Russia’s defense minister visited troops near the frontline in the partially occupied region of Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine, according to a statement released by the Russian Defense Ministry on Friday.
The Zaporizhzhia region, about half of which is occupied by Russian forces, is seen as a likely focus of Ukraine’s impending counteroffensive.
The Russian Defense Ministry said its top official, Sergei K. Shoigu, inspected a forward command post in the Zaporizhzhia region, where he was briefed on the “current situation” and the “combat tasks carried out by Russian troops”. A video accompanying the statement on the Telegram messaging app showed Mr Shoigu walking through a maze of concrete underpasses, meeting commanders and pinning a medal on a soldier.
The ministry did not say when or exactly where the visit took place. Like in March, when the department said it visited in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, details of Mr. Shoigu’s trip could not be independently verified.
It comes as Ukrainian officials said preparations for their counteroffensive were in the final stages, and amid growing signs of anxiety over the campaign among pro-war Russian military bloggers. In recent weeks, the Russian occupation authorities of more than a dozen towns and villages in the Zaporizhzhia region have issued “mandatory” evacuation ordersciting the escalation of fighting.
Some of the deadliest fighting in the war in recent months has involved Russian efforts to capture the town of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine. As Ukrainian forces have made progress north and south of the city last week, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner private military company that led much of the assault on Bakhmut, claimed Ukraine’s counteroffensive was Already “booming.”
Mr Prigozhin, known for his outspoken and often selfish comments, said last week that Ukrainian forces intended to first attack Wagner’s forces in and around Bakhmut and then target Zaporizhzhia.
In its statement on Friday, the Russian Defense Ministry said Mr Shoigu had ordered commanders to ‘conduct full reconnaissance’ to find out Ukraine’s plans ‘in advance and prevent their implementation’. .