“kyiv will win the war”, says the ex-commander of the American forces in Europe

In the space of ten days, the tide seems to have turned. After seven months of a war of attrition, the Ukrainian armed forces carried out a vast counter-offensive, first in Kherson, in the south, then especially in the Kharkiv region, in the northeast, resuming until 8,000 km² to a retreating Russian army.

Former commander of US forces in Europe, retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges believes “a point of no return” has been crossed, with a probable defeat that could rock Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation.

Retired Lt. Gen. and former commander of US forces in Europe Ben Hodges. – CEPA

Are we witnessing a turning point?

It’s a massive success that completely changes the nature of the conflict. The dynamic has reversed in favor of Ukraine, and it is probably irreversible. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians don’t have to worry so much about being killed by Russian soldiers, and the rest of the world realizes that Ukraine can win. This could convince some reluctant countries to provide aid. Be careful, it is far too early to celebrate. But within three weeks, the Ukrainian army regained the initiative.

What factors came into play?

Ukraine is winning the logistics battle. There are nearly 700,000 Ukrainians in uniform to defend their homeland. They are not all trained and ready to fight yet, but they have no shortage of men. Unlike Moscow, with worn out soldiers who don’t want to be there. And Ukraine was able to count on weapons supplied by the West which hurt Russia very badly.

We talk a lot about system rockets Himars. Have they changed things?

There is no single weapon, with the exception of nuclear weapons, which alone changes the course of a conflict. What is important is how to use them. With Himars, and other medium-range precision weapons, Ukraine was able to destroy many Russian ammunition dumps and command posts, and even target rear areas of enemy defenses. It was crucial for the preparation of the counter-offensive.

From a tactical point of view, what has Ukraine achieved?

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces made a perfect feint by publicly insisting on the counter-offensive in Kherson (in the south). The Russians took the bait and moved troops, stripping the areas the Ukrainians wanted to attack in the Kharkiv region. These are the basics of the operational art: surprise, discipline, logistics and timing.

Why kyiv chose this moment, when we seemed to be at an impasse?

Clausewitz (the Prussian general and strategist) speaks of the climax: the moment when an offensive runs out of steam and then stops. Defensive forces must anticipate it to plan a counter-offensive and hit the enemy when he is vulnerable.

The Ukrainian general staff understood in June or July that the Russian offensive would culminate in August. It takes nerves of steel. He was under pressure to put all the tanks and soldiers on the front line, but the latter would have fallen victim to attrition. So the general staff succeeded in preserving a force for this counter-offensive. It is a particularly skilful art of war.

Ukrainian forces appear to have broken through in Donbass, east of the Oskil River. Is there a risk that they go too far, too fast?

When you break through quickly, there is always a risk of overextending your logistics and having tired soldiers. But the Ukrainians know the territory perfectly. They have the advantage of evolving in open terrain, with thousands of civilians equipped with smartphones who can report where the Russians are. It would be difficult for Russian troops to surprise them with a massive attack. Even if it came from the other side of the border, in Belgorod, the allies could detect them. The Russians should logically try to prepare a second, then a third line of defense to protect their gains. The Ukrainian forces will try to outflank them.

Himar rockets have a range of 90 km. The Biden administration refuses for the moment to provide ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) long-range missiles, with a range of 300 km. Is it a mistake ?

Absolutely. The American administration has done a remarkable job on all the other aspects of the conflict: maintaining the unity of the allies and Congress, supporting Ukraine, sharing intelligence elements in real time. But it overestimates the risk of a Russian nuclear escalation and a Third World War.

With long-range missiles, the administration fears that Ukraine, although it has assured that it will not, will attack Russian territory, causing an escalation. But let’s be clear: if Ukraine fired a missile at a Russian airbase that massacres innocent Ukrainian civilians, it would be absolutely legal and justified, and there was little Moscow could do in retaliation.

Even inside Ukraine, ATACMS missiles, which can be loaded onto Himars, would be useful. There are 300 km between Odessa and Sevastopol (south of Crimea). If Ukraine attacked today, Sevastopol would become untenable for the Russian Black Sea Fleet. If Ukraine could hit Russian bases in Crimea where air attacks are coming from, that would make a major difference.

Nearly 300 km separate Odessa and Sevastopol, a distance that ATACMS missiles could reach.
Nearly 300 km separate Odessa and Sevastopol, a distance that ATACMS missiles could reach. -Google Maps

Putin has so far refused to declare general mobilization. What are his options?

In a video, we saw Russia recruiting prisoners because there are not enough Russians who want to fight. Putin doesn’t have many options. He doesn’t have a massive – and combat-ready – force that he can deploy quickly. It has hundreds of thousands of National Guard troops, but they are primarily for domestic use. Even if he declared the general mobilization of 100,000 men, it would take months before they were trained and operational. Putin would have to justify himself to the Russian people, and there already seems to be growing discontent in the Kremlin among nationalists.

Cornered, isn’t Putin dangerous? Why do you doubt he’s using a tactical nuke?

It is a possibility, but, in my opinion, unlikely, for practical and strategic reasons. Putin is neither suicidal nor alone in deciding. There is a system in place. You use such a weapon to create an opening, but Russia has no option to exploit it, and there is no obvious Ukrainian target. And above all, if there were recourse, with China, Iran and North Korea watching, the United States would be forced to intervene in the conflict.

Joe Biden no doubt received a list of options from the Pentagon for a possible response. Like destroying the Black Sea Fleet or the Russian naval base in Syria with airstrikes or cruise missiles. Washington would probably not aim for a target in Russia, because that would be too much of a game-changer.

Can Ukraine win the war?

Absolutely, Ukraine will win the war. It is inevitable, provided the West continues to support it.

What would a Ukrainian victory look like?

A 100% restoration of Ukrainian territory including Crimea and Donbass, and the return of more than a million Ukrainians deported to Russia. There would undoubtedly be bilateral agreements between Ukraine and the United States, with reinforced security and a better strategy for the Black Sea region.

In case of defeat, what consequences for Putin and Russia?

With sanctions starting to bite in Russia and a major defeat, Putin may struggle to stay in power. This could lead to the end of the Russian Federation. Some, in Chechnya and elsewhere, note the weakness of the Russian army and could see an opportunity there. I’m not saying that a collapse of Russia would be a good thing, but we have to prepare for it.

Source: 20Minutes – Une by www.20minutes.fr.

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