Ukraine's military urges 'silence' ahead of expected counteroffensive

Ukrainian military helicopters during military drills in the north of Ukraine

KYIV (Reuters) - The Ukrainian military on Sunday renewed its plea for operational silence around a long-awaited counteroffensive against Russian forces, the latest in a stream of messages by Kyiv as it prepares for the assault.

Anticipation has mounted around what is expected to be a broad attack by Ukrainian forces to retake Russian-occupied territory in the east and south.

But Ukrainian officials have repeatedly discouraged public speculation over the operation, saying it could help the enemy.

Authorities in recent days have also cracked down on citizens sharing images or footage of air defence systems shooting down Russian missiles.

"Plans love silence. There will be no announcement of the start," the ministry said in a video posted to official Telegram channels, apparently referring to the counteroffensive.

The sleekly-produced footage featured masked and well-armed front-line troops holding their fingers against their lips, gesturing for silence amid the distant rumble of artillery and gunfire.

It ended with images of soaring F-16 fighter jets - long coveted by Kyiv as it seeks to boost its air defence against Russian missiles and drones.

Kyiv's Western allies in recent months have provided weapons, armour and ammunition for the counteroffensive, which military experts have said could prove difficult against dug-in Russian forces.

In an interview published on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Kyiv was prepared for the operation but avoided making any predictions.

"To be honest, it can go a variety of ways, completely different," he told the Wall Street Journal. "But we are going to do it, and we are ready."

Other senior officials, including Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov, have similarly sought to tamp down expectations.

In some cases, however, the military has also fed the anticipation. Social media outreach by Kyiv has often been intended to intimidate the Kremlin.

Last week, it posted a flashy video depicting troops preparing for battle and reciting a rousing blessing, which was later aired as a recruiting clip.

(Reporting by Dan Peleschuk; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)