Russians ‘Fear’ Ukraine Will Launch ‘Major Offensive’ in North-East, Says UK Govt

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Russian forces “fear” their Ukrainian foes are poised to launch a “major” offensive near the north-eastern front, around the Luhansk oblast of the Donbas and the Kharkiv (Kharkov) oblast, according to the British government.

In its Thursday update on the course of the war in Ukraine, Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) described how “heavy fighting has continued in parts of the Svatove-Kremina sector of the front line in northern Luhansk Oblast” — which, unlike the Donetsk oblast of the Donbas, Russian forces have managed to bring almost entirely under their control.

“Russia has partially regained control over the immediate approaches to Kremina town, which was under immediate Ukrainian threat earlier in the year,” the MoD went on, adding that Russian forces has in places made “gains of up to several kilometres” — but unlike Bakhmut, where Russian operations are offensive in character, the British believe that these moves ultimately have defensive aims.

“Russian commanders are likely trying to expand a security zone west from the defence lines they have prepared along higher ground, and integrate the natural obstacle of the Oskil River… Russia’s intent in the north-east likely remains defensive,” the MoD explained, suggesting that Russian military leaders “probably fear this is one of the sectors where Ukraine could attempt major offensive operations.”

The north-east was the scene of Russia’s most disastrous reverses of the war — or, as Moscow would have it, “special military operation” — in 2022, with its forces being routed almost entirely from the occupied Kharkov Military–Civilian Administration, which has stretched from the Russian border all the way to the outskirts of Kharkiv (Kharkov) itself.

The Ministry of Defence believe Russian forces are “likely seek[ing] to recapture” the Kharkiv Oblast city of Kupiansk (Kupyansk), which had been the administrative capital of the occupation zone before the Russian rout, as part of the aforementioned efforts to establish a “security zone” in anticipation of a much-discussed Spring counter-offensive by the Ukrainians.

An import logistics node, Kupiansk was surrendered to the Russians in the early days of the war by Mayor Hennadiy Matsehora without a fight in order to spare it from being taken by force, and remained under Russian control until September of last year.

Mateshora was later charged with treason, and the allegedly Russia-aligned party he was affiliated with — Opposition Platform – For Life, the second-biggest force in the Ukrainian Rada (Parliament) — has been banned by President Volodymyr Zelensky, alongside other opposition parties including the Socialist Party of Ukraine,  Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine, and Union of Left Forces.

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