Russian forces in eastern Ukraine appear to be stockpiling ammunition and building up troop reserves ahead of an offensive that could begin in weeks, Ukraine’s top official in the Luhansk region has said.
The Russians “are bringing in ammunition, but they do not waste as much of it as they used to,” Serhiy Hayday, head of Luhansk region military administration, said Monday on VotTak television.
“Meaning they are saving ammunition load because they are getting ready for the full-scale offensive,” he added.
Hayday said that the Russian military continues to mass mobilized troops in Ukraine. He said he believes there are tens of thousands of mobilized troops in the occupied Luhansk region, not including regular army personnel like paratroopers.
The major threat is the quantity,” he said Tuesday on Apostrophe TV. “It is a huge monster which is at war with us, and it owns immense resources – not endless, but still. There are too many of them.”
Ukrainian leaders have for some time been warning of a renewed Russian offensive, particularly in eastern and southern Ukraine. Hand-in-hand have come pleas for more advanced and powerful western weaponry. Having received pledges for dozens of western main battle tanks, Ukrainian officials have stepped-up messaging about their desire for western fighter jets.
Despite the alleged build-up of resources in eastern Ukraine, it is unclear how much Russia will be able to change the calculus of the battlefield. The UK Defense Ministry said Tuesday that it was “unlikely that Russia can build up the forces needed to substantially affect the outcome of the war within the coming weeks.”
Russia has for months been trying to capture the eastern city of Bakhmut, without success. Its only notable victory has been the capture of a small town, Soledar, just north of Bakhmut. Nonetheless, its troops have successfully continued to advance slowly to the north and south of the city, in an effort to make a continued Ukrainian presence there untenable.
The commander of Ukraine’s land forces on Monday said that the landscape around Bakhmut – particularly hills to the west of the city – provides natural defenses that make it an “un-winnable fortress.”
More on Bakhmut: CNN reported in January that the US and Western officials were urging Ukraine to shift its focus from the brutal, months-long fight in the eastern city of Bakhmut and prioritize instead a potential offensive in the south, using a different style of fighting that takes advantage of the billions of dollars in new military hardware recently committed by Western allies.
CNN’s Natasha Bertrand, Alex Marquardt and Katie Bo Lillis contributed to this post.