Weekly Column

Ukraine

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Overview

For thirty years or more, I would have said that the threat of a conventional war anywhere near the Continent of Europe was pretty unlikely. The whole focus of Defence and Security was on Islamic terrorism and hot and dusty places in the Middle East and Africa. Russia was for much of that time an accepted ally of the West; and as a result we largely ignored the North Atlantic, the Arctic and the whole of Europe in our defence analysis.All of that changed both with the end of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan; and with Russia’s change of stance demonstrated by the illegal annexation of Crimea, and Russian military action in the Donbass area of Ukraine. We now have to add to that a whole series of signals of Russian aggression. There is a renewed ‘arc of instability’ stretching from Murmansk and the militarisation of the Arctic; through the Baltic, including the most militarized place in the World, the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad; Belarus from where the Russians can threaten both the three Baltic states and Kyiv; passing the Balkans where Russian influence is without doubt destabilising Bosnia; across the Ukraine, and on to Azerbaijan and even Kazakhstan where Russia has without doubt played a part in the recent instability.The most immediate concern (although perhaps best viewed as a central part of a wide sweep of Russian ambition) is their military build-up on three parts of the Ukrainian border. They have made impossible claims on NATO (we must not for example, exercise our troops in any state neighbouring Russia; and must promise to prevent Ukraine from ever joining NATO), and they have become without doubt the most acute threat to the UK's national security.The UK is steadfast in its support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Prime Minister has spoken directly to President Putin and Ukrainian President Zelenskyy to re-state the UK's unequivocal support. He has made it absolutely clear that any Russian military incursion would be a massive mistake and met with severe (economic and perhaps military) consequences. The Defence Secretary recently announced that we are now providing new security assistance including the supplying of light, anti-armour, defensive weapon systems and the deployment of a small number of UK personnel to provide training for a short period of time. These are purely defensive weapons.I fear that we are very likely to see a sharp increase in Russian ‘hybrid warfare’ over the next week or two, quite possibly followed by conventional warfare; and we must ready ourselves for it. Watch out for cyber-attacks both on Ukraine, quite possibly on her allies too; watch out for Spetznatz style stimulated dissent, perhaps rioting in Kyiv in an attempt to justify the Russian ‘solution’ to it; beware of ever-increasing Russian propaganda throughout the west; and watch out for ‘accidents’ such as the shooting down of a Ukrainian or even a western aeroplane.We can but hope that at least some of this is ‘sabre-rattling’ by an embattled President Putin; and that a strong diplomatic response from the West will be enough to convince him of the foolhardiness of any kind of military action against the Ukraine. But I fear that things may already have gone too far for that; and that it will be very hard for Putin to pull back. Only an absolutely resolute determination by all of us in the West and NATO can now prevent a developing catastrophe in eastern Europe and perhaps across the whole arc of instability they have created..

Column Information
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Author
James Gray
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Published Date
January 27, 2022