As the war on Ukraine drags on, NATO is stepping up its efforts to weaken Russia. Kieran Allen takes a look at how the British Army is training thousands of Ukrainian soldiers to fight.
In a village somewhere in Kent in the southeast of England, a mock battle took place recently. As an upper-class officer barked out orders, ‘conscripts’ in camouflage fatigues raced across streets strewn with burn out cars and grenade cannisters. It looked like an exercise that the British Army undertook before sending its troops onto the streets of Belfast or Derry. And in fact, it occurred at precisely one of settings.
Except the ‘conscripts’ spoke Ukrainian. And they were taking part in a British led programme to train 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers to fight Russian forces. As the war enters a deadly phase, the Western powers are worried that up to 200 Ukrainian soldiers are dying each day. Hence the need for more training conducted by the 11th Security Force Assistance Brigade. This is a British army unit that specializes in training of foreign forces.
The British ruling class have always fancied themselves as inheritors of a long colonial tradition. As the sun set on their formal empire, they slid into a comfortable ‘special relationship’ with the US. Ever since the Suez crisis of 1956, they backed up the imperial exploits of their Big Brother, supporting its bombing missions and putting ‘boots on the ground’ when called upon.
Their specialty lay in training local forces that would back the NATO alliance. Since 2015, Britain helped train more than 22,000 Ukrainians through a program called Operation Orbital. It stopped just before Russia’s invasion. As late as 2020, the British Army was boasting about Operation Joint Endeavor. This involved the deployment of 250 members of the notorious paratroop regiment at short notice to join with the counterparts in a Ukrainian Air Assault battalion.
During the Afghan war, Britain and America learnt the value of using local forces to defeat the original Taliban. In 2001, for example, the CIA gave the Northern Alliance a donation of $1 million to gain their co-operation for an assault on Kabul. The US concentrated on bombing Taliban front lines while smaller numbers of US Special Forces guided the bombers and marshalled local forces for bloody field battles. It was an ideal form of imperial intervention, reducing the number of American lives while inflicting massive casualties on the enemy.
Ukraine has brought this strategy to new levels. NATO is sending in huge amounts of sophisticated weaponry to Ukraine and has dramatically escalated a training programme for local forces. Originally, that training took place in the Yavoriv training centre, a military base outside the Ukrainian city of Lviv. But this was bombed by Russian forces in March and now much of the training takes place in Kent. The sheer scale of the operation reflects NATO’s concerns about the conduct of the war.
‘We are in a critical moment,” said Frederick B. Hodges, a former top U.S. Army commander in Europe. “To be able to launch a decisive counteroffensive, Ukraine is going to need a lot of well-trained troops and formations. Which is why what is happening in the U.K. right now is an essential element of Ukraine eventually winning this war.”
A Ukrainian soldier who took part in the exercise agrees. ‘The British officers training us have experienced this warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan — so now it is very useful for us.”
War Games & Food Banks
For the armchair generals who regard war as a type of chess-game, news of the British training programme is a cause for celebration. But let’s shift our focus away from the green plains of Kent to the rest on England.
Here is Solomon Smith, who runs the Brixton Soup Kitchen in South London, which provides hot meals and other food bank services to those in need. The numbers using his service has doubled in recent weeks.
“People are telling us they haven’t eaten properly for days,” he said. “Some of them have been forced to go into shops to steal. Others don’t know if they should pay their gas bills or eat food.”
While the British upper class plays war games with the blood of Ukrainian and Russian soldiers -who are often drawn from the same background as those who use the soup kitchen in Brixton -their ‘own’ people cry out for help dealing with an inflation crisis. They will receive little.
And what of the Ukrainians who face a brutal and bloody invasion from imperialist Russia? Of course, they will resist and rightly so. But as their leaders sign them up to the NATO alliance, they can only be sure of one thing.
The generals who train them in Kent will encourage them to fight to the last drop of their blood because their only aim is to weaken a rival empire – not to encourage any genuine liberation from colonial forces.