Russian military vehicle convoys are now longer than ever; There is no longer as little space between vehicles as when in February, they first entered Ukrainian territory. Now they keep a greater distance to mitigate the effects of mines or explosives that the resistance has placed on the road, so that if one breaks out, it affects only one vehicle, and not two or three.
But this precautionary behavior, which underlines active Spanish soldiers who are observing war in Ukraine, loses its effectiveness in the face of a particularly feared attack by the Ukrainian Territorial Defense and Special Operations units: chained IEDs.
The column of armored vehicles and trucks arrives at the ambush point. Four explosives are waiting for her on the shoulder. The second explodes first; the column stops. When other assistance and security vehicles arrive at the attacked point, the third explodes. The fourth bursts from the back of the already blocked line. And, as soon as the line moves again, the first one explodes. “This type of blow is devastatingand it is seen more in Donbas than in the rest of the theater of operations”, says one of the three experts consulted, who prefer not to see their names published because they are operational in the Armed Forces.
varied and deadly
IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) are known as all sorts of explosive devices and assemblies, bombs of a wide variety of types that were popularized by the guerrillas in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. They are so disparate that ONUCAR itself, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, refuses to define a type that serves as an example. In general, they are a bomb placed in the path of a vehicle or a group of peopleand that it is not part of the conventional artillery nor of a regulated offensive of the sides in a conflict.
The Medallion anti-personnel mines used by Russia -prohibited in a large part of the planet, like others used by Ukraine- have their Ukrainian countermeasure in this type of ranged ambush. IEDs can be activated by a garage door opener, or with a long cable, or with a mobile… In the Ukrainian manufacturing methods, they are used mines, artillery shells, aircraft bombs… even masses of ammonium nitrate with resin and other chemical components.
The use of aircraft bombs with the fuze removed and connected to each other, captured by an apocryphal video, recently went viral on social media accounts that talk about the war in Ukraine. The Ukrainian resistance had surrounded a bridge with FAB250 bombs, the same type that Russian aircraft had dropped on the city of Irpin at the beginning of the war.
But on foot, the most widespread resource of the professional Ukrainian guerrillas is the artillery shell. Generally, the consulted sources report, 120 and 152 mm, the same ones that abound in the supply of fixed and self-propelled Russian guns. They chain several with a cable. “Cable, the old fashioned way, is safer against inhibitors”explains one of the soldiers consulted.
The proliferation of IEDs -also placed by Russian troops to protect their retreat- forces the attacking forces to allocate a lot of personnel to its detection and the protection of convoys military, explain the Spanish military, and, given the great Russian dependence on rail supply for its logistics trains, also to keep the track expeditious and safe. This surveillance work has forced the Russian deployment in the course of the first weeks of the war not to move more than 150 kilometers from supply centers.
In December 2021, when Russia accumulated thousands of soldiers on the Ukrainian border, and taking the invasion for granted, a report by the North American think tank Atlantic Council foresaw that IEDs “can be used by regular forces -Ukrainians- to inflict casualties and slow the Russian advance”.
And the threat of these explosives is not limited to passing trains. Before the start of the war, Ukraine was a country with a surplus of ammonium nitrate, a component of agricultural fertilizers. “Given the abundant supply of ammonium nitrate -in Ukraine-, an IED of 20 metric tons is not out of the question. Such a device would certainly disrupt an armored attack and devastate a logistics convoy,” the Atlantic Council predicted. The agency warned of the need for the Ukrainian defense to buy detonators to distribute them in its future guerrilla. That is what Ukraine is little supplied with.
Such an amount of homemade explosive implies fill an entire house with deadly white salt and wait for the convoy to pass. At the moment, such a large attack by Ukraine has not been reported, although the forecast of Washington analysts has been correct in believing in December that, since they could not stop the Russians at the border, the tactic of the stay behind (stay behind and harass, old guerrilla defense doctrine of NATO forces) and its main technique: hit & run (hit and run). It fits well with some of the basic instructions received by the Ukrainian defense from its military commanders: don’t surrender, don’t believe news about the surrender of other units and, if you have to retreat, mine the steps by which they may be persecuted. In other words, turn the chase into another ambush for the Russians.
The concentration of Russian troops in Donbas in accordance with its new military objective, seeking a stable front and no columns difficult to supply that enter the territory, it can stop the Ukrainian use of IEDs… until they take over and settle on reclaimed land.
Acquaintances in the Donbas
On February 22, two days before Russia launched its attack on Ukraine, someone tried to assassinate with an improvised explosive device the former head of the Defense Force of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), the Major General Vladimir Kononov. The separatist military leader, nicknamed Tsar, came out of the attack alive. But one of his collaborators, with whom he was going to meet, lost a hand. Kononov continues to play his role in a pivotal enclave of this war.
Precisely in Donbas, and since the war became official there, in 2014, the use of IEDs against leaders or forces in combat is nothing new. In fact, the Spanish military observers consulted point out, it is the great historical territory of this type of irregular weapon in Europe.
On August 31, 2018, Gen. Alexander Zakharchenko, Prime Minister of the DPR, the first political leader to issue and grant Nova Rossiya (New Russia) passports, was killed by an explosive device. He had been placed in the Donetsk cafe he frequented.
With so many precedents, IEDs have acquired a dual utility in eastern Ukraine, even without exploiting. The sheer threat posed by a strange device placed more or less conspicuously on a shoulder, a railway sleeper or any urban corner forces the attacking force to try to deactivate it earlier, greatly delaying its movement. IEDs kill and stop columns in the Ukraine when they are real… and stop columns without killing when they are fake.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.