Russia can be driven back — but only if the West continues to “stand with Ukraine”-Lt. Gen. Benjamin Hodges, a former commander of U.S. forces in Europe

Lt. Gen. Benjamin Hodges, a former commander of U.S. forces in Europe

Excerpts from an interview with Lt. Gen. Benjamin Hodges, a former commander of U.S. forces in Europe, for Tom Nagorski, Global Editor of  “Grid Today” ,

I remain optimistic about the outcome. And I say that because we know that war is a test of will and it’s a test of logistics. The Ukrainian logistical situation gets a little bit better each week, as the West continues to deliver ammunition and equipment. Ukrainians started from one point, and now here we are, almost six months in, and they’re much more mature in the development of their institutions, if you will, and structures.

On the other hand, the Russian logistical situation gets worse by the day. I think they’re exhausted, actually. I don’t know how much more ammunition they have — seemingly endless amounts. But they don’t have much else that they can do. And now that the Ukrainians have the ability to destroy ammunition storage points and [Russian forces] are having to move back, that significantly increases the load, the transportation requirement on their truck fleet, which has already been seriously damaged.

In other words, the logistics picture improves for Ukraine and gets worse for Russia.

The other thing is Ukraine still is not getting enough ammunition fast enough. The White House announcement that there’s another 50,000 or 75,000 rounds of artillery ammunition, more rockets for HIMARS, that’s good. But this is a challenge. Can we give them the ammunition that they need to continue to destroy Russian artillery, Russian rockets and Russian ammunition storage? Because that’s what causes most of the problems.

This is the other test I’m talking about, the test of will. Clearly Ukrainian soldiers and the Ukrainian population have a will superior to what Russian soldiers have. We see so many indicators of that. The real test of will is between the Kremlin and the United States, the U.K., Germany, France — the West. This is the key. I think that clearly the White House has the will to continue doing this. Secretary [of Defense Lloyd] Austin said, “We’re going to help Ukraine win, and we’re going to weaken Russia so much they cannot threaten their neighbors anymore.” But after that, those words were never heard again. And I think this a mistake, that the White House continues to believe that if they do certain things, somehow Russia will be provoked to do something else. And I think this is an overstated concern about escalation that is unfounded.

The Russians don’t have anything else they can do except to use a nuclear weapon. Over 85 percent of their ground forces are in Ukraine. And after five months, they only control about one-quarter of Ukrainian territory, if that. Ukrainians are making progress in and around Kherson, the Russians are pulling troops out of the east to reinforce the effort, and this is with 85 percent of their land forces committed. They’re unwilling to do a mass mobilization because the whole world would then see that their mobilization system is a total failure. It’s corroded by corruption, and a lot of people won’t show up, so they can’t escalate.

Back in World War II, in 1944, at a critical time of the war, tens of thousands of Siberian troops came from behind the Urals, and all these fresh Soviet troops showed up and totally turned the tide against the German Wehrmacht. There are no Siberian divisions on the other side of the Urals coming now. There is nothing else out there, and the [Russian] navy and air force are terrified of Ukrainian anti-ship missiles. The Russian air force has been largely ineffective, except in launching cruise missiles from inside Russia and Belarusian airspace.

The escalation that they can do, of course, is to use a nuclear weapon. But I think this is very unlikely. It’s possible, but very unlikely. Why is that? For Russia, I think their nuclear weapons are actually only at their most effective if they don’t use them.

We in the West continue to hamstring ourselves and just kind of spoon out things rather than saying, “We’re going to push everything, all the chips on the table.” Instead, every two weeks, there’s an announcement of a few thousand more rounds, or “Here’s two more HIMARS.”

The rest of the countries will follow the U.S.; if the U.S. says, “We’re going to help them win,” then I think you’ll see an increase in output from other countries as well. I think that we are making a mistake by hamstringing our own efforts and not going all in.

Where the White House, I think, has come up short is the reluctance to give the Ukrainians rockets called ATACMS — rockets that can be fired from HIMARS or other rocket-launch systems. It’s the one that has a range of 300 kilometers — and it’s exactly 300 kilometers from Odessa to Sevastopol. So, you could imagine if they started launching one or two of those things and hitting the [Russian] maintenance and refueling facilities at Sevastopol, the Russian navy would have to move from there.

The White House is concerned that the Ukrainians would use these launchers to go after airfields inside of Russia. Of course they would. Of course they should. That’s what I would do. But Ukrainians have said, “We won’t do that.” If you’re saying you won’t let this happen because you will shoot into Russia, causing this so-called escalation, I think this is a mistake.

Ukrainians have done a masterful job of protecting information. I’ve been impressed. We know so much more about who’s doing what on the Russian side than we do on the Ukrainian side, at least in the public information space, which is as it should be. I should not know what Ukrainian plans are, what their actual status is, because that’s information they would want to protect from Russians.

It does seem to be a lot of effort in the Kherson direction, which I think is significant. They have an opportunity to destroy a large number of Russian troops that are there. And I don’t think that most of the region around Kherson is friendly or supportive of the Russian occupiers. So, if in fact the [Ukrainian] general staff was planning a large strike in that region, part of it would be done in conjunction with partisan and/or special forces operations in the rear that can disrupt transportation reinforcement, go after leaders, things that would make it more difficult for the Russians to defend. I would imagine that the general staff has been working very hard to build up capabilities necessary for that. We’ll see. I hope they’re able to do it.

So, what the Russians have settled for is attrition. Attrition of Ukrainian capabilities, just endless artillery rockets, but also attrition of our will.

Ukrainian people — their will is not going to be attrited. But the Kremlin, I believe, is counting on the U.S. to back down because of our own domestic issues, worries about China and all of that. As for the Germans, there’s a lot of anxiety about the impact on the German economy because of the gas cutoff. The U.K. is going through its own domestic issues right now, looking for a new prime minister and so on.

So that’s the attrition that matters most from a Russian perspective.

If we, the West, deliver what we have said, if we can keep pushing ammunition to Ukraine, then I think this Ukrainian approach can be successful. But if we don’t stick together, if the West doesn’t stick together, if we don’t keep delivering what we said at speed, then attrition could win, or at least extend it longer.

That’s the advantage for the Russians. If this thing goes wrong, if most people in the West lose interest like we typically do, and the Russians wait for a couple of years, they’ll fix most of their problems or many of their problems, rebuild, and in three years you and I will be talking again about why the fighting is still going on here.

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