Espreso. Global

Key outcomes and developments of Russia-Ukraine war in 2023

27 December, 2023 Wednesday

The war in 2023 was much bloodier than the previous year. The Russian army lost over 220,000 soldiers in killed, lost its offensive potential, lost most battles and was forced to retreat in the Black Sea

Russia's losses: comparing 2 years of war

In 2023, the Ukrainian Armed Forces reported a decrease in the destruction of tanks and armored personnel carriers compared to 2022, with reductions of 10% and 20%, respectively. Russia not only ceased moving in columns but also struggled to replenish its previously lost armored fleet.

However, Ukrainian soldiers increased the elimination of Russian troops, nearly doubling the total to 350,000 killed and at least an equivalent number wounded. While official statistics on Ukrainian Armed Forces losses are unavailable, representatives from the General Staff have consistently claimed significantly lower casualty figures, ranging from 5 to 7 times less than their Russian counterparts.

This year, the Ukrainian Defense Forces unleashed a real safari on artillery and air defense systems, the rate of destruction of which tripled to 6,000 and 390 units, respectively. We also shot down 4,300 tactical drones, which is twice as many as the previous year. These figures give a realistic picture of the nature of combat operations in 2023: less armored vehicles - more drones and shells.

Map of frontline changes and major battles in 2023

There were two significant changes on the front line. Russian troops managed to occupy Bakhmut and the territory east of the city, i.e. about 530 square kilometers, while the Ukrainian Armed Forces punched two large holes in Russia’s defense on the southern front with a total area of about 270 square kilometers, and recaptured another 43 square kilometers during a counteroffensive near Bakhmut. 

Russia's offensive in the Luhansk region fails

Throughout 2023, Russian troops tried to launch a large-scale offensive in the Luhansk region to push the Ukrainian Armed Forces beyond the Oskil River and out of the Luhansk region, as well as to regain the city of Lyman, which was lost and strategically important for the Battle of Donetsk. Fighting took place along the entire 100-kilometer front line, with the greatest emphasis on the direction of Kupyansk, Borova and Lyman. Each of these towns is located over 10 kilometers from the front line, but Russian army managed to penetrate 1-1.5 kilometers in some very limited areas over the year. In addition, the Ukrainian Armed Forces, counterattacking, regained some of the lost positions, as they did in the summer near the villages of Novoyehorivka and Nadiya, and is now happening regularly near Pershotravneve and Yahidne. A significant development in the Luhansk region was the Azov Brigade's return to the front, taking up positions in the Serebryanka Forestry in the Kreminna direction.

The historic battle for Bakhmut

The complete occupation of the Donetsk region remains a priority for Russia. The offensive on Bakhmut marked the beginning of a new stage in the realization of this plan. The battle began in August 2022 and is still ongoing, but the most dramatic events took place in January-May 2023. At first, we lost several villages near Soledar, and two weeks later, Soledar itself, which threatened not only Bakhmut but also our bridgehead near Siversk. However, the Ukrainian Armed Forces managed to eliminate the threat of a Russian offensive north of Bakhmut. Russian troops conducted street battles by completely destroying urban buildings. In addition to Soledar and Bakhmut, they occupied 24 other villages during the winter. As part of the summer counteroffensive, the Ukrainian Armed Forces successfully recaptured Klishchiivka and Andriivka south of Bakhmut, making advances toward Yahidne and Berkhivka to the north of the city. However, in a new massive offensive launched in December, Russian troops succeeded in pushing Ukrainian forces back to the outskirts of Bohdanivka and Ivanivske.

As a result of the battle, Russia suffered over 60,000 soldiers killed and wounded, while the Ukrainian Armed Forces incurred casualties at a rate 7.5 times lower. The occupation of Bakhmut by Russian forces was facilitated by the concentration of a numerically superior army and an escalation in artillery superiority, reaching a ratio of 1:8.

Map of the large-scale offensive along the entire Donetsk region and the battle for Vuhledar

The Vuhledar foothold poses significant challenges for Russian troops as it jeopardizes the operation of the Mariupol-Volnovakha-Donetsk railroad. In early 2023, Russian forces initiated a second powerful assault on the city and advanced to within 2 km of it. However, during this advance, the Ukrainian Armed Forces successfully destroyed half of all Russian armored vehicles—over 200 pieces—in a span of three weeks. Since then, Russian troops have refrained from launching any significant attempts to attack Vuhledar until a new offensive was launched in December, covering a broad front across the entire Donetsk region.

As a result of this offensive, Russian forces completed the occupation of the completely destroyed town of Marinka, which had previously been 90% under Russian control. They claim that by taking Marinka, they have opened up operational space toward the town of Kurakhove. However, in reality, the road to Kurakhove has been transformed into a multi-level defense system.

In the final weeks of December, Russia intensified its offensive in the region between Marinka and Vuhledar and approached the outskirts of the villages of Pobyeda and Novomykhailivka. This marked the deepest frontline breakthrough in 2023 since the Battle of Bakhmut, extending approximately 5 km. If these trends persist, the next target for Russia could once again be Vuhledar, posing a potential threat of semi-encirclement to the town.

Avdiivka battle may surpass Bakhmut in terms of Russian losses

In just two months, Russian troops have suffered losses of 13,000 soldiers and over 210 armored vehicles in the battle. They are making some advances of hundreds of meters per week. The village of Stepove has been under Russian assault for almost 80 days, with their progress limited to reaching its middle. Their advancements on the outskirts of Novokalynove and Novobakhmutivka to the north of the town, as well as near Sieverne and Pervomayske in the south, have been even more modest. Although the invading forces are less than 10 kilometers away from cutting off logistics to the semi-encircled Avdiivka, the Ukrainian Armed Forces are fortifying the area with 2nd and 3rd defense lines. At the current pace, Russian troops may break down and lose their offensive potential within 1-2 months. Valerii Zaluzhnyi stated that the Ukrainian Armed Forces are prepared to hold the defense of Avdiivka for another 2-3 months.

The year 2023 has started with the battle for Bakhmut and concludes with the battle for Avdiivka. Both will go down in history as the bloodiest. But during this time, the Ukrainian Armed Forces successfully enhanced their firepower. In January-February, an average of 740 Russian soldiers were killed per day, and by November-December, this number had increased to 950 per day. In contrast, Russia, which initially had the capability to attack along the entire front, is now restricted to potential attacks only on specific kilometer-long sections.

Map of Ukraine's counteroffensive on southern front

The offensive started on June 4-6 simultaneously on the Melitopol, Tokmak, and Berdyansk directions. In the initial months of the offensive, the Ukrainian military successfully established three footholds, overcoming minefields and defense lines. The largest foothold was in the area of Velyka Novosilka, where they penetrated over 10 km deep and 25 km wide, liberating nine villages (Neskuchne, Urozhayne, Staromayorske, Blahodatne, Makarivka, Storozhove, Rivne, Novodarivka, Levadne). In the Tokmak direction, the Ukrainian Defense Forces liberated 100 square kilometers around the village of Robotyne, and in the Melitopol direction, they managed to penetrate 2.5 kilometers deep, liberating three villages (Stepove, Lobkove, Pyatykhatky). Subsequently, the offensive slowed down and fell short of its initial goal to reach the Sea of Azov. Nevertheless, it laid a solid foundation for a counteroffensive in 2024, preserving the trained backbone of new brigades and over 80% of the armored vehicles.

On the left bank of the Kherson region, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have successfully established at least two bridgeheads, one near the Antonivka Road Bridge and the other near the village of Krynky. They are also advancing in other promising areas near Hola Prystan and Oleshky. The uniqueness of this operation lies in the fact that a thousand Ukrainian forces, supported by artillery and drones from the right bank, are effectively holding off the enemy's 65,000-strong army, which has been unable to resolve the situation for several months. Putin mentioned Krynky in his annual press conference, and the same week, the New York Times published an article about Krynky, using Russian narratives to highlight the perceived futility of the Ukrainian efforts. Both of these messages underscore the significant success achieved by Ukrainian forces in this region.

The next step for the Ukrainian Armed Forces is to expand the established bridgehead, and to achieve this, it is crucial to eliminate the threat from the air. Toward the end of December, the Ukrainian air defense system took significant steps in addressing this issue by successfully shooting down three of the newest Su-34 fighter-bombers in a single operation. Additionally, a few days later, another Su-30, which had previously launched a missile at the Odesa region from the Black Sea, was also successfully downed.

Russian aircraft no longer feel secure in both the occupied territory and within Russia itself. This marks a significant step toward challenging the dominance of the Russian air force. Now Ukraine awaits F-16s, which are expected to play a pivotal role in dismantling Russia’s air superiority.


Ukrainian victories in air and on Black Sea

In 2023, the Ukrainian Defense Forces consistently expanded their operational reach. Ukrainian drones demonstrated their capability by reaching Moscow and targeting airfields. With over 20 strikes on airfields across Russia, the Ukrainian Armed Forces probably staged a mock competition to see who could destroy more aircraft in the sky or on the ground.

Ukraine has emerged victorious in this round of the battle for the Black Sea, compelling Russian ships to withdraw from Sevastopol to Novorossiysk, where they continue to be targeted by Ukrainian naval drones. 

The Ukrainian Armed Forces executed strategic missile and drone strikes on various naval facilities, including docks in Sevastopol, where the first submarine was destroyed, the elimination of the large landing ship Novocherkassk in the port of Feodosia, the destruction of repair docks in Kerch, and a strike on Novorossiysk, resulting in damage to another landing ship, Olenegorsky Gornyak. In the past four months alone, Ukraine has successfully neutralized 20% of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. While the victories forced the Russian fleet to retreat from Ukrainian waters, they still do not feel secure even closer to Russian shores.

The regaining of control over the so-called Boyko towers and two ground operations on the eastern coast of Crimea demonstrated the prospects for de-occupation of the peninsula, which can take place not only through the isthmus. 

In 2023, the Ukrainian Armed Forces helped to completely resolve the problem of the grain corridor and demonstrated to other NATO partners that blackmail by the Russian Armed Forces in the Black Sea must be countered. Having seen our capabilities, the British and Norwegians have already promised to help with security guarantees for commercial flights in the Black Sea - this is a victory and recognition!


War on Russia’s territory

In 2023, the war extended beyond the Russian-Ukrainian border, manifesting not only in the air but also on the ground. During the summer, the Freedom of Russia Legion, a specially formed unit comprising Russians, conducted multiple deep raids into Russia, notably within the Belgorod region. Later, the practice of these raids was halted, purportedly due to criticism from Western partners. The resumption of raids in late December, with the Legion’s members once again engaging in battles in the Belgorod region, is a positive sign. These raids in Russia showcase the asymmetric capabilities of Ukrainians that we can use in this war.

Another asymmetric response to Russian terror was the blowing up of two railroad lines on the strategically important Baikal-Amur railroad. The Crimean bridge is waiting for its turn in 2024!

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