Russian President Vladimir Putin is preparing to launch a fresh offensive in Ukraine in the spring or early summer, according to one of the world’s leading military think tanks.

A daily campaign assessment from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) noted that Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) representative Vadym Skibitsky said on January 20 that Russian troops are regrouping in preparation for a “big offensive” in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.

The ISW also reported Skibitsky said that Russian forces are unlikely to launch an attack from Belarus from the northern border, despite doing so when they launched “the special military operation” on Ukraine nearly a year ago.

“ISW has previously assessed that Russian forces may be preparing for a decisive effort (of either offensive or defensive nature) in Luhansk Oblast and observed a redeployment of conventional forces such as Airborne (VDV) elements to the Svatove-Kreminna axis after the Russian withdrawal from Kherson Oblast,” the think tank said. “ISW also maintains that it is highly unlikely that Russian forces are planning to relaunch a new offensive on northern Ukraine from the direction of Belarus.”

“Skibitsky’s assessments largely support ISW’s running forecasts of Russian intentions in the first half of 2023 and underscore the continued need for Western partner support to ensure that Ukraine does not lose the initiative to a renewed Russian offensive operation.

Newsweek has contacted the Russian Ministry of Defense for comment.

Since Putin launched his “special military operation” in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Russia has made some progress in the east and south of Ukraine, but has been met with fierce opposition in some regions and lost captured territories to counteroffensives from Kyiv. In response to the frustration on the battlefield, Russia has struck critical Ukrainian energy infrastructure with missiles in recent months.

Wagner Overly Reliant on Prisoners

The Wagner Group of mercenaries has been playing a critical role in the fighting, and is said to account for around 10 percent of all Russian fighters in Ukraine.

The ISW assessment said that Wagner’s “outsized reliance” on recruitment from penal colonies appears to be having increasing ramifications for the group’s combat capability. It noted that the independent Russian human rights organization Rus Sidyashchaya (Russia Behind Bars) claimed on Monday that out of the assessed 50,000 prisoners that Wagner has recruited, only 10,000 are fighting on frontlines in Ukraine due to high casualty, surrender, and desertion rates.

“ISW cannot independently confirm these figures, but they are very plausible considering Wagner’s model of using convicts as cannon fodder in highly attritional offensive operations,” the report said.

“The Wagner Group aim of reducing casualties among its non-convict mercenaries likely undermines its ability to retain and use effectively its large mass of convicts at scale and over time.”

The think tank also said that Russia was continuing to deepen military and economic ties with Iran, as both countries have been sanctioned by the Western world. Russia has used Iranian-made Shahed drones in its war against Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin 3
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his meeting with workers at the State Obukhov Plant on January 18, 2023, in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Putin may be planning a fresh attack on Ukraine, according to the Insitute for the Study of War think tank.