Russia is readying for an invasion of Ukraine. Kiev says that 100,000 Russian troops have now amassed at their eastern border, and the CIA thinks that Putin could have 175,000 soldiers stationed for an offensive by the end of January.
If conflict comes, it now seems certain that Ukraine will be fighting alone. Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, told Andrew Neil on Spectator TV this week that it is ‘highly unlikely’ that Britain will send troops to defend the country.
The Defence Secretary said:
“‘It’s a fact it’s not a member of Nato, so it is highly unlikely that anyone is going to send troops into Ukraine to challenge Russia… We shouldn’t kid people on that we would.’
Previously, Wallace had been ambiguous about military intervention, saying only that we could use ‘defence capabilities’ against Putin.
Britain has followed America’s lead. A fortnight ago, President Biden said sending US troops to defend Ukraine was ‘not on the table.’
We now know the limits of western military support for Ukraine. If troop deployments have been ruled out by both Britain and America – Ukraine's biggest supporters – weapons sales are the most they'll get.
America has already started selling Javelin anti-tank missiles to the Ukrainians, and Kiev has requested US-made Stinger surface-to-air rockets. This morning, the Wall Street Journal reported that Biden is considering redirecting helicopters and other military equipment, originally destined for Afghanistan, to Ukraine.
This is further than the US went in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea. Then, President Obama was criticised for sending only non-lethal military aid: radars, night vision goggles, medical supplies.
'The Ukrainians are being slaughtered and we're sending them blankets and meals', the late Senator John McCain said at the time. 'Blankets don't do well against Russian tanks.'
Wallace wouldn't even say, however, whether Britain will join America and arm Ukraine. 'We haven't yet gone into the space of lethal aid,' he said. 'We are constantly exploring all the options.'
But if conflict looms in the New Year, this line won't hold. Washington and Kiev will want support. Blankets or missiles?