While the Ukrainian counteroffensive continues to unfold in southern Ukraine and the Donbas, the Russian military is preparing for the next few months.
According to Western intelligence estimates, the Russian military is getting ready to deal with a potential Ukrainian breakthrough by preparing additional defensive lines to the rear of the contact line.
Thus far, the extensive, in-depth Russian defensive lines have put a stop to Ukrainian dreams of an operational breakthrough. As a result, the Russian military is reasonably trying the same recipe.
Same Recipe of Success
“On 03 October 2023, Ukrainian Melitopol Mayor, Ivan Federov, said that Russian forces were building additional fortifications on the contested Orikhiv axis. In Novopokrovka, complex underground two-story bunkers are being built with tunnels and trenches,” the British Military Intelligence assessed in its latest estimate of the war.
“In Tokmak, additional defensive fortifications were being built and trenches filled with concrete. Russian officers have also started to evacuate their families from Tokmak. Fortifications were observed on the southern approach from Robotyne, the axis of Ukrainian forces,” the British Military Intelligence stated.
The Ukrainian military is using long-range fires, including M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), to target Russian command-and-control hubs and logistical nodes behind the frontlines. But destroying anti-tank obstacles, infantry trenches, and fortified villages is another, more difficult matter.
“The bunkers will add additional protection for Russian soldiers and command and control elements from heavy Ukrainian artillery and Uncrewed Aerial Vehicle attacks. The concrete likely reinforces the trench systems in advance of the potentially wet and muddy conditions in the coming weeks. These fortifications and evacuations likely reflect Russia’s concern of a further Ukrainian breakthrough,” the British Military Intelligence added.
The Russian military has surprised many analysts with its skillful defense against the Ukrainian counteroffensive. To be sure, it’s much easier to defend than to attack, but holding back the Ukrainian heavy brigades, several of which are equipped with Western weapon systems, isn’t easy. However, a heavy investment in a defensive posture means that the Russian forces will be unlikely to assume the offensive at any time. But it seems that the Russian leadership isn’t concerned with that anymore.
Playing for Time
The Kremlin is clearly planning a war of attrition.
Despite losing more than 300,000 troops killed, wounded, and captured as well as tens of thousands of heavy weapon systems, the Kremlin knows that the only way to achieve something in this war is to play for time and exhaust the Ukrainians and, most importantly, the Western coalition that supports Kyiv with military aid.
For the time being, the U.S.-led Western coalition of more than 30 countries stands firm behind the Ukrainian cause. However, with the counteroffensive balancing between success and failure, the desire to continue to support Ukraine with tens of billions of dollars might end. The more countries involved, the easier it is for the coalition to fracture. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his advisers understand and bank on that.
A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations and a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ). He holds a BA from the Johns Hopkins University, an MA from the Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and is pursuing a J.D. at Boston College Law School. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.
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