Cold season at the front: In the winter of war, there is a risk of trench footing - that helps Ukraine

The conditions in the Ukraine war are becoming increasingly hostile to life.

Cold season at the front: In the winter of war, there is a risk of trench footing - that helps Ukraine

The conditions in the Ukraine war are becoming increasingly hostile to life. The population is suffering from Russian attacks on the critical infrastructure, the soldiers are freezing in the trenches. Still, Ukraine has advantages in these conditions.

It has become comparatively quiet in Ukraine. After the spectacular liberation of the city of Cherson by the Ukrainian army, there has been significantly less movement at the front in the past few days and weeks. The battles for Bachmut dominate the events, but are of little strategic importance.

The fact that there are currently no large-scale land gains on either side is hardly surprising given the time of year. "We are currently in the transitional area between Rasputiza and winter," explains ntv meteorologist Björn Alexander in the podcast "Learned again". According to the unanimous opinion of military experts, only when the ground freezes over large areas can major changes be expected at the front. Because only then can tanks cover longer distances again and not get stuck in the mud.

Rasputiza is the Russian term for mud time. In autumn and spring, vehicles in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia can only move on paved roads because the autumn rains and spring thaw soften the landscape and make it impassable. This is exactly what the landscape in the war region currently looks like, reports Alexander. "The last few weeks have been very wet, the ground has become soggy. It's quite cold at the moment. In Kyiv and Kharkiv, the temperatures have occasionally even dropped to minus 10 degrees at night."

Nevertheless, meteorologists do not yet see a massive, sustained onset of winter in Ukraine. But there is a lot to suggest that the hardest part of the cold season is about to begin. Then the ground freezes over for months and heavy war equipment is easier to drive on again.

The core winter in Ukraine usually runs from December to February. Even in March or even April it can still get really cold at times, with temperatures below minus 10 degrees. The soldiers already experienced this in the early stages of the war, when the Russians invaded their neighbors on February 24th.

"In the long-term forecast, December in northern Ukraine is rated as a bit too cold. So there will be some cold at the end of the month. January, February and March tend to be a bit too warm in the long-term forecast. Conversely, this does not mean, however, that there can't be extremely cold phases. It's about an average value here," explains Alexander at "Learned again".

The cold, wet season is particularly problematic. Then the front is muddy and slippery. Neither tanks nor soldiers are making good progress. Every meter of foot is exhausting. Danger does not threaten from the enemy, but from feet called Trenchfoot, which ignite. This happens when feet are stuck in wet shoes for too long and is considered one of the most dangerous diseases in soldiers. In extreme cases, the foot of the trench can even be fatal.

In the east of Ukraine in particular, however, some of the soldiers have had years of experience with it and can prepare accordingly. "There are indications that the Ukrainians, who have been deployed on the Donbass battle line for years, have come to terms with these conditions. They are looking for opportunities to change their clothes," explains military expert Thomas Wiegold on ntv. "That is apparently not guaranteed with the Russian associations thrown together."

Also, unlike Russian soldiers, Ukrainian forces can hope to get better quality material for the winter. Unlike the supply of main battle tanks, no Western military partner will oppose the supply of sleeping bags, heaters, insulated jackets or winter hats.

The Russians, on the other hand, do not have enough high-quality equipment. Again and again there are reports of bad conditions for the Russian soldiers. They receive rubber boots instead of winter boots, called up reservists buy boots or protective vests at their own expense. After the mobilization, equipment shops were overrun by those able to fight, resulting in empty shelves.

"Let's take warm underwear as an example. We will probably see extremely high demand for that. This is something that the soldiers very often buy themselves. They don't assume that the state will provide them with good clothes," explains a political scientist Alexander Libman from the Eastern Europe Institute at Freie Universität Berlin on "Learned something again".

Moscow's army does not seem well prepared for a long, exhausting winter war. Military expert Thomas Theiner therefore expects 100,000 dead Russian soldiers in the coming months alone, not only because they often seem to lack the necessary equipment. There is also a lack of shelter to protect oneself from the cold. The Russians couldn't light a fire either, because that would give the Ukrainians their locations, Theiner said recently on Twitter.

This also applies to the Ukrainian army, but the soldiers of Kyiv enjoy another advantage in addition to western support: they have the backing of their own population, they can temporarily warm up in villages near the front with residents who have not yet been evacuated.

Under these circumstances, Russia cannot be expected to make large gains on the ground. Instead, Moscow's troops are likely to continue trying to make life unbearable for the Ukrainians with waves of attacks on the infrastructure. This is how you want to break the morale of the Ukrainians. "We just have to think about our own living rooms. We start shaking at 18 degrees. People in Ukraine are easily 20, 25 degrees less. They can no longer go about their normal lives because they have to go somewhere It's warm. The situation is dramatic. We're heading for a humanitarian catastrophe," says security expert Christian Mölling from the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) in the "Stern" podcast "Ukraine - the situation".

This humanitarian catastrophe is likely to ensure a further flow of refugees towards Europe. And that seems to be Putin's calculation. The Kremlin boss wants to weaken the western economy and democracy and undermine support for Ukraine. Putin expects that at some point the West will no longer support Ukraine as strongly and will persuade Kyiv to sign a ceasefire.

However, Thomas Wiegold does not assume that this scenario will come about. The motivation of the Ukrainians is still high, he says - and therefore expects further large-scale offensives by the Ukrainian army, especially in the winter months. The more the situation at the front gets stuck, the more difficult it will be to win back ground against Russians who may have regrouped in the spring. "Ukraine fears that if the frontline gets stuck, it will be all the more difficult to force the Russians out of the country."

The US secret services assess the situation differently. For now, both Russians and Ukrainians are focusing on getting enough supplies to prepare for spring offensives, sources in the United States said. The current "reduced pace of the conflict" will continue in the coming months.

Christian Mölling, on the other hand, shares Wiegold's assessment. "I don't believe in the winter break that many have described," says the security expert in the "Stern" podcast. "Of course, weather conditions change the way you can wage war, but it doesn't mean that the guns suddenly go silent."

Mölling expects further "artillery duels". Whether Ukraine actually succeeds in pushing the Russians back further depends on support from the West. "That is and remains crucial. Ultimately, Russia is helpless, after the first successes of the blitzkrieg, it is almost constantly retreating in the first phase of the war and can only carry out this kind of infrastructure warfare. But even that has little success, because it takes time sometimes only hours until major damage is repaired."

Christian Mölling sees the Ukraine well armed despite the massive Russian attacks on the critical infrastructure. And as soon as the ground freezes across the board, the war is likely to pick up again. If the temperatures are permanently below zero, larger maneuvers with heavy equipment are possible again.