Vladimir Putin may throw more Russian troops into fierce battles in the Donbas as he scrambles to be able to show “significant successes” in Ukraine ahead of May 9, British defence chiefs said on Thursday.
But the Russian President will be sending his forces to try to seize land which well dug-in, well-trained and well-equipped Ukrainian military units have been defending for up to eight years.
They have been fighting Moscow-backed separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk areas of eastern Ukraine since 2014.
The Ministry of Defence in London stressed that more Russian forces were now being deployed in the Donbas.
Mr Putin’s generals were also seeking to destroy Ukrainian air defences, with a “high level” of Russian air activity.
In its latest intelligence update, the MoD said: “Russian forces are now advancing from staging areas in the Donbas towards Kramatorsk, which continues to suffer from persistent rocket attacks.
“Russia likely desires to demonstrate significant successes ahead of their annual 9th May Victory Day celebrations. This could affect how quickly and forcefully they attempt to conduct operations in the run-up to this date.”
It added: “High levels of Russian air activity endure as Russia seeks to provide close air support to its offensive in eastern Ukraine, to suppress and destroy Ukrainian air defence capabilities.”
However, a senior Ukrainian official predicted that if the West continues to supply weapons to president Volodymyr Zelensky’s forces, Mr Putin would fail to achieve any significant victories in the Donbas by early May.
Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, tweeted: “If this help continues, Putin will have nothing by 5/9. There could be mourning instead in Moscow.”
Russian troops have suffered heavy losses, with reports of fatalities as high as 20,000, though this may be an exaggeration.
The number of injured or incapacitated Russian forces is estimated to be three to four times higher.
Tens of thousands of civilians are also feared to have been killed in Russian shelling and air strikes, including more than 50 in an attack on Kramatorsk railway station, as well as some being executed in war crime atrocities.
Thousands of Ukrainian military personnel have also been killed.