February 29, 2024

Why Russia’s Defenses in Ukraine Are Proving Effective: Experts

  • Russia’s defenses are proving effective in frustrating the Ukrainian counteroffensive.
  • Its use of mines, adaptable drones, and electronic warfare are particularly formidable, experts said.
  • One expert told Insider that Russia has adapted quickly to new Ukrainian tactics and warfare.

Russia’s use of multi-layered mines, adaptable drones, and electronic warfare in Ukraine is causing a standstill on the frontlines, according to multiple reports and experts. 

Ukraine’s stuttering counteroffensive, which was launched in June in an effort to take back territory in the east and south of the country, is now racing to adapt.

“I don’t underestimate the enemy,” Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, a general in charge of Ukraine’s counteroffensive recently told the BBC. He said Russian defenses were making it tough to move forward. 

Multi-layered mines are destroying Western tanks

One of the biggest barriers to Ukraine’s advance has been Russia’s strengthening of its 600-mile front line with minefields, trenches, and rows of “dragon’s teeth,” spiky pyramids of concrete that can tanks and other armored vehicles.

Ukrainian troops are finding it particularly difficult to deal with the multi-layered minefields, where the Russians lay several mines on top of each other to destroy mine-clearing equipment.

Ukrainian forces have had to manually clear the mines instead, often using small teams of soldiers who crawl on the ground. The heavy fortification has also forced them to leave behind some of their advanced Western tanks.

“It’s very hard because there are too many mines,” said Maksym, a tank commander near the front line who spoke to the BBC. He said there were often more than four rows of minefields in front of the Russian defensive lines.

Satellite images show scale of Russian defenses ahead of anticipated Ukraine offensive

Satellite images show pyramid-shaped concrete shards nicknamed “devil’s teeth,” which are designed to slow down Ukrainian troops.

Maxar



David Lewis, a senior associate fellow at the think-tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), told Insider that Russia’s defensive lines are solid because of its calculated withdrawal from the city of Kherson in November last year. 

“That decision has proved tactically correct from Moscow’s point of view because it allowed Russian forces to defend a relatively stable front line, using extensive fortifications and defensive lines — and with the protection of the Dnipro river in the west,” he told Insider.

“The natural advantages of a defensive force have worked in Russia’s favor,” he added.

A retired Australian general Mick Ryan appears to agree with Lewis, telling The Economist on Monday that Russia’s defensive lines are “much more complex and deadly than anything experienced by any military in nearly 80 years.”

Russia has adapted to Ukraine’s weapons

But it’s not only the heavily fortified front lines that have helped Russia in its defensive strategies.

Russian soldiers have adapted to Ukraine’s tactics after losing key strongholds to its long-range weapons.

They responded by moving logistical sites and headquarters out of range of Kyiv’s guided rockets and Storm Shadow missiles, according to a recent report from RUSI.

They also set up major air defense systems 10 kilometers from the front to shoot down any missiles or drones coming their way.

On top of that, Russia has waged an effective electronic-warfare campaign against Ukrainian forces that involves jamming their drones, Steve Wright, a drone technology developer and expert, told Insider. 

“Russia deploys the jamming technique a lot — they jam the GPS signals, they broadcast noise on the same frequency that GPS satellites work at so that the drones lose their direction,” Wright said. “This has worked for them to an extent.”

Ukraine is losing around 10,000 drones per month, according to RUSI. 

Russia’s jamming technique is also reducing the accuracy of American-guided weapons used by Ukraine, including JDAM and HIMARS rockets, leaked Pentagon documents revealed.

Police officers block off an area around a damaged office block of the Moscow International Business Center (Moskva City) following a reported drone attack in Moscow on August 1, 2023.

Police officers block off an area around a damaged office block of the Moscow International Business Center following a reported drone attack on August 1, 2023.

Photo by ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images



Russian soldiers also successfully disrupted Ukrainian radio communications and drone operations, the report added. 

Justin Bronk, a senior research fellow with RUSI, told Newsweek that Ukraine’s “Beaver” drones appear to be vulnerable to Russia’s electronic defense systems.

He pointed to reports saying that two drones targeting Moscow Sunday had hit an office high rise, which is not a target that’s part of Ukrainian military doctrine. 

He said this indicated they had likely been diverted from their intended targets.

Lewis, the other RUSI expert, said: “Although Ukraine has been able to access more advanced technology from its Western partners and has taken more creative approaches to fight the war, Russia has usually adapted quite quickly to new technological threats or new Ukrainian tactics, effectively negating short-term Ukrainian advantages.”

A steady supply of weapons 

On top of that, Russia doesn’t appear to be slowing down with weapon production.

Lewis said: “Russia has also been able to increase military industrial production sufficiently to maintain supplies to its forces” and continue missile attacks, even though Russian units are still complaining they are under-supplied.

Because of Russia’s solidified defense, Ukraine has made only marginal gains and both sides are almost at a standstill, Lewis concluded. 

Russian troops shooting missiles

Russian troops shooting missiles.

Reuters



“The result has been a relative balance of power along the front lines, which has so far largely held,” he added. “The key will be attrition behind the front lines by both sides, but particularly Ukraine’s ability to hit logistics routes and supplies in the Russian rear, which could start to impose significant costs on Russian supply lines.”

General Mark Milley, the most senior US military commander, acknowledged to The Associated Press in June that while Ukraine’s military is well-prepared for the counteroffensive, there will be a “back-and-forth fight for a considerable length of time.”

Other experts previously told Insider they believe the war will go on for many years.

The University of Birmingham’s Jaroslava Barbieri, an expert on Russia and post-Soviet states, told Insider that if Ukraine does not achieve significant victories in its counteroffensive, there will be a higher chance of the West pressuring Kyiv to negotiate with Russia. 

Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense did not respond to Insider’s request for comment. 

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