Ukraine is being starved by Joe Biden’s strategic idiocy

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 2 October 2023. © Richard Kemp

The US suspension of additional funding for Ukraine is a totemic moment in this conflict. Even if agreement is reached by Congress to extend financial assistance beyond mid-November, the political manoeuvring that saw Biden’s bid for a $24 million aid package slashed by three-quarters and then ditched altogether expose the immense difficulties the White House will have pushing future tranches through Congress.

That some Republicans were willing to shut down the US government over support for Ukraine is a very bad sign: even if they don’t win the presidency they will likely take control of the Senate next year. Their machinations were being driven by domestic political objectives in the midst of an election campaign rather than purposeful abandonment of the Ukrainian cause. But they must still be seen against the backdrop of the distinct lack of public support for continued backing of Ukraine’s war, with an opinion poll in August showing only 45 per cent of Americans ready to provide additional funding.

The mood against continuing support is significantly stronger among Republican voters who have traditionally been more bullish on foreign policy and use of force, and this shift in perspective is largely down to Donald Trump’s stance on the war. But the blame for imperilling Ukraine as Congress has falls squarely on Biden’s own shoulders. Had he not dragged his heels at every turn, refusing since the beginning to supply essential combat equipment in time or in sufficient numbers, the impact of Congressional recalcitrance would have been blunted.

His fear of antagonising Putin means that the critical long-range missiles have still not arrived, and there is no likelihood of seeing F16s in the skies anytime soon. These and other war-winning assets could easily have been sent in before popular support began to fall away and ahead of electoral politics taking centre stage. Both of these potential hazards were predictable, but rather than acting Continue reading

Ukraine must now take the war into Russia

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 24 September 2023. © Richard Kemp

After more than a year of procrastination, President Joe Biden has reportedly told President Volodymyr Zelensky that ATACMS ballistic missiles will be sent to Ukraine. I experienced ATACMS fire missions against high value Iraqi targets in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm. They are powerful and precise, capable of wreaking destruction on enemy forces up to 190 miles away.

These missiles are badly needed by Ukraine, outnumbered against Russian defences with air superiority and a 10:1 advantage in artillery. But formidable as they are, they will not be a game-changer. According to reports from Washington only ‘a small number’ are to be supplied and it may be many more months before they actually come into action.

Unnecessary delays in supplying vital combat capabilities, including tanks and F16s, cost lives and handicap Kyiv’s efforts to drive the Russians out. Behind this is a fear of provoking Putin and triggering escalation. That fear is unfounded: Moscow is already throwing everything it’s got into this war and the last thing it can afford is a direct fight with Nato. Nor would Putin dare hit the nuclear button, despite his earlier bluster, now muted. Every one of his red lines crossed so far by Ukraine or the West has been met with the same bluster. True to sabre-rattling form, the day after the ATACMS decision was made public, Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister, again trotted out the familiar line that the West is ‘directly at war’ with Russia.

Another consequence of Washington’s unfounded fear of escalation is that when ATACMS eventually arrive, they will come with a red flag banning their use against targets on Russian sovereign territory. That irrational restriction applies to all Western-supplied weapons, so while Russia is free to strike any target it can get to in Ukraine, Kyiv has one hand tied behind its back. Untying that hand could prove pivotal in this war, enabling Ukraine to strike Russian military headquarters, air bases, munitions factories, and supply lines. Continue reading

Biden needs Netanyahu for a foreign policy success

Article published by, 21 September 2023. © Richard Kemp

Finally, a full nine months into Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest government, US President Joe Biden deigned to allow him into his presence. Historically, American presidents have invited newly installed Israeli prime ministers to the White House shortly after taking office. Even this meeting on Wednesday however was not in Washington but in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Such pointed lack of respect is not the way to treat one of America’s most valuable allies, and perhaps the staunchest of them all. It is all about petty political point-scoring and interfering in Israel’s internal democratic processes.

But despite his short-sighted rebuke to the State of Israel and its prime minister, Biden actually needs at least as much from Netanyahu as Netanyahu needs from him. With the 2024 election looming, Biden is desperate for a foreign policy success among a sea of abject failures, perhaps unprecedented in the tenure of any US president.

The catastrophic retreat from Afghanistan was symbolically worse than when the US pulled out of Vietnam. Strategically it was an even bigger disaster, signaling US and NATO weakness to friends and enemies alike, not least Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

The Afghanistan debacle led directly to a second Biden foreign policy failure, as he pretty much flashed a green light to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine just six months later. As the saying goes: ‘Strength deters, weakness provokes.’

Since then, Biden’s ill-judged fear of Putin escalating the war has led to procrastination and heel-dragging over military aid that today sees Kyiv’s forces bogged down in an underpowered counteroffensive that is hobbled by inadequate combat hardware, while also Continue reading

The triumph of British Storm Shadow missiles in Ukraine shames Joe Biden

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 14 September 2023. © Richard Kemp

British-supplied Storm Shadow cruise missiles were the key element of a highly sophisticated Ukrainian air and sea attack this week that represented the most powerful strike against Crimea since the war began. The missiles hit a Kilo Class attack submarine and a large amphibious landing ship in the Russian-occupied port of Sevastopol, and likely caused significant damage to dock facilities. Disabling of the latter vessel was a particular blow for Moscow as these ships are critical for supply from Russia into Crimea following successive attacks on the Kerch Bridge.

When the UK first sent Storm Shadows to Ukraine, armchair experts derided their capabilities, suggesting they were only second best to US equivalents. That is certainly not the view in Kyiv. Most people I have met here in recent days – from senior military commanders and politicians to the man in the street – are hugely grateful for Britain’s support in their war effort. ‘Storm Shadow’ is now a familiar phrase in the Ukrainian lexicon.

Nor is it the view in Moscow, which has been targeting runways and air bases utilised by the planes that are used to launch Storm Shadow. These missiles have inflicted severe damage to Russian command posts and logistics dumps deep behind the front lines. And last month they were used to strike key bridges linking the Russian land corridor in occupied Ukraine to Crimea, disrupting supply lines.

With a range of 150 miles, Storm Shadow and its French equivalent, Scalp, are rare in being Western-supplied weapons that can reach into Crimea from behind current Ukrainian lines. This is believed to be the first strike on the peninsula itself by Storm Shadow. Along with previous attacks against Russian naval facilities on the Black Sea and on the Kerch Bridge, it has caused serious disruption to Putin’s strategy. Moscow will now have to redeploy scarce air defence assets to Crimea to protect against future attacks, increasing vulnerability in other critical areas. Continue reading

Ukraine’s counter-offensive is stalling. The West must prepare for humiliation

Article published in The Sunday Telegraph, 10 September 2023. © Richard Kemp

Time is running out for Ukraine. After 18 months of war, it is no longer a question of if the Western alliance will falter, but when. Since the start, despite making many of the right noises and supplying some military hardware, France and Germany, in particular, have been reluctant partners. Their leaders have often seemed more concerned with finding an ‘off-ramp’ for Vladimir Putin than ejecting his forces from Ukraine. As well as dependency on Russian energy, a pacifist instinct among Western European political classes has led to neglect of their armed forces and a corresponding fear of escalation.

As the provider of the lion’s share of backing for Ukraine, it is the US calling the shots in this war. Yet, since the earliest days, President Biden, too, has been dragging his heels, giving just about enough military assistance to keep Ukraine fighting, but intentionally not enough to enable a victory.

Like his Western European allies, Biden has been successfully deterred by Putin’s empty threats of widening the war. Faint-hearted concerns over provoking Putin explains his failure to provide urgently-needed weapons, including combat planes and long-range missiles, and for his obstinate resistance against Nato membership for Ukraine.

Now, polls in both Europe and the US show public support for military aid to Kyiv dropping away, with one recent survey indicating that less than 50 per cent of Americans are in favour of additional funding. This at least partially reflects sluggish progress in Ukraine’s counter-offensive, which has seen only limited gains so far.

Western military analysts and the media built expectations that, this summer, Kyiv would repeat its striking victories of last autumn at Kharkiv and Kherson. Now, people are wondering how much bang Continue reading

Putin is developing a sinister new plan for victory

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 5 September 2023. © Richard Kemp

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s planned meeting with Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok, as revealed by US intelligence, gives us a new insight into Russia’s strategy in Ukraine as well as a warning of wider dangers for the world.

As Kyiv’s offensive wears on into its fourth month, with only limited success and a few Russian counter attacks, it is becoming clear that Moscow’s plan may be to allow Ukraine to exhaust its men, tanks, shells and missiles against the Surovikin Line’s hardest edge. The thinking could be that, once Ukraine’s Western equipped and trained manoeuvre forces have been ground down, Russia will then be able to launch its own major offensive, perhaps as early as January.

After almost two years of fighting that has been compared more to the First World War than the Second, this plan is reminiscent of the Germans’ Kaiserschlacht, the spring offensive which began in March 1918 and drove the allies back, seizing more territory than had been taken by either side in the preceding four years of war. This was achieved by the Germans bleeding the enemy dry while building massive reserves of men and munitions behind the lines, ready to unleash a devastating assault not unlike what the British aimed for, but failed to achieve, during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

The problem for Putin is that, as he seeks to grind down Ukrainian forces, he is expending vast quantities of ammunition, especially artillery shells and ballistic missiles, and very large numbers of tanks. While Russia has a greater volume of military industrial production than much of the West, and continues to mobilise tens of thousands of men each quarter on a rolling basis, its core supplies remain inadequate for the level of expenditure required for a major new offensive.

That is where Pyongyang could come in. North Korea has been sending large quantities of shells, rockets and missiles to Russia for Continue reading

The EU is too selfish to make Ukraine a member

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 29 August 2023. © Richard Kemp

‘Enlargement [of the European Union] is no longer a dream,’ said Charles Michel, president of the European Council, in Slovenia this week. ‘It is time to move forward.’ It is rare I find myself agreeing with a Brussels bureaucrat, but on this he is absolutely right: the EU should be bold and accept new members by 2030. And Ukraine should be chief among them.

Yet, as Mr Michel must know, it is a false hope. The chances of the EU admitting a country the size of Ukraine or any of the other candidates further east, such as Moldova, is a fantasy, and for two reasons: the consequences for France and Germany’s power within the bloc, and the sheer financial cost for an organisation not known for its open-hearted charity.

Let’s consider the economic impact first. Were it to join, Ukraine would be the poorest member of the EU by some margin, with a per capita income half of that of Bulgaria. Taking into account the economic damage sustained from Putin’s war and the astronomic costs of post-war reconstruction, Ukraine would suck in eye-watering quantities of the EU’s development aid spending, already around one quarter of the total budget.

Then there is the EU’s largest budgetary item: agricultural subsidies. With 55 per cent of its land used for arable farming, Ukraine has one of the largest agricultural sectors in Europe and its farmers would be entitled to a huge slice of Common Agricultural Policy cash – all presumably at the expense of France, which receives the largest share of all member states.

Ukrainian membership would also very likely deprive funds from other poorer members: Romania, Hungary, Greece and Poland chief among them. Some current net beneficiaries like Czechia and Portugal would likely become net contributors overnight. To reduce some of the impact, the richest countries, such as France and Germany, would have no choice other than to dramatically step up Continue reading

Putin has just become even more dangerous

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 25 August 2023. © Richard Kemp

Those predicting the decline of Russian influence in Africa after Yevgeny Prigozhin’s suspected assassination could not be more wrong. Mateusz Morawiecki, Poland’s prime minister, is right to think that, under Putin’s direct control, Wagner will become even more effective – and more dangerous. He was talking about the threat in Eastern Europe, but the same applies elsewhere in the world, especially Africa where Wagner has fuelled instability, bolstered authoritarian regimes and plundered natural resources.

We don’t yet know how Wagner will be restructured or led in the post-Prigozhin world, but those are second order questions. The most important fact is that the group’s malignant political, military and economic activities will undoubtedly endure. They are far too valuable for Moscow to allow them to wither, given the group’s ability to insert itself in key strategic regions and fuel anti-Western sentiment. To see how effective this has been, just look at the influence they have over the government of Mali.

As commercial contractors, Wagner fighters are able to project Russian military force where its open use would be politically impossible. Economically, too, the group is crucial, generating huge revenues for the Kremlin war chest from gold, diamonds and other minerals, often smuggled out of Africa to evade Western sanctions.

As the war wears on, Moscow will need not only to maintain these activities but also expand them, and getting rid of Prigozhin may have helped to enable that. It removes a man who had become too powerful and allows Putin to secure greater loyalty from African governments that he maintains in power with the help of Russian mercenary services. That Prigozhin, even after the aborted coup, was allowed to meet national leaders and diplomats at last month’s Africa-Russia summit in St Petersburg is a testament how seriously the Kremlin takes this matter.

In many cases, African leaders are firmly locked in to their proxy relationships with Russia, whoever is in charge. An adviser to President Faustin-Archange Touadéra of the Central African Continue reading

Putin has shown Russia that he remains the Tsar

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 24 August 2023. © Richard Kemp

If the reports are true, Yevgeny Prigozhin’s fate was sealed from the moment he attempted his mutinous march on Moscow in June. He had long been treading a fine line with public attacks against defence minister Sergei Shoigu and chief of staff Valery Gerasimov, openly criticising the Russian armed forces and blaming the military leadership for failings on the battlefield. At no point, however, did he directly attack Putin, and his outspoken criticism was tolerated, and perhaps even encouraged, in line with Putin’s policy of divide and rule – and also because he and his mercenary army were of continuing importance to the war. But his insurrection crossed the line, humiliating Putin and directly challenging his authority.

Moscow might well seek to blame Ukraine for the plane crash, but yesterday’s events are very much in line with Putin’s familiar methods of revenge. The murder of Alexander Litvinenko in London using Polonium and attempted murder of Sergei Skripol in Salisbury using Novichok were much more than discrete attempts on people’s lives. They employed novel methods intended to send out an unmistakable message to deter others who might think of following in what Putin saw as their treacherous footsteps. In this plane crash we have seen a similar type of symbolic messaging.

According to some reports, Prigozhin’s plane was shot down by Russian air defences, something that could not be mistaken for an accident. Furthermore it occurred two months since Wagner began its uprising in June, and on the week Prigozhin’s ally General Sergei Surovikin was relieved of command of Russian aerospace forces.

Inside Russia, Putin has been heavily criticised for his apparent weakness in handling the coup attempt, with Prigozhin and his henchmen seeming to get off pretty much Scot free. If Prigozhin has now been killed, his authority will have been restored. It will not though be the end of the Wagner group, which is far too valuable to the Kremlin in ruthlessly implementing its foreign policy in Africa and elsewhere while accumulating huge financial resources for Moscow. In one form or another, Prigozhin’s mercenaries will continue his bloody legacy.

Nato may be about to sell Ukraine short – and make itself irrelevant

Article published in The Sunday Telegraph, 19 August 2023. © Richard Kemp

Nato appears to have abandoned hopes of a Ukrainian victory. Speaking in Norway, secretary general Jens Stoltenberg’s chief of staff, Stian Jenssen, said that a peace deal might involve Kyiv ceding territory to Russia in return for Nato membership.

His comments sparked fury in Ukraine, and rightly so. While Jenssen later apologised for the way he had expressed his views, he did not retract them. Stoltenberg’s subsequent insistence that peace talks will happen on Kyiv’s terms will not have quashed suspicions that Jenssen has revealed how the West really sees the war.

A recent US intelligence assessment indicated that Kyiv’s counteroffensive will fail to achieve its objective of cutting Russia’s land corridor to Crimea. The gloomy conclusion drawn by some is that despite ongoing offensives by both Russia and Ukraine, neither side will make gains of strategic significance.

The answer to this apparent stalemate is not to pressure Ukraine into conceding Russian annexation of its land, but to change the facts on the ground. That can only be done by redoubling efforts to supply Kyiv with sufficient combat resources to drive Russia out, if not this year then next.

Yet two years after the ignominious retreat from Afghanistan, the West seems again to be on the brink of embracing defeat. A peace deal on these terms would mean victory for Russia and defeat for Ukraine. How could surrendering territory to the aggressor be anything else?

We must instead give Kyiv the support that we have failed to provide so far. The latest reports from Washington tell us nothing new. They only confirm identical assessments made in February, which predicted that shortfalls in equipment and force strength would lead to the failure of the counteroffensive. Continue reading

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