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Russia has amassed half a million troops at border, Ukraine claims

By Sarah May
|
February 5, 2023

As the world approaches the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the latter country's president, Volodymyr Zelensky delivered a stark warning to the West Thursday, asserting that his adversary is amassing upwards of 500,000 troops to exact retribution for the protracted nature of the war, as The Hill reports.

Zelensky's words of caution came at a Friday event in which he spoke alongside Ursula von der Leyen, chief of the European Commission.

Russian revenge

According to the Ukrainian leader, “Now Russia is concentrating its forces. We all know that. It is preparing to try to take revenge, not only against Ukraine, but against a free Europe and the free world.”

Zelensky appeared to be referencing a Wednesday statement from his own defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, who claimed that Russia had mobilized 500,000 troops in preparation for an onslaught likely to occur within a matter of weeks – a number far greater than Russian President Vladimir Putin initially announced had been enlisted.

Reznikov noted, “Officially, they announced 300,000, but when we see the troops at the borders, according to our assessments it is much more.”

Fears are growing that the Kremlin is poised to mount a sizable assault on Ukraine in the spring as a means to turn the tide on the ongoing conflict and avenge some of the shocking defeats the Russian military has sustained since the war began.

Window of opportunity narrows

Talk of a sizable Russian regrouping and relaunch has persisted for some time but appears to be gaining steam as the one-year anniversary of the conflict approaches.

It is thought that the large numbers of conscripts and reserve soldiers mobilized in autumn will permit an effective reconstitution of forces that sustained surprising losses in 2022.

Adding to concerns that Russia's push forward will occur sooner rather than later is the fact that although the U.S. and other western nations have agreed to send tanks and other equipment pursuant to Ukrainian requests, that aid will not arrive immediately, and the intervening delay could afford the Kremlin a key window of opportunity to attack.

Zelensky, for his part, has explained what he views as Russia's motivation to act with relative haste, saying, “The enemy is trying to achieve at least something now to show that Russia has some chances on the anniversary of the invasion.”

Jet request declined

In the face of warnings from Kyiv about an impending Russian escalation, President Joe Biden last week ruled out a Zelensky request to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, as the New York Post noted, when he was asked by reporters about the prospect of providing jets and replied with a simple, “No.”

Following up on Biden's refusal on the question of jets, National Security Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby noted that Washington has already sent massive amounts of weaponry and other assistance to Ukraine.

“What I can tell you is that there's a lot of capability that is being sent and will be sent in the coming weeks and months,” Kirby began.

The administration official went on to describe the sorts of aid that have already been offered, saying, “The kinds of capabilities that we know will be critical to helping Ukrainians again in the fighting now in the wintertime, as well as the kind of fighting that we expect that they're going to be doing in the spring.”

“We're going to talk”

Despite Biden's reluctance to send the fighter jets Zelensky so desperately desired, the president told reporters the very next day of the situation, “We're going to talk,” as the Washington Examiner noted.

That response, at least in the eyes of Reznikov, appears to mean that the matter may not be definitively and permanently closed.

“What's impossible today is absolutely possible tomorrow,” Reznikov reportedly said, a seeming nod to the fact that Biden and other western leaders have in the past denied Zelensky's entreaties for military aid, only to backtrack later on.

In the end, the willingness of the U.S. and its allies to continue fulfilling Ukraine's war-fighting wish lists may depend in large part on how accurate Zelensky's dire predictions of a springtime Russian offensive ultimately prove to be.