Kyiv has helped Russia’s victories more than once. He helped defeat Napoleon and Hitler. “General Winter” was always supposed to be a good friend of the Russian forces. But this year his loyalty is not so sure.
President Vladimir Putin can no longer rely on old ally Russia as Kremlin troops in Ukraine face driving snow and rain and temperatures that plunge to -20 degrees Celsius and below.
For months, experts and military analysts assumed that winter would bring a lull in fighting on the front lines in Ukraine, but it is becoming increasingly clear that both sides will try to press their advantage in the cold, with each mobilizing his generals. “General Winter” vs “General Frost”.
Russia’s plan is to disable Ukrainian citizens by cutting off electricity and heating, while the Ukrainians want to stage commando raids and train their artillery on the ill-equipped Russian military, which lacks winter gear and hot food, Politico reports.
“Battles are fought day and night, regardless of the weather,” combat medic and former Ukrainian MP Yegor Firsov said from the front line. “Yesterday it snowed, we were happy about that because there is nothing worse than freezing rain”.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry also made it clear that the plan was to maintain pressure through the winter. “Those who are now talking about a possible pause in hostilities due to cold winter temperatures have probably never sunbathed in January on the southern coast of Crimea,” Ukraine’s Defense Ministry mocked on Twitter on Sunday.
According to Kateryna Stepanenko of the Institute for the Study of War, “The Russians are resuming and intensifying their offensive operations southwest of the Donetsk region.”
The Ukrainians have also redeployed forces to reinforce their line, said Nick Reynolds of Britain’s Royal Joint Services Institute, which conducts operational analysis for the Ukrainian General Staff.
Reynolds added that the Ukrainians wanted to push the Russians to the east bank of the Dnieper River to stop Russian artillery fire.
He also suspects that the Russians may again increase their forces on the border with Belarus north of Kyiv in an attempt to divert Ukrainian forces from the front line to the south and east.
A source in the Ukrainian security services said that Russian warplanes were apparently testing Ukrainian air defenses along the border.
Russian military bloggers on Telegram say the Ukrainians are building more border observation posts equipped with electronic eavesdropping devices and planting minefields north of Chernihiv.
Meanwhile, fighting is fierce around Luhansk, where the Ukrainians have identified weaknesses in Russian defenses.
Cold or mild winter?
Ukrainians are of two minds whether they want a hard or a mild winter. A mild season would help protect Ukraine’s civilian population from the effects of Russia’s destruction of the country’s power grid. But this would also mean muddy conditions, which would make it difficult for both them and the Russians to move troops and equipment.
A cold winter with frozen terrain would help both sides, but the frigid conditions would likely take a toll on Russian troops and their poor equipment.
The Institute for the Study of War agrees that “General Frost” is likely to favor the Ukrainians.
“Winter weather could take a disproportionate toll on ill-equipped Russian forces in Ukraine,” ISW said.
Russia’s defense ministry is publicizing its efforts to better train and equip its troops, a move likely seen by ISW as an attempt to “quench public discontent” in Russia over the conditions Russian soldiers are expected to endure.
Russian forces receive Iranian-made body armor and helmets. But they will hardly be able to compare with the quality of clothing and equipment that Ukraine’s Western allies supply to Ukrainian troops.
Let’s get back to the basics
On the civilian front, Ukrainians are trying to beat “General Winter” by scrambling to stock up on spare parts to patch the damaged power grid, and looking for thousands upon thousands of diesel and thermal generators. They are also asking for more air defense systems.
Ukrainian national leaders, regional governors and city mayors are doing everything they can to prepare for winter.
Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko is preparing his city to weather the cold and dark winter and hopes to avoid mass evacuations. He is urging the more than 3 million residents of Kyiv to store enough water, food and supplies for the winter. His administration is preparing about 1,000 centers where residents can be warmed and fed.