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POLITICS

“A meat grinder worse than Bakhmut”: Russia paid a shocking price for the ruins of Avdiivka

After months of battle, Russian forces now occupy the eastern Ukrainian town of Avdiivka. If Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu's statements are to be believed, the Russians accomplished this feat with “minimal losses.” However, documented visual evidence suggests the opposite: capturing the small town cost the lives of several thousand soldiers and led to the destruction of hundreds of armored vehicles. These staggering losses are partly attributable to the low skill of Russian military commanders and partly to the effectiveness of modern technologies employed by Ukraine's Armed Forces. 

RU

Content
  • Human casualties

  • Equipment losses

  • Too few or too many?

  • Why are the losses so staggering?

  • Historical precedents

Human casualties

Soon after withdrawing from Avdiivka, Ukraine's military provided an estimate of Russian losses for the entire operation, which lasted from October 2023 until mid-February 2024. According to Dmytro Lykhoviy, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Operational-Strategic Group of Troops “Tavria,” the Russians suffered a total of 47,000 casualties, including 17,000 killed. Interestingly, this assessment roughly aligns with that provided by Russian soldier and blogger Andrei “Murz” Morozov, who cited 16,000 irrecoverable losses before deleting the post and taking his own life due to what his suicide message said had been harassment from pro-Kremlin propagandists. Typically, the term “irrecoverable losses” encompasses not only those killed but also prisoners of war and seriously wounded personnel.

SMRB - Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, one of the most common units of the Russian Ground Forces. It is equipped with infantry fighting vehicles or armored personnel carriers, as well as tanks and other equipment. It is an approximate analogue of the Ukrainian mechanized brigade (SMB).

OSINT - Open Source Intelligence, reconnaissance based on open sources of information.

IFV - Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Designed for transporting infantry and providing fire support directly on the battlefield.

SMO - Special Military Operation. This is the official term used in Russia to refer to the full-scale war against Ukraine, which began on February 24, 2022. The abbreviation is enclosed in quotation marks because it serves as a euphemism.

MT-LB - Soviet multipurpose lightly armored tractor, distinguished by high cross-country capability. Used by both sides in the Russo-Ukrainian war for transporting cargo and personnel, towing artillery, as well as serving as a base for improvised and semi-improvised mounting of various weapons systems ranging from naval anti-aircraft machine guns to 100-millimeter guns.

Explosive reactive armor - blocks with explosives installed on armored vehicles. When a projectile hits, a counter-explosion occurs, reducing its penetrating power.

ATGMS - Anti-Tank Guided Missile System. It is a relatively compact anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) launcher, most often portable or installed on armored vehicles.

FPV drones - unmanned aerial vehicles controlled by an operator from a first-person view (FPV). The advantage of such systems is that the operator clearly sees where the drone (often kamikaze) is flying, allowing it, for example, to fly into cover and target individual unprotected elements of combat vehicles.

AFV – armored fighting vehicle. Often used as an umbrella term for infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers



HUR - Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. Ukrainian military intelligence. Chief - Major General Kyrylo Budanov.

Oryx is a military-themed open source intelligence (OSINT) project. It was founded by two Dutch analysts who previously collaborated with the investigative project Bellingcat. It is considered the most reliable aggregator of data on visually confirmed losses of military vehicles and other equipment during the war in Ukraine.

Combined Arms combat - a combat tactic based on the comprehensive interaction of all forces, means, and types of troops (tanks, infantry, artillery, aircraft, UAVs, etc.), which provide mutual support and/or jointly engage the enemy.

«Dragon's Teeth» - concrete pyramid-shaped stakes that serve as anti-tank engineering obstacles. Widely used during the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war in the construction of defense lines in border regions of the Russian Federation and in occupied territories of Ukraine by the Russian Armed Forces.

Andrei “Murz” Morozov, who reported 16,000 irrecoverable losses during the assault on Avdiivka, took his own life due to harassment from pro-Kremlin propagandists

Morozov had cited a post by fellow pro-Russian blogger Svyatoslav Golikov. The comments section to Golikov’s post clarified that the casualties in question had been sustained on a section of the front line stretching from Nevelske to Novoselivka over the entire course of the months-long battle, with irrecoverable equipment losses amounting to 300 units. It also highlighted the example of the 1487th Regiment from St. Petersburg, which was whittled down to a command and staff company during the fighting. For context, at the outset of 2022, the standard strength of a Russian motorized rifle regiment exceeded 2,000 personnel, a figure that has likely increased somewhat since then.

Comments and social media groups provide further evidence of substantial losses. For instance, Ukrainian channels have shared a screenshot from the VK group “Military Hospital | All Over Russia,” in which a discussion about recovering bodies from Avdiivka mentions coffins “piled as high as a three-story building” in nearby Russian-controlled Donetsk. The same group also references casualties from other units, with one comment on a post about the 114th SMRB stating:

“The 114th brigade is the most f***ed up one; if the guys end up there, none have returned yet. Welcome to the 114th brigade, though the 'Bermuda Triangle' suits it better.”

Another post reads:

“According to friends there, Avdiivka is now a meat grinder worse than Bakhmut. Every square meter comes at a very high price.”

Mediazona and the BBC's Russian Service, both independently tallying Russian losses in the war based on open-source reporting, have also provided estimates of casualties near Avdiivka. According to Mediazona's data, since the battle for the city began in October 2023, there has been a significant uptick in reports of losses, though “not as substantial as during the assault on Bakhmut, when the Russian army was losing up to 800 people per week based solely on publicly available obituaries with the exact date of death.”

The journalists noted that the full extent of the record losses at Bakhmut only became apparent several months later, suggesting the data on the dead in Avdiivka still has much room to grow. This delay may partly stem from the fact that, according to relatives' accounts, soldiers who are unaccounted for are most often listed as missing in action, potentially postponing the publication of obituaries indefinitely.

SMRB - Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, one of the most common units of the Russian Ground Forces. It is equipped with infantry fighting vehicles or armored personnel carriers, as well as tanks and other equipment. It is an approximate analogue of the Ukrainian mechanized brigade (SMB).

OSINT - Open Source Intelligence, reconnaissance based on open sources of information.

IFV - Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Designed for transporting infantry and providing fire support directly on the battlefield.

SMO - Special Military Operation. This is the official term used in Russia to refer to the full-scale war against Ukraine, which began on February 24, 2022. The abbreviation is enclosed in quotation marks because it serves as a euphemism.

MT-LB - Soviet multipurpose lightly armored tractor, distinguished by high cross-country capability. Used by both sides in the Russo-Ukrainian war for transporting cargo and personnel, towing artillery, as well as serving as a base for improvised and semi-improvised mounting of various weapons systems ranging from naval anti-aircraft machine guns to 100-millimeter guns.

Explosive reactive armor - blocks with explosives installed on armored vehicles. When a projectile hits, a counter-explosion occurs, reducing its penetrating power.

ATGMS - Anti-Tank Guided Missile System. It is a relatively compact anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) launcher, most often portable or installed on armored vehicles.

FPV drones - unmanned aerial vehicles controlled by an operator from a first-person view (FPV). The advantage of such systems is that the operator clearly sees where the drone (often kamikaze) is flying, allowing it, for example, to fly into cover and target individual unprotected elements of combat vehicles.

AFV – armored fighting vehicle. Often used as an umbrella term for infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers



HUR - Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. Ukrainian military intelligence. Chief - Major General Kyrylo Budanov.

Oryx is a military-themed open source intelligence (OSINT) project. It was founded by two Dutch analysts who previously collaborated with the investigative project Bellingcat. It is considered the most reliable aggregator of data on visually confirmed losses of military vehicles and other equipment during the war in Ukraine.

Combined Arms combat - a combat tactic based on the comprehensive interaction of all forces, means, and types of troops (tanks, infantry, artillery, aircraft, UAVs, etc.), which provide mutual support and/or jointly engage the enemy.

«Dragon's Teeth» - concrete pyramid-shaped stakes that serve as anti-tank engineering obstacles. Widely used during the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war in the construction of defense lines in border regions of the Russian Federation and in occupied territories of Ukraine by the Russian Armed Forces.

Avdiivka, October 17, 2023
Avdiivka, October 17, 2023
Yevhen Titov / Reuters

For its part, the BBC has observed that since October 2023, weekly confirmed Russian losses have risen from 360 to 550-600, with a total of 6,641 Russian military personnel confirmed killed during the fighting for Avdiivka. While these figures could encompass other frontline sectors, losses confirmed through open sources constitute only a fraction of the total, likely less than half. The publication also references a U.S. intelligence estimate stating that, from October to December 2023, Russian killed and wounded in the Avdiivka area amounted to 13,000.

Clearly, the available assessments of Russian losses at Avdiivka differ significantly, and establishing an accurate tally may take several moe months, if not years. However, it is evident that the number of fatalities is at least in the thousands, rendering Defense Minister Shoigu’s claim that the city was captured with “minimal losses” difficult to accept.

Equipment losses

Estimates of Russian equipment losses vary considerably from source to source, though fortunately not by orders of magnitude.

The aforementioned U.S. intelligence estimate stated that as of December 2023, 220 Russian vehicles had been destroyed near Avdiivka. This figure closely aligns with information from Morozov's source, which cited a figure of 300 units of equipment lost over the entire operation.

According to the OSINT group Frontelligence Insight, the total number of Russian equipment losses exceeds 300 units. Meanwhile, an analyst writing on Twitter under the moniker Naalsio and relying on visual data counted 690 units of lost Russian equipment as of February 23, of which 465 were destroyed, 197 abandoned, and 28 damaged.

SMRB - Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, one of the most common units of the Russian Ground Forces. It is equipped with infantry fighting vehicles or armored personnel carriers, as well as tanks and other equipment. It is an approximate analogue of the Ukrainian mechanized brigade (SMB).

OSINT - Open Source Intelligence, reconnaissance based on open sources of information.

IFV - Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Designed for transporting infantry and providing fire support directly on the battlefield.

SMO - Special Military Operation. This is the official term used in Russia to refer to the full-scale war against Ukraine, which began on February 24, 2022. The abbreviation is enclosed in quotation marks because it serves as a euphemism.

MT-LB - Soviet multipurpose lightly armored tractor, distinguished by high cross-country capability. Used by both sides in the Russo-Ukrainian war for transporting cargo and personnel, towing artillery, as well as serving as a base for improvised and semi-improvised mounting of various weapons systems ranging from naval anti-aircraft machine guns to 100-millimeter guns.

Explosive reactive armor - blocks with explosives installed on armored vehicles. When a projectile hits, a counter-explosion occurs, reducing its penetrating power.

ATGMS - Anti-Tank Guided Missile System. It is a relatively compact anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) launcher, most often portable or installed on armored vehicles.

FPV drones - unmanned aerial vehicles controlled by an operator from a first-person view (FPV). The advantage of such systems is that the operator clearly sees where the drone (often kamikaze) is flying, allowing it, for example, to fly into cover and target individual unprotected elements of combat vehicles.

AFV – armored fighting vehicle. Often used as an umbrella term for infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers



HUR - Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. Ukrainian military intelligence. Chief - Major General Kyrylo Budanov.

Oryx is a military-themed open source intelligence (OSINT) project. It was founded by two Dutch analysts who previously collaborated with the investigative project Bellingcat. It is considered the most reliable aggregator of data on visually confirmed losses of military vehicles and other equipment during the war in Ukraine.

Combined Arms combat - a combat tactic based on the comprehensive interaction of all forces, means, and types of troops (tanks, infantry, artillery, aircraft, UAVs, etc.), which provide mutual support and/or jointly engage the enemy.

«Dragon's Teeth» - concrete pyramid-shaped stakes that serve as anti-tank engineering obstacles. Widely used during the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war in the construction of defense lines in border regions of the Russian Federation and in occupied territories of Ukraine by the Russian Armed Forces.

Visually confirmed losses of Russian equipment during the offensive on Avdiivka from October 10 to 12, 2023
Visually confirmed losses of Russian equipment during the offensive on Avdiivka from October 10 to 12, 2023
Kriegsforscher / Twitter

Naalsio's data proves helpful for analysis, providing a breakdown by different categories as well as a detailed account of destroyed equipment. Firstly, the number of damaged units appears to have been widely underestimated, likely due to the nature of the source material: Ukrainians seldom publish videos in which strikes on enemy equipment were unsuccessful, merely damaging rather than destroying it. Likewise, Russian footage from “graveyards” of equipment only captures irretrievably lost vehicles, omitting those that could have only been damaged and then evacuated by the time of filming.

Moreover, the breakdown of losses within the most numerous categories – tanks and IFVs – warrants attention. According to Naalsio's calculations, only 10 of the 173 lost IFVs constitute relatively modern vehicles (e.g., BMP-3), while 77 are outdated BMP-1s, which remained in service with only a few Russian army units at the outset of the “SMO”. Simultaneously, the list of losses includes over a hundred MT-LBs, vehicles that were never intended for combat deployment.

In the case of tanks, new and upgraded models (T-72B3, T-80BVM, T-90) amounted to approximately 22% (50 units) of the total number of losses. The remaining losses were Soviet tanks, most of which had been transferred from active duty to storage depots by early 2022. 65 T-80BVs alone were lost – more than all modern models combined.

This may indicate that the Russian Armed Forces are increasingly relying on outdated equipment, but it may also suggest that newer models have higher survivability. However, it is unclear what specific modifications to relatively modern equipment, apart from explosive reactive armor (which the T-80BVs are also equipped with), might better safeguard it against artillery, ATGMs, and FPV drones.

One of the assaults on Avdiivka by Russian troops, November 2023

47th Separate Mechanized Brigade / FB

SMRB - Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, one of the most common units of the Russian Ground Forces. It is equipped with infantry fighting vehicles or armored personnel carriers, as well as tanks and other equipment. It is an approximate analogue of the Ukrainian mechanized brigade (SMB).

OSINT - Open Source Intelligence, reconnaissance based on open sources of information.

IFV - Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Designed for transporting infantry and providing fire support directly on the battlefield.

SMO - Special Military Operation. This is the official term used in Russia to refer to the full-scale war against Ukraine, which began on February 24, 2022. The abbreviation is enclosed in quotation marks because it serves as a euphemism.

MT-LB - Soviet multipurpose lightly armored tractor, distinguished by high cross-country capability. Used by both sides in the Russo-Ukrainian war for transporting cargo and personnel, towing artillery, as well as serving as a base for improvised and semi-improvised mounting of various weapons systems ranging from naval anti-aircraft machine guns to 100-millimeter guns.

Explosive reactive armor - blocks with explosives installed on armored vehicles. When a projectile hits, a counter-explosion occurs, reducing its penetrating power.

ATGMS - Anti-Tank Guided Missile System. It is a relatively compact anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) launcher, most often portable or installed on armored vehicles.

FPV drones - unmanned aerial vehicles controlled by an operator from a first-person view (FPV). The advantage of such systems is that the operator clearly sees where the drone (often kamikaze) is flying, allowing it, for example, to fly into cover and target individual unprotected elements of combat vehicles.

AFV – armored fighting vehicle. Often used as an umbrella term for infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers



HUR - Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. Ukrainian military intelligence. Chief - Major General Kyrylo Budanov.

Oryx is a military-themed open source intelligence (OSINT) project. It was founded by two Dutch analysts who previously collaborated with the investigative project Bellingcat. It is considered the most reliable aggregator of data on visually confirmed losses of military vehicles and other equipment during the war in Ukraine.

Combined Arms combat - a combat tactic based on the comprehensive interaction of all forces, means, and types of troops (tanks, infantry, artillery, aircraft, UAVs, etc.), which provide mutual support and/or jointly engage the enemy.

«Dragon's Teeth» - concrete pyramid-shaped stakes that serve as anti-tank engineering obstacles. Widely used during the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war in the construction of defense lines in border regions of the Russian Federation and in occupied territories of Ukraine by the Russian Armed Forces.

The number of destroyed tanks and AFVs allows for another rough estimate of manpower losses. The 132 destroyed tanks correspond to 13 tank companies (pre-war strength of 33 personnel each), while the 263 destroyed AFVs equate to 26 motorized rifle companies (pre-war strength of 76 personnel each). This implies that the number of dead crew members from armored vehicles barely exceeds 2,400 personnel. Consequently, a very significant portion of the losses must be attributed to “leg infantry” formations that advanced with minimal or no armored vehicle support.

Too few or too many?

According to calculations by Meduza and Mediazona, the total number of Russian soldiers killed by the end of 2023 was estimated at 75,000 (the statistical midpoint of an overall range from 66,000 to 88,000). These calculations exclude losses within the Donbas “separatist” units, as well as those among men over 50 years old. Most estimates of losses near Avdiivka range from several thousand to between 16,000-17,000, implying that anywhere from 5%-20% of Russian losses over the first two years of full-scale war were incurred at Avdiivka.

SMRB - Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, one of the most common units of the Russian Ground Forces. It is equipped with infantry fighting vehicles or armored personnel carriers, as well as tanks and other equipment. It is an approximate analogue of the Ukrainian mechanized brigade (SMB).

OSINT - Open Source Intelligence, reconnaissance based on open sources of information.

IFV - Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Designed for transporting infantry and providing fire support directly on the battlefield.

SMO - Special Military Operation. This is the official term used in Russia to refer to the full-scale war against Ukraine, which began on February 24, 2022. The abbreviation is enclosed in quotation marks because it serves as a euphemism.

MT-LB - Soviet multipurpose lightly armored tractor, distinguished by high cross-country capability. Used by both sides in the Russo-Ukrainian war for transporting cargo and personnel, towing artillery, as well as serving as a base for improvised and semi-improvised mounting of various weapons systems ranging from naval anti-aircraft machine guns to 100-millimeter guns.

Explosive reactive armor - blocks with explosives installed on armored vehicles. When a projectile hits, a counter-explosion occurs, reducing its penetrating power.

ATGMS - Anti-Tank Guided Missile System. It is a relatively compact anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) launcher, most often portable or installed on armored vehicles.

FPV drones - unmanned aerial vehicles controlled by an operator from a first-person view (FPV). The advantage of such systems is that the operator clearly sees where the drone (often kamikaze) is flying, allowing it, for example, to fly into cover and target individual unprotected elements of combat vehicles.

AFV – armored fighting vehicle. Often used as an umbrella term for infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers



HUR - Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. Ukrainian military intelligence. Chief - Major General Kyrylo Budanov.

Oryx is a military-themed open source intelligence (OSINT) project. It was founded by two Dutch analysts who previously collaborated with the investigative project Bellingcat. It is considered the most reliable aggregator of data on visually confirmed losses of military vehicles and other equipment during the war in Ukraine.

Combined Arms combat - a combat tactic based on the comprehensive interaction of all forces, means, and types of troops (tanks, infantry, artillery, aircraft, UAVs, etc.), which provide mutual support and/or jointly engage the enemy.

«Dragon's Teeth» - concrete pyramid-shaped stakes that serve as anti-tank engineering obstacles. Widely used during the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war in the construction of defense lines in border regions of the Russian Federation and in occupied territories of Ukraine by the Russian Armed Forces.

Anywhere from 5%-20% of Russian losses over the first two years of full-scale war were incurred at Avdiivka

On the other hand, according to the HUR, Russia recruits up to 20,000 people per month into its Armed Forces. This means that all its manpower losses near Avdiivka could be replenished much more quickly than they were lost, although the quality of such reinforcements leaves much to be desired.

Regarding equipment losses, the 132 destroyed tanks constitute just under 10% of tank deliveries to the Russian Armed Forces in 2023 (according to official data). A similar ratio is observed for destroyed IFVs: approximately 10% of the 2,518 IFVs and APCs delivered.

SMRB - Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, one of the most common units of the Russian Ground Forces. It is equipped with infantry fighting vehicles or armored personnel carriers, as well as tanks and other equipment. It is an approximate analogue of the Ukrainian mechanized brigade (SMB).

OSINT - Open Source Intelligence, reconnaissance based on open sources of information.

IFV - Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Designed for transporting infantry and providing fire support directly on the battlefield.

SMO - Special Military Operation. This is the official term used in Russia to refer to the full-scale war against Ukraine, which began on February 24, 2022. The abbreviation is enclosed in quotation marks because it serves as a euphemism.

MT-LB - Soviet multipurpose lightly armored tractor, distinguished by high cross-country capability. Used by both sides in the Russo-Ukrainian war for transporting cargo and personnel, towing artillery, as well as serving as a base for improvised and semi-improvised mounting of various weapons systems ranging from naval anti-aircraft machine guns to 100-millimeter guns.

Explosive reactive armor - blocks with explosives installed on armored vehicles. When a projectile hits, a counter-explosion occurs, reducing its penetrating power.

ATGMS - Anti-Tank Guided Missile System. It is a relatively compact anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) launcher, most often portable or installed on armored vehicles.

FPV drones - unmanned aerial vehicles controlled by an operator from a first-person view (FPV). The advantage of such systems is that the operator clearly sees where the drone (often kamikaze) is flying, allowing it, for example, to fly into cover and target individual unprotected elements of combat vehicles.

AFV – armored fighting vehicle. Often used as an umbrella term for infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers



HUR - Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. Ukrainian military intelligence. Chief - Major General Kyrylo Budanov.

Oryx is a military-themed open source intelligence (OSINT) project. It was founded by two Dutch analysts who previously collaborated with the investigative project Bellingcat. It is considered the most reliable aggregator of data on visually confirmed losses of military vehicles and other equipment during the war in Ukraine.

Combined Arms combat - a combat tactic based on the comprehensive interaction of all forces, means, and types of troops (tanks, infantry, artillery, aircraft, UAVs, etc.), which provide mutual support and/or jointly engage the enemy.

«Dragon's Teeth» - concrete pyramid-shaped stakes that serve as anti-tank engineering obstacles. Widely used during the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war in the construction of defense lines in border regions of the Russian Federation and in occupied territories of Ukraine by the Russian Armed Forces.

Avdiivka coke chemical plant, February 15, 2024
Avdiivka coke chemical plant, February 15, 2024
Konstantin and Vlada Liberovs / Instagram

However, the overwhelming majority of equipment provided to the troops on the ground is not newly produced but rather de-mothballed or upgraded. According to analyst Covert Cabal, as of October 2023, 3,525 tanks in a repairable condition remained at Russian storage depots — i.e. Russia could theoretically bring into service thirty times the number of tanks it lost at Avdiivka. His calculations further indicate that 8,917 various AFVs were still stored in Russian warehouses as of October, of which 3,677 were BMP infantry fighting vehicles. The 263 destroyed IFVs (including 121 old-model BMPs) yielded a similar ratio, suggesting that 3% of all Russian armored vehicle stocks were irretrievably lost near Avdiivka.

SMRB - Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, one of the most common units of the Russian Ground Forces. It is equipped with infantry fighting vehicles or armored personnel carriers, as well as tanks and other equipment. It is an approximate analogue of the Ukrainian mechanized brigade (SMB).

OSINT - Open Source Intelligence, reconnaissance based on open sources of information.

IFV - Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Designed for transporting infantry and providing fire support directly on the battlefield.

SMO - Special Military Operation. This is the official term used in Russia to refer to the full-scale war against Ukraine, which began on February 24, 2022. The abbreviation is enclosed in quotation marks because it serves as a euphemism.

MT-LB - Soviet multipurpose lightly armored tractor, distinguished by high cross-country capability. Used by both sides in the Russo-Ukrainian war for transporting cargo and personnel, towing artillery, as well as serving as a base for improvised and semi-improvised mounting of various weapons systems ranging from naval anti-aircraft machine guns to 100-millimeter guns.

Explosive reactive armor - blocks with explosives installed on armored vehicles. When a projectile hits, a counter-explosion occurs, reducing its penetrating power.

ATGMS - Anti-Tank Guided Missile System. It is a relatively compact anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) launcher, most often portable or installed on armored vehicles.

FPV drones - unmanned aerial vehicles controlled by an operator from a first-person view (FPV). The advantage of such systems is that the operator clearly sees where the drone (often kamikaze) is flying, allowing it, for example, to fly into cover and target individual unprotected elements of combat vehicles.

AFV – armored fighting vehicle. Often used as an umbrella term for infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers



HUR - Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. Ukrainian military intelligence. Chief - Major General Kyrylo Budanov.

Oryx is a military-themed open source intelligence (OSINT) project. It was founded by two Dutch analysts who previously collaborated with the investigative project Bellingcat. It is considered the most reliable aggregator of data on visually confirmed losses of military vehicles and other equipment during the war in Ukraine.

Combined Arms combat - a combat tactic based on the comprehensive interaction of all forces, means, and types of troops (tanks, infantry, artillery, aircraft, UAVs, etc.), which provide mutual support and/or jointly engage the enemy.

«Dragon's Teeth» - concrete pyramid-shaped stakes that serve as anti-tank engineering obstacles. Widely used during the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war in the construction of defense lines in border regions of the Russian Federation and in occupied territories of Ukraine by the Russian Armed Forces.

3% of all Russian armored vehicle stocks were irretrievably lost near Avdiivka

A comparison of data from Oryx on Russian equipment losses at the start and at the conclusion of the Avdiivka offensive reveals that during this period, confirmed Russian equipment losses across the entire front amounted to approximately 1,969 units, including 380 tanks and 597 BMPs. Therefore, over the course of the battle, up to a third of all Russian equipment losses, 60% of tank losses, and up to 30% of IFV losses were incurred at Avdiivka. Additionally, when compared with other operations, it is clear that over the 4-month Avdiivka offensive, the Russians lost approximately the same quantity of equipment as during more than six months they spent repelling the Ukrainian offensive in the Zaporizhzhia direction (according to Naalsio) this past summer and fall. Moreover, while the ratio of confirmed Ukrainian and Russian equipment losses hovered around 1:1 in that theater, near Avdiivka, the equipment losses of the Russian Armed Forces exceeded those of the Ukrainian Armed Forces by a factor of 9.

Why are the losses so staggering?

Among the probable causes of the significant losses suffered by the Russian Armed Forces near Avdiivka, it is necessary to highlight both tactical miscalculations by Russian commanders and the overall situation on the battlefield, which has undergone a dramatic transformation with the development of reconnaissance, communication, and high-precision strike technologies. Furthermore, as The Insider noted in last year's review of the frontline situation, it is evident that the Russian command has failed to learn any lessons from the summer Ukrainian counteroffensive, which confronted the same challenges as the Russians subsequently did near Avdiivka.

SMRB - Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, one of the most common units of the Russian Ground Forces. It is equipped with infantry fighting vehicles or armored personnel carriers, as well as tanks and other equipment. It is an approximate analogue of the Ukrainian mechanized brigade (SMB).

OSINT - Open Source Intelligence, reconnaissance based on open sources of information.

IFV - Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Designed for transporting infantry and providing fire support directly on the battlefield.

SMO - Special Military Operation. This is the official term used in Russia to refer to the full-scale war against Ukraine, which began on February 24, 2022. The abbreviation is enclosed in quotation marks because it serves as a euphemism.

MT-LB - Soviet multipurpose lightly armored tractor, distinguished by high cross-country capability. Used by both sides in the Russo-Ukrainian war for transporting cargo and personnel, towing artillery, as well as serving as a base for improvised and semi-improvised mounting of various weapons systems ranging from naval anti-aircraft machine guns to 100-millimeter guns.

Explosive reactive armor - blocks with explosives installed on armored vehicles. When a projectile hits, a counter-explosion occurs, reducing its penetrating power.

ATGMS - Anti-Tank Guided Missile System. It is a relatively compact anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) launcher, most often portable or installed on armored vehicles.

FPV drones - unmanned aerial vehicles controlled by an operator from a first-person view (FPV). The advantage of such systems is that the operator clearly sees where the drone (often kamikaze) is flying, allowing it, for example, to fly into cover and target individual unprotected elements of combat vehicles.

AFV – armored fighting vehicle. Often used as an umbrella term for infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers



HUR - Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. Ukrainian military intelligence. Chief - Major General Kyrylo Budanov.

Oryx is a military-themed open source intelligence (OSINT) project. It was founded by two Dutch analysts who previously collaborated with the investigative project Bellingcat. It is considered the most reliable aggregator of data on visually confirmed losses of military vehicles and other equipment during the war in Ukraine.

Combined Arms combat - a combat tactic based on the comprehensive interaction of all forces, means, and types of troops (tanks, infantry, artillery, aircraft, UAVs, etc.), which provide mutual support and/or jointly engage the enemy.

«Dragon's Teeth» - concrete pyramid-shaped stakes that serve as anti-tank engineering obstacles. Widely used during the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war in the construction of defense lines in border regions of the Russian Federation and in occupied territories of Ukraine by the Russian Armed Forces.

The Russian command has failed to learn any lessons from the summer Ukrainian counteroffensive when planning its Avdiivka offensive

Primarily, we are referring to Ukrainian videos depicting the repulsion of attacks by the Russian Armed Forces (1, 2, 3), in which infantry groups and columns of armored vehicles come under artillery and drone strikes and are blown up by mines. Speaking about the fighting that persisted even after the capture of Avdiivka, Russian serviceman Svyatoslav Golikov notes that such attacks often occur without the support of artillery and UAVs, and the fighters themselves lack hand-held anti-tank weapons and are poorly trained, which leads to avoidable losses.

SMRB - Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, one of the most common units of the Russian Ground Forces. It is equipped with infantry fighting vehicles or armored personnel carriers, as well as tanks and other equipment. It is an approximate analogue of the Ukrainian mechanized brigade (SMB).

OSINT - Open Source Intelligence, reconnaissance based on open sources of information.

IFV - Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Designed for transporting infantry and providing fire support directly on the battlefield.

SMO - Special Military Operation. This is the official term used in Russia to refer to the full-scale war against Ukraine, which began on February 24, 2022. The abbreviation is enclosed in quotation marks because it serves as a euphemism.

MT-LB - Soviet multipurpose lightly armored tractor, distinguished by high cross-country capability. Used by both sides in the Russo-Ukrainian war for transporting cargo and personnel, towing artillery, as well as serving as a base for improvised and semi-improvised mounting of various weapons systems ranging from naval anti-aircraft machine guns to 100-millimeter guns.

Explosive reactive armor - blocks with explosives installed on armored vehicles. When a projectile hits, a counter-explosion occurs, reducing its penetrating power.

ATGMS - Anti-Tank Guided Missile System. It is a relatively compact anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) launcher, most often portable or installed on armored vehicles.

FPV drones - unmanned aerial vehicles controlled by an operator from a first-person view (FPV). The advantage of such systems is that the operator clearly sees where the drone (often kamikaze) is flying, allowing it, for example, to fly into cover and target individual unprotected elements of combat vehicles.

AFV – armored fighting vehicle. Often used as an umbrella term for infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers



HUR - Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. Ukrainian military intelligence. Chief - Major General Kyrylo Budanov.

Oryx is a military-themed open source intelligence (OSINT) project. It was founded by two Dutch analysts who previously collaborated with the investigative project Bellingcat. It is considered the most reliable aggregator of data on visually confirmed losses of military vehicles and other equipment during the war in Ukraine.

Combined Arms combat - a combat tactic based on the comprehensive interaction of all forces, means, and types of troops (tanks, infantry, artillery, aircraft, UAVs, etc.), which provide mutual support and/or jointly engage the enemy.

«Dragon's Teeth» - concrete pyramid-shaped stakes that serve as anti-tank engineering obstacles. Widely used during the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war in the construction of defense lines in border regions of the Russian Federation and in occupied territories of Ukraine by the Russian Armed Forces.

The road to Avdiivka, February 2024
The road to Avdiivka, February 2024
Kostiantyn Liberov / Getty

The problem could have been mitigated by exploiting a superiority in manpower. However, the situation is also impacted by a fundamental shift in the nature of warfare – a qualitative technological leap in the realms of reconnaissance (satellite, drone, and human intelligence), communications (not only satellite but also advanced digital radios), and fire assets (precision munitions, missiles, “bomber” and “kamikaze” drones, as well as real-time fire adjustment for conventional artillery).

Consequently, it has become virtually impossible to secretly concentrate significant forces at the tactical level, as they will be detected and destroyed even before the battle commences. As a result, combat operations are reduced to constant attacks by small groups, which in the medium term could incur perhaps even greater losses than a one-time, albeit bloody, breakthrough of defensive lines by large mechanized formations. Here again, however, the insufficient tactical training of Russian commanders may be a contributing factor, one resulting in an inability to manage combined arms combat at the brigade level and above – a problem that Western experts had previously noted among Ukrainian officers.

Historical precedents

In modern history, it is difficult to find examples of such bloody and prolonged battles for a town as small as Avdiivka (with a pre-war population of only 32,000 residents). The closest parallel is the siege of Petersburg by the Union Army in 1863-1864 during the American Civil War. Over the course of 10 months, the North lost 42,000 killed and wounded, while the Confederates suffered 28,000 casualties (with another 25,000 deserting). Around this relatively small town in Virginia (pre-war population of 18,000), the first trench warfare in history unfolded, something akin to a preview of the kind of fighting that would prevail on the Western Front during World War I, which was still half a century away.

The revolutionary long-range rifles of the era enabled the Southern CSA troops to repel almost all Northern attacks for an extended period. However, as a result of the ensuing war of attrition, the South could no longer sustain the overstretched lines of forts and trenches. They were ultimately forced to retreat and eventually surrender.

SMRB - Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, one of the most common units of the Russian Ground Forces. It is equipped with infantry fighting vehicles or armored personnel carriers, as well as tanks and other equipment. It is an approximate analogue of the Ukrainian mechanized brigade (SMB).

OSINT - Open Source Intelligence, reconnaissance based on open sources of information.

IFV - Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Designed for transporting infantry and providing fire support directly on the battlefield.

SMO - Special Military Operation. This is the official term used in Russia to refer to the full-scale war against Ukraine, which began on February 24, 2022. The abbreviation is enclosed in quotation marks because it serves as a euphemism.

MT-LB - Soviet multipurpose lightly armored tractor, distinguished by high cross-country capability. Used by both sides in the Russo-Ukrainian war for transporting cargo and personnel, towing artillery, as well as serving as a base for improvised and semi-improvised mounting of various weapons systems ranging from naval anti-aircraft machine guns to 100-millimeter guns.

Explosive reactive armor - blocks with explosives installed on armored vehicles. When a projectile hits, a counter-explosion occurs, reducing its penetrating power.

ATGMS - Anti-Tank Guided Missile System. It is a relatively compact anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) launcher, most often portable or installed on armored vehicles.

FPV drones - unmanned aerial vehicles controlled by an operator from a first-person view (FPV). The advantage of such systems is that the operator clearly sees where the drone (often kamikaze) is flying, allowing it, for example, to fly into cover and target individual unprotected elements of combat vehicles.

AFV – armored fighting vehicle. Often used as an umbrella term for infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers



HUR - Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. Ukrainian military intelligence. Chief - Major General Kyrylo Budanov.

Oryx is a military-themed open source intelligence (OSINT) project. It was founded by two Dutch analysts who previously collaborated with the investigative project Bellingcat. It is considered the most reliable aggregator of data on visually confirmed losses of military vehicles and other equipment during the war in Ukraine.

Combined Arms combat - a combat tactic based on the comprehensive interaction of all forces, means, and types of troops (tanks, infantry, artillery, aircraft, UAVs, etc.), which provide mutual support and/or jointly engage the enemy.

«Dragon's Teeth» - concrete pyramid-shaped stakes that serve as anti-tank engineering obstacles. Widely used during the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war in the construction of defense lines in border regions of the Russian Federation and in occupied territories of Ukraine by the Russian Armed Forces.

In modern history, it is difficult to find examples of such bloody and prolonged battles for a town as small as Avdiivka

In 1944, during World War II, it took the Americans just over a month to capture Aachen (pre-war population of 160,000) in western Germany. Despite the Allies’ superiority in equipment and manpower, as well as air supremacy, taking a city entrenched within the fortifications of the Siegfried Line was not a task that could be accomplished swiftly. The Americans not only had to engage in fierce urban combat, for which Aachen earned the moniker “Stalingrad of the West,” but they also had to overcome the fortifications on the city’s flanks, consisting of numerous bunkers, minefields, and “dragon's teeth.” U.S. losses during the operation amounted to 2,000 killed and over 5,000 wounded, while Aachen itself suffered significant destruction.

SMRB - Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, one of the most common units of the Russian Ground Forces. It is equipped with infantry fighting vehicles or armored personnel carriers, as well as tanks and other equipment. It is an approximate analogue of the Ukrainian mechanized brigade (SMB).

OSINT - Open Source Intelligence, reconnaissance based on open sources of information.

IFV - Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Designed for transporting infantry and providing fire support directly on the battlefield.

SMO - Special Military Operation. This is the official term used in Russia to refer to the full-scale war against Ukraine, which began on February 24, 2022. The abbreviation is enclosed in quotation marks because it serves as a euphemism.

MT-LB - Soviet multipurpose lightly armored tractor, distinguished by high cross-country capability. Used by both sides in the Russo-Ukrainian war for transporting cargo and personnel, towing artillery, as well as serving as a base for improvised and semi-improvised mounting of various weapons systems ranging from naval anti-aircraft machine guns to 100-millimeter guns.

Explosive reactive armor - blocks with explosives installed on armored vehicles. When a projectile hits, a counter-explosion occurs, reducing its penetrating power.

ATGMS - Anti-Tank Guided Missile System. It is a relatively compact anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) launcher, most often portable or installed on armored vehicles.

FPV drones - unmanned aerial vehicles controlled by an operator from a first-person view (FPV). The advantage of such systems is that the operator clearly sees where the drone (often kamikaze) is flying, allowing it, for example, to fly into cover and target individual unprotected elements of combat vehicles.

AFV – armored fighting vehicle. Often used as an umbrella term for infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers



HUR - Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. Ukrainian military intelligence. Chief - Major General Kyrylo Budanov.

Oryx is a military-themed open source intelligence (OSINT) project. It was founded by two Dutch analysts who previously collaborated with the investigative project Bellingcat. It is considered the most reliable aggregator of data on visually confirmed losses of military vehicles and other equipment during the war in Ukraine.

Combined Arms combat - a combat tactic based on the comprehensive interaction of all forces, means, and types of troops (tanks, infantry, artillery, aircraft, UAVs, etc.), which provide mutual support and/or jointly engage the enemy.

«Dragon's Teeth» - concrete pyramid-shaped stakes that serve as anti-tank engineering obstacles. Widely used during the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war in the construction of defense lines in border regions of the Russian Federation and in occupied territories of Ukraine by the Russian Armed Forces.

Avdiivka, December 7, 2023
Avdiivka, December 7, 2023
Konstantin and Vlada Liberovs / Instagram

Similar losses (2,000 killed and 6,000 wounded) were incurred by Saddam Hussein's army in the capture of Khorramshahr (pre-war population of 146,000) during the invasion of Iran's Khuzestan province in 1980. At that time, Iraq boasted one of the largest armies in the world and held superiority over the defenders in terms of armor, artillery, and air power. Additionally, the Iranian army had been virtually decapitated during the purges that followed the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Nevertheless, the regular units that remained combat-capable, combined with the forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and a range of militia detachments, mounted fierce resistance. Saddam's hopes for support from the Arab population of Khuzestan were unfulfilled, and as a result, the fighting dragged on for a month and a half. Iraqi tanks suffered heavy losses from Iranian recoilless guns and anti-tank rocket-propelled grenade launchers. During the battle, Khorramshahr was almost completely destroyed.

Perhaps the only comparable operation in the 21st century, in terms of losses for the attacking side, was the recent battle for Bakhmut (pre-war population of 71,000), where Russian casualties were in the tens of thousands killed and wounded, according to various estimates (1, 2). This operation differed from the fighting for Avdiivka in that armored vehicles were deployed by Wagner PMC mercenaries on a much smaller scale, and the Ukrainian troops did not face ammunition shortages. At the same time, for many months, Ukrainian supply lines remained under fire control[14], and the use of convicts coupled with the threat of execution for refusing to attack enabled the “Wagnerites” to advance, disregarding casualties.

SMRB - Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, one of the most common units of the Russian Ground Forces. It is equipped with infantry fighting vehicles or armored personnel carriers, as well as tanks and other equipment. It is an approximate analogue of the Ukrainian mechanized brigade (SMB).

OSINT - Open Source Intelligence, reconnaissance based on open sources of information.

IFV - Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Designed for transporting infantry and providing fire support directly on the battlefield.

SMO - Special Military Operation. This is the official term used in Russia to refer to the full-scale war against Ukraine, which began on February 24, 2022. The abbreviation is enclosed in quotation marks because it serves as a euphemism.

MT-LB - Soviet multipurpose lightly armored tractor, distinguished by high cross-country capability. Used by both sides in the Russo-Ukrainian war for transporting cargo and personnel, towing artillery, as well as serving as a base for improvised and semi-improvised mounting of various weapons systems ranging from naval anti-aircraft machine guns to 100-millimeter guns.

Explosive reactive armor - blocks with explosives installed on armored vehicles. When a projectile hits, a counter-explosion occurs, reducing its penetrating power.

ATGMS - Anti-Tank Guided Missile System. It is a relatively compact anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) launcher, most often portable or installed on armored vehicles.

FPV drones - unmanned aerial vehicles controlled by an operator from a first-person view (FPV). The advantage of such systems is that the operator clearly sees where the drone (often kamikaze) is flying, allowing it, for example, to fly into cover and target individual unprotected elements of combat vehicles.

AFV – armored fighting vehicle. Often used as an umbrella term for infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers



HUR - Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. Ukrainian military intelligence. Chief - Major General Kyrylo Budanov.

Oryx is a military-themed open source intelligence (OSINT) project. It was founded by two Dutch analysts who previously collaborated with the investigative project Bellingcat. It is considered the most reliable aggregator of data on visually confirmed losses of military vehicles and other equipment during the war in Ukraine.

Combined Arms combat - a combat tactic based on the comprehensive interaction of all forces, means, and types of troops (tanks, infantry, artillery, aircraft, UAVs, etc.), which provide mutual support and/or jointly engage the enemy.

«Dragon's Teeth» - concrete pyramid-shaped stakes that serve as anti-tank engineering obstacles. Widely used during the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war in the construction of defense lines in border regions of the Russian Federation and in occupied territories of Ukraine by the Russian Armed Forces.

The only operation in the 21st century comparable to Avdiivka, in terms of losses for the attacking side, was the recent battle for Bakhmut

Overall, we can conclude that Russian losses near Avdiivka ought not be deemed “minimal” by any measure. In the medium term, such losses can potentially be replenished, but if moving the battle lines continues to exact such a toll on Russian troops, it is not entirely clear how the Kremlin ever expects to make significant territorial gains — even of the Donetsk region, to say nothing of the remaining vast lands of Ukraine.

SMRB - Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, one of the most common units of the Russian Ground Forces. It is equipped with infantry fighting vehicles or armored personnel carriers, as well as tanks and other equipment. It is an approximate analogue of the Ukrainian mechanized brigade (SMB).

OSINT - Open Source Intelligence, reconnaissance based on open sources of information.

IFV - Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Designed for transporting infantry and providing fire support directly on the battlefield.

SMO - Special Military Operation. This is the official term used in Russia to refer to the full-scale war against Ukraine, which began on February 24, 2022. The abbreviation is enclosed in quotation marks because it serves as a euphemism.

MT-LB - Soviet multipurpose lightly armored tractor, distinguished by high cross-country capability. Used by both sides in the Russo-Ukrainian war for transporting cargo and personnel, towing artillery, as well as serving as a base for improvised and semi-improvised mounting of various weapons systems ranging from naval anti-aircraft machine guns to 100-millimeter guns.

Explosive reactive armor - blocks with explosives installed on armored vehicles. When a projectile hits, a counter-explosion occurs, reducing its penetrating power.

ATGMS - Anti-Tank Guided Missile System. It is a relatively compact anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) launcher, most often portable or installed on armored vehicles.

FPV drones - unmanned aerial vehicles controlled by an operator from a first-person view (FPV). The advantage of such systems is that the operator clearly sees where the drone (often kamikaze) is flying, allowing it, for example, to fly into cover and target individual unprotected elements of combat vehicles.

AFV – armored fighting vehicle. Often used as an umbrella term for infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers



HUR - Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. Ukrainian military intelligence. Chief - Major General Kyrylo Budanov.

Oryx is a military-themed open source intelligence (OSINT) project. It was founded by two Dutch analysts who previously collaborated with the investigative project Bellingcat. It is considered the most reliable aggregator of data on visually confirmed losses of military vehicles and other equipment during the war in Ukraine.

Combined Arms combat - a combat tactic based on the comprehensive interaction of all forces, means, and types of troops (tanks, infantry, artillery, aircraft, UAVs, etc.), which provide mutual support and/or jointly engage the enemy.

«Dragon's Teeth» - concrete pyramid-shaped stakes that serve as anti-tank engineering obstacles. Widely used during the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war in the construction of defense lines in border regions of the Russian Federation and in occupied territories of Ukraine by the Russian Armed Forces.

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