Andrew L. Urban
A reflection of the West’s confusion over how to proceed against Russia in Ukraine is perfectly illustrated by a commentary from The Australian’s Washington Correspondent Adam Creighton and the paper’s contrasting editorial in today’s paper. Australians call it pussyfooting.
He begins: General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered an uncomfortable assessment last week of Ukraine’s chances of ejecting Russia: slim to zero. “From a military standpoint, I still maintain that for this year it would be very, very difficult to militarily eject the Russian forces from every inch of Ukraine … That doesn’t mean it can’t happen; doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but it’d be very, very difficult,” he said, adding the war “is likely to end in a negotiation”.
Milley was attacked for his supposedly defeatist attitude by the usual foreign policy grandees, but as the 12-month mark of the war looms, after tens of thousands of deaths on both sides, a reality check is more than welcome.
He ends: However much we think Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is evil or stupid, no amount of banning Russian flags or cancelling Swan Lake will reverse it. If the price to end the relentless carnage and destruction of a beautiful country is that the Dnipro River becomes the eastern border of a shrunken Ukraine, perhaps that’s a price worth paying.
At least ordinary Ukrainians in the Donbas and Crimea would then have the opportunity to emigrate safely to a better life offered in the Western part of the country.
Those who disagree strongly, as many do on social media, should be invited to go and help the fight personally.
I’m a fan of Adam Creighton’s work so I’ll excuse the callous migration remark and the uncharacteristic silliness of the last line. (Besides, many have indeed helped, both on the ground and with generous cash donations.) But I take serious issue with his sentiments that seem to urge Ukraine to surrender some territory to achieve a peaceful end to the war. Firstly, he wouldn’t say that I’m sure, if it was his country. Secondly the underlying appeasement strategy delivers Putin a victory for the use of force to defeat international law. Thirdly, suggesting there is a consolation prize for those who may emigrate from Russian controlled regions to the Western part of the country is cruel and insulting to Ukrainians, never mind humanity.
On the same day, in a display of opinion disparity, The Australian editorialised: Germany’s reluctance to answer the plea for tanks and to remove re-export roadblocks for countries such as Poland, which has Leopard 2s it wants to send Ukraine, plays into Mr Putin’s hands at a critical time. Britain has led the way by dispatching 14 Challenger 2 tanks, but they are too few to make a difference on the battlefield. Germany’s Leopard 2s are best suited by far to replace Ukraine’s ancient, clapped-out Soviet-era tanks that are no match for Mr Putin’s armour. At least 2300 Leopard 2s are in warehouses across Europe, ready to be passed to Ukraine as it prepares for a likely spring offensive by Russia.
Military analysts say several hundred Leopard 2s could change the course of the war. Mr Scholz should ignore the “special relationship” predecessor Angela Merkel had with Mr Putin and provide the tanks Mr Zelensky needs.
And if it hadn’t been for the West – led by the US – a) ignoring the 1994 Budapest Memorandum guaranteeing Ukraine’s sovereignty and b) its piecemeal approach to military assistance, this war would have been over within days… if it ever started. Thanks President Joe Biden and Boris Johnston.
Such lack of resolve is mirrored in Mark Milley’s defeatist attitude, Germany’s tank-shy dithering and Creighton’s rather callous op-ed. Remember the mood amongst Ukrainians: troops famously told an approaching Russian warship on the first day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to “go fuck yourself”.
Andrew L. Urban is co-author with Chris McLeod of Putin the Unlikely Hero (Wilkinson, 2022) and the soon-to-be-pubished Putin the Front Line President (Wilkinson, 2023)