British armed forces minister James Heappey said on Tuesday that “thousands of Russian lives are going to be lost” as a result of Mr Putin’s desire to be seen as a “hero” before the celebrations next month to mark the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two.
“The fact that he has directed that the military outcome must be secured by 9 May will mean that commanders, even though they will know from all their command and staff training it is absolute folly to launch an offensive before you’ve massed all of your combat power,” Mr Heappey told BBC Breakfast.
“There’s been incredibly bad weather in the Donbas over the last week or two, which means the ground is not conducive right now to the manoeuvre of a heavy army.”
He told Sky News that “driving the Russian army to launch an offensive now simply so Putin can have a nice day in the sun on 9 May” will cost Russia greatly.
The UK’s assessment comes as UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres is due in Moscow on Tuesday to meet Mr Putin and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in the highest profile peace mission since the war began, although western countries have conceded that they have little hope of a breakthrough.
Mr Lavrov claimed ongoing deliveries of supplies and weaponry to Ukraine meant the Nato alliance was “in essence engaged in war with Russia” and said that Moscow views these weapons as legitimate targets.
“These weapons will be a legitimate target for Russia’s military actions within the context of the special operation,” he told state television in an interview posted on the foreign ministry’s website.
“Storage facilities in western Ukraine have been targeted more than once (by Russian forces). How can it be otherwise?
“Nato, in essence, is engaged in a war with Russia through a proxy and is arming that proxy. War means war.”
Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter that Mr Lavrov’s comments highlight Ukraine’s need for western help: “Russia loses last hope to scare the world off supporting Ukraine. Thus the talk of a ‘real’ danger of WWIII. This only means Moscow senses defeat in Ukraine.”
Elsewhere, the US will host more than 40 countries on Tuesday for Ukraine related defence talks in Germany that will focus on arming Ukraine.
It comes after Washington approved a $165 million (£130 million) sale of ammunition to Ukraine and will also provide more than $300 million (£235 million) in financing to buy more supplies following a high profile visit by US secretary of state Antony Blinken and US defence secretary Lloyd Austin.
“Russia is failing. Ukraine is succeeding,” Mr Blinken declared, a day after the visit to Kyiv.
Mr Austin went further, adding that while the US wants to see Ukraine remain a sovereign, democratic country, it also wants “to see Russia weakened to the point where it can’t do things like invade Ukraine”.
Mr Austin’s remarks appeared to represent a shift in broader US strategic goals. Previously, the US position had been that the goal of American military aid was to help Ukraine win and to defend Ukraine’s Nato neighbors against Russian threats.
In an apparent response to Mr Austin, the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia has “a feeling that the west wants Ukraine to continue to fight and, as it seems to them, wear out, exhaust the Russian army and the Russian military industrial war complex. This is an illusion.”