A thousand kilometers of “dragon teeth” and other Putin traps on the border whose effectiveness is already in doubt

“Dragon’s teeth” line of anti-tank defense erected in the Luhansk region of Ukraine. (Alexander Kats/Reuters)

Multiple lines of anti-tank ditches, trench labyrinths, concrete barricades in the shape of “dragon teeth”steel obstacles in the form of “sea urchin”, barbed wire (thorns) and minefields. A strip of a thousand kilometers of a defense that the Russians have been building in recent months to prevent the long-awaited Ukrainian counteroffensive. An old structure but still militarily efficient if well built. And therein lies the point. The incursion of a brigade of Russians in Belgorodwithin the territory of the Russian Federation itself, question its effectiveness.

A series of satellite photos analyzed by expert military cartographers of the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) They show how the Russian pontoon boats took advantage of the low mobility of the front to erect a barrier against the imminent Ukrainian advance. “They realized that much of the terrain was going to be difficult to defend without entrenched positions,” he explained to the financial timeyes, brady affrickanalyst of American Enterprise Institute. “Although it remains to be seen if they will be enough for the American tanks of the type Abrams or the leopard Germans that the Ukrainians now have and that they are prepared to overcome those obstacles”.

Kremlin forces occupy an area of ​​about 100,000 square kilometersmost of them protected by the natural barrier of the dnipro river and other estuaries, but that, in the most sensitive area such as that of Zaporizhzhya, in the south, it becomes a plain. And it is through there that it is expected that the bulk of the Ukrainian army could enter to try to cut off the Russian supply line that comes from the occupied Crimean peninsula. It is in this region that the Russian forces raised the multi-tiered defense made up of anti-tank ditches, zigzag trenches, and concrete barricades in the form of “dragon teeth” (three-sided structures).

Russian defense line in Ukraine.
Satellite image showing the line of defense being erected by Russian pontoon boats in the Zaporizhzhia region. (maxar)

This structure has as its epicenter the airport of Berdyanskon the margin of sea ​​of ​​azov, which has been used by Russian aviation as a supply bridge. Defenses extend from Armyanskin the north, to dzhankoi, in northwest. Both are crucial transport junctions and gateways to the Crimean peninsula. The objective is that the tanks cannot reach the land road that connects both territories.

The same is true in the region of luhanskin the northwest, where positions are being fortified in the cities of Severodonetsk, Lisichansk and Popasnasince they were captured by occupation troops between May and June 2022. “There was a brief lull in the winter, probably because the ground froze and it became more difficult to dig,” Africk explained. “But since the ground softened, we have seen the digging of fortifications intensify dramatically.”.

However, the appearance last week of a Russian force that crossed the border without difficulty and attacked Russian territory, cast doubt on the effectiveness of the defense put up. A named Free Russian Legionarmed with at least one tank and several assault cars, seized the border post and attacked targets in three Russian towns: Grayvoran, Kozinka and Shchetinovka. Nothing is very clear about what happened next, but 48 hours later they remained in Russian territory and their leaders assure that they are Russian dissident soldiers who have been fighting in recent months in favor of Ukrainian troops and that their final objective is overthrow the regime Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

Russian opposition soldiers who raided Belgorod
The so-called Free Russian Legion, armed with at least one tank and several assault cars, seized border posts and attacked targets in three Russian towns: Grayvoran, Kozinka and Shchetinovka. (Reuters)

The most extraordinary event occurred a few hours later when Russian planes began to bomb inside Russian territory itself to repel the brigade of men who had entered from the Ukraine. It was when videos appeared on social networks of long lines of cars on the nearby highways with people trying to flee from the war they had only seen on television until now and suddenly coming upon them. Also Legion propaganda videos. Advancing at full speed in assault vehicles along provincial roads with their helmets pierced by yellow ribbons, firing their cannon and missiles and chanting slogans against the Kremlin.

A British intelligence report claimed that Russia faces a growing security threat at the border with “warplane losses, IED attacks on rail lines, and now direct action by partisans.” For the Kremlin, it is just a diversionary maneuver to divert attention from Bakhmutwhich Russia calls artyomovskand which was apparently conquered by Russian troops after months of heavy fighting that ended up destroying the entire city. “We fully understand the purpose of such sabotage… to minimize the political effect of the loss of Artiomovsk,” explained Dimitri PeskovPutin’s ineffable spokesman.

The first signs of the Ukrainian counteroffensive can already be seen in what military experts call “shaping operations” diversionary tactics and observation of the enemy’s reaction used before a full-scale attack. In the past two weeks, Ukrainian forces have carried out small missile attacks and sabotaged Russian command and control centers, weapons depots and artillery systems throughout the region of the Donbas, in the west, and the south. Although there has so far been no massive charge similar to the Ukrainian counteroffensive last fall, when Kyiv forces swept through the northeastern region of Kharkiv and recaptured the southern city of Kherson.

Wagner group mercenaries led by Vladimir Putin's friend Yevgeny Prigozhin fly the Russian and battalion flags after conquering a collapsed sector of the city of Bakhmut.  (Press service of
Wagner group mercenaries led by Vladimir Putin’s friend Yevgeny Prigozhin fly the Russian and battalion flags after conquering a collapsed sector of the city of Bakhmut. (Press service of “Concord”/REUTERS) (PRESS SERVICE OF “CONCORD/)

The big difference, say the analysts of the ISW, is that, during the previous counteroffensive, the Russians had not been able to raise their line of defense as they did now. “These obstacles cause the units to end up concentrating and that gives the enemy the ease of an intensity of fire over a smaller area. And since the defense lines are staggered, the Ukrainians will have to drill one by one, slowing down the advance of the troops,” he explained. Rob Lee of the Foreign Policy Research Institute of washington.

However, the Ukrainians believe that the Russian defenses are too far from each other and for that reason ineffective. “The length of the front line plays in our favor,” he claimed Andriy Zagorodnyuk, Chairman of the Ukrainian Center for Defense Strategies and former Minister of Defense of Ukraine. “Russian troops are scattered across this front line and we can always find areas where they won’t wait for us.”

And above all, we will have to see the effectiveness of these defense strategies that remind us more of scenes from the First World War that to the Star Wars. With the visibility provided by drones and the firing effectiveness from kilometers away of the missile systems that Ukraine now has, the “dragon’s teeth” lines of defense seem to be obsolete. Ukraine is risking all its political and military capital in this counteroffensive. The success of the operation could give it a significant boost in its bid to drive out Russian troops, convince Western partners to continue their military support and give Kiev an advantage in any future negotiations with Moscow. It would also help keep morale high among the defiant but weary Ukrainian population, which has endured the horror of the Russian invasion for 15 months.

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