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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #345: Response to David Richards

On the PM programme on BBC Radio 4 on 20 February 2024, David Richards, Lord Richards, the former British Chief of the Defence staff, made a number of comments about the war in Ukraine with which I must respectfully disagree. He made the following observations.

Lord Richards began his remarks with his interviewer, Evan Davis, by saying that the West was  under-emphasising Russian aggression and military strength, and that while Russia began the invasion of Ukraine catastrophically badly with botched attempts to invade Kyiv and  Kharkiv, it was inevitable that the Russian Armed Forces would become stronger over time and would bounce back from these initial setbacks. He cited the ancient Chinese proverb “know your enemy” and said that while Russia is stronger than it should be, we have to face realities. With these observations, I can agree.

He also made the observation that it is no longer feasible for the Ukrainian Armed Forces to re-take all of the Ukrainian territory occupied by Russia, which represents part of four Oblasts in Ukraine (Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk) plus Crimea, because the Ukrainian Armed Forces have been fighting for the last year to try to achieve a “counter-offensive” to reclaim those regions and that again is an observation with which I can agree.

However Lord Richards then went off on a tangent to make a somewhat scandalous remark, namely that the western attitude towards this conflict, to “back Ukraine for as long as it takes”, is one of a number of “ridiculous statements” heard on the part of the West. In other words, Lord Richards is saying that it is “ridiculous” to “back Ukraine for as long as it takes” (his words).

I would like Lord Richards to know that I am here in Ukraine to back Ukraine for as long as it takes, and so are hundreds of other volunteers, all here with the same intention. With the greatest of respect and courtesy to him, he has caused huge offence to me and, I suspect, to the other many well-intentioned civilian volunteers who are here working on their own initiative and for free to keep Ukraine independent and free.

Lord Richards also undermined the politicians of the country he serves, and other countries, who are striving amidst different and hugely complex domestic political scenarios to find massive quantities of funding to continue to support Ukraine. The relentless determination of the West to keep supporting Ukraine indicates that contrary to what Lord Richards finds to be ridiculous, the West is in fact united in fighting the Russian menace which is a menace not just to Ukraine but to the entirety of Europe and even the world and this is not ridiculous at all.

Lord Richards set out three options for the future of the war which, he presented as alternatives but in fact they are all the same. One is what he described as Russian victory which he defined as “hanging on” to the four Oblasts and Crimea. Another option is that Ukraine obtains a military advantage somehow on the battlefield but that has been attempted in the last year and it does not seem possible. This involves, in the words of Lord Richards, the war rumbling on, economically sapping the West and resulting in huge casualty figures: something that works against Ukraine because Ukraine has a much smaller population. A third option, he said, was to negotiate with Russia and to trade peace for land, presenting this as a Russian strategic failure but in fact trading land to save lives.

This is an entirely false set of choices because it is not possible to negotiate with Russia. Whatever you agree with Russia will just be torn up five to ten years down the line and then Russia will carry on with further territorial expansionism.

Lord Richards commented that Russia is not likely now to consider it achievable to acquire the whole of Ukraine, and his comments echoed an approach that thinks of Russia as having strategic goals, in the way that a western country whose policy goals are moderated by institutional balances might have strategic goals. But Russia is not like that. She will seize whatever territory she can and declare victory; and then pause, regroup, and irrespective of negotiated peace, she will just continue later to take more territory when it suits her convenience. You cannot negotiate with Russia save down the barrel of a gun; and then she will just build more and bigger guns and so must you. That is how the Cold War and the Arms Race began and that is what must happen again now.

To discard the lives of those under Russian occupation in Ukraine, in the pursuit of an ersatz negotiated peace with Russia, is callous and cynical.

Lord Richards commented that NATO has come out of this quite well. If by that he means that NATO funding by a number of its member states has increased, then he is right. However NATO is not taking the role it needs to, which is to enter Ukraine on the invitation of Ukraine and man the Dnipro River itself as peacekeepers, a buffer between the Ukrainians and the Russians.

Lord Richards said that there was a fear of escalation if the West provided more support to Ukraine than is currently being provided but what he doesn’t seem to understand is that on a proper analysis, the fear of escalation is not ours in the West but Russia’s. Russia fears escalation, because she knows that she cannot beat the combined might of the United States and her allies in the NATO structure. So while NATO has properly expanded its finances and capacities, this needs to take place still further because you do not negotiate with Russia using words; you negotiate with Russia using actions and that is why the series of choices Lord Richards presented to the audience on BBC Radio 4 was a false one.

The choice is not between acting and talking; the choice is between acting weakly and acting strongly. Both of these courses are negotiation strategies with Russia; talking to Russia is not a negotiation strategy at all - it is just a sign of weakness in Russian eyes, and Lord Richards would do well to follow the adage he quoted that you should know your enemy because if he understood the Russian mentality then he would understand that the only way of stopping Russia’s inexorable land grab in Ukraine and then later in Eastern Europe is to demonstrate that NATO is prepared to act against Russia which was of course the original reason why NATO was set up in the first place.

Right now Russia is testing NATO. Will NATO live up to the spirit of its charter and resist effectively Russian imperial aggression in Europe? If it does, then Russia will back down under extreme pressure and find other outlets for her imperial ambitions. If not, Russia will consume the remainder of exhausted Ukraine at a time in the future of her convenience and then she will continue onto NATO member states and absorb them to into her renewed Empire, because Russia does not believe in Article 5 (the collective obligation of self-defence on NATO member states) or international treaties and she will just keep on fighting and invading new lands, inferring NATO to be impotent.

Accordingly the choice Lord Richards failed to mention is that the West supports Ukraine to the maximum extent consistent with domestic political wrangling in the United States in anticipation of the November 2024 US General election, and then in 2025 uses a revitalised and strengthened NATO to enter Ukraine to enforce the peace and then the hot war can end and the Second Cold War can and must begin in earnest.


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