A Thoroughly Bad Idea

There is a strange belief that the best way to solve humanitarian crises caused by war is to hand out even more weapons. This week the United Nations warned that the upsurge in violence in Ukraine is proving ‘catastrophic’. In the United States, meanwhile, both the media and officials such as Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel have been ratcheting up the pressure on President Obama to send weapons to the Ukrainian Army. So far, Obama has resisted, but according to the Washington Post, he is facing a ‘rebellion’ within the Democratic Party. The BBC reports that the president ‘is rethinking his policy’.

A lack of weapons has never been the Ukrainian Army’s problem. It began operations against the rebels in the east of the country with a massive advantage in heavy weapons. Poor leadership and tactics meant, however, that it could not translate this advantage into battlefield success. Moreover, a thorough examination of the rebels’ weapons by experts of the Armaments Research Service in Australia concluded that most had been captured from the Ukrainian Army, which has been, one could say, very generous with its equipment. Giving the Ukrainians yet more weapons will not solve their leadership problems, nor improve the efficiency of their troops. As likely as not, some of the arms will eventually end up in rebel hands.

There is no reason to believe that supplying the Ukrainian Army will help it defeat the rebellion. What it will do is escalate the conflict. Russia has made it very clear that it will not allow the rebels to be defeated militarily, and so far it has provided the rebels with just enough equipment to prevent this from happening. Were the United States to send weapons to Ukraine, it is probable that Russia would retaliate in kind, stepping up supplies to the rebels. This would wipe out any advantage American armaments provided. The scale of violence would increase still further, without actually tipping the balance of power in favour of the Ukrainians.

The failure so far to end the war by negotiation has not been due to the intransigence of one side only. Any peace settlement will require substantial concessions not only by Russia and the rebels, but also by the Ukrainian government, concessions which as yet Kiev has shown no signs of being willing to make. Arming Ukraine will not encourage it to take a step in that direction. It is more likely to strengthen the hand of hawks within the Ukrainian government, who will feel that with the support of a superpower, they do not need to compromise. Peace will be less, rather than more, likely.


8 thoughts on “A Thoroughly Bad Idea”

    1. Yes, Ukraine does have T-72 tanks. Here is an announcement on the website of the President of Ukraine announcing that President Poroshenko ‘took part in the ceremony of conveying equipment and armament to the Armed Forces’, including Т-72 B1, Т-72UA, and Т-72A tanks. http://www.president.gov.ua/en/news/31727.html Ukraine is said not to have the T-72 BM variant, and evidence of some of these tanks having been in Ukraine in August last year is evidence of the presence of Russian troops, as I have said elsewhere. But that does not undermine other evidence that a lot of rebel equipment last year was captured from the Ukrainians.


      1. I’ve viewed some of the photo evidence that circulated this summer, allegedly proving that a Russia-only T-72 variant was present in Ukraine, based on its turret and accessory configuration and found fairly quickly photos of a Ukrainian KFOR T-72 from 10 years prior with the same configuration, so I’m not convinced. Swappable square vs round IR scopes do not make a case.


      2. In this video (re-posted from above), they look a lot like the T-72BM variant in use by Kiev, though of course it’s hard to be 100% certain. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvOJBdz-Wwk

        Also, in this video at the 1:20 minute mark, there’s a Ukrainian column shown (draped in the flag, etc.). Lastly, there are a number of photos on the internet of destroyed T-72s, very likely BMs (or some very close variant thereof) with the two white stripes.

        Here is how that absurd story about “these must be and can only be Russian tanks” got started: http://russia-insider.com/en/military_politics_ukraine_media_watch/2014/11/04/02-03-06pm/why_those_burnt_out_tanks_ukraine_dont

        And a bit more info here: http://humanrightsinvestigations.org/2014/09/04/russian-tanks-in-t-72-ukraine-iiss-bbc/


    2. Yes, Ukraine has plenty of T-72 tanks … here they are proudly on display via Ukraine’s own media: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvOJBdz-Wwk … at the 0:55 second mark, the Ukrainian solider helpfully tells you what tanks they are [“T-sedesem-dva”].

      We should not, of course, expect the British embassy in Kiev to retract or correct their famous Russia-trolling tweet where they claimed Ukraine absolutely does not have these tanks with precisely these characteristics (the angular armour at the front, etc.) http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/19/british-embassy-ukraine-tweets-guide-russian-tank


  1. Putin won’t look for the diplomatic decision will believe in military defeat of the Ukrainian army so far.
    Refusal of military aid to Ukraine will stop Putin? It is silly. Lack of the weapon at the opponent never stopped an aggressor. Arms supplies from Russia proceed. Not to provide weapons for Ukraine simply increases Russia’s temptation to escalate the intervention
    Russian separatist don’t want a better life for the Donbas residents. They are just in it for the fight and don’t care who gets killed.
    If Ukraine receives weapons and Putin will stop the Russian separatist will agree about the termination of military operation. Without it any diplomatic decision waits for a fate of the Minsk and Budapest Memorandum.
    The Russian terrorists place weapon emplacement in inhabited block. Then shoot at the Ukrainian army and at civil people. I personally know one former supporter of LPR. It left Lugansk when saw as separatists from a artillery shoot at the house where it has an apartment. Separatists do it specially to cause hatred to Kiev. And for show of the Russian television.


    1. Better life??? For whom???For you, barsted, robbing my country??? Has Greece better life??? Or, may be, POland???What then 2 mln+ pols are doing in UK???? Who will bring better life to Donbass???Merkel??? Obama??? Like in Ieaq???No, thanks! Eat this bettre life yerselve, very soon the rest of Ukraine will see what sort of “better” life was prepared for them!!!


  2. Urban centers are generally usefull defensive centers, even against opponents that give absolutly no value to saving civilian lifes. More so if against attackers that are technologically and numerically superior.
    The rebels would have to be pretty stupid to leave the cities without good reasons, and well, the state of Ukraines military is such that it attacks civilian areas no matter if there are rebells there or not. It is supposed to intimidate the population into surrendering or fleeing to Russia, but unsurprisingly only serves to bring them together. It also welded the incredibly heterogenous forces that make up the rebell coalition. You have: Communists, Anarchists, Reactionaries, Monarchists, Trotzkists, Russian Imperialists, groups aligned with Ukrainian Oligarch interests, groups aligned with Russian oligarch interests, local populists, intervening groups from sub-state Russian actors (f.e. Khadyrov), actual Russian troops, elements of the local mob and various Russian “adventurers” (Strelkov). The majority are far less ideological, and are simply locals with a well founded “anything but Kyiv” mindset.
    The barriers between some of these groups are fluid, and I probably forgot a couple.
    Without a constant stream of Kyivs bombs, rockets, and not exactly effective Propaganda lies (seriously, some of it is making Russian propaganda look professional and truthfull), this coalition would fracture and turn on each other. This actually already happened when there was a lull in the fighting, see the elimination of Mr. “Batman”.

    Machiavelli stated that, if you commit cruelties, commit them all at one time. Many small cruelties spread out over a long time (which is what Kyivs army was doing) simply dont work.


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