Ukraine war: Russia ‘may try to take Kyiv again’ in big new year offensive, say Zelenskyy and army

Ukraine’s president and top defense chiefs have predicted that Russia will launch a new offensive early next year that could include a second attempt to take the capital Kyiv.

His warnings came as Western allies stepped up their support for Ukraine with additional funding and military training.

The new Moscow offensive could happen as early as January, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, General Valery Zaluzhniy and General Oleksandr Syrskiy said in interviews with The Economist magazine on Thursday.

Officials said the drive could be launched from the eastern Donbas area, the south or neighboring Belarus, and could include another ground assault on Kyiv, which Moscow failed to capture early in the invasion.

“The Russians are preparing about 200,000 fresh troops. I have no doubt they will have another chance in Kyiv,” Zaluzhniy was quoted as saying.

Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov also said in comments published in The Guardian on Thursday that evidence was mounting that Russia was planning a new broad offensive.

He speculated that this could happen in February, when half of the 300,000 soldiers recruited by Russia in October to support the war would complete training.

“The second part of the mobilization, approximately 150,000… spend a minimum of three months preparing. It means that they are trying to start the next wave of the offensive probably in February, like last year. That is their plan,” Reznikov told The Guardian.

Both sides have ruled out a Christmas truce and there are currently no talks aimed at ending the conflict, Europe’s biggest since World War Two.

EU and US agree more aid for Ukraine

European Union leaders agreed on Thursday to provide €18 billion in financing to Ukraine next year and hit Moscow with a ninth package of sanctions.

The US Senate passed a bill for a record $858 billion defense budget next year, authorizing $45 billion more than what President Joe Biden proposed. The bill, which Biden is expected to sign into law quickly, provides Ukraine with at least $800 million in additional security assistance in 2023.

Ukraine has repeatedly urged its allies to send more air defenses to counter Russian missile barrages, including against its energy infrastructure.

Russia has fired barrages of missiles at Ukraine’s energy infrastructure since October, disrupting power supplies and leaving people without heat in frigid winter conditions.

Russia keeps hitting east and south

Over the past 24 hours, Ukrainian troops repelled attacks by Russian infantry at several locations in the Donetsk region, including Bakhmut and Soledar, the Ukrainian General Staff said on Friday.

The Russian military carried out 23 airstrikes and four missile strikes, as well as 78 bombardments with multiple rocket launchers, it said.

Ukraine’s military staff said Russia’s main focus remained on the eastern cities of Bakhmut and Avdiivka, but it was also trying to gain a foothold in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia.

He said that on December 14, Ukrainian forces destroyed a number of military equipment in the city of Tokmak in the Zaporizhzhia region, injuring about 180 Russian soldiers.

Russian state news agency TASS reported on Friday that at least eight people were killed and 23 wounded by Ukrainian shelling on the village of Lantrativka in Ukraine’s Russian-controlled Lugansk region.

Reuters could not immediately verify the battlefield accounts.

Earlier this week, Reuters reported that the United States is finalizing plans to offer Ukraine the Patriot missile defense system — one of the most advanced systems, and one that could require months of training.

The Kremlin said the United States was “getting further and further into the conflict” and that Patriot systems would be legitimate targets. The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that this applies to all Western-supplied weapons.

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