GUEST BLOG: Ben Morgan – The lull before the storm


While Ukrainian civilians’ shiver; and learn to live without electricity the soldiers on the frontline will start to feel the effects of Ukraine’s brutal winter in coming days and weeks.  Already there has been a significant drop in temperature and this is having an effect on operations. This week Avril Haines, United States Director of Intelligence stated that the war was slowing down with both sides using the deterioration in weather conditions to rest, recuperate and refit.  Her analysis is that activity has slowed down after the Russian withdrawal from Kherson and that we are unlikely to see significant activity on the frontline for some months. However, Russia’s bombing of Ukraine’s critical civilian infrastructure will continue.  

This is unlikely to be surprising to regular readers because we have discussed the key challenges faced by both sides as they try to reposition themselves during the cold weather.  (See – What next?  Can Ukraine recapture the initiative?)  In Ukraine’s case the key consideration is restoring offensive momentum particularly after this week’s round of diplomacy.  President Biden, President Macron of France and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz all entering into diplomatic communication with Vladimir Putin.  Biden and Macron, obliquely making public statements about negotiation and Scholz directly; he called Putin and discussed the war. And; although this discussion did nothing to progress peace negotiations, it certainly demonstrated a change in the Kremlin’s approach.  

For all of his braggadocio, Putin is answering the phone, likely aiming to position Russia as reasonable and open to negotiation.  A tactic in the ongoing information war being fought concurrently with the ‘kinetic’ war; and aiming to win the battle of world public opinion. Putin’s negotiations are historically characterised by swagger and demand; but talking indicates that he is trying to establish a line of communication with NATO. Probably, his aim is to get concessions and undermine NATO support for Ukraine.  The important observation though; is that he is engaging.  If he was completely confident that he could win the war he would not be.  

Then on 3 December, Macron made conciliatory statements in a televised interview.  Playing the role of ‘peacemaker’ he discussed the negotiation process and how NATO needs to look at security guarantees that will protect Ukraine, Russia and NATO allies during any peace process saying

“We need to prepare what we are ready to do, how we protect our allies and member states, and how to give guarantees to Russia the day it returns to the negotiating table.” It is reasonably easy to predict Putin’s requests for security guarantees; NATO is to stop sending HIMARS, anti-aircraft missiles, anti-tank missiles and ammunition to Ukraine

Macron is probably a reasonable, well-meaning person and unfortunately, he assumes that Putin is the same.  

In fact, United States ‘think tank’ the Institute for the Study of War helpfully re-published the security guarantees demanded by Russia in the prelude to the February 2022 invasion including; 

  • Returning NATO membership to it 1997 membership. i.e. NATO without Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Croatia, Northern Macedonia and Montenegro.  
  • Russian veto of all new NATO memberships. i.e. Russia can say ‘No’ to any new nation’s application to join NATO.
  • A suspension of NATO’s ‘open door’ membership policy. i.e. NATO is not allowed to expand its membership

As recently, as 1 December Sergei Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister repeated these demands! Macron is probably a nice, well-meaning person, unfortunately he seems to assume that Putin is the same.  However, demands like this are part of Russia’s ‘information war’ as they try to justify their aggression as a response to NATO’s growth.  This is not to say NATO shouldn’t negotiate because it is always preferable to talk rather than fight but it is important that NATO supports any reasonable Ukrainian position and that NATO leaders do not contribute to Russian propaganda by pandering too; or recognising unreasonable demands.

TDB Recommends

And; these demands are unreasonable. Russia is not a peer of NATO. It is a single country; with an economy only slightly larger than Australia’s and smaller than many NATO members.  An important lesson of this war; is that Russia is not the Soviet Union and NATO needs to stop treating it like it is a super-power. Militarily Russia is defeated; its military strength a fraction of NATO’s and its large nuclear arsenal shackled.  If the war slows down and there are no spectacular Ukrainian victories; negotiation will become more attractive.  At this point it is important that NATO considers Russia’s demonstrated capability rather than accepting it’s demands based on fearful memories of the Soviet Union.

Right now, the key question is how long will the Ukrainians take before trying to regain the offensive.  In Ukraine the cold weather is settling in and the effect on the battle could be dramatic as the bogs and mud of autumn are replaced by ground frozen hard and trafficable by vehicles.  The ability to move quickly in vehicles allows exploitation of any break through. For instance in the north-east, along the Svatove-Kremina line running north-south, parallel with the P66 motorway Ukraine and Russia continue fight hard. If Ukraine breaks through, the north of Luhansk is relatively open and with hard frozen ground the Ukrainians could advance very rapidly.  

Further, the cold weather gives the Ukrainians a significant advantage.  Well-equipped by NATO with cold weather clothing and well-trained, winter conditions will have less effect on them than on the Russians.  Avril Haines’s speech this week included a stark assessment of Russia’s woes – “We see shortages of ammunition, poor morale, supply issues, logistics, a whole series of concerns that they’re facing.”  The Russians are entering winter short of supplies and low on morale giving the Ukrainians a significant advantage. 

A physical indicator of Russia’s instability is the number of defensive lines being built. In the north-east a new second line of defence is being ‘dug-in’ about 30-40km east of the Svatove-Kremina line.  Likewise, in the south a rough triangle east of the Dnipro River that stretches from Kherson to Crimea and Melitopol is fast becoming heavily fortified. Some reports identifying three heavily fortified lines. This activity not only indicates that Russia is determined to hold these lines; but more importantly tells us that they are concerned about their ability to do so; and are developing multiple lines to retreat too.  Essentially, they are using bulldozers and diggers to help mitigate the weakness of their frontline soldiers and to ensure that any withdrawal is able to be controlled. The lines of fortification providing an ability to ‘step back’ in a controlled manner to an already prepared position.  

Another indication of Russia’s intentions is the development of Mariupol.  An important city because it is the railhead for supplies shipped south from Donetsk to troops in the south.  Since, its capture this city has been slowly developed by Russia with new bases being constructed and concrete factories being repaired and used to produce defence supplies for the fortification of Russian controlled southern Ukraine.  

The only place Russia is on the offensive is in Donetsk; and throughout the week, Russia continued to try and take Bhakmut. The Russians moving from direct assaults to trying; unsuccessfully to surround the city from the both the north and from the south at different times.   For all this effort it does not appear that Russia is any closer to capturing Bhakmut.  

In summary, winter has started in Ukraine and there will be an inevitable slow down as both armies come to terms with the change in season. However, as the ground freezes and the weather gets colder we need to be looking out for the next Ukrainian offensive.  Putin’s engagement with possible negotiations is an indicator that he understands the seriousness of his army’s position and that defeat is imminent. Therefore, is establishing the conditions for negotiation by making unreasonable demands designed to ‘paint’ a PR picture for his supporters, one that justifies his actions and requires NATO concessions.  It is vital that NATO stays the course and does not succumb to these tactics. Instead, NATO needs to reflect on Russia’s demonstrated military and economic weakness rather than reacting to Putin’s hype; supporting Ukraine to free itself from their invader.

Ben Morgan is a tired Gen X interested in international politics. He is TDB’s Military analyst.


  1. Zelensky has increased the age of conscription to 60. What does that say about the Ukraines ability to defend itself let alone mount an offensive? The lull in media reports suggests to me that things aren’t going at all well for Zelensky rather than there has been a slow down in battle.

    • Zelensky is doing well, a lot better than that rabid dog Pootin. Russia are not prepared for a moisture laden winter. It will be a very new experience for the Orcs, they may well mutiny, or die in a trench. Anyway……….

    • The UK in 1941 increased conscription age to 51 they had population of 48 million and they won their war
      Ukraine has a population of 41 million so bearing in mind the fact people are fitter and healthier than they used to be then 60 is not a bad age .They have not gone the way of Germany who finished their war with boys as young as 12 fighting .
      Russia has 148 million so there is plenty of men in reserve. I do not know enough about this war to pass comment but if Russia has not to date won this war despite more manpower and weapons I would ask why?

      • You could also ask why it is that the USA’s investment of close to a trillion dollars hasn’t done any more than slowed the Russians down a bit.. Specious logic seems to be the basis for most comment I read in NZ.. It’s probably a good thing the rest of the world ignores NZ.. Less embarrassment when I talk to friends in Europe…

      • Source Engllish history O level 1964 and my father who was in the home guards due to his occupation.
        Population figures for UK Russia and Ukraine google

        • O level history is only a basis for further reading trev, in my british grammar school syllabus in the 70s ended in 1914 to avoid contentious modern issues, ww2 was certainly not covered in the cambridge or oxford exam papers much to my personal chagrin….are you sure YOU learned about WW2 for O-LEVEL trev or is it just another convenient anecdote without substance.

  2. All good Ben, thanks.

    Some of the descriptions of the fighting around Bhakmut have been thoroughly depressing. With the Russians driving untrained and ill-equipped conscripts forward to basically die. Just shows how different the Russian attitude to life is and exactly where Macron is wrong.

  3. More from my mate, The Champaign Socialist, who can’t be confused with a Cocaine Capitalist.
    Russell Brand talks to Aaron Mate`
    “The award-winning journalist Aaron Maté, explains why peace talks were stopped between Russia & Ukraine. Additionally, how the US is using Ukraine to weaken Russia without a direct conflict.”

    • Well duh! Of course the yanks are.
      This is a strategic master stroke from them.
      By the time Russia has finished, it will be finished militarily, economically and demographically.
      With China getting ready to implode within the next 10 years, it will re-assert US primacy in the world to a level not seen since post WWII.

  4. Russia is not defeated. They have employed their classical strategy of war. The tactics they used to defeat Napoleon and Hitler. Draw the adversary into a desolute destroyed wasteland believing they are winning only to be defeated, not by military force but by the cold of winter. The Russians will retake and termimate Zelensky come spring.

    • and Maskirovka.
      They successfully conquered coastline cities & cut Ukraine’s access to Sea
      by pretending that they’re aiming for territories between Kyiv and Moldova.
      But that was then.

      As for their long-term goals… so confusing.
      Are they after stopping NATO’s expansion? Are they aiming to dismantle thus disempower their enemy, Ukraine? Or are they aiming to re-colonize Eastern Europe? (the majority of which is currently colonized by the US and Germany- via EU)

  5. Russia is not defeated. They have employed their classical strategy of war. The tactics they used to defeat Napoleon and Hitler. Draw the adversary into a desolute destroyed wasteland believing they are winning only to be defeated, not by military force but by the cold of winter. The Russians will retake and termimate Zelensky come spring.

    • Yes, but the Russians had huge supplies of Allied weapons in WW2, not the case now. I agree Ukraine victory not certain yet, but i can’t understand all the anti Ukrainian sentiment in some commenters here; I suspect a lot of paid acne-riddled Russian/CCP computer needs here.

      • andrew, lend lease whilst valuable and in the case of some products(avgas) essential if you look at the actual figures a small part of the soviet inventory…most of the tanks were 2nd line as were most of the aircraft except bostons and aircobras.
        to this day the russians are most grateful for trucks and jeeps and spam(known as 2nd front to the soldiers)

    • So you are saying that Ukraine are dumbases who have not learned from the Napoleon and Hitler failures?

      They wont advance like those failed campaigns instead consolidate like Napolean and Hitler should have done. Instead the failed campaigns were lured into a false sense of security by the Russian failures and withdrawls plus the capacity for Russia to rebuild their material and armies.

      I don’t’ see the Ukrainians going forward in a blaze of glory. Also the Ukrainians only want to clear Russia from within its borders, not capture Moscow like Napleon or Hitler. Big difference.

    • Clifford J if you are looking for historical parallels then the USSR’s invasion of Finland in the ‘Winter War’ of 1939 – 1940 may serve a little better . . please note in this instance Russia is the aggressor.

    • By Spring the Russian Army (what’s left of it), will have frozen to death, moisture laden cold is going to be a new experience. As is trench foot, lice etc

      • oh dear chester obviously no knowledge of the old red army much less what’s going on today…you really should stop and have a little think before you hit enter.

  6. The Ukrainians are just as used to winter as the Russians. Plus the Ukrainians have superior winter gear. So General Winter is neutral as between Russia and Ukraine. Though with a probable preference for Ukraine who have the advantage of fighting in their own territory and thus more secure rear areas.

    • Wayne, your default is everything Ukraine / Western is quality, everything Russian is rubbish. I think you should revise your CV, get new glasses and bring the order (as opposed to the promise).

      • Actually I have been reasonably accurate in my forecasts to date. Some months ago I said that Ukraine would push the Russians back across the Dnieper River and liberate the city of Kherson. I also said that the next stage would be a Ukraine push to cut the land bridge, most probably in late winter when the ground is suitable for movement of tanks and artillery.
        I also think that may not succeed, with a large risk of flank attacks by Russian forces. I have said on a number of occasions that the current situation might be close to the final outcome. Both sides now have more defensible frontlines.
        As for the superiority of western weapons and supplies. That is self evident, and if you think about it, hardly surprising. Western weapons and equipment have the industrial resources of nearly 1 billion people; 500 million in the EU, 400 million in North America. A much more sophisticated industrial and technological basis for the development of advanced weapons. In contrast Russia has 140 million people with a fundamentally weaker and outdated industrial base.
        It is not surprising the NATO forces have over 1,000 fifth generation aircraft (F22, F35 and B2). Russia has about 30 such aircraft. That difference is repeated right across western weapons technology, missiles, tanks, artillery, guided munitions, ISR platforms. For instance no Russian tank is the equivalent (that is, as good as) to the M1A2 Abrams or Leopard 4 tank.

        • Wayne, if that qualitative superiority were real how have a those systems supplied been destroyed and Ukraine urgently calling for more? Who has the ammunition shortages?
          Conversely who has hypersonics and who can intercept them (hint, not the US).
          To be blunt the US industrial base is no longer designed to fight a war of attrition that is not particularly high tech. Russia doesn’t have that issue.

          • Change the record Nick J. Russia’s hypersonics are a myth – they don’t work. Very much like the Tupolev Tu-144 SST – the supposed answer to the Concorde.
            Good comments Wayne.

          • What’s more Russian claims to have destroyed HIMARS systems have been over inflated. Do you believe all that Russian propaganda Nick J? If you do, you are an idiot.

  7. I watched a YouTube of shopping in a St Peterburg supermarket, shelves full, lots of variety, plenty of money, sanctions hurt??? Bollocks.
    Meanwhile Germany is trying to ramp up its nuclear stations and joining the $60 barrel nonsense. Do you know where the uranium required comes from? Russia. Do you know where the heavy distillates needed for fuel oil and diesel come from? Russia and Saudi. And MBS says $86 minimum.
    Expect our pump prices to go through the roof.
    Gas… the US Lng market is costing US citizens higher prices, because of the surplus that is now sent to Europe at 3x the price of Russian gas, and in a fraction of the quantity required. German industry is on its knees. The loss of Russian gas makes it uncompetitive.
    This is an energy war where demand exceeds supply, consequently those who have the energy are winning.

    • Absolute balderdash Nick J. Russia is going backwards – its GDP has dropped by 7%. You are totally fooled by agitprop and confirmation bias.

  8. How Ben to explain the 100k dead figure Ursula von der Leyden let slip? That means probably 450k Ukrainian permanent losses with the wounded.
    Then there’s the repetition of Verdun at Bahkmut, in what fantasy land can an army continue to take these losses?

        • My point is that at Verdun the defender (France) while sustaining massive losses managed to win the battle but also in time the war as well . . and there is no reason why Ukraine can’t do the same at Bahkmut.

          • Im aware of the French sacrifice at Verdun which if lost would have cost them the war. Bahkmut could be held by Ukraine, who knows? I’m questioning whether the loss of so many troops is worth it when the window for negotiations dies with the army.

              • James, when the fog clears we are going to be presented with facts on both sides behavior that will challenge partisanship. There are no angels in this conflict.

                • I disagree, both sides will have their ‘angels and demons’ with also many somewhere in between these extremes . . just that the proportion of these will from each ‘side’ will differ (as has been clearly illustrated in places such as Bucha).

  9. ‘he understands the seriousness of his army’s position and that defeat is imminent.’

    Wishful thinking.

    Ukraine is running out of money,supplies and being destroyed.
    Russia can hunker down and just defend the eastern region for as long as it takes.

      • Well these posts of Ben do appear in the Guest Blogs and Posts section.
        Most of the articles at TDB about the Ukraine are testaments of fuckwitism. Can you fix stupid?

        • That should be “Guest Blogs and SPONSORED Posts section.
          Dribble felched from the ISW and other neocons. With pathetic Pat chiming in with something he’s has read in the Guardian.

          • So I went to your link to Jaques Baud.

            Alongside the usual pro-war lies and distortions typical of a Kremlin mouthpiece.

            Baud writes;
            “… early June, President Zelensky unveiled the death rate of Ukrainian military and spoke of 60 to 100 soldiers killed per day. A week later, Mykhailo Podoliak, Zelensky’s adviser, stated that the Ukrainian armed forces were losing 100 to 200 men a day. Today, Arakhamia speaks of 200 to 500 fatalities per day and a total of 1000 casualties (dead, wounded, captured, deserters) per day….
            ….Some say that Ukrainian forces have 60,000 dead and 50,000 missing. However, these numbers are not verifiable at this time.”

            Baud cites these figures as evidence that Russia is winning the war. Baud is following the same idiocy of the US imperialists with their obscene daily body count of Vietcong fighters killed.

            he Americans just like Baud cited as evidence that the US was winning the war in Vietnam.

            By the the time of US withdrawal from Vietnam, Vietnamese war dead totaled more than a million, compared to US war dead of 61 thousand.

            Baud gleefully bathes in Russia’s success at human slaughter.
            But body count does not tell you who is winning a war.

            “casualty reports . . . are never accurate” and, in any case, such figures are “no accurate measure of the loss of morale; hence . . . the abandonment of the fight remains the only authentic proof of victory.” Prussian military theorist Karl von Clausewitz


    • Maybe. The US will supply Ukraine with more weapons, intelligence, advisors, targeting information and might even blow up a few pipelines to help out so it’s all up in the air at the moment.

  10. Now that FTX has collapsed, taxpayer money can no longer be sent to Ukraine as “aid” and subsequently laundered via crypto by Zelensky back into the US Democrat coffers. Of course all those rumours were immediately debunked by the MSM with no evidence whatsoever.
    Consequently, I suspect now that given that US politicians can no longer directly profit from the Ukraine conflict (outside of the stocks in US Defence companies), they will be demanding that Biden starts talking peace (something that you normally do at the beginning of a war, instead of sending Boris Johnson to Ukraine and demanding there can be no peace talks). Oh wait, that is already being attempted.
    … except by the looks of it that boat has sailed now, and it’s the US now that finds itself throwing money into a bottomless money pit and they can’t even directly profit from it.

  11. From what I have read following a pro Russian website, Russia will not worry about negotiations with the collective west.

    Russian political leadership has been let down so many times they think the west is non agreement capable

  12. ukraine at some point will have to come to the table, the west is starting to softed on negotions …the damage europe has done by imposing sanctions on themselves, is I suspect seen by many russians as just comeuppance for the ‘shock therapy’ imposed by US economists on russia after the wall came down….see adam curtis new film for details.

  13. Thanks, Ben, for the reality.

    I do understand Putin and Russia’s response to thirty years from a wall of countries against another WW ll devastation to Ukraine going west. They didn’t calculate how scared their subject nations were of them. Don’t know a middle place but perhaps an unreasonable neutrality on the part of Ukraine would help.

    The Russians have their own ‘reason’, best not to assume commonality in that dept.

  14. The war may be slowing due to the weather, but due more to Putin’s willingness to prolong the fighting despite major setbacks.

    Putin’s latest televised pronouncement to the Russian people warned them that the ‘Special Military Operation’ will be an extended “lengthy” campaign.

    Though Putin may be able to continue a long grinding war. Without any sign of light at the end of the tunnel, just like the American withdrawal from Vietnam, Russian withdrawal from Ukraine will come when the material and human losses become too much to justify.

  15. It’s totally ridiculous that Russia is criticising the US for providing Patriot missiles to Ukraine when they are a defensive armament to protect against air attacks. Obviously Russia doesn’t want its precious Migs and Sukhois shot down. The answer is simple for Russia – don’t bomb Ukraine or your aircraft and missiles will be shot down.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.