Russia's army could be destroyed in Ukraine this year - military expert John Spencer
Chair of the Urban Warfare Studies at the Modern War Institute at West Point John Spencer, in an interview with Volodymyr Ostapchuk, host of the Spotlight Ukraine program on Espreso TV, shared whether the decision to continue Bakhmut's defense is correct, why this city is key for both Ukrainian and Russian armies, and when Ukraine will liberate Crimea
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said that the Ukrainian defense of Bakhmut may be defeated in the coming days, but this will not necessarily be a turning point in the war. Do you agree with him?
I do not agree that Bakhmut may fall. I agree that it will have little impact on the actual front line, because it is a territory that Russia is legally in. This is not a stepping stone to some big breakthrough. It will not be a turning point, it will be a fake political victory for the Wagner prisoners and the Russian military.
So my next question is very logical. Ukrainian troops are still holding Bakhmut. Is it the right move for Ukrainian generals to hold the city for eight months?
I think so. I mean, it's a difficult decision that any military commander has to make, given the political considerations, because Bakhmut has such great value. Bakhmut is holding, Bakhmut is a fight for Ukraine, but if the Russian military wants to continue to throw waves of casualties at the brave Ukrainian defenders, then there is a saying "don't interrupt the enemy when it is making a mistake". So if this leads to the Wagner organization and the Russian military reaching a culmination on this section of the front, I absolutely agree with the action, but I have no idea how many Ukrainian soldiers have lost their lives or what resources are available. But it is not illogical to hold Bakhmut.
But why is the city of Bakhmut so important to both the Ukrainian and Russian armies?
This is a political value. I mean, your President Zelenskyy visited the city in December. He brought a flag from Bakhmut to the US Congress, the largest aid provider. Prigozhin, a Wagner supporter, needs a win to make his political ambitions known: “Look, I can win when the entire Russian army cannot.” So, this is only a political value.
When should we expect a Ukrainian counteroffensive?
If I knew that, I would probably be making a lot more money than I am now. I think it could happen at any moment. I think what we saw was a really big part of the Russian spring offensive, and it was really impressive. Now we're looking at the Ukrainian spring offensive, and maybe they're waiting for Western help, like the Leopards that are coming at the end of this month, or maybe not. I don't want to know. The biggest thing on the battlefield that hasn't changed in centuries is surprise, like the September hurricane offensive. Ukraine has the ability to achieve surprise on the battlefield, and Russia does not.
American intelligence expects the war in Ukraine to last for years, not just until the end of 2023. What are your personal expectations?
My personal expectation is that this war will last months, not years. If US intelligence and other US organizations believe that it will last for years, they could influence this by providing the assistance that Ukraine has been asking for from the very beginning. Not gradually, month by month, weapon by weapon, but by giving Ukraine what it needs to end this war that has an impact on the whole world.
When and where can we see the next turning point in this war?
I think the next turning point will be Ukraine's offensive in the spring and summer. How much more territory and how much more of a culmination can the Russian military achieve, which will force Putin to decide on public or private mobilization because he is so desperate to hold on to what he has.
We still desperately need different weapons. So what weapons can actually stop Putin?
I mean, I don't think there's any silver bullet here, as we would say. I mean, of course, ATACMS, which the US refuses to produce. F-16s and other types of aircraft, more main battle tanks, more combat vehicles. I mean, the recipe for Ukraine's victory has been known since President Zelenskyy spoke about it in February and March. The exact numbers, the exact list of equipment. And the whole world should increase the supply of artillery ammunition because it is very important for Ukraine's ability to continue offensive operations, but there is no single item, but the list is very well known.
Does the West want Ukraine not to lose or to win?
This is a very good point. I think that the West has given Ukraine only what it needs not to lose and has not yet given it what it needs to win. And winning means defending its sovereign territory, which is recognized by the entire international order. So, it is not about striking at Ukraine or Russia, but about defending against genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
And what is the win for the United States? Is it going to be like liberating Crimea?
No, I don't think so. I mean, all these decisions were made to ensure that the victory is that Russia as an aggressor cannot restore the global international order, because if evil Putin can do that, then other dictators and totalitarian states will look and say: “Oh, I can take another country next to me and colonize the previous colonized territories”. That would really destroy everything that was done after World War II.
So now we are talking about the demilitarization of Russia?
No, not necessarily. It's just to stop its behavior in Ukraine.
Do you believe that there is something that can stop Putin?
This is a very complicated issue. If his military reaches a culmination in Ukraine, meaning that he can no longer hold illegally seized territory, it will stop his current aggression in Ukraine.
Should we liberate Crimea this year by military means before we can liberate Donbas?
It is a difficult decision when to do it. Can they do it militarily? Yes, they can. As long as they maintain their alliances, continue to supply and fight a just war. Can they do it? Yes. When that happens, will that be the last goal for Ukraine? I am not sure.
Does it make sense to enter Crimea, or should we stop at the borders on February 24, 2022?
No one recognizes Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea. That is, the sovereign territory of Ukraine within the 1991 borders must be re-established.
Can you say when the Russian army can be destroyed in Ukraine? This year, right?
Many countries around the world can influence this to become a very serious possibility. They are in desperate need of human resources and equipment. There are other countries like Iran and North Korea that are helping them, and they need to be held accountable, but yes, you can do it by the end of this year.
And the last question: if China is able to help Russia, will this be a turning point in this war?
This will certainly complicate the situation depending on what kind of assistance China provides, and there is a close connection between the two for many reasons, but hopefully it will be a kind of call to common sense that it is not in China's interest to support an illegal war of aggression that is genocide.