“The Russian army will not cross Ukraine like a large red arrow”

If that happens, it won’t be a massive invasion with a hundred thousand soldiers. “The Russian military will not move west across Ukraine like the imaginary broad red arrow,” said retired US General Ben Hodges.

Hodges, known on twitter as general_me, was Chief of the United States Army in Europe until his retirement in 2018 and now works for the American think tank Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). It was he who, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, had to bring back to Europe the American tanks that had been brought back to the United States in the decades following the fall of the wall. Tanks were again needed here to build a credible deterrent force.

In the week when the summits between Russia and the West follow one another, Hodges visited NATO operational headquarters in Mons and Brunssum. On Thursday he was back in his office in Frankfurt, where he lives with his German wife.

“The situation is very dangerous. The aggressive language of the Kremlin is not diminishing and they have everything in place to launch a new offensive. Moreover, he declares: “I don’t see how Putin will do without showing that he has won something. It is expensive to concentrate so many soldiers in one place for so long. He made threats. He set high standards. He can’t just run away. “

Read also Ukrainian government websites shut down due to large-scale hacking

Since the end of last year, Russia has gathered around 100,000 military personnel around Ukraine, along with related materiel. Russia has also made requests to NATO. The alliance should no longer be allowed to expand and should withdraw from Eastern Europe. The West has repeatedly indicated that the demands are out of the question. If Russia launches a new offensive in Ukraine, the West threatens to face unprecedented sanctions.

Hodges expects that if Russia steps up in Ukraine, it will limit itself to a series of smaller actions. “Limited operations mean fewer Russian deaths and that’s important to Vladimir Putin because he does all of this with his audience in mind at home. Smaller operations can also divide the West: should we, you might ask, really impose massive sanctions on Russia that hurt us all, even for a minor escalation?

What would such an offensive look like?

“I expect airstrikes, cruise missile attacks and cyber attacks all aimed at disrupting Ukrainian decision-making, restricting freedom of movement, disrupting communications and causing confusion. And disinformation will spread. A story about a Ukrainian provocation to legitimize the offensive. I guess russian special forces are already active in Ukraine, that they are already doing reconnaissance, that they are preparing things.

I expect airstrikes, cruise missile attacks and cyber attacks

“I want to stress again that this is a new offense, not a raid. Russia already has thousands of soldiers, ships and planes in Crimea, and I don’t believe in fairy tales that there are no Russian soldiers in Donbass. Russia has blocked the operation of the neutral OSCE supervisors, leaving the back door wide open in the Donbass to bring in endless amounts of troops, ammunition and equipment.

Russian fleet operating in the Sea of ​​Azov

So you’re mainly looking at southeastern Ukraine?

“Yes, I find it remarkable that the Caspian Sea Fleet has been close to Ukraine for months. They are not gigantic ships, but they can fire missiles and they can withstand amphibious landings on the Ukrainian coast, for example near Mariupol.

So, is Russia planning something in the Sea of ​​Azov, which it has already blocked and brought in Ukrainian ships to?

“This would indeed be such a limited action that many Western countries do not get very angry. When Russia closed the sea, there was no great uproar. Weak Western countries looking for an excuse not to participate in the promised sanctions might say: whatever. “

What can Ukraine mobilize to defend itself? Can he compete with Russia?

“They are better prepared than in 2014. They have sergeants and junior officers with seven years of experience. They had the support of the West. And my impression is that the population is more militant. An offensive could be very painful for Russia.

But they also have weaknesses. Their navy and air force are no match for Russia. I am also concerned about mobility as they have been fully focused on the Donbass for seven years now. Are they practically and mentally able to respond to threats coming from different directions – from the Crimea, from Donbass, from the north?

General Ben Hodges on archival image from 2016. Photo Piroschka van de Wouw / ANP

“They have drones, but the question is whether they are up to Russian electronic warfare. If you manage to disrupt the connection to a drone, it will crash. And I hope and wait, of course I’m not sure, that we help them intelligently. That we help them “look” beyond what they can do with their own resources. “

The West could also help in the short term with weapons that can be deployed immediately. There’s no point supplying a complex weapon system like the Patriot anti-aircraft missiles, Hodges says, because training takes too long. Hodges pleads for the supply of Stinger missiles. With the portable surface-to-air missile, a soldier can learn to handle it in a matter of days. “Stingers are ideal against drones and helicopters.”

Longer term, says Hodges, the West needs to develop a clear strategy for the Black Sea region, not just think about providing weapons. “Ukraine is not an island. This is Ukraine, but also the region. For allies like Turkey and Romania, for a partner like Georgia. We have to think about the diplomatic and economic development of the region. Because the Black Sea region is an important area as far as Russian, Chinese influence is concerned and it is a buffer against Iran.

The key to success for the West is cooperation, forming a single front, Hodges says.

“The Netherlands also have an important role to play here. It is important that everyone does their part and that countries stay aligned on sanctions. I think there is a lot of work behind the scenes. I have even just learned from a fairly senior Dutch official that the Netherlands are considering opening gas fields to supply Germany in an emergency if the Kremlin were to cut off the gas supply to the Netherlands. Europe. If this is true, it is a very courageous political decision. “

Surveys of various ministries have not confirmed a special agreement on Dutch gas deliveries to Germany.

Leave a Comment