Image ID 2JDWP4W Vladimir Putin and Russia flag 230622 EXP 041123 CREDIT JHG, Alamy Stock Photo.jpg
Vladimir Putin pictured in front of a Russian flag (Picture: JHG / Alamy Stock Photo).

Opinion: Putin is stuck in the mud like Hitler

Image ID 2JDWP4W Vladimir Putin and Russia flag 230622 EXP 041123 CREDIT JHG, Alamy Stock Photo.jpg
Vladimir Putin pictured in front of a Russian flag (Picture: JHG / Alamy Stock Photo).

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon OBE, a veteran British Army officer and former commanding officer of the UK's Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Regiment and Nato's Rapid Reaction CBRN Battalion, believes Putin is making the same mistakes Adolf Hitler made during the Second World War as Russia's new offensive falters in Ukraine.

In this opinion piece, the retired Colonel examines why Russia is failing to make the expected breakthroughs in this much-touted, large-scale operation against the Ukrainians.

In muddy February, Putin launched an offensive of mass-mobilised men to deliver a knockout blow to the Ukrainians. 

The West held its breath to see if the Ukrainians could hang on. 

But the Russians were bogged down, its gains falling far short of their objectives.

No, this is not 2022, it's 2023 and Russia's new offensive is faltering. 

It's failing to make the expected breakthroughs in this much-touted large-scale operation against the Ukrainians.

But why? 

Because Putin is making the same mistakes that stymied his first offensive last year – WW1 tactics against a 21st Century, well-equipped, well-trained, and highly motivated army.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon (Picture: BFBS).
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a veteran British Army officer and former commanding officer of the UK's Joint CBRN Regiment and Nato's Rapid Reaction CBRN battalion.

The softening ground and subsequent mud in Ukraine are doing the same for Putin's adventurism as it did for another autocratic dictator during Operation Barbarossa in World War II. 

Hitler overstretched his forces in 1941 as Putin is doing in 2023. 

Both threw huge numbers of soldiers into a fight, both were unconcerned by casualties and collateral damage and for both, it was and will be their strategic undoing.

Psychologically, the spring should have a positive impact on troops after months of bitter cold and long nights. 

The better the morale of troops, the higher the impact and so expect more benefit for the Ukrainian troops, who are fighting for their country rather than being pressganged to pile out of trenches like lemmings to the slaughter. 

The Russians' only answer seems to be to throw increasing amounts of human flesh at Ukrainian bullets, a tactic most dismissed more than 100 years ago as suicide. 

Watch: What impact could mud have on the war in Ukraine?

Imagine yourself as a Russian soldier: you know you're being thrown into a meat grinder with rusty weapons, no training and poor, inexperienced commanders. 

No army can fight effectively in that context. 

Putin's only hope is that the West will eventually run out of ammunition. 

This clearly is not going to happen and one must pray that the Russian people realise this before they run out of conscripts and devastate the youth of Russia.

The early part of the spring and thawing ground will make life more difficult for the Russian attackers, especially on foot, as the heavy mud will slow them even more, making them even easier targets. 

Attacking in the mud is likely to be more carnage for the Russians. 

For armoured vehicles, especially Russian ones, the mud will hamper them in March; Russian vehicles have very low ground clearance and so are easily bogged down.

Image ID 2NRNKDF Ukrainian soldier muddy conditions EXP 041123 CREDIT Alamy
A Ukrainian soldier in muddy conditions (Picture: Alamy).

Conversely, western tanks like CR2 and Leopard 2 have much higher ground clearance and will be less affected by the mud.    

The mud will quickly dry out in the spring and by April/May should be packed hard and ideal for decisive manoeuvre warfare. 

Western tanks in numbers are expected from the end of March when conditions for armoured warfare, shock action, and lightning tank strikes will favour Ukrainian offensives. 

Ukrainian armoured strikes will look to bypass Russian positions and get behind them, rather than full frontal assaults to slug it out, which is the best the poorly trained Russian troops appear to be able to do. 

Importantly, Western tanks give the Ukrainian army the ability to fight at night, with their exceptionally good night sights which will give them a considerable advantage over the Russians. 

Camouflage will be key, as will well-trained troops to execute complex moves. 

It appears Ukraine is doing a lot of training and Russia not much. 

Mud in Ukraine 03032023 Daily Forces News TN Credit UKR Forces
Mud in Ukraine (Picture: Ukraine Forces).

Better weather will enable more use of air power. 

But do not bet on the Russian air force, either: clearer skies mean it is easier to shoot down their aircraft. 

The clearer skies will help drones on both sides, but it will also help western intelligence assets which appear to be giving key intelligence for deep strikes by Himars and other assets; expect more Russian HQs and logistic hubs to be hit. 

Russian strategic intelligence appears poor compared to Nato's. 

I expect there is another story here as to why it is not functioning.    

One of two things is happening.  

Either Putin is playing for time – waiting for Western resolve to crack – or he is being lied to regarding the reality. 

Either way, we are seeing the same Russia one year on, and there is no reason to think his armies will not meet the same fate.  

Watch: How will the bad weather affect the war in Ukraine?

I expect Ukraine troops to dominate the spring and summer and we will need to watch very closely at how Putin might respond, especially on the nuclear and chemical front. 

Already there is much talk this week by the Russians of false flag chemical attacks. 

I personally believe his tactical nuclear are unusable – they may not work and are too far away from Ukraine to be used – at least I do not expect Nato to stand idly by if a tactical nuclear weapon is readied. 

Op Barbarossa did for Hitler as I expect Op Special Military Operation will do for Putin when the mud dries out. 

Written by Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon OBE VR Former commanding officer 1st Royal Tank Regiment "Through the mud and the blood to the green fields beyond" (Motto of the Royal Tank Regiment)

Join Our Newsletter


Amazing view from RAF Voyager supporting Typhoons from XI Squadron

Gurkha recruits face chemical attack test in most arduous training to date

Veterans wear long-awaited Nuclear Test Medals in public for first time