May 3, 2023 - 7:00am

Much discussed and long awaited, the Ukrainian counteroffensive is now imminent. On Friday, Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov commented that preparations “are coming to an end”, with Ukraine “ready in a high percentage mode”. Meanwhile, on Saturday, Wagner Group mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin speculated that the Ukrainian assault could launch before 15th May.

The front line is also heating up. Ukraine has struck at a fuel storage facility to undermine Russian logistics, and Russia has been expanding its efforts to detect increased Ukrainian partisan activity expected to accompany the offensive. Betraying fears of just how far Ukrainian forces may advance, Russia has not only been fortifying its defences across the front lines, but also within Russian territory in the Kursk and Belgorod regions.

While only a small coterie of Ukrainian officials know the exact plans for the coming push, the UK Ministry of Defence has noted that Russia is putting significant effort into strengthening its defensive lines around the Zaporizhzhia front line. This is due to fears that Ukraine may attempt to seize the transport and logistics hub of Melitopol, in turn severing the land bridge which permits Russia to supply its forces from Crimea.

For its part, Russia has been striving to hamper the burgeoning Ukrainian offensive, this week launching a wave of missile strikes on civilian and military-industrial targets across Ukraine. However, its belligerence masks signs of weakness, disorganisation and a lack of trust in senior officials. On 27th April, social media accounts linked to the Russian military claimed that Deputy Defence Minister Mikhail Mizintsev had been dismissed after just eight months in the role, the UK Ministry of Defence linking his sacking to Russia’s “paucity of ammunition”.

Meanwhile, in merely the latest incarnation of his longstanding rivalry with the Russian defence establishment, Prigozhin took to the airwaves on Saturday to protest that his fighters in the eastern city of Bakhmut have only enough ammunition to last a matter of days, personally appealing to Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to provide more supplies and threatening to withdraw his forces from the embattled city. Although not the first time Prigozhin has publicly complained and wheedled in a bid to get his men more ammo, this does indicate significant issues with Russia’s frontline supplies on the eve of battle.

These logistical difficulties may render Bakhmut vulnerable to Ukrainian advances in the coming onslaught. The commander of Ukrainian ground forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, pledged on Tuesday that Ukraine will “hold Bakhmut”, having claimed the previous day that some Russian forces there had been forced from their positions, while the Institute for the Study of War reported Russian advances slowing in the beleaguered city.

Leaked US intelligence revealed concerns back in February that Ukraine may not possess sufficient troops and weaponry for the attack and predicted only “modest territorial gains”. Yet Ukraine’s own readiness seems to have improved since then. Last month, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg claimed that 98% of the Western weaponry pledged to Ukraine had been provided, including 1,550 armoured vehicles, 230 tanks, “vast amounts of ammunition” and the training of more than nine new Ukrainian brigades estimated to number over 30,000 troops.

While US intelligence leaks in April may have forced Ukraine to alter its battlefield plans, its military has nevertheless endeavoured to expand its forces, supplies and weaponry for the coming assault. However, its success on the battlefield may stem not just from its own strength, but from the disarray and weakness within Russia’s military, too.