Sinéad Baker

February 6, 2024

Business Insider


Ukraine is investing millions in new defensive fortifications. That will likely make it even harder for Russia to get victories, a Russia expert told BI. Attacking has proved to be much harder than defending in this war, for both sides.

A tactical shift by Ukraine will likely make it even harder for Russia to make progress in its grinding advance, an expert told Business Insider. Ukraine last month announced it was investing nearly $500 million to build fortifications. The New York Times reported these would be along its Russian border and in the eastern Donbas region.

Riley Bailey, a Russia analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, told BI that Ukraine’s defenses would make it “harder for Russian forces to attack head-on into entrenched fortified positions,” adding: “They have already shown routine difficulty in doing this.”

The problem for Russia is that it’s more difficult in this war to attack an area than to defend it. Russia has already struggled with its advance, and these fortifications will likely make its goals even harder to reach.

Attacking is hard in Ukraine

Offense is often harder than defense in land warfare, but experts said that’s particularly true in this conflict. That’s at least partly due to flat terrain and the huge number of drones in the sky, which makes surprise all but impossible, Bailey previously told BI.

Patrick Bury, a military analyst at the UK’s University of Bath, previously told BI that defense had been easier because both countries had similar weaponry and both struggled with weapons shortages. He said while it might be different if more NATO weaponry was involved, “defense seems to be in the ascendancy, certainly between these two militaries.” Other experts agreed, arguing Ukraine needed more advanced weaponry to break through.

Ukraine struggled to make major progress in its counteroffensive in the summer after Russia spent months laying defenses, including mines, dragon’s teeth, and trenches. It frustrated advanced Ukrainian weaponry such as tanks.

Russia has struggled

However, Russia had struggled to seize new territory.  It first failed to capture the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and then concentrated its efforts in the east. Despite its manpower and artillery advantage, it made almost no progress in its winter 2022 offensive and hasn’t landed any big victories in the offensive it started in October.

The extra fortifications will make Russian decision-making harder, Bailey said. Without deep Ukrainian defenses in place, Russia could push forward after capturing a location. But a stronger defensive line stops that, limiting where it can go even after a victory. It will likely have Russia questioning how to “move forward to capture territory,” Bailey said.

William Alberque, who runs the arms-control program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told BI: “Ukraine has done better on offensives than Russia has done in general. Russia has done much worse in general.” But Ukraine now is short on ammunition and weaponry, and Russia has significantly more firepower.

A Ukrainian lieutenant said this harms his soldiers’ ability to attack: “Now we don’t have enough equipment, enough people to go on the offensive. So the main goal, for now, is to hold the position we have.”

Ukraine still fighting

Ukraine doesn’t want to give up on its goal of retaking territory, Bailey said. “I don’t think this is an indication that Ukraine intends to be on the defense for long.” Ukrainian officials have said they want another counteroffensive this year. The limiting factor, Bailey said, is what weaponry Ukraine can get from allies. But when it does launch a big attack, Bailey added, “these defensive positions offer a favorable position from which to launch such operations.”

Alberque said: “Ukraine needs to create these defensive lines just in case and to create traps where possible to destroy as much Russian offensive capability as possible and then hit back somewhere.”

The fortifications could free Ukrainian soldiers to do things such as training, Jack Watling, a land-warfare expert, told Reuters. Other experts agree. Ukraine doesn’t seem to be giving up on attacking. One said Ukraine’s goal was likely “active defense,” where it still attacks while holding defensive lines, seeking Russian weak spots.


Sinéad Baker is a Senior News Reporter based in Insider’s London bureau, focusing on breaking news and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Sinéad most often covers military strategy, battlefield developments, and the geopolitical decisions that surround the war. She has interviewed multiple prime ministers, has appeared on BBC News and The Guardian’s politics podcast, and has been cited by Congressional hearings. Sinéad has also extensively covered US politics and previously led Insider’s breaking news coverage from London. Sinéad previously completed a master’s degree in investigative journalism at City, University of London, and has written for The Guardian, The Observer, and Sinéad is the former editor of the multi-award-winning The University Times in Dublin.