In Putin's Ukraine Debacle, Even the Weather Has Turned Against Him

Plunging temperatures in Ukraine pose another challenge to the invasion by Russian troops amid scrutiny of President Vladimir Putin's mission, which experts say has been beset by errors.

Overnight Tuesday, the temperature dropped to around -10C (14F) in parts of the country and forecasters said the cold will feel even more severe when combined with the wind chill.

A significantly colder air mass is bringing the lowest temperatures in several weeks to the region, with CNN reporting that at night, wind chill factors will be in "teens below zero."

While the brutally cold spell is an unneeded obstacle for the thousands of Ukrainian citizens desperate to escape the hostilities, it could also wreak havoc on Russian troops.

Former British Army Major Kevin Price told The Times of London that the cold "will degrade the Russian force," and while it might improve cross-country mobility be creating less mud, "the Russians are not ready for Arctic conditions."

Russian troops in the 40-mile convoy stuck outside of Kyiv for the last few days "will be suffering" a Ukrainian military source told the paper in a sentiment shared by Glen Grant, a senior defense expert at the Baltic Security Foundation who advised Ukraine on its military reform."

He told Newsweek that staying in a military vehicle in such cold conditions is tough, "because I can tell you from experience, it becomes a refrigerator."

"To eat a ration pack, you have got to have hot water and if you haven't got fuel, or little burners, then you just fall apart," he told Newsweek.

"They have got big logistical problems anyway," Grant said of the Russian army. "There is no logic to what they are doing. You can't just go and attack people like that.

"Remembering that this convoy is on the other side of all the broken down vehicles, it made no sense.

"Fundamentally, the Russian doctrine has always been to reinforce success and in this war, time and time again, they have reinforcing failure," he said, "They are not following a plan—they are following a script."

That script appears to have been based on the premise that Russian troops would quickly seize Ukraine. But this scenario has been upset by logistical issues, fierce Ukrainian resistance, and low morale among Russian soldiers.

Since the invasion started on February 24, Russian forces have captured large areas of north eastern and coastal Ukraine. They claim to have seized the strategic southern port of Kherson.

Russian forces have also bombarded Kharkiv and have surrounded and bombarded Mariupol, although it is said to remain under Ukrainian control.

However, Michael Clarke, former director general of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), told Sky News that Russian forces have lost about 860 pieces of equipment, such as tanks, and armored vehicles, citing verifiable figures from independent sources.

Meanwhile, a NATO military official told CNN that Russia is making very little progress, "we don't expect them to make any gains in the next few days."

Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier, director the Defense Intelligence Agency, told House lawmakers as many as 4,000 Russian troops have died since the invasion.

Military analyst Michael Kofman tweeted that the abandonment rate by Russian troops is "exceedingly high" and said that Moscow's forces' setbacks was "less a general failure to modernize, and more as a failure to maintain and properly support the equipment."

There is speculation that strategic blunders could push Putin towards nuclear weapons as a fallback option, although as previously reported by Newsweek, military experts believe a such a conflagration is unlikely at this point.

In any case, there is speculation over whether a military failure in Ukraine poses a threat to Putin's presidency.

"On foreign policy he used to have the mystique of the great tactician," said Michael Kimmage, history professor at the Catholic University of America, referring to the 2014 seizure of Crimea and involvement in the Syrian conflict a year later, "now he has really screwed up something."

"He did a terrible job of justifying this war before it happened, now he is going to try to cover up its costs through media manipulation and repression," he told Newsweek.

"He will depend on the compliance of his population, but they may, in the way large groups of people historically have, judge that their future is worse with him than without him."

Putin and a Russian tank
A destroyed Russian tank is seen on the roadside on the outskirts of Kharkiv on February 26, 2022, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion is being hampered by cold weather. Getty