SOUTH ENGLAND – After a series of Russian defeats during the war, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace is urging Ukraine to “keep up the pressure, keep up the momentum” and continue its rapid attacks on the forces of Vladimir Putin during the winter months.
“Given the advantage that the Ukrainians have in terms of equipment training and the quality of their personnel over the demoralized, poorly trained and poorly equipped Russians, it would be in Ukraine’s interest to maintain its momentum. all winter long,” Wallace said. “They have 300,000 pieces of arctic warfare kit, from the international community” – a crucial requirement for any winter offensive.
Wallace told The Daily Beast that was the advice he would give to his Ukrainian counterparts, who he talks to “almost every week.” He praised the Ukrainians for shocking the world by showing their own courage and skills, as well as the huge shortcomings of the Russian armed forces.
The intervention comes at a time when senior US officials have tried to push Ukraine away from the battlefield and towards the negotiating table.
Two weeks ago, General Mark Milley, chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that since Ukraine might not achieve a complete victory on the battlefield, it should use the expected slowdown in military operations over the winter as a “window” for talks with the Russians.
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But President Volodymyr Zelensky said he would not negotiate with Russia as long as Putin remained in power, and said any settlement must end with Ukraine controlling all of its post-independence territories, including the Donbass and Crimea.
In an exclusive interview at a British army base in the south of England, Wallace instead suggested that now was the time for Ukraine to assert its advantage, pointing to the disastrous quality of the Russian armed forces.
“A Russian unit was recently deployed without food or socks, and with few weapons. It’s catastrophic for someone who goes into the field… The Russians have stature, but aren’t very good. Well, most of the good ones are dead,” he said. “They’re a meat grinder – they push them through the meat grinder – and use massive amounts of artillery. Only a nation that doesn’t care about its own people could send 100,000 of its own people to be either dead, injured or abandoned.
As we spoke last week, the crackle and hiss of rifle bullets sounded behind him, from a training range where a team of British and New Zealand army trainers were instructing Ukrainian forces. About 5,000 Ukrainian soldiers have already gone through a grueling three-to-five-week training program designed to give them a crash course in the basics of modern combat.
The program is run by the UK, with trainers sent from countries including Canada, New Zealand and Norway. They are taught stripped down infantry tactics with an emphasis on “survivability and lethality”, as one trainer put it. Many are sent straight to the front lines after finishing. Overhead you could hear the roar of the rotor blades of a British military helicopter as it descended to pick up Wallace and his New Zealand counterpart.
In his interview with The Daily Beast, Wallace also criticized successive British and European governments for decades of neglect of their armed forces.
When asked what he had learned from his experiences visiting and working with his Ukrainian counterparts, he replied: “I can speak for myself and for others in Europe, it seems well up front, but under the hood, the ammunition stocks, the maintenance, the availability, the reliability of our equipment and the willingness of our soldiers to go anywhere have been drained for decades.
He noted that a variety of global crises, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the COVID pandemic and the rise of China, have meant that “the world is more anxious” and aware of the “need of resilience… and the army can do resilience, that’s our middle name.
The UK has often taken a more optimistic view of Ukraine’s prospects than some of its other partners, including the US. A senior Ukrainian military official who works on foreign military liaison said Britain’s commitment was “far superior” to that of most other countries.
Speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military details, he noted that UK MoD officials were “extraordinarily committed”, often working regular overtime and weekends at key times in the military campaign.
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“If our armed forces need a particular vehicle or piece of armament, the British will search the military catalogs of different countries and find what we need,” he added, quoting the Australian Bushmaster as an example.
The Ukrainian military official also mentioned former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s first regular trips to Kyiv to meet with Zelensky as an important factor in boosting Ukrainian morale and demonstrating international support. While Johnson is mostly dishonored in his home country, he remains a folk hero in Ukraine, appearing on murals, T-shirts, coffee mugs and beer cans.
Wallace would talk about who was responsible for last week’s deadly missile incident in Poland, but noted that “missiles were flying around that part of the world because Russia fired 80 missiles at civilian infrastructure. It’s against the Geneva Convention, but that doesn’t stop Mr. Putin.
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