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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

Moderated by:
The Hon. Jan Lodal
Distinguished Fellow, Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security
Atlantic Council

Please join us on Monday, March 30, 2015 at the Atlantic Council offices, 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 separatists. 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 Wesley Clark.

[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 on 09May2015.

[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 stabalizing.

[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 Russia.

[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 system.

[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 blocked.
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 Europe.

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.