Russian forces retreating?

Frontline reports suggest that Russian troops have begun withdrawing from their positions

Russian forces retreating?

Russian forces near Volnovakha. Photo: Sefa Karacan / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

A source tells Novaya-Europe that the Russian group of forces in Ukraine is beginning to leave their current positions. Very slowly, for now. But we can possibly be seeing signs of Ukraine’s long-predicted offensive.

Russians are retreating

According to the reports from the line of engagement, Russian units are now pulling out from the “north salient” near Avdiivka. Fighting is underway for the control of Novoselivka but Ukraine is not trying to assault the village as of now, “they are more signalling their presence”.

“The south salient near the village of Vodyane is still holding up, but [Russians] may retreat from there in the next two days,” the source tells Novaya-Europe. “The Vuhledar positions are abandoned. A ten-kilometre grey zone lies there now. The Russian forces are withdrawing to Volnovakha. They are still holding the line in Marinka but there are not many troops. As for Bakhmut, the Ukrainian army since last night has begun recapturing the central quarters previously captured by the Wagner [Group] fighters. They are moving ahead slowly but steadily. It seems like the Russians are preparing to withdraw from the areas to the north and south of Bakhmut.”

“The Ukrainian forces redeployed fresh assault troops to the Donetsk axis which first carried out successful feeler attacks near Vodyane to push Russian forces out by 2-3 km and then knocked the Russians out from their positions to the northeast of Avdiivka, striking at the base of the Russian salient in Novoselivka,” the Volya Telegram channel describes the events. “According to reports coming from both sides, the Russian troops retreated to Novoselivka, this village can be lost if Ukraine continues to push ahead. This, in turn, can lead to an encirclement or fast withdrawal of Russian forces from their positions near Krasnohorivka. These are the very positions that Russian military bloggers lauded as key, assuring their audiences in the autumn that they are instrumental for Russians to encircle Avdiivka. These settlements have been embroiled in fierce fighting since the beginning of the war. Now, all Russia’s local successes are likely to result in a retreat from the positions that were generously watered with blood.”

Destroyed residential buildings following an attack on Avdiivka, 23 March 2023. Photo: Andre Luis Alves /Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Destroyed residential buildings following an attack on Avdiivka, 23 March 2023. Photo: Andre Luis Alves /Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

According to Volya, the Russians have also pulled out from the areas east of Avdiivka and retreated closer to the village of Spartak and the city of Yasynuvata. The Telegram channel’s sources link the retreat to two factors. Firstly, Russian units were no longer capable of advancing because their human and material resources were exhausted. Secondly, the actions of Ukrainian assault forces near Avdiivka proved that the stretched-out frontline can be breached in several spots at once which prompted the decision to shorten the line of engagement to lay down a saturated defence stand around Donetsk, Yasynuvata, and Horlivka, while simultaneously bolstering defences around Volnovakha.

The Telegram channel points out that the Bakhmut situation is similar. The Russians are gearing up to leave their positions to the north and south of the city, while the Wagner Group has completely lost its pace of advance there.

“We are now registering Russia’s reduced offensive activity in many areas of the frontline,” says head of the Centre for Military Legal Studies Oleksandr Musiyenko. “The Russians are still trying to attack on the Lyman axis near Bilohorivka. And even though the bloody fighting ensues near Bakhmut and Avdiivka, the intensity of these fights has been visibly lowered. Ukrainian troops are carefully pushing out their enemy in certain areas and continue to move deeper into their positions.”

According to Musiyenko, Russians have now run out of steam and are shifting to a defensive strategy by falling back to the defence lines that were prepared in anticipation of these developments, considering that a lot of troops were ordered to create fortified trenches and defence stands during Russia’s inglorious winter-spring offensive that got bogged down.

“It seems that the Russians had already realised that switching to the defensive strategy was inevitable when the order was given to mount their offensive,” Musiyenko concludes. “And this moment has seemingly come now. I think we will now see Russia focusing on using artillery to fend off the Ukrainian army. Russia still has some munitions, after all.”

Gearing up for a counteroffensive

However, not all experts agree that the Russian side is now ready to lie low in their defence lines.

“I have different intel,” Ukrainian military expert Oleh Zhdanov tells Novaya-Europe. “The Russian Defence Ministry’s 98th Airborne Division is entering Bakhmut. Chief of Russia’s General Staff Valery Gerasimov is assembling his old team and bringing back the generals that previously lost their positions, including Alexander Lapin (head of the Russian ground force headquarters). No one is retreating. The fighting intensity is dropping due to the mud season on the roads.”

It is likely too early to herald the beginning of the Ukrainian counteroffensive that was repeatedly mentioned in the past. However, Russia’s attempts to attack are clearly failing along the entire frontline.

“The Ukrainian forces have received new munitions in many areas and used artillery fire to squeeze out the Russians from their previously captured positions,” Ukrainian military expert Roman Svitan tells Novaya-Europe. “We can already mention a few operational successes of the Ukrainian army. For instance, the Kashlahach River flows to the south of Vuhledar, from west to east. The Russians have crossed that defence line. However, as soon as the Ukrainians received the necessary amount of ammo, the occupants were very quickly pushed out beyond the gun range area and with huge losses. It’s because this area has been long sighted in. A similar situation can be observed in Marinka and Avdiivka, where a highway acts like a defence line, and other parts of the frontline. I am certain that the Ukrainian army will soon recapture Krasnohorivka

According to Svitan, the fighting in Bakhmut is concentrated in the centre of the city. The neighbourhoods of single- and two-storey buildings as well as the industrial area are fully controlled by the Wagner Group and Russian forces, while Ukraine controls the whole area consisting of blocks of flats. The Russians advance by a few buildings and quarters in the day. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s special forces take them all back at night.

“All these local clashes cannot be considered as a sign that an offensive has commenced,” Svitan concludes. “We are now only seeing the Ukrainian army starting to gear up for an attack. In particular, our missile systems and artillery will ‘burn through’ the Russian troops stationed in the south. Melitopol facilities were shelled by new long-range HIMARS missiles yesterday. This work should be completed by the end of the month. And this is when the main act will begin!”

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