The Russian army is running out of options

So much had been written about the Russian armed forces’ modernisation and improvement over the last decade that that it was widely believed that the Russians possessed one of the largest and most powerful armies in the world until a few weeks ago. The army might not be on par with the US or China, but it was certainly capable of conquering a military minnow like Ukraine – or so the logic went. The six weeks of war in Ukraine – which have seen Russian forces fail to take Kyiv and fall back elsewhere – has dented the army’s reputation. And now it seems that the Russian military may be

France is strong where Britain and America are weak

Emmanuel Macron unveiled his campaign manifesto in a carefully orchestrated press conference on Thursday and his pledges to cut taxes and reform the welfare system dominated the headlines on Friday morning. But the president also touched on defence, promising that spending – €32.3 billion when he came to power in 2017 – will rise to €50 billion by 2025. Some of that money will be invested in cyber warfare technology, as well, presumably, on ammunition; if reports are to be believed the French army would run out of ordnance after four days of a major war. It’s a favourite pastime of Anglophones to mock the French military, though only those

Africa’s lessons for Ukraine

Kenya During Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 I got a close look at Moscow’s troops and their kit. These contractniki were a ragged bunch with rotting teeth, bad boots and homemade tattoos, using weapons and vehicles that seemed like hand-me-downs from a failed state in Africa. I had expected them to be much smarter. Recently my spooky friends told me that Putin’s military invading Ukraine was now a modernised, well-trained force. Instead it appears that Moscow’s generals have stolen the diesel, supplied the mechanised brigades with ageing knock-off Chinese tyres and sacked all the dentists. I haven’t visited Luhansk and Donetsk, but I bet they are a version of

What will happen to those left in Kabul?

The Afghan evacuation is feared to be entering its final hours, and with it a new desperation is building among people trying to get out of the country and those helping them. On the ground, troops are warning that Kabul airport could be overrun by people who are ineligible to leave but desperate to do so nonetheless. Embassy workers are trying to process visas, ministers are being bombarded with requests to look at cases where vulnerable Afghans have been overlooked or cannot make it to the airport safely. I have heard from people who waited until their children couldn’t stand and have stopped speaking due to the trauma Boris Johnson

Troubles’ veterans on both sides deserve immunity from prosecution

The recent decision by Boris Johnson’s government to put a five-year time-bar, save in exceptional circumstances, on the prosecution of British troops for crimes committed during overseas operations, came as a welcome relief to soldiers. Those who served their country abroad now know they are effectively safe from stale prosecutions in the distant future; veterans who have long since moved on can now live in peace.  But note the word ‘overseas’. Why not everywhere? The answer is easy: the Irish elephant in the room. The government feared that any attempt to time-limit prosecutions over events during the Northern Ireland Troubles would stir a hornets’ nest. It chose instead to leave those who had

In defence of the defence cuts

For many years, the mainstream story of the British armed forces has been one of cuts and decline. More cuts are to come. Even though the army has not been at its target strength for several years, the Defence Command Paper, released on Monday, commits to reducing the British army’s size by an additional 10,000 troops — around 12 per cent of its operational manpower. But does this necessarily matter? Of course it does. Over the past decade, the British armed forces have been underfunded and stretched to meet the tasks afforded to them by the government. Between 2010 and 2015, defence spending continued to fall in real terms until

Britain’s military problem needs an economic solution

Britain’s decline is relative, and is influenced by the fact that within living memory the UK was the world’s hyperpower. Decline though did not relegate the UK to the ranks of some ex-colonial powers like Turkey, but into the league of France, Germany and Japan (hardly disrespectable company). For almost all the post-war period – a few bumpy years notwithstanding – the UK never dipped below number five in the world economy rankings (where it is today). Moreover, it remains (alongside China, France, Russia and the US) one of five permanent UN Security Council members and recognised states with nuclear weapons. Unlike France, the UK has the scaffolding to rebuild

From half a shelf to a library: my life in books

‘Yes, I will have a coffee,’ said the van driver. He’d driven down to the south of France from Devon. I motioned him to take a pew at the kitchen table and asked him about himself. Ron was ex-army. Aged 17, he was faced with a stark choice: the building site or the army. Because he’d seen his builder father working in a trench all day with water up to his waist, he chose the army. He joined the Royal Engineers and trained as a driver. In the early 1970s he drove two SAS men around Belfast in an unmarked saloon car. That was the job. All day every day.

How coronavirus derailed the largest Nato exercise in 25 years

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across Europe, the United States has reduced its participation in a Nato military exercise that was set to be one of the alliance’s largest since the end of the Cold War. In April and May, the Defender-Europe 20 exercise was meant to feature 37,000 troops from 18 countries, including 20,000 soldiers deployed from the United States. It was planned to take place across ten European countries, with the bulk of the drills in Germany, Poland, and the Baltic states. Shortly after the WHO declared that Europe had become the new ‘epicentre of the pandemic’, the Trump administration enacted a travel ban for foreign visitors from

Bad day at the office? Try these life hacks from the military

“Do not waste a single vertebra,” says Major General Paul Nanson CBE, in Stand Up Straight, his book of life lessons from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where he serves as Commandant. With a career in the British Army spanning more than 30 years, Nanson is no patchouli-scented shaman. His Sandhurst hacks have seen him through The Troubles, the Gulf War, the Bosnian War, the Iraq War, and the war in Afghanistan. So I reckon he’s reasonably well qualified to dish out advice. “I’m a great believer in healthy body, healthy mind. If you’re physically fit, you’ll be more mentally fit,” says Nanson, who takes his morning run as an