Russian President Vladimir Putin will have to face the reality that his invasion of Ukraine has failed and that his country will emerge from the war as a “lesser” power, Britain's defense secretary told reporters during a visit to Washington.
Russian forces are struggling to gain traction in a new offensive in eastern Ukraine, its forces are depleted and its economy is reeling under international sanctions, said Ben Wallace.
“Only President Putin can know where his off-ramp is going to be,” Wallace said. “He’s got to reconcile that in the long run he’s lost. So whatever happens in Ukraine, let’s consider that Russia is a lesser country now than it was before this invasion.”
Wallace, who was due to meet U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday, said that Russian “armed forces are worn out” and that Moscow will face difficulties shoring up its army, especially as sanctions hinder Russia’s ability to import Western technology needed for much of its military equipment.
In the Donbas region, where the Kremlin has touted a major offensive, Russian forces continue to rely on outmoded tactics, Wallace said. The Russians are using heavy, often inaccurate bombardment combined with the uncoordinated movement of ground troops, he said.
“They’re making lots of mistakes, but their response is more barrage, more brutality, and more cannon fodder,” Wallace said.
“Given this was supposed to be the great repositioning, so far, not so good,” Wallace said. “They are still having a problem delivering the effect they want.”
Wallace said Britain’s policy is to ensure that Russia is defeated in Ukraine. “Putin needs to fail in Ukraine. The consequences of him being successful, would be ripples that would be felt globally.”
Both the U.S. and Britain believe the most effective way to help Ukraine at the moment is providing Russian-made, Soviet-era military equipment compatible with what Ukrainian forces already have, Wallace said.
The U.K.’s defense ministry has focused on finding Russian-made hardware in countries around the world, but officials discovered Russia was also looking to replenish its own stocks, Wallace said.
“Sometimes we’ve bumped into the Russians in some countries looking for some of the resupplies because that’s what they’re running out of fast.”
In a speech on Monday at Britain’s National Army Museum, Wallace said Russia had botched the invasion of Ukraine, saying “Russia’s general staff are failing and they know it.”
Russian forces were so badly equipped that pilots were strapping GPS devices into their cockpits as they could not rely on their on-board navigation gear, he said.
“‘GPS’ receivers have been found taped to the dashboards of downed Russian SU-34s so the pilots knew where they were, due to the poor quality of their own systems,” Wallace said.
Wallace told reporters in Washington that Russian military leaders made faulty assumptions about their equipment, their intelligence and how the Ukrainians would respond.
“There is one component left, which is brutality, that he (Putin) still has in his back pocket,” Wallace said.
The world cannot allow Russia to prevail using brutal methods with indiscriminate shelling and atrocities, he said.
The British defense secretary also said that Russia was more angered by tough economic sanctions than weapons flowing to Ukraine’s military.
“So what we definitely see is they’re not as agitated by lethal aid, as you would think. They’re more agitated by sanctions, because you can’t hide that from your people. You can hide bodies. You can’t quite hide your inflation.”