WASHINGTON—A senior Biden administration official says Russia’s military operations in Ukraine will remain stalled until next year.
Officials say Moscow will likely continue to attack Ukrainian forces, bases, infrastructure and power grids, but the coming winter is expected to bring about a slowdown in military progress on both sides.
In a major setback to the war, the Kremlin announced on Friday that its troops were withdrawn from the strategic city of Kherson in southern Ukraine and relocated across the Dnipro River. U.S. officials believe Russia’s decision to withdraw from the city is based in part on concerns that Russian soldiers will be stationed and supplies cut off as winter sets in. .
Ukrainian forces have destroyed or damaged all but one of the bridges leading into the city, limiting Russia’s ability to resupply its 20,000 to 30,000 troops, many of whom have been out of training for the past few weeks. NATO officials said they were sent to the front lines with little or no damage.
U.S. officials had estimated the Russian withdrawal would take two weeks, but the Russian Defense Ministry said on Friday that the withdrawal was complete, and residents said the remaining bridge over the Dnipro River had been destroyed.
A winter pause can last as long as six months. Rain and soft ground in late November would slow both armies. Then, when temperatures drop and the ground freezes, tanks and trucks are easier to move. However, heavy snow and possible colder weather could make it difficult for ill-equipped Russian forces to launch a new offensive.
Undersecretary of Defense Colin H. Carr told reporters last week, “We’re already seeing bad weather in Ukraine slowing things down a bit.” “It’s pretty muddy, which makes it difficult to carry out a large-scale attack.”
The war enters a new phase as major military operations are suspended due to weather. Russia is likely to ramp up attacks on infrastructure to terrorize Ukrainians, US officials said. Analysts say Ukraine may ramp up covert operations to show it can fight back on the Russian mainland as well.
“Ukrainians appear to be continuing to push for sabotage and subversion attacks on the Russian front,” said Seth G. Jones, senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “These are just targeted assassinations and general sabotage of Russian-controlled areas within Ukraine.”
Biden administration officials say it is imperative to use the winter slowdown to rebuild Ukraine’s defensive and offensive arms supply.
On Thursday, the Pentagon announced another $400 million in armament, including a mobile short-range Avenger air defense vehicle that fires Stinger missiles.
But Kyiv officials say the Ukrainian military will need more air defense systems than the SA-11s and S-300s it already has. Putin has illegally annexed it in the last nine months of war.
During the impending moratorium, both sides will retrain their forces and prepare for a new offensive in February, according to military analysts.
Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and chief military adviser to Mr. Biden, said this week that the coming cold weather was an opportunity for both sides to consider peace talks. More than 100,000 Russian soldiers have already been killed or wounded in the war, he said, adding that Ukraine probably suffered a similar number.
The Kremlin definitely wants a ceasefire to be implemented in the coming months to replenish its forces and strengthen its ground position, two Russian military analysts wrote. Analysis of the Royal United Services Institute last weekAnalysts Jack Watling and Nick Reynolds said the Russian government is pressuring Ukraine’s international partners to force the Kyiv government to negotiate a ceasefire.
However, “a truce would be a tactical advantage for Russia in stabilizing control over the occupied territories, potentially reducing the Kremlin’s goal of conquering Ukraine, or ending coercive energy diplomacy with Western Europe.” There is no sex,” Watling and Reynolds wrote.
And some military analysts say it would not be in Ukraine’s interest to give up this winter, especially as Russia continues to target civilian infrastructure and power grids. Ukrainian officials say they believe Russia is also likely to attack the country’s water supply system.
However, Biden administration officials have said there may be a limit to how long Russia can continue its campaign to destroy infrastructure due to dwindling supplies of long-range precision-guided missiles. It uses Iranian-made strike drones to make up for the lost money, but it’s not clear how many more it could acquire.
US intelligence agencies do not have accurate estimates of Russia’s precision-guided munitions inventory, including cruise missiles and drones. I’m having a hard time manufacturing additional weapons because of this.
With equipment problems and an influx of newly recruited soldiers who need training, Russia likely wants to use the winter moratorium to rebuild, American officials said.
“For Ukraine, winter conditions will make logistics of conventional operations to retake territory more difficult, but the lack of vegetation and other cover means advancing with limited armor,” said a Royal Institution analyst. “For a demoralized and ill-positioned Russia, winter is likely to result in further demoralization and significant casualties from exposure.”
“We should expect both sides to exchange fire,” said Carl, a senior Pentagon official. He added, “The Russians seem intent on continuing to hurl cruise missiles and Iranian drones at Ukrainian civilian infrastructure.”
Moscow may keep it, he said.