A Blog by Jonathan Low


Nov 18, 2022

What To Expect From Ukraine and Russia In the Next Few Months

Ukraine will continue to do everything it can to outperform Russia on the battlefield, degrading remaining troop concentrations and logistics. 

Incapable of winning the actual fighting war, Russia will concentrate on attacking civilian targets in hopes of forcing Ukraine to negotiate. JL 

Mick Ryan reports in War In the Future:

We expect the Ukrainians to conduct opportunistic attacks where they find weaknesses in Russian defences, while continuing to seek and destroy Russian logistics, command and control facilities. The Ukrainians have proven better than the Russians at tactical and institutional adaptation in this war. They will be using this adaptive, learning culture to ensure they are prepared for 2023. The Russians (will) plan campaigns to secure territory not already seized. They will be stockpiling for these campaigns. They will continue the strategic bombing campaign against civilian targets. The Russians clearly believe it is placing pressure on the Ukrainians to come to the negotiating table

Recently, I have been asked a lot of questions about the impact of winter on the war in Ukraine. In some respects, this is pretty ironic; I was born and live on the flattest, dustiest and hottest continent imaginable. My experience with winter operations is restricted to a very cold winter during the deployment of my task force to southern Afghanistan in 2006-2007.

That said, there is ample historical evidence on this issue. Remember, the Russian invasion started in late winter. The Indian Army has been conducting high-altitude and very cold operations for a very long time. Korea (remember Chosin reservoir?) and the Second World War (the eastern front, the Battle of the Bulge, etc) all offer insights into how war continue despite the onset of winter.

Given the war is unlikely to stop, but may alter its tempo, what might we expect in the coming months?

The Russians. From a Russian perspective, the new commander General Surovikin will probably want to consolidate key enablers like logistics, fires and command and control over winter to ensure they are survivable (the Ukrainians are good at finding and killing these), but to ensure he has the right assets in the right parts of the country.

Now that the withdrawal from Kherson is out of the way, Surovikin will also probably review the command and leadership of the Russian force in Ukraine. He has spent enough time in Ukraine in his previous command appointment and his current one to gain a view of who the ‘strong swimmers’ are in his leadership team, and who are the ‘weak links’ to be removed.

So, expect Surovikin to potentially make some changes to the organisation of ground forces, the allocation of key enablers and the principle commanders of the invasion force.

Winter is also an opportunity for Surovikin to plan the campaigns that will be conducted in 2023. He was not placed in command by Putin to defend ground. He is there to secure the rest the territory not already seized in the five Ukrainian oblasts annexed by Putin in September. He will be thinking through his priorities for these offensives, their sequencing, where to use experienced units as well as mobilised troops, and the shaping activities that will be required well in advance of these 2023 offensives. And he will be stockpiling store and ammunition for these campaign to come.

Finally, Surovikin will want to continue his strategic bombing campaign against civilian targets in Ukraine. There is no ethical or professional basis to this targeting. As a former soldier, I find it repulsive. But, the Russians clearly believe it is placing pressure on the Ukrainians - and those inclined to appeasement beyond Ukraine - to come to the negotiating table, thus giving Russia breathing space.

The reality is such campaigns rarely work. It has certainly steeled the hearts of Ukrainians and is likely to make most European governments more steadfast in their support for the Ukrainian people.

A final element that will be important over winter, which Surovikin won’t have a lot of control over, is Russia’s strategic influence campaign. While it is unlikely these strategic activities will result in too much sanction busting in support of Moscow, Russia will be mainly seeking to ensure that those who are on the fence about the war stay there.

The Ukrainians. The armed forces of Ukraine seized the initiative in this war some time ago. With the Kharkiv and Kherson offensives, they have momentum. There is no way that they will want to waste that momentum over the colder months.

So we might expect the Ukrainians to conduct opportunistic attacks where they find weaknesses in Russian defences, while continuing to seek out and destroy logistics nodes and Russian command and control facilities.

Like the Russians, we should expect the Ukrainians to take stock, plan for 2023 and make adaptations to their leadership, organisation and other aspects of their force structure where required. I have written elsewhere that the Ukrainians have proven to be better than the Russians at tactical and institutional adaptation in this war. They will be using this adaptive, learning culture to ensure they are prepared for 2023.

We should expect Ukraine to continue and evolve its superb strategic influence campaign. This has been an integral part of Ukraine’s approach to telling its stories, gaining western support and degrading enemy morale from the start of the war. We will probably see stories from official and non-official channels about poorly equipped and freezing Russian troops among other themes.

Politically, President Zelensky over the winter will be seeking to retain western support for his nation, especially through military, humanitarian, intelligence and financial aid. He will be fighting Russian information operations which will be seeking to convince Europeans, and others, that their high winter heating bills are due to their support for Ukraine.

At the same time, will be continue to be consulting western leaders about his 10 point plan for war termination, which he presented at the G20 meeting last week. This was a very consequential address, and he has laid down clear markers for the conditions that the Ukrainian government believe are the foundations for the end of this war.

As if his job isn’t hard enough, President Zelensky will also be trying over winter to head off nascent initiatives to commence negotiations soon with the Russians. Given the momentum of his military forces, and the repugnant behaviour of the Russians at every level during their invasion, there is no rational reason for Zelensky to agree to negotiations now. But it will remain a focus of his efforts in the coming months to ensure he isn’t forced into negotiating when he still might be able to defeat the Russians on the battlefield.

The months ahead. If nothing else, we should expect more surprises over the coming months. A central element of war is the continuous effort to generate advantage over the enemy. Both sides will be looking for ways to gain territory, attrit the capacity of the other side and to degrade its morale. Sometimes, this results in creative and surprising actions. Both sides in this war are capable of this.

The coming winter will feature more fighting, but at a different pace. It will see continued long range strikes from both sides and an ongoing information war. And it will demand both sides attend to the protection of their soldiers (and equipment) from the elements, in order to preserve as much of their combat power as possible to exploit opportunities during winter, and to conduct larger offensive campaigns in 2023.


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