Moscow has erected a web of trenches and fortifications in Crimea, particularly around the small town of Medvedivka and Vitino, ahead of an anticipated Ukrainian offensive.
Russia has dug miles of trenches and built dozens of fortifications in Crimea ahead of an expected spring offensive by Ukraine. The Russian military has deployed a web of trenches around Medvedivka near a crossing to mainland Ukraine. Additionally, near Vitino, a town on Crimea’s western coast, Russia built miles of fortifications within a few weeks, even though analysts say an amphibious assault is unlikely. Russian construction workers were hired to fit trenches in Crimea with wood and concrete for more than $90 a day. The BTM-3, a Soviet-era trenching machine, was used to dig as fast as half a mile per hour, even when the ground is frozen. Raw manpower has also been used in the construction of the defenses.
Why does it matter?
The extent of fortifications in Crimea seen in the photos, provided by Maxar Technologies to the Washington Post is the “best indication” of Russia’s fears, says Mykola Bielieskov, a research fellow at Ukraine’s National Institute for Strategic Studies. While the region’s geography presents major difficulties for both Ukraine and Russia, some Western officials are concerned that a direct fight over Crimea could lead to a dangerous escalation. Russia has built defenses elsewhere, but the scale in Crimea stands out. However, the Ukrainian navy is weak, and it lacks the air power to dominate the peninsula from above. The obstacles placed along key roads that connect Crimea to mainland Ukraine would pose a significant challenge for a ground assault.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pledged to return Crimea to Ukraine’s control, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed never to give it up. Though Russia has built defenses elsewhere, the scale in Crimea is a significant indication of how important the region is to Moscow. For the moment, Russia appears to be preparing for a Ukrainian offensive by building up its defenses in Crimea. However, some Western officials are concerned that a direct fight over Crimea could lead to a dangerous escalation, and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has implied that Moscow would use nuclear weapons to defend Crimea.
- The peninsula, annexed by Russia in 2014, is connected to mainland Ukraine by a narrow, swampy passage that could pose difficulties for an offensive.
- Russian military analysts say the Kremlin is well aware that it needs to defend Crimea, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pledged to return the territory to Ukraine.
- Some Western officials fear a direct fight over Crimea could lead to a dangerous escalation.