GUEST BLOG: Ben Morgan – ‘General Winter’ and NATO tanks.

Winter is meandering

Tension is building in Ukraine as General Winter’s hands influence the campaign; to date winter in Europe is unusually warm.  The warm weather means that at a strategic level Russia’s gas embargo is not impacting Europe in the way that Putin intended.  Instead of a sudden shock as temperatures fall, punishing ordinary people in NATO countries, Europe has been able to gradually ease into winter and so far, the gas embargo has had limited effects politically.  A warmer than usual winter allows the governments of NATO more time to prepare and hopefully to mitigate the worst of the energy crisis.

General Winter’s most important impact on the campaign is in Ukraine. The warm weather means that Ukraine’s countryside is still muddy and impassable for heavy vehicles like tanks, trucks and artillery.  A large offensive, by either side, requires firm ground for large scale manoeuvre.  Russia will benefit the most from this situation. At the end of autumn, when the rain came and turned Ukraine’s fields into muddy bogs Ukraine held the initiative; and Russia was on the backfoot, falling back, working hard to stabilise a new frontline between Donetsk in the east and the Dnipro River in the west.   

Ukraine’s opportunity to keep Russia on the backfoot is reducing as more, recently mobilised Russian soldiers complete their training and join the campaign.  The Russians are working hard to make sure that they don’t lose any further ground and every week that passes allows further development of defences, stockpiling of ammunition and battle planning.  Further, the time that the warm winter has bought allows for training and development of unit cohesion in depth, away from the frontline. Essentially, a relatively small force can hold the defensive line while other Russian troops train and get ready either to strengthen the defence or to counter attack. 

Many commentators predict a large Russian spring offensive and Russia’s recent change of theatre command and bombing of Ukrainian civilian infra-structure on 14 January seem to support this analysis.  However, it does not seem likely that the Russians will move offensively anytime soon. Regardless of the weather and boggy ground; if I was advising Gerasimov, my advice would be to wait, prepare for a defensive battle and build up a strong reserve.  Let the Ukrainians burn resources attacking, attrit them and then counter attack.  

Soviet doctrine defined defence as follows “A type of combat action conducted for the purpose of repulsing an attack mounted by superior enemy forces, causing heavy casualties, retaining important regions of terrain and creating favourable conditions for a return to decisive offensive operations”.  Or, in simple language let the enemy tire themselves out then counter punch. Like in historical battles; like Stalingrad and Kursk where the Soviets allowed the Nazi’s to use up their resources attacking defended positions then launched devastating counter-attacks. 

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At this stage we don’t know Russia’s plan for the ground campaign; and realistically probably won’t get a clear picture until either the ground freezes or when summer dries out the ground in April and May.  It may even be that the Russian’s themselves don’t yet have a clear picture of the next move and are using the operational lull to plan.  So we should be cautious about reading too much into the change of command. Gerasimov’s appointment seems more likely to be a political move to counter Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the boss of Wagner Group’s campaign to increase his own political influence within the Kremlin rather than a command re-organisation prior to an offensive.   

Likewise, the large missile attack on Ukraine on 14 January does not indicate a transition to offensive operations any more than the noise emanating from Belarus or the slowing down of Russia’s artillery bombardments on the frontline.  The key point is that the warm winter means that at the moment both sides are unable to move. When and if the Russians transition to offensive operations the indicators will be clear; a change in ground conditions, a build-up of forces (that will probably be observed on Maxar satellite photos) and a change in missile attacks.  Instead of targeting civilian infra-structure the Russians will start to hit military targets like anti-aircraft missiles, command centres, tactically important bridges and supply dumps.   

Related to the lull created by the warm weather is the United Kingdom’s offer of Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine.  NATO tanks are generations ahead of Russia’s tank fleet.  And; even older models like Challenger 2 and Leopard 2 will make an impact out of all proportion to their numbers.  In the military you get used to people crying that the ‘tank is dead’.  In the 1930s, small high performance anti-tank guns became common in armies and pundits nodded sagely and said that the tank was dead. However, World War Two proved them wrong. Then in the 1970’s small but powerful guided anti-tank missiles again appeared to herald the end of the tank.  Now its drones and more advanced missiles making people trumpet the end of the tank. 

But; we shouldn’t judge the effectiveness of the tank on the weapon’s employment by the Russians. By any standards Russia’s military has performed terribly and even a good weapons system will perform poorly in incompetent hands.  

On the contrary, in an age of digitised and networked warfare relying on electronic equipment and access to power or batteries the tank is even more important. A modern tank provides a mobile, armoured node within the networked battlefield. It is able to protect a range of electronic equipment whilst moving the equipment rapidly around the battlefield. Modern tanks boast high powered telescopes, thermal imagers, night vision and a wide range of electronic surveillance tools.  A tank can easily carry this load and move it rapidly across the battlefield.  A modern tank is not only able to fight but is also a protected information hub able to gather massive amounts of data and then digitally transfer it across the battlefield.  Making the tank even more important on today’s battlefield.

Traditionally, the measure of a tank’s worth is armour and firepower.  Lots of vehicles have mobility but only one type combines so much firepower, armour and mobility. With regards to armour modern NATO tanks are very hard to kill.  In Gulf War tank battles, NATO tanks generally shrugged off even large Russian tank rounds and anti-tank missiles.  

On the flipside though, modern tanks are incredibly complicated pieces of high-performance technology. Think of them as being like Formula One race cars, incredible at what they are designed to do but requiring constant maintenance.  All tanks require enormous amounts of fuel, oil and replacement track (metal tank tracks stretch and need to be replaced every 500-1000km). Modern tanks also need teams of highly skilled technicians maintaining; and when required fixing their electronics and armament.  NATO tanks will demolish Russian tanks but are useless to Ukraine without a supply chain for parts and without highly skilled technical support.

The most important tank in NATO is not Challenger.  It is the Leopard 2.  A German main battle tank used by many NATO nations.  This tank has a much larger supply chain and many more people in Europe trained to maintain and fix it.  A number of countries currently operating Leopard 2 (like Poland) have offered to supply tanks to Ukraine. However, Germany who licenses the use of the tank has so far not allowed these countries to export them to Ukraine.  

The United Kingdom’s Challenger offer of twelve tanks is an example of diplomatic sleight of hand.  By making this move the United Kingdom is ‘legitimising’ the export of powerful offensive weapon systems to Ukraine.  The manoeuvre allows the German political establishment to re-assess its policy.  And two days ago, Germany released the export of Polish Leopard 2s to Ukraine.  The difference that 12 British Challengers tanks make on the battlefield is when NATO nations like Poland start to export battalions (50-70 at a time) worth of Leopard 2s.  An easily achievable way to build a modern and very effective Ukrainian armoured force. 

However, this will take time.  The soldiers operating the tanks need to be trained. Logistics chains to support them developed and their new digital capabilities fully explored before they can make their most impact.  This will take months, probably we are looking at the end of 2023 before a new Ukrainian armoured force equipped to NATO standard is able to be fielded.  

In summary, this is why the lull caused by a warm winter is so challenging.  At this point Ukraine has captured an enormous amount of Russian equipment.  Probably, it currently has the material to conduct offensive operations but each week that goes by Russia gets stronger as its mobilisation continues.  Russian combat power is increasing and Ukraine’s has peaked.  Ukraine’s next peak will be when the Leopard 2s, Marders and Bradleys being supplied are ready for combat use in late-2023.  If Gerasimov is clever, he will stall and use the lull created by the weather to build his strength but engage before Ukraine’s combat power steps up again later in the year.  This means that we may see a change in the balance of combat power and the potential for Russia to stay in the fight. 

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


  1. Meanwhile a retired US army general, now in the employ of a strategy think-tank recently said he expects Ukraine to capture Crimea by August. Either he’s very rash to put a timeline on it or he knows something we don’t.

  2. The ground is frozen in Ukraine…Russian forces now can across over…waiting upon the first batch of recruits to finish their training

  3. The ground is frozen in Ukraine…Russian forces now can across over…waiting upon the first batch of recruits to finish their training

    • Are these the prisoners who are sent to die? Russian/Soviet doctrine never changes: Just keep throwing troops at the enemy machine guns. They’ll run out of bullets before Russia runs out of young men.

      • johno your shallow and incorrect appreciation of red army tactics in ww2 is largely the product of nazi generals self serving memoires…like it or not the soviets were the masters of combined arms warfare…too much time watching enemy at the gates and not enough reading…I suggest anything by glantz.

  4. I just noticed the those technologically backward Russkies are having to scrap more chips from washing machines to build a spacecraft to bring American astronauts home from a space station. Can one conclude that American washing machine chips are inferior? Will the Russkies have enough rocket gear left to build it? Will the spacemen and space technicians be scientifically up to scratch, sufficiently supported and have sufficient morale? If you are sitting up in space you’d better hope so because Uncle Sam can’t do this stuff any more.

  5. Ben says that Ukraine needs training time for the newer Western wonder weapons that are needed to replace all of those other since destroyed wonder weapons. He is correct.

    Question is who to train? Schoolboys, old men? Get Europe to dragoon the diaspora who fled West? Everybody else is dead or dying in Soledar and Bahkmut. All that will be achieved is more dead Ukrainians and more destroyed “aid”.

    • Really Nick J, your triumphalism is nauseating and as usual stained with hyperbole. Of course Ukraine has enough soldiers to train. It is the convicts recruited from Russian prisons that are dying in their hundreds in Bakhmut on behalf of the Wagner ‘Orchestra’.

  6. germany has no spare leopards to send to the ukraine the ones in storage at rheinmetal need complete refrurbishment and won’t be ready until 2024.

  7. Reading your third or fourth paragraph I was disgusted this is going on in
    Europe. Our rule since ’45 against invasion, let alone conquest.

    And the bloody awful NZ Left more on the side of Russia. Confused and contused.

    • How can you call it a democracy when the leader of the opposition party that came second in the last elections Opposition Platform , was imprisoned and later stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship.
      Opposition party was the most popular in the east, but also gained a surprising number of votes in other parts of Ukraine. Medvedchuk’s popularity threatened that of Zelensky.
      He was in favour of peace with Russia, and had friendly relations with Putin
      How could a man like that be so popular ?
      Because he represents the concerns of many Russian leaning Ukrainians
      Got to get rid of him
      And you call that a democracy?

      • In a country under martial law of course there are less freedoms. It is hardly surprising that a pro-Russian party would be banned when Russia is invading. Medvedchuk had very close links to Putin.

      • And you call Russia a democracy?

        Ukraine is going democratic.

        It is the political last line for me, those who don’t respect democracy.

  8. Here are three interviews of extremely pro-Ukraine people conducted and hosted on a channel which supports Ukraine’s ’cause’.

    Foreign Fighter In Ukraine Tells All In Exclusive Controversial Interview

    ‘I Lost Everyone’ – AZOV Ukraine Regiment Soldier, TELL ALL Exclusive Interview

    Suicide Missions & Corruption – Ukrainian Foreign Legion TELL ALL Interview

    The three men interviewed are far more committed and dedicated to Ukraine than any AoNz posters and the Slava Ukraine crowd ,,, these men walked the talk and risked their own lives ….

    …. But the story they tell and what they experienced is vastly different to the propaganda/news we receive in our western media ,,,,

    Presumably they have told the unpalatable truth as they would like the problems remedied and fixed ,,,, to give Ukraine the best chance of ‘winning’.

    Here’s a video from another channel that gives credence to Wagner convict soldiers lives being treated with less value than others … SOLEDAR HAS FALLEN ,,,, the fellow who runs this channel has been quite good on his predictions of battle tactics and developments ,,,, he’s quite a realist and even handed.

    Finally this channel gives very detailed battle developments using both Russian and Western maps ,,,, he discusses Wagner a lot in this video ,,, Ukraine. Military Summary And Analysis 17.01.2023

    Personally I have wanted to see peace since the bloody 2014 coup and the start of it’s extreme violence/deaths ,,,, but a understanding of all sides and the most information possible is required for this to come about.

    • Can’t wait, will he get paid a bonus for florid language that curdles the blood and causes middle class angst and cringing?
      On another note I see the Ukies are downing copters carrying their own officials. Bit of naughtiness over corruption is the word on the street, division of spoils for selling Western weapons to all and sundry. Must be rubbish though, Ukraine isn’t corrupt, no way….

      • Of course Ukraine is corrupt having been a Communist country. But Ukraine is nowhere near as corrupt as Russia. Nowhere near!

          • I have said that Ukraine is corrupt before as well. So what. Bulgaria and Romania are corrupt as well and they are in NATO and the EU. The difference is that they are attempting to improve their corrupt tendencies. Russia just gets worse.

        • “Of course Ukraine is corrupt having been a Communist country.” ,,,, what a logic fail….

          Ukraine was rated as more corrupt than Nigeria,,, yet somehow when Huter Biden was scamming $3 million dollars for his ‘work’ at a Ukraine energy company the country got rated as less corrupt ,,,, is this because Hunter & Joe’s corruption/theft was less communist ? 😉 .

          Is spending $4 billion to violently overthrow a elected government corruption ?, 6 mins 30 secs into this video for evidence … The Anglo-American War on Russia – Part Four (Targeting Ukraine) right click and open in new tab to keep this TDB page open.

  9. Russia’s fear of invasion or being over-bourn, is legitimately ‘felt’. But not rational except for the latter. And that’s the decline of the British Empire thing. Ukraine has found itself. It’s not the provincial part of Russia anymore. And in the West we don’t invade and conquer anymore.

    ‘How do you deal with a man like Ru-si-ya?’ Give’m some guarantee for their fears and a ceasefire without conditions.

    • Sum, Russia is not concerned with invasion. It is concerned with the NATO encroachment that makes it possible for the US to place nuclear weapon on their borders. Imagine if Russia placed these in Canada or Mexico. Get your head around the real issues.

    • I think Bismarck once said that to conquer Russia it would be necessary to first decouple Ukraine from Russia. That decoupling seems to have been completed in 2014.

      PS: There seems to be some dispute about whether he said this, but that doesn’t matter much. What matters is whether or not it’s true.

  10. Miley & Austin in Rammerstein in Germany yesterday. The US are bailing out and handing it over the NATO and all the other suckers. 50 other countries. Germany is the only one doing the right thing and holding out until the US finds their nuts and joins.

    Germany doesnt want Russian tanks on the streets in Berlin. To them, history matters.

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