When people hear the term “hypothermia,” they tend to picture travelers trapped in endless snowdrifts, or huddling on some high ridge of a mountain whipped by raging gales. But it doesn’t take extreme conditions to put people into extreme duress.
Last Tuesday, what should have been a relatively simple hike at Zion National Park by a healthy couple in their early 30’s, turned into tragedy when temperatures dropped and both were incapacitated by hypothermia. One of them died.
A few years ago, three hikers—a father and his two young sons—died within a few miles of my home when they took a wrong turn hiking in the Ozarks and got caught out in a cold rain. It was 65°F (18°C) when they started out, before falling into the 40s. Hypothermia can set in at temperatures well above freezing when conditions are bad. Add wind. Add rain. Add prolonged exposure. Many cases of hypothermia occur at temperatures where people might not even think to reach for a jacket.
But death is only the final act of hypothermia. Well before that last act there is a classic suite of symptoms: exhaustion, confusion, loss of coordination, loss of memory, slurred speech, extreme drowsiness. Put all this together, and it could explain what’s happening with Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.
One of the subjects we’ve returned to over and over since Vladimir Putin launched his illegal invasion of Ukraine is how Russia’s culture of thievery and corruption has left their army short at every point. Whether it’s supposedly amphibious vehicles sinking into rivers because their seals haven’t been serviced, or rows of trucks left idle by rotting tires, funds that were supposed to go to maintaining Russian equipment went into the pocket of some colonel, general, or oligarch. Electronics, and even engines, have been stripped out of tanks.
Many of Russia’s supposed wonder weapons including the Su-57 jet, have been barely present in the fight because Russia has so few operational systems that it doesn’t dare risk them. The T-14 Armata tank, which first rolled out for a Victory Day Parade in 2014, has yet to take the field. Only a handful of T-90 tanks, which started production in 1992, have been seen in Ukraine. T-62 tanks dating from the 1960s, and even T-55 tanks from the 1950s, have been far more common.
That’s all just the big equipment. But the more obvious shortfall of the Russian supply chain isn’t the seen in the aging hardware rolling slowly down the roads. It’s the people standing in the mud.
It’s not just outdated helmets and summer-weight uniforms that are the issue. Russian forces have been told they need to bring their own sleeping bags. They’ve been making tents out of plastic wrap.
There’s absolutely no doubt that both Russian and Ukrainian forces are existing in miserable conditions, especially on the long established front lines where trench warfare has become unspeakable during the fall mud season. As temperatures in Ukraine drift ever lower, forces on both sides are left dealing with a half-frozen muddy slush, saturated clothing, and days of spitting snow and icy rain.
However, Ukrainian forces seem to be doing an infinitely better job at obtaining what they need to fight under these conditions, as well as creating conditions where people can at least temporarily get out of the freezing mud, to warm up and have a hot meal.
On the other hand, Russia seems to be doing little to assure decent conditions for its troops on the front lines, especially in the area around Bakhmut, where Russia has resorting to throwing a near constant set of human waves at the entrenched Ukrainian positions. (Which is why the Ukrainian military continues to report over 500 Russian deaths a day.)
But in the last couple of weeks, there has been something just … weird. Video after video in which Russian forces barely seem to react to imminent threats. In general, Daily Kos avoids posting images or videos in which people are clearly being killed or severely injured. This is an exception, because it’s not just genuinely odd, it’s an example of a whole class of similar videos.
Ukraine correspondent Tom Warner has the same conclusion after showing this video that we’ve been walking through here—these men are freezing to death. Their body temperatures have lowered to the point where they are so incapable of motion that even a bomb landing in their midst isn’t a reason to stir.
And it’s still November.
Russia keeps making statements about how armies have always made the mistake of attacking Russia in winter as if, somehow, this is a portable defense. But now it’s Russia that is away from home, trying to occupy an area in bitter conditions at the end of overstrained supply lines. They are going to lose so, so many men this winter.
This doesn’t mean that every foolish action by Russians in Ukraine at this point is fueled by hypothermia. They are not. Russia took plenty of boneheaded actions when the weather was warm, and there have even been videos of Russians behaving not too dissimilar to the group above over many months. But there does seem to be a special cluster of WTF going on along the eastern front at the moment, and a bad case of chilled down brains seems as good an explanation as any.
RUSSIA’S DESPERATE MISSILE GAMBLE
As of late November, Russia seems even more fixed on destroying Ukrainian infrastructure. Those attacks, waged with both missiles and drones, have done billions of dollars in damage and left cities from Kyiv to Lviv in the dark for many hours of the day. However, Ukraine’s other army — the one composed of electricians, carpenters, and construction crews, remains on the job. Many of the damaged substations around Kyiv have now been repaired and the government is expecting increased hours of power over the next week.
Electricity has even been restored to Kherson, where on Saturday the lights went back on in some hospitals and other critical infrastructure. Crews are now working on restoring power to individual homes. Ukraine is even getting assistance from what may be an unexpected source — a member of Russia’s crumbling CSTO alliance.
Destroying Ukrainian civilian infrastructure for the express purpose of attempting to freeze the populace into accepting Russian occupation is a war crime. However, that’s not Russia’s biggest problem with this strategy. The biggest problem is that it’s becoming increasingly ineffective.
Even as Russia releases more and more drones / missiles at a time, Ukraine is getting better at shooting them down. Some of that is made possible by new air defense systems that have appeared in Ukrainian cities. Some of it is simply more experience in using existing weapons against the ubiquitous Shahed-136 drone. All of which is leading Russia into what seems like an incredibly desperate measure. That measure can be found in this update from the British MOD.
Go read that again. Russia is taking AS-15 missiles, removing the nuclear warhead, and sticking on a block of something to act as a counterweight to keep the missile flying as designed. Then its throwing this dead weight at Ukraine. It would definitely be unpleasant to be in a house or apartment building hit by one of these things, as that weight on the end is about 410kg (900lbs).
But the biggest reason Russia is launching these is just to put something else in the air. They’re just decoys sent in the hopes that they’ll allow another missile to get through against Ukraine’s constantly improving rate of shoot-downs.
Russia is cannibalizing it’s nuclear arsenal to provide decoys in hopes of taking out electrical substations in Ukraine. That’s pretty amazing.
THESE TANKS ARE NOT ABOUT TO SAVE RUSSIA IS SVATOVE
This video of a column of roughly 40 Russian T-80U tanks has been posted multiple times in the last few days with claims that it is moving “in the direction of Svatove.” However, there’s no reason to think this image is from that area, or even from this year. None of the tanks seems to be marked with a “Z” or any of the other identifying symbols that have been used in this war. The cars that are mingled in the mix either have no plate, or the very wide plate characteristic of the Russian federation. In any case, Russia has already lost at least 89 documented T-80U and another 176 T-80BV tanks since the invasion began.
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