President Putin has given an upbeat assessment of Russian military performance over the last few days, claiming Moscow’s forces are “improving their positions” around the fiercely contested town of Avdiivka.
What he didn’t mention was the evidence of huge losses of both men and machines as the Kremlin throws what the US has described as “wave attacks” of poorly-trained troops at the town.
The situation in Avdiivka
Western analysts have highlighted geo-located footage suggesting Russian forces have made “marginal advances” in recent days around the town near Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.
While on the face of it, this could support Putin’s claims, the footage actually shows burning Russian vehicles did appear to advance before being taken out. It’s not currently clear if Russian troops managed to hold the positions.
Several Russian vehicles destroyed by AFU near the waste hill, north of Avdiivka.— Vigorous Falcon (@VigorousFalcon) October 14, 2023
This suggests that indeed Ru army was able to get close to the waste hill but it is still unknown whether they took it or not.
📍48.189730, 37.716597 via @99Dominik_
The Russian toll
One thing Putin definitely did not mention was the overwhelming evidence that Russian forces are suffering massive losses of men and military materiel.
As reported by Kyiv Post on Friday, dozens of Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers drove forward into open ground laced with minefields where Ukrainian forces were lying in wait for them.
Ukrainian troops fighting from thick fortifications in the eastern sector have used massive artillery strikes backed by anti-tank missiles and drone swarms to hand the Russian army its worst battlefield defeat in nine months.
Large-scale tank and armored infantry attacks under the command of Russia’s 25th Combined Arms Army launched between 100-200 armored vehicles in a two-pronged attack starting Monday with the objective of encircling Ukrainian forces dug in around the town of Avdiivka, a coal-mining community near the northern suburbs of the Russia-controlled Ukrainian city of Donetsk.
The Russian military in fighting around Avdiivka likely suffered its worst combat losses since mid-February, and by some measures suffered one of Moscow’s worst battlefield defeats of the war thus far, official sources and independent information platforms and individual battle accounts widely agreed.
Videos posted to social media showed Russian forces in disarray, with entire columns of vehicles being wiped out and halted by artillery fire.
The destruction of a column of Russian armored vehicles coming from Pisky southwest of Avdiivka.— NOELREPORTS 🇪🇺 🇺🇦 (@NOELreports) October 12, 2023
Starting from📍48.06732855661509, 37.65010758379431 pic.twitter.com/esYl7gqCqI
One video even showed a Russian vehicle running over one of its own men before hitting a mine and blowing up.
Russian losses have been so heavy that volunteers have taken to social media to plead to people to donate body bags as “there’s a horrible deficit in Donetsk.”
The current situation
Since Friday, the fighting for Avdiivka has continued. On Saturday, Kyiv reported “very heated” fighting around the town, saying Russian forces had “not stopped assaulting” it for days in their attempt to surround it.
On Sunday, Kyiv's army said Russian attacks had been “repelled” in the area and remained “without success.”
Russian milbloggers gave an insight into the situation facing Russian troops, with one claiming a “catastrophic shortage of surgeons” meant medical teams were unable to deal with the huge numbers of casualties.
They then issued an appeal for any doctors or surgeons to travel to the front to help out.
Both Ukrainian and US officials have said Kyiv’s forces knew in advance about Russia’s planned attack on Avdiivka.
US National Security Council Spokesperson, John Kirby, on Friday said the attack “did not come as a surprise,” adding: “As was the case during Russia's failed winter offensive last year, the Russian military appears to be using a wave attack tactic where they throw masses of ill-trained soldiers directly onto the battlefield without proper equipment.”
Similarly, Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) Representative, Andriy Yusov, claimed on Thursday that Ukraine knew about and had time to prepare for the attacks.
Russian milbloggers have noted the strength of Ukraine’s defenses, with one writing that the Russian “advance is complicated by the extensive network of Ukrainian Armed Forces fortifications in the area.”
Russia’s information operation
Putin’s optimistic comments about the situation in Avdiivka appear to be in line with an assessment from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) on Saturday which presented evidence that the Kremlin was attempting to closely control the narrative around events.
The ISW wrote: “A prominent Russian milblogger claimed on October 12 that the Russian military command was ‘dispensing information [about Russian offensive operations] in doses,’ but then claimed on October 13 that the Russian military command was ‘minimizing the release of information into the public domain’ as the Russian military does not want ‘media hype’ surrounding operations near Avdiivka.
‘Another Russian milblogger also claimed on October 13 that unspecified actors, likely Russian military leadership, instructed milbloggers to not discuss the details of the fighting near Avdiivka.’
By Sunday afternoon, at least one Russian milblogger appeared to have accepted that the assault on Avdiivka was over, insisting Kremlin authorities had never promised they’d take the town in the first place.
Propagandist Sladkov is done with Avdiivka and is already changing priorities, saying thank god Russians decided against smashing their heads at this fortress, which he says is a "Ukrainian way" (lmao).— WarTranslated (Dmitri) (@wartranslated) October 15, 2023
And then the mine fields, the strongpoints that were being filled with… pic.twitter.com/Sr6wsbV0HX
Despite this, Putin remained outwardly positive in the remarks he made on Sunday, saying Ukraine’s counter-offensive had “totally failed.”
He added: “We know that in some combat zones, the enemy is preparing new offensive operations.
“We see it, we know it. And as a consequence we are reacting.”
Avdiivka has been a symbol of Ukrainian resistance since 2014, after it briefly fell to Russian-backed separatists.
It has since marked the frontline and was regularly bombed even before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022, AFP reports.
Russian forces now control territory to the east, north and south of Avdiivka in a bid to push Ukrainian forces further from Donetsk.
Some 1,600 civilians are believed to be in the city, which had a pre-war population of 31,000.
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