The Coming Quagmire – The Donbas & Ukraine’s Not So Secret Weapon (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #33)

Many years ago I was talking with a colleague who had a great deal of experience with search and rescue operations in a wilderness area of the Rocky Mountains. They told me a memorable story about a fatality that occurred when a coworker took a fall and died before they could be rescued. The fall was not from an especially great height, but because the person was in such an unforgiving environment their chance of survival was slim. My colleague then went on to explain how even the smallest of errors are compounded in such an environment. If one thing goes wrong a person can find themselves on the edge of catastrophe. Hearing this impressed upon me the fragility of life in extreme situations. The same thing holds true for war zones.

One element beyond an army’s control can send it reeling to defeat and possible destruction. This is the situation that the Russian Army will now be faced with as they reportedly plan to go on the offensive in the Donbas region of southeastern Ukraine. As I write this, the spring rains have begun in Ukraine. More rain is in the forecast during the coming days. This is not surprising since springtime in Ukraine means thawing earth, copious amounts of rain and ankle deep mud at best, knee deep at worst. This could have major consequences for the outcome of the fighting between Ukrainian and Russian armed forces in the Donbas.

Bogged down – Russian tank captured in Ukraine after getting stuck in the mud

Climatic Conditions – Against The Elements
By any reasonable measure, the Russian war effort has faltered badly thus far in the war with Ukraine. Everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong. Logistical problems led to a series of catastrophes, casualties reached astronomical levels and the loss of military equipment degraded the Russian Army’s capabilities. If all of that wasn’t enough, now the Russians will have to contend with an element they cannot control, the weather. One of the main reasons the Russian invasion of Ukraine took place in February was to take advantage of the frozen ground. This allowed for a wider area of maneuver with tanks and armored vehicles. The Russians squandered this advantage with their woeful mismanagement of the campaign’s first month. The stout defense put up Ukraine only made matters that much more difficult. Now the Russian’s ability to maneuver will undergo a much stiffer test.

Sometimes a lack of infrastructure can be of great advantage in war. Russia should know this better than most. Napoleon’s invasion of the Russian Empire and Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union were hampered by a lack of good roads. Climatic conditions only served to exacerbate these problems. The invasions were slowed to a halt several times by rain and snow, mud and bitter cold depending on the season. The same thing might happen to the Russian forces. When they were unable to deal a knockout blow to Ukraine in the first days of the war, the possibility of problems with the weather arose. Sure enough, as bitter cold struck northern and eastern Ukraine reports of frostbite among Russian soldiers surfaced. Many were said to not even have winter uniforms. Consequently, this served to further slow their momentum, a situation from which they are still trying to recover. Now they will have to cope with spring rains in Ukraine. This problem will be particularly pronounced in the eastern part of the country which the Russians plan to make the focal point of their military efforts.

Just like old times – Mud on the Eastern Front during World War II

Inviting Targets – Stuck In The Muck
Ukraine has never been known for having highways in optimal condition. Potholes, cracked pavement, and uneven surfaces are the rule rather than the exception on all but the best motorways. I have firsthand experience with just how bone jarring them can be. A ride on a Ukrainian bus is often an exercise of instability as the vehicle bounces from one pothole to the next. The problematic nature of Ukraine’s road conditions offers an obstacle to any military force trying to subdue the country. Because most roads are not in good condition, the few that are soon become clogged with traffic. Military vehicles are tempted to find alternative routes. This can lead to off roading with dire results at the wrong time of year.

Now that the spring thaw has arrived right along with plenty of rainfall, dirt roads and fields will turn into quagmires. This problem only gets worse when heavy vehicles sink several feet into the soil. With each passing vehicle road conditions worsen. The effect on movement is stultifying. Once a vehicle becomes stuck, they offer an inviting target for drones or guerilla attacks. Regaining mobility can take several weeks. One of the best armored fighting forces in history, German Panzer units were rendered immobile for weeks at a time by mud during World War II. They found that going either forward or backwards was impossible. Operations had to be halted until the weather changed. This meant valuable time was wasted, allowing Soviet forces to recuperate, reconvene and counterattack.

Spring rains – An example of the coming spring weather in Ukraine

Risk Management – Bogged Down
The spring rains which are now turning eastern Ukraine’s dirt roads and fields to mud will play a role in the war’s outcome. As the Russian forces refocus their effort on the Donbas they run the risk of getting mired in mud pits created by their own movements. Most military analysts believe the Russians are likely to try a pincer movement to envelop Ukrainian forces in the Donbas. This strategy will be heavily reliant on the weather, an element beyond their control. For the Russian pincers to make a successful envelopment they will have to cover 250 kilometers between them. This will be an extremely risky operation if it is attempted.

Of course, Vladimir Putin’s idea of risk is different from that of a professional military commander. He took a huge risk by invading Ukraine, one that has proven a failure thus far. Will a spring offensive in the Donbas produce better results? It is hard to tell, but if the changing weather is any indication, the Russians will have difficulty achieving their objectives if they get bogged down in the Donbas mud. That is precisely what the Ukrainian Army hopes will happen. At that point, history will have repeated itself and this time in favor of Ukraine.

Click here for: A Turn For The Worse – Bucha & Irpin (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #34)

1 thought on “The Coming Quagmire – The Donbas & Ukraine’s Not So Secret Weapon (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #33)

  1. Reblogged this on haurietisaquas and commented:
    Very interesting article about the disadvantage the Russians will experience in Ukraine. The author has experienced the poor roads and the bogging down in mud due to the spring rains. Very interesting aspect. The Russian troops will suffer. They have already experienced frost bit from the severe cold.

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