A Blog by Jonathan Low


Sep 8, 2023

How Ukraine's Success Targeting Russian Artillery Reduces Minefields' Threat

Ukrainian forces' advance is now benefiting from their strategic decision to target Russian artillery. 

This reduces the risk to advancing Ukrainian troops as it makes clearing minefields easier, especially since the Ukrainians are discovering the Russians placed most of their mines in front of the first defense line, which has now been breached. This development, plus the thinning out of Russian defensive troops is speeding the Ukrainian offensive. JL

Kos reports in Daily Kos:

Russia has moved reinforcements from Kherson and Luhansk to  stem the Ukrainian advance. (But) they’re sending them (to counterattack), getting shredded by artillery, drones, and dug-in Ukrainians. These tactics slow down Ukrainian advances, but thin out defenses behind the main lines. (And) Russia doesnt have the mines to properly cover behind that first line, a reason Ukraine was able to advance so quickly to the second line. The ground behind that line has even fewer mines. Minefields are deadly because they funnel Ukrainians into “kill zones where artillery can zero in.” Over the past three days, Ukraine has destroyed 111 artillery guns and 12 MLRS launchers.

Ukraine analyst Def Mon on Twitter has a great overview of the situation around Robotyne. If that analysis is accurate, expect Ukraine’s progress to slow down again.

But that’s actually a good thing.

Both RO37 and Mark Sumner have given us great updates on the situation at Robotyne in the last two days. In short, Ukraine didn’t just breach Russia’s first major defensive line on the heavily guarded approach to the strategic city of Tokmak, but they’ve also breached the second—and seemingly strongest—of the lines.

What was once a slow, plodding advance picked up a great deal of steam, shocking observers with its sudden rapid gains. But if all goes well, things should slow down for a bit. And that’s not a typo—if things go well.

Here is Def Mon’s map of the current Robotyne situation.

Let’s go through his notes from left to right.

[Russian armed forces] continues to counter attack from the south of Robotyne to be able to claim they have not lost the village

We’ve seen this time and time again, where Russia would rather lose troops out in the open in vain attempts to regain lost territory than reinforce their defensive positions. This is Russian doctrine, maybe because it was easier for commanders to sacrifice lives in militarily futile gestures than it was to inform Stalin/Lenin/Putin that they had lost ground.

In any case, we know Russia has moved reinforcements from both Kherson and Luhansk to try and stem the Ukrainian advance. In case anyone was wondering how they would use those troops, apparently it’s not to reinforce their defensive lines.

Instead, they’re back to sending them out in the open to get shredded by Ukrainian artillery, drones, and dug-in Ukrainians. These tactics have certainly managed to slow down Ukrainian advances, but at a stupid cost, thinning out their defenses behind these main lines and making Ukrainian victory ultimately more likely. There’s a reason Ukraine took two months to breach the first line, and only a week to breach the second line.

It’s in Ukraine’s interest to simply sit pretty and let Russia come to them rather than trying to ferret them out of their defensive lines.

Here’s another unexpected factor. “As the long-anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive kicked off across southern Ukraine in early June, Russian commanders made an important adjustment to their defensive doctrine—one that had an immediate and profound effect on the Ukrainians’ operations,“ Forbes’ David Axe reported. “The Russians quadrupled the depth of their defensive minefields, from 120 meters to 500 meters—and also increased the density of mines within the expanded fields ... But there’s a downside for the Russians. In expanding their minefields, they’ve depleted their minelaying resources faster than they might originally have anticipated. So the minefields are uneven.”

In other words, Russia successfully f’d the Ukrainian advance by layering a mind-boggling number of mines ahead of the first defensive line. But—and this is key—that means they don’t have the mines to properly cover territory behind that first line. It’s a big reason Ukraine was able to advance so quickly to the second line. Odds are good that the ground behind that next line has even fewer mines.

That would certainly explain why Russia has fought so hard to prevent Ukraine from even reaching those main lines.

Next Def Mon bubble:

[Ukrainian armed forces] took trenches in the woods south of Robotyne

This was covered in the previous two updates, and is still a big surprise. Russia is now counterattacking not just Robotyne itself, but is attempting to retake their own defensive trenchline, which is now occupied by Ukraine. Seriously, Ukraine can sit there for months mowing down approaching Russians and it would be time well spent.

All the while, Ukraine continues to “shape the battlefield” by eliminating the greatest danger to Ukrainian forces. It’s not mines, actually—it’s artillery. And Ukraine’s claimed artillery kills this week have been downright gaudy.


Last night, Ukraine claimed to have destroyed 37 artillery guns and five MLRS rocket artillery launchers. That means that over the past three days, Ukraine has claimed to have destroyed 111 artillery guns and 12 MLRS launchers.

The reason minefields are so deadly is it allows Russia to funnel advancing Ukrainians into “kill zones,” narrow lanes where artillery can easily zero in and wipe out anything inside. That forces anyone advancing to hurry through lest they get caught in the barrage, and that haste often leads to the kinds of mistakes that get vehicles destroyed and people killed. That forces anyone advancing to hurry through lest they get caught in the barrage, and that haste often leads to the kinds of mistakes that get vehicles destroyed and people killed.

Take out the artillery and Ukraine can advance at leisure, with combat engineers clearing wide lanes without fear of attack. The Ukrainian spearhead can occupy Russian trenches without facing relentless barrages. And Ukrainian artillery can operate more freely without fear of Russian counterbattery fire. (Though suicide drones are certainly an ongoing challenge.)

Moving on.

[Ukraine is] slowly advancing along the windbreaks NE of Novoprokopivka

Look at the satellite imagery of that area again:

Everyone is focused on the main defensive lines. Yet each one of those tree lines has trenches manned by Russian defenders. And despite our best hopes, those Russians are putting up a fierce defense.

That means Ukraine has to advance slowly, tree line to tree line, even if it’s just two or three Russians holed up with rifles.

[Ukraine] clearing up badly prepared RU infantry trenches west of Verbove, and have most likely established positions in them

This remains the most exciting news all week. Ukraine bypassed the anti-vehicle line (the first yellow line in the map above) and occupied the infantry positions behind it. That means Ukraine has the space to methodically clear the minefields ahead of that vehicle line without getting targeted by infantry, as well as bridging the anti-vehicle trenches, usually by dumping dirt and gravel inside them.

Ukrainian infantry can sit in those trenches until those vehicle lanes are opened up, and then proceed on their advance once their armor can join them.

At that point, they can decide whether to take Verbove and protect their flank, or begin rolling up that Russian defensive line from the rear. Remember that it’s at the top of a ridgeline, so whether they hit it from the front or the back, they’re attacking uphill. But once they take it, it’s all downhill to Tokmak.

All in all, expect progress to slow. Not because Russia is winning the tactical fight, but because it’s in Ukraine’s interest to degrade counterattacking Russian forces, destroy more Russian artillery pieces, and shore up that approach near Verbove so they can surround that defensive line from the east.

This is amazing:

The German Gepard anti-aircraft gun was slated for decommissioning when the war started. Its rapid-burst gun was considered obsolete in the age of sophisticated missile air defense systems. Then drones changed the face of the battlefield, and the Gepard has become one of the most valuable anti-drone defenses.

Its ammunition hadn’t been manufactured in decades, and Switzerland blocked delivery of 12,000 rounds it had manufactured. Still, in less than a year, German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall AG miraculously created a whole new manufacturing line for the ammo. It began delivery this week.

Ukraine will get 40,000 rounds by the end of the year, which will go a long way since in the video, you will see the crew destroy two Iranian-made Shahed drones with just a handful of six-round bursts.

Germany has also promised to send dozens more Gepards by the end of the year. It is unclear where these are coming from, but we know that Jordan was phasing out the system, and both the U.S. and Germany were looking to purchase them for Ukraine.

Given their performance, it would make sense for Germany to resume production and sales of the system. It is a lifesaver on this drone-infested modern battlefield.



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