Justifying terrorism

Speech by Colonel Richard Kemp at the UN Human Rights Council, Geneva, during debate on initial report of commission investigating Israel-Palestine conflict

14 June 2022

This commission of inquiry is equivalent to Putin’s propaganda machine. The disinformation from Moscow justifies their illegal war on Ukraine; the disinformation from today’s report justifies Hamas’s illegal war on Israel.

I wish to address the commissioners. Putin wrongfully says an illegitimate Ukrainian state occupies Russian territory; you wrongfully say an illegitimate Israeli state occupies Palestinian territory.

Putin falsely says his war is to protect Russian-speakers in Ukraine; you falsely say Hamas’s violence is to protect religious rights in Jerusalem.

Why is this commission swallowing their lies — hook, line and sinker — and amplifying them with a megaphone that contorts reality into a travesty of human rights?

Neither this commission nor Putin count Hamas as terrorists. You back them with words while Putin backs them with guns.

Today’s report validates and encourages Hamas’s terror tactics, just as it outrageously denigrates Israel’s lawful defence. Your work here today ensures renewed bloodshed tomorrow. It incites hatred of Jews around the world, and cruelly betrays the Palestinian people.

Before Putin was expelled from this body, he voted to create your commission of inquiry, and now—like Hamas—he has endorsed your report. I can think of no greater indictment.

UN Will Justify a Mirror Image of Putin’s War

Article published by the Gatestone Institute, 8 June 2022. © Richard Kemp

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s Permanent Commission of Inquiry into Israel, due to make its initial report on June 13, has a mendacious mandate worthy of Vladimir Putin himself. Putin went to war to turn into reality his much repeated insistence that Ukraine is an illegitimate state that has no right to exist and is inseparable from the rest of Russia. Similarly, the UN mandate allows it to question the very existence of the State of Israel. Unlike all other UN inquiries, this one has no historic time limit and enables the commission to range right back to the foundation of the state. The commissioners won’t be bold enough to explicitly declare that Israel has no right to exist, but you can be certain that will be the subtext running throughout their report.

An important part of Putin’s vendetta against Ukraine is propaganda and disinformation, and that is the role the UNHRC has also allotted itself in the campaign against Israel. The actual fighting is done by Hamas and their henchmen, backed and supplied by Putin’s ally Iran. But even before the notorious 2009 Goldstone Report, the UNHRC justified and encouraged Hamas violence, and that has played a crucial role in efforts to vilify and isolate Israel as well as incite greater bloodshed in the Middle East and attacks against Jews around the world.

Like Putin in Ukraine this year and in 2014, Hamas has initiated a series of unprovoked violent attacks against Israel. The latest major wave, in which it launched over 4,000 missiles against Israel’s civilian population in May 2021, was the premise for the UNHRC’s current inquiry, although of course Israel’s self-defence rather than Hamas’s aggression is the focus of their ire. The scale of the Gaza conflict and the relative strengths of the two sides is completely different, but just like Putin in Ukraine, Hamas’s war against Israel aims to conquer the territory of a sovereign democratic state that it believes should not exist.

The Hamas Covenant explicitly claims that every inch of Israel’s land belongs to Muslims. This is echoed in the Palestinian National Charter, the founding document of the PLO which controls Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority. The slogan ‘from the river to the sea’, familiar from anti-Israel protests and university campuses around the world, means that the Jewish people have no right to nationhood anywhere from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

Both Hamas and Putin’s Russia, like most dictatorships, habitually plead self-defence as their justification for aggression. Putin pretends that NATO is a threat to Russia, yet he understands it is a defensive alliance that has no hostile intent; Hamas claims Israeli aggression while knowing that Israel would not and has never used force except in defence of its sovereign land and people. Just as Putin describes Continue reading

Putin has regained the military initiative in Ukraine

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 29 May 2022. © Richard Kemp

A victory in Donbas – if he manages to secure it – is not the endgame for Vladimir Putin. He means to bend the entirety of Ukraine to his will and humiliate Nato and the US. Those, like Henry Kissinger and Emmanuel Macron, who think making peace is a matter of handing a slice of territory to Moscow, fail to understand a fundamental point: Putin’s strategic perspective goes much further than eastern Ukraine, and he has far more time and leverage than we assumed.

Many commentators had warned the West against complacency after Russia’s failed attempt to seize Ukraine in one blow in February. Putin’s army may have displayed tactical ineptitude and low morale, but it was always clear that a regrouped force could nevertheless achieve some of his objectives. That is precisely what is happening now, with the tide beginning to turn against the Ukrainians in the Donbas district of Luhansk.

Moscow has been making steady territorial gains there and inflicting heavy casualties on Ukrainian forces. President Zelensky admitted last week that up to 100 of his troops are being killed every day in the eastern region. That level of attrition will be severely degrading Ukrainian military morale and fighting strength. And, given what we know about Russian war tactics, it is unlikely they will be attaining anywhere near as many casualties.

In the face of blistering artillery bombardments followed up by tank and infantry attacks, Ukrainian troops have been on the retreat. Sometimes this has involved tactical withdrawal to more sustainable defensive positions, but mostly such moves are made out of necessity. The city of Severodonetsk is on the verge of being stormed. If it is captured alongside another key city, Lysychansk, then much of Luhansk will be under the Kremlin’s auspices. That marks a significant defeat for Ukraine – and the West. Continue reading

The West should call Putin’s bluff and escort Ukrainian grain ships

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

Putin’s blockade of grain and other foodstuffs leaving Ukraine by sea threatens a shortage that could cause starvation for millions around the world as well as major political upheaval. Russia attacked eight cargo vessels early in the conflict and another struck a mine, paralysing sea movement in the Black Sea. With no other feasible option to counter Moscow’s stranglehold, now is the time for a humanitarian coalition of navies to mount an operation to protect merchant shipping.

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest suppliers of corn, barley and wheat and, according to British transport minister Grant Shapps, the blockade could create a global famine that causes more deaths than the war itself. Twenty-five million tons of grain are waiting to be shipped and food prices are soaring — as high as 50 per cent in some developing countries.

As well as a humanitarian disaster we are facing an international security crisis. Many of the 400 million people that depend on Ukraine’s grain are in North Africa and the Middle East where serious political instability threatens if populations can no longer afford bread and other staples. Steep increases in the cost of food helped trigger the Arab Spring rebellions of the early 2010s. Last week General Christopher Cavoli, US Army commander in Europe and North Africa, warned the fallout from Russia’s blockade could strengthen terrorist groups, including the Islamic State, who thrive on food insecurity and poverty. Not to mention the new wave of migration towards Europe that this could produce.

We will soon reach a crunch point as this year’s harvest looms. Measures to increase shipments by rail and road including to seaports in Poland and Romania are in hand and making a difference. Continue reading

Vladimir Putin cannot afford another defeat like Kharkiv

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

Russia has given up on attempts to seize Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv, a major objective since the beginning of Putin’s war. The significance of this moment should not be underestimated, even if we’ve heard it multiple times in recent months: this is a major, embarrassing defeat for Moscow. While early efforts to encircle Kharkiv succeeded, the Russian army failed to turn that advantage into capturing the city, a consequence of its ineptitude and failures elsewhere on the battlefield. Now these forces are withdrawing from around the city to reinforce efforts in the east.

This was not Putin’s plan; indeed it wasn’t even his backup plan. Once the attempts to take Kyiv failed, he wanted to continue assaults against Kharkiv while simultaneously attacking the Donbas. These two efforts were going to be the consolation prize. Yet he has now failed in the former and is behind schedule in the latter. And even if he continues to make steady progress in the Donbas, he will soon need reinforcements, and it is not clear where he will find them in sufficient time.

Ukraine now has the opportunity to redeploy troops from the north of the country to fight in the east. Putin knows this and, it seems, has instructed Belarus president Aleksandr Lukashenko to deploy his own forces close to the border with Ukraine under the guise of military exercises. This directly threatens Kyiv and will have the effect of fixing Ukrainian troops in place for the time being. It is another sign that Russia is increasingly concerned about the balance of forces in Donbas.

Russia is also under pressure from Ukrainian counter-attacks in Kherson in the south, where they have now switched to defence rather than the previously planned offensive, pushing further west in the direction of the major port of Odessa. Despite this, Russia continues to fire missiles at Odessa, a key Black Sea city, although a full-scale assault on it is now looking increasingly unlikely. Continue reading

Will NATO Fight?

Article published by the Gatestone Institute, 10 May 2022. © Richard Kemp

Great Britain is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s public enemy number one. In March the Kremlin branded UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson the most active anti-Russian leader. A few days ago on television, Putin’s propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov fancifully suggested Russia should drown Britain in a radioactive tsunami created by Poseidon nuclear torpedos that would leave survivors in ‘a radioactive desert, unfit for anything for a very long time’.

Putin is upset about Britain’s stance over Ukraine, leading Europe and much of the world in aggressive sanctions against Russia; and pouring in financial and military aid plus decisive secret intelligence to help keep Kiev in the fight.

Needless to say, front-line states facing Russia take the opposite view of the UK. During visits to Poland and Finland in the last two weeks, the enthusiasm for Britain was palpable — among politicians, military and ordinary people alike. As a Brit I don’t remember such a warm reception anywhere in the world except perhaps in the US when we stood firmly by their side in the aftermath of 9/11.

Poles, Finns, Latvians, Lithuanians and other close neighbours of the Russian bully also appreciate the UK’s forward-leaning role in NATO’s pre-emptive deployment, positioning increased combat forces on their territory alongside other allies, predominantly the US.

Promises by NATO leaders that Putin will face the consequences if any of his soldiers so much as puts a toe-cap onto NATO soil of course reassure these beleaguered countries. But are we giving them false hope? Can eastern states really rely on the US and western European NATO members to ride to their aid if they get into a fight with Russia? Would we actually throw our young men and women against Putin’s steamroller — even the rather ramshackle steamroller that has been grinding its way across Ukraine?

If NATO blood would in fact be spilt should Russia invade Poland or the Baltic states, why have we utterly rejected the prospect of spilling it to help protect Ukraine from Putin’s mass killings, torture, rape and destruction? Ukraine is not a NATO member and NATO states have Continue reading

Vladimir Putin’s military cupboard is bare

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

It was always going to be an almighty challenge for Vladimir Putin to successfully redeploy his forces from the suburbs of Kyiv to the Donbas and southern Ukraine. History shows that such tactical withdrawals, requiring battered forces to attack on a new axis, are the most demanding operations of war, even with the most capable troops and commanders. Putin has neither, and so his plans for a victory in time for Victory Day on May 9 have failed.

The Russian president now faces a tough set of decisions if he is to capture and hold any territory in the medium-to-long term. The forces and leaders he has already deployed have been utterly demoralised by combat against an agile Ukrainian army. Even after weeks of regrouping, the eastern offensive is suffering the same logistical challenges and tactical ineptitude that stalled Russian troops around Kyiv. Some reports suggest the battalions in the Donbas are running dangerously low on fuel and some munitions: we’ve heard these stories before.

Russian forces also appear to be plagued by “casualty aversion”, meaning troops are withdrawing from captured areas soon after declaring victory. They have become so gun-shy and war-weary that they are unwilling to take the risks needed to secure large breakthroughs.

It will therefore have dawned on the leadership in Moscow that new manpower is urgently needed. But this is easier said than done. Pentagon assessments suggest that in the last week Russia has only managed to add one battalion tactical group to its order of battle, taking the total from 92 to 93. The final defeat of Mariupol will free up some ground troops, but not in significant numbers. Continue reading

Vladimir Putin just wants to scare the West into keeping out of his war in Ukraine

Article published in The Daily Mirror, 27 April 2022. © Richard Kemp

Putin ‘s nuclear sabre rattling is as convenient for NATO as it is for him.

The West is terrified of the idea of going to war with Russia. A war for which they are ill-prepared on the ground and even more so in air defence.

Nor is there any political stomach in any NATO nation. It is easier on the one hand to send weapons and equipment which cannot shift the balance of Russia’s military superiority, and on the other to continue financing Putin’s war by buying his gas and oil.

Meanwhile fear of nuclear escalation is nothing more than an excuse for failing to intervene.

In reality NATO leaders know as well as he does that Putin is bluffing when he talks about nuclear conflagration. Some so-called experts say he is deranged and unpredictable and might unleash apocalypse on the west at the drop of a hat. In fact he is logical, rational and measured.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Ukraine can still hold its ground

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

We may be about to witness the largest set piece battle in Europe since the Second World War, and perhaps the greatest carnage in most of our lifetimes. Since terminating offensive operations against Kiev, Russian forces have been redeploying, reconstituting, reinforcing and reequipping their forces for a new offensive in Donbas.

In the last few days they have also been ‘shaping the battlefield’, meaning military operations against the enemy to ensure the most favourable conditions for future attack. This has included interdiction strikes in the west of the country against weapons supply depots and factories, troop reinforcements, supply routes and infrastructure that could bolster Ukrainian combat power. The Russians claim to have attacked over 1,000 targets last night alone. These shaping operations have also included attacks on Ukrainian air defence systems, which Moscow reportedly now believes have been largely destroyed except for some low level capability.

How is the battle for Donbas likely to play out? In war nothing ever goes as expected. Russian military incompetence around Kyiv at the beginning of this campaign took the breath away from many seasoned military analysts. No doubt heads have rolled for that and lessons will have been learnt, but such apparently endemic tactical and logistical ineptitude – borne of inadequate leadership, indiscipline and long-term corruption – cannot be put right in a matter of weeks or even months. We can expect to see it repeated in the coming attack.

Yes, it is the case that Russian forces in south Ukraine performed much better, with remarkable gains made from Donbas to Mykolaiv under General Aleksandr Dvornikov, whom Putin has now appointed to command the entire Ukraine operation. But this time, with a more concentrated battle, any logistical or tactical failure will not be localised. Already, the force balance is not looking good for Russia. The Pentagon estimates Russia has around 60-70,000 combat troops available for this operation, and a reasonable assessment can be Continue reading

Nato weakness has left the gates open for a chemical attack

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 12 April 2022. © Richard Kemp

Allegations by Ukrainian forces that Russia launched a chemical attack on soldiers and civilians in Mariupol on Monday are under investigation. If it is confirmed, how will Nato react?

President Biden has declared chemical weapons a red line. He said in March: ‘It would trigger a response in kind’. British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said yesterday that any use of chemical weapons by Russia in its attacks on Ukraine ‘will get a response and all options are on the table’.

Are all options really on the table, including a military option? Perhaps a strike against Russia’s drone or rocket forces responsible for a chemical attack, or even known chemical weapons plants or stockpiles inside Russia? It may be that such an attack would be unlikely to trigger the nuclear reaction that Putin likes to threaten and which has cowed Nato. But it is likely that Moscow would retaliate by a counter strike against Nato forces in Europe, triggering an escalation potentially leading to world war.

If that was actually in the thinking of Nato’s leadership then by now they should have ordered general mobilisation of their forces, especially air forces, and fully-loaded aircraft carriers should already be at sea.

The reality is that Biden and other Nato leaders have made clear that they will not intervene militarily in the war in Ukraine, and nothing they have said about chemical weapons suggests this particular war crime would be an exception. In their vague talk about responses all have been careful to avoid any suggestion that crossing this red line could lead to a military strike.

They remember Obama’s red line in 2012 when he said unequivocally that chemical weapons use by Assad would trigger direct US military Continue reading

Security – Defence – Intelligence – Counter Terrorism