October 15, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Putin lowers expectations for gains from the current Avdiivka offensive

Institute for the Study of War

Russian President Vladimir Putin may be trying to temper expectations of significant Russian advances around Avdiivka in Donetsk Oblast. Putin claimed in an interview on Russian state television on October 15 that Russian forces are conducting an “active defense” in the Avdiivka, Kupyansk, and Zaporizhia directions. Putin’s characterization of Russian offensive operations near Avdiivka as an “active defense,” instead of “active combat operations” as Russian UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya claimed on October 13, or discussing Russian operations as an “offensive” as some milbloggers have, may be an attempt to temper expectations of significant Russian advances. Russian operations including intensive artillery and airstrikes are likely intended to degrade Ukrainian forces around Avdiivka. Russian forces are unlikely to make significant breakthroughs or cut off Ukrainian forces in the settlement in the near term, and potential advances at scale would likely require a significant and protracted commitment of personnel and materiel.

Russian forces continued offensive operations aimed at encircling Avdiivka on October 15 but have yet to make further gains amid a likely decreasing tempo of Russian operations in the area. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian forces repelled more than 15 Russian assaults near Avdiivka, as well as northwest and southwest of the settlement. ISW has not yet observed visual confirmation of previous claims of Russian advances in the area or geolocated footage of any other Russian gains. Russian sources claimed notably fewer Russian advances in the area on October 15 compared to previous days and described these new alleged advances as marginal. A Russian milblogger acknowledged that Ukrainian forces still maintain a presence at the Avdiivka Coke Plant following conflicting Russian claims about Russian control of the plant.

Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on October 15 and slightly advanced south of Bakhmut. Geolocated footage published on October 15 shows that Ukrainian forces marginally advanced towards the railway line north of Klishchiivka (7km southwest of Bakhmut), and Russian sources reported continued Ukrainian ground attacks south of Bakhmut on the Klishchiivka-Kurdyumivka-Andriivka line (7-13km southwest of Bakhmut). Ukrainian military observer Kostyantyn Mashovets stated that Ukrainian forces took advantage of recent Russian counterattacks in western Zaporizhia Oblast to gradually advance near Kopani (5km northwest of Robotyne), east of Nesteryanka (10km northwest of Robotyne), and near Verbove (18km southeast of Orikhiv). Ukrainian officials have not yet commented on any recent Ukrainian advances along the Robotyne-Novoprokopivka-Verbove line (20km southwest to 18km southeast of Orikhiv), however. Russian sources reported continued Ukrainian attacks on the Robotyne-Novoprokopivka-Verbove line on October 15.

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin may be trying to temper expectations of significant Russian advances around Avdiivka in Donetsk Oblast.
  • The Russian information space writ large is also metering its initial optimism about the prospects of Russian offensive operations around Avdiivka.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations aimed at encircling Avdiivka on October 15 but have yet to make further gains amid a likely decreasing tempo of Russian operations in the area.
  • Russian forces will likely continue offensive operations at this decreased tempo in the near term, however, and will remain a threat to Ukrainian forces in the area despite being unlikely to achieve a decisive breakthrough or encircle Avdiivka at this time.
  • A prominent Russian milblogger and frontline unit commander complained that Russian military leadership is uninterested in battalion level problems, supplementing other Russian milblogger complaints about general problems in the Russian military.
  • Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on October 15 and slightly advanced south of Bakhmut.
  • Russian forces conducted offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on October 15 and advanced in some areas.
  • A Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces have “significant” reserves comprised of new divisions currently located in rear areas, though these formations are highly unlikely to be fully staffed at this time.
  • The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is sending a reportedly Kremlin-affiliated priest to Crimea, likely as part of continued Russian efforts to persecute religious communities in occupied Ukraine.
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