Ukraine’s top military commander signaled Saturday morning that the nation’s forces were ready to launch their long-anticipated counteroffensive following months of preparations, including recently stepped-up attacks on logistical targets as well as feints and disinformation intended to keep Russian forces on edge.
“It’s time to get back what’s ours,” Ukraine’s supreme military commander, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, wrote in a statement.
The blunt statement, accompanied by a slickly produced video of Ukrainian troops preparing for battle and released on social media, appeared intended to rally a nation weary from 15 months of war and to deepen anxiety within the Russian ranks. But Zaluzhnyi offered no indication of where and when Ukrainian forces might try to break Russia’s hold on occupied territory.
Other senior Ukrainian officials also suggested that the counteroffensive was imminent.
Oleksiy Danilov, the head of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, told the BBC in an interview released Saturday that Ukraine’s forces were “ready” and that a large-scale assault could come “tomorrow, the day after tomorrow or in a week.”
Ukraine has spent months amassing a powerful arsenal of Western-supplied weapons and training tens of thousands of soldiers in sophisticated offensive maneuvers for the campaign, which military analysts have suggested will most likely focus on Russian-occupied areas of southern and eastern Ukraine.
There were no public indications of large-scale troop movements along the vast front line Saturday morning. Both Ukraine and Russia have engaged in robust informational campaigns using videos and social media throughout the war.
But the statements from Zaluzhnyi and Danilov come as a growing number of senior Ukrainian officials — including the head of military intelligence — have said in recent days that Ukraine now has what it needs to go on the attack.
In many ways, military analysts have noted, the counteroffensive may already have begun.
For weeks, Ukraine has apparently been seeking to set the stage for the campaign and “shape” the battlefield through a series of coordinated strikes deep behind enemy lines aimed at undermining critical Russian logistical operations, degrading Russia’s combat abilities and compromising Moscow’s capacity to move its forces around the battlefield.
In recent days, the tempo and range of attacks deep inside Russian-held territory have increased. While Ukraine’s military has not explicitly claimed responsibility, local Russian proxy officials in occupied areas have reported strikes.
Adding to speculation that the start of a counteroffensive was near, internet and telecommunications went down in some Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine late Friday.
NetBlocks, which tracks internet outages around the world, said internet service was disrupted on the Crimean Peninsula and in parts of the Zaporizhzhia region in southern Ukraine — including in the town of Enerhodar, where Russian forces are occupying Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. Internet service also went down in Berdiansk and Melitopol, two strategically important cities that Russia has turned into military strongholds, according to NetBlocks.
“The reason for the internet outage is interruptions in the work of the Russian internet provider Miranda Media, which operates in Crimea,” the organization reported.
The outage came as Russia and Ukraine accused each other of preparing a provocation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which is not far from the front line. On Saturday, the morning after Ukrainian military intelligence warned that Russia was preparing to “simulate an accident” at the plant, Ukrainian officials said the night had passed without incident.
Ukrainian officials have been deliberately vague in outlining their military plans, most likely in hopes of maintaining an element of surprise in what has become a widely telegraphed campaign. They have said that the counteroffensive would not be marked by a single event and would probably feature feints and deceptions at the outset.
At the same time, Ukrainian officials also have sought to temper expectations, warning of a long and bloody fight in the months to come.
Russia still controls more than 40,000 square miles of land across southern and eastern Ukraine, which amounts to about 17% of the country, and has had months to fortify its defensive positions.
While Ukraine continues to seek more advanced weapons for its forces, senior Ukrainian and Western officials have said in recent days that Ukrainian forces have what they need to launch the counteroffensive.
And the arsenal will continue to grow. A week after President Joe Biden told U.S. allies that he would allow Ukrainian pilots to be trained on U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets, a step toward eventually letting other countries give the planes to Ukraine, Ukrainian soldiers started training in Germany on how to operate and maintain U.S. M1 Abrams tanks, according to the Pentagon.
About 200 of the troops — roughly one armored battalion — on Friday began conducting what the military calls combined arms instruction at training ranges in Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels, Germany, Lt. Col. Garron Garn, a Pentagon spokesperson, said in a statement.
That instruction includes basic soldiering tasks like marksmanship and medical skills, along with training at platoon and company levels, and eventually larger exercises involving battalion-size units facing off against one another.
The other 200 Ukrainian soldiers began training on how to fuel and maintain the tanks, Garn said.
Defense Department officials had previously said that about 31 tanks would be sent to Germany to be used in a training program for Ukrainian troops that is expected to take 10 to 12 weeks. Combat-ready tanks could reach the battlefields in Ukraine by autumn, the officials have said.
Initially, American defense officials had said that the M1 Abrams tanks would not arrive in Ukraine until next year. But since January, when the Biden administration reversed its long-standing resistance and announced that it would send the tanks, senior defense officials have said that they wanted to speed up the timeline.
As with the fighter jets, the delivery of the M1 Abrams tanks and trained crews would be months away, perhaps too late to have any impact on a Ukrainian counteroffensive. Nevertheless, the Ukrainian forces have received dozens of advanced Leopard II tanks as well as scores of Bradley Fighting Vehicles and other armor.
While the timing of the counteroffensive remained unclear, the statement from Zaluzhnyi was the most direct indication that the hour was drawing near.
The video that accompanied his statement was broadcast on national television and quickly spread across social media platforms.
Titled “Prayer for the Liberation of Ukraine” — a nod to a nationalist poem from the 1920s — it featured Ukrainian soldiers preparing for battle and vowing to “destroy” their enemies.
“Bless our decisive offensive!” the soldiers chant.