Ukraine’s defense minister said the Russian offensives had subsided with the “replacement and regrouping of forces” in Moscow.
A senior official in Kiev said that Russian forces had temporarily eased their attacks on the besieged city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine to regroup and strengthen their capabilities.
Separately, senior Ukrainian officials indicated on Saturday that their forces were ready to launch a long-promised counteroffensive to recapture territory Russia has occupied since the start of the war.
Russia’s Wagner private army began handing over positions to regular forces this week after declaring full control of Bakhmut following the war’s longest and bloodiest battle.
In a statement on Telegram, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said that Russian forces continue to attack but that overall offensive activity has decreased.
“Yesterday and today there were no active battles – neither in the city nor on the flanks,” she wrote on Saturday, adding that Moscow forces were instead shelling the outskirts and approaches to Bakhmut.
“The decrease in the enemy’s aggressive activity is due to the fact that forces are being replaced and regrouped,” Maliar said. “The enemy is trying to strengthen its own capabilities.”
Oleksey Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told the BBC that the push could start “tomorrow, the day after tomorrow or a week later”.
Speaking to the British Guardian newspaper, Mykhailo Podolac, the presidential aide, said that initial operations such as destroying supply lines or blowing up warehouses had already begun.
A Ukrainian general, Valeriy Zaluzhny, posted an elegantly produced video on Saturday showing Ukrainian forces taking the oath and preparing for battle.
“It’s time to give back what is ours,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian military intelligence has claimed, without providing evidence, that Russia is planning a “large-scale provocation” at a nuclear power plant it occupies in the country’s southeast with the aim of disrupting an imminent Ukrainian counterattack.
A statement released on Friday by the Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine’s Defense Ministry claimed that Russian forces would attack the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, and then report a radioactive leak in order to launch an international investigation that would stop hostilities and give them information. The Russian forces are the respite they need to regroup before the counterattack.
In order to achieve this, Russia has “disrupted the personnel rotation of the Permanent Observer Mission” of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency that was scheduled to take place on Saturday, according to the statement. No evidence was provided to support any of the allegations.
There was no immediate comment from the International Atomic Energy Agency or Russian officials on the allegations.
The White House said it was monitoring the situation closely and had seen no indication of a radioactive material leak.
The allegations mirrored similar statements made regularly by Moscow, alleging without evidence that Kiev is planning provocations involving weapons or various dangerous materials in order to accuse Russia of war crimes.
The Zaporozhye Power Plant is one of the 10 largest nuclear power plants in the world. It is located in the partially occupied Zaporozhye region in southeastern Ukraine. The plant’s six reactors have been shut down for months, but it still needs power and qualified personnel to operate critical cooling systems and other safety features.
Fighting near it has repeatedly disrupted power supplies and raised fears of a potential catastrophe such as that at Chernobyl in northern Ukraine, where a reactor exploded in 1986 and released deadly radiation, contaminating a vast area in the world’s worst nuclear disaster.
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