History has proved time and time again that you do not launch an invasion near or during Rasputitsa, which is a Russian term used to describe the muddy seasons of fall and spring where heavy rain or thawing snow makes travel on unpaved roads nearly impossible. Napoleon took note of Rasputitsa and waited until the summer to launch his invasion of Russia in 1812. However, by the time his forces were retreating from Moscow in the fall, the mud season began, slowing down movements to a crawl and eventually trapping the ill prepared French forces in an unforgiving Russian winter. During World War II, a Rasputitsa stalled Germany’s advance on Moscow in the fall of 1941 during Operation Barbarossa, allowing for Soviet forces to bolster their defenses and receive reinforcements. The failures of Operation Barbarossa highlighted one key aspect of modern warfare: Tanks and mechanized forces cannot traverse mud effectively, thus any attempts for an invasion must be done so in the dead of winter, when the ground is frozen, or in the summer when there is no mud. The window of success is small, as any delays that push operations close to fall or spring run the risk of being stuck in the mud, literally.
#Ukraine: Invade in the mud season they said, it will be fine they said. pic.twitter.com/aRNTuPRiYk
— Oryx (@oryxspioenkop) March 11, 2022
Now looking at Russia, the build up of forces along the border of Ukraine started in Spring of 2021. By late January, NATO and Western intelligence assessed that Russia had enough forces needed to launch an invasion. Peak ground freeze was set to occur by mid-February (the 16th to be exact), making it the most opportune time to move armored forces over the border, but it didn’t happen. At this time the Olympics were underway in China, which many believed was a main reason why operations did not commence. While disputed, Western intelligence believed that Chinese President Xi Jinping asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to hold off until the Olympics finished. Whether or not this is true, the invasion did not kick off until February 24. Rasputitsa has historically begun around mid-March, so a late February start is cutting it close already. However, something happened that was out of Russia’s control and somewhat unexpected: Rasputitsa came early this year following an already mild winter.
Column of #Russian tanks all stuck in the mud in #ukraine #StopPutin #russianinvasion #????????? #UkraineWar #RussiaInvadedUkraine pic.twitter.com/7iBdhmtD0k
— James (@ontherightside0) March 10, 2022
It is also important to note that while Ukrainian roadways have also come a long way from where they were at in 1940 with the expansion of paved highways, the quality is amongst the worst in the world, with the World Economic Forum ranking them 132nd. Ukraine is also a massive agricultural nation, with most of its land being dedicated to farming with a large expansive network of dirt roads. Troop movements and fighting are also never exclusively carried out on paved surfaces. With that, Russian forces were quickly met with mud in many aspects and while armored vehicles today perform much better than that of WWII, they still ran into issues. Like any conflict in the 21st century, much of it is record on social media. There have been increasing instances of Russian vehicles being trapped in mud, whether it be in open fields or on the sides of roads, and abandoned. This plays into a larger logistical problem Russia appears to be facing with its current invasion, specifically with a lack of recovery vehicles being utilized.
??????? Tor 9K330 air defense system stuck in the mud and deserted in Chernihiv region.#Ukraine #Russia pic.twitter.com/PIo12FmKeh
— The RAGE X – Conflict News (@theragex) March 6, 2022
While I must note that Russian advancements were slow, but steady in the initial week of the conflict, things have largely stalled on most fronts (with the exception of Russian forces moving up from Crimea). There is a lot at play with the stallings, much of which is due to resistance at major population centers, but logistics also appears to be playing a large role as well. Any invasion will run into the issue of advancing past your logistical or supply line capabilities. It also does not help that Ukrainian special forces or drone strikes are strategically targeting supply lines and fuel convoys behind the frontlines. There has been a lot of talk about Russian forces facing fuel issues, which are exacerbated by, you guessed it, mud. All and all, Russia knows about Rasputitsa, considering they deal with it twice a year on their own, but in an invasion there is no way to get around it. While the mud is by no means the main issue plaguing their advancements, it is a thorn in their ass that will continue to get worse and play into other issues they are facing. Movements, logistics, fuel; these are all impacted by mud. Rasputitsa won’t last forever, but it came at a time most critical during an invasion. Every moment you are stuck in mud is a moment you are either vulnerable to attack or not making progress. In Russia’s case, most of Ukraine is rural, so they will likely hit a wall with making any further advancements in these areas until the mud season is over, but waiting costs money and manpower.
#Ukraine: Two T-80BV tanks, which got stuck in the mud, was abandoned by the Russian army in #Chernihiv Oblast. pic.twitter.com/PS42ekjO8e
— ?? Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) March 11, 2022