Winter won’t save Putin. It may end him

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 22 November 2022. © Richard Kemp

The Russians have long considered ‘General Winter’ to be their trusted ally. Hitler found this to his cost when he invaded the USSR in 1941, having failed to learn from Napoleon’s retreat across the snow-covered steppe in 1812. But in both of these campaigns winter was just one factor. Those who think freezing temperatures in Ukraine will favour Russia now are fundamentally wrong.

For one thing, the Ukrainians are not Germans or Frenchmen. Like the Russians, they are accustomed to snow, ice and plunging temperatures. They know how to live and survive in it, as did the Finns when Stalin invaded in 1939 and was bested by a much smaller army in a freezing war for its territory.

Those who have fought in sub-zero conditions know that winter warfare is as much about fighting off the cold as it is about dodging shells and bullets. Even though both sides in this war are acclimatised, the cold weather will hit them hard as frostbite threatens to cripple and kill. Shivering in a frozen dug-out or abandoned farmhouse with no prospect of respite from the weather can penetrate even the toughest soldier’s mind, and make him turn in on himself. It is then that hypothermia strikes, sometimes fatally.

In such conditions training is all-important, with soldiers taught to look out for each other to spot early signs of deterioration. The Ukrainian troops are better trained and more disciplined than the Russian invaders and therefore better able to cope.

Cold weather clothing keeps soldiers alive and fighting in winter conditions. Ukraine’s men are mostly well-equipped, often with supplies sent in by its allies. The Russians are less so, with reports of newly mobilised soldiers having to find their own coats, hats and sleeping bags to make up for stocks that have disappeared into the black market to line the pockets of their quartermasters.

In all wars and in all seasons, morale is the most important factor in battle, and never more so than in winter. Here the Ukrainians will Continue reading

We’re learning the wrong lessons from Putin’s defeats

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 19 November 2022. © Richard Kemp

With Kyiv crippling Russian supply lines and driving back their forces in the east and south, and with Moscow’s missile blitz against Ukrainian cities, both sides are bracing for a tough winter. Right now, the initiative is still with Ukraine, but as Russia redeploys its forces and continues mobilising, the outcome remains in the balance.

This is no time for equivocation. Yet that is what we are seeing, with reaction in the West switching bafflingly between defeatism and triumphalism.

The defeatists are at it again, with rumours that the Americans are engaged in talks with Russia and getting ready to pressure Ukraine into making concessions. There is no doubt that Joe Biden could force an accommodation on President Zelensky, whose pleas for more assistance are a daily reminder of how dependent his country is on Western support. But it would be a terrible mistake.

Putin will not agree to any armistice along pre-February lines after nine months of piling tens of thousands of dead and maimed Russians on top of the self-inflicted economic wreckage his country has suffered. His minimum demand would be for the territory he has already annexed, along with some form of guaranteed Russian dominion over Ukraine. While he or any of his likely successors remain in power, this will not change, whatever incentives Biden might offer.

The triumphalists, meanwhile, seem to think the Putin threat is gone. They can be glimpsed in the arguments over defence spending in the UK, with Jeremy Hunt postponing a decision on increasing the budget to 3 per cent of GDP at least until the spring. This is peace-time thinking – it seems as if Whitehall thinks the war in Ukraine will be over before long and we can return to business as usual.

As Ukraine burns – and Putin’s flames threaten to engulf us – the British Army continues to slash its tanks and infantry, the RAF Continue reading

We are much closer to World War Three than many are prepared to admit

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 16 November 2022. © Richard Kemp

The missile strike in Poland that killed two people on Tuesday and triggered an emergency meeting of G7 leaders caused Western media and pundits to raise fears of an escalation in Russian aggression – and the outbreak of a larger war.

It soon became clear, though, that what happened was accidental and, although there have been some close calls, it is rare for major wars to start by accident.

The de-escalation of the Poland incident, however, does not mean fears of Ukraine exploding into a full-blown European conflict are unfounded. Alarm about the outbreak of World War Three was understandable. Indeed, we are closer to such an eventuality than many are prepared to admit.

Russia has already expanded this war, which started with a focus on military targets, by launching greatly intensified strikes against Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, most recently on Tuesday, with a barrage of around 100 missiles causing devastation in Ukraine as well as massive power outages in neighbouring Moldova.

The situation is increasingly fragile. Despite Russian setbacks, this is not the time for complacency.

The important question is: with Putin under immense pressure and desperate to regain the initiative, at what point might he decide to attack Nato weapons supplies entering the battle zone via Poland, which are so crucial to Ukraine’s combat power? Will he take military action against Nato surveillance planes, which play a pivotal role in providing the intelligence that helps keep Ukrainian forces fighting effectively? Will he initiate cyber attacks against Nato military capabilities involved in supporting Ukraine? Continue reading

It’s time to send fighter jets to Ukraine

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 8 November 2022. © Richard Kemp

Several months ago, the supply of combat planes to Ukraine seemed a step too far. A decision to provide Polish MiGs at the beginning of the conflict was vetoed by President Biden amid fears of provoking Russia. Today, however, this is not only a much safer option but a no-brainer. We should give them combat planes as soon as possible.

Almost our entire effort until now has been sending equipment for the ground campaign, such as Himars rockets, fighting vehicles and precision munitions as well as planning support and target intelligence. These have been incredibly effective, but as every military professional knows, modern warfare is about joint operations – land, sea and air. It is from the air that Russia has been doing the greatest damage to Ukraine in recent weeks, using air-launched cruise missiles and Iranian-supplied kamikaze drones to destroy 30 per cent of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure in the last month, irreplaceable in the medium term.

This air campaign has a simple goal: to destroy as much of Ukraine as possible, in keeping with the principles of Putin’s new commander, General Sergei Surovikin, who deployed similar tactics in Syria. In response, we have pledged to donate hundreds of new air defence systems. But again, this only amounts to a partial answer to a threat that cannot be properly countered without additional and more sophisticated combat planes. As the respected think tank the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) has suggested, modern Nato jets, such as US F-16s, could make an enormous difference in the Ukrainians’ favour.

One of the excuses used by the Americans to scupper the Polish MiGs deal was that it would take too long to train pilots for a war that many believed would end in a few weeks. Today we hear a new set of objections, on the grounds that while fighter jets may help Ukrainians in the short term, it could provoke a disastrous Russian escalation in the longer term, thus backfiring on the West. Frankly, this is a strange line of thinking. We have already transferred a very large number of deadly weapons to Kyiv without provoking a devastating response. Continue reading

Russia has declared hybrid war on Britain

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 30 October 2022. © Richard Kemp

The reported hacking of Liz Truss’s mobile phone over the summer, suspected to have been conducted by people working on behalf of the Kremlin, should raise alarm bells across Whitehall. Britain is under fierce attack in this new era of hybrid warfare. While we may not be exchanging fire on the battlefield, our critical national infrastructure will be severely undermined and potentially destroyed if we fail to get a grip.

Currently, it is quite clear that our political establishment is not taking the threat seriously enough. The compromised information on Ms Truss’s personal phone, it is reported, may have included sensitive information about the Ukraine war. If true, that would be an extraordinary dereliction of security. Even in the analogue days of the Second World War, it is hard to imagine any government minister making calls or sending cables about sensitive military or diplomatic issues through devices otherwise used for personal matters.

We may indeed have extraordinary technology these days, allowing us to encrypt messages as soon as they are sent, but this amounts to nothing if we continue to see Ukraine as a far-off battle that affects us only on our television screens. At times of war – and this is a war the UK is heavily engaged in – even encrypted communications should be carefully guarded by Whitehall’s security apparatus.

For Putin considers Britain to be his second biggest enemy in Europe, behind Ukraine. He demonstrated his particular hatred for us four years ago, with the nerve-agent attack in Salisbury. His authorities will use any means possible to damage us.

We therefore cannot put anything past him. That includes the severing of the Shefa-2 fibre-optic cables between Scotland, Shetland and the Faroes. These have been played down as accidents – ‘probably by a fishing vessel’ – but how likely is it that an accident would produce two separate cuts on the same day, especially when there was a Russian ‘research’ vessel in the same seaway? We should at the very least investigate the possibility of sabotage. Continue reading

Putin has found a new weapon of mass destruction

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 21 October 2022. © Richard Kemp

Killing thousands of people and unleashing untold environmental damage by blowing up a hydroelectric dam is unlikely to give the slightest pause to Russia’s new supreme commander in Ukraine, General Sergei Surovikin, if he thinks it will bring him military advantage. President Zelensky has suggested that is exactly what Surovikin has in mind to counter a potential Ukrainian breakthrough that threatens defeat for Russia around Kherson.

Immediately after taking overall command of Putin’s special military operation this month, Surovikin launched wave after wave of indiscriminate rocket and drone attacks against Kiev and other cities, bringing to Ukraine the merciless tactics he used to subjugate opposition in Syria, bombing homes, schools and hospitals.

Known also for his butchery in Afghanistan and Chechnya, Surovikin now faces his greatest challenge: putting an end to Russia’s humiliation in Ukraine. In an unusual admission for a Russian commander he has said ‘the situation is tense’ in the south, ominously adding: ‘we will not exclude taking the most difficult decisions’.

One of those decisions will be on the Kherson front which holds the key to defending Crimea. For weeks the Ukrainian army has been pressing attacks against Russian troops on the west bank of the River Dnieper, some of which have been repelled. Surovikin also faces huge difficulties keeping an over-stretched Kherson defence force stocked with ammunition, fuel and combat equipment, partly due to the damage inflicted earlier this month on the Kerch bridge from Russia to Crimea, a major supply artery.

If Surovikin decides he cannot hold Kherson city, he may order a withdrawal to the east of the river and, as well as evacuating civilians, there is evidence that Russia has already begun pulling back military equipment and troops rather than risk the significant losses sustained in the north east of the country. If Ukrainian forces do break through there, one option would be to blow up the dam of the Continue reading

Give Ukraine the weapons to kill Putin’s terror drones

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 19 October 2022. © Richard Kemp

Russia’s kamikaze drone attacks against Kyiv and other cities should be taken a serious turning point in the Ukraine war. The Iranian-supplied Shahed-136 drones, fired from hundreds of miles away and designed to detonate on impact, terrorising the civilian population, can unleash an astonishing wave of trauma. They are intended, as with his ballistic missile attacks on cities across Ukraine, to sap morale by indiscriminate killing and by damaging energy infrastructure as a harsh winter approaches.

No doubt, Putin will find they have no greater impact on the will of the Ukrainian people to fight on than Hitler’s 10,000 plus V1 rockets fired at London and the south-east towards the end of the Second World War had on the people of Britain despite the devastation they faced.

But as the V1s did for the Allies, the kamikaze drones have the potential to force Ukraine to expend vast quantities of very expensive and finite countermeasures to protect the population. If Putin keeps up his campaign of aerial terror, it is likely to have a debilitating effect on the Ukrainian war effort – hence Zelensky’s repeated calls for increased supply of air defences from the West, and Britain in particular. We should provide that support immediately, and not underestimate just how many of these drones Putin is willing to dash at Ukraine, given his forces are failing on almost every other field of battle.

Ukraine has been making strong progress against Russian forces in the east and the south, where his forces are still suffering logistic shortages from the hammer-blow attack against the Kerch bridge between Russia and Crimea. All this alongside biting Western sanctions is causing growing disquiet among Moscow’s elites. Terrorising Ukraine’s civilian population is Putin’s way of mollifying his critics, a head-line grabbing stop-gap before mobilisation kicks in and he is able, as he hopes, to go back to the offensive when the ground freezes in November.

Mobilising men has already proven hard enough; replenishing munitions at the rate they are being expended a much bigger challenge. That is why Putin turned to his friends in Tehran who, according to Ukrainian intelligence reports, have supplied hundreds of drones to Moscow since August with an order of 2,400 in the pipeline. Also in the pipeline are Iranian ballistic missiles with ranges up to 400 miles which can be used against battlefield and civilian targets — the first sold to Russia by any nation since the war began.

Tehran of course denies supplying arms to Russia, but despite their lies we are witnessing the emergence of an axis of evil beyond the Middle East where Putin and Khamanei have been collaborating in Continue reading

Ukraine counteroffensive – analysis

Article published in The Daily Express, 6 October 2022. © Richard Kemp

Ukraine’s counteroffensives in the east around Kharkov and in the south around Kherson have thrown Russian forces on the defensive, routing them from territory that Putin pledged a few days ago would be Russian ‘forever’.

How has Ukraine’s David sent Russia’s Goliath reeling? Moscow sent in inadequate force numbers, with Putin underestimating Ukraine’s capability while overestimating his own forces’ fighting prowess.

As Russia’s war has gone from bad to disastrous, militarily incompetent Putin has worsened matters by micromanaging and issuing orders direct to low-level units.

The invaders have been confronted by highly motivated Ukrainian soldiers defending their homeland. But their stunning success would not have been possible without weapons, ammunition, intelligence and planning guidance from Britain and the West.

A humiliated Putin knows he must prevent further losses to his newly annexed territory. He may not be bluffing when he threatens to lash out with nuclear weapons. Ukraine would not be able to counter that and it is up to America and Britain to react with devastating force if the crunch comes.

Like Hitler, Putin is micromanaging his way to oblivion

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 3 October 2022. © Richard Kemp

Putin constantly invokes parallels with the Second World War to justify his war. European assault on Russia, denazification of Ukraine, the list goes on. In reality the closest parallel is his own resemblance to Hitler, an effective political strategist but an incompetent commander-in-chief, whose greatest blunder was perhaps to hold the Wehrmacht back from Dunkirk in 1940, allowing the British army to escape. History is likely to judge Putin’s most ruinous decision as invading Ukraine with grossly inadequate numbers.

As Russian fortunes go from bad to worse, Putin, like Hitler, is increasingly micromanaging events on the battlefield, sometimes directing operations down to battalion level. For example, as Ukraine attacks strategically important cities in the east and south, Putin insists his over-stretched troops continue a slow, grinding assault against the eastern town of Bakhmut, squandering forces that could reinforce Russian defences elsewhere, in the vain hope of being able to assuage his critics in Moscow by announcing some kind of offensive success.

Meanwhile the sweeping Ukrainian counter-offensive around Kharkov was deeply humiliating for Putin, not only losing territory close to Russia’s border but also boosting Ukrainian national morale and re-invigorating support from the West, which finally saw real results from its immense financial and military investment in Ukrainian fighting capability.

Of course Putin’s strategic incompetence could not be blamed for this disaster so, as in previous setbacks, he fired generals and replaced them with even greater sycophants, once also the habit of the Nazi leader. The fall of Lyman in Donetsk a few days ago, just hours after Putin declared the province to be Russia’s ‘forever’ was a major strategic and political blow. Although the defenders knew they couldn’t hold, Putin refused to allow them to withdraw and so hundreds were reportedly captured and their equipment seized or destroyed, further diminishing Russian combat power. Continue reading

The Russian military might yet finish Putin off

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 27 September 2022. © Richard Kemp

Putin’s latest nuclear threats signify above all that he is in grave danger at home. It was intended not just to cow the West but also to show strength to his henchmen who think he’s not been tough enough in Ukraine and to warn the plotters in Moscow that he will stop at nothing to hold on to power, no matter how many must die in the process.

His intended annexation of the areas of Ukraine now occupied by Russia means he could lawfully use nuclear weapons to defend them as they will formally be part of the Russian Federation. The fact that no other country will recognise Moscow’s sovereignty is beside the point – seen from the Kremlin, an attack on these areas with Nato munitions will be an attack on Russia itself.

Whether or not Putin was bluffing about using weapons of mass destruction – and we shouldn’t forget he also has a large chemical arsenal – his threat was a sign that he is running out of options in this war. Battlefield nuclear or chemical strikes could be a game-changer, inflicting severe physical and psychological damage on the Ukrainian defenders.

They would also have the potential for uncontrollable escalation, perhaps violently engulfing the whole of Europe and even beyond. The US president was right to publicly threaten catastrophic consequences for Russia if Putin used nuclear weapons and he would be right to inflict such consequences if his warnings went unheeded. In military terms that can only be direct NATO intervention in Ukraine or strikes against key targets inside Russia. Either would mean a Europe-wide war.

The White House says it has ‘communicated directly, privately to the Russians at very high levels’ how it would respond if Putin took the nuclear option. That message will have been delivered to others in the nuclear command chain, including the defence minister and chief of staff of the armed forces. We can only hope that it was sufficiently Continue reading

Security – Defence – Intelligence – Counter Terrorism