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Fall of Avdiivka grants Russia military initiative, gift for Putin ahead of presidential election

Newly appointed military commander-in-chief Oleksandr Syrskyi announced on the night of 17 February the decision to withdraw Ukrainian units from Avdiivka, a battle-scarred town north of Donetsk “in order to avoid encirclement and preserve the lives and health of servicemen,” according to bne IntelliNews.

Two days after the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops, Russian forces seized Avdiivka. According to the Russian Defence Ministry, the army took “full control” of the city on 19 February when it gained control of the coke plant.

Syrskyi has previously been criticised for his careless attitude to soldiers’ lives, especially in the brutal battle for Bakhmut last year, which was also eventually repulsed by Russian troops. However, the withdrawal of troops from Avdiivka has saved the lives of Ukrainian defenders, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated during a speech at the Munich Security Conference on 17 February.

We are preserving our people, our warriors, because this is what defence is all about. This does not mean that people moved kilometres away and Russia seized something. It didn’t seize anything, we have to understand that.

Due to the withdrawal of support from the United States in January, the situation in the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) deteriorated rapidly as they began to run out of ammunition. On 15 February, Russian forces cut the main supply route into the city, which likely prompted the decision to retreat.

Russian forces established limited and localised air superiority around Avdiivka for the first time and were able to provide ground troops with direct air support in the final days of the offensive, the US-based think-tank Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reported on 17 February.

To reinforce morale after the fall of Avdiivka, Zelensky visited the front line on 19 February to thank soldiers for their service and award medals.

“I am glad to be here today to see you, to congratulate you, to express gratitude on behalf of all Ukrainians, all of Ukraine, for doing such a great job every day, for defending the state, our families, independence and our sovereignty.”

When Ukrainian supplies began to deplete, Russia seized its advantage by intensifying its offensive on Avdiivka and “taking advantage” of delays by Western allies in providing Ukraine with more equipment, Zelensky claimed in his daily address on 19 February.

The situation is extremely difficult in several parts of the front line, where Russian troops have amassed maximum reserves. They are taking advantage of the delays in aid to Ukraine.

A new bill promising $60 billion in aid to Ukraine passed a vote in the Senate but stalled in the House, where Republicans blocked it, insisting that the money and tough new laws to address the US border with Mexico should be included in the bill. House Speaker Mike Johnson is refusing to bring the bill to a vote until a new deal is agreed.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called on allies “to do more and faster” in supplying arms to Ukraine at the Munich Security Conference. Earlier in the week, France and Germany signed bilateral arms deals following a similar agreement signed with the UK in January. However, all sides agree that the US continues to play a key role in supplying Ukraine.

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