A Blog by Jonathan Low


Oct 29, 2023

This Is Actually the 9th Battle of Avdiivka. None Have Gone Well For Russia

The cope cage drapery over Russian armor near Avdiivka - which is largely ineffective against drone attacks - reveals that Russian troops understand the threat they face, even if their response is more psychological than practical. 

This is happening as the ninth battle - and seventh Russian attempt to capture - Avdiivka rages, all ending with predictably bad results for the invaders. JL 

RO 37 reports in Daily Kos:

This is the “ninth battle” because fighting over Avdiivka dates back to 2014. This is the seventh significant attempt by Russian forces to capture the city. Russia has been attempting to encircle Avdiivka since July 2022. It has been suffering crippling casualties in an attempt to advance in distances of a few hundred meters. Even should Russia succeed in capturing Avdiivka, Ukraine has had over a year to prepare a secondary line of defense. Russia's interest in Avdiivka appears to primarily be political, rather than strategic given its inability to make grander strategic moves.
The Battle of Avdiivka, or what historians may eventually call “The Ninth Battle of Avdiivka” began on October 6th, 2023 when Russia attempted to encircle the city starting with a fierce bombardment, followed by a massive ground advance on October 10th.

This is the “ninth battle” because, believe it or not, fighting over Avdiivka dates back to 2014. 

This is a brief rundown of major spikes in fighting in this region.

  • April 2014, Russian Separatist Forces (reportedly assisted by Spetznaz and Regular Russian Army forces) capture Avdiivka. (First Battle of Avdiivka)
  • July 2014, Ukrainian Forces counterattack, recapturing Avdiivka. (Second Battle of Avdiivka)
  • March 2016, Ukrainian forces begin constructing a series of fortifications at and around Avdiivka’s Industrial zone. Russian Separatist forces attack, attempting to disrupt the construction and/or recapture the city, but do not succeed. (Third Battle of Avdiivka).
  • January/Feb 2017: Russian Separatists launch another major attack at the Industrial Zone but fail to dislodge Ukrainian forces. Much of the city of Avdiivka is leveled at this time. Ukraine continues to bolster its line of fortifications. (Fourth Battle of Avdiivka).
  • April 2022: Russian forces launch a bombardment and intensified assaults on Avdiivka as part of the Donbas Offensive. Russia makes some marginal gains along the main highway but fail to capture the city. (Fifth Battle of Adviivka)
  • June-October 2022: Russian forces begin attempt to encircle Avdiivka, intensifying assaults north and south of the city. Russian forces make some gains but fail to complete the encirclement. (Sixth Battle of Adviivka).
  • January 2023: Russian forces launch a major attack toward Vodyane village, southwest of Avdiivka, as part of an ongoing encirclement attempt—the attack ends catastrophically. (Seventh Battle of Avdiivka)
  • March-May 2023: Russian forces launch a series of mechanized assaults south of Avdiivka in an attempt to encircle the city. The attacks are repulsed. (Eighth Battle of Adviivka).
  • October 2023 to Present: Russian forces renew their attempt to encircle Avdiivka with major assaults north and south of city. (Ninth Battle of Adviivka)

Since Ukraine liberated Avdiivka from Separatist forces in July 2014 in the Second Battle of Avdiivka, this is arguably the seventh significant attempt by Russian forces to capture the city. I say “arguably” because numbering these “battles” simply refers to the spikes in the intensity of the fighting.  Low-level conflict and skirmishes have persisted. 

No matter how you count things, Avdiivka is one of the longest-running contested cities in Ukraine.

Which raises the question—why does Russia care so much about it?

Avdiivka is a small town located just northwest of the major city of Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine.

The city had a pre-war population of over 30,000, but having been on the front lines of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict for nearly a decade, fewer than 2,000 residents still live in the blasted ruins today.

Avdiivka’s importance lies not in the city itself, which has neither key natural resources nor any particular surviving industry, but rather its location, in the suburbs of the Russian-occupied regional capital of Donetsk.

Donetsk is a key logistical hub for Russia, featuring the only direct rail land route from Russia to its occupied territories into southern Ukraine and Crimea. The only alternative rail route is across the Kerch Bridge through Crimea. We’ve talked about the importance of Tokmak in cutting Russia’s rail-based logistics. Donetsk is like the head of the beast. It cuts just about everything

All war supplies from Russia into southern Ukraine pass through Donetsk. Blue is (roughly) the front line

Avdiivka is just 10-15 kilometers from this key rail hub. A small Ukrainian advance in this direction would have an outsized effect on Russian logistics, making their presence an existential threat to Russian commanders,

Avdiivka, a suburb of Donetsk, lies close to one of the most important Russian logistical hubs in Ukraine

Russian reliance on rail logistics is well known and has been much discussed in the past. Thus for Russia to sustain a significant advance, it was, and remains necessary to secure major rail lines along its route of advance. There are two westward rail lines from Donetsk—one heading west toward central Ukraine, which runs near Avdiivka, and the one you see in orange two images up, which supplies southern Ukraine. 

Avdiivka also sits alongside the H20 highway that runs north from Donetsk to Konstantynivka and Bakhmut. A Russian-occupied Avdiivka would open up the possibilities of sweeping behind Ukrainian defenses around Bakhmut, or punching westward along the rail lines to threaten Dnipro and Ukraine’s central plains.

Two fantasy scenarios for Russia in discussing Avdiivka’s importance: looping behind Ukrainian defenses at Bakhmut and threatening Sloviansk, or heading into central Ukraine toward Dnipro. Neither will ever happen

Of course, all of this assumes Russia would have the ability to advance at anything more than a glacial pace.

Russia took over nine months to advance 14 kilometers at Bakhmut. Having captured the city, Russia has shown no indication that it can continue advancing from the city.

It took nine months to advance 14 kilometers Bakhmut

Russia has been attempting to encircle Avdiivka since July 2022. It has been suffering crippling casualties in an attempt to advance in distances of a few hundred meters. Even should Russia succeed in capturing Avdiivka, Ukraine has had over a year to prepare a secondary line of defense in the towns lying just beyond Avdiivka. There is little reason to believe that Avdiivka poses any kind of major tactical obstacle that, if captured, would open the floodgates to a major Russian advance.

A quick look at the topography of Avdiivka shows that the northern and southern battlefield terrain that Ukraine is currently defending doesn’t particularly differ from the terrain directly behind Avdiivka—just small rolling hills, where defensive value comes from Ukraine’s prepared defensive positions, rather than towering hills and deep valleys.

Ukraine’s defense doesn’t depend on high ground (red, on the map)

There is very little reason to think that Russia will find an advance against the prepared defenses behind Avdiivka any easier to attack than the present attacks north and south of the town.

After multiple sustained and large-scale assaults, Russia has made almost no progress south of Avdiivka. North of the town, it has only advanced about 1 kilometer along a narrow salient, including the capture of the now famous “slag heap,” a highly polluted mound of mining waste.

Ukrainian General Staff have claimed over 400 armored vehicle losses for Russia in the Avdiivka front, while open source intelligence analysts have visually confirmed 109. OSINT tends to lag behind actual losses, thus more losses are likely to be confirmed in the coming days.

During Russia’s two catastrophic attempts to capture Vuhledar in November and January 2023, Ukraine claimed the destruction of 130 armored vehicles. Of these, 88 were eventually confirmed by OSINT. Avdiivka is making those losses seem modest in comparison. Russian personnel losses in this fighting are undoubtedly in the thousands, and may amount to the loss of an entire brigade’s worth of troops or more (which is around 2,000 troops).

What is even more shocking is that the bulk of these losses have been inflicted by a single Ukrainian brigade—the 110th Mechanized, positioned north of Avdiivka.

The 110th Mechanized is not one of Ukraine’s premier brigades. It is predominantly equipped with a mix of older Soviet armored vehicles (BMP-1 Infantry Fighting Vehicles), 1970s-era lightly protected Danish armored personnel carriers (YPR-765s, based on the M113), and some surplus Czech artillery (DANA self-propelled guns). It is not known to have any tanks, not even older Soviet models, relying on artillery and anti-tank guided missiles to counter Russian armor.

What it does have are around 2,000 well-trained, experienced, and highly motivated regular army infantrymen and heavily fortified and mined defensive lines, and that has been enough to counter Russia’s three brigades of the 2nd Combined Arms Army, each with a few thousand soldiers and over a hundred armored vehicles. 

Despite being outnumbered 3-to-1, their only reinforcements was a single battalion from the elite 47th Mechanized Brigade. Although the superior anti-armor abilities of the 47th Mechanized’s M2 Bradleys have presumably been an important factor, 500 additional soldiers and a few dozen armored vehicles should hardly have been adequate to equalize the odds.

Nonetheless, the 110th Mechanized has succeeded in holding the Russian advance to a mere single kilometer since the start of the assault, while claiming  the destruction an estimated 200 armored vehicles. It is difficult to see Russian losses at Avdiivka as being commensurate with whatever operational and strategic gains prompted the attack.

When Russia takes losses of this magnitude to advance 1 kilometer, it is clear that it is incapable of making sweeping strategic advances in the hundreds of kilometers. 

That being said, one question that might be asked is—do these losses matter?

Some argue that despite horrific losses, Russian forces keep replacing their losses. Their army doesn’t appear to be collapsing, and continues to fight valiantly against Ukrainian counterattacks. Thus, by this line of reasoning, Russia’s big losses don’t matter. Yet we know they are by simply looking at the quality of the equipment they are now fielding. 

This is not to say that signs are uniformly bad for Russia. As a proportion of confirmed tank losses in Ukraine, Russian T-90 losses have been higher in the past few weeks than at any point since March 2022.  This suggests that Russia may actually be producing more of their last-generation T-90 tanks as claimed.

However, if Russia has a ready supply of modern equipment, it would not tax its logistics unnecessarily by deploying 40- or 50-year-old tanks and armored vehicles. The logistical demands of older vehicles can be less efficient, requiring different types of ammunition and spare parts. There’s simply no reason to send inferior equipment unless one is desperate.

Russia wouldn’t deploy these ancient vehicles and guns unless they were out of the good stuff.

For example, the WWII-era D-1 Howitzer is unwieldy and inaccurate. It has less than half the range of modern Russian 152mm howitzers, with inferior range finding and optics. Even compared to the similarly towed 2A65 Msta-B 152mm howitzer, it is inferior in virtually every way—and still requires the same 152mm artillery shells.

That Russia is resorting to fielding older and older equipment is strongly indicative of real desperation, and their massive losses around Avdiivka will certainly compound the difficulties they have fielding capable equipment. This will limit Russia’s future offensive—and defensive—strength.

Over the next weeks and months, it is not inconceivable that Russia could inch its way forward, meter by blood meter over the bodies of its soldiers and the wreckage of its armored forces. Russia may yet capture Avdiivka. But  Russia appears to primarily be political, rather than strategic given its inability to make grander strategic moves, Avdiivka’s value to nature. 

Putin made specific references to Avdiivka during a televised speeches on Oct. 15, widely seen as a signal that Russia intended to trumpet the capture of Avdiivka as a great and significant victory. “[The Russians’] apparent disregard for high casualty rates may reflect political priorities in Moscow, with Putin believed to be personally eager for proof that his invasion force is still capable of advancing,” wrote think tank analyst Olivia Yanchik at the Atlantic Council. The strategically significant but relatively small town of Avdiivka is seen by many as a realistic objective for the depleted Russian military ahead of the coming winter season.”

As Russia replaces its destroyed equipment with weapons and vehicles from the 1940s, 50s and 60s, Ukraine can leverage its qualitative equipment advantages to accelerate its battle of attrition.  The question becomes whether Ukraine’s Avdiivka defenders can hold—and continue to bleed the Russian forces at a future tenth, eleventh, or twelfth Avdiivka and beyond.


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