Winters loom large in the military history of Russia and Ukraine, famously when they were fighting together as part of Imperial Russia against Napoleon and then as part of the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany. Winter is about to return and with it questions about how it will affect this war – whether in the impact of energy shortages and high prices in Europe, the vulnerability of ordinary Ukrainians after Russia has done its utmost to deprive them of the ability to keep the lights on and stay warm, and then the troops at the front, shivering in their tents, unable to function properly.
I have every confidence the winter uniforms promised by friendly nations will arrive in Ukraine and get to the troops. I have no such confidence the equivalent will apply to the Russians and I read with grim satisfaction neither does the Pentagon (even if a lot of the uniforms and/or funding for them doesn’t get siphoned off by corruption). Up to now the Ukrainians have been able to rotate its troops and this does not apply to many Russian ones.
In view of this I’m pretty sure this will be a war where General Winter fights against the Russians. Even if the Ukrainians decide not to mount offensives during this season, I reckon as soon as the weather breaks the Ukrainian morale and fighting ability will be a lot better than the Russians after a few months wintering in tents and trenches.
Remember nothing is new. Putin's assault on Ukraine has a lot of resemblances with his war in Chechnya, including using conscript soldiers along with professionals.
What happened was typical Russian chaos. When the professional soldiers would not get their equipment, they would simply attack conscript units and take it from them.
Also, regarding his army's horrifying violence against civilians and captured Ukrainian soldiers, Putin clearly does not get it. Ukraine is not Chechnya. When his armies rampaged Chechnya, murdering hundreds of thousands of civilians, this was condemned by the West. But Ukraine is Europe. Thus when Putin did the same in Ukraine, West really reacted. And the way West reacts is with industrial capacity. Russia's production capability is a tiny fraction of that of the West and their technology lacks decades behind the West.
And so Putin is losing. He can never match the West financially. For every ruble he can put into his war, West can put several dollars. Winter clothing for some hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers? That's nothing: western countries produce billions of clothing items every year.
My takeaway from this informative article concerns the role of the United Nations. What are they for, if they sit on their hands in this critical situation, and can do nothing to help Ukrainians ?
Nobody else in the West can interfere because of Putin's threats, and the hugely expensive UN can do nothing because they are so inclusive that they stand for absolutely nothing.
This is a great piece. However, I am not sure that Prighozin loses at Bakhmut, or by complaining to Putin. On the contrary, I see him writing his own myth. It doesn't matter how true the myth is, or whether you or I believe it, it only matters to Prigozhin that Russians believe the myth.
He won't mind the controversy. In fact, he will embrace it, like he he has done with his ownership of Wagner recently and European mercenaries this week.
Russian TV made Bakhmut out to be some sort of magic prize, a theme his Telegram channels fed, and now he is the man who almost had the enemy flag in his grasp when he was stabbed in the back by the villains of the story, Shoigu Gerasimov et al. Prigozhin was building stalwart defenses (LOL) when the MoD was losing Kherson. And so on.
I am not saying that the man will definitely come out on top if Putin falls out of a window next March, but that seems like his intention, to me.
Putins use of his nuclear arsenal has been exemplary, because it has done its job of keeping NATO's engagement at arms length, and has kept their military support at a "too little too late" level throughout the war. Slowly the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction has been hollowed out. Iran and other potentially nuclear states will be paying close attention.
The Allies should be dropping considerable amounts of marijuana on Russian troop positions
Thank you for the post. How likely do you think a dirty bomb detonation is? Thanks a lot.
I think the usage of a "classical" dirty bomb is highly unlikely, and, if used, would not make any impact except stoking fear. The reasons for that are mainly of physical nature.
What would a "successful" dirty bomb do: contaminate a large area (lets say >100 sqkm) with material producing a high enough dose rate to make life or even crossing that area impossible. What would that require?
First, enough highly radioactive material, we are talking many kilograms, maybe tons of it. Second, a fine enough dispersion of this material. Third, over a large area. Each of the points pose enormous physical challenges.
Regarding the first point: just to assemble such a dirty bomb would be a enormous technological project. The material cannot be just "handled", as in putting it in crates and stack them. The amount and type stuff you would need for a dirty bomb literally kills everything coming nearer than some meters. Not to talk about the pile of stuff getting critical. Maybe one could "burn" some hundreds of soldiers (after all Putin as no respect for human life) but that would risk making the preparations public.
Regarding the second point: probably even harder than the first point. There is no point in throwing around a couple of hundred highly radioactive chunks the size of bowling balls. It would be easy to collect them and store them safely. So a highly complex conventional explosion would be needed to achieve fine dispersion, or the preparation (pulverization) of the radioactive material before (which brings us to point one again).
Finally, regarding point three: even if points one and two are fulfilled one would need to rely on the wind and weather to disperse the material over a large area, but at the same time LIMITED to this area. That adds a very large factor of uncertainty which even the craziest Russian military commander can not possibly want.
So in my opinion that only leaves the possibility that a purposeful nuclear meltdown is started at ZNPP or the spend fuel facilities there. I see no way a classical dirty bomb has any advantages for the Russians. Even the fear-factor such a bomb would generate in western public is greatly surpassed by the international repercussions.
A meltdown at ZNPP on purpose however, may offer some advantages to the Russians: more or less plausible deniability, at least short- and intermediate term contamination of a large area, and, most important a face-saving way to retreat. If the ZNPP goes melt-down Putin could say: "We tried to 'liberate' the land but now it does not make any sense anymore since it is a nuclear wasteland."
Most commentators have observed the greater morale and motivation of the Ukrainian forces compared to the Russian forces. This should enable the Ukrainians to emerge from winter stronger than their enemies. The Ukrainian forces are more united, better coordinated and commanded than the Russians. There is talk of senior Russian commanders having little idea of the conditions of their soldiers at the front and little regard for the fate of their POWs. It seems there is little likelihood of this neglect being replicated amongst Ukrainian forces. Whilst decentralised command has given the Ukrainian army strategic and tactical advantages, it also makes their commanders "present" to their troops compared to the remoteness of Russian command. For the Russians, disunity seems the order of the day. Internal Russian commentary indicates that the Wagner Group and the Russian MoD are "daggers drawn" and if the Wagner leader is after personal political advancement, that will not help. The mobilisation of reserves could scarcely be improved upon, if the aim were to produce an ill-equipped, poorly motivated and reluctant force with the very real possibility of some recruits who legally shouldn't even be there. Evidence indicates that the prediction of a "cannon fodder" destiny is becoming fulfilled already. Another recent development concerns the recruitment of foreign troops. Wagner representatives are said to be possibly in Afghanistan looking at recruiting former Afghan National Army commandos (possibly up to 10,000) and I have read also of the possibility of up to 10,000 North Koreans serving. If there is any truth in these stories, how will such forces integrate into a dysfunctional command structure or will they operate independently from the Russian forces? Is there any genuine strong point around which the Russian effort can regroup? Nothing is showing up yet.
(Apart from Professor Freedman's posts, some of these comments benefit from the reports of the Institute for the Study of War).
One wrinkle I'm wondering about. The Finns in their wars with the USSR made warm dugout shelters close to the front. They kept their soldiers on short patrols and could use the spaces to care for wounded, sleep, etc. This was a big advantage over the Soviets, who often made big bonfires in the open and got hit a lot for that. But with today's war there's a lot of ISR and such happening and I'd wonder if fixed shelters, even camouflaged, might be vulnerable, putting troops out in the elements more and thus amplifying the effects of winter.