The Ukrainian Offensive Hasn’t Failed.  We have Failed the Ukrainians.

Without a doubt, the Ukrainian Military’s recent counteroffensive has proved more challenging than the last one.  Ukraine’s ability to put together such counteroffensives and defend the wider country remains at the mercy of the generosity of military aid donors.  “Give us the tools and we will finish the job” Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky pleaded.

However, the arrival of military aid has often been delayed for political reasons as much as logistical ones.  This counteroffensive for instance has seen the Ukrainian Military forced to determinedly advance without air cover.  This is despite the Ukrainian Government requesting Fighter Jets, such as F-16s, to be sent for their defence since the start of the 2022 invasion.  The delay in the arrival of equipment for the current counteroffensive gave ample time for the invading Russian enforces to entrench and defend the land they have stolen.  Some reports say it has even given them ample breathing space to counter some Western weapons such as HIMARS.  Western leaders have justified the incremental approach to giving such aid to encourage de-escalation.  Despite this, Russian President Vladimir Putin reading Western reticence as weakness, as he has always done, has proceeded on his same imperialist course. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin is betting that the short-term concerns of Western democracies, such as the US Presidential election next year, will mean that the alliance that supports Ukraine will ultimately fall apart.  This is why those democracies, especially European ones need to convene a long term plan to support Ukraine.  Bilateral and piecemeal military aid announcements were never sufficient to achieve victory.  If NATO membership is barred to Ukraine, then alternative security assurances need to be given to Ukraine.  A Memorandum of Understanding enshrining a commitment to support Ukraine could either be agreed between that country and it’s allies collectively or on a bilateral basis.  What is imperative is that European countries in particular plan for a future where the considerable US aid to Ukraine is potentially no longer available.  Brexit aside, the UK needs to be involved in any European discussions about supporting Ukraine in the long term to coordinate efforts.

Calling for a peace along the lines which will allow Russia to keep any of it’s invaded land is not a sustainable solution long term.  Doing this will almost certainly open the door to other would-be expansionist powers.  The Foreign Minister of Taiwan for instance recently declared on a Foreign Policy Live podcast that his government encourages the United States to send military aid to Ukraine before his own country.  In the opinion of his government, only a successful ultimate defeat of the Russian invasion of Ukraine will deter the People’s Republic of China from invading their country.  Liberals should support a peace that gives Ukrainians genuine independence, not one that leaves them at the future mercy of Russia.  Such a peace would not be sustainable.

“F33 Standing With Ukraine”, which will be presented at the Liberal Democrat 2023 Autumn Conference, is an honourable expression of solidarity to Ukrainians.  But firmer commitments need to be made and the long term needs to be more thoroughly considered. 

The Russian Federation is a Fascist power from it’s government down to the societal level.  Definitions of Fascism vary, however when the Russian Federation is tested against Umberto Eco’s 14 points of Fascist characteristics it matches all of them. The last time Fascism came to Europe our country committed itself to it’s defeat in a position summed up by Churchill’s commitment to “never surrender”.  The question we have to ask ourselves is; are we abandoning this commitment or are we just too afraid to stand by it?


* Zachary Barker is a Lib Dem activist in Bristol.

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  • With respect the latest news is that the Ukranian armour is behind the Russian lines near Verbove. They have claimed a “breakthrough”.
    Trying to get through the Russian defence lines, which are so extensive it is impossible to by pass, is one hell of a task without air support. They seem to be doing quite well.
    The weather should hold through October and early November so let us see what happens. I seem to recall the Allied advance in Western Europe stalled over logistical issues for several moths in 1944/45, so we should be careful to criticise.

  • I understand that ‘failure’ is a negative idea so teachers and others will speak about ‘deferred success’. Some even suggest that the only true failure is failure to try.
    War is different. Failure describes a situation where a military campaign fails to achieve – or even come close to – preset objectives. In this sense, the Ukrainian offensive has been a failure. A different question is why this has been the outcome: perhaps over ambitious targets, perhaps wrong tactics, perhaps inadequate logistics, etc.

    The reality is that the Ukrainian offensive will culminate in the next few weeks and have to move to a defensive phase, at which point the Russians will move to the offensive and seek to regain recent losses and perhaps open up a new front to stretch Ukrainian forces more thinly. Seeking peace on current positions may be a loss for Ukraine and its backers but may be better than waiting for another year or two and then having to seek peace when the position on the ground could be much worse.

  • Chris Moore 23rd Sep '23 - 3:24pm

    I don’t see that the Russian Federation matches points 3, 5 and 6.

    The 14 points seem to be more a list of features characteristic of very authoritarian regimes.

    The fascist movements of the 30s had serious pretensions to a thorough-going reform of the economic organisation of the state. The RF has none of those.

    Putin’s is a ghastly criminal regime, but fascism is not the right description.

    The RF has none of those

  • Steve Trevethan 23rd Sep '23 - 3:55pm

    Thank you for the work and care you put into your article.

    However, Polity data series classifies Russia as an Open Anocracy with a score of 4, which are exactly the same classification and score as Ukraine.

    We and the U S A are rated as Democracies with scores of 8.

    Ireland is a Full Democracy with a score of 10.

    P. S. An anocracy is defined as a semi-democracy which might be defined a “a regime that mixes democratic and autocratic features [Wikipedia]

  • I have often said that we may have to escalate before concluding the war. Today’s strike on the Russian Black sea base came from British and French supplied Stormshadow cruise missiles. Biden has announced the supply of ATACMS tactical missiles. Putin cannot explain Russian victories if missile strikes begin hitting Moscow.

  • @John Waller – That version of events is not quite correct (and is a narrative that is often cited in Russian information spaces) and misses out a significant amount of key detail which has been subsequently provided by the journalist Roman Romaniuk who broke the story you have referenced.

    “Because this article is almost the only source routinely cited as a proof of nefarious western interference, it’s worth looking at the evidence more carefully. We spoke with its author, the political journalist Roman Romaniuk, to get a clearer picture of the political context navigated by the Ukrainian negotiating team.”

    “Romaniuk disagrees with Eagleton’s interpretation that Johnson halted the peace deal. “Johnson was one of the people whom Zelensky listened to – not because of a dependence on him, but because of relations of trust”, Romaniuk told us. Britain’s prime minister hadn’t come to Kyiv to order a termination of the peace deal; this was advice at best, and as such, his scepticism about Russia’s trustworthiness wasn’t unique… Zelensky and his negotiators’ most important worry about the Istanbul agreement was, Romaniuk said, that “Ukrainian society might not accept such a deal”. While we don’t know what public opinion was regarding the possible deal in early April, in a survey conducted in mid-May, 82% said that “under no circumstance should Ukraine give up on any of its territory even if it leads to the continuation of the war and threatens its independence”.”

  • Leekliberal 23rd Sep '23 - 6:12pm

    Putin’s relying on Western democracies getting bored with supporting the Ukrainians heroic attempts to protect their borders from Russian attacks. They are paying a huge price in blood and all they ask from us is to provide them with the vital weapons to do so. Sadly I fear that we will fail to learn from the experience of our failure to support Czechoslovakia before the Second World War. Let’s hope l am wrong!

  • Martin Gray 23rd Sep '23 - 6:24pm

    We are nearly 5 months into the spring offensive & it’s obviously not gone as the West has hoped … Russian loitering munitions – Lancet Drones have proved to be deadly even against NATO weoponry..The increase in Ukrainian casualties has been immense . The proposed supply of long range NATO missiles with the potential to hit Moscow if used would play into Putin’s hands…
    Looking at the current situation , a bloody stalemate is where we are currently at…

  • Steve Trevethan 23rd Sep '23 - 8:28pm

    How does any of us genuinely know what is going on in Ukraine and behind the scenes?

    Might Mr Waller’s suggestion of (re) starting negotiations be a less/ least worse approach?

    Might a possible scenario be that, currently, Russia and “The West” are fighting to the last Ukrainian?

  • @Steve Trevethan – I would suggest taking the time to understand what Ukrainians want. Opinion polling has consistently shown high levels of support for continuing the war and not making any territorial concessions to Russia even if this means prolonging the war.

  • John Waller 23rd Sep ’23 – 2:57pm:
    Is there any chance that Ukraine will re-enter negotiations?

    Only after Russia has been booted out or withdraws. Boris Johnson has just returned…

    ‘Why aren’t we giving Ukraine what it needs?’ [September 2023]:

    It is now 19 months since Putin miscalculated, and unleashed the biggest and bloodiest conflict in Europe since the end of the second world war. He has directly caused the killing or injuring of 300,000 Russians and probably about half as many Ukrainians. You stand in those hospital wards and feel aghast at the pain, furious that so many are still being fed into the meat grinder – and all because of the ego and folly of one man,…[…]

    Do not believe for one second that these Ukrainian soldiers – or the wider population of Ukraine – could be persuaded somehow to lay down their weapons or do a deal with Putin. They are not fighting at our behest, and will not stop because we say so. They are fighting a war of independence, because they refuse to bow down to terror and because they want their country to be free.

    They find the idea of a negotiation laughable. In the last few days I did my best to probe them on this point – but I found not the slightest slackening of Ukrainian resolve. They don’t see how they could trade land for peace, because they don’t see how they could possibly believe a word Putin says.

  • The Ukranians will shortly have F16s from Poland, Netherlands, Denmark and Canada and next year 35’s from the States. Provided their pilots are trained and competent they will have the air support that is currently lacking.
    The Russians are said to be creating yet another defensive line further back towards the coast, this indicates they expect the Ukranians to move forward another 20 -30 kilometers.
    I suggest we all hold our nerve, instead of seeking an end game in the next 12 months which, currently, would simply play into Russia’s hands.

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