Russian defensive lines in the Zaporizhzhia Oblast

Given the ongoing discussions regarding the Ukrainian counter-offensive, it’s crucial to understand Russia’s echeloned defense system along the frontline, particularly in the south. These defense lines are composed of multiple obstacles that Ukrainian forces will face. To help paint a clearer picture, we’ll be using satellite imagery from Feb 2023 to analyze a section of the enemy’s fortifications located south of Vasylivka, Zaporizhzhia oblast. Although some changes have occurred since then, the general idea of the defenses remains the same.

One key feature of Russia’s defense lines are famous dragon’s teeth, pyramidal anti-tank obstacles that can effectively impede or slow down mechanized or motorized units during an attack. These obstacles can be particularly effective in combination with other defense measures. It is common for the areas immediately preceding and following dragon’s teeth to be heavily mined, and this specific section of the defense line is no exception.

The subsequent defensive line, positioned approximately 300-500 meters away from the dragon’s teeth, is composed of conventional trenches, dugouts, and vehicle revetments, providing protective cover for armored vehicles positioned in “hull down” mode. It is common to utilize tree lines as camouflage for ammunition, observation posts, or anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) teams. It is possible that we may observe the presence of older anti-tank weapons such as the MT-12 “Rapira” in that area. 

About 500 meters further, another line of defense begins which includes anti-tank ditch. This excavated ditch is designed to prevent the advance of attacking vehicles by forcing them to fall into the ditch, thus becoming immobilized.

Although overcoming these obstacles is certainly feasible and well within Ukraine’s capabilities, it is important to acknowledge that the fortified defenses are substantial and have the potential to significantly impede maneuverable attacking forces. If we view these defense lines on the imagery as a single echelon, it’s important to note that Russia has multiple echelons in some areas, with as many as three in certain directions, each separated by dozens of kilometers.  Air power can neutralize these defenses, but limited availability of modern jets in sufficient numbers makes it challenging. A successful breach of such defenses could serve as a valuable case study for researchers and historians, showcasing effective military art.

Comment: The author of this thread is a Ukrainian Reserve officer. In later comments he states he is pretty confident Ukrainian forces can achieve victory in the coming offensive, but he knows it won’t be a cakewalk. This is why recent shipments to Ukraine include lots of ammo along with obstacle breaching equipment like mine plows, armored bulldozers, mine clearing line charges (MICLIC) and armored vehicle launched bridges. I saw one video of a Stryker equipped with a mine plow. I never knew those existed. Of course drones of all flavors will also play their part.

The Russian field works are impressive from a distance, but their impressiveness diminishes upon examination. The dragon’s teeth are smaller than those used in WWII and are not anchored to each other or the ground. They’ll definitely stop lighter wheeled and tracked vehicles, but they won’t stand up to the mine plows and may not even be much of an obstacle for tanks. The mine fields, on the other hand, are a serious obstacle that will require the mine plows and MICLIC to breach. The trenches don’t offer much overhead cover for occupying infantry. Our DePuy fighting positions formed an interlocking defense with overhead cover for all the defending infantry. And the infantry could fight from under that overhead cover. Still, these defenses if sufficiently manned and backed up by sufficient artillery could be a tough nut to crack. Soviet/Russian doctrine calls for a mobile defense with armored reserves. I don’t know if that’s still the case or if that aspect of doctrine went the way of the BTG. Twenty years of corruption and a year of attrition have taken a mighty toll on the Russian Army.


This entry was posted in The Military Art, TTG, Ukraine Crisis. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Russian defensive lines in the Zaporizhzhia Oblast

  1. d74 says:

    “Art” is a big word…

    For your comments, I agree.

    A minefield and an anti-tank ditch without surveillance or artillery are worthless. It is at the moment when the tank column is stopped or slowed down by the obstacle that the opposing artillery must strike (here, artillery also includes infantry missiles and ground support aircrafts, if possible).
    If the Russians retreat in disorder to this so-called stop line, the game will be seriously compromised for them. It should not be forgotten that they are understaffed in relation to the types of quasi-static combat they are conducting.

    All in all, this infrastructure is a sham. Internal use only. Perhaps also, something is better than nothing.

  2. Fourth and Long says:

    Do these installations extend continuously left to right without gaps? I’m confused on whether they can’t be bypassed. Is the answer – “yes they can be bypassed, but the gaps are killing fields because our artillery & troops will be there lying in wait?” Or that the gaps are thick brush or otherwise impassable? They can’t possibly have hundreds of kilometers of front covered in this way, can they?

    Yours Truly with many Thanks,
    Mister Dopey and his assistants Dr Dumb and Professor Moronovich.

    • Chrisitan Chuba says:

      Well deployed defensive works are never spread out evenly. They build strong points on areas that must be taken by an offensive force. There is not enough material to fortify everything.

      I half expect this offensive to be cancelled because of ‘intel leaks’ but if it does occur it will show the true state of the war.

  3. Leith says:

    Putin started work on these defensive lines seven months ago, back in September 2022. So has had plenty of time. Brit DIA equivalent is saying that the defensive lines are comprised of three layers:
    – first, a front line of combat outposts;
    – second, 10 to 20km behind that a more complex zone with all the defensive fortifications that Tatarigami mentions above;
    – and third, 10 to 20km behind the second line another complex zone of fortifications. So three lines roughly 20 to 40km deep and supposedly 120km in length. I wonder if the t-55s taken out of storage are being used hull-down as anti-tank bunkers throughout those defensive lines? Seems to me they would do better in that role than as a mobile tank reserve. Sounds formidable. Hmm? Sounds much like Kursk 80 years ago where mil historian David Glantz says of Red Army defenses: “The combined depth of the three main defensive zones was about 40 kilometres (25 mi). The six defensive belts on either side of Kursk were 130–150 kilometres (81–93 mi) deep”.
    The entirety of those layers seem basically positioned to protect Melitopol. Ukraine has for many months been publicly hinting that Melitopol could be a primary objective in their upcoming counter-offensive. Truth, misdirection, or just teasing the Kremlin?

  4. scott s. says:

    So it’s a war of the engineers. Bring on the sappers.

  5. Sam says:


    What’s your take on the “leaked” DoD documents? Maskirovka or reflects DoDs perception?

    • TTG says:


      I think the leaked documents are real or at least the vast majority of them. Maybe there are a few pieces of feed material slipped in there after the fact. It would be a good opportunity to do so. Overall the documents paint a picture of a battered Ukrainian Army and an even more battered Russian Army. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. I guess we’ll know for sure if and when there are some arrests. My guess is that this is some dumb ass DoD employee who hoards this stuff as a hobby much like that NSA employee who had a house full of classified SIGINT just for the hell of it.

      Getting paper documents out of the Pentagon or DIA is not that hard. There are metal detectors and bags are randomly searched, but Ive never heard of a frisking, never mind a strip search. Also, there are too damned many printers in those agencies. SAP material is handled a lot more carefully.

  6. james ticehurst.. says:

    Its online that the material went onto gammer web sites a month ago..undeteched…
    for unknown reasons….Hackers use tem all the time apparently.. They say its Real Stuff…OURS.. DIA ..? Last one Out March 1 Was CIA…

    All This Stuff all over Out There..Like VULKAN..Undetected..That Long..On Purpose.?
    Suddenly “Discovered” Now.,, Printed… Us..??? Tell The World..Ah

    Seems Like it was Meant to Create alot of Paranoia/Distrust..Apprehension…
    Putin of His Top Staff….England…Poland..S.Korea…which has been main Arms Supplier
    To Poland and Others…And SK In Kims Sights if the Taiwan attacks happens…

    Who Would Do this Now..Its Deliberate…For Someones Benefit..Whose…?

    Why Has Putin/Russia Been Dragging their Activity Out This Way..The Loss of Life
    Property doesnt seem to Matter….The Main Events for Ukraine/Russia…China? Taiwan…And Many Other Global FRONTS…Are Tightening.

    There have been massive Resource Drains only on NATO…EU..and other Hemispheric
    Friends or Allies…Is That Part of the Plan…?? CHINA..Number One Inventory,,!!
    Macrone likes the Tea..and more..
    The Response is To What We KNOW…Its Effect..And Honest Assessments..of

    How Long Before All Major Resources are Gone,,,,or Spread over Multiple Fronts..
    hmmm…Seems like thats the Plan…But..Tell the Kids..there is no Monster under
    the Bed…And Eat the Irish Stew….Its even better than KoolAide..but not
    Southern Comfort,,

  7. Al says:

    TGG and others, Washington Post last eve put out interesting article on leak source. Appears that a small group had been on line together since 2020 including the leaker. Leaker claimed he worked in a highly controled, secured, govt site had been posting ongoing bits of classified info to group with little notice.

    Finally, group member named “OG” took special interest and assembled the leaker’s postings into collection.

    I don’t have WA Post link at hand

  8. Al says:

    Suspect is 21 yr old Air National Guard 2st class Airman

  9. Al says:

    Error 1st class

  10. KjHeart says:


    I have been putting the coordinates (shown in the description box on the above photos) and finding that this ‘entrenched defensive line’ seems to be just south of where the Dnipro river turns west and gets so wide in Zaporizhzhia.

    My thought is that this ‘entrenchment’ reminds me a lot of what a DMZ looks like?

    The town of Vasylivka, just north of these coordinates, is small to begin with – not sure of the strategic importance there – mostly looks like farmland (on the maps I could find).

    I guess I am asking the question ‘Why Here?”


    • TTG says:


      These defenses are meant to prevent a Ukrainian offensive towards Melitopol. Capture of Melitopol would isolate the Russian troops in Kherson Oblast and would leave the still vulnerable Kerch Bridge as the only link to Crimea. The fall of Melitopol could eventually lead to forcing the Russians to abandon Crimea, just like they had to abandon Kherson.

Comments are closed.