While speaking with Sky News, Major General Andrii Kovalchuk, one of Ukraine’s top military officers who led counter-offensive operations to retake Kherson, said that the country is preparing for another attempt by Russian forces to advance on Kyiv from the north.
“We are considering a possible offensive from Belarus at the end of February, maybe later,” Kovalchuk said, adding that “We are preparing for it. We are investigating. We look at where they accumulate strength and means. We are preparing.”
He also noted that a second attempt at a northern front would likely be harder to defend, explaining that “It will no longer be the case that they will simply walk in, as was the case on 24 February (2022).”
A Belarusian brigade crosses a pontoon bridge over the Neman river during combat readiness inspection.
The BE army released a statement:
“Today Neman, tomorrow Vistula or Dnieper. There’re no barriers for us”
The Vistula is Poland’s main river
Try it… pic.twitter.com/Fa4HML5dqQ
— Visegrád 24 (@visegrad24) December 15, 2022
Kovalchuk also raised the prospect of Russia increasing conscription to send potentially millions of soldiers to the frontlines. When asked if Ukraine would be able to defend against a larger, more heavily armed Russian force from Belarus, he said “Definitely yes. I believe that our position and the position of our partners today should be clear.”
Despite asserting that Ukraine is prepared to defend itself yet again, Kovalchuk stressed the need for increased weapons from partner countries, specifically cluster munitions, tanks, aircraft, and anti-aircraft defenses. He said that “There is a corresponding counteraction to the enemy’s actions. We are sure that our partners will help us in this matter – those who want [us] to win. Because it is not only Ukraine winning today, but the entire civilized world. And we must win.”
Kovalchuk echoed previous statements by Ukrainian government and military officials that Ukraine will not stop fighting until all lost territory is recaptured, including separatist controlled areas of Donbas and Russian annexed Crimea.
The initial breakout of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, saw a multi-front advance south from Crimea, east from Donbas, northeast from Russia, and north from Belarus. Northern front operations were tasked with trying to capture the national capital of Kyiv in what would be a decapitating strike to depose the Ukrainian government.
On the first day of the invasion, Russian VDV forces launched a massive air assault operation from Belarus to a key airport in Hostomel, which sits just northwest of the capital. The plan was to swiftly capture and secure the airport to establish a sky bridge to ferry reinforcements for an attack on the capital. The operation, however, was a failure. While the initial air assault by VDV forces was successful, they were underprepared for Ukraine’s response due to intelligence failures by the GRU, which ultimately drove them back.
By the time Russian reinforcements reached the airport to recapture it, the runway was destroyed and plans for a sky bridge were abandoned. It has been speculated that if Russia was able to establish a sky bridge, Russian forces could have been able to capture the capital. Instead, Russian forces were delayed a day and were eventually held up in Bucha and Irpin for weeks before their withdrawal in April, along with the rest of Russian forces along the northern frontline that spanned to Kharkiv.
— Kiborgz (@Kiborgzzz) December 14, 2022
Over the past several months, Ukraine has constantly prepared for another Russian invasion from Belarus, with the potential of Belarusian forces directly joining operations. In October, the Belarus Ministry of Defense announced that more Russian troops would begin to arrive in the country for a “joint task force” positioned along the border with Ukraine. Since then, joint exercises have been held while Belarusian forces underwent snap combat readiness inspections. Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhny has also raised concerns this month of Belarus and Russia setting the stage for another assault from the north, saying that while not imminent, it could begin as early as January. Like anything with this war, we won’t know until it happens.