The first anniversary of the Russia-Ukraine war happens in less than three weeks, and Ukraine has announced it anticipates possible Russian offensives to commemorate the date.
Ukraine Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said that Russia “likes symbolism” and that strikes on February 24, 2023, on the war’s anniversary wouldn’t be far-fetched.
“We still, of course, expect possible offensives from the Russians, because it’s February, they like symbolism – February 24 will be a year since this invasion began, the open stage of the Ukrainian-Russian war, which began in 2014,” Reznikov said Sunday at a press conference. “That’s why we expect this pressure. We are ready, the Armed Forces are ready, the Staff of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief is constantly monitoring, so there are no unexpected things for you and me.”
Russia began positioning troops along the Ukrainian border in late January 2022, particularly along Ukraine’s eastern and northeastern boundaries. Russia this time last year also held training exercises with the Belarusian military on Ukraine’s northwest border, and a Russian invasion seemed evident.
This time last year, though, the 2022 Winter Olympics were being held in Beijing. It was suspected that Russian President Vladimir Putin would hold off until the Winter Games concluded before any attack.
The Beijing Winter Olympics ended on February 20, 2022, and Russia invaded Ukraine four days later. Russia similarly invaded and occupied Crimea during a month-long stretch in 2014, beginning just three days before the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia wrapped up.
There are no Winter Olympics this year but there has been intense fighting between Russia and Ukraine over the last 347 days. Reznikov said that although there have been no increased troop levels by Russia in Belarus or occupied territories, it doesn’t mean an offensive won’t happen.
“As of today, on the territory of Belarus, we do not see formed strike groups capable of going to Kyiv,” Reznikov said. “As of today, there is no such concentration of troops there. According to our estimates, no more than 12,000 Russian soldiers are on training grounds in Belarus.”
Reznikov added that the war “could have been avoided” if Russian ships had been banned from international ports, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline been stopped and if international payments with SWIFT had been cut off sooner.
“This war could have been avoided in principle if Nord Stream 2 had been stopped, if access to the SWIFT system had been cut off, if Russian ships had been banned from entering international ports, if Europe had stopped buying their gas, which they did in the end anyway, if they started block the assets of Russian oligarchs – this war could be avoided,” Reznikov stated.
Newsweek reached out to the Ukraine Defense Ministry.
Editor’s Note: Shortly after this was published, Newsweek learned of Reznikov’s possible transfer from Defense Ministry to the Ministry of Strategy and Industry, per the Kyiv Independent.