Belgorod attack threatens to stretch Russian line

Belgorod attack threatens to stretch Russian line

Repeated incursions into Belgorod province could force Russia to send troops from the front lines into Ukraine to secure the border, leaving the line of defense thin.

Authorities in Belgorod, Russia’s southwestern province bordering Ukraine, announced on May 24 that many UAVs had infiltrated and dropped explosives on many structures in the provincial capital. The drone attack came a day after two pro-Ukrainian armed groups on May 22 used several armored vehicles to cross the border into Belgorod, attacking a border checkpoint, killing an officer and wounding 13 others.

These are the biggest and boldest cross-border attacks since Russia started its operation in Ukraine. They also take place against the backdrop of the Ukrainian army preparing to launch a major counter-offensive, forcing Russia to mobilize forces to reinforce the defensive position on the 1,000+ km front line.

“The Ukrainians are trying to stretch Russian forces in different directions to create a vacuum. Russia will then be forced to send in reinforcements to fill these gaps, making its forces even more stretched.” Neil Melvin, an analyst at the Royal Research Institute for Defense and Security (RUSI).

Russia is concentrating most of its forces in the Donbass region, which has seen intense fighting for months, especially in the city of Donbass. Many elite Russian units are also located on the southern front in case Ukraine attacks the Crimean peninsula.

Meanwhile, cross-border attacks have recently been launched in the Kharkov region of northern Ukraine, some 160 kilometers from the front line. While the raids did not cause major damage to Russia, they did create considerable disruption in people’s lives, forcing Moscow to quickly deploy countermeasures.

“They will have to respond and send more troops there, send more units to reinforce the border area, although that may not be the direction of Ukraine’s attack,” Melvin said.

Members of the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps in northern Ukraine, near the border with Russia, on May 24.  Photo: AFP

Members of the Ukrainian Volunteer Army in northern Ukraine, near the border with Russia, on May 24. Photo: AFP

It took the Russian military two days to mobilize its forces and repel the armed group that attacked the Belgorod region from 22 May. They claimed to have killed over 70 “terrorists” and accused Ukraine of being behind the attack.

Kiev denied this, saying the attack was carried out by a Russian citizen, deeming it an internal Russian matter. Two armed groups operating in Ukraine, the Russian Volunteer Army (RVC) and the Russian Freedom Corps (FRL), claimed responsibility for the attack. These are two militia groups that include Russian fighters who have already joined Ukraine’s international corps.

After withdrawing to the Ukrainian border, representatives of these two groups held a press conference in a forest in the north, stating that they would continue infiltration activities on the Russian border for the foreseeable future, and said that Russian security forces responded “slowly, weakly” to attack.

Marl Galeotti, head of the London-based consulting firm Mayak Intelligence, said the attack by the two armed groups was much smaller in scale than operations by Russian-Ukrainian regular forces on the front lines. Even so, they still serve as Ukraine’s “battle shaping” operation on the eve of the counter-offensive.

“This is an attempt to hit two targets with one arrow. It leaves Moscow feeling insecure, concerned about internal security risks and forces the Russian military to disperse its forces, which has suffered many of its losses after more than 15 months of fighting,” he said.

Sergey Radchenko, an international relations expert at Johns Hopkins University, said the border incursions also showed Russia’s security had deteriorated after more than a year of hostilities in Ukraine.

“That’s why Ukrainian intelligence is interested in offensive cross-border operations by militia groups, which have no strategic significance. The message they send from such attacks is to expose vulnerabilities in Russia’s security network,” he said. These vulnerabilities will force Russia to spend a lot of resources to fix, affecting its defense capability on the Ukrainian battlefield.

The province of Belogrod and the capital of the same name.  Graphics: FT

The province of Belogrod and the capital of the same name. Graphics: FT

Igor Girkin, a former Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officer who has already joined the militia in eastern Ukraine, wrote on Telegram on May 24 that the attacks would lead to the “formation of a new front along the border”. . , forcing the Russian army to redeploy forces to strengthen the position.

This will give the Ukrainian military an important advantage as they plan a major counter-offensive, according to Girkin.

“The attacks show that Russia’s borders are extremely vulnerable. Ukrainian forces not only carry out long-range attacks against infrastructure in Crimea or Lugansk, but also operate in conjunction with their forces. The militia carry out harassment,” said Samuel Ramani, specialist in Russian military operations at the University of Oxford.

However, observers also believe that the strike could partly benefit Russia’s leadership in information warfare, especially as the pro-Ukrainian armed group uses US armor to attack targets in the country.

“The Russian military commended its efforts to successfully disrupt a Ukrainian-Western backed campaign of sabotage and terrorism. This is to arouse anxiety in the Russian public about the threat posed by the West, helping to strengthen support and solidarity for the operation in Ukraine,” said Ramani.

Thanh Tam (According to Reuters, NBC News)

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Written by Esme Dominguez

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