The Russian former president Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow was preparing for a Ukrainian counteroffensive, as Kyiv claimed Russian forces were “running out of steam”.
“They [the Ukrainian side] are preparing for an offensive, everyone knows that. Our general staff is calculating this and is preparing its own solutions,” Medvedev said in an interview with Russian media on Friday.
Medvedev, who is deputy chair of Putin’s powerful security council, further warned that Moscow was ready to use “absolutely any weapon” if Ukraine attempted to retake the Crimean peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014.
Medvedev’s latest apparent threat to use nuclear weapons came amid growing acknowledgment in Moscow that its forces may soon find themselves on the defensive in Ukraine as its own winter offensive appears to be slowing down.
In a video interview released on his social media channels Thursday, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner group’s head, warned that Ukraine was planning to surround the private military’s forces in Bakhmut and push forward toward the Black Sea in the partially occupied Zaporizhzhia region.
He claimed Ukraine had concentrated more than 80,000 soldiers around the eastern Ukrainian-held city.
The Russian army, aided by the Wagner, has been throwing thousands of soldiers into battle for more than two months in its attempt to take Bakhmut and the surrounding area.
Western officials have for a long time warned that Bakhmut was on the brink of falling to Russia. The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, however, said his troops would continue defending Bakhmut, which has emerged as a potent symbol of Ukrainian resistance.
Boosted by the influx of modern western weapons, Ukrainian commanders have started to raise the prospect of an unlikely turnaround in the largely ravaged city.
Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine’s land forces, said on his Telegram channel on Thursday that “[Russians] are losing significant forces [in Bakhmut] and are running out of energy”.
Russia has lost up to 30,000 soldiers in Bakhmut, including many former convicts recruited from prisons by Wagner, according to western officials.
“Very soon, we will take advantage of this opportunity, as we did in the past near Kyiv, Kharkiv, Balakliia and Kupyansk,” Syrskyi said, referring to previous successful Ukrainian attacks.
The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is yet to comment on Ukraine’s predicted counteroffensive.
He has largely refrained from commenting on military developments on the ground.
But inside Russia, some loud pro-war commentators have renewed their attacks on the military leadership over its inability to achieve tangible military successes as the war enters its 14th month.
Igor Strelkov, a Russian ultra-nationalist and former intelligence officer, this week issued his harshest criticism of the Russian president to date, lambasting him for not modernising the army and calling him a “wet towel”.
“Vladimir Vladimirovich, shut up. Just shut up, keep quiet,” Strelkov said in a video tirade this week directly aimed at the president. “Then we won’t have to be ashamed that there is such a president in our country.”