Ukraine and Russia signal war will not die down over winter

Ukrainian firefighters extinguish a fire after Russian army shelling of Bakhmut, Ukraine on December 7, 2022.

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As the Russia-Ukraine war heads into winter, there has been some expectation that freezing temperatures on the battlefield could bring a lull in the conflict.

Last weekend, a top U.S. intelligence official even said they expected to see a “reduced tempo” in the fighting and that this was likely to continue over the “coming months” with both the Ukrainian and Russian militaries expected to regroup and resupply, and to prepare for counter-offensives in the spring.

There appears to be no signs in a let-up, however — with extremely intense fighting in eastern Ukraine, with the devastation in parts of the region reminiscent of World War I — and both Russia and Ukraine sending out smoke signals that there is no time, and no desire, for a cessation of hostilities.

Russia President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday signaled that he was in it for the long-haul, saying the conflict could be a “lengthy process,” continuing attempts by the Kremlin to suggest to the Russian public that the war will not be over soon and that there will be no pause over winter.

Ukraine has also showed no signs of letting-up, particularly as it tries to build on momentum that has allowed it to liberate chunks of Kharkiv in the northeast, and Kherson in the south, and now concentrates its efforts on defending its position in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine.

Night falls on a street where a destroyed building targeted during Russia-Ukraine war in Izyum City, Ukraine, December 07th, 2022.

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Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War said neither Russia nor Ukraine are likely to implement an operational pause over winter, with mixed consequences.

“Putin continues to seem unwilling to pursue such a cessation of fighting,” the ISW noted Wednesday.

“The Russian military is continuing offensive operations around Bakhmut and is — so far — denying itself the operational pause that would be consistent with best military practice. Putin’s current fixation with continuing offensive operations around Bakhmut and elsewhere is contributing to Ukraine’s ability to maintain the military initiative in other parts of the theater,” they noted.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday also appeared to believe that Russia would seek to “freeze” the fighting in Ukraine “at least for a short period of time so they can regroup, repair, recover … [a]nd then try to launch a bigger offensive next spring.”

The ISW said that view supported its own assessment that an operational pause “would favor Russia by depriving Ukraine of the initiative.”

“An operational pause this winter would likely prematurely culminate Ukraine’s counter-offensive operations, increase the likelihood that Ukraine loses the initiative, and grant degraded Russian forces a valuable three-to-four-month reprieve to reconstitute and prepare to fight on better footing,” the ISW analysts said.

It could be to Ukraine’s advantage that Russia, or Putin, is not prepared to introduce any operational pause with the ISW noting that Kyiv’s continued operational successes “depend on Ukrainian forces’ ability to continue successive operations through the winter of 2022-2023 without interruption.”

Ukraine is keen to point out it has no plans to lose momentum and is undeterred by difficult conditions brought about by freezing temperatures and energy shortages. It says its troops are well-equipped for hostile conditions.

“We understand that the changing weather conditions are a factor that has to be taken into account and military operations will be planned accordingly,” Yuriy Sak, an advisor to Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov told CNBC this week, “but the Ukrainian armed forces do not have any plans to slow down.”

“We will adapt, we will continue our counter offensive, as always, in a smart way, carefully, and making sure that we use our military resources efficiently,” he said, adding that the pace and efficiency of Ukraine’s counter-offensive “will, as always, be also determined by how quickly we will continue to receive the military support from our partners.”

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