For centuries, Russia has relied on its harsh winter weather to push back invaders. But as summer begins to fall in Ukraine, it may be Russian forces that find themselves on the losing side of the “rasputitsa” — the wet, muddy period caused by snowmelt in the spring and heavy rainfall in the fall.
The rasputitsa, also known as “General Mud” or “Marshal Mud”, is well known to military historians. During Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812, French soldiers were unable to effectively retreat to muddy country roads. More than a century later, during World War II, Adolf Hitler’s tanks and trucks sputtered in waist-deep mud as they tried to push through to Moscow. Jason Lyall, a government professor at Dartmouth, told the start of the invasion that rasputitsa was one of the “the four horsemen of the ukrainian army”, in addition to portable anti-tank and surface-to-air missiles.
When the Kremlin began its brutal invasion in February, the issue of how rasputitsa would influence the battle plans of the invading Russian army was a hot topic. Alyssa Demus, a senior policy analyst at the Rand Corp., told Yahoo News in March that the Russian military may find navigating Ukraine’s roads more difficult than they expected.
“They’re either dirt roads, or they’re incredibly potholed,” Demus said of the roads in Ukraine. “It’s important to remind people that when we talk about moving heavy infrastructure or heavy machinery over this kind of long distances, a tank can destroy a well-built western road depending on its weight, profile and other factors. “
And there were many photos circulating on social media of abandoned Russian tanks in the six months of the invasion. According to the open source intelligence organization Oryx, 315 tanks have been left behind so far, although in some cases the cause of their abandonment remains unknown.
But what about when rasputitsa arrives in the fall? Yahoo News spoke with military strategist and retired Australian Army Major General Mick Ryan and analysts at Defense intelligence provider Janes about the impending threat of rasputita’s arrival.
“I don’t think it’s going to have the same impact in the fall as it did in the spring,” Ryan said. “If we look at the climate there, it turns out – especially in Ukraine, where spring” [sees] melting snow – it has a greater impact than, for example, in the fall. I don’t think it’s as likely in the fall as it is in the spring.”
A Janes analyst told Yahoo News that fall weather would likely “slow down the pace of the war,” but they agreed it wouldn’t have the same “dramatic effect as last spring.”
“Right now, the Russians and Ukrainians are likely vying for territory in the belief that any terrain they take before the end of summer will be safe for reconquest all winter if the war stalls further,” Janes’s analyst said.
“Once autumn arrives, life will become more difficult for the infantry, supplies for the last mile will become more difficult in the more rural fronts, and artillery will find it more difficult to move around to apply ‘shoot-and-scoot’ tactics. to fit. This will make the use of artillery more dangerous for both sides.”
With regard to vehicles that get stuck, analysts said both the Ukrainian and Russian armed forces will be more wary when driving vehicles off-road, choosing to stay still rather than risking vehicles in to lose the mud.
But with just weeks to go before fall, are both sides preparing for rasputitsa? Ryan says they do, as they’ve been “fighting and operating here for hundreds and hundreds of years.”
“Before trucks, there were carts and horses and people and they all have a problem with mud,” he added, “It doesn’t mean it’s easy, but they have ways of dealing with it.”