Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv, is further away from London than Tripoli, but there is still a sense that the Russian military advances in Ukraine are closer to home than anything happening in North Africa.
For all the political outrage that has poured out of Western capital cities in the last few days, the story is the same as the one we have seen in the past decade in Libya, Syria and Afghanistan.
It is no wonder that the Defence Secretary said there was a whiff of Munich in the air, or that George Osborne recently said: “the humiliating retreat from Kabul and the appalling famine looming there is teaching this political generation the heavy price we pay for our absence.”
When will we learn that “Do Nothing” does more harm than good?
When I was the Chair of the Committee of Defence Reliability, I was responsible for looking at statistics to arrive at a judgement about whether something was unlikely, possible, probable, likely, or certain. Looking at recorded data produces a quantatitive percentage that can be translated into a qualitative opinion. The term 98% certain is in fact an oxymoron -something is either certain or it is not.
When this week the President of the USA changed his language from a Russian invasion of Ukraine being probable to possible, I hoped that his advisors were providing him with hard percentages, rather than plucking words out of the ether.
If it is the former, then there is great hope that the crisis has been averted (for now), if it is the latter then we need to tighten our language and explain what we mean more clearly.
I thoroughly applaud the Defence Secretary for his visit to Moscow to reinforce British diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine. What he said made absolute sense from the perspective of playing to the American and British public. However, from a practical viewpoint, the economic approach will only hold good if China supports the USA…
The key to conflict prevention remains in President Putin’s December demands. Ukraine became a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme in 1994 after they had already deployed on UN peacekeeping operations in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia. They went on to participate in NATO military operations in Bosnia and Kosovo before 9/11. When three Ukrainian officers were part of my NATO headquarters in Baghdad, there was a very strong prospect of full membership, but this receded under the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych.
The strategic situation changed completely with the Euromaiden uprising in 2014, which preceded the Russian annexation of Crimea and the incursion into Ukraine’s eastern areas. For a time, NATO concentrated on bolstering military support to the Baltic States, while politically supporting Ukraine’s stated desire to become a full member of NATO. It has now come to a head because in June last year NATO announced that Ukraine would become a member despite the Donbas War which up to that point, had been a statutory block to membership.
While NATO countries have reduced their military forces during the past 11 years and withdrawn from conflict zones in Libya, Syria and Afghanistan; the Russian military has grown in power and influence. Russian strategists will now be calculating the two most likely outcomes: Ukraine becoming a member of NATO and thus forming a potential pincer movement with the Baltic states against Moscow; or a limited incursion to stop Ukraine’s progress towards NATO membership with inevitable economic consequences.
The announcement by the USA and a dozen other countries that they are evacuating their diplomats from Ukraine reminds me of the humiliating retreats from Libya, Syria and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, this does not bode well either for the West’s moral authority, or for the likelihood of a successful outcome. If we are serious about assisting the Kiev government, we need to share their risks.
Twenty five years ago, I was invited to present a dozen of my soldiers to Her Majesty at a reception to mark Her 50th anniversary as Colonel-in-Chief of my Regiment.
It was a wonderful occasion in the Regent’s Gallery at Belvoir Castle, as it was the first time since our hectic operational tour to Bosnia-Herzegovina that she had met us.
It is quite extraordinary that she has now completed 70 years as monarch and is coming up to 75 years with her Lancers. She has been an exemplary role model not only to the military, but to all her subjects and I am sure I join all those who have sworn the oath of allegiance to say how proud we have been to serve in her regiments and wish Her Majesty good health in this Jubilee year.