Ukraine says bad weather slows Russian offensive in east

(Reuters) – Bad weather has slowed Russia’s campaign to secure eastern Ukraine and capture the shattered town of Avdiivka, Ukrainian officials said on Tuesday.

Russian troops, backed by air strikes, have been trying to seize control of Avdiivka since mid-October as part of their slow-moving advance through eastern Ukraine.

Officials say not a single building remains intact in the town – seen as a gateway to the regional centre of Donetsk, 20 km (12 miles) to the east.

After two days of storms – and snow in the south – the forecast was for more rain in the east, leaving the ground sodden and unsuitable for military manoeuvres.

“They’ve started to shell the town centre from Donetsk. Our brigade is holding its ground, but we can’t see any equipment coming,” Serhiy Tsekhotskyi, a Ukrainian officer in the town, told national television.

“The weather is unsuitable. But once the frosts come and the ground hardens, an attempted assault with equipment is possible.”

Another military spokesperson, Volodymyr Fitio, said inclement weather had forced the Russians to make “adjustments”.

“You cannot advance when the ground is like this,” Fitio told the media outlet Espreso TV. “The Russians previously brought in reserves and threw them into battle. There are a lot fewer movements like that now because of the weather.”

Much of the fighting in the past week has focused on the “industrial zone” outside the centre and on Aviivka’s vast coking plant – abandoned earlier this month by Ukrainian defenders.

Unofficial Russian accounts of the fighting on Tuesday said Moscow’s forces had made some headway to the north of Avdiivka and heavy fighting was engulfing the area around the plant.

Russia’s Defence Ministry rarely refers to Avdiivka in its official reports and Reuters was unable to verify accounts from either side.

Fewer than 1,500 of the town’s pre-war population of 32,000 remain.

Avdiivka was briefly seized in 2014 by Russian-financed separatists who captured large chunks of eastern Ukraine. Fortifications have since been erected around the town.

Military analyst Andriy Kramarov said shorter supply lines and faster Russian deployments made the campaign for control of Avdiivka different from the months-long drive to capture the equally devastated town of Bakhmut further north in May.

“The Russians are throwing in manpower and equipment much faster than even in Bakhmut,” he told a programme linked to U.S.-funded Radio Liberty.

“Small assault groups just go in one after the other. Our fighters eliminate an assault group of 50-100 people and then the next one comes five minutes later.”

Ukraine launched an offensive in June but has made only incremental gains in both the east and the south, though President Volodymyr Zelenskiy dismisses any notion that the war has entered into a “stalemate”.

(Reporting by Ron Popeski and Maria Starkova; Editing by Stephen Coates)