With Ukraine on the offensive across its eastern and southern fronts as it seeks to regain territory lost to Russia, attention is turning to whether the long-anticipated counter-offensive has begun.
The Russian Defense Ministry issued a statement at 1:30 a.m. local time on May 5, saying that Ukrainian forces had launched a major offensive on the eastern front, according to Russia’s Sputnik and Tass news agencies.
“The enemy launched a large-scale offensive with the 23rd-31st Mechanized Brigade since the previous morning, mobilizing six mechanized battalions and two tank battalions on five fronts south of Donetsk,” the ministry said, adding that “the enemy’s goal was to break through the most vulnerable defense lines, but it failed.”
The ministry said Russian forces killed about 300 Ukrainian soldiers and destroyed 16 tanks, 26 armored personnel carriers, and 14 vehicles, and released video footage of white smoke billowing or exploding from vehicles that appeared to be tanks or armored personnel carriers.
While the Russian side was fairly specific in its description of the Ukrainian offensive, it is unclear whether this marks the beginning of a major counter-offensive that Ukraine has been vowing for months, major news organizations noted.
“We have no such information, and we do not comment on fakes of any kind,” a Ukrainian military spokesperson said in a formal rebuttal to the Russian Defense Ministry announcement, according to Reuters.
Ukraine’s only official comment on the attack was an announcement from the General Staff that there were about 29 clashes in the entire Donbass region, including Luhansk and Donetsk.
Earlier in the day, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) that Ukraine was ready to launch a counter-offensive against Russia, saying, “I strongly believe that we will succeed.”
However, Ukraine has not made any official announcements about the timing of the counterattack.
“Plans love silence,” Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said on April 4, adding that “there will be no separate declaration of the start of the (counter-offensive)먹튀검증.”
A video released by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry the same day showed armed Ukrainian soldiers putting their index fingers to their lips and making what appeared to be a secret “hiss” sound.
“Words are very unnecessary and only cause harm,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikow wrote on Twitter that day.
Questions have also been raised about whether the attack can be considered a counterattack, given that Ukraine has not officially confirmed a counterattack.
The British newspaper The Guardian said that while the Ukrainian 23-31st Mechanized Brigades used in the attack had significant offensive capabilities, it was too small a force to be considered a counterattack, noting that only two brigades would be able to break through Russian defenses.
The Guardian explained that a recent leak of U.S. Defense Department documents revealed that Ukraine is fielding 12 combat brigades, which does not include the two brigades deployed in this operation.
“The enemy is trying to break through,” said Alexander Khodakovsky, commander of the Vostok (Eastern) Battalion, which is part of the pro-Russian rebel-held Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), “and we were able to achieve tactical success thanks to the unity of our forces like a fist.”
“This attack does not mean a major counterattack, but if Ukraine succeeds in breaking through, more troops can be poured into the breakthrough,” he said.
The implication is that the Ukrainian military could launch a counteroffensive that starts with this attack and gradually escalates.