Ukraine needs to exploit winter conditions to beat Russia, says ISW

5 December 2022, 11:35 AM
Ukrainian military personnel on the front line in the Donetsk Oblast fire from an M777 howitzer (Photo:Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty/Serhii Nuzhnenko via REUTERS)

Ukrainian military personnel on the front line in the Donetsk Oblast fire from an M777 howitzer (Photo:Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty/Serhii Nuzhnenko via REUTERS)

Ukraine intends to continue its successful counter-offensives in the winter, U.S. think tank the Institute forthe Study of War (ISW) wrote in their update on Russian aggression for Dec. 4.

Senior U.S. government officials are mistakenly identifying the optimal window of opportunity for Ukraine to conduct more counter-offensives as the spring rather than winter, despite Ukrainian officials’ statements to the contrary, ISW analysts said.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Volodymyr Havrylov stated on Nov. 18 that Ukrainian forces will continue to fight in the winter because any type of pause will allow Russian forces to reinforce their units and positions.

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The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense stated on Nov. 20 that those who suggest the winter will pause hostilities “likely never sunbathed in January on the southern coast of Crimea,” suggesting that Ukrainian forces intend to continue counter-offensive operations over the coming winter that contribute toward the goal of retaking Crimea.

U.S. Director for National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines asserted on Dec. 3 that “the pace of the war in Ukraine will slow over the winter so both sides can refit, resupply, and reconstitute, despite evidence that conditions on the ground favor a renewed offensive and despite the demonstrated tendency of Ukrainian forces to initiate new counteroffensive efforts relatively quickly after the previous effort has culminated.”

Ukraine has already indicated that it plans to continue offensive operations throughout the winter to capitalize on recent battlefield successes and prevent Russian forces from regaining the battlefield initiative. Serhiy Cherevatyy, spokesperson of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Eastern Group, stated on Dec. 4 that frozen ground enables heavy wheeled and tracked vehicles to advance and that Ukrainian forces are preparing such vehicles for winter operations. Low-quality mobilized recruits and Wagner Group mercenaries from Russian prisoners are unprepared for combat in the winter, he added.

Accordingly, weather conditions in the winter of 2023 will likely determine a timeframe in which Ukraine can conduct maneuver warfare and continue its series of operational successes with minimal pauses (which could increase the risk of Ukraine losing the initiative), ISW experts said. The fall mud season in November made maneuver warfare difficult, but both Russia and Ukraine continued active offensive and counter-offensive operations throughout this period, despite some Western predictions that the mud would halt hostilities.

“As the hard freeze approaches in late December, Ukrainian forces will be again able to exploit the weather conditions,” the ISW wrote.

"Winter is usually the best season for mechanized warfare in Ukraine whereas spring is the nightmare season for fighting in Ukraine. The thaw swells rivers and streams and turns fields into seas of mud. Ukrainian forces likely are preparing to take advantage of frozen terrain to move more easily than they could in the muddy autumn months.”

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