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Should the West arm a Ukrainian resistance?

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The US and UK have been training Ukrainian troops on how to resist a Russian invasion for years. Now a full-scale invasion is under way, there is a debate over how far to support longer-term resistance.

Ukraine’s defence ministry has called on residents to make Molotov cocktails to target incoming Russian troops, and a spirit of resistance is evident among many in the country.

Although it has been wary of any direct military engagement with Russia which could spiral into war, the West has been openly supplying military material – such as anti-tank weapons – to fight an initial invasion.

And more secretly over a period of years, British and US intelligence and special forces have also been training Ukrainian counterparts.

This includes in techniques of so-called irregular or guerrilla warfare, one source told the BBC, likening it to the kind of work undertaken by the Special Operations Executive in World War Two.

Another parallel, they say, is the “stay-behind” plans in the early Cold War, in which secret arms dumps were prepared in the event of Soviet tanks rolling across Europe.

“It’s classic World War Two stuff,” said one person with knowledge of the work. Those plans are now probably being activated to try to slow a Russian advance.

But decisions will also need to be made in London and Washington over how far to go in supporting any longer-term resistance that emerges.When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan more than four decades ago, the West supplied weapons and training to Afghan fighters – the Mujahideen – who sought to fight the Red Army through ambushes and attacks.

MI6 teams trekked into Afghanistan to work with commanders. The CIA supplied massive amounts of weaponry, eventually including Stinger missiles, which shot down Soviet gunships.

It took a decade, but eventually Soviet forces were forced to leave. There was a steady toll of casualties, which caused deep disquiet in the Soviet Union, and many believe the defeat contributed to its collapse.

The West also knows what it is like to be on the receiving end, as it became mired in more recent insurgencies in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

There are former military and intelligence officers who openly and strongly advocate supporting resistance in Ukraine.

And when Boris Johnson talks about the need to impose costs on Russia and prove their invasion was not a success, he may not just be talking about the economic cost of sanctions, but also the human cost in the form of the lives of Russian soldiers.

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