Russia is moving large numbers of troops to southern Ukraine for battles against the country’s forces across the newly occupied territories and Crimea, according to Ukraine’s deputy military intelligence chief.
If Russia won, it would try to capture more territory, Vadym Skibitsky said. “They are increasing their numbers, preparing for our counter-offensive [in Ukraine’s south] and perhaps preparing to launch their own offensive. The south is essential for them, especially because of Crimea,” he said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy corroborated this information in his last national address, saying that Russia was moving troops from eastern to southern Ukraine in order to push towards the regional capital of Kherson as well as the Zaporizhzhia region.
“Now the Russian army is trying to strengthen its positions in the occupied areas in the south of our country, increasing activity in the areas concerned,” he said, adding that “strategically, Russia has no chance to win this war”.
The Russian troop movements come in response to Ukraine’s declared counter-offensive to liberate the occupied southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
Ukrainian forces have taken over dozens of villages and towns along the border, according to the region’s military governor, Dmytro Butrii, and are pushing towards the regional capital of Kherson.
The Kherson region spans the Ukrainian Dnieper. Earlier this month, Ukraine carried out precision strikes using US-supplied weapons on the Antonovskiy Bridge in the Kherson region, damaging a key Russian supply line. The Institute for the Study of War in Washington said Ukrainian forces and partisans also damaged the only two other bridges connecting occupied Kherson.
On Saturday, the Ukrainian military said it killed dozens of Russian soldiers and destroyed two ammunition dumps in fighting in Kherson.
Urging residents to stay away from Russian ammunition dumps, the first deputy head of the Kherson regional council, Yuri Sobolevsky, said that “the Ukrainian army is dumping it against the Russians, and this is just the beginning “.
According to Skibitsky, Russia withdrew tactical groups of airborne forces from Donbass two weeks ago and moved them to occupied Kherson. Russia is also moving troops from its Eastern Military District, which was used to attack Sloviansk, a Ukrainian-controlled city in Donetsk, and was in reserve in Russia’s southern Belgorod region.
The open source investigative group, Conflict Intelligence Team, confirmed Skibitsky’s claim in part last week.
Meanwhile, in occupied eastern Ukraine, a prison holding Ukrainian prisoners of war was hit on Thursday evening. Zelenskiy denounced the strike as a “war crime”, accusing Russia of carrying out the attack to cover up the mistreatment of the prisoners. Russia denied responsibility and said Ukrainian forces hit the prison with rockets. Zelenskiy said at least 50 people died. Ukrainian authorities say they do not yet know the identity of the dead.
Despite moving its tactical battalion groups south from Donbass, Russia would continue to attack in the region, but with less intensity, Skibitsky said.
In the Kharkiv region, he said, Russia is focusing on defending positions and preventing Ukrainian forces from reaching the Ukraine-Russia border.
If Russia won the battles in southern and eastern Ukraine, it would pursue new offensives to capture more Ukrainian territory using units it was currently training in Russia, Skibitsky said. “They are now creating rifle battalions of reservists in each Russian military district and a third army corps in [Russia’s] western military district,” he said.
The training and equipping of the new corps had begun under the direct supervision of the Russian Minister and Deputy Minister of Defense.
Where Russia will use the new corps will depend on how the battle develops in the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine, Skibitsky said.
He warned that one of the “good points” of the Russian military was its ability to move troops and equipment quickly. He said Russia had practiced this in pre-war military exercises and pointed to how Russian forces withdrew from northern regions of Ukraine in March and reappeared in Donbass two weeks later. “We know they can return to Belarus in two to three weeks if they need to,” he said.
Skibitsky said that in addition to more weapons, Ukraine needed help training troops overseas. He said Russia had actively targeted Ukrainian training bases, giving several examples, including a strike on a military base just northeast of Kyiv that killed 87 Ukrainian soldiers in May.
Last Thursday, Russian forces struck a military base northwest of Kyiv, according to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. It was unclear if there were any casualties. Ukraine has not disclosed any military casualties for strategic purposes since the start of the war.
MI6 chief Richard Moore tweeted on Saturday that Russia was running out of steam after losing dozens of men and being forced to use Soviet-era weapons.
Skibitsky said Russia was short of high-quality rockets, but he pointed out that there was “a huge amount” of old Soviet rockets left in its stockpiles. Over the past two months, Russia has used Soviet anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles on ground targets.
“They’re using rockets that are, say, past their best-before date — over 30 years — and are therefore less efficient,” he said. “But they’ve had enough and any rocket works to scare people.”
Russia is accelerating production of new weapons, he added. In early July, the Russian parliament passed war-saving measures to force companies to supply the army and force some employees to work overtime.
Although Western sanctions on high-tech components that can be used for military purposes have made things slower and more difficult, Russia seems to have found ways to evade them. US authorities have blacklisted dozens of companies for helping the Russian military dodge sanctions since the invasion.
“We are entering winter,” said Skibitsky, who said Ukraine would need weapons as well as food and funding from the west to get through.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian ships loaded with grain were spending another day in port. The ships are ready to start exporting goods, but the country is awaiting the green light from the UN and Turkey, which brokered a deal with Russia to allow Ukrainian ships to pass safely.
Shipments from the ports of Odessa, Chornomorsk and Pivdennyi will be overseen by a joint coordination center based in Istanbul, which will involve Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN officials.