February 17, 2024

Institue for the Study of War:  Russia claims ‘full control’ over Avdiivka in Donetsk; Ukraine downs three Russian warplanes

Institute for the Study of War

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed that Russian forces have established “full control” over Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast as Russian forces continued to advance in the settlement on February 17, and Ukrainian forces have likely withdrawn from Avdiivka. Shoigu reported to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the evening of February 17 that elements of the Russian Central Grouping of Forces are completing the capture of Avdiivka and clearing areas where Shoigu claimed Russian forces had trapped Ukrainian forces. Putin credited the 30th Motorized Rifle Brigade (2nd Combined Arms Army [CAA], Central Military District [CMD]); 35th, 55th, and 74th Motorized Rifle Brigades (all of the 41st CAA, CMD); 1st, 9th, and 114th Motorized Rifle Brigades and 1454th Motorized Rifle Regiment and 10th Tank Regiment (all of the 1st Donetsk People’s Republic [DNR] Army Corps [AC]); and the 6th, 80th, and 239th Tank Regiments (all of the 90th Tank Division, 41st CAA, CMD) for capturing Avdiivka under the leadership of Russian Center Group of Forces commander Colonel General Andrei Mordvichev.

Russian sources largely characterized the Ukrainian withdrawal as disorganized and costly and claimed that Russian forces managed to encircle large Ukrainian groups in Avdiivka, but ISW has observed no evidence supporting these Russian claims. Russian ultranationalist milbloggers largely amplified the same few videos of a handful of Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) captured near Avdiivka to claim that Russian forces managed to surround large groups of Ukrainian forces in the settlement. Russian milbloggers also claimed that Ukrainian forces suffered exorbitant losses in Avdiivka due to a disorderly withdrawal, and Shoigu similarly claimed that Ukrainian forces lost over 1,500 personnel in the past 24 hours. Russian milbloggers usually publish and heavily amplify footage of the capture of Ukrainian POWs and footage of war dead during battles of high informational importance, and the footage that Russian milbloggers have amplified thus far is not consistent with Russian claims about Ukrainian casualties and the capture of Ukrainian POWs. The Russian milbloggers also amplified limited footage of a handful of Ukrainian personnel withdrawing under fire to support claims that the withdrawal was disorganized, but this footage alone does not indicate that there were large chaotic Ukrainian withdrawals. Some milbloggers also amplified footage showing Ukrainian forces walking freely in the open while withdrawing.

Russian forces appear to have temporarily established limited and localized air superiority and were able to provide ground troops with close air support during the final days of their offensive operation to capture Avdiivka, likely the first time that Russian forces have done so in Ukraine. The spokesperson for a Ukrainian brigade operating near Avdiivka stated on February 17 that Russian forces launched 60 KAB glide bombs at Ukrainian positions in Avdiivka over the past day, and a Ukrainian soldier operating in the area stated that Russian forces launched up to 500 glide bombs at Avdiivka in recent days. Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Commander Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi stated that Russian forces conducted 73 airstrikes in the Tavriisk direction (Avdiivka through western Zaporizhia Oblast) on February 14, a record number, as Russian forces intensified their tactical turning movement in Avdiivka. A Kremlin-affiliated milblogger claimed on February 17 that Russian forces launched 250 FAB glide bombs at one specific area in Avdiivka alone in the past 48 hours. Russian sources widely credited the Russian use of glide bombs with allowing Russian forces to overcome Ukrainian defenses in Avdiivka, and some Russian milbloggers asserted that Russian forces have air superiority in the area.

Key Takeaways:


• Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed that Russian forces have established “full control” over Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast as Russian forces continued to advance in the settlement on February 17, and Ukrainian forces have likely withdrawn from Avdiivka.

• Russian sources largely characterized the Ukrainian withdrawal as disorganized and costly and claimed that Russian forces managed to encircle large Ukrainian groups in Avdiivka, but ISW has observed no evidence supporting these Russian claims.

• Russian forces appear to have temporarily established limited and localized air superiority and were able to provide ground troops with close air support during the final days of their offensive operation to capture Avdiivka, likely the first time that Russian forces have done so in Ukraine.

• Delays in Western security assistance may lead to further significant constraints on Ukrainian air defenses that could allow Russian forces to replicate the close air support that facilitated Russian advances in Avdiivka at scale in Ukraine.

• Ukrainian forces reportedly shot down three Russian fighter aircraft—two Su-34s and one Su-35—over Donetsk Oblast on February 17, likely having committed scarce air defense assets to help cover the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from Avdiivka.

• Russian authorities arrested several hundred demonstrators on February 17 amid slightly larger demonstrations responding to imprisoned opposition politician Alexei Navalny’s death.

• The US Department of Justice (DoJ) announced on February 17 that the US sent $500,000 of forfeited Russian funds to Estonia to repair Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

• Russian forces made confirmed advances near Bakhmut and Avdiivka and in western Zaporizhia Oblast.

• Russian occupation authorities continue efforts to propagandize and militarize Ukrainian youth in occupied areas.

For full report:  https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-february-17-2024 

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