KYIV: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Russia plans to mobilize more troops for a major new offensive, even as Moscow faces some of its biggest internal criticism of the war over a strike that killed dozens of fresh conscripts.
Kyiv has been saying for weeks that Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to order another massive conscription campaign and close its borders to prevent men from escaping conscription.
“We have no doubt that the current masters of Russia will throw away everything they have left and everyone they can muster in an attempt to turn the tide of the war and at least delay their defeat,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video speech on Tuesday.
“We must disrupt this Russian scenario. We are preparing for it. The terrorists must lose. Any attempt at their new offensive must fail.”
Russia’s Defense Ministry on Wednesday blamed its soldiers’ cellphone use for a Ukrainian New Year’s Eve strike that reportedly killed 89 servicemen, the deadliest incident Moscow has acknowledged for its troops since the start. of the war.
If Russia plans a new mobilization, the death of dozens of conscripts on New Year’s Eve could undermine morale. Hundreds of thousands of men fled Russia when Cheese fries ordered the first call-up of reservists since World War II in September after military setbacks.
Putin said last month there was no need for further mobilization. But in a sign that the Kremlin may now be considering one, a little-known group claiming to represent the widows of Russian soldiers appealed on Tuesday to Putin to order a large-scale mobilization of millions of men. The Kremlin did not comment on this call.
Russian anger
Russia effectively ended all direct opposition to the war, with open criticism banned by strict media rules. But it has given relatively free rein to pro-war bloggers, some of whom have hundreds of thousands of social media followers.
Many are increasingly speaking out about what they see as a half-hearted and incompetent campaign, and expressed anger this week over the strike that killed Russian soldiers housed at a vocational school in the province of Donetsk on New Year’s Eve.
Criticism has been directed at military commanders rather than Putin, who has not publicly commented on the attack.
Russia’s Defense Ministry, which raised the official death toll in the attack to 89 from 63, accused the soldiers of illegally using cellphones, which it says led Ukraine to locate the base in Makiivka, twin town of the regional capital Donetsk.
Semyon Pegov, a Putin-decorated war correspondent, said on Telegram that the cellphone explanation “looks like an outright attempt to smear the blame”, and that there were other ways in which the Ukraine could have spotted the base.
Other pro-Russian bloggers said the strike worsened because ammunition was stored at the site. Moscow has not confirmed this.
Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute think tank, said Moscow struggled to safely house freshly mobilized troops near the front in winter.
“They are harder to disperse due to a lack of leadership in small units, and they will do worse in the cold than trained soldiers,” he tweeted. But housing them near ammunition “is simply a failure of leadership”, he added.
Armored vehicles
French President Emmanuel Macron told Zelenskyy that France would send AMX-10 RC light armored fighting vehicles to help in the war, a French official said after a phone call between the two men, adding that it would be the first time that Western-made armored vehicles would be used. delivered in support of the Ukrainian army.
An official of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s intelligence section, Andriy Cherniak, said in comments to RBC-Ukraine media that Kyiv did not expect a letdown in the Russian offensive this year despite the heavy human toll.
“According to Ukrainian military intelligence estimates, over the next four to five months the Russian army may lose up to 70,000 people. And the leadership of the occupying country (Russia) is ready for such losses,” he said. said Cherniak.
Russian leaders “understand that they are going to lose but they don’t plan to end the war”, he said.
In a signal to the West that Russia will not back down on Ukraine, Putin on Wednesday sent a frigate into the Atlantic Ocean armed with next-generation hypersonic cruise missiles, which can travel more than five times the speed of the his.
Ukraine’s military staff said in its daily update that Russia had launched seven missile strikes, 18 airstrikes and more than 85 attacks from multiple-launch rocket systems in the past 24 hours on civil infrastructure in the cities of Kramatorsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.
“There are casualties among the civilian population,” he added. Russia denies deliberately attacking civilians.
Reports from the battlefield could not be independently verified by Reuters.
The Ukrainian General Staff also said that Russian forces continued to focus on their advance near the town of Bakhmut in Donetsk province, where both sides are believed to have lost thousands of troops during weeks of intense trench warfare.
Putin plans to hold talks with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Interfax. Turkey acted as a mediator alongside the United Nations to reach an agreement allowing grain exports from Ukrainian ports.
Russia launched what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine on February 24, citing threats to its own security and the need to protect Russian speakers. Ukraine and its allies accuse Moscow of an unprovoked war to seize territory.

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