Russia announced on Tuesday that it had thwarted another major Ukrainian offensive in Donetsk, inflicting heavy losses, while Ukraine hailed progress in fighting in the east, although it was unclear whether this signified the beginning of a long-awaited Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Russia stated on Monday that Ukrainian forces had launched a significant offensive in the southern Donetsk region over the weekend, which it had also thwarted.
In his nocturnal address on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was cryptic, hailing "the news we have been waiting for" and forward movement in Donetsk's Bakhmut district.
The Kremlin anticipated a swift operation when Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine on February 24 last year, but its forces suffered a succession of defeats and regrouped in the country's east.
During the winter, tens of thousands of Russian troops dug in, besieging Bakhmut for months and preparing for a Ukrainian counterattack that was anticipated to attempt to cut Russia's so-called land bridge to the Crimean Peninsula.
According to the most recent statement from the Russian Ministry of Defense, Russian forces inflicted heavy casualties on the assaulting Ukrainian forces and destroyed 28 tanks, including eight Leopard main battle tanks and 109 armored vehicles. It was stated that 1,500 Ukrainian soldiers were lost in total.
"Having suffered heavy losses the day before, the Kyiv regime reorganized the remnants of the 23rd and 31st mechanized brigades into separate consolidated units, which continued offensive operations," the ministry announced on Telegram.
Army forces, assault and operational-tactical aviation, missile forces, artillery, and heavy flamethrower systems inflicted a complex fire defeat.
Reuters was unable to confirm the claims independently. There was no obvious response from Kyiv to Russia's claims.
Russia and Ukraine have frequently asserted that they inflicted one another with heavy human casualties, which could not be independently confirmed.
The Washington Post reported that some U.S. officials believed the counteroffensive had begun, but White House national security spokesman John Kirby declined to comment on whether he agreed.
"I will not speak on behalf of the Ukrainian military," he told a routine briefing.
"However, whenever they decide to step up and regardless of what they decide to do, the president is confident that we have done everything possible over the past six to eight months to ensure that they have the necessary equipment, training, and capabilities to succeed."
In a promotional video published on Sunday, Ukraine's defense ministry urged silence regarding any military actions, stating, "Plans like silence - the beginning will not be announced."
The success or failure of a counteroffensive, which is anticipated to be conducted with billions of dollars worth of sophisticated Western weaponry, will likely influence the West's future diplomatic and military support for Ukraine.
Dmytro Kuleba, the Ukrainian foreign minister, told Reuters on Monday that Ukraine now possessed enough weaponry for a counteroffensive, but he declined to comment on whether it had begun.
Russia's defense ministry had previously reported that Ukraine had launched a large-scale offensive in five front sectors in southern Donetsk on Sunday, an area where Moscow has long suspected Ukraine would attempt to carve a fissure into Russian-controlled territory.
According to the report, the enemy's objective was to breach our defenses in the most vulnerable sector of the front. It was unsuccessful.
In its evening report on Monday, Ukraine's General Staff made no mention of a large-scale offensive or any deviation from the usual pace or scope of fighting along the front lines, which has not changed substantially in recent months.
On Telegram, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar stated that Ukraine was "shifting to offensive actions" along portions of the front, but she dismissed rumors of a significant operation.
"The focus is currently on the Bakhmut sector," stated Maliar. This has led to several successes, including advancements. We have assumed command of particular heights."
Last month, Russian Wagner group mercenaries captured Bakhmut and turned over their positions to conventional Russian forces.
On Telegram, Wagner militia leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has frequently disputed with the Russian defense ministry, wrote that the ministry's most recent statement describing massive Ukrainian losses was "simply wild and absurd science fiction."
After annexing Crimea in 2014, Russia now controls at least 18% of internationally recognized Ukrainian territory and has claimed four additional Ukrainian regions as its own.