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Sorry, Putin: Russia Can’t Use Winter to Win the War in Ukraine

Russian TOS-1A in Ukraine
Russian TOS-1A in Ukraine. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Winter will Not Save Russia in Ukraine: As winter arrives in Europe, operations in the Ukraine War will slow. Both sides will likely use the time to re-arm and re-fit for warmer weather operations next year.

But for the Russians, the winter is also a major part of whatever remains of its ‘plan’ to win the war. Russian President Vladimir Putin is gambling that he can use energy as a weapon against Ukraine’s foreign backers, particularly in Europe.

Putin hopes that he can embargo gas exports to Europe, forcing soaring gas prices and possible shortages. Chilly Europeans shivering in their homes will press their governments to press Ukraine to sue for peace. Europe, particularly Germany, has become dependent on cheap, plentiful Russian gas.

Western strategists long pointed out how risky this was. It gave Putin powerful leverage in a crisis with Western Europe. The US mainly pushed Germany hard not to complete gas pipelines to Russia for fear for it would be vulnerable to Russian blackmail. That test has now arrived.

Winter won’t Stop the War in Ukraine

In the popular imagination, wars in Russia come to catastrophe in the winter. Both Napoleon and Hitler famously lost their wars there in part because of terrible weather. But in the Ukraine case, there is little to suggest such a dramatic outcome. Ukraine is further south than Moscow, and the winter forecast for Europe is that the season will be warmer than usual.

More importantly, both sides are still deeply committed to the war. Ukrainian opinion remains strongly supportive of continuing the war, including the liberation of Crimea, which Russia seized eight years before this year’s full-scale war commenced. In Russia, we have a poor sense of public opinion, but Russia is now effectively a dictatorship, so what matters most are the beliefs of Putin and his inner circle. And Putin remains very committed. He recently doubled down on the war yet again, insisting  it “might be a long process.”

Putin has tied his own personal legitimacy to the war. He will not end it even if Russia is losing – as it clearly is now. The only chance Russia may change course is if public pressure rises – likely under the weight of battlefield losses, in turn pressuring elites to do something. (Mothers of soldiers killed and wounded in the Soviet-Afghan War in the 1980s played a similarly pressuring role in that conflict.) There is rising anxiety over the war in Russia. But given the winter will slow the tempo of operations on both sides, Putin should be able to contain domestic discontent until next year.

When spring operations begin though, the body count will rise. Hence Putin’s big gamble on gas prices and Europe this season.

Will the Europeans Fold over High Prices and the Cold?

Probably not, if only because the forecast for the winter – luckily enough – that it will be rather moderate. More importantly, a sizeable majority of Europeans still support transferring weapons to support Ukraine. And European elites are nearly monolithic on this point. It has been widely remarked that Putin’s war was to fracture NATO but led instead to a greater sense of purpose for the alliance than any time since the Cold War.

Two new members states – Finland and Sweden – are on the cusp of entering NATO, and both have no illusions about Russia. They are already criticizing more complacent European states (read: Germany) over illusions about Russia. Their imminent entrance into the alliance will make it even harder for Germany or Italy to throw Ukraine under the bus because of heating bills. Expect much chiding from cold Scandinavian states that Germans and others are too decadent to wear sweaters and heavy socks for one season to help win a war on Europe’s doorstep. And by next year, Europe will have alternate energy sources online. So this Russian blackmail has only once chance – right now – to work.

In short, Putin’s gas weapon is unlikely to work. Even if the Germans want to break, much of NATO would help Ukraine unilaterally – the US, Poland, the Baltics, Britain, Scandinavia. Are holdouts willing to alienate themselves from an important cause and their many friends because of the perception that they are too decadent to pay higher heating bills or wear heavier clothing? Europe needs to get through the next three months. That is all.

Next Year

Putin’s options will then start to narrow as next year warms up. If the West kits up Ukraine over the winter and steps up training, the Ukrainian military may come roaring out of the gate when the weather turns. Russia has a few months to prepare for this, but its military problems in Ukraine – corruption, low morale, weak NCO leadership, faulty communications, unhappy conscripts – are not the sort which can remedied quickly.

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Putin can drag out the war next year. He can mobilize yet more of his population. But he cannot outproduce the West, nor can his soldiers outfight the highly committed Ukrainians who will fight on no matter their losses. Hence Putin’s desperate nuclear threats this year. But that is a huge wildcard and probably would not change the tide of the war anyway.

So Putin’s options are still poor. He is reduced to praying for a huge blizzard to hit Europe. That’s barely a strategy at all.

Expert Biography:  Dr. Robert E. Kelly ( is a professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University and 19FortyFive Contributing Editor.

Written By

Dr. Robert E. Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly; website) is a professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University. Dr. Kelly is now a 1945 Contributing Editor as well. 



  1. 403Forbidden

    December 9, 2022 at 8:12 am

    Winter will cause severe ice burn injury to ukro fighters or azov soldiers in the field.

    As such, winter will mean russia preparing to unleash a massive offensive in spring of 2023 to take advantage of them ukros getting stuck in unheated hospital wards.

    Such an offensive will lead to biden falling off his seat and bawling loudly for all-out war against moscow.

    Thus in 2023, ww3 will break out in europe, biden having the big laugh before leaving for netherworld and Lake of Fire.

  2. Shazzz

    December 9, 2022 at 9:16 am

    Dream on 403 forbidden. Your very badly equipped comrades are already freezing in the trenches. Compound that with low morale and poor leadership it won’t be long before the brave Ukrainians take back all of Ukraine.

  3. Neofeudalfuture

    December 9, 2022 at 9:35 am

    Alternate sources? Us lng, how about being strategically vulnerable to Islamic dictatorships like Algeria and qatar?

    Or how about turkiye buying Russian gas from its hub.

    How does an industrial economy compete when its costs are always going to be higher? Will they relocate industry to the US save the trouble of the lng? This is a structural problem for Europe, there is no going back to the way it was, that was built on cheap Russian pipeline gas. Sweaters! Lol! You have no idea of the dependencies in such a huge economy, maybe no one really does.

  4. Goran

    December 9, 2022 at 10:14 am

    Worst of all, by continuing to rely on that one card that is obviously not gonna work, Russia is losing access to the European market for the foreseeable future. Alternative systems will take deeper roots and sanctions against Russia will last longer. I just don’t understand it, I don’t see what Russia gets by continuing this insanity. The window of opportunity was closed sometime in March, everything after that was driven not by rational thinking, but by Putin’s ego.

    Even if some sort of a ceasefire kicks in, sanctions will not be lifted as long as Russia occupies Mariupol. With sanctions in place, it becomes a challenge to finance a military apparatus. However, sanctions will not be lifted as long as Russia occupies Mariupol. With sanctions in place, it becomes a challenge to finance a military apparatus. However, sanctions will not be lif… and so on. It’s like watching a plane in a tailspin, but with 150 million people onboard.

  5. Frank Martin

    December 9, 2022 at 11:09 am

    Russia has always used winter to its advantage in war. This will be no different. Once the ground freezes in Ukraine the massed Russian reserves recently called up,not green conscripts,will destroy what’s left of the Ukrainian military.

  6. John

    December 9, 2022 at 11:24 am

    Neither Ukraine nor Russia can win. Each side is loosing 10000 soldiers a month.
    This war has to go on another 12 months before sincere peace negotiations can start.
    The West will continue to support Ukraine.
    Long range Ukranian drones will hit Russian air fields and ships.

    Conversely, the US has not lost one enlisted soldier to hostile action in Europe while infusing large amounts of money into his military

  7. Jim

    December 9, 2022 at 1:40 pm

    I hope Old Man Winter will put a hold on hostilities.

    But my hope like an old man’s isn’t holding up.

    Men are fighting & dying today.

    What will the intensity be?

    A war of attrition?

    Or of offensive motion?

    Things are on edge… men’s minds are being frayed.

    My preference… the minimum… in death & destruction.

  8. Jacksonian Libertarian

    December 9, 2022 at 2:04 pm

    “Captains should study tactics, but Generals must study logistics.”

    All militaries underestimate the burn rate of supplies during active combat operations with the phrase “we can make more”. Unfortunately for the Generals they should be qualifying that statement with the word “Slowly”, as in “we can Slowly make more”. Russia has burned through decades of accumulated ammo and equipment, much of it from the Soviet era.

    The West on the other hand has been emptying its inventories of out dated equipment and ammo, much of it non-NATO equipment from Soviet block countries now in NATO. Basically supplying Ukraine on the “Cheap”, while also combat testing smart weapons to keep Ukraine in the fight, while being out gunned 3 to 1.

    The fact that Russia is now trying to force negotiations before it loses everything, demonstrates what the future holds for this war. On the plus side, Russia is getting better at retreating, and should be very good at it by the end.

  9. DMH123

    December 9, 2022 at 7:34 pm

    You have to question how much the author knows about conflict in Ukraine. Winter will freeze the ground enabling maneuver. This would help the Russians. Warming weather will bring rain and turn the ground into a quagmire rendering maneuver impossible.

    Remember all those pictures of destroyed Russian vehicles parked on the roads last September? They were on the roads because the ground was impassible, making them sitting ducks.

    I guess we’ll find out in a couple weeks. Check the temperature of Donetsk. It’ll take two weeks of below freezing temps to make ground operations feasible.

  10. mawendt

    December 10, 2022 at 2:08 am

    I don’t agree, because Ukraine’s recent war conduct doesn’t support some of the statements made by Mr. Kelly, most importantly “both sides are committed” is not accurate. Russian senior leadership is committed, but not the fighting rank-and-file – while the Ukrainian leadership and armed forces are in it to win it.

    Russia will slow, but I’m thinking Ukraine will push, even in the worst weather, knowing not only that they have the supply/logistics advantage, but more importantly they have the advantageous morale and commitment to win.

    When Russian soldiers (who don’t wish to fight, or be in Ukraine, and are commonly abandoned, mistreated and abused by their leadership) face the cold without proper clothing or heat, always hungry due to the corrupt Russian system and regularly a interrupted-by-Ukrainian-artillery logistics line, and other deprivations (mostly self-inflicted) in a war Russian’s increasingly see as criminal… when hit with the Ukrainian hammer of ground forces, they’ll shatter.

    Scrappy little Ukraine surprisingly supported by a usually spineless West has shown unexpected war-talent, crafty application of tactics, and awe inspiring leverage of technology that has shaped a Ukraine favorable strategic advantage. Since they have aggressive, bold leadership at all levels encouraging highly motivated and resourceful Ukrainian soldiers, fighting a just war in defense of the Ukrainian homeland – we’re most probably going to see a winter war that will be studied for decades.

    When the West has the advantage in war, they immediately offer diplomacy and offer a deal. Seems that when Ukrainians have their opponent crying on the ground, they keep kicking him till he’s unconscious or dead – unconditional Ukrainian victory being the only deal they offer.

    We’ll see.

  11. Jai

    December 10, 2022 at 5:54 am

    I do not think Ukraine is going to spend winter regrouping or waiting for fresh gear. In this the prevailing commentary is wrong.

    Ukrainian counteroffensives are imminent and will be substantial. They will once again blindside Russia. That is my bet.

  12. James M Senner

    December 10, 2022 at 11:05 am

    Ukraine is not Napoleanic France or Nazi Germany. They are fighting on their OWN soil against a foreign aggressor which has poorly motivated and inadequately supplied troops. Ukraine is well supplied with an inexhaustible supply of modern weapons, rations and winter gear. My money is on them.

  13. Quartermaster

    December 10, 2022 at 7:22 pm

    Russia is a hollow shell because of the endemic corruption that goes all the way into Putin’s office. Putin is at the pinnacle of the corruption and the lower levels wanted to cash in as well. Too much as been sold “nalyevo” for the Russians to properly equip and feed their troops.

    The Ukrainians are not going to stop pushing. They know they have to keep the pressure on and winter is a very good time for that as Russia is not properly equipped for the cold, and they are. They are also fighting on their own soil, for the homes and families.

  14. dave

    December 11, 2022 at 12:42 am

    Ukraine lost on February 24th. Colonel Douglas MacGregor, and others estimate 500,000 casualties to Ukrainian forces.They don`t have high morale.For the first time Russia will outnumber Ukrainian forces. Enough of your propaganda.

  15. Roger Bacon

    December 14, 2022 at 2:18 pm

    Ukraine will press the attack this winter when the ground is frozen and conducive to offensive maneuver warfare. The Russians will abandon their prepared defensive positions as they start to get outflanked rather than get encircled. Good luck digging new trenches in the frozen winter ground.

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