- By George Wright in London and James Waterhouse in Kiev
- BBC News
Russia’s Defense Ministry said it had thwarted a major Ukrainian offensive in Donetsk, in the latest indication that a broader counteroffensive had begun.
A video clip of what Russia says about the battle shows military vehicles exposed to heavy fire in the fields. Russia says it killed 300 soldiers and destroyed 16 tanks.
However, Moscow’s claims have not been independently verified.
On Monday, the Ukrainian military said it had no information about a major offensive in the area.
“We do not have such information and we do not comment on any kind of fraud,” a Ukrainian army spokesman told Reuters.
A major Ukrainian counteroffensive has long been overdue, but Kiev has already said it would not give advance warning of its start.
But with Ukraine claiming marginal gains elsewhere on the front line, there has been a marked increase in military activity.
Thus, the latest reports are seen as a fresh indication that the expected Ukrainian pressure may be beginning.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said Ukraine launched a “large-scale offensive” in the Donetsk region on Sunday using six mechanized battalions and two tank battalions.
It claimed that the Ukrainians had tried to break through the Russian defenses in what Kiev considered to be the weakest part of the front line – but that it “didn’t accomplish its tasks, it didn’t work”.
If the footage of armored vehicles coming under heavy fire is real, it reflects the stiff resistance Ukrainian forces will face as they try to liberate more territory.
And if not, it is still an attempt by Moscow to control the narrative.
There has been a significant increase in Ukrainian messaging about when and how their counter-attack may be shaping up.
Ukraine has been planning such a move for months. But she wanted as much time as possible to train troops and receive military equipment from the Western allies.
Officials in Kiev cautioned against public speculation about the attack, saying it could help the enemy.
“Plans love silence,” the defense ministry said in a video posted to Telegram on Sunday. “There will be no announcement of the start.” The footage showed masked and well-armed soldiers holding their fingers to their lips.
It will take Ukraine some time to achieve its goal of liberating the territories Russia occupied nine years ago.
And Moscow had time to prepare. This means that if Ukraine is able to launch a counterattack, it will take some time.
There is a lot at stake because the government in Kyiv needs to show the people of Ukraine — and Western allies — that it can break through Russian lines, end the effective military impasse and reclaim some of its sovereign territory.
The commander of the Ukrainian ground forces, Oleksandr Sersky, said the forces were “advancing” towards Bakhmut and destroyed a Russian position near the city.
The claim was made by the Russian Freedom Corps (FRL), which described the announcement as a joint statement with the Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK).
Both groups want to overthrow President Vladimir Putin. They oppose the all-out invasion of Ukraine that he launched in February last year.
The chief Belgorod official, Vyacheslav Gladkov, responded by saying that he had agreed to meet the captors of the men if the soldiers were still alive. But the fighters later said the governor “didn’t find the courage” to meet them and would hand over their captives to Ukraine.
Russia has blamed Ukraine for the recent attacks on its border lands, but Kiev denies direct involvement.
Authorities in Belgorod said a power plant had caught fire following a drone attack on Monday morning.
In Russia’s Kaluga region – which borders the southern regions around Moscow – Governor Vladislav Shapsha said two drones had crashed on a main road. Shabsha said there was no explosion and the area is now cordoned off.
There has been no independent confirmation of either attack, but Moscow says the Belgorod region has been the usual target of drone strikes from Ukraine.
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