February 8, 2015
Tatiana Kozak, Novoe Vremia, nv.ua (Ukrainian publication)
Translated by Kristina Rus
No one in history has ever won a war with Russia at its borders – an American military expert
Why Ukraine can not win the war with Russia and why America will not supply the Ukrainians with weapons, explained the military expert of the Academy of Public Policy at the Kennan Institute, Michael Kofman
In his last statement, Obama opposed arms deliveries to Ukraine. Why did he decide this, given that the opinion of some of his surrounding is the opposite?
You must understand, there are several problems.
First, the presidential circle is not trying to persuade him. The most important thing, is that our National Security Council, which is headed by Susan Rice, believes that this approach to Ukraine is not reasonable and will not solve the problems.
The second problem is that the head of the European policy towards Ukraine and in general the European resistance against the actions of Russia – is Germany. And in Germany, in Berlin, they agree [that weapons will not solve the problem in Ukraine].
Yes, this was recently stated by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Foreign Minister of Germany.
If the US changed its decision, it would also put Germany in an awkward position. They would also have to change their mind. But we have to follow the same policy towards Ukraine, as Europe.
It is clear that any weapons today will not change the situation in Ukraine – in the sense of hostilities that are waged by the militia and Russia.
Why? We really could use those drones.
Even if we decide today, those weapons will not appear on the front tomorrow. It takes time. That is, it will not change the current situation. The main thing is to hope for the future.
Many believe that all problems are in the Ukrainian army. The Ukrainian army is unfit for combat, it has no coordination with the volunteer battalions – they do not fight as a unified force. It has many structural problems, that weapons will not solve, even if we sent our best tanks, and put rockets and grenade launchers on top of them.
The US has a good experience in this [deliveries of weapons – NV]. We did this in Iraq, and it backfired. We sent antitank weapons to the rebels in Syria – it did not change their destiny. It prolonged the war, they [the rebels] were still destroyed by the Syrian army.
The US goal is to find a political way out of this conflict so that we can actually be able to engage in Ukraine. This conflict gradually destroys the chances of Ukraine to become a new country, to reform and to continue their European path. Most important for the United States and Germany is not to engage in this war with Russia. The war with Russia on the border with Russia is almost impossible to win. It’s absurd. No one in history has ever won a war with Russia on it’s border. The plan to simply send weapons to Ukraine and see: may be, there will be some result, doesn’t work. There is no strategy.
How can you explain then all the statements of Republican senators who advocate that these weapons are sent to Ukraine?
They are senators, they can talk. But to do something – it is not their job. They do not take responsibility for the outcome of their recommendations. The President is responsible.
If he sends weapons to Ukraine – Russia will change its tactics and its approach in the worst for all of us way. Russians have many ways to fight and they can easily respond.
For example, we will send you an antitank missiles, and they will destroy Russian tanks – then will everything change? Of course, the Russians are not stupid. They will not lose tanks like that. It is clear that they will change their tactics. It is easy to write this on paper, but we all understand, because we have a serious combat experience.
John McCain actively supports the delivery of weapons.
John McCain… You know, his policy is to send arms to all and always. We joke like that. He never met such a problem, that he would not want to bomb. His entire life he wanted to bomb Iraq, Syria, Libya, Georgia, by the way, and now Ukraine. He has one answer to all problems. If John McCain had been President, we would have had four more wars.
Yes, now there is huge political pressure on the President, and, by the way, not from Republicans. Most of the people who wrote the report [on the provision of weapons to Ukraine] are former players and very influential people from the administration of Hillary Clinton. That is, this attack mainly is from the Democratic party, not the Republican.
So all these statements should be seen, rather, in the context of the upcoming elections? They are more related to the domestic policy of the States?
Yes, of course, since this report was signed by the most important person of the campaign – Michelle Flournoy, who, most likely, will participate in the election campaign of Hillary Clinton.
We all expect if Hillary Clinton becomes President in two years, then Michelle Flournoy is likely to be the first woman to become Secretary of Defense. It’s the nuances of our domestic policy.
She is one of eight people who signed this report, participated in its creation. The main idea of this report is to seriously push the President to change his policy. I think this is the wrong approach to Ukraine. Sending weapons will not change anything, except it will extend the war.
Which option would be better for Ukraine?
The main goal is to achieve a ceasefire, truce and bring the conflict to the political plane.
As for Ukraine, the USA needs to have a strategy for longer-term to build an army in Ukraine. Ukraine does not need weapons, it needs an army. Weapons without an army do not work. Ukraine needs to create a real strategic partnership with the US. In this structure we can work together and cooperate to solve fundamental problems of Ukraine. It’s economic reforms, it is democratic and political reforms, the creation of an efficient army, which Ukraine will be able to finance itself.
But not so we will send $1 billion per year for the Ukrainian army. The entire budget of the Ukrainian army now – $2 billion. That is, the armed forces, which will be in Ukraine in three years, will be 50% dependent on the money that will come from the States, but we will not continue to give endlessly. That is, your army will be financially dependent on us. Our goal is to create an army that Ukraine will be able to maintain, otherwise it makes no sense.
Are such cooperation programs being developed? The States help to train our future police. And the army?
We started a very modest training plan for four Ukrainian companies in the West, near Poland. Help to train your UAF. For today there is no overall strategic approach. Each is doing what they can. We train, Lithuanians train Ukrainians, Poles also send weapons, training. Britain sends armored personnel carriers. Canadians send military uniform, we – body armor. This is a temporary situation, because the situation is extreme. There is no strategic approach.
And most importantly, there are no financial resources to help Ukraine – this is the main problem. People say – let’s send weapons. But don’t want to give real money on the reform in Ukraine.
Will there be a case, if there will be no cooperation with Ukraine? Or this will not happen?
I think Ukraine will always be supported. But now the question is not whether to help or not to help. The question is, how to help effectively, what works and what doesn’t. This is the discussion in Washington.
In Ukraine, many are convinced that Ukraine needs American weapons, because without it we cannot achieve the ceasefire.
You cannot achieve a ceasefire with the armed forces. You simply don’t have any.
When can we achieve something? Sanctions against Russia are not particularly enhanced. It begins to attack harder. So everyone sees the solution in armed resistance.
You see, these are the illusions of the Ukrainian government.
The real problem in Ukraine is that no one – neither Poroshenko nor Yatsenyuk – don’t want to sign a real agreement on a compromise with Russia. They don’t want to realize what had happened, and to give some political status to this militia. They are very afraid of the people, a third Maidan.
Indeed, the probability of the third Maidan exists.
The fact is that the West in Ukraine is not allowed to make serious adult decisions in this environment. They just keep saying “yes” to Ukraine.
Because of this, Ukrainians continue to live in the illusion that they with their fighters can stand against one of the largest armed military in the world. This can not happen. My colleagues in Russia, associated with the General staff, are well aware that any day, if Russia wants to, it can completely destroy the entire UAF in 72 hours. They have such plans.
We understand that.
That won’t happen, because Russia doesn’t want to. But people need to understand that the problem is not with anti-tank missiles. If we will send anti-tank missiles, then Russia will send something else – aircraft, artillery, simply will wipe the area from the face of the earth.
Should we recognize these territories are not Ukrainian, to abandon them?
What did the conflict reach? These territories are really lost. The only result that I see over the past year, is that Ukraine has been losing territory and soldiers. And there are no improvements. Sanctions have not changed the policy of Moscow.
Why do they attack? Because the Minsk agreements did not give Russia anything. Russia believes that it made a serious mistake when it signed an agreement in Minsk. Ukraine had no sincere interest to observe Minsk protocol. Plus everyone knows that in addition to this protocol, between Kiev and Moscow, there was the second protocol signed on September 19, where there was a map of control between the UAF and the militia. According to this map Ukraine had to give them Donetsk airport and areas that Ukraine was not going to ever give up. It’s all well known. Ukraine was in no way going to give up, despite the fact that it signed the agreement. Nobody wants to go for a real compromise in Ukraine.