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Russia is likely to begin another Ukraine offensive, but it confronts a similar obstacle: Mud

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Wreckage of Russian military vehicles, destroyed by Ukrainian Forces during a counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region, lie in a mud in a forest on September 22, 2022 in Izium, Ukraine.

Global Images Ukraine | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Ukraine and many Western analysts believe Russia is on the precipice of launching a new, large-scale offensive but it’s likely to encounter a familiar obstacle: mud.

Frozen ground conditions in Ukraine are expected to give way to a thaw in the coming weeks, turning the war-torn nation’s fields and rural roads into a quagmire for troops and tanks.

Ukraine’s muddy season is so infamous that it has a name, “Rasputitsa” — referring to the season that comes in late fall and early spring — and it has caught out various armies over the centuries, from Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Russia in 1812, which was famously slowed by the mud in Ukraine, to Hitler’s Nazi forces floundering in muddy conditions as they invaded the then-Soviet Union in 1941.

Despite its infamy and annual occurrence, the mud still managed to catch Russian forces out after they invaded Ukraine last February with images and footage online showing Russian tanks and armored vehicles stuck and abandoned in the mud, much to Ukraine’s satisfaction. Needless to say, however, its own forces are not immune to the problem.

Ukrainian servicemen push a car stuck in mud on a field road on the frontline in Donetsk region, on December 17, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Genya Savilov | Afp | Getty Images

While the war has changed since the last muddy spring season — with Russia now concentrating its forces on an expected, large-scale offensive focused on fully occupying eastern Ukraine (and potentially including Zaporizhzhia in the south and the northeastern Kharkiv region) — the arrival of spring is expected to bring familiar challenges for both sides, as well as unknowns around the direction the conflict will take.

“The weather continues to play a significant role in the course of Russia’s war in Ukraine,” the U.K.’s Ministry of Defence said Thursday.

“With the ground frozen, there has likely been little change in cross country mobility (CCM) conditions in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks,” it said in an intelligence update on Twitter.

Over the coming week, however, forecasts suggest soil temperature increases and snow melt are likely to deteriorate cross country mobility across the Donbas, the ministry noted.

“Cross country mobility is likely to be at its worst, with extremely muddy conditions, over mid- to late-March. Commanders on both sides will highly likely seek to avoid scheduling major offensives at such times,” the defense ministry noted.

“However, perceived political or operational opportunities can override such concerns, as demonstrated by Russia launching its invasion in late-February 2022.”

War changing
Some Western observers thought the freezing winter in Ukraine would provide an opportunity for both Russian and Ukrainian forces to regroup and rearm ahead of spring offensives but the fighting has remained intense, particularly in the Donetsk and Luhansk areas of eastern Ukraine.

Analysts say that Russia will launch a new large-scale offensive within the next couple of weeks and could look to make gains before the “rasputitsa” sets in.

Max Hess, fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, noted the spring “rasputitsa” is more of a challenge than the autumnal one as it becomes “even more difficult for vehicles and materiel to travel through given the thaw of the frozen earth and snowpack.”

“That being said, the current state of the fronts is rather different to what was seen in late autumn with lines consolidated over the winter,” he told CNBC Thursday.

A military man makes his way through the mud to a church destroyed due to hostilities on September 24, 2022 in the Kharkiv region.

Global Images Ukraine | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Ukraine has urgent, pressing problems to contend with before the mud arrives with its forces observing Russian forces slowly but surely approaching and encircling the Donetsk city of Bakhmut. The city is now in a precarious position although Ukraine has vowed to fight on, for now, the question of whether it will withdraw its forces has become salient.

“Russia’s main attack at the moment is around Bakhmut, where it has lost thousands of soldiers for what is at best a small tactical victory and propaganda gain. Attacks there as well as in a few other points along the line of control in Donetsk … are largely infantry assaults on fortified positions so these will not be affected too much by the rasputitsa and Russian officials show no signs of allowing attacks to abate,” Hess noted.

Ukrainian tankers near an undisclosed front line position in eastern Ukraine on Nov. 28, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Yevhen Titov | Afp | Getty Images

“Bakhmut is at risk of falling imminently given Russian attacks in recent days on the towns of Chasiv Yar and Ivanivske that control its key supply routes from Kostyatynivka,” Hess warned.

“While the weather means that it is even less likely that Russia would be able to capitalize on potential gains in Bakhmut by subsequently breaking Ukrainian lines to the west, I don’t think it will affect its willingness to engage in such infantry heavy assaults,” he noted.

Source: Cnbc

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