Russia's efforts to capture Avdiivka on Ukraine's eastern front and advance towards Kupyansk are mainly for propaganda purposes, said Col. Ants Kiviselg, head of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) Intelligence Center, on Friday. Ukraine has also been able to repel Russian attacks and achieve success in the south this week.
"The Russian Federation has continued its aggressive offensive in Ukraine. The main areas where offensive operations have been carried out are the Avdiivka direction in Donetsk Oblast and the Kupiansk direction in Kharkiv Oblast," Kiviselg said, giving an overview of the main events in Ukraine over the past seven days at a weekly press conference organized by the Ministry of Defense.
He said Russia has achieved some tactical success around Avdiivka but only by suffering heavy losses.
"The war of aggression in the region has also been favored by the weather, which has remained relatively dry and allowed the use of heavy equipment in open terrain. Rasputitsa [the rainy season that causes the ground to become muddy – ed.] has not yet set in in the area and allows the use of remote roads," he added.
Despite this, Ukraine's defensive activities have remained organized and multi-layered, Kiviselg said.
"Above all, they have used long-range fire, assault drones, and minefields to defend their positions. This has kept Russian heavy equipment losses at a similar high level to previous weeks," said the intelligence chief.
"However, despite losses, Russia is likely to continue its offensive activity at the current intensity in the coming weeks, with the intention of probably achieving full control of Avdiivka by the end of this year," said the colonel.
"It is fair to say that recently the Russian Federation's objectives have not changed. As with the conquest of Bakhmut, it is attempting to seize control of Avdiivka and then, if successful, to present it as a significant military success that would justify, in the eyes of the Russian people, the need for further aggression towards Luhansk and Donetsk and the complete occupation of these oblasts," Kiviselg explained.
"It is also possible, should this victory materialize, to exploit it for propaganda purposes by belittling the efforts of the Ukrainian armed forces and greatly exaggerating the success of the Russian Federation," he added. "When it comes to the importance of Avdiivka, actually, in terms of the operation, this town is not so important. However, it is important from a propaganda point of view."
The colonel said it is possible that Russia is also intensifying its activities towards Kupyansk: "In the last few weeks, we have observed the transfer of new Russian units in the Kupiansk direction, as well as the redeployment of equipment in that direction."
"The next few weeks are likely to be hot around Avdiivka and Kupiansk, where Russia's desire to reach the rivers and the borders of Luhansk Oblast, i.e. to take up favorable wintering positions, remains," Kiviselg said.
Russia's main interest in Avdiivka is to push the Ukrainian units as far out as possible to ensure the city of Donetsk is not exposed to Ukrainian artillery fire, the colonel explained.
"There is also a north-south supply route, as well as a railway line used by the Russian Federation to reinforce its units. At present, Ukraine is only capable of hitting this railway and these roads with rockets and artillery fire. This is the tactical advantage Russia would like to gain in the region," he said.
Ukraine creating new bridgeheads on Dnieper's left bank
While the situation on the southeastern front in the regions of Robotyne and Bakhmut remains largely unchanged, Ukraine has been more successful further south.
"The Ukrainian Armed Forces have continued to build new bridgeheads on the left bank of the Dnieper, mainly in the area between the settlement of Kherson and Novokakhovka. This has also been supported by the weather, with low cloud cover and foggy conditions favoring river crossing operations by Ukrainian units," said the colonel.
"At the same time, the Russian Federation, for its part, has compensated for the weakness of its ground component in the region with increased air support and the use of glide bombs," the colonel added.
"This is also one of the reasons why the commander of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, General Valery Zaluzhnyi, in a recent interview with The Economist, stressed the importance of achieving at least local air superiority. This would allow the Ukrainians to carry out better offensive operations and at greater depth," Kiviselg explained.
Compared to last year, the weather has had less of an impact on land operations so there is still time for larger military operations. However, when the rain and mud arrive in approximately a week's time, it will spread from the northeast to the south, Kiviselg said.
Editor: Mait Ots, Helen Wright