Russian Army Increases Minefield Size to Slow Ukrainian Counteroffensive

In early June 2023, as the Ukrainian counteroffensive began in southern Ukraine, Russian commanders adjusted their defensive doctrine by increasing the depth and density of their minefields. This adjustment had an immediate impact on the Ukrainian forces, who encountered wider minefields than anticipated and struggled to clear them using their standard equipment. As a result, the Ukrainian counteroffensive has been slower than expected, with only modest gains made in three months of fighting.

However, the Russians' decision to expand their minefields has come at a cost. By depleting their minelaying resources more quickly than anticipated, the minefields have become uneven, presenting an opportunity for the Ukrainians. The Russians made this adaptation to their defensive doctrine after the Ukrainians attacked certain towns in Zaporizhzhia near the border with Donetsk.

The increased depth and density of the minefields have proven effective in slowing down the Ukrainian assault. Ukrainian forces have encountered difficulties breaching the minefields while on the move, resulting in the loss of vehicles and delays in progress. The outermost Russian minefields are not only deeper but also denser, with anti-tank mines strategically placed to immobilize vehicles. However, this focus on the first line of defense has meant that the second and third lines are less fortified.

The Ukrainians have managed to make some progress by liberating towns and holding the ground around them. However, the Russians are fighting hard to maintain control of the first line of minefields, even deploying their last operational reserves to key areas. Once the Ukrainians breach the outermost mines, the defenses may become thinner and their progress may become easier.

Recent weeks have seen an acceleration in the Ukrainian assault, with the liberation of Robotyne and a successful advance across the first Russian fortifications. However, the ultimate outcome of the counteroffensive remains uncertain. The Russians devoted significant resources to the first line of defense, indicating their belief that the Ukrainians would not break through. If the Ukrainians continue to make progress, they may face less resistance as they move further south.


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