[On the July 22, 2022, episode of The Bulwark’s “Beg to Differ” podcast, Tom Nichols challenged the idea that the coming winter will give Russia an advantage in its war in Ukraine.]
Mona Charen: One other question, though, about the staying power both sides: So, the energy situation is really going to be dire . . . [The war is] already . . . exacting a price from the whole world in higher energy costs. . . . And Germany, in particular, is highly, highly dependent on the Russians. And then there’s the other fact: that we have imposed what we hope are very severe sanctions on the Russian economy, but they may take time to come into full effect for lack of spare parts and so forth. It has already arguably weakened their ability to produce trucks and cars and things, which is important, and maybe even tanks. But it takes a long time for those things to come into effect—whereas winter is coming soon; that we know for sure. So, what’s your sense of the staying power of each side?
Tom Nichols: I think, actually, winter is going to be tougher on the Russians.
The energy problem is kind of a Russian ace in the hole, right—that you can choke off gas and oil and so on. The problem is that gas and oil has to go somewhere; the Russians have to do something with it.
But from a military point of view, to be the defender in your own country along internal lines of communication with nothing but allies along your western border is a reasonably good situation to be in when you’re hunkering down.
What the Russians are going to have to do is keep cycling troops in and out of these tough forward positions in bitterly cold weather. And I think one thing that we haven’t talked about enough—I mean, we in the West haven’t talked about enough—is that a lot of these Russian troops that are being sent there [are] not Russians. They’re not ethnically Russians. They’re going out, and they’re getting kids from the boondocks and some of the non-Russian areas of the Russian Federation and sending them off to the Ukrainian border. And that’s hard enough to do under the best conditions—but when a central European winter sets in, that’s going to be a lot more difficult.
The Russians outnumber the Ukrainians, but in every situation like this, the defender has a lot of natural advantages over the aggressor, who has to take territory, has to maintain forward bases, has to feed and house troops, and so on. So, my guess is that Putin is dreading the onset of winter in some ways more than everybody else.