Russian forces are digging new trenches near Crimea in preparation for further Ukrainian breakthroughs, as Kyiv restarts a rail link to Kherson following Moscow’s retreat from the southern city.
Britain's Ministry of Defence says Russian forces have continued to prioritise “refitting, reorganisation and the preparation of defences,” since withdrawing from Kherson, capital of Kherson region, which borders Crimea.
“Units have constructed new trench systems near the border of Crimea, as well as near the Siversky-Donets River between Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts,” the MoD said in its daily intelligence update.
“Some of these locations are up to 60km behind the current front line, suggesting that Russian planners are making preparations in case of further major Ukrainian breakthroughs.”
The news was confirmed by the Moscow-appointed governor of Crimea.
“Fortification work is being carried out on the territory of Crimea under my control with the aim of guaranteeing the security of all Crimeans,” Sergei Aksyonov, said on social media.
Russia annexed Crimea after Ukraine's Kremlin-friendly president Viktor Yanukovych fled the country in 2014. This followed demonstrations over his decision to backtrack on an agreement to strengthen Ukraine's relations with the EU.
Crimea was used as a launch pad for Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said his forces intend to recapture the peninsula.
There have been several explosions at or near Russian military installations in Crimea since February, including a co-ordinated drone attack on a key Russian naval port at Sevastopol.
Last month, the Kerch bridge connecting the peninsula to the Russian mainland was partially destroyed in an attack attributed to Ukraine by Moscow.
Ukrainian forces in recent months have been pushing a counter-offensive in the south of the country and last week reclaimed Kherson.
Russia responded with a heavy barrage of missile and drone attacks across Ukraine, crippling its power grid.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Thursday that had left 10 million people suffering blackouts.
The Russian Defence Ministry said the attack used “long-range, precision” weapons against military targets, specifically fuel and energy infrastructure.
Moscow announced on Friday that it was making gains in the eastern Donetsk region, which its forces have partially controlled since 2014.
“As a result of offensive work carried out by Russian troops, the settlement of Opytnoe was liberated,” Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.
Moscow's forces, alongside troops from two breakaway regions in east Ukraine and mercenaries from Russia's Wagner group have been trying for months to capture the nearby town of Bakhmut.
Meanwhile, a rail link between Ukrainian capital Kyiv and Kherson will restart on Friday, a senior official said.
“The first train departs today at 10.14pm from Kyiv and will arrive in Kherson at approximately at 9am tomorrow,” deputy head of the Kherson region Sergey Khlan said on social media.