Ukraine Situation Report: Renewed Large-Scale Assault On Avdiivka

Multiple accounts indicate that the Russian military has launched a major new offensive directed against the town of Avdiivka in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. The Ukrainian Armed Forces has reported that there were 610 incidents of artillery shelling near the town over the past 24 hours.

“The enemy launched yesterday massive assault actions with the support of armored vehicles in Avdiivka and Mariinka directions,” a spokesperson for the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Oleksandr Stupun, told Ukrainian TV.

“The fierce battles continue. Our fighters are firmly holding on defenses,” Stupun added.

Located northwest of the Russian-occupied city of Donetsk, Avdiivka has long been identified as a key Ukrainian strongpoint and Moscow has put considerable effort into its capture.

A renewed effort to take Avdiivka was launched more than two months ago. Since then, Russian forces have made slow progress in their attempt to surround the town, but they have endured huge attrition of men and materiel in the process.

According to the U.K. Ministry of Defense, the most intense frontline fighting over the last week has been concentrated on Avdiivka. In its latest intelligence update, the U.K. Ministry of Defense said:

“As reflected in official Ukrainian public-release data, on some days approaching 40 percent of all combat engagements have likely taken place in this small sector. The Russian offensives have continued to be characterized by largely dismounted infantry assaults, often by Storm-Z penal units.”

“Ukrainian units have likely conducted successful local counterattacks, denying Russian forces full control of the village of Stepove. It is here that Russia is attempting one part of a pincer movement to envelop Avdiivka and its heavily defended industrial zone.”

Before we head into the latest from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.

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Aside from Avdiivka, there are signs that Moscow has the village of Synkivka in its sights, with reports from Ukrainian military officials that Russian Armed Forces assault companies here are being tasked with the capture of this objective ahead of a likely attempt to blockade the city of Kupiansk in the Kharkiv region.

In the wake of the unsurprising announcement that Vladimir Putin will again run for Russian presidential office in March 2024, the Kremlin says it will also hold those elections in the four annexed regions of Ukraine: Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson.

President Putin announced the annexation of these regions in September 2022, although Russia doesn’t fully control all of the territories in question. The regions had previously held sham referendums leading to the appearance of overwhelming approval to join Russia.

Plans for presidential elections next year in the four annexed regions were announced by Russia’s central election commission, according to a report from the Interfax news agency.

Vladimir Putin made an unexpected visit to the Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk today, to oversee the commissioning of the new nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) Emperor Alexander III and the Yasen class nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) Krasnoyarsk. Putin was at the shipyard in the northwestern Archangelsk region for the raising of the Russian Navy’s flag on what is the service’s seventh Borei class SSBN and its fourth Yasen class SSN. Another three Borei class and five Yasen class boats are currently under construction.

Resistance among certain U.S. Republican lawmakers to providing Ukraine with further assistance for its war with Russia has taken another turn. Senator J. D. Vance of Ohio said yesterday that Ukraine might only be able to end the Russian invasion if it cedes territory to Moscow.

“What’s in America’s best interest is to accept Ukraine is going to have to cede some territory to the Russians and we need to bring this war to a close,” Vance said on CNN’s State of the Union.

“The idea that Ukraine was going to throw Russia back to the 1991 border was preposterous — nobody actually believed it.”

The development once again illustrates the stubborn resistance among a bloc of Republican lawmakers to extend support for Ukraine. It’s a marked turnaround compared to the situation immediately after Moscow launched its full-scale invasion when support for Ukraine seemed almost guaranteed.

Ukraine’s former president Leonid Kuchma has warned that the United States “will lose face before the entire world” if it drops its support for Kyiv.

However, the position of Vance and others in the GOP does seem to have a broad base of support among U.S. voters. According to a report from the Financial Times:

“The latest FT-Michigan Ross poll found that 48 percent believed the U.S. was spending ‘too much’ in military and financial aid to bolster Kyiv’s war effort against Russia, compared with 27 percent who said Washington was spending the ‘right amount’ and 11 percent who said the U.S. was not spending enough.”

“Opposition was particularly pronounced among Republicans, with 65 percent saying the U.S. was spending too much in Ukraine, compared with roughly half — 52 percent — of independents and just a third — 32 percent — of Democrats.”

Taken together, it’s clear that it won’t be easy for President Joe Biden to convince Congress into approving the $111-billion security spending package that he’s proposed. As well as around $60 billion earmarked for Kyiv, the package also includes funding for Israel and Taiwan.

All these developments come immediately ahead of a visit to Washington by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is heading there today to find a solution to the stalled aid package. Zelensky’s office said that he will talk with President Biden during “a series of meetings and discussions.” Zelensky has also been invited to address U.S. senators tomorrow in the Capitol.

Outside of the United States, there are also signs of growing resistance to the continued large-scale flow of air to Ukraine.

In particular, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has previously objected to support for Ukraine as well as touting his ties with Moscow.

Ahead of a meeting of the 27 European Union leaders on Thursday, Orban is now threatening to block billions in aid and delay E.U. membership talks for Kyiv.

Josep Borrell, the E.U.’s foreign policy chief, has called for unity and continued backing for Ukraine.

“I hope that European unity will not be broken because this isn’t the moment to weaken our support to Ukraine,” Borrell said.

Meanwhile, Finland’s foreign minister, Elina Valtonen, called Hungary’s position “very, very deplorable.”

“It is crucial that we keep on aiding Ukraine for as long as it’s needed, and it’s not only for the cause of Ukraine but also for our own cause,” Valtonen added.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has said it would be “devastating” for both Ukraine and the E.U. if leaders from the bloc don’t agree on plans for formal membership negotiations with Ukraine.

“I cannot imagine, I don’t even want to talk about the devastating consequences that will occur shall the [European] Council fail to make this decision,” Kuleba told reporters, according to Reuters.

President Zelenskiy has said that had a “frank” conversation with Orban. “It was as frank as possible — and obviously, it was about our European affairs,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address.

Border blockades by truckers have been a very visible sign of tensions between Ukraine and the E.U. in recent weeks.

Arguing that the E.U.’s relaxation of transport rules means that Ukrainian truckers can undercut their business, Polish truckers began blocking crossings on November 6, although reports today indicated that an agreement to reopen the border had been reached.

Today, however, Hungarian truckers also started a protest, on a Hungary-Ukraine border crossing. Meanwhile, Slovak truckers also restarted a partial blockade of their own, on the country’s sole freight road crossing with Ukraine.

AP reports that a side effect of the border blockades is that certain vital items for the Ukrainian war effort are not making it into the country in a timely manner. Pickup trucks, tourniquets, and drone components are among those items said to be affected.

The United Kingdom, which remains an enthusiastic backer of Ukraine has announced the next step in its military support for the country, aimed at bolstering its capabilities in the Black Sea. In this critical theater, Ukraine, which has no conventional navy of its own, has nonetheless achieved some remarkable successes against the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

Now the United Kingdom, together with Norway, is working to build a “maritime capability coalition” for Ukraine. As a start, Ukraine will shortly receive a pair of mine-hunting ships transferred from the U.K. Royal Navy. These are the former HMS Grimsby and HMS Shoreham, which have since been renamed Chernihiv and Cherkasy. The vessels will be used to help ensure that Ukraine maintains its access to trade routes in the Black Sea, especially critical for allowing merchant shipping to export Ukrainian grain.

Exploding TOS-1A thermobaric rocket launchers are by now a fairly familiar motif of the war in Ukraine. This next video, which may well show the demise of a TOS-1A loaded with its notorious rockets creates a truly enormous shockwave and fireball that sends debris flying in all directions.

The European Union has expanded its measures directed against Iran, as that country continues to provide military support to Russia, most notably through the provision of one-way attack drones and related technologies. In a new round of sanctions, the E.U. has blacklisted six Iranian individuals and five entities, due to their support for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

Among the entities being sanctioned is the Shakad Sanat Asmari company, as well as its chief executive, deputy chief executive, and chief scientist. The company is thought to operate as a cover for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and produce components and bodies for the Shahed-136 one-way attack drone. Other companies newly sanctioned are also said to be involved in the manufacturing of drones, according to reports.

As sanctions further threaten the supply of drones from Iran, there are reports that one Chinese company, Shandong Buyun Aviation Technology Co., Ltd, plans to deliver 1,000 drones to Russia. A study from the Robert Lansing Institute think-tank claims that it is “most likely that Moscow uses military intelligence channels to ensure the purchase of scarce goods and components” out of China.

The ever-present threat of drones on the battlefields of Ukraine continues to lead to some novel ad-hoc countermeasures, especially in the form of ‘cope cages,’ and other types of overhead metal screens that are intended to deflect drone-delivered munitions as well as first-person view (FPV) drones carrying integral warheads. In this case, a Russian BM-21 Grad 122mm multiple rocket launcher bolsters its overhead anti-drone screens with a counter-drone team, armed with ‘soft-kill’ electronic jamming guns, to provide additional protection against this menace.

As well as vehicles, trenches also increasingly feature anti-drone measures, with metal frames and cages also cropping up for the protection of troops. In this case, the Russian fortifications are festooned with coverings to help defend against attacks by primarily FPV drones.

Meanwhile, drones themselves are finding new uses in the conflict, at least according to the following video. This shows a Russian VT-40 FPV drone from the Sudoplatov company, launched from a ship at sea and then attacking a target in the water. This strongly suggests that Russia may be testing out new ways of defeating the Ukrainian uncrewed surface vessels (USVs) that have so far been involved in some noteworthy attacks on Russian warships and other Russian vessels in the Black Sea.

As Ukraine continues its shadowy campaign directed against Russian and pro-Russian figures in occupied Crimea, the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Moscow says it has uncovered a network of agents involved in it. While the claims cannot be independently verified, the FSB says that the individuals in question were involved in assassination attempts against pro-Russian figures, Reuters reports.

Reportedly among the targets were the Kremlin-appointed head of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, and a former pro-Russian member of the Ukrainian parliament, Oleg Tsaryov. Tsaryov already survived an assassination attempt in October, when he was shot two times.

Aside from assassinations, the FSB said the Ukrainian network had also targeted railway and energy infrastructure on the peninsula. It said it had detained 18 “agents and accomplices of the Ukrainian special services” and that it had also discovered caches of arms and explosives.

As well as identifying this ring of agents, the FSB claims it has prevented 18 “terrorist attacks” in Crimea this year alone.

Targeted killings of another kind now, with the following video that brings together combat footage provided by the Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU, the law-enforcement authority and main intelligence and security agency of the Ukrainian government. The SBU also operates its own special forces, some of whose exploits can be seen below.

Following on from Russia’s return to long-range cruise missile attacks against Ukraine last Friday, the latest barrage has apparently involved ballistic missiles. According to reports, at least eight missiles used to attack Kyiv before dawn today left four people injured by debris.

This appears to have been the first such use of ballistic missiles in recent months. The strike reportedly took place at around 4:00 a.m. local time.

Citing the national police, Reuters reports that the four people injured were hit by shards of shattered glass in the Darnitskyi district, southeastern Kyiv. Meanwhile, according to Kyiv’s mayor Vitali Klitschko, firefighters were required to put out a fire started by part of a missile that landed on the roof of a residential building in the southwestern Holosiivskyi district.

The Ukrainian Air Force claims that the eight Russian missiles targeting the capital were shot down by air defenses, while another 18 attack drones were brought down elsewhere in the country, according to AFP. If correct, this suggests that the ballistic missiles likely fell victim to Patriot air defense systems, which offer a uniquely valuable anti-ballistic missile capability.

These claims have not been independently verified.

In terms of ballistic missiles in the Ukraine war, Russia has primarily used the 9K720 Iskander-M short-range ballistic missile (SRBM), known in the West as SS-26 Stone. The 9M723 ballistic missile launched by the Iskander-M has an official range of 310 miles, although other sources suggest the figure is closer to 370 miles.

Finally, one of the less commonly seen vehicles in the Ukrainian inventory is the Polish-provided Rak, a 120mm self-propelled mortar. While the Rak can be installed on a variety of chassis, this example operated by the 44th Separate Mechanized Brigade, is on an 8×8 wheeled chassis based on the Rosomak armored personnel carrier. At least 24 of these vehicles were purchased from Poland with E.U. and U.S. funding.

That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when there’s more news to report about Ukraine.

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Thomas Newdick

Staff Writer

Thomas is a defense writer and editor with over 20 years of experience covering military aerospace topics and conflicts. He’s written a number of books, edited many more, and has contributed to many of the world’s leading aviation publications. Before joining The War Zone in 2020, he was the editor of AirForces Monthly.