Putin plotting pre-emptive strike on Ukraine with troops building up

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Russia is planning a “pre-emptive strike” in Ukraine, according to satellite photos that show Putin’s forces building up fortifications, with the eastern region of Luhansk expected to be the site of heavy fighting in the upcoming months. Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security and defence council, said Russia is “preparing for maximum activation” of its forces to secure “some achievements” in time for the anniversary of the war on February 24. It comes as Kremlin insiders told a US outlet that Putin believes Russia’s willingness to accept casualties will allow them to keep fighting until they are victorious.

Mr Danilov told Radio Svoboda: “Now they are preparing for maximum activation, and they believe that by the anniversary they should have some achievements.

“There is no secret that they are preparing for a new wave by February 24, as they themselves say.”

Russian forces have been carrying out limited ground attacks in Zaporizhzhya, which is the region directly to the west of Donbas, where the majority of the most intensive fighting over the past months has been staged, through this past week.

Such attacks could be “intended to disperse Ukrainian forces and set conditions for an offensive in Luhansk”, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a US-based open intelligence outfit analysing the trajectory of the frontlines.

They added that “Russia is redeploying elements of the 2nd Motorized Rifle Division from Belarus to Luhansk Oblast” in further signs that the possibility of Putin opening up a second frontline in the north to march on Kyiv appears unlikely. The Donbas, it seems, is the current goal.

Mr Danilov said that the Russian military has been “scouting” the defence capabilities of Ukrainian troops in the Zaporizhzhya region for a week.

The Donbas has been the site of fighting since 2014 when pro-Russian forces attempted to take control of the region with Putin’s backing.

Analysis from Brady Africk, an open-source intelligence analyst, shows Russian fortifications all along the front in Luhansk, from the Russian border down to Donetsk, and throughout Zaporizhzhya and Kherson.

Mr Africk suggested that Russians are trying to “consolidate their gains” while protecting the larger swathes of eastern Ukraine still under occupation.

The satellite images of the new fortifications appear to corroborate these claims as Russia prepares for the arrival of modern main battle tanks from the West.

Mr Africk, who works at the American Enterprise Institute, told The Daily Beast: “They’re trying to basically consolidate their gains and keep the parts that they’ve held on to thus far.

“I think it’s definitely both a message to soldiers in Ukraine, and to everyone who might be watching, that they’re going to at least try and stay.”

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The information on a new wave of soldiers in eastern Ukraine comes as Kremlin insiders told Bloomberg that they believe Putin is preparing the new offensive for, possibly, as early as February or March this year.

Russian officials, Kremlin advisors, and other unspecified knowledgeable figures, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Putin also believes an acceptance of high casualties will allow them to win the war.

As the West arms Ukraine with scores of main battles tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and howitzers, as well as state-of-the-art air defence missile systems, combat on the frontline looks set to increase.

During the winter, with the exception of the Bakhmut vicinity in Donetsk, the frontline has been largely stationary due to the cold conditions.

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