Russian military breakthrough at Avdeevka forces Ukrainian retreat

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky delivers his speech at the Munich Security Conference on February 17, 2024. Photo: Schwartz, AFP

Ukrainian forces fled from the eastern city of Avdeevka on Friday. The city had been subjected to a prolonged military siege and numerous attacks from Russian forces prior to its capture, which is already being described as a “significant symbolic victory.”

Context: According to Russian media, the frontline city has been used as a key artillery position since at least 2014, offering the AFU a position target residential districts in Donetsk, just 20km away.

The Battle: The city of Avdeevka was subjected to numerous attacks by Russian forces before its fall this week, which included pincer attacks and covert infiltration attempts via subterranean sewer lines.

  • Meanwhile, the Russians have tried infiltrating the city from the south in order to slip paste, and cut off, a key Ukrainian strongpoint—a Cold War air-defense bunker that the Ukrainians have turned into a veritable fortress.
  • There was a brief panic among some Ukrainian observers last week as Russian troops fought their way past Zenit toward and threatened to cut off the road connecting the fortress to Avdeevka proper, but the sense of alarm faded as the Russian incursion faded
  • Less than 24 hours after the head of Ukrainian forces in the southern part of Russia’s Donetsk and Zaporozhye Regions, Aleksandr Tarnavsky, stated that the situation in Avdeevka was “difficult but under control,” the decision to evacuate the city was finally made.
  • Tarnavsky confirmed the withdrawal on Saturday morning, calling it “the only correct solution” while claiming that all troops had pulled back to “pre-prepared positions,” where they would dig in for defensive operations.
Smoke rises from the Avdiivka Coke and Chemical Plant in Avdeevka. Reports indicate the city had sustained numerous attacks by guided aerial bombs. Photo: Libkos, Getty Images

In a statement following the AFU’s retreat from the city, President Zelensky called the decision to pull out “absolutely logical,” and was necessary to avoid “heavy casualties.”

  • “in order to avoid encirclement, it was decided to withdraw to other positions.” This was done to “keep the maximum number of Ukrainians safe,” the president said, insisting that it was the right call.
  • “It depends not only on us. And the situation in Avdeevka confirms this. Unfortunately, keeping Ukraine in an artificial shortage of weapons… allows [Russian President Vladimir] Putin to adapt to the intensity of hostilities,” he complained.

In the West: Critics of Moscow in the West have blamed the Ukrainian defeat on a lack of commitment by European and North American governments in delivering ammunition and other forms of aid. In Washington DC, additional funding for Ukraine has been held up in Congress, in a move led by Republicans.

  • Ukraine is focusing on regrouping their remaining troops, replenishing supplies and arranging units in new strategic positions, according to Commander of the Tavria direction Gen. Oleksandr Tarnavskyi.
  • Meanwhile, a U.S. official briefed last week said that Ukraine may face “catastrophic” shortages of ammunition by March if Congress doesn’t authorize more aid to the embattled country.