A Blog by Jonathan Low


Oct 25, 2023

Avdiivka Is the New Bakhmut - And That's Bad News For Russia Troops

Putin wants a victory, no matter how strategically insignificant and costly, so as to be able to claim to voters in the upcoming 2024 Russian election that he is 'winning.' He also wants to convince Ukraine's western partners that he will never give up and they can never beat him. The former is probably true, but the latter is far from a sure bet.

Supplies of North Korean, Iranian and Chinese weapons and munitions appear to have reinforced depleted Russian stocks. The question now is the degree to which the Russians can continue lose people and materiel at this rate before running out again as they did last year. JL

Mark Sumner reports in Daily Kos:

Describing Avdiivka as “the new Bakhmut” means (it is) not only the latest area subject to destruction by Russian artillery, but the latest that Russia is determined to capture, no matter what losses must be endured. As with Bakhmut, the capture of Avdiivka would give Russia blocks of empty buildings, most of which had already been shattered by their own artillery. On Tuesday, the Russians again lost multiple armored vehicles in six failed attacks. Ukraine has launched a counteroffensive in the area, advancing in the south. This could offset Russian gains in the north and counter any plan to surround Avdiivka

At the Battle of the Somme in World War I, British troops were famously told to walk, not run, toward enemy positions on the other side of No Man’s Land. There were reasons for this that sounded good to commanders, and some military historians will defend those reasons to this day. But at the end of that day, 20,000 troops were dead and another 40,000 were wounded, turning it into one of the most horrific slaughters in a horrific war.

Thoughts of that event were thoroughly in mind over the past two weeks as Russian commanders first sent troops forward in knots of tanks and armored transport, then a line of aging trucks, and finally on foot in an effort to capture positions near the city of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine.


Just as at the Somme, the results of Russian efforts to advance have been jaw-dropping numbers of men killed and machines lost. But now, after more than two weeks of devastation, Russia finally has something to show for all its losses at Avdiivka.

On Tuesday, Russia managed to plant its flag … on a mountain of waste.

Over the past two weeks, an ugly piece of high ground near the town of Krasnohorivka has been the focus of Russian efforts. However, the repeated description of this location as a “waste heap” is likely to give the wrong impression.

This isn’t a garbage dump, and it’s not a small mound of trash. The Avdiivka region has been an area of heavy coal mining, and the “mountain” in question is actually a pile of unreclaimed overburden (the rock from above the coal) removed from a large surface mine just to the south. That loose and broken rock has been mounded up tens of meters above the surrounding territory and left to weather. Because the area is also home to plants that turn coal into coke for use in steel production, some of the waste at this location seems to be leftover clinkers and baked bits of shale from this process.

I grew up in Muhlenberg County, where cars were tagged with heart-shaped property tax stickers to remind us that we were “in the heart of the Western Kentucky Coalfield.” All around my hometown were hills just like those near Avdiivka: heaps of raw, dark, sulfur-laced shale fragments scattered with rubble from layers of siltstone, sandstone, and low-quality coal. Walking over them was much like trying to climb through the naked scree that sometimes decorates the slopes of mountains far above the tree line—with the added bonus of pools of yellowed water with pH mimicking that of battery acid cutting through steep eroded gullies whose banks included sections of shale descending into gooey, foot-sucking clay.

In the decades since, those hills around my home have been heavily planted with acid-resistant pines and black locusts, and much of the toxic runoff has been treated. But that never happened at Avdiivka. The ground Russia has been fighting to control this past fortnight is as ugly as you can imagine. Barren. Broken. Unstable. Utterly devoid of anything that seems like decent cover.

They want it, presumably, because it is high ground in an area where that’s a rare thing. But its value is, at best, debatable. You can get a sense of what this region is like by looking at the flag Russians so proudly planted in the area they’ve been struggling to reach.

What you don’t see in that picture is any sign of the people who planted that flag. On at least two other occasions, Russian forces reached the base of the waste mountain, only to end up having their vehicles (and men) shattered by a combination of precision artillery and FPV drones. Unlike positions to the north, there are no treelines here. The bumpy heaps of spoil may offer some protection from forces on the ground, but they don’t provide visual cover or any real protection from attacks from above. Any attempt to dig protective trenches here would likely be pointless.

The little red star represents the location of the waste mountain flag.

Still, this movement near Krasnohorivka represents a genuine Russian advance after days of effort. despite everything Ukraine has done to annihilate Russian columns in the area. In spite of messages of disgust from Russian soldiers and levels of loss that had Ukrainian defenders shaking their heads, Russia appears to have moved their area of control by a kilometer or more.

This is just one of the factors that has many pundits and bloggers on both sides describing Avdiivka as “the new Bakhmut.” By that, they don’t just mean the latest area subject to slow destruction by Russian artillery, but the latest area that Russia is determined to capture, no matter what losses must be endured.

Vladimir Putin has been discussing Avdiivka in recent interviews, and some sources on Telegram are indicating that he aims to see the city captured in advance of Russian elections in 2024. It would not seem likely that any action in Ukraine short of utter defeat would seriously alter Putin’s reported plans, but the fact that he’s pointing to Avdiivka surely means that the Russian assault there is considered important. It’s unlikely to be abandoned any time soon.

For months, Russia has kept over 120,000 troops on the eastern front, probing for a location where they could make some show of “victory.” Avdiivka looks to be the chosen place.

And now the question is: Can Russia, no matter how determined and how willing to sacrifice, still do what they did at Bakhmut six months ago, or at Severodonetsk the year before that? Can Russia still advance and capture a location in the face of determined opposition from Ukraine? With everything both sides have experienced and lost, can Russia still drive into Ukrainian forces on a wave of sacrificed troops? Can they do it without weakening their forces elsewhere so much that Ukraine captures far more than it loses?

Avdiivka hasn’t really been a functioning city for some time. After the 2014 invasion, its proximity to the “rebel capital” at Donetsk made the city a frequent target for artillery and aircraft strikes. The population of Avdiivka, once over 30,000, had already drifted down to around 2,000 in the early days of Putin’s latest war. Most of the area’s mines, coke plants, and industrial sites have long been closed. As with Bakhmut, the capture of Avdiivka would give Russia blocks of empty buildings, most of which had already been shattered by their own artillery.

Videos of the city have an eerie resemblance to Bakhmut. But then … everywhere Russia goes eventually bears an eerie resemblance to the Moon.

However, it could be argued that capturing Avdiivka would have significantly more strategic importance than Bakhmut, if only because it would provide a greater buffer to Donetsk.

Things are still not going swimmingly for Russian forces at Avdiivka. On Tuesday, they again lost multiple armored vehicles in a reported six failed attacks from the north. There are also reports that Ukraine has launched a counteroffensive in the area, advancing in the south near Vodyane. This could potentially offset Russian gains in the north and counter any plan to surround Avdiivka. However, it’s not clear at this point how large or successful that Ukrainian counterattack has been.

Stay tuned.

In addition to Avdiivka, Russia has launched a major effort (again) near Kupyansk at the far north of the line.

The Ukrainian General Staff reports repelled attacks near Synkivka, northeast of Kupyansk. Notably, the attacks in the area are reported as “major” and as having air support. This suggests something considerably larger than past efforts in the area, which have mostly been of the small-squad level.

The Washington Post had correspondents in the area on Tuesday and described this as a “ferocious” attack. As at Avdiivka, they reported that Russia has recently bolstered its forces in the area with “Storm Z” units of prisoners, which suggests that Kupyansk may also soon be subject to “meat wave” attacks.

At the moment, Deep State isn’t showing any change in positions in the area, but this is definitely an area where Russia has tried to exert itself previously. Putin would love to recapture some of the ground lost in the Kharkiv counteroffensive a year ago and the goal of pushing Ukrainian forces back across the Oskil River was announced back in the spring.

This is definitely another area to watch.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, there were reports that Ukrainian forces had once again crossed the Dnipro River north of Kherson and attacked Russian positions on the left bank.

For months now, Ukraine has held the position around the eastern end of the Antonivka Bridge. The bombed-out nature of that bridge and Ukraine’s inability (so far) to construct any means of bringing armored forces across the river has prevented Ukrainian troops from making any serious move toward Oleshky. However, in spite of repeated efforts and heavy bombing by Russia, Ukraine has held to this location.

Recently, Ukraine reportedly moved more forces across near an also impassable railroad bridge about 5 kilometers upstream. As with the Antonivka group, this seems to be a limited squad of special forces—six to eight small boats’ worth—which has expanded the area of Ukrainian control along the river but not made any significant inroads into nearby cities.

Finally, a new group has now been reported as far north as Krynky, about 20 kilometers upstream from the original group. The river is narrower at this location (though still about 300 feet across) and again it doesn’t seem that Ukraine has made a move to create any kind of bridge or pontoon crossing. So this is likely additional small groups of men skirmishing outside population centers.

Whether these small groups on the bank of the river are the start of something larger or whether they suggest the limit of Ukraine’s abilities in this area for the moment remains unclear.


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