Ukraine is continuing its ongoing summer counteroffensive, with significant clashes in Verbove and on the left bank of the Kherson oblast. Simultaneously, Russia, seeing the World distracted by ongoing regional tensions in the Middle East, has launched a major offensive on the city of Avdiivka.
Around Oct. 10, Russia launched a renewed offensive to capture the strategic city of Avdiivka, thinking most of Ukraine’s reserves would be along the Southern Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson fronts. What Russian forces did not expect was a horror beyond their imagination, and the current offensive towards the city shows even worse harrowing scars than the pyrrhic Bakhmut victory.
Avdiivka is currently a city experiencing some of the fiercest fighting of the war thus far, with heavy combat operations not seen since Robotyne and Bakhmut earlier this year. The town, which resides in the Donetsk oblast, is one of the most fortified Ukrainian cities today and a stronghold of the armed forces (ZSU).
Avdiivka has experienced nine-plus years of heavy clashes and currently remains a major frontline city since the initial Russian invasion of the Donbas region in 2014. Starting autumn/winter operations, the Kremlin now eyes the municipality for the offensive and the key terrain surrounding it.
Starting Oct. 10, Moscow renewed offensive operations on Avdiivka, as the World was focused on the aftermath of Hamas’ terror attacks in Israel. Putin traveled to Beijing around the same time, and it could be assumed Russia’s Ministry of Defense wants the city as a top priority so Putin could show his few remaining allies that he can still salvage the cataclysmic war.
Russia’s Astounding Losses
The offensive is currently a grind fest and costly for the Russian military. In over a week, Moscow lost four hundred tanks and BMPs (personnel carriers) attempting to storm the city. Kyiv currently claims upwards of 4,000 Russian conscripts may have been killed in the two weeks of heavy fighting, and British Defense Intelligence noted that Russian casualties skyrocketed upwards of 90% during the commencement of the renewed push towards Avdiivka.
Russian telegram channels have displayed low morale and sometimes gloom over the frontal assault tactics to encircle the city, with other famous bloggers showing concern for the low untrained conscripts being sent to die. It is unknown how many casualties Ukraine has taken defending the city, but the ZSU command acknowledged that they are also substantial.
Despite the heavy losses, Russia is committed to taking the city and trying to achieve all military objectives as Putin has cost his nation so much with hundreds of thousands of casualties, sanctions, and loss of labor force that he would never stop now in fear of losing his power and rebellion.
Why the City Matters
Avdiivka is strategic for its grueling terrain, which includes critical heights and open fields, making landmines a plague for advancing Russian forces. Along with the favorable topography for any side that defends it, Avdiivka is located close to Donetsk Airport, the primary gateway to Donetsk city, and the headquarters of most pro-Russian collaborators such as Denis Pushilin.
Supplies in and out of Avdiivka also go through one main road in and out of the city, which is under constant shelling by Russian forces. The Russian MOD looks to cut off this road and potentially encircle the Ukrainian garrison within the city.
The Gerasimov Doctrine and Goal of the Offensive
The Avdiivka Offensive, which follows harrowing frontal assaults as seen in prior Russian offensives in Soledar, Bakhmut, and Vuhledar, is personally led in an operational tempo by Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov.
The Russian Federation keeps the old Soviet doctrine of reliance on manpower over equipment—willing to accept significant conscript losses if results can be achieved. Gerasimov is a principal coordinator of the frontal assault doctrine. Now, with his top rivals of Prigozhin and Surovikin out of the way, Putin has granted the Chief of General Staff unvetted command to commence the tactics during the remainder of the war.
Gerasimov looks to make Avdiivka a top prize not only for his reputation but also to satisfy Putin himself. Russian elections are coming up next spring, and though Putin remains unchallenged, the Russian autocrat needs a significant victory to bring to the public, especially after the Wagner mutiny damaged his reputation.
Though Russia could take the city in the future, gaps in weakened defensive lines can be exploited by Ukraine as Russian reserves have reinforced Avdiivka. This includes the growing front on the left bank of Kherson, the southern front in Zaporizhzhia, and the flanks of Bakhmut—which Ukraine has worked to exploit all three.
Attrition Warfare and Lessons in the Future
The war in Ukraine is now coming down to attrition warfare. Neither the Russian Ministry of Defense nor Vladimir Putin cares about the lives of their men; they only care about their military capabilities for offensive operations.
Whereas Moscow was willing to sacrifice tens of thousands of their men for offensives in Soledar, Bakhmut, and Severodonetsk it is the equipment losses that will hamper Russia’s freedom of movement the most.
During the disastrous Vuhledar offensive last winter, Russian forces had to give up due to the insurmountable losses faced on the southern Donetsk front. General Muradov, who led the offensive, was relieved by Shoigu as over a hundred tanks and various BMPs were lost.
Russia currently emphasizes equipment losses more so than manpower, as even though the Federation has an aging population, Putin has used ethnic minorities disproportionately compared to power bases in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Now the most sanctioned nation on earth, Russia can no longer produce weaponry as it did pre-war due to the lack of Western components the Kremlin can import.
The best way to deter Russia from further aggression and influence Putin to withdraw from Ukraine is to cripple Russian logistics and continue a significant flow of military aid to Kyiv. Now relying on Western weaponry slowing, Putin hopes to freeze lines, re-arm, and continue another major war five to ten years from now—something the World cannot let happen.
Avdiivka shows signs of diminishing Russian offensive capabilities, but it also shows how the Kremlin is willing to sacrifice entire generations of men to achieve military objectives. For as long as the World sends slow increments of aid for Ukraine to survive instead of assistance for Ukraine to win, Russia will keep its imperial desires in this long war.
[Photo by Donetsk Regional Military Civil Administration, via Wikimedia Commons]
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Julian McBride is a forensic anthropologist and independent journalist born in New York. He is the founder and director of the Reflections of War Initiative (ROW), an anthropological NGO which aims to tell the stories of the victims of war through art therapy. As a former Marine, he uses this technique not only to help heal PTSD but also to share people’s stories through art, which conveys “the message of the brutality of war better than most news organizations.”