Ukraine has urged allies to help it strengthen its defences amid what it called Kremlin plans to mobilise more troops and launch a new offensive to “turn the tide” of the war in Russia’s favour.
The Kremlin has denied planning to call up more soldiers, even though the mobilisation of some 300,000 reservists in autumn did not produce any breakthroughs for Russia on the battlefield, where the frontline has barely moved since Ukrainian forces reclaimed Kherson city and nearby areas in early November.
“On the eve of new mobilisation processes being prepared by the terrorist state, now is the moment when together with our partners we must strengthen our defence,” said Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
“We have no doubt that the current masters of Russia will throw everything they have left, and everyone they can muster, to try to turn the tide of the war and at least postpone their defeat,” he added.
‘For a long time Wagner were regarded as scruffy mercenaries and not taken seriously. Western armies have finally woken up’
“We have to disrupt this Russian scenario. We are preparing for this. The terrorists must lose. Any attempt at their new offensive must fail. This will be the final defeat of the terrorist state. I thank all partners who understand this.”
Mr Zelenskiy spoke to the leaders of Britain, France, Denmark, Canada, Norway, Romania and the Netherlands on Tuesday and Wednesday, and his foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said arrangements were being made for a meeting of the so-called Ramstein group, which comprises defence chiefs of about 50 countries that provide military aid to Ukraine.
“The next Ramstein meeting will take place soon. It will be crucial for the announcement of new decisions,” Mr Kuleba said, adding that Ukraine needed more air defence systems to thwart Russian missile and drone attacks on its critical infrastructure.
“We ended last year with a revolutionary decision to provide Ukraine with American Patriot [air defence] systems… We expect the Patriots to be deployed as soon as possible. Preparations for the transfer of these systems have already started,” he added.
[ Zelenskiy: Russia looking to 'exhaust' Ukraine with protracted drone campaign ]
German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said on Wednesday that Russian president Vladimir Putin was intent on destroying Ukraine, so it was “important to keep up the delivery of weapons so Ukraine can defend itself and protect people’s lives”.
“That is why we must stand by Ukraine for as long as necessary,” she added.
After a call with Mr Zelenskiy, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said “the months ahead are crucial” and that “the Netherlands will do everything it can to help Ukraine not only defend itself, but also win the war”.
The defence ministry in Moscow raised the death toll from a Ukrainian missile strike on a Russian barracks in the occupied town of Makiivka in eastern Ukraine to 89, and said it was “obvious that the main reason” for the loss of life was the soldiers’ use of mobile phones, which allowed Kyiv’s forces to target the building with US-supplied Himars rockets.
[ Mourning and anger in Russia after scores of troops die in barracks missile strike ]
Some prominent Russian military bloggers, who have large online followings and close ties to the armed forces, say hundreds of soldiers may actually have been killed and injured in the missile strike in the early hours of New Year’s Day. Along with several Russian politicians, they have also called for a full investigation into the incident.
Ukrainian military spokesman Serhii Cherevatyi said Russia wanted a scapegoat for the incident and that soldiers’ use of mobile phones was not to blame.
“Using phones with geolocation is a mistake. But this story is quite silly,” he said. “The main reason [for the missile strike] is that they were not able to secretly deploy their personnel, and we took advantage by scouting and destroying the target.”