Talk of Ukraine negotiations shows just how morally bankrupt Western politicians are

As the early winter snow begins to fall across the battlefields of southern Ukraine, it is now more important than ever to reflect upon the current situation in which the Ukrainian Armed Forces find themselves, and how best the west can continue to help them retake their stolen territory.

Kyiv’s much anticipated summer counter-offensive may not have broken through the so-called Surovikin Line – the multi-layered Russian defences in the south – but Ukraine’s progress has been admirable nonetheless. Despite incredibly tough going, miles of Russian minefields, sustained artillery barrages and fortified defensive positions, the Ukrainian forces still made substantial advances. As this year draws to a close, the momentum is with the Ukrainians.

But that much needed momentum seems likely to die away, potentially irrevocably, spelling disastrous consequences for Ukraine and wider European security interests.

Recent reports leaked to the German media have disclosed that Germany – which was unwisely close to Putin for many years – is considering a plan with the Biden administration to hold back military supplies to Ukraine. The idea would be to give just enough that the Ukrainians could hold their current lines, but advance no further. Instead this plan would see Kyiv seek terms from Moscow.

Whilst such reports remain unconfirmed, only last week the White House’s official X (ex Twitter) account declared US support for Ukraine entering into negotiations. This is dangerous signalling which appears to suggest that Ukraine should prioritise peace talks rather than aggressive action to retake as much of its stolen territory as possible. It is crucial that Ukraine maintains the initiative – those who have seen combat and war know all too well just how important that is to success on the battlefield. Stall, stop, slow down, and failure is likely not far behind.

Suggestions of peace talks at this stage also ignore the intense and justified anger felt by Ukrainians against Russia’s war crimes: stolen children, torture, murder, mass disappearances and indiscriminate bombing.

In fact, open discussions of peace at this stage is a clear indication of just how morally bankrupt much of the Western political elite have become. The exact same attitude saw the West leaving Afghanistan two summers ago, its tail firmly between its legs, consigning Afghans to the tender mercies of the Taliban.

It was no coincidence that only six months later Putin decided that the time was ripe to reinvade Ukraine in February 2022. Evil prevails when the good do nothing.

So where does this dire situation leave Ukraine’s chances going forwards, into 2024 and beyond? The first factor to appreciate is the likely nature of a protracted conflict. If not concluded within twelve months, virtually all wars fought between states go on to last many years.

When the US and its allies went to war against Iraq in 1991, it lasted less than six months. The Iran-Iraq war by contrast lasted eight years, resulting in over one million casualties. One was conducted by a far superior force over another, whilst the other was more equal overall. The latter is probably a better model for the ongoing struggle of Russia against Ukraine: a protracted, peer-adversary, industrialised land war.

To avoid such a further prolonged bloodbath the West must act, acknowledging that President Zelensky has perfectly reasonably refused to consider negotiations and vowed to continue fighting. The West must now take stock of this situation, ignore calls for peace and the inevitable legitimisation of Russia’s war crimes which would be implied, and try to bring a swifter resolution to Ukraine’s fight for its very survival. By analysing the results of the recent offensive, and what Ukrainian forces require more of and in a more sustainable manner, we can better understand where that critical western help can be of most utility.

Ukraine’s progress during the offensive has been largely dependent on its organic fires superiority – outranging the Russians and having better means for detecting enemy artillery has been a critical Ukrainian advantage. However, this advantage is at times constrained by the serviceability of Ukrainian artillery, and in particular the accessibility at scale of replacement gun barrels – such is the rate of use. Even more worrying is the supply of 155mm shells – some of which have departed US factories bound for Ukraine but since been diverted to Israel.

It is now vital that Ukraine’s NATO partners invest in a consolidated Ukrainian artillery plan, to upscale replacement barrels and increase 155mm ammunition, whilst focusing on a more consolidated and sustainable supply of guns at greater scale as opposed to the multitude of platforms gifted by various Western nations. Whilst well meant and much appreciated, the range of stocks currently in service with Ukraine is proving difficult to maintain and service. A consolidated platforms, barrels and shells package must be prioritised for Ukraine, with increased industrial capacity to match this intent by industry partners.

Similarly with the issues of serviceability and maintenance of artillery pieces, Western-supplied protected mobility platforms have been suffering from a high loss rate. Whilst these platforms are often mobility-killed rather than destroyed, their rebuild requires a constant supply of spare parts. Again, Kyiv’s western partners need to ensure that the industrial support is available to sustain their donated platforms, whilst considering how to upscale out-of-country refits and maintenance, and even potentially in-country servicing where possible.

Finally, in order to protect the Ukrainian engineers from painstaking work clearing the miles of Russian-laid minefields, the ability to conduct minefield reconnaissance at standoff can be enhanced through AI and satellite technology. Technology now can greatly assist with geospatial intelligence and the accurate mapping of Russian minefields. Remotely controlled and autonomous mine clearing equipment could save countless Ukrainian lives, ultimately allowing for more rapid advances over Russian-held territory.

Best of all, Western nations could and should give Ukraine the technology which made the Gulf War so much shorter than the Iran-Iraq one: long ranging precision strike weapons. Fully capable ATACMS missiles, rather than the obsolete short ranged version that is all the US has been willing to release, would be war-winning on their own. When the promised F-16 fighter jets arrive, they must be fully equipped with weapons like the JASSM cruise missile. Germany’s Taurus would be an effective alternative.

This winter Ukraine looks set to avoid the mistakes of last year, when the Russians were allowed time during the biting cold months to consolidate their positions, constructing the defences which have made the Ukrainian advance so slow. The Ukrainians seem determined to continue advancing and pushing this winter, limited only by the elements and the wet sludgy ground.

But Russia continues to outspend and out-manufacture Ukraine as its economy approaches a full war footing. Combined with the political realities and concerns facing Washington in the Middle East and elsewhere, this is a situation in which time does not favour the Ukrainians.

Europe must now be finally prepared to pick up the mantle, come up with a consolidated package of support for Ukraine centred around artillery, ammunition, and serviceability of battle-winning platforms. As a distracted US – already with one eye on Israel and the other on China – will soon begin to shift its attention to the primaries and the caucuses, a collective failure now in European resolve will mean chaos and tyranny on the continent for years to come.

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