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Ukraine Warns of Deepening Russian Threat in the North

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Top Ukrainian military officials have warned that Russia is building up troops near northeastern Ukraine, raising fears that a new offensive push could be imminent in a region that has become a pressure point on strained Ukrainian forces.

Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky, Ukraine’s commander in chief, said on Thursday that Moscow was redeploying troops toward Vovchansk and Lyptsi, two villages near the city of Kharkiv that Russian forces have been trying to capture for more than two weeks. Other officials have also said that Russia has massed troops further north, across from the Ukrainian region of Sumy, in preparation for a possible ground offensive in that area.

“These forces are not enough to launch a full-scale offensive and break through our defenses,” General Syrsky wrote on Facebook on Thursday. Still, he said, a reorganization of Ukrainian defenses in the area was underway to be prepared to repel assaults.

Russia’s incursion across the border toward Kharkiv has introduced a distressing threat to Ukraine’s military, which is already under constant assault farther southeast in the Donbas. Commanders have been forced to move troops to the north to shore up defenses while waiting for Western weapons in numbers big enough to have an impact.

The massing of Russian troops north of the border near the city of Sumy, about 90 miles northwest of Kharkiv, makes the situation even more precarious, expanding the amount of territory Ukraine must defend. Analysts say an offensive in the Kharkiv or Sumy regions could stretch Ukrainian troops to the breaking point and allow Russia to punch through.

Earlier this month, Russian forces opened a front in the northeastern Kharkiv region, pushing through weak Ukrainian defenses in the area and quickly capturing a dozen settlements. Ukraine ultimately managed to halt the Russian advance by slowly falling back to more heavily fortified positions.

But to fend off the Russian attacks, Ukrainian commanders have also had to rush in reserves and redeploy elite units to the northeast, weakening their positions elsewhere along the front, such as in the eastern Donetsk region, where Moscow’s forces are slowly advancing by mounting bloody sieges of towns and villages.

Serhii Kuzan, chairman of the Ukrainian Security and Cooperation Center, a nongovernmental research group, said, “Russia’s main goal is to expand the active front, disorganize the Ukrainian defense forces and deprive the Ukrainian command of the ability to use reserves.”

Mr. Kuzan added that forcing Ukraine to divert troops to the North would improve Russia’s prospects of capturing the Donetsk region, which Moscow formally annexed in 2022 but does not fully control. Military analysts say gaining control of the region entirely is a top priority for the Kremlin.

Rustem Umerov, Ukraine’s defense minister, told Reuters on Tuesday that Russia was massing thousands of troops preparing for a fresh push. “Their objective is to open a new front in the north to start using all their manpower, firing power, against us,” he said.

Ukrainian officials have warned for several days that Russia has massed some 10,000 troops across the border from the Sumy region, a force that they say is not strong enough to capture major towns or cities but could tie up Ukrainian units in the area.

Andriy Demchenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s border service, said this week that Russia was conducting reconnaissance missions there to expose the location of Ukrainian defenses.

“Attempts by subversive groups have been recorded along the entire length of the Sumy region’s border,” Mr. Demchenko told the Ukrainian news media, adding that Russian troops might at some point “try to carry out similar actions that we are now seeing in the Kharkiv region.”

Ukrainian officials have complained in recent months that they cannot prevent the buildup of troops just over the border in Russian territory because allies have banned them from firing Western weapons into Russia. Their calls to lift that ban have met with some success in recent days as France; Poland; Sweden; and the NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg have said that Kyiv should be allowed to strike military targets in Russia with those weapons.

The United States, the largest supplier of arms to the Ukrainian government, has not agreed to lift the ban, though a debate has opened within the Biden administration over relaxing the terms.

For now, Ukraine is left trying to fend off Russian attacks all along the front line. Russian troops have recently made marginal gains in the Donetsk region, according to maps of the battlefield compiled by independent analysts from satellite imagery and video footage of the fighting. In particular, they have reached the eastern outskirts of Chasiv Yar, a Ukrainian stronghold that is one of Moscow’s main targets.

Capturing Chasiv Yar would give Russian forces control of commanding heights in the area and expose cities that Ukraine uses as logistical hubs to increased artillery fire.

General Syrsky said on Thursday that Russia was supporting its ground assaults with airstrikes, using powerful guided bombs known as glide bombs which can carry up to a ton of explosive and can smash through concrete bunkers. He said that Ukraine urgently needed antiaircraft weapons to shoot down the planes launching the bombs.

Sweden said on Wednesday it was sending more than $1 billion of military aid to Ukraine, its biggest package so far, including air defense missiles along with surveillance and control aircraft capable of tracking fighter jets and bombers.

Ukraine’s “capability to identify targets at long range will be strengthened,” the Swedish defense minister, Pal Jonson, wrote on social media.