Tactical Move Or Strategic Setback? Ukrainian Troops Retreat Amid Ammo Shortages

By Greg Moriarty | Sunday, 18 February 2024 10:30 AM
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In a significant development in the ongoing conflict in Eastern Europe, Ukrainian forces have retreated from the strategically crucial town of Avdiivka.

This move, which comes as the war approaches its second year, could potentially open the door for an advance by Russian forces.

The decision to withdraw was announced amidst a severe ammunition shortage in Ukraine, with much-needed military aid from the United States stalled in Congress for months. The objective of this strategic retreat, according to Kyiv, is to prevent Ukrainian troops from being entirely encircled by Russian forces after months of intense combat.

Avdiivka, once home to a pre-war population of 32,000, has seen most of its inhabitants flee, and the town has been almost entirely devastated.

The announcement of the withdrawal was made by General Oleksandr Syrskyi, who recently assumed command of the Ukrainian military following a significant reshuffle. He described the retreat as a tactical decision aimed at preserving the lives of the troops stationed in a town that has been under relentless attack for months.

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"I decided to withdraw our units from the town and move to defense from more favorable lines in order to avoid encirclement and preserve the lives and health of servicemen," Syrskyi stated.

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"Our soldiers performed their military duty with dignity, did everything possible to destroy the best Russian military units, inflicted significant losses on the enemy in terms of manpower and equipment," he added.

Russia intensified its offensive on Avdiivka in October, and Ukraine's position had been increasingly precarious for weeks. The Third Assault Brigade, a prominent Ukrainian infantry assault unit, was deployed to the town to bolster troops as other Ukrainian forces retreated from the southeast of the town. The unit described the combat as "hell" and reported on social media that Ukrainian defenders were outnumbered by Russian forces by a ratio of about six to 100 in some places.

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This withdrawal is perceived as a significant victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin, the most substantial since Russia seized the city of Bakhmut in May 2023.

The timing of this development is critical as Russia seeks a morale boost ahead of the second anniversary on February 24 of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the upcoming presidential election in Russia in March. This news follows the recent announcement of the death of Putin critic and opposition leader Alexei Navalny at the age of 47.

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National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby had warned just days earlier that the town was at risk of falling into Russian control.

"This is happening because Ukrainian forces on the ground are running out of artillery ammunition," Kirby said during a press briefing Thursday.

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"Russia is sending wave after wave of conscript forces to attack Ukrainian positions, and because Congress is yet to pass the supplemental bill, we've not been able to provide Ukraine with the artillery shells that they desperately need to disrupt these Russian assaults."

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The United States is Ukraine’s largest single supporter, but approximately $60 billion intended for Kyiv is being held up by political disagreements among American lawmakers.

Earlier this month, all 27 countries of the European Union agreed on a €50 billion ($54 billion) financial aid package to Ukraine.

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The withdrawal occurred a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made another trip to western Europe, hoping to persuade his country’s Western allies to continue providing military support.

Speaking at the Munich security conference on Saturday, Zelenskyy urged Western countries to assist Ukraine in defeating Putin, stating that the war poses a threat to the entire world.

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"How long will the world let Russia be like this? This is the main question today," Zelenskyy said.

"Please, everyone in the world, do not ask Ukraine when the war will end. Ask yourself – why is Putin still able to continue it. Let’s not fear Putin’s defeat and the destruction of his regime. Let’s instead – work together to destroy what he stands for. It is his fate to lose, not the fate of the rules-based world order to vanish. And may our world, based on rules, never become the world of yesterday."

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