Military expert Sean Bell has warned that Vladimir Putin is likely to push his generals to go on the offensive against Ukraine in a “desperate” bid to gain ground before winter hits. The Russian leader has been embarrassed by a series of military setbacks along multiple fronts as Ukrainian forces push back Russian troops in Kharkiv and Kherson.
Mr Bell told Sky News: “I find it fascinating because from a military perspective the Russians are losing effectively around Kherson, they are losing to the north of the Donbass region.
“And yet rather than using the Russian military that is available to plug those gaps it continues to fight in the Donbass region.
“The only explanation I can come out with for that is Putin has always described this as a Special Military Operation designed to seize the Donbass and the Crimea.
“This seems a desperate effort to actually seize the rest of the Donbass to be able to go into Winter and potentially negotiate despite however difficult that might be.
“Whatever there is a massive push at the moment to try and secure the vital ground in advance of the winter pause,” he added.
Weather forecasters in Ukraine on Thursday predicted a milder winter than usual, offering a glimmer of hope to Ukrainians facing power outages following Russian attacks on energy facilities.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said this week that air strikes had destroyed almost a third of Ukraine’s power stations since October 10, and the country is facing power outages as repair work is done.
Winters can be long and hard in Ukraine, but the state-run weather forecasting centre suggested temperatures may be slightly higher than average this winter.
“The average temperature of the winter period is expected to be 1-2 degrees (Celsius) higher than the norm… the probability of long periods of very cold weather with a minimum temperature of minus 25-30 Celsius degrees in Ukraine is very low,” it said on Facebook.
“Mostly probable short-term significant cooling lasting 1-5 days, when the minimum temperature at night will be minus 15-20 Celsius degrees,” it said.
The chief executive of Ukrainian energy firm Naftogaz said that Ukraine had a significant volume of gas in storage but would need additional imports because of problems in the electricity sector.
Ukrainian gains have forced Putin into a series of escalatory steps within the past month: the unpopular call-up of hundreds of thousands of extra troops, the unilateral annexation of the four Ukrainian regions – condemned as illegal by an overwhelming majority of nations at the U.N. General Assembly – and a threat to resort to nuclear weapons to defend what Russia sees as its own lands.
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After months of assurances from the Kremlin that the campaign was going according to plan, the increasingly urgent measures have brought the reality of the war much closer to home for many ordinary Russians.
The failings of the military and the chaotic state of the mobilisation – which prompted hundreds of thousands of men to flee abroad – have drawn unprecedented criticism even from Putin allies.
Some regions have resorted to public appeals to provide newly mobilised soldiers with basic equipment to head to the front – a problem implicitly acknowledged by Putin.