Ukraine only has three months to prevent a winter betrayal

If the war goes into deep freeze, Zelensky is likely to come under increasing pressure from his allies

Richard Kemp

17 August 2022 • 5:00pm

A Ukrainian women soldier 28-year-old Svetlana, who served as a captain in the Ukrainian Armed Forces is seen on the frontline in Donbass, Donetsk, Ukraine on August 15, 2022.

Ukraine is about to enter its time of maximum vulnerability as Russia’s traditional ally, General Winter, arrives on the scene and the Kremlin turns the energy screws on Kyiv’s shivering European backers.

On the battlefield winter will impact both sides as the war goes into deep freeze. Winter tends to favour the defender, better able to find shelter and warmth, while movement by foot and vehicle, a greater necessity for attackers, is impeded by first mud then snow. That might allow the Ukrainian army to hold onto what it’s got now but will prevent it from re-taking any significant part of the vast swathes of territory under Russian domination.

But it is in Europe that winter will have the greatest strategic effect on the war, and Ukraine is more likely to be the loser. As European media increasingly grow bored of a freezing landscape without much fighting to report, the spotlight will be more and more on hardship at home, with the economic crisis intensified by Putin’s conflict biting ever deeper.

While Europeans have been blindly satiating their hunger for cheap Russian energy, for years Putin has been baiting the strategic trap for them to fall into. His funding, disinformation and agents of influence in the environmental movement have increased dependency on Russia, playing a critical role in preventing shale gas exploitation across Europe as well as Germany’s termination of nuclear energy, heavily influenced by green parties that arose from the Moscow-funded anti-nuclear movement in the 1980s. A master of political and economic warfare as well as propaganda, Putin’s objectives were both for Russian economic benefit and to gain political leverage in situations such as this.

Russia reduced gas supplies to Europe by 60% in June. Countries are weighing how to minimise economic damage to their already crippled economies as winter approaches, including by significantly reducing gas consumption among domestic consumers for which one of the few realistic options is an even steeper price hike. The widespread discontent among voters that follows will focus politicians’ minds and force them to reconsider their already wavering commitment to Ukraine and especially the strict sanctions against Russia which have proven not to have the hoped-for effect on restraining Putin’s aggression.

Putin knows how to ratchet up the pressure until European countries succumb, including by ordering a total energy shut-off. With this threat hanging over their heads, he will dangle a ceasefire at the G20 summit in November, saying that peace can come if he holds onto the Donbas, Crimea and the territory he has captured along the south coast of Ukraine. He will speak of self-determination of peoples, citing plebiscites that he will ensure show the majority of the populations in these areas want to be a part of Russia. His appeal will not be aimed at Ukraine but at Europeans whose economic woes would be eased.

This message will be every bit as enticing to President Biden as it will be to his European counterparts. America too is suffering severe economic damage which Biden invariably blames on Putin’s war. His mood is demonstrated in an article last week in the New York Times. While reassuring Russia about the limitations of US military support for Kiev, he wrote: “I will not pressure the Ukrainian government to make any territorial concessions”, the first time a major national leader has raised the prospect of concessions in many months.

Leaders will be tempted to grab at Putin’s offer of peace, withholding support for Zelensky. Until now, an attritional war has been said to favour Ukraine. That’s about to be seriously tested. It may have been built on a false premise in the first place: Russia has usually started wars badly in its history, but has been able to call upon its vast resources and manpower over time. And the Ukrainians are entirely reliant on foreign weapons, equipment and intelligence.

5 comments

  1. Comment from DT reader John Cooper :

    “Well the intelligence support will continue from the UK, US, Baltic states and Poland – probably the only intelligence worth the name. As will the military support.
    So we are talking about Germany, France and the other central European states. I’m not sure the Ukrainians will miss their support and if they buckle well, much of that gas and particularly oil go via pipelines through the Ukraine. I’m sure a few “Russian” missiles can disrupt those.
    And General Winter works for both side – and I imagine the Ukrainians have far better logistics to keep troops in the field given the Russian performance in that area to date.”

  2. Comment from DT reader Mary-Louise Chin:

    “Overly pessimistic, I hope and pray. Many countries including UK, Poland, Latvia, Estonia and a few others will never cave. And these countries are the future of Europe.”

  3. Comment from DT reader John McIvor :

    “If higher energy costs are the price we have to pay to rid the world of a tyrannical Russia then so be it. The Ukrainians are paying with blood. I would hope our leaders know that throwing Ukraine under a bus, by ceding territory to Russia, will not stop Mad Vlad’s ambitions to conqueror it all. Furthermore acquiescence will only encourage China’s belligerence towardsTaiwan., and as for little Rocket Man… “

  4. Comment from DT reader Adrian Frost:

    “A bleak assessment yet one that I think/hope is overly pessimistic. Just as Western Europe may want to cave in and get gas supplies moving again so Russia will continue to suffer from ever more casualties, loss of equipment, shortage of supplies and ammunition and as significantly, the attrition being wrought on Russia’s economy. Many analysts may deride the effectiveness of sanctions but they are doing a great deal of damage and as time goes on its only going to get worse. Whilst France Germany Italy and Hungary may wish the Ukraine to cave in, Poland, Finland ourselves and others will not. Additionally the Eu and Europhiles must surely know that if they allow Ukraine to be beaten the European ideal is truly dead. EU pretentions to become a global player with its own military will be hollow, its show of “unity” will be utterly worthless and it may even trigger another bond and financial crisis for the EURO. The EU will in short become a laughing stock just as Putin settles in to take Moldova, Georgia, Azerbajan Transistriana, and then help itself to Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia which of course are part of the EU.”

  5. We saw last winter what happened to the cockroach army. They were thrown out of Kyiv and Kharkiv. This was before Ukraine received heavy weapons from the West. The winters in Europe aren’t what they used to be and every European country is getting prepared as good as it can for what’s to come. Even Germany will most likely keep its NPPs working for the duration of its transition away from mafia fossil fuels. The countries that provide Ukraine with the most military aid won’t let a winter stand in their way to keep helping. Spineless countries like Germany and France don’t make a difference anyway, in this regard, so no danger is lurking from there.
    We’ll see in what shape the cockroach army will be in 2 or 3 months. If things keep going as they have been, there might not be much left of it. Not to mention if the rat will survive that long.
    As usual, we’ll see…

Enter comments here: