Former commander-in-chief of NATO Forces in Europe, retired General Philip Breedlove talks about the liberation of Kherson and the Russian shelling from Ukrainian territory in this interview with NV.
Retired General Philip Breedlove is realistic about the capabilities of the Ukrainian army and accuses the West of "a desperate desire to stop the war with sanctions, not weapons."
Breedlove, an experienced U.S. military man with an impressive career record, has consistently advocated for providing Ukraine with the necessary amount of Western weapons as quickly as possible. He accuses his own government of procrastination and tells NATO members that Ukraine today is fighting on its front lines for the entire Western world, and support for Kyiv is both necessary and extremely important.
In his interview with NV, Breedlove says how he sees the further development of the war in Ukraine, names the main risks the Russian invasion of Ukraine poses to the world, and analyzes in detail the combat effectiveness of the Ukrainian and Russian armies.
How would you describe Russia's current war in Ukraine in terms of its benefits to Putin? What were his goals at the end of February, and what are his goals now?
- If you look at how this war was conducted at first, it is clear that Putin's goal in its early stages was to completely destroy Zelenskyy’s government and the existing state institutions in Ukraine, and to transfer power to loyal representatives. He expected that the Ukrainians would welcome him with open arms, that the military campaign would be completed in a week, and that the West would not stand up for Ukraine.
Putin suffered a massive strategic defeat in the battle for Kyiv, he faced the consequences of a second strategic defeat in the vicinity of Kharkiv, now he has reorganized and is trying to win the battle for the Donbas. I still believe that his goal is unchanged – to remove the Zelenskyy government and bring to power leaders who are absolutely loyal to Moscow. Nothing has changed in this respect. Having lost in a large-scale intervention, he is trying to achieve the same goal, piece by piece seizing territories in Donbas, exhausting the Ukrainian army, destroying Ukrainian infrastructure and the Ukrainian economy.
- In one of your recent interviews, you said that Western countries made a mistake by not reacting harshly to the war in Georgia in 2008 and the outbreak of war in Ukraine in 2014. Why do you think the Western world underestimated the risks from Russia for so long?
- When the Berlin Wall fell in 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, and the Warsaw Pact ceased to exist, the world was confused. In the end, we chose the vector of helping Russia join the Western world. Everyone hoped that Russia had a chance to become a real democracy, and it would take that chance, same as it took the chance to join the world with a market economy. During this period, which I call the "warm hug with the bear" period, many Western countries found themselves closely tied to Russia through numerous business ties and contacts, as well as their need for Russian energy resources. In this (period of) wishful thinking, everyone wanted to trade, turning a blind eye to the signals (that there might be) an armed confrontation with Russia, when its appetites started to grow.
- From what we see, the U.S. government today supplies Ukraine with a limited amount of weapons and the current volume of supplies doesn’t allow Ukraine to actively and massively counter-attack, or even actively defend itself. In your opinion, what is the reason for this?
— I agree that the supply of weapons from the United States is slow. We promised to give Ukraine everything it needs, but we’re not. There are a lot of ideas and hypotheses about what the motives are for our behavior. I don’t know which of them are correct, but we have what we have – the supply is insufficient. The Western world is concerned about the growth and escalation of this war, and it desperately wants to stop the conflict with sanctions, not weapons. Perhaps this is an important reason why the United States, in particular, is still not giving Ukraine what it needs to win the war and push Russian troops out of the country. So far, this is the only thing that explains to me why we still don’t supply weapons to Ukraine properly, but do it by endlessly stretching out the process.
The president of Russia often also talks about nuclear weapons and its use. I think he’s still talking about tactical nuclear weapons, and he’s not ready to use strategic nuclear weapons, since there will be no winners in that kind of war. And the reasons for the threats with tactical nuclear weapons are that the ground military campaigns of the Russian army are not achieving their goals. They are losing, they are slow, even though everyone is used to talking about the Russian army as one of the strongest armies in the world. Therefore, the president of Russia constantly talks about the use of nuclear weapons and a Third World War. I think this is a serious factor holding back Western countries from helping Ukraine more, but it should not tie our hands, we should not lose the initiative.
- What arguments can influence the White House to make the supply of ammunition and weapons to Ukraine more efficient?
- You’re asking about my personal opinion here, and so I will tell you exactly what it is: What Russia is doing in Ukraine is criminal, immoral and inhuman. That’s why, the world must, and I hope it will, rise up and say enough is enough! All the destruction of civilian infrastructure, all the deaths of civilians, all the actions designed to cause world hunger, all this, in the end, will make the world react, and the world will react. If Putin uses chemical, nuclear or biological weapons in Ukraine, this will completely change the current concept of Western participation in the war in Ukraine. Unfortunately, this is possible even in the short term.
Also, in my opinion, the elections to the U.S. House of Representatives this fall, as well as elections in European countries, where people will turn their attitudes and feelings about this war into votes, will change things a lot.
— There are many forecasts that in this fall the war in Ukraine will enter its third phase, which will be associated with a decrease in combat activity on both sides, perhaps they will even try to force Ukraine into a temporary reconciliation or an agreement to reduce the activity of hostilities. How likely is this scenario?
- It seems to me that both Russia and, sadly, Ukraine are already very close to the point where they will lose so much that the war will objectively change, whether we like it or not. And, I hope and believe that Western countries will continue to systematically support Ukraine so that if it comes to negotiations, then the talks will be about how Ukraine is to regain sovereign control over its territories. The main worrying factor is that both armies are exhausted, but I hope that Ukraine will have enough weapons, ammunition and forces in order to strengthen its position in the time remaining before the point of negotiations is reached, and so it can set its own conditions at these negotiations.
- You’ve already said that both Russia and Ukraine are quite exhausted. In your opinion, what can Russia achieve with the remaining military resources in the next month or two, and what will the Ukrainian army be able to do in the same period of time?
- I think the capabilities of the Russian army will continue to decline. They have large stocks of weapons, there are still enough human resources, but they absolutely don’t have time to train new soldiers, besides, the soldiers are completely unmotivated and their morale is weak. While the Ukrainian army is quite experienced and professional, because it has been fighting for its country in this war for eight years already. Your morale is high, and the soldiers are ready to fight for their country to the end, but they aren’t provided with enough necessary weapons and ammunition. That’s why I keep repeating all the time that the West today holds in its hands everything that is necessary for the Ukrainian army to end this war. And the capabilities of the Ukrainian army in the next few months directly depends on whether the Western countries decide to go further and provide Ukraine with everything it needs.
- So, it turns out that the fate of Kherson today depends on the weapons supply?
- As for Kherson, I think that Ukraine still has enough weapons from previous deliveries to achieve the goals that your army plans to achieve. But you’re asking me about the next few months, and if we’re talking about them, then in this case Ukraine needs much more military assistance from the West.
- What are your personal expectations regarding the operation to de-occupy Kherson? To which extent is it possible and what do you think the Armed Forces of Ukraine are capable of doing in the near future?
— I think that now the Ukrainian army is doing a very good job in this regard, and I’m waiting for the success of the Kherson operation, except that we still don’t have good intelligence about what is really happening in the region. There are rumors that Russia is moving reinforcements there, but this means that they are reducing their presence in Donbas. This, of course, will add problems to the army on the southern axis, but on the other hand, it will open up opportunities in the Donbas. Right now I like how the Ukrainian troops are working on the outskirts of Kherson.
- How do you assess the Russian army in this war? For a long time it was considered one of the best armies in the world.
Yes, some people called the Russian army the second or third army of the world, although this is true. However, it was an army … that turned out to be completely unprepared for a war in Ukraine, since the leadership of Russia and the Russian army made the wrong decisions and made bad plans, while the Ukrainian army was ready for what was happening. After the fighting in the vicinity of Kyiv, and then near Kharkiv, the Russian army lost its quality, and today it’s a completely different army. Now it's an army that's trying to regroup and replan, and it can't do any of that, although it’s going into battle again.
Two features distinguish this army in the war in Ukraine. Firstly, the Russians were unable to carry out what we call combined arms fighting, and secondly, they were unable to seize control over the sky and establish their own rules of the game there. Yes, they’re using their air forces more often now, but there are places it can’t reach at all. There are technical concepts of war in which Russia has failed. The first is SEAD - the suppression of enemy air forces. The Russians failed to suppress the Ukrainian air force to the end. The second is DEAD - the destruction of the enemy's air forces, and it also failed at that. Previously, the Russian army was respected for its skills in warfare in the sky, but in Ukraine it has shown that it is unable to use them.
- It is also often said that the Russian army is used to and effectively fights in short military campaigns that last up to several days. It is difficult for Russia to wage a long war that requires complex military combinations. Do you agree with this?
- I will just paraphrase what I said earlier. Russia planned and waged a misguided war from day one. They underestimated the strength of the Ukrainian army and catastrophically overestimated the mood of Ukrainians to joyfully welcome them on their territory. Because the Russians made these two mistakes, they invaded Ukraine unprepared and suffered defeat after defeat. They didn’t have the chance to massively retreat to Russia in order to properly regroup and return. They still have serious problems when it comes to organizing their army. So today they’re waging this artillery war at a slow pace.
- How do you assess the actions of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine General Zaluzhnyi as the leader of the Ukrainian army? And how do you access the strategy of the Ukrainian army as a whole?
- This is a difficult question for me, because I’m very proud of what the Ukrainian army is doing in this war. It’s fighting incredibly well at the tactical level, in its dispersed actions. It’s good in how it saves the lives of its soldiers, in how it takes care of the weapons provided to it and in how it achieves goals. What we would like to see in Ukraine is a little more operational thinking in preparation for some of its maneuvers. The Ukrainian military is doing a very good job and should be developed towards better operational and strategic planning.
- Does the Ukrainian army have the right to strike at Russian territory? This question still causes a lot of discussion, but what do you think?
- Russia is striking at Ukraine from Belarus, Russia striking at Ukraine from Russia, Russia is striking at Ukraine from the occupied territories of Ukraine - from the Black Sea and Crimea. Russia is bombing Ukraine from all points and directions available to it. This restriction, to keep Ukraine from delivering strikes against Russia, doesn’t make any military sense.