With just a few words and a slickly produced piece of military propaganda, the commander in chief of Ukraine’s armed forces ratcheted up speculation that a long-awaited counteroffensive by Kyiv against Russia’s occupying forces could be imminent.
“The time has come to take back what is ours,” said the official, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhyni.
The minute-long video features Ukrainian troops marching, training and apparently preparing for battle.
Some are seen using German tanks and American artillery and rocket launchers – the type of armaments Kyiv would use in a potential operation to push Russian forces out of Ukrainian territory.
The clip ends with soldiers and their commander chanting a defiant message: “Ukraine, my native motherland, Lord, our heavenly father, bless our decisive offensive, our sacred revenge, our holy victory.”
The video came online following weeks of speculation regarding when Ukraine would start its counteroffensive – or whether it might even be said to have already begun.
Despite its language, Zaluzhyni’s post made no explicit mention of an impending military operation, and there have been few details reported on the ground of specific build-ups of troops and weapons - though it should be noted that any such reporting would likely fall foul of Ukraine’s martial law restrictions.
Both Russia and Ukraine have been known to engage in disinformation campaigns to confuse enemy forces.
The counteroffensive itself has seemed imminent a handful of times over the past month.
The Ukrainian military has been spotted moving military hardware toward the front lines and carrying out attacks against Russian targets that could facilitate an offensive, including strikes on Thursday and Saturday in the Russian-occupied city of southern port city of Berdiansk.
The Kremlin said Saturday that, in the past 24 hours, its forces had shot down 12 Ukrainian drones flying over Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia, a trio of Ukrainian territories that are all part-occupied by Russian forces.
Russian says its air defenses also intercepted several rockets and long-range cruise missiles. Also on Saturday, explosions hit the Russian-occupied city of Mariupol.
A senior US official confirmed to CNN earlier in May that Ukrainian has begun conducting “shaping” operations, striking targets such as weapons depots, command centers and armor and artillery systems to shape the battlefield in favor of Kyiv’s advancing forces. Shaping is a standard tactic used prior to major combined operations, but it can be used simply to confuse the enemy.
Ukrainian official are keeping details of the operation under wraps, including whether or not it has already begun. That is likely an attempt to confuse the Russian military.
The incursion into Russia earlier this week by pro-Ukrainian Russian units, a bold move causing much embarrassment for Moscow, was also likely aimed at forcing the Kremlin to reposition its forces outside Ukraine to better defend Russia’s relatively exposed borders.
There are also public relations factors at play. Declare the counteroffensive underway, and the clock ticks immediately for the first results. Avoid doing so, and any mounting losses Russia sustains are just considered part of normal frontline attrition.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in April that Kyiv would not announce the start of the counteroffensive, and Ukrainian officials have remained tight-lipped since.
President Volodymyr Zelensky has dropped few hints surrounding the potential operation and has repeatedly declined to give specific details on timing.
Earlier this month Zelensky said that his country still needs “a bit more time” to allow for the delivery of more Western military aid.
And on Thursday this week, just two days before General Zaluzhnyi’s arresting Telegram post, one of Zelensky’s senior aides had been adamant that the world should not be waiting for one particular moment.
The counteroffensive, tweeted Mykhailo Podolyak, “is not a ‘single event’ that will begin at a specific hour of a specific day with a solemn cutting of the red ribbon.”
CNN’s Joshua Berlinger, Vasco Cotovio and Fred Pleitgen contributed to this report