A Blog by Jonathan Low


Aug 31, 2023

Ukrainians Breach Main Russian 'Surovikin' Defense Line At Verbove

In a significant development, Ukrainian forces have now breached the second - and main - Russian defensive line on the Tokmak-Melitopol axis, around Verbove. 

The Ukrainian advance has been much faster than the assault on the first line near Robotyne both because the Russians were unable to mine the area between the lines as comprehensively as the area in front of the first line so as to permit resupply but also because the Russian forces have been depleted by the Ukrainian attacks. The advances speed and momentum suggest that the Russians are weakening. JL

Kos reports in Daily Kos:

Ukraine has breached Russia’s main “Surovikin line” near Verbove just a week after liberating Robotyne, the first Russian defensive line. It supports the idea that Russia threw everything it had ahead of the line as it wasn’t as strong as advertised. That second line was assumed to be the toughest of all. (But) the area between the two lines couldn’t be mined as heavily as the approaches to the front line to be able to move equipment, vehicles, troops, and supplies to that first line. Ukraine was tracking those open lanes. Their fast approach to the second line was along those supply lines. Now, Ukraine’s 82nd Air Assault Brigade is at Verbove, on the other side of the Surovikin Line.

Ukraine has delivered two headline stories today, both of major significance.

First of all, it appears that Ukraine has already breached Russia’s main “Surovikin lines” near Verbove just a week or so after liberating Robotyne, which marked the breach of the first Russian defensive line in that approach. It lends support to the idea that Russia threw everything it had ahead of the line as it wasn’t as strong as advertised.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is fighting fire with fire, launching several days of drone attacks on Russian soil with a major successful multitarget assault last night.

Let’s start with Verbove, because this is big.

Different people count Russia’s defensive lines differently, and Russia’s defenses extend far beyond those lines regardless. But generally speaking, the first line was north of Robotyne, and it took Ukraine around three months to breach. Dealing with endless fields saturated with landmines, Russian tree-line emplacements, and relentless counterattacks made for a slow advance, leading to kvetching about Ukraine’s “failed” counteroffensive.

Russian defensive lines toward Tokmak

Yet the advance to the second defensive line—which runs south of Novoprokopivka along the ridge line of the area’s highest hills and then through Hill 166, the high-point in that region, and then through Verbove—has been lightning fast. Within days, Russia had helpfully released geolocated footage of Ukrainian forces right on the edge of that second line, which was commonly assumed to be the toughest of all. It’s replete with anti-tank ditches, dragon-teeth concrete barriers, and a network of vehicle and infantry strongpoints designed to make any attacker’s life miserable.

Yet Ukraine had one thing going for it: That area between the two lines couldn’t be mined as heavily as the approaches to the front line. Russia had to be able to move equipment, vehicles, troops, and supplies back and forth from that first line, and you better believe Ukraine was tracking those open lanes. Their fast approach to the second line was almost assuredly along those supply lines, which Ukraine has referred to by their military terminology, GLOCs, which stands for ground lines of communication.

Now, shockingly, we are getting visually confirmed reports that Ukraine’s elite 82nd Air Assault Brigade is on the outskirts of Verbove, on the other side of the Surovikin Line.

There’s no reason for Ukraine to actually assault Verbove itself. The town sits in a valley surrounded by Russian-held heights. Taking those heights is far more important, and would force any Russians inside Verbove to retreat. But here’s where this gets really interesting.

A single breach can ultimately roll up the entire defensive line

Breaching the line allows Ukraine to cut off Russian troops on the Surovikin Line from behind. It’s a difficult maneuver to be sure; it requires that Ukraine protect its flanks and supply along a narrow route. But those Russian lines are designed to defend from the north. We could see Ukraine quickly roll them up from that breach, to the west. With Ukrainian troops geolocated not far from Hill 166 (the second blue arrow pointing to the bottom of the salient), that would trap Russian troops inside a pincer/vice-grip maneuver. Russian forces would then be forced to either leave its tanks and other fighting vehicles inside their dug-in emplacements and flee on foot, or pull them out in the open and expose them to Ukrainian missiles and artillery. A best-case scenario is suddenly unfolding.

There is one caveat: There is no visual confirmation of heavy equipment behind the Surovikin Line, just infantry, so this could be an infiltration, not a breach. I may be getting ahead of the visual confirmation, but even infantry operating beyond the line means dramatic progress. It hints at Russian difficulties stemming from the Ukrainian advance now that they are past those deadly minefields further north.

Incidentally, there are reports of Ukrainian advances on the hills west of Robotyne. So even as Ukraine pushes down and east, it is working to flatten the salient to the west. 

Last night, Ukraine sent a swarm of drones north into Russian territory in Bryansk, Kaluga, Pskov, Ryazan, and Oryol oblasts. They also hit Russian-occupied Crimea. While many of these attacks seem to have been foiled, they had at least one stunning success: the Russian airfield at Pskov.

According to TASS, the state-owned Russian media outlet, four Il-76 military transport aircraft were “damaged,” though observers reported at least two of the planes were on fire. At a price of $50 million each, this is a costly loss for Russia. What’s amazing is that this airport is 800 kilometers from the Ukrainian border, near the Estonian border. Odds are good this attack was launched from inside Russia, perhaps even with the same cardboard drones used to destroy five Russian warplanes over the weekend. Those are delivered in flat packs, making them supremely easy to smuggle into vast, mostly empty Russia.

A VDV airborne barracks near the airport, also at Pskov, was reportedly hit as well, but if so, Russia isn’t helpfully providing battle damage assessment.

Perhaps more importantly, Ukraine hit a far more valuable target: Russia’s most important semiconductor factory.

Hilariously, Russia claimed the factory was hit by debris from a shot-down drone. Very nice of Russia to deflect the drone into a high-value target instead of the empty field it was originally going to hit!

It should be obvious why this target is so important. Semiconductors are a necessary component of Russian drones and cruise missiles. It makes far more sense to hit targets like these rather than highrises in Moscow. There’s no way Russia can defend them all, especially if they’re unable to stop Ukrainian saboteur teams from roaming the country, apparently unimpeded, with cardboard boxes in the trunk.

By all indications, Ukraine launched dozens of drones last night. The question is whether this is sustainable. Has Ukraine stockpiled enough drones to make this a nightly show, or is it a one-time barrage for propaganda and morale purposes, with a side of “taking out some planes and a silicon chip factory?” The latter possibility would be fine, but if Ukraine can do this regularly then ooh boy, Vladimir Putin will have a real problem on his hands.


lorde said...

The reported breach of the main melon playground Russian defense line by Ukrainian forces in the Verbove area is indeed a significant development in the ongoing conflict.

Post a Comment