Ukraine Situation Report: Russia’s Main Defensive Line Breached

Though so far small and hotly contested, the breach by Ukrainian Stryker and Marders is a significant advance in the counteroffensive.

byHoward Altman, Thomas Newdick|
Ukrainian Strykers and Marders have broken through the main Russian line of defense.
Ukraine MoD


In what the Institute for the The Institute for the Study of War calls a “significant inflection,” Ukrainian mechanized forces have for the first time breached Russia’s main line of anti-tank ditches and dragon’s teeth obstacles near the village of Verbove in Zaporizhzhia Oblast.

That breach, geolocated by ISW as well as The Wall Street Journal, has allowed U.S.-donated Stryker and German-donated Marder armored vehicles to pass beyond those lines, according to ISW.

Though small and heavily contested, the breach is significant. It gives Ukraine a better chance to push more armor through, expand the growing Robobytne-Verbove salient and move closer to the goal of cutting off the so-called land bridge to Crimea. With this goal in mind, Ukraine is attempting to push south, through or around Tokmak on the way to Melitopol. There is also an effort to drive down to the Azov Sea port city of Berdiansk.

The advance is exacting a major toll, however.

“We are pushing through,” a Ukrainian officer told The Wall Street Journal. “We are destroying them. But the price…”

As Ukraine races to achieve its objectives, the mounting casualties on both sides will be a huge factor. Kyiv and Moscow each have committed a large bulk of reserve forces, with Russia moving in its vaunted airborne troops to backfill the losses. Russia is also trying to maintain its hold on Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast and is still massing some troops near Kupiasnk in Kharkiv Oblast. These actions raise additional questions about how well Russia can defend in Zaporizhzhia should Ukraine advance past Russia's defenses in-depth that were built up over many months.

Clearly understanding what’s at stake, the Russians are putting up a fierce fight, pounding the Ukrainian forward positions with artillery, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said its forces repelled a Russian attack in that sector while the Russian Defense Ministry said two Ukrainian attacks in that area were “repelled by actions of the Russian Group of Forces units, air strikes and artillery fire.”

Pro-Russian military bloggers offer a range of insights on the current state of play in the salient.

Ukrainian forces were “defeated” in that area, according to the Operation Z Telegram channel.

“After a three-week break, Kyiv massively threw Western and other equipment into battle - and was extremely unsuccessful. Scouts from the 22nd GRU special forces brigade spotted the attack and directed fire at the enemy for seven hours of battle.”

A burning Ukrainian armored vehicle reportedly near Verbove in Zaporizhzhia Oblast. (Operation Z Telegram)

Attack drones “covered an assault group of Ukrainian troops on the front line in the Zaporizhzhia region between the villages of Robotyne and Verbove,” forcing a Ukrainian retreat, the head of the “We are together with Russia” movement, Vladimir Rogov, said on his Telegram channel. 

The Grey Zone Telegram channel noted the “unprecedented number of units” Ukraine has committed to this push “hoping to create a gap in our defense and break through to Tokmak.”

In addition to pushing east toward Verbove, Ukrainian forces are also attacking west, to the small village of Novoprokopivka just south of Robotyne, according to Grey Zone. That town sits along the key TO-408 highway that runs south to Tokmak.

The town of Novoprovopivka is another Ukrainian objective, according to Russian milbloggers. (Google Earth image)

Though Russian aviation assets have delayed the advance, Ukraine “managed to create excessive pressure on our forward formations after transferring reserves to this sector from other directions,” according to Grey Zone. “The enemy forces and means concentrated on the Robotyne-Verbove sector are perhaps comparable only to the Bakhmut section of the front - on its southern flank and in the center.”

Regardless, the fight for gaining territory before the rains come is clearly intensifying and with it, the casualty lists are bound to balloon.

Before we head into the latest from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

In the wake of Russia and Ukraine launching new waves of large-scale airstrikes overnight, as you can read about here, Zelensky, as we noted above, arrived in Washington for talks with Biden and with senators, amid renewed calls for military aid.

Posting to X, formerly known as Twitter, the Ukrainian president said that Kyiv is “sincerely grateful” for U.S. support and that it “can clearly see that victory is getting closer”. He continued:

ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA - SEPTEMBER 21: (L-R) U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky participate in a wreath laying ceremony at the National Pentagon 9/11 Memorial on September 21, 2023 in Arlington, Virginia. Zelensky is visiting Washington and will have an Oval Office meeting at the White House with President Joe Biden in the afternoon. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“I emphasized that a Ukrainian victory will ensure that neither Russia nor any other dictatorship destabilizes the free world again. To win, we must all stand together and work together.”

U.S. President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden welcome Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and First Lady Olena Zelenska at the South Portico of the White House in Washington, DC, on September 21, 2023. Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

A visit to the U.S. Capitol saw Zelensky meet with leaders of the Republican-led House of Representatives and House National Security Committees, followed by a private session with the full U.S. Senate.

President Volodymyr Zelensky is seen arriving at the Capitol, accompanied by Democratic House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries:

Zelensky told reporters that they had a “great dialogue.” He added that he spoke with U.S. lawmakers about the situation on the battlefield as well as Ukraine’s priority needs, chiefly additional air defense equipment.

After the Ukrainian leader’s meeting with senators, the Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer told reporters:

“There was a single sentence that summed it all up, and I’m quoting him verbatim, Mr. Zelensky said: "If we don’t get the aid we will lose the war.”"

As for what the next aid package will consist of, we will have to wait for a few more hours, although White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has said it will include air defense systems. On the other hand, we also know that the $325-million package will not include the ATACMS long-range missiles that Ukraine has long campaigned for.

Author's note: See bottom of this post for update of what the package includes

In a measure of how the mood has shifted in Washington since Zelensky’s last visit, nine months ago, the Ukrainian leader arrived amid a spending battle, with Republicans proposing a stopgap bill without new funding for Ukraine. Senate majority leader Schumer described that as “an insult to Ukraine and a gift to Putin.” Schumer added: “I cannot think of a worse welcome for Zelensky.”

At this point, the Republican leadership in the Senate still generally supports Ukraine in its war efforts, although the situation is more divided in the House, where military support for Kyiv faces more hostility.

“Is Zelensky elected to Congress? Is he our president? I don’t think I have to commit anything, and I think I have questions for him,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told ABC News.

“Where’s the accountability on the money we’ve already spent? What is the plan for victory? I think that’s what the American public wants to know,” McCarthy continued.

After meeting with Zelensky, McCarthy said that he had asked the Ukrainian leader “What do you need?,” and that the president responded by saying they needed air cover, as well as long-range artillery that could reach Russia-occupied Crimea — very likely a reference to ATACMS.

As an aside, another long-range weapon that is supposed to be heading in the direction of Ukraine, the U.S.-donated Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB), appears to have been delayed again.

GLSDBs, a fairly recent adaptation of the GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bomb (SDB), were first promised to Ukraine in February, but the Pentagon said in June that they wouldn’t arrive until the Fall. Now, the Wall Street Journal reports that their delivery is still “months away.”

Based on the descriptions of the battlefield situation that Zelensky provided today, McCarthy said that “we wouldn’t send our troops in under those conditions” without the provision of greater air cover.

The F-16 fighter is at the top of the list when it comes to providing Ukraine with more capable air power assets, with the Netherlands and Denmark, as well as Norway, having already committed to providing the fourth-generation fighters.

Now, Belgium, too has said it is considering supplying Kyiv with F-16s, according to a statement from Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

“I have asked Defense to see what use our F-16s could have in Ukraine,” Reuters reports De Croo told Belgian broadcaster VRT. “We need to consider all options.”

A Belgian Air Force F-16. GERARD GAUDIN/AFP via Getty Images GERARD GAUDIN/AFP via Getty Images

Like the Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway, Belgium is also replacing its F-16s with F-35 stealth jets. However, the Belgian Ministry of Defense had previously said that its F-16s were too old to be of practical value to Ukraine. De Croo has now said that they could still be of use, including for pilot training.

In a surprising development, Poland, a staunch ally of Ukraine since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, has said it will no longer send weapons to Kyiv. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said today that the country would instead focus on its own defense priorities, with its armed forces currently undergoing wide-ranging modernization.

“We are no longer transferring weapons to Ukraine because we are now arming Poland with more modern weapons,” Morawiecki commented.

However, the trigger for the decision appears to have been the escalating row over grain exports. The dispute here centers around the European Commission having allowed Ukrainian grain sales across the bloc, which Polish farmers see as unfair competition.

Morawiecki’s announcement came only hours after Warsaw summoned Kyiv’s ambassador over the grain exports issue.

Former Polish prime minister and ex-European Council president Donald Tusk accused the government in Warsaw of “stabbing a political knife in Ukraine’s back” as a political move ahead of Poland’s October elections.

Better news for Ukraine comes from Sweden, which, according to reports today, has transferred 10 Leopard 2 main battle tank variants to Ukraine. The tanks, which are known as Stridsvagn 122 in Swedish service, are equivalent to the Leopard 2A5. Ukrainian crews for the new tanks have already been trained in Sweden.

An oil depot near an airport in Sochi was hit by a suspected Ukrainian drone strike early Wednesday morning. The attack created a huge fire that engulfed the oil depot in the Black Sea resort town where Russian President Vladimir Putin has a home.

According to Agentstvo, an investigative site launched in 2021, the drone fell 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) from Russian President Vladimir Putin's residence in Sochi,” Newsweek reported.

Veniamin Kondratyev, governor of Russia's Krasnodar region, said on his Telegram channel that a fuel tank caught fire, causing a blaze about 100 square meters in size. No casualties were reported.

Sochi is roughly 350 miles from Ukrainian-controlled territory, which would make this a very long-range drone strike if it was not launched by sea or within Russia's own borders.

Finally, regular readers will no doubt be familiar with the use of the M1910 Maxim machine gun, a design that predates World War I, by Ukrainian forces. As well as arming Soviet-era military vehicles, the venerable Maxim is now also apparently being used to tackle the ever-present Russian drone threat. In this configuration, a trio of these water-cooled guns are seen being tested, apparently from the rear of a flatbed truck. We have seen similar concepts for the anti-drone role before.

That‘s it for now. We‘ll update this story when there‘s more news to report about Ukraine.


As expected, the latest round of aid to Ukraine did not include ATACMS, but it did include additional capabilities to strengthen Ukraine’s air defenses as well as more dual-purpose improved conventional munitions (DPICM), anti-tank weapons, and other equipment.

The package, valued at up to $325 million, includes:

  • AIM-9M missiles for air defense;
  • Additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS);
  • Avenger air defense systems;
  • .50 caliber machine guns to counter Unmanned Aerial Systems;
  • 155mm artillery rounds, including DPICM;
  • 105mm artillery rounds;
  • Tube-Launched, Optically-Tracked, Wire-Guided (TOW) missiles;
  • Javelin and AT-4 anti-armor systems;
  • Over 3 million rounds of small arms ammunition;
  • 59 light tactical vehicles;
  • Demolitions munitions for obstacle clearing; and
  • Spare parts, maintenance, and other field equipment.

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