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The UK must go further to help Ukraine to decisive victory

Volodymyr Zelensky is greeted by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (Credit: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo)

4 min read

Resolving the stalemate in Congress over the latest US military aid package for Ukraine is a big moment.

Within that package are millions of rounds of artillery ammunition and, even more importantly, the much-needed ATACMS long-range precision missile. Alongside the increased United Kingdom aid package, which equally importantly includes more Storm Shadow long-range missiles, this will mean that the defence of Ukraine’s current lines will be more sustainable – particularly as these missiles allow the Ukrainians to disrupt Russian logistics and target their command and control.

What this aid package won’t do is immediately tip the balance, allowing the Ukrainians to go on to a final offensive that brings a quick and complete victory. My expectation is that with this huge inflow of Western support we’ll see the frontlines stabilise and, while the fighting will be fierce, I don’t expect to see significant amounts of territory traded this year.

A year ago, we hoped that Ukraine might build on the success of its 2022 autumn offensive in the Kharkhiv Oblast, and break through fragile Russian lines populated by demoralised conscripts. It was always a bit of a ‘Hail Mary’ and rather ignored that military planners would expect the equipping and training of a big enough force to take years. However, the opportunity for a quick resolution was obviously desired in Kyiv as much as anywhere else, and so the sprint to equip new Ukrainian brigades began.

The offensive that followed made some progress, but with the Russian lines having been well-prepared over the winter and an enormous minefield in front, the going was slow and ultimately no decisive progress was made. Since then, small local offensives by both sides have seen an equal mix of success and failure and, concerningly, have caused some in the donor community to think that the current stalemate is the inevitable outcome. That complacency is every bit as dangerous as the defeatism that’s crept into other parts of the donor community, where some whisper that the Ukrainian cause is hopeless.

What this aid package won’t do is immediately tip the balance, allowing the Ukrainians to go on to a final offensive that brings a quick and complete victory

Vladimir Putin would have hoped that this complacency, defeatism, or both, would have spread around the donor community – catalysed by the paralysis in Congress. He may have even dared to dream that the United States might cease its aid programme altogether and that other countries would follow suit. The arrival of this material, no matter how delayed, will have an impact on the mindset in Moscow every bit as much as it will the frontline.

The ‘what’s next?’, however, still isn’t the quick and decisive offensive we hoped for in 2023. To achieve that, the Ukrainian brigades who received so much Western equipment last year, the vast majority of which still survives, need to be matched by at least the same number of brigades again and to be trained in complicated manoeuvre that synchronises their movement with artillery fire, air support and everything else that can be thrown at the Russians.

This will take time. As heroic and tenacious in their low-level tactics the Ukrainian defenders have been, brigades need to rehearse that level of manoeuvre. I see no alternative other than to deliver that training in western Ukraine.

It will be at least 2025 before that force is ready; it could even be 2026. More aid packages like the ones unveiled this week will be needed. But if we stick with Ukraine I remain as convinced as ever that they can and will win. 

And win they must, because they’re fighting for security across the whole European-Atlantic region. A stalemate or, heaven forbid a Ukrainian defeat, promises a new cold war that will last for decades and cost trillions of dollars more.

James Heappey, Conservative MP for Wells and former armed forces minister

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