Russia exposes Kiev’s weak security

(CNN) — A series of rapid Russian advances have challenged the new defense line established after Ukraine withdrew from the key town of Avdiivka and are raising fears about Kiev’s strategy and tempo on the front.

Ukraine announced its withdrawal from Avdiivka to several locations west of the city on 17 February. However, three small villages have since come under the control of Russian forces, and Kiev says it never intended to protect them.

But the defensive line to which it had announced it would retreat (three villages further to the west) has since come under intense Russian attack, and pro-Russian sources claim that Moscow has partially captured all three settlements. have taken. Ukraine denies the claims.

The Russian advance comes amid a deepening ammunition crisis for the Ukrainian army, creating an almost existential debate for frontline troops who must ration ammunition and wonder how long they will last. Can withstand Russian pressure.

In another sign of the growing sense of unrest, the new commander of the Ukrainian army, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrsky, twice in the past week scolded his subordinates for their poor performance on this key front line.

On Thursday, Syrsky criticized “certain shortcomings” and “miscalculations” of the commands on the Avdeevka front, “which directly affected the stability of the defense in some areas.” On Saturday he returned to the issue of inadequate staffing, suggesting he had replaced some officers who were “unaware of the situation” and were “directly endangering the lives and health of (his) subordinates.”

Siresky became the new army commander three weeks ago, after his highly popular predecessor Valery Zaluzny was ousted following months of tension with President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Syrsky inherits a battlefield in which a resurgent Russia and ruthless Russia have exploited Ukraine’s long-recognized shortage of Western aid, ammunition and personnel.

Colonel General Oleksandr Syrsky attends a meeting in Kiev on February 10, 2024.  Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Reuters

Colonel General Oleksandr Syrsky attends a meeting in Kiev on February 10, 2024. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Reuters

pessimism on the eastern front

The Russian attack on the new Ukrainian defensive line around Avdiivka is significant not because of the importance of the small villages – consisting, at most, of dozens of resistant inhabitants and destroyed buildings – but because it shows that the Ukrainian authorities The withdrawal from Avdiivka was not adequately planned and has since been unable to stop the Russian advance.

Moscow has said that its stated goal is to annex the entire Donbass region, but it also wants to “demilitarize” Ukraine.

Several Ukrainian soldiers expressed frustration to CNN about the withdrawal and the importance of the subsequent defense as a harbinger of the coming weeks. Many asked not to be quoted when discussing the sensitive matter.

One special forces soldier told CNN: “It’s not so much about the (Russian) speed, but that we are not prepared to stop them. “Until we have a good and ready position, we will continue to roll and retreat.”

Another officer on the front line said: “We can feel (Russian) superiority in personnel, artillery and armored vehicles. They are advancing slowly. We don’t have much choice here. Retreat, or simply our Wait…as sad as it is “Let it ring ’til they kill us all.” Without weapons…it’s not a war you can fight with a sword.”

Ukrainian casualties are often kept secret, although President Zelensky said last weekend that 31,000 soldiers had been killed since the Russian offensive began. However, in a trauma unit near the front lines in the east, a concerned doctor showed CNN a box of injury reports, numbering in the hundreds over 20 days in February alone.

Drone images taken from the village of Orlivka, the center of the current Russian attack west of Avdiivka, show most of the buildings in ruins and huge craters caused by Russian air strikes on the flat terrain along the river. Fierce clashes continue around two other villages, Tonenke and Berdichi, near Avdiivka. CNN heard a loud explosion and heavy machine gun fire near Berdichi on Saturday.

Soldiers interviewed on the eastern frontline also expressed great pessimism about the coming spring if Western aid was not supplied immediately. The combination of morale, declining Ukrainian supplies, and Moscow’s forces gaining momentum marks a critical moment in the conflict.

A Ukrainian soldier prepares a projectile for a drone on the front line near Avdiivka on February 20, 2024. (Inna Varenitsiya/Reuters)

Drone footage of Russian forces has repeatedly shown an army that is not afraid to send troops at full speed into unsafe places where they are likely to die.

In the footage, reportedly taken by Ukraine’s 47th Mechanized Brigade in the Avdiivka area, a Russian armored personnel carrier races towards Ukrainian positions and stops for a few seconds to unload a dozen soldiers sheltering at the entrance.

Two Ukrainian attack drones attack the vehicle, and a US-supplied Bradley armored vehicle approaches the exposed group. He is then seen shooting several Russians with a mounted grenade launcher.

Another video from the outskirts of the town of Berdichi shows more than 30 dead Russian soldiers behind a damaged armored vehicle. CNN has not been able to confirm the location of any of the videos.

Yet despite staggering casualties and sophisticated tactics, Russian attacks continue.

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