More firepower is desperately needed by the besieged country’s defenders to fend off enemy missile attacks.
JONATHAN SHAW. 11 July 2022 •
Boris Johnson’s resignation has prompted an avalanche of debate about when he should actually step down. But in one area at least, there would be a genuine advantage in the PM staying in placewhile his party decides on a successor – UK policy towards Ukraine. For his unwavering support for President Zelensky has been an unambiguous success.
Russia’s seizure of the Luhansk district has caused some to argue that now might be the time for Russia and Ukraine to negotiate, given the enormous costs on both sides of the conflict. Russia’s stated goals at the start of this war were the seizure of the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk; unstated was a need for a land bridge to the Crimea, including securing access to fresh water for the Crimean Peninsula to sustain their military campaign. These have just about been achieved.
Yet the options for negotiation appear overwhelmingly bleak. The best case scenario would be what the Ukrainian people hope for, that Russia be driven out of all land seized from 2014 onwards. Yet without direct NATO involvement, this seems inconceivable, unless Russia somehow collapses internally and withdraws.
The worst case outcome would be for Putin to keep the gains he has made from his invasion and for the world to return to their pre-February dealings with Russia. This would show Putin that he can pursue his revanchist goals without fear of long term punishment, which was precisely the cynical gamble that launched him on this war in the first place.
A compromise option would be what President Zelensky has suggested, that Ukraine regains the territory lost since February (whilst guaranteeing fresh water to Crimea) but rejects NATO membership (a casus belli for Putin) while accepting candidate EU membership. Given that this war is for Ukraine to fight, it is for them to decide when and how to negotiate. If this is acceptable to President Zelensky, then we should support him in this goal.
It seems to me highly unlikely that Russia will agree to return to the pre-February 24 occupation lines. The attitudes on both sides of this conflict have hardened as blood and treasure have been spilt. Indeed, Putin has urged his troops to prepare to continue the war. Earlier today, Putin’s press spokesman urged the destruction of the whole of Ukraine. So if we are to support Ukraine in its negotiating goal, we need to look at the support we are giving and ask whether it is enough.
The West must up its support for Ukraine or face the prospect of an unstoppable Russian victory. Western support for Ukraine is superficially united but in reality quite fragmented. While Britain leads the way in its support of Ukraine, Germany, France and Italy are losing resolve. Inevitably, the key player is the US; and it is vital that they reconsider their ambivalent posture if the West is to achieve its aims. They must identify how the war is going on the ground and offer further military support to create the conditions for a decent political outcome in negotiations.
Russia is gaining ground in Luhansk through heavy artillery bombardments on tactical targets, and long range missile strikes for psychological purposes on depth targets, which the Ukrainians are struggling to respond to adequately. In military jargon, Ukraine needs to be able to win the fires war. For that, their forces need far more of the long range missile and artillery systems that the US and UK have supplied. If Ukraine can disrupt the Russian logistics sufficiently to degrade its ‘fires’, it will be better able to concentrate and launch counter attacks to exploit its advantages in manoeuvre and drive Russia from ground it now holds.
Without this, Russia is unlikely to be interested in a negotiated settlement. Instead, a continued Russian attritional assault should be expected to continue, with the caveat that Russia is also using ammunition stocks faster than it can replenish them. But as long as they see themselves winning, they can control the tempo, pause to regroup, then resume their attacks when re-stocked.
The West now needs to do two things. It must supply Ukraine with the wherewithal to counter Russia’s artillery/missile based style warfare. And it must stiffen its sinews for a long, if not permanent, hardening of relations with Russia with no return to the pre-February normality. As Robert Habeck, Germany’s Deputy Chancellor and minister for economics and climate action, said last week, this is the price of freedom.