Winter is coming, which will make it difficult for Ukraine to continue its advances against Russia. The next several months—known by historians as rasputitsa, or disagreeable travel—have been the great enemy of Eurasian armies for centuries. Soldiers call this period “General Mud,” shorthand for the harsh environmental conditions that brought Russia’s French and German invaders to their knees in 1812 and 1943, respectively.
But the harsh winter should be seen as a time to make preparations for the spring, not to pause all operations. Ukraine should continue its long-range attacks against vulnerable Russia ammunition depots, command centers and supply lines. With help from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Kyiv should also begin a deliberate effort to reconstitute its military strength in time for the 2023 campaign season.
The various preparations that Ukraine must make are obvious: Harden defensive positions along the current frontlines, integrate replacement troops into units, and issue winter clothing and equipment. This is the leitmotif of any military after a long campaign, but it would be a missed opportunity to stop there. Ukraine needs a more comprehensive approach, which should accelerate the delivery of the still-vast military stockpiles and training capacity of NATO countries to regenerate its army as its Russian adversary struggles to resupply its troops and incorporate its mobilized reserves.
Under this new strategy, allies shouldn’t merely continue to resupply crucial equipment and ammunition, Himars rockets and air-defense assets. They should also conduct operational planning symposia with the Ukrainian military, consisting of workshops on lessons learned in 2022 and operational planning for 2023. NATO can also redouble its efforts to train key leaders and units outside Ukraine to build a second layer of personnel expertise on the operations and repair of Western equipment—and, in anticipation of political decisions, flight training on advanced Western aircraft as well as ground training on more-capable air-defense systems and combat vehicles.
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On the battlefield, the West should beef up its support for Ukraine’s deep-fires campaign against supply depots, logistical routes, command centers and second-echelon support units well beyond Russian frontlines. This will obstruct Russia’s attempt to regenerate its own combat power even with the arrival of the newly mobilized troops and Iranian drones. These efforts can be complemented with local attacks against Russian forces as opportunities arise. Keeping the Russians concentrated on shepherding their own combat power and preventing their ability to conduct ground operations will be the best assurance of forestalling any Battle of the Bulge-type counterattack from the east.
These military activities must be supported with a robust diplomatic and information campaign. NATO has demonstrated remarkable unity, but its support can’t be taken for granted. Against a backdrop of high inflation, rising fuel costs and slow progress on the ground, leaders can expect to see their countries’ public support for the war effort wane if they don’t continue to make a persuasive case for why supporting Ukraine is in their interest.
Diplomatic efforts must also continue to isolate Russia from the international community in general, and from arms shipments from such countries as Belarus, North Korea and Iran in particular. The West should pressure neutral allies, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to take a firm stand on the war instead of attempting to appease both sides. These diplomatic efforts should continue to punish
but also begin to establish the foundations for future negotiations—the prospects of which shouldn’t be unilaterally dismissed or disparaged, given that the chances of Russian defeat or withdrawal from Ukraine, including Crimea, are far from assured.
The Russian military, operating both inside and outside Ukraine, is likely to continue its deliberate bombing campaign against cities and critical infrastructure. But its ground forces appear unable to do anything more than conduct local counterattacks, harden its defense lines, and begin the integration of mobilized reservists.
To write a campaign plan, military planners and logisticians need hundreds of pages for the necessary instructions and timelines. Commanders, however, are expected to provide their goal in as few words as possible, which serves as a campaign lodestar. Gen.
wrote his intent to defeat Hitler’s army very simply: “You will enter the continent of Europe and, in conjunction with other Allied nations, undertake operations aimed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her armed forces.” Mr. Zelensky’s intent for this winter should be equally simple: “You will reinforce and regenerate the army in conjunction with NATO to push the Russian army out of Ukraine, accept its surrender or complete its destruction on the battlefield.”
Russian forces likely won’t be driven back to the preinvasion borders by the end of this year. Nor will Crimea be liberated by then. But with the proper reconstitution, planning and training this winter, in addition to the resumption of Ukraine offensives soon after the spring thaw, those aren’t unreasonable goals for 2023.
Mr. Kimmitt, a retired U.S. Army brigadier general, served as assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, 2008-09.
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