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Ukraine Expects New Russian Military Assault in January or February

Service members of the Ukrainian armed forces stand guard at fighting positions on the line of separation near the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk, Ukraine, April 9, 2021. (Serhiy Takhmazov/Reuters)

Halifax, Canada — A top adviser to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said his government expects that Russia will launch a new conventional military assault against Ukraine next January or February. And, he claimed, the U.S. intelligence community shares Kyiv’s assessment.

Roman Mashovets, the deputy head of the Ukrainian president’s office, made the comment during a half-hour interview with National Review on the sidelines of the Halifax International Security Forum this morning.

Mounting concern about the situation in Eastern Europe was a focal point of the annual defense huddle, which brings together lawmakers, government officials, and other decision-makers and experts from the world’s democracies. The Ukrainian delegation to the Halifax gathering met with a bipartisan group of U.S. senators who attended the gathering this past weekend to discuss the current security situation in Eastern Europe.

Mashovets also said that, even before his meeting with the congressional delegation this weekend, U.S. and Ukrainian intelligence services separately pinpointed early 2022 as the period in which Russia might undertake an attack on Ukraine. “United States did their assessment themselves. And when we shared our information with the United States, it was the same, almost the same, similar.”

In recent weeks, concern about Russian mobilization on Ukraine’s border has alarmed U.S. and allied government officials. The new buildup follows a previous military mobilization initially set in motion last April, during which Moscow placed upwards of 100,000 of its troops on the Ukraine–Russia border.

This most recent Russian buildup, says Mashovets, involves a surge in military equipment to new border areas, including tanks, armored personnel carriers, operational tactical missiles, and armored vehicles. Ukraine’s deputy minister of defense, Anatolia Petrenko, told reporters on Saturday evening that the new buildup is atypical because “we have seen Russians coming to new locations and never leaving those locations.”

The growing concern over Russia’s military activity has followed the recent completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline — which is expected to increase European energy reliance on Russia and deprive Ukraine and natural-gas-transit fees — and a since-paused campaign by Belarus’s dictatorship to flood NATO countries with migrants from Iraq and Syria.

The Ukrainian presidential adviser said that he thinks an eventual conventional attack of the sort that U.S. officials are warning about will follow an intensified hybrid-warfare campaign to destabilize Ukraine from the inside. “It’s not going to be classical like the Second World War,” he said. “Right now, Russia is searching for some kind of opportunity to shape the situation inside first.” As one example of this, Mashovets showed National Review images of anti-vaccine protesters in Moldova and Ukraine, with identical signs; he said the demonstrations were part of a Russian disinformation campaign.

The completion of Nord Stream 2, which awaits regulatory approval before it can become operational, and the Belarus-provoked migration confrontation, also play roles in this broader destabilization effort intended to soften the ground for a military campaign.

“It will be complex. It will be some sort of flash somewhere, and the background of that flash is going to be providing, if it’s necessary for them, conventional force,” Mashovets said.

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