A Blog by Jonathan Low


Feb 15, 2024

Ukraine's Plan To 'Fight Smart' In Defeating Russians At Avdiivka

Ukraine has deployed its experienced combat ready 3rd Assault Brigade to Avdiivka. The plan is to reconfigure the battlefield in ways that enhance Ukrainian forces ability to defend it going forward. 

This means abandoning the utterly destroyed eastern part of the city in order to straighten defensive lines and secure supply routes. The 3rd is good for this task because its armor gives it the weapons necessary for quick-thrust active attacks while preparing for the longer defensive battle ahead. JL 

David Axe reports in Forbes:

In deploying an assault brigade into a defensive campaign, Ukraine’s command is putting into practice an “active defense” strategy - a flexible, mobile and aggressive defense. The brigade’s methods include moving quickly and firing fast from, nimble armored trucks. The brigade’s aim is to hold the coke plant as the northern anchor of a new, less exposed front line for a rebuilt Ukrainian garrison in western Avdiivka (while) straightening out its defensive line from north to south, restoring secure supply lines.

For two years since Russia widened its war on Ukraine, the Ukrainian army’s 110th Mechanized Brigade defended Avdiivka, a Ukrainian stronghold just northwest of Russian-occupied Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

In recent days, however, the survivors of the 2,000-person brigade finally retreated west, escaping a gradual Russian encirclement of the ruined city, which once was home to 30,000 people and significant heavy industry.

The weary 110th Brigade pulled out of Avdiivka under the thundering guns of one of Ukraine’s best brigades, the 3rd Assault Brigade. There are just two such brigades in Kyiv’s army—the 3rd and 5th—and, as their name implies, they train to assault. That is, to attack.

But in Avdiivka, the outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainians are on the defense.

A desperate shortage of artillery ammunition—the direct result of Russia-aligned Republicans in the U.S. Congress blocking U.S. aid to Ukraine starting last fall—means a handful of Ukrainian brigades in and around Avdiivka barely have held off a Russian force with perhaps a dozen brigades.

In deploying an assault brigade into a defensive campaign, Ukraine’s eastern command is putting into practice an “active defense” strategy. That is, a flexible, mobile and aggressive defense.

The 3rd Assault Brigade’s active-defense tactics were starkly on display soon after the unit deployed into the industrial coke plant northwest of Avdiivka’s city center, sometime in the last week or so.

A gunner in an American-made MaxxPro armored truck recorded video from his helmet-mounted camera, capturing the truck speeding along roads in the coke plant—and the gunner blasting away with his M-2 heavy machine gun.

The brigade’s obvious aim is to hold the coke plant, potentially as the northern anchor of a new, less exposed front line for a rebuilt Ukrainian garrison in western Avdiivka.

The brigade’s methods include moving quickly in, and firing fast from, nimble armored trucks. In the gunner’s video, a Russian mortar or artillery shell explodes nearby, underscoring just how risky the 3rd Brigade’s tactics can be for its volunteer fighters.

“Ukraine compensates for a lack of shells with, first of all, first-person-view drones and with, of course, their lives,” Ukrainian analyst Mykola Bielieskov said in a recent podcast.

An active defense might help to keep the Russians off-balance, buy time for the 110th Brigade fully to withdraw from eastern Avdiivka and set conditions for a new Ukrainian defensive campaign that lets go of the most vulnerable parts of the city.

But if Ukrainian commanders indulge their anger at being abandoned by their American allies, and try to launch a serious counterattack in Avdiivka, they could lead the 3rd Assault Brigade to disaster.

“Fighting for the initiative makes little sense if there are no resources to exploit it,” wrote Michael Kofman, a Russia expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“In theory, localized offensives maintain pressure on Russian forces, limiting their freedom of action,” Kofman added, “but in practice, they could impede rebuilding the combat power of the Ukrainian military.”

All that is to say, the survivors of the battered 110th Brigade surely are grateful for the 3rd Brigade’s aggressive tactics as they retreat from eastern Avdiivka under the assault brigade’s covering fire.

But they also should hope commanders don’t push their luck—and order the 3rd Assault Brigade to advance. Ukraine needs the 3rd Brigade. It can’t afford to waste it fighting for half of a ruined city that Ukrainian forces simply can’t hold.

Russian troops reportedly cut across the main paved road into Avdiivka overnight on Tuesday.

In braving Ukrainian mortar fire and drones and advancing a few hundred yards south of their previous positions in the northern outskirts of Avdiivka, the Russian 2nd and 41st Combined Arms Armies have blocked one of perhaps three supply lines feeding the Ukrainian garrison in Avdiivka, an urban stronghold five miles northwest of Russian-occupied Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

The problem, for the Ukrainians, is that the two intact supply lines are unpaved tracks that are shell-pocked, muddy and exposed to Russian fire from the north and the south. They are, in other words, extremely vulnerable.

And that could be the decisive factor as the four-month battle for Avdiivka, currently the focus of Russia’s two-year wider assault on Ukraine, likely culminates.

The Ukrainian garrison in Avdiivka, which for years was anchored by the army’s weary 110th Mechanized Brigade, already was starving for fresh troops and ammunition, mostly owing to far-right Republicans in the U.S. Congress—who appear to align with Russia—cutting off U.S. aid to Ukraine starting last fall.

Now the garrison is likely to starve even faster. Anticipating that eventuality, many analysts for weeks have been warning Ukrainian commanders to pull back the Avdiivka garrison and reposition along more favorable lines in the city’s western outskirts—or even outside the city.

There are signs of a shift in Ukrainian strategy, one that coincides with a major shakeup in Ukrainian command. Last week, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky removed his popular top general, the charismatic Valery Zaluzhny, and replaced him with the unpopular former head of the ground forces, Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi.

Zaluzhny has a reputation—deserved or not—for embracing a mobile defense in order to minimize Ukrainian casualties. Syrskyi by contrast has a reputation—again, deserved or not—for accepting high casualties in stubborn, static fights.

It’s possible that, in promoting Syrskyi, Zelensky signaled his intention to fight for Avdiivka. Even at high cost.

So it should’ve come as no surprise that, in recent days, Ukraine’s eastern command redeployed one of its best brigades, the 2,000-person 3rd Assault Brigade, from its training grounds in Kramatorsk to Avdiivka. As the 3rd Brigade arrived, the survivors of the 110th Brigade departed.

The 3rd Assault may have been the only major Ukrainian mechanized formation that was in reserve in the east. Committing the brigade to a disadvantageous fight in the increasingly isolated ruins of Avdiivka is, to say the least, risky.

“Everything is going according to plan,” the Ukrainian defense ministry claimed in a Monday social-media post. But it’s not clear the plan is a smart one.

However, the 3rd Brigade with its Dutch-made armored personnel carriers, American-made M-2 fighting vehicles and MaxxPro armored trucks and—for now—decent stocks of mortar rounds and explosive drones, may not simply take up positions in the same bunkers and trenches the 110th Brigade once occupied.

If it did, it effectively would be volunteering to get cut off as the much larger Russian force around Avdiivka continues, at great cost, to creep into the city from two directions.

The 3rd Brigade could begin its defense of Avdiivka by digging in inside the industrial coke plant in the city’s northwest corner and straightening out its defensive line from north to south. Yes, that would mean giving up the eastern half of the essentially lifeless city. On the other hand, it might restore secure supply lines.

If there’s a variable, it’s the Ukrainian fortress in the Zenit bunker complex a mile south of Avdiivka. The same industrial road the Russian reportedly just severed in northern Avdiivka winds southeast to Zenit. Supplying the bunker complex may now require dangerous cross-country trips.

If the Ukrainians surrender eastern Avdiivka, will they also surrender Zenit, one of the most imposing fortifications in eastern Ukraine? We should know soon.


Post a Comment