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Putin Moves to Strengthen His Position Ahead of Elections

Russia has pushed through Ukrainian forces in the new flashpoint town of Avdiivka and has vowed to go further into Ukraine. Meanwhile, Putin is now free of his biggest opposition threat - Alexei Navalny, who has died in a Siberian gulag. 

Since it launched its invasion in 2022, Russia has managed to take 25,000 square miles of Ukrainian territory-representing 11% of the country, while Ukraine has not retaken any territory that was occupied by Russia prior to the 2022 invasion. 

Avdiivka has been the most recent flashpoint in the conflict, with Putin now claiming that his forces have sent Ukraine's forces fleeing in chaos, with the town falling to the Russians officially on February 17, and Ukraine ordering a withdrawal of troops on February 20.  Ukraine maintains that Russia doesn't have the strength to move beyond Avdiivka to seize the entire Donetsk and Luhansk regions this year, though it has admitted that Russia's troops are outgunning them. 

Establishing the exact state of affairs on the ground remains difficult.

Russian casualties are mounting, and Putin needs a distraction. The best shot at the truth in terms of Russian casualties comes from a media investigation conducted by Mediazona and the BBC Russian service. That investigation is conclusive in that it identified 45,123 Russian soldiers who have died in the war in Ukraine. Those are only those who have been independently identified, while the investigators surmise that the actual death toll…

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