In what is likely to be regarded as welcome news to the Ukrainian defenders in Avdiivka, the famous Ukrainian mud season (bezdorizhzhia) appears to have arrived in Eastern Ukraine.
Early November is a fairly typical starting date for the Ukrainian muddy season, and the next 4-5 weeks will likely be very difficult for vehicles in Northern or Eastern Ukraine to traverse off-road or unpaved areas. For reasons I laid out in detail here, Southern Ukraine (around Kherson or Tokmak) is unlikely to be much affected.
The Russian encirclement attempt at Avdiivka has seen only marginal progress the past month or so, since Russia began an intense bombardment campaign on October 6th, then began a full-scale assault on the 10th.
The plodding 2km advance north of Adviivka has been “won” by Russia hurling wave after wave of armored forces into Ukrainian kill zones.
As of the end of October, GeoConfirmed on the platform(formerly known as Twitter, has confirmed via satellite imagery 197 Russian vehicle losses around Avdiivka and another 13 possible losses since October 10. This vastly exceed the 88 confirmed vehicle losses during the Russian assault on Vuhledar in early 2023.
As Eastern Ukraine enters mud season, Russian armored assaults will necessarily be held back, or restricted to paved roads, greatly reducing the pace of attacks.
If the Battle of Bakhmut in November 2022 is any indication, Russian attacks are unlikely to cease entirely. Russia will likely continue sending waves of infantry preceded by artillery barrages to pressure Ukrainian defenses. However, if Russia advanced only 2 kilometers in a month, despite its heavy use of armored vehicles, infantry is unlikely to fare any better.
Let’s step back and take stock of Ukraine’s strategic situation. Areas where Ukraine has been pressing are marked in blue, Russian offensives in Red.
Russia’s assaults on Avdiivka are by far the largest-scale Russian effort to capture an area since Bakhmut from August 2022 — May 2023. Russia likely had two aims in launching this operation.
First, in likely wanted a battlefield victory before the arrival of the fall mud season. Shortly after the commencement of the large-scale assault on Avdiivka, Putin mentioned Avdiivka by name, which many analysts took to be a signal that Putin had ordered the capture of the city. Given its massive losses, Russia’s timeline for Avdiivka’s capture seems to have been pushed back to the end of 2023. The goal of the operation is predominantly political, as the city’s strategic value is minimal in the present context.
Second, Russia aimed to “fix” Ukrainian forces in the area. That is, they wanted to draw Ukrainian offensive power to this location to prevent them from conducting successful offensives elsewhere.
In this, Russia has had limited success. At least 2-3 battalions of Ukraine’s powerful 47th Brigade appear to have been pulled out of their rest to help support Ukraine’s 110th Brigade defending north of Avdiivka. The 47th Brigade is one of Ukraine’s finest Brigades and is the only one that fields two of its most powerful vehicles: Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Leopard 2A6 tanks. Both have been spotted around Avdiivka.
The 47th Brigade spearheaded Ukraine’s assault towards Tokmak for four months, thus it was likely getting much-needed recovery time. Being thrown right back into combat around Avdiivka is less than ideal. That being said, by all accounts Ukraine has not been forced to reach any deeper into its pool of reserves. The arrival of mud will likely give Ukraine further respite.
Likewise, Russian attacks around Kreminna and Kupiansk, as well as Ukrainian attacks at Bakhmut and Velyka Novosilka are likely to be significantly impacted by the mud as well.
There are, however, two areas where operations are unlikely to be much impacted by mud season: The Ukrainian attack towards Tokmak, and the attacks around Kherson. Southern Ukraine’s warmer climate, lower rainfall, and different soil composition make Southern Ukraine more akin to winter in Germany than the muddy morass that characterizes Russia and northern Ukraine.
Ukraine appears to have largely paused its efforts to push onto Tokmak. The 47th Brigade was arguably the unit to breach Russia’s defenses north of Robotyne. But as noted above, it’s now active around Avdiivka and otherwise appears to have been pulled entirely off the line north of Tokmak.
The other key spearhead unit in the Tokmak area, the 82nd Airborne Brigade, hasn’t lost a single of its Stryker IFVs or Challenger 2 tank since October 20th, more than 2 weeks ago. The loss before that dates back to early October.
FIRMS satellite data, tracking fires breaking out in Ukrainian and Russian territory, show that there have been virtually no fires on the front lines of the Ukrainian directions of attack towards Verbove or Novoprokopivka from Oct. 28th — Nov. 4th.
Similarly, there are reports that key Ukrainian units that led the attack south of Velyka Novosilka have also been quietly rotated out. The four marine brigades once spotted in that direction are now operating around Kherson and are involved in those river crossing operations. FIRMS data in this area also shows a fairly quiet front this past week.
Compare that level artillery activity to Krynky, near Kherson, south of the Dnipro river:
Krynky is a small village located along the Dnipro river east of Kherson, about 30km east of where the Antonivka Bridge had been.
Ukrainian forces established a foothold on the left (southern) bank of the Dnipro north of this small bridge on October 19th, when elements of the 38th Marines reportedly infiltrated the settlement.
Since that time, more Ukrainian marines from various brigades have been reportedly operating in the area, steadily expanding Ukraine’s foothold near the village.
The intensity of the fires taking place in this area on the FIRMS data above indicates that even if this area of the battlefield may involve relatively few soldiers, the artillery fires directed against both sides appear to be much more active than in the Tokmak or Velyka Novosilka directions.
So now what?
Ukraine appears to have rotated many of its elite units off the front lines at its two primary southern offensives towards Tokmak and south of Velyka Novosilka. Artillery has largely quieted on the front lines in those two regions, although longer-range fires further behind the lines appear to continue apace.
All evidence indicates that Ukraine is pausing both offensives.
Russia continues to sling troops at Avdiivka in particular, but it has made relatively little progress. The mud will likely further hamper Russian attempts on the Eastern Front to advance, although it will also make any Ukrainian offensive far more difficult as well. In addition to any troops Ukraine has rotated off the front lines, Ukraine has received considerable new equipment and is also forming new brigades.
Ukraine has received an unknown number of American M1150 Assault Breacher Vehicles. Ukraine’s possession of powerful engineering vehicles was first confirmed when they appeared in footage released by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense.
The M1150 ABV is a 72-ton heavily armored engineering vehicle built on the M1 Abrams tank chassis, sharing the powerful 1500hp engine and armor of the tank. But it replaces the tank’s main gun and armament with two MCLC line charge mine removal systems, a mine-clearing bulldozer blade, and other engineering equipment.
The vehicle is currently in use with the US Army, but the US Marine Corps recently decided to rid itself of all logistically demanding heavy vehicles, including the M1150 ABV. The Marine Corps had as many as around 50 of these vehicles, and at least some of these vehicles appear to have ended up in Ukraine unannounced.
Ukraine received Leopard 1A5 tanks in September and is receiving 25 more this week, bringing the total delivered to 35 from Germany and eight from Denmark for a total of 43 operational Leopard 1A5s received.
To this, Denmark added 15, or as many as 30 T-72 EA tanks that were delivered in October. T-72 EAs are Czech modernized T-72s with improved night visibility equipment, Explosive Reactive Armor blocks to improve survivability and communications equipment. These new tanks were delivered along with dozens of BMP2 armored personnel carriers.
Add in the 31 Abrams tanks the United States sent that have yet to see any action, and Ukraine has added at least 89 tanks to its forces in the past 5-6 weeks. Possibly over 100 tanks.
Not only can these tanks be used to make good on Ukrainian losses, but Ukraine is also forming new regular army units.
The Ministry of Defense activated the newly formed 151st Mechanized Brigade on October 17th, and the 150th, 152nd, 153rd, and 154th Mechanized Brigades are reportedly nearly trained and equipped as well.
Ukraine appears to be idling a substantial amount of reserve forces. Up to five new mechanized brigades, and at least elements of the 47th Brigade, the 1st Tank Brigade, the 82nd Airborne Brigade, and four Marine Brigades all appear to be resting or about to become available.
The question would be, what does Ukraine plan to do with these forces in November? Given the arrival of mud season in Northern/Eastern Ukraine
Ukraine has several rational options:
- Continue to rest the spearhead units while training and incorporating new recruits/replacements. Possibly use these forces in the North or the East when the ground dries.
- Launch a serious offensive across the Dnipro, expanding the bridgehead from Krinky and south of Kherson.
- Renew the offensive towards Tokmak.
- Renew the offensive towards Staromaiorske south of Velyka Novosilka.
Ukraine is holding its cards tight to its vest, and it isn’t at all clear what it has planned for the coming weeks and months. A very quiet November while it rests and reconstitutes its units is certainly a possibility, but Ukraine appears to have enough reserve forces to make some noise soon if that turns out to be its intention.
Update: Ukraine destroys Russian Guided Missile Corvette Askold
Footage has emerged of a successful strike by the Ukrainian Air Force on the Russian Guided Missile Corvette Askold.
The Russian Black Sea Fleet’s primary surface strength is currently built around five guided missile frigates and seven guided missile corvettes. These premier surface combat ships have anti-aircraft systems, radar, and are capable of deploying long range cruise missiles like the supersonic Kalibr missile, and have been central to Russia’s terror campaign of civilian infrastructure strikes.
The Askold is the newest and most modern of Russia’s Project 22800 Karakurt-class corvettes. The Askold just entered service in mid-2021 with an estimated cost of $34M. It can fire a barrage of eight Kalibr cruise missiles in a single fire mission and sports a Pantsir-M air defense system.
The Askold was reportedly docked in Kerch port in southeastern Crimea when it was struck by three SCALP cruise missiles fired from Ukrainian fighter-bombers. The attack has been confirmed by Myokola Oleschuk, commander of the Ukrainian Air Force.
Part of what makes this attack incredibly impressive is the location of the strike.
Previous strikes on key Russian naval targets took place around Sevastopol, on the southwestern coast of Crimea. These strikes were highly impressive, since they required Ukraine to effectively clear Russian naval and radar presence from northwestern Crimea and the western Black Sea, opening up Sevastopol to cruise missile strikes.
As cruise missile strikes rely on stealth to sneak up on their targets, numerous air defense and radar installations en route to their intended target would make a strike nearly impossible—it’s necessary to clear out enemy air defense on the way to the target.
In recent weeks, Ukraine has utilized ATACMS missions to strike S-300 and S-400 defense systems in Crimea and elsewhere.
This strike on Kerch is the clearest sign of severely degraded Russian defenses over Crimea. Given range limitations of Ukrainian aircraft, a SCALP missile strike on Kerch almost certainly required flying a missile that passed over much of southern or western Crimea. Air defenses in those areas must have been near non-existent for the cruise missile to pass unharmed to strike a target in Kerch Port.
It is clear that ATACMS has begun opening opportunities for long range strikes far deeper behind Russian lines than has yet been attempted.