Head of British Army on the frontline of ‘battle laboratory’ where Russia ‘prepares for war with the West’

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THE head of the British Army has made a perilous trip to embattled Ukraine  to see the front line of Russia’s new brand of warfare.

The region has been turned into a “battle laboratory” where Russian commanders are trialling techniques they could one day turn on the West.

EPA

The Sun joined the head of the British Army General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith to embattled Ukraine — to see the frontline of Russia’s new brand of warfare[/caption]

Simon Jones – The Sun

Former Special Forces commander General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, right, is the first Army Chief of Staff to venture to the ‘Line of Contact’ which separates Ukrainian Forces from 34,000 Russian-backed separatists[/caption]

They include assassination, political meddling, propaganda, cyber attacks, the use of criminal gangs and militias along with traditional warfare of trenches, tanks and artillery.

Former Special Forces commander General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith is the first Army Chief of Staff to venture to the “Line of Contact” which separates Ukrainian troops from 34,000 Russian-backed separatists.

Joined by The Sun on his visit, he said: “There is an emerging prototype warfare.” And he branded it “virulent and insidious”.

Asked if these “shadow war” tactics could one day be turned on Russia’s adversaries including the UK, he warned: “I think we’ve got to assume that.

“They’re not playing by any set of rules. There are now no rules, and people are having to gauge their own political and military tolerances.”

UTIN’S NEW ‘HYBRID’ TACTICS

President Vladimir Putin’s goal is simple —  to ensure the former Soviet state of Ukraine cannot gain true and successful independence, in case it encourages others.

And as no nation engaged in an active conflict can join Nato it keeps US forces away from Russia’s border.

Yet Russia, along with states such as China and Iran, are wary of going toe-to-toe  with the West.

Instead they are changing the rules and going for low blows — low enough to wreak serious damage in a country such as Ukraine, but not quite enough to provoke all-out war.

Military strategists call this “hybrid warfare” and “grey zone” battle.

And the Ukrainians are the only UK ally fighting against it.

Britain is responding, sending vital aid and training teams. Since 2015 more than 13,000 Ukrainians have been given British soldiering skills.

The general went little more than a mile-and-a-half from the front line outside Donetsk — well within range of Russian artillery

Simon Jones – The Sun

The region has been turned into a ‘battle laboratory’ where Russian commanders are trialling ‘low-blow’ techniques they could one day turn on the West[/caption]

But there is another reason the UK is helping — learning the techniques the Russians are honing.

The general, wearing his famous sandy-coloured SAS beret,  said: “Every army is looking for its opposition’s vulnerable flank to exploit.

“Nato is not the most successful military alliance in military history without reason and it is peerless when it comes to the prosecution of high-intensity conventional warfare.

“And therefore particularly the Russians are exploiting the gap below that.”

Gen Sir Carleton-Smith, continued: “Definitely part of my interest on this visit is what are we learning.

“Have we got our own systems in place to make sure that we are harvesting as many of the insights and observations the Ukrainians have?

“And are we therefore systematically driving these lessons into our own thinking?”

Simon Jones – The Sun

General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith about to board a heavily-armed helicopter taking him to a briefing by a high-ranking Ukrainian counterpart[/caption]

Simon Jones – The Sun

Military strategists call the Ukranian conflict a ‘grey zone’ battle[/caption]

Simon Jones – The Sun

Britain is responding, sending vital aid and training teams to Ukraine — since 2015 more than 13,000 Ukrainians have been given British soldiering skills[/caption]

The general went little more than a mile-and-a-half from the front line outside Donetsk — well within range of Russian artillery.

The day before a local, one of 13,000 civilian and military victims to die, was killed in another night of brutal Russian shelling. The Sun accompanied Gen Sir Carleton-Smith as he climbed on to the roof of a disused factory, turned into a makeshift military HQ, to survey the warzone.

And a heavily-armed helicopter took him to a high-level briefing by the top Ukrainian general, trying to lead a fightback from a bunker close to the front.

Commanders there proudly showed off a spy drone recently downed by AK-47 fire. But the situation is dire.

Along the 190-mile Line of Contact, the Russian-backed forces  have more than 470 tanks and hundreds of artillery pieces and rocket launchers.

All are under the command of Russian military chiefs Major General Prymakov in Donetsk and Lieutenant General Knyazev in neighbouring Luhansk.

At its narrowest the two sides are just 50 yards apart — so close they are able to “shout at each other with grenades”, according to one Ukrainian commander.

SECRET CONFLICT ON ‘EUROPE’S FRONT LINE’

This year alone the separatist force has shelled Ukraine territory more than 1,700 times, often using weapons banned under international treaties. The Ukrainians are forced to respond in kind.

An estimated 19million square yards have been condemned as unsafe due to landmines.

Russia has co-opted politicians and media channels to control the news and sent out mass text alerts accusing Ukraine of war crimes.

Disinformation is spread via social media while cyber attacks have crippled the metro train network. One hacking assault in 2015 shut off power for 250,000 homes.

Meanwhile car bombs have been used to assassinate  targets of the Russians.

Lieutenant General Oleksandr Syryskyi, commanding Ukraine troops on the Line of Contact, fears the war is being forgotten by the West.

He said: “It is a concern because everyone is used to this conflict — but we are on the front line. We are holding back the aggressive actions of the Russian Federation.”

Gen Sir Carleton-Smith went by helicopter to a training zone a dozen miles away before an armoured convoy brought him back for another frontline briefing. Major Oleg Shevchenko, who has learned to hate Russians, declared: “By their nature, by their character, by their soul, they are dirty.”


Gen Sir Carleton-Smith is clear, it will take brave British young men and women  to defeat the   threat of this new hybrid kind of war.

But he insisted: “We are alert to the changing character of warfare.

“The public can be reassured that they’ve got a thinking Army that is dynamically pursuing the means and the capability to confront this new mode of warfare.

“There’s no lack of that fighting spirit in the young men and women who we find today — in fact they are looking for opportunities to express that commitment. They are up for this challenge.”

Simon Jones – The Sun

The General said: ‘Every army is looking for its opposition’s vulnerable flank to exploit’[/caption]

Simon Jones – The Sun

The General ventured little more than a mile-and-a-half from the frontline outside Donetsk — well within range of Russian artillery[/caption]

Simon Jones – The Sun

We joined Gen Sir Carelton-Smith as he climbed on to the roof of a disused factory, now a makeshift military HQ, to survey the warzone[/caption]

Simon Jones – The Sun

A downed Russian drone[/caption]

The Ukraine conflict in numbers

THE GREY ZONE

THE “Grey Zone” tactics in Ukraine give Putin pay-offs a war might bring without ever declaring one.

By pulling different levers — a cyber attack one day, an artillery barrage the next — Russia can test which is more effective, as well as which will trigger a reaction from the West.

International laws governing conflicts are now redundant. Russia’s moves in Ukraine and Syria — plus last year’s nerve agent attack in Salisbury, Wilts — are evidence of that.

So too are Iranian-backed attacks on shipping in the Straits of Hormuz, and Chinese activity in disputed areas of the South China Seas.

They are acts of war, but fall short of provoking a conventional war and its devastation to Russia and its cronies.


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