Russia's air superiority allowed it to capture Avdiivka – ISW

An aerial view of Avdiivka. Photo: Libkos on Instagram
An aerial view of Avdiivka. Photo: Libkos on Instagram

Experts from the Institute for the Study of War believe that Russian forces were able to establish limited and localised air superiority, providing ground troops with air support during the final days of their assault on Avdiivka. This is "likely the first time that Russian forces have done so in Ukraine," the institute said.

Source: Institute for the Study of War (ISW)

Details: Russian forces have gradually increased their use of glide bombs since early 2023, ISW analysts said, "but the recent mass use of glide bombs in Avdiivka is the first time that Russian aviation has used these bombs at scale to provide close air support to advancing infantry troops".

Russia’s ability to conduct mass strikes for several days in a row in the most active part of the front suggests that Ukrainian forces were not able to prevent them from accessing the airspace around Avdiivka. Russian forces "likely leveraged this temporary localized air superiority to facilitate the capture of much of the settlement," ISW said.

The spokesperson for a Ukrainian brigade operating near Avdiivka said on 17 February that Russian forces launched 60 KAB glide bombs at Ukrainian positions in Avdiivka over the previous day alone.

Another Ukrainian soldier operating in the area said that Russian forces launched up to 500 glide bombs at Avdiivka in recent days.

Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, Commander of the Tavriia Group of Forces, said that Russian forces conducted 73 airstrikes on the Tavriia front (Avdiivka through western Zaporizhzhia Oblast) on 14 February alone, adding that this was a record number, as Russian forces intensified their tactical turning movement in Avdiivka.

Russian sources widely believe that Russian forces’ use of glide bombs allowed Russian forces to overcome Ukrainian defences in Avdiivka. Some Russian military bloggers claim that Russian forces have air superiority in the area.

Meanwhile, the ISW also stressed that delays in Western security assistance "may lead to further significant constraints on Ukrainian air defenses that could allow Russian forces to replicate the close air support that facilitated Russian advances in Avdiivka at scale in Ukraine".

"Limited effective air defense systems, dwindling air defense missiles stocks, and continued Russian missile and drone strikes against rear population centers are likely forcing Ukraine to make difficult choices about what areas of the frontline receive air defense coverage," the ISW wrote.

Recurring Russian air superiority could allow Russian forces to more aggressively pursue operational advances along the entire frontline.

The ISW also reported that Ukrainian forces shot down three Russian fighter aircraft, two Su-34s and one Su-35, over Donetsk Oblast on 17 February, likely committing scarce air defence assets to help cover the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from Avdiivka.

To Quote from ISW Key Takeaways on 17 February:

  • Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed that Russian forces have established "full control" over Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast as Russian forces continued to advance in the settlement on 17 February, and Ukrainian forces have likely withdrawn from Avdiivka.

  • Russian sources largely characterised the Ukrainian withdrawal as disorganised and costly and claimed that Russian forces managed to encircle large Ukrainian groups in Avdiivka, but ISW has observed no evidence supporting these Russian claims.

  • Russian forces appear to have temporarily established limited and localised air superiority and were able to provide ground troops with close air support during the final days of their offensive operation to capture Avdiivka, likely the first time that Russian forces have done so in Ukraine.

  • Delays in Western security assistance may lead to further significant constraints on Ukrainian air defences that could allow Russian forces to replicate the close air support that facilitated Russian advances in Avdiivka at scale in Ukraine.

  • Ukrainian forces reportedly shot down three Russian fighter aircraft – two Su-34s and one Su-35 – over Donetsk Oblast on 17 February, likely having committed scarce air defence assets to help cover the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from Avdiivka.

  • Russian authorities arrested several hundred demonstrators on 17 February amid slightly larger demonstrations responding to imprisoned opposition politician Alexei Navalny’s death.

  • The US Department of Justice announced on 17 February that the US sent US$500,000 of forfeited Russian funds to Estonia to repair Ukraine’s energy infrastructure

  • Russian forces made confirmed advances near Bakhmut and Avdiivka and in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast

  • Russian occupation authorities continue efforts to propagandise and militarise Ukrainian youth in occupied areas.

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