Ukraine’s bitter winter is approaching fast, when temperatures can fall as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius.
The conditions will have a big impact on the war with invading Russian forces, according to Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov.
“It’s [the] main obstacle for all the military campaign. If it’s rainy, you have to stay, because you cannot use the wheeled armored vehicles or personnel carriers. You can use only [vehicles] with the tracks. If it’s snowy, the same answer. If it’s not snowy but you have frozen … hard ground, you can use wheeled vehicles. So, it all depends on the weather conditions, the next stage of this campaign,” Reznikov told the Reuters news agency on November 10.
Ukraine has made significant advances in recent weeks, recapturing the city of Kherson. Its forces are determined to make further battlefield gains.
“Winter will not stop us,” said Serhiy Haidai, governor of the Luhansk region, which is partly under the control of Russian forces.
“It is better for our troops to move forward at least slowly, but we cannot stand still. No one will engage in positional wars,” he told The Associated Press.
There is speculation that Ukrainian forces from Kharkiv could seek to drive southward toward the devastated city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov. Retired U.S. General Ben Hodges said the Kremlin’s forces are vulnerable.
“They will have trenches, but it is wide open terrain [in the south], easy to target Russians there,” he told Reuters.
Having been forced to retreat both in Kherson and Kharkiv, Russian forces are now digging in. Ukraine said Russia has mined huge areas in the east, and dozens of bridges have been blown up.
Progress for either side will be difficult, according to Justin Bronk, a military analyst at Britain’s Royal United Services Institute, a research institution.
“What maneuvers do take place will be much more roadbound. And so, it will be harder for either side to move without getting bracketed by artillery very quickly, because their movements will be that much more predictable,” Bronk told VOA.
Conditions for troops on the ground will be extremely tough.
“It may exacerbate the morale differences between the increasingly conscript-supported, with very limited training Russian forces, and the Ukrainian forces, who are equally in miserable conditions but are motivated in defending their homes,” Bronk said.
“Being stuck out in foxholes and trenches in sub-zero temperatures for prolonged periods — especially in the Russian case, with very limited supplies and limited winter clothing — is not a recipe for good morale,” he added.
Russia is targeting Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, including its electricity and running water, Bronk said, adding that the West must help counter Russia’s tactics.
“If we don’t supply Ukraine with significantly enhanced air defense capacity to try and counter those cruise missiles and the Iranian-supplied Shahed loitering munitions, then a huge number more Ukrainians will become refugees. And a lot of people will freeze.
“The key question now on the ground is going to be who is better placed to retake the offensive initiative once the thaw comes in late February, early March,” Bronk said.