Ukraine war could rage for another 12 months, says Defence Secretary
The Ukraine war could rage on for at least another year, the UK Defence Secretary has suggested.
Ben Wallace said the way Russian President Vladimir Putin was content to operate his army like a “meat grinder” meant “he is not going to stop” despite incurring horrific casualties.
The Cabinet minister’s comments were released on the eve of the one-year anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, a bloody conflict that has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions of civilians displaced.
The former Scots Guard, in an interview with LBC, also said he was “open” to sending more British tanks to Kyiv and suggested Ukraine was likely to receive fighter jets from Nato member countries.
However, he hinted it was eastern European members of the alliance, which have Soviet-era planes more like the ones the Ukrainian air force is used to, that were more likely to supply the jets than Britain.
With the weather and ground conditions improving in Ukraine, the conflict is braced for a Russian spring offensive and subsequent counter by Kyiv’s military in the coming weeks and months.
Mr Putin’s original plan of taking the country in only a matter of days failed, with a vast amount of the current fighting centring around the battle for the east of Ukraine.
Mr Wallace, asked whether he could envisage the war between Ukraine and Russia going on for a further 12 months, told the radio station: “I think we will.
“I think Russia has shown a complete disregard, not only for the lives of the people of Ukraine, but for its own soldiers.
“We are sitting here 12 months in and 188,000, actually more now, Russian soldiers are dead or injured as a result of this catastrophic miscalculation and aggression by President Putin.
“When someone has crossed the line and thinks it is OK to do that to your own people, running effectively a meat grinder for an army, I think he is not going to stop.”
He stressed that the battle in Ukraine was “not a Nato conflict” but suggested he was not opposed to alliance member Poland sending MiG-29 aircraft to its neighbour.
“We’re not going to see Nato (supply planes), we’re going to see countries that are members of Nato potentially put in air force equipment or MiG-29,” he said.
The UK has been a prominent supporter of Ukraine’s military efforts to push back the Kremlin’s troops, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announcing earlier this year that Britain would be the first country to supply tanks to its armed forces.
Mr Sunak announced that 14 Challenger 2 tanks would be supplied, with the war machines set to arrive in eastern Europe next month.
Mr Wallace said he was “open to more British tanks” being sent, on top of those already pledged.
The illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is continuing.
The map below is the latest Defence Intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine – 23 February 2023.
Find out more about the UK government's response: https://t.co/UOdc0a9XR8
🇺🇦 #StandWithUkraine 🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/R9SZaDwOgW
— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) February 23, 2023
He made the comments after spending Wednesday at Bovington Camp in Dorset to see Ukrainian troops being trained on the Challengers.
The Defence Secretary has been seen to be lobbying Chancellor Jeremy Hunt in recent weeks to increase Ministry of Defence spending in the face of Russia’s aggression and growing Chinese influence on the world stage.
Facing criticism, including from veterans’ minister Johnny Mercer, for his remarks about Britain’s armed forces being “hollowed out”, Mr Wallace said it was “not unheard of” for a defence secretary to push for more money ahead of a Budget.
In the run-up to Mr Hunt’s fiscal announcement on March 15, the Conservative minister said he was “asking for relief from pressures that have occurred since the last settlements”, adding: “We’re not in a position where we want transformational money in the next few years.”
A vigil, jointly co-ordinated by the US and Ukraine embassies in London, will be held in Trafalgar Square on Thursday evening between 6pm and 8pm to mark the first anniversary of Russia’s assault on Ukraine.
The latest Government figures show that as of February 20, 163,500 people had arrived in the UK under the Ukraine schemes.
Of these, 47,800 arrived via the Ukraine Family Scheme and 115,800 via the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme.