When the two most senior military and intelligence officials in Washington make the same obvious error
in public three times in three weeks, you have to wonder what they are really up to. Can it just be simple
ignorance, or do they have a hidden agenda?
First up was General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He caused quite a stir on 9
November by saying that the slowdown in the fighting in Ukraine as winter arrives may create “a window…of opportunity for negotiation.”
“There has to be a mutual recognition that a military victory is probably…not achievable through military
means,” he added.
Milley’s remarks caused a considerable uproar, as he seemed to be pushing Ukraine to abandon its stated
goal of recovering all the territory conquered by Russia. Instead, Kyiv should settle for the best deal it can get while it still has the advantage militarily. He was back at it a week later. Once again he pointed
out that the approach of winter, when pace of combat is expected to slow, could provide “a window” for a political solution — as pushing Russia out of Ukraine completely would be “a very difficult task.”
Then it was the turn of US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, who told the annual Reagan
National Defence Forum in California on Saturday that “We’re seeing a kind of a reduced tempo already of the conflict… and we expect that’s likely to be what we see in the coming months.”
She didn’t drop the other shoe and say that Ukraine should therefore start negotiating for a compromise
deal now, but the same amateur mistake was driving her argument.
Repeat after me: winter is the best time for war-fighting in Ukraine (and in Russia). The very worst time for fighting in Ukraine is the spring ‘rasputitsa’ (mud season), when rain and melting snow make off-road movement almost impossible for about two months.
Summer is a good time for fighting, because the ground is dry, the weather is warm, and visibility is good. The autumn rasputitsa (October-November) slows thing down a lot, but it’s not as bad as the spring one.
And then comes winter. Yes, it’s cold, but so what? The ground will be frozen hard within another week or ten days, and the next three months will be ideal for rapid off-road movement, including across frozen rivers. For classic armoured thrusts, in other words, and we are likely to see some of that, at least from the Ukrainian side.
So the question on the table right now is: are Milley and Haines just ignorant about the basic historical realities of ground war in eastern Europe or are they deliberately misrepresenting things? And if so, who are they trying to fool?
Not the Ukrainians, obviously. They know how their own climate really works. The Western public? That’s
There is no doubt that the White House, and indeed NATO as a whole, are keeping the Ukrainians on a short leash. They are genuinely worried that Kyiv will win too big, and trigger a Russian escalation to nuclear war. If they’re planning to betray the Ukrainians, they need an argument that says they can’t win anyway.
But frankly, I don’t believe this particular conspiracy theory. Whereas I have no difficulty whatever in
believing that sheer ignorance is driving this whole weird sub-plot about a winter pause in the fighting.