UK general warns of prolonged insurgency in Ukraine unless Nato can halt slaughter

Former defence chief Gen David Richards tells 'The National' alliance needs to get involved on the ground to prevent Russian abuses

Members of the Honour Guard hold a portrait of a killed member of the Ukrainian Armed Forces during a funeral ceremony in Kyiv. Reuters
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A “vicious insurgency” could grip all of Europe if the conflict in Ukraine continues, the former head of Britain’s armed forces has said.

Gen Lord David Richards told The National western powers had to consider whether the hundreds of lives being lost in Ukraine would be in vain if the conflict deteriorated into a bloody stalemate.

The former chief of the Defence Staff said Nato leaders should consider a full intervention in Ukraine to halt destruction by Russia.

“The only way of ensuring that the Ukrainian struggle can be vindicated through victory is for Nato to become much more actively involved in the way Nato has said it won't,” he told The National.

“The only way to do that properly is to get involved on the ground and perhaps seal off western Ukraine.”

The prospect of a prolonged conflict would also lead to a western-backed insurgency, triggering a terror response by President Vladimir Putin’s security forces, he predicted.

A rescuer pushes a trolley with an elderly woman during the removal of civilians in the city of Irpin, north-west of Kyiv. AFP

The retired British Army officer stated that he was not “advocating” greater Nato involvement but “explaining the quandary”.

“If you want to improve the chances of Ukrainian success, you have to be prepared to become actively involved yourself, face off the Russians and call their bluff,” he said.

“Putin hasn't got much army left to do anything in the short to medium term against Nato.”

Fight to the last

With cities being pummelled, the moment is arriving when Ukrainians would be told to “fight to the last man” to resist Russia, Gen Richards said.

“Is it right that the West should encourage and stoke their resistance without being certain that they will win?” he asked.

“Because otherwise, a lot of people will die, arguably for very little.”

He referred to the Syrian civil war in which the West encouraged resistance but “never gave them enough to ensure they succeeded”, which resulted in thousands of deaths and allowed President Bashar Assad to remain in power.

“We've got to be very careful that we don't repeat that.”

Destroyed Russian tanks are seen in the Sumy region, Ukraine. Reuters

The West, he said, is “in a bind” over whether to allow the fighting to continue with massive casualties.

“The alternative is that the West becomes much more actively involved and puts their money where their mouth is.”

He accepted this was a “very difficult decision to make” but added: “I think we're not far from that now.”

It now appears Nato could be heading towards more direct involvement in the conflict after Britain’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace on Tuesday gave his backing to Polish fighter jets being sent to Ukraine.


Gen Richards, who commanded Nato troops in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2007, said the Russian advance could go as far as the Dnieper River, which runs north to south, before it is forced to a halt.

A Ukrainian underground resistance, backed by Nato arms, would commence with inevitable reprisals.

“The Russians, Putin in particular, will look at spreading that insurgency into Europe,” he said.

“That will lead to a very unstable period in which the nuclear threat continues to be ever present.

“We could well end up with a divided Ukraine, a vicious insurgency and a vindictive Putin, who will try to restore the odds.”

This would lead to an “inevitable” terror campaign in Europe, with the Russians potentially using nerve agents such as Novichok, which was used in the Salisbury terror attack in 2018.

Bogged down

While Russian forces were “caught out” by Ukraine’s defence, they are likely to “learn lessons quickly”, with second and third echelons of troops entering the conflict and relying on mass artillery bombardment, he said.

“The Russian are bogged down but will creep forward slowly and will get into the grind of it.

“It will be something almost out of the Second World War, such as the capture of Berlin, with massive casualties on both sides.”

Nuclear strike

There was a prospect that if Ukraine proved successful in the struggle — potentially with greater Nato involvement — Mr Putin could resort to nuclear weapons.

“I don't think it's likely at the moment, but it is within Moscow’s doctrine to allow for the use of nuclear weapons in a way that we don't,” he said.

“The Russians view is it can resolve intractable problems through its use.”

But Mr Putin should be very careful in ratcheting up nuclear threats because an inevitable Nato retaliatory strike could lead to Armageddon, he added.

“I don't think he'll want to use them but if it continues getting very difficult and it looks like Putin’s losing, then it should not be dismissed.

“We have to make sure our political leaders realise there are scenarios in which nuclear weapons use can be envisaged.”

However, he suggested a potential Nato non-nuclear option would be a cyber strike that takes down all of Moscow’s banks.

“There may be a clever way that would have the same effect without the moral and the tactical level consequences.”

Nato blame

Ultimately Nato had to shoulder some blame for the conflict after shunning and humiliating Russia following the end of the Cold War in 1990, he said.

Western leaders should have “read the runes” but failed to bring Russia in from the cold when it was impoverished and beaten.

“We should have been more visionary and generous-hearted,” Gen Richards said. “This has also been absolutely a disaster of our own making, through a lack of statesmanship, statecraft and vision.”

'The only way of ensuring that the Ukrainian struggle can be vindicated through victory is for Nato to become much more actively involved in the way Nato has said it won't,' Gen Richards said. Alamy

Golden bridge

For the war to end, Mr Putin would require a settlement without a humiliating climbdown — a “golden bridge” for a retreat — that would be a form of Ukraine non-alignment, Gen Richards said.

“Putin would probably now accept a neutral Ukraine and then he could sell that as a success, in that Nato isn't surrounding him,” he said.

“But the issue quite frankly, is what will the Ukrainians accept? The more Ukrainians die defending their motherland, the harder this golden bridge becomes.”

He added that in war, you don't drive your enemy into a corner, but find a solution “to avoid the massive bloodshed that's already occurring”.

Updated: March 08, 2022, 3:38 PM