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Russia Gains Ground in ‘Defendable Key Terrain’ South of Bakhmut: UK

A city originally decimated during Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine is being viewed with renewed military importance, according to the UK Ministry of Defense (MOD).

Russian forces have reportedly “made creeping gains” in the Ukrainian-held Donbas city of Avdiivka, located about 90 kilometers (55.9 miles) south of Bakhmut and just north of Russian-occupied Donetsk.

The new advancements come as fighting in the hotbed of Bakhmut, viewed as one of the war’s bloodiest regions of battle for months, has recently cooled off due to what British intelligence cited as a “depletion” of troops. The presence of the paramilitary Wagner Group in Bakhmut has been well-documented due to turmoil between its founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and Russian Ministry of Defense officials.

“Avdiivka has been on the frontline of the Donbas conflict since 2014; the city is now largely destroyed,” the UK MOD reported Monday. “The sprawling Avdiivka Coke Plant complex is likely to be seen as particularly defendable key terrain as the battle progresses.”

The tactical parallels between both cities are similar, British intelligence adds, as Ukraine continues attempts at organized defenses while having their supply lines to the West “increasingly threatened by the Russian envelopment operation.”

The 1st Army Corps of the Donetsk People’s Republic is likely carrying out this recent operation in Avdiivka based on their knowledge of the terrain.

The steel company Metinvest owns the Avdiivka Coke Plant, the major manufacturer of coke for metallurgy across Europe. The plant produces 30 types of coke and chemical products, the most basic type being blast furnace coke made for the iron and steel industry.

Products manufactured in the Avdiivka plant are both sold domestically and also exported to countries including Russia, Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Turkey and Egypt, among others.

Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, who has an approximate net worth of $5.7 billion according to forbeshas its largest holding in the Metinvest Group.

In March 2022, the coke plan was the target of Russian shelling, according to Reuters. Two coke-making facilities were hit in addition to other areas, resulting in no injuries. An on-site thermal plant that provided heat to city residents was also debilitated following the attack.

The site had suspended operations by that point due to Russia’s invasion. Akhmetov said nearly one year ago that his holding company would sue Russia for plant-related damages.

Russia’s 2014 invasion led to them temporarily overtaking Avdiivka. The BBC reported that daily plant production, which led to the manufacturing of about 12,000 tons of coke at a value of $2.4 million (USD), decreased by about two-thirds.

The plant had been hit by 165 mortars and shells by April 2015.

Arkady Moshes, program director for the EU Eastern Neighborhood and Russia research program at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, told Newsweek that there is a symbolic significance to Russia refocusing on Avdiivka nearly nine years after its separatists had temporary control.

“Since that moment on, the Russian media has been constantly portraying Avdiivka as the threat for Donetsk and ‘the fortress,’ to the extent that the name of the town became familiar for most Russian people,” Moshes said. “If it falls now, this will be trumpeted and perceived in the country as a major victory—much bigger than Bakhmut.”

Tactically, Moshes said the city has “crucial importance” for Ukraine due to being in the immediate vicinity of Donetsk—a region that the country’s military could exploit with direct artillery control.

“For this reason, quite fierce battles were going on here in 2014-17, and then again since February 2022,” he added. “Ukrainians fortified the town very seriously, and its takeover by Russian troops would be a big loss for Ukraine.”

Newsweek reached out to the Ukrainian and Russian defense ministries for comment.

A city originally decimated during Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine is being viewed with renewed military importance, according to the UK Ministry of Defense (MOD).

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