So-called ‘zombie wave’ tactics deployed on the frontline in Ukraine are, in effect, suicidal attacks that are allowing Russia to only make small advances and failing to hold territory, a security expert said.
Ed Arnold, a European security specialist at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) defence think tank, suggests the tactic of sending inexperienced fighters with little training in mass waves towards Ukrainian forces only results in a very slow, grinding attritional assault with no large-scale changes on the battlefield map.
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The tactic, which has been reportedly used by the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary force that has been supplying private troops to Ukraine, partly made up of convicts, also comes at a huge cost, both in terms of the loss of lives of personnel but also in the consumption of ammunition.
Russian forces are reported to have been carrying out such ‘zombie wave’ attacks during intense fighting in the region around Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.
But Mr Arnold pointed out that where these kinds of assaults have gained some ground, often after months of fighting, Russia has lost that territory again in a matter of weeks because Ukrainian soldiers have managed to launch successful counter-attacks against the largely untrained force.
He said: “They are effectively walking forward, trying to use mass, to overwhelm Ukrainian defences and take up a lot of ammunition.
“Also, in terms of the weather and where the fighting happens, there is very little cover.
“So, if you’re not doing this with significant artillery or tank support then these are, in effect, suicidal full-frontal attacks.
“When you get down to the tactical level they are just not fighting as infantry,” Mr Arnold adds.
“There are no pairs, fire and manoeuvre, there is a lot of moving without fire, and if you do that on a modern battlefield, effectively you die individually or collectively.”
He explains further that the Russians are “hoping, with mass, they’re able to just overwhelm the Ukrainian defences”, although the “far better-trained” Ukrainian soldiers are holding and the tactic is proving “very, very costly” to the Russians in terms of “personnel and ammunition consumption”.
It is a tactic being used especially by the Wagner Group, mercenary fighters who are thought to be recruiting criminals in exchange for their release from prison.
The group is also believed to have suffered heavy casualties because it was deployed in areas with some of the heaviest fighting of the war.
While the ‘zombie wave’ tactics may allow the Russians to take areas from the Ukrainian defenders, it is unlikely the Russians will be able to hold the ground once they have it, says Mr Arnold.
He added: “If they (Wagner Group fighters) have the supply of personnel and if they are able to recruit and use prisoners, which they have for a lot of their offences recently, then it is sustainable in that sense.
“There will be no large-scale changes on the map, it’ll be a very slow, grinding attritional assault.
Mr Arnold outlined how while the tactics can build some progress, a strong counterattack can undo the work the Russians have done. He reflected on Russia being capable of taking ground, but incapable of holding it permanently.
The question remains if Ukraine’s line can stand up against attacks like these if Russia does have the weapons and numbers to sustain the ‘zombie wave’ assaults.
– Forces Net