Suddenly, Russia strengthens its defense network against the risk of being attacked by Ukraine

Ukrainian soldiers drive an armored vehicle carrying Dutch YPR-765 troops on the road near Bakhmut, Donetsk April 6, 2023. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Russian units along the more than 1,000km frontline in Ukraine have been preparing new defensive positions for the past few months, awaiting the next Ukrainian counterattack, while their comrades move forward in fierce attacks in the Donetsk region.

According to Newsweek, Kiev is hoping to maximize Russia’s losses in defense, exhausting Moscow’s units before breaking through their line of attack with the help of new heavy armored vehicles from the Soviet Union. NATO as well as new armies trained by the West.

It is not yet known exactly where the Ukrainian counter-offensive will take place. Kiev is strictly guarding every detail of the planned operation, and the recent leak of classified Pentagon intelligence documents could force Ukrainian commanders to revise their plans.

Forts and dragon’s teeth (wedge-shaped concrete anti-tank fence) in Medvedivka, Northeastern Crimea, February 11, 2023. Satellite image of Maxar

Crimea is and will remain an important target of Ukraine. Despite the skepticism of their foreign counterparts, Ukrainian leaders have always said they intend to regain full control of the peninsula.

“Beginning with Crimea, and ending with Crimea,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said last summer.

Andriy Zagorodnyuk, Ukraine’s former defense minister from 2019-2020 and now an adviser to President Zelensky’s government, told Newsweek that Russia’s construction and defense activities in Crimea are no secret.

“Of course, the Russians are trying to fortify but I don’t think it will work, simply because this is not the beginning of the twentieth century and material fortifications cannot guarantee that a force will be able to hold position,” he said, adding: “I don’t think the fortifications have a decisive role in this case,” but admits it’s “too early” to say when the Ukrainian military will be available. reclaim the peninsula.

Recent satellite images from Maxar published by the Washington Post show an extensive network of Russian fortifications under construction on the Crimean Peninsula and along approaches from southern Ukraine. The Russian army occupies a land corridor extending from the Dnieper River to the Russian border, with important overland routes running through the cities of Melitopol and Mariupol under their control. This corridor is one of the Kremlin’s few tangible successes in the conflict to date.

Forts and dragon teeth in Maslove, Northern Crimea. Satellite image of Maxar

Apart from the Russian-controlled areas of southern Ukraine, the Crimean peninsula is separated from the mainland by the Isthmus of Perekop, a little over 6km wide at its widest. Only two roads, the M17 and M18 motorways, enter Crimea from the north. The western M17 motorway is now bordered by Russian trenches and fortifications, while the eastern M18 could be blocked if the only bridge leading across is destroyed.

Russian planners are focusing on consolidation at such bottlenecks. For example, the small town of Medvedivka is located just south of the important bridge of the M18 motorway. There, Russian engineers built a network of trenches several kilometers long to protect the defensive infantry. This place was fortified by large moats to intercept and trap heavy armor and other vehicles.

Russian troops are also deployed in anticipation of amphibious assaults, although Ukrainian forces do not appear to be capable of any such significant landings. In the town of Vitino on the west coast of Crimea, Russian units built trenches and firing positions, including artillery batteries, along the beach.

Satellite images released by Al Jazeera also show the fortification of defenses around Russia’s Sevastopol naval base at the southwestern tip of the peninsula, which has played a central role in Russia’s attempt to annex Crimea. Moscow in 2014.

Mark Voyger, a former special adviser on Russian and Eurasian affairs to then-US Army Commander General Ben Hodges, told Newsweek that the new Russian fortifications were only part of the challenge. wake up with Kiev.

“I think the bigger problem is the sheer complexity of the location”, says Voyger, now a senior fellow at the Center for European Analysis and a professor at the American University in Kiev. determined. He noted the marshy terrain connecting the peninsula to the mainland and the very limited access options from the north.

A woman walks past a poster depicting a Russian soldier and a tactical Z badge, in Sevastopol, Crimea, on April 23, 2022. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Voyger said Ukrainian forces would need time to erode Russian positions before they could attack. “Ukrainians have the capacity not to risk launching suicide attacks against such a narrow front line,” he said. They have to ‘soften’ the physical characteristics of the defense system.”

Moscow pivoted to a new defensive posture in southern Ukraine following its withdrawal from the capital Kherson in November 2022, using the Dnieper River as a barrier to keep Ukrainian troops out. Then Russian units began to focus on fortifying the controlled parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia provinces.

The Washington Post reports that Russian online job listings are offering salaries of more than $90 a day – a high in Russia – for construction of wooden and concrete trenches in the Crimea region. . The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine also reported in February that new Russian conscripts are being deployed to Crimea specifically to strengthen defenses.

Recent troop movements also indicate that the Russians are preparing to defend the area. The Moscow Times reported last week that main battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and artillery had all disappeared from a Russian base in northern Crimea between February 11 and 16. /3, when new defenses were built along the approaches to the peninsula.

Ukrainian forces during a training session with Soviet-era tanks in the Zaporizhzhia region in early April 2023. Photo: Washington Post

Last month, Sergey Aksyonov – the Kremlin-appointed head of Crimea – said construction was going on with a “unique” and “asymmetrical” approach due to their “experience”. with armed conflicts”.

“Be careful not to worry,” Mr. Aksyonov said. “And I always say, if you want peace, prepare for war. So we better be ready. The people of Crimea and all other Russians can rest assured on this matter.”

The deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, also warned in March that Moscow would use “any weapon” to prevent Ukraine from retaking Crimea. “They are preparing for an attack, everyone knows it,” Medvedev said, “Our General Staff is calculating this and is preparing its own solutions. ”

Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces are trying to disrupt daily life on the peninsula. The Washington Post has counted over 70 suspected Ukrainian attacks in Crimea since August 2022, mainly targeting military sites and critical infrastructure.

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