Melnyk: Putin is preparing a major offensive. We know, when and where

January 20, 2023

Currently, the war in Ukraine is on the verge of a turning point, or a new climax. Both sides, terrorist Russia and Ukraine, are getting ready; both build up reserves. The Russian invaders hope to turn the tide of war and seize the initiative from the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The Ukrainian army is preparing a powerful counteroffensive.

The offensive of the army of the Kremlin’s leader Vladimir Putin on Ukraine may take place in the period from the end of January to the beginning of March. The main direction is in the east of our country. However, Western partners are already adjusting their aid to Ukraine in accordance with this forecast, and the occupying army, which relies on mass mobilization, may face a problem. This opinion was expressed by the co-director of foreign policy programmes, coordinator of international projects of Razumkov Centre, military expert Oleksiy Melnyk in an exclusive interview for OBOZREVATEL.

— According to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the danger of new Russian missile and air strikes on targets in Ukraine has increased significantly. The General Staff also notes the additional danger posed by joint Belarusian-Russian exercises near the Ukrainian border. Do you think that Russia can go all-in and make an attempt to return the liberated territories under its control? Does the enemy really have such a chance?

— If you try to make an assessment of the situation at this point of time and for the near future, you can support the conclusions made by British intelligence, that this campaign is approaching another climax.

This does not mean that after this the course of the war will be definitively determined or a decisive victory will be achieved by either side. However, quite a few factors indicate that we are on the verge of a climax.

What do the Russian intentions mean? What happened in recent weeks and days, namely, new appointments in the military leadership, an attempt to achieve success at least in one section, primarily in the east, deployment of additional forces to the front line, covert mobilization measures - all this indicates that Russia builds up forces in order to try to achieve a turning point in the war in the near future, to seize the initiative.

This is being done not only for the purpose of an advance at the front, but also in order to give the Russian public, from ordinary Russians to the military, at least some success, to raise their morale, to improve their motivation.

As for the Ukrainian side, we are receiving signals from the military-political leadership that Ukraine plans a successful counteroffensive operation in the near future. Reserves are also created for this.

If we add foreign policy developments, it becomes obvious that the statements about the expansion of the range of weapons to be supplied to Ukraine are based on calculations of the possible offensive being prepared by Russia. 

The main goal is to prevent Russia from succeeding and to help Ukraine withstand this offensive if it comes before our counteroffensive, as well as to ensure a successful counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces, either for pre-emptive actions or to prevent Russia from implementing it plans.

— You said that Russia has a mobilization resource. But is it sufficient to turn the tide of war? Is this "cannon fodder" enough to attack successfully?

— I would like to draw your attention to the fact that in the presence of a millions-strong mobilization resource, that is, men who are subject to mobilization by the formal age parameter, Russia has to resort to non-standard steps. This points to problems with the standard, legal mobilization method.

In particular, they make such non-standard steps as raising the age limit for conscripts, which involves the recruitment of young people who have not passes initial military training, or automatic naturalization of immigrants who agree to join the Russian armed forces. Another Russian know-how has become infamous — recruitment of prisoners convicted of grave crimes and creation of new private military companies. That is, Russia uses all means to generate a human mass, which to a certain extent has shown itself to be successful in battles at the front.

But another question is whether a mechanical increase in the armed forces size will automatically improve their quality? Even in the Soviet times it took one to three months to complete the course of a novice fighter, to acquire absolutely basic skills. Will Russia wait until they have these basic skills - I mean those who have not served in the army - or will they immediately throw them into the front because, figuratively speaking, they need to plug holes?

Kalashnikov assault rifles are needed, gear is needed, which, as we have seen, the Russian Defence Ministry is unable to provide even at a minimal level. There were many reports of the mobilized buying equipment at their own expense. It is obvious that the problem with provision of the next 300 thousand will be even greater. 

I don’t even mention more serious things — tanks, artillery, ammunition, etc. All these problems will grow as the number of troops increases. In particular, the problems of logistics, starting from the place where they are called up, and ending with their destination on the battlefield.

If you consider it in the context of army ratings, the second or third military power in the world, it may seem that it exists. But if we take into account all these details and national peculiarities, it may turn out that the increase of the army will lead not to its strengthening but on the contrary, to its weakening. We strongly hope for this.

— You said that Western military assistance is provided dependent on the needs of a counteroffensive and countering the enemy offensive. May it also include some countermeasures against the Kh-22 missiles, which, as we see, Russia has begun to use against the civilian population of Ukraine?

— From the very beginning, Western aid was formed on the basis of coordination - at least we would like to believe that we are not simply given all necessary items. "Ramstein", which will gather on January 20, is precisely designed to provide a single centre of coordination. The input data rest on the needs of the Ukrainian army and the general situation, in particular, the current threats. Therefore, we may hope that all relevant statements that have been made will be translated into specific decisions on January 20.

Of course, technical specifications of the weapons that are transferred to us are very important. But in my opinion, the main thing that we need to understand now, what we need to convince our partners of, is that this aid should grow, and it should be stable, that is, continuous.

— The last clarification is about the climax we are talking about. Can you guess its approximate terms and priority areas?

— If we talk about approximate terms when we can expect Russia's attempt to go on the offensive, it largely depends on a few factors. At least, it is the readiness to attack, which cannot go unnoticed. With today's intelligence capabilities, it is simply impossible to gather a full-fledged task force somewhere, as a surprise. Of course, our intelligence and our partners monitor the situation in order to timely respond to the enemy's intentions.

The deadlines announced today are from the end of January to the beginning of March. In my opinion, this is the most threatening period. It is obvious that these terms will also depend on the seasonal or weather factor. The enemy will adjust these terms dependent on how warm or cold February will be, how early spring will come. Perhaps it will attack before it is fully ready.

For example, if the enemy sees the forecast of a sudden warming and, accordingly, an absolutely insurmountable obstacle to the use of heavy equipment in the offensive, then it may decide to start the offensive earlier or to postpone it to, say, April, when the thaw is over and the soil is dry.

Regarding the possible directions of the offensive, the main direction for Russia now is in Luhansk and Donetsk regions, because this is the minimum that Russia declared as the goal of the war - "liberation" of these Ukrainian regions.

Instead, for Ukraine, the main direction of a counteroffensive is in the south, which would allow to really turn the tide of the war by cutting in half the grouping of the Russian army, stretching from the left bank of the Dnieper to Rostov region.


Oleksiy Melnyk

Co-Director, Foreign Relations and International Security Programmes, Coordinator of International Projects

Born in 1962 in Khmelnytsty Rgn


Royal College of Defence Studies, London, UK (2007)

Air Field Operations Officer School, Biloxy, MS, US (2001)

Squadron Officer School, Montgomery, AL, US (1994)

Defence Language Institute, San Antonio, TX, US (1994)

Chernihiv Higher Military Air Force Academy, Ukraine (1984)


1980 – 2001 — Air Force Active Service (Cadet, Instructor Pilot, Flight Commander, Squadron Commander, Deputy Air Force Base Commander, Participant of two UN peacekeeping operations, Lt.Colonel (Ret)

2001 – 2004 — Razumkov Centre

2004 – 2005 — State Company Ukroboronservice

2005 – 2008 — Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, Head Organisational and Analytical Division — First Assistant to Minister of Defence

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