A Blog by Jonathan Low


Sep 9, 2023

The Reason Weather and Soil In Southern Ukraine Pose Less Mud Season Problems

The key axis of Ukrainian advance in now in Zaporizhzhia on the Tokmak-Melitopol front. As the advent of Ukraine's infamous autumn mud season nears, it is worth remembering that last year's recapture of Kherson happened late in the year. This is because both the weather - drier - and soil - firmer - are less of a problem than they are in the country's north. 

This means that the counteroffensive is not expected to slow or to face as many challenges as it might in the country's north, giving Ukraine more time to keep pushing towards their ultimate objective, which is cutting the Russian land bridge to Crimea. JL

Kos reports in Daily Kos:

Given current combat tactics and the location of the main fighting, the fall rains shouldn’t be as much of a problem for the Ukrainian counteroffensive (which) are not based on speed. They're laying down artillery to soften a defensive position, evaluating progress with drones and small-unit probes, then occupying the position once Russian defenders are dead or forced to flee. Rain does not stop artillery, they’ll (fire) regardless of the weather. And infantry can move in mud in light vehicles, or on foot. The weather in southern Ukraine is different, as is the soil type. Wet weather and mud are mitigated down south, particularly when most advances will be infantry.

It is an article of faith that Ukraine is on a deadline. Fall rains and the return of “raputitsa” (in Russian) or “bezdorizhzhia” (in Ukrainian) will bog down any advancing army.

Indeed, the early arrival of mud season in 2022 was a major factor in Russia’s early war failures, with legions of images and video showing Russian tanks and other vehicles trapped in the sticky mud.

But don’t worry. Given the shape of current combat tactics and the location of the main fighting, the fall rains shouldn’t be much of a problem for the continued Ukrainian counteroffensive.

As I wrote recently, Ukraine’s advances are not based on maneuver warfare—using speed and deception to destroy an enemy’s ability to fight. Instead, they’ve adapted old Soviet-style attritional tactics, laying down a wall of artillery to soften up a defensive position, evaluating progress with drones and small-unit infantry probes, and finally occupying the position once Russian defenders are either dead or forced to flee.

Here are some Russians finally giving up their last grip on the Bakhmut-area village of Klishchiivka.

It’s not unlike the way Russia took Bakhmut, except that Russia used prisoner cannon fodder to probe forward. Ukraine’s probes are more respectful of their soldiers’ lives. Ultimately, it is an infantry and artillery war, with tanks used mostly as fire support, kind of like artillery, softening targets from kilometers away.

So it isn’t surprising that Ukraine’s first breach of Russia’s main defensive line has been (so far) just infantry. By holding those forward positions, Ukraine can shield its combat engineers as they clear vehicle lanes through the minefields, and their tanks can deliver fire support out of range of Russian anti-tank guided missiles (but not, unfortunately, suicide drones).

So guess what gets bogged down in Ukraine’s famous fall rains? Heavy armor. Actually, all vehicles do but to a far lesser extent than heavy tanks and armored personnel vehicles. Rain does nothing to stop or slow the artillery guns—they’ll keep doing their thing regardless of the weather. And infantry can move in the mud in light vehicles, or even on foot, facing Russian conscripts suffering from trench foot and pneumonia in flooded trenches.

Will moving up armor slow down? Sure, but movement is already slow because Ukraine has to clear every treeline it approaches anyway, and that takes time.

Ukraine can continue its methodological march toward Tokmak and the Azov Sea beyond it.

But that’s not the only factor that mitigates the effect of the fall rains. Another one is simply geography and terrain. Ukraine launched its Kherson counteroffensive last fall on Aug. 31, and the effort didn’t end until Nov. 11. Ukraine made many of its advances in light vehicles like Humvees, and I don’t recall ever seeing anything stuck in the mud (unlike up north, around Kharkiv). Russia pushed through Bakhmut from Aug. 1, 2022, through both the fall and spring rainy seasons, until May of this year. You ever see a Russian vehicle or infantryman stuck in the mud?

I won’t pretend to know the details, but the weather in southern Ukraine is different (hence, the greater need for irrigation once provided by the now-gone Kakhovka reservoir), as well as the soil type. It doesn’t negate the challenges of wet weather and mud, but they are heavily mitigated down south—and particularly so when most of the advances will be infantry.

There are other reasons Ukraine will be motivated to keep pushing. For example, their “shaping the battlefield” operations are dramatically increasing in effectiveness. Just yesterday, Ukraine claimed to have destroyed a whopping 23 tanks, 23 armored infantry vehicles, and 32 artillery systems, along with 47 trucks.

With Ukraine successfully degrading Russia’s air defenses and electronic warfare complexes down south, it has opened up more territory to drones. That means the TB2 Bayraktar is back in action, but other drones can penetrate deeper into Russian-held territory to strike their targets. Of course, these are claims, but an uptick in Ukrainian claims usually corresponds to an uptick in visually confirmed losses. It may not be an exact number, but it’s a good apples-to-apples comparison. And right now, Ukraine seems to have dramatically increased their ability to destroy Russian equipment.

With fewer artillery and armored vehicles in the line of advance, the easier it will be for infantry to continue moving forward, rain or no rain.

And finally, there’s this fascinating nugget, as reported by Critical Threats:

[Former Ukrainian Aidar Battalion Commander Yevhen] Dykyi stated that Russia’s “third” defensive layer in southern Ukraine is primarily comprised of command posts, communication points, and warehouses and mainly acts as a support line for the Russian defensive positions further north.


Dykyi argued that Russian forces will not be able to hold back Ukrainian advances at this “third“ series of Russian defensive positions, implying that a definitive Ukrainian breach of the current Russian defensive layer would be operationally decisive.

If this is true, and Ukraine is currently breaching the last major defensive line, and everything beyond that is a support line for defensive positions further north, then it means Ukraine may be closer to an “operationally decisive” breach.

Honestly, I wouldn’t count on that, but holy shit if it’s true.

Elon Musk is like Donald Trump. You hear a rumor of something horrible he’s done, and you think “that’s bad.” Then he admits to doing the thing, and it turns out to have been so much worse.


There is a whole sordid story here of Musk talking to Vladimir Putin and then being so freaked out by an apparent nuclear threat that he’s making decisions of geopolitical import based on bad information and conspiracies.

The Black Sea Fleet has launched countless missiles at Ukraine targets, killing civilians and children. Musk now has their blood on his hands, because he’d rather listen to bloodthirsty dictators and defend their ability to commit further atrocities.

Mark Sumner is working up a deeper look into this story for Sunday.


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