Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said that his troops had broken through to the outskirts of Avdiivka, which has been a high-priority target for Moscow and the site of some of the heaviest Russian losses in the war.

In televised remarks that come about two months before Russian presidential elections, Putin claimed that troops “broke through the enemy’s defenses and reached the outskirts of Avdiivka.

“They captured 19 houses and are holding them,” he claimed.

Russia’s campaign to encircle the industrial town began in earnest in October. Confirmed reports from the battlefield indicate that Moscow’s forces now control territory to the northeast, east, south, and southwest of Adviivka, but intelligence analysts say that Russia will not completely surround the city any time soon. Ukraine’s Armed Forces (AFU) firmly control supply routes west of town and have successfully defended those positions for months.

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Last week, local officials confirmed that a small group of Russian troops breached the city’s limits, but only briefly as they quickly retreated from AFU defenses in the city.

Avdiivka has suffered devastating damages in recent months, especially around the industrial outskirts, where the city’s coke and chemical plant is located. Once home to about 32,000 inhabitants, the city’s war-time population has shrunk closer to 1,000.

In recent days, Russia’s forces have stepped up attacks on the northwestern flank of Avdiivka near Novobakhmutivka and Stepove, and southwest, near Nevelske and Pervomaiske. But they have paid a heavy price. Conservative Western estimates put the number of Russian troops killed in Avdiivka over the course of the war at about 13,000.

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