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Russia has mobilised 500,000 troops for a major new offensive in Ukraine on the anniversary of Vladimir Putin‘s invasion, Kyiv‘s defence minister warned last night, before the Kremlin said it planned ‘gain the world’s attention’ on February 24.

Speaking on French television, Oleksiy Reznikov said the Russian military is planning to call on the huge number of soldiers to mount another assault on his country.

February 24 will mark 365 days since Moscow’s troops first rolled into parts of Ukraine not already under Russian occupation. But what the Kremlin hoped would be a swift overthrow of Ukraine’s government has dragged into a painful war of attrition, with Kyiv’s forces driving the invaders back in the east.

Now, despite suffering a series of setbacks, Putin is preparing to launch another major offensive in an attempt swing the momentum in favour  of his armies and achieve victory in Ukraine once and for all, according to Reznikov.

Moscow appeared to hint at a new offensive on Thursday, with Putin’s chief diplomat saying that Russia had plans to overshadow pro-Ukrainian events arranged by Western and allied countries around the world to mark the anniversary.

Russia has mobilised 500,000 troops for a major new offensive in Ukraine on the anniversary of Vladimir Putin's invasion, Kyiv's defence minister warned last night. Pictured: Ukrainian servicemen fire a mortar towards Russian positions near the town of Soledar

Russia has mobilised 500,000 troops for a major new offensive in Ukraine on the anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s invasion, Kyiv’s defence minister warned last night. Pictured: Ukrainian servicemen fire a mortar towards Russian positions near the town of Soledar

Lavrov said ominously Russian diplomats were working on something to ensure Western-led events in New York and elsewhere were ‘not the only ones to gain the world’s attention’, without providing details.

Referring to Russia’s partial mobilisation of 300,000 conscripted soldiers which Moscow said was concluded in November, the Ukrainian defence minister said the true size of the force could be closer to 500,000 – and is gathering on the borders. 

‘We do not underestimate our enemy,’ Reznikov said during an interview, broadcast late Wednesday. ‘Officially, they announced 300,000, but when we see the troops at the borders, according to our assessments it is much more. 

He said Russia was likely to ‘try an offensive on two fronts’: In the country’s east, which has been at the centre of brutal fighting in recent months, and in the south.

Reznikov said Kyiv believes Moscow has deployed about half a million troops – far more than Russia’s claim of 300,000 personnel currently mobilised. 

In order to repel the attack, he called on the West to supply it with more weaponry.

In the past week, Western powers including US and Germany have approved sending more than 100 battle tanks to Ukraine – a move that Russia has warned crosses a dangerous new line in the conflict.

It was also reported yesterday that the US was preparing a more than $2billion package of military aid, including the delivery of long-range missiles.

However, the US and the UK have for now rebuffed Kyiv’s requests for fighter jets, amid fears that it could lead to Russia escalating the war even further. ‘We need arms to counter the enemy,’ Reznikov said.

Referring to Russia’s partial mobilisation of 300,000 conscripted soldiers which Moscow said was concluded in November, Ukrainian defence minister Oleksiy Reznikov said the true size of the force could be closer to 500,000 – and is gathering on the borders. A Ukrainian soldier fires a machine gun towards a Russian position on the front line, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, near the town of Soledar

Foreign Minister Lavrov accuses West of aiming to destroy Russia 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday accused the West of wanting to inflict a lasting defeat against Moscow and lashed out against EU chief Ursula von der Leyen who earlier arrived in Kyiv.

‘Ursula von der Leyen… said that the outcome of the war should be the defeat of Russia, the kind of defeat that for decades, for many decades, Russia cannot restore its economy,’ Lavrov said in comments aired on Russian state television.

‘Is this not racism, not Nazism – not an attempt to solve ‘the Russian question” Lavrov added, evoking Russia’s victory against Nazi Germany in World War II.

The European Commission chief announced she had arrived in Kyiv with a team of commissioners and the bloc’s most senior diplomat earlier Thursday, a day before a Ukraine-European Union summit in the war-torn country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has frequently drawn parallels between what he calls Moscow’s ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine and the war against Nazi Germany.

He launched the conflict in Ukraine in February last year with the announced aim of ‘de-Nazifying’ the country.

Reporting by AFP 

His comments echoed those of Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky, who said in a video address that a ‘definite increase has been noted in the offensive operations of the occupiers on the front in the east of our country.

‘The situation has become tougher,’ he admitted. 

Last week Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, also said it was likely Russia was planning an attack to mark the anniversary of the 2022 invasion, and that Moscow’s troops had been handed the task of going ‘beyond the borders’ of the mostly-occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

The two regions make up the eastern Donbas, a region Putin has made clear he wants to seize from the start of his so-called ‘special military operation’. 

Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said: ‘There is an active transfer of [Russian troops] to the region and they are definitely preparing for something on the eastern front in February,’ according to The Guardian.

In a separate report, the newspaper spoke to Lt Col Roman Tkach, who is stationed in Ukraine’s northern Sumy oblast which shares 350-mile border with Russia. He spoke of how he and his comrades had felt an increase in activity in recent weeks.

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Military think tank the Institute for the Study of War concurred with Reznikov, saying in a Wednesday update on the war’s progress: ‘Ukrainian officials are continuing to warn about Russia’s intention of conducting a decisive offensive operation in Donbas in February and/or March, supporting ISW’s most likely course of action assessment.’

It also said that Putin was likely preparing for further cross-border raids across Ukraine’s northeastern borders, ‘likely in an effort to further domestic information operations and pin Ukrainian forces against northern border areas.’

Intelligence reports from the West, Ukraine and Russia have all pointed towards a renewed Spring offensive by Russia, after a territorial stalemate set in over winter after Ukraine liberated thousands of square miles of its land in the North and South.

Still, some of the wars most intense fighting has taken place over winter around Bakhmut, a key target of the Kremlin’s, with Russia making small gains.

Both sides have suffered massive casualties in the fighting, with reports suggesting Russia has seen tens of thousands of troops killed in the ‘meat grinder’ of a battle.

Speaking on French television, Oleksiy Reznikov (pictured Wednesday) said the Russian military is planning to call on the huge number of soldiers to mount another assault

Speaking on French television, Oleksiy Reznikov (pictured Wednesday) said the Russian military is planning to call on the huge number of soldiers to mount another assault

Reznikov’s warning of a new offensive came as a Russian strike destroyed an apartment building in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday.

At least three people were killed and 20 wounded when a rocket struck a residential building in the centre of Kramatorsk, located in Ukraine’s eastern industrial region of Donetsk.

Rescuers wearing torches on their heads worked to pull survivors from the debris, their faces covered in dust as they tried to find any signs of life.

After discovering the body of a resident who was crushed under the rubble, rescuers carried the victim away on a stretcher, as firefighters worked their way through the mangled building structure.

Donetsk regional police said paramedics, search-and-rescue dogs, and explosive experts were combing the area as they believed that more people could be trapped.

‘I first heard a whistle and then everything started to fly around,’ said Petro, 71, whose apartment was damaged.

‘Peaceful people died and are under the rubble,’ President Zelensky wrote after the rocket strike. ‘This is the daily reality of life in our country.’

Zelensky is now working to drum up political backing for Ukraine at a critical time in the conflict, calling on the West to supply fighter jets and long-range artillery.

The Kremlin said Wednesday that any deliveries of long-range weapons to Ukraine would not alter Russia’s military objectives or change its strategy on the battlefield.

‘It would require greater efforts from us. But again, it won’t change the course of events,’ Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.  

Pictured: Rescuers work at a site of a residential building destroyed by a Russian missile strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kramatorsk, Ukraine February 2, 2023

Pictured: Rescuers work at a site of a residential building destroyed by a Russian missile strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kramatorsk, Ukraine February 2, 2023

Meanwhile, Ukraine expanded a clampdown on corruption Wednesday, launching coordinated searches of residences linked to a divisive oligarch and former interior minister as well as tax offices in the capital.

The searches came ahead of a key summit with the European Union and appeared to be part of a push by Kyiv to reassure military and financial donors in European capitals and Washington that Ukraine is tackling systemic graft.

‘We are carrying out the task set by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and simultaneously delivering a global blow to the internal enemy,’ announced Vasyl Maliuk, the head of Ukraine’s security service, the SBU.

‘Every criminal who has the audacity to harm Ukraine, especially in the conditions of war, must clearly understand that we will put handcuffs on him.’

The searches have targeted influential billionaire Igor Kolomoisky and former interior minister Arsen Avakov, said the head of Zelensky’s party David Arakhamia.

Law enforcement also raided tax offices in the capital and senior customs officials were fired, Arakhamia said.

Ukraine has suffered from corruption for years, but efforts to stamp it out have been overshadowed by Moscow’s invasion last February.

In the biggest political shakeup since the launch of Moscow’s assault on Ukraine, authorities last week fired around a dozen senior figures, including defence officials and a top aide to the president’s office.

Wednesday’s raids came two days before Zelensky was expected to host a summit with the EU, which has urged reforms to facilitate deeper integration.

Investigators from the SBU released images of a search from the home of Kolomoisky, who was barred from entering the United States over allegations of corruption and undermining democracy.

Prior to the invasion, Kolomoisky was one of the country’s richest men, with holdings in a slew of industries, including media, aviation and energy.

The security service said the search had been launched over an investigation into the embezzlement of 40 billion hryvnia (about $1.1 billion) from energy holdings.

The government seized stakes in the energy companies – oil producer Ukrnafta and refiner Ukrtatnafta – as part of moves to consolidate the war effort.

The SBU also said it had uncovered a scheme by the head of the Kyiv tax office involving ‘multimillion-dollar’ fraud schemes. They accuse the official of having abused a position of authority.

The State Bureau of Investigation and the Prosecutor General’s Office said Wednesday they had informed several senior officials they were under investigation for crimes including misappropriation of state funds and misuse of state property.    

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