NewsSudden weather change in Ukraine: Will it alter the course of the war?

Sudden weather change in Ukraine: Will it alter the course of the war?

Sudden weather breakdown at the front in Ukraine.
Sudden weather breakdown at the front in Ukraine.
Images source: © Getty Images | 2023 Anadolu, Ozge Elif Kizil

7:41 AM EST, December 2, 2023

A storm in the Black Sea has destroyed Russian fortifications in Crimea. With mud slowing down land operations considerably, the weather plays a significant role in the war's progression.

War operations in Ukraine have come to a standstill again due to weather conditions. Both sides had been preparing for this for several months, with logistics beginning preparations in the summer by assembling winter equipment. However, an unexpected weather shift towards the end of November has grounded aviation and drones over the front. Almost all Russian ships have vanished from the Black Sea, and coastal fortifications in Crimea have been ravaged.

A powerful cyclone from Greece traveling along the Black Sea's coast has caused havoc. It inflicted substantial damage as it formed. In the Aegean Sea, gusty winds and waves sank a freighter. When the storm reached Ukraine, it primarily hit the Odesa area.

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Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko reported that rescue services assisted 1,624 individuals who were either injured or stranded. He further added that 10 people died, and 23 suffered serious injuries across Ukraine due to the weather turmoil.

The adverse weather conditions not only affected southern Ukraine but also caused disruptions in the central and northern parts of the country. Snowstorms paralyzed the country's normal functioning. However, they also substantially limited Russian drone attacks and missile maneuvering.

Ships retreat to ports

As recent as the morning of November 28, the Russians had two corvettes and one frigate in the Black Sea. The smaller corvettes hadn't ventured out to sea for days due to high water levels, rendering them unable to perform their tasks. The same applied to transport ships supplying the garrison in Crimea.

By the afternoon, all ships had returned to bases. According to a statement from the Southern Operational Command, "There is a severe storm at sea; all vessels, particularly enemy missile warships, were ordered to return to base."

The predicament faced by the Russian sailors illustrates that smaller units struggle to operate in challenging weather conditions. Larger ships fare better. However, the Russian Black Sea Fleet only has three Burevestnik frigates and two old Krivak-type patrol boats.

The remaining vessels are small Buyan-M, Karakurt corvettes, or Vasily Bykov patrol boats, which, according to seafarers, "rock even on mere dew". As a result, these kinds of ships can't fire at targets in Ukraine due to high waves and gusty winds. Nonetheless, no ships would have coped with such a powerful storm.

Coastal destruction

The storm also damaged Russian fortifications and port infrastructure along the Black Sea coast. In Sevastopol, mooring masts and barriers that protected the port from Ukrainian drones were destroyed. Ukrainian intelligence estimates that repairs will take at least a few days.

Another issue is the sea mines detached from their anchors, which the Russians used for mining the approaches to Ukrainian ports, mainly in Odesa. Exercise mines from a nearby testing ground have already been discovered near Sevastopol.

Soon, mines will probably begin to appear on the western coast of Ukraine and then on the coasts of Romania and Bulgaria, drifting in those directions with the sea currents.

The storm hampered coastal fortifications on the beaches of the occupied Crimea and near Berdyansk. Russians constructed field fortifications right by the seaside. The storm's intensity washed away the first-line fortress, with the water penetrating the inland, destroying the rear coastal artillery positions.

Land warfare

The American Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reported that "despite challenging weather conditions, both Russian and Ukrainian forces are persisting with land attacks in Ukraine, albeit at a slower pace, due to snow and poor visibility."

Colonel Oleksandr Shtupun, press spokesman for the Ukrainian Southern Group of Forces, reported a reduction in artillery fire and use of circling ammunition by the Russians in their sector of responsibility.

The American perspective predicts that in the coming weeks, challenging winter conditions will force both sides to focus primarily on infantry land attacks, hindered by the inability to use aviation and correct artillery fire with drones.

The breakdown in weather caused significant problems in Zaporizhia and Kherson Oblasts. The Donetsk sector has slightly better weather conditions. But the usage of heavy equipment is limited by the rasputitsa – the ubiquitous mud that makes even light equipment get stuck.

"Through the freedom and independence of Ukraine, our people show their strength and character, despite the weather and conditions," emphasized Volodymyr Zelensky, commenting on the rough weather conditions.

The weather's impact on warfare

Sudden shifts in weather have often swayed the course of warfare or paused the frontlines for several months. Historically, Typhoon Kamikaze saved Japan from the Mongol invasion in 1274 and 1281. In 1944, Typhoon Cobra significantly damaged the American fleet under Admiral William Halsey.

During that same year in December, the defenders of Bastogne were isolated from the world as aviation couldn't deliver supplies and support the defense. Notably, the Germans commenced their counteroffensive in the Ardennes when weather conditions grounded the Allied aircraft.

In the context of the war in Ukraine, the weather is likely to limit land operations but primarily, it might ground aircraft and fleets for an extended period, thus reducing attacks on Ukrainian cities. Currently, this is highly significant considering the damage storms have inflicted on critical infrastructure.

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