War in Ukraine, the Russian defense line for the counter-offensive: 800 kilometers of armored vehicles

Russia’s military has built a defensive line more than 800 kilometers long, tripled in places, and has deployed large numbers of troops to maintain it, pending an announced counter-offensive in Ukraine. After a Russian offensive in recent months, with limited progress, the Ukrainian army is preparing its counter-offensive, announced for spring, although it may be postponed until summer. The Russian military appears to have learned from past mistakes and has organized its defenses with the aim of keeping the conflict a war of attrition.

FORTIFICATIONS – Russia’s defensive installations stretch along a front of 800-900 kilometers from the city of Kherson in the south to the northeast of Ukraine. Along that defensive line, “layers of fortifications and trenches” build up, explains Brady Africk of the American Enterprise Institute think tank. According to the expert, “they are anti-tank traps, barriers, prefabricated defense lines like dragon’s teeth (pyramidal structures used since World War II)”, as well as trenches for soldiers. Ukrainian attacks will hit several lines of defense in succession. “The Russians’ aim is to strike” on the front lines, explains Pierre Razoux, academic director of the Mediterranean Foundation for Strategic Studies (FMES). In the second line of defence, “the enemy attack tends to get tangled up and, if it manages to overcome it, the third line becomes really complicated”, says the French analyst.

WHERE? WHEN? – The long front line offers several options of where a possible Ukrainian counter-offensive could take place, and perhaps Kiev has not yet decided where to launch it. “In any defensive strategy, you try to bring the attacker into the area you’ve chosen,” explains Andrew Gaker, an analyst at the Janes Institute in the UK. According to this expert, perhaps the Ukrainians have not yet chosen the place to launch the counter-offensive, which could be preceded by a decoy, a small-scale attack to mobilize the Russians against an attack that will not be the main attack. The counter-offensive could start in Bakhmut, the Donbass city where the conflict’s longest battle takes place and currently 80% controlled by the Russian army, says Vasily Kachin of Moscow’s Higher School of Economics. “The information we have is very limited,” admits Kachin. The head of the Russian paramilitary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, predicted that the counteroffensive will begin on May 9 (commemoration of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany), when his troops intend to take control of the entire devastated city.

CONCENTRATION OF RUSSIAN TROOPS – The Kremlin is confident that the defensive lines will hold thanks to a large concentration of Russian soldiers, after several campaigns to recruit reservists. “Even if exhausted by their efforts, the Russian system will have enough manpower reserves to absorb the shock,” say Philipe Gros and Vincent Tourret in a study by the Fondation pour la Recherche Strategique, a French think tank. In September, the Ukrainian army managed to carry out a dazzling counteroffensive in the northeast region of Kharkov, but now the Russian position “is much more solid than it was then”, recognizes the former French colonel and military historian Michel Goya. “No Ukrainian offensive, even the most effective one, will be enough to end the war,” says Kachin.

PRESSURE IN UKRAINE – The Ukrainian army is theoretically better armed than it was a year ago, thanks to substantial military aid from Western countries, especially the United States. However, some of these weapons have yet to reach the front lines. Kiev also has to deal with the complexity of combining old Soviet weapons with more modern Western weapons. According to the Foundation for Strategic Research, Ukrainian troops suffer “a high level of losses due to attritional warfare, especially among senior officers and soldiers”. In addition, the Ukrainian army suffers from “drastically limited ammunition consumption”. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is aware of these difficulties, but also of pressure from Western allies, especially the United States, where sending military aid to Ukraine is increasingly discussed. Zelensky “has no right to make mistakes. He will only be able to act when he is sure of his blow », said Razoux about the possible counter-offensive.

Source: IL Tempo