We will face a new active phase of the war, the Kremlin is adjusting its goals

March 09, 2023

A new active phase of the war may start soon, for which both sides — the Ukrainian army and the Russian invaders — are preparing. The weather will be the key factor here. Everyone is waiting for the fields to dry for heavy equipment to pass through. In anticipation of a Ukrainian counteroffensive, the Kremlin is trying to build up a stock of missiles, including Kalibrs, so, massive missile attacks in the near future are unlikely.

On the diplomatic front, the terrorist country is trying to put Ukraine at the negotiating table, because it really needs a break. At the same time, it can use the possible participation of the Ukrainian army in the demilitarization of Transnistria, so, this step would be highly undesirable and extremely dangerous, the co-director of foreign policy programmes, coordinator of international projects of Razumkov Centre, military expert Oleksiy Melnyk said in an exclusive interview for OBOZREVATEL.

— The Main Directorate of Intelligence released an audio recording of a telephone conversation of an occupier. He said that "in March, everyone will push – we’ll push on them, they’ll push on us", referring to the counteroffensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the offensive of the invaders’ army. Do you think that hostilities may really escalate in March? If it they really "push", what may it look like?

— I would not pay much attention to this particular interception. Even if he is an officer in the rank of a major, he is unlikely to know the plans of the Russian command. It may be his personal feeling or assessment.

As for the overall prospects of escalation in terms of offensive and counteroffensive, it is absolutely obvious that preparations are underway both on the Ukrainian and Russian sides. Weather conditions will be a key factor. They will not necessarily wait until the soil is completely dry to be able to use heavy equipment, as each party will try to seize the initiative, that is, to predict the enemy actions and impose its own game.

According to most forecasts, this may happen in mid-April. By then, the dry weather will obviously have already set in, but if one side starts the offensive early, the other side will also make adjustments.

— Do you see a connection between the claim of Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov that Russia did not reject negotiations with Ukraine, and the expected escalation at the front? After all, we remember that even before the full-scale invasion, the enemy traditionally raised the degree of confrontation on the eve of negotiations, in particular, in Minsk.

— This is an absolutely logical question, since negotiating positions are now being formed on the front line. Russia hopes that, say, an operational encirclement of a significant group of Ukrainian troops may force Ukraine to sit down at the negotiating table on terms favourable for Moscow.

There is also another factor in Russia that prompts them to make such statements and initiatives: Russia now urgently needs a break to build up resources, to increase the production of weapons that are in short supply, to find sources where they can buy arms and ammunition. Therefore, Russia's desire to reach some sort of a truce, a cease-fire, is an obvious fact.

Regarding Lavrov's statements, and not only his, the main addressees are Western partners, primarily Washington. They pursue at least two goals. The first one is to slow down or prevent the increase in supplies of military equipment, ammunition and weapons to Ukraine from its partners. The second is the best-case scenario for them: to convince Washington that the Ukrainian issue should be decided by two major players, and to simply present Ukraine with a fait accompli. But, as we can see from the actions of our partners, this does not look promising either.

— Operational Command "South" reported that the number of Russian missile ships in the Black Sea decreased from five to three. They carry up to 16 Kalibrs. What targets can the occupier choose? Do you think that these missiles in the Black Sea could also be a tool of pressure you mentioned earlier?

- In this case, we rather deal with manoeuvres of the Kalibrs carriers. They go out of the harbour into the open sea, but the presence of those ships in the harbour is not a sign that an attack is being prepared. 

One of their goals is to constantly "intimidate" Ukraine and keep it under pressure, in particular, using Kalibrs. These are also MiG-31 planes and strategic aircraft that take to the air from time to time, but do not strike. 

As for my assessment of the possibility of attacks now, I cannot rule them out, but our military says the attacks would not be on the scale seen last November or December, in terms of the number of missiles and drones involved.

One of the limiting factors is that Russia is stockpiling certain reserves in order to strike when the offensive starts. And the targets remain traditional: in addition to military sites, they will mainly include infrastructure facilities. There were statements from the Russian side that they were going to destroy fuel depots. This shows their unawareness if Ukraine has taken sufficient measures for these stocks to be not as vulnerable as they were last summer. That is, oil depots should no longer store thousands of tons of fuels and lubricants.

Also, what the Russians keep talking about, and what they tried to do in the past, is attacks on the Ukrainian infrastructure. Not only energy, but also transport – bridges, river crossings, etc. Actually, this can somehow affect Ukraine's ability to conduct a large-scale counteroffensive. 

— Do you see Transnistria as a problem for Ukraine now? If so, can Ukraine solve it with its army? 

— Transnistria is a problem indeed, but I would be very cautious about the scenario in which Ukraine can solve this problem by military tools. The key threat emanating from Transnistria is not as much the Russian contingent located there, but the danger of internal destabilization in Moldova using tested hybrid tools.

If Russia manages to create an internal violent conflict there, no matter what the scale, it will be a factor that will distract both Ukrainian forces and the international community to the resolution of this potential conflict.

Initiatives are voiced that Ukraine can, at Moldova’s request, send its troops to Transnistria and unblock this enclave. In my opinion, this is extremely risky, because it would be highly beneficial for Russia to provoke Ukraine to take such a step.

Even if Ukraine together with the Moldovan defence forces establishes military control over Transnistria, the military depots in this territory immediately become targets for Russian missiles. The scale of the disaster that could happen there overweighs any possible benefits from such actions for the Ukrainian side.

According to experts, it could be an explosion equal to 50 kilotons. Destruction may go well beyond Transnistria, with a huge number of human victims. Russia will easily take such a step if it has a slightest legitimate reason for it. 




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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