By Yuri Prasad
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Stalemate in proxy war in Ukraine drives new arms race

A Ukrainian soldier said his troop was moving just “tree by tree”
Issue 2863

Ukrainian troops in training near Yavoriv (Picture: Adriana M. Diaz-Brown)

All through the winter supporters of the West’s proxy war in Ukraine told us spring would soon come—and with it a new offensive that would finally drive Russia out. Back in January the BBC was proclaiming that new tanks from the US and Germany “could be a game changer”. 

This, it said, was because their “superior armour” made them perfect for smashing through Russian defences. Yet so far there has been very little smashing. When Ukrainian forces do move forward, they do so by the meter, not by the mile.

One Ukrainian soldier told US news group CNN that his troop was moving “tree by tree”. That’s because the frontlines between Ukraine and Russia are now so saturated with mines that any miss-step triggers killer explosions.

All the while Russian forces wait in heavily fortified defences, their missiles and bombs raining down with deathly regularity. No matter the boasts of Western tank makers, none will withstand all of that.

Since the counteroffensive began last month, Ukraine claims to have retaken only about 60 square miles of its territory. By comparison, a less heralded push last autumn in the country’s north east reclaimed nearly 5,000 square miles.

“Ukraine is probably weeks behind where it hoped to be at this time,” admits the security correspondent at the ultra-loyal New York Times newspaper. The impasse ought to be a sign of the bloody futility of the war. But so far the West has, just like the Russians, simply decided to double-down, and supply yet more weapons to Ukraine.

At least two groups are overjoyed at their callous stupidity—Western generals, and arms traders everywhere. The war is the first time that Nato weaponry is being used on a large scale against Russia’s army. And it is giving them invaluable insights into the performance of “their kit”. 

Western allies “can actually see if their weapons work, how efficiently they work and if they need to be upgraded”, Ukraine’s defence minister Oleksiy Reznikov said in an interview. “For the military industry of the world, you can’t invent a better testing ground,” he added.

A German defence contractor was overjoyed, saying his firm had learnt “really a lot from the soldiers in Ukraine”. Once the soldiers notice something, they “suggest it and our software engineers sit down so that they can have an update”.

And to keep the wheels of war turning, Reznikov says Ukraine has signed maintenance contracts with British firm Babcock, France’s Nexter Systems—which produces artillery—and Germany’s Rheinmetall—which makes Leopard tanks.

Meanwhile countries that have bought Russian-made weapons, including China and India, are watching closely too. They are noting the “new kit” they too will have to buy if they want to keep up.

So while the military impasse in Ukraine brings only more death and destruction, the next wave of the arms race has already begun.

SAS inquiry launched

Crimes committed in Afghanistan by Britain’s elite special forces unit, the SAS, are at the heart of a new official inquiry. The investigation, announced by defence minister Ben Wallace last week, will look at whether previous inquiries covered up atrocities.

A man named Saifullah has accused troops of killing four members of his family in February 2011, while a surviving member of the Noorzai family says his relatives and a friend were killed in October 2012.

Charity Action on Armed Violence, said, “A particularly disquieting allegation is that one SAS soldier is suspected to have killed 35 Afghan civilians during a single six-month tour of duty.”

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