Elite Russian troops have been pushed back.
Ukrainian tanks and other armoured vehicles are already acting south of the last line of the occupiers' main defensive line, which is now being broken through by the AFU in Zaporizhzhia region.
They are also conducting an offensive operation to the west and south-west of Verbove.
This is reported by analysts of the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) with reference to geolocated footage from September 21.
Ukrainian Defence Forces armoured vehicles are already working behind the last line of the Russian defensive layer, through which the defenders are advancing in the western part of Zaporizhzhia. They are conducting an offensive operation to the west and south-west of Verbove as well.
Advance of the AFU
Analysts cite geolocation footage published on September 21 showing Ukrainian armoured vehicles advancing south of Russian anti-tank ditches and "dragon's teeth" barriers, which are part of a three-level defence. AFU fighters have also got into a limited battle immediately west of Verbove (18 kilometres southeast of Orikhiv). However, experts emphasise, it is still unclear whether they will keep these positions.
"This is the first observed case of Ukrainian forces using armoured vehicles outside the Russian Armed Forces' three-level defence. Their presence behind the end line of the current Russian defensive layer indicates that the Ukrainians have secured their breakthrough of the first two lines sufficiently to be able to get through with vehicles," ISW said.
The ISW does not rule out that the Ukrainian armed forces have suppressed Russian artillery and other anti-tank systems in the area sufficiently to drive their vehicles forward to the most powerful Russian defences and subsequently stop them and operate their vehicles close to the occupiers' prepared positions.
Analysts called this ability of Ukrainian forces important signs of progress in the counter-offensive. They added: additional geolocation footage dated September 20-21 shows that the AFU were also advancing to the west and southwest of Verbove in Polohy district of Zaporizhzhia.
It is noteworthy that the previous day The Wall Street Journal also reported that Ukrainian soldiers had broken through the main Russian defence line in the west of Zaporizhzhia with the help of armoured vehicles. The journalists referred to an unnamed Ukrainian officer serving in the area.
"The WSJ also indicated that Ukrainian forces had advanced to the edge of Novoprokopivka (16km south of Orikhiv), although ISW had not observed visual confirmation of this report at the time of this publication," the summary said.
Russian Forces in Trouble
At the same time, analysts say Russian forces now defending west of Zaporizhzhia have failed to prevent the AFU from making a gradual but steady advance since mid-August.
"ISW has consistently observed the AFU making slow but regular advances in western Zaporizhzhia region, despite the Russian military redeploying elements of relatively elite units to reinforce Russian defence operations," the experts added.
They stressed that as early as mid-August, the Russian command redeployed units of the 7th Guards Mountain Airborne Division and 76th Guards Airborne Division of the Russian Airborne Troops (VDV) to the area of Robotyne to repel Ukrainian attacks and possibly relieve units of the 22nd and 45th Independent Special Forces Brigades, which have been depleted due to counterattacks on Ukrainian offensives in the preliminary stages of the AFU's counter-offensive operations.
The geolocation footage published on September 20 and 21 shows units of the 22nd Special Forces Brigade operating west of Verbove. And this indicates that the Russian command has tactically deployed its units on the 22nd to support Airborne Forces units already seen defending the area.
"A Ukrainian military officer fighting in the south told the WSJ that the Russian troops defending the forward trenches are 'substandard' but their counterattacking assault units are stronger." His statements are consistent with ISW's observations that 'elite' elements of the Russian special forces and Airborne Forces are the main elements in the counterattack in the western Zaporizhzhia region," analysts pointed out about the occupiers' problems.
Part 2: What appears to be AFU M113 southwest of Verbove, probably related to the first assault. Heavy RU shelling follows.— imi (m) (@moklasen) September 20, 2023
High Res by @DefMon3
Location: 47.419023, 35.925853@UAControlMap @GeoConfirmed https://t.co/3YDefj3EG1 pic.twitter.com/UjApKxIrOt
RU 22nd Speznaz SOF destroyed a Marder and BMP after AFU's 82nd Airborne pushed past the defensive line southwest of Verbove. Location: 47.4285241007, 35.9429008773@UAControlMap @GeoConfirmed pic.twitter.com/P1NrrWo5lc— imi (m) (@moklasen) September 21, 2023