Moscow has said its forces have killed hundreds of Ukrainian troops in the Donetsk region after repelling a “major offensive” in that part of Ukraine.
Amid speculation over Kyiv’s much-anticipated counteroffensive, Moscow’s claims have not been independently verified. One military expert has told Newsweek that the actions of Ukraine’s forces were aimed at “keeping the Russians guessing.”
The Russian Ministry of Defense [MOD] said in a Telegram post on Sunday that Ukraine had launched “a large-scale offensive in five sectors of the front in the south Donetsk region.”
Former British Army intelligence officer Philip Ingram said the first phase of Ukraine’s counteroffensive had started a few weeks ago. In it, Kyiv prepared the battlespace and attacked Russia’s logistic nodes, command posts and air defense.
“We are likely seeing the transition to phase two, probing the front line in many different areas but keeping the Russians guessing as to where the major last attacks will come,” Ingram told Newsweek.
“This is the reconnaissance phase,” he said. “When Ukrainian plans around the optimal locations for the main attacks have been confirmed, then it will move to the next phase.”
Sunday’s statement from Russia’s MOD said: “The enemy’s goal was to break through Russia’s defenses in what it considered to be the most vulnerable area of the front.” It added that “the enemy was unsuccessful in achieving its goals.”
The Russian MOD said that Ukraine attacked with six mechanized and two tank battalions. Kyiv’s losses totalled over 250 troops, 16 tanks, 21 armored fighting vehicles and three infantry fighting vehicles.
Vladimir Putin’s top commander in Ukraine, Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, “was at one of the advanced command posts,” the MOD said. The Telegram statement included an unverified video of the purported battle in which Ukrainian armored vehicles came under heavy fire near Velyka Novosilka, 60 miles west of Donetsk city.
Alexander Khodakovsky, the head of the pro-Moscow Vostok Battalion, said on Telegram on Sunday that Ukraine’s troops had achieved “tactical success” in the area, although they had suffered “tangible losses.”
However, Khodakovsky added that he did not believe that the Ukrainian attacks amounted “to the promised counteroffensive,” although if there were a breakthrough by Kyiv, “more significant forces could be transferred to the site.”
On Monday, Khodakovsky said on Telegram that Ukraine’s forces overnight continued to the pressure on the site of Sunday’s breakthrough. He added that, by “crushing communications, the enemy managed to put us in a difficult position.”
The Russian milblogger channel War Gonzo wrote on Telegram on Monday morning that “tough battles are unfolding right now for the village of Novodonetskoye” between Vuhledar and Velikaya Novoselovka.
“The enemy managed to penetrate at least two kilometers [1.2 miles] deep into the territory we previously controlled and cling to the outskirts of the settlement,” the post said, adding, “today will obviously not be an easy day.”
Kyiv has not commented on the claims by Moscow. Ukraine’s general staff did not mention a major offensive in its latest update, although it did report of clashes in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.
Newsweek has emailed the Ukrainian and Russian defense ministries for comment.
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