February 27, 2024

Institute for the Study of War: Russian forces press offensive operations after seizing Avdiivka

Institute for the Study of War

Russian forces are attempting to exploit tactical opportunities offered by the Russian seizure of Avdiivka and appear to be maintaining a relatively high tempo of offensive operations aimed at pushing as far as possible in the Avdiivka area before Ukrainian forces establish more cohesive and harder-to-penetrate defensive lines in the area. Russian forces temporarily decreased their tempo of operations as they cleared Avdiivka following the Russian seizure of the settlement on February 17, but have since resumed a relatively high tempo of assaults further west and northwest of Avdiivka. Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Spokesperson Dmytro Lykhovyi stated on February 27 that Russian forces have recently increased the size of their assault groups in the Tavriisk direction (Avdiivka through western Zaporizhia Oblast) from small squad-sized groups to platoon-sized and even company-sized groups. Russian forces are currently focusing assaults west of Avdiivka in the direction of Berdychi, Orlivka, and Tonenke, where Ukrainian forces established immediate defensive positions to cover their withdrawal from Avdiivka and to receive oncoming Russian offensive operations. Lykhovyi and Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Commander Oleksandr Tarnavskyi stated that Ukrainian forces have stabilized their defensive lines along the Tonenke-Orlivka-Berdychi line as of February 27. Ukrainian military observers characterized Ukrainian fortifications west of Avdiivka as “disappointing” and ”problematic,” however. Russian milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces are struggling to hold defensive positions immediately west of Avdiivka and forecasted that Ukrainian forces will concentrate on a defensive line further west that Ukrainian forces began constructing in November 2023.

Russian forces are likely continuing attempts to advance in order to deprive Ukrainian forces of the respite that would allow Ukraine to establish a more cohesive and harder-to-penetrate defensive line in the immediate vicinity of Avdiivka. The seizure of Avdiivka has allowed Russian forces to press on positions that Ukrainian forces have manned for a shorter period than Ukrainian positions in Avdiivka or further west, and Russian forces are likely sustaining a high operational tempo to try to exploit this tactical opportunity. Russian forces may be able to seize settlements immediately west and northwest of Avdiivka in the coming weeks, but terrain and water features further west of Avdiivka, particularly the body of water than runs between Berdychi-Semenivka-Orlivka, will likely slow the already relatively slow rate of Russian advances in the area. This difficult terrain will likely constrain further Russian tactical gains and allow Ukrainian forces to establish prepared defensive positions that will likely prompt the eventual culmination of the current Russian offensive effort in the area at least until or unless the Russians reinforce their attacking elements.

Russian forces are likely attempting to create an operational maneuver force for the exploitation of recent Russian advances in the Avdiivka direction. Ukrainian military observer Kostyantyn Mashovets stated on February 27 that Russian forces have formally transferred responsibility for the Donetsk City-Avdiivka axis to the Russian Central Grouping of Forces and formally transferred the Central Grouping of Forces’ previous area of responsibility (AOR) in the Lyman direction to Russia’s Western Grouping of Forces. Russia’s Western Grouping of Forces (likely comprised almost entirely of elements of the Western Military District [WMD]) assumed responsibility for at least a portion of the Lyman direction in late fall and early winter 2023 after the Russian command transferred the bulk of the committed formations of the Central Grouping of Forces (primarily comprised of elements of the Central Military District [CMD]) to the offensive effort to seize Avdiivka in October 2023. Russian officials have recently praised the Central Grouping of Forces for the seizure of Avdiivka and have notably highlighted CMD Commander Colonel General Andrei Mordvichev and increasingly identified the Avdiivka direction as the AOR of the Central Grouping of Forces.[10] The Russian command may have decided to codify the de facto command structure that has existed in the Avdiivka area since late Fall 2023 to explicitly establish a maneuver force intended to exploit recent Russian advances in the area. The Avdiivka-Donetsk axis is a relatively narrower AOR compared to the AORs of other Russian force groupings in Ukraine, and this focused responsibility suggests that the Russian military command likely intends for CMD elements to continue offensive efforts in the Avdiivka area in the near and medium term.

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian forces are attempting to exploit tactical opportunities offered by the Russian seizure of Avdiivka and appear to be maintaining a relatively high tempo of offensive operations aimed at pushing as far as possible in the Avdiivka area before Ukrainian forces establish more cohesive and harder-to-penetrate defensive lines in the area.
  • Russian forces are likely attempting to create an operational maneuver force for the exploitation of recent Russian advances in the Avdiivka direction.
  • The Russian command likely hopes that the reorganization of command structures will establish more cohesive Russian grouping of forces throughout the theater in Ukraine.
  •  Recent developments in Transnistria, the pro-Russian breakaway region of Moldova, are unlikely to pose a military threat to Ukraine and will more likely impact Moldova’s European Union (EU) integration prospects. ISW is amending its warning forecast in light of continued Transnistrian officials’ statements that the upcoming Congress of Transnistrian Deputies will discuss Moldovan economic policies, likely related to changes to Moldova’s Customs Code that went into effect on January 1, 2024.
  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu continues to highlight recent Russian tactical successes in Ukraine as substantial battlefield victories for political purposes ahead of the upcoming Russian presidential election. Shoigu additionally highlighted Russia’s Central and Eastern Military Districts (CMD and EMD) to posture against supposed anti-Russian activity in Central Asia and the Indo-Pacific.
  • Ukrainian forces have reportedly shot down two Russian Su-34s on February 27, the tenth downed Russian military aircraft within roughly as many days.
  • Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) reported on February 27 that the ongoing Russian information campaign to demoralize Ukrainian society will intensify between March and May 2024.
  • Russia likely tested an element of its Sovereign Internet on February 27, likely in an effort to strengthen control over individual aspects of the Russian information space.
  • Russian forces advanced west of Avdiivka amid continued positional engagements across the theater.
  • A Ukrainian official warned that Russia seeks to ramp up force generation efforts in occupied Ukraine following the formal integration of occupied and claimed Ukrainian territories into the Russian Southern Military District (SMD).
  • Russian authorities are reportedly systematizing the adoption of deported Ukrainian children in Russia.

 For full report:  https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-february-27-2024 

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