Межрегиональный интернет-журнал «7x7» Новости, мнения, блоги
  1. Horizontal Russia
  2. The Belgorod region has spent 10 billion rubles on a defensive line on the border with Ukraine. We explain how it was built and why it is useless

The Belgorod region has spent 10 billion rubles on a defensive line on the border with Ukraine. We explain how it was built and why it is useless

The line of defense fortifications in the Belgorod region. Photo from the "Real Gladkov" telegraph channel. Source: https://t.me/vvgladkov/
Share with your friend in Russia. No VPN required

On February 27th, Oksana Kozlitina, the Minister of Construction for the Belgorod region, announced that the region had spent nearly 10 billion rubles ($124,285,400) on building defensive structures on the border with Ukraine, known as the "zasechnaya” line. Local journalists from the Fonar publication have calculated that this is twice the cost of building two rapid-response infectious disease centers.

In a joint article by the 7x7 media and the Pepel media outlet from Belgorod, we explore what is known about the construction of the “zasechnaya” line, the complaints of the workers involved, and why military experts believe that the defense line is useless.

Four days on trenches

On February 6th, the village of Kazinka in the Valuysky district, 15 km from the border with Ukraine, came under shelling. A 70-year-old woman was killed. Ten days earlier, a man from Belgorod (who asked his name not to be revealed) was digging trenches for the “zasechnaya” line in Kazinka. This is how the Belgorod authorities call the defensive structures on the border that have been under construction since April 2022.

The man found the job on an online classifieds website. The ad offered 3,000 rubles ($37.20) a day for anyone willing to dig trenches on the border. But after four days of work, 3,000 rubles was the only money he received. He had to hitchhike back home from Kazinka. The contractor promised to pay the rest later.

"They still make promises. Sometimes it's now, sometimes in an hour, but I spent four days there without cigarettes, without anything," the man told a  Pepel correspondent on January 26th.

How the Wagner Line had become “zasechnaya” line

The construction of defensive structures in the Belgorod region began in April 2022. At that time, residents of Shebekino asked the head of the district, Vladimir Zhdanov, to explain what was happening. He said that it was for public security purposes. The same was said by Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov.

Later, it was mostly Gladkov who talked about the defensive line. In October, he showed the first photos of concrete tetrahedrons lined up near the settlement. On the same day, RIA FAN, which is linked to businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner PMC, posted a video about the construction of the Wagner Line in the Belgorod region. It featured footage from the same location.

According to the video, the Wagner Line was supposed to become an extension of similar structures built by the Wagner PMC in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. But within a month, Vyacheslav Gladkov began referring to the Wagner Line as the “zasechnaya” line. In the Middle Ages, this was the name for fortified lines that protected the Russian Empire from attacks from the south.

The Verstka media reported, citing a source in the regional government, that the Belgorod authorities had refused to fund Prigozhin's project. According to the source, it could have happened this way: the businessman had proposed a project with hotels costing billions of rubles, but the authorities decided to build the defensive structures on their own.

Gladkov did not mention Prigozhin or companies affiliated with him publicly. Prigozhin said that he never called the fortifications the Wagner Line but had indeed financed part of the project. The allegations that he had tried to get funds from the authorities he called “unethical.”

“We are hiring!”

The Wagner Line, which had turned into the “zasechnaya” line, was supposed to stretch along the border of the Belgorod region from the Rakityansky district in the north to the Rovenky district in the south. Presumably, this is about 500 km or shorter, because the length of the border in the Belgorod region is 540 km.

Contractors turned to advertising services and groups on social networks to find workers. The first ads appeared in November on the Work-Shabashka-Part-time-work-in-Belgorod group. Later, on Avito.

Ads were often posted by people from neighboring countries who worked in the region as foremen at construction sites. They promised to pay from 2.5 thousand to 6 thousand rubles ($31-74) per day, sometimes offering hourly pay, about 500 rubles ($6.20) per hour.

For this money, workers were supposed to dig trenches, build bunkers, and reinforce the borders with concrete blocks. The terms varied from eight to ten hours of work without days off. Sometimes with three meals a day and breaks, hostels, and transportation to the work site.

There were also offers on Avito for two-week shifts in the Donetsk region. In the comments to one of the ads, a user complained about terrible living conditions and said that the contractor refused to sign any contracts, so taking the job was "at your own risk".

Description of the work to reinforce the trenches in the Donetsk region. Screenshot of the ad on AvitoDescription of the work to reinforce the trenches in the Donetsk region. Screenshot of the ad on Avito
Feedback below the ad and the response to it. Screenshot of the ad on AvitoFeedback below the ad and the response to it. Screenshot of the ad on Avito

Later, the ads for digging trenches disappeared from Avito. The Pepel team assumes that this could have happened because of the comments about the working conditions.

If you follow the old links, the records of searching for unskilled workers for shifts in Donetsk are no longer available.

Screenshots of ads in the VKontakte social network on the search for workers for the construction of defensive structures. Below is an example of a modified publication on Avito. Earlier there was a vacancy for a worker for trenches at the link

Working on the “zasechnaya” line is not safe. On January 20, 11 people from the Kursk and Belgorod regions were digging trenches near the city of Valuyki, 15 km from the border with Ukraine. Bombing began, and the workers had to hide in a concrete structure near their positions.

A witness captured a video of the incident. It is unknown if there were any casualties. Neither the authorities nor the workers reported this. A man, who had found a job there through social media, told the Ostorozhno, Novosti Telegram channel:

“The employer acted quickly. He immediately moved us out. He said we needed to wait for a couple of days until our military found out who was bombing us.”

This man did not respond to messages from a 7x7 correspondent.

On January 27, Pepel reported that a group of workers was hit by shelling near the village of Dvuluchnoye in the Valuyki district. According to the publication, no one was injured, and the people managed to leave the shelling zone in time.

Due to shelling, it had turned impossible to build the defensive line directly on the border of the two states. Therefore, the fortifications had been moved deeper into the Russian side, and many border settlements were cut off from the region. If something like this had happened in old times, the villages and towns would’ve left for plundering by the enemy.

"The fact that some settlements and farms are located in front of or behind the line does not mean that someone has been abandoned or left unprotected. The [defense line] is a warning to our enemies if they think of doing anything evil,"  the governor of the Belgorod region said reacting to the isssue.

None of the Belgorod officials has publicly announced any plans for protecting or evacuating people if attacks really happen.

Complaining to the Governor

The man, who had dug trenches near Kazinka in response to an ad on Avito and never received the promised payment, complained to his employer Vyacheslav Gladkov. On the governor's page on the VKontakte social network, he wrote that the 14 people who had worked with him were also left without pay. Mayor Valentin Demidov reacted by asking the man for his contact information. And that was the end to their communication. 

A worker's complaint about non-payment of wages. The mayor of Belgorod responded in comments on the governor's page. That was the end of the communication with the officials. Pepel news. Source: t.me

Some other Belgorod residents in their comments also complained to Gladkov about their grievances and asked for help.

Irina S. wrote that her husband had worked at the front line for two months. According to her, her husband had to dig trenches "in rain, wind, and freezing weather" while his supervisors "sat in their cars or stayed on their couches at home." She asked the governor to investigate the contractors who cheat with working hours and pay different sums to different teams.

Delay in pay is the most frequent grievance among Belgorod residents. In January, in just a few days, at least 10 people asked Gladkov to investigate the contractors. The appeal to the governor helped Belgorod resident Nikolai (name changed) who had worked on fortifications in the Luhansk region.

"There are no [proper] conditions, and nobody ensures safety. There's lawlessness all around: each contractor hires five more contractors, and that's why everyone's pay is different. Nobody cares about it. Bombings every day, soldiers next to you. The pay is peanuts," the man told a Pepel correspondent.

Nikolai worked "on the trenches" for 17 days. He was promised 500 rubles ($6.20) per hour. Over three weeks, he could have earned 85,000 rubles ($1,050). But before his appeal to the governor, he and 40 other workers had received only advances of 5-10 thousand rubles ($62-124) each.

"We were paid three days after I filed a complaint. Later, they said that workers who contact the administration are not needed. And on other sites, many people are not paid, and contractors cheat with payments.”

Vitaliy Sh. told Vyacheslav Gladkov that the contractor left him and other workers in the hostel without pay.

"We are asking for your help, but you ignore us. What kind of homeland are we trying to protect? So that our country would allocate billions [on projects like that]? I have a question for you: why did you publicly ask the President of the Russian Federation for assistance [Gladkov asked for money from Putin to compensate for the expenses related to the war and the destruction of homes], if everything goes into [private] pockets?" Vitaliy demanded that the prosecutor's office investigate his situation.

Kira F. also requested to "take control of contractors who deceive people":

"They promise a five-day workweek from 8 am to 5 pm, but in the end, it's from 7 am to 7 pm without weekends, otherwise, they won't pay. We are doing important work for our region, and someone is just making a profit from other people."

Speaking live on television, Vyacheslav Gladkov replied that the authorities could only help those who worked with official documents and contracts. "If there is a problem, contact the heads of districts and municipalities," he added.

Complaints about working conditions to the governorComplaints about working conditions to the governor
Complaints about working conditions to the governorComplaints about working conditions to the governor
Complaints about working conditions to the governorComplaints about working conditions to the governor

"Business trips for participation in civil defense events"

Residents of Belgorod asked the head of the region why public employees ended up on the “zasechnaya” line.

"Is there no one else to dig trenches that people from [public] organizations are being sent? And what if something happens to them? Will it be considered a work-related injury?" Ksenia V. commented on publications by the governor.

She refused to talk to a 7x7 journalist and blocked him on the VKontakte social network.

The deployment of public servants to the “zasechnaya” line was reported by Pepel. Journalists noted that Irina I. complained to the governor about the involvement in the construction works of employees from the Belgorod Improvement municipal institution: 

"Do they not want to live so that they go to their death directly? How is this even possible? Please help, I am afraid for my husband and sons."

The Belgorod city administration and the government of the Belgorod region did not answer questions about whether public employees were involved in the construction of the defensive line. But journalists from Bel.ru received confirmation from the city administration that Belgorod Improvement employees had been there.

"A number of employees...were sent on official business trips to participate in civil defense events in compliance with the provisions of the Labor Code of the Russian Federation, regulating business trip issues," the publication quoted the officials' response.

The 7x7 media has been unable to find out who was responsible for the construction of the defensive line and how these people ensured the safety of the workers. The Belgorod government responds to inquiries by stating that "questions regarding the operation of fortification structures are classified and cannot be disclosed."

Complaint from comments on Vyacheslav Gladkov's page: allegedly public servants were sent to build the fortification line. Pepel news. Source: t.me

Experts: Fortifications on the border of the Belgorod region are ineffective

The fortifications built in the Belgorod region are intended to slow down the advance of enemy ground forces and infantry, but they won't protect against other threats like drones and artillery, according to Ruslan Leviev, a military researcher and founder of the Conflict Intelligence Team.

He told the 7x7 media that anti-tank blocks, known as "nadolby," are present in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. However, the Ukrainian Armed Forces never stormed them because they are far from the combat zone.

"Even if at some point Ukrainians start pushing Russian troops back from the seized territories and reach those fortifications in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, I think they unlikely to storm or break through these defenses. It is mostly an artillery war. If it comes down to storming them, then troops will first clear the territory with the fortifications with artillery fire. After that, one can simply approach and tow away them [concrete blocks], with no problems. Therefore, in the current reality, these fortifications are useless.”

Yan Matveev, a military analyst of FBK*, believes that fortifications alone are not enough. There should be troops next to them, which is unlikely as the border is too long.

"All of this looks makeshift and pathetic: two rows of small pyramids, one or two trenches, some of which are flooded. It looks more like an effort of territorial defense.

“These pyramids are very easy to hook onto: a tank approaches, hooks a rope and pulls it away in ten minutes. Even if five or six people come with a regular rope, they can drag them away [perhaps not entirely true as the builders of the defensive line said that the concrete structures are connected to each other]. In the early fall, there was even a video [presumably from the Luhansk region], where a Ukrainian BMP drives over this pyramid - and nothing happens to it. I won't even mention artillery and sappers," the expert added.

The authorities specified that the defensive fortifications in Belgorod Oblast were anti-tank pyramids, trenches, platoon strongholds, and other structures. Photo from the Real Gladkov Telegram channel. Source: t.me

Corruption and intimidation are the reasons for the trench projects

According to Ruslan Leviev and Kirill Mikhailov, researchers from Conflict Intelligence Team, the fortification line is part of a PR campaign conducted by the authorities.

"It feels like the governors of Kursk [Kursk region is also building border fortifications] and Belgorod want to show to the Kremlin that they take the defense of the country seriously, and to the population that the borders are locked, so there is no need to worry and leave the city. Perhaps it has some psychological effect for making feel better themselves, the Kremlin, and the local population," Mikhailov says.

Leviev says that the authorities spent 10 billion rubles because they had to do something with this money in the regional budget. And the grounds for the construction of the fortification line were actually made up: the authorities claimed that Russia was under threat, that NATO or Ukraine might invade Russian territory, so they had to defend the nation.

"I am absolutely certain that even if Ukraine drives Russian troops out of all its territories next week, they will not invade Russian territory, breaking into the Belgorod or Kursk regions. Therefore, these trenches and fortifications make no sense," the expert says .

Yan Matveyev interprets the fortification line as a change in the official rhetoric from "we always win" to "if we lose, we will be destroyed." This is how the authorities seek to intimidate Russians:

"An ordinary person thinks: if trenches are being made, then they will be of some service."

Every military expert mentions corruption as one of the main reasons for the fortification line. Yan Matveyev suggests that similar defensive structures may appear in other regions:

"It's a mixture of show-off and corruption. They have completed one fortification line, so the contractor has nothing else to steal money from. Therefore, new contracts are needed. It all depends on whether there is money left."

With the war raging, Putin or even someone lower would like to spend 10 billion rubles for themselves or someone close to them. But those funds may no longer be available - military necessity will overcome corruption.

How authorities could effectively protect border territories

According to Ruslan Leviev, the Belgorod authorities should have protected the border territories differently. First and foremost, officials should have relocated people and moved military objects away from where artillery can reach them.

Kirill Mikhailov is convinced that the threats to the region were assessed incorrectly. There was no need in building the "showy" and expensive obstacles against armored vehicles.

"The real threat is Ukrainian sabotage groups, which can direct artillery fire at Russian military objects. In this sense, it would be more effective to build a fence, install cameras, and organize patrols," he says.

The most effective way to protect Russian regions is to stop military actions and hold peace talks, according to Yan Matveev.

"Once Russian troops leave the territory of Ukraine, peaceful negotiations can begin, and Russian cities will no longer be threatened by drones and other weapons. If we put ourselves in the shoes of the Russian command and try to figure out how to defend the Belgorod, Bryansk, and Kursk regions, the answer is clear: there is no way. Hundreds of air defense systems cannot be produced because the territory is simply too vast."

* В материале упомянута организация Фонд борьбы с коррупцией, деятельность которой запрещена в РФ
Материалы по теме
Комментарии (0)
Мы решили временно отключить возможность комментариев на нашем сайте.
Start a blog
New articles
All sections