The Battle for Avdiivka: Russia's Losses Surpass a Decade in Afghanistan

Written by Henrik Rothen

Feb.27 - 2024 10:43 PM CET

Foto: Screenshot
Foto: Screenshot
Russia Lost More Soldiers in Avdiivka Than in 10 Years in Afghanistan.

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The battle for Avdiivka, which Russian forces fully occupied 10 days ago, has emerged as one of the bloodiest confrontations. And not just within the two years of the war in Ukraine. The Russian army's leadership managed to surpass the Soviet Army's total irreversible losses during its entire presence in Afghanistan.

The Soviet Army (including KGB and Ministry of Internal Affairs personnel) suffered just over 15,000 casualties in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, according to the book "Russia and the USSR in the Wars of the 20th Century. Book of Losses." Establishing the exact number of fatalities among those attempting to secure the first significant "victory" since capturing Bakhmut in May 2023 is challenging. However, estimates from military analysts, Russian military bloggers, and Ukrainian officials suggest that Russia lost more soldiers in the battle for Avdiivka than in a decade of war in Afghanistan, notes The New York Times (NYT).

The active phase of military operations in Avdiivka lasted from October 10, 2023, to February 17, 2024, when Moscow declared the city under "full control." As early as mid-December, Adrienne Watson, the National Security Council's spokesperson in the USA, stated that, according to American estimates, Russian losses in Avdiivka and neighboring areas amounted to over 13,000 killed and wounded in just a few weeks.

Following the city's capture, conflicting sides reported the following data.

Russian losses amounted to more than 17,000 killed and about 30,000 wounded, reported Dmitry Likhovoy, a representative of the Ukrainian Armed Forces' operational-strategic group "Tavria," which provided defense for Avdiivka. "Tavria's" commander, Brigadier General Alexander Tarnavsky, wrote on his Telegram channel that Russian military losses included: "personnel - 47,186, tanks - 364, artillery systems - 248, armored combat vehicles - 748, aircraft - 5."

Andrey Morozov, one of the prominent and well-known Z-bloggers who has been fighting in Ukraine since 2014 and extensively covered the events on his Telegram channel "Messages from Yanina," mentioned nearly the same number of fatalities. In a post from February 18, Morozov quoted an anonymous Russian military source, stating that since October, the irreversible losses amounted to 16,000 people, with the Russian Armed Forces also losing 300 armored vehicles; among Avdiivka's defenders, 5,000–7,000 soldiers died. Morozov said he decided to publish these figures hoping Russian commanders would be held accountable for the unnecessary bloodshed. Two days later, the blogger deleted the post, explaining that he did so under pressure from military leadership and Kremlin propagandists. A few days later, Morozov committed suicide after a week of harassment by employees of propagandist Vladimir Solovyov.

According to the British military intelligence report (dated February 16), Russia's efforts to capture the city resulted in the loss of at least 400 tanks, BMPs, and other military equipment, as well as "thousands" of soldiers.

The Russian command, without hesitation, sent squad after squad into the bloody meat grinder for months just to capture Avdiivka—a city with a pre-war population of 32,000, located in a small unoccupied part of the Donetsk region. The Russian army has a "different pain threshold" and an "unconventional" notion of what constitutes acceptable combat losses, a high-ranking Western official told NYT.

Morozov also wrote about this, stating that the issue is not that the Russian army has problems, but that nothing has changed in two years of war: neither the readiness of the command to sacrifice thousands of soldiers, nor communication, nor supply, nor planning. The guilty are promoted, the victims are punished, corruption has only intensified, and the cost of successes is preferably not spoken aloud.

Losses will not stop Russia, states Rob Lee, a military expert and senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Research Institute:

"It still maintains a manpower advantage on the front line and can continue to conduct attacks in many directions."