For two months, the Ukrainian military has been trying to breach the extensive Russian defenses in the south and the Donbas and achieve an operational breakthrough that would shorten the war.
The Russian military has been putting up a skillful defense, stalling the Ukrainian advance and bogging down Kyiv’s forces in the intricate layers of its defensive line.
But one thing that has made the Russian military’s effort so effective has been the terrain.
The Terrain of the Ukrainian Counteroffensive
The terrain has been playing a key role in the Russian defensive effort against the Ukrainian counteroffensive. Southern Ukraine and the Donbas contain a lot of undergrowth that helps the defending Russian forces.
“Undergrowth regrowing across the battlefields of southern Ukraine is likely one factor contributing to the generally slow progress of combat in the area,” the British Military Intelligence assessed in a recent estimate of the war.
“The predominately arable land in the combat zone has now been left fallow for 18 months, with the return of weeds and shrubs accelerating under the warm, damp summer conditions,” the British Military Intelligence added.
Mines, in particular, have been the bane of the Ukrainian forces thus far. The Russian military has laid down hundreds of thousands of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines across the contact line in anticipation of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.
“The extra cover helps camouflage Russian defensive positions and makes defensive minefields harder to clear,” the British Military Intelligence stated.
On the other hand, the undergrowth facilitates raids by small infantry elements against entrenched positions. But mechanized warfare is needed for an operational breakthrough of the sort that the Ukrainian forces are looking for.
However, the Russian military’s effective defense against the Ukrainian counteroffensive is coming at a significant cost.
On day 528 of the Russian invasion, the Russian military continues to take significant casualties. Over the past 24 hours, the Russian forces lost more than 600 men killed, wounded, or captured, continuing the trend of high casualties of the past days.
The Ukrainian military has changed its tactics and is once more using attrition as a way to weaken the Russian forces and reveal any cracks in the Kremlin’s extensive fortifications in southern Ukraine and the Donbas. Using extensive long-range fires and suicide drones, the Ukrainian forces are systematically attriting the Russian forces in several parts of the contact line.
Overall, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claimed that as of Friday, Ukrainian forces have killed and wounded approximately 248,490 Russian troops, destroyed 322 fighter, attack, bomber, and transport jets, 311 attack and transport helicopters, 4,228 tanks, 4,911 artillery pieces, 8,249 armored personnel carriers, and infantry fighting vehicles, 704 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), 18 boats and cutters, 7,392 vehicles, and fuel tanks, 466 anti-aircraft batteries, 4,104 tactical unmanned aerial systems, 724 special equipment platforms, such as bridging vehicles, and four mobile Iskander ballistic missile systems, and 1,347 cruise missiles shot down by the Ukrainian air defenses.
A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. He is currently working towards a Master’s Degree in Strategy, Cybersecurity, and Intelligence at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.