearly double the number Putin announced he would mobilize in September.

«Officially, they announced 300,000, but when we see the troops at the borders, according to our assessments, there are many more,» he said.

Ukrainian officials have been issuing increasing warnings, but Reznikov’s comments are the most detailed description yet of what Kyiv sees as an imminent threat.

Reznikov, who was in Paris to press the French government for arms, said Russia was likely to attack from the east or south.

In the east, Ukrainian commanders face an agonizing decision to withdraw from the city of Bakhmut or hold their positions despite losses and the increasing risk of encirclement. in a bitter struggle that has acquired both symbolic and strategic importance.

«Since their main forces are concentrated in the east, we expect them to start an offensive there, perhaps around Bakhmut,» Sak said.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy offered a similar assessment in his late-night video address. “The situation has gotten tougher” in the area, Zelenskyy said.

«The enemy is trying to achieve at least something now to show that Russia has some chance on the anniversary of the invasion,» he added.

Putin inspects training of mobilized recruits
Russian President Vladimir Putin during a training for conscripts who were called up for military service in Ryazan on October 20, 2022. Kremlin Press/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images file

In the south, Russian forces are deployed along the eastern bank of the Dnieper River and a short distance from the crucial city of Kherson. The regional capital was the first major city to fall to Russian troops in the early days of the war, but they were forced to shamefully retreat in November to more defensible positions on the river.

Andrii Yermak, Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, said Thursday that he had briefed Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, and General Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, about the threat of a new offensive.

“There was an exchange of views on possible enemy actions in the near future,” Yermak said on Twitter.

In the weeks leading up to the full-scale invasion of Russia, the US declassified and released intelligence showing the scale of Putin’s military buildup on Ukraine’s borders. So far, the United States has not released any intelligence about a possible new offensive.

Russia’s military plans are a closely guarded secret.

But Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said his diplomats would try to compete with and outshine pro-Ukraine public events in Western cities on the anniversary of the war.

“Our diplomats will do everything possible to ensure that any chaos planned for the anniversary of the special military operation at the end of February in New York and elsewhere (the West is now actively planning it together with the Kyiv regime) so that these events don’t be the only ones who caught the attention of the international community,” Lavrov said on Thursday.