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Atlantic Council | 30Mar2015 | General Wesley Clark [01:25:19]
Exclusive Briefing from
Ukraine’s Front Lines
Streamed live on 30 Mar 2015
General Wesley Clark: Exclusive
Briefing from Ukraine’s Front Lines
A conversation with:
General Wesley Clark
Former Allied Commander
The Hon. Jan Lodal
Distinguished Fellow, Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security
Please join us on Monday, March 30, 2015 at the Atlantic Council
1030 15th St NW 12th floor, for a conversation with General Clark,
former NATO Allied Commander, who just returned from Ukraine where he
met with Ukrainian military commanders and President Petro Poroshenko.
Despite the Minsk II ceasefire agreement, Russia continues to supply
weapons, equipment and troops to support separatists in Ukraine’s east.
In February 2015, the key city of Debaltseve fell to Russian
The port city of Mariupol is the likely next target and tensions spread
further to the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest
city. As Ukraine prepares for another assault from Russian-backed
separatists, what steps should the United States and NATO take to help
Ukraine withstand Russian aggression?
[00:00 -- 04:50] -- David Wilson introduction of event, Jan Lodal and
[04:50 -- 26:10] -- Wesley Clark was just in Ukraine
accompanied by Pat Hughes and John Codwell. Seventh trip since last
March 2014. Worked with Haig many years ago before becoming NATO
commander. In 1990's NATO had good relations with Russia, but
controversy as to NATO enlargement -- Riga, Bulgaria, Romania. Trip
with Karber. After Crimea takeover, Ukrainians arrested 12 Russian
Spetsnaz teams, but let them go so as not to be provaocative. Most
"separatists" are Russians. The January 2015 Russian offensive was
supposed to capture the Luhansk and Donbas oblasts, but fell far short,
although they did capture the Donetsk airport and Debaltseve. OSCE
observations are compromised. Ukrainians believe a renewed Russian
offensive between Orthodox Easter 12Apr2015 and before VE Day
[26:10 -- 28:20] -- Two things US could do: (1) Do joint analysis to
monitor Russian military forces, (2) prepare a lethal package of
assistance that has already been approved and authorized by Congress
and deploy it in North Carolina ready to be shipped to Ukraine. Both
actions are possible within President Obama's guidelines. We should be
giving assistance to Ukraine NOW -- this is not provocative, it is
[28:20 -- 34:25] -- Jan Lodal: If Ukraine got this assistance, would
they be sufficiently trained to use it?
Answer: Ukrainian soldiers are educated, highly motivated and ar3e
pretty well trained but lack the equipment. Manufacture, maintainance
and backup of Javelin missiles may be complicated, but I guarantee that
the Ukrainian soldiers could shoot it with minimal training! (Similar
to what we did with Israel during Yom Kippur war.) Putin has 3 avenues
to defeat Ukraine: political, economic and military. Provide Poroshenko
with political support before a Russian invasion. (Ukrainians are
fighting for us -- democracy, freedom, western values.) We are
providing them with some financial support, but insufficient military
support. Such support would be a huge boost to their morale.
[34:25 -- 39:15] Lodal: Quagmiure argument. We help, but Russia still
overcomes Ukraine. Why bother?
Answer: European nations feel threatened. If Ukraine falls, the defense
of Europe will be much harder. Deterrence works. Our memories have
dissipated. Putin boasts of hundreds of nuclear tactical weapons --
more than us. Putin likes Russian businessmen coming to him for help.
We need a balanced approach between sanctions and military support.
[39:15 -- 45:05] Lodal: The Javelin could have stopped Russian armor
coming in. Ukrainians have some specific gaps in their military, which
Clark's proposals would fill at about $1 billion per year.
Answer: Russians have adapted as they go along. They removed some of
separatist leaders and took over local organizations and fighting
groups, such that they can direct their invasion efficiently. As
Russian military gets established in eastern Ukraine, the complexity of
defense will increase. The response time between a UAV flyover and an
artillery barrage is now about ten minutes. The more comprehensive the
package we give them, the better. The Russians have enormous air assets
that haven't been utilized yet. Need the 10,000 meter long range TOW
system against tanks, in addition to Javelins. They need a whole range
of assistance. A package delivered now would be a real deterrence to
further Russian aggression. A package waiting to be provided is better
than rhetoric alone.
[45:05 -- 49:20] Bob Dekrow(?), State Department: What are Putin's
objectives? Land bridge to Crimea? to Transnistria? Puppet government
in Kyiv? Division along Dnipro River?
Answer: He has each of those in mind. Although Putin is definitely the
military commander in this invasion, but he is also directing the
political attack on Europe. (In 1962 Cuban missile crisis, Khruschev
backed down in exschange for US missiles being removed from Turkey. But
the original Russian objective was to force the US to leave Europe.)
Putin wants to shatter Eastern European confidence in NATO protection;
drive a permanent wedge between US and Europe. Wants governments in
Romania, Baltics, Slovakia, etc. to collapse and succumb to Russian
dominance. These nations already feel under Russian pressure.
[49:20 -- 51:35] Elaine Sureal(?) of ... Asian Economics: What is US
doing to stimulate large NATO partners to support these proposals?
Answer: He cannot speak for administration, but we do have some
programs operating there. Some countries have increased their military
spending, military cooperationwith Ukraine.
[51:35 -- 55:50] Dana Marshall of Transnational Strategy Group:
Gasprom? Does Putin recognize that there is a difference between NATO
members and non-NATO members in Europe?
Answer: It is better for Gasprom to be independent of politics. There
is no real European energy policy. NATO is a good bogey man. NATO has
never ever planned to attack Russia. NATO is not a threat to Russia.
[55:50 -- 01:02:00] Ambassador ??shvili of Georgia: Half-measures will
not help. Russiaq has started usingsoldiers from Far East.
Answer: We see 8,000 to 9,000 Russians in Eastern Ukraine. But Russia
has about 50,000 troops on the border and 50,000 in Crimea that could
strike a heavy blow onto Ukraine. If Putin uses his airforce, it will
be total warfare -- not hybrid war. US has allowed Germany to take lead
to try to establish peace, but further Russian aggression would mean
that Merkel's efforts have failed and the US would have to take over as
they did in the Balkans in the 1990's.
[01:02:00 -- 01:03:25] Miron of Embassy of Georgia: What's the tipping
point? When will western patience expire?
Answer: Tipping point for US policy would be another offensive by
[01:03:25 -- 01:04:59] Jennifer Chan of ???: What weapons?
Answer: I don't believe Ukraine needs to be part of NATO. I do believe
that it makes sense to ptovide assistance now, including lethal
armaments, training and re-organizing intelligence and procurement
[01:05:00 -- 01:06:50] George Hachaelson of ???: This may be a litmus
test for NATO.
Answer: NATO is the strongest institution that links the US and Europe.
China is the largest and fastest growing economy, so we musat
facilitate China's emergence into the modern world in a peaceful way.
So Thornbury has it backwards. If NATO isn't working than we must find
a way to make it work with its European allies.
[01:06:50 -- 01:09:50] Milevski of Voice of America: How did western
intelligence miss the Russian arms buildup and their desire to have one
million army by 2017? How would you compare Balkan experience with
situation in Ukraine?
Answer: We were focussed more on Middle East. Close comparison between
Balkan war during 1990's and war in Ukraine. Milosovych kept insisting
that he had no control over the Serbs in Bosnia. Putin is maintaining
the the same facade.Goes back to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of
23Aug1939, the actions in Crimea and Donbas are reminiscent of what
Stalin did in Eastern Poland some 70 years ago. Lodal comments that it
seems we never learn from history.
[01:09:50 -- 01:14:50] David Coulton with EDUR(?) Group: Asks Clark to
evaluate Russian capability to take and hold Ukrainian territory.
Answer: In Debaltseve Putin used the locals as cannon fodder and then
sent in Russian troops to clean up. In future, may have the strength to
punch through but his troops wouldn't have the strength to occupy it in
the face of partisan warfare. Poroshenko has a lot of constraints --
economy, corruption. He is not in a total war scenario. I hope Putin
relizes that this is the best time for him to stop and call off this
crazy offensive, although I don't thinkhe will.
[01:14:50 -- 01:18:05] Questions: Any evidence that Ukrainians will not
go to total war if Putin attacks?
Investor with high tolerance for risk: Would you invest dollars into
Ukraine at this time?
Lithuanian community: General van Hodges said that military equipment
is going in and also military trainers. But "pipeline" seems to be
Patrick Tucker: Why is he so confident in his Easter - VE Day window
for next Russian attack?
[01:18:05 -- 01:23:10] No evidence that they would not, and a lot of
evidence that they would. Question is how effective is that to deter
Putin? Partisan warfare is no surprise in Soviet history, but Putin has
his agents, spetsnaz, etc. all ready inside Ukrainian territory. Some
50,000 Soviet forces were killed in Weatern Ukraine after WW2. If there
is total war, there will be millions of refugees spilling over into
The stronger you can tie the economy of Ukraine to the West the better.
There are a lot of investment opportunities in Ukraine right now --
LNG, shale gas and oil, information technology. "I am betting on its
survival and its future."
US training is ongoing, but is there a pipeline beyond the training? At
the battalion level the Ukrainians are fighting well. Wants training at
higher levels. We have plenty of equipment in stock to meet "pipeline"
needs, if we are serious in sending it.
Ukrainians are reporting the Easter - VE Day window -- need a couple of
months to regroup after Debaltseve, need dry ground.
[01:23:10 -- 01:25:19] Conclusion: Thanks to Atlantic Council. How we
handle this in the next two months will set the tone for future
relations between Russia, Europe and the US.
Jan Lodal wraps up.