“If you want to live, dig.”
The words, often spoken by Ukrainian troops, are universal advice for trench warfare in general, but especially for both sides in Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Normally expressed as advice to the individual soldier, the maxim now applies to the country as a whole.
Twenty-one months into the full-scale war, World War I-style tactics, with the high-tech edge brought by drones and other innovations, continue to dominate.
Russia and Ukraine are diving head-long into a winter campaign looking to be no less brutal than the last, and it is Russian forces that have taken the initiative on a wide stretch of the eastern front line and look likely to keep it for the foreseeable future.
As Ukraine wrestled with internal political tensions, the threat of Western military aid drying up, and the slow realization that the summer counteroffensive had ended in a strategic failure, questions began to be raised about Ukraine’s preparation for a long defensive fight.
On Nov. 24, Deputy Prime Minister and Digital Transformation Minister Mykhailo Fedorov announced the creation of a new working group headed by himself and Defense Minister Rustem Umerov to “coordinate the efforts of all authorities and the military in matters of construction of fortifications.”
Six days later, President Volodymyr Zelensky held a meeting with Umerov and other officials in Zaporizhzhia Oblast to discuss the building of fortifications, focusing on the most critical sectors of the front line, as well as the state border with Belarus, across which Russian forces launched their failed attempt to take Kyiv in February 2022. In a written statement, the Defense Ministry confirmed to the Kyiv Independent that plans are for fortifications to stretch along the entire line of contact.
But in contrast to Russia, which had spent months constructing its defensive lines while its own forces held the initiative over winter and spring, Kyiv did not take the same measures while Ukrainian forces were attacking over summer.
“Along almost all of the front line where we (Ukrainian forces) are located now, we have been there for no less than half a year,” said retired Ukrainian colonel and expert at the Center for Defense Strategies think tank Viktor Kivliuk to the Kyiv Independent.
“This has been going on for half a year and suddenly, the Supreme Commander-in-Chief (Zelensky) seems to wake up and propose building fortifications. Where was he all this time?” [Continue reading…]