Russia is likely to launch a new offensive in eastern Ukraine in the coming months, said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday, adding that NATO states are helping prepare the Ukrainian military.
“We now see a significant movement of (Russian) troops away from Kyiv to regroup, re-arm and re-supply and shift their focus to the east,” Stoltenberg told a news conference in Brussels, adding that Russia will conduct a “very special” offensive in the Donbas region.
Since 2014, separatists in the Donbas have fought against Ukrainian forces. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Feb. 22 said that Moscow would recognize the Donetsk and Lugansk separatist regions as sovereign states, just two days before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.
Stoltenberg said it would be a new, crucial phase of Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion, which the Kremlin calls a “special military operation.”
“Repositioning of the Russian troops will take some time, some weeks,” he said, while “in that window, it is extremely important that NATO allies provide support.”
Late last month, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced that its forces will pull back from Kyiv and the outlying areas as well as the Chernihiv region. Instead, according to the ministry, Moscow will try to refocus on the Donbas and areas in southern Ukraine.
Foreign ministers on Wednesday and Thursday are set to discuss how to send more anti-tank weapons, ammunition, and medical supplies to Ukraine, Stoltenberg said.
Stoltenberg’s remark comes as the European Commission proposed a new package of sanctions against Russia and its leadership due to the Ukraine conflict, after Kyiv’s government accused Russian troops of massacring civilians in Bucha, near Kyiv. Russian officials have categorically denied that their forces carried out summary executions or committed war crimes, accusing Ukraine of trying to manufacture a provocation.
The new reported sanctions include restrictions on coal imports, ships, and more Russian banks. So far, European countries have avoided sanctioning Russian gas and oil amid concerns that it would trigger a widespread energy crisis across the continent.
But European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wrote on Twitter that the bloc is working on banning oil imports now.
“We all saw the gruesome pictures from Bucha and other areas from which Russian troops have recently left. These atrocities cannot and will not be left unanswered,” she said on Twitter, referring to Ukrainian officials’ allegations of war crimes.
Germany, France, Italy, Denmark, and other countries this week announced expulsions of Russian diplomats. Russia’s government said it would respond in kind, according to state-run media.
Reuters contributed to this report.