Category Archives: Articles

Russia’s next civil war has already begun

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

One of the bloodiest battles in modern European history is taking place in Bakhmut, with reports of more than 1,000 soldiers dying in a single day. But more significantly for the Kremlin, it may also be the site of an extraordinary Russian civil war, playing out on Ukrainian soil between different factions. At the heart of it are two of the most significant parts of the Kremlin’s war machine: the Wagner Group and the Russian ministry of defence.

Their confrontation has been eight months in the making. For while his mercenaries have been at the forefront of the campaign to take Bakhmut, Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin has been waging a political battle of his own, to gain influence in the Kremlin. He seemingly believes he can use sheer military might in Ukraine – with the help of some 50,000 men – to prove himself as a Russian leader. Some think his ultimate goal is to usurp the Russian ministry of defence. Perhaps he wishes to bring all Russian forces under his personal command.

Since May last year, Prigozhin has been striking a public contrast with the Russian army’s humiliation on the battlefield. He openly brags about his own successes, while issuing damning public criticism of Russia’s top brass. He frequently alleges incompetence and even betrayal by Putin’s senior officials. In February, he went as far as to accuse Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu of treason for withholding ammunition from his troops.

As one might expect, the reaction from the ministry of defence has been unforgiving. A new report from the Institute for the Study of War says that Russian generals could be using the Bakhmut death trap as an opportunity ‘to deliberately expend both elite and convict Wagner forces … in an effort to weaken Prigozhin and derail his ambitions for greater influence over the Kremlin’.

In other words, they could be holding back Russian forces and depriving Wagner of ammunition in order to inflict maximum attrition on Prigozhin’s mercenaries. This would be an astonishingly self-interested strategy in the midst of an existential battle for the Russian regime and could be slowing down the advance on Bakhmut. It would mean that the Russian ministry of defence is now prioritising domestic power struggles over the invasion.

Such a zero-sum strategy could hardly be conducted without Putin’s blessing – and indeed it is just the latest in a series of moves by the ministry to diminish Prigozhin and remove Wagner from the order of battle.

Wagner, for example, has hitherto depended largely on convicts taken from Russian jails and labour camps, which make up 80 per cent of its forces in Ukraine. But at the start of the year, that source of recruits was cut off by the Kremlin, with the Russian army reportedly taking them for themselves. Continue reading

Ukraine’s secret weapon should terrify Putin

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 7 March 2023. © Richard Kemp

A shocking video has been circulating in the last few days that appears to show a Ukrainian prisoner of war being gunned down by his Russian captors as he utters what he knows are the last words he will ever say: ‘Slava Ukraini’ – glory to Ukraine. This image of heroic defiance against appalling brutality should send a chilling message to Vladimir Putin after a year of butchery in Ukraine: you can murder and torture us all you like, but you cannot defeat our will to fight.

This defiance is the opposite of what Putin expected when his forces rolled into Ukraine last February. His ‘special military operation’ was not planned as a war at all: it was an armed, psychological action intended to instil fear, install a puppet regime, and bring the country back to heel. That’s why he attacked with too few forces to defeat a determined opponent.

Putin’s intelligence services, led by the FSB, successors to his own KGB, told him that Russian-speaking Ukrainians would welcome the invaders with open arms. Russia’s security services had been paid vast sums over many years to ensure that this would happen, and to position collaborators to take over the government and whip opponents into line (or do away with them).

Before the invasion, the FSB knew that they were on shaky ground, with sources giving them a very different picture. But how were they to explain that to the Kremlin after all the resources that had been ploughed into subverting Ukraine?

Indeed, it turned out Russia’s intelligence agencies were wrong on all counts. Collaborators in Kyiv and elsewhere did not deliver the goods. Woefully ill-prepared Russian forces encountered a level of resistance that took them by surprise, including subsequently in Russian-speaking areas where partisans have been fighting against them. And it was not only Russia that was left humbled by its initial intelligence failures. The assessment of US agencies, in an inversion of their over-confident predictions about Afghan forces’ ability Continue reading

A total Russian collapse is surprisingly close

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 28 February 2023. © Richard Kemp

As Moscow’s latest offensive in Ukraine slowly but bloodily cranks up, the next phase of this ghastly war has well and truly arrived. Contrary to expectations, the Ukrainians are bravely, and successfully, resisting the tens of thousands of fresh Russian recruits being thrown at them. Nevertheless, according to many Western observers, the chances of a total Russian collapse in the coming year are slim.

I am less certain; we could be surprised. Far from being cowed, Zelensky’s government is emboldened. Kyiv is openly preparing its own major thrust against Russian ground forces in the spring. Vadym Skibitsky, Ukraine’s deputy military intelligence chief, said this week that this counter-offensive will aim to ‘drive a wedge’ between Crimea and the Russian mainland. The Ukrainians are determined to, in his words, ‘liberate all occupied territories – including Crimea’.

Now, General Ben Hodges, former commander of US forces in Europe, has devised a strategy he believes would not only enable Ukraine to retake Crimea, but would precipitate a total Russian military implosion.

His suggestion is as follows: isolate the peninsula by precision strikes against the two land routes connecting it with Russian territory – the Kerch bridge and the corridor that runs along the Azov sea. Then follow up with a large-scale armoured drive towards the Azov, penetrating Russian defences north of Crimea, bringing rocket and artillery systems into closer range. Russian air, ground and naval forces in the peninsula would then be reduced by precision strike and bombardment, until the point when Ukrainian forces could launch a ground offensive along the Perekop Isthmus and into Crimea.

This concerted attack against the peninsula – isolating it, neutralising and inflicting severe damage against its military infrastructure Continue reading

They said I was mad to want to send Ukraine tanks. Now give Kyiv the jets it needs

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

When I first said we should send tanks and planes to Ukraine, I was told I was mad. Eventually, after much indecision and delay, Nato finally agreed to send tanks. But a year after the war began they’re still not there, and we’re now seeing the same heel-dragging over whether or not to supply jets. If we had seized the day months ago Ukraine would be in a totally different situation, likely taking fewer casualties and perhaps even in a position to have pre-empted Russia’s offensive rather than being forced into a very costly defence.

When this war started Western leaders made the same mistake as Putin, expecting that Ukraine would be defeated in short order. Many therefore calculated that big talk accompanied by modest action would be enough to show that they were on the right side. When Putin inevitably won, it would simply have been an unfortunate fact that Kyiv had been unable to withstand Russian might; the West had done all it could, and now it was time for the negotiations and concessions that its leaders were much more at home with.

Unfortunately for them, the Ukrainians had other ideas. But Russia’s unexpected battlefield failures led to another reason for procrastinating: fear of a cornered Putin lashing out with nuclear weapons, stoked of course by the Kremlin’s sabre-rattling threats. Added to that was the concern over Russia’s stranglehold on energy supplies. This was particularly pronounced in Berlin, which just weeks ago tried to excuse its hesitancy with nonsensical excuses about the history of sending tanks to the east.

Now, as we hit the first anniversary of the start of this terrible war, it seems clear that many leaders have still not learnt from the consequences of their reluctance to switch to war time thinking – something that really does require a significant step-change from the consensus, compromise and risk-aversion that has so dominated European politics since the end of the Cold War. Continue reading

Israel – Don’t give your enemies more ammunition!

by Richard Kemp and Rafael Bardaji

Article published by, 16 February 2022

After a recent visit to Israel, we’re deeply concerned by the unprecedented degree of tension and sheer animosity permeating the political arena.

As friends of Israel rather than Israeli citizens, we do not seek to intervene on any partisan basis, but to sound the alarm about the very real potential for Israel’s enemies to exploit the current rhetoric and do harm to the country as a whole.

Political polarization and confrontation are nothing new to us since they are trends now rooted in our own countries and across the Western world, from the US to Italy. But our experience fighting successive attempts to delegitimize the state of Israel shows us that the country simply cannot afford the level of domestic political tensions that other democracies can go through. Israel has proved itself time and again to be the most resilient country in the world when it comes to physical warfare. But it is also subject to the most insidious political warfare — continuously under attack by international institutions such as the UN, the EU and the International Criminal Court (ICC) as well as a range of foreign governments, human rights bodies, academia and much of the world’s media.

It is in this realm that the current discourse and strife will be most damaging. For Israel to be strong, to prosper, to be a force for good in its region and the world, and to fend off incessant political warfare campaigns, it needs to be united in the basic questions, despite all the disagreements that may reasonably emerge around specific proposals and policies. That national unity is being eroded by the tone and conduct of the debate on reforms to the judiciary presented by the coalition government.

We have heard Israeli voices telling us that what is at stake is the survival of democracy in the country – if democracy is not dead already. We have been told that it is better not to make even a single concession than to try to reach an agreement. Such extremist attitudes are not likely to lead to improvements in the quality of reform, and are likely instead to embolden Israel’s many international enemies. Continue reading

Vladimir Putin’s failures are fooling the West

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 16 February 2023. © Richard Kemp

Another day, and yet more worrying news from the frontline: Ukrainian troops are firing as many as 6,000 artillery shells a day to try and beat back Russia’s new offensive. It is an expenditure rate the West is struggling to feed; so high that Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said that Ukraine’s forces could run out of ammunition unless they use it more sparingly.

His comments remind us of an essential truth: that brute force and, critically, the ability to sustain and replenish it over an extended period, is historically what wins wars in the end.

This rule counters the orthodox interpretation of this war so far. For many, Ukraine’s early success against apparently overwhelming Russian force suggested that high-tech weaponry – and nimbleness in strategy and deployment – were enough to defeat larger forces. It also vindicated the British military consensus that we should invest in cyber, computers, unmanned vehicles, and ‘ranger’ units to train, advise and mentor allies rather than in combat infantrymen, heavy armour and other conventional weapons – sometimes disparagingly referred to as ‘legacy’ capabilities.

But that is not what the war has shown us at all. Indeed, it would be disastrous if Vladimir Putin’s failures fooled the West into thinking that hard military power is a thing of the past. His forces have struggled not because they have relied on the massive use of tanks, armoured vehicles, and troops against a nimbler opponent, but because those capabilities have not been deployed effectively.

And on the Ukrainian side, yes, cyber and drones have played a role, with electronic intelligence and airborne surveillance also pivotal. But the true game-changers have been the heavy, punchier weapons provided by the US, such as HIMARS, which have been particularly devastating against Russian logistics bases, starving front line forces of vital combat supplies. Likewise, tanks and armoured infantry fighting vehicles have shown their persistent combat utility, which is why they are at the top of Zelensky’s list for military aid. Continue reading

Vladimir Putin is about to make shock gains

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 7 February 2023. © Richard Kemp

With Russia back on the offensive after significant Ukrainian combat successes around Kharkiv and Kherson in the second half of 2022, the past few weeks have been the bloodiest so far of an already bloody war, with both sides taking extraordinarily heavy casualties. Expect it to get worse.

Ukrainian defence minister Oleksii Reznikov says Russia has mobilised ‘much more’ than 300,000 troops, perhaps up to half a million, and these are pouring into Ukraine in preparation for what is expected to be a major offensive in the coming days and weeks. Although Kyiv has also been building up its forces and supplying them with modern equipment donated by the West, Putin has a much greater advantage in troop numbers than he did when he invaded a year ago. Despite repeated optimistic reports of Russia running low on artillery shells – a battle winner in this conflict – Putin’s war stocks are vast, and his factories have been working around the clock to churn out even more.

Under pressure towards the end of last year, Russia withdrew its forces to positions of strength, trading ground for time as it massed resources for a planned hammer blow while grinding down the Ukrainians in the east, softening them up for the assault to come. Much of this has been done by infantry attack, throwing away ‘expendable’ troops in time-honoured Russian style. The Kremlin has at the same time been conserving artillery shells (though expending thousands each day around Bakhmut alone) and the armoured vehicles that are so essential for the fast-moving blitzkrieg Putin is planning.

Until now, the narrative in the West has been that Ukraine is comfortably winning this war, albeit while facing heavy bombardments on its major cities. The reality is more complex. The latest estimates suggest that each side may have taken upwards of 120,000 casualties already – hardly indicative of a triumph for Ukraine. And there may be worse to come: the truth is that recent promises of new combat equipment for Ukraine – especially longer range missiles, tanks Continue reading

Poland’s bravery has humiliated Germany

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 20 January 2023. © Richard Kemp

Kyiv had hoped for a clear green light from Germany at the Ukraine Defence Contact Group meeting at Ramstein air base on Friday to provide them with Leopard 2 battle tanks. Instead, the new German defence minister, Boris Pistorius, equivocated all day, at one stage saying it could take a month to reach a decision.

That sort of procrastination might be acceptable in peace time, but this is a war in which every day counts. We’re almost one year into the most deadly conflict in Europe since 1945 and Germany has been an unreliable partner since the start. First, they only wanted to send 5000 helmets while other countries quickly dispatched lethal weapons; now they have been dithering over tanks, dividing NATO, putting all of the West in a difficult position and – worst of all – jeopardising Ukraine’s war effort.

Poland leads a group of Western countries that want to send in some of the Leopards they bought from Germany. Technically they need permission from Berlin to do so. Yet such is the strength of feeling that the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Thursday that this country may send the German-made tanks to Kyiv without this approval. ‘Consent is a secondary issue here,’ he remarked.

The contrast between Warsaw and Berlin could not be greater. Poland has done exactly what Germany should have done and promised to do. It’s becoming a European military superpower: with a far smaller GDP it already has more tanks and howitzers than Germany and is on course to have a much larger army, with a target of 300,000 troops by 2035, compared with Germany’s current 170,000 which shows little realistic signs of increasing any time soon. In fact, the German chancellor is already backtracking on promises he made in the wake of Putin’s invasion, admitting last month that his intention to meet NATO’s minimum 2% of GDP defence spend starting this year is unlikely to be achieved until 2025 at the earliest.

The Poles have also embarrassed Germany with their fearlessness. On paper, due to its history in the Soviet Union and geographical Continue reading

Jew-Hate at American Universities

Article published by the Gatestone Institute, 10 January 2023. © Richard Kemp

As Jews were hounded out of German universities in the 1930s, where would you have stood? Many of us would like to think we would have found the moral and if necessary physical courage to stand up for our fellow students rather than see them persecuted, bullied, abused and thrown out. Well, now we can actually put our courage to the test as before our eyes we see a re-run of an almost identical pattern of antisemitism — this time at American colleges, with a similar picture at universities in Britain and elsewhere in the West.

A new study by the antisemitism watchdog Amcha Initiative documents a pervasive, relentless assault on Jewish identity at US universities.

It has been going on for years, but this report paints a stark picture of an increasing, intensifying and carefully coordinated campaign of attacks on Jewish identity at over 60% of the colleges and universities that are popular with Jews, including 2,000 incidents intended to harm Jewish students since 2015.

Most of this dark work is being done under the spurious and despicable cover of delegitimising Israel, spreading blatant lies about the Jewish state and conspiring to prevent those lies from being exposed or countered by seeking to ban anyone who dares speak or even show support for the truth. With bloodthirsty cries of ‘intifada, intifada’ (meaning the mass murder of Jews), these activists demand an end to Zionism, which, for the avoidance of doubt, means just one thing: an end to the democratic State of Israel. This itself is antisemitism in any book and is spelt out as such in the US State Department definition of antisemitism, a definition that Jew-hating campus activists do all in their power to resist, distort and discredit.

But sometimes even the threadbare ‘anti-Israel’ mask of campus activists slips, as they expose the naked racism behind their campaign with slogans like ‘Jews control the government and the banks’, ‘Jews out of CUNY’ [City University of New York] and ‘Jews are racist sons of bitches’.

Even without such transparent venom, there is no disguising their anti-Jew agenda. Attacks against any student or professor who supports Israel or Zionism are made in the full knowledge that this means the overwhelming majority of Jews — the Amcha report quotes Pew polling data showing that more than 80% of American Jews view Israel as integral to their Jewish identity. In short, however these campus activists might pretend otherwise, they are attacking Jews.

And they do not hold back. A 2021 poll from the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law shows college students with a strong sense of Jewish identity and connection to Israel have learnt Continue reading

Prince Harry on Afghanistan

Article published in The Daily Express, 7 January 2023. © Richard Kemp

Prince Harry has made much of his security concerns but publicly announcing he personally killed 25 Taliban fighters in Afghanistan is like shooting himself in the foot. It will re-kindle jihadist animosity against him and incite some who want to take revenge.

His accusation that the British Army trains its soldiers to see their enemies as ‘chess pieces’ to be swept off the board, in other words dehumanising them, will also feed into jihadist propaganda, potentially encouraging wider attacks within the UK.

It will also be seized on by lawyers who want to prosecute British soldiers on allegations of unlawful killing and ill-treatment of enemy prisoners because it paints a picture of a military that indoctrinates its troops to act against the Geneva conventions that require enemy dead, wounded or captured to be treated with respect.

Harry’s description of how British soldiers are conditioned for combat is the opposite of the truth. They are trained to give enemy dead a decent burial, to handle prisoners humanely and to treat the wounded as they would treat their own. There are plenty of examples of British wounded finding themselves in the same field hospital ward as injured Afghan captives.

Of course when their blood is up, some soldiers act differently as is the nature of war, but that is not because of their training as Harry falsely suggests.

He also makes a play of his own humanity, writing that he made it his mission ‘never go to bed with any doubt whether I had done the right thing … whether I had shot at Taliban and only Taliban, without civilians in the vicinity. I wanted to return to Great Britain with all my limbs, but more than that I wanted to get home with my conscience intact.’ Continue reading