Espreso. Global
Interview

Polish general Waldemar Skrzypczak: Western arms and mobilization bolster Ukraine's defense, but reclaiming territories unrealistic

6 May, 2024 Monday
13:47

Waldemar Skrzypczak believes that the Western-supplied weapons will mend Ukraine’s situation only in defense, but the Ukrainian army will not be able to go into offensive and retake the occupied territories

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Polish military officer, general, and former commander of the Polish Land Forces Waldemar Skrzypczak.

I'm glad you agreed to this interview. And I would like to talk to you about this war and its prospects. Recently, Putin's spokesman Peskov said that it is now clear that Russia will win the war. Do you think the situation on the battlefield also indicates this?

Russia will be able to talk about winning the war when it defeats the Ukrainian army. And so far, the Russians have been unable to win for more than two years, unable to break it down and overcome its defense. The Ukrainian army has successfully fought for two years and continues to fight, and it will fight, I believe it. And the prospect that Putin announced will be finally stopped this summer.

Will it be stopped this summer?

Yes, this means that the Russians will not achieve their goals. Since the defense of the Ukrainian army is very strong, the army is very good, it fights well. These are unsurpassed soldiers who beat the Russian army with their heroism. Even though the Russians have a great advantage over the Ukrainian army, they cannot defeat it and, in my opinion, will not win.

But Ukraine also suffered significant losses among its trained troops who had extensive combat experience, given that the war began in 2014. There is talk of a potential Ukrainian counteroffensive in the near future. Is the Ukrainian army ready for that counteroffensive now? Do you believe claims that Ukraine could regain territory up to its 1991 borders?

We would like that. But as a soldier, I look at it realistically. First of all, the Russians have an advantage several times over the Ukrainian army, which allows them to lead that offensive, this is first. Secondly, Ukrainians lack soldiers, and Ukrainians lack weapons and ammunition. What will now be supplied from the West will fix the Ukrainian situation, and mobilization will certainly also fix the Ukrainian situation, but only in defense. In my opinion, the Ukrainian army will not be able to conduct offensive actions and retake the occupied territories. Since the Russians have an advantage from a military point of view, the offensive and return of the occupied territories are unrealistic.

Why then is that counteroffensive being brought up, what do you think?

From my view of the situation, it comes from the fact that this is how propaganda works. Propaganda shows what you want. Instead, in order for Ukrainians to defeat the Russian army, liberate those territories, they must have an advantage, not Russians. And at the moment, the advantage is on Russia's side. Therefore, the main goal of Ukrainians should be such a defense that will break the Russian offensive and cause them maximum losses.

There is a lot of talk about mobilization in Ukraine now, because there are very big losses among the military. The mobilization law is being implemented, and there have been recent suggestions that services at Ukrainian consulates in Poland might be suspended. Additionally, there are discussions about how Poland could assist in repatriating Ukrainian men who are currently in Poland. What is the Polish perspective on Ukrainian men who are in Poland and reluctant to return to Ukraine?

Kyiv's decision to mobilize was very late, at least 8 months late. In May last year, Kyiv was supposed to announce mobilization, but did not. Hence the problems at the front. Ukrainians in Poland have shelter, they fled the war in Ukraine and found shelter in Poland, Germany and many other countries. This is a great potential of young people who can be soldiers. But the key issue for them to return to Ukraine, firstly, is that they are considered Ukrainians and want to defend Ukraine, and secondly, it is that the government in Kyiv must appeal to governments in Europe, Warsaw, Berlin, Paris, Prague with a proposal of an international treaty that would allow Ukraine on the territory of Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic, France and other countries to recruit those Ukrainian citizens who emigrated to those countries. This must be in accordance with laws and according to agreements between governments, then Ukrainians can create, for example, in Poland or Germany, recruiting centers for Ukrainians who will apply to the army. And we, in turn, on the basis of those intergovernmental agreements, can teach those Ukrainians, and after that let them go to Ukraine to fight.

But will those Ukrainians turn to such recruiting centers?

It ultimately depends on whether they identify with the Ukrainian cause and see it as a fight for their homeland's survival. I believe that among those in Poland, Germany, and elsewhere, there are individuals who feel this way; the key is to create conditions for their return. Firstly, recruitment must be voluntary, and secondly, they need to be properly trained. They can't be taken from Poland or Germany unprepared. Therefore, the condition should be based on voluntary recruitment and training, with Poland or Germany providing the necessary education for those Ukrainians who are recruited.

Do you hear any sentiments among Polish society questioning why Ukrainians are staying there instead of defending their country? People might be saying, "We send money, we provide assistance, and yet they're just staying here, not defending their homeland."

First and foremost, the Polish stance is to support Ukraine and its people. Voices within Polish society, often echoed in the media, emphasize the importance of adhering to the law. Coercion or forced repatriation of Ukrainians to Ukraine isn't viable, given Poland's commitment to the rule of law and democratic principles. However, there's a prevailing sentiment among Poles that it's the duty of Ukrainians to return to their homeland and defend it. Yet, I believe the primary responsibility lies with Kyiv and the Ukrainian government. They should work in collaboration with Western countries to create conditions conducive to recruitment, provide further education, and then facilitate their deployment to the front lines in Ukraine.

Is Poland ready for the fact that war can come to the Poles?

We are determined, we are in NATO. NATO's strength is growing from month to month. We are stronger now, we have a great advantage over Russia. Thanks to you also, thanks to Ukrainians who fight well, we feel safer because we have time to prepare our forces, modernize and equip. And prepare for what can happen because of Putin. But I believe that Putin is afraid of NATO, because his confrontation with NATO would lead to the decline of Russia and Putin. That is, Putin would fall along with his Russia, which would succumb to the power that NATO has over Russia.

And what are the moods among the Poles? Are there so many Poles who are ready for the fact that there may be a situation where they will have to go and defend their state?

Poles are aware of that. Russia has historically always been a threat. With a history spanning 500 years, as Foreign Minister Sikorski noted, Poland has always faced off against Russia. Russia has always been our enemy. Therefore, we are ready for that, just as Ukrainians are. And I think we will be in solidarity, all Poles, in order to defend our Motherland. And the guarantor of this is also our presence in NATO.

You recently said that the border between Belarus and Poland should be mined. Do the Polish government listen to you, and do other military officers listen to you?

It's difficult to tell whether they're heeding my advice, as action would be the true indicator. My suggestion isn't necessarily about immediately mining borders, but rather about strategic planning. We should identify areas where the Russian army might advance, stockpile mines, and establish minefields to impede their progress, similar to what we've seen in Kharkiv and Lyman. Those minefields powerfully destroy Russians, they have large losses. So it's a good way to weaken Russians. And I think you have to be prepared for that.

You mentioned that Poland is now better prepared for war due to its experience from Ukraine and its NATO membership. When Russians launch attacks on Ukraine with missiles and drones, they often fly towards the western regions. In such cases, Poland scrambles its military aircraft, deploying fighters into the sky. Is it possible for Poland to assist in protecting the airspace over western Ukraine to aid Ukraine's defense efforts?

This is the NATO mission. And in my opinion, NATO should issue a warning to Putin that every missile flying towards Poland or NATO countries will be destroyed by NATO troops. Because there can be no such situation that Russian missiles fly into the territory of Poland, as it was in Przewodów when the missile killed two Poles. There should be a clear warning to Putin that NATO will destroy every missile that will fly in the western direction. There can be no missiles that fall in Poland, Romania or Lithuania, and this is NATO's role. And NATO must give Putin a clear signal: every missile will be destroyed.

Why hasn't that been signaled yet?

Because NATO tends to be more political than military, with extensive discussions often lacking the decisive action needed. While there's a lot of posturing, what's required now are swift and resolute decisions, but this demands bold leadership from politicians. Instead, we see politicians hesitant to convey a clear message to Putin: any missile approaching our territories will be intercepted by our air defense systems. There's simply no alternative.

Recently, Polish President Andrzej Duda said that nuclear weapons should be deployed in Poland. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk is against it. What do you think about it? Will that weapon be a help for Poland, or will it bring a greater threat from Russia?

In my view, the issue lies elsewhere. Firstly, NATO's approval is necessary for the deployment of weapons in frontline areas. This means that warehouses housing nuclear weapons within Poland would become primary targets for potential Russian strikes. Thus, it would be preferable for such weapons to be stationed outside Polish territory. Poland cannot afford to become a zone of destruction on NATO's route to aiding in defense against Russia. While I oppose the deployment of nuclear weapons within Poland, I believe that if the Americans provided such weapons, they could be stationed at American bases in Europe and designated for use by the Polish Air Force.

Ukraine will now receive assistance from the Americans, and we are greatly appreciative of it. Clearly, this aid is arriving later than desired. Had it been provided earlier, what potential outcomes could have been prevented?

It's likely that Ukraine could have avoided situations like those near Avdiivka and what's currently unfolding in Chasiv Yar. The retreats occurred because Ukrainians lacked the means to halt the Russian army's advance. If ammunition had arrived on time and inflicted losses on the Russians, they might not have dared to assault Ukrainian defensive positions. I believe that ammunition will arrive in the coming days or even hours, allowing Ukrainians to strike back against the Russians.

What would help Ukraine end that war, what weapons?

It's challenging to pinpoint, but in my view, Ukraine's primary struggle lies in the shortage of troops—troops in sufficient numbers, with adequate training, and equipped to effectively counter the Russian army and thwart any breakthroughs in defense. At this juncture, everyone—Ukrainians, the government in Kyiv, and all of us—should concentrate on ensuring that the Ukrainian army holds its ground, repelling the Russian army's onslaught and that the Russians no longer try to attack, because they also have big problems with both weapons and the army.

Lack of troops. Now the mobilization age has been lowered to 25 years. The average age of a Ukrainian soldier is 40 years, 40+. It's 28 years in Poland. Do you think the fact that the mobilization age is now reduced will affect that average age of the soldiers? And does age matter for a military person who goes with weapons to fight on the battlefield?

There are two categories here. The first is age. While younger recruits may undergo better training, the essential aspect lies in the soldier's preparation and expertise. A well-trained soldier, regardless of age, will perform effectively on the battlefield. Conversely, an inadequately prepared soldier, even if young, may struggle to respond appropriately. Experience becomes invaluable in this context. Utilizing experienced military personnel to train new recruits and leveraging the expertise of battle-tested veterans can significantly enhance the readiness and effectiveness of the armed forces.

Recently, Americans said that by helping Russia, China makes sure that that war can last forever. And in fact, this is the problem, because Russia has so many people that Ukraine cannot compete with it. We see Americans dragging time with Ukraine's help. In this case, can Ukraine keep this front against Russia, which receives assistance from China, which has so many likely military that will go to fight?

In general, Russians also have demographic problems. Russians now have less of that soldier's potential, first of all. Secondly, remember that Russia is a conglomeration of peoples, about 200 peoples who do not necessarily feel good in Russia, because they remember that Russia once turned them into slaves. And these are slaves who are increasingly feeling that atmosphere of freedom, the time when they can get out of that Russian captivity. Therefore, Russia will have more and more internal problems, and there are fewer of those Russians in Russia now, because Russians are also fleeing Russia. Therefore, Russia has a serious problem with the Russians. Russia is a theoretical country, but it consists of 200 peoples who are in Russian slavery, and they do not want to be in it.

But they are so poor that they just get money, and that war is a way for them to earn that money.

I agree. Not for everyone. At the same time, Russia also has economic, internal, social problems. Putin is not eternal, in due time he will leave, as did Brezhnev. Therefore, in my opinion, Russia is facing change. And in the next few years, those changes will come, and Russia will not be able to wage a long war, even with the help of China.

Mr. General, how long can this war last?

According to my estimates, it will last until the end of the year. There will be such political forces that will force Putin to end this war. But here must be met such conditions that will give Ukraine security. And now it is a matter of political actions of NATO, the EU and everyone who cares about peace. But not on the same peace of humiliation, as it was in 2014, the Minsk agreements humiliated Ukraine, Ukraine cannot be humiliated. It is necessary to give Ukraine such conditions that will be acceptable for Ukrainians.

Actually, how much more the world will support Ukraine?

You know, the world and politicians are hypocrites. They are not impressed by killed civilians in Ukraine, murdered women and murdered children. Politicians are hypocrites. They discuss, meet, hold G-7, G-20 meetings, NATO summits. And this does not solve anything for Ukraine, it does not make Putin not launch missiles at civilians, further killing them. Therefore, as long as politicians remain hypocrites, Ukraine cannot hope for NATO that they will become and will do everything so that Putin does not have such an opportunity. Please note that the sanctions imposed by Europe and the whole world on Russia do not work. Russia still has something to fight. The hypocrisy of politicians is huge and, as I said, people's suffering does not impress them, and it makes me very sad.

And what can impress them to somehow change this situation?

As you can clearly see, killed civilian Ukrainians do not impress them. So I don't know what else can shake those politicians, a personal threat to them, the threat of war to them. Only this can make them act.

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