Putin has ‘no limit’ in the violence he will use, Defence Secretary warns

Ben Wallace said Russian forces would use indiscriminate bombardments and siege tactics against Ukrainian cities.

02 March 2022

Vladimir Putin knows “no limit” and will use indiscriminate carpet bombing against Ukrainian cities as his forces close in on the capital Kyiv, the UK’s Defence Secretary warned.

Ben Wallace said the leadership of the Russian military was “ruthless” and was prepared to lay siege to Ukraine’s population centres.

Russian troops have entered Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv following days of intensive bombardment, but Mr Wallace said Mr Putin’s forces did not yet control it.

The Ministry of Defence said the latest intelligence suggested Russian forces had reportedly moved into the centre of Kherson in south Ukraine.

Artillery and air strikes have targeted built-up areas in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Mariupol and Chernihiv.

But Mr Wallace said the advance of Russian forces continued to be slowed by a combination of overstretched logistics, poor morale and brave resistance by Ukrainian fighters.

Kyiv map
Russian advance on Kyiv (PA Graphics)

“The Russians are considerably behind their schedule, by days not hours, and that leads to stresses on their logistical supply chains,” he told the BBC.

“That’s why you have seen some of these columns fairly grind to a halt.

“They have also been surprised by the strength of the Ukrainian resistance.”

He told BBC Breakfast that “none of the major cities have been taken control of”.

There was “huge amounts of low morale in the Russian forces, we’ve seen lots of surrenders”.

“But that doesn’t take away from the fact you have a very ruthless Russian armed forces leadership and a president who seems to know no limit to how much violence they will use to achieve their aims.”

The lack of progress in meeting the aims of the invasion had led to a change in tactics, focusing on aerial and artillery bombardment of cities rather than the kind of lightning mobilised armoured advances originally envisaged by the Kremlin, Western military experts believe.

Ben Wallace
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace leaving the Cabinet Office in Whitehall (James Manning/PA)

Mr Wallace told Sky News that meant a plan to “carpet-bomb cities, indiscriminately in some cases”.

He told the BBC that siege tactics were in the Russian military doctrine, with forces surrounding a city before they “bombard it indiscriminately and then eventually close in on a population that they hope to have broken, and indeed take over what’s left of the city”.

“We’ve seen that in Chechnya before,” he said.

But Ukraine was a different proposition because of its size and population.

Ukrainian refugees
A family fleeing the war in Ukraine reunite after crossing the border in Medyka, southeastern Poland (AP)

He warned that an occupying force would face the kind of insurgency faced by the Soviets in Afghanistan or the UK and Western allies in Iraq.

“Invading a country with overwhelming force is one thing, occupying a people of 44 million who don’t want you in it is a very different thing.”

The Defence Secretary again rejected calls for the UK and its allies to enforce a no-fly zone in the skies above Ukraine, because shooting down a Russian plane could trigger a Europe-wide conflict between Mr Putin and Nato.

A no-fly zone would also have to apply to Ukrainian jets, meaning they could not target Russian forces from the air, he added.

“If you had a no-fly zone in Ukraine, the overwhelming scale of the Russian army would be able to drive around with impunity, which it can’t at the moment.”

In other developments:

– Boris Johnson will face Prime Minister’s Questions after returning from a trip to show support to Nato allies Poland and Estonia.

– Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has announced further sanctions on Russian financial institutions.

– The UK has also imposed sanctions on Belarus over its role in the invasion.

– US President Joe Biden used his State of the Union address to announce the closure of US airspace to Russian flights.

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