The Diplomatic Front
There’s a certain irony when the grandchildren of the Axis take a night train to Kiev and offer Volodymyr Zelenski and his compatriots jam tomorrow though barely any steel today.
They offered what one suspects is the recent WEF formula – EU membership as fast as possible ( meaning as slow as possible ) plus six medium guns and a couple of rocket launchers.
To put this in proportion the Americans are making sure that Ukraine holds 300,000 medium gun rounds and has just donated another billion dollars worth of equipment and munitions. That brings America’s military help to US $ 8 billions. Britain has given nearly £ 3 billions ( US $ 3.6 billions ), mostly the latest man portable missiles against tanks and aircraft but also armoured vehicles, medium artillery, longer range rocket artillery and many other things including medical help.
Sometimes I like to read across history but looking down from a hill almost eighty two years high, one can be forgiven for observing a horribly familiar look about the Continent of Europe. Those nineteenth century imperial land power states are back with a vengeance. What else is the EU but a Zollverein – customs union – ruled from Berlin and with ambitions to become an imperial power? So although I read about Germany’s rearmament plans with considerable doubt – will Scholz really put his money where his mouth is, because he hasn’t so far – given images sharp as yesterday from childhood, should I feel relief or disquiet?
When Germany joined NATO and raised an army of 12 divisions we British Toms were pleased to see them. Today the German Army’s strategic plan starts by assuming that NATO is breaking up and so is the EU, therefore the German economic Sun must bind its orbiting planets closer. After the SPD leader – coalition senior partner – gave a speech urging that Germany must become a big military power, learn from the way Russia and China bound other countries into their orbit, are we looking at a potential force that might cause the eastern European NATO members to look both ways?
Instead of the Nazi-Soviet Pact have we Nordstream Two with near enough total reliance on Russia for energy? The media forget that France and Germany have been investing half a billion Euros each in Russia every year for several years. Do the Axis grandchildren want business as usual with Russia and the costs of defeating aggressive war paid by American and British taxpayers? We and the Americans have to ask ourselves these questions. No good is served by closing our eyes to a slippery bunch in a fickle world.
If Vlad hadn’t violated international law, the UN Charter, the Geneva Convention, the Budapest Declaration, he might have a reasonable complaint. His words, however, don’t match his deeds unless you sympathise with his eighteenth century historical theories. Would the Americans like us back and their capital moved to London?
Our government and the US government must stick together as we sail into dangerous times. So should all the democracies including several trapped inside the Zollverein.
Which brings me to some routine diplomat’s questions.
- What is so important for the Axis grandchildren that they risked four core heads of state on a visit to Zelenski?
- What is just as vital for their trade partner and gasman, Russia?
Indeed, how long will Russia be ruled by Putin? At least two people in Russia already make the opening moves in a human chess match for control of Ukraine’s wheat crop. The Times reports that wheat farmers in occupied areas are being told to sell their crops at 90% discount to buyers in Crimea. Within a few weeks this year’s harvest is forecast to reach 12 million tons. Already 20 million tons of wheat and barley are trapped in storage. Some will reach a port via Poland but Ukraine railways have Russian broad gauge tracks – that means unloading and then reloading onto a Polish train.
- Who is competing for control of all the gas and oil under eastern Ukraine? At stake are huge amounts of money for deep pockets.
Let’s hope the Russian rivals fail. Putin is the best general the Ukrainians have – would it pay them to provide his security?
Some kind of cease fire that allows Russia to lick its wounds before any new campaign needs a sweetener. What better than fake news about prospective EU membership? After all, if Ukraine became a member its wages would have to rise three or four fold to catch up with EU per capita income – US $ 12,500 a year against US $ 41,000 a year. Ukraine has a huge farming sector – lots of EU handouts looming. None of which is going to plug the budget hole ( this year never mind next ) left by us after Brexit.
Our contribution to the EU budget this year would have been £ 32 billions. Remember that figure when Remainers urge rejoining the Single Market. It’s a back door to the EU. Next financial year – by staying out – we save ourselves as much as £ 40 billions.
How should we read the allies of Ukraine? The Americans and ourselves needed to know straight away precisely what was discussed and what Ukraine needs most urgently as well as more long range firepower. Boris is closest geographically to Kiev, Zelenski trusts him, so he went. (I wouldn’t put it past the Axis grandchildren to make their Kiev trip during a week when they assumed Boris was tied up at a conference in the North of England, one that he could not miss for several reasons – starting with his own future as Prime Minister.)
The Tory Jacobite chorus began singing before they knew why he wasn’t in Doncaster.
I have to say that yet again, rogue or hero, saint or sinner, Boris made the right choice as Prime Minister and he’s too streetwise not to foresee the risk of damage to his reputation among the Northern Research Group MPs and their voters.
Coming back on the train Boris wrote down his thoughts. They’re in the Sunday Times of 19 June. Boris believes our allies are united. May I suggest a wise precaution? Make a list of which ones are united and which not.
On the Battle Fronts
Political moves to establish control over the occupied parts of Ukraine from Kherson in the west to the independent republics in the east, signal that Russia is preparing for a long war. Other signs are the various ways the pool of manpower for the Russian army has been expanded short of actual mobilisation. Calling the war a special military operation causes difficulties for generating further forces. People who object to call up or decline cannot be punished. There are problems paying soldiers and confusion over objectives. These difficulties worsen as the war drags on and the casualties pile up. The Institute for the Study of War ( ISW ) reports Russian troops complaining that some battlegroups are reduced to a platoon of infantry left standing. Apart from threatening phone calls to Ukrainian troops or their families, Russia intends show trials to find Ukrainian POWS guilty of war crimes. My hunch is that both campaigns will stiffen Ukrainian’s will to fight rather than the reverse. Anyone who surrenders to Russia’s troops knows that the Geneva Convention is not bedtime reading in the Kremlin.
The Ukrainians estimate that Russia has committed about 330,000 servicemen to their invasion without actual mobilisation. Of these 150,000 were deployed in battalion tactical groups ( BTGs ) and 70,000 served with the air force or navy. Some 90,000 reservists have been called up, 18,000 National Guard troops and 8,000 mercenaries. In the Donetsk and Luhansk the Kremlin has executed covert full mobilisation. Even if the Kremlin went for full national mobilisation, time is required to train those called up, even when the training machine is told to cut corners.
High rank sackings continue. Russia’s airborne forces commander is the latest to be replaced.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence gives the Russian Air Force low marks, regards their tactics as timid and observes that their training exercises appear designed to impress VIPs rather than improve aerial combat skills.
Ukraine has reduced sorties around Severodonetsk by those Turkish made drones because too many were shot down. The Russians have improved their ground to air defences. However, Turkish made drones have scored successes over the Kherson front after sorties were increased.
Russia’s army continues to concentrate on Severodonetsk and has set a deadline of 26 June for capturing all the city. Tanks and artillery are even being withdrawn from around Kharkiv and sent on trains through Russia and then south to the battle front around Severodonetsk. All this effort and focus on a single objective by a large proportion of the Russian army’s remaining combat power is achieving very little gain overall, taking small patches of ground for a very high price in killed, wounded, destroyed or damaged equipment.
Ukraine has announced that it started withdrawing its forces from Severodonetsk on the 24 June. The withdrawal will take a few days and the intention is to take up positions that are easier to defend and cover possible sites for Russian river crossings.
The routine Russian tactic is massive artillery bombardment simply because the Russian have a large numerical advantage in artillery and rocket launchers while destruction of Ukraine’s cities and economy is a prime objective. Ukraine’s economy had been growing nine times faster than Russia’s. That was dangerous for Putin’s regime. If Ukraine could do that why couldn’t Russia?
This seems a massive strategic error regardless of whether Russia has decided to settle for Donbas, Luhansk plus most of Ukraine’s coasts – this time – and grab more next time.
British Training Offer
Ukraine has suffered heavy losses over recent weeks, hence the British offer to help with training. Boris talked about training 10,000 every 120 days. We haven’t run a programme on that scale since National Service. The Regular Army allows itself strict standards. No less than 70,000 applicants were screened to find 14,000 recruits a year for basic training when the Army was 130,000 strong.
As a young sapper officer I trained the last National Servicemen who became Royal Engineers. That was in 1961 at Cove near Farnborough. We taught basic infantry training followed by field engineering. The latter included everything from demolitions ( particularly for digging trenches and weapons pits given the threat from Russian tactical nukes ) to building bridges including pontoon ( floating ) bridges. The whole course took about six months. Roughly the same time taken by Mons Officer Cadet School down the road in Aldershot to train a young officer. Both schools required six weeks for the basic infantry training. Both schools needed another four months to turn soldiers into sappers or young officers. The Royal Engineers had their own Officer Cadet Squadron at Gillingham in Kent. That course added another three months. With a pass mark of an average above 60% our studies included such matters as calculating the breaking strains of rolled steel joists for demolitions and surveying sites for bridges, roads and railways plus many more acts of wizardry. Proud families were invited to the passing off parade of all our new sappers and officers.
We ‘re going to need an organisation on the same lines as the one for National Service. The workload and emotional burden fell on the sergeants for officers and corporals for soldiers. To illustrate the bonds formed, our new training platoon officer, a captain, was spotted by the man who had trained him at Sandhurst – Drill Sergeant-Major John Riddick of the Coldstream Guards. John Riddick lifted our captain off the parade ground, boots dangling in mid air as he hugged him, exclaiming with pleasure, ‘One of ma boys.’
I suspect Ukraine needs young officers and good junior NCOs more than any other species of soldier. The USA, UK and Canada have been training Ukrainians since 2014. UK had trained 22,000 before the invasion. I can’t see the point of our providing basic infantry training although we could produce soldiers within less than 50 days. Training NCOs who can think on their feet are battle winners. Russia lacks officers who do! Another option is to train Ukrainian soldiers how to use modern NATO artillery and rocket artillery as part of a programme that supplies Ukraine with 100 or 200 MLRS, the number they actually need rather the penny packets so far.
More ambitious and strategic use of people, bases, training grounds, time, energy and money would be to train and create a Ukrainian combined arms formation – armour, airmobile infantry, long range strike – a large brigade or even a division, that could break through to the Black Sea coast and cut off all Russian troops to their east.
What About the Wheat Harvest?
Within a few weeks the Russians are going to steal this year’s Ukraine wheat harvest or as much as possible. NATO should pass the responsibility for stopping this monster theft to the UN—though also offer forces to join a UN naval and air police action. A UN naval task force would bring USN and the RN plus many other navies and air forces into the equation. This kind of situation is why old codgers like myself regarded Europe as a poor exchange for our fellow members of the Commonwealth. Europe plots with Putin while the Commonwealth has several navies that could contribute to a powerful UN task force. Grain carrying ships with fake papers and false flags can be monitored from space or by patrol aircraft. A task force does not need to enter the Black Sea, God very kindly created the Dardanelles.
That leaves mines and the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Those Harpoon missiles claimed their first victim – one sank the tug taking supplies to the Russians occupying Snake Island.