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OPINION - Vladimir Putin may be weeks away from a breakthrough in Ukraine but the West is asleep

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

There is a growing understanding across the Western allies that Ukraine is losing the ground war against Russia, and by summer could face defeat.

Russia is pounding front lines with artillery, rocket and drone fire — and at over five times the rate the Ukrainian army can reply. Volodymyr Zelensky’s troops are exhausted — after sustaining in some sectors a heavier concentration of incoming artillery than at the Somme in 1916, or the Normandy Bocage after D-Day in 1944.

The Western response has been patchy to the prospect of a Russian breakthrough within weeks. Artillery stocks, even for their own arsenals in the cases of Britain, Germany and the US, will not be replenished fully for another two years. Germany has increased defence spending but refuses to send game-changing weapons like the Taurus missile.

The allies in Nato and the EU need to have a coordinated strategy to head off disaster in Ukraine right now. If Zelensky is defeated, Kyiv and Odesa reduced to husks, the Western allies will have to do even more to respond. Vladimir Putin, in the wake of the Crocus City Hall massacre, has made it plain that his fight now is not only against the “neo-Nazi” Ukraine, but against the “neo-Nazi West”, of which the Kyiv regime is merely a brand leader.

Like Macbeth, Putin is so steeped in blood that going back would be as tedious as carrying on.

The Western alliance seems oddly at sixes and sevens. The American Ukraine policy is ensnared by congressional in-fighting. European partners like Germany, gas-strapped Italy and Spain covertly or overtly are looking for a soft deal with Russia.

The Baltics and the Nordic allies have taken up the role of Cassandra, full of foreboding and realism. They say, with plenty of evidence, that the Putin military regime won’t halt on the borders of Ukraine. Like Macbeth he is so steeped in blood that going back would be as tedious as carrying on.

Already he has lost 405,000 in two years of combat, and with 1.3 million committed to the war — with the prospect of calling up a further 1.5 million by 2027. Ukraine has lost about 385,000.

For Britain it is time for a reality check. Our governments boast we spend more than 2.1 per cent of GDP – but the figure only works if you include, pensions and the full range of welfare payments. A simple, practical defence review is needed within months from the next government taking office.

Sadly, the omens from Ukraine suggest that may be too late. We must realise now that the fate of Ukraine now governs the security of the Western world.

Robert Fox is the Evening Standard’s Defence Editor