Arming a country with conscription
Nobody knows quite when the war in Ukraine will end, but it shows no signs of ending any time soon. Recent fighting in the Bakhmut area has been particularly intense, and for the first time since the war began Western media has taken an interest in Ukrainian casualties.
Until now, it has focussed almost exclusively on Russian casualties, while kind of just assuming that the figure of ~10,000 Ukrainian dead – which was reported in June, and then again in August, and then again in December – was about right. (The fact that almost no additional soldiers died in more than six months of fighting should make you suspicious.) In reality, many more than 10,000 soldiers have died.
Reports of Ukrainian casualties make for uneasy reading.
An anonymous Ukrainian solider who spoke to the Washington Post described “great losses” in his own unit. Another anonymous soldier told CNN the death toll in Soledar is so high that “no one counts the dead”. Andrew Milburn said that units training with Mozart have been taking “extraordinarily high casualties”. Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK, referred to “huge, indigestible” losses.
“So far, the exchange rate of trading our lives for theirs favours the Russians,” one commander in Bakhmut revealed to the Wall Street Journal. “If this goes on like this, we could run out.”
According to Der Spiegel, German politicians were recently briefed by the country’s intelligence services that Ukraine is losing a “three-digit number of soldiers” per day in Bakhmut. (The report did not specify whether this number includes the dead and the wounded, or just the dead.) Given that clashes are taking place at various places along the frontline, total daily losses must be far greater.
The idea that plucky Ukrainian soldiers are handily dispatching columns of Russian armour and then slinking away unharmed is no longer tenable. This is a gruesome war of attrition, with both sides getting mauled by artillery day after day after day.
Which brings me to an important question that’s been largely ignored by the media: is it moral for Western countries to continue supplying arms to Ukraine, thereby prolonging the war?
The obvious answer to this question goes as follows: “Moral? Of course it’s moral! How could it not be moral to help a country defend itself against military aggression?” But it’s not quite that simple.