Russia is building a vast network of defensive fortifications in Ukraine’s southern Zaporizhzhia region ahead of an anticipated counteroffensive from Kyiv, new war maps show.
The maps were published by the Twitter accounts War Mapper and More Mapper, which provide daily map updates of the Ukraine war. They show that Russian forces have been putting up extensive lines of defense in the area.
Russia is bracing for Ukraine to launch a counteroffensive to recapture its occupied regions, including Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that was illegally annexed by Vladimir Putin in 2014.
“Russian forces in Ukraine have been developing an extensive series of defensive fortifications a few kilometers behind the current frontline,” War Mapper posted on Twitter on April 10, publishing a map that shows a web of defensive lines in the region.
More Mapper published an amended and updated version of that map on Tuesday, tweeting: “Building on the work by @bradyafr I have added / expanded trenches and defensive positions along the Zaporizhzhia front.”
It shows fortifications in and around Melitopol, defensive lines encircling the cities of Vasylivka and Tokmak, and stretching across the city of Polohy.
Newsweek has contacted Russia’s foreign ministry by email for comment.
Retired US Marine Corps Colonel Mark Cancian, senior adviser for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), told Newsweek that he anticipated a Ukrainian spring offensive could start in Zaporizhzhia.
“The expectation is that the Ukrainians will launch in defense of somewhere around the Zaporizhzhia area there or to the east, maybe heading for Mariupol, or the coast,” Cancian said.
The British defense ministry said in an assessment of the conflict in Ukraine on April 12 that Russia has, over recent weeks, “continued to develop extensive linear defenses in Zaporizhzhia Oblast in southern Ukraine.”
“The area is highly likely the responsibility of Russia’s Southern Grouping of Forces (SGF).”
The defense ministry said that Russia had completed three layers of defensive zones across approximately 120 kilometers (75 miles) of this sector.
“These consist of a front line of forward combat positions, and then two zones of nearly continuous, more elaborate defenses. Each zone is approximately 10-20km behind the one in front.”
The ministry said Russia has probably put significant effort into these defensive works because it is convinced Ukraine is considering an assault towards the city of Melitopol.
“The defenses have the potential to be formidable obstacles, but their utility almost entirely depends on them being supported by sufficient artillery and personnel. It remains unclear if the SGF can currently muster these resources,” it added.
Cancian said the Russians have built a “very powerful, very strong, front line.”
“Everyday we see pictures of it, with the Dragon’s Teeth, and entrenchments, and everything else. If the Ukrainians get stopped in it or get caught up in the defensive lines, that will be very frustrating, and there’ll be a problem. “
“But if they can break through and use their tanks in the open spaces, then they really might be able to capture a lot of territory,” Cancian added.
Do you have a tip on a world news story that Newsweek should be covering? Do you have a question about the Russia-Ukraine war? Let us know via [email protected].