December 12, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Russia sustains 13,000 casualties since October in Avdiivka offensive 

Institute for the Study of War

US intelligence reportedly assessed that Russian offensive operations in eastern Ukraine in fall 2023 and through the upcoming winter aim to weaken Western support for Ukraine instead of achieving any immediate operational objectives. The US intelligence community reportedly shared a declassified intelligence assessment with Congress on December 12 wherein US intelligence assessed that Russian offensive operations in eastern Ukraine aim to weaken Western support for Ukraine but have only resulted in heavy Russian losses and no operationally significant Russian battlefield gains. This assessment of high Russian losses and lack of operationally significant Russian gains is consistent with ISW’s assessment. US National Security Council Spokesperson Andrienne Watson reportedly stated that Russian forces have suffered more than 13,000 casualties and lost 220 combat vehicles along the Avdiivka-Novopavlivka axis (Avdiivka direction through western Donetsk Oblast) since launching offensive operations in October 2023. Watson added that Russia appears to believe that a military “deadlock” through the winter will drain Western support for Ukraine and give Russian forces the advantage despite high Russian losses and persistent Russian shortages of trained personnel, munitions, and equipment. ISW has assessed that Russian forces have been trying to regain the theater-level initiative in Ukraine since at least mid-November 2023 and have now likely committed to offensive operations in multiple sectors of the front during a period of the most challenging weather of the fall-winter season in an effort to seize and retain the initiative.

Russian forces may be conducting costly offensive operations at a time unfavorable for ground maneuver to time the potential shift in battlefield initiative with ongoing conversations in the West about continued support to Ukraine. Russian forces launched a large offensive effort to capture Avdiivka on October 10 and subsequently intensified localized offensive operations elsewhere in eastern Ukraine while Ukrainian forces started to scale back counteroffensive operations on their own accord. The Russian military command decided against waiting to prepare for offensive efforts later this winter or in spring 2024 following the decreased tempo of Ukrainian counteroffensive operations, as they had done between the successful Ukrainian counteroffensives in summer and fall 2022 and the failed Russian winter-spring 2023 offensive. The Russian military command’s decision to launch offensive efforts in fall 2023 may have been an opportunistic reaction to a perceived wavering of Western support for Ukraine. The increased Western discussions about continuing military assistance to Ukraine following the relatively successful Russian defensive operations in Zaporizhia Oblast was predictable and may have factored into the Russian command’s calculations. The Kremlin has been orchestrating long running information operations aimed at deterring Western security assistance to Ukraine, and the Russian command may have determined that those information operations were yielding increasing returns and that Russian military efforts to seize the initiative could prompt further Western debates about aid to Ukraine.

Key Takeaways:



  • US intelligence reportedly assessed that Russian offensive operations in eastern Ukraine in fall 2023 and through the upcoming winter aim to weaken Western support for Ukraine instead of achieving any immediate operational objectives.
  • Russian forces may be conducting costly offensive operations at a time unfavorable for ground maneuver to time the potential shift in battlefield initiative with ongoing conversations in the West about continued support to Ukraine.
  • US intelligence also assessed that the war in Ukraine has devastated the pre-war Russian military, although Russia has partially offset these losses and continues to prepare for a long war in Ukraine.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with various US officials, including President Joe Biden, and spoke to Congress about US military assistance to Ukraine in Washington, DC on December 12.
  • Russian forces conducted a series of drone and missile strikes targeting Ukraine on December 12.
  • Ukrainian officials stated that Russian special services may have conducted the major cyberattack on Ukrainian mobile operator Kyivstar on December 12.
  • The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported that GUR cyber units recently conducted a successful cyber operation against the Russian Federal Tax Service (FNS).
  • Russian news outlet RBK reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin has designated prominent Russian milbloggers as “trusted persons” in his presidential election campaign for the first time.
  • A St. Petersburg court sentenced three underage Uzbek migrants and their parents to deportation for extinguishing the Eternal Flame in St. Petersburg amid ongoing tension between Central Asian communities in Russia and Russian authorities.
  • Russian forces conducted offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, near Avdiivka, west and southwest of Donetsk City, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on December 12 and advanced in some areas.
  • The Russian State Duma adopted a series of laws on December 12 to help further bolster Rosgvardia’s and the Federal Security Service’s (FSB) force generation capacity.
  • Russian occupation authorities continue to use the Kremlin-funded pseudo-volunteer “Dvizheniye Pervykh” (Movement of the First) youth organization to indoctrinate Ukrainian youth in occupied Ukraine with Russian and cultural national identities.
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