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Ukraine warns Russia is preparing for a major ground offensive this winter

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Ukrainian officials are warning that Russia is preparing for a major ground offensive this winter. Despite setbacks, the Kremlin is showing no signs of backing down. President Putin is in Belarus today, where Russia has recently deployed thousands of troops. Joining us now is retired Marine Corps Colonel Mark Cancian, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Colonel, are there any signs that Russia is indeed preparing for a major ground offensive right now?

MARK CANCIAN: Well, there's a widespread expectation that when the ground freezes that both sides will launch winter offensives. Remember, the war began in February. And looking back at World War II, the Soviets routinely launched a winter offensive. The Russians have been rebuilding their strength. Of course, they carried out this partial mobilization beginning back in September. It was very chaotic, but it is producing troops at the front. So it's rebuilding its forces. It's moving up new equipment.

It would have the capability to launch some offensive. There's been a lot of speculation that that might come from Belarus and strike at Kyiv. The Ukrainians have raised that concern. I think that's unlikely. There are a lot of Russian troops in Belarus. They are probably training, using the training facilities. They failed back in February, March, when they tried that route of attack, back when they had surprise and the Ukrainians were unready. I think it's unlikely that they could succeed this time.

MARTÍNEZ: Back in September, Colonel, Moscow announced that they would mobilize 300,000 additional reservists. Would they be ready in time if they wanted to do something this winter?

CANCIAN: Well, they would. Those reservists are showing up at the front.

MARTÍNEZ: OK.

CANCIAN: They've been through some training process. You know that, again, has been chaotic, but it clearly exists. And that's enough time to get them up to speed and, you know, ready for operations.

MARTÍNEZ: Earlier in the war, Russians tried and were not able to take over Kyiv. Do you think they would try that again?

CANCIAN: I don't think so. As I noted, I think that, having failed at that once, when they had optimum conditions, they would not try it again. I think it's much more likely that they would attack, if they were going to, in the Donbas area. They've pledged to liberate, in their words, the two provinces there. They're conducting low-level attacks continuously there. I think it's more likely that you would see the offensive there.

MARTÍNEZ: I know the Biden administration is poised to send military aid - new military aid - including Patriot missiles, to Ukraine. Could that be a game changer?

CANCIAN: The short answer is no. The Patriot is a very capable system and it will help the Ukrainian air defenses. But we're only sending one battery. That's one unit. It could cover one city, likely Kyiv. And it's only effective against certain kinds of targets. You have to keep in mind that a single Patriot missile costs $4 million. So it's worth firing them at aircraft, for example, and maybe at some cruise missiles, if they were going to strike sensitive areas, but makes no sense to fire them at $50,000 Iranian drones. And a large part of the air attacks have been those kinds of drones. So it will be helpful, but it's certainly not a game changer.

MARTÍNEZ: Retired Colonel Mark Cancian with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Colonel, thanks.

CANCIAN: Thanks for having me on the show. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.