NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that Russia was “failing on the battlefield” in Ukraine as he headed into a summit meeting of foreign ministers in Bucharest on Tuesday. He suggested that Russia’s continuing attacks on civilian infrastructure showed that it was being unsuccessful militarily and that it was now attempting to use the coming winter as a weapon of war against the Ukrainian people.
At the summit itself, Jens Stoltenberg appeared alongside Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba after the first day of the two-day meeting to reinforce the message that the alliance will continue to support Ukraine for the foreseeable future. He said; “We will stand by Ukraine as long as it takes will not back down,” and added, “and we realise that it is extremely important that President Putin is not able to win in Ukraine.”
He went on to point out that a Russian victory would not only be a tragedy for Ukraine, but would also make the world a much more dangerous and vulnerable place, declaring that it was clearly in the security interest of NATO and its allies to support Ukraine to the utmost.
Mr Kuleba opened his remarks by saying the last time they met his three words were “weapons, weapons, weapons”. Now he said he had three other words which were “faster, faster, faster”, echoing the constant pleas from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that his country requires more sophisticated weaponry from the west sooner to continue the struggle against the occupiers.
Kuleba went on to say; “I would like to thank you (Stoltenberg) and the alliances for helping us. We appreciate what has been done, but the war still goes on. Decisions on weapons and production lines have to be made faster. This is what we have been discussing, how to speed up everything.”
Stoltenberg then rejoined to say that NATO allies have agreed they should work more closely with Ukraine because the support “is making a huge difference on the battlefield every day”.
Russia has also been stung by comments by the Pope that some ethnic minority soldiers in the Russian army have behaved worse than others in the invasion of Ukraine. It was reported that Pope Francis, in an interview with America, a US Jesuit magazine, said that he “cruellest” troops are generally Chechens and Buryats. Russia called his remarks a “perversion”.
There have been widespread accusations of atrocities having been carried out against Ukrainian military personnel and civilians in the areas they have occupied, with reports of “torture chambers” and mass graves in places which have been recaptured by the Ukrainian armed forces.
There may be an element of truth in what the Pontiff says here. Chechen soldiers gained their reputation as fierce warriors in two wars in which they actually fought against Russia in Chechnya, a constituent part of the Russian Federation. The first war began in 1994, when President Yeltsin sent in Russian troops to restore sovereignty, as he saw it, and to protect the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. Chechnya had previously declared itself to be independent.
It was a long brutal war, from 1994 to 1996, and Russian armed forces humiliated by the smaller Chechen armed forces who used guerrilla tactics to defeat their enemy. Russia then started what became known as the Second Chechen War in 199, labelling it a counter-terrorism operation, which concluded more or less successfully for Russia in 2009.
Nevertheless, the Chechens have gained the reputation as battle-hardened veterans, and many went on to fight as quasi-mercenaries in Syria and elsewhere. They now fight on Russia’s side in Ukraine for a number of reasons. First and foremost is that Russia lacks the manpower, and they are a welcome addition to Russia’s diminished forces. There is also the psychological impact of employing troops with such a fearsome reputation against the Ukrainians.
But the driving force for the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov is money. Chechnya is largely dependent on Russia for its economic viability. Without it, he has been quoted as saying his republic would probably only last three months before collapsing. So becoming a close ally of Putin makes sense to him.
As for the Pope’s remarks, well, I would say that there’s no smoke without fire, and he is undoubtedly well informed on world issues by his advisers. The veneer of civilisation becomes very thin in warfare, and it’s usually the most helpless and vulnerable who suffer the most. We can only hope and pray that an end to this bitter conflict will come soon, but I’m not holding my breath.
Lt Col Stuart Crawford is a Defence Analyst and a former Army officer, author & broadcaster – sign up to his podcast at defencereview.uk
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