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Threat from north: Will Russia invade Sumy region and where offensive might begin

Threat from north: Will Russia invade Sumy region and where offensive might begin Ukrainian military prepares for a possible Russian offensive in Sumy region (photo: GettyImages)

Russia has launched a new offensive in the Kharkiv region. The Ukrainian military and political leadership believe another border region is also threatened.


The Russians may open another new front after the Kharkiv region. To the west, on the territory bordering the Sumy region, Russia keeps another group of troops. Informed interlocutors in the security forces claim that there are between 10 and 15 thousand personnel there, and their number is dynamic.

The Ukrainian military is preparing for the possibility that Russia may also launch an offensive on this section of the Ukrainian-Russian border. In yesterday's address, Volodymyr Zelenskyy also said that the Russian military was preparing for an offensive, gathering a group 90 kilometers northwest of Kharkiv. This is where the territory of the Sumy region begins. The only final decision - whether to attack or not, and when - is up to Moscow.

Situation in Sumy region

Information about the threat of Russia's offensive in Kharkiv and Sumy regions has been gradually leaking into the public domain since April. On May 10, Russia began to implement its plan. At present, in one of the directions in the north of Kharkiv region, Russian troops are trying to advance to the village of Lyptsi, which is 25 kilometers from Kharkiv. On the other, they are fighting for the city of Vovchansk.

"They had a completely different pace of advance planned. According to the schedule, the regiment should advance 8-10 kilometers per day. Russians used two regiments in the Kharkiv region on May 10. One in the Lyptsi direction and the other in the Vovchansk direction. How far did they go on May 10? Their penetration into the territory of Ukraine was between 1 and 3 kilometers. That is, from the first day of the operation, they fulfilled their plan in one of the directions by a tenth, in the other - by a third," says Oleksandr Kovalenko, military and political observer of the Information Resistance group.

The available data on the number of groups operating in the Kharkiv direction is somewhat different. Two RBC-Ukraine's interlocutors in the military authorities say the number is from 35 to 40 thousand people. This is the total number of troops that are both on the territory of the Russian Federation from the Kharkiv region and directly involved in the fighting. At the same time, another RBC-Ukraine source says that as of May 23, Russia had about 7,000 personnel involved in the operation itself, and about the same number of troops in reserve.

Threat from north: Will Russia invade Sumy region and where offensive might beginIn the Kharkiv region, Russia is no longer able to achieve its plans, the Ukrainian Defense Forces are stabilizing the situation (photo: GettyImages)

One way or another, this is much more than the number of Russian troops currently on the other side of the border with the Sumy region. Given that the pace of the Russian offensive in the Kharkiv region no longer fits the original plan, there are rational doubts about whether they will decide to undertake the same adventure again with even fewer forces in the Sumy region.

One of the informed RBC-Ukraine's interlocutors in the military recently said that the Russians had not abandoned their plan for the Sumy region. At the same time, three sources in the military said that Russia had all the prerequisites to launch an offensive there.

Since the end of last year, the Russians have been most actively using their sabotage and reconnaissance groups in the Sumy region, says Andrii Demchenko, spokesperson for the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine. According to him, Russia is trying to use its subversive reconnaissance groups, among other things, to expose the locations of Ukrainian defenders, and defense lines, to strike there.

"Such groups can consist of 4-5 people, there were groups of more than 10 people, and there were groups of up to 20 people who even tried to divide into smaller groups to surround Ukrainian defenders. Attempts by subversive groups have been recorded along the entire length of the Sumy region's border - they appear in all areas. But we expose such groups," says a representative of the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine.

Vadym Mysnyk, a spokesperson for the Siversk operational and tactical group of troops, explains that Russia's tactics near the borders of the Sumy and Chernihiv regions remain unchanged. In addition to the active use of subversive reconnaissance groups, which have a favorable geography in the north of Sumy region - numerous forests, the Russians also shell settlements along the entire border strip.

"But, just like the sabotage and reconnaissance groups' attempts to break through, the Russian shelling is carried out along the entire border. There is no clear concentration in a particular area, which is one of the signs of preparations for offensive actions there. In addition, there is no grouping near the border that could be ready for a large-scale Russian offensive. These forces are currently dispersed. At the same time, Russia has a single command there - the Sever military unit," the spokesperson for the Siversk operational and tactical group of troops says.

Russia's goal and what it can achieve in Sumy region

It is unlikely that the Russians are aiming to advance to Sumy. Probably, if they do decide to open another front, it will be a raid operation with an attempt to advance on the border or imitation of battles on the border, as in the case of the Kharkiv region. After all, to capture or surround a regional center, disproportionately larger forces are needed than those that Russia is currently keeping near the Sumy region.

"The border with Russia within Sumy region is over 560 kilometers long. But according to the data we have, Russia does not yet have such a powerful group in this area that could, using forces and means, achieve any strategic goal or, conditionally, reach Sumy," Demchenko says.

Three RBC-Ukraine's interlocutors in the military say that there is still no understanding of what direction the Russians will choose in the event of an operation in the Sumy region. It is likely that, as in the case of the Kharkiv region, there may be two of them at the same time. On the one hand, to move deeper, they need to stick to some logistical artery - roads and hub stations - to be able to bring in ammunition, food, fuel, etc. On the other hand, in the north of the Kharkiv region, the Russian occupiers advanced mostly in infantry groups and along water bodies flowing from the territory of Russia to be able to cover their flanks.

All three of these factors are present in the area of the Russian town of Sudzha, from where the road to Sumy runs directly. This was one of the directions that Russians have already used to invade Ukraine in 2022. That is why analysts and some of RBC-Ukraine's interlocutors consider this direction to be one of the most threatening.

"The H-07 highway runs from Sudzha. And the Loknia River also flows nearby. This highway runs along its left bank. If they move from Sudzha, there is a greater threat to the gray zone in the border area. We are talking about the villages of Novenke and Basivka, which are on the border. However, Novenke is located on the right bank of the river, while Basivka is on the left," says Kovalenko.

Unlike in the Kharkiv region, there are not so many settlements in the border area that Russians could use as a springboard for further advancement from Sudzha. Therefore, there are doubts whether they will choose to move along the H-07, the expert added. At the same time, the settlements of Zhuravka, Veselivka, and Volodymyrivka are located a little further west. Therefore, it is quite possible that Sudzha could be just a base for the units, and the advance will start from Zhuravka-Volodymyrivka, suggests Kovalenko.

"We are closely monitoring the movement of units and equipment from Russia, and, accordingly, we are strengthening these areas. Sudzha is a railroad junction station. In addition, there is Suzemka on the Sumy border and Klimovo station in the Bryansk region near the border in the Chernihiv region. These are junction stations where trains with equipment, personnel, or something else arrive. Therefore, these points are considered as those where there may be a certain concentration of Russian troops," explains Mysnyk.

Threat from north: Will Russia invade Sumy region and where offensive might beginUkrainian Defense Forces are closely monitoring the enemy near the borders of Sumy region (photo: GettyImages)

However, Russian units do not stay in these settlements - they arrive and leave, says the spokesperson for the Siversk operational and tactical group of troops. The Russians are trying to disperse to avoid being hit by the Ukrainian Defense Forces. But as soon as they appear near the border, Russian units and their equipment are destroyed.

The RBC-Ukraie's interlocutors name several other directions from which Russians may also try to move to the border. These are Rylsk - the Kozino area and Khomutovka - the Troiebortnoe area, from where the Russian army also attacked in 2022. Roads to the territory of the Sumy region pass through these settlements. Another option is that the Russians could launch an offensive against the Sumy region from the territory of the Belgorod region.

"No one ever excludes that Russian troops may at any time try to carry out similar actions that we are now seeing in the Kharkiv region. Even moving deeper into the territory of Ukraine, the enemy will, first of all, try to sow panic and stretch the Ukrainian Defense Forces of our country with such actions," says Demchenko.

Publicly, Moscow describes its task as creating a so-called buffer or sanitary zone in the border area. This zone involves moving at least 15 kilometers in depth, and this was the basic task initially in the north of the Kharkiv region, says one of the interlocutors in the military. However, in 16 days, the Russian troops managed to advance no more than 8 kilometers in depth in both Kharkiv directions. Their attempts to advance in the Sumy region will not be more successful, regardless of which direction Russia chooses, according to all the interlocutors interviewed.

By opening another direction of attack, Russia wants to deprive our command of the ability to operate reserves. If the military leadership redeploys forces to fight in several new areas and fails to reinforce the hotter areas in the East, Russia will try to use this to actively advance in the Donetsk region.

Finally, according to a more conspiratorial version, Moscow may have another goal. Having occupied some of the territories outside the main front line, Russia may go all-in. Given that these regions are not inscribed in the Russian constitution, Putin may want to present the withdrawal of the occupation forces as a kind of goodwill gesture during the negotiations. And in return, he will demand to keep all other Ukrainian lands that Russia proclaims as his own.

However, Ukraine is currently skeptical about the idea of negotiations, realizing that Russia does not want to end the war, but only to pause. Russian troops will use this time only to regain their strength, and partially achieve the lifting of sanctions and a reduction in Western aid. After that, it is highly likely to strike again to realize its original plan - the occupation of most or all of Ukraine's territory.

Sources: DeepState, five sources on condition of anonymity, as well as comments from State Border Guard Service of Ukraine spokesperson Andrii Demchenko, Siversk operational and tactical group of troops spokesperson Vadym Mysnyk, and military and political observer of the Information Resistance Group Oleksandr Kovalenko.