The Russian army had to flee from Cherson. They are now building a large defensive rampart on the east side of the Dnipro River. Satellite images show that it has several weaknesses. And the Russian tactics may be based on the wrong idea.

On November 11, Putin’s troops fled Kherson. They hastily tried to get across the Dnipro River in order to retreat to Russian-held territory on the east bank. Now the Russian army is building a large network of defense lines there. The goal: to stop Ukraine as soon as its army crosses the river. The second goal: To protect the Crimea occupied by Russia.

The US think tank “Institute of the Study of War” (ISW) has analyzed the defense systems in more detail. And concludes: “This defense plan has several weaknesses that Ukraine could exploit.

The Russian defenses were mainly built around the important roads to the south-east. As can be seen in the picture above, the trenches run along the main traffic routes – slightly extended to the left and right to have a good field of fire on the road. In addition, the Russians have set up so-called dragon’s teeth in many places – anti-tank obstacles.

The “ISW” writes: “The Russian positions are optimized for defense if Ukraine wants to advance across the roads. But the Ukrainian forces have already shown that they can also do it cross-country.” The Russians are therefore vulnerable over the fields. “Many of the defense lines do not go far beyond the streets. This leaves open flanks that are difficult to defend,” write the “ISW” experts. In addition, the Russian positions are too far apart to support each other Anti-tank traps wouldn’t go far enough.

According to “ISW” experts, this tactical vulnerability of the defensive positions is reflected again elsewhere. “The Russian areas would be in danger if the Ukrainians manage to break through the open flanks or encircle the Russian troops with a pincer movement. To do this, the Ukrainians would have to cross the Dnipro River near the town of Nova Kakhovka (northeast of Kherson) and at the same time launch a large-scale counter-offensive through the Kinburn Spit (to the far west).

You can see Nova Kakhovka and the Kinburn Spit on the first map. On the second map you can see the Russian defenses in the area.

The status quo at the front: The Russians have sent their newly mobilized recruits to the first line of defence. The famous “cannon fodder” is mainly used to slow down the Ukrainian forces. The better trained, battle-hardened units were pulled back to the second and third ranks in many places. The Russians want to hold these lines in any case.

Slowing down the Ukrainian offensive can have two benefits. For one thing, it would give the Russians the ability to pull together forces from across the region and put up a powerful defense. The other possibility: the Russians hold off the Ukrainians until newly mobilized recruits are well trained and of real help at the front.

Which option Putin chooses depends primarily on the timing. The Russians probably assume it will take them months to break through this defensive wall. If they believe that the Ukrainians will need a similar amount of time, then they have legitimate hopes that new troops can move in and not only stop the Ukrainian offensive, but maybe reverse it.

BUT: This assumption is also the greatest possible weakness. Previous Ukrainian counter-offensives have often gone much faster than expected. In the Cherson region, the Ukrainians sometimes needed weeks instead of months to gain important ground.

The “ISW” experts write that the shape of the defense lines does not allow any direct conclusions to be drawn as to which of the two options Putin chooses. One thing is clear: the faster the Ukrainians advance, the more often they encounter poorly defended lines.

The Ukrainian army is determined to continue its offensive. The Russians want to stop them. But why actually?

For Ukrainians, the road from Kherson to the south-east is the road to Crimea. According to President Volodymyr Zelensky, the peninsula, which has been occupied and annexed by Russia since 2014, is to be liberated. Ukraine wants to reclaim its territory.

But the region also has a second use for the current war. Two important connecting roads are still under Russian control. If the Ukrainians manage to recapture at least one or even both, they will cut off very important supply lines from the Russians. Then Putin’s troops would no longer be able to bring more troops, war equipment and supplies to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions via Crimea and the western part of the Zaporizhia region.

Of course, the opposite is true for the Russians. If holding Crimea and conquering the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk are regarded as the minimum goals of this war, then this goal would finally be jeopardized if the Ukrainians prevail here. From a Russian point of view it is vital to defend these positions.