Russia recaptures Avdiivka, biggest gain since May

Published February 19, 2024
Ukrainian soldiers get out of a military vehicle in a location given as Avdiivka, Donetsk Region, Ukraine, in this screen grab taken from a video released on February 17, 2024. — Rd Assault Brigade/Handout via Reuters
Ukrainian soldiers get out of a military vehicle in a location given as Avdiivka, Donetsk Region, Ukraine, in this screen grab taken from a video released on February 17, 2024. — Rd Assault Brigade/Handout via Reuters

MOSCOW: Russia on Sunday said it had full control of the Ukrainian town of Avdiivka, though some Ukrainian troops were still holed up in a vast Soviet-era coke plant after one of the most intense battles of the war.

The fall of Avdiivka is Russia’s biggest gain since capturing the city of Bakhmut in May 2023, and comes almost two years to the day since the invasion began.

Russia’s defence ministry said its troops had advanced 8.6km in that part of the 1,000km front line, and that troops were pressing forward after a deadly battle that has left the town an almost completely depopulated wreck.

Ukraine said it had withdrawn its soldiers to save troops from being fully surrounded after months of fierce fighting. Putin hailed the fall of Avdiivka as an important victory and congratulated Russian troops.

Victory to secure Moscow’s hold on regional centre of Donetsk

After the failure of Ukraine to pierce Russian lines last year, Moscow has been trying to grind down Ukrainian forces just as Kyiv ponders a major new mobilisation and President Volodymyr Zelensky appoints a new commander to run the war.

“The head of state congratulated Russian soldiers on this success, an important victory,” the Kremlin said in a statement on its website.

But Russia said some Ukrainian forces were still holed up at the Soviet-era coke plant, once one of Europe’s biggest, in Avdiivka, which is key to Russia’s aim of securing full control of the industrial Donbas region. There was no public comment yet by Ukrainian authorities on this.

Russian state television showed blue and yellow Ukrainian flags being taken down in Avdiivka and Russia’s white, blue and red tri-colour flag raised, including over the coke plant.

Weapons shortages

US President Joe Biden had warned that Avdiivka could fall to Russian forces because of ammunition shortages, following months of Republican congressional opposition to a new US military aid package for Kyiv.

A White House statement said Biden called Zelensky on Saturday to underscore the US commitment to continue supporting Ukraine and reiterated the need for Congress to urgently pass the package.

Zelensky urged allies at a global security conference in Munich on Saturday to plug an “artificial” shortage of weapons and said stalled US aid was imperative. He praised his troops for “exhausting” Russian forces in Avdiivka, and suggested the withdrawal was partly caused by a lack of weapons.

Boost for Russia

Capturing Avdiivka is likely to provide a morale boost for Russia ahead of Putin’s bid for re-election next month, which he is almost certain to win.

It is also seen as another step towards securing Moscow’s hold on the regional centre of Donetsk, about 20km to the east, held by Russian and pro-Russian forces since 2014. Putin congratulated the Russian commander in charge of the assault on Avdiivka, Colonel-General Andrei Mordvichev.

Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2024

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