Defense Online interviewed Ben Hodges, a retired lieutenant general and former commander general of the United States Army in Europe, one of the most listened to in this period.
We advise readers to particularly read what he writes about response to a Russian tactical nuclear attack, development of the Black Sea region and the condition of Moscow's forces ...
General Hodges, how were you able to anticipate, we could say to predict, the moves of the Russian forces and, ultimately, their collapse during the month of March? (For those who have not read our articles on the subject - see link 1, see link 2, see link 3 -, Putin's army in the last week of March withdrew from the northern territories of Ukraine: Kiev, Chernihiv and Sumy.)
There were three indicators, in my opinion, that they would fail.
First of all, there were not enough troops - I had been in Kiev two weeks before the war started and I knew how big the city is. I was quite clear that with those few troops surrounding her and taking her would have been impossible.
Then, the climate and the difficulties of getting around on the roads greatly reduced the access routes for the Russian forces and made it easier for the defenders to stop them. The whole world could see the confusion of that column of vehicles and men.
Finally, I was sure that the Ukrainians (Ed the troops) would fight well: I had no idea how capable and determined they would be to resist the civilians.
Of course, this is a photo from the first month of the war. Many readers ask us how long this war will last. There are commentators who believe it will last for years. Others - and I am one of them - believe it could stop suddenly. For still others, including the Russians, it will end sometime between late summer and early autumn.
Many factors affect this. First, Ukraine is a sovereign state and has the right to negotiate when it deems it. It is my impression that it is not in their interest to negotiate as long as their position is strong in negotiating: President Zelenski himself said that the Russian forces must leave before he begins to negotiate.
I don't think it will last for years in its current form, also because I don't think it's sustainable for Russia. Indeed, between the end of the summer and the beginning of September we will see the collapse of the Russian forces, with the Ukrainians pushing them back into the possessed territories until February 23rd. I think this because war tests will and logistics: clearly, Ukraine already has superiority in willpower.
The logistics of the Ukrainians are improving every day: they have just begun to bring the equipment, ammunition and artillery they need to the front.
The logistics of the Russians, however, deteriorate with each passing day. The Ukrainians don't have a human resources problem: the Russians do.
We will see a Ukrainian counter-offensive that at the end of the summer will push the Russians to the borders they had on 23 February.
In such a scenario, how will Putin react? Is there a danger of using chemical or nuclear weapons?
Of course, there is a risk. However, there are people around him who want life after Putin too. Then, there are the military leaders, who do not want to see the annihilation of their entire army: they have other concerns (Editor's note in addition to Ukraine) for their gigantic country. Consider that in the next three or four months the entire Russian army could be destroyed: they have to think about this.
I think the Russians will probably continue to issue threats and warnings about the use of nuclear weapons, but I don't think they will use them because they won't give them any advantage on the battlefield. There will be no benefit: if they use them, it will be impossible for the United States and its allies to stand by. This is because (Ed if we were to watch), the signal we would send to Iran, China and North Korea would be: all you have to do is threaten the use of nuclear weapons and the United States will do nothing to stop you.
The American response would not necessarily be nuclear and it would not be solely American: the answer would come from the entire alliance. It could be a non-kinetic response, such as a devastating cyber attack, which would cause devastating damage to the economy and government of Russia. It could also be kinetic, such as the destruction of the Russian fleet in the Black Sea or of Russian forces on Ukrainian territory. It is important to let the Kremlin know that there will be an answer and that it may not even be nuclear.
What if they used the so-called tactical nuclear weapons, the less powerful ones?
As I said, there would be an answer. But for them the use of any nuclear weapon it has no advantage: they already manage to destroy entire cities with artillery and missiles.
The only reason to use them would be to try to divide the alliance, to lead some countries to say that they do not intend to continue the confrontation for fear of a nuclear war. This is why our leaders must strive to work together and maintain this unity so that the threat or use of tactical nuclear weapons does not benefit the Russians.
What do you think about the enlargement of NATO to Sweden and Finland?
It is very important that Sweden and Finland join the alliance. It is very important indeed, for what these two countries bring: two very strong democracies, two very resilient civil societies, two very modern and capable armed forces with enormous potential for mobilizing resources. Furthermore, it would entirely transform the geometry of the Baltic and Arctic regions into a more stable and safer environment for all of us. It must be done.
Nine to ten months ago the world was shocked by what happened in Afghanistan and some thought that Americans were no longer intent on protecting allies or democracies. Then, starting last fall, US intelligence was able to very well anticipate the intentions of the Russians in Ukraine and, later, deliver to Kiev. What happened? Has there been a change of pace or are they two different stories?
The American administration is made up of many people and many structures: the decisions are not always the same, now in Afghanistan and later in Ukraine. What I am certain is that the administration, with broad parliamentary support, believes in and supports Ukraine. Consider the huge financial investment, approved in a bipartisan way. I believe it is a long-term commitment for us and for our allies because it has a huge impact on stability and security in Europe: the economic damage, the millions of refugees and the presence of an autocratic regime that hates democracy and even democracy. idea that people can make their own choices. He wouldn't stop just giving him the Donbass!
It is important that the US administration is determined to support Ukraine until victory: in twenty years in Iraq and Afghanistan no one has ever talked about winning, not even once. What emerges is also that we must have a strategy for the Black Sea, which includes rebuilding the relationship with Turkey, the economic development of the region from Romania to Georgia. Ukraine is not an island: it must be part of a broader strategy that we are pursuing over time.
Do you think there will be a new Marshall Plan to support and develop those countries?
Those countries were excluded from the Marshall Plan because they were under Soviet control and never had the benefits, as was the case in the West after World War II. Here the European Union can play an important role, even if according to President Macron it will take years, perhaps decades, before Ukraine can join the European Union. It was certainly not a useful statement, that of the French leader! After all, the European Union will eventually merge with Ukraine even if Ukraine does not become a member state: you have millions of Ukrainian refugees and you have an interest in returning them to their country. Which means you have to help clean up the country, rebuild infrastructure, rebuild homes.
Then there are millions of people who live on food exported from Ukraine: this too must work again. I believe it is in the interest of the European Union to be involved in investments to get Ukraine back on its feet.
Ukraine was already a democracy: there is no doubt about the legitimacy of the election of President Zelensky or his predecessor Poroshenko. Even though it had only been a democracy for thirty years, there was no doubt about its status as a democratic regime (Editor's note before the war): Ukraine, although imperfect, was already projected towards a condition of democracy on a political and social level. . It will be even more so if it succeeds in the war with Russia.
The Kremlin claims that Russia has received threats from NATO and that it feels under siege due to repeated enlargements to the East. Some readers have pointed out that it is the Russians who have re-aimed their missiles at the West and not the contrary. Who is right?
There are neither American missiles nor NATO missiles aimed at Russia: this is a fairy tale being spread by the Kremlin to justify what they are doing. President Putin is not afraid of NATO: what he fears is that Ukraine will join the European Union. He does not want a country along the border where the quality of life improves significantly and young people can develop their talents thanks to the country's integration with the West and Europe in particular. That he had to invade Ukraine because of NATO does not make sense: when the Soviet Union dissolved at the end of the Cold War and Russia was on its knees, it was at its moment of greatest weakness, what did we do? We have disarmed: Germany disarmed its Bundeswehr, the British army left Europe, the US Army reduced its presence by 90%. We were looking for a peace dividend, as defined by President Clinton: it is the opposite of encircling or threatening Russia!
No NATO vehicles entered Russian territory when they were at the height of their weakness: none! The question we should ask ourselves is: why did all the former members of the Soviet Union or the Warsaw Pact immediately ask to join NATO? The answer is: because they knew very well what it means to live near Russia.
Now, I have to ask you a question about this, so to speak, old-fashioned war that we are witnessing and that we did not expect. We see combat scenes that bring to mind the Second, but sometimes also the First World War. Because that's how it is?
Ultimately, you have to try to defeat the abilities your opponent has. I myself have overestimated Russia's ability to do certain things: I thought there would be much more cyber, that they would take total control of the airspace, that they would put economic pressure and that they would do many other things of the so-called Gerasimov Doctrine.
We now know better what the Gerasimov Doctrine is: murdering innocent civilians, destroying villages and cities, and indiscriminate bombing of densely populated areas.
Russian military forces have always been built around artillery and large land formations. The navy has never been a protagonist, because they don't have many sea ports: they themselves have never invested much in the modernization of the marina. Conversely, they have invested heavily in air force, especially in platforms, but very little in training. Thus, they have many modern fighters, but few pilots with combat experience and capable of field operations. This explains why they failed to achieve air superiority when they should have, at the start of the war.
Faced with so much resilience and tenacity on the part of the Ukrainians, the Russians when they abandoned their initial plan began to do what they always do: to use the masses. That's why the war has taken this turn! They have tanks, artillery, and missile systems that produce scenes that bring to mind World War II; however, there are also satellite communications, drones, long-range precision missiles, which have changed the aspect of war, but have not changed its nature. The war is violent, it is brutal, it produces uncertainty and tests both the willpower of the civilians and the logistics.
For the past few days, I have been trying to track buildings hit by Russian long-range precision missiles and have counted a theater, a cultural center and a couple of schools. Are we facing a terrorist war or technology that is not really "precision"?
The answer is: both. Even when they had so many precision missiles they hit schools, cultural centers and areas inhabited by civilians. They were using cruise missiles - there's no other explanation that they hit civilian buildings except that they didn't intend to.
They have already "spent" a lot: perhaps 70-80% of their precision weapons. They are using more and more "dumb" bombs, unguided ammunition. This will be more and more of a problem because their air force will have to get closer and closer to the targets, even if they don't want to. There will increasingly be collateral damage or damage to civilian-inhabited areas. This is not something that they consider to be worrying, unlike our armed forces, the American, British, Italian, German, Polish etc .: we made mistakes of course, but we always tried to avoid having civilian targets. Sometimes we have increased the risk to pilots in order to decrease the risk to civilians: the Russians will have no scruples like these.
Now I have one last question. I think it was the British recently who claimed that Putin's Russia humiliated itself with this war. Do you agree?
I read your excellent article on trying to cross a river in the Donbass (see link). Probably, hundreds of soldiers lie dead in the mud or no longer even exist as a corpse due to the explosions. Most of them had no idea where they were or why they were there. This is the difference between them and those they fight against (Editor's note the Ukrainians).
I believe that President Putin, regardless of his people or his soldiers, is waging a war that he has already lost. But he continues to exterminate and has appointed a commander (Editor's note General Dvornikov) who is famous for that. I cannot imagine where Putin himself, Foreign Minister Lavrov, Defense Minister Shoigu will be welcome internationally. This man had a missile fired on Kiev during the visit of the UN secretary general, immediately after he had visited Moscow: and Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council!
They participate in the OSCE and do not allow the OSCE special commission to do its job in Donbass!
The constant violations of international law and the killing of innocent civilians are all actions the Russian president could stop if he wanted to. Therefore, I am convinced that the British government was 100% right: Putin humiliates himself, nobody believes him anymore, nobody respects him anymore.
There have been some changes, some people have been removed. At the parade on 9 May neither Lavrov was seen - I looked everywhere, but nothing: I didn't see him - nor Gerasimov, the joint chief of staff. There are rumors that he would be injured.
What is happening inside the Kremlin? I guess a lot of people feel uncomfortable because they understand that they are losing and want to have a future after this. Lukashenko himself sees what is happening and is trying to distance himself because, once Ukraine has done away with Russia, there may be punishment for him too. He did not send his troops to Ukraine: he too is trying to get away from the president of the Russian Federation.
Thanks for this interview. We will continue to follow her on Twitter and in interviews. She reminded us that sometimes you have to fight for peace.
It's true. And it's a maxim that has been valid for centuries.
Photo: US Army / Online Defense archive