The Ukrainian counterattack is proving more difficult for several reasons than thought three months ago, say Patrick Boulder, defense specialist at HCSS in Boekestijn and De Wijk from BNR. Russia had eight months to set up defensive positions, including minefields, anti-tank trenches, and dragon’s teeth. And Boulder says that serious mistakes were also made on the Ukrainian side.
In some places there were up to five mines per square metre, and Boulder illustrates the danger of Russian “mining”. Russia has sometimes stacked up to three anti-tank mines on top of each other, not only to damage the mine clearing machines, but also to completely destroy them. “Underneath it was an anti-personnel mine, which exploded as soon as the anti-tank mine was also fired. This would harm the surgeon on duty, to say the least.
And Boulder says it’s hard to deny that mistakes were also made on the Ukrainian side. Many new units may have been trained, but in a very limited period of time. “If you are not trained at the level of brigade operations, the fault is there.” Moreover, there is no air superiority on either side. This is the first condition. “This means that helicopters and drones can fly freely over the battlefield.”
One of the main problems with the Ukrainian counteroffensive was that it was not possible to maneuver through the Russian lines with brigades trained in the west. According to Boulder, it is surprising that there is not enough monitoring of large-scale minefields. ‘You just can.’ side Maneuver along the front, but not through the front. I think this is one of the mistakes they made in the beginning.
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Only at a professional distance can you correctly assess the situation. Boulder says strange things have happened there. “Starting a war of maneuver without air superiority is just a request to kill your units.” It is not clear how many deaths there are. He added, “Of course, there are heavy losses on the Ukrainian side. That is why it is important that we continue to provide this equipment and training, also for the sake of our freedom and democracy in the future.
Sounds a little more optimistic
However, in recent days there seem to be somewhat more optimistic voices about the situation with regard to the Ukrainian army. According to Rob D. Vick of HCSS, it’s mainly small breakouts that appear, but you have to look carefully at why. The Russians made sure that the minefields were much wider than the doctrine says: 500 meters instead of 120 metres. There are actually a lot fewer mines behind it.
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The big problem, according to de Vik, is that the Russians also know that mines become rarer after the first broad line. You have seen in recent months that Russians are constantly adapting to the situation, so forecasts can quickly be thrown into the trash. “It makes sense, because war is inherently unpredictable in how it will end. You have to make sure you can adapt, and not go by the book and do unexpected things. And they do.”
Pep talks about the troops
According to de Vic, signals about promising achievements are best interpreted as pep talk. Boulder agrees. “The weaker Russian units are in the front line of defence. My impression is that there are better units behind them. So I hope the next lines are also easier. They may have fewer mines, but don’t forget these units are well trained.
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According to Boulder, this does not change the fact that the better-trained Russian forces have also been at war for a long time and have not had any rest. If Ukraine can maintain and extend the small advance in Robotyn – by applying the same strategy of attrition as has been done in recent months – it will be possible to gradually advance further. “But in fact, getting to Crimea before the end of the year is not possible, in my opinion,” he added.
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