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The Defining Moment of Ukraine—Values versus Interests, Democracy versus Autocracy

By Colin Robertson

The Russian invasion of Ukraine marks the end of the post-Cold War period. Coming on the heels of the pandemic and the pressing urgency for action on climate change, inequalities within and between nations are exacerbated and key multilateral institutions like the UN Security Council and World Health Organization have proved inadequate to the challenges.

In setting the stage for this week’s 77th General  Assembly, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres spoke of a “world blighted by war, battered by climate chaos, scarred by hate, and shamed by poverty, hunger, and inequality”. With “geostrategic divides …the widest they have been since at least the Cold War” he warned that the “solidarity envisioned in the United Nations Charter is being devoured by the acids of nationalism and self-interest.”.

As the war in Ukraine moves into its seventh month, with no prospect of a cease-fire, we can draw some tentative observations:

First, the war demonstrates that Washington remains the ultimate guarantor of European security providing the bulk of both boots on the ground and the necessary armaments to deter and defend. By a wide margin, the US is the biggest supplier of arms and money to Ukraine.

The European Union for all its ambitions, has failed to achieve its own strategic autonomy. The post-modern period in European security, when economic and soft power provided it with political leverage, proved inadequate. European leaders had at least 16 years, starting from the first complete cut-off in Russian gas deliveries to Ukraine in winter 2006, to diversify gas supplies. They ignored the risks and increased their energy dependence on Russia. Despite their efforts, they are still transferring huge amounts of money for Russian energy. According to CNN, the European Union accounted for around 70 percent of Russia’s fossil fuel export revenues globally, which amounted to US$66.3 billion in March and April of this year.

Despite best efforts, notably by the French, Germans and others, including Canada, during the Trump administration, an Alliance for Multilateralism does not work without the US. Ivo Daalder and Jim Lindsay got it right in titling their book The Empty Throne about the US abdication of global leadership under Donald Trump. They argued, persuasively, that the three US-championed pillars of the postwar order – strong alliances, open markets, with commitments to democracy and human rights  – were undermined under a once, and perhaps future, President Trump.

From now on, hard security, both military and economic, needs to be the priority. NATO, once derided by French President Emmanuel Macron as “” is now the most important organization on the European continent. With its new Strategic Concept designating Russia as the most ‘direct threat’ to the Alliance and labeling China as ‘systemic challenge’ to its ‘interests, security and values’, NATO will also coordinate more closely with Asian partners. If Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s August trip to the Canadian North is indicative, in Arctic security as well. China calls itself a “near  Arctic state” and wants to expand its access.

For Canadians and Europeans – especially the Germans – it means relearning the language of hard power. It is the language China and Russia understand best and they complement it with cyber-intrusions, misinformation and disinformation, and interventions in the democratic process.

The aggregate military expenditure of EU members is $225 billion, twice that of Russia’s $100 billion military budget and roughly three-quarters of China’s $290 billion. Europe has the capacity with a GDP 30 times that of Russia and three times their population. Italy’s (and Canada’s) economy alone eclipses that of Russia. But do they have the will?

Second, long-term stability in Europe and Asia will depend on Washington’s ability to build local balances of power and promote regional orders. But make no mistake: most of the world is not aligning with the West.

The United States’ main strategic focus remains the pivot to Asia and “the growing multi-domain threat posed by the PRC.”

Prospects for a US-Chinese confrontation are growing in Asia. Any Asian sense of US reluctance to resist Chinese hegemony will inevitably push more countries in the region to bandwagon with Beijing. The Biden administration is restoring existing pacts and creating new ones. In seeking to constrain Russia and China simultaneously, the United States looks to its partner nations:  29 and soon to be 31 with Sweden and Finland through the NATO alliance; four bilateral pacts with Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand; the reinvigorated Quadrilateral Security Dialogue that includes India; the AUKUS partnership. The G7 should invite its close Pacific partners – India, Australia, Korea – n to be regular participants in the group’s strategic dialogues, whether on sanctions policy, technology investment, or critical supply chains.

While 141 nations at the UN General Assembly condemned the Russian invasion and Russia was tossed out of the Human Rights Council when it comes to the imposition of sanctions in the face of territorial aggression, most of the world chose not to. Sanctions are imposed by only about 40 nations – the EU and G7 nations along with Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan and Switzerland. Together they represent about 16 percent of the global population.

Russia and China are actively seeking to increase their influence. China’s Belt and Road initiative already includes 139 nations. As we witnessed at last week’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) conference in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Iran was elevated to full membership, alongside China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and Egypt. Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan now wants to join the club. Together the SCO, a rough counterpart to the G7 for dictators, represent one-third of global GDP, about 40 per cent of the world’s population, and nearly two-thirds of the Eurasian landmass. and include four nuclear powers. Xi Jinping is continuing to strengthen Chinese relationships in Central Asia, once described by a Chinese general as “a rich piece of cake given to today’s Chinese people by Heaven”.

Third, Putin and Russia are weakened by the Ukraine war and even more dependent on a China within whose ruling circles there is likely some buyer’s remorse about their partnership with ‘no limits’.

Putin’s war aim, detailed in his long essay (July, 2021) on the “Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” was to topple the Zelensky government and incorporate Ukraine into its sphere of influence. Russia’s reliance on its energy resources are a reminder of the late John McCain’s caustic description of Putin’s Russia: “a gas station run by the Mafia masquerading as a country.”  Putin shows no sign of changing his approach confident that in the coming months the West will divide over the hardships inflicted on them by the war.. The Russian public is still behind him having been fed a steady diet portraying NATO and the USA as the aggressor and the Zelensky regime as run by Nazis. The recent military setbacks have stimulated the nationalists who are demanding national mobilization

Xi and Putin continue to share the same objective which is to challenge the Western designed rules-based order. Six months on, Xi is likely embarrassed by the failure of the Putin invasion. If nothing else he will wonder about the efficacy of the Russian weapons they have bought for over 30 years. The Ukrainian response will also likely make them think twice about military intervention in Taiwan.

The Xi-Putin February “no limits” pact has also shown it does have limits. There was no promise from Xi of weapons or armaments or endorsement of Putin’s “special military operation” although the Chinese narrative claims a more inclusive model of international relations through SCO and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and other multilateral groupings where China plays a central role. It also reflects Beijing’s criticism of the West in general, and the U.S. in particular, for unilaterally targeting states that fail to follow the “universal values” of liberal democracies. NATO is regularly vilified as a “gangster,” a “war machine,” and a “butcher”. China promotes its networks of multilateral and bilateral strategic partnerships as positive-sum correctives to US-led formal alliances, which Beijing consistently asserts drive world politics toward zero-sum competition.  The secondary and tertiary consequences of the conflict are affecting supplies of fuel and food, while increasing famine and forced migration.

The International Energy Agency warns of continuing shortages of energy for coming years.  “The world has never witnessed such a major energy crisis in terms of its depth and its complexity,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in July. Until renewables come into their own, it puts a premium on getting energy to Europe. For reasons of collective security Canada needs to get gas and oil to both our coasts. Of course, this is not the context hoped for at November’s Sharm el-Sheikh COP27.

The World Food Program warns of famine for many millions in Africa and the Middle East. As many as 828 million people go to bed hungry every night, the number of those facing acute food insecurity has soared since 2019 from 135 million to 345 million. A total of 50 million people in 45 countries are teetering on the edge of famine.

Food and fuel shortages will spur more outward migration from Africa and the Middle East across the Mediterranean and through Eurasia. Putin and Erdogan have demonstrated that migrants can be weaponized. And as we see in the Swedish and Italian elections with the rise of the populist right there are political consequences.

There was a sense after the Biden and Macron victories that the nativism and populism personified by BREXIT, Trump, Modi and Bolsonaro had run its course. It now appears that the force of populism and its underlying drivers that go back to the 2008 financial crisis, the inequalities created by globalization and the power of social media are very durable and have stimulated parties both the far right and far left.

Is a post-dollar world coming? The effect of sanctions combined with decoupling, Chinese “self-sufficiency” and dual circulation may well spell the end of the dollar as the global currency with more regional blocks doing business in their own currencies.

Canada has responded to Ukraine’s plight with armsmoney and resettlement of 87,000 refugees. With a deeply rooted Ukrainian diaspora, the Mulroney government was the first western government to recognize Ukrainian independence in 1991. Successive governments have supported Ukraine with aid, military training and technical assistance to support good governance. Canada will be involved in Ukraine’s eventual, massive reconstruction.

The war has also refocused attention on the importance of collective security through NATO and the importance of deterrence, defence and intelligence. The Trudeau government has increased its defence budget and NATO deployments, although we are still well short of spending two percent of GDP on defence – the NATO commitment for 2024.

Looking forward, the US Institute for Peace argues for three levels of negotiations: a contact group for Russia and Ukraine; Multilateral Talks in Europe involving EU, OSCE, NATO; Strategic Stability Dialogue using Track 1.5 and Track 2 involving US, Russia, China, and others.

There are also good ideas in a recent German Marshall Fund report on reconstruction in Ukraine. It answers core questions including When to start? Who should lead? Who should pay? What about corruption?

The Ukraine war has refocused debate on values versus interests. But it is an ultimately sterile debate as our values underline our interests and our interests reflect our values. Abandoning or soft-peddling the values dimension towards Russia and China in favour the Realpolitik of market access is a mistake. We cannot depend on Russia for energy, nor on China for critical minerals and strategic goods.

The West reacted to the annexation of Crimea in 2014 with words and very limited sanctions. In the case of Chinese-made islands in the South China Sea we made “protests” – words not deeds. We did the same with the international tribunal’s ruling in favour of the Philippines. Democrats in Russia and China lost faith in the West. The net result was to leave the Kremlin and Beijing with the impression that the West can be either intimidated or bought. It did not serve our interests and diminished faith in our values.

The Ukraine conflict reminds us that leadership, intelligence, arms and allies all matter. But so does morale and the belief you are fighting for something you believe in. Narratives are important and the closed nature of autocracies gives them the advantage. They control the media. One of the early actions of the Putin regime was to ban independent and social media. By controlling the media they control that what people hear and see. Western governments have adapted through, for example, the release of intelligence previously kept secret as to when the war would begin to discredit Putin’s denials.

Going forward the narrative needs to hammer home that Russia has violated territorial sovereignty in violation of international commitments. In doing so it is also breaking the rules of war in its treatment of civilians and that those responsible will be held accountable.

The defining divide of our time is not that of right versus left but democracy versus autocracy. We can never take liberty for granted. And let’s not delude ourselves, we are not doing very well, either at home or abroad.

Saying ‘Sorry’

(This article first appeared in The Times of London)

By Edward Lucas

A well-timed apology builds trust

Finland’s prime minister Sanna Marin was just six in 1991. In that year I listened to an official in Helsinki lamenting Estonia’s return to independence. Devastated by communist misrule, it would inevitably be unstable, poor and crime-ridden: a catastrophe for Finland. He was not alone. For the thirty years, Finnish decision-makers patronised and ignored their thriving southern neighbours. In 2008, Tarja Halonen, then Finland’s president, dismissed Estonia’s hawkishness towards Russia as the result of “post-Soviet traumatic stress”.

Last month Ms Marin apologised for her predecessors’ mistakes.

“I honestly want to admit that, over the past decades, we could have listened to our friends in the Baltics more closely along the way in questions related to our common security and Russia,” she told the annual meeting of her country’s senior diplomats.

Perhaps she could also have a word with her German counterpart, Olaf Scholz. Her country’s mistakes over the past thirty years are mild in comparison with Germany’s. Finland pursued energy independence from Russia, whereas Germany catastrophically increased its dependence on Russian gas, building not just one but two pipelines across the Baltic Sea. Militarily, Finland never dropped its guard. Germany is a notorious free-rider on defense. Worse, German politicians hampered the security of others, slowing down decision-making about NATO enlargement, and about contingency plans to defend the alliance’s eastern members from Russia. Sanctimony cloaked this odious combination of self-interest and naïveté.

Yet when it comes to other mistakes, “Vergangenheitsbewältigung” – coming to terms with the past — is entrenched in Germany’s public discourse. Scholz’s powerful and thought-provoking speech about the future of Europe, given in Prague last week, said the murderous Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia still “pains and shames us”. He acknowledged that the West often overlooked the post-war injustice inflicted on the countries of eastern and central Europe. Liberation from the Nazis was the precursor to further totalitarian rule, this time at Soviet hands.

The chancellor’s speech highlighted, though only implicitly, a huge shift in German thinking. His country used to oppose EU membership for poor countries with weak institutions, citing worries about cost, crime and migration. Now Scholz explicitly supports expansion to the Western Balkans, Moldova, Ukraine and perhaps even Georgia. That would mean an EU of up to 36 members. He laid particular emphasis on supply chain resilience. This from the leader of a country that for decades believed that greater trade and investment with totalitarian countries would make them friendlier.

These excellent points would have been more credible had they been accompanied by some recognition that Germany until recently has been part of the problem, not the solution.

This is not just a moral issue but a practical one. Scholz is now showing a commendable appetite for bold, big-picture thinking. He endorsed, for example, Emmanuel Macron’s proposal for a European Political Community. This will include non-EU members: both those waiting to get in, and the post-Brexit United Kingdom. But these proposals will have to overcome the trust deficit in the eastern half of the continent created by years of short-sighted, self-centred decisions and ill-chosen language. Polish support will be vital. But decision-makers in Warsaw are unimpressed by nice words from Berlin. The Polish government has just unveiled a €1.3 trillion compensation claim for wartime damage (German contrition for Nazi crimes does not stretch that far: officials in Berlin say the compensation question is “closed’).

Chancellor Willy Brandt’s spontaneous genuflection in 1970 at the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising memorial paved the way for partial reconciliation with communist-ruled Poland. Nobody is expecting that from Scholz. But the new Ostpolitik, like its predecessor, needs openness and honesty about the past to succeed.

Review: ‘Victory at Sea’: How Naval Power Helped Win WWII

By Paul Kennedy
Yale University Press, May 2022

Reviewed by Colin Robertson

Historian Paul Kennedy’s Victory at Sea: Naval Power and the Transformation of the Global Order in World War II is the story of how the navies of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Japan prepared from the mid-1930s and then fought in the waters of three main theaters: the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific. As Kennedy relates, the European war began with U-boats sinking British warships while the Pacific war would begin with a surprise Japanese assault by air – “The age of modern asymmetric weaponry had arrived.”

Victory at Sea is divided into five parts: Setting the Stage; Narrative of the Great Naval War, 1939–42; The Critical Year of 1943; Narrative of the Great Naval War, 1944–45; Aftermath and Reflections.

The British-born, Oxford-trained Kennedy is currently the J. Richardson Dilworth Professor of History, and Director of International Security Studies at Yale, where he also taught the Grand Strategy seminar with the late diplomat Charles Hill and Gaddis Smith. A prolific author and columnist, he is perhaps best known for his The Rise and Fall of Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000 (1987). It was required reading in foreign ministries. It argued that the challenge for the great powers is to balance their economic capacity with their military power and strategic commitments. Success or failure hinged on decisions around investment, defense and consumption.

Like Rise and Fall (677 pages), Victory at Sea is equally magisterial (544 pages) even if the scope is a decade and a half rather than half a millennium. It tells the story of convoys, amphibious landings and naval battles involving the six great powers and their allies. By war’s end four of them were vanquished.

Victory at Sea is an analysis of power shifts in the international system and a study in the causes of historical change. Kennedy argues that “at no other time in history did the naval balance of power change as much” as during the crucial period covered by the book. It was “the greatest naval war the world had ever seen,” a “deadly struggle between revisionist and status quo Great Powers.” Winston Churchill — notably First Lord of the Admiralty both during the First World War and, more fatefully, again before becoming prime minister in 1940 — was proved right when he opined that if Britain could just withstand the early Axis blows then the entry of America, “that giant boiler”, would be decisive.

Kennedy makes a convincing case that the “transformation of the global order” hinged on the crucial role of naval warfare and America’s superior industrial capacity. The dynamic growth of the United States and its rapid attainment of naval mastery left it the number one world power — the ‘superpower’ — by 1945.

Kennedy’s fluent storytelling is accompanied by statistical charts and detailed maps. The elegiac watercolour paintings of the late Ian Marshall are a visual treat. Look at the 53 plates, beginning with HMS Hood and HMS Barham at harbour (1936) in the Royal Navy’s Malta base (both were later sunk in the Battle of Malta) and including the Allied fleet led by USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay (1945).

Kennedy acknowledges his debt to French scholar Fernand Braudel (who spent time in a German prisoner of war camp) and Braudel’s equally magisterial The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (1949). Braudel describes the shift from a Europe centered on the Mediterranean to a continent looking to the Atlantic and beyond. For Kennedy, World War II marks the decisive shift of the Eurocentric world order to one dominated by the United States. Kennedy argues it could not have happened without the navy.

To illustrate the Battle of the Atlantic, the war’s longest campaign. Kennedy tells the story of ONS-5, an Allied merchant convoy returning from British ports in May, 1943 to New York City to receive the vital stocks of food, fuel and manufactured inputs such as steel that kept Britain fed and industry sustained. German U-boat wolf packs were sinking ships faster than they could be replaced. Churchill would write that it was the “only thing that ever really frightened me during the war.” He told the War Cabinet (March, 1943) that the country’s naval resources were “stretched to the uttermost”, and “inadequate to meet the enemy’s concentration of U-boats”.

In a compelling vindication of Churchill’s championing of radar technology, that confrontation off the coast of Newfoundland ended with seven U-boats sunk and another seven damaged because of technological innovation that combined lengthening the radius of aircraft escorts and improved equipment for the detection of submarines: the centimetric radar dish invented at Bell Laboratories that allowed the convoys to ‘see’ the wolf pack. Kennedy writes that “In the entire naval war, it is hard to find a better example of a novel technology immediately making a difference to the fight.” So, of course, did Bletchley Park’s ability to read German naval codes.

The numbers tell the story: convoys sank 87 U-boats in 1942. With better air support and radar, 244 submarines were sunk in 1943 and 249 in 1944. The tide had turned in the Battle of the Atlantic.

For Kennedy, 1943 was the pivot year. The Allies turned the tide in the Atlantic. With the arrival of the aircraft carrier USS Essex, the first of its class, and the new Grumman Hellcat fighter and fighter-bomber, there were victories in the Pacific. In the Mediterranean, the Allies made landings in Sicily after retaking North Africa.

The Hellcat, writes Kennedy, tells another story of the war: the extraordinary supply chain that stretched from the mining of bauxite — the ore needed to produce aluminum — in the then-Dutch colony of Suriname, to the production of aluminum in Alcoa refineries in Tennessee, to the manufacturing of parts in East Hartford, Connecticut, to the construction of the planes at the massive Grumman factory at Bethpage, Long Island. They were then flown to naval bases in San Diego and Long Beach, California where they found their new home on newly-built Essex-class carriers. Hellcats eventually shot down 5200 enemy aircraft, far more than any Allied fighter.

The Essex carriers and Hellcats symbolized Franklin Roosevelt’s declaration that the USA had become the ‘arsenal of democracy’ in its global dominance. One chart, measuring warship tonnages from 1939 to 1945, essentially tells the story of World War II. While the lines of all the five other powers go up or down slightly as the war progresses, the line for the United States climbs steeply, starting in 1941, in an almost vertical direction. By war’s end, the American shipbuilding program was “almost choking on its own productivity.” American warship tonnage outstripped all the other belligerents put together. The US Navy ruled the waves with almost 100 carriers and hundreds more battleships, destroyers, corvettes and auxiliary ships.

Kennedy cites fellow historian Correlli Barnett, who argues that a nation’s capacity — national direction, strategic decision-making, productive resources, scientific and technological capacity, the armed services and their weapons systems — is determined by conflict because it tests the strengths and weaknesses of their society. A fundamental figure in that audit is naval expenditures, because warships are usually the biggest ticket item in war-making as compared with jets or tanks.

Kennedy gives Canada scant attention even though we played a critical role in the Battle of the Atlantic. Our warships were part of Britain’s lifeline, helping to escort more than 25,000 merchantmen across the Atlantic. Employing more than 125,000 workers, our shipyards built more than 4,000 vessels, each ship in an average of 307 days.

At the end of the Second World War, Canada had the fourth- largest navy in the world with 95,000 sailors and 434 commissioned vessels.

Today, Canada has around 12,000 sailors with twelve frigates and four submarines originally built in the 1980s, a dozen coastal vessels built in the 1990s, and a reconditioned commercial supply ship. The first of our six new offshore patrol ships, HMCS Harry DeWolf, sailed through the North West Passage last fall.

While the Trudeau government has committed more money to defence, at 1.36 percent of GDP our defence expenditures are far below the NATO target of two percent. As we revisit our current defence strategy, we need to ask ourselves: Is this sufficient to secure our sovereignty and ensure collective security?

Fronting on three oceans — the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific — Canada’s coastline is the world’s longest. We live in an era of increasing threats, higher collective security obligations and, with climate change, the waters we must defend expand daily. We hope to see our 15 new surface combatants in the early 2030s and our two new supply ships in the late 2020s. We also need new submarines.

For Kennedy, the application of sea power, fundamental to projecting geopolitical power, reached its culmination in World War II. It decided the outcome of the transformative struggle between the Grand Alliance and the Axis Powers. Today,  we look to the Indo-Pacific, through which 60 percent of world commerce passes. Sea power is vital to preserving freedom of navigation for our trade.

“War was coming,” Kennedy writes about the 1930s, “because two revisionist and authoritarian regimes were no longer willing to tolerate existing borders.” History does not repeat itself, but as Mark Twain observed, it often rhymes.

Red Hands, Red Faces

(First Published in The Times of London)

By Edward Lucas

Russia’s spies squirm in the spotlight

A new Bellingcat investigation tells the story of a woman known to her many friends as Maria Adela Kuhfeldt Rivera. After moving between Rome, Malta and Paris, she settled in Naples where she ran a jewellery business and socialised energetically, chiefly among expats connected with the big US Navy base there.

Her supposedly original designs were fake: cheap Chinese imports. So too was her life story. She was not born in Peru and raised by adoptive parents in Moscow. She was in fact Olga Kolobova, part of a prized cohort of deep-cover “illegals” working abroad for the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency.

Bellingcat establishes this chiefly by cross-referencing open-source information and leaked databases. Crucially, the Russian passport used by “Rivera” differed by only one digit from that used by a GRU officer involved in the attempted poisoning of the ex-spy Sergei Skripal in Britain in March 2018. A Bellingcat investigation into that episode a few months later deduced that the Russian spy agency — in an astonishing piece of carelessness — was using sequentially numbered passports for its undercover officers. Hours after that news broke, Kolobova was told to hurry home (Bellingcat has even traced the phone call from her spymaster boss).

The investigators’ success places a question-mark over the sweeping powers and bloated budgets of some Western counter-intelligence services. Particularly troubling is that in the four years since Kolobova fled to Moscow, Bellingcat seems to have been the first to quiz her associates. It would have been good housekeeping, at least, for Italian spy-catchers to look for any loose ends. I had the same experience investigating an American spy bust in 2010 for my book, Deception. I tracked down several ex-colleagues of the ten Russian illegals caught and deported from the United States. They included a professor, an intern and a co-author. All were eager to talk: they had been waiting, rather puzzledly, for the professionals to get in touch.

Without further investigation, Kolobova’s mission remains unclear. Her trips to Bahrain (home to another US Navy base) suggest one area of interest. She may have been a “spotter”: a spy who looks out for financial, psychological and other weaknesses among potential targets. Such spotters rarely get involved in the risky business of agent-running or recruitment. That makes them inconspicuous: hard to catch and thus particularly valuable.

Kremlin mouthpieces habitually decry Bellingcat as an MI6 front. How else can it achieve such stunning successes against Russia’s sprawling and powerful security agencies? Previous coups include tracking down the FSB hit-squad who poisoned Alexei Navalny. The climax of that investigation was a prank call in which the Russian opposition leader fooled one of the assassins into giving details of the attempted murder.

Bellingcat’s success may be infuriating but it is no secret. It exploits incompetent tradecraft by Russia’s spy agencies, coupled with the country’s endemic corruption, the huge amount of public information available on social media, and simple techniques such as reverse-image searches. The GRU could have issued its operatives with randomly numbered passports. It chose not to because of laziness and complacency, not the machinations of Western intelligence. Vast databases of Russians’ addresses, phones, passports and other personal data are for sale on the internet. That results from greedy behavior by employees of public agencies and private businesses, and poorly designed systems that let them steal and sell data with impunity.

Russian spymasters can close down operations with similar flaws. But all of the intelligence officers involved, plus their sources and methods, remain vulnerable to exposure. Russia’s spymasters can only sit and wait for the next bombshell to burst on the Bellingcat website.


Edward Lucas is a member of The Alphen Group.

How to Win in Ukraine

By R.D. Hooker, Jr.

a shorter version of this article first appeared in The Atlantic Council’s Ukraine Alert on August 22nd, 2022

So far in the conflict in Ukraine, the Ukrainian armed forces have conducted a stout and stirring defense, inflicting heavy casualties on Russian units and contesting every foot of ground.  Against long odds, Ukraine managed to defend the capital, Kyiv, as well as its second largest city, Kharkiv, forcing Russia to abandon its goal of a quick takeover of the national territory. Staving off defeat is not, however, the same thing as victory.[1]  Russian forces today control about 20% of Ukrainian territory, including large tracts in the east and south.  What can Ukraine do to “win”?

A first step must be to address the disparity in airpower.  Success in modern, high-intensity warfare is almost impossible without at least parity in the air, and Ukraine began the contest woefully behind the curve, with perhaps flyable 100 jets compared to Russia’s more than 1,500.  Where Russia has been able to generate 100-200 sorties per day, the much smaller Ukrainian air force can manage perhaps 10-20.  Accordingly, Ukraine has been generally unable to provide air support to its ground forces for fear of losing its small inventory of high-performance aircraft (mostly MIG-29 and SU-27 fighters and Su-24 and SU-25 ground attack aircraft). Instead, its approach has been to carefully husband its assets to maintain a “force-in-being,” to be used only selectively.

On the other hand, Ukraine has been outstandingly successful in denying Russia air supremacy with extremely effective air defense and a strategy of “air denial.” Though lacking the most advanced air defense systems, such as the US Patriot or the Russian S-400, its use of older S-300 (high altitude), SA-11 (medium altitude) and SA-8 (short range) systems has been lethal to Russian airpower.  (The US has also provided small numbers of its NASAM short to medium-range air defense system, while Germany has promised to send decommissioned Gepard air defense vehicles, though ammunition shortages have delayed actual use)[2]  Employed in concert with large numbers of US-supplied Stinger shoulder-fired missiles and using “shoot and scoot” tactics for survivability, Ukrainian air defense has downed dozens of Russian fixed and rotary-wing aircraft and largely sidelined Russian airpower. An adequate supply of air defense missiles for Ukrainian systems is essential here, and they must come from outside sources in quantity for  Ukraine  to prevail.

Ukraine has also used drones with devastating effect.  The principal military platforms have been the Turkish “Bayraktar” TB2, which can deliver laser-guided bombs, and the US-supplied “Phoenix Ghost” drone, as well as the “Switchblade,” a “kamikaze” drone with onboard explosives that can be flown into the target.  These are supplemented with thousands of cheaper commercial drones used for artillery spotting and intelligence collection. Russian forces have adapted and the loss rate of Ukrainian drones is high, but low cost and ready availability mean that drones will continue to play an important role.  When linked to nearby artillery units, drones enable quick target acquisition and precise fires, making the most of Ukraine’s limited artillery resources.

Ukrainian innovation and tactical agility have blunted much of Russia’s dominance in the air, but the ability to generate offensive airpower in the form of close air support and air interdiction will go far towards helping Ukraine prevail.  Earlier in the conflict, Poland and other former-Warsaw Pact nations suggested a transfer of Soviet-era jets to Ukraine, an offer blocked by US officials.[3]  If NATO is determined not to provide air cover, it is imperative that this block be removed and that partners be permitted to support the Ukrainian air force with platforms it can employ quickly to support air operations.  Backfilling these transfers with US 4th generation aircraft like the F-16 would also hasten the transition from Soviet-era jets to more interoperable western aircraft in these countries.  Even 50 additional jets, with associated munitions and spare parts, could make a major difference.[4] Without a boost in air support, a Ukrainian victory may still be possible if the strategy of air denial holds up, but it will come at higher costs to the ground forces.

Just as important is artillery, which comes in three forms – tubed, rocket and missile.  Ukraine began the war with substantial but outdated tubed artillery from the Soviet era, complicated by a dearth of ammunition.[5]  With some 2000 artillery pieces to Ukraine’s 500, Russian artillery is far more numerous, modern and powerful, with a daily consumption of artillery rounds some 10 times greater than Ukraine’s.[6] As with air defense, Ukraine has used its limited artillery intelligently, quickly relocating after fire missions to avoid counter-battery fire and relying on drones for precision targeting.  The addition of towed 155mm howitzers from the US and smaller numbers of 155mm self-propelled  systems from Germany, France and other countries has strengthened Ukraine’s tubed artillery holdings considerably, but Russia’s advantage is still strong.[7] 

Here, the US can help with M109A6 155mm self-propelled howitzers, recently replaced by the newer M109A7 model and now in storage in quantity.[8]  The M109A6 is an armored, tracked vehicle, more survivable against counter-battery fire, quicker to displace and with smaller crews.  It is accurate, lethal and rugged – well suited to Ukraine’s terrain and operational environment.  Approximately 320 of these systems would give Ukraine 4 additional artillery brigades (one for each of its 4 regional headquarters), plus an additional battalion in general support for each of Ukraine’s 12 or so division – equivalents, leaving some 10% for training and spares.

U.S. Army Paladin M109A6 155mm self-propelled howitzer (Photo U.S. DoD)

The real artillery game changer is the multiple launch rocket system, in both the wheeled (M142 HIMARS) and tracked (M270 MLRS) variants.  Both are long ranged, precise, mobile and very destructive. Small numbers have been provided to date and they have rendered excellent service.[9]  While Ukraine does field older rocket artillery systems like the  BM-21 Grad and BM-30 Smerch, HIMARS and MLRS are far superior in range and precision.  As a matter of policy, the Biden administration has withheld longer ranged ATACMS ammunition that can strike targets up to 300 miles away.[10]  To level the playing field and transition to the offense with some hope of success, Ukraine probably needs some 50 or so HIMARS or MLRS systems, and it needs the ATACMS round.[11]  These capabilities will enable Ukrainian forces to strike high value, deep targets like command posts, airfields, logistics hubs, air defense complexes, and ballistic missile launchers.  Given the mismatch in airpower, long range rocket artillery has the potential to turn the tide and put Ukraine on a path towards ultimate success. Without it, victory will be elusive.

M142 HIMARS Department of Defense
M270 MLRS Military Today

Stronger airpower and more modern rocket artillery will greatly improve the odds, but Ukraine’s tank forces must also be strengthened.  When the war began Ukraine’s standard tank was the T-64B, an older Soviet-era design, underpowered and lacking the most modern explosive reactive armor, thermal sights and modern ammunition.[12] While Ukraine has inflicted heavy losses on Russian armor (often using hand-held antitank weapons), its own tank force has been depleted and offensive breakthroughs with tank-heavy forces have not been possible. Poland has committed to providing 240 PT-91 main battle tanks, along with small numbers of Czech T-72s.[13] To equip the Ukrainian army for offensive operations in 2023, the US should consider providing a similar number of M1A1 tanks from its large reserve stocks.  Though not the very latest model, the M1A1 is more than a match for most Russian tanks and available in large numbers.[14]

M1A1 Abrams main battle tank  Photo US Army

More modern weapon systems for Ukraine are badly needed, but reorganizing Ukrainian ground forces is just as important.  Ukraine began the war with some 38 maneuver (infantry and tank) brigades and 9 artillery brigades, organized on the Russian model.[15]  Unlike western armies, Ukraine does not use the division and corps structures common to NATO, relying instead on regional commands.[16]  These lack true battle staffs that can provide enablers, resource lower level commands and integrate airspace, deep fires, logistics, intelligence and operational level command and control.  This organization suffers from span-of-control problems and prevents Ukraine from conducting large-scale operational maneuver, especially for offensive operations.  A better approach is to convert the operational commands into true corps headquarters with trained battlestaffs, and to introduce the division as an intermediate echelon of command.  Both should include “enablers” or support formations (artillery, air defense, aviation, engineer, signal, logistics, intelligence, medical, and reconnaissance units) that are crucial to success in combined arms warfare.[17]  Standing up these structures in wartime will be challenging and will take time, but could be possible by the latter part of 2023 with the right support.

This move would result in the creation of 4 regionally-oriented corps, each with anywhere from 2-3 division-equivalents (including territorial defense forces) based on the terrain and threat.  To transition to the offense and counter-attack, Ukraine also requires a 5th corps composed of at least three tank and mechanized divisions – an “armored fist” led by its most accomplished and successful commanders to conduct decisive operations to drive the Russian army from Ukrainian territory.  To coordinate these corps, Ukraine should establish a field army headquarters, to be led by the Commander, Ukrainian Ground Forces.  Many of the building blocks of these formations already exist in current force structure and standing headquarters, which need only to be converted or augmented for battlefield use.

All of this requires institutional support and infrastructure to recruit, train, equip, field and sustain forces in the field as well as defense industry to manufacture, repair and replace combat systems and to produce the ammunition, spare parts and other classes of supply that are essential.  Foreign assistance has been critical in this regard, but it has come incrementally and on an ad hoc basis, challenging Ukraine to integrate many different types of combat systems, on the fly, in combat.  To assist Ukraine, NATO should provide a “NATO Training Mission-Ukraine,” based in Poland, on a scale similar to the robust training support organizations seen in Iraq and Afghanistan.[18] Led by a US 3 star, with senior-level representation and staffing from the UK, France, Poland and Germany, NTM-U can provide the expertise, technical assistance and “connective tissue” that is badly needed as Ukraine fights for its national existence.[19]

Why should the US and its European allies and partners risk a confrontation with a nuclear-armed Russia in this way?  The clear answer is that a negotiated “peace” in Ukraine will mean nothing of the sort.  Any settlement that leaves Russia in control of occupied territory in exchange for a cessation of hostilities will reward Russian aggression and encourage more.[20] Western leaders can be sure that success in Ukraine, even at high cost, will put NATO Allies like the Baltic States squarely in Putin’s crosshairs.  If anything, US and European reluctance to take the steps outlined above can only reassure Putin that the West fears confrontation and will take pains to avoid it. This is not a recipe for deterring future aggression.

Nor should the West fear Russian rhetoric about the use of nuclear weapons.  Distilled to its  essence, this amounts to the threat of a nuclear exchange if Russia is not allowed to invade and occupy its neighbors. The nuclear deterrence regime that has been in place since the 1950s is surely strong enough to deter such wild adventurism. Here, constant statements from western leaders that “we cannot risk WWIII” only encourage Putin that reckless threats to use nuclear weapons are working.

The outcome of the conflict in Ukraine will have other consequences beyond Europe.  China is watching carefully and will weigh the West’s commitment to its friends and partners carefully as it considers the military conquest of Taiwan – especially after the US and NATO’s precipitate and chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. So will Iran and North Korea.  For the most part, Russian aggression in Georgia, Crimea, the Donbas and more broadly in Ukraine has been met with sanctions, rhetoric and a pronounced unwillingness to risk confrontation –  not confidence and firm resolve. We should not fool ourselves here.  Much is at stake.

To enable Ukraine to succeed and win, the US and Europe do not need to introduce ground troops.  Magnificent Ukrainian resistance has badly hurt the Russian military, which is almost totally committed in Ukraine.  An opportunity exists to end further Russian aggression in the European security space for a generation, and perhaps forever.  But victory depends on western and international support that goes well beyond the current level.  We cannot ignore that Ukraine, too, has suffered painful losses in troops and materiel. Ukraine has been consistent and clear about its needs.  Peace in Europe, and perhaps the world, depends on meeting them.


[1]“Victory” can be defined as recovery of the national territory and a decisive defeat of Russian forces such that further Russian aggression is deterred. See the author’s “Ukraine Can Win,” The Atlantic Council, July 20, 2022.

[2] For “National/Norwegian Advanced Surface to Air Missile System,” a short- to medium-rangeair defense system developed by Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace (KDA) and Raytheon.

[3] In February 2022 Ukraine fielded 21 MiG-29 fighters, 28 SU-27 multi-role fighters,  12 SU-24 strike fighters and  13 SU-25 ground attack jets.  Poland has 27 MiG-29 fighters and 32 SU-22 fighter/bombers in its inventory.  Bulgaria has 6 SU-25 ground attack and 14 MiG-29 fighter aircraft.  Slovakia has 11 MiG-29s.  See World Directory of Modern Military Aircraft at https://www.wdmma.org.  See also Humeyra Pamuk, “US rejects Poland’s offer to give it Russian-made fighter jets for Ukraine,” Reuters, March 9, 2022.

[4] Another option is to provide US A-10 ground attack and F-16 fighter aircraft to Ukraine, a move that would require longer lead times to train pilots and develop a logistical and training infrastructure.  At present, the US government  does not support this move. See Everett Pyatt, “Transfer three A-10 aircraft squadrons to Ukraine now,” DefenseOne, March 3, 2022 and Amy MacKinnon, “Ukraine Wants NATO Jets. Biden Says Not Yet,” Foreign Policy, March 22, 2022.

[5] Between 2015 and 2019, some 210,000 tons of artillery ammunition was destroyed by Russian sabotage. Thomas Gibbons Neff et al, “Shortage of Artillery Ammunition Saps Ukrainian Frontline Morale,” New York Times, June 10, 2022.

[6] Ilia Ponomarenko, “Why Ukraine struggles to combat Russia’s artillery superiority,” Kyiv Independent, August 12, 2022. 

[7] To date the US has supplied 126 M777 155mm towed howitzers and 260,000 artillery rounds, along with 12 HIMARS wheeled multiple launch rocket systems. Another 4 are promised.  Germany and the Netherlands have contributed 12 155mm self-propelled Panzerhaubitzen 2000 howitzers.  France has provided 12 155mm self-propelled Caesar howitzers and promised an additional 6.  The UK supplied Ukraine with “several” M270 tracked multiple launch rocket systems (open sources state that Ukraine has up to 12 at present) and has committed to send 20 M109 155mm self-propelled howitzers, 36 105mm towed howitzers and 50,000 rounds of ammunition. Canada has provided 4 M777 howitzers.

[8] “Taiwan to acquire 40 US M109A6 155mm self-propelled howitzers,” Defense News, August 2021 .

[9] As of this writing Ukraine is thought to have 16 HIMARS and 9 MLRS systems.  Joost Oliemans and Stijn Mitzer, “ Answering The Call: Heavy Weaponry Supplied To Ukraine,” Oryx , April 11, 2022. 

[10] ATACMS stands for “Army Tactical Missile System.”

[11] The ATACMS munition has been denied to Ukraine for fear it may be used to strike targets inside Russia, although the Ukrainian government has pledged to observe US restrictions.  Paul McLeary, “Biden resists Ukrainian demands for long-range rocket launchers,” Politico, May 18, 2022.

[12] Ukraine began the war with some 720 T-64 variants, including 100 T-64BM models which do have modern upgrades, including thermal sights, along with 100 T-72 models.  About 600 dated T-64s are in storage. Military Watch, April 18, 2021.  In contrast, Russia began the invasion with some 2800 frontline tanks, virtually all superior to Ukrainian models.

[13] Drew Hinshaw and Natalia Ojewska, “Poland Has Sent More Than 200 Tanks to Ukraine,”  Wall Street Journal, April 29, 2022.  The PT-91 is a locally produced T-72 variant, superior to the T-64 and roughly comparable to Russian T-72B3s now in service.  The US has agreed to sell 250 M1A2SEPv3 tanks, the most modern version, to replace them along with another 130 M1A1 models.  Rojoef Manuel, “Poland Buys 116 Used M1A1 Abrams Tanks From US,” The Defense Post, July 18, 2022. 

[14] The M1A1 is equipped with thermal sights, depleted uranium armor, a powerful 1500hp gas turbine engine, and a lethal, stabilized 120mm main gun that can hit targets accurately on the move out to 4000m.

[15] 1st, 3d, 5th, 14th, and 17th tank brigades, 14th, 15th, 24th , 28th, 30th, 33d, 72d, 53d, 54th, 60th, 62d, 63d, 92d, 93d and 115th mechanized infantry brigades, 10th and 128th mountain assault brigades, 56th, 57th, 58th,  and 59th motorized infantry brigades, 60th infantry brigade, 61st, 68th and 71st jaeger infantry brigades, 36th naval infantry brigade, 25th airborne brigade, 46th, 79th, 80th and 95th air assault brigades, 81st airmobile brigade,  and 4th Rapid Reaction Brigade, 26th, 38th, 40th, 44th, 45th and 55th artillery brigades, 43d heavy artillery brigade, 27th rocket artillery brigade,  and 19th missile brigade.  Not  included are 9 “territorial defense” brigades.  Ukrainian maneuver brigades, like Russian brigades, include not one but 3 artillery battalions (2 tubed and 1 rocket). By comparison, the entire US Army fields 31 active maneuver brigades. See Franklin Holcomb, “The Ukrainian Order of Battle,” Institute for the Study of War, December 2016, “The Military Balance 2022,” International Institute for Strategic Studies, and the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense at https://en.ukrmilitary.com/p/ukrainian-ground-forces.html.

[16] Styled as “Operational Commands West, North, East and South.”

[17] These are typically battalion-sized at division level and brigade-sized at corps level.

[18] Multinational Support and Training Command-Iraq (“MNSTC-I”) and the Coalition Support and Training Command-Afghanistan (“CSTC-A”) were both large organizations, US-led and staffed by allies and partners, that featured tens of billions in funding.  NTM-Ukraine would be a comparable organization.

[19] It is possible that Russian forces might attempt to target a NATO Training Mission based in Poland, but such a move would surely bring the Alliance into the war in the air and on the ground, as opposed to merely providing equipment and training support. 

[20] “If Putin is not decisively defeated in Ukraine, he will surely go further in his mission to ‘return’ lost Russian lands … Russia’s imperial identity is still very much intact and has become a central pillar of the Putin regime.”  Peter Dickinson, “Putin admits Ukraine is an imperial war to ‘return’ Russian land.”  The Atlantic Council, June 10, 2022.

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