With Western support, Kyiv has an opportunity to destroy the morale of the Russian army for good
RICHARD DANNATT 24 February 2023 •
year into the war in Ukraine, many lessons have been learnt and many wise comments can be made. The reality today is that this war hangs in the balance.
Vladimir Putin’s attempt to eradicate Ukraine as a sovereign country failed in the first couple of months – but that has not dissuaded him from continuing with the war. President Zelensky, meanwhile, remains determined to ensure that Ukraine stands proud and independent and embraces a democratic future. These irreconcilable strategic objectives rule out the possibility of a negotiated end to this conflict. It will be settled on the battlefield where there is no compromise.
A total Russian victory, thankfully, now looks to be practically impossible. The vicious military assault on Kyiv in February and March last year failed because the Russian armed forces made virtually every mistake possible in the lexicon of modern warfare – a truly woeful display.
Most honest observers should admit that this failure took almost everyone by surprise. The received wisdom was that, over the last 10 to 15 years, Putin had rebuilt the Russian armed forces to the point that, although not of the size of the former Soviet military, the quality was of an order that a lightning strike on Kyiv would succeed in the same way that the Russians had successfully intervened in Syria and had annexed Crimea.
Indeed, it was hardly ridiculous to expect Putin to win. There was every chance that the country which had put the first man into space, possessed the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world, had developed a fourth generation main battle tank, and had a professional set of armed forces would prevail against a fledgling state with a history of corruption, an insecure political identity and led by a comedian turned politician.
But this is where Putin’s hubris foundered on the rock of surprisingly strong leadership from Zelensky, a proud Ukrainian population and an iron will to prevail. Napoleon Bonaparte is credited with the dictum about war that the moral is to the physical as three is to one. Within reason, the technology, the equipment and the logistical strength of an army can be overcome by the will and determination of another to prevail. This is where the war in Ukraine can now be described.
What happens now? Deploying its hastily-augmented army of poorly trained “mobiks”, supported by massed artillery and whatever other firepower that can be gathered together, the Russians will make a desperate attempt to turn their fortunes on the battlefield. On the evidence of the last year, this new offensive will also fail.
It is at that moment that the Ukrainians must launch the concerted counter-offensive for which they have been clamouring for modern western weapons, in particular main battle tanks, armoured infantry fighting vehicles, and self-propelled artillery, along with the copious amounts of ammunition needed to ensure battlefield success. Of course, they would like modern fast jet attack aircraft as well, but the reality is that the provision of such aircraft will miss the window of opportunity that will be presented in the spring or early summer when the Russian offensive has failed.
Replicating the operational surprise that the Ukrainians were able to achieve in their limited counter offensive around Kharkiv last autumn, there is every possibility that, this spring or summer, Kyiv can land a series of blows on the Russians that will destroy the remaining morale of the reluctant Russian soldier and break the back of the poorly led and equipped Russian army.
For an army to lose a war, it does not have to be defeated in detail along the length and breadth of the battlefield, but once the will of its soldiers to continue to fight has been shattered, that army has lost.
This is the devastating effect that western countries must enable the Ukrainian armed forces to achieve this year. The prize is the collapse of the Russian military, probable leadership change in the Kremlin, and the withdrawal of Russian forces from eastern Ukraine and Crimea.
Some will consider this conclusion of the war too risky to contemplate. But the alternative is surely riskier. It would entail stalemate on the battlefield, a lingering war of attrition, a smouldering Putin threatening the security of eastern Europe, and a gradual disintegration of the cohesion of Nato and western solidarity.
Nothing would please Putin more than to see the West divided and in disarray. In his declining years, this would be some compensation to this unreformed KGB colonel whose beloved Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact were defeated by the cohesion of the West in the 1980s. For the sake of a sovereign Ukraine, the democratic health of the West and our shared values, we must deny Putin that pleasure.
General The Lord Dannatt is a former Chief of the General Staff
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“Of course, they would like modern fast jet attack aircraft as well, but the reality is that the provision of such aircraft will miss the window of opportunity that will be presented in the spring or early summer when the Russian offensive has failed.”
But, to those who could provide these badly needed planes, where is their bravery? What amount of foresight do they possess? What final goal do they wish to attain? One year on in this horrid war and still there is absolutely no strategy in sight.
All the courage of Ukraine, all their iron will to fight, all their intelligence will be for naught if not properly supported. Ukraine had to beg countless times for every type of weapon and still doesn’t get what it needs to bring final defeat to the criminal horde.
How will future history books judge the West? I can imagine it quite well. It seems that the collection of losers in various capitals cannot imagine it, or just don’t give a shit.
And, meanwhile, the slaughtering and destroying keeps going on…