The Russians are down, but not quite out. With Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the UK meeting Rishi Sunak, British arms could soon enable the Ukrainian armed forces to deliver the killing blow. Today’s announcement has covered attack drones and air defence missiles; last week, we saw the donation of Storm Shadow missile systems. And, of course, there’s the offer of training for jet pilots.
It’s all good stuff, but Britain’s lead must be followed by others. America and Europe must rally and give Kyiv everything it asks for this week; long range missiles do no good on the shelves of warehouses when they could be blowing up Russian tanks. And if we don’t enable Ukraine to finish the war this year, we will be storing up trouble for years to come.
What was meant to be a “Special Military Operation” lasting a few weeks has turned into a 15-month military disaster for the Russian autocrat. Things are bad on the battlefield, and a quick scan of the headlines in the last month hints that far worse could be following. In a signal humiliation, the defences of the Kremlin were apparently breached by a drone, while a much-vaunted Russian hypersonic missile, supposedly overmatching anything Nato could muster, was unceremoniously shot out of the sky by a US-provided Patriot missile system.
It's not as if all is well at home, either. The price cap on oil exports has forced the Kremlin to tax domestic producers more, slowly eroding its capability to produce in the future. This is only going to get worse as the summer will further lessen demand and reduce prices. Putin’s “magic money tree” is failing him when he needs it most.
Meanwhile, the infighting between the Wagner group and the Russian MoD speaks to deep tensions that may further degrade battlefield performance, with Wagner now apparently able to call the shots on tactics and supplies.
And the situation is worsening in Ukraine. A short time after their arrival in Ukraine, it is clear that Western tanks and armoured vehicles are almost ready to conduct deadly combined arms manoeuvre warfare. They will brush aside the untrained conscripts thrown onto the front-lines by the Kremlin. Antiquated Russian tanks hauled out of storage won’t last a minute in a scrap with a Challenger 2; the depleted uranium shells fired by the British tanks will punch through them as if they weren’t there, while the return fire is unlikely to do more than scratch the paintwork.
What’s more, the operational security around their deployment has been outstanding. We don’t know where they are, or what the plan of attack is; neither do the Russians. The sudden appearance of formations of Western made armour is likely to produce a rout in troops already low in morale, badly led and with little ammunition.
Things have become so desperate that the Russians are now apparently using phosphorus bombs to try and burn their way to victory. Using this chemical in civilian areas is a war crime. That won’t stop Putin. He knows that this medieval style of scorched earth warfare proved highly effective for the Russians and Assad Regime in Syria, rapidly becoming their go-to weapon when conventional fighting failed. The last resort was chemical weapons, which we have not yet seen in Ukraine. I would not bet against an increasingly desperate Kremlin turning to their use; they secured Assad’s survival, the West did nothing in response to their deployment, and Putin is aware that failure could be the end of both his regime and his life. It is this fear that could lead to Putin’s deployment of his deadliest weapon.
Civilians are being evacuated in droves, and in panic, from the area around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. Many analysts believe this is in response to Ukrainian shelling and the threat posed by a strong counterattack spearheaded by modern Western tanks. But while it may be speculation, there are some who believe Moscow may be planning to use the plant as some form of “improvised nuclear device”; a kill-switch for Russian occupation in the area. It seems inconceivable, but how many times have we seen Putin cross red lines we believed inviolable?
This war cannot be allowed to drag into next year. We must give the hawks circling Putin the “carrion” they need to remove him. And we must give Zelensky all the military capability needed to kick the Russians out of Ukraine.