After weeks of rumours, waiting and maneuvers aimed at confusing the enemy, preparations for the Ukrainian counter-offensive seem to be intensifying. On Monday morning, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that it had repelled a major assault on five sectors of the front southwest of the city of Donetsk. According to the leader of the Wagner militia, Evgueni Prigojine, Ukrainian troops have also recently regained ground on the northern and southwestern edges of Bakhmout. The kyiv authorities confirm that they have engaged in “offensive actions”, while relativizing the scale. "The Bakhmout sector remains the epicenter of hostilities," Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said on Monday. We are advancing there on a fairly broad front and we are achieving success.”
These operations come as the Ukrainian authorities are working to make their adversary dizzy. On May 27, General Valeri Zaloujny, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, declared, sibylline: “The time has come to take back what belongs to us.” In an interview granted this weekend to the Wall Street Journal, President Volodymyr Zelensky indicated that his army is ready to go on the attack, before specifying: “I do not know how long it will take. To be honest, it can happen in a number of different ways.” On Sunday, the Ministry of Defense released a video featuring soldiers in combat gear, in which it called for the details of the coming counter-offensive not to be disclosed. “The plans need silence”, urge the authors of the message, before warning: “We will not announce the beginning…”
On the border between Ukraine and Russia, two groups of anti-Putin Russian fighters as well as a unit made up of Polish volunteers have amplified their harassment operations against the Belgorod region. At the end of last week, intensive bombardments targeted Chebekino, a Russian town of around 40,000 inhabitants located about ten kilometers from the border, damaging numerous buildings, killing at least four people and leading to the evacuation of several thousand of civilians. On Sunday, the Russian Freedom Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps also raided the village of Novaya Tavolzhanka. Supporting video images, they claimed to have captured a dozen Russian soldiers there and declared themselves ready to negotiate their exchange with the governor of the region.
These two units, based in kyiv, are equipped by the Ukrainian army. But they ensure that they conduct their operations on Russian soil in complete autonomy. Their stated goal is not only to help Ukraine drive the Russian military out of its territory, but also to overthrow the regime of Vladimir Putin. Already three weeks ago, they carried out a 24-hour raid in three villages in the Belgorod region before retreating under fire from the Russian army.
These limited incursions have the stated aim of causing trouble among the civilian population, but also of forcing the enemy to repatriate part of the forces deployed in Ukraine to guard its border. “Ukraine thus artificially inflates the mileage of the contact zones to be monitored, reinforcing the logic of an imposed dilemma”, notes military analyst Joseph Henrotin, editor-in-chief of the specialized journal DSI. "The discordant response to these raids suggests that the Russian authorities have not yet decided how to respond to them," said the American think tank Institute for the Study of War, which underlines their destabilizing effect.
It is difficult, in this game of lying poker, to know if the reconnaissance operations undertaken by the Ukrainian army constitute the beginning of the counter-offensive - or, simply, the continuation of a laborious work of "modelling" aimed at identifying the weak points of the opposing system. "The enemy has not achieved its objectives," welcomed the Russian Ministry of Defense, which released images of destroyed Ukrainian tanks. Moscow says losses were inflicted on Ukrainian forces on Sunday near Neskutchne, in the Donetsk region, and Novodarivka, near the Zaporizhia region.
New "attempts to break through the Russian defenses" also reportedly took place on Monday near the town of Novodonetské, not far from Vouhledar. The Russian army, for its part, has reportedly regained some ground in the north of Donbass, near Kupiansk, in recent days.