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Déjà vu in the east: Could Avdiivka become new Bakhmut and potential stalemate in the south

Déjà vu in the east: Could Avdiivka become new Bakhmut and potential stalemate in the south Ukrainian forces are holding back Russian advance on multiple fronts (Photo: Getty Images)

Russian forces have intensified their efforts to capture Avdiivka and regain lost positions in the east but without significant success. What is the situation in Bakhmut, the potential stalemate in the south, and whether the local advancements of the Russian Federation indicate a swift conclusion to the Ukrainian counteroffensive operation, see the overview by RBC-Ukraine.

During the preparation of this material, analytical data from the American Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and the Ukrainian DeepState project, information from the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, statements from official spokespersons, and exclusive comments from military experts Vladyslav Seleznov and Oleksandr Musiienko were used.

Avdiivka - the main battle of fall 2023

For two weeks now, the Russian army has been advancing with considerable force in the area of Avdiivka, which is the northwestern suburb of the occupied Donetsk. The occupiers are attempting to advance from both the south and north. Their goal is to cut off the logistics of the Ukrainian Defense Forces, encircle, and capture Avdiivka.

Despite the claims of Russian propaganda about a breakthrough, there hasn't been any significant breakthrough, although they have achieved partial success. In the northern flank, the Russians are advancing west of Krasnohorivka, reaching the railway and attempting to establish themselves on the western side.

Fierce battles are also taking place around the slagheap near the Avdiivka Coke and Chemical Plant. Recently, photos with the Russian tricolor flag were posted on Telegram channels, indicating that the hill might be under the occupiers' control. However, it's more likely that this area remains a gray zone since a Ukrainian drone later destroyed the flag. The Russian forces are achieving partial success on the southern flank near Vodiane.

However, the enemy's achievements are quite modest, and their losses are significant. Initially, the occupiers tried to move in columns of armored vehicles but were defeated. Later, probably recalling the Bakhmut experience, they started using sheer manpower to overrun Ukrainian positions. According to British intelligence, the assault on Avdiivka increased Russian casualties by 90%. According to the Ukrainian General Staff, approximately a thousand occupiers were killed daily last week, and on October 19, they recorded a record 1,380 Russian deaths in a single day.

Déjà vu in the east: Could Avdiivka become new Bakhmut and potential stalemate in the south

The Russians are advancing on Avdiivka from multiple directions (Photo:

According to the spokesperson of the Defense Forces of the Tavria direction, Oleksandr Shtupun, these numbers forced them to change tactics again, cutting the number of assaults in half and resorting to bombing the city. The attacks continue relentlessly, with Russian forces employing various types of weapons, from small arms to rockets. Moreover, the enemy maintains control over the only road to Avdiivka. Given the scale of the combat operations, the battle for the city can be considered the largest of the fall in 2023.

Avdiivka is currently in the spotlight of the media and military experts. Its significance cannot be overstated. For the Ukrainian side, it is a foothold for liberating the territories of the Donetsk region that have been occupied since 2014. Losing it would push the front line 15 kilometers away from the northern outskirts of Donetsk.

"Avdiivka is essentially the gateway to Donetsk, the gateway to liberating the Ukrainian Donetsk region," said Andrii Yusov, a representative of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense.

Military expert and former spokesperson of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Vladyslav Seleznov, cites three reasons why the Russians are now focusing on the fortified area. First, about a month ago, Ukrainian forces took control of part of the village of Opytne, after which the Spartak neighborhood and Donetsk Airport area came under their control. Powerful artillery fire forced them to withdraw, but the enemy recognized the real threat and is now trying to push the Defense Forces as far back as possible.

The second reason is a political task from Vladimir Putin, who spoke of the complete occupation of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions as one of the goals of the war against Ukraine. Consequently, without capturing Avdiivka, it is impossible to advance further to the administrative border and take control of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk. The deadline could be March 2024 when presidential elections are scheduled in Russia. However, during the course of full-scale warfare, various deadlines for capturing certain Ukrainian territories were repeatedly postponed.

The third reason is pragmatic. The occupiers pressed on the Krasnohorivka, Vodiane, and Opytne areas, achieved some success, and continued to develop it to encircle Ukrainian forces in Avdiivka.

"Obviously, our front line has been somewhat pierced. Moreover, they act according to the same patterns as in the Bakhmut situation, when, for a long time during 'meat grinders,' they eventually managed to take control of the fortress city. Currently, the disposition of forces and means somewhat resembles the Bakhmut scenario," Seleznov told RBC-Ukraine.

However, in his opinion, losing Avdiivka will not lead to a strategic defeat since there is the fortified city of Kurakhove further to the west, a network of lakes, other defensive lines, and positions where the Ukrainian Armed Forces can effectively fight. There is no talk of the front collapsing or the occupiers advancing toward the Dnipro River.

"One can say that the situation is threatening with a tendency to become critical. The key logistic route is under enemy fire control. At the slagheap near Avdiivka Coke and Chemical Plant, they still cannot deploy artillery systems to shell the city center, but the enemy is creating many problems for us. What happens next depends on our resources. If they are not sufficient, the army may withdraw to the west. We will only know the answer to this question after the fact," the expert added.

The Head of the Сenter of Military Law Researches, Oleksandr Musiienko, hopes that the Bakhmut scenario will not be repeated in Avdiivka. First, back then, the role was played by 50,000 Wagnerites, and it's unclear if the Storm-Z assault units are capable of that. Second, he believes they won't allow the situation to turn into a second Bahmut. There are certain plans to resolve it, such as pulling enemy forces back to critical directions for us. Perhaps, this will be the left bank of the Kherson region. In other words, they will try to flank the attacks of the Russians in the Avdiivka area. There may be other plans as well, he added in an interview.

Situation near Bakhmut and threat to Kupiansk

The offensive operation near Bakhmut continues. According to the head of the press service of the Eastern Group of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Illya Yevlash, on the southern flank, our army is making slow but steady progress, advancing tens of meters. The enemy remains in a stubborn defense and is preparing to withdraw to the Bahmut-Horlivka road. The General Staff specifies that this pertains to the advance to the east of the villages of Klishchiivka and Andriivka, and the enemy is suffering significant losses and is forced to deploy new units here.

There is less optimism on another front. As noted by DeepState, while the Ukrainian Defense Forces' brigades are gaining ground step by step on the southern flank, the Russians have increased pressure on the northern flank and have advanced in the forest belt northeast of Khromove. They have also achieved partial success in the direction of the T-0504 road, launching an attack from Bakhmut toward the village of Ivanivske. If this pressure continues, it will pose significant problems for our offensive.

Déjà vu in the east: Could Avdiivka become new Bakhmut and potential stalemate in the southThe enemy can pose significant problems on the northern flank of Bakhmut (Photo:

According to Oleksandr Musiienko, it's premature to say that the Russians have seized the initiative under Bakhmut.

"This was noticeable earlier; the enemy never stopped trying to launch an offensive on the northern flank. But in general, this does not mean that the initiative has shifted to the Russian forces. We must understand that currently in the east, Russia has become active in various areas to divert our forces from the south and shift them to a defensive posture. It will do so wherever it has positions and prerequisites," the expert asserts.

Vladyslav Seleznov emphasizes that the situation near Bakhmut is quite dynamic.

"In some areas, we have an advantage, while in others, the enemy has the initiative. But right now, claiming that all is lost and the situation is critical, it probably has no relation to this front section," he adds.

At the same time, the Russians are pressing on many sections of the Lyman-Kupiansk axis: from the direction of Orlianka near Kupiansk (Kharkiv region), in the area of Raihorodka and Makiivka in the Luhansk region, and to the south of Dibrova (toward Siveresk in the Donetsk region) in an attempt to secure new positions and in the Serebrianske forest.

This week, the commander of the Ground Forces of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, issued orders to strengthen maneuverable defense. However, this does not mean that our forces will be exclusively in a defensive posture; attempts to improve positions and push back the Russians will continue whenever possible. According to the commander of the reconnaissance unit of the Ground Forces, Denys Yaroslavskyi, the goal of the Russian assaults was to capture the strategically important settlement of Kupiansk-Vuzlovyi with a major railway hub and to encircle the city of Kupiansk, though it's a challenging task, given its location on both banks of the Oskil River.

Déjà vu in the east: Could Avdiivka become new Bakhmut and potential stalemate in the southThrough offensive actions on various sections, the occupiers are seeking weak points in the Ukrainian defense (Photo:

Clearly, the enemy is looking for weak points in the Ukrainian defense.

"The battles in the Serebrianske forest and Synkivka (near Kupiansk) are not coincidental. They need to gain control of the territory of the Kharkiv region along the left bank of the Oskil River. After all, the so-called 'Novorossiya project' envisions the capture of seven regions, including the Kharkiv region," emphasized Seleznov in his comment to RBC-Ukraine.

The pessimistic scenario, due to a lack of resources, involves maneuverable defense with a retreat to the right bank of the Oskol River. This would mean giving up the foothold for an advance into the Luhansk region and losing the eastern part of Kupiansk.

"But again, this is only a supposition. We don't know the situation regarding resources, and it's not advisable to believe that all is lost," the expert added.

The Ukrainian forces are holding back the Russian advance on multiple fronts (photo GettyImages).

Stalemate at Robotyne and the open secret near Oleshky

The front line in the south has seen little change over the past few weeks. It appears that the Ukrainian Armed Forces have launched an offensive in the Robotyne salient. This is especially notable in the face of increasing Russian counterattacks, particularly in the Robotyne area and around Novoprokopivka. Ukrainian forces recently repelled a large-scale attack there but lost a Leopard tank.

DeepState analysts, referring to the 46th Separate Air Assault Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, suggest that there won't be a decisive military or morale breakthrough here, and only fresh reserves, which are stretched thin due to the situation along the entire front, can help. They note a stalemate on the Zaporizhzhia front.

Déjà vu in the east: Could Avdiivka become new Bakhmut and potential stalemate in the south

It seems that the Ukrainian offensive has stalled at the Robotyne salient (Photo:

On the other hand, expert Oleksandr Musiienko believes that Ukrainian offensive actions in this sector of the front are not yet completed, and the competition for initiative between the parties continues.

"Russia found a solution – to intensify military operations in the east to slow down our progress in the south. If they manage to force us to shift forces from Melitopol and other directions, it would be a partial success for the enemy. However, it's too early to conclude the 2023 offensive campaign in the south. Although we shouldn't expect any significant breakthroughs either," he explained.

Last week, the Ukrainian Armed Forces likely initiated a new operation on the occupied left bank of the Kherson region. Analysts from the American Institute for the Study of War suggest that Ukrainian forces supposedly crossed the Dnipro River, captured the settlement of Poyma, and engaged in battles on the outskirts of the village of Pishchanivka to the northeast of Oleshky.

According to their data, the fighting continues, especially in the village of Krynka, about 20 km to the east of the landing site. It is anticipated that establishing a stable foothold will bring Oleshky closer to liberation. The Ukrainian side has not officially confirmed this. According to Natalia Humeniuk, the head of the Press Center of the Southern Defense Forces, combat operations are being conducted through various means, but information will only be disclosed once results are achieved. She added that premature statements harm Ukrainian troops.

Despite the official stance of spokespersons, the fact that the Defense Forces are actively operating on the left bank of the Kherson region around the Antonivskyi Bridge is an open secret, emphasizes Vladyslav Seleznov.

"Furthermore, the Ukrainian army holds the territory up to the Verkhnya Konka River near the railway bridge. The enemy cannot do anything against this foothold, and it is expanding," the expert explained.

Déjà vu in the east: Could Avdiivka become new Bakhmut and potential stalemate in the southUkrainian forces may be expanding their foothold on the left bank of the Kherson region (Photo:

In his opinion, this foothold is unlikely to be a precursor to establishing a pontoon bridge and transferring a large number of personnel, armored vehicles, artillery, and ammunition.

"Perhaps it's not the right time to talk about that. The width of the Dnipro River is about a thousand meters, and there are difficulties in establishing a bridge of such scale. Besides, it needs to be protected from enemy artillery and aviation. So, I believe the work of our marines is more likely aimed at diverting Russian forces from other sectors of the front," he emphasized.


In the Russia-Ukraine war, the focus has shifted from the south to the east. The adversary is currently attempting offensives on multiple fronts, which raises concerns that the initiative will be in the hands of the Russians in the current fall-winter campaign, and this may occur simultaneously in several areas. It's worth noting that last year's campaign ended with the capture of Soledar and Bakhmut.

So, it might seem that the Ukrainian campaign, which started in the summer, is coming to or has come to an end. However, Oleksandr Musiienko has a different opinion.

"I think it is inappropriate to speak about the end of the counteroffensive until the situation on the left bank of the Kherson region is clarified, and our forces cease to breach Russian defense lines on the Melitopol direction," he believes.

One of the scenarios is that during the winter, the actions of the Ukrainian Defense Forces will shift toward a defensive stance. If there is no unexpected breakthrough in the south at some point, our campaign will consist of active defense and strikes on the enemy's rear facilities related to the activities of small groups, the expert summed up.

This situation could continue until the end of winter. However, it's unlikely that due to weather conditions, the Russians will be able to carry out something on a larger scale. Then, in the spring, a completely different stage of the war may begin.