VLADIMIR Putin has assembled a huge army on Ukraine’s eastern flank as Russia gears up to blitz a key city before the 2024 presidential elections.
Forty-thousand troops, 500 tanks and hundreds of howitzer artillery guns stand poised to unleash hell on Kupyansk as Moscow’s forces edge closer.
“The Russian Federation plans to seize the entire Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts and part of Kharkiv Oblast up to the Oskil River by March 2024,” the Ukrainian Center for Defense Strategies explained.
Taking everything east of the Oskil river that runs through Kupyansk from the north is said to be Russia’s goal.
Since October, Russia has been aggressively throwing its troops into meat-grinder assaults along Ukraine’s frozen eastern frontline which took centre stage in its winter offensive.
Now, that offensive could reach its climax as Putin, 71, is desperate to secure a significant victory before the rubber-stamp elections in March that are all but certain to secure his brutal reign over Russia until at least 2030.
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A significant chunk of Kharkiv – where plenty of the war’s most brutal battles have been waged – would be the perfect election-day gift for the ageing ruler.
Kyiv knows that Kupyasnk must hold as it is a major gateway city to Ukraine’s second largest urban centre, Kharkiv.
Russia briefly occupied a large swathe of the Kharkiv region in 2022 but Ukraine liberated most of the oblast in a brave summer counter-offensive later that year.
Roughly 10 Ukrainian brigades – made up of 20,000 troops, hundreds of tanks and fighting vehicles and thousands of drones – are tasked with defending Kupyansk and surrounding settlements.
They will be going up against an army that potentially doubles them in size.
However, analysts say the biggest problem facing Ukraine’s military is its chronic ammunition shortages.
The US was Ukraine’s largest donor but Congress cut off aid to Kyiv this autumn after President Joe Biden’s last military aid bill was shut down.
Since then, Ukraine has only been able to fire 2,000 shells to Russia’s 10,000 a day, Forbes reports.
Moscow’s new supremacy over fire power has allowed its military to concentrate batteries around large towns and cities, with little risk of counter-battery fire.
“This situation empowers Russia to execute a well-known approach: the systematic destruction of urban areas, rendering them indefensible,” Ukrainian analysis team Frontelligence Insight reported.
And that destruction has already begun. “Our satellite imagery reveals sustained and intense artillery damage” around Kupyansk, their analysis noted.
Russian forces intensified its offensive in the area at the end of the summer but Ukraine has been bravely holding the line.
In recent weeks, however, Russia has been steadily making its way towards Kupyansk after advancing along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line.
On January 21, the Institute for the Study of War said that Putin’s forces had captured the village of Krokhmalne – but Kyiv claimed it was not a “problematic situation” as it is hardly a settlement.
Then on January 28, Russia announced the capture of Tabayivka, a village just 17miles from Kupyansk.
Ukraine quickly refuted the claim.
On February 2, Kyiv said its army repelled five major attacks in two settlements surrounding the city, Synkivka and Ivanivka.
And over the weekend, Russian troops began pounding the city using aerial bombs.
The attack struck an apartment building, houses and power grids. No casualties were reported – likely a light taster of the sheer brutality to come.
It comes as The Sun wrote a harrowing dispatch from the frontline Ukrainian town of Stepnohirsk which is making its final stand against Putin’s forces.
There are just 800 people left in the town being pummelled by Russian bombs – but its last residents have refused to abandon it.
Just a few miles from the Ukrainian counteroffensive line in the Zaporizhzhia region, there is no work, drinking water, or heating system, and shelling rarely stops.
The last survivors of Stepnohirsk are the elderly, disabled, and their relatives who take care of them.
Despite the Kremlin’s recent gains, Ukraine is managing to cause major damage to Putin’s war efforts by daring and inventive air, land, and sea attacks.
Last week, dramatic footage showed the moment Ukraine destroyed a column of Russian tanks and armoured vehicles in a single blitz using drones and missiles.
Kyiv unleashed pin-point strikes on Putin’s convoy manoeuvring near the frontline in the Russian-held Donetsk region during a two-hour onslaught.
While Ukraine also claims to have sunk another Russian warship with 50 sailors onboard – using a kamikaze sea drone.
Footage shared by Ukraine’s ministry of defence showed the dramatic moment its boats sped toward the £55million Black Sea missile ship “Ivanovets” and sent it up in flames.
The Ukrainian government’s defence intelligence announced the hit on the 184ft warship via messaging service Telegram.
It stated: “‘Ivanovets’ at the bottom – as a result of a special operation of the GUR of the Ministry of Defense, an enemy missile boat was destroyed.”
Russia’s 2024 election candidates
THE Russian elections will run from March 15 to 17 – with the winner inaugurated in May.
Vladimir Putin is all but certain to win the sham elections – securing a fifth term that would see the despot stay in power until at least 2030.
He is already the longest-serving Kremlin leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
This year, voting will also take place in what Russia calls its new territories – parts of Ukraine now controlled by Russian forces.
Although Putin will face little real competition in the tightly-controlled elections, there are contenders for the presidency.
Here are the hopefuls:
The anti-war presidential candidate, 60, has been galvanising Russian opposition towards Putin, with jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny backing him.
He has openly called for a halt to the war in Ukraine and for starting a dialogue with the West.
However, Nadezhdin is battling against Kremlin claims that he did not secure 100,000 ‘real’ signatures to be a candidate – so he could be kicked off the ballot.
A final decision is expected on February 7.
Slutsky, as head of the lower house of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, has been a prominent backer of Kremlin foreign policy that is increasingly oppositional to the West.
In the last presidential election in 2018, the Liberal Democrat party’s candidate tallied less than 6% of the vote.
Davankov is a deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament, the Duma.
His party was established in 2020 and holds 15 seats in the 450-member Duma.
Like Slutsky, he poses no real threat to Putin’s iron-fist grip on power.
The Communist Party’s candidate has opposed some of Putin’s domestic policies but not Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Although the Communist candidate typically gets the second-highest vote tally, Kharitonov also does not present a significant challenge to Putin.
As the party’s candidate in the 2004 election, he tallied just 13.8%.