Ukraine Situation Report: Signs Russia’s Attempt To Encircle Avdiivka Is Stalling

Intense fighting continues in the eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka after Russian forces launched a new offensive in the area backed by heavy armor, artillery, and attack helicopters earlier this week. The assault looks intended to try to encircle a pocket of Ukraine’s forces, but there are indications that Russia has already sustained significant losses to make at best modest gains.

“We are holding our ground,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote on X, formerly Twitter, earlier today. “It is Ukrainian courage and unity that will determine how this war will end. We must all remember this.”

The first reports that Russian units were launching a new push into Avdiivka came on October 10. The city is a suburb of Donetsk, the capital of the eastern Ukrainian region of the same name.

There are reports that Russia has already lost large numbers of tanks, artillery, and personnel in its new pursuit of Avdiivka. The War Zone has not been able to readily confirm these claims.

“Russian forces have not completed an operational encirclement of the settlement and will likely struggle to do so if that is their intent,” the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) think tank has assessed based on open source information. “Avdiivka is also a notoriously well-fortified and defended Ukrainian stronghold, which will likely complicate Russian forces’ ability to closely approach or fully capture the settlement.”

ISW did also suggest that the “ongoing localized Russian offensive operations near Avdiivka in Donetsk Oblast [is] likely demonstrate the ability of Russian forces to learn and apply tactical battlefield lessons in Ukraine.”

Videos and pictures that have emerged on social media from Avdiivka certainly show immense devastation, but the area is also a strategic juncture that has long been a flashpoint in the conflict. One video circulation reportedly shows train cars full of fuel burning near the city after being hit by Russian artillery in the course of the latest fighting.

A portion of the overall Donetsk region has been occupied since 2014, first by Russian-backed separatists and now openly by Russia’s armed forces. The Russian government announced it was annexing Donetsk, as well as other parts of eastern Ukraine, in September 2022. This move was widely denounced and decried as illegitimate by much of the international community.

Before diving into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get up to speed with recent events with our previous rolling coverage here.

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Though activity around Avdiivka is an important specific flashpoint currently, it is also reflective of what looks to be a broader surge in fighting in Ukraine as winter approaches. There had been a decline in major reported engagements in recent months, according to data compiled by independent Poland-headquartered Rochan Consulting.

Fighting also continues in various other parts of southern and eastern Ukraine, including around the Dnipro River, in the vicinity of the city of Bakhmut, and in the Zaporizhia region.

Western countries continue to lay the groundwork for transferring F-16 Viper fighters to the Ukrainian Air Force. At the 16th meeting of the U.S.-led multinational Ukraine Contact Group yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that the United States, Denmark, and the Netherlands are now formally working to spearhead this effort. Training of pilots in the U.S. will start in the coming weeks.

Belgium also issued a statement yesterday around the Contact Group meeting confirming that it “will be able” to send F-16s to Ukraine from its stocks starting in 2025 as it begins to replace them with new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.

This comes as the U.S. and its allies are breaking down assistance to Ukraine in smaller focused groups that will specialize in specific areas of need, like network security and naval warfare.

Multiple other announcements about additional military aid for Ukraine were made by various countries yesterday. This included details about a new $200 million tranche of military assistance from the United States. This package contains, among other things, AIM-9M Sidewinder air-to-air missiles for use with a still mysterious “new” air defense system, as you can read more about here.

Ukraine continues to have a major need for additional air defense capacity, especially short-range point defenses used to help tackle threats like drones, cruise missiles, and attack helicopters. The video below appears to be the second to emerge of an ad hoc mobile short-range air defense system the United Kingdom quickly developed and sent to Ukraine earlier this year that uses the AIM-132 Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM) as its effector.

At the Association of the U.S. Army’s (AUSA) main annual conference earlier this week, U.S. Army Col. Mike Parent, the acquisition chief for the service’s Joint Counter-small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office (JCO), said that examples of Northrop Grumman’s Agnostic Gun Truck (AGT) were set to arrive in Ukraine soon. The AGT is a self-contained counter-drone-focused system that includes a turreted 30mm M230LF automatic cannon that is designed to be readily integrated onto various light trucks and other platforms (hence the “agnostic” part of its name).

The AGTs are then linked to additional vehicles carrying a sensors and fire control package called the Mobile Acquisition Cueing and Effector (M-ACE) system. The Pentagon announced plans to acquire AGTs (as well as M-ACE systems) for the Ukrainian armed forces through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI) earlier this year.

The threat of drones, in particular, continues to prompt both Russian and Ukrainain forces to install improvised screens of various types on tanks and other vehicles, as well as artillery pieces.

Add-on armor cages to try to protect against drones and other threats are increasingly becoming a standard production feature on Russian tanks, too.

This week, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark announced that they will now pool their resources on purchases of artillery shells for Ukraine as part of a Nordic Ammunition Initiative. The three nations say they will collectively contribute a total of 52 million Euros (almost $55 million at the rate of exchange at the time of writing) to this effort and the deliveries of rounds will begin before the end of the year. Artillery ammunition, especially 155mm shells, is something Ukraine has a huge demand for, as has been reported in the past.

The picture below shows one of the ex-Swedish Stridsvagn 122 (Strv 122) tanks, a variant of the German-made Leopard 2A5, that Ukraine has received.

The U.K. Ministry of Defense says intelligence indicates that the Russian military is facing a “mental health crisis” with “approximately “100,000 military personnel suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.” This in turn could hamper the effectiveness of its forces across the board.

In a similar vein, at a panel discussion at the AUSA convention in Washington, D.C., yesterday, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Jonathan Braga, head of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, spoke about Russian desertion rates and how that is impacting its operations.

“You’ve had 17,000 Russians desert… that’s 17,000 soldiers, you didn’t have to blow up on the battlefield, or destroy. That has weakened… the defensive mechanisms of the Russian [military in Ukraine]… right now,” Braga said.

Unconfirmed reports that the Russian military may have once again placed a new commander in charge of the 58th Combined Arms Army (CAA) in the Zaporizhia region could be another possible sign of ongoing personnel problems. If true, this would mean Lt. Gen. Denis Lyamin was only head of the 58th CAA for three months before being replaced.

In a recent interview with Ukrainian Pravda, Lt. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, commander of Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR), claimed that Russia has provided military aid, including weapons captured in Ukraine, along with satellite intelligence, to Iran and the Palestinian group Hamas. This follows Hamas’ unprecedented and brutal assault on Israel over the weekend that has now morphed into an all-out conflict, as you can read about more in The War Zone‘s separate coverage of that crisis.

A second-order impact tied to Ukraine that stems from the conflict that has erupted in Israel just recently has emerged in Russia. Viacheslav Volodin, the current chairman of the lower house of Russia’s parliament, or Duma, has warned Russians who fled to Israel to escape being drafted or who otherwise oppose the war in Ukraine that they face the prospect of jail time if they now seek to return home.

Ukrainian President Zelesnky has publicly voiced concerns that the conflict in Israel could draw international support away from the ongoing war in his country. “There is a risk that international attention will turn away from Ukraine, and that will have consequences”, he said during an interview with the the France 2 television channel this week.

Though there is no hard link yet to Russian involvement or the broader conflict in Ukraine, the Finnish government’s announcement on Tuesday that a leak in the Balticconnector pipeline and damage to associated undersea cable line was “likely…caused by external activity” has prompted new concerns about spillover. Balticconnector, which runs under a part of the Baltic Sea, links Estonian and Finnish natural gas grids and also provides the latter country with access to natural gas stored in Latvia.

The Norwegian NORSAR foundation, an independent organization that monitors seismic activity, said its sensors in the region picked up what could have been an explosion around where the pipeline leak is reported to have been discovered.

This of course follows the apparent sabotage of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline in the Baltic Sea in September 2022. Who may have been responsible for that incident has not been conclusively determined, with reports pointing to both Russia and Ukraine. Crippling sanctions on Russia’s natural gas and oil industries have been a major component of the international response to its all-out invasion of Ukraine. There have long been concerns about the potential for more active retaliation from the Kremlin as a result.

When it comes to the prospect of potential spillover from the war in Ukraine, neighboring Moldova has often been highlighted as one possible flashpoint. This week, the Moldovan government formally declared Russia to be a threat to its national security and said that the Kremlin was interested in “liquidating our statehood.”

This week Ukrainian President Zelensky announced new plans to open a corridor through Moldova and Romania to help with the export of grain.

That is all for now. This story will be updated when there’s more news to report about Ukraine.

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Joseph Trevithick Avatar

Joseph Trevithick

Deputy Editor

Joseph has been a member of The War Zone team since early 2017. Prior to that, he was an Associate Editor at War Is Boring, and his byline has appeared in other publications, including Small Arms Review, Small Arms Defense Journal, Reuters, We Are the Mighty, and Task & Purpose.