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Richard Shimooka: Western support has enabled Ukraine’s critical counteroffensives

Commentary

In a war that has defied consistency, an almost constant presence has floated in the skies near Ukraine. An increasingly weather-beaten aerial giant, known by its code name FORTE, is a U.S. Air Force RQ-4 drone that is packed with sensors, including a powerful radar that can see several hundred kilometres into Russian-held territory. FORTE is a powerful symbol of a key enabler for Ukraine’s battlefield success over the past seven months, and how the broader clash between Western and Russian strategies, doctrine, and technology has affected the war. 

Even before the apparent success of the Ukrainian offensive in the past week, the signs of this shift have been increasingly apparent. After losing the key city of Severodontsk to Russia following weeks of brutal fighting, Ukraine’s armed forces have launched major attacks on key logistical centres in occupied territories for much of July and August, with devastating results. 

Russia’s vulnerability to such attacks is well evident and can be traced back to the Second World War. The Soviet Union typically mounted huge offensives, often involving over a million soldiers and thousands of artillery pieces, to smash Nazi Germany formations. This required a huge logistical enterprise—the massing of large stockpiles of materiel that could sustain heavy operations. Echoes of this approach are visible today. Russian forces have resorted to using overwhelming firepower from artillery to dislodge Ukrainian defenders in the east of the country. 

During the Second World War, the Allies employed a different strategy to attack Nazi Germany. Possessing large and technically capable air forces, they were able to strike the weak points deep behind enemy lines. They were supported by a multi-faceted intelligence system, including code breakers and aerial photo-reconnaissance, that allowed them to quickly identify and track opposing units on the battlefield. Allied forces were able to pinpoint firepower on concentrations of numerically superior German troops, interdicting them by attacking their weaknesses. This extremely effective strategy often paralysed Nazi units and allowed the Allied advance to identify and exploit weak points in their defensive lines. 

For much of the Cold War, NATO militaries clung to this doctrine against the Soviet Union. To stem the much larger Warsaw Pact armies, a massive effort to strike at key logistical points and infrastructure would be launched to slow down their assault. In the 1980s, it was supported by emerging developments in microprocessing and networking, allowing for persistent reconnaissance coverage of the battlefield. While the Soviet Union developed responses to these battle plans, its ability to adapt was debatable. Moreover, the Warsaw Pact’s advantage in numbers was expected to overcome the qualitative advantage possessed by the West. 

The Ukrainian war has been a rude awakening for Putin’s Russia, which is now encountering this type of warfare for the first time. Even before the war started, Western Intelligence systems have provided a crystal clear window into Russia’s efforts. It cannot be understated how essential it was to effectively organize Ukrainian defence in the first desperate days of the invasion. 

The Ukrainians attempted to undertake similar interdiction strikes at the start of the war. Yet their technical limitations and insufficient numbers limited their ability to fight this battle. This changed several months ago when the U.S. government provided the advanced, long-range High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), which have allowed Ukrainian forces to strike at targets deep within the Russian-held territory.

Russia’s vulnerability to such attacks was well understood within NATO; it is highlighted in numerous doctrinal documents. Ukrainians also enjoy significant vast information superiority over Russia. With access to U.S., Canadian, and European intelligence, Ukraine can quickly identify, track and coordinate attacks and pinpoint Russian vulnerabilities—a key part of the Ukrainian battlefield successes against a much larger foe. FORTE, as well as other assets, including satellite reconnaissance, aircraft, and signals intelligence, provide Ukraine with the ability to identify the location of key supply dumps, weaknesses in the Russian lines, as well as formations that could potentially attack their own forces. It can react nimbly to opportunities and threats with extreme effectiveness. 

These systems have given some breathing room to the Ukrainians, allowing them to build new formations that are being employed in this offensive. While the apparent progress has been surprising, it bears warning that these offensives are in their early stages and their outcomes are not at all clear. While Russia has suffered devastating losses, its manpower and materiel reserves remain extremely large. It has resorted to paying bonuses several times higher than normal and its troops come from areas far away from Moscow, limiting the political fallout from casualties and preserving regime stability. 

Moreover, Ukrainian forces have also suffered grievous losses over seven months of war, forcing them to deploy newly raised units to fill in gaps. It will constantly struggle with its manpower and equipment constraints for the foreseeable future.

Thus far, the provision of Western arms and doctrinal concepts have undoubtedly been decisive in assisting the Ukrainian government to defend its territory. But the West still needs to prepare for the long, drawn-out conflict, one that will require the continual provision of economic and military support to Ukraine, while dealing with domestic consequences, such as limited access to Russian energy supplies in Europe. 

Still, the situation likely favours the Ukrainian government in the long-term—it is fighting an existential war of existence against an especially depraved opponent. The West has started to provide the foundation to an eventual victory, but it must see it through to the end. 

J.D.M. Stewart: ‘An occasion and a country worth celebrating’: The Queen was a proud participant in Canada’s growth

Commentary

Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, takes her final resting place today at Windsor Castle. This is no ordinary funeral. It honours a woman who was not only this country’s head of state for 70 years, but also who—through both longevity and purpose—was inextricably woven into the fabric of Canadian history. 

A look at the life of Her Majesty is to take an enviable ride in a time machine to some of this great Dominion’s most important moments. Whether it was signing a proclamation to establish a new flag for Canada in 1965, the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, or signing the 1982 Constitution Act, Queen Elizabeth II was a steadfast and proud participant in our past—something not lost on our late monarch.

“During my lifetime, I have been a witness to this country for more than half its history since Confederation,” the Queen said on July 1, 2010, in Ottawa. “I have watched with enormous admiration how Canada has grown and matured while remaining true to its history, its distinctive character, and its values.”

She certainly knew Canada’s history, character, and values. At the rededication ceremony for the Vimy National War Memorial in 2007, she stood in front of Walter Allward’s masterpiece and remarked that “In any national story there are moments and places, sometimes far from home, which in retrospect can be seen as fixed points about which the course of history turns, moments which distinguish that nation forever. Those who seek the foundations of Canada’s distinction would do well to begin here at Vimy.”

The Queen was also present during the difficult few years after the 1990 collapse of the Meech Lake accord. On July 1, 1992, the 125th anniversary of Confederation, Canada was in a muddle, but Her Majesty reminded us that “we have an occasion and a country worth celebrating.” 

Noting the ongoing constitutional squabbles, Her Majesty gently warned politicians gathered on Parliament Hill that, “It is, perhaps, worth reminding those striving for constitutional success that the real Constitution is not cast immutably on the printed page but in the hearts of the Canadian people.”

Her relationships with her Canadian prime ministers were superb. From Louis St. Laurent to Justin Trudeau, the Queen impressed them all. “Her Majesty proved to be among the wisest persons I was destined to encounter in public life,” wrote Brian Mulroney in his 2015 memoir. “Considering that she began with Winston Churchill as her prime minister, this should surprise no one. I was able to draw upon this experience when I sought her advice in the years that lay ahead, and I remain grateful to this day for the thoughtful counsel she provided.” 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau echoed those sentiments in the House of Commons last Thursday when he said, “She embraced her role as Queen of Canada, our Queen, our head of state. Her conversations with me were always candid. We talked about anything and everything. She gave her best advice on a range of issues. She was always curious, engaged, and thoughtful. Canadians can be forever grateful for her counsel.”

It is possible that some of the prime minister’s reverence for Her Majesty is due to his father’s admiration for the Queen. It may surprise people to discover that Pierre Trudeau was very fond of her, and the two developed a warm relationship, despite the PM’s antipathy for the British Empire. 

The comfort of the friendship once emboldened the prime minister to tell the monarch over dinner the story of his aunt who said it was okay to pick up a chicken drumstick with one’s hands. “The Queen does it,” his aunt said in defence when someone raised an eyebrow. As John English notes in his Trudeau biography, the two looked at each other and the Queen only replied, “Hmm.” 

“I imagine she wouldn’t do it,” the prime minister surmised later when he told the story. 

There are many lessons to draw from Queen Elizabeth II’s interactions with Canada during the past 70 years. She never lost sight of the limitless possibilities of this country. Above the political fray, she remained positive and consistently reminded us of what we have. 

“As Queen of Canada, I have had the privilege of speaking to you on numerous occasions since my first visit in 1951,” she said from Edmonton 17 years ago. 

“In doing so, I have attempted to convey the admiration and optimism I feel for this land and her diverse people. Your enduring ties to the Crown stand not only for a respect for heritage but also for the principles of peace, order, and good government developed by the Fathers of Confederation who envisaged and worked so diligently to make this country a reality.” 

During Her Majesty’s reign, we have occasionally lost the plot about what Canada stands for. But God bless her for being there to remind us of what we have. Maybe that will be her lasting legacy here.