Ukraine is braced for a major new offensive that could begin within weeks. One of President Zelensky’s key insiders told The Daily Beast that they expect a looming Russian move to encircle the country with a simultaneous attack on three fronts.
Rustem Umerov, a member of the team negotiating with Russia, said the Kremlin was preparing for a fresh advance which could begin as soon as February. The assault would come from the north, over the Belarusian border, from the Russian strongholds in the east of Ukraine, and from the south, where the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea was seized by Vladimir Putin’s forces in 2014 and nearby cities of Melitopol and Zaporizhzhia are now also under Russian control.
“Russians are encircling us from 240 degrees, attacking from the Black Sea, from Belarus and the Luhansk and Donetsk regions,” Umerov said.
Russia declared its first victory in the war for months this week, claiming they had taken the salt-mining town of Soledar in Donetsk. There is still some dispute as to whether fighting continues for control of the town but the Russians have clearly made territorial gains—at a huge cost.
Mercenary fighters working for Wagner, Putin’s private army, have led the charge on Soledar and the nearby city of Bakhmut. Fighters recruited from Russian prisons were key to the onslaught; The Daily Beast reported that their fearless advances towards near-certain death helped the Russians identify pockets of Ukrainian resistance.
“They are coming from all directions, with three lines of fighting: criminals, private contractors, and regular forces. Their goals are to get rid of their criminals, to test and train their contractors,” Umerov said.