March 15, 2024

Institute for the Study of War:  Russian forces concentrate efforts to expand west of Avdiivka

Institute for the Study of War

Russian forces will likely continue ongoing offensive efforts to destabilize Ukrainian defensive lines in Spring 2024 while also preparing for a forecasted new offensive effort in Summer 2024. The provision of Western security assistance will likely play a critical role in Ukraine’s ability to hold territory now and to repel a new Russian offensive effort in the coming months. Russian forces are attempting to maintain the tempo of their offensive operations throughout eastern Ukraine in an effort to prevent Ukrainian forces from stabilizing their defensive lines. Russian forces are particularly concentrating on pushing as far west of Avdiivka as possible before Ukrainian forces can establish a harder-to-penetrate line in the area. Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi stated on March 15 that Russian forces have concentrated their efforts on the Avdiivka direction and have been conducting daily mechanized and infantry assaults in an attempt to break through Ukrainian defenses. Although Ukrainian forces have recently been able to slow Russian advances west of Avdiivka, pervasive materiel shortages caused by delays in Western security assistance appear to be forcing Ukraine to prioritize limited resources to critical sectors of the front, increasing the risk of a Russian breakthrough in other less-well-provisioned sectors and making the frontline overall more fragile than it appears despite the current relatively slow rate of Russian advances. Russian forces will continue to use the advantages provided by possessing the theater-wide initiative to dynamically reweight their offensive efforts this spring and into the summer, likely in hopes of exploiting possible Ukrainian vulnerabilities. Russian forces may be pressing their attempts at a breakthrough before difficult weather and terrain conditions in spring will likely constrain effective mechanized maneuver on both sides of the line and further limit Russian capabilities to make significant tactical advances while the ground is still muddy. Russian forces have intensified offensive operations during similar conditions before, however, and Russian forces may seek to maintain the tempo of their offensive operations through spring regardless of difficult weather and terrain conditions in an effort to exploit Ukrainian materiel shortages before promised Western security assistance arrives in Ukraine.

Ukrainian and Western officials are increasingly warning about both significant Ukrainian materiel shortages and a new large-scale Russian offensive this summer. The intent and design of the Russian Summer 2024 offensive effort is not immediately clear and likely will not be until Russian forces launch it, but the Russian military command likely intends to capitalize on any gains it makes in the coming weeks as well as on forecasts that the Ukrainian military may be even less-well-provisioned this summer than it is now. Well-provisioned Ukrainian forces have shown that they can prevent Russian forces from making even marginal gains during large-scale Russian offensive efforts, and there is no reason to doubt that Ukraine could further stabilize the frontline and prepare for repelling the reported Russian offensive effort this summer if materiel shortages abated.

Western and Ukrainian officials are expressing concerns about delays in Western security assistance to Ukraine ahead of this expected Russian offensive effort. EU High Commissioner Josep Borrell stated on March 14 that the West must increase and speed up its support for Ukraine as the next months will be “decisive” ahead of the expected major Russian offensive in the summer of 2024. Borrell stated in an interview with PBS published on March 14 that Europe alone cannot, however, make up for the lack of US aid as the US has a much stronger and larger military capacity, as ISW has previously assessed. The Washington Post reported on March 15 that a senior US official stated that there is no “bright” future for Ukraine if the US does not pass the supplemental aid package for Ukraine. A senior advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reportedly told the Washington Post that Russian forces are highly likely to make significant territorial gains in Summer 2024 if the US does not provide aid to Ukraine. The Washington Post reported that Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Michael Kofman assessed that the US supplemental aid package would allow Ukrainian forces to “buy time” but that Ukraine must also fix the ”structural problem” related to its limited manpower resources.

The threat of significant Russian gains in the coming months does not mean that there is no threat of Russian forces making such gains through offensive operations this spring. Relative Russian successes this spring, even tactical, may set conditions for Russian forces to pursue operationally significant gains in the summer. Neither would a Ukrainian ability to further stabilize the current frontlines this spring preclude Russia from pursuing a breakthrough this summer. Well-provisioned Ukrainian forces will likely be able to prevent any significant Russian advances both in Spring and Summer 2024 as long as sufficient Western security assistance arrives in the next months in a manner that allows Ukrainian forces to address current materiel shortages and prepare for and sustain future defensive operations.



Key Takeaways:

  • Russian forces will likely continue ongoing offensive efforts to destabilize Ukrainian defensive lines in Spring 2024 while also preparing for a forecasted new offensive effort in Summer 2024. The provision of Western security assistance will likely play a critical role in Ukraine’s ability to hold territory now and to repel a new Russian offensive effort in the coming months.
  • Well-provisioned Ukrainian forces have shown that they can prevent Russian forces from making even marginal gains during large-scale Russian offensive efforts, and there is no reason to doubt that Ukraine could further stabilize the frontline and prepare for repelling the reported Russian offensive effort this summer if materiel shortages abated.
  • The threat of significant Russian gains in the coming months does not mean that there is no threat of Russian forces making such gains through offensive operations this spring.
  • Pressing shortages in air defense systems and missiles will likely dramatically reduce Ukraine’s ability to defend against Russian strikes both in rear and frontline areas in the coming weeks if not addressed rapidly.
  • Russian forces have shown the capacity to adapt to fighting in Ukraine and will likely aim to scale lessons learned from the war in Ukraine to ongoing efforts to prepare the Russian military for a potential long-term confrontation with NATO.
  • Senior European officials stressed that a Russian victory in Ukraine would result in Russia posing a strategic threat to NATO security.
  • Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev questioned the sovereignty of Latvia, a NATO member state, and threatened Latvian President Edgars Rinkēvičs following Medvedev’s March 14 call for the total elimination of Ukraine and Ukraine’s absorption into Russia under Medvedev’s “peace formula.” 
  • French President Emmanuel Macron stated on March 15 that he is not ruling out sending Western troops to Ukraine but that the current situation does not require it.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed continued limited raids from Ukrainian territory into Russia’s border region on March 15.
  • Ukrainian forces conducted a drone strike against a Russian oil refinery in Kaluga Oblast, and recent Ukrainian strikes against oil refineries reportedly caused a spike in Russian domestic oil prices.
  • Several Russians made limited attempts to disrupt the first day of voting in the Russian presidential election on March 15.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Kupyansk and Avdiivka and in western Zaporizhia Oblast.
  • Ukrainian Treatment of Prisoners of War Coordinating Headquarters Representative Petro Yatsenko stated that Russia has intensified its efforts to recruit military personnel from abroad.
  • Ukrainian sources and Russian opposition media reported that occupation officials continue coercive efforts to artificially inflate voter turnout and perceptions of support for Russian President Vladimir Putin in occupied Ukraine.

For full report:  https://understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-march-15-2024 

Share the Post: