An open letter on Australia training Ukrainian Troops

Nov 1, 2022
Australian Army flag on military camouflage uniform.
Australian Army flag on military camouflage.

An open letter to Prime Minister Albanese, Defence Minister Marles and Foreign Minister Wong on Australia’s decision to train Ukrainian troops.

Dear Prime Minister Albanese, Defence Minister Marles and Foreign Minister Wong,

A surprise announcement was made on 26 October 2022 that Australia would send up to 70 troops to the United Kingdom to train forces from the Ukraine. There was little, or perhaps no, public debate on this decision in the lead up to the announcement. Given the importance of this matter, I have some questions on this decision, the answers to which I believe are in the public interest.

Question One – What is Australia’s intelligence assessment of the progress of the war?

The media narrative suggests that Ukraine ‘is winning.’ This appears implausible. Ukraine has significantly outnumbered Russia throughout the war, yet Russia has captured and now annexed significant areas. It is true that Ukraine has recaptured small areas of limited strategic value, with the exception of around Kharkov, but has come nowhere close to landing a knockout blow.

Ukraine’s counter-offensive appears to have reached its culminating point at great, and irreplaceable, cost in both human and equipment casualties. The flow of weapons, ammunition and supplies is slowing and will continue to slow as the West lacks the industrial capacity to fight this type of war. In short Ukraine’s only chance, slim as it was, to win this war has now passed.

Meanwhile Russia, supported by its partial mobilisation of 300,000 trained reservists, appears to be preparing for a major offensive, potentially a knockout blow.

Question Two – Minister Marles stated in an interview that Ukraine is fighting with a ‘largely reservist force.’ A reasonable inference from this statement is that a large proportion of Ukraine’s regular pre-war army has been either killed, wounded or captured.

Considering the many months it takes the Australian Army takes to turn a civilian into a soldier with a very basic level of competence (and excluding the far more extensive time required to train officers and non-commissioned officers that will command these troops), time which Ukraine does not have, is Australia just preparing more Ukrainian troops to become cannon fodder for Russia’s overwhelming preponderance in artillery without offering any real prospect for victory?

Question Three – Why has Australia placed so little emphasis on diplomacy? It appears that Russia and Ukraine were close to an agreement in April yet this was scuppered by pressure from the United States and the United Kingdom. Is the purpose of continuing to support Ukraine to fight on primarily motivated by the United States publicly stated desire to ‘weaken Russia?’ In other words, are we willing to fight Russia to the last Ukrainian?

Question Four – Pre-war, many major media outlets and human rights organisations reported on Ukraine’s issue with a reprehensible ideology which our grandparents fought against in World War Two. Whilst reporting on this has all but disappeared from Western media since the war started there is an overwhelming amount of evidence available that indicates that this ideology still plays an important role in parts of Ukrainian society. What safeguards are in place to ensure that Australia does not train Ukrainian’s who subscribe to this ideology?

Question Five – It was only two years ago that the then Foreign Minister Marise Payne cancelled a former Australian soldiers passport because he was planning to fight with the ‘notoriously neo-Nazi’ Azov Regiment. In 2018 after evidence emerged that Australian soldiers flew a Nazi flag in Afghanistan a defence spokesperson stated that:

“Defence and the ADF reject as abhorrent everything this flag represents. Neither the flag nor its use are in line with Defence values.”

What safeguards are in place to ensure that this repulsive ideology is not encouraged within the Australian Defence Force through this deployment?

Question Six – Australia has already provided 60 Bushmasters, six M777 howitzers and 28 M113 armoured personnel carriers to Ukraine. How much of this equipment is still operational? How much of this equipment has been destroyed or captured? Have we become victim to the sunk cost fallacy?

Question Seven – Is this training mission really just a form of virtual signalling to our allies? Australia’s support will not change the overall outcome of the war, but it will help prolong it with the result that more Ukrainian lives will be lost, and infrastructure destroyed. It also seems likely that the longer the fighting continues, the more Ukrainian territory will be lost to Russia.

Question Eight – Through the application of sanctions (without the authority of a United Nations Security Council Resolution), arming and equipping Ukraine and now providing training, Australia is effectively a party to this war. What guarantees are there that Australia is not on the slippery slope to actual involvement in another overseas war? What are the consequences of this involvement? What are the opportunity costs? This situation highlights why we desperately need war powers reform before we end up directly involved in another war that Australia’s national security is not contingent upon but could well harm our national interests.

To conclude, have we as a country missed the big picture? In April I suggested that the Russia -Ukraine war was rapidly accelerating the transfer of the balance of power from the West to the East. By July it had become clear that what we are actually witnessing is the demise of the West. Despite this the West, Australia included, keeps doubling down on its attempt to weaken Russia, but is actually weakening itself whilst the emerging multi-polar world strengthens day by day.

The coming winter will make this demise very clear, particularly in Europe. We have become so invested in maintaining the status quo (specifically the ‘rules-based global order,’ a euphemism for the global hegemonic ambitions of the United States, an ambition which has created so much of the instability in the world over recent decades) that we continue implementing a failed and failing strategy with seemingly no thought for the consequences.

Rather than continuing to provide military support to Ukraine a far more sensible path for Australia would be to encourage the United States and our Western allies to negotiate a modus vivendi with Russia. We should also be forcefully arguing for a modus vivendi between the United States and China, to prevent another conflict that would have nothing but disastrous results for Australia.

Yours faithfully,

Cameron Leckie

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