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Everyone (except our leaders) knows the defence of Ukraine has failed


THE leaders of the West, chatting tie-less at their G7 and Nato summits last week, promised to spout as many fine words of support for Ukraine as it takes. Meanwhile, Ukraine was continuing to lose the war bit by bit to the relentless Russian military sloth.

Vladimir Putin’s army may move ponderously but is proving unstoppable, and Nato is doing the minimum to reverse the unequal battlefield of odds while proclaiming the opposite. The Ukrainian army apparently walked away from the eastern town of Lysychansk at the weekend. Russian artillery fire is approaching the Black Sea port of Odessa which President Zelensky cannot afford to lose at any price.

When the war began in February, an unnamed US official was quoted as saying ‘now we have him where we want him’, meaning that Putin had been lured into a lobster trap. The remark recalled President Bush’s ‘mission accomplished’ boast just before Iraq slipped out of his grasp.

Who has who now? The US trained and armed the Ukrainians intensively in anticipation of the invasion. But the war was lost in advance when President Biden vetoed any direct Nato involvement in the fighting and refused to give Zelensky the heavy weaponry he needed to have any chance.

The reason for that is simple and is not going to change. Russia is a nuclear state which Putin has placed on nuclear alert, and Nato dare not make the slightest step that would give rise to an escalation between itself and Russia.

It is daily more obvious to everyone except our leaders that the defence of Ukraine has failed despite sanctions against Russia and the limited military aid sent by Nato since the invasion.

Sanctions have failed to cripple the Russian economy. Instead, they have caused an energy crisis in the US and western Europe since Putin began to cut gas supplies to the EU on which it is heavily dependent.

China is buying embargoed oil from Russia just as it does from Iran, demonstrating for the nth time that sanctions are not only two-edged but rarely achieve their aim. Russia is awash with oil revenues. Its blockade of Ukrainian wheat exports from Odessa is meanwhile threatening famine in the Middle East and Africa.

Domestic inflation in the West is being driven by war-related events to levels which are politically ominous for its governments as cost-of-living strikes break out and a wage-price spiral familiar in the UK from the dismal 1970s starts to form.

This is a heavy price to pay for a war where we refuse to do what is essential to win.

If the conflict in Ukraine is no longer about stopping Putin from taking what he wants, why is Zelensky being encouraged – at least in public – to fight on? According to Biden administration official Brian Deese, ‘this is about the future of the liberal world order and we need to stand firm’. 

This at least makes clear that the conflict is really about the long-term relationship between Russia and the West, with the former being permanently contained by the latter.

Putin’s immediate aim is to keep Ukraine out of Nato and to annex the Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine which have been fighting a civil war against Kiev since 2014.

More importantly, he wants to force Nato to pull back its forces to where they were before the alliance’s two-decade, post-Soviet expansion into central and eastern Russia which he has repeatedly called an ‘existential threat’.

The Russians are not demanding that Moscow’s former satellites leave Nato. They want them to rely on their own national defences without the deployment of out-of-country Nato troops and missiles. This is a concession Biden has refused to make. It is what the East-West showdown is essentially about and will not be resolved by peace in Ukraine alone.

Ukraine will not now join Nato. But because of the war, Finland and Sweden are joining, which would be a serious setback for Putin if he were the territorial threat that the West claims he is. There is no evidence that he has designs on any country beyond Ukraine and even there beyond the limited territory that he has seized.

Putin has not challenged Nato’s treaty commitment to defend any member state attacked by an external enemy but he regards the deployment of mainly US Nato forward forces and missiles on Russia’s borders as a permanent threat to its security. The alliance is supposed to be defensive but doesn’t look like it when it constantly increases its close-range ability to attack.

Britain’s new Chief of General Staff Sir Patrick Sanders evoked 1930s appeasement and an unspoken comparison between Hitler and Putin last week when he said ‘this is our 1937 moment’ and called for a rapid expansion of British forces. He misunderstood the nature of appeasement.

Accusing Putin of brutal aggression and expansionist ambitions, Sanders said: ‘The visceral nature of a European land war is not just some manifestation of distant storm clouds on the horizon: we can see it now.’

None of this will save Ukraine, whose war will be long over even if the Europeans go through with their plans to re-arm. But it fits with the Anglo-American determination to treat Russia as a potential aggressor which has to be contained within a ring of Nato steel.

It could just as well be claimed that this policy might make paranoid Russia more dangerous. Ukraine while not in Nato posed no threat whatsoever to the Russians. Ukraine as a member of Nato hosting American troops on Russia’s border would have been and no Russia leader would have stood for it.

The same could be said for the hitherto neutral Finns who on their own have a military far better able to fight the Russians if they tried to invade. Finland in Nato and potentially providing the alliance with forward deployments on its 800-mile Russian border will increase Putin’s determination to push Nato back. 

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Donald Forbes
Donald Forbes
Donald Forbes is a retired Anglo-Scottish journalist now living in France who during a 40-year career worked in eastern Europe before and after communism.

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