As the clock and nature become allies to determine the next four to six weeks of the war in Ukraine, supporters of Ukraine are rushing military supplies to Kyiv while quietly brainstorming on how to defy history and keep Ukraine’s current military progress grinding forward through the muddy fields of fall and the withering cold of winter.
“They are going to slow down soon (to prepare) for the winter, but they don’t stop,” Mark Cancian, a senior adviser with the CSIS International Security Program, said in an interview.
He said the deep winter could “give both sides a chance to catch their breathe and If that happen I think it will help the Russians more than the Ukrainians.”
Now, Cancian noted that “it’s a race to see which one can” make the most gains before the bad weather hits.
This changing season and resolute shifts in tactical terrains could give the Russians another shot as something they have thrown away during much of this war: an advantage.
It may come down to foot warmers.
Many forget that the fighting in the Donbas — part of eastern Ukraine — has been ongoing since 2014. That has been a four season drudge, but it left the Russian with some key pieces of knowledge – especial how to keep their troops warm, dry, and — in theory — ready to fight, or at least defend dug-in fortifications.
As part of its ongoing attempt to modernize its military, the Russian military began supplying foot warmers — much like those used by sports fans attending outdoor events in cold weather — in 2014 to troops in the Donbas.
This was a continuation of the modernization of footwear started in 2007, when the Russian defense ministry ordered socks and lace-up army boots for soldiers. That replaced soldiers wrapping their feet in strips of cloth – flannel in the winter, cotton in the summer – then covering them with boots.
The Ukrainians have yet to issue foot warmers to troops, requiring officers to rotate their forces out of the cold every hour or so.
In the shipment of winter supplies sent by the Pentagon to the Ukraine military, there are approximately 50,000 parkas, approximately 4,700 trousers, and 39,000 fleece hats as well as more than 23,000 boots, 18,000 gloves, and 6,000 tents — but no foot warmers.
In addition to this recent U.S. commitment, eight other announced new donations of cold weather gear at the most recent Ukraine Defense Contact Group on October 12. This includes a Canadian commitment of hats, gloves, boots, and parkas valued at $15 million, the Pentagon said.
Again, no foot warmers.
Not threatened by the extreme cold is Ukraine’s Cold War-vintage arsenal, a testimony to the rugged reliability of old Soviet and Russia weapons. And Ukrainians know how to use them.
As Brig Gen. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon spokesperson, wryly noted at a recent briefing: “I will highlight that, in some cases, you know, the Russians themselves have contributed a significant number of tanks to the Ukrainian military.”