Defining the Mission: Ukraine’s 2023–2024 Winter Campaign

Survive, Deplete and Destroy

Shankar Narayan

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Winter War (Licensed Image)

Vladimir Putin started the war in winter 2022. He was the only one who knew what he was up to. His over prepared army invaded a nation with unprepared forces. Winter is a double edged sword that can slice both ways, and the second best army in the world was brought to standstill for overestimating its abilities, conditions and underestimating the enemy.

In the previous winter, Russia faced a pivotal moment after experiencing major losses in Kharkiv and Kherson. Under General Surovikin’s command, the Russian military shifted to a defensive strategy, constructing extensive defensive fortifications across the occupied areas, particularly in Southern Ukraine. However, the dynamics changed unexpectedly on January 11th with General Gerasimov’s appointment as the new chief commander. Following this change in leadership, Russian forces aggressively switched to an offensive approach. Despite these efforts, the outcomes were underwhelming. For eleven months, the Russian military failed to secure any significant territorial gains, not capturing a single town.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and General Gerasimov, both staunch supporters of Putin, have strengthened their control over Russia’s military hierarchy. General Ivan Popov, the commander of the 58th Combined Arms Army, which has been engaged in heavy fighting in the Zaporizhzhia region, was dismissed from his position after he requested additional equipment and sought approval to rotate his troops.

Popov said he had raised questions about “the lack of counter-battery combat, the absence of artillery reconnaissance stations and the mass deaths and injuries of our brothers from enemy artillery.” He was dismissed for the infraction of informing the Russian high command about his requirements for victory.

In this newly established Russian command and control system, there is no room for disagreement. The expectation is clear: follow orders as given. Failure to do so not only leads to being held responsible for any shortcomings but also results in termination from duty.

I doubt this Russian army will gain new ground in its winter offensive, though there’s a slight chance they might manage to maintain their current…

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Shankar Narayan

He didn't care what he had or what he had left, he cared only about what he must do.