SOUTHERN ENGLAND – After a series of Russian defeats in the war, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace is urging Ukraine to “keep up the pressure and momentum” and continue rapid-fire attacks on Vladimir Putin’s forces throughout the winter months.
“Given the advantage Ukrainians have in 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 momentum through the winter,” Wallace said. “You have 300,000 items of arctic warfare equipment from the international community” – a crucial requirement for any winter offensive.
Wallace told The Daily Beast that this is the advice he would give to his Ukrainian colleagues, with whom he speaks “almost weekly”. He commended the Ukrainians for shocking the world by flaunting their own bravery and skills, as well as the vast shortcomings of the Russian armed forces.
The intervention comes at a time when senior American officials have been trying to push Ukraine off the battlefield and to the negotiating table.
Two weeks ago, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that as Ukraine may not achieve full victory on the battlefield, Ukraine should use the expected slowdown in military operations over the winter as a “window” for discussions with the Russians.
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But President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said he will not negotiate with Russia as long as Putin remains in power and has said that any deal must end with Ukraine giving up all of its post-independence territories, including Donbass and Crimea controlled.
In an exclusive interview at a British Army base in southern England, Wallace instead suggested that this was the time for Ukraine to turn their advantage and pointed to the poor quality of Russia’s armed forces.
“Recently, a Russian unit was deployed with no food, no socks, and not many weapons. This is catastrophic for a person going into the field… The Russians are great, but not very good. Well, most of the good guys are dead,” he said. “They’re a meat grinder – they shove them in the meat grinder – and use massive amounts of artillery. Just a nation that doesn’t look after its own people could send 100,000 of its own people either dead, injured or abandoned.”
As we spoke last week, behind him came the crackling and whistling of bullets from a training ground where a team of British and New Zealand military instructors were teaching Ukrainian forces. Around 5,000 Ukrainian soldiers have already undergone 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 such as Canada, New Zealand and Norway. You’ll be taught stripped-down infantry tactics with an emphasis on “survivability and lethality,” as one trainer put it. Many are sent directly to the front after graduation. Above you could hear the whirring of the rotor blades of a British military helicopter descending to pick up Wallace and his New Zealand colleague.
In his interview with The Daily Beast, Wallace also criticized several British and European governments for decades of neglect of their armed forces.
When asked what he learned from his experience visiting and working with his Ukrainian colleagues, he said: “I can speak for myself and some others in Europe, the front is looking good – but under the hood, ammo stocks, maintenance , availability, reliability of our equipment and operational readiness of our soldiers have been eroded 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 left “the world more fearful” and aware of “the need for resilience… and the military.” Resilience is our middle name.”
The UK has often been more optimistic about Ukraine’s prospects than some of its other partners, including the United States. A senior Ukrainian military official working on cooperation with foreign military officials said Britain’s commitment “far exceeded” that of most other countries.
On condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military details, he noted that UK MoD officials were “extremely dedicated” and often worked regular overtime hours and weekends at key points in the military campaign.
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“If our armed forces need a specific vehicle or weapon, the British will look through the military catalogs of different countries and find what we need,” he added, citing the Australian Bushmaster as an example.
The Ukrainian military official also cited former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s early and regular trips to Kyiv to meet with Zelenskyy as an important factor in boosting Ukrainian morale and demonstrating international support. While Johnson has mostly fallen out of favor in his home country, in Ukraine he remains a folk hero, appearing on murals, T-shirts, coffee mugs and beer cans.
Wallace wanted to speak to whoever was responsible for last week’s deadly missile attack in Poland, but noted that “the missiles were flying around in that part of the world because Russia had fired 80 missiles at civilian infrastructure. It’s against the Geneva Convention, but that doesn’t stop Mr Putin.”
Read more at The Daily Beast.
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