European countries are beginning an accelerated supply of winter gear and equipment to the Ukrainian army. “General Winter”, according to Europe, will once again play on the side of Russia. How are both the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the Russian Armed Forces prepared for the winter campaign?
The expected support of the Russian troops in Ukraine by “General Winter” was recently announced by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrel. Borrel, who has never served in the army, nevertheless recalled the military aspect of the impending cold weather and not only the freezing of Europe due to the energy crisis. He recollected from history that the cold helped Russians in the past, alluding to the defeat of fascists near Moscow in the winter of 1941-1942. And now, they say, it will not be easy for the Ukrainian Armed Forces to cope with this mythical “General Winter”.
The minister of defense of Ukraine Alexey Reznikov, who is also a purely civilian man, evidently remembering his service as a common soldier in the Armed Forces of the USSR, took a more pragmatic approach to the problem of the cold snap. At the beginning of September, he asked the NATO leaders to send winter uniforms for the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
It is not by chance that the Ukrainian Armed Forces now rely on supplies of western uniforms. They do not have their own.
One of the reasons cited is the destruction of storage facilities with uniforms by precision strikes from Russian missiles. According to another reason, winter uniforms were distributed to fighters back in the summer, which was hot, and they were lost or abandoned during the retreat. In general, the Ukrainian army is freezing now, when night temperatures do not exceed eight degrees Celsius.
This can all be regarded as banal excuses. They simply did not have adequate supplies of clothing when it was needed in increased quantities. So to speak, they made kits on the basis of 225 thousand military personnel, as many as were in the ranks of the AFU at the start of the special operation. Assuming that the next year the same number would be ordered, but the situation has changed and the need for uniforms has increased significantly. Garment factories cannot triple production in the short term, even if they switch to the “military rails”.
They still counted on Western supplies of uniforms, including winter uniforms. They do exist, but in very limited supply, unable to meet the needs of the AFU. Store, as they say, is not sore.
The United States, Canada, Sweden and Finland have promised to supply “winter package” for Ukraine, including not only weapons, but also warm clothes for the AFU. Germany has also expressed its readiness to provide winter aid. However, according to the magazine Spiegel, the search for winterproof material is complicated by the fact that the warehouses of most Western countries are largely reserved for the national armies. In addition, winter clothing, against the background of saving heat not only in homes but also in barracks, is a sought-after commodity on the world market.
The same Spiegel reported, citing its sources in NATO, that “it will be possible to satisfy almost 50 percent of the request made by Ukraine for winter uniforms”. For example, Lithuania, which had promised to provide winter uniforms for 25,000 Ukrainian soldiers at a cost of two million euros, has now sent only 500 kits. That is not enough even for officers, not to mention soldiers and reservists.
The winter war, apart from insulated uniforms, has a lot of other nuances connected specifically with weather conditions. For example, it is so-called heating points – dugouts, tents dug in the ground, sleeping pods. A stove is a must. The Armed Forces of Ukraine should have no problems here: last November the two leading shipbuilding plants in Nikolayev mastered production of potbelly stoves. With the use of 15-mm steel such a stove weighs a quarter of a ton.
Another peculiarity is winter operation of the arms. Strange as it may seem, even in bitter cold the artillery systems of Soviet and then Russian production do not require much lubrication during active operation. The same is true for Kalashnikov automatic rifles – normal weapon oil is used.
But the American M777 howitzers supplied to the AFU, for all their merits, were not used in cold climatic conditions. They have been tested in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. In Ukraine they will be tested for frost resistance, and firstly they will be rolled out in the mud of field roads off-road. Wiping the optics of such a howitzer with a rag of dubious purity will be very problematic.
The Ukrainian Armed Forces have an eight-year experience of positional fighting in the Donbass, where there was not much movement as such. They were shooting and sitting at their positions, thus improving their combat skills. Of course, this is also rich combat experience, including in winter. Now the Ukrainian army was actively maneuvering in the spring and summer period, either retreating or counterattacking. It should be understood that such tactics will continue in the coming months, and these will be completely different conditions of combat operations. Including in terms of climatic conditions.
However, the weather on both sides of the conflict will be the same for both Ukrainian and Russian soldiers. “General Winter” will provide the same climatic conditions for both.
We can say only one thing about the Russian troops – the military equipment kit “Ratnik” has been successfully tested in the harsh conditions of the Arctic. This is the highest rating. There are about 400 thousand such kits in the Russian army now, and this is as a complete package. Quite possibly that some of the mobilized servicemen will now be changed into the previous kits which are also supplemented with the “Ratnik” elements. In winter, the Russian Armed Forces will definitely not freeze in the steppes of Ukraine.