If nuclear weapons are used in Ukraine, it won’t be Russia that starts it, says Russian president Vladimir Putin – ostensibly seeking to reassure the world while also delivering an arch reminder that he does, after all, have the power to swing the world’s largest nuclear arsenal into action if he chooses.

Putin was speaking to what has been described as “his personal human rights council”, skirting for the moment the convenience of having your own human rights council when the United Nations human rights council, the OHCHR, tends to insist on paying more than lip service to awkward things such as … human rights.

The Russian president also said he thought that the war in Ukraine was becoming a lengthier operation than he had initially thought, but reassured the public that he had no plans for further mobilisation. This last point is a key message for Putin, who will have been concerned at recent internal polling conducted for the Kremlin’s Federal Guard Service (FSO) and leaked to the exiled dissident news website Meduza, that support for the war has fallen to about one in four of the population.

Natasha Lindstaedt of the University of Essex, one of whose research specialisms is the operation of authoritarian regimes, believes that while this collapse in support for the war will certainly give Putin much food for thought, the idea that his leadership is at risk – which many media outlets took as a cue for intense speculation – is, for the present at least, fanciful. Over more than two decades Putin has effectively “coup-proofed” his presidency and he has more or less complete control over Russia’s political and social elites.

But if Russia’s military continues its below-par performance on the battlefield, you can expect the level of dissatisfaction to continue to rise. Despite Russia’s attempts to destroy Ukraine’s power grids, the Ukrainian people continue to make do and mend, constantly repairing and patching up and conserving power through scheduled blackouts when needed. Scott Lucas, a professor of international affairs at the Clinton Institute, University College Dublin, explains this and various other factors which are likely to be hallmarks of the conflict as winter sets in.

Battlefields: Ukraine and Syria

Among other things, Lucas gives us a brief snapshot of the various battlefronts, chiefly in the south and east of the country. But Frank Ledwidge, a specialist in military strategy at the University of Portsmouth, drills right down into the Kinburn spit, a tiny headland at the mouth of the Dnipro river, which – he says – will be of “enormous strategic importance” over coming weeks.

A tiny strip of land about 40km long and between 4km and 12km wide, the spit’s position enable whoever controls it to command entry to the Dnipro river and also project influence south and east into the Black Sea. Its strategic importance, writes Ledwidge, explains the numerous battles that have been fought to control it over centuries.

Ledwidge believes an operation to retake it is already underway. We’ll be watching carefully in the coming days and weeks. Meanwhile – despite the accepted wisdom that fighting slows down or stops in winter in inhospitable climates such as Russia and Ukraine, some military analysts believe that Ukraine will seek to capitalise on the Russian military’s low morale and shortages of munitions to press ahead with its counteroffensives in the south and east.