Group also made up of former high-level military advisers say ‘actions still fail to match the rhetoric’
17 Apr 2023
A transatlantic group of former senior diplomats and high-level military advisers have said the war in Ukraine is on course to become a stalemate unless the west goes “all in” and increases its level of military support.
Writing in the Guardian on Monday, the group said that “declarations of unwavering support” were not enough and “actions still fail to match the rhetoric” in a reflection of military assessments in European capitals and Washington.
The urgent warning comes from an authoritative group including the former UK foreign office permanent secretary Simon McDonald; Christoph Heusgen, a diplomatic adviser to the former German chancellor Angela Merkel; the former national security adviser to Barack Obama, Jim Jones; Stéphane Abrial, chief of staff to the former French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin; and Stefano Stefanini, a diplomatic adviser to the former Italian president Giorgio Napolitano.
They said the west “has to go all in” and there was no time for complacency. “We have to provide the weapons and ammunition Ukraine needs to fight, and defeat Putin’s war of aggression. The faster Putin understands that he will not achieve his objectives in Ukraine, the earlier peace can be achieved, and the sooner the suffering of the Ukrainian people will end,” they wrote. “Ukraine needs the combined force of tanks, longer-range missiles and aircraft to conduct a successful counterattack, paving the way to Ukrainian victory and peace negotiations on acceptable terms.”
With the prospects of a major Ukraine ground offensive this year possibly being scaled back, Ukraine’s defence minister, Oleksii Reznikov, has called for the US to reassess its refusal to provide F-15 or F-16 combat aircraft. Ukrainian officials and western military analysts warned as far back as last autumn that Ukraine was running critically low on air defence missiles and fighter jets could help compensate for that.
In remarks directed at the French president, Emmanuel Macron, who recently emphasised China as a potential mediator to end the war, the group also advised the west to be cautious about Beijing’s role in this conflict. “Beijing is already helping Putin’s war efforts, supplying non-lethal aid and permitting North Korea to transfer weapons to Russia. We should have no illusions: wary of democracy and Russia becoming an open society, China has every interest in keeping Putin in power,” they said.
Macron, by contrast, during his recent visit to Beijing urged China to use its influence to persuade Russia back to the negotiating table.
The authors from five of the countries inside the G7 group of nations did not define the acceptable terms on which Ukraine should settle for peace, but at a major recent in-house review by the UK Foreign Office there was an emerging consensus that Vladimir Putin would need to be offered a diplomatic off-ramp, and that might centre on leaving Russia in control of Crimea, or its future put to an internationally recognised referendum.
The former UK prime minister Boris Johnson has been arguing for this position, though it is not the formal stance of the Ukrainian leadership.
The group also urged the western alliance to ensure more government bodies, including aid agencies, rediscover a strategic approach to the global south, saying it is something that has been lost since the end of the cold war. “In order to counter Moscow and Beijing, we have to be much more active outside the transatlantic community – by constantly engaging with them, continuing to address past failings, and fulfilling the promises we have made, including on climate finance and more inclusive international institutions.”
Looking ahead to the Nato summit in Riga this summer, they said: “If the world’s democracies are going to deter and, if necessary, defend themselves against Russia and China, major economies like Germany will have to do their fair share. It is no longer acceptable that Germany and Italy do not spend 2% of their GDP on defence; the 2024 budget will be a litmus test.” The UK, they said, had been slow to enforce the sanctions it had implemented and needed to step up since the current regime had too many holes.
The decades-old promises to strengthen European defence capabilities had to be implemented to help preserve the bipartisan US support for helping Ukraine militarily, they said. The cohesion of the alliance between Europe and the US, they said, was vital to proving Putin wrong in counting on fatigue over Ukraine.
Patrick Wintour is a British journalist and the diplomatic editor of The Guardian. He was the political editor of The Guardian from 2006 to 2015 and was formerly the newspaper’s chief political correspondent for two periods, from 1988 to 1996, and 2000 to 2006. In the intervening period he was the political editor of The Observer.