Ukraine: The Latest - Former British Commander tells Defence Secretary 'prepare for war'

A Ukrainian drone pilot reaches for a reconnaissance drone in the Luhansk Region, Ukraine,
A Ukrainian drone pilot reaches for a reconnaissance drone in the Luhansk Region, Ukraine, - Bram Janssen/AP

Today on the Telegraph’s Ukraine: The Latest podcast, we discuss how Russia is seeking to rejoin the UN Human Rights council and unpick the operational art of conducting warfare with General Sir Richard Shirreff.

In today’s episode, the podcast is joined by General Sir Richard Shirreff, Former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander for Europe. When asked what Britain’s new Defence Secretary, Grant Shapps, should have top of his inbox, he responded:

Prepare for the worst case. Prepare for war, because that’s the way to prevent war, or prevent Britain being engulfed in a war. Really look long and hard at the gaps in capability.

Can this country’s armed forces really fight a war? And if not, do something about them. But I would also add to that, look after the people in the armed forces. Look after their married quarters, their service accommodation, all of which, frankly, is in a dire state and needs some serious work. Because if you don’t look after your people, you won’t have anybody.

On ‘Operational Art’, which he describes as a series of tactical battles to a strategic objective, Sir Richard comments:

I think the Ukrainians have given us a real lesson in operational art and design.

We saw last year with the success they demonstrated first with soaking up the Russian attacks. The battle of Kyiv, the success northeast of Kharkiv, followed by the liberation of Kherson, in a sense broadcasting the liberation of Kherson to suck the Russians north and then punching in the south.

And I think what we’re seeing now is similar, in a sense. I think it’s been very tricky. They are facing about the most difficult thing you can do in war, which is to break into well defended positions. But I think all that we’re seeing demonstrates they’ve thought through what is their end state? Where do they want to be? Defeat of the Russians.

On the counteroffensive, he continues:

As the Ukrainians achieve success in the south, making it difficult for the Russians to move reserves around quickly. And then in the south, clearly massive difficulties trying to break through those positions, particularly without air power.

So they’ve had to do it the Ukrainian way, painstakingly, infantry led, clearing mines, inching forward, clearing mine lanes. Slowly, slowly, slowly, unpicking Russian capabilities. Targeting Russian artillery through counter battery fire, targeting Crimea, targeting the bridges running north out of Crimea. Hitting the Black Sea Fleet headquarters, a major strategic success, I would argue. 

All of which designed to make it easier for the Ukrainians to get closer to Crimea and then to start targeting that.

Listen to Ukraine: the Latest, The Telegraph’s daily podcast, using the audio player at the top of this article or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favourite podcast app.

War in Ukraine is reshaping our world. Every weekday The Telegraph’s top journalists analyse the invasion from all angles - military, humanitarian, political, economic, historical - and tell you what you need to know to stay updated.

With over 40 million downloads, our Ukraine: The Latest podcast is your go-to source for all the latest analysis, live reaction and correspondents reporting on the ground. We have been broadcasting ever since the full-scale invasion began.

Ukraine: The Latest’s regular contributors are:

David Knowles

David is Head of Audio Development at The Telegraph, where he has worked for nearly three years. He has reported from across Ukraine during the full-scale invasion.

Dominic Nicholls

Dom is Associate Editor (Defence) at The Telegraph, having joined in 2018. He previously served for 23 years in the British Army, in tank and helicopter units. He had operational deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland.

Francis Dearnley

Francis is assistant comment editor at The Telegraph. Prior to working as a journalist, he was chief of staff to the Chair of the Prime Minister’s Policy Board at the Houses of Parliament in London. He studied History at Cambridge University and on the podcast explores how the past shines a light on the latest diplomatic, political, and strategic developments.

They are also regularly joined by The Telegraph’s foreign correspondents around the world, including Joe Barnes (Brussels), Sophia Yan (China), Nataliya Vasilyeva (Russia), Roland Oliphant (Senior Reporter) and Colin Freeman (Reporter). In London, Venetia Rainey (Weekend Foreign Editor), Katie O’Neill (Assistant Foreign Editor), and Verity Bowman (News Reporter) also frequently appear to offer updates.

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