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Is the fall of Avdiivka a sign that Russia is changing the course of the war in Ukraine?

“To preserve life and avoid siege, I withdrew our units from Avdíivka.”

When he was appointed this month, the new head of Ukraine’s armed forces, General Oleksandr Syrskyi, said he would “rather withdraw than sacrifice lives”, and that is what he ended up doing to this eastern city.

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Although the Russians suffered enormous losses, four months of relentless attacks left the Ukrainian troops stationed there outnumbered, outgunned and out of ammunition.

It is Moscow’s biggest victory since Ukraine’s failed counter-offensive last year.

Avdiivka was briefly occupied by Russia in 2014 before being retaken by Ukraine.

What does the fall of Avdíivka mean for the conflict in general?

A war that transforms

Now that this war has become a war of attrition, the difference between the size of Ukraine and Russia is becoming more evident.

Russia’s population, at 144 million, is more than four times that of Ukraine.

Avdiivka was badly damaged after Russian attacks. Photo from November. (RADIO LIBERTY/SERHII NUZHNENKO VIA REUTERS).

Despite losing thousands of soldiers in the process, Moscow made its size count, resupplying them almost immediately.

Ukrainian forces also suffered losses, although not to the same extent.

As with other frontline Ukrainian settlements, Russia took control of an almost completely destroyed city.

The 3rd Ukrainian Assault Brigade, positioned there, said it was being attacked by infantry from all directions.

Russia has concentrated its best-trained fighters in the area and is believed to launch up to 60 bombs per day on Ukrainian positions.

The last time the Russians took a Ukrainian city, Bakhmut, General Syrskyi was criticized for holding it for too long. He was accused of seeking a symbolic victory at the cost of unnecessary casualties.

This experience seems to have generated a change.

The medium term

This Russian advance did not happen overnight. Since last October, Moscow has launched wave after wave of attacks against Avdiivka.

From their high positions and reinforced defenses in the industrial city, the Ukrainians managed to stop them with targeted attacks, leaving the landscape of Donbas scarred and littered with Russian bodies and destroyed armored vehicles.

Resident of Avdíivka in photo taken in October.  (REUTERS/YEVHEN TITOV).

Resident of Avdíivka in photo taken in October. (REUTERS/YEVHEN TITOV).

It now appears that Russian troops have penetrated defenses that had been strengthened over the 10 years since the start of Moscow’s campaign of aggression.

To Kiev’s frustration, Ukraine was unable to breach Russian fortifications elsewhere, which were built in a matter of months.

“Russia cannot achieve strategic objectives, only tactical objectives,” says Major Rodion Kudryashov, Ukrainian deputy commander of the 3rd Assault Brigade.

He claims his troops are outnumbered by as much as seven to one. On the phone he told me: “It’s like fighting two armies“.

He is confident that the Russians will not advance further toward cities like Pokrovsk and Kostantinovka, but this is far from guaranteed.

What it will do for them is ease pressure on the city of Donetsk, which is 15 kilometers further east and which Russia has occupied since 2014.

Long-term

Ukraine It has already been forced to retreat in this way on other occasions, especially in the summer of 2022.

Large, well-equipped Russian units surrounded cities such as Lisichansk and Severodonetsk. The Ukrainians could do little to stop them.

President Volodymyr Zelensky attributed the fall of the city of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine to a lack of long-range weapons.  Photo from November.  RADIO LIBERTY/SERHII NUZHNENKO VIA REUTERS).

President Volodymyr Zelensky attributed the fall of the city of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine to a lack of long-range weapons. Photo from November. RADIO LIBERTY/SERHII NUZHNENKO VIA REUTERS).

However, a subsequent influx of Western weapons and military-inspired thinking prompted a change of course later that year, when Ukrainian troops liberated areas in the Kherson and Kharkiv regions.

But now, this is a different war.

Global politics is having a more significant impact on the battlefield.

Intermittent Western aid directly contributed to this likely Ukrainian withdrawal at Avdiivka.

The United States is in the lead in supplying weapons to Ukraine due to the scale and speed with which it can provide them. With a $95 billion package, including aid to Ukraine, yet to be approved in Washington, other allies are scrambling to fill the void.

It means that Ukrainians must ration ammunition and manage low morale. And Avdiivka may not be the only withdrawal Kiev is considering.

Russian President Vladimir Putin still wants all of Ukraine, and it’s still possible he could take it.

That prospect could restore Western unity to try to prevent it or fuel skepticism that Ukraine was never able to win this war, despite the extraordinary defense it deployed in Avdiivka and elsewhere.

Source: Elcomercio

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