“Dragon’s teeth”, anti-tank hedgehogs, “thorn”, minefields. Russia was preparing the occupied territories for defense
Russian troops have used the last six months to build large-scale fortifications that should prevent Ukraine from launching a counteroffensive and liberating the occupied territories. However, the effectiveness of defense will largely depend on the ability of the troops to repel the advance of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, analysts warn.
Satellite images analyzed by the Financial Times and the BBC show built-in layered defenses, including anti-tank ditches, minefields, chains of concrete “dragon teeth” and iron “hedgehogs”, mazes of trenches and barbed wire fences. “Russian forces seem to have realized that much of the area under their control would be difficult to defend without fortified positions,” said FT Brady Efrick, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute who tracks and maps open-source Russian fortifications.
Fortifications appeared almost along the entire front line, as well as in the depths of the occupied territories, including on the approaches to Melitopol in the Zaporizhzhia Oblast, around the air base near Berdyansk on the coast of the Sea of Azov (used as the main transshipment hub), in the Crimea (and on the Perekop Isthmus, but also on the western coast of the peninsula).
Some of the largest fortifications have been built in the north of Zaporizhia Oblast, where it is expected that the Ukrainian Armed Forces may strike to block the “land bridge” from Crimea. Four settlements northeast of Melitopol – the towns of Tokmak and Pologi, the village of Ocheretovatoye and the village of Bilmak, located on important roads – are completely surrounded by defensive structures, notes the FT.
The Air Force provides detailed photos of the defenses in the Tokmak Depth, located on the road to Melitopol. It is said that the occupation authorities moved out the inhabitants of Tokmak to make it a fortress, the Air Force notes. There are two lines of trenches to the north. Behind them, the city is surrounded by fortifications: an anti-tank ditch 2.5 meters deep, after 250 meters – three rows of “dragon teeth”, after another 300 meters – a network of trenches, and behind them – points for artillery calculations.
And that’s not all, there are certainly minefields between the lines of defense, says Mark Cansian of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Trenches have also been dug along the E-105 highway linking Melitopol in southern Ukraine with Kharkiv in the north; on it, in the event of a breach of the Russian defense, the Armed Forces of Ukraine can redeploy reinforcements. In this way, Russian troops hope to disrupt the movement of enemy motorized units, says Kensian.
Large-scale fortifications have also appeared along the entire border of the Luhansk Oblast, which is almost completely under Russian control, especially in front of the cities of Severodonetsk, Lysichansk and Popasna, captured in 2022.
It will be very difficult to break through such a multi-layered defense without heavy losses, admits Nikolai Beleskov, chief consultant of the department of military and military-economic policy of the National Institute for Strategic Studies in Kiev. Success can only be achieved through coordinated action by different types of military forces, but that’s not all that matters, he adds: “Obstacles alone don’t stop individuals from attacking. They will only be effective if properly manned and supplemented by artillery support, aircraft and reserve maneuvers.”
The front line stretches for about 1,000 kilometers, which gives the Ukrainian Armed Forces an advantage, said FT Andriy Zagorodnyuk, chairman of the board of the Center for Defense Strategies and former Minister of Defense of Ukraine:
How reported on Saturday, in a daily British intelligence report, Moscow moved “up to several battalions to reinforce” its position in Bakhmut, which it declared captured. This is a “noticeable addition” given the already overburdened Russian units across the front line.
Dara Massikot, a senior researcher at the Rand Corporation, also points to manpowering the defensive fortifications. The morale of the Russian soldiers – “skinny, poorly trained”, often mistreated – will also be important. Rob Lee, senior fellow at the US Institute for Foreign Policy Studies, adds: