Ukraine’s troops are poised to launch a major spring offensive before Russia in a bid to seize the initiative, according to a former senior officer in the British Army.
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Crawford, an officer in the Royal Tank Regiment for 20 years, said both sides would be desperate to break the stalemate around the anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
He spoke as the US military announced plans to increase its production of ammunition fivefold in the next two years to keep feeding the Ukrainian war machine. The dearth of ammunition has been caused by a greater emphasis on traditional exchange of indiscriminate artillery, missile and rocket fire.
Crawford said: “After the initial Russian advances on Kyiv and Kharkiv, which were repulsed, and the very important recapture of Kherson by the Ukrainians, everything’s come to a bit of a stalemate. Not, obviously, for those actually fighting in the trenches on the ground around Bakhmut and Soledar.
“Undoubtedly, though, the tempo of the war has slowed down quite dramatically over the winter months.
“Everybody’s saying the Russians are bound to have a spring offensive. But there’s a very distinct possibility the Ukrainians may beat them to it and get out the traps first.”
For weeks there has been speculation Russia is planning a major escalation of its war in Ukraine to mark the first anniversary of its invasion.
Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said Moscow had plans to overshadow commemorative events in Western countries and that those countries would “not be the only ones to gain the world’s attention” that day.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also warned Russia was building up its troops to take revenge on the West for its support for Ukraine over the past year.
Crawford said: “The key factor will combined arms operations – which is tanks, infantry, artillery, engineers, air defence, medical supplies and so on. To date, the Ukrainians have proved to be a bit more adept at it than the Russians. But the Russians will learn and they’ll get better.
“One of the problems both sides have is that neither has air superiority. In Western military doctrine if you don’t have at least local air superiority, it’s very difficult to swing large formations of armoured vehicles around the countryside without them being very vulnerable to attack from above.
“The Ukrainians are probably better prepared but they don’t have sufficient weaponry, hence Zelenskyy asking for 300 tanks. “If you look at the scale of Ukraine and the front line, which is at least 600 miles long if not more, his request for 300 tanks is actually quite modest.
“The other big thing is ammunition. The Western countries don’t have the capacity to replace it fast enough. The USA, Britain and other countries are trying desperately to ramp up their production and that cannot happen overnight.”
Looking back at a year of the war, Crawford said historic Sevastopol, the largest city in Crimea and a major port on the Black Sea, was the key to the Ukrainian war effort.
He said: “The Ukrainians will attempt to recapture Crimea because Crimea is the strategic goal in the war. That’s the most important piece of territory and the naval port of Sevastopol is the most important part within that important part of territory.
“It controls the Black Sea and the entrance to the sea of Azov. Putin will not give it up so the Ukrainians will have to take it if they can. If they succeed, there is a possibility it might persuade Zelenskyy and the Ukrainians they have a springboard to at least consider peace negotiations.”
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