Ukraine needs more support and equipment to resist pressure to enter premature negotiations
JULIET SAMUEL. 17 June 2022 • 8:00pm
Words are nice. Words matter. But in a war, here’s what matters more: weapons. And it is becoming clear that Ukraine needs more than it’s getting. Rather than allowing the war effort to stall in pursuit of some elusive “peace” deal, the West now needs to step up its efforts.
Kyiv has had a busy week hosting allies. Boris Johnson visited today. The day before, Emmanuel Macron, Mario Draghi and Olaf Scholz had shown up in a wood-panelled train and offered, bizarrely, to let Ukraine become a candidate country for joining the EU. They offered warm words and promised not to pressure Kyiv into making any concessions to Russia.
This is better than the rhetoric we have heard before – but there are many ways to skin a cat.
No Western leader wants to be seen to force Kyiv to compromise with its invader. But if the West doesn’t supply enough weapons to see through the Ukrainian war effort, that is effectively the same policy. There is reason to worry.
This week, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, admitted that media reports of Ukraine’s mounting losses, at 100-300 soldiers a day, concur with America’s own estimates. A third to a half of Ukraine’s total equipment stock has been destroyed in the fighting so far. Russia has 10 to 15 artillery pieces for every one operated by Ukraine, according to Ukrainian military intelligence, and the country’s deputy defence minister has said that it has only 10-15 per cent of the heavy weapons it requires.
One indication that the Russian war effort has been faring better recently was the warm phone call that took place between the Chinese President Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin this week. Accounts of the call differ slightly on each side, but both state that they agreed to co-operate on “security”.
Meanwhile, despite their rhetoric, the West’s commitment to provide support for Kyiv on the scale needed remains in doubt.
Most Western European leaders and their national elites would prefer a quick end to the war over other outcomes. In the United States, too, everyone wants to know what the “endgame” is and how we get to “peace”. In the UK, General Lord Richards continues to warn that the West lacks a “strategy”, by which he means an exit plan.
In truth, it is the peaceniks who lack the “strategy”. The strategy of Nato and its allies should be clear: deliver enough aid for long enough that Ukraine can regain its territory and mount several counter-offensives on military targets in Russia to achieve an unambiguous Russian capitulation and an abandonment (at least in the near future) of its ambition to take Ukraine.
This need not take years. With enough will, many observers think it could be achieved in months.
By contrast, those calling for a swift end to the war no matter what – by which they mean some degree of Ukrainian capitulation – do not seem to have played out what this would mean in the long term.
The most important implication of such an approach for the West is that it would vividly demonstrate the limits of its commitment to see through a difficult fight even when our side is winning.
What lessons do Lord Richards and Co suppose our allies and enemies would draw from such a strategy? How would it affect contingency planning in Beijing, Canberra and Tokyo? What would it mean for Taiwan? What sorts of changes would be made by companies running vital supply chains across the world? How would any of this be in our interests?
Nor is there a convincing humanitarian case for forcing Ukraine to the table quickly. We know that Russia has murdered, brutalised, imprisoned, deported and raped the Ukrainian populations in the territory that it has taken. Moscow’s stated aim is to eradicate Ukrainian identity and replace it with Russian passports and obedience to Russian rule.
The Kremlin has no qualms about flattening Ukrainian cities, sowing its fields with landmines and blockading its ports. Russia’s economy is in freefall. It is not suddenly going to switch tack and start rebuilding the country in the lands it occupies. There is nothing humane about the “peace now” approach.
We also know that Putin will not be happy with any sort of limited victory granted to him by a quick settlement. You would think that the West would have learnt by now to start listening to the man when he tells us who he is and what he wants.
Last week, he delivered yet another speech comparing himself with Peter the Great and asserting again that Russia has the right to take “back” any territory it once controlled. This week, at the St Petersburg Economic Forum, Russian officials displayed a map showing a plan for administering the entirety of Ukraine over a three-to-five year period. The map did not stop at Donetsk and Luhansk, or whatever chunks the peaceniks would like to give away.
It is obvious, therefore, that any peace settlement driven by a faltering Ukrainian war effort would simply be viewed by Putin as a waystation on the eventual road towards full conquest. The weakened Russian army is making plans to fight the war over the long-term, betting on the West’s waning interest.
And just as Crimea was used to launch the current invasion and blockade critical food supplies coming out of Ukraine, any additional territory over which Russia is allowed to consolidate control will simply provide an expanded base from which to continue the war under the radar and mount attempts to destabilise the government in Kyiv.
There is no lasting peace to be achieved by concocting some sort of a hasty “face-saving victory” for the Kremlin.
Mr Macron says he wants Ukraine to win, but he still talks a strange, double-game. Every few weeks, he raises the spectre of “negotiations” and then rows back, stating only that the war will eventually lead to negotiations. This is a truism, unless you believe the war will go on forever.
The point, surely, is not whether Ukrainian and Russian officials will eventually sit down at a table together to thrash out a peace deal. The point is what relative positions of strength they occupy when they do it.
The West must ensure that Kyiv’s position is that of the undisputed victor. That is not war-mongering or a pipe dream. It is the only strategy that can deliver security for the free world and a sustainable peace.