Russia and Ukraine are both playing wartime games

“It obviously doesn’t happen because of a butt shot,” UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said. But the Russian Defense Ministry insisted that the explosions that destroyed at least eight fighter jets at the Saki air base in Russian-occupied Crimea on August 9 were due to “a violation of fire safety requirements “.

The implication is that a careless Russian smoker threw away his cigarette butt and started a fire which triggered explosions. This is not a testament to the discipline of the Russian Air Force ground crews, but it is better than admitting that Ukrainian missiles reached 225 kilometers behind Russian lines to destroy an entire squadron of Russian fighters.

The Russian Defense Ministry played the same silly game in April when Ukrainian cruise missiles sank the Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. He claimed that a fire blew up ammunition and the ship then sank while being towed due to “rough seas” (although the sea was actually calm at the time).

And what caused this fire? More careless smokers, no doubt.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense jokes about this, noting that it “cannot establish the cause of the fire (at the Russian airfield), but once again recalls the fire safety rules and the prohibition to smoke in unauthorized places”.

But why is it not in Ukraine’s interest to take ownership of these symbolically important victories?

That’s because the really decisive front in this war is the rate at which US and other NATO weapons systems are sent into Ukraine, and that’s determined by a process that seems largely derived from the old children’s game. from Mother May I (also known as Giant Steps).

The opening decision is quite simple: Kyiv asks Washington for 100 HIMARS multiple-launch rocket systems so that it can counter Russia’s enormous superiority in older artillery and rocket systems and drive Moscow’s forces out of Ukrainian soil.

Washington replies that he can take two giant steps and a frog leap. No, wait a minute, he replies that Ukraine can have four HIMARS systems now. Once the crews have been trained and demonstrated proficiency in the use of weapons, Kyiv can begin the next round of the game.

Getting into the spirit of the game, Ukraine only asks for another 20 HIMARs, leaving the rest for later. Washington replies that he can take four small steps and a pirouette – or rather four more HIMARs now, but with a range still limited to 70 kilometers and without thermobaric ammunition (fuel-air explosives). Etc.

We are now in the fourth round of this game, with 12 promised HIMARs of which Ukraine has already deployed between eight and 12. At this rate, Ukraine will have the 100 HIMARs it needs to expel the Russians around April 2024.

Similar games are played with other much-needed weapons from NATO stockpiles. All this motivated by an excess of caution in the face of such “escalation” in the White House and the National Security Council.

The Ukrainians, however, must heed US concerns even when using their own weapons, some of which have been modified for extended range, on distant Russian targets. The easiest way is to pretend that it was not their weapons that caused the damage.

The same policy applies to the numerous acts of sabotage committed in Russia by Ukrainian agents – and the Russians are ready to collaborate. They would rather blame the clumsiness, ignorance and incompetence of their own troops than give credit to the Ukrainians.

Gwynne Dyer’s new book is ‘The Shortest Story of War’.

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