Over the weekend, a major winter storm spread across Ukraine. Bad weather affected all regions of the country, destroying Russian defenses in occupied Crimea and causing 10 reported deaths in the Odesa area. The storm wasn’t quite as bad along the Zaporizhzhia front as it was further to the west, but all regions of Ukraine appear to have been affected, largely putting a stop to major military operations while both sides hunkered down against wind, snow, and plunging temperatures.
However, not every operation went on hold. At this point in the invasion, Russia continues to rely heavily on the use of artillery. Even the older-generation tanks it brings to the front lines are often relegated to hanging back and acting as additional, less-effective guns. Unlike some of the systems available to Ukraine, almost all the Russian artillery is traditional “non-precision” weaponry. It has a variety of older guided shells that can be delivered to a target with the help of a laser spot, and it has the KAB-500S-E glide bombs based on GLONASS (Russia’s version of GPS). Identifying targets for those shells (and for the thousands of “dumb” shells Russia throws every day) is now largely the job of surveillance drones.
Thanks to the storm, those surveillance drones were grounded. And Ukraine took that opportunity to claw back some ground.
Weather reports along the southern front near Robotyne suggest that this could be the area where the storm had the least impact. Unsurprisingly, it’s also the area where the fighting remained most intense over the past two days as Ukraine pushed south toward Novoprokopivka.
As usual, open source intelligence group Deep State is conservative in its map presentation. In addition to the areas recently secured on the east and west side of the Robotyne area, indications on Tuesday are that Ukraine has advanced into that angular area just above Novoprokopivka, in spite of heavy artillery use by Russia.
Late in the day, Russia reportedly tried to press Ukraine back, but Ukraine appears to have held its gains. The General Staff reports just two failed attacks in the area by Russia, showing how much Ukraine is currently on the offensive in this region. Ukraine also made additional gains in the northeast part of this area in the direction of Novopokrovka (as opposed to Novoprokopivka … hey, I don’t name them). That is at the top-right corner of the map above. There are also reports that Ukraine picked up a small area along the right side of this map, about halfway between Novopokrovka and Verbove.
For the moment, there are no additional reports of activity near Verbove, even though Ukraine has occupied defensive trenches just west of the town for weeks.
The weather was actually worse at Avdiivka, where Russia has been attempting to cut off Ukrainian sources near the 2014 defensive lines for over two months. Those two months have seen Russia blow through an incredibly high number of troops, tanks, and armor in an effort to close a gap only 5 kilometers across.
On Tuesday, Russia continued its push from the southeast. Having broken through Ukrainian defensive lines last week, Russia has been moving gradually through an industrial area on the edge of the city. Ukrainian forces have reportedly left this area, moving back into streets of homes and small businesses beyond a small wooded area. It’s likely Russia will occupy that whole industrial area by the end of the week.
On Monday, Russian sources claimed that Russia had entered the industrial area on the north side of the city near the infamous Terrikon mountain of coal-mining waste. That does not seem to be the case.
Instead, as Russia was claiming to have made advances in this area, it was Ukraine that was actually on the counterattack. Having previously pushed Russia back from Stepove on the north, Ukraine moved into the area near the rail lines on Monday and Tuesday, forcing Russia to retreat to the other side. This puts the number of Russian forces in this area back to where they were around Nov. 9.
Reports last week showed Russia sending even more troops to the Avdiivka area. Deep State shows one Russian brigade camped out at the Terrikon, but the actual area in which they seem to be massing is a little to the north, around the area of that red circle on the map. There is cover in this area, both from old mine pits and from defensive trenches dug by Russia or Ukraine. Russia has even reportedly “tunneled” in this area, but there were similar claims about Russia tunneling into the waste of Terrikon, and that’s nonsense. This material is in no sense sound enough to maintain a tunnel.
Russia may try to execute its next long-expected “big push” on both sides of the Terrikon in the next few days, weather permitting.
None of the changes at the front lines during the storm period appear to have been very large, but pushing Russian forces back north of Avdiivka and costing them weeks of progress won through sacrificing thousands is certainly significant.
It’s also interesting that, even though both sides are heavily dependent on drones, Ukraine was apparently better able to operate in the snow and cold than Russia. That factor could easily come into play again over the winter.
Clearly, this one came before the snow. Russia might be glad for the snow in Avdiivka, just so it will cover all the machines—and men—they’ve left on the field.
Does anybody need a bike? Russia has apparently been delivering about 900 refugees a month from countries such as Morocco, Pakistan, and Syria to the Finnish border, but over the last week, Finland has been closing the gates.
Finland is reportedly concerned that Russia is using legitimate migrants to disguise agents and influencers being moved across the border. Russia has also been reportedly bringing people to the border and forcing them across by closing the Russian border crossing behind them. Of course, real migrants are caught in the crossfire of this policy war, as are Russians trying to escape before the next round of conscription.
Foreign Policy is suggesting that the West move toward a “containment strategy” to help Ukraine survive what could be years of warfare.
The war is not lost for Ukraine. Far from it. Enamored of Kyiv’s early successes and high morale, Ukraine’s supporters became accustomed to stunning Ukrainian triumphs. Yet this David-versus-Goliath framing of the war now generates too much pessimism when Ukrainian forces struggle or come to a deadlock with Russian troops. Even a stalemate, as frustrating as it seems, represents a huge accomplishment
The goals of this plan are to secure everything Ukraine has gained, keep Russia off balance, and keep continuous pressure on Russian positions seeking weak points. Which, honestly, doesn’t seem like much of a change from what’s happening now.
Built Ukraine Tough:
Editor’s note: In an earlier version of this article, the number of refugees reaching the border of Finland from Russia was incorrectly stated as 900 per day rather than 900 per month. This has been corrected.