SOUTHERN ENGLAND—After a string of Russian defeats in the war, U.K. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is urging Ukraine to “keep up the pressure, keep up the momentum” and continue their rapid-fire attacks on Vladimir Putin’s forces through the winter months.
“Given the advantage the Ukrainians have in equipment training and quality of their personnel against the demoralized, poorly trained, poorly equipped Russians, it would be in the Ukraine’s interest to maintain momentum through the winter,” Wallace said. “They have 300,000 pieces of arctic warfare kit, from the international community”—a crucial requirement for any winter offensive.
Wallace told The Daily Beast that this was the advice he would give to his Ukrainian counterparts, who he speaks to “almost weekly.” He praised the Ukrainians for shocking the world by showcasing their own courage and skills, as well as the huge deficiencies in the Russian armed forces.
The intervention comes at a time when senior American officials have tried to nudge Ukraine away from the battlefield and towards the negotiating table.
Two weeks ago, General Mark Milley, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that, because Ukraine may not reach a full victory on the battlefield, it should use the expected slowdown in military operations over the winter as a “window” for discussions with the Russians.
But President Volodymyr Zelensky has declared that he will not negotiate with Russia while Putin remains in power, and has said that any settlement must end with Ukraine in control of all its post-independence territories, including the Donbas and Crimea.
In an exclusive interview at a British army base in the south of England, Wallace instead suggested this was the time for Ukraine to press its advantage, pointing to the dire quality of the Russian armed forces.
“A Russian unit was recently deployed with no food and no socks, and not many guns. That is catastrophic for a person going in the field… The Russians have scale, but are not very good. Well, most of the good ones are dead,” he said. “They are a meat grinder—they shove them in the meat grinder—and use massive quantities of artillery. Only a nation that does not care for its own people could send 100,000 of its own people to be either dead, injured, or deserted.”
As we spoke last week, the crack and whistle of rifle bullets rang out behind him, from a practice range where a team of trainers from the British and New Zealand militaries were instructing Ukrainian forces. Around 5,000 Ukrainian troops have already been through a grueling three-to-five-week training program designed to give them a crash course in the basics of modern combat.
The program is run by the U.K., with trainers being sent from countries including Canada, New Zealand, and Norway. They are taught stripped-down infantry tactics with a focus on “survivability and lethality,” as one trainer put it. Many are sent straight to the front lines upon finishing. Overhead, you could hear the whir of the rotor blades from a British military helicopter as it descended to collect Wallace and his New Zealand counterpart.
In his interview with The Daily Beast, Wallace also slammed successive U.K. and European governments for decades of neglect of their armed forces.
When asked what he had learned from his experiences visiting and working with his Ukrainian counterparts, he said: “I can speak for my own and some others in Europe, it looks good at the front—but under the bonnet, ammunition stocks, maintenance, availability, reliability of our equipment, and the readiness of our soldiers to go anywhere has been hollowed out for decades.”
He noted that a variety of global crises, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the COVID pandemic, and the rise of China has meant that “the world is more anxious” and aware of “the need for resilience… and the military can do resilience, that is our middle name.”
The U.K. has often taken a more upbeat view of Ukraine’s prospects than some of its other partners, including the United States. One senior Ukrainian military official who works on liaising with foreign militaries said that British commitment went “well above” that of most other countries.
Speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military details, he noted that officials at the U.K’s Ministry of Defence were “extraordinarily committed,” often working regular overtime and weekends at key points of the military campaign.
“If our armed forces need a particular vehicle or piece of weaponry, the Brits will search through the military catalogs of different countries, and find what we need,” he added, citing the Australian Bushmaster as an example.
The Ukrainian military official also mentioned former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s early and regular trips to Kyiv to meet with Zelensky as an important factor in boosting Ukrainian morale and demonstrating international support. While Johnson is mostly disgraced in his home country, he remains a folk hero in Ukraine, appearing on murals, T-shirts, coffee mugs, and beer cans.
Wallace would speak to who was responsible for last week’s deadly missile incident in Poland, but noted that the “missiles were flying around that part of the world because Russia fired 80 missiles into civilian infrastructure. It is against the Geneva Convention, but that does not stop Mr. Putin.”