vladimir putin speaks moscow

Putin’s winter bet fails

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vladimir putin speaks moscow

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin counted on freezing temperatures to aid his forces in Ukraine, but a warmer winter failed to produce the desired results and the Russian military offensive did not gain much ground.
  • In another winter setback, Finland—a key country in Putin’s efforts to prevent NATO expansion—is set to join the alliance.
  • Despite these setbacks, Putin still has some advantages, such as backing from non-Western countries and growing Republican opposition to U.S. military aid to Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin staked a large part of his war strategy over the the past few months on betting that Mother Nature would be on his side.

According to analysts, that plan failed to produce the results the Russian leader had desired and instead allowed Ukraine to regroup and mobilize against Russian forces.

Putin’s war in Ukraine reached its one-year mark on February 24, with intense fighting continuing throughout the war-torn country. Putin illegitimately annexed four Ukrainian territories last September, but his forces have lost control of communities it had occupied early in the conflict. Russia then planned on the cold season to reverse its fortunes, some observers reported.

Winter has long been an ally of Russia during wars, and the cold weather in the country has thwarted military invasions from both Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler. Putin reportedly counted on using winter to his advantage in Ukraine as well with the belief that the country’s muddy terrain would freeze and allow for better tactical maneuvering while continued strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure would disrupt civilians’ heat and electricity.

Vladimir Putin speaks in Moscow Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen delivering a speech in Moscow on February 28. Inset, an abandoned battle tank remains in the snow near Yampil, Ukraine, on February 6. Putin had planned on using winter’s cold weather to his advantage, but his strategy was not successful, according to analysts. Photos by GAVRIIL GRIGOROV/SPUTNIK/AFP/TASUYOSHI CHIBA/Getty Images

“Putin’s hopes for this winter did not pan out,” Mark Katz, a professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, told Newsweek. “Europe did not freeze, and the Russian military offensive did not gain much ground.”

“No matter all the technology in the world, terrain and weather still dominate, and the mud has now returned—like it did in February 2022—to be the bane of Russians,” John Spencer, a retired U.S. Army major and chair of Urban Warfare Studies at the Madison Policy Forum, told Newsweek.

Russia’s military was “waiting for a freeze to do some type of maneuver to advance the line before a spring offensive, and the weather didn’t give them that. Then they tried this maneuver around Bakhmut with their elite forces, and again, lost another elite formation,” Spencer said.

He noted that Ukraine is called the “breadbasket of Europe” due to its fertile soil that allows for a high production of grain, making it among the top exporters in the world for it.

The same soil is often very muddy. Spencer, who spent time in Ukraine last year, said he witnessed a tank being stuck in the mud for four months after the first time he saw it. He observed that a tractor could not pull the armored vehicle out.

Due to these conditions, Spencer said Russian forces are frequently forced to travel on Ukraine’s roads, which can leave them “vulnerable” to attacks. He added that Ukraine has also purposely flooded key areas to prevent Putin’s troops from advancing across fields.

“That’s the advantage of home terrain,” Spencer added.

Former U.S. Marine Corps captain and State Department officer Matthew Hoh told Newsweek that “the Russians may have been bedeviled by warmer than usual weather, but I am also not sure if the Russian mobilization from last fall was going to have those mobilized soldiers, reconstituted units and new formations ready for a big winter offensive as was speculated.”

“Unfortunately, I think Russia is in better shape than is broadly believed, and certainly in better shape than Ukraine,” Hoh added. “It still has hundreds of thousands of unused reserve soldiers as well as regular army units that have not been committed, the ability to open a northern front against Ukraine and has lightly utilized its air forces to this point.”

Along with claims that Russia launched the invasion as a response to Western aggression and to battle the spread of neo-Nazi sentiment, one of the reasons cited by Putin for the war is to prevent NATO expansion. On that front, Putin suffered another loss this winter.

As Katz noted, “Finland seems set to join NATO and Sweden may too.”

“Just Finland more than doubles his border with NATO,” Spencer added, noting the 830-mile line of land Finland shares with Russia.

Despite these setbacks, Katz said that Putin’s winter wasn’t only full of bad news.

“There are reasons why Putin could take heart: China, India and other non-Western countries continue to buy Russian petroleum; there is growing Republican opposition to continued U.S. military assistance to Ukraine; and the U.S. Secretary of State himself has indicated that China may supply Russia with weapons,” he said.

Katz added that Putin “may understand that Russia will not quickly prevail in Ukraine, but he may believe that he—and his allies—will prove more persistent than Ukraine’s allies. And there is always the prospect that next winter will be a lot colder.”

Spencer, on the other hand, said he feels Putin “wagered on winter and lost. I think his generals wagered on a spring offensive, and I think we’re seeing that and it’s really underwhelming.”

Newsweek reached out to the Russia Ministry of Foreign Affairs via email for comment.


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