Has Ukraine's counter-offensive already started as Russia claims to thwart attack in Donetsk?

Watch: Russia claims to have thwarted a major Ukrainian offensive.

Russia claims to have foiled a major Ukrainian offensive in Donetsk, with a grainy video apparently the evidence.

The Russian defence ministry said the country's troops thwarted a Ukrainian offensive, killing hundreds of troops and destroying multiple armoured vehicles in the process.

Ukraine has refuted the claims, accusing Russia of spreading lies, while experts believe this claimed offensive is a sign that "something has begun".

Supposed footage of the Russian army foiling a large-scale Ukrainian offensive surfaced on Telegram. 

Moscow claims that six mechanised and two tank battalions were involved, with the Ukrainians losing 250 personnel, 16 tanks and 24 combat vehicles.

General (Retired) Sir Richard Barrons, the former head of Joint Forces Command, spoke to Forces News following the apparent thwarted Ukrainian offensive and believes that it's necessary to continue to be wary of the developments.

"So, I think we need to be pretty circumspect as to whether the land assault of this counter-offensive has really got going or not," he said.

"One of the reasons for being circumspect about it is what Russia described was the sort of thing everyone expects to see.

"The equivalent of roughly two brigades attacking – so they use very round numbers – taking casualties in round numbers so that always makes people, I think, a little suspicious."

The former British Army General added: "And the only evidence, 30 seconds of grainy video."

Watch: The sniper rifle wanted by both sides of the Ukraine war.

Much of the information that is coming out is from Russian military bloggers, many of them closely connected to the Russian MOD.

Information is sparse but there are reports of fighting going on around Soledar, not far from the key city of Bakhmut, and also south around the hilltop coalmining town of Vuhledar – it's important as it would allow Ukrainian forces to hit Russian supply lines.

Ukraine has said it has had no information about a major offensive in the Donetsk region but has also been working on its own counter-offensive PR, creating quality production videos to prepare the nation for what is to come.

'Something has begun'

Speaking to the BBC, Professor Michael Clarke, former Director-General of think tank RUSI, believes this could be the start of something significant.

"Yes, it's certainly the start of something, in my own view is that this offensive really began a couple of weeks ago in the air and drone attacks on both of the sides probing for rear areas.

"We can see an increasing tempo of activities around the offensive.

He added: "So I think yes, something has begun and I am not at all surprised, we thought it had to start soon, and we'll see how it develops, there are two or three ways in which it might develop."

Watch: War in Ukraine has sparked an arms race to defend against drones.

While Ukrainian military videos show their troops with Leopard 2s, Kyiv has yet to throw its Western tanks into the fight.

For many that would be a real sign that something big is under way.

"This might have been a feint attack to draw the Russian eye somewhere that actually the main attack is not going to head for," General (Ret'd) Sir Richard suggested.

He added: "It might even have been simply to blood new Ukrainian formations, and this is something that's been common in big wars in the past, where you create a new formation, a brigade, and it's got new people and new equipment and it's very inexperienced," he added.

"Rather than roll it out at the main event without any further preparation, you can test it, in a way, against the opposition in order just to get over what you might call 'first night nerves'."

'Intense' Iranian aerial vehicle usage

The latest Ministry of Defence (MOD) intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine said that "over the course of May 2023, Russia launched over 300 Iranian Shahed series one-way attack uncrewed aerial vehicles (OWA-UAVs) against Ukraine: its most intense use of this weapon system to date".

In September, it was reported that Russia had been using the 'suicide drones' increasingly against the Ukrainians.

The MOD intelligence states that "Russia is probably launching so many OWA-UAVs in an attempt to force Ukraine to fire stocks of valuable, advanced air defence missiles".

"Russia is unlikely to have been notably successful: Ukraine has neutralised at least 90% of the incoming OWA-UAVs mostly using its older and cheaper air defence weapons and with electronic jamming."

The latest intelligence on Ukraine added: "Russia has also likely been attempting to locate and strike Ukrainian forces well behind the frontline.

"However, Russia remains very ineffective at hitting such dynamic targets at range because of its poor targeting processes," it adds.

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