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Politics

In Russia’s Ukraine Plans, How Much Does the Mud Matter?

February 14, 2022

MOSCOW — The Russian expression “tanks don’t fear mud” is common enough that it’s been the title of a short-lived Russian television series and can be found stenciled on car windows.

And it’s yet another reason why any Russian decision to invade Ukraine is likely to depend very little upon fears that a spring thaw will hinder tanks from crossing boggy ground. Russia’s military has, in addition to tanks and other armored vehicles that are well equipped for mud, a range of fighter jets and missiles that are the hallmarks of any modern military.

U.S. President Joe Biden has said that Russia is essentially in position for an invasion of Ukraine “assuming that the ground is frozen above Kyiv,” the Ukrainian capital that is only 75 kilometers (47 miles) from the border of Belarus, a key Russian ally. It’s not the first time an American official has invoked Russia’s need for frozen ground to stage an invasion.

FILE – In this grab taken from video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022, a Russian tanks roll during a military exercising at a training ground in Rostov region, Russia. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP, File)

But analysts trying to figure out how Russia could invade say any assault would start with air and missile strikes, likely targeting Ukrainian military sites.

“If (Russian President Vladimir) Putin agrees to an invasion, then it won’t be tanks or ships in the vanguard, but rather aircraft and missile forces. The first targets for them will be air defense systems and the missile defense force, command posts, critical infrastructure, after which the advantage of Russian forces in the air and upper hand on land and sea are guaranteed,” said Mykola Sunhurovskyi, a military analyst at the Kyiv-based Razumkov Center think tank.

Some Ukrainian analysts have acknowledged that the country’s air defenses are insufficient in case of a massive Russian assault. Kyiv has prodded its Western allies to provide the country with modern air defense systems in addition to ground combat weapons provided by the U.S., Britain and others.

Sunhorovskyi said “the only deterrent is the West’s position and the readiness of millions of Ukrainians to fight to the end.”

The Kremlin, which has denied having any Ukraine invasion plans, has scoffed at an argument that it wants to see the ground frozen to launch an attack on Ukraine. Ukrainian officials agree that frozen ground or mud isn’t an issue.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pointed at the argument to taunt British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss following their icy talks in Moscow on Thursday.

“They say that Russia is waiting for the ground to freeze like a stone so that tanks could easily roll into Ukrainian territory,” Lavrov told reporters. “The ground was like that with our British colleagues, with numerous facts we cited bouncing off them.”

Konstantin Sivkov, a Russian military analyst, said even if there were a ground incursion, Russian battle tanks are significantly lighter than Western armored vehicles and don’t get bogged down.

“Our tanks are much better suited for advancing on muddy terrain, there is nothing to worry about,” Sivkov said in remarks carried by the FAN news outlet. “A thaw can only stop Western tanks.”

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