A Blog by Jonathan Low


Oct 30, 2023

Russian Men and Weapon Losses At Avdiivka 5 Times Greater Than Ukraine's

That estimate is from Oryx, which is generally conservative in its calculations. What it suggests is that Ukraine may be wiser to bleed the Russians at Avdiivka so as to create opportunities in other parts of the front this winter. JL

Phillips O'Brien reports in his substack:

At Avdiivka, the Russians were willing to suffer the most lopsided rate of losses so far in the war, certainly the most of 2023. Russian losses are extreme, and the UK MOD, estimates the Russians have committed elements of 8 separate brigades to the fight. Ukrainian losses are below war trends so far. Oryx estimated Russian losses were exceeding Ukrainan in equipment by 5 to 1 in Avdiivka. If the Russians are willing to lose men and equipment (which they are replacing at a lower rate than losses) it makes sense for the Ukrainians to take advantage of that. The losses in Ukraine, particularly for Russian forces, in this period have been extreme. There is a new Republican speaker of the House of Representatives (and frankly I’m worried, regardless of quotes). For Ukraine these are the two biggest stories of the week.


This has become the battle of the moment in the Russo-Ukraine War, as the Russians continue to show their willingness to deploy huge numbers of troops and equipment to take a small objective. We are finally getting some decent intelligence on the losses they are suffering as well (and that Ukraine is suffering to hold them off). As long as the Russians seem willing to expose so many forces to the power of effective defensive firepower, it seems like the Ukrainians will fight there.

The situation is in many ways very similar to what happened in Bakhmut earlier in the year. Over the last few weeks the Russians have pushed out bulges to the north and south of the town, leaving Avdiivka in a pocket with the Russians on 3 sides. Here is the Deep State Map to give you a picture of the pocket.

Aavdiivka Pocket: https://deepstatemap.live/en#12/48.1547/37.7391

To give you an idea of the width of the pocket, the distance at the narrowest point from the northern and southern edges of the bulge is just under 10 kilometres (a little over 6 miles).

To create these bulges, the Russians were willing to suffer arguably the most lopsided rate of losses so far in the war, certainly the most of 2023. White House National Security spokesperson John Kirby gave an overview of the fighting around Avdiivka based on US intelligence. The numbers he has used (and actually the US has usually been on the cautious side in outlining Russian losses). Indeed, he went into a long riff on the subject (and I will give you only part of it).

Since the 11th of October, Russia has suffered significant losses in this offensive attempt of theirs, including at least 125 armored vehicles around Avdiivka and more than a battalion’s worth of equipment.

We expect more Russian attacks to come. This is a dynamic conflict, and we need to remember that Russia still maintains some offensive capability and may be able to achieve some tactical gains in the coming months.

The pur- — to pursue that outcome in Avdiivka and elsewhere on the battlefield, Russia continues to show no regard for the lives of its soldiers.

We believe they have suffered thousands of casualties in their effort to conduct this offensive, some of them on the orders of their own leaders.

We have information that the Russian military has been actually executing soldiers who refuse to follow orders. We also have information that Russian commanders are threatening to execute entire units if they seek to retreat from Ukrainian artillery fire.

Russia’s mobilized forces remain undertrained, underequipped, and unprepared for combat. As was the case during their failed winter offensive last year, Russian military appears to be using what we would call “human wave tactics” — just throwing masses of these poorly trained soldiers right into the fight, no proper equipment, no leadership, no resourcing, no support.

It is unsurprising that Russian forces are suffering from poor morale given all these conditions.1

Ive also talked with Ukrainians whom I trust implicitly and they give similar figures. In the fighting around Avdiivka during approximately the last 2 weeks the Russians seem to have lost between 200 and 250 different armored vehicles and approx 3000 casualties. Ukrainian official claims are closer to 4000—which gives the 3000 figure some credence. In war terms Ukrainian claims seem to be inflated by around a quarter on average—which is actually very low. Take a look at Russian claims. Anyway Russian losses are extreme, and the UK MOD, for one, estimates that the Russians have committed elements of 8 separate brigades to the fight.2

Ukrainian losses in comparison, are below war trends so far. Oryx (before discontinuing their brilliant twitter account) estimated that Russian losses were exceeding Ukrainan in equipment terms by approx 5 to 1 in Avdiivka.3 That is considerably higher than the loss rate that Oryx has recorded to that point. For instance, overall to this point Oryx has photographic evidence that tank losses have run at a pace of approximately 3.5 Russian to 1 Ukrainian (2437 Russian to 682 Ukrainian).4 So Russian loss rates around Avdiivka seem to be running around 40 percent higher than in the war in general. This might not seem like alot—but its extreme in war in which attrition is so important.

Why is Russia doing this. Well, its all politics. It seems that Putin wants to claim a ‘victory’ at whatever cost to end the year. Its probably needed to help keep Russian support for the war up with an election approaching but also to try and keep his international supporters onside. Again going back to Kirby, he says the political need to take Avdiivka seems so large for the Russians, that they are feeding untrained forces into the mix.

From the very beginning we’ve been talking about poor command and control, poor logistics and sustainment. They can’t feed their guys in the field for crying out loud.

And now, again, they’re — they’re willing to shoot them for following orders — for not following orders.

It also speaks to the desperation in the manpower crunch. And I got asked this question a day or so ago, by the — (reporters sneezes) — Russia obviously — bless you. Russia obviously has a bigger military than Ukraine, and they have access to more manpower to man it, but they are — they are in such desperate need to make some kind of progress — particularly in the Donbas, the Donetsk area — that they are literally throwing young men into the fight who haven’t been properly trained, haven’t been properly equipped, and certainly are not being properly led.

The Ukrainians have understood that (its very similar to Bakhmut) and are committing some reserves to continue the fight and continue to waste Russian forces. The Ukrainians have counterattacked in a few places to try and push the Russian back (see the small green bulge in the Deep State map—thats a tiny Ukrainian retaking of territory). They will continue this to try and keep the supply road to Avdiivka open (its real Achilles heel).

A statue of a Soviet soldier on the outskirts of the city on Thursday.
Soviet statue still standing in Avdiivka:https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/oct/28/russian-losses-in-battle-for-avdiivka-may-be-worst-of-2023-says-uk

Certainly, as long as the Russians are willing to go on the offensive (very bloody) and lose equipment (which they are replacing at a lower rate than losses) it makes sense for the Ukrainians to take advantage of that. Its far better than going on a Ukrainian counteroffensive where the loss rates are not so much in Ukraine’s favor. Indeed, Ukraine can hope that Putin is so desperate to take Avdiivka that he keeps this up for months. The Russian presidential election takes place in just over 4 months (March 2024). If the Russians are determined to destroy their forces until then—good for Ukraine.


ATACMS—How Not to Arm Ukraine (once again)

Ukrainian launch of ATACM missiles
Ukrainian released picture of an early HIMARS launch: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-67135163

Why this makes sense was partly revealed this week is the once again self-harming way Ukraine’s supporters are arming the country. If you remember almost two weeks ago the Ukrainians launched their first attack using US-supplied ATACMS ammunition—and took out a large number of Russian air assets in a series of blows across parts of southern Ukraine that were out of range of HIMARS before that. I put out this substack immediately when the news first broke.

In that piece I wrote that the ‘big if’ of the appearance of HIMARS arriving on the battlefield will be if Ukraine had been given enough to mount a sustained campaign. Here is me trying to be positive.

  1. Im going to start with the good (though get angrier as I go along). This shows just how much damage Ukraine can do with ATACMS and why its so important they have been given the system. If they have enough ammunition (a big if) they can basically devastate a large number of such high value targets throughout occupied Ukraine and Crimea. No Russian facility will be safe. There is still some time left to campaign this year, so it could really help.

To support this point, the Ukrainians this week launched another ATACMS attack, and it was equally as devastating. It seems that using just a few ATACMS, the Ukrainians were able to destroy three S-400 Russian anti-air systems. The S-400 is supposedly the best and most modern Russian anti-aircraft system. It was heralded before the full-scale invasion as an extraordinary threat to NATO air dominance.5 Some were even claiming ATACMS would be shot down by S-400. Not so much—another example of the extreme over-rating of Russian equipment in some quarters.

And guess what? Ukraine was not supplied with enough. It seems around 20 ATACMS were given in the first instance, far too small for any kind of sustained campaign. And guess what then? The Russians, who only seem to adjust once they have been hit, have started pulling all their valuable aviation assets outside of ATACMS range. President Zelensky, in his evening address on Wedndesday said as much.6

Yes, its a good thing that these aircraft and helicopters have been withdrawn, but it would have been far, far better if the Ukrainians had been given HIMARS enough to hit more of their bases and destroyed these assets before they were removed. However the continuing failure to give Ukraine what it needs when it needs (or the continuing success of Putin in scaring the US not to help Ukraine in the way it needs), is one of the great failures of US policy. This cant be sugar-coated. Things are always arriving too late and in too small numbers. The ATACMS delivery is an overall sign of a policy failure wrapped up in some smaller successes.

Mike Johnson and Ukraine

Trump's looming dictatorship is the only real winner in House speaker  debacle
Rep Mike Johnson (LA), the new Speaker of the House of Representatives

This is not great news, no matter how you slice or dice it. The Republicans in the House of Representatives in the end threw in the towel of rationality and choose one of its most extreme anti-Ukraine, pro-Trump democracy denying, members as the house. Mike Johnson in 2022 (before anyone had ever heard of him) was one of the most extreme representatives in fighting against aid to Ukraine. In March 2022 he was only one of 57 members of the House to oppose military aid—on completely specious, populist grounds.7 At the time he said.

'We should not be sending another $40 billion abroad when our own border is in chaos, American mothers are struggling to find baby formula, gas prices are at record highs, and American families are struggling to make ends meet, without sufficient oversight over where the money will go.”

Now that he is speaker, there are lots of people trying to put a positive spin on his positions, and saying that his views are ‘evolving’.8 Trumpites dont tend to evolve, so color me skeptical. I think we will get an early test on this. There was some talk of packaging aid to Ukraine and Israel in one bill, which would have significant bi-partisan backing. Johnson, however, seems to want to separate Ukraine aid out. If he does—as speaker he could play a major role in thwarting that aid.

Its one more sign (as if it was needed) that all US aid to Ukraine is hanging by a political thread. If Trump wins in 2024 (and he will be the Republican nominee unless his advanced age catches up with him), his instincts will be all anti-Ukraine. I was in an event in Germany a few days ago where people said that they were not worried, because Trump as president would not be so radical (referring to his first term). I think this is pie-in-the-sky optimism. A Trump back in office would be completely unrestrained and surround himself with like-minded extreme populists. There would be no more Rex Tillersons, Jim Mattis’s, or even Mike Pompeos or Mike Espers. It would be pure, unadulterated Trump—and he is both vengeful and self-interested. I doubt he would have a second thought not only in cutting off aid to Ukraine, but also in ending NATO if he could.

Sorry if I once again sound pessimistic on this. However planning your strategic policy on what you want to have happen is probably the most fooling thing possible. Still, that seems to be the case in Europe.

We need to look at Mike Johnson, see exactly what the Republican Party is now in its core, and adjust accordingly.

A global war?

People have asked me why I say little about what is happening in Israel and Gaza here. Well, its mostly because this started as a specifically Russo-Ukraine War update—and that is what it will stay. It needs a focus or it will become a sprawl. Also, Im no expert on the Middle East, and I hesitate to say things that are probably not well-informed.

All I will say is that the prospect of a full-scale Israeli invasion of Gaza makes me feel ill, for both Israelis and Gazans. I can see nothing good coming and huge ill coming from it strategically and for the populations involved. I dont see how a full-scale invasion destroys Hamas (the leadership, funding and logistics support is all outside of Gaza). It literally would see the best Israeli units fighting those Hamas is willing to lose. It will also occur in terrain that would magnify the horror—full of ruined buildings and civilians. I cant think of a more terrible place to fight.

Then what happens—does Israel go for another long-term occupation? That’s a nightmare too. I know people say for political reasons or because there are no good options, an invasion will occur. Neither of those makes any sense to me. A military operation should almost always be the last choice taken, because the odds of it screwing up and going disastrously wrong are so high. Military operations undertaken for political reasons not strategic have a much higher percentage chance of going wrong.

So my silence on this is partly out of despair. Sorry.


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