Kyiv fears anniversary blitz
Russia is planning a major escalation of its war in Ukraine to mark the first anniversary this month of its full-scale invasion, the Ukrainian president’s top security official has said.
‘‘This is a country obsessed by dates,’’ said Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine. ‘‘Starting with the revolution of 1917, [the Russians] try to tie all their activities to special dates, to anniversaries.
‘‘Even at the cost of their own lives, they will do everything to make these anniversaries,’’ he said. ‘‘And the next they want to do is February 24’’ – the day last year when Russia shocked the world with a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and an attempted assault on the capital, Kyiv.
‘‘They will try to do the same they did last year. You will see them unleash their cruise missiles and try to advance.’’
Danilov’s comments came after Sergey Lavrov, the pugnacious Russian foreign minister, said Moscow ‘‘had plans’’ to overshadow commemorative events in Western countries, and that those countries would ‘‘not be the only ones to gain the world’s attention’’ that day.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also warned that Russia was building up its troops to take ‘‘revenge’’ on the West for its support for Ukraine over the past year, as European Union leaders gathered in Kyiv to devise a new package of sanctions against Russia to mark the anniversary of the invasion.
Moscow is preparing to field up to 300,000 freshly mobilised recruits for an offensive that Kyiv believes will start before spring temperatures turn frozen ground to thick mud, and before promised tanks, including German-made Leopard 2s, arrive on the battlefield.
‘‘They have analysed their mistakes from their last attempt, and this time they are trying to calculate that things will be different,’’ Danilov said.
The last year had also been a steep learning curve for Ukrainian forces, he said, predicting that the worst of the
fighting lay ahead.
‘‘Before, military aid for us was very restricted. This time, the situation is absolutely different. Now we have all the civilised world on our side.’’
Danilov said it was only a matter of time before Western allies caved in to Ukraine’s requests for fighter jets, noting how prior refusals to supply air defences, tanks and long-range missile systems had melted away as Ukraine showed its mettle on the battlefield.
The next few months of the war would be decisive, he said, ‘‘This year is going to be the
crucial one.’’ He predicted that the outcome of the conflict would be clear ‘‘by summer’’.
His only regret, he said, was the number of Ukrainian lives that would be lost while the country waited for Western allies to provide more sophisticated weapons.
Danilov said he expected ‘‘maximum escalation’’ from Russia in terms of pouring hundreds of thousands of poorly trained recruits on to the battlefield.
He pointed to the brutal current fighting around the eastern city of Bakhmut, described as a ‘‘meat grinder’’ for Russian mercenaries and recruits, as evidence of Russia’s disregard for the lives of its fighters. Danilov put the number of Russian fighters killed in the past year of conflict at 130,000, although Western officials estimate that it could be as high as 200,000.
The only length Danilov said he did not believe Russian President Vladimir Putin would go to was to push the nuclear button. ‘‘I do not think he has the courage.’’
Last February, Danilov said, Moscow had believed that its soldiers would be greeted with flowers by Ukrainians grateful for their liberation from a regime Moscow has denounced as Nazis. ‘‘If they wish, we will greet them with plastic funeral flowers.’’
EU leaders in Kyiv for a summit meant to express solidarity with Ukraine and send a message to Moscow have reiterated their ongoing support for Ukraine, but have offered no guarantees that its request to join the 27-nation bloc will be met.
Such a decision, they said yesterday in a joint statement with Zelenskyy, hinged on the country meeting ‘‘all conditions specified’’ by the European Commission.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s prosecutor general is pressing criminal charges against the head of the Wagner Group, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, whose private military forces are fighting alongside the Russian army. Last month, the United States designated the group a ‘‘transnational criminal organisation’’.