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Logistical problems, lack of coordination, fierce resistance from the population, the invasion of Ukraine is littered with traps for the Russian army, which must also contend with “thaw”, a climatic phenomenon that prevents the advance of soldiers and armored vehicles. Explanations.
Could the Kremlin have picked the wrong moment to invade Ukraine? For several days now, images of Russian tanks stuck in the mud have been circulating on social networks. The signature constantly repeats one word: “thaw”.
Well-known in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, “thaw” or “weather of bad roads” refers to the spring thaw, which turns the plain soaked with autumn rains into real mud puddles.
Traditionally, the phenomenon occurs around mid-March, during the snowmelt in spring or heavy floods in autumn. But this year, in Eastern Europe, there was a particularly mild and wet month of January, which contributed to the speedy appearance of this sticky mud, terrible for military equipment.
Historical reminders: the thaw gives rise to a mud season (Rasputitsa) that lasts 3-4 weeks and rises from the south (Crimea) to the north a few days before Belarus.
In 1942 it began around March 21st.
In 1943, 18.03.
In 1944, 03/17/1944
(dates according to KTB) pic.twitter.com/HYskTILDot
— Cedric Mas (@CedricMas) March 5, 2022
The difficulties for Russian forces moving through this muddy terrain appear to be concentrated in eastern and northern Ukraine. According to military experts, this climatic phenomenon partly explains the uneven advance towards Kyiv of a huge column of Russian armored vehicles visible on satellite images.
“There have already been many situations when Russian tanks and other equipment drove through the fields and blocked. The soldiers were forced to abandon them and continue on foot,” says Ukrainian military analyst Mykola Beleskov in an interview with AFP. “This problem exists, and it will get worse,” the researcher adds.
The main asset of Ukraine
The Russian army of Vladimir Putin is not the first to endure the icy embrace of mudslides. In 1812, because of this phenomenon, Napoleon’s troops were delayed in advancing towards Moscow during the Russian campaign.
But it was during the Second World War that the thaw played an important role. Between June and December 1941, Nazi Germany launched Operation Barbarossa to invade the USSR. However, Adolf Hitler’s plans were hindered by the condition of the soil, and the Wehrmacht’s advance slowed down significantly, which contributed to the first military defeat of the III Division.as well as Reich.
Similarly, the Red Army’s counteroffensive was slowed down by this “bad road season” in Eastern Europe in 1943.
The German army was in disarray during World War II. This slowed their progress during Operation Barbarossa at the end of the winter. pic.twitter.com/Qx7kx9ZGni
— Restitutor Orientis (@RestitutorOrien) January 19, 2022
On the eastern front, “if large mechanized operations almost completely stopped during heavy autumn rains or during spring thaws due to the famous thaw, the mud of the Russian plains, then they resumed in winter when the soils hardened again,” explained historian Laurent Henninger in the journal Défense nationale in 2015.
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According to General Dominique Trincan, who was interviewed by France 24, Vladimir Putin launched an offensive in late February in the hope of overthrowing Ukrainian power in a few days and avoiding a thaw, which is synonymous with holding back the advance of troops.
“However,” Blitzkrieg ” [guerre éclair] the initial one didn’t work. Today, operations are running into extremely effective Ukrainian defenses, and the “thaw” makes it much more difficult for Russian troops to maneuver, ”explains a military strategy expert.
Unable to move on muddy terrain, Russian vehicles are forced to move in a column along the roads. However, in the event of an attack or supply problems, of which there have been many since the beginning of the Russian offensive, the entire convoy must stop, leaving it vulnerable to attack by drones and Javelin missile launchers.
“In addition, since the Russian troops cannot leave the main roads, they cannot completely surround the settlements. Therefore, they have only certain points of attack. This favors the defenders, especially when the latter use easy means and know the terrain well,” General Trinkvan analyzes.
“Stagnation” in the Kiev region
Will the rescue of Russians from the air come under these conditions? Nothing is less obvious, because the theoretical superiority of Russian aviation has materialized very slowly since the attack began. Several reasons have been suggested to explain this paradox: poor coordination on the part of the Russian general staff, fear of US-supplied Stinger missile launchers, or even reticence in using the air force to avoid too many civilian casualties. and material damage.
“In the south, the Russian skating rink will eventually fulfill its tasks,” predicts Dominique Trinkvan. “On the other hand, there is a stalemate in the Kiev region. But time is playing against President Putin. The more time passes, the harder it will be for him to achieve his goals.”
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Between 2,000 and 4,000 Russian soldiers have died since the start of the offensive, and several hundred vehicles have been destroyed or captured by the Ukrainians, according to a Pentagon report released Tuesday.
Thus, faced with the exorbitant cost of war, the Kremlin could negotiate without capturing the capital. At a press conference, Russian diplomatic spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday that Russia is not seeking to “overthrow the government” of Ukraine. A marked change in tone after weeks of threats against Volodymyr Zelensky and “his cabal of drug addicts and neo-Nazis.”
At the same time, the Ukrainian president said that he was ready to find a compromise on the status of separatist territories in eastern Ukraine during an interview with the American ABC television channel. Concessions that suggest a faint hope for a ceasefire, while a meeting is scheduled in Turkey on Thursday between Sergei Lavrov and Dmitry Kuleba, the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine.