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Western indecision is turning the tide against Ukraine


4 min read

It is easy to spin how Vladimir Putin is losing this war. Ukraine has liberated half the territory occupied by Russia since its invasion exactly two years ago. He’s lost over 3,000 main battle tanks and is now emptying Russian prisons to replace almost half a million casualty on the front line.

Conversely the sheer grit and tenancy exhibited by the Ukrainian people, armed with limited fire power, prevented a repeat of the Soviet’s lightning invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Ukraine’s smart use of Western weapon systems has notched up impressive kills in the air, on land and across the Black Sea.

And, in a bonus for European security, NATO, still bruised after its embarrassment in Afghanistan, has clocked up two new members and a rekindled sense of purpose. Yet now, two years after Putin sent in his forces and a year on from the optimism of a game-changing counter offensive, prospects for Ukraine look increasingly bleak.

As this war moves into its third year – we need to do more

The “fog of war” is the name given to the uncertainty and chaos that surrounds a conflict on the battlefield. It comes from the great military strategist Carl von Clausewitz who said: “three quarters of the factors (on which action in war is based) are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty”. Sadly, for Ukraine western indecision is intensifying that fog.

Putin’s bloody victory in Avdiivka, costing thousands of Russian lives, reflects the extent of human sacrifice he is willing to make (combined with his five to one artillery advantage) to see this war out.

The fall of this town, which never previously in Russian hands, is another reminder that Ukraine simply lacks the equipment to win. Promised F16s yet to be delivered, the dithering in US Congress over a $60bn package of military aid, a shortage of drones, long range missiles and air defence systems are all leading to increased frustration in Ukraine that this conflict is not understood.

Britain’s support for Ukraine is arguably unique: firstly, in how we ignored Putin’s nuclear sabre-rattling and, secondly, for setting the benchmark on the quantity and quality of lethality we’ve slid across the table. To be fair, other NATO allies have followed suit. But as this war moves into its third year – we need to do more – beginning with confiscating Russia’s $300bn frozen funds held in the West to help fund the shortfall in munitions.

Russia is now on a war footing. Putin is spending 30 per cent of his budget on the war. The murder of Alexi Navalny reflects a growing grip of fear on any dissenting voices in Russia. He is now more powerful and more dangerous than Joseph Stalin as he’s not tied to any ideology or Kremlin core that can tether or indeed replace him.

The West’s hesitancy in gifting Ukraine the assets required to win stems from a combination of losing control of the wider escalatory ladder and a failure to appreciate Putin’s wider long-term intentions. If the latter was correctly assessed, we would not be spooked by the former. This is still seen, particularly in America, as just a state-on-state battle and not a geo-political threat. We need to get real and see the bigger picture.

Putin is on a single mission to restore post-Soviet Russian greatness. And it’s no secret that Ukraine is just one part of the jigsaw. He publicly articulated this to a large audience of Western leaders - promising to challenge their collective hold over our global order. That was back in 2007 and his words were dismissed as ‘spy talk’.

Once we appreciate Putin’s wider hostile intensions in Eastern Europe and more widely against the West, the penny will drop that Europe is now at war and Ukraine is doing the fighting for us. And if Ukraine does not win, the cost to Europe will be significantly larger than what’s required to secure victory now.

State aggression has returned. The tide will soon turn against Ukraine unless the West acts. The era of relative peace we have enjoyed after the end of the Cold War is over.

Britain has done well in stepping forward. There’s more international statecraft to be done.


Tobias Ellwood, Conservative MP for Bournemouth East

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