‘Thousands’ of Russian troops mass on Ukraine’s border

Zelensky said satellite imagery showed Russian forces deployed on its border close to the city of Sumy
Mr Zelensky said satellite imagery showed Russian forces deployed on Ukraine's border close to the city of Sumy - AFP

Russia is amassing troops on Ukraine’s northern border, triggering fresh pleas from Kyiv for permission to strike with Western missiles.

The Institute of War Studies said it had identified new formations of soldiers and “expanded activities” at depots and warehouses in settlements north of Ukraine’s second city of Kharkiv.

Volodymyr Zelensky warned that “thousands” of Russian troops were being prepared for a fresh assault, although the ISW, a US think tank, concluded the build up may also be to “stretch and fix Ukrainian forces”, which are struggling to hold positions across the front lines.

Mr Zelensky again pleaded with the West to allow it to fire Western missiles into Russia to halt another advance.

“We can see every point where Russian troops are concentrated. We know all areas from which Russian missiles are launched and combat aircraft take off,” he said.

Ukrainian officials are frustrated that they are not allowed to strike targets inside Russia with Western missiles, essentially giving Russian forces a safe area to prepare ground attacks and to fire missiles at Ukrainian cities.

They have warned since a Russian attack towards Kharkiv on May 10 that the Kremlin also plans to attack Sumy, which lies 100 miles from Ukraine’s second city.

Pressure is building on the US to follow Britain and allow Ukrainian forces to strike targets inside Russia, despite concerns that this will escalate the war.

Over the weekend, Poland and Sweden gave permission for Ukraine to hit targets inside Russia and Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of Nato, has also backed the policy change.

“If [Ukraine] cannot attack military targets on Russian territory then it ties one hand of the Ukrainians on their back and makes it very hard for them to conduct defence,” he said at a Nato meeting in Sofia on Monday.

But Joe Biden has not yet been persuaded and Germany and Italy have both ruled it out.

On a visit to Spain on Monday, Mr Zelensky secured another £850,000 military aid package but Pedro Sanchez, Spain’s prime minister, didn’t give Ukrainian commanders permission to fire Spanish weapons at Russia.

“Spain has been supporting Ukraine for two years. Unfortunately, Russian aggression continues and we have to increase our support,” Mr Sanchez said at a joint press conference.

Ukraine has been using domestic drones to hit targets across Russia, mainly oil refineries, railways and military airfields, but on Monday sources confirmed that it had struck a Russian nuclear radar station near the border with Kazakhstan, 1,000 miles away.

It was the second Ukrainian strike against Russia’s nuclear missile infrastructure in four days to the concern of Kyiv’s Western allies, who are worried about further escalation.

On the front lines in Ukraine, Russia claimed it had captured two more villages, one north of Kharkiv and one near Donetsk.

Vladimir Putin’s forces have launched a sustained assault on Ukrainian lines since the autumn, suffering around 900 casualties a day but also slowly advancing.

This has bolstered Putin and restored his credibility amongst Russia’s traditional allies after his armies suffered a series of defeats in 2022 and he looked relaxed on Monday during a visit to Tashkent as Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Uzbekistan’s president, lauded his “historic” trip.

“It heralds the beginning of a new age in the comprehensive strategic partnership and alliance relations between our countries,” said Mr Mirziyoyev after announcing a deal for Russia to build Uzbekistan’s first nuclear power station.

The West had hoped to break the Kremlin’s influence over the five Central Asian states, formerly part of the Soviet Union, after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine but its advances have generally been dismissed.