Kyiv warns against loose talk as Russia claims to repel a Ukrainian ‘large-scale’ offensive’ attack in Donetsk

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The Russian Defense Ministry claimed its troops resisted a “large-scale” attack from Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donetsk region, heightening speculation that Kyiv will soon launch a spring counteroffensive that could swing the course of the conflict.

Both Ukraine and Russia have engaged in intense information campaigns to sway public opinion and mislead their opponents about their battle plans. Monday’s announcement from the Russian side was no exception: The Russian military claimed in a statement to have killed 250 Ukrainians and destroyed armored vehicles used in the assault, but provided scant evidence.

A spokesperson for the Ukraine Armed Forces, Bohdan Senyk, told CNN that Ukraine does “not have information” on a purported “large-scale offensive” in Donetsk.

Moscow is known to make inflated claims about Ukrainian losses. CNN has been unable to independently verify the claim.

In a post on its official Telegram feed, the ministry said the assault took place at “five section of the front in the southern Donetsk direction.”

The ministry claimed the goal of the Ukrainian operation was “to break through” Russian defenses in what it considered to be “the most vulnerable area of the front.”

At the time of the attack, Russia’s top general Valery Gerasimov “was at one of the forward command and control posts,” the statement added.

Gerasimov, who is chief of Russia’s General Staff, was put in overall command of Russian military operations in Ukraine early this year. He has come under public criticism from the head of the Russian private military company Wagner for supposedly running the war from a comfortable office.

Ukrainian troops are pictured near the town of Avdiivka in Donetsk on May 31, 2023. Moscow claimed it repelled an attack from Kyiv's forces in the eastern region on Sunday.
President Zelensky has provided few details on Kyiv's much-anticipated spring counteroffensive.

Further south, a Russian-appointed official in Zaporizhzhia said Ukrainian troops were attempting to break through a defense line to reach the coast of the Sea of Azov.

“The goal of the [Ukraine Armed Forces] militants is to reach the Azov Sea coast and cut the land corridor,” Vladimir Rogov said, according to Russian state media outlet RIA Novosti.

He claimed that Ukrainian troops have increased the intensity of their shelling, and fired Storm Shadow missiles. “They are launched in large quantities, which means Ukrainian militants and terrorists have ammunition in sufficient quantity.”

Rogov said he did not think a full-scale counteroffensive had begun.

Ukrainian soldiers prepare to open fire on Russian positions near the city of Avdiivka in Donetsk on June 02, 2023.

Ukraine’s much-anticipated counteroffensive has been shrouded in secrecy despite clear signs that Kyiv is gearing up for a sweeping operation.

Deputy Defense Minister, Hanna Maliar and other officials posted a social media video urging silence over any potential news of a counteroffensive.

The video shows several soldiers in full combat gear putting a finger to their lips and saying “shhh” followed by the text: “Plans love silence. The beginning [of the counteroffensive] will not be announced.”

On Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked troops on the front lines for striving to control the skies above them.

“We should all remember that our defense, our active actions, and the independence of Ukraine are not something abstract. These are very particular people, particular actions of particular heroes, thanks to which Ukraine exists and Ukraine will exist,” Zelensky said.

He singled out fighters who would be particularly key in the counteroffensive, just days after he told the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) that Kyiv was “ready” to launch the long-awaited military maneuvers.

“I think that, as of today, we are ready to do it. We would like to have certain things, but we can’t wait for it for months,” Zelensky said in an exclusive video interview published Saturday.

The president said he believed the counteroffensive will be successful but was not sure how long it will take.

“Everyone knows perfectly well that any counteroffensive in the world without control in the skies is very dangerous. Imagine what a military man feels, knowing he does not have a ‘roof’ and he can’t understand how neighboring countries have that,” Zelensky said about his dogged campaign for allies to supply Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets.

According to the WSJ, Zelensky acknowledged Russia’s superiority in the skies, adding that a lack of protection against Moscow’s air power means “a large number of soldiers will die” during the counteroffensive.

“If everybody knows we need the protection for our skies, then what’s the issue with [giving us] the modern jets? What is the issue?” he implored.

The Ukrainian leader has spent months courting Western allies to provide Kyiv with fighter jets and weapons to help control the skies and help limit the number of casualties to Ukrainian fighters during any potential counteroffensive.

Earlier this week, Jake Sullivan – US President Joe Biden’s national security adviser – said Washington believed the counteroffensive would help Kyiv retake “strategically significant territory.”

“Exactly how much, in what places – that will be up to developments on the ground as the Ukrainians get this counteroffensive underway,” Sullivan told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria. “But we believe that the Ukrainians will meet with success in this counteroffensive.”

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