Espreso. Global

Russia inches forward, but is losing war in grand scheme — military expert Grant

2 June, 2024 Sunday

Retired British Army Colonel and respected military expert Glen Grant told Anton Borkovskyi in an interview on Espreso TV about the change in the EU's strategy towards Ukraine, Putin's nuclear blackmail and missile strikes against Russia


Why did the Russians commit crimes against Kharkiv and try and eventually open a new frontline - the north of the Kharkiv region? After all, they did not have enough forces to deploy properly. But they went ahead with it anyway, and we saw just horrific footage of Russians killing our civilians by hitting a Kharkiv supermarket with guided bombs. What is the purpose of all this?

The first thing is, you have to disassociate the shopping mall from the civilian area and realize that this is now part of the front line. It's not like many of the other attacks where they are targeting civilians. This is actually an attack on the entire front line system in the north. And you need to remember that the doctrine of the Russians is to exploit success.

So, what they'll be looking to do is, can they weaken the area around Kharkiv sufficiently that they can break through? Yes, you made the point that they didn't actually go there with perhaps enough troops for a breakthrough, and that could be because they don't have enough. Alternatively, it could be just because they're trying to gauge the Ukrainian response before taking further action. We hear that there are many more troops behind these initial forces.

The figure is sometimes cited as high as 200,000, and if that is the case, it could signal a very serious attack towards Sumy and Kharkiv. Then, we're likely to see more bombings in the same area, aimed at displacing people to create space for their advance.

It's very difficult to determine whether they are intent on attacking Sumy and Kharkiv specifically or if they're trying to draw troops away from the south and the center, as they've done before, which has been quite public. Are they hoping to find a weak spot somewhere around Bakhmut or Zaporizhzhia or Kherson? Or are they focused on a major push towards the major cities again? It's impossible to tell at the moment. We'll have to wait, maybe another month, before we're clear about their intentions.

We will not take the situation on the frontline lightly, nor on possible new frontline areas that the Russians may want to open. In particular, much attention is now focused on what is happening in Kharkiv and Sumy regions - in the north and north-east of Ukraine. It is clear that in order to launch a serious offensive, in addition to logistics, there must be manpower. These regions are border areas, so the enemy's logistics are fine. But this is until we get permission to use precision weapons against Russian mechanized columns that will gather in Kursk or Belgorod regions. And at the same time, the enemy must have a sufficient number of personnel and equipment to launch an offensive in Sumy or Kharkiv regions. How do you currently assess the prospects for the north-eastern front?

Nobody knows if the Russians have enough troops or machines except the Russians. So it's no good asking me that question because it depends on how many they want to send.

But if we take the first attack toward Kharkiv as an indication, then they are quite short of machines and vehicles. But again, you know, the Russians are good at doing things that we don't expect. Sometimes, as we remember from the early stages of the war, they do things that they don't even expect themselves. But I don't think we should underestimate their ability to continue this attack now.

So far today, I think 11 countries have said that they are willing for their weapons to be used to fire into Russia. We still don't have a proper yes from America. They're still using evasive language. They're still not coming out straight and saying yes, you can do this. They're trying to put the emphasis on Zelensky that he has to make a decision, but they're not being honest about it. So does Ukraine now have enough weapons from other countries to conduct some serious attacks into whatever is behind the Kharkiv and Sumy front? The answer is probably enough, but not overwhelmingly so. In other words, not enough for a major attack, but enough to at least cause some serious damage to the Russians and maybe delay their attack by three weeks, a month, or two months. So I hope that Zelensky will make a decision today to at least use whatever Storm Shadow missiles they've got, for example, to start putting some damage onto the Russian troops because otherwise, time will be lost, momentum will be lost, and Russia will again have the initiative and start attacking on the front line. And once they attack on the front line, then it's much harder to use weapons like Storm Shadow to full effect; you need to catch them when the troops are gathering at the back, which they are at the moment.

The Russian command is demonstrating its willingness to commit crimes. This is a demonstrative crime, and we understand that no one will be able to attribute it to the level of a tactical group or an aviation brigade - the Russians gave the order to hit a peaceful supermarket, a civilian facility with three guided bombs. Fortunately, one of them did not explode. That is, they wanted to kill civilians in a sufficiently large number. This crime has been correctly condemned in many European capitals, and let's hope that decisions will be made: the presence of Western instructors on our territory will help reduce the logistical burden and train a large number of our recruits. But there is another important point: the Russians have already announced their intention to kill or attempt to kill Western instructors. This will also be properly addressed in Western capitals. What are your feelings about the new trends in this stage of the war, which are related to the fact that the West has perhaps decided to take serious steps?

"It's been a long time coming," would be my first thought. This should have actually happened a year ago. Maybe even a year and a half ago.

And the Western capitals have been trying to use peacetime methods to solve a wartime problem, and they can see now that it doesn't work. What they've been attempting with a little bit here and a little bit there is just not strong enough to actually have the effect on Russia that is needed to stop the war or to allow Ukraine to push Russia back. So the Europeans are now forced into a situation where they've got to start helping in-country to strengthen the training and resolve of Ukrainian troops. But we are moving slowly but steadily towards European forces actually having to fight.

There's no question in my mind about this. It's going to come at some stage. Because the alternative is finding huge amounts more ammunition, huge amounts more equipment, huge amounts more of everything that's needed, whether that's food, mortars, helmets, jackets, and I just don't think that is going to happen.

So Russia will continue to keep moving forward, bit by bit by bit, somewhere. Until we reach the stage where the European capitals have to say, "Enough is enough, and we are going to join you and do something." It may take a year, it may take two years, but we're moving steadily towards that direction.

We have thousands of kilometers of frontline, there are hotspots and calmer ones, but there must be a common logic in what is called military fortifications. What do you think the fortifications should look like and how long will it take to build them? The Russian interventionists built the Surovikin line quite quickly. Or to build the Maginot Line in one direction, since the enemy can always bypass Hadrian's Wall in another?

The most important thing with fortifications is not that they should just be these long straight lines of everything, but they should be fortifications at the key points where the enemy needs to go — the key defensive points. They should be placed there by the operational commanders, not by local builders, not by decisions made by the mayor or anybody else, but by the commander who has to defend the area. They should ensure that these defensive works are built where they are needed, in the shape that they are needed, facing the direction that they are needed, and in such a way that they are impossible to get around. If you just build straight-line defenses, then once you breach the straight line, you have to move to the next straight line. So, you actually need much more complex designs on high spots and in areas that are difficult for the enemy to access.

That may mean actually fortifying some of the towns, not just using the buildings, but actually developing something around the buildings. But at the moment, we're developing defenses in what I would classify as a simple method. Actually, they need a lot more thought about where you put the defenses, where you put the anti-tank ditches, and anti-tank blocks as well. But the last point for defenses that has to be made is that these are only pieces of ground. All you're making is a piece of difficult ground. It is the soldiers who go into that difficult ground and defend it that are the most important.

You can make all the defenses you like in the world, but if the soldiers you put in there are not properly trained to defend in this sort of world, if they are not properly equipped and not properly supplied, they will be overrun, and then you'll need another ditch. So, it's really important that we don't forget that this is all about people at the bottom line. It's about people, and the defenses are a tool for defense by those people.

No people, no defense.

The possible involvement of ground forces of our Western allies and their aviation - what concept could this fit into? In order not to raise the degree of escalation, we had to act quickly and rather harshly. For this, we needed to use aviation. We are also aware that the enemy is ready to use nuclear weapons - no wonder they have been preparing their strategic doctrine on the use of tactical and strategic nuclear weapons. How quickly would our Western partners do so, and what would be the quantity and quality of the range of weapons that could be used? It is not for nothing that Putin met with Lukashenko in Belarus, bringing the Minister of Defence with him - I think they clearly discussed specific scenarios of the military plan, and they are not only about Ukraine, but also about Suwalki and a certain threat to continental Europe.

I want to argue against your first point about the nuclear option. The fact is, if Russia can't win a conventional war, nuclear weapons won't make a difference either. So, there's no point in using nuclear weapons because unless you have the conventional forces to follow up their use, they are senseless. It's not going to help them at all. In fact, using nuclear weapons would bring the wrath of the rest of the Western world down upon Russia very quickly.

So, it's foolish to even consider that possibility. And having meetings with Belarus doesn't actually mean much because Belarus still doesn't have a substantial army. We're still talking about lots of gate guards and discotheque guards in quality. Okay, they will have some good soldiers, but nothing like the quantity of soldiers that Western countries have in Poland, Lithuania, not to mention the troops behind them in Sweden and Finland. Belarus is not an option in this game. And if they actually think about crossing the Suwalki Corridor, I'm sorry, but that's an extremely complex piece of land. I've written and said about it many times before. The very simple thing is, if Belarus does that, Belarus is at war. And that means all bets are off for attacking Belarus, which is surrounded by NATO and Ukraine.

If Russians come out of the Suwalki Gap, they will need every soldier they've got there to come out of it. The American brigade will just go in the back, close the port, and capture all the air defense weapons. So Russia doesn't have enough troops to play this game.

It's only the European forces that are more likely to have to go into Ukraine, but I don't see this happening for a year. I don't see this happening in the near future. I think Macron has made the point that if we're seeing again the possibility that Kiev is going to get attacked or Odessa is going to be lost, then French forces would start to do something. But until that time, and that time seems a long way away at the moment, I don't think you will see European forces.

However, they are beginning to understand that they may well have to.

Putin's new war logic, Putin's new plan - maybe it exists, maybe it doesn't. But Defence Minister Shoigu has been thrown out of office and replaced by - who else? - a cyberneticist-economist. So now there is a redistribution of influence and military logistics in Russia. I don't know what it will look like, but the situation is quite serious, because the Russians have not offered anything new - "meat" assaults, mechanized columns - I don't know how much equipment they have. And there is a new minister of defense who has to set up the Russian military economy and logistics. What scenarios might the Russians have and what should be our and our Western allies' counter-response?

What is interesting about this is that it shows that the comments that have come out of all these changes reveal that we still don't really understand what is going on in Russia.

Analysts are looking at two ends of the spectrum. On one end, there's the belief that this is some grand plan by Putin to prolong the war by appointing an economist to make things much more efficient in the defense industry for a potential five or ten-year conflict against NATO. On the other side, there are those who argue that Shoigu has been removed because he was stealing too much money. Several generals have been implicated in corruption. So, on one side, it's the Great War; on the other side, it's the same war, but Putin doesn't want so much money to be stolen, probably because he wants more of that to go to his friends and compatriots who want defense contracts to profit from the war. In both scenarios, the goal is to keep the money flowing because people are profiting from it.

I don't see an economist in the Ministry of Defense being able to change much of what is going on. If he was going to, we'd have heard about it already. He doesn't have the skills to change the training system or the resupply system or understand how the generals are deceiving him. Remember that all those generals are lying to the minister; it's a standard Russian operation. Nobody tells the truth. It's a country of lies. So, he's going to be fed a load of nonsense about how wonderful everything is, making it difficult to implement any meaningful changes. So, I don't foresee much change happening in the near future. He may create better relationships with Iran and North Korea for more benefits to come, but that is something entirely different.

What can we expect in the next month or two? What should we prepare for?

I'm not sure what it is, but something is evident: as the war progresses, Russia is becoming increasingly desperate in its attempts to achieve its objectives. There are more frequent attacks, more old vehicles being brought to the front lines, and even innovative tactics such as using buggies and motorbikes for attacks. So, the pressure is on the Russian front line and the officers to deliver results. They will try to do so, but I don't think it will involve nuclear weapons. It's more likely to be a surprise attack, catching us off guard.

However, let's be clear about one thing: even though the front line is inching forward bit by bit, in the larger scheme of things, Russia is losing. Russia is losing. It's losing in the Navy, it's losing in the Army because it keeps losing people. When you consistently lose personnel, eventually you run out of quality individuals to train and lead. Russia is losing people at a rate of 7 to 1, 10 to 1 against Ukraine. They can sustain this for a while, but the quality of their forces will inevitably decline over time if they want to maintain the front line.

The significant event that hasn't occurred yet is a mass mutiny somewhere on the front line, where numerous soldiers turn around and go back. This has happened in Russia before, in 1917, and it's entirely possible to happen again. So, returning to my initial point, something is bound to happen. But please don't ask me to predict what it is because it's beyond my imagination at the moment. What's important for Ukraine is to be prepared for anything, which means conducting thorough scenario analysis to anticipate potential threats and devising strategies to mitigate them. We mustn't wait for things to happen and then try to fix them. We need to be proactive, identify potential challenges, and find ways to address them effectively.

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