The Russian military continues its push on the eastern Ukrainian town of Avdiivka, which has long been the focus of its attention, becoming one of the bloodiest battles of the war so far. But as well as stiff Ukrainian resistance, the storms that have recently battered southern and eastern Ukraine, as well as much of the southern regions of Russia, over the past couple of days, have apparently had an effect on their progress too.
While it’s now being reported that Russian forces are advancing on the town from all sides, Ukrainian officials claim the bad weather earlier this week has slowed Russia’s campaign in eastern Ukraine more generally, and around Avdiivka in particular.
“The Russians have opened up two more sectors from which they have begun making assaults — in the direction of Donetsk … and in the so-called industrial zone,” said Vitaliy Barabash, head of Avdiivka’s military administration, Reuters reported yesterday.
“The enemy is attempting to storm the city from all directions,” he added.
Serhiy Tsekhotskyi, a Ukrainian officer in the town, meanwhile told national television that the Russians have “started to shell the town center from Donetsk. Our brigade is holding its ground, but we can’t see any equipment coming.”
Tsekhotskyi continued: “The weather is unsuitable. But once the frosts come and the ground hardens, an attempted assault with equipment is possible.”
Another military spokesperson, Volodymyr Fitio, said the recent weather had forced the Russians to also make “adjustments”.
“You cannot advance when the ground is like this,” Fitio told Ukrainian media outlet Espreso TV, in comments subsequently reported by Reuters. “The Russians previously brought in reserves and threw them into battle. There are a lot fewer movements like that now because of the weather.”
In its latest intelligence update, the U.K. Ministry of Defense also focuses on Avdiivka, where it notes that some small Russian advances had actually been made in previous days. These have taken the form of a pincer movement, with advances made on the northern axis of this, as part of the effort to encircle the town. However, these advances are likely to have predated the latest bad weather and it remains the case that the situation here, in general, is in something of a state of flux.
Posting on X (formerly Twitter), the U.K. Ministry of Defense wrote:
“Since the start of October 2023, Russian forces have moved the front line forwards up to two kilometers [1.2 miles] in this area. Although modest, this advance likely represents one of the greatest Russian gains since spring 2023. It has cost the units involved thousands of casualties.”
“This operation is gradually bringing Russian troops closer to the Avdiivka coke and chemical plant, where Ukrainian forces maintain one of their main defensive positions.
“Although Avdiivka has become a salient or bulge in the Ukrainian front line, Ukraine remains in control of a corridor of territory approximately seven kilometers [4.3 miles] wide, through which it continues to supply the town.”
Before we head into the latest from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.
Outside of Donetsk, the severe weather conditions have made a major impression on the conflict, too.
Powerful winds, up to 10 inches of snowfall, and flooding have had a serious impact on the Russian-occupied territories of Crimea, Lugansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia in Ukraine, as well as the regions of Dagestan, Krasnodar, and Rostov in southern Russia.
Power cuts have affected large areas of both southern Russia and Ukraine, while at least 14 civilians have been killed in the storms. Russia’s energy ministry reports that 1.9 million people have experienced power cuts, while around 1,500 towns and villages in Ukraine have been similarly affected.
As might be imagined, the conditions for soldiers fighting in southern and eastern Ukraine, including in extensive trench networks, are now even grimmer.
As we have explored, the long-term effects of the weather could be particularly significant for the Russian military presence in Crimea. As well as the immediate damage inflicted upon Sevastopol’s harbor defense system, the time taken to repair a huge list of damage to various defenses, including air defenses, may provide a window for Ukraine to launch further attacks against facilities there. Kyiv has long promised that its attacks across Crimea will continue.
For the time being, the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) think-tank has said the storm has already forced Russia to return all of its naval surface vessels to their bases and suggested that the threat of mines drifting in the Black Sea will now increase after the storm dispersed minefields.
Potentially at odds with that account is a statement from the Russian Ministry of Defense today that a frigate of the Russian Black Sea Fleet launched an attack with four cruise missiles against Ukrainian military infrastructure.
“The crew of a frigate of the Black Sea Fleet received a task of launching a strike with Kalibr cruise missiles in the shortest possible time against enemy military infrastructure,” the ministry said.
While the ministry said that the designated targets were hit, this has not been independently verified, and it is unclear when the attack is supposed to have taken place.
The Institute for the Study of War also states that there are reports of storm damage to Russian-used railways in coastal areas, which may well impact the logistics capabilities of the Russian military in occupied Crimea and southern Ukraine. The institute suggests that the damage has affected “the tempo of military operations along the front line in Ukraine.”
Russian losses in and around Avdiivka have been especially heavy. Indeed, Russian casualties here are assumed to make up a significant part of the estimated daily casualty rate of almost 1,000 Russian soldiers killed or wounded for November.
Provided by Ukraine, that daily casualty figure has not been independently verified but is nonetheless deemed to be “plausible,” according to the U.K. Ministry of Defense.
The latest high-profile Russian casualty of the conflict is reported to be Maj. Gen. Vladimir Vasilievich Zavadsky, who was killed by a mine in a rear area on November 28, according to Russian-language Telegram channels. Zavadsky is said to have been the commander of the 14th Army Corps. His death is yet to be independently verified.
According to one of those reports, “The investigation into his death is looking into the possibility that the mine that was previously laid by a neighboring unit in order to guard against enemy raiding groups operating in the Kherson area.”
If his death is officially confirmed, Zavadsky would be the seventh Russian general to have been killed in the course of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Heavy losses in Avdiivka and elsewhere only increase Russia’s demand for soldiers, with private military companies and penal units having been drafted in heavily to make up the numbers.
Now, Chechen ruler Ramzan Kadyrov has said that he has another 3,000 fighters ready to go to and fight for Russia in Ukraine. Amid rumors about Kadyrov’s own deteriorating health, the quality of his soldiers has also been repeatedly questioned, thanks in no small part to a string of staged videos that they have produced. At the same time, other Chechen units have decided to fight on Ukraine’s side.
One new Russian weapon that has now appeared on the battlefield is the Scalpel loitering munition. As we reported in the past, the Scalpel is essentially a smaller and cheaper version of the widely used Lancet. Accounts on the Telegram messaging app earlier this month claimed that the first batch of these new loitering munitions was ready for use in eastern Ukraine. The same accounts suggested that the Russian Armed Forces currently has a lack of Lancets, something that the delivery of the Scalpels is intended to help address.
The following video purportedly shows one of the earlier Lancet loitering munitions, in this case knocking out a Ukrainian 80K6M mobile 3D radar station. With a claimed range of around 124 miles against a high-flying target, this radar is used to acquire targets for air defense forces.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has reassured Ukraine that, once the conflict with Russia is over, it will become a member of the alliance. NATO has long said that full membership will only be possible once the war has ended, although there has been a steady momentum to help prepare Ukraine for entry. This includes the NATO-Ukraine Council, which is intended to pave the way for membership, through improved cooperation and coordination with existing members.
Stoltenberg was addressing the Ukraine war at a gathering of foreign ministers from NATO countries at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels.
As well as discussing future Ukrainian membership of NATO, Stoltenberg called upon the alliance countries to “stay the course” in supporting Kyiv in its war against Russia.
“It’s our obligation to ensure that we provide Ukraine with the weapons they need,” Stoltenberg said. “We just have to stay the course. This is about also our security interests.”
The backdrop to these words includes struggles in the European Union and the United States to get approval for major arms packages for Ukraine.
An E.U. proposal to allocate up to €20 billion ($22 billion) of military aid to Ukraine over four years has met resistance from some of the member states, which are unwilling to come up with the funds.
In the United States, meanwhile, a military aid package worth $60 billion proposed by the Biden administration is in limbo, after running into opposition from some Republicans in Congress.
Despite the lack of movement in Washington, Stoltenberg said that he was “confident” that U.S. weapons deliveries to Ukraine would continue. Already, the United States has committed over $40 billion in security aid to Ukraine since the full-scale Russian invasion started.
“I’m confident that the United States will continue to provide support because it is in the security interest of the United States to do so and it’s also in line with what we have agreed,” Stoltenberg said. “I urge allies and allies are also committed to continue to deliver support.”
“Even though the frontline has not moved so much, the Ukrainians have been able to inflict heavy losses on the Russian forces,” Stoltenberg added.
Other NATO news now, with reports that members of the alliance are putting further pressure on Turkey to finally ratify Sweden’s bid to join the alliance, which was made soon after the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
During the meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Turkish counterpart, Hakan Fidan, that Sweden’s application should be ratified “as soon as possible,” his spokesperson said.
“The strength and credibility of our alliance are at stake. We must not lose another day,” France’s Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna added.
At this stage, only Turkey and Hungary are yet to ratify Sweden’s bid. The Turkish parliament began debating the issue only this month.
Staying in the Nordic region, Finland has announced it will now close its entire border with Russia, as it deals with what it says is a significant influx in the number of asylum seekers arriving in the country from Russia. Finnish officials have accused Russia of using asylum seekers for its own political purposes, as part of a campaign of “hybrid warfare” on its neighbor.
The border will remain closed to movements of people for a two-week period and the decision follows the closure, last week, of all but one of its remaining border posts to travelers from Russia. The final border crossing was the northernmost one, in the Arctic Circle.
Transport of goods from Russia will still be permitted.
While approvals for the next rounds of arms packages being lined up for Ukraine are running into difficulties, there was better news for Kyiv yesterday, with an agreement within the European Union that it would significantly hike its spending on training for Ukrainian personnel.
The E.U. agreed to more than quadruple its spending on training Ukrainian soldiers, adding almost an extra €200 million ($220 million), for a total of €255 million ($280 million), according to reports.
So far, E.U. countries have trained 34,000 Ukrainian personnel for the front line.
Officials say they were aiming to reach 40,000 Ukrainian troops trained by the EU in the near future.
The following tweet shows an apparent ornithopter-type drone said to have been downed by a unit of the Russian National Guard, better known as Rosgvardiya, the internal military force of Russia. The exact type of drone is unclear, but it may be an example of the Aerium Robird, which generates lift by flapping its wings, and glides, mimicking the movement of a real bird. The drone was reportedly brought down by an undisclosed electronic warfare system. There is a long history of disguising drones as birds, which you can read more about here.
Electronic warfare is also the subject of a report from H. I. Sutton of Naval News, who describes presumed electronic warfare jamming capabilities operated by Russia in Sevastopol, in occupied Crimea. The systems said to be stationed here are thought to be used not only for actively disabling Ukrainian drones but also for jamming radar-imagery-gathering satellites, which provide Kyiv with targeting information.
A jammer of a different kind is seen in the next two tweets, which show the Russian RP-377 jammer, mounted on a BTR-82A armored personnel carrier and on a T-80VM tank. The RP-377 generates a radio-frequency signal designed to detonate improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Note the extensive anti-drone protection measures also fitted to the tank. The BTR, meanwhile, fell victim to a first-person view (FPV) type drone.
Staying with tanks, this Ukrainian Leopard 1A5 was apparently abandoned by its crew after running into Russian forces. This would make it the first publicly known loss of a Leopard 1 in the war so far.
Another view of a Ukrainian Leopard 1A5, this time moving through the snow somewhere in the Kharkiv region.
That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when there’s more news to report about Ukraine.
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