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Satellite images that reveal how Russia is preparing to face the expected Ukrainian counteroffensive

A seaside resort riddled with fortifications and a main road lined with anti-tank ditches. An analysis of satellite images by the BBC Verify team has revealed some of the extensive defenses built by Russia in preparation for the announced Ukrainian counter-attack.

After months of stalemate, the long-awaited assault is likely to be a crucial test for Ukraine as it tries to show that it can make significant gains on the battlefield with the weapons it has received from the West.

LOOK: Russia hits Kyiv with an “exceptional number of missiles” by land, sea and air

Examining hundreds of satellite imagesthe BBC has identified some key points in southern Ukraine where there has been a significant buildup of trenches and other fortifications since October.

These four locations offer a glimpse of Russian preparations and what Ukrainian forces might find themselves launching their counteroffensive.

1. The western coast of Crimea

Annexed by Russia in 2014, the Crimean peninsula was once known for its spas.

Now, instead of sun loungers and umbrellas, the coastline that stretches for 25 kilometers is riddled with defensive structures installed by Russian troops.

The image below shows the only open sandy beach on the west coast without natural defenses such as cliffs or hills.

Graphic showing the network of trenches and bunkers along the Crimean coast.

First of all, there are “dragon’s teeth” along the shore – concrete blocks in the form of a pyramid, designed to block the passage of tanks and other military vehicles.

Behind them is a line of trenches that serve as cover against attacks. You can also see several bunkers along the trenches.

Timber piles, bulldozers, and dragon’s tooth warehouses along the shoreline suggest that construction work was still underway when the image was taken in March.

Some military experts say the defenses are likely a precaution, rather than a sign that Russia hopes to defend against a maritime assault, since Ukraine has little naval capacity.

Intelligence analyst Layla Guest states: “It is likely that the fortifications were put up to deter any bold operation to attack the Crimea by sea instead of by land.”

The beach fortification is just one example of a vast network of trenches, as shown by the black dots on the map below, based on the work of open source analyst Brady Africk.

Chart showing Russian controlled areas in Ukraine.

Chart showing Russian controlled areas in Ukraine.

BBC Verify has been able to identify other key locations that have been fortified by locating individual trenches from videos on social media.

Once the exact location of one of these trenches was discovered, it was possible to trace an entire network of trenches using satellite images.

2.Tokmak

The small town of Tokmak lies on a key route in the southeast of the country, which Ukrainian forces may want to use to cut off Crimea from other Russian-controlled territories.

It has been reported that the civilian population has been evicted to turn the town into a military fortress. This would provide soldiers with access to supplies and a base to retreat to.

Aerial view of the town of Tokmak and the defense lines built near it by the Russians.

Aerial view of the town of Tokmak and the defense lines built near it by the Russians.

The satellite image above shows that a network of trenches has been dug in two lines to the north of Tokmak, the direction from which Ukraine would have to attack.

Behind these trenches is another ring of fortifications around the city, with three layers of defenses which can be clearly seen in this close-up satellite image.

A satellite photo showing the trenches and dragon's teeth.

A satellite photo showing the trenches and dragon’s teeth.

The top of the satellite image shows an anti-tank ditch. These grooves are usually at least 2.5 meters deep and are designed to catch any enemy tanks trying to cross them.

Behind the moat are several rows of dragon teeth and another network of trenches.

Photos showing the construction of a trench and the dragon's teeth already in place.

Photos showing the construction of a trench and the dragon’s teeth already in place.

But the Ukrainian forces are likely to face more traps.

And mines may well have been hidden between Tokmak’s three lines of defense as well, said Mark Cancian of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Minefields are a standard part of any defenseand the Russians have used them extensively throughout the war,” he explained.

“Here they will be large and better hidden, in order to slow down the Ukrainian attacks and so that other combat elements, such as artillery and infantry, can hit the attacking forces,” he added.

BBC Verify has also found that three other towns near Tokmak have been similarly fortified.

3. The E105 motorway

A line of ditches and anti-tank trenches now runs along a 35-kilometre stretch of the E105 highway, west of Tokmak.

Satellite photo showing the E105 motorway and the trenches near it.

Satellite photo showing the E105 motorway and the trenches near it.

The E105 has a strategic importance, since it connects the city of Melitopol, one of the main cities of the Zaporizhia province, in Russian hands, with the northern Kharkiv, under Ukrainian control. The side that seizes the road will be able to easily move troops through the region.

If Ukrainian forces try to use this road, Russia will likely attack them with heavy artillery from behind their defenses. In addition, the Russian position is within reach of another nearby road, the T401, which could also be attacked.

The Russians are concerned about the recently built Ukrainian armored units. If these units can get onto a main road, they can move very quickly,” Cancian said.

“Russian defenses will try to push them away from the roads and therefore slow them down,” he said.

4. Rivnopil, north of Mariupol

The port of Mariupol has a strategic position between the Russian-occupied territories in eastern Ukraine and Crimea in the south. also became in a symbol of resistance to the invasion when a hard core of combatants resisted the siege of the city for months.

With Russia expecting Ukraine to try to retake it, BBC Verify decided to survey the territory surrounding the city, which led to the discovery of a set of circular trenches.

Located near the small village of Rivnopil, some 55 kilometers north of Mariupol, each circular trench has an earthen mound in the center, possibly to protect artillery or to keep the guns steady.

Aerial photo of the circular trenches that will possibly be used to protect the artillery.

Aerial photo of the circular trenches that will possibly be used to protect the artillery.

Meanwhile, the circular trenches allow the soldiers to take cover and move the artillery so that it can point in any direction.

This shows that Russia is preparing to defend areas of land, which do not have natural protection of hills and rivers, with a larger network of trenches.

But some analysts point out that Ukrainian forces can use similar satellite imagery and drone surveillance to identify and circumvent many of these defenses.

Alexander Lord, of the strategic advisory firm Sibylline Ltd, said: “It is likely that the Russians will try to direct the Ukrainian forces towards certain routes that are heavily mined and within range of their artillery“.

Satellite images show visible defenses, but this could all be part of the Russian plan.

With additional reporting by Tom Spencer

Source: Elcomercio

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