It’s getting colder and colder in Ukraine. Russian soldiers are already freezing to death in trenches. The Winter War could be particularly brutal for the Russian troops. There is a lack of clothing, discipline and supplies. The cold could kill more Russians than Ukrainian guns, a military expert suspects.
Winters in Ukraine start out wet and cold and then gradually get colder and drier. In eastern Ukraine, troops are currently fighting their way through the mud. Armored vehicles get stuck, trenches get soaked. At night, temperatures drop to zero degrees Celsius. Average temperatures in Kharkiv in February are down to minus eight degrees. The first soldiers are already freezing to death. In winter, military strategy is less important than the health of the soldiers and the longevity of their equipment.
Drone footage from the last few weeks shows cold Russians who barely reacted to attacks or fled. They barely flinched when a bomb exploded in their fighting position at Bakhmut. The recordings indicate that numerous soldiers have already died from the cold, writes the US magazine “Forbes”. How many is unclear. But there are indications that the winter will be particularly brutal for the Russians.
“Winter will kill more Russians than Ukraine ever could,” predicted ex-soldier and military expert Thomas Theiner. “It’s like the First World War,” says military expert Gustav Gressel from the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). If Russians can’t warm up, they face a “high death toll from hypothermia and disease,” according to Jack Watling of Britain’s military think tank Royal United Services Institute.
The Ukrainians have better conditions this winter, leading military experts and analysts agree. As soon as the ground freezes, they want to continue their counter-offensive. Several factors are crucial here.
“For a soldier to survive in the cold, you need discipline, you need leaders who force their soldiers to check the condition of their socks, keep their clothes dry and do everything they can to avoid getting sick,” explains the renowned British military strategist Lawrence Freedman Forbes analyst David Ax also states that soldiers should eat twice as much on cold days to remain strong, “And you have to change the soldiers regularly so that the same ones don’t always freeze in the cold.” , adds Ben Hodges, former commander in chief of the US Army in Europe.
But the Russians lacked this discipline, this strong leadership and the necessary resources even in the warm months. The situation for the troops will deteriorate drastically in winter, experts say. “The Ukrainians can provide all of that, but the Russians don’t have the logistics to do it,” says Hodges. US defense expert Brynne Tannehill adds: “It’s going to be a long, cold, dark winter, especially for Russia.”
There are already reports of Russians being sent off to war without winter clothing, sometimes even without food. According to military expert Gressel, the winter clothing procured was sold on the black market, and the soldiers were often only provided with old, poor-quality uniforms. On the other hand, some Russian fighters and Wagner Group mercenaries tend to have well-equipped clothing, often from Western companies, Gressel said. This great disparity further worsens morale among Russian soldiers.
Footage from the war zone shows starving Russian conscripts lying in trenches without gloves or proper footwear. Some of them get so-called trench feet, from which soldiers in the First and Second World Wars suffered. The infection occurs when feet are stuck in damp socks and boots for several days. The troops consist partly of inexperienced and untrained young men, whose officers are often not at the front but in command centers several kilometers away. Few of them know how to fight the cold and what to do when tanks get stuck in the mud.
On the other hand, there are also some recruits from regions like northern Siberia who are deployed in the Ukraine and know that hypothermia sets in quickly when people stay wet in the cold at night. Even mild hypothermia can greatly reduce reflexes and lead to loss of motor skills. But in the course of the war it was repeatedly shown that the knowledge that Russians with war experience should have was not applied in practice.
The equipment is also subjected to a special stress test in winter. “It is becoming more difficult to maintain and operate equipment. Fuel consumption increases to keep generators running. Mines could be hidden under the snow. And masses of white paint are needed to camouflage vehicles,” said renowned British military strategist Lawrence Freedman.
In many places, the Russians also lack warm food, heating material and warm sleeping equipment. But replenishment poses new challenges for the Russian troops. Since the attack on the Kerch Bridge, there has been no functioning rail connection between Russia and the Ukrainian southern front. Ukraine has to worry far less about supplies, functioning logistics and more effective artillery. Finland and Sweden recently announced new winter packages for the troops, and other countries are likely to follow suit. They also continue to receive ammunition and artillery.
Tannehill also sees the winter as a major obstacle to mobilizing more Russians for a new offensive. “Russian casualties during the winter will be brutal, and a second wave of mobilizations in January will be very unpopular while at the same time exacerbating labor shortages in Russia. Word will spread among the population that people have frozen to death,” she wrote on Twitter.