In an interview with NV Radio on Jan. 22, Ukrainian military expert Oleksandr Kovalenko spoke about the difficult situation in Avdiivka, Russian losses, and the need for further mobilization.
NV: The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) recorded Russian troops advancing along the streets of Avdiivka. Does this mean the city is about to fall?
Kovalenko: We’ve already repeatedly said about Avdiivka that it’s a fixation for Moscow. First of all, this is a political decision, not a tactical or strategic one.
They needed Avdiivka as a big epic victory ahead of [Russian dictator Vladimir] Putin’s December 2023 press conference, so that he could flaunt it as a victory. This didn’t happen and he was denied the trophy.
They failed to do it for the second deadline either, i.e., before the New Year.
Now they have a third deadline: before the so-called elections [in March], they will need Putin to come out with some kind of “big victory,” which is how they see Avdiivka. That is, not some small village or completely destroyed Maryinka, which they tried to make into some kind of epic victory. Firstly, Maryinka is much smaller than Avdiivka, and secondly, it has been wiped off the face of the earth. They cannot flaunt it, and there’s nowhere to plant their flag there.
That’s why Avdiivka remains the number one target. A large number of Russian forces and assets have been deployed there, including almost 45,000 troops and several combined army units.
In addition, we’ve repeatedly said that Avdiivka will be much more difficult to defend than Bakhmut. Not because it’s less fortified—on the contrary. But logistics are more limited there and now the Russians are trying to exploit these bottlenecks to continue their assault.
After they advanced to the south in the industrial zone, south of Avdiivka, it was clear that after some time they would have the opportunity to advance directly into the city itself.
We should look at this rationally and soberly. The Russians don’t spare human resources and send them into constant assaults, 24 hours a day. But our task today is to destroy as much of this resource as possible.
Going back to late 2023, when it has already been repeatedly said that we’ll now be in a phase when it’s important for us to exhaust the enemy. As long as we can afford it—to hold our ground and destroy many more Russians—we’ll do so or withdraw to a more advantageous position.
These are the two main points to make about Avdiivka: we’ll hold for as long as possible, but the pressure the Russian invaders are exerting today will allow them to continue their offensive.
I’d say that I have doubts that they’ll be able to meet the third deadline. They have much more problems near Avdiivka, evident even from pro-Russian propaganda resources. [nearly] 45,000 troops have been trying to capture the small city for more than three months. Although in 2022, not even 45,000 soldiers, but about 40,000 advanced on Kyiv and almost reached it.
NV: Will the Ukrainian forces have time to withdraw from the city if the need arises?
Kovalenko: Route 0542 is the main direction through which they’ll leave Avdiivka if there’s such an order. This is exactly the logistics I was talking about, why Avdiivka is in a more vulnerable position than Bakhmut. Avdiivka has only one logistics artery, and Bakhmut had two logistics arteries left when it was 80% captured [by the Russians].
When I’m asked about Avdiivka, for some reason the question sounds like: “How can you describe the critical situation near Avdiivka?” The situation is difficult there, but not yet critical. The situation has been steadily difficult there for more than three months.
But what is “critical”? It will be critical when the Russians capture Sieverne and Tonenke from south to north across the village of Vodiane, or when they capture Stepove, Berdychi, and Semenivka in the northern area. After that, when Route 0542 isn’t just under artillery fire, but is also exposed to small arms fire, it will make it difficult to withdraw from Avdiivka. Or when, for example, they capture the Coke Plant industrial zone and cut Route 0542, it would be a critical situation.
So far, there is no threat of the Russians encircling or blocking the Ukrainian garrison in Avdiivka.
NV: You said that they don’t spare people. How can Ukraine counter? Because President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently said Ukraine doesn’t need to “immediately” mobilize 500,000 people and that he sees no need for it. How many people the Ukrainian military needs right now in and around Avdiivka?
Kovalenko: No one says that we need to mobilize 500,000 people now. No mobilization system can process such a load.
Russia mobilized 100,000 people a month during the so-called partial mobilization in [late] 2022, which almost broke their mobilization system. It was a collapse of the general mobilization system.
Let’s imagine that we’ll try to mobilize 600,000 people in one month. That’s impossible. But up to 50,000 people a month is quite realistic. The mobilization system can withstand it.
And over a year, if we mobilize 40,000 each month, we’ll get the necessary number of 450,000–500,000 fresh troops.
What is it for? First of all, for rotation. Not only to compensate for losses (killed, wounded, captured), but we need it to rotate exhausted brigades.
People cannot fight or stay on the front line for half a year or a year. This exhaustion is not only physical, but also mental and psychological. Not everyone’s nervous system can withstand such stress. There are also other physiological needs. Constantly being in field conditions or nervous tension requires rotation and recovery, both physical and psychological. The rotational need is the main one.
What do we need near Avdiivka? We’re not only talking about people. We need not only people. In general, we have a great need for both equipment and artillery near Avdiivka, which we now are in short supply of, to put it mildly.
The Russians know about it. Their situation is no better, despite the fact that North Korea and Iran are supplying them with ammunition. But the general situation is no better. However, they’re taking advantage of the fact that we’re strictly rationing artillery ammunition.
We’re not just talking about the D-20 or D-30 howitzer. We’re also talking about mortars, multiple launch rocket systems, etc. To compensate, they’re now using more infantry to account for the shortage of equipment. The vast majority of their assaults are now infantry.
But it’s artillery that can effectively counter them, especially if we’re talking about cluster munitions. This is what we need now, besides people: ammunition, artillery, and equipment.
NV: The mobilization bill was met with opposition in the Ukrainian parliament. The revised version might be submitted on Feb. 6, but the entire process will take considerable time. Could this legislative delay affect the situation on the battlefield?
Kovalenko: I don’t think it will critically affect the situation at the front. Not yet. We still have some buffer. Unfortunately, it depends on those guys who have been in the war zone for almost half a year or a year, and they are exhausted. They can still hold on, as they say, but they’re already almost at their limit.
What does this delay look like? What is a month? Let’s imagine that our mobilization began on Jan. 1. In fact, we would already have 40,000 conscripts by the end of January. All this is conditional.
What happens next with these 40,000 people? They’re not immediately sent to the war zone for rotation to replace those who have already been there for a year or more. They’re sent to training. All this must be done correctly, so basic training takes three months.
What happens after these three months? These 40,000 then go into cohesion training, which can last up to a month, as well as training close to real combat conditions, which takes another month. In total, four months.
And those 40,000 mobilized in January enter the war zone at best in July to replace those who have been there for a very long time.
It will take four months, if everything is done correctly. If not, the training time can be reduced, just as the Russian military does: two weeks and you’re deployed to the combat zone. But we’re not Russians and every life is important for us. Therefore, everything must be done properly.
We have the following situation now: consideration of the bill is postponed to February. So, even if this whole story ends in February, when can mobilization itself begin? At best, in March.
We’ll have the first mobilized soldiers by late March, according to this bill. If we have them at best in late March, when can we use them to rotate at least 40,000 troops? It’s the end of summer or early September. That’s what this delay means.
Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine