Ukrainian forces are probing Russian defences along the frontline as they prepare to commit their new NATO-standard tanks to the fray.
The highly anticipated counteroffensive is under way and in a “tidying up” phase, according to a military expert, as Ukraine seeks to prepare the battlefield for a big push when the time arises.
Ukraine says its troops recaptured seven villages along 60 miles of frontline in the southeast in the last week.
But its forces face a daunting task as they attempt to liberate large parts of their territory, given Russia’s numerical superiority in men, ammunition and air power, and the many months it has had to build deep defensive fortifications.
“What Ukraine is doing at the moment is all the way along the frontline they are probing Russian defences,” military analyst Sean Bell tells Sky News.
“They’re seizing settlements but that’s nothing more than tidying up the battlefield, it’s first making sure there’s no Russians hidden away in them so that when they do a big push they make sure that the door doesn’t close behind them and they suddenly find themselves trapped and encircled.”
Once they find a point of weakness they will then look to exploit it, Mr Bell says.
“And that’s when I think we’ll see a whole mess of tanks that’ll come surging through and break through the Russian defences and then cause havoc.
“If the Russians can cut off those advance forces that’ll make life very difficult, but if the Russians run then there could be a rout and I think that’s when we’re going to see the dramatic change of fortunes here.”
Volodomyr Zelenskyy spoke of “fierce” battles in his video address on Monday night, but said his forces have “movement, and that is crucial”.
Much depends on how resilient the Ukrainian president is, knowing that committing his troops to an offensive will result in tens of thousands of losses, Mr Bell says
“There’s a fine line between success and failure in wartime, there’s a high degree of unpredictability.”
Mr Bell said Ukrainian military strategists will be aware that while Russia has forces on the frontline, it also has units in reserve that can be deployed to respond to a potential breakthrough.
“And part of what you do with deception plans is to try to get your enemy to commit to his reserves, because then he doesn’t have reserves available to plug a hole that you’re going to be making elsewhere.
“So it is a complex game of cat and mouse that’s going on.”
Mr Bell says its also possible that Russia, a superpower which has had time to entrench its forces in well-prepared defences, is able to withstand the Ukrainian onslaught and then embark on an offensive of its own down the line.