orrespondents being briefed by Whitehall officials last week were surprised to be warned that the UK and United States now expect the fighting in Ukraine to go on to the end of the year — at least. The battle for the Donbas region is intense, with heavy casualties being suffered by both sides. It is likely that the armies will have to go for an “operational pause” within a few days. They need to recover and replenish their resources, and forces.
Ukraine is losing soldiers by the hundred each day — President Zelensky has admitted this. Roughly a third of all Ukrainians have been uprooted, made refugees, killed or wounded since February. The command and government is now putting together a citizen army of 700,000 volunteers. It is a race against time to get them trained and equipped — but all know the nation’s survival depends on it.
Russia, too, has sustained huge losses — up to 40,000 wounded or put out of action, plus 20,000 killed on the battlefield. It all adds to roughly two-thirds of the combat forces that crossed into Ukraine on February 24. Sure, there have been probably a further 60,000 military personnel of different units and guises poured in as replacements. But they are not as well trained — and soon Russia will run out of functioning expeditionary ground forces.
There has already been trouble with conscript soldiers, home guard units, and bands of Chechen militia commanded by the warlord Ramzan Kadyrov — used as a personal unit by President Putin — all on the point of mutiny. There is growing evidence that he has started an unannounced “hidden” mass mobilisation of Russians to the age of 40 for extended service in Ukraine. The Russians have made ground in Donbas via the massive employment of rocket and heavy howitzer artillery. Even so, there has not been enough effective infantry to take full control and occupy.
Some of the big towns where the Russian flag has been raised and puppet mayors installed, such as Kherson and Melitopol, are already seeing well-organised attacks by fighters of a Ukrainian partisan army. For all the fragility of their forces, the mounting casualties and shortages of munitions and heavy artillery, the Ukrainians have the edge in the key area of information management and communication. The Ukraine command has been judiciously reticent about the full extent of losses and casualties, and of exactly how their forces operate, and ferociously secretive about such matters of operational security.
They have even twisted the bad news reported about the effects of the massive Russian bombardments to their advantage. Over the weekend the Ukraine command hinted that the situation in Severodonetsk was now hopeless and the defenders would have to pull back to defensive positions to the west. The Russians moved infantry to take the city. According to reports, as yet unconfirmed officially, Ukrainian forces counter-attacked into the city — knowing the Russians couldn’t use heavy artillery as long as they had their own infantry and militias there. According to one source, the Ukrainians have regained nearly half the city.
Ukrainian forces realise that they are in for a long fight — and British strategic analysts now think the war itself and security crisis is set to run for at least three years more. There is growing concern about the support of the European allies of the EU and in Nato. Both Germany and Italy get more than a third of their oil and gas from Russia. A German industry association has claimed that sustained sanctions will result in the loss of 400,000 jobs. Italian politicians believe sanctions will mean a loss of two per cent of GDP, damaging the recovery programme of premier Mario Draghi.
“There is now real fear that Ukraine and sanctions could really divide the EU, and undermine the European Project entirely — a really big blow on top of Brexit,” a seasoned Italian political analyst explained to me.
The Ukraine conflict is one of the key components in the growing global security crisis. Britain will have to make it a priority in its defence policy, operations and budgeting.
The war has become like firelighter fuel on the flaring cost-of-living emergency — affecting the food and energy security of this country. Supporting Ukraine against Russian aggression is now part of the UK’s own survival and prosperity. As many in Washington and Whitehall now recognise, this is no longer a discretionary matter.