WSi News2022-04-26 13:38:40

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Ukraine – “After them there is a complete disaster”

It is now clear that Russian forces have withdrawn from areas in the northwest of Ukraine around Kyiv. But that does not mean that the population can return to their homes, repair and rebuild, and resume some sort of normality.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has accused Russian soldiers of deliberately mining areas in northern Ukraine as they withdraw or are pushed out by Ukrainian forces.

He says: “After them there is a complete disaster and many dangers it is true,” “they are mining all this territory, they are mining houses, mining equipment and even the bodies of people who were killed. There are a lot of trip wires and a lot of other dangers. We are moving forward, moving carefully and anyone returning to this territory must also be very careful.”

As a defensive strategy this is called ‘area denial’ and is as old as war itself.

The Russians may be mining the area simply to slow down Ukrainian forces and cover their retreat but, depending on the extent of the mining and, what is mined, it may also be a deliberate policy to create a long-term threat to the civilian population and deny the area to safe civilian reoccupation.

This will only become clear once the area has started, ever so carefully, to be reoccupied and the extent and pattern of the mining is investigated. If homes and civilian areas such as hospitals and schools and other public places have been mined and booby trapped, and those areas or buildings are of no tactical military significance, then we will have to assume that it is a deliberate act to either depopulate the area or make it into some sort of no-go zone. Or it is simply an act of state terrorism.

Either way, it will add to the ever-growing list of war crimes being levelled at Putin and his war!

The outcome of the war in Ukraine is, as yet, unknown, but a Russian occupation of the country or a Kyiv regime change now looks unlikely because of the heroic resistance by the Ukrainian army and its thousands of volunteer fighters. Add to this the poor performance of Putin’s own army and it now looks as though, for the time being at least, Putin has been forced to review his war aims.

He is now concentrating on the East, trying to secure the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and a land corridor to the Crimea, which is why so much effort is being put into seizing Mariupol. Once Mariupol is captured, they can secure the corridor and Putin can present the land corridor along the Sea of Azov as a “fait accompli” in any peace negotiations with the Ukraine government. It would then be difficult for the Ukrainians to reject a peace offer when they have no real prospect of retaking Mariupol and the surrounding territory back from Russian forces once dug-in in a defensive posture.

Heroic defence is one thing but going on the offensive is quite another. With manpack anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, drones and small arms, determined infantry hiding in forests, hedgerows and buildings can inflict serious losses on and bog down an attacking force, as the Ukrainians have so brilliantly demonstrated.

But to go on the offensive, the Ukrainians would need serious offensive equipment such as aircraft, artillery, tanks, armoured vehicles, mobile air defence and communications systems, none of which they are likely to get in the sort of quantities required from donor nations in the west.

Of course, with his forces now concentrated in the east, any success there may fuel Putin’s ambitions to take further gambles, such as attacking Odessa and forcing the land corridor right along the coast, cutting Ukraine off from the sea and putting Ukraine firmly under Moscow’s thumb. But a marine assault would likely have been part of any attack on Odessa and the sinking of the Moskva will have given him further pause for thought.  Or he could try a classic Red Army encirclement of the Ukrainian forces fighting in the East for Donetsk and Luhansk. But this Russian army is not the Soviet era army, and its performance so far should lead him to be more cautious. Especially as his forces every move is watched from the all-seeing satellite eyes in the sky. If this war has proved one thing, concealing large scale troop movements is a thing of the past.

My best guess at this point is that once Donetsk, Luhansk, and the Crimea land corridor are secured Putin will decide to come to a peace agreement with a ‘neutral Ukraine’ (declare to himself, ‘land grab complete’), sell this as a victory to his own people (the most critical thing for him), and get back to being a big man on the international stage. If he gets a move on, he could be at the G20 Leaders' Summit 2022 in October, and he even fancies his chances of hosting the 2028 European Championship. And why not, after all, Russia hosted the 2018 World Cup, despite annexing Crimea in 2014.

But moving back to post war Ukraine, land mines, cluster bombs and unexploded munitions (explosive remnants of war or ERW) will make large parts of Ukraine dangerous places for civilians for years to come. According to the United Nations, even before the current invasion, over five years of conflict in Eastern Ukraine made it one of the most mine-affected countries in the world. Landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) were the leading cause of conflict-related child casualties in 2017, accounting for about two-thirds of all recorded deaths and injuries and leaving many children with lifelong disabilities.

That problem is now increasing exponentially.

EU leaders via the European Council have agreed to set up a Ukraine Solidarity Trust Fund for post war reconstruction and will be asking others to contribute. But it will require investment on a scale not seen since the Marshall Plan of post-World War II. The best hope for Ukraine is a fast track into the EU. The president Zelenskyy’s deputy head of office, Ihor Zhovkva, told Euronews that his country needs its application to join the 27-member bloc to be processed as quickly as possible and that it cannot wait years for it.

"We can't afford ourselves years or tens of thousands of years to review Ukraine's application," Zhovkva said. "We need it swiftly. We need it very, very swiftly. We deserve it because we are fighting now not only for Ukraine but for all European nations."

And he has a point!

But before any reconstruction can take place, the country will have to be made safe.

Before the start of Putin’s war, organisations like UNHCR had already been working in eastern Ukraine, educating people how to identify dangerous ERW, and British demining charity the HALO Trust had been on the ground doing the dangerous work of clearing landmines, as part of a broader humanitarian mine action response, coordinated under the Protection Cluster, led by UNHCR.

But the requirement of the effort post war will have to be on an unprecedented scale and will be beyond the current capacity of charities and NGOs to deal with. It will therefore require the involvement of foreign military but also involve collaboration between a NGOs, government agencies and a private-sector companies.

A good example of this has already been announced by the HALO trust. US mapping company Esri has committed its cutting-edge geographic information system (GIS) software resources, expertise, and staffing in support of HALO’s mission in Ukraine.

The organisations’ collaboration will allow them to map areas contaminated with explosives so HALO can remove the hazards when conditions allow. 

Other companies in the sector like 3DX-Ray, known for their portable X-Ray equipment, have developed a one-stop-shop approach to equipping EOD teams with all they need to do the job.

3DX-Ray’s Interim CEO, Vince Deery said, “We have a constant dialogue with both military and civilian EOD customers, and it is clear from these conversations, that it is difficult for operators to identify what equipment and suppliers meet the essential standards of safety and performance, especially on short notice. So, we started working with our partners to develop a full range of equipment for our customers, from EOD suits and metal detectors to demining kits. Basically, everything a well-equipped EOD team would need to operate in the field.”

He went on to say, “We have also been looking at ways make the purchasing of this essential equipment easier and more affordable, so we have developed a range of leasing and hire purchase options to facilitate procurement.”

Whatever the strategic and political outcome of the war, it is already clear that Putin’s war is a human tragedy on a vast scale and the clean-up and rebuild will be on a similar scale.

So, like General George Marshall in 1948, it is for politicians, policy makers, IGOs, NGOs and industrialists to come together and think of new and innovative ways of solving the issues that will face Ukraine and Europe for many years to come.

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