As Western officials indicate that Russia will try to halt its war in Ukraine during winter, Ukraine may have “no choice” but to continue its own push against Russian aggression during the coldest season of the year, according to experts.
Speaking at a Financial Times Global Boardroom event on Wednesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia was “trying to freeze the conflict” to “regroup and launch a bigger offensive later on.” This is because “Ukraine now has the momentum” in the lasting war, he added.
Newsweek was not able to independently confirm that Russia is planning a winter “freeze,” and reached out to Russia’s Defense Ministry for confirmation and comment.
Dan Soller, former U.S. Army intelligence colonel, agrees that Russia appears to be trying to put the war on hold. He told Newsweek that it was important for Ukraine to maintain its pressure on Russia during the winter as Russia aims to regroup in preparation for launching a renewed offensive later on.
“The Ukrainians have no choice but to continue the offensive,” Soller said.
Ukraine has seen success in recent months conducting counteroffensives on several fronts, such as the eastern and southern zones. Though some initially believed Russia would quickly secure victory when it invaded Ukraine on February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday, more than nine months after he launched the war, that the conflict could take a long time.
Stoltenberg stressed the importance Wednesday of continuing to provide military aid to Ukraine because the war-torn country’s performance on the ground is consequential for any future negotiations with Russia.
“Most wars, and most likely also this war, will end at the negotiating table,” Stoltenberg said. “But we know that what happens around that table is absolutely dependent on the situation on the battlefield. So if you want an outcome of those negotiations, which ensures that Ukraine prevails as a sovereign, independent nation, we need to provide military support to Ukraine.
“If the aggressor wins, that will not give us a lasting peace,” he continued. “So the paradox is that the more we want a peaceful negotiated solution ensuring that Ukraine prevails, the more urgent it is that we provide military support for Ukraine to create the conditions for a just, lasting peace in Ukraine.”
Soller said there were several reasons that Ukraine must continue its offensive even if Russia attempts to carry out a “freeze.”
On one hand, this is because the West is expecting Ukraine to do something with all of the equipment and aid it has provided, Soller said. Additionally, continuing to keep the offensive pressure on Russia can help give Ukrainians “heart” as they deal with Russian missile attacks, and keep Putin’s army off-balance.
“If you give the Russians the opportunity to set defensive positions over the winter, they’ll just get hardened in” and form new lines that will be “very difficult” for Ukraine to attack, Soller said.
He added that Ukraine “won’t” and “can’t” continue operations everywhere in the conflict during the winter. Some of the places it might continue its offensive push is in the east, the Kherson region and maybe even the Zaporizhzhia quadrant in southeastern Ukraine, Soller said.
William Courtney, adjunct senior fellow at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Rand Corporation, also told Newsweek that Ukraine would be smart to continue pressing on with attacks in light of a Russian pause.
“[Ukraine is] going to be frozen sometime soon, so that will be an opportune time for mechanized warfare, particularly for wheeled vehicles,” said Courtney, who is also a former U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan, Georgia and a U.S.-Soviet nuclear testing commission.
“The battlefield momentum now is with Ukraine,” Courtney said, and it would not be in Ukraine’s interest to give up this momentum. Additionally, allowing Russia the time to regroup over the winter can allow it to better prepare its soldiers for future battle.
Russia may try to “camouflage” this intent by making peace proposals in the meantime to press Ukraine to negotiate, but Russia hasn’t signaled any “serious interest” in negotiations, Courtney added.
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