For the past two months, the Russian military has largely focused its attention and energy on constructing large-scale defensive positions almost all across Ukraine.
The rains of the early winter turned the ground into a huge bog, largely stopping the offensive momentum the Ukrainian forces had built and giving time to the Russians to dig in.
In particular, the Russian forces have been constructing fortifications in the south, on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River just across from Kherson City, and in the east, in the vicinity of Svatove, a key logistical hub, in anticipation of further Ukrainian counteroffensives. The Russian fortifications include extensive anti-tank and anti-personnel minefields, trenches, and anti-tank obstacles.
Moscow is even recruiting trench diggers to bolster its fortifications.
“Minefields only present an effective obstacle for trained troops if covered by observation and fire. A major challenge for the Russian forces will likely be a shortage of surveillance assets and trained personnel to effectively monitor large areas of the new minefields,” the British Military Intelligence assessed in its latest estimate of the conflict.
The Ukrainian military has enough precision long-range fires to weaken the Russian defensive lines. So, it remains to be seen whether World War Two-era fortifications can stand up to modern weaponry.
What Drove Moscow’s Decision to Dig In
Since September, the Ukrainian military has launched two highly effective counteroffensives in the east and south, liberating hundreds of square miles of territory. The Russian forces were caught unawares, especially in the east, and lost thousands of men and hundreds of weapon systems in their retreat.
Eventually, the Ukrainian counteroffensives lost their momentum, and the Russian military managed to stabilize the frontlines. The heavy rains that came with fall and early winter turned the battlefield into a huge bog, further restricting the mobile warfare that the Ukrainian forces have embraced. Even tank and tracked armored personnel carriers are having difficulty navigating the seas of mud that have layered the battlefield.
Kyiv is waiting for the temperatures to drop enough for the ground to harden and thus enable further mobile operations and thus the resumption of large-scale offensives.
But the Ukrainian military intelligence has suggested that the Russian military is also preparing another major offensive, even against Kyiv, in the following weeks.
But until the ground hardens and the two militaries can launch offensive operations once more, any fighting is largely stational.
For now, most of the fighting is taking place around the town of Bakhmut, in the south of the Donbas. The Russian forces have been trying to capture the Ukrainian town since the middle of the summer but have failed to achieve anything more than advance a few miles and capture a few small settlements. To achieve these results, the Russian forces have lost thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles, tactical unmanned aerial systems, artillery pieces, and other weapon systems.
Expert Biography: A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.