Let’s start by discussing the situation on the front line. You know that the situation in Soledar and Bakhmut, which are located in the Donetsk region, is extremely difficult. What should the Ukrainian troops do to drive the Russians out of there?
What I think we need to do in general, and what will be useful not only in this particular battle, but going forward, is to have a strategy to achieve the goal that we all want: the withdrawal of all Russian forces. Unfortunately, from the side of the USA and NATO, we did not make a contribution to the strategic situation, which would have been very useful. So in the direct fight that’s going on right now, it’s going to be difficult for the next few months because Russia is digging in. In this regard, we need to assess the general situation, what additional armament assistance is needed by the Ukrainian forces, and not discuss for weeks this or that weapon. That is the winning strategy, that is what we must focus on and then deliver the weapons accordingly.
We know that Russia continues to mobilize, continues to build up its forces, some military experts say that Russia is preparing an offensive on Kyiv or on the western regions in order to cut the artery of help from the West. How realistic do you think these plans are?
I think this is possible for 2 reasons. First, Putin and the Kremlin are trying to focus on politics and diplomacy to split the Western alliance. I think they realize that their military record has been poor and Ukraine’s has been the opposite, so Putin is now hoping to win diplomatically what he can’t win on the battlefield by splitting NATO, as I said. Secondly, I would say this to all Ukrainians, regarding Putin’s recent decision to appoint Valery Gerasimov as his new field commander in this war is very significant and means that there are very difficult times ahead. Gerasimov, whom Putin handpicked to be de facto chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told him to get off his desk and win the war in Ukraine. Putin is raising the stakes, he is putting all his chips in the center of the table, he will not be able to blame anyone else for the failure in Ukraine, his regime is now on the brink, and he is making it clear that he does not support any settlement. At the moment, there are no conditions for a negotiated settlement.
Donald Trump has repeatedly called for a reduction in US aid to Ukraine. If he was still president of the United States, who would it be good for, Russia or Ukraine?
For Russia, and I think that NATO as an alliance would be weakened. They would provide significantly less aid to Ukraine. I believe that fortunately for the USA and Ukraine, Trump was defeated in 2020. I don’t think he has a chance to be the Republican nominee in 2024 among the people who are potential candidates. His influence in the Republican Party continues to decline. In the Republican Party, as in the Democratic Party, isolationist attitudes are present. But they remain a tiny minority, and the vast majority of the American people, regardless of party, continue to support aid to Ukraine.
Thank you from the entire Ukrainian people and the nation to all Americans for their support. In many of your interviews, you have said that if Putin allows the use of nuclear weapons, he will become a legitimate military target. Did the Kremlin hear this message?
I do not know. I do my best at every opportunity. He is the commander-in-chief of the Russian army. The use of nuclear weapons is a military decision. Putin will become a legitimate target. The reason I emphasized personal responsibility is that we have to find ways to deter Putin from using nuclear weapons, and I think his own risk is the best deterrent that could be devised.
We all know that Putin will not stop invading, Ukraine will not stop winning. How long will the war last? While some experts say it could last until mid-summer 2023, others say it could take several years.
We now not only want to win this war, but we want it with minimal additional damage to Ukraine. It is not enough to say when we will win. The aim should be to minimize victims and losses. Going back to the point I made a moment ago, you need to match your strategic goal of recovery, full sovereignty and territorial integrity, with the resources you have to achieve those goals and do it in a timely manner. We have a collective problem here, we are working inefficiently, this does not mean that we will announce everything publicly and tell the Russians the details of our strategy. But if we had a better plan, we wouldn’t be going through these constant actions of the Ukrainian government, when they say we need this weapon, that weapon, and another one, and the White House says maybe yes, maybe no. Let’s decide what our plan is, and then find the resources necessary to achieve our goals. This would help speed up the victory in this war and reduce the number of military and civilian casualties on the part of Ukraine and damage to its infrastructure.
From the point of view of the plan within this strategy, don’t you think that the West is a little slow to support Ukraine because Russia is mobilizing much faster than we are ready to defend our country?
Time is on Russia’s side, that is part of the problem. This is why there must be a greater sense of urgency in the West. Russia is four times larger than Ukraine. It’s true that Western sanctions have hit Russia’s gross domestic product by perhaps 10% this year, but Ukraine’s is down 40%. In a battle of attrition that benefits Russia, we will not wage this type of war. The way to put maximum pressure on Russia is to make it clear that we are not ready to fight endlessly; we are ready to fight to win sooner or later. Obviously, in a carefully planned way. That’s why we should be paying more attention instead of having weapon system A vs. weapon system B debates every week.
Will Ukraine be able to regain the entire territory by the end of 2023? It’s possible?
I think it is possible. Russia’s military effectiveness in all its branches determined all forecasts. The predictions made by Western intelligence at the beginning of the war did not come true. Ukrainian actions of all units of the army were outstanding. I will say that from our side we provided a large amount of reconnaissance equipment and weapons, ammunition. We are happy to do this to help Ukraine win, because Ukraine’s victory is also America’s and NATO’s victory, and to try to explain to people around the world that this is not just a European war, at this stage it is truly a world war. Tomorrow in Washington, first of all, the new Prime Minister of Japan Kishida will meet with President Biden. The Japanese provided unprecedented assistance to Ukraine. We saw South Korea selling weapons to Poland. They understand what the threat of Russian aggression means, they are very close to it from the Asian side of Russia. The world’s attention is really focused here, and to use that attention to maximum effect, we need to try to win this war and show that Russian aggression has failed. If we teach this lesson, it will say something to the Russians and Chinese in Asia and the rest of the world.
Let’s imagine if you were the national security adviser under President Volodymyr Zelenskyi, what would your strategy be, what would you advise?
I think he did a great job in his speech to Congress; it won great respect for Ukraine and its people. I think, as I said, Americans sympathize with Ukraine, he needs to continue to do so. I know he’s got a country to run at war, but it’s effectively a coalition effort, which is the reality of political life. It will take a lot of time and attention, especially to counter Putin’s efforts to break Western solidarity, which is not as strong as some think. The participation of all representatives of the Ukrainian government, including the parliament, and their visits to Europe and the USA are very useful. I hope that President Zelensky will put pressure on NATO and the White House in particular to develop the kind of strategy I am talking about. Of course, we will do it in full cooperation with Ukraine. If we’re all together, it makes it a lot easier to get everyone to do their part.
What can really make a difference on the ground right now, more HIMARS systems, more Western tanks, or not just the Patriots system, or not just talking about the weapons themselves, we’re talking about strategy, what can make a difference?
In Donbas and in general in the south of Ukraine, the Russians are entrenched in their strong fortifications. As I mentioned earlier, the appointment of Valery Gerasimov to lead the struggle shows how determined the Russians are. We need to come up with ways to break through Russian defenses without fighting like World War I. One way to do this, to avoid the very high-casualty trench warfare we’ve already seen in action over the last 11 months, is to continue to strike Russian rear supply areas, including Russia, and weaken their capabilities defend your perimeter. This should be a high priority.
Last question. If Putin pushes the nuclear button, will we enter World War III?
I don’t think he’s going to do that, he’s bluffing.
Just imagine him pushing the button.
It would be a disaster for Russia. There would be no doubt whether he would use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine or against a NATO country. We will not leave this unanswered, which should be very devastating. In this way, Vladimir Putin signs his own death sentence.