Russian troops to 'suffer the worst consequences' in winter war

Leading military commentator criticises Kremlin's poor leadership amid high casualties

Snow covers a monument to the Soviet Union in Moscow. While winter has traditionally helped Russia repel invaders, a leading military commentator has argued that conditions in Ukraine will work against the Kremlin's troops. EPA
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Russia is likely to “suffer the worst consequences” of the current winter campaign as it sends ill-equipped and badly trained troops into Ukraine, a leading military commentator has said.

Renowned military historian Antony Beevor argued that the Kremlin was sending soldiers into a “meat grinder”, using tactics deployed at great cost in 20th century wars.

President Vladimir Putin’s new Russian army is also suffering a shortage of non-commissioned officers, meaning that basic duties including maintaining equipment and morale are not being carried out.

Russian commanders have received severe criticism for housing troops alongside ammunition and vehicles in a building that was hit by a Ukrainian missile

About 400 soldiers were killed or wounded in the attack on the barracks in Makiivka, eastern Donbas region, minutes before midnight on December 31.

While Ukraine’s troops have received excellent cold-weather equipment from western powers, Moscow’s soldiers reportedly do not even have enough bandages.

Mr Beevor argued that, in the past, Russia had relied on “General Winter” to defeat invading armies, with frigid temperatures scuppering the military strategies of both Napoleon and Hitler.

“For centuries, this phenomenon has often worked to Russia’s advantage, as a succession of powerful militaries have succumbed to inadequate equipment, deficient supply lines and poor preparation,” Mr Beevor wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine.

“But as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine enters the harshest months of the year, there are many indications that this time, it may be Russia, rather than its adversary, that suffers the worst consequences.”

Moscow’s generals are treating the newly mobilised troops “as little better than serfs”, with little consideration given to the deaths of about 25,000 soldiers.

“This lack of interest in soldiers’ well-being — and the casual attitude to massive losses through so-called meat-grinder tactics — are apparent in Putin’s army in Ukraine today,” he wrote.

But the Russians have at least retained lessons learnt from the Second World War in using special lubricants for engines and guns to address the extreme winter cold rather than the German method of lighting fires under their vehicles.

“After 1945, the Red Army’s achievements in winter warfare gave it a fearsome reputation in the West,” Mr Beevor said.

A column of Russian military vehicles abandoned in the snow near Kharkiv in March 2022. AFP

But the Russian army has been weakened and depleted by corruption and a lack of qualified trainers.

“Its shortage of experienced non-commissioned officers has also led to a terrible record of maintaining weapons, equipment, and vehicles,” wrote the author of Stalingrad. “These problems will become especially costly in winter with sensitive technology such as drones.”

Adding to the dangers were mortar rounds hitting frozen ground, which unlike mud, caused fragments to ricochet with deadly effect.

The outcome of the winter campaign would depend on “morale and determination”, with the Russians likely to “curse their shortages and lack of hot food” while Ukrainians enjoy supplies of insulated camouflage suits, tents with stoves and quality sleeping bags

“Putin seems to be in denial about the state of his army and the way that General Winter will favour his opponents,” Mr Beevor concluded.

Updated: January 02, 2023, 3:12 PM