In yesterday’s update, a commenter asked how winter would affect the war. Great topic! Let’s do it.
Let’s start with logistics. It’s been well-established that Russia is incapable of functioning efficiently 25 kilometers past its nearest railhead. Theirs is an army built and designed for domestic defense, with an extensive rail network to move troops and supplies across vast distances. Other than smaller-scale incursions with their “elite” VDV airborne troops, they weren’t designed to engage in large-scale offensive operations in foreign territory, and Ukraine has rendered that glaring deficiency for all to see.
Russia can supply its forces from three locations—Belgorod in the north, east of the Donbas, and south, through Crimea. Ukraine’s push in the northeast is threatening to cut the Belgorod line, and its daring attack on the Kerch Bridge means it is out of commission at least until March, dramatically affecting Russia’s southern lines.
Ukraine is adding to the pressure by hitting Russian railheads and supply depots 70 to 80 kilometers from the front lines. Ukraine’s successful Kherson campaign has now further scrambled Russia’s supply situation. Here is a map with Ukraine’s updated HIMARS/MLRS range:
Russia is down to a single road connecting Mariupol on the Sea of Azov coast, to Berdyansk, to the southern edge of Melitopol. Everything else is within Ukrainian artillery, including all rail lines. This area has also been swarming with partisan activity, and those supply columns on that single road will be extremely vulnerable to ambushes. Without a functioning rail, trucks will need to navigate icy, snowy, blustery conditions. The cold will affect engine performance (especially salient given Russia’s famously bad maintenance procedures), and the ice and snow will slow the speed these trucks can travel, slowing down the delivery of supplies.
Furthermore, there is little evidence that Russia can properly equip its soldiers to withstand freezing winter temperatures inside cold trenches. Millions of cold weather jackets famously disappeared in Russia a couple of months ago and were never found. We’ve seen plenty of videos of conscripts wearing rubber boots, and those are the lucky ones. Plenty more aren’t wearing anything more than sandals or sneakers. On the other hand, NATO is in a full-fledged effort to properly equip the Ukrainian army with proper winter war-fighting gear.
Meanwhile, by occupying Ukraine’s periphery, it’s extremely difficult for Russia to move units from one front to the other, severely limiting its operational flexibility.
Russia has to cover that entire front, and it is massive, thousands of kilometers wide. The distances between those fronts are longer when you have to travel on the outside edge, and Russia doesn’t have rail anywhere except in the purple area (and even there, railheads are getting regular visits from St. HIMARS). Meanwhile, Ukraine doesn’t just have shorter distances to move, but it can do so by rail, as Russia would rather launch rockets at civilian infrastructure than legitimate military targets.
Of course, this issue will bedevil Russia for as long as this war lasts, but again, winter conditions will make road transportation slow and treacherous. Ukraine can attack anywhere it wants, at will, while Russia’s ability to respond will be slow, ineffective, and perhaps even nonexistent.
Ukraine’s modern NATO gear and better-maintained Soviet gear will inevitably hold up better to the cold. But poor weather conditions and heavy cloud cover will make it easier for Russia to conceal its equipment, weapons caches, and other juicy targets. Without clear skies, drones and satellites will have a hard time getting the necessary intelligence to inform artillery and rocket strikes, as well as tactical advances. Russia’s newly effective suicide drones will also be rendered unusable in these dark, cloudy months, but Ukraine needs drones more than Russia does. If drones can’t beam the necessary intelligence back to Ukrainian commanders, that, more than anything, might slow Ukraine’s advances.
Finally, there is morale.
Who will better survive a freezing, dark, damp, trench for months on end, under a relentless artillery barrage: Someone dragged off the street and thrown to the front with rusty rifles and minimal training, or Ukrainians fighting to reach their babushkas behind enemy lines?
It’s clear which side will fight, and which side will find any excuse to go home. I mean, look at this lopsided fight, where two (brave) Ukrainians, backed by an armored personnel carrier, storm a trench, forcing around 15 Russians to retreat in panic.
Winter will be tough on everyone, but one side is fighting for their homes, and the other has no idea why they’re there. Nazis? Satanists? Putin’s glory? None of that is real or worth dying for.
So Russia is reeling, and Ukraine doesn’t seem interested in giving it any time to catch its breath. According to Russian sources, Ukraine is making a breakthrough near Svatove, in northeastern Ukraine.
Related, and very interesting:
To be clear, when Russia is evacuating “citizens,” it is evacuating Russian collaborators and Russian citizens imported to administer those cities and indoctrinate kids in schools. Loyal residents have been unwilling to help, requiring Russia to bring in reinforcements from Russia. Those are the people being evacuated, and good riddance.
Evacuating Kreminna makes sense, as Ukrainian forces are literally at the town’s outskirts. But Rubizhne and Severodonetsk? This doesn’t speak well of Russia’s confidence in its defensive lines.
Rumors persist of Ukrainian advances south of Kherson, which seem utterly ridiculous on their face. Remember Russia’s difficulties supplying its forces north of the Dnipro River into Kherson? Ukraine would face similar problems if they pushed south of the river. Yet there are persistent rumors of a Ukrainian military operation to liberate the Kinburn Spit peninsula, south of Kherson. This thread explains why it might make military sense:
I still doubt it makes sense. That strip of land, used by Russia to launch killer drones, could be cleared with artillery. If necessary, a special forces operation could clear it as they did with Snake Island. No need to have a persistent presence here.
Even more ridiculous is this rumor:
That can’t possibly be real, could it? My current theory is that Russian forces fled to defensive positions closer to Crimea, and locals are putting up the Ukrainian flag. But who knows! Perhaps Russia did clear this entire region, thus explaining the lack of continued artillery shelling of Ukrainian positions in Kherson, or the disruption of the city’s festivities.
Rybar is certainly furious at the lack of Russian response. The largest Russian Telegram channel covering the war in Ukraine is apoplectic at Russia’s disappearance from this front:
In context, this might suggest that Russia did, in fact, pull back significantly from the Dnipro to positions further south and east.
Ukraine is REALLY upset about the raccoon stolen from the Kherson Zoo by retreating Russians.
Russia has no friends.
Wondering why this matters? So did I. The answer is here. But to spare you a click, Xi always stands on the left, and did so even with President Barack Obama. It looks better and more dominant to be open to the camera, as opposed to reaching across one’s body for the handshake. Silly, right?
Of course, none of this means that China is ready to assist the West with Russian sanctions, nor does it defuse tensions over Taiwan. But if you’re wondering why Russia has backed off the nuclear threats of late, this might have something to do with it:
China apparently told Russia to knock it off. And here, it’s underscoring its sentiments alongside their mutual geopolitical nemesis, the United States. This is particularly humiliating for Russia (and exponentially so since Vladimir Putin was too cowardly to attend the G20 summit and stayed home).
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Holy crap, what an amazing week! Where do we even begin this week's episode of The Downballot? Well, we know exactly where: abortion. Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard recap Tuesday's extraordinary results, starting with a clear-eyed examination of the issue that animated Democrats as never before—and that pundits got so badly wrong. They also discuss candidate quality (still really important!), Democratic meddling in GOP primaries (good for democracy, actually), and "soft" Biden disapprovers (lots of them voted for Democrats).