BBC Newsnight on Ukraine

Mark Urban, interviewed by Kirsty Wark, on Ukraine

BBC Newsnight, 27 June 2022 (29 mins in)

Below is a transcript of Mark Urban’s remarks on Ukraine  on Newsnight (27 June 2022).

Urban’s message is that the Ukraine is likely to have to sue for peace in the late summer or early autumn unless by then they are making some progress in recovering some the lost ground from the Russians.

He questions whether the West will be in a position to supply appropriate military equipment to Ukraine for much longer.

He also questions whether the ongoing $5 billion a month support to Ukraine will be forthcoming for much longer (it’s currently paid mainly by the US and the EU).

It’s remarkable that this message was broadcast by the BBC, given that the Government policy as expressed by Truss is to support Ukraine “for as long as it takes for Kyiv to repel the Russian military”. 

KW:  The leaders of the G7 meeting in Germany pledged to stay with Ukraine for as long as it takes, with financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support.  And President Zelensky made it clear that on his agenda especially is more heavy weaponry.  But how realistic is all this talk?  I’m joined now by diplomatic editor, Mark Urban.

MU: Well, as long as it takes, we’ve now got several different possible timescales, Zelensky himself talking about wanting to get this over with by the end of the year.  We’ve got the military timescale.  The fact is that a lot of western countries haven’t really got a lot more they can send.  There are lots of items, types of shell and missiles, which are starting to get low, and that’s a critical factor.  And then you’ve got a financial timescale, 5 billion a month going to Ukraine to prop up the economy.  They did agree on a new package to cover them for another three months, but there are different views about that, particularly within the EU.  Boris Johnson acknowledged today those underlying differences:-

BJ:  To make it work you’ve got to have a really, really honest discussion about the implications of what’s going on, the pressures that individual friends and partners are feeling, and populations are feeling, whether it’s about the costs of their energy or their food, or whatever, and so it is only by really teasing it out, finding solutions together, that you can keep that unity and keep driving forward.

KW:  But they also want time to put more pressure on Russia.

MU:  They do and here again the issue’s a timeline: how quickly does this come on?  They talked about not buying Russian gold today and they also talked about an oil price cap, the idea being that you don’t allow them to make as much profit.  But then oil traders have said hang on a minute, if Russian oil is cheaper, it makes it more attractive to many buyers around the world.  And one thing is clear, which is that the income Russia gets from its energy exports is pretty high.  If you look at a graph, you see on the left the figure for January and second right is the figure for May, it’s higher than the January figure.  Now the amounts have gone down a bit but the price has gone up, so the actual income is higher than it was at the beginning of the year.  And if we look at what effect that has had, combined with fewer imports to Russia, it has actually made the currency stronger.  A sharp drop after the invasion of Ukraine and then coming up because they haven’t got so much to spend it on, their currency has strengthened in this situation.

KW: Western governments did not factor in the rise of the rouble at all.

MU:  Absolutely not, they didn’t: in fact they were always taking about these crushing sanctions before the invasion of Ukraine.  There’s a lot of optimism that eventually these controls on certain technologies, a big cutting back on Russian energy consumption in Europe towards the end of the year will tell, but we come back to these multiple timescales and will this achieve the desired result before Ukraine starts to get low on some of these critical weapons or for other military reasons has to sit down and have serious peace conversations.

KW:  So, what about Zelensky’s battlefield timetable then?

MU: A lot of things I think point to late summer, early autumn – if he hasn’t achieved important results, for example, driving back the Russians in certain parts of the country that they have occupied, like the city, the southern city of Kherson.  If he’s not achieving significant improvements by late summer, there really will be all kinds of pressure coming on Ukraine to do some kind of accommodation.

(Mark Urban is the author of ‘The Skripal Files’ among other books.

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