April 7, 2015
Transcript: General Wesley Clark: Exclusive Briefing from Ukraine’s Front Lines
General Wesley Clark: Exclusive Briefing from Ukraine’s Front Lines
General Wesley Clark, USA (Ret.),
Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander
Executive Vice President,
Jan M. Lodal,
Distinguished Fellow, Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security,
Location: Atlantic Council, Washington, D.C.
Date: Monday, March 30, 2015
Superior Transcriptions LLC
DAMON WILSON: Good evening, everyone. My name’s Damon Wilson. I’m executive vice president here at the Atlantic Council. It’s my pleasure to welcome you here today for an exclusive briefing on Ukraine’s front lines with General Wesley Clark, moderated by former Atlantic Council President Jan Lodal.
I’d like to offer a special word of welcome to our briefer, who is also an Atlantic Council board director, also to our distinguished guest, thank you for being with us today, and to our audience watching online, especially all of those in Ukraine who are joining us, giving the late hour there as well, via our live webcast. I’d also like to encourage all of you in the room, but those online, to follow the conversation and contribute your thoughts on Twitter using the hashtag #ACUkraine – hashtag #ACUkraine.
Here at the Atlantic Council, we recognize not only the importance of Ukraine, but also the implications of the ongoing crisis. Ukraine’s not just defending itself, as we all know, it’s on the front lines of defending the order that has delivered security and stability in order in Europe since the end of the Cold War. That’s why, back in February 2014, the council here stood up what we’ve called the Ukraine and Europe initiative. This initiative galvanizes international support for an independent Ukraine within secure borders, whose people will determine their own future.
And to advance this, the council’s work aims to strengthen Ukraine’s security, preserve its territorial integrity and advance its economic, democratic and governance reforms. I’d like to extend just a special word of thanks to all the council board directors who stepped forward last spring to help us stand up this initiative. I particularly want to thank George Chopivsky and the Chopivsky Family Foundation for their support, as well as leaders that we have with us from the Ukrainian World Congress. And I’d like to offer a special word of thanks to the Open Society Foundations for their support and cooperation in this effort. We’re honored to have the Open Society Foundations in our mission to continue the vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace.
But tonight we’re focusing on the security dimension of the crisis in Ukraine, and the war. It was here on this stage in September 2014 that President Poroshenko, here in Washington, said at the council that he asked for arms to, quote, “win the peace.” And it was in February just of this year that Jan Lodal and a group of others helped lead a process to produce a report that many of you have seen on preserving Ukraine’s independence, resisting Russian aggression, what the United States and NATO must do. In this report, along with the Brookings Institution and the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs, the team from the Atlantic Council called for the provision of lethal defensive weapons and $3 billion in financial assistance to Ukraine.
So just two weeks ago, General Wesley Clark, founder and CEO of Wesley Clark and Associates, former supreme allied commander in Europe, and our speaker this evening – he was joined by Lieutenant General Patrick Hughes, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Lieutenant General John Caldwell, the former head of the Army development and acquisition and research chief. And they traveled on a fact-finding mission to eastern Ukraine where they met a group of military commanders, civilian and military leaders in Ukraine, including President Poroshenko.
It’s from that trip that we’re going to hear his views tonight. Having served for 38 years in the U.S. military, wounded in Vietnam, reaching the rank of four-star general and receiving numerous distinguished honors for his service, including the Purple Heart and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, General Clark is an expert strategist and a sharp military mind, not to mention a Rhodes scholar. I had the honor to watch him at work as he was commander of NATO forces and allied – Operation Allied Forces over the Balkans.
He travels to Ukraine regularly to assess the military situation and advise Ukraine’s leaders. In February, after the fall of the key city of Debaltseve, General Clark joined the Atlantic Council to brief policymakers and the media on the strategic consequences of that defeat. So we’re delighted to welcome you back this evening. And thank you for your leadership on this set of issues.
Joining General Clark to moderate the discussion this evening is the honorable Jan Lodal, distinguished fellow in our own Atlantic Council Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security and a former president of the Atlantic Council itself. Jan previously served as principle deputy undersecretary of defense for policy and as a senior member of the national security staff. He’s been an impetus behind much of the security work on Ukraine here at the Atlantic Council. Thank you both for joining us tonight.
So without further delay, I want to turn the floor over to you, General Clark, to offer your thoughts on the briefing, and then Jan will join you on stage for a conversation. (Applause.)
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK (RET.): Well, Damon, thanks very much for that kind introduction. And, Jan, thanks very much for supporting our trip. The Atlantic Council has supported us over there. I was accompanied by Lieutenant General Retired Pat Hughes and Lieutenant General Retired John Caldwell. And I think both of them are here today. They’ve asked me to represent them in the initial remarks up here. But I reserve the right to call on them for supporting information if appropriate and required, I’ll do that.
So this was my – personally my seventh trip to Ukraine since last March. The Ukrainians reached out to through the Center for Strategic and International Studies, John Hamre, last year. They asked me to come over and I’ve made several trips. But I was very impressed by what the Atlantic Council had done. And so we’re very grateful for the sponsorship of the Atlantic Council and the Soros Foundation, which put this last trip together and allowed me to go over with my colleagues. While we were there, we linked up with several friends in Ukraine, including the Potomac Foundation, Phil Karber, who’s also joined us in the room.
And I want to just set the stage before I talk about the specifics that I found. So my connection – my personal connection to Europe and NATO goes back go the late 1970s when I was working for General Alexander Haig as his deputy – his assistant executive officer and speechwriter in Mons, Belgium. And so I learned from General Haig, the speeches I worked on – I learned deterrence. I learned how the United States handled the Soviet Union. I learned about the tradeoffs between deterring the Soviets, how to work with China, how it fit with national policy and how the individual views of nations in Europe factored into the deterrent equation.
I came back to the Pentagon. In ’94 I was a J5 on the Joint Staff. And in that position, I was responsible for the Joint Staff relationships with NATO. So we did partnership for peace. We did the NATO enlargement planning at that time. And we did the negotiation of the end to the fighting the Balkans. I went with Richard Holbrooke on his delegation. And then subsequently, I became the NATO commander. We did Operation Allied Forces. Damon mentioned I had Russians under my command. And I learned in excruciating detail how different nations have different national perspectives of security and their needs.
So during all that process, what we saw was – in the 1990s, we saw an era when we believed the Cold War was over, and those ideas that animated the Cold War were gone. It was an era when anything seemed possible. I participated as the lead officer in the U.S.-Russian staff talks in the summer of 1994 in Moscow. We had detailed discussions of how things were.
Now, I did see that the Russians still maintained a certain territorial overwatch of Europe. As one Russian general said to me in those staff talks, he said: When will your NATO ships be in our home port of Riga? (Laughter.) And of course, it wasn’t their port. And I remember answering saying, well, you know, it a different country. It’s not your port. I said, but the more you ask that question, the sooner the NATO ships will be there. (Laughter.) And of course, because those kinds of questions raise insecurities in Eastern Europe.
The Pentagon’s position in mid-’94, at the time of those staff talks, was we were opposed to NATO enlargement. But President Clinton made the decision that NATO enlargement would be a good idea. So we worked through the process of bringing Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland in. When I became NATO commander they were in the process of joining. And I remember the first trip I made to Bulgaria, the Bulgarian foreign minister explained that NATO enlargement, she said, cannot stop here. She said, Bulgaria today is weak. Russia is also weak. But Russia will someday be strong again. And before that time, she said, Bulgaria must be a member of NATO.
A couple months later I was making my first visit to Romania and I had dinner with the minister of defense, a man named Babiuc. And so the subject of NATO enlargement came up. And he said, yes, he’d like to be a member of NATO – he’d like Romania to be a member of NATO. And I said, why? Does it have anything to do with Russia, because what we were saying at the time Washington was that NATO enlargement would spread stability in Eastern Europe. It would be a good thing. It wasn’t directed against Russia. It was just designed to promote peaceful harmony.
Minister Babiuc said, of course it has to do with Russia. I said, well, have there been some incidents? Can you explain some of this to my – so I can carry it back to my colleagues in Washington so they can understand Romania’s perspective. So share with me some of these incidents. He said, certainly. He said, in 1878 – (laughter) – and he began to recount Romanian history. And so there is this fear of what comes from Russia in Eastern Europe. And I saw it very clearly during the time I was there.
I remember going to Moscow in the summer of ’98. And General Kvashnin was the Russian chief of defense. And he said to me – sitting across the table he said: You Americans are taking our countries in Eastern Europe. You want to sell them arms. He said, they’re our customers. I said, well, they can buy weapons from whoever they want. We don’t have any intention of taking them and selling them our weapons. That’s not the purpose of this. And, he said: You’re taking our minerals to make us poor! So there was a certain mercantilist view in this line of thought. And I tried to work through this. You try on personal relationships, you know, but you can’t teach someone a course – a three-semester, four-semester course in macro- and microeconomics sitting across a conference table. It just didn’t – it didn’t convey. And so we never got past that.
And in January of 2000, I was back in Romania. The Romanian chief of defense was a new officer in his position. And he explained to me that Russia was trying to block Romania’s accession to NATO. And he explained to me why. So he pulled out a map and it had the countries outlined in Europe. And it showed these arrows arcing from one country to another like, well, there are geostrategic lines of force, he explained. And you can see them coming out of – emanating from Russia and landing in Bulgaria and Romania and jumping from this country to that country. It looked like a sketch of a checkerboard. And he explained that this is how you understand Russia.
I said, how did you learn this? He said he went to Frunze Military Academy and that’s how they were taught. I said, but – please, I said, I understand what you’re saying, but please do not show this to the Europeans because they don’t think this way. They won’t understand it and you’ll build a lot of resentment. Well, he didn’t take my advice. He went to Brussels. He pulled out the map. He explained to everybody how Russia was trying to do this. And of course, they didn’t understand, and subsequently he was replaced as the Romanian chief of defense. I don’t know if that mission in Brussels had anything to do with it or not.
But what we’re seeing today is a manifestation of that geostrategic mindset. You know, if it’s not theirs, they want it. And if it’s ours, it’s hurting them. And they view the world that way. We don’t. We view the world as opportunities for trade, investment, personal growth, relationship building. We view that countries can work cooperatively and better the welfare of persons in both countries. But they don’t see it in that way. And I don’t think Mr. Putin sees it in that way.
In 1999, he came to the inauguration ceremony of President Kuchma – in November of 1999. He was the prime minister and Yeltsin was ill. And he spoke at Kuchma’s inauguration. And he said words to the effect that Ukraine and Russia are more than brothers. We are in each other’s souls. Shortly after this, I was contacted by one of the high representatives from Poland who explained to me that this is code language for Putin attempting and planning to take over Ukraine. And they gave me several indicators of this.
So this goes back – this conflict in Ukraine goes back a long, long way. This is not something that just emerged after Mr. Yanukovych fled Kiev 15 – 14 months ago. This is a long process that’s unfolding. And it’s had one single focus: it’s to bring Ukraine back into the Russian orbit, either directly or indirectly. That’s the focus.
So Dr. Carver (sp) and I made several trips. We were – first trip was over there at the end of March of last year. And that point, Crimea had been given to the Russians. We sat with the minister of defense. And the minister of defense said, well, I did what I was supposed to do. I called the Russian generals and said please don’t hurt our people. We’re going to pull them out. You can have it. Just don’t hurt our people.
And that’s how it began. I remember speaking to the national security adviser. He said, well, we’ve captured 12 Russian Spetsnaz teams. I said, in Crimea? He said, no, no, in the rest of Ukraine. But, he said, I think the worst is behind us. I said, well, what did you do with the Russian Spetsnaz teams? He said, well, we didn’t want to be provocative so we let them go. So that was a year ago. So since then it’s unfolded in nightmare-like fashion.
So it’s a Russian war plan. There are four phases of it – terrorism, irregular forces, Russian peacekeeping forces, and then a de-escalatory phase. It’s been rehearsed on several occasions. We thought – the first time I read this I thought, gee, the Russians, they’re like us, they’re practicing counterterrorism. We didn’t understand that the exercise masked the fact that the terrorists themselves were Russian Spetsnaz. So the takeover is driven by Spetsnaz. That’s who I believe was in the buildings in Donetsk and Luhansk in the first place.
So when the Spetsnaz take over the buildings, you don’t spend the municipal police up to knock on the door and say, hey, fellas, could you please leave? Because these guys aren’t going to leave. They’re there on orders. The separatists that formed up were formed up under the leadership of the Russian military intelligence organization, the GRU, for the second phase of the operation. And this was done with money. Now, they recruited a few local people, but mostly they had to bring people in from Russia. And today, the separatist organizations are between 70 and 85 percent manned by Russians – Russian mercenaries, Russian thugs who’ve been let out of prisoners – out of prison, and Russian, quote, “volunteers,” who are there on leaves of absence from the armed forces.
So that was the second phase of the operation. When the Ukrainians took action against it and it appeared that the separatist forces were ill-led and didn’t know what they were doing, they were losing, the Russians intervened directly. That was the third phase, the peacekeeping. There was a big battle last August in Ilovaisk. The Ukrainians were pinned up against the Russian border. They were not allowed to fire at the Russian artillery that was firing at them from inside Russia. They took losses from fuel air explosions and cluster munitions. And they fell back. That led to the first Minsk Agreement.
During that period of time, after the Minsk Agreement, through September and October, November, the Russians pulled forces back, reorganized, rebuilt those forces an came back again in the January offensive. In the January offensive the Russians were given the objective, I guess by Mr. Putin, to secure Donetsk and Luhansk oblast up to the oblast boundaries. Apparently this has some political significance in the Russian mindset. Maybe they could then overtly help. Maybe that would change the nature of the war. And they were given 30 days to do it.
The launched in mid-January. They ran into Donetsk Airport. Then they ran into Debaltseve. And they never made the oblast boundaries. They took very high losses and the Minsk II agreement essentially stopped them along a 400 kilometer line of contact well short of the oblast boundaries. So on our recent visit General Hughes and General Caldwell and I found them there. Four hundred kilometers inside Ukrainian territory are three key power plants that provide electricity into the Donbas.
And that’s important. Donbas was about 35 percent of Ukraine’s GDP. So this is a heavy blow to Ukraine. But they don’t have enough of it yet to even generate their own electric power. The Russians have about 50,000 troops in Crimea that are not connected to Donbas or to Russia, except through amphibious excursions and boats and so forth. So there’s a geographic anomaly there at the halting point of Minsk II.
So the situation, as we found it in early March – mid-March was this: That Minsk II was roughly in place. Some artillery had been pulled back by the separatists and heavy weapons but some had been, according to sources, concealed in the forward positions. Additional supplies and equipment was being brought across the border from Russia. The border with Russia is totally open.
There are only a couple of OSCE observation points – this is Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is designed and organized to monitor situations like this. But unfortunately, they can’t monitor the whole border. More than half the makeup of OSCE, we were told, were Russian military, who are free to go up to the Ukrainian positions, look at their disposition, look at the specific location.
And you know, it’s – they’re on the honor code not to pass this back to Russian forces – if that – and maybe not even on the honor code. So OSCE is essentially non-functioning there. A couple of the OSCE drones were shot down by Russian antiaircraft systems that were directed high-power electronic systems that brought down these drones. So the overhead imagery wasn’t there.
So, essentially the eastern section is out of control during Minsk II. There’s very limited overwatch through OSCE. What is, is compromised. The Ukrainians have pulled back their heavy weapon systems. They are at a disadvantage because if an attack were to occur, they’d have to first put their weapons into position and move them forward to be able to engage, whereas the separatist equipment is there. By the way, Russian equipment’s regularly coming over and some Russian units have regularly come over.
While we were there, a T-90 tank platoon stood off at 2,500 meters and shelled Ukrainian forces in the vicinity of Donetsk Airport. We know they are T-90 tanks because the Ukrainians know what a T-90 tank looks like and they know how tough it is. It’s first-line Russian equipment, manned by Russian crews and, of course, built in Russia. The myth of the captured equipment has long been dispelled, I hope.
So what’s happening now is preparations for a renewed offensive from the east. Every source we talked to cited the examples of it – the constant probing and harassment attacks along the line, efforts by Spetsnaz to penetrate Ukrainian positions and seize key terrain to the Ukrainian rear like bridges and road intersections. These are blocked and resisted where they can be, but these are big spaces on this 400 kilometer front. And they’re not covered by guys locking arms across the front. So there are gaps in this – in this.
The Ukrainians believe that if you look at the statements made by the separatists from Putin on down, if you look at the geographic anomaly and realize that you can’t hold if you’re in Donbas without having control of the electric power and the connection to Crimea, and you then look at the previous pattern of operations, that you can predict the next Russian offensive. And they’re citing it as following Orthodox Easter and most probably before VE-Day on 9 May.
Now, it’s maybe after VE-Day. It all is political. But what they’ve seen is typically there’s a big fight, like the fight around Debaltseve. The separatists and the Russians took heavy losses. Those forces were pulled back. A lot of reorganization and replenishment’s underway. And it takes time to get that done. And that’s what all the talking is about right now, preparing the cover for the next wave of the attack.
How far the attack will go, what it will consist of, how it will be executed no one knows. But as one of the Ukrainian officers said to us – he said: The Russians have proved very adaptable in their tactics. They’re rotating commanders through the battlefield. They’re learning lessons. And so this is for them not only a battlefield, but a great training opportunity. And they’re innovating against us.
Ukrainians are facing three successive layers of Russian unmanned aerial vehicles. And they don’t have the means to defeat that. So essentially, the battlefield is transparent depending on how effective the imagery is and how effective the Russian analytics are using that imagery. The Ukrainians, of course, don’t have access to that. Their imagery support’s very limited.
We wanted to look in detail at the logistics and intelligence side. And, Jan, I think I’d like to leave that for the Q&A session, if we could, and just wrap up my remarks by saying that after talking to the leadership of the Ukrainian military I felt like they had a lot of credibility. They’ve been up against front-line Russian forces as well as the separatists. They’ve survived engagements in 21st century warfare against jamming that is unheard of for American forces to face, overhead observation from UAVs that we don’t have any awareness of, and a lot of other high technology weapons that we haven’t ourselves and our forces faced in the Middle East.
So there’s a lot going on on this battlefield. It seems that a renewal of conflict there – of broader conflict is imminent. And I hope that the United States will take action to assist Ukraine in preventing this. I think there are two specific actions that could be taken within the lines of the current policy framework of not providing lethal assistance. And that is to provide and do some joint indications and warning analysis with Ukraine and provide them the missing information that they need so they can have firm warning of a renewed Russian offensive. I don’t think that violates anything in the president’s policy. I think it’s totally consistent with the policy of providing information in away that it’s more likely to deter Putin’s military adventurism without leaving any opening for escalation.
And I think a second option that could be done within the existing policy is to prepare the package of assistance – including lethal assistance that’s already been organized – or, sorry – already been authorized by the Congress and enacted into law – prepare that package or elements of it, deploy it at a staging base – let’s say Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina – have strategic lift available and tell Mr. Putin that at the first – when we first get the indications you’re coming again, we will send assistance, including lethal assistance, to Ukraine. So don’t come.
And I think both those actions are – can be done within the current policy. But I do want to conclude by saying that the three of us on our delegation all supported the previous Atlantic Council policy position, that we should be giving assistance to Ukraine now. This is the time they need the assistance. We should change the policy as it is and provide that assistance because a strong, reliable defense to prevent a successful Russian military operation is the key to making the Minsk II Agreement work. It’s not provocative. It’s stabilizing. And that’s why we should execute it.
So with that, thank you very much. And, Jan, please. (Applause.) Thank you.
JAN M. LODAL: Thanks very much. Thanks very much. Well, thank you very much, General Clark, for a concise and, as usual, provocative presentation. I might just start off with a couple of follow-on questions of my own. So let’s say all that happened, that you recommended. But let’s say that it’s not adequate for deterrence so the Ukrainians have to defend themselves. How do you see that playing out?
If they got this assistance in short order – if this – if this attack came as quickly as you thought; we only have a couple of months here. But if they got this assistance in short order I’ve heard some arguments made that they just don’t have time to absorb it, to get trained to use it. It won’t really make any difference and the Russians will roll over them anyway. And those who are argue that the assistance would be provocative, of course, add this to it, that it’s not only provocative but it wouldn’t be helpful if it were given.
GEN. CLARK: Well, we’re dealing with the Ukrainian military. We’re not dealing with the Iraqi armed forces here. These are well-educated, technically competent, sophisticated leaders, literate, educated soldiers, highly motivated. And so it’s not so much building units and teaching people, oh yes, you have to follow orders and, yes, this is left and this is your right and don’t forget to write things down. I mean, you’ve got some people who are pretty well trained but lack the equipment.
So some elements of the U.S. inventory that could be provided, like the Javelin missile, which is a fire and forget system, it’s true. I mean, in a few hours the Ukrainian national armaments group could not learn to maintain and manufacture the Javelin missile. But I promise you, the soldiers on the front line could shoot it just fine with minimalistic training. And I think that’s true for a lot of the U.S. systems that could be provided over there – the night vision goggles and so forth – as well as, if we were to do this, the sharing of much more robust U.S. intelligence collection.
So I think a lot could be done. I took the idea of a package from what we did to support Israel in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War, when it looked like the Syrians were coming through the Golan Heights. Suddenly, we mobilized the United States armed forces. And we pulled munitions and TOW missiles and everything in there and we landed them there at Ben Gurion Airport by C-17 in a continuous wave. And not only did it reinforce Israeli capacities, but it served to deter further adventurism in the region.
And so in this case, I think you have to look at the impact of a package like this at not only the tactical level, but also at the strategic and political level. Putin has three different avenues he can use to defeat Ukraine and take it – politically, economic and military.
So if he can isolate President Poroshenko, shatter his government, break him apart from Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, convince people that there’s no future for Ukraine except inside the Russian orbit and people give up, soldiers put down their arms and walk away, local administrators say forget Kiev, it’s a lost cause, we’re welcoming the Russians in – Putin wins jus through sheer discouragement. That’s behind the Russian propaganda line that the government in Kiev is corrupt and ineffective and can’t deal with the modern world. And that’s what they’d have you believe. In my experiences over there, I haven’t seen that to be the case.
Putin could win economically. He could win economically if he shatters the value of the Ukrainian currency and the economy falls apart and people can’t buy basic necessities and lose hope and so forth. He’d like to try to do that and he’s working it. And he can win militarily by punching through. The armed forces will be disconsolate. People will give up, say it’s hopeless and hope that they haven’t been identified as fighting on the wrong side when everything collapses. And he’d like to do that.
So the purpose of announcing the assistance package to provide political support to President Poroshenko before conflict beings. You know, the president – as Damon mentioned – he was here. He’s asked the United States for assistance. The United States has deferred. Now, I’m in favor of changing that policy. I think they need assistance now. But in the event you can’t change it, at least you could have a package and promise it and promote it and explain it and use it in deterrence.
So at the political level – and the fact that the United States is coming to the rescue will go like a shot of adrenalin from top to bottom of the Ukrainian armed forces when it comes in there because at every level people are very conscious of the fact that they’re fighting what they consider the battle of Western civilization. They’re fighting for us. They’re fighting for democracy, for freedom, for human rights, for Western values. And the United States has given them strong verbal support. We’re pushing to get them financial assistance. But we haven’t given then sufficient quantities of military assistance – not even the non-lethal stuff that they need.
So they’re very open to this kind of support and it’ll be a huge boost to their morale should it be announced. I think a lot of it could get into the field very quickly if it – if it came.
MR. LODAL: Well, as you know, I strongly support the basic view and was a co-author of the report that said that we should do this. And I believe that our slowness to pick it up and agonizing about it is a major risk to us.
But let me try one of the other counterarguments on you, and that’s the quagmire argument, that we do it and deterrence doesn’t work and the Russians defeat the Ukrainians – including whatever assistance we have; they defeat that as well – and therefore we’re in a position of either accepting defeat, having supported them, or escalating our own assistance. So we’re in another situation like we found ourselves in the Middle East and other places, Afghanistan.
We have all of these problems and wouldn’t it be better to just let the Ukrainians do the best they can, keep these very effective economic sanctions on Putin, and let him suffer with those, which could crash the ruble, could crash his economy and could crash his regime, potentially, over time?
GEN. CLARK: Yeah. Well, I think the impact of Putin’s actions in Ukraine have already – it’s already felt in Eastern Europe, in particular. So nations there are nervous. They feel the hybrid warfare model directed against them. They see the Russian propaganda. They see the exercises. They see the over-flights. They understand what’s coming. So simply allowing Ukraine to do its best and then assuming that you can start fresh after Ukraine falls is a – it’s a fallacious assumption. You won’t start fresh. You’ll start in a deep, deep hole.
The real key to NATO’s strategy in the Cold War was that deterrence and what it took to deter, what it took to beat deterrence was not possible for the Russians – or, for the Soviets to calculate. We called it incalculability. We had the ability to match their escalation at every level. And we had the ability to delay them on the ground. And they understood that should they attack it could easily go strategic nuclear very quickly. And so it was the incalculability of the deterrence.
Now, in the 20-odd years since the end of the Cold War the logic, the politics of that has dissipated from the memories of our – collective memories of NATO, from the mindsets of the leadership of NATO. And so there are many things to be done to put deterrence back in place. For one thing, we don’t even have the right symmetrical approach to matching Putin’s nuclear capacities. He’s bragging he has 5,000 short-range nuclear weapons. We have on the order of 100 air-delivered weapons in Europe, going against the densest air defense array in Eastern Europe – or, in Russia that – in history.
So it’s not a good deterrent balance. We’d have to rush to assemble all of that under imminent threat if Ukraine falls. And that wouldn’t be easy. So you might think it’s deterrable by economic sanctions. And I think the real value of the sanctions has been that the nations of the West have had to seem to agree that they would hurt themselves in order to punish Russia. So when I talk to businessmen in Western Europe, what they tell me is: We can’t stand these sanctions. They’re really hurting us. They’re really hurting us. So there’s a limit to how far you can go with sanctions.
It – for sure that some companies in Russia have been hurt. Some individuals may have been hurt. But the Russian economy’s doing just fine. Putin’s doing just fine. And he probably likes it when Russian businesses come to him and say: Vladimir, I can’t get the credit I need in London. Can you help me? And he says, I’m sure we can help you, because it gives him greater grip on the economy.
So there are – there are limitations to what we should expect of sanctions. In fact, you need a balanced approach. You need the sanctions. You need the ability of the Ukrainians to resist – to strengthen their ability to resist to drive this back into the diplomatic channel and keep it there.
MR. LODAL: Just a comment on my behalf, and then I’m going to turn it over to the floor for the second half of our event today – a comment of my own. When we did our study – very rough calculations, mind you; we didn’t have access to any fancy models – but it looked to us like something as simple as the Javelin missile could have stopped a significant fraction of the Russian armor coming in because, I mean, the Russian armor didn’t have any real opposition, except at very close range, as you pointed out. They still lost a fair amount at very close range, but that was very difficult on the Ukrainian forces to have to fight that way.
And our feeling was that that alone could raise the cost, potentially, enough. And they could calculate that that was going to happen, and that this was an asymmetric situation in the sense that the Ukrainians have some specific gaps in their military which – the package you suggested, very similar to the package we suggested. You could fill those not very expensively. We estimated with a billion dollars a year. You might want to comment on whether that’s roughly right. That’s pretty low for a military assistance package. It’s certainly nothing like what we’re doing in the Middle East anywhere, or anywhere else really that we have done things.
And so it seemed to us that you could make a pretty strong case that if you gave this to them the Russians would not just roll over them like they have in these last couple of – couple of incursions. But you may want to disagree with some of that.
GEN. CLARK: Well, I want to comment on it before we go to the audience, if I could.
MR. LODAL: Yeah.
GEN. CLARK: So, you know, the Russians have adapted on this. When they started it was the separatists under GRU leadership and there were a lot of independent organizations in there. There was a Russian hit list put out. They eliminated some of the separatist leaders by liquidation, I’m told. And now the Russians are moving into the separatist organizations from top to bottom in positions of authority. So they’re strengthening the ability of the separatists to operate effectively.
Each version of this offensive has been a little bit different. And so I’m strongly in favor of the Javelin missile and the other assistance packages, Jan, that we recommended in our report, including long-range intelligence and imagery, the ability to handle the secure communications needs, some counter-UAV capacity, night-vision technology. It’s all of that.
But you know, as the Russian capacity grows in eastern Ukraine, you have to imagine that the complexity of the defense will also increase. So I worry a lot about the counter-UAV, for example, because when we were running our exercises in NATO 30 years ago, we knew that there’d be Russian penetration but we never had a 10-minute cycle between a UAV flying over and artillery fire falling on us. And that’s what the Ukrainians are reporting today.
So that means that if you were trying to form a counterattack, if you had three Javelins in a position that had been effective against a formation of tanks, you have about 10 minutes before Russian artillery comes in. That’s pretty responsive. And you have to believe that, like any professional armed forces, they’ve taken the lessons learned from Donetsk Airport and Debaltseve and worked on it to sharpen up their capacities. So the more comprehensive package we can give them, the better.
When we discuss tactics and other things with the Ukrainians, I’ve found their senior leadership pretty knowledgeable, but impoverished in terms of modern capacity. They know what the Russians are doing. They know the Russians have enormous air assets out there that haven’t been employed yet. They know the Russians could form an operational maneuver group and try to punch through south of Donetsk and link up with the forces in Crimea. They know the Russians could launch a massive set of infiltration attacks.
So there’s no single weapon system fixed to this right now, and we shouldn’t anticipate it. But, having said that, you know, I’m all in favor of the Javelin. But they need something longer range. These T-90s were standing off at 2,500 meters. So you need that long-range TOW system that’s out there, that’s got a 10,000 meter range. The Ukrainians told us they – some of the tank engagements were 7,000 meters. When we were out there looking at the territory, there are – obviously it’s not – it’s not – the part I saw is not as flat as when I fly over eastern Colorado, but there are vistas where you can see five, six, seven kilometers from ridgeline to ridgeline and where you could have engagements at that distance.
So we need a real package that’s thoughtfully put together. The stop-gap method that, you know, would have been – they were asking for counter-battery – just give us some counter-battery radars – last summer, yeah, they still need those but there’s no single fix. They really need that, plus they need some U.S. training and assistance at all levels so that they can cope with what’s going to be a more powerful attack that comes at them. And you know, again, just to underscore, I believe, Jan, that if we would provide this now, it has a much stronger deterrent effect than having a package waiting to be provided. But a package waiting to be provided is better than rhetoric alone.
MR. LODAL: Right.
Bob, let met start with you, please. A microphone will come.
Q: Bob Beecroft, State Department. General, good to see you again, sir.
GEN. CLARK: Nice to see you.
Q: I’d like to drill down a little bit on what you think Putin is – what his goals and objectives are. From his point of view, what would the best-case end-state be, both politically and militarily? Would it be a land-bridge through Mariupol via Odessa to Transnistria? Would there be a puppet government in Kiev? Would Ukraine be divided along the Dnieper from east to west? What do you think he has in mind if we don’t do anything?
GEN. CLARK: Well, I think he has each of those in mind. And you know, the Foreign Ministry – the Russian Foreign Ministry’s already published a map that shows precisely that. But I think it’s important not to focus just on Putin’s objectives as military.
It’s true, he is the opposing military commander. Based on all the information we received, he is involved in the battlefield direction. It’s Putin himself who directed the focus on Debaltseve and in conversations with Ukrainian leaders was threatening them with the destruction of their armed forces in Debaltseve and bragging about it in a very demeaning way, intended to gain the moral superiority of this. So he’s definitely a military commander.
But it’s more than that. I think – one of the most illuminating things that happened to us on this trip is a man met us and we discussed the Cuban Missile Crisis. And he said, you know, the Soviets lost the Cuban Missile Crisis. I said, well, why was that? He said, because we did pull out – our Jupiter-C missiles out of Turkey. It was a secret codicil to the Cuban Missile Crisis. President Kennedy kept it secret for many years. General Lemnitzer , the rumor was, had been extended in his service and given the supreme allied commander’s job so that he couldn’t blow the whistle on the fact that the Kennedy administration backed down and agreed to pull our missiles out.
But that wasn’t the Russian objective. The Soviet objective, according to this fellow who said he’d seen some of the source papers, was put the missiles in place and tell the United States is must leave Europe. Now, if you think, that’s totally unrealistic, we would never do that, that’s OK. That’s the way they saw their leverage against us. And that was their objective.
So if you ask now what’s Putin’s objective? His objective in this would be much broader than Ukraine. It would be to shatter the sense of well-being and confidence among the nations of Eastern Europe in NATO protection, and ideally to drive a permanent wedge between the United States and its European allies and the Western allies and Eastern Europe, to have governments in Bulgaria and the Baltic states and some of the Central European states collapse quaking in fear, anxious to be on the winning side of history, as they saw lack of resolute will from the West and implacable force from the East.
They’ve all seen this movie before. They know what can happen. And so I think we make a serious mistake if we think that Putin’s objectives are only limited to the geography of Ukraine. These nations in Eastern Europe already feel under Russian pressure and under assault and some of their political leaders are already changing their positions. So at one point Poland, for example, was willing to sell military hardware. The next thing we hear is they’re not willing to sell military spares to Ukraine. Now, maybe that’s since changed.
And if there’s a representative from the Polish Embassy here I hope he’ll stand up and say: No, Poland will support Ukraine with spares and ammunition. I don’t hear anybody saying it. So I’m worried about the broader objective.
MR. LODAL: The third row back, ma’am. The fourth row, excuse me.
Q: Thank you very much, General. What you’re saying is incredibly –
MR. LODAL: Please identify yourself, just to start off.
MR. LODAL: Please identify yourself. Thank you.
Q: Oh, I’m Elaine Sarao. I’m with Foreign Aid Through Education and Economics. Thank you, again. This has been very illuminating because while we hear a lot we don’t necessarily hear it presented just the way you did.
I have a very specific question to the issue of the larger – our European NATO allies. What is the U.S. doing to further stimulate those partners in moving in chorus so that this is just what it needs to be, a unified presence?
GEN. CLARK: Well, I’m not part of the U.S. administration, so I can’t answer comprehensively. But you know, we do have forces deployed over there. We are running exercises. We’ve deployed F-16s from Florida. We’ve got a striker brigade running through the Baltics right now. Some of these nations have announced that they’ll increase their budget commitments for defense over the next five years up to the 2 percent minimum that NATO has asked for.
So there’s a growing awareness. We’ve talked about forming a reaction force. Some of the nations have agreed to form a joint force with Ukraine to sort of bring Ukraine together. So people are making movements in the right direction. The question is, is it sufficient? And is it powerful enough to – in every country in Eastern Europe, and some more than others, there are people who say, you know, we’ve seen war. We don’t want it again. We know what’s coming.
I was in Bulgaria last year. And the president told me that there were several political parties in Bulgaria which had already said: We will be the pathway for Russia’s return to Europe – as though this was the hallmark of the future. So there will always be political opportunism in democracies. So you’re dealing not only with countries, but you’re dealing with the political groupings inside those countries. And we have to be aware of that.
MR. LODAL: Let me take one from the far back here. Sir? Yes.
Q: Thank you. It’s Dana Marshall with Transnational Strategy Group. And very nice to see you, Wes.
GEN. CLARK: Nice to see you, Dana.
Q: Couple questions. You can choose which one or both if you want. One is, though it’s a longer-term issue, the question of Gazprom, Russia gas, backing it out. What were you hearing from people that maybe are different people than a lot of people that have been in this hall have spoken about? And the second – and we’ve sort of danced around this a little bit. Let me ask you the direct question: Does Putin recognize that there’s a difference between NATO members and non-NATO members of Europe?
GEN. CLARK: Well, I think, with respect to Gazprom, of course it’s better for Europe to have an energy policy that is not connected to Russian political whim. They’ve been through this once before. And they said they’d establish a European energy policy, but they actually haven’t yet. In fact, Germany at the centerpiece has lost its energy policy when it gets rid of nukes and says it won’t use nuclear energy, burns coal, can’t afford solar and says we’ve done enough on wind. So they’ve actually gone in the reverse direction.
There’s actually a lot of hydrocarbons in Eastern Europe, including natural gas caught up in shale in Poland. But the Russians have been very adroit at using the environmental movements and local politics to frustrate the emergence of a real, independent European energy policy. And they will continue to do so. This is an area that just simply has to be worked. As one U.N. member told me a couple of years ago, he says: Wherever Gazprom touches in Eastern Europe, money changes hands illegally. So we know there’s a problem in that respect.
Your second question was?
Q: Does he respect NATO?
GEN. CLARK: NATO is a good bogeyman if you’re the Russian leader. You can say NATO’s a threat. But you can’t say it seriously. NATO never, ever had a plan to attack – not at any level. Not at the tactical level, not at the operational level, not at any other level. You know, at the end of the Cold War when we unpacked some of the Soviet plans that the East Germans had in their possession, their planning always assumed that they would start – just like their exercises – with some kind of NATO attack. But there was never going to be a NATO attack. It was fictitious.
And it’s hard for them – maybe the military professionals who went through that system – to believe that NATO wouldn’t attack. But for those of us who served in the armed forces, and we’ll testify to that fact, NATO Is not a threat. I was with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in Brussels in 1998. We were talking about renewing – we were talking about the NATO MBTF (ph), the agreement of forces in Europe, with – did I get that right? I didn’t – I didn’t get that – what is –
MR. LODAL: (Chuckles.) Yeah, mutual balance –
GEN. CLARK: Yeah, mutual balance forward – MBFR talks.
MR. LODAL: MBFR.
GEN. CLARK: And so Ivanov said to me, he said: Under this agreement – he said – you could move a NATO division into Slovakia and that would be a threat to Russia. I said, Igor, now you told me you went to the Russian staff college, did you not? He said, yes, I did. He speaks English. I said, now, do you think one NATO division is really a threat to Mother Russia? You have how many divisions – 200, 300? One NATO division is a threat? He laughed. It was just his talking points. He knew better. So they can use NATO, but it’s not real. It’s not a threat.
MR. LODAL: Let me recognize the ambassador on the front row, and then we’ll go back here. Welcome. Thanks for coming.
Q: Thank you. Temur Iakobashvili. Couple of comments and one question.
First, I think the same movie, it is not only the Eastern Europeans that have been there, but we in Georgia have recently been there – with our separatists substituted by Russians, how the attacks are – come to Georgia. We will tell you all about it, how it’s going to unfold in Ukraine.
Second, I don’t think that Russian economy is doing well, not because of sanctions – largely not because of sanctions, but because of their mismanagement and corruption and whatever. And it’s actually a scary story because Putin needs not only NATO to be the bogeyman, but also the Ukrainian so-called fascism bogeyman and military victories to stay in power. And we see how fiercely he is fighting for is.
On idea of having something ready, I think half measures not going to help. And half measures will just increase the appetite of Putin to act now and act very decisively. And if not – he will not – you know, if he was not employing aviation, this time he may. Yes, Ukrainians have some air defense, but I don’t know how long it’s going to last without any ground – as you correctly mentioned, combined support from the ground.
And my questions are related to how much Russia really can do, because there are some military experts who say that probably this will be the last offensive because they already employed north Caucasians as a so-called voluntary forces. Now we see a lot of people coming from the far east who are fighting there. And the moment that they had the significant losses from main body Russian forces, they were not very happy.
And I think fact that Nemtsov is killed is one of the reasons is that he was going to publish the report about it. So some estimates say that there are about 90,000 Russian forces mobilized inside Ukraine and on the border on the Russian side. And it can be kind of decisive attack. So how you would assess that part?
And second, when you were talking about regime – the three, you know, elements – economy, political and military – there can be a third – a fourth option, the combination, that inflicting military victory which will lead to those frustrated soldiers going back to Kiev and toppling the government. Probably that’s one of the most likely scenarios that they are elaborating on.
GEN. CLARK: Wow. Well, lots to take on – lots to take on. So, Ambassador, the way I see it is that – and, again, we see the same 8(,000)-9,000 Russians inside Eastern Ukraine. They are there as advisors. They’re there taking over command of the separatist units. And they’re also there in Russian units – the Russian artillery, the Russian electronic warfare, probably some of the Russian logistics units are there, and the occasional maneuver unit is brought it. The T-90 tanks are hauled in on tank movers and off-loaded. They do their shooting and they are loaded back up and taken off somewhere else.
But I think Russia has the capacity with about 50,000 troops on the outside and another 50,000 in Crimea to deal a heavy blow of Putin decides to do it. As one of the Ukrainians said to me, if he uses his air force it really is open warfare and total warfare against us. It’s no more hybrid warfare. So he has – Putin has to make that calculation to do that. It would entail consequences were he to do that. And he has to weigh this in the balance, whether he needs to do this or not. And that’s a dynamic that’s unfolding.
As the Ukrainians repair and refurbish their equipment, they build up their strength, they bring in the new troops that they have retained as they strengthen and build defensive positions around the 400 kilometers on the most obvious avenues of approach, the Russians are looking at this. They’re taking pictures from it from satellites. They’re flying over their unmanned aerial vehicles. And they’re gauging the will of the West. So I think that this is all part of his calculations. It’s not decided yet how he’s going to do that. But you’re right, the air is a potential threat.
As far as the half measure is concerned of putting the package together, no, I’d rather see full assistance. But I think when something happens, if we’ve been – if we, the United States, have been self-deterred from helping Ukraine by encouraging Germany to take the lead, then I think the next round of the offensive invalidates the German analysis. I mean, Angela Merkel is a fine political leader, and she can say again and again there’s no military solution to this, but a third round of Russian offensive means that at least Putin seems a military solution.
And that frees the United States to do what we did two decades ago in the Balkans. We gave the Europeans the leadership in ’91, ’92 and ’93. We proposed negotiations in ’94. And finally in ’95, Tony Lake took his delegation abroad and we told the Europeans: This is it. We’re the big dog. We’re settling this. And we’ll put 30,000 U.S. troops or 25,000 U.S. troops in to cement the peace agreement on the ground in Bosnia. And when we did, it worked. But we had to give the Europeans their due on leadership. Maybe that’s the way this is going to work out. I just hope it doesn’t entail a further loss of life on the part of the Ukrainian people.
MR. LODAL: I promised the gentleman over here next. And thank you for your patience. I’ll get you next.
Q: Thank you, General, for your great presentation. My name is Mirian from Embassy of Georgia. I have a question.
In your – you just mentioned that we are expecting another offensive in Ukraine. You also mentioned that Russia’s objective is – goes beyond Ukraine. And we also have invaded Georgia. Twenty percent of Georgia’s territory is occupied. They just annexed South Ossetia, Abkhazia, officially. And my question is, what’s the tipping point? When do you think Western patience expires and we provide some meaningful assistance to Ukraine and Georgia, et cetera, et cetera? Thank you very much.
MR. LODAL: It’s a good question. I think General Clark has dealt with a lot of that, but would you like to add something else?
GEN. CLARK: The tipping point for U.S. policy would be another offensive.
Q: So like military assistance to –
GEN. CLARK: Yeah. Yeah, I think another offensive would tip it. But when Jan Lodal and I were in the Pentagon in the summer of ’95 and we went through these things, it took Srebrenica – it took Srebrenica and the massacre of 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men –
MR. LODAL: And it took the Croatian offensive in –
GEN. CLARK: Yeah. So –
MR. LODAL: Yes, it did.
Q: Thanks for your enlightening discussion. Jennifer Chen, correspondent with SZMG.
We know Ukrainian government still plans to build its so-called Great Wall of Ukraine for border defense this year. But it’s unclear how it afford the project. So, General Clark, what’s your comments on the project? And were you asking financial aid on it? And also, if the laser weapons will be sent to Ukraine from U.S., do you think it will effectively stop the aggression from Russia? And if yes, what kind of laser weapon will it be? And you know, some NATO country maybe not, like, support U.S. decision. What’s your reaction? Thank.
MR. LODAL: Let me just say ahead of time, of course, he’s laid out exactly what weapons he thinks ought to go there and how all of that ought to work. And just to make sure that we can take as many questions as we can, I would suggest that you just fill in the gaps there on things that you might comment on.
GEN. CLARK: Well, I don’t believe NATO – I don’t believe Ukraine needs to be part of NATO. I do believe that it makes sense to provide assistance now. That assistance should include lethal armaments and training and assistance in reorganizing their intelligence system and the procurement system in Ukraine so that it can better support the forces.
MR. LODAL: Please, sir. Yes. You’ve been very patient. And then I’m going to do the gentleman in the yellow tie in the back.
Q: Hello, sir. George Nicholson, a special operations and counterterrorism consultant.
Last year Mac Thornberry over at AEI made the comment of the relevance of NATO. And he said this may be a litmus test for NATO. If NATO doesn’t actively support us, we may have to take a hard, long look at what the value of NATO is. Your comment?
GEN. CLARK: Well, the value of NATO is that NATO’s the strongest institution that links the United States and Europe. And if you view the future of mankind through geostrategy and economic growth, then you see that China has four times as many people, it’s growing three times faster than the United States and it’s searching for the China dream under its new president.
So if we want to facilitate China’s emergence into the modern world in a peaceful way, we need to be able to bring together the other modern countries to work with China and help it find the right way forward. That means the United States has to work with its European allies, because they’re the group in the world that most closely shares U.S. values and U.S. interests.
So NATO is the cement that pulls that together. So I think – you know, with all respect to Congressman Thornberry – I think it’s upside down. I mean, I think if NATO is not working then we need to make it work not question its value, because if we didn’t have NATO we’d have to invent something else to seal that trans-Atlantic relationship. It’s essential to U.S. security. We fought two world wars in the 20th century for it.
MR. LODAL: Sir in the back.
Q: Thank you, General. My name is Alex Yanevsky, Voice of America, Ukrainian Service.
I have two question for you. Number one, back in 2010 Swedish Department of Defense published a report about Russian military in 10-year perspective. And they outline exactly what Russian defense – Department of Defense is going to do. The question, number one, how West did not notice that Russia is building military capability and they’re planning to have up to a million people by – in armed services by 2017? And then my second question would be how would you compare your Balkan experience with nowadays situation in Ukraine? Thank you.
GEN. CLARK: Well, of course – I mean, we followed Russia’s military transformation after the lessons learned in the fight in Georgia in 2008. And we did see it changing. But the United States is looking world wide. We have many other areas we’re involved in. And active combat wasn’t in Europe; it was in the Middle East. So that’s what we were focused on primarily.
With respect to the parallels between Ukraine and Balkans, there are strong parallels because the conflict in the Balkans was manufactured just the same way the conflict in Ukraine has been manufactured by outside forces. Milosevic again and again denied that he was controlling the Bosnia Serbs. No, you must see Mr. Krajisnik or Karadzic or somebody like this. But in fact, all along it was Milosevic. And we learned that firsthand from Milosevic when we were negotiating with him in 1995.
Putin is maintaining the same deniability. He’s got the same kinds of operations underway, with a vengeance. But there – the pattern that’s followed in Ukraine is a pattern that predates the Balkans. It really goes back to the takeover of eastern Poland in 1939 under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. And the actions that are underway in Crimea and the Donbas today are reminiscent of exactly what the Soviets did when they took over eastern Poland some 70 years ago.
MR. LODAL: Yeah, I must say I find that it – you almost have to believe that history is never a lesson to – (laughter, laughs) – to reach some of the conclusions that some people have reached in this situation because the historical parallels are so strong and – so strong and so many.
Well, I haven’t done anybody on this side. Sir, please, right here on the aisle. And then the ambassador, of course.
Q: Thank you. David Colton (sp) with the AG Warra (ph) Group.
I was wondering if I might follow up on the ambassador’s comments earlier, General, and put you back in SACEUR and the Balkans where we just left off. You, I think correctly, stated that the Russians were very frustrated in January. Debaltseve was not the big cauldron victory they wanted. And Putin just recently gave Guards honors to two VDV units, the 88th and the 11th, for apparently being shot up pretty well by the Ukrainians. So the Ukrainians actually held their own.
So my question to you is this, sir. The Royal United – the Royal United Service Institute just put out a pretty good order battle about what’s operationally available to Putin besides Ukraine. And that 50,000 troops is pretty much his nest egg because of the six-to-one tooth-to-tail ratio he’s got with conscripts and, you know, the force structure he’s got. So my question to you is, from your military point of view, even were he to go forward in some of these scenarios, you calculated force density ratios in the Balkans about occupying. And back then I think the rule of thumb was maybe 20 effectives to 1,000 or whatever – I think RAND maybe have a different story. Could you share what exactly from a granular, military point of view Putin is looking at in coming forward with a new offensive, which, I agree with you, is coming?
And I just close by saying Reshetnikov, a SVG general who’s with a think tank very closely embedded with the Kremlin, has said in print they didn’t move on Mariupol in August because even if they could envelop it, he didn’t think they had the troops to take it and hold it. So could you share your perspective of operationally what he’s got available, what’s involved with occupying, the force density ratios he needs to consider, and look at it from – put yourself in Putin’s point of view?
GEN. CLARK: Well, you want me to red game – red team this operation, OK? So if I were on the other side, what would I be doing? Well, the basic rules – the principles of war say that you have to mass and then you use economy of force in the other sectors.
Now, when you look at what happened at Debaltseve, as you implied in your statement, it was the opposite. The Ukrainians were actually strong in Debaltseve and they drew in Russian and separatist strength. The area around Debaltseve became a killing ground, whereas the Ukrainians may have been less strong elsewhere and it might have been possible in a war of movement to have actually punched through elsewhere instead. And I assume this is Putin’s sense of command and his micromanagement. He directed the forces to pinch off and crush Debaltseve, where they took a lot of losses.
Now, if you look at the history of World War II in this kind of terrain, what you see is a war of movement. So forces mass. They put heavy artillery in. They penetrate. And then they are reinforced. And the penetration so discombobulates the defense that it has to fall back and reform. We haven’t seen that yet, in part because thus far the Russians have pushed the separatists forward as cannon fodder in an effort to sort of soak up the fire of the Ukrainians, and only used the Russian formations where absolutely essential.
But if Putin decides that the time is ripe for the third wave of the attack, he may put Russians forward or he may use something like an operational maneuver group to punch through. You’d like to think that he wouldn’t do that because partisan warfare would erupt, his troops wouldn’t have the strength to hold the ground and occupy it. But that’s a consideration, but it’s not in and of itself probably a decisive consideration for him at this point, because those stockpiles of weapons haven’t been broken out, it’s not fully militarized behind the lines.
And it’s not – you know, Poroshenko has to keep a democracy going. He has to get rid of corruption. He has to work with a parliament. He has to please the Europeans in terms of making economic progress to get the funding. So there’s a lot of constraints. He’s not going to a sort of, quote, “total war scenario,” unquote. So that opens up a certain vulnerability up the spectrum of conflict. But I hope Putin’s smart enough not to take it. I hope he’ll recognize that where he is right now is the best place to stop and call off this crazy offensive. I don’t think he will, but I hope he will.
MR. LODAL: We’ve just got a few more minutes. I’m going to take two or three more questions in the usual fashion. If you’ll make your questions very short, we’ll try to do as many of them as we can and let General Clark both deal with them as a whole – if you need a notepad –
GEN. CLARK: Yeah, I’m going to take notes.
MR. LODAL: OK, there you go. (Chuckles.) And then give him a chance to have a little bit of time to wrap up.
Sir on the aisle here. On your other side – oh, you’re all right. Good, you got it.
Q: John Kunstadter at Radzima Photo. Thank you very much, General, for your comments.
Can you point to one bit of evidence that the Ukrainians would not fight a total war if Putin goes all out? I mean, they’ve been through, in the last 80 years, things we can’t even imagine. And can you see any reason why they would not make Putin regret doing that?
MR. LODAL: Good.
OK, sir, right here in the second row. And then I think we’ll have the lady in –
Q: Hi, General. My name is Jan Boyer. I’m an investor.
And before you think that I walked into the wrong meeting given the tone of the discussion, is as I was thinking, you know, there are investors – and I’m saying about multilateral institutions, I’m talking about private investors – who have very high tolerance for risk, and in places that are a lot more complicated than Ukraine.
And in a certain sense, I’m asking myself would there be more powerful deterrence possible –associated with, you know, protecting the assets, encouraging folks to invest in certain types of infrastructure – that would be more effective if not more powerful than on the military and political? But really, my question to you is, if you were an investor – which I know you are – would you put a dollar to work in Ukraine at this moment in time?
MR. LODAL: OK.
And, ma’am, just behind.
Q: Thank you. Asta Banionis with the Lithuanian-American Community, Incorporated.
I heard General Ben Hodges last weekend in an interview in Washington say that there is military assistance in the pipeline, that tanks and radars are being sent. And then today there is a report that U.S. paratroopers are actually going in next week, I think, as early, to train near Lviv. And the first training exercise will be with 900 Ukrainian troops.
So the question is, the – and what I’m confused about is, even though there’s authorization for military assistance, I’m not sure the appropriations are there. And is it that the pipeline doesn’t have – it’s stopped or blocked because there isn’t money? And would the money come out of the OCO funds – the Overseas Contingency Fund? Or is it somewhere else in the defense budget?
MR. LODAL: And one last one. The gentleman.
Q: Cool, thanks. Patrick Tucker with Defense One.
The Easter to VE-Day time window, why are you so confident in that? That’s it.
GEN. CLARK: OK, so four questions. So is there any evidence that the Ukrainians would not fight a really tough, partisan war? There is no evidence to suggest that they would not. And there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that they would. The question is, how effective is the prospect of that at deterring Putin?
In other words, what he’s got is he’s got his agents forward, he’s got his collaborators that are standing by and ready to go. He’s got his special forces. He’s got his intelligence collection. Partisan warfare is no surprise to – in Soviet history. According to some of the Ukrainians I’ve talked to, some 50,000 Soviet troops were killed in Western Ukraine in partisan warfare after World War II during 1945 and 1950.
So it’s expected. It would be bad. There’s already more than a million refugees out of the Donbas that have come into Kiev and Western Ukraine. If this happens, Europe is going to be beset by a wave of refugees that spillover out of Ukraine that’ll make the Balkans look like peanuts. So this is a very serious problem we’re contemplating, not only the total warfare and what it means in Ukraine, but the spillover effect on Europe. So I think it’s real and I hope that Mr. Putin will take it into account when he considers what to do.
Would investments be a more powerful deterrent – in other words, if you could invest in there and you could establish economic growth and create jobs, would that deter Putin? It might. I mean, I think the stronger you can tie the economy to the West, the more interest there is, the better. And if I had the resources I would find the right things to invest in in Ukraine right now. There are a lot of opportunities in Ukraine – everything from landing LNG to prospecting and working shale and energy things, plus a lot of electronics and information technology opportunities in Ukraine. So I’m a believer in Ukraine and I’m betting on its survival and its future.
U.S. training is ongoing. The question is, is there a pipeline for support beyond the training? The training that’s ongoing right now, as I understand it, is relatively limited. We’re training battalion-sized organizations. And that’s useful, but actually the Ukrainians have fought pretty well at the battalion level and below. They just need more equipment. If this training makes them better, that’s wonderful. But what I’d like to see also is training at higher levels, command and staff training, the kind that the Croatians got before Operation Storm in 1995 would be very useful.
I don’t know if there’s – where the pipeline stands for various types of supplies, but I seem to recall that in 1973 when Israel was in trouble we actually ripped supplies out of active units and threw them on airplanes and sent them over there. We took stocks from Europe. We took stocks from the United States. Wherever it was, we sent it. We’ve got plenty of stocks if we prioritize it the right way to meet those pipeline needs.
Why do we feel that something’s going to happen between Easter and VE-Day? That’s just what the Ukrainians are reporting. Now why are they reporting that? Because they feel that Putin has – his forces require a certain reorganization period. That period began in mid-February with the ending of the Debaltseve campaign. It normally takes at least a couple of months, maybe longer. The ground has to dry out so they can maneuver across country.
One of the things we didn’t mention is a lot of the fighting over there is around roads and road junctions because unlike the United States or Germany, these fields in Ukraine, they’re part of a former collective farming system so they’re not bounded by roads. They’re huge. When you get off that road, you’re – you could be mired in the mud, with wheeled vehicles, for some time. So it can be quite difficult for you.
So that’s part of it. And then the thinking is that VE-Day’s a very significant day. They see planning in Russia to celebrate this. It’s 70 years since the end of World War II. It would be wonderful if Putin could wrap up his conquest and celebrate it on that day if the allies are boycotting his celebration. Now, if the allies decide to come, maybe he says I won’t shake it up, I’ll wait till after that to go. But they do see in Ukraine a lot of significance to the VE-Day window.
May I just say in conclusion –
MR. LODAL: You may say what you’d like.
GEN. CLARK: Again, thanks to the Atlantic Council for sponsoring our trip and for giving us this forum. We really appreciate you all being here. I think this is a real highly significant, live foreign policy issue that has tremendous impact on the future on the United States. How we handle this over the next two months, four months, six months will determine a lot about our future relationships with Russia, with Europe and with the rest of the world.
So thanks for paying attention to it. I hope we can make progress, through the administration’s efforts, in this area. Thank you.
MR. LODAL: Well, thank you very much, General Clark. (Applause.) And let me just say – and let me say in closing, I hope all of you will continue to follow this subject on the Atlantic Council website. If you want a copy of the report that we did a month and a half ago, it’s on the tables outside.
And also, I would just say that I appreciate General Clark’s willingness to focus on this particular area, which we felt has not received as much focus as it should. I don’t want to leave the impression that either the Atlantic Council or General Clark himself or those of us who have worked on this don’t look at the bigger pictures of the economic needs of Ukraine, the needs for political reform there, and also the situation and the challenges that Putin faces in Russia with falling energy prices and the other things.
But what we have tried to emphasize is that we cannot ignore the military side of this and we cannot ignore military deterrence because if it goes the way that General Clark indicated there’s a very good chance it might well go under the present circumstances, we will be in a much deeper hole and it will be much more difficult for us to accomplish those other goals as well. So we thank you all for coming and paying attention to this issue. And once again, thanks to General Clark. (Applause.)