Russian Military Strives To Capitalize On Success In Avdiivka Campaign – Analysis

  1. Battlefield Assessment
    Following Russia’s hard-fought seizure of Avdiivka last week—the first Ukrainian city in months to fall into Russian hands—evidence suggests that the Kremlin has shifted its focus toward inflicting maximum pressure and expanding its gains in areas surrounding the captured metropolitan area.

According to open-source intelligence, Russian forces are mounting offensive efforts around Kharkiv and Luhansk. This is a troubling development, as the Ukrainian Armed Forces lack depth in their lines of defense, while Russian engineering units make it easier for their side to absorb offensive blows, as they did during Ukraine’s summer 2023 counteroffensive.

For several weeks, positional clashes in the east have concentrated around Bakhmut, Kupiansk, and Avdiivka, and in hotspots along the axis from Stepove to Sieverne, where Ukraine has mounted several counteroffensive efforts to repel the Russian combat formations’ assault.

In the south, positional fighting continued last week in the vicinity of Robotyne, resulting in marginal Russian advances. Russia’s buildup in the Orikhiv area, outnumbering its deployments in Donetsk, is alarming. Significant clashes also occurred in Kherson Oblast, particularly in Krynky near Ukraine’s bridgehead along the Dnipro River. While open-source monitoring could not confirm the report, official sources stated that Russian forces have withdrawn from the area following a recent tactical counteroffensive from Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Russia continued its aerial assaults this week, launching a mixed strike package featuring a combination of Russian missiles and Iranian drones. On February 23, Russia reportedly targeted multiple Ukrainian cities, including Odesa, Mykolaiv, Kharkiv, and Dnipro. Russia’s target sets in these attacks, which adhered to a familiar pattern, focused mainly on nonmilitary infrastructure and inflicted significant civilian casualties.

According to Ukrainian Air Force reports, Kyiv’s fighters shot down 23 of 31 Shahed baseline drones involved in the attacks, an interception rate of roughly 74 percent. Russia’s strike package also included S-300 missiles modified for land-attack roles, as well as Kh-31P and Kh-22 missiles allegedly launched from the Black Sea. While Ukrainian officials did not publicly disclose the number of projectiles that reached their targets, their announcements suggested that two of the latter systems lost their combat capability during flight.

In addition to its encouraging successes in asymmetric naval warfare in the Black Sea, Ukraine has also benefited from the sharp and steady performance of its air defense crews. In the 10 days prior to February 27, the Ukrainian Armed Forces downed 10 Russian flyers, including a Beriev intelligence aircraft. The loss of this strategic platform will no doubt sting in Moscow.

  1. Ukraine Continues Asymmetric Strikes
    Ukraine continued its opportunistic strikes on vulnerable Russian targets, illustrating a significant improvement in Kyiv’s intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) capabilities.

Russian military bloggers reported that on February 20, the Ukrainian Armed Forces conducted a HIMARS rocket strike on a training ground in Donetsk Oblast. The following day, Ukraine successfully hit a Russian military training facility in occupied Kherson Oblast. Recently released footage suggests that this strike may have killed around 60 servicemen from different Russian units, including the 328th Airborne Assault Regiment (VDV) and the 810th Naval Infantry Brigade, which reportedly had been tasked with conducting offensive combat operations in Krynky.

In other regions, Ukrainian forces successfully used drones to detect and strike Russian servicemen, causing heavy casualties. Reportedly, the Russian fighters targeted in these attacks had been gathered for briefings in broad daylight and in open space, leaving them extremely vulnerable to Ukrainian drone surveillance.

In addition to this low-hanging fruit, the Ukrainian Armed Forces also have eliminated several high-value Russian targets. On February 23, Ukraine claimed responsibility for downing a Russian A-50 Beriev airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft. According to Ukrainian Defense Intelligence, the incident took place near Krasnodar Krai over the Sea of Azov. Open-source evidence suggests that the attack may have been carried out by a MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile (SAM) battery, or perhaps by Ukraine’s Soviet-remnant S-200 very long-range and high-altitude legacy SAM system. While friendly fire cannot be ruled out, Ukrainian missiles have long targeted Russia’s A-50 Beriev fleet.

This is because the A-50 Beriev, a spy plane, plays a critical role in Russian intelligence capabilities and air warfare campaigns. Throughout the invasion, A-50s have assisted the Russian Air Force in detecting incoming Ukrainian missile attacks, and in directing signals from the front lines to Russian headquarters hundreds of miles away. A radar record released by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense suggests that Russia has been moving its Beriev aircraft closer to the front lines, within effective range of Ukrainian air defenses. According to newly released imagery, the A-50 intercepted last week had last been spotted orbiting between Rostov and Krasnodar seconds before it was shot down.

An A-50 Beriev reportedly costs $330 million. Given the aircraft’s prohibitive price tag, Russia allegedly possesses very few. Now it possesses one fewer.

  1. Iranian Ballistic Missiles Boost Russian Arsenals
    Last week, news outlets reported that Iran has provided Russia with a new military assistance package that includes hundreds of tactical ballistic missiles. These transfers could provide an additional boost to Russia’s ongoing missile warfare campaign, which continues to rain down terror onto Ukrainian population centers. Following North Korea’s lead, Iran has become the second nation to contribute ballistic missiles to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

These new munitions could increase the pressure on Ukraine’s air defense systems, leading to more frequent attacks that could inflict heavier damage on population centers and critical infrastructure. When used in large numbers and within mixed strike packages, Iran’s Fateh-110 derivative, solid-fueled ballistic missiles could prove extremely lethal.

  1. Ukraine Loses Its First Abrams Tank
    Last week, in combat west of Avdiivka, Ukraine lost its first Abrams main battle tank. The tank, attached to the 47th Mechanized Brigade, was reportedly eliminated by a Russian drone, illustrating the vulnerability of the platforms to top-attack assets.

While Ukraine still possesses 30 Abrams tanks, it would be ineffective to combat deploy such important offensive assets at a time when the Ukrainian military is conducting predominantly defensive combat operations. Tanks perform best in concentration and breakthrough operations that set them up to pour into an adversary’s rear area. Current battlefield geometry, with minefields, artillery, and drones employed in operational harmony, is not conducive to tank warfare.

The influx of first-person-view (FPV) drones also mitigates tanks’ effectiveness in Ukraine. The Abrams possesses a large, thin rooftop, which makes it vulnerable to drones carrying RPG tandem charges. No legacy main battle tank is designed to withstand top-attack asymmetric threats—indicating yet another way the conflict in Ukraine is reshaping the very nature of modern warfare.

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