Russia’s diplomats are on the offensive in concert with missile and drone attacks on the civilian population of Ukraine. The strategy has crude though sound logic providing one believes that people surrender to bombers in the sky. The Ukrainians shoot down most of the rockets and drones but the few that reach their targets can do a lot of damage to power generation or water supplies. On the debit side for Russia, their main weapons supplier and backer is Iran. That’s not a comfortable position. Ukraine has now found a way to strike Russian bomber and missile bases hundreds of kilometres inside Russia. This implies a change of opinion in Washington DC. The Pentagon may consider that Russia has crossed a line with its missile attacks on the civilian population and that Ukraine is entitled to hit back. Tacit approval by the Pentagon may also signal that much degraded Russian forces are unlikely to risk even conventional conflict with the United States.
Putin regularly reminds carefully chosen audiences that he is ready for a long ‘ special military operation ‘ though at the end of the day Russia is willing to talk. I would suggest this approach has two purposes – to make the Ukrainians look stubborn, unreasonable and inflexible thereby dividing their western supporters, to prepare for talks after an offensive has taken much more of the provinces he claims but has failed to hold. Putin also reminds that having regained control of the Sea of Azov, he regards himself as the nearest figure to Peter the Great. This modern imperial dream and his personal record make any peace talks a pipe dream, worse, a major blunder. The Ukrainians are unlikely to fall into this trap, nor should NATO.
Another ruse is the threat of an invasion from Belorussia. That is done to tie down Ukrainian forces along the norther frontier. Belorussia’s armed forces are not capable of invading their neighbour.
Three-hundred thousand young Russian men have fled the country and the damage to Russia’s economy will last years. A former British ambassador to Russia, whose opinions I greatly respect, puts it thus: two generations still remember when people could live normally in Russia, say what they thought and do what they fancied without fear of authority. Those are the people whom Putin fears the most. Putin is not going to change but nor are millions of Russians going to forget what has been lost bit by bit during Putin’s regime. And millions of Ukrainians aren’t going to forget what Russia has put them through and still does.
Russia once more calls up reservists on a large scale. These reservists are most likely intended to carry out an offensive once the ground is hard or next summer. A ceasefire would allow the Russian army to lick its wounds and recover strength. Ceasefires are complicated things to set up and police. I don’t see one happening this winter, it’s too late. Whether the training machine can deliver replacements to the various fronts fast enough is another question mark. While the Ukrainians report that more recently Russian replacements seem better trained than during summer, they took at least three months to go through the training machine and come out as soldiers. Nor does the Russians’ peculiar battalion battle group structure help because once in combat its teeth, armour and infantry, swiftly become degraded. Having chosen this structure, designed for strolling into towns with streets lined by welcoming crowds, or flattening towns that resist, the Russian army finds themselves at a disadvantage. Add to this the impact of American and British MANPAD anti-tank missiles and SAMS. Altering the balance of firepower and restoring the ability to withstand punishment demands a new structure for their main combat formations. Pulling this off during a full scale war is very, very tricky, indeed dangerously risky. The Allies spent two years creating and then testing a novel divisional structure for getting safely ashore in Normandy – though in the safe havens of North America and the British Isles, some places far from Occupied Europe.
Very little has been seen of the Russian air force over the battlefields of Ukraine. All those cruise missiles are launched from bombers and warships hundreds of miles from their targets. In my youth after I was a Para Sapper I spent two years as a diplomat in South Vietnam where the countryside was the combat zone. Although rarely trusted with the controls of an aircraft in my humble opinion the USAF is a lot more dangerous an opponent than the gallant though small and technically borderline Ukrainian air force. The Americans have moved additional bombers and fighters onto their British bases. That’s before one adds at least two carrier strike groups on call with another two-hundred modern aircraft including F 35 stealth fighters.
Ukraine is on the offensive with a small force inserted across the Dnipro River from Kherson City and daring drone attacks on Russian bomber bases hundreds of kilometres beyond the Russian frontier. As some missiles are launched from warships of the Black Sea Fleet expect daring drones or other attacks on the Russian Navy.
Ukraine has to keep up the momentum. Russia’s army must not have any rest this winter. We don’t know the real casualty numbers of either side. Ukraine doesn’t reveal their casualties and I don’t believe the figures put out by Russia. If the numbers claimed by Ukraine are accurate eventually – even in Russia – the families will start asking questions.
Perhaps they are already. This autumn Putin decided to use withholding gas supplies, backed by General Winter, jumpy EU politicians, plus global inflation through hold up fuel prices as his main political weapons against the Ukrainian and EU populations. Common sense soon vanished and panic swiftly took over among the main EU members. Now self-preservation rules. Germany and France have given as little military help as possible to the Ukraine, Italy has given very little or nothing. Poland and the Baltic states with far less resources have given more. Britain has given more than the whole EU put together – for which Ben Wallace deserves recognition as does Boris Johnson. America has given far more than everyone else added together. Thanks to Anthony Blinken and Lloyd Austen for my money.
Nato and Eu Diplomacy
Meaning the Americans and ourselves plus the Poles and Baltic states – have sent Ukraine so much ammunition that we face a blunt choice: do nothing and allow Putin to snatch victory out of potential defeat or gear up our industries backed by much larger defence budgets and make enough ammunition to ensure Putin suffers a blindingly visible defeat. Such a message will last a century, possibly longer. I was born in 1940. Germany still hungers for dominance of Europe but its elite, or most of them, concur that only change through politics is acceptable. American involvement in their freedom demands nothing less. As a highly respected German friend of mine very honestly put it just before our 2016 referendum – Adrian, we need you Brits, you make rule by France and Germany acceptable to the rest of Europe – he had been one of the three most senior officers in the German intelligence service.
The temptation for German political leaders, illustrated by Herr Scholtz most recently on the 8 December, is to serve as Putin’s mouthpiece. Scholtz doesn’t just pick up the phone and call Vlad on a whim. German and Russian teams of officials will have spent days preparing. Of course we’d all like to return to the days when the peaceful order of Europe was respected. Tell that to the Ukrainians as Putin wipes out their heating, lights and water. The other night over four million Ukrainians lacked all three. The peaceful order in Europe no longer exists partly because Angela Merkel made a strategic blunder over Germany’s reliance on Russia for energy and cheap manufacturing, but also because the EU wanted Ukraine to become a member and that included its new rival security structure to NATO.
After Scholtz on Monday we had to suffer Macron on Friday spouting pure Putin disinformation. A week later Scholtz gave us Putin’s line on nuclear weapons. All straight from the Soviet Union instruction book on deception. As both leaders chat to the new Tsar for an hour or so at a time maybe Putin should pick up their phone bills. There’s nothing in those calls for anyone who wants to keep a democratic free Europe. The same week a German prince is arrested along with fellow coup plotters – Scholtz was their main target – and 54 more suspects are wanted for questioning. Dare I suggest that politicians and media people in Britain who propose a special defence agreement with Germany or any other EU member state, take a reality check – for Heaven’s sake, we’ve just clawed back our freedom of action, that’s why we could help Ukraine. Why on earth offer the Germans a handbrake on the UK’s freedom to think for ourselves? Are you all really that wet?
NATO has thirty members, anyone of whom can veto a proposed policy or action. I think we should explore coalitions of the willing. Ukraine was handled well by a small number of member nations. Germany has virtually disarmed, Poland has ordered hundreds of tanks and self-propelled guns from South Korea. EU remainers in Britain are screaming for a new BAOR. That’s the last thing we should do. NATO has set up a new command led by a German general to remove logistic bottlenecks on the continent. Translated, this means that during the Cold War, certainly in the BAOR zone, new road and rail bridges were built with demolition chambers and with the strength to carry the largest tanks, Conquerors weighing 80 tons and 110 tons on their transporters. Since Berlin Wall came down I suspect this prudence was shelved by local authorities. We should be ready to intervene in Europe but with a force we can deliver and deploy anywhere in the world and move around regardless of local infrastructure. Something truly modern.
Reality Check for Ourselves
I would rather spend £ 20 billions more per year on our defence than on an EU budget for rich, comfortable countries whose politicians don’t like us and the Americans.
My former FCO colleagues wail that Europe is our largest trading partner and we should repair our relations with them. Codswallop. We should grab this chance for a reality check, a big one. And this is why…
The EU represents 15 % of global GNP and its share shrinks every year.
My approach has always been to trade globally until we do not rely on any single continent or bloc for our prosperity.
That requires imagination, effort, risks and hard work, above all what my Israeli friends call chutzpah – business nerve – and vision, seeing the future.
There’s a large chunk of business and industry plus the FCDO and DTI plus the City and media who are prone to mental idleness. I was on the CBI Council during the 1990s and saw them for myself.
Trading within the EU was easy. You could sell jam through the post. That’s not the way to catch up with Japan.
The fast growth markets are tough but that’s where we should concentrate our efforts and resources. In spring 1986 I went to see a deputy boss at GEC. They were building Seoul’s new subway. About £120 million out of £300 million annual exports. He got very shirty when I said my job is to make GEC’s contract just a tiny blip among our exports to South Korea. We ran a strategy of bottoms on aircraft seats. Over three years we wore out the Embassy commercial offices but when I left we were up near £640 millions. And I also looked after an Olympic Games plus the media. We still had a deficit with South Korea but it was halved.
Today we sell them £10 billions and they sell us £7 billions – we can sell services nowadays – and they’re our 20th largest trading partner. OK it’s taken 40 years but that’s how we built a global trading empire.
Black Hats or White Hats
Since our vote in 2016 to leave the EU, the latter and its Remainer claque have run a disinformation campaign that should make Putin envious. Add the EU’s behaviour since the invasions of Ukraine in 2014 and 2022. The EU has proved, sadly, that the continent has learnt nothing since 1945. Let’s not go down their cul-de-sac any longer.