Ukrainians are digging into winter, what options does Putin have to escalate the war?

As the brutal winter months approach, the Ukrainians dug in and steadily gain ground in their counteroffensive; while Putin, cornered, would expect an opportunity to freeze his control of the occupied territories in the coming months.

The stage is now being set for a battle of nerves in Ukraine as war planners on both sides expect the upcoming winter months to intensify the fighting. The rainy weather and muddy conditions on the battlefield are already beginning to limit the mobility of tanks and other heavy weapons.

Although the prospect of intense fighting cannot be ruled out, experts believe the cold weather conditions will make it increasingly difficult for either side to sustain a full-scale military operation.

As a veteran diplomat and President of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass writes, we face a winter of decision-making. “What remains to be seen is how decisions made off the battlefield this winter will affect the course of the war next spring.”

As his troops falter at the front lines, Putin hopes that by inflicting pain on ordinary Ukrainians during the harsh winter months, he can try to strain Kyiv into retreating from their relentless counter-offensive in the east and south.

When the Crimean bridge blast presented him with an opportunity, the Russian president responded by waging a relentless bombing campaign in Ukrainian cities, the likes of which had not been seen since the full-blown war began.

Russian shelling has targeted residential areas and vital civilian infrastructure — particularly heating and electricity — giving an indication of what Putin intends to do to Ukrainians in the coming months.

Ukrainian authorities have warned of impending power, water and heating blackouts, with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeting on Tuesday that Russian attacks over the past week have crippled 30% of his country’s power plants and caused “massive power outages across the country”.

Although Putin said there was “no need for massive attacks” on Ukraine because most of the designated targets in the country had been hit, Russia’s ability to sustain the campaign was becoming increasingly limited.

While global support is expected to give Ukrainians a strategic advantage over Russian forces, who are struggling with logistics and supplies of military hardware.

During the eight-month duration of the war, Russia’s overall strategy was to meet front-line military challenges through massive attacks on civilian infrastructure.

Aside from using tactical nuclear weapons, experts are discussing a number of other options and the possibility of false flag operations that Russia could use to inflict mass casualties on Ukraine — including using biological or chemical bombs or destroying critical large-scale infrastructure such as dams and other civilian infrastructure .

Along with weapons and military gear, Western allies are also sending Ukrainians cold-weather gear to brave the harsh winter when temperatures plummet below freezing.

Officials in the US believe allies unwilling to supply Ukraine with lethal weapons could also contribute to Ukraine’s war effort by supplying them with winter equipment.

“Some countries are unable to offer lethal assistance, but we urge them to provide vital, non-lethal assistance, such as medical supplies and cold-weather equipment, that Ukrainians will need to fight in the winter,” US said – Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin held a press conference following the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting last Wednesday in Brussels. The contact group, which includes more than 50 nations, met to assess Ukraine’s defense needs.

As Kyiv receives advanced military weapons and equipment from Western allies, Moscow is forced to rely on its own capabilities or on other pariah countries like Iran or North Korea.

Russia has now switched to using a cheaper Iranian alternative – the kamikaze drones – to conduct the bombing. Iran is also reportedly preparing a shipment to Russia of its short-range Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar ballistic missiles, which can hit targets at ranges of 300 to 700 kilometers (about 200 to 400 miles).

At home, for ordinary Russians feeling the pinch of war due to the partial mobilization drive, Putin has presented an existential narrative of a defensive war against Western powers bent on destroying Russia. Ukrainians are digging into winter, what options does Putin have to escalate the war?

Fry Electronics Team

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