Comments made by Russian officials, including Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin, highlight a “pervasive anxiety” over a potential Ukrainian counteroffensive, the Institute for the Study of War said in its latest report on April 26.
One well-known Russian milblogger insinuated that the counteroffensive will be planned to ruin May 9 celebrations in Russia. Prigozhin's comments related to the improving weather conditions which will allow the Ukrainian Armed Forces to advance with counteroffensive plans.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called discussions about the potential negotiations after a Ukrainian counteroffensive “schizophrenic” at a press conference in New York on April 25.
The ISW said that disjointed rhetoric in the Russian information space surrounding the counteroffensive indicated the lack of unified strategy on addressing this concern.
The report also referenced Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar’s statements about continued Russian efforts to depopulate the occupied territories. According to Malyar, the campaign aims to facilitate the repopulation of the areas by people from Russia.
"Russia may hope to import Russians to fill depopulated areas of Ukraine in order to further integrate occupied areas into Russian socially, administratively, politically, and economically, thereby complicating conditions for the reintegration of these territories into Ukraine," ISW said.
Russian officials are also attempting to secure occupied Crimea and prepare other areas for the Ukrainian counteroffensive by transferring armored vehicles and artillery systems, according to the ISW.