ladimir Putin is seeking ways to find the “high number of personnel” needed for a new military offensive in Ukraine without risking a major domestic backlash, British defence chiefs said on Monday.
They believe that Moscow may ordered another “round of call-ups” under the president’s partial mobilisation order.
They also highlighted reports that some groups of men were being stopped from leaving Russia, with border guards telling them that their names were on “mobilisation lists”.
Russia and Ukraine are both believed to be planning spring offensives to try to gain the upper hand in Putin’s war which has entered its 12th month.
In September, he declared a “partial mobilisation,” calling up 300,000 reservists as his invasion plans floundered.
In its latest intelligence update, the Ministry of Defence said: “Russian authorities are likely keeping open the option of another round of call-ups under the ‘partial mobilisation’.
“On 22 January 2023, media reported that Russian border guards were preventing dual passport holding Kyrgyz migrant workers from leaving Russia, telling the men that their names were on mobilisation lists.”
The briefing added: “Separately, on 23 January 2023, Russian presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that the decree on ‘partial mobilisation’ continues to remain in force, claiming the decree remained necessary for supporting the work of the Armed Forces.
“Observers had questioned why the measure had not been formally rescinded.
“The Russian leadership highly likely continues to search for ways to meet the high number of personnel required to resource any future major offensive in Ukraine, while minimising domestic dissent.”
Britain, America, Ukraine and its allies are fighting an information war against Putin’s regime so their briefings need to be treated with caution, however, they are far more believable than the propaganda issued by the Kremlin.
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky stressed that his country was facing a difficult situation in the eastern Donetsk province, and needed faster weapons supplies and new types of weaponry, just days after allies agreed to provide Kyiv with heavy battle tanks.
“The situation is very tough. Bakhmut, Vuhledar and other sectors in Donetsk region – there are constant Russian attacks,” Mr Zelensky said in a video address late on Sunday.
“Russia wants the war to drag on and exhaust our forces. So we have to make time our weapon. We have to speed up events, speed up supplies and open up new weapons options for Ukraine.”
Three people were killed and six injured on Sunday by Russian strikes on the southern city of Kherson that damaged a hospital and a school, civic chiefs said.
Russian troops occupied Kherson shortly after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and held the city until Ukrainian forces recaptured it in November. Since its liberation, the city has regularly been shelled from Russian positions across the Dnipro river.
Later on Sunday a missile struck an apartment building in the northeastern town of Kharkiv, killing an elderly woman, regional Governor Oleh Synehubov said.
Russia on Saturday accused the Ukrainian military of deliberately striking a hospital in a Russian-held area of eastern Ukraine, killing 14 people. There was no response to the allegations from Ukraine.
Ukraine’s General Staff said in a statement on Monday that Ukrainian defenders had repelled a Russian attack in Bakhmut, the focus of Moscow’s offensive in the eastern Donetsk region, and in several other cities in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
A Ukrainian military statement issued on the previous evening had noted intensified fighting in Vuhledar, southwest of Bakhmut, in recent days.
Denis Pushilin, the administrator of Russian-controlled parts of Donetsk, said on Monday that his forces had gained a foothold in Vuhledar, Russia’s TASS news agency reported.
Ukrainian military analyst and colonel, Mykola Salamakha, told Ukrainian Radio NV that Russian troops were mounting waves of attacks on Vuhledar.
Sunday’s civilian casualties came three days after at least 11 people were killed in missile strikes which were seen in Kyiv as the Kremlin’s response to pledges from Ukraine’s allies to supply battle tanks.
After weeks of wrangling, Germany and the United States last week said they would send Ukraine dozens of tanks to help push back Russian forces, opening the way for other countries to follow suit.
Britain was the first country to pledge to send battle tanks, with Ukrainian troops having arrived in the UK to train on how to use the 14 Challenger IIs being sent to the war zone.
While a total of 321 heavy tanks had been promised to Ukraine by several countries, according to Kyiv’s ambassador to France, they could take months to appear on the battlefield.
Ukraine is keen to speed up the delivery of heavy weapons as both sides in the war are expected to launch spring offensives in the coming weeks.
Talks were also under way between Kyiv and its allies about Ukraine’s requests for long-range missiles, a top aide to Mr Zelensky said on Saturday.
Ukraine has also asked for US F16 fighter jets.