The West should be patient and give time to Ukrainian generals, Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the defense committee in the British Parliament, tells LIGA.net. London will continue to support Ukraine under the new defense minister, after Wallace's resignation. But the next year will be crucial because of the main risk – the prospect of Donald Trump's return to the White House.
Ellwood served in the British army and still has reserve status. A week before the full-scale invasion, he was speaking from the rostrum of the Verkhovna Rada in Kyiv, calling on the West to do more for Ukraine. He was one of the first to promote the provision of tanks, long-range weapons, and F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine.
If Western equipment does not arrive, the war will last longer, he said: "Putin is playing a waiting game and wants a frozen conflict."
The liberation of mainland Ukraine is quite possible, Ellwood is convinced. But Crimea is "a different challenge" and requires "a different strategy," he told LIGA.net. Here his position is at odds with that of Ukraine's top officials, who are uncompromising in their desire to liberate the peninsula.
Here are the highlights of the interview with British MP Tobias Ellwood.
"BRITAIN'S LEADERSHIP DOWN TO BEN WALLACE"
LIGA.net: Ben Wallace has resigned from the position of the Secretary of Defense. How do you assess his term and how can his dismissal affect military assistance for Ukraine?
Tobias Ellwood: Well, I'd like to pay tribute to our Defense Secretary. He's done an incredible job. Domestic politics has not been easy in the UK over the last few years, but he's been that rock of stability in ensuring that Britain plays its role on the international stage.
We are a country that likes to step forward. It's in our DNA to have a role, a say, to help shape international security, and Ben Wallace did exactly that.
He's been our longest serving Defense Secretary and has done an incredible job in persuading those inside Whitehall in the UK that we need to spend more on defense, but most importantly, to come to the support of Ukraine. That's very much going to be Ben Wallace's legacy.
The world was very hesitant. The West was unsure how to deal with this issue to Ukraine. Remember, President Biden offered a helicopter, a taxi for President Zelenskyy to leave.
That's the assessment that was made that Ukraine was going to fall, a bit like Czechoslovakia in 1968. But no, it was the absolute rigor and courage of the Ukrainian people.
But then, with the support provided by those NLAWs, those anti-tank weapons systems, which I'm really pleased that Britain was able to provide, and then we've ratcheted up.
We've provided training on Salisbury Plain, not far from me, where Ukrainians are coming to learn how to use the equipment. We provided ever more complex and advanced weapons systems, including tanks, that critical political decision to slide tanks across the table.
Our tanks are not the best or the most appropriate. Leopard tanks clearly are.
And then the Storm Shadow missiles, quite incredible. These are our most powerful, most potent missiles.
And now we see even the Americans now saying, OK, I agree. We'll allow F-16s, Denmark, Netherlands and so forth, giving the Ukrainians the necessary complex firepower to make sure that their counteroffensive can actually work.
And we need to be patient. The West needs to recognize it takes time to punch through some incredible defenses. Russia has been pouring concrete like there's no tomorrow to make those defenses, those anti-tank stretches of areas with the dragon's teeth, and so forth.
So I'm really pleased that we're now seeing progress and a huge tribute to the Ukrainian people. I wish we could all do more.
But I know that Britain can be proud of its role in leading from the front, encouraging other nations. And that is down to Ben Wallace. So good on him.
How can the dismissal of Wallace affect aid to Ukraine?
Yeah, so I don't think he's been dismissed. I think he stepped back on his own accord. He's chosen to resign at this point.
They are also familiar with the wider growing threats because we need to keep Ukraine in context.
We must keep Ukraine in context.
It's not just Ukraine that is troubling at the moment. You know, we've entered a new era of insecurity. So the new person will come in and pick up that strategy, that commitment in order to move forward.
And so we won't see any change in the same way to some degree that we churned through a few prime ministers here, didn't we?
If you think Boris Johnson, Liz Truss, and indeed now Rishi Sunak. But our focus, our commitments, our engagement, our involvement in Ukraine I don't believe has changed. If anything, it's actually increased.
So I hope I can reassure Ukrainian voices that that is the case. I hope the Ukrainians can be rest assured that the next defense secretary will be equally committed to supporting Ukrainian people.
What should Ukrainians know about Grant Shapps?
Grant Shapps came in as a parliamentarian with me in 2005. A very experienced politician. He's led a number of government departments, including transport, energy department, and so forth. He's chaired the party as well. He's done an incredible job to understand and learn how Whitehall operates.
He is also a private pilot. I think he owns a plane as well. So he's very familiar with the whole air domain from that perspective (smiles. – ed.).
And it won't take him very long at all to be briefed and be up to date with what's going on. He's also a very engaging character, very interesting to listen to, and willing to listen himself. I know it won't be too long before he'll be making his own visit to Ukraine to learn about what's happening there.
So all in all, I think if the change has to take place, I'm very happy with Grant Shapps coming into this position.
"I'M SORRY THAT AMBASSADOR PRYSTAIKO IS RESIGNING"
Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov may soon be dismissed and appointed ambassador to Britain. What do you think about his candidacy?
Let me pay tribute to the previous ambassador who was fantastic. He is very, very engaging. I'm in Bournemouth now. And he was down here for the Bournemouth International Air Show, which is taking place this week.
He was with us last year. So I was sorry to see him go — I'll be honest.
But nevertheless, the appointments that Ukraine makes to London have always been incredible, have always been fantastic. And I very much look forward to working with the new ambassador at the earliest opportunity. I hope I'll have a chance to meet him.
You mentioned our previous ambassador, Vadym Prystaiko. And this brings us to the story that happened at the Vilnius summit. In Vilnius, Wallace said somewhere on the sidelines of the summit that Ukraine should be more grateful. And to be honest, so far, we don't know whether it was a joke or something more serious. So let's clear this issue. Does Britain really think that Ukraine is ungrateful?
Well, I'm not the one to answer that. I don't know the details between the conversations that took place at Vilnius, as I wasn't there.
I do know, though, that the previous ambassador worked very, very hard. Indeed, it's for the president to decide who he appoints as the ambassador to the UK.
As I say, Vadym Prystaiko did a fantastic job. It's quite interesting to watch and discuss the political reasoning. And that's what you're trying to squeeze out of me.
I simply need to be diplomatic here and say that I look forward to working with the new ambassador. And I will I will stay in touch with Vadym. I think he's going to be around for a bit. But I do pay tribute to what he did in engaging with Parliament, engaging with the government. Incredible job. And I'm sure the new ambassador will do the same thing.
"CRIMEA NEEDS A DIFFERENT STRATEGY"
Recently, there have been so many reports in Western media claiming that the Ukrainian counteroffensive faced troubles, that Western partners are a little bit frustrated with the results. So how do you assess our counteroffensive and how should we Ukrainians react to such narratives in Western media?
I think there is a lack of patience. There's a desire to see results in Ukraine. You know, the West has given all this equipment across technical stuff, tanks, and so forth.
Get on with it. Let's wrap this up because it's been in the news for a long time. 500, over 500 days. When's it all going to happen?
And if I may politely say that's a rather ignorant, naive way to look at war. Take a much bigger war, the Second World War. It didn't end with the D-Day landings. You know, that was just one phase.
You had a series of phases, including going up to Italy. The D-Day landings then led to Operation Market Garden crossing the Rhine and then to Berlin. There were major phases in any major war. So this counteroffensive is going to see a series of phases.
And it is over 1,000 kilometres, I think, the actual front line itself. So working out where best to do this, how to achieve this. We need to give Ukrainians the time and the space to make sure we get it right.
Because, as I say, once it happens, there's all the possibilities. We can talk about Russia in a second, maybe. But the fact that the Russian morale is very, very low. Indeed, there's confusing leadership in the ranks, the removal of the Wagner Group.
The Wagner Group was arguably the most potent military capability in Ukraine. They had the best kit. They were the most well-trained. They were the most motivated compared with the conscripts who were elsewhere. They've now been removed from the equation.
So all I would say is let's be patient. Let's allow the generals on the front line to do their job, to strategically analyze where best to launch the counteroffensive. I should say, in the last few days, we've seen reports that Ukraine is gaining terrain. And that shows that patience is a virtue.
But critically, unless the Western equipment still continues to come through, then it's going to be longer. And don't forget, this is the waiting game or the frozen conflict, which actually Putin wants. He wants us to drag out. He wants the West to become bored, if you like, with it, frustrated that there's no... And that will then lead to talks.
The best way to avoid that is to make sure we give the weapons systems to Ukraine so they can continue making progress, continue gaining terrain, showing the West: yes, it's all worth something, we're absolutely able to liberate sovereign Ukraine.
I separate Crimea. I believe that a different political strategy is required for that. But the mainland Ukraine very much is possible to repatriate with the rest of Ukraine. Let's stay the course.
Why do you separate Crimea from mainland Ukraine?
Firstly, you've got to have an objective that is achievable. And liberating mainland Ukraine, I think very much is possible.
Crimea is a different scale of challenge, simply because of the amount of Russian forces that are based there as well. But also because of the process by which they annexed themselves from Ukraine itself.
It's a requirement for President Zelenskyy to say, "we want all of our country liberated". And I absolutely agree with that. But my view would be a different, more subtle strategy for Crimea.
If we think of an example of the Second World War, West Germany and East Germany. West Germany began to thrive. Its economy started to grow. Everybody was starting to enjoy life and they were free.
How was life in East Germany? It was actually the East Germans themselves that said, "I don't want to be run this way. I want to go back to be part of West Germany, to be a united Germany".
And my own view is that if Ukraine is able to flush Russian forces out, is able to show stability, grow its economy, join the EU, join NATO, you're then going to have people in Crimea saying, life isn't so great sticking with the Russians. Why don't we actually jump back into Ukraine proper?
So that would be, and I think that's a plausible, more diplomatic way out, [as opposed to] the battle that would be required.
And you may not win over all the hearts and minds because there are some — we have to understand — in Crimea that are leaning and looking to Russia still rather than to the West and prefer that way. So win them across by showing Ukraine in the long term is a success story.
Some experts believe that we can isolate Crimea — actually make it an island and force the Russians to leave. As was the case with Kherson last fall.
In isolation, the people on the peninsula need to live. They need to receive food, water, and things like that from some source.
So isolation, I think we need to be careful with that word. I stress it's actually for the Ukrainian people. I'm only a commentator, an observer from outside.
This is my view. I think we also need something that the West is likely to agree to. And my feeling is that the West is less inclined to support a major involvement in Crimea itself.
I think mainland Ukraine is very straightforward. Liberation of that is all agreed. I think another conversation needs to be had about what to do about Crimea.
"TRUMP MAY COME BACK. NOBODY KNOWS HOW THINGS WILL TURN OUT"
What do you expect this fall and in the near future at the front?
I worry a little bit because of what's happened with Putin. He is now damaged goods. What's happened with Prigozhin — he's now eliminated Prigozhin in effect.
That's what Russian leaders do — they get rid of their enemies. Anybody that chooses to be a competition, you stamp down on them because Russian authority, Russian leadership comes from the fact that nobody is going to challenge you.
And therefore, all the corruption can continue. The oligarchs, the elites can continue their lives guaranteed by the leader that they support.
But what Prigozhin did was challenge Putin to be that that leader in full command. Don't forget that when Prigozhin charged through Rostov-on-Don, I think it was the major southern city. People cheered. They were loving what they saw. They like the fact that somebody was taking on President Putin.
And not only that, he then continued on to Moscow and took a quick deal with Belarus to then call the whole thing off. But Putin had no Russian capability to stop this private army from mounting a mutiny.
And that also illustrated how weak Putin had become. And therefore, I think those in the Kremlin are now realizing that time is up for Putin.
But in the meantime, Putin is going to try and hang on to power. And the other thing that Prigozhin did was actually challenge the state media propaganda, the state media narrative to all the Russian people that Ukraine was going well. It's not going well for the Russians. Prigozhin said that.
And not only that, the drone attacks on Moscow itself show that this war is getting slightly out of control for the Russian people and for Putin.
The concern, therefore, is that Putin could do something very dangerous, very unpredictable, possibly a false flag attack. But certainly, he'll want to throw ever more into this fight to prove that the effort in Ukraine is worth it.
If Ukraine does not achieve significant results before the rainy season, is it possible for the West to put pressure on Kyiv to make compromises with Russia?
I don't think that's going to be the case for the moment. Nobody's talking about that. There are some countries that have mentioned discussions and so forth. Certainly, Russian friends, if I can call them that, China, and others perhaps are inclined to support that.
My own view is that we need to see Ukraine continue to make progress. There is the window, the fighting season, if you like, is going to be limited. What can be achieved over winter? As you know, circumstances change because of the terrain. Much harder to fight, so things will slow down.
But I do believe that Ukraine is doing enough to continue winning over support in the Western political corridors. And certainly from Vilnius, the NATO summit. There is a massive commitment there.
I think next year will be critical because we lead into presidential elections in America. And that could be politically significant. Donald Trump may come back. Who knows where this will all go?
So it is very, very important that we continue providing those artillery shells, those long-range munitions, HIMARS, Storm Shadows, and so forth. And also the necessary engineering support and F-16s. The full combined military capability for Ukraine to continue punching through.
Will the F-16 be a game-changer?
Yes, absolutely. Clearly, anti-air defense is critical. The airspace is fundamental. You own the airspace and then you can govern what goes on the ground as well.
So the more airpower the Ukrainians have, the more they're able not only to attack what's on the ground in addition to artillery, but they can also defend their own tanks, and so forth.
Airpower and land warfare work very much together. So when tanks do an advance, they need the top cover of the F-16s to see them through. That's what's critical. We've given them the tanks, now we need to give them the fighter jets.
You called the supply of cluster munitions to Ukraine a wrong move. Why? The Russian Federation applies them from day one.
If Russia uses chemical weapons, does Ukraine use chemical weapons? Where does this go?
You know, we have some standards, some Geneva Conventions, some protocols which try to keep war, which is violent. We can understand that it is horrible. To keep it on a level means that it's done in a way that does not harm civilians.
And the use of chemical weapons, you can't help, but you'll end up killing many, many more civilians than if they're not used. Likewise with cluster munitions, the danger with cluster munitions is that you end up with dangerous ordnance left on the battlefield long after the war is over.
And who is then affected by that? Well, we see that across Africa, in Afghanistan, in the Middle East as well, in Yemen particularly, where it's young children often that pick these things up, step on them and so forth, and they then get injured, life-changing injuries, or they are killed.
But the reason why the politicians here in this country can support Ukraine is because the British people support the actions to help Ukraine. Now, I don't want that to diminish. That's all I was trying to illustrate.
I do understand as a military person how useful these cluster munitions are. But we need to find other ways, other operational ways to give you the necessary advance. And so you can then mitigate the need for cluster munitions.
In the Donbas, I spoke with a field commander who dreams of an alliance of Ukraine, Britain, the Baltic states, and Poland. Is such an alliance possible?
It's a really good question, because once the war is over, Ukraine will need an umbrella of security to make sure this does not happen again. Because that is the Russian way to let everything die down. A couple of years later, they rearm, regroup and attack again.
So some form of alliance, I think, is important. NATO is the long-term ambition, but that won't happen for a little while. We've seen the problems that Sweden's had to try and get in.
But I think the joint expeditionary force is a smaller grouping of NATO countries that Britain formed. It includes the Baltics and so forth, but does not include Poland and Ukraine. And for me, that would be, personally speaking, the obvious alliance immediately to join.
But I do think there's more bilateral work taking place between Britain and Ukraine. And that's very much welcome, indeed.