Ukraine is slowly winning against Putin, the UK must show it is prepared to continue leading the support effort
2023 Kupyansk, Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine (Credit: ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo)
This week, the snow and ice returned to Ukraine. On the Black Sea, a once-in-a-century storm sent what was left of the Russian navy scuttling for shelter. Even the Crimea’s recently constructed defences were swept away. In war, winter means new challenges and new dangers as hypothermia and ice stalk the trenches and cripple equipment. The injured die in the field, cold, alone and in silence.
Renewed conflict in the Middle East serves as an awful reminder of what happens when the international community’s resolve falters.
I see commentators, many of whom have never set foot in Ukraine, preaching that the war is at a stalemate. I see media reports lazily confusing the phases of the war with an end. And I sense the gathering number of those asking, “When will it all go away? Can’t we just go back to focusing on ourselves?”
Well, the reality is that now is the time to double down on our support and not weaken our efforts. This war, and the danger from Vladimir Putin, isn’t going to disappear on its own. Putin is banking on us getting bored. It is also the very moment China will be looking at us.
Despite losing 300,000 men (dead or injured), 10,000 armoured vehicles, 2,000 tanks and whole supply chains of equipment, Putin actually thinks he is winning. He dragoons, via secret mobilisation, more souls into the fight for his legacy and glory. He is, of course, delusional and has wrecked his army and his country. But still, he wants to grind away.
All the good work done will be overtaken by other European powers if we don’t restate our commitments
Every day, Ukraine makes small gains and every day Russia loses more and more men and equipment. The conflict is grinding. Both armies are having to adapt to new warfare. Large-scale massing of armour is becoming increasingly difficult because of drones and highly accurate artillery. And all the while, Russia keeps firing Iranian UAVs into civilian areas. Like Adolf Hitler’s V1 and V2s, they are nasty and demoralising, but ultimately desperate.
Beneath the surface, the Russian army is cracking. Mass desertions, little or no medical treatment, poor training, and weak leadership are crippling Russia’s ability to try a big offensive. The only thing that holds the army together is propaganda and an almost brainwashed civilian population at home. But I predict that cannot hold indefinitely. If the West keeps up its support, keeps arming, and training and assisting Ukraine, then eventually it will be Russia that falters.
The leader of the Ukrainian military is clear on what he needs: artillery, training, air defence, electronic warfare, and UAVs. The Dutch have announced £1.75bn, as have Germany and Scandinavia. And despite reports to the contrary, the United States are committed to more. Only here in the UK is there silence.
In June, I wrote to the Prime Minister and Cabinet Office setting out the £2.6bn ask of more military aid. It was the correct amount to match previous years and to maintain the UK’s leadership. I had hoped that, by now, Parliament would be aware of next year’s pledge. But the Autumn Statement said nothing. In fact, it said the minimum on defence. The window on British defence leadership is closing. All the good work done will be overtaken by other European powers if we don’t restate our commitments.
Last December, I said to the Prime Minister that, after years of watching the threat, it was my belief that the world was getting more unstable, more anxious and more insecure - and that instability would be likely to cotinue for the next decade. Both our deterrent and our resolve will be tested, and we need to just get on and invest. To date, that commitment has not been made by either the Conservatives or Labour.
As I write, Ukraine has crossed the Dnipro and opened up a new front northwest of Crimea. They are also now able to threaten Russian bases on the peninsula. But what they need is time and equipment. They need a clear statement of our resolve to stick by them. It calls to mind the Royal Tank Regiment’s unofficial motto forged in the First World War: “From mud, through blood, to the green fields beyond.” The West can still get them there.
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