Russia is throwing forces at a town in eastern Ukraine, launching waves of assaults to take it.
It's been a costly battle for both sides, resulting in high casualties and vehicle and equipment losses.
Russia has lost as many vehicles in just three weeks of assaults as Ukraine lost over several months of fighting in the south.
A Russian offensive to capture a small, ruined town in eastern Ukraine has been a costly battle. In vehicle losses, the Russian assault force has lost in just three weeks what Ukrainian troops lost over several months of intense fighting in the south.
Last month, Russia launched a renewed offensive near Avdiivka, a small town on the edge of occupied Donetsk. Since the fighting began, its forces have made some advances and have effectively surrounded a pocket of Ukrainian defenders. But that progress has come at a high cost for Russia, both in troops and vehicles.
Since October 9, the Russian assault forces have suffered at least 197 damaged and destroyed vehicles, according to a Wednesday Institute for the Study of War, a Washington DC-based think tank, report citing open-source geolocation project GeoConfirmed. 99 vehicles were lost in the first wave of assaults between October 9 and 13, and another 94 were lost between October 14 and 23. Since then, four additional vehicles have been confirmed lost. Another 18 are considered potentially wrecked.
"GeoConfirmed characterized the Russian effort near Avdiivka as the costliest Russian effort thus far in the war in Ukraine," ISW wrote.
Those figures are staggering, especially when compared to Ukraine's losses over months along another part of the front line in the south near Zaporizhzhia, where Ukrainian forces have been pushing against fortified Russian defenses as part of the ongoing counteroffensive.
"The Ukrainians lost a little above 200 vehicles, that we can observe and confirm, in southern Ukraine in Zaporizhzhia over the course of four or five months of operation," George Barros, the geospatial-intelligence team lead and a Russia analyst at ISW, told Insider. It took Russia roughly three weeks fighting for Avdiivka to do the same.
That comparison paints a sobering picture of the costs of the assault for Russia. "We can conclude now that this is by far the most costly Russian assault during three weeks for one city since the beginning of the war," Barros said. "So, in terms of an undertaking that lasted three weeks just for one town, this is the most costly.
And Russia's losses in Avdiivka go well beyond its vehicles. The slaughter of mostly inexperienced troops rushed to forward is reminiscent of the battle for Bakhmut earlier this year. Russia has again resorted to its "human wave tactics," which involve throwing waves of troops at the front line with poor training and little equipment. It's not an entirely ineffective strategy, but casualty numbers soar and it results in substantial carnage. A Ukrainian military spokesperson told Reuters in late October that over a period of six days, forces fighting for Russia saw an estimated 2,500 soldiers killed and wounded.
The assault forces are facing a lethal combination of Ukrainian weapons, including first-person view (FPV) drones, anti-tank missiles, artillery, and mortars able to wreck tanks.
Despite these setbacks, Russia has still made some advances in Avdiivka, according to geolocated footage collected by ISW. One Ukrainian journalist said that while Russia is suffering heavy losses in the fight, its movement along a railway track that could allow them to regroup and concentrate forces "is a very serious threat that needs maximum attention."
Avdiivka has been largely ruined by constant fighting, but the devastated area may not be entirely pointless to Russian forces, or Russian leadership. The loss of Avdiivka would push Ukraine back from the threshold of Donetsk, making it more difficult for them to launch attacks to retake the area. Russia would also be able to establish supply routes and connect main routes between its occupied territory if it had control of Avdiivka.
For Russian President Vladimir Putin, the win could be valuable politically. Beyond Bakhmut, seen by many as a Pyrrhic victory at best, Russia has won few battlefield victories. And to make matters worse, it has seen a few tumultuous incidents occur throughout the year, such as the Wagner Group mutiny. With a presidential election coming in early 2024, it's possible that Putin has decided to prioritize taking Avdiivka in order to maintain the appearance of control and demonstrate capability as a leader to Russians watching friends and family die in a war he aggressively initiated and has had to conduct unwelcome mobilizations to feed.
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