Key few days ahead of NATO summit as Ukraine war continues to escalate - Patrick Mercer

The clock is ticking. There are only a couple of days left before the NATO summit starts in Vilnius where, according to President Zelensky, Ukraine will be held to account for what she has and has not achieved on the battlefield with all the weapons and materiel that the West has given her.

Conversely, the President has also demanded firm commitments from the Allies about Ukraine’s future membership of NATO, even going so far as to suggest that he won’t bother to go to the summit if it becomes clear that nothing concrete will emerge. Now, I very much doubt that President Zelensky will stick to such a threat, but his rhetoric does suggest a degree of frustration with his paymasters that is seldom mentioned by the Western press.

Aleksey Arestovitch, a former advisor to the Ukrainian President, went even further in a recent interview, laying bare the relationship between his country and the USA, a partnership that seems to be very one sided. Arestovitch said,

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“Why did you Americans prepare the counteroffensive in such a way and give us only certain amounts of weapons? Maybe (you) were shepherding us towards negotiations from the very beginning.“

'Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has demanded firm commitments from the Allies about Ukraine’s future membership of NATO'. PIC: AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka'Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has demanded firm commitments from the Allies about Ukraine’s future membership of NATO'. PIC: AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka
'Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has demanded firm commitments from the Allies about Ukraine’s future membership of NATO'. PIC: AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka

Clearly suggesting an almost puppet like arrangement where Ukrainian blood has been shed in a hopeless enterprise designed only to force her to capitulate. Now, these are harsh words spoken in the heat of the moment and born, I suspect, from grievous disappointment with setbacks on the battlefield.

But, whatever Arestovitch’s real motives, his words beg the question: what will Kiev do if her counteroffensive is a bloody failure? It’s not as if she can pause, regroup and then attack again because there are no more troops in reserve once these dozen or so carefully built and husbanded Storm Brigades are spent. There are only a handful of fresh troops in training and, more immediately, NATO is almost out of artillery ammunition, missiles and armour. This does seem to be the crucial moment for Kiev.

Well, the offensive could be called off and the battle lines frozen. Moving to the defensive would save further losses, allow Ukraine to maintain most of her well equipped and trained forces and buy time - time for the West to honour their promise and produce the fighter aircraft that are so desperately needed. The trouble is that it would buy time for Moscow too. Tasting victory and with the Wagner mutiny in the back mirror, I have no doubt that President Putin would not be frozen for long.

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There are a couple of other, deeply ominous other possibilities, though. Suspend outrage for a moment and think about the time bomb of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), the fuze of which is burning shorter every day and remember that Moscow and Kiev constantly blame each other for shelling the place and seeking to create a catastrophe.

Well, the Ukrainians have suddenly ramped up their nuclear exercises showing clips of troops girt in hoods, gloves, rubber suits and gas masks whilst a commanders’ meeting at the Rivne NPP further west was highly publicised. Here they planned for a nuclear ‘accident’ caused by Russia.

Then Zelensky said in an interview on June 30 that Russian forces may attempt to detonate the ZNPP causing a radiological incident that would halt any fighting and buy time for Russia to recruit and produce more hardware. This doesn’t seem to stack up, though. Earlier this week the boss of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, stated that his teams had not observed any Russian military deployment inside the Zaporizhia NPP, “despite Ukrainian authorities claiming that Moscow was preparing to attack the site.”

Clearly, the ZNPP is, once more, about to become a highly dangerous focus for this already maniacal war.

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There’s yet another, deeply worrying, development. Suddenly, several thousand Polish troops and gendarmes have moved right up to their border with Belarus and Ukraine. Remember, uniquely amongst NATO members, Poland has now fully mobilised for war and she’s obviously expecting to use her forces soon. Perhaps Warsaw’s taking the words of the recently exiled Wagner forces seriously when they brag that from Belarus they can attack southwards towards Poland?

But, there’s also a theory that’s been gathering weight for several weeks now: if Ukraine cannot carry on the battle against Russia, then Poland and others must. There’s talk of a ‘coalition of the willing’ - including the Baltic States led by Warsaw and guided by Britain - seeking leave of absence from NATO whilst they advance into Ukraine to confront Russia.

Whilst this might suit a tottering Ukraine, would Moscow really tolerate foreign troops taking up Kiev’s cause directly? Western equipment, intelligence and advice is one thing, but NATO’s boots on the ground, no matter how they might be disguised, would be a curtain raiser for the next world war.

Patrick Mercer is a former MP for Newark and Army colonel.