Russian and Ukrainian forces remained largely static on the battlefield in the 84th week of the war after a month of vigorous Ukrainian advances that saw Kyiv break through the first of three Russian lines of defence on the southern front.
Still, Ukraine proved it could hold onto its gains against Russian counterattacks and even made a few advances.
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Russian forces appeared to have lost a kilometre-long (0.6-mile-long) trench west of Verbove, a village on the front line of the main Ukrainian thrust through Russian defences in the Zaporizhia region in southeastern Ukraine.
Vladimir Rogov, an occupation official, said at least four companies of Ukrainian troops had launched an attack on the trench on September 26 supported by armoured fighting vehicles.
Geolocated footage that Russian sources released the following day confirmed that Ukraine held the position it had stormed.
Verbove sits on the eastern side of a U-shaped salient into Russian-occupied territory in western Zaporizhia. Ukrainian forces also mounted an attack on Russian positions north of Robotyne, a town on the eastern side of that salient, on Thursday. Russian units posted that the assault was insufficiently supported by armour and was repulsed.
Ukraine also appears to have fought for – and held – a trench system south of Robotyne against a Russian attempt to recapture it on Sunday.
A Ukrainian soldier analysing the footage described the system as “a strongpoint in an interconnected system of trenches, firing systems and dugouts that lie between Robotyne and Novoprokopivka”, Ukraine’s next target on the eastern side of its salient.
The system was interconnected by tunnels and Russia was prioritising its defence, the soldier told the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington, DC-based think tank.
Although Ukrainian assault forces have taken over Russian trenches and are using them to their own advantage, their slow assault tactics of using platoon-sized units to take Russian positions one at a time has deprived them of the ability to achieve a breakthrough, according to an assessment by the independent Russian newspaper Meduza.
Those tactics have allowed the retreating Russians to keep rebuilding defences and forcing the Ukrainians to continue to move slowly.
This reality, Meduza said, has kept Ukrainian troops stuck in a triangle between Robotyne, Novoprokopivka and Verbove, and it forecast rains could slow them further.
The head of Britain’s armed forces, Admiral Tony Radakin, told War on the Rocks, an American podcast, of his belief that Russian defences had turned out stronger than the West had anticipated and predicted a long war lay ahead after Ukraine failed to achieve a breakthrough in its summer counteroffensive.
He also said Russian President Vladimir Putin has lost control of the war he started and Ukraine would ultimately win. Radakin has previously said he believed Russia has lost half its combat capability in Ukraine.
The war in Russia
Ukraine said it successfully continued its long-distance attacks on Russian soil.
A Ukrainian drone dropped two bombs on an electricity substation in the Russian village of Belaya near the Ukrainian border, setting the substation alight on Friday. Kursk Governor Roman Starovoyt reported the attack on Telegram. “One of the transformers caught fire. Five settlements and a hospital were cut off from power supply. Fire crews rushed to the scene,” he said.
Ukraine’s military intelligence said on Sunday that it had disrupted the production of Russian Kh-59 missiles, which have a range of 280km (175 miles), when its drones struck the Smolensk plant where they are made. “Three out of four drones hit the target, causing significant damage to the production facilities,” its military intelligence said.
Russia has consistently used Kh-59 cruise missiles to hit infrastructure and civilian targets in Ukraine.
“When we work out certain actions on the objects of the defence industrial complex, we have only one goal: to slow down the production of Russian weapons,” military intelligence chief Kiril Budanov told NV television.
He said attacks on the Russian border by anti-Putin Russian militias were ongoing and had recently claimed the lives of border guards and Federal Security Service (FSB) personnel.
Ukraine also has focused on building up its defence industry, which has produced the missiles, aerial drones and surface naval drones that have enabled long-distance attacks on Russian targets.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced the start of a new defence industrial programme on Saturday that would be funded partly by confiscated Russian assets.
Representatives from several countries attended the first meeting of what he called a Defence Industries Forum, through which Ukraine plans to draw on international expertise, funding and technology.
“Manufacturers of weapons and military equipment from all over the world can join its basic declaration and demonstrate that they are ready to build the arsenal of the free world together with Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said. “The fund will be replenished from dividends from state defence assets and from profits from sale of confiscated Russian assets.”
The chairwoman of the German Bundestag Defence Committee, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmerman, called for the immediate delivery of Taurus missiles to Ukraine in the wake of the US decision to supply 300km-range (186-mile-range) Army Tactical Missile Systems, or ATACMS, in late September.
The German-made Taurus is a stealth cruise missile with a range of 500km (310 miles). Germany has consistently followed the US is the supply of new military technologies to Ukraine.
Strack-Zimmerman said strikes against Crimea using Taurus missiles would be legitimate because the Russian army was supplied through that territory. “International law allows Ukraine to attack military targets and on the territory [of Russia] completely regardless of where the gun is made and who supplies it,” she was reported as saying.
There was also possible bad news on the rearmament front.
Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh said there “could be impacts to training” of Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets due to a looming US government shutdown. While military personnel would continue to implement the programme, government-contracted civilian interpreters might not, she said.
Far-right Republicans in the US Congress have refused to fund the US government if spending bills also include aid to Ukraine. Congress has funded the government until the middle of November through a stopgap measure that cost Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy his job.
The European Union, which has provided Ukraine with 77 billion euros ($81bn) in financial and military aid during the war, may also be witnessing fatigue. Robert Fico, a former Slovak prime minister, won parliamentary elections in the Central European country on Saturday on a pro-Russia platform.