Espreso. Global
Interview

Ukraine must mobilize now to launch counter-offensive in 2025 — Colonel Grant

12 May, 2024 Sunday
16:56

Retired British Army Colonel, renowned military expert Glen Grant told Anton Borkovskyi, host of the Studio West program on Espreso TV, about Russia's plans to strike Europe and the consequences of a nuclear attack

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Many analysts have been discussing the Russian offensive throughout May and June. Presently, we are observing profoundly challenging and bloody battles not only in the Donetsk region but across the entirety of the frontline. In evaluating the enemy's preparations for substantial maneuvers, what are your thoughts, as well as those of other Western experts, regarding their potential nature?

It's actually quite difficult at the moment to judge, and I will try to explain why. I mean, the first thing is that the situation hasn't been good for the last two or three months on the Ukrainian Frontline. There have been setbacks in many places, but when you actually look at the big map, when you view it on a large scale, the amount of territory lost in comparison to the size of Ukraine is actually quite small. But of course, nobody likes losing villages.

So, the center has been pushed back, and in the south, the troops on the East Bank seem to be holding on quite well. Although there are still casualties, they're managing to hold their ground, which may be surprising in some ways. There are even rumors that there are quite a few Russian deserters in the south.

On the other hand, the Russian side is not as strong as we would imagine. The big concern at the moment is that all the talk about Russia launching an attack is gaining traction. My contacts in the center say that Russia is indeed gathering troops for a potential attack somewhere, probably in the center or east of the Bakhmut area, possibly south of that. However, we have to wait and see whether Russia still has the energy to launch such an attack, considering the significant number of casualties and loss of weapons and equipment they've suffered.

In the north, there are discussions about a possible attack on Kharkiv or Sumy, but again, I haven't seen any intelligence from the United States or Great Britain indicating any significant troop movements in that area. The rumors seem to be coming primarily from the Ukrainian general staff rather than the international community, which likely has access to satellite intelligence.

Now, the big question is how much aid will arrive on the Ukrainian side in the next couple of months and where it will be utilized. This is impossible for analysts to predict because the government and the general staff will not disclose their strategic plans as for where they are going to push Russia hard. However, they must take action in the center area, as it's politically unacceptable and militarily detrimental to keep retreating. There needs to be pressure put on Russia, whether it's through a counterattack or some other means. Perhaps the south, specifically the Kherson area, could be given more attention.

Zaporizhzhia is a peculiar area at the moment, with heavy defense and a fairly static situation. It's unclear whether Russia will attempt something there. Now whether Russia will try something there. I don't know so you could say we know something is going to happen. We know Russia is going to keep pressuring what we don't know  where on the Ukraine side. Moreover, we don't know where Ukraine will allocate the aid it receives from America, and Europe.

So this is all up in the air, but we're likely to see dynamic developments in the next few months as both sides exert pressure on each other, possibly in the same locations or different ones. Hopefully, in the next three to four weeks, we'll start to gain more information and understanding of what is actually going to happen.

The traditional Russian strategy involves pressing forward until their offensive momentum wanes, typically due to dwindling manpower. It's evident that the Russians have been training a specific number of reservists for deployment. The question arises: will they be prepared to activate additional fronts along the dormant lines, possibly extending to Kharkiv and its surrounding region? Apart from the Kupiansk sector, they could potentially exploit other stretches of the frontline, such as the Sumy region to the north and, naturally, the Zaporizhzhia direction as you've previously noted. However, the crucial concern remains whether the Russian interventionists will possess adequate strength. It's apparent that Russia isn't merely launching another offensive campaign in May and June; rather, we're witnessing the onset of a new phase in the conflict.

This is, I mean, a good question. We know they've been mobilizing, and you mentioned training, but if they haven't had time to train people properly, and we haven't seen any evidence of quality training on the Russian side in the recent period. I mean, the tank crews obviously don't seem to know what they're doing, and the armored vehicle crews don't either. You can see this from the videos, and the soldiers are not fighting coherently. So, the Russian tactic at the moment is to use their artillery and glide bombs to destroy the front as much as possible, making it impossible for Ukrainian soldiers to stay in trenches, and then to attack with as many people as possible. I don't think that's going to change. What may change is the possibility of the Ukrainian side using artillery and counter-battery fire to destroy some of those artillery guns on the other side. Now, where are they going to attack? I have no idea. Maybe they don't even know yet, but you can be sure that if they have the numbers, they're going to continue the attack wherever they perceive it to be weakest.

That's Russian policy. They push, probe, and then reinforce success. So, none of us will know, because what we don't know, and what no analyst knows very well, is how many soldiers Ukraine has on the ground in different places. There are definitely some weak areas; we know this because soldiers are reporting it on Facebook and elsewhere. But do the Russians understand where those weak areas are? I don't know. We will only find out in due time when they attack and where they put their energy. Until that point, I think it's foolish to speculate.

Do we presently possess a comprehensive understanding of the enemy's arsenal in terms of artillery barrels, artillery systems, and heavy armored vehicles? It's crucial to recognize that the offensive momentum relies not only on manpower but also heavily on equipment. Our troops have already neutralized numerous enemy armored vehicles and artillery systems.

That's a very good question. The answer is, if we consider the current manner of their combat, yes, they do lack sufficient armored vehicles. They're not utilizing their vehicles in an armored fashion as we would typically envision in the West. They're operating with ones and twos, indicating a scarcity.

They're producing more, but the question remains whether they'll continue dispersing them along the entire frontline or consolidate them for concentrated armored assaults. However, conducting such assaults requires properly trained personnel, which they lack. It's not merely a matter of lacking armored vehicles, as they likely still possess them in sufficient numbers, but rather a deficit of trained crews to operate them. The loss of experienced tank crews through casualties has led to a decline in their numbers.

Is Russia undertaking remarkable efforts clandestinely to train personnel? It's possible, as there's no satellite evidence indicating such efforts. Previously, American intelligence effectively monitored activities in Russia, but there's been a lack of similar reports since 2021. This suggests they might be conserving their armored vehicles until they can muster adequate personnel for a breakthrough.

In the coming months, they'll likely deploy whatever assets they have at the frontline. However, mobilizing a large number of vehicles poses challenges, as concentrated deployments risk detection by Ukrainian intelligence, leading to potential destruction. Thus, moving them forward isn't a straightforward task.

For effective planning and deployment of military capabilities, understanding the objectives of the war is paramount. Just recently, during a conversation with me, Matthew Bryza, the former Director for European and Eurasian Affairs at the US National Security Council, asserted that the Russians would undertake an offensive this year, with a counter-offensive from the Ukrainian Armed Forces anticipated in 2025. Shortly thereafter, this information was corroborated by President Joseph Biden's National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan. The Russians have already issued threats concerning the potential supply of F-16s to Ukraine, even going so far as to compare it to the possibility of resorting to nuclear weapons. Hence, it's evident that this matter is of grave concern to them, indicating their apprehension.

I don't see that someone is going to use nuclear weapons because F-16s turned up. Russia didn't use nuclear when tanks turned up and hasn't used nuclear when ATACMS or HIMARS turned up or anything else. So, I don't see that there's going to be any change with that. Also, I don't see that the F-16 is going to be a battle winner. It will make a difference, but I'm not sure that it's going to make as much difference as people expect.

But I think the thing that, you know, we've got to be very careful about is talking about a counterattack. Because to do a counterattack means that you have to have an excess of resources. That means you've got to have more resources effectively than the enemy, and you've got to have trained people. And we still have not reached this point where we're actually training people properly to do something like a counterattack.

So, you know, to have enough people to do a counter-attack in 2025 means really that we should be mobilizing and recruiting them now. But at the moment, almost everybody that we get is going straight to the front line. Because the front line is thin, so if there's going to be a counterattack, it needs to be a very, very different state of affairs than we have at the moment.

2025 is a long way away. We've got to get through 2024 first, but I don't see nuclear. Therefore, I don't see that there's a plan for dealing with nuclear. There are clearly plans for dealing with Russia if Russia attacks a NATO country. Those plans are going on, and right at the moment, for example, there is heavy training in the Baltic states and heavy training in Finland about what to do if Russia keeps going.

I don't dismiss Putin's threats lightly, especially considering the preparations for non-strategic tactical nuclear weapons exercises in Russia's Southern Military District, which is heavily engaged in aggression against Ukraine. There's no shortage of optimistic scenarios circulating about how the fire will be returned to the mausoleum.

As I said, I don't think he's going to use a nuclear weapon because I think it would be foolish. He doesn't have trained troops to actually deal with using one, and it would just cause him as many, if not more, problems than it would cause the Ukrainian side immediately. The first thing that would happen would be a massive counterattack by air forces on the Russian line because the West doesn't need to use nuclear weapons to fight nuclear weapons. It has so much capability from air-delivered weapons. So, they know how to do this. This sort of thing is practiced, and people know how to counterattack.

In that respect, I think that we focus too much on Putin's rhetoric. There have been several quite important developments since we last spoke. Macron has stated that he'd be willing to deploy troops in certain circumstances. It's not clear what those circumstances are, but at least he's made that commitment. Also, Poland would likely agree to similar actions. Great Britain has declared that it will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes, offering treaty commitments, financial aid, and support. Lithuania's president has announced plans to deploy personnel inside Ukraine for training support. These are significant positive steps on the Western front.

I believe we should spend more time considering the coherence of the Western response and less about what Putin says because Putin often speaks nonsense when he's under pressure. Currently, he's clearly under pressure despite his mobilization and increased manpower. He's clearly concerned about the situation, and I'm sure we will see more signs of internal problems within Russia in the coming months.

To what extent will the French president, the British king, President Biden, or perhaps his successor be willing to fully commit to supporting Ukraine?

This returns to what I mentioned earlier. The situation is fairly clear that there will be, you could say, two circumstances. The first circumstance is if there is a significant breakthrough by Russia, then there will be hard questions asked across all European capitals. However, there is no fixed decision on this yet. Currently, that's evident because there are still some capitals, like the Italians, that are showing weakness on the matter because they don't feel directly threatened.

So, the first consideration is if there is a major breakthrough. The second consideration, as I mentioned earlier, is if there is an attack by Russia on NATO. Now, in newspapers, the intelligence agencies of many European countries are suggesting that Russia is planning heavy hybrid attacks on European capitals, not on Europe itself. This might be a separate issue because Article 5 has always been about responding to ground troop invasions. However, Putin seems to be focusing more on other tactics such as missiles, disrupting communications, heavy cyber warfare, and anything that could cripple the ability of European countries to support Ukraine. This hasn't triggered Article 5 yet, or even Article 4 for negotiations. Therefore, we're uncertain about how strong the collective European response would be if the war shifts in Russia's favor. Nevertheless, I am confident that something will be done because Poland, Germany, France, and Britain are all apprehensive about the situation worsening and affecting them.

Currently, there are no concrete plans or decisions. There's only an acknowledgment that we may need to take more serious actions. And I believe there's not just an acknowledgment but also a readiness to take such actions.

Recently, the US president signed a macroeconomic aid package for Ukraine exceeding $61 billion. While this is a substantial sum, the Russians are also heavily investing in their defense. If we were to compare these proportions now, not in terms of money, but specifically in military equipment, would you think Russia is keeping up?

I don't think the Russian side can keep up with anything. They can only continue to do what they're doing at the moment. So I think we should just assume that whatever happens with Russia is going to be exactly the same or more of the same of what they're doing at the moment because to do anything more complex means having a completely different training system and a completely different equipping system than they have at the moment. So there's going to be more of the same and maybe not so much more of the same if new sanctions from the European Union and America actually put more pressure on, as you say, Iran, North Korea, and all those countries that are providing support for Russia. Some of those countries are not good countries like Switzerland, Austria, China. So I think you'll see a change, more pressure, more sanctions pressure in the coming months to try and reduce and stop the ability of Russia to do anything different than they're doing at the moment on the Ukrainian side.

Personally, I would very much like to see a much greater emphasis on supporting the frontline soldiers because we're still losing too many because they're not properly equipped, and I'm constantly talking to people who simply do not have the tools on the front, like either the men or the tools, to actually do the job properly. We've been spending too much time, in my view, looking all the time at the big items. We talked about tanks. We talked about F-16s. We even spent money, let's not forget, on a big ship with Turkey. So we've wasted time and money when actually if we spent more time on grenades, grenade launchers, mortars, mortar ammunition, from the beginning, on the basics, we would not be where we are now because Russia would not have been able to break through our lines because the soldiers could have stopped it.

So while we're worrying about F-16s and the big items, I would like to see three or four months of energy spent on making sure that the frontline has got the ammunition and the weapons that it needs to hold and to fight and not to lose so many soldiers because without good soldiers, there is no counter-attack. We've seen you have to have well-trained soldiers, and if we lose the well-trained soldiers, trying to do a counter-attack with people that have no training is not going to be a success.

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