Russian forces are crashing headlong into another city using some of the same catastrophic tactics that bloodied its army in Bakhmut

Russian forces are crashing headlong into another city using some of the same catastrophic tactics that bloodied its army in Bakhmut
  • Russia has faced a slaughter fighting for the eastern city of Avdiivka.

  • Ukrainian forces say they've destroyed heaps of armor, equipment, and personnel.

  • Experts say Moscow has employed similar military tactics to those in Bakhmut.

Several weeks have passed since Russia began its renewed offensive in eastern Ukraine, and Moscow's relentless efforts to capture the city of Avdiivka are being met by a steadfast Ukrainian defense.

As the days go by, Russia's military losses continue to mount. War experts say the slaughter around Avdiivka bears similar hallmarks to the months-long battle for Bakhmut, where Moscow's catastrophic tactics badly bloodied its army, even though it eventually captured the city.

Avdiivka is one of a few areas across the sprawling front line that has seen "the most intense ground combat" in recent days, according to a November 18 intelligence update from Britain's defense ministry. There, it added, Russian forces are suffering "particularly heavy casualties."

Mark Cancian, a retired US Marine Corps colonel and a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic International Studies, said Russia's quest for Avdiivka appears to be driven by the same intent as with Bakhmut, which is the opportunity to pinch off a Ukrainian salient (a pocket of territory surrounded by the enemy on three sides).

"They've tried to do that many times," Cancian told Business Insider, including in Bakhmut and in other areas like the northeastern city of Izium. "That's a classic military maneuver, something that the Soviets did repeatedly in the latter days of the Second World War."

George Barros, a Russia analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, said Avdiivka presents a similar situation for Ukraine as Bakhmut did. If Kyiv loses the city, it won't necessarily threaten to completely unravel Kyiv's defense of the broader Donetsk region, though Ukraine will want to avoid letting Russia surround and trap its forces there.

Russian armored vehicles moving near Avdiivka.
Russian armored vehicles moving near Avdiivka.Screengrab/Special Operations Forces of Ukraine via Telegram

Russia is also employing a military strategy in Avdiivka that's similar to what it did in Bakhmut, which is sending forward a tremendous amount of combat power in brutal attacks — "throwing good money after bad," Barros told Business Insider.

Shortly after Russia began its assault on Avdiivka, a top White House said in mid-October that Moscow was again relying on "human wave tactics" — a gruesome strategy that was widely seen in Bakhmut — for its renewed offensive and was back to sending poorly trained soldiers into battle without proper training or equipment.

Combat footage that has since emerged from the area around Avdiivka shows what Ukraine says is destroyed armor, indicative of the heavy losses in personnel and equipment that Moscow has suffered during the fighting. Russian sources from the front lines of the slaughter have also pinned blame on a lack of coordination and preparation from military leadership, as well as unrelenting Ukrainian artillery attacks.

War analysts estimated earlier this month that in a period of three weeks, Russia lost more vehicles fighting for Avdiivka than Ukraine lost in several months of intense fighting in the south. Britain's defense ministry said on November 18 that small drones and artillery — including deadly cluster munitions — are playing a "major role" in the fighting there, citing eyewitness reports.

A Ukrainian soldier fires during battle in Avdiivka, Donetsk region, Ukraine, August 18, 2023.
A Ukrainian soldier fires during battle in Avdiivka, Donetsk region, Ukraine, August 18, 2023.Libkos/ AP Photo

Ukraine's commander-in-chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi said on November 10 that in the month since Russia launched its offensive against Avdiivka, its armed forces have lost over 100 tanks, 250 other armored vehicles, 50 artillery systems, seven warplanes, and suffered around 10,000 casualties. Business Insider is unable to independently verify these figures.

"That's a bad way to conduct military operations," Barros said, adding that it's a "needlessly costly" way to carry out offensives as Russia continues to fight attritional battles and incur more losses than necessary.

"Bakhmut was like that too. It was a tactical victory — I'd argue operational failure — contributing to the continued Russian strategic failure," Barros said. "Avdiivka so far, they've not even yet achieved tactical victory, and it's unclear that they necessarily will. But even if they do at this price point, I would characterize it as an operational failure."

But for all the similarities between the two bloody battles, Avdiivka is different from Bakhmut in several ways. For one, it's long been heavily fortified by Ukraine given its role as a strongpoint during the fighting between Kyiv's forces and Russia-backed separatists that began nearly a nearly a decade ago.

It's also a smaller city than Bakhmut (with a pre-war population of around 33,000 compared to 73,000) and is more operationally significant from a military perspective. While Bakhmut was a place for Ukraine to bleed and destroy Russian combat power, Avdiivka is right on the doorstep of Donetsk, a strategic region that's currently held by Moscow.

Still from aerial video released November 2 by Ukraine shows a Russian armored vehicle exploding near Avdiivka, Donetsk, Region, Ukraine.
Aerial footage released November 2 by Ukraine shows a Russian armored vehicle exploding near Avdiivka.47th Separate Mechanized Brigade via Reuters Connect

Maintaining this forward presence by Donetsk is important for the planning and phasing of Kyiv's future operations, Barros said, adding that Avdiivka is also seen as a symbol of Ukrainian resistance having been on the front lines of the separatist fighting for years.

As for Moscow's motivations in taking Avdiivka, beyond anything strategic, Barros said that Russian President Vladimir Putin may be seeking some sort of political victory that he can point to ahead of the country's presidential elections next year.

For now though, Russian forces continue to conduct "failed assault operations" near Avdiivka, according to an update from Ukraine's military on November 16, and the effort doesn't look like it's going to let up anytime soon.

Just as it did when Bakhmut became the focus of the war, the battle for Avdiivka appears to represent a shift in the war and the coming culmination of the counteroffensive.

"The offensive in Avdiivka indicates that the Russians now have the initiative, that the Ukrainian offensive is over," Cancian said, describing the current fighting for the city as another phase of the 21-month-long war. "These offensives don't go on forever."

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