As the brutal winter months approach, Ukrainians are digging in, steadily gaining ground in their counteroffensive; while Putin on the other hand, forced to a tight spot, would expect in the coming months, an opportunity to freeze his control over occupied areas.
The stage is now being set for a battle of nerves in Ukraine, as war planners on both sides expect the approaching winter months to make fighting tougher. The rainy weather and muddy battlefield conditions are already starting to limit the mobility of tanks and other heavy weaponry.
Although the prospect of intense fighting cannot be ruled out, experts believe the frigid weather conditions will make it increasingly difficult for either side to sustain a large-scale military operation.
As a veteran diplomat and President of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass writes, we are facing a winter of decision-making. “What remains to be seen is how decisions made away from the battlefield this winter affect the course of the war come spring.”
With his troops faltering on the battlefront, Putin hopes that by inflicting pain on ordinary Ukrainians in the tough winter months, he can try to weigh down on Kyiv to back down from their relentless counter-offensive in the East and the South.
Offered an opportunity with the Crimean bridge explosion, the Russian President responded by carrying out a relentless bombing campaign in Ukrainian cities, at a rate not seen since the start of the full-scale war.
The Russian shelling has targeted residential areas and key civilian infrastructure — in particular heating and electricity, offering an indication of what Putin wants Ukrainians to suffer in the coming months.
Ukrainian authorities have warned of impending power, water and heating outages, with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeting Tuesday that over the past week Russian attacks have knocked out 30% of his country’s power plants causing “massive blackouts across the country.”
Although Putin has said that there was “no need for massive strikes” on Ukraine because most designated targets in the country had been hit, Russian choices to sustain the campaign are becoming increasingly limited.
While global support is expected to give the Ukrainians a strategic advantage over the Russian forces who are struggling with logistics and supply of military hardware.
Throughout the eight-month duration of the war, Russia’s broad strategy has been to overcome military challenges on the battlefront by unleashing massive attacks on civilian infrastructure.
Apart from the use of tactical nuclear weapons, experts are debating a range of other options and the possibility of false flag operations that Russia can use to inflict mass casualties on Ukraine — including the use of biological or chemical bombs, or the destruction of critical large infrastructures like dams and other civilian infrastructure.
Along with weapons and military equipment, Western allies are also sending Ukrainians cold weather gear to face the harsh winter when temperatures fall below freezing point.
Officials in the U.S. believe that allies who have been unwilling to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine may also contribute to Ukraine’s war effort by providing them with winter gear.
“Some countries aren’t in a position to offer lethal assistance but we urge them to provide vital nonlethal aid, such as medical supplies and cold-weather gear that the Ukrainians need to fight in the winter,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at a press conference following the Ukraine Defense Contact Group Meeting in Brussels last Wednesday. The contact group which comprises more than 50 nations had met to assess Ukraine’s defense needs.
As Kyiv receives advanced military weapons and equipment from Western allies, Moscow is forced to rely on its own capabilities or on other pariah countries like Iran or North Korea.
Russia has now shifted to using a lower-cost Iranian alternative — the kamikaze drones — for carrying out the bombing operation. Reports say that Iran is also readying a shipment for Russia of its short-range ballistic Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar missiles that are capable of striking targets at distances of 300 and 700 kilometers (approximately 200 to 400 miles).
At home, for ordinary Russians who feel the pinch of war due to the partial mobilization drive, Putin has presented an existential narrative of a defensive war against Western powers who are out to destroy Russia.