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Putin Has a New ‘War Plan’: Russian Fortifications in Ukraine Spotted in Satellite Images

For weeks, there have been reports that the Russian military has been digging in, and preparing defensive positions in the Ukrainian territory it now occupies.

Drone Attack in Ukraine. Image Credit: Twitter Screenshot.
Drone Attack in Ukraine. Image Credit: Twitter Screenshot.

For weeks, there have been reports that the Russian military has been digging in, and preparing defensive positions in the Ukrainian territory it now occupies.

As the Kremlin was unable to quickly win a victory over Ukraine a year ago, it now is more determined not to lose the ground it holds.

“After the Kharkiv offensive, Russia kind of realized that defeat was possible – they could lose territory. I think that was a realization that Ukraine can do offensive operations,” Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Reuters.

The fortifications are “an acknowledgment of the risk that Ukraine could make another breakthrough,” added Lee.

According to satellite imagery, there are extensive Russian defenses that are designed to blunt the expected Ukrainian offensive.

The BBC reported on Sunday that it had examined hundreds of the photos and studied multiple locations that offer an insight into what Russia may expect when Kyiv launches its attack.

This has included the digging of possibly hundreds of miles of trenches – the most common and easiest form of defensive position to construct.

However, Russia has already made some unexpected discoveries during the construction of the mega defenses, and last month it was reported some soldiers were exposed to anthrax during efforts to dig trenches to fortify positions in the Kherson Oblast.

The Liberation of Crimea

The western coastline of Crimea is now littered with defense structures that seem almost reminiscent of the infamous German “West Wall” that was built along the French coast during the Second World War to counter an allied invasion.

As parts of the Crimean coast lack natural barriers such as hills or cliffs, the Russians have installed rows of anti-tank “dragon’s teeth” – the pyramid-shaped blocks of concrete that are designed to block the path of a tank or other armored vehicles. Those are supported by a line of trenches and bunkers.

Such precautions are being made even as Ukraine lacks a navy. However, Kyiv has shown significant resourcefulness in the conflict, and a surprise amphibious landing is unlikely but not entirely impossible!

Ukraine has publicly expressed that liberating Crimea remains one of its war goals, but actually mounting an attack could remain challenging. Kyiv may opt to blockade and isolate rather than invade the peninsula, and attempt to force Moscow to withdraw.

Target Tokmak

The BBC identified the small city of Tokmak as a potential target in a Ukrainian offensive, where it could seek to liberate it and thus cut off Crimea from other Russian-held territories. That has gone unnoticed by Moscow, which has turned the city into a military fortress.

There are now believed to be multiple defensive lines that Ukrainian forces would have to breach, including an anti-tank ditch, rows of dragon’s teeth, and then trench lines. The ground between each could be especially deadly.

“Minefields are a standard part of every defence, and the Russians have used them extensively throughout the war,” Mark Cancian from the Center for Strategic and International Studies told BBC Verify. “Here they will be large and better concealed, slowing down Ukrainian attacks so that other combat elements, like artillery and infantry, can strike the attacking forces.”

Similar defensives have been placed along the 22-mile stretch of the E105 main highway west of Tokmak.

Rivnopil Has Become a Modern Verdun

The area around the village of Rivnopil has increasingly resembled the fortifications along the Western Front of the First World War, notably around the city of Verdun, which was ringed by a string of powerful forts.

This has included a number of circular trenches built in the village that is about 34 miles north of Mariupol. As the BBC noted, these efforts could allow for the placement of artillery and provide Russian forces with the ability to defend large swaths of open ground forward of a larger trench network.

Can Russia Defend All the Positions?

Of course defensive lines are only useful should an enemy actually attack in that area. Russia could face the same issue that plagued the Germans in the Second World War, namely that it had to defend along a long line – not knowing where an assault could be mounted.

This will stretch Russia’s forces out, while Kyiv will seek to find the locations that could be most readily breached in an attack.

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Author Experience and Expertise

A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.