How Ukraine’s mud became a secret weapon for defense against Russia

A member of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces stands on top of a damaged Russian tank on the outskirts of the village of Nova Basan in Ukraine on April 1, 2022. The Russian invasion of February 24 coincides with the period. local place called “muddy road season” or “Rasputitsa” in Russian.

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When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, its military commanders are said to have discounted a very unique but effective “weapon” in Ukraine’s arsenal: its notorious muddy season.

The timing of the Russian invasion, which began on February 24, coincided with what locals call “muddy road season”, or “Rasputitsa” in Russian. It’s a phenomenon that happens twice a year, first in spring – when winter freezes subside and the country’s terrain and unpaved roads become virtually impassable as they turn to mud. – and then in the fall, when heavy rain is possible.

Military experts say the mud has helped slow down Russia’s advance in parts of the country, especially the north. Photos and videos circulating online show Russian tanks, trucks and other armored vehicles stranded and abandoned on muddy roads or fields in Ukraine.

That distrusts Russian military analysts and experts, who argue that Russian military commanders should have been better prepared for conditions on the ground and could have avoided quagmire caused by the terrain. Ukraine’s muddy spring picture.

It’s a familiar phenomenon in history books: Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Russia in 1812 was famously slowed by mud, as was the army of Hitler, who invaded the Soviet Union later in 1941. and encountered similar logistical problems due to mud and rough terrain. that the Russian military has faced in the past few weeks.

A photo taken in the spring of 1942 of German army vehicles on muddy terrain in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union.

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Experts say the Russian military should know better what conditions its forces will face.

“The mud in Ukraine and what is known in Russian as ‘rasputitsa’ is the period after winter where you have impassable roads… this has been known for hundreds of years, literally. Napoleon had this problem. So yes, it’s a trait tactic that benefits the Ukrainians and is especially important in the north, where there are more trees,” said Maximilian Hess, a member of the Research Institute Foreign Policy, told CNBC.

It was initially believed that Russia would achieve a quick victory in Ukraine. But the country has faced stiff resistance from Ukrainian forces, which have been armed with weapons by Western allies.

Before the invasion, Russia had amassed more than 100,000 troops along its border with Ukraine and conducted military exercises with its ally Belarus, located north of Ukraine. But Moscow has repeatedly insisted that it has no plans to invade.

The armed forces of Russia and Belarus conducted joint exercises on February 12, 2022. Although such military exercises preceded the invasion, military analysts argue that the first phase of the war revealed a lack of planning, preparation, and tactical skill among Russia’s military commanders and soldiers, many of whom were conscripts.

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Despite military exercises on the eve of the invasion, military analysts say the early stages of the war – which saw Russia gain ground in the south and east of the country but failed to make progress in the north, with their forces now withdrawn and concentrated in eastern Ukraine – showing a lack of planning, preparation and tactical skill among military commanders and soldiers of them, many of them conscripts.

Hess said Russia’s inability to deal with Ukraine’s muddy season “shows real problems with military professionalism.”

“It raises the real question for me… the Russians did these things [military] This foreign invasion drills and practice has been going on for almost a decade, and they still haven’t given the thought, or the coordination, to put the right units in the right positions, and move in the right direction to deal with them. best with a given problem. [the mud] that’s actually been known to be a problem for 300 years. “

US intelligence believes that Russia wanted to invade Ukraine at the beginning of the year but postponed the attack at the behest of China so that it would not overshadow the Beijing Winter Olympics which ended on 20 February.

Ukrainian soldiers inspect a confiscated Russian tank in a forest in Irpin, Ukraine, on April 1, 2022.

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Sam Cranny-Evans, a research analyst at British defense consultancy RUSI, told CNBC that most Russian military vehicles can deal with the mud in Ukraine, but the problem has arisen from multiple vehicles using the same track, which could foresee problems for any military commander with a basic understanding of “topography” – or the “interaction of land with terrain vehicles”. .”

“A lot of their vehicles will be fine moving through the mud, provided they don’t drive over the same stretch of road repeatedly,” he said.

“But I think other things limit their mobility even more as they depend on rail and road links for logistics,” he said, adding that the size of the Ukraine also poses an additional challenge to the Russian war machine, especially towards units further afield. far from Russia, such as those in northern Ukraine.

Many of these units defeated a tactical retreat to focus on the eastern and southern regions, where the second phase of the war is now taking place in the Donbas and along the Black Sea.

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