With the war in Ukraine beginning to enter its second winter, both sides of the conflict maintain their offensive operations, despite heavy resistance and adverse environmental conditions. In the background of the heavy fighting, the European states are drawing their eyes away from Ukraine to focus on internal issues. Some however, continue to shine as the guiding examples of western values, advocating for the importance of aiding Ukraine and the spread of European values of security, stability and prosperity.
The War in Ukraine
As the weather turns and temperatures start falling below zero, the war in Ukraine continues. Both sides of the conflict maintain their offensive operations, despite heavy resistance and adverse environmental conditions. At this point the primary offensive focus of the Ukrainian armed forces has shifted to the Bakhmut area hoping to take control over the hills to the north and east of Klischiivka. Ukrainian control over this area would increasingly endanger the southern flank of the Russian held Bakhmut, as well as hinder Russian logistics by endangering the T0513 road. The crippling of Russian logistics especially with the imminent onset of winter would severely weaken the defence capabilities of the Russian garrison. The situation has been recognised by the Russian forces however, who continue launching counterattacks, hoping to stop the Ukrainian advance.
The primary focus of the Russian forces however, currently lies in Avdiivka. Despite heavy losses Russian troops continue to be poured into the battle. The maintained Russian commitment to the offensive operation against Avdiivka suggests that Moscow aims to capture the city rather than, as previously assumed, simply draw Ukrainian attention from other sections of the front and achieve minimal gains. Analysing the current situation in the area one can notice the similarity to the siege of Bakhmut which began in earnest roughly a year ago. Russian forces are relentlessly, though somewhat chaotically, trying to tie a noose around Avdiivka, slowly encircling the city as they did with Bakhmut. The capture of the railway line to the north has now left Ukrainian defenders with a single communication line running west through the settlement of Orlivka. As of now Russian forces are positioned only about 3 kilometres away from this vital route, attacking both from the south and north-east. The situation of Ukrainian defenders continues to be dire, despite the arrival of significant reinforcements.
Observing the intensity of this battle, it is vital to examine why Avdiivka is so important. Some sources have debated the importance of Avdiivka, stating that the city is becoming a second Bakhmut, with thousands of casualties suffered for only political rather than military objectives. While the similarity to Bakhmut is noticeable, in terms of the tactical situation, as well as increasingly difficult fighting conditions, the weather, time of year, and significant losses for both sides, Avdiivka holds also vital military importance. There are two main reasons for Avdiivka’s importance, firstly it is a major fortified position of Ukrainian forces, quite possibly the biggest one in eastern Ukraine, which managed to resist Russian assaults not only since the 2022 invasion but also saw significant fighting since 2014. Secondly, its position is important for both sides as it can facilitate offensive operations in the area. For Ukrainians Avdiivka in the staging ground and entryway into the city of Donetsk and wider Donbass. For Russians it is a major obstacle blocking their path into western Donetsk Oblast. Should the city fall, Russian forces could endanger and flank Ukrainian positions to the west, threatening Ukrainian positions in the Marinskyi region, to the north in the area of Toretsk and Konstiantynivka – which could cripple Ukrainian operations in Bakhmut, and finally to the north-west in the direction of Myrnohrad and Pokrovsk. Each of these directions of attack would have significant effects on Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine, making the operational situation much more difficult.
While the war in Ukraine continues, Poland continues to be preoccupied with its internal matters. This week marked the first session of the new Polish parliament, which brought significant changes to the political arena. The Law and Justice party has lost its majority rule and the effects are clearly visible. Firstly the parliament chose a new marshal who oversees and supervises the work of the lower house of the parliament. The Law and Justice’s candidate has been rejected, with the opposition parties voting in Szymon Hołownia of the Third Way. Since Hołownia became the marshal, Law and Justice’s domination over the parliament came to an end. This defeat could be noticed not only in the frantic behaviours of Law and Justice’s representatives during sessions but also in the desperate search for allies that could support the new government of Prime Minister Morawiecki – so far unsuccessful. This week’s events observed in the Polish parliament seem to be indicative of a major transition in Polish politics, with the Law and Justice party slowly transitioning into opposition activities and the liberal-progressive parties slowly tightening their grip on power. A sign of this transition can also be noticed in the statements of some of the politicians, for example Tomasz Siemoniak, the former minister of defence from the Civic Coalition, began discussing the future of Polish military modernisation. Siemoniak stated that the future development and production of the Krab self-propelled howitzers should be located solely in Huta Stalowa Wola, instead of opening a new branch in the facilities of Bumar-Łabędy. This statement can also be indicative of the direction in which Polish military modernisation might go towards and who might be the likely candidate for the new minister of defence.
While Poland is distracted by its internal dealings, stalwart voices can be heard in the Baltic states, which continue their staunch pro-Ukrainian approach. In a recent interview Latvia’s new president Edgars Rinkēvičs has made some key statements on the war in Ukraine and the European approach to dealing with Russia. Rinkēvičs stated that Europe has a responsibility to stop Russia in order to stop its imperialistic ambitions. In the Latvian president’s words “it is important to actually fight for international peace, and peace in Europe, because if we stop Russia in Ukraine, then Russia is not going to be able to challenge other countries.”[i] Rinkēvičs also commented that his words are meant not only as an assurance of continued support to Ukraine but also to convince hesitant European states to commit to aiding the war-torn country. A similar point of view was presented by Gabrielus Landsbergis, Lithuania’s Foreign Minister who warned other countries against considering peace with Russia, arguing that the ceasement of hostilities will only be used by Russia to rearm and prepare for another war of conquest. In a similar fashion to the Latvian president, Landsbergis argued that supporting Ukraine is a unique chance to stop Russian imperialism once and for all, stating that if peace with Russia is pursued then “Our children will curse us in the trenches we are digging for them.”[ii]
While presenting a different focus, the Lithuanian president Gitanas Nausėda joined the Baltic chorus, advocating for the enlargement of the European Union. Nausėda argued that the admission of other states, like Ukraine, allows for the creation of a greater sphere of security, economic prosperity and respect for human rights.[iii] In Nausėda’s view a greater European Union would be able to bring unprecedented stability to an unstable world. The Lithuanian president also highlighted the need to create a level playing field for the smaller and weaker states, allowing them to interact with greater states on fair grounds.
As battle for Avdiivka continues it should be noticed that Russian incessant attacks might be indicative of a greater comprehensive effort to besiege and capture the city in a manner similar to Bakhmut. With Ukrainian troops in the city facing a dire situation Ukraine has to prepare for an intensive period of fighting during the late autumn and early winter months. In such times the western commitment to the Ukrainian cause is much needed, however many western states are preoccupied with their own issues. This situation is breached by the stalwart attempts of the Baltic states to remind Europe of the Russian threat and the importance of supporting Ukraine in its hour of need. The Baltic states and their leaders are shining examples of western ideals, hoping to spread them in the name of security and prosperity – an endeavour which just might rekindle common European and western efforts.
Author: Sebastian Czub, analyst Casimir Pulaski Foundation
[i] Edith M. Lederer, “Latvia’s president says West must arm Ukraine to keep Russia from future global adventures”, AP News, November 12, 2023, https://apnews.com/article/latvia-president-ukraine-russia-israel-hamas-weapons-cde2138165701ee9dbaf9823e761664c.
[ii] “Lithuania’s Foreign Minister on making peace with Russia: Our children will curse us in the trenches we are digging for them”, Ukrainska Pravda, November 4, 2023, https://www.pravda.com.ua/eng/news/2023/11/4/7427209/.
[iii] “Taking on new members is in EU’s interest – Lithuanian president”, The Baltic Times, November 14, 2023, https://www.baltictimes.com/taking_on_new_members_is_in_eu_s_interest___lithuanian_president/.