Russian minefields stifle Ukraine’s counteroffensive

Small groups of sappers on the front lines are crawling across minefields to blow up Russia’s defences and pave a path for troops to advance in a slow process that has come to exemplify the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

On July 15, many news outlets reported the reasons for the “slow” counteroffensive progress. Among the outlets were The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Institute of the Study of War. 

Antitank and antipersonnel mines, as well as trip wires, have been widely deployed in areas 3 to 10 kilometres deep in front of Russia’s essential fortifications. As a result, the Ukrainian army had to alter its strategy, according to the Ukrainian military who talked to the media. 

Rather than using the infantry combat vehicles and battle tanks provided by Western partners to assist Ukraine in this counteroffensive, Ukrainian infantrymen are pushing forward cautiously on foot.

“You can no longer do anything with just a tank and some armour because the minefield is too deep, and sooner or later, it will stop, and then it will be destroyed by focused fire,” Ukraine’s army Commander-in-chief, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, told The Washington Post in a recent interview.

Ukraine changes offensive tactics

Ukraine’s battles on minefields have revealed flaws in people carriers and tanks, particularly the freshly arriving American Bradley fighting vehicles and German Leopard tanks, which officials had lauded as critical to retaking occupied territory from the Russian invaders. 

The vehicles were praised by the Ukrainian military — even after hitting explosives, most of those inside survived with minimal injuries. However, they have not been able to overcome Russia’s defences on their own. 

The Ukrainian forces concentrated their efforts on hitting Russian troops with artillery and long-range missiles rather than assaulting Russian-mined areas by destroying their supplies.

More Western demining systems needed for counteroffensive 

According to US sources, Ukraine has received practically all military equipment and weapons requested before the counteroffensive. 

Officials warned that it is not always possible to give the amounts requested by Ukraine, but that with the MICLIC demining systems in particular, Washington is striving to provide more of not only the system but also the charges used to detonate a long row of mines shortly.

“We need special equipment, special remote mine-clearance equipment,” Gen. Zaluzhny said, adding that Ukraine is employing the US-supplied MICLIC systems but that “They are also being destroyed. Nothing is wrong with that. It takes a large number of them.”

Ukraine’s army Commander-in-chief has stated that contemporary fighter jets, such as the F-16 manufactured in the United States, and other systems are required to support ground operations better.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy acknowledged the difficulty of progress in his speech on July 15. “We must all understand very clearly — as clearly as possible — that Russian forces on our southern and eastern borders are doing everything they can to stop our warriors. And every thousand metres of advance, every success of our combat brigades deserves our gratitude”, Zelenskyy stated.

The United States has announced the plan to arm Ukraine with controversial cluster munitions, which will provide the Ukrainian army with fire supremacy for the first time in this fight, giving it the necessary time and space to employ the engineering equipment they already have.

Remember that last month, Germany sent Ukraine two Wisent 1 mine clearance tanks out of the four planned.

Ukrainian military’s comments on the counteroffensive

Ukrainian military soldiers also expressed hesitation to employ more extensive, more sophisticated demining equipment. There are so few pieces of mine-clearing equipment, according to Ukrainians, they have become an easier target for Russian forces, who have prioritised striking them. 

The depth and density of the minefields pose particular challenges along the front line in southern Zaporizhzhia, where the Russians widely expected the Ukrainians to assault and attempt to cut a land corridor across the occupied region that connects the Russian border to Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Moscow illegally annexed in 2014.

The terrain is primarily open fields with few places for the Ukrainians to hide their heavy equipment and vehicles. According to soldiers, the Russians chose the high ground for their positions.

According to a commander with an engineering and sapper unit in Ukraine’s 47th Mechanised Brigade, who spoke to the WP, his group received a German-provided Wisent mine-clearance tank, which it used ahead of the counteroffensive’s start in the Zaporizhzhia region.

As Ukraine’s army changes its tactics in the counteroffensive against Russian invaders, we can expect more targeted strikes on Russian command posts and supply chains, as happened in Berdyanck, Chongar and other locations over the last couple of weeks. 

Image source: Flensburger Fahrzeugbau Gesellschaft

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