Russia claims it thwarted Ukrainian attacks in Moscow-annexed provinces

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) – Russian officials said their forces thwarted major Ukrainian attacks in two Ukraine provinces illegally annexed by Moscow. Ukraine did not confirm the attacks, so it is unclear whether they marked the beginning of an expected counteroffensive.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said in rare early-morning video released Monday that its forces pushed back a “large-scale” attack by five points on Sunday Donetsk province in southern Ukraineone of four regions that President Vladimir Putin claimed as Russian territory last fall but is only partially controlled by Moscow.

“The enemy’s goal was to break through our defenses in what they considered to be the weakest part of the front,” Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said. “The enemy has not fulfilled its tasks. It was unsuccessful.”

Konashenkov said 250 Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 16 Ukrainian tanks, three infantry fighting vehicles and 21 armored fighting vehicles were destroyed.

Vladimir Rogov, a Moscow-deployed official in southeastern Ukraine’s Zaporizhia province. said on Sunday that Kiev’s forces there also tried to breach Russian defenses but were repulsed after penetrating 400 meters (less than a quarter of a mile) into Russian-held territory.

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Active hostilities resumed early Monday, Rogov said, adding that “the enemy threw an even larger force into the attack than yesterday.” The new attempt to break through the front line was “larger in scope and more organized.” , he said, adding, “There’s a battle going on.”

Ukrainian officials did not confirm the attacks. The Center for Strategic Communications of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said on Telegram that the Russian Armed Forces are “increasing their information and psychological operations.”

“In order to demoralize Ukrainians and mislead the community (including their own population), Russian propagandists will spread false information about the counteroffensive, its direction and Ukrainian army losses. Even if there is no counter-offensive,” read a statement on Telegram.

Ukraine often waits until its military operations are complete to confirm its actions, imposing news blackouts in the meantime. Russia’s Defense Ministry said the alleged attack in Donetsk began Sunday morning and it’s unclear why it waited until Monday to make the announcement.

For months, Ukrainian officials have talked about plans for a spring counteroffensive to retake areas Russia has held since invading the country on February 24, 2022, as well as the Crimean Peninsula, which it captured in 2014.

But they have given confusing signals as to whether preliminary, limited attacks to weaken Russian forces and military installations would mark the start of the campaign, or just a full-scale simultaneous attack along the entire 1,100-kilometer (684-mile) front line.

At least two factors played a part in the planning: improving ground conditions for post-winter troop and equipment movements and the use of more advanced western weapons and training Ukrainian troops for their deployment.

The Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said Ukraine used six mechanized and two tank battalions in the attack. The ministry released a video purporting to show the destruction of some equipment in a field.

In a rare specific mention of the presence of Russia’s top military leaders on combat missions, Konashenkov said that the Chief of Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, General Valery Gerasimov, “was at one of the front command posts.”

The announcement of Gerasimov’s direct involvement may come in response to criticism from some Russian military bloggers and from Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, that Russia’s military leadership on the front lines is not sufficiently visible or has not exercised sufficient control or responsibility over the country military operations in Ukraine.

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