Kyiv's troops are facing bitter cold and snow on the frontline, but the coming season also poses longer term political questions for Ukraine's allies. It may be now or never.
PARIS — Weather is a weapon of war. And one place where that’s undoubtedly true right now is Ukraine. A record cold wave has gripped the country in recent days, with violent winds in the south that have cut off electricity of areas under both Russian and Ukrainian control. It's a nightmare for troops on the frontline, and survival itself is at stake, with supplies and movement cut off.
This is the reality of winter warfare in this part of Europe, and important in both tactical and strategic terms. What Ukraine fears most in these circumstances are Russian missile or drone attacks on energy infrastructures, designed to plunge civilian populations into cold and darkness.
The Ukrainian General Staff took advantage of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg's visit to Kyiv to ask the West to provide as many air defense systems as possible to protect these vital infrastructures. According to Kyiv, 90% of Russian missile launches are intercepted; but Ukraine claims that Moscow has received new weapon deliveries from North Korea and Iran, and has large amounts of stocks to strike Ukraine in the coming weeks.
No matter the cost
This context is vital to confront in order to maintain Ukrainian morale after a difficult year. Kyiv's long-anticipated offensive has so far failed to produce the expected results, at least not with a decisive breakthrough.
Ukrainian morale is threatened by the fear of disappearing from the West’s radar.
Furthermore, the Ukrainian army has been subjected to repeated assaults by the Russian army in Avdiivka, a town in the Donbas region that has become a symbol of Russian relentlessness. The losses suffered by Moscow’s army are said to be considerable, but this has not stopped Russia from sending waves of troops to this region, which has since become a new symbolic battle after Bakhmut a few months back.
But most of all, the Ukrainian morale is threatened by the fear of disappearing from the West’s radar, too preoccupied by the horrors going on in the Middle East to maintain the motivation to direct aid to Ukraine.
Ukraine soldier in a snowy field getting in a tank
Orban and Trump
Western leaders swear they will help Ukraine as long as necessary, as Charles Michel, President of the European Council Union, also said on French radio, France Inter, yesterday morning. But there are two very real difficulties: the first being the political clouds looming over Europe and the United States.
In Europe, the 27 EU member states are due to approve a new aid package for Ukraine in the coming weeks, but they need unanimity, which Hungary’s Viktor Orban has prevented in one of his usual haggling matches. And in the United States, the possibility of Donald Trump winning the presidential election 11 months from now is a good reason for Vladimir Putin to keep up the pressure.
The other difficulty lies in the Russia-Ukraine gap on the ground. Russia has adopted a war economy with, according to the Financial Times, a defense budget three times higher than in 2021, the year before the invasion of Ukraine. But the West which supports Kyiv, is not following suit.
For the time being, Ukrainians have to get through this dangerous winter, between the weather and Russian missiles — and the West has to help them get through it, no matter the cost.