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Russian troops to continue to advance to west of Avdiivka - ISW

Russian troops to continue to advance to west of Avdiivka - ISW Russians continue to advance west of recently captured Avdiivka (photo: Getty Images)

Russian forces are attempting to exploit tactical opportunities that have arisen after the capture of Avdiivka and are maintaining a relatively rapid pace of offensive operations before Ukrainian forces establish more cohesive and challenging defensive lines in the area, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

It is noted that Russian forces temporarily reduced the pace of their operations during the clearing of Avdiivka after its capture on February 17, but resumed relatively high rates of advance to the west and northwest of the city.

Dmytro Lykhoviy, a spokesperson for Ukraine's Tavria Group, stated on February 27 that Russian forces had recently increased the number of their assault groups in the Tavriya direction (from Avdiivka through the western part of the Zaporizhzhia region) from small groups consisting of platoons to companies.

"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," the ISW report said.

At the same time, Ukrainian military observers characterized the fortifications of the Defense Forces to the west of Avdiivka as disappointing and problematic. Russian military bloggers claimed that the Ukrainian Armed Forces were attempting to hold defensive positions directly to the west of the city and predicted that Ukrainian forces would concentrate on the defensive line further west, which defenders began building in November 2023.

It won't be an easy walk

ISW asserts that Russian forces are likely continuing their attempts to advance to deprive defenders of rest, which would allow Ukraine to create a more cohesive and formidable defensive line near the city.

"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," the report said.

The Institute does not rule out that in the coming weeks, Russian forces may capture settlements to the west and northwest of Avdiivka. At the same time, the terrain and water bodies to the west of the city, especially the water bodies between Berdychiv and Semenivka-Orlivka, are likely to slow down the relatively slow pace of Russian advancement in this 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," the ISW report said.

Operational maneuver group

ISW notes that the Russians are likely trying to create an operational maneuver group to utilize the tactical opportunities that arose after the capture of Avdiivka and are maintaining a relatively rapid pace of offensive operations before Ukrainian forces establish more cohesive and challenging-to-penetrate defensive lines in the area.

Ukrainian military observer Kostiantyn Mashovets noted that Russian forces have officially transferred responsibility for the Donetsk-Avdiivka axis to the Central grouping of Russian forces and officially transferred the previous zone of responsibility of the Central grouping on the Lyman direction to the Western grouping of Russian forces.

The report states that the Western grouping of Russian forces (likely almost entirely formed from elements of the Western Military District (WMD)) took responsibility for at least part of the Lyman direction at the end of autumn and the beginning of winter 2023. This occurred after the Russian command transferred the main part of the Central grouping of forces (mostly from elements of the Central Military District (CMD)) to offensive operations to capture 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," the ISW notes.

The report also mentions that the Russian command likely decided to de facto codify the command structure that has existed in the Avdiivka direction since the end of autumn 2023 to create maneuver forces intended for the use of recent Russian successes in this 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," the ISW report says.

Capture of Avdiivka and further Russian advances

On the night of February, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Oleksandr Syrskyi, announced the decision to withdraw Ukrainian troops from Avdiivka, which was under threat of encirclement by the enemy. The reason was the storming actions of significantly superior enemy forces in the dense urban area with active air support.

On February 26, the Defense Forces withdrew from the village of Lastochkyne, located 6 km from Avdiivka. The next day, the defenders withdrew from the villages of Sieverne and Stepove.

On the Avdiivka direction, the Ukrainian Armed Forces managed to stabilize the defense line in the areas of the settlements of Tonenke, Orlivka, and Berdychi.

For information on Russia's plans for the front in the spring and when Ukraine will be able to go on the counteroffensive, read the analytical article by RBC-Ukraine.