- Russia has built complex layers of defenses to hold back Ukraine’s counteroffensive.
- The first line has been hard to pass, but analysts say too many resources have been focused on it.
- A change in command likely means Russia’s not utilizing the depths of its defenses, analysts say.
Russia has made a tactical mistake in expending too much manpower and weaponry on its first line of defense and leaving its deeper lines weaker, analysts told The Kyiv Independent.
While Russia has built complex, multi-layered defenses, consisting of dense minefields, tank obstacles, and fortifications across hundreds of miles, they have not been using them strategically.
Ukraine’s initially slow-moving counteroffensive has made some notable gains in recent weeks, particularly in breaking through the first defensive line on the Zaporizhzhia front in the south of the country.
Michael Kofman, a defense analyst and senior fellow at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The Kyiv Independent that Ukraine was now working on breaching the second line.
Ukrainian generals say that the second line of defense will likely be far easier to break through, the Kyiv Independent reported.
Although Russia has built a “defense in depth” — consisting of multiple positions spread across a territory that allow forces to fall back and grind down the enemy’s advance — it has spent most of the counteroffensive using the bulk of its troops to defend in front of the first line, analysts told the paper.
Russian forces have also been conducting counterattacks ahead of this line, which Kofman said has been a “very costly strategy” as they have lost significant amounts of armored fighting vehicles and troops.
“The defense was counting on the [Russians] being able to retreat,” Viktor Kivliuk, a retired Ukrainian colonel with the think tank Center for Defense Strategies, told the paper. “But if there is no one left to retreat from the first line, who will defend the second?”
“The enemy has a lot of infantry but not enough equipment and IFVs and is forced to run around on their legs where maneuvers are concerned,” he said. “They’re doing what commanders tell them, but their shortages prevent them from doing it correctly.”
The defensive lines were built under the command of Sergei Surovikin, a Russian general who had been described as “absolutely ruthless” and with “little regard for human life” by former colleagues, as Insider previously reported.
Surovikin, who is nicknamed “General Armageddon,” disappeared from public view following the Wagner Group mutiny in June because of his links to the group.
Now, with General Valery Gerasimov in charge, Russian forces appear to be using a different strategy than what the defensive lines were built for.
Kofman told the paper that while Surovikin wanted a classic positional defense, Gerasimov preferred an active defense, including regular counterattacks, Kofman said.