Russian forces in occupied southern Ukraine are taking swift action to bolster their secondary defensive lines as advancing Ukrainian troops approach their initial positions. The Institute for the Study of War’s recent bulletin highlights these developments, shedding light on the evolving dynamics in the region. Recent Ukrainian gains near settlements such as Robotyne and Urozhaine in Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk oblasts have brought them close to the “Surovikin Line,” a series of fortifications designed to impede Ukrainian efforts to liberate the south of the country.
The Surovikin Line and Its Origin
Named after General Sergei Surovikin, who orchestrated the consolidation of Russian-controlled territories in late 2022, the Surovikin Line comprises mines and fortified structures built over the past ten months. However, General Surovikin’s recent dismissal from his position as the head of Russia’s aerospace forces has brought about changes in the command structure.
Russian Forces’ Response and Concerns
In response to recent Ukrainian advances, Russian forces have ramped up construction activities behind their initial defense line. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has noted this surge, particularly in the Zaporizhzhia settlement of Chervonoselivka. Satellite imagery reveals the acceleration of defensive fortification expansion approximately 16 miles southwest of the current front line. Russian forces are showing apprehension about Ukrainian progress in the Donetsk-Zaporizhzhia Oblast border area and western Zaporizhzhia Oblast.
Ukrainian Strategy and Intentions
Ukrainian Colonel Petro Chernyk has outlined the intention to dismantle Russian defensive positions in southern Ukraine and occupied Crimea, targeting the land corridor established by Moscow’s forces. Additionally, Ukrainian forces are reinforcing their own strategy on the Isthmus of Perekop, a vital chokepoint separating the Crimean Peninsula from mainland Ukraine. The construction of multiple defensive lines suggests that Russian forces are adopting a defensive stance and preparing for potential Ukrainian counteroffensives.
Russian Concerns and Response
Major General Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine’s Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR), has highlighted Russia’s heightened concerns about Crimea’s defense. Reports indicate that Russia has formed new groups in Crimea, signifying a readiness to counter any Ukrainian moves. The construction of additional defensive fortifications and the formation of these new groups underscore Russian apprehensions regarding recent Ukrainian progress along the southern front.
Ukrainian Counteroffensive Progress
Ukraine’s two-month-old counteroffensive has encountered challenges in terms of speed and cost. Russian mines and defensive structures have hindered rapid advancements. However, Ukrainian officials stress the significance of eroding Russia’s fighting capabilities alongside territorial gains. The Institute for the Study of War suggests that recent Ukrainian progress suggests the efficacy of Kyiv’s gradual approach.
Russian Forces’ Preparedness
Despite Russian forces occupying secondary defense lines, their engagement in counterattacks has likely led to degradation. Units like the 22nd and 45th Spetsnaz Brigades have been actively involved, potentially weakening their defensive capabilities. Limited information about the composition and status of these secondary defense units makes it difficult to gauge their strength accurately. Nonetheless, the absence of operational reserves and limited transfers to western Zaporizhzhia Oblast suggests that these secondary lines might be less fortified.
The evolving situation in occupied southern Ukraine indicates a strategic shift in both Ukrainian and Russian forces’ approaches. As Ukrainian advances bring them closer to the Surovikin Line, Russian forces are hastily reinforcing their secondary defense lines. The complex interplay between defensive preparations and evolving command structures will likely shape the dynamics of the conflict in the coming weeks.