In the second part of General Jonathon Riley’s review of Ukraine, Russia and the West one year since Putin’s invasion, he considers the involvement of the West, the limitations of Western hardware support for Ukraine and why calls for war with Russia ring hollow and would undermine Nato. You can read Part 1, published yesterday, here.
WHEN it became clear before the end of 2021 that Russia would indeed invade Ukraine, the US Joint Chiefs presented President Biden with four key principles: that the war should be confined to the territory of Ukraine; that there would be no direct confrontation between Nato and Russia; that the Ukrainians would be given all material help needed to maintain their sovereignty, and that the cohesion of Nato must be preserved.
So far, these principles have been upheld – if with unintended consequences such as the deal between China and Russia as a riposte to the third principle. What must be of concern are threats to the cohesion of Nato, for Nato is the only real guarantee of security for western and central Europe. Real, because without Nato there is no US military engagement: the US brings capabilities and mass that no other Nato partner has, nor can have, and without which Europe is naked. The paper tiger of EU defence, which undermines commitment to Nato, would be laughable if it were not so foolish. This matters more than ever right now, for with Russia openly prepared for a long war and ready to shatter the military power and economy of Ukraine, Kiev will survive only with the help of a united West.
More Western hardware has been promised, but as I and others have pointed out here and elsewhere, it will not arrive in time to show any effect for months to come. The much-trumpeted arrival of the first Polish Leopard 2 tanks on Thursday – a grand total of four – is no more than grandstanding. Of immediate concern to us should be the planned move of 14 British Challenger 2 tanks, 32 AS-90 artillery pieces and several hundred other vehicles to Ukraine. This donation gives away many of the few vehicles the British Army still has. Worse, because of the irresponsible programme adopted by the British Army around 2001 known as ‘Whole Fleet Management’, these tanks and artillery pieces are the only serviceable vehicles of their type available. Their move will have two unwelcome effects. First, it will denude the British battlegroup in Estonia of most of its combat power, making it no more than a token force. Secondly, it will compromise the secrecy of the Dorchesterarmour: Challenger 2 will be target number one for the Russians to capture and analyse.
In the wider picture, what threats might undo Nato? Not a direct attack on any member by the Russians, either physically or virtually, at least while Article 5 holds good. Not a strategic nuclear attack, for Putin and the Russians know the consequences while deterrence remains capable and credible. The threats, oddly, seem to be coming from within. The New York Times journalist Seymour Hersh has alleged that it was the US and Norwegians who hit Germany’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline in September, a claim admittedly based on single-source intelligence, but which overshadowed the Munich Security Conference. Could it be true that two Nato members have actually attacked another? Biden did of course say that ‘If Russia invades . . . there will no longer be a Nord Stream 2.’ Other Nato nations, Turkey and Greece, have fought each other before now, and their continued mutual hostility is yet another threat, which I have remarked on before.
Then there are the hysterical calls for war with Russia – from some in the Western mainstream media, some of my own military contemporaries, who know full well that Britain and most of the West is militarily hollow, and now, our Secretary of State, Ben Wallace. Most members of Nato will see no advantage in this and, because Nato requires unanimity in its decision-making, it will go nowhere other than to create mistrust within the Alliance.
And what of a Ukrainian collapse? There are persistent whispers that in such an event, a coalition of the willing, founded on Nato but not in Nato, led by Poland, might ally with Ukraine and move into the west of the country to bolster the rump state left to Zelensky. What if the Poles were then attacked by the Russians? Would Article 5 be invoked and, if so, would it receive the unanimous agreement that it would require?
This whisper of a coalition of the willing may have resulted from reports picked up by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), which suggest that British, French and German officials are preparing a Nato-Ukraine pact with protections well short of those that Ukraine would receive from full Nato membership, and which may be part of moves to press Ukraine to accept a negotiated settlement on unfavourable terms. The Wall Street Journal reported that the exact provisions of the pact are undecided, but could provide advanced military equipment, arms, and ammunition to Ukraine, but not Article 5 protection or a commitment to station Nato forces in Ukraine. Such a deal might enable the Ukrainians to mount a counter-offensive which brought Russia to the negotiating table before the West’s inability to sustain a prolonged war, high Ukrainian casualties, and Ukrainian forces’ inability to recapture the Crimea become too obvious. Russia’s reaction to such a deal can probably be imagined.
Why would Wallace say such things when he is also on record lamenting the state of our defences – a state which he has been a party to creating? This is not hard to fathom when one considers that less than two years hence his party faces electoral annihilation. Wallace sees himself at that point becoming Secretary General of Nato. What better way to line himself up than dismembering the Estonian garrison and urging confrontation with Russia? The joker in the pack, of course, is that his old boss and crony Boris Johnson also wants the job, since he is almost certain to lose his seat come the election. The two must, surely, have done a deal on this one – but what is the deal? And why would either want to hold such a job, at such a time, in such circumstances?