On Oct. 11, Russia began an offensive around the city of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine. The idea was to cut off this suburb of Donetsk, score the first real advance for Russia in months, isolate Ukrainian forces in the area, and give Vladimir Putin something to brag about at a time when world attention was focused on events in Israel and Palestine.
Here’s kos talking about that attack on Oct. 13, RO37 on Oct. 14, kos again on Oct. 15, me on Oct. 16, and kos once more on Oct. 18. That Russia’s first major offensive action since well before Ukraine began its own counteroffensive in the early summer would get attention isn’t unusual, but the thing about Avdiivka is that it started as a fiasco for Russian forces, grew into a disaster, blossomed into a full on catastrophe, and just … kept right on growing.
Because as of Oct. 20, Russia is still at it. They’re not only continuing to lose at Avdiivka; they’re also setting new records for how badly they are losing. From a Ukrainian perspective, it’s worth celebrating, but it’s also worth asking: Just what the hell is Russia doing?
Here’s the language Ukraine’s General Staff used in describing the situation at Avdiivka in their end of the day analysis on Friday.
Avdiivka axis: the enemy conducted unsuccessful assault operations with air support in the vicinities of Avdiivka, Novokalynove, Stepove, Pervomais’ke (Donetsk oblast). The Ukrainian defense forces repelled around 20x enemy attacks in that area
That doesn’t sound too unusual. In fact, there are other locations, such as the Kupyansk area, that also recorded 20 attempted Russian advances. Another 10 occurred south of Bakhmut, 15 at Marinka, and smaller numbers across the map. Reading the text, the report doesn’t look all that different than any other day.
However, this does:
That’s 120 Russian armored vehicles reportedly put out of action in a single day. Russian sources are reporting that more equipment has already been lost at Avdiivka than in the months of fighting around Robotyne. How much equipment might that be?
Since Russia launched the attack at Avdiivka, it has lost:
428 armored vehicles.
That’s 10 days. Not all of those losses have been at Avdiivka, but the great majority certainly have been. These aren’t anywhere close to the levels of Russia’s worst losses in World War II, but in terms of losses over time, this is a disaster in any war. Those losses are made only more staggering by the fact that Russia is still at it.
As always, expect these estimates to be higher than real world losses. The same vehicle can be reported multiple times. Damaged vehicles may be reported as destroyed. Some losses may be purely imaginary. However, there’s no clear reason to think these numbers are more exaggerated than those on other days.
They’re not attacking in large numbers supported by helicopter air support—a system which gave them momentary success on the first day. They’re not attacking in the kind of small, squad-level probing attacks that have been typical for most actions over the past year. Instead, Russian commanders seem to be grouping their forces into nice, bite-sized pieces. Then they’re driving them out into the middle of a field littered with the flaming remains of earlier losses, to be smashed by Ukrainian drones and artillery.
Maybe it’s not madness. But it sure looks like madness.
If Russian commanders were trying to demolish their own army, it’s hard to think how they could do it more efficiently.
On the other hand, this does seem to represent a kind of impressive, if horrifying, discipline. Maybe Russia really does have a faction of troops set aside to force their fellow soldiers to advance or be shot. If not … how in the hell are they getting people to keep doing this?
Someone back in Russia is probably going to write a poem about the guys trying to make this advance at Avdiivka. But if that poem doesn’t end with them frogmarching their commanders forward as part of a general surrender, it’s going to be one very sad poem.
A travel advisory. This time it doesn’t seem to be a Russian commercial airliner, but an Il-76 military transport plane that crashed near the Gissar Air Base in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Russia appears to have lost at least eight transport or fighter jets outside of Ukraine this week.
Speaking of downed aircraft, here’s more information on that strike at Berdyansk, which kos covered in one of the rare posts from the past week that wasn’t focused on Avdiivka.
Initial reports were that Russia had lost nine helicopters. However, that number has continued to climb, with current estimates at an amazing 21 helicopters destroyed by what was reportedly the first use of ATACMS in Ukraine. If this is accurate, expect it to impact Russian air support along the southern front.
As a single-day aviation loss, it’s hard to think of anything this large since the loss of the last carrier in World War II.