Espreso. Global
Interview

West is actively rethinking how to fight — Colonel Grant

26 November, 2023 Sunday
18:14

Glen Grant, retired British Army colonel and military expert, describes what awaits Ukrainians this winter and what Putin's next steps will be, in an interview with Espreso TV

Russians launched another series of attacks in the Donetsk area. Bakhmut, Avdiivka. The key question is how this can fit into their vision of the so-called great winter campaign. How do you assess the enemy's intentions?

That's a big question because the winter campaign is obviously a long one. What they are doing at the moment is probably more important. Clearly their military needs a result for Putin to go into the elections. So they've obviously decided that they can get a result in the East somewhere. The second thing is that of course the more pressure that they put on areas like Avdiivka, the more it forces Ukraine to bring reserves and ammunition away from the South. There are two key things that they're after by attacking Avdiivka. And if they take Avdiivka, then that is sufficient for Putin to be able to say the war is a success so far. We are moving forward. We've captured more Ukrainian ground, etc. Those are the two big things. Avdiivka for success for Putin and pulling reserves away from the South.

What do you think the enemy's main plans will be, not only on the battlefield? For example, the head of foreign intelligence said that the Russians are planning to destroy our civilian infrastructure to cause a chain reaction in Ukrainian society. 

I agree. They did a lot of damage last winter with the energy, and I'm sure that they are intent on doing the same amount of damage this year. Of course it's going to be very difficult especially for those people living in the gray zone behind Kharkiv, where there are no shops anymore, and they are reliant completely upon volunteer aid. I have to say a lot of volunteer aid from Europe is coming in just bringing basic needs for people. So they will continue to attack the gray zone as much as they can. But then going deeper and deeper. I'm not sure exactly where this year they will attack but they're obviously going to focus on one or two of the major cities to try and destroy the infrastructure there. I'm sure that Odesa, Lviv and Kyiv will be hit as hard as possible because those are all hubs for more activity. Lviv for coming in from Poland and then of course Odesa for the wheat and any agriculture in the winter and Kyiv because it's Kyiv. So they're going to get attacked and probably quite badly. But strategically I don't think it's going to have an effect or the effect that Russia would like for the simple reason that Ukrainians have done it for a winter already. They're now more mentally prepared, and I know that the Ukrainian energy companies are much more prepared now for this war than they were last year. So that's the strategy that is not going to work.

A couple of days ago, Putin spoke online at the G20 summit, which was ignored by Joe Biden and Xi Jinping. Putin used the term war, which is forbidden in Russia, and declared the need for peace talks. For what purpose?

The first thing is do we know it was Putin or do we know whether it was one of his dummies because if it was the real Putin then I'm not sure he would have used the word war or maybe just war is now creeping into the head of whoever is speaking Putin or a Putin's double.

What Putin is trying to do or what the government is trying to do there is to give strength to those members of the European Union and other countries that are trying to call for peace. And so by Putin saying to people like Slovakia, Hungary, India, the BRICS that I want peace, he is making them more strong in their voice saying we think it's a good idea. The war is not going anywhere, now is the time for negotiations. But this is just a game from Putin and it's a game to muddy the waters and to try and slow down the aid and the support for Ukraine. Nothing else. There is no desire for peace whatsoever. What the desire is is to win by more devious methods than just the battlefield because the battlefield is not working.

Putin is preparing for a long war. The Russian economy may not be able to withstand it. Maybe Putin will be replaced by a double or a triple, but the military command is preparing after all. How will they do it?

There's no change to my thoughts about them wanting it to be a long war. All the evidence is that they are carefully mobilizing so that it doesn't create chaos in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. But for the rest of the country steady mobilization, increasing the ability to deliver weapons to the front line and they're also doing some quite clever things in electronic warfare that we would probably not have expected 12 months ago.

So Russia is lining itself up for two or three years or maybe even 10 or 15 years of protracted war and just keep banging away at Ukraine until Ukraine breaks. All the West breaks one or the other, probably looking at the Korean scenario in their minds that we can actually get them to a stalemate. And then we get a boundary and we get East Ukraine or Nova Russia and Ukraine and that's obviously what they're hoping for.

The good thing in some ways is that the general staff in Russia are not very clever. They're intelligent in their specific job, but they're not clever overall in their thinking strategically. It's quite possible that in loading the country to just for defense that they actually break the economics altogether. We know that the economy in Russia is very suspect in many areas. For example, the airlines are close to collapse in some places because they can't get the spares and because they can't actually keep the planes working properly in the air. That's a reflection of some areas in the economy. And if the airlines collapse or some of the airlines collapse, then other things must be close to collapse as well because you can't just have one part of the economy damaged but not everything else. Russia itself has got a sort of a crossing point where at one stage the defense is going up, and at the other stage the economy is going down. That crossing point I don't know is one year, six months, no idea when that point will be but at some stage I suspect that the economy will suffer somewhere and breakdown in some area. 

The other thing that we haven't talked about so much is that China looks as though it may be pulling back slightly from Russia. Some of the talks that have been lately look as though the Chinese realize that their future lies with the economy of the West. It doesn't lie with the economy of Russia. There's no economy of Russia to help China. China will go down the tubes if they rely on Russia. But they do rely on the European Union and America and that's where their money is. That's where their investments are, and that's where their markets are. China can't survive without the markets of the European Union and America.

There will be people telling the Chinese government now. Hey, hey stop, you've pulled this too far to one side. And what are we getting from Russia? Old military equipment? No, thank you.

So there are things happening which the long game may work against Russia

In any case, Xi Jinping invited Joe Biden to take and share influence around the world. He did this publicly. And as far as I understand, there is something to it. However, it is not yet clear how China will react to the US call to help Russia much less. But if the Chinese are interested, they can really set Putin up in a big way. 

The US military has no say in this whatsoever. Everything that is given to Ukraine comes out of the White House. The Ramstein meeting asks, and then the White House decides how much or what of that request is going to be granted. That is what I've been told not by one person but by several people that this is all the White House decision making. I'm absolutely 100% sure. I was in America last week by the way. So I'm absolutely sure that the military would give a lot more if they could and certainly they have a lot more. They've got masses much more equipment still in the Nevada desert with the National Guard and other older equipment that they could provide, especially Abraham's tanks. But the White House seems to be… I don't know whether it's set on keeping the war going slowly or whether they are genuinely worried about having to go and fight China. Or maybe it's a bit of both. I'm also not past thinking that there's at least one or two people in the White House who are more positive to Russia than they are to Ukraine. But it's very difficult to say at the moment. It's difficult to say whether there will be a change in what's going on. I think it will just carry on at the same sort of level that we've got at the moment - a bit a bit a bit a bit. Not any great upsurge, even if the military wanted to.

We understand that a war strategy requires resources. Within a few days, British Foreign Secretary Cameron, German Defense Minister Pistorius, and Pentagon Chief Austin visited Kyiv. What to expect?

I'm not sure that there's anything clever behind the scenes. I think we've reached the stage with that difficulty with Slovakia changing sides and Hungary showing its side that those who are very strong on supporting Ukraine just want to make the message clear. Because there was a feeling perhaps in the president's office that the support was slipping away. It's not slipping away. It's at a very difficult stage at the moment for everybody except for America because they've all given away everything that was spare. Latvia emptied the coffers. And so did Estonia and the Czech Republic. Poland has given a huge amount of equipment and is still waiting for new equipment to replace the old one. So there are a lot of people who are just worried that Ukraine might be thinking that they're going away. They're not going away. They're rethinking, they're thinking what to do next, where to put money, how to buy things that are difficult to buy like ammunition. It's very difficult to buy at the moment. There will be a lot of activity going on in the background. But that's because it's at that point now where that activity has to take place. It's no longer easy to support Ukraine. No longer easy at all. 

And I go back to what I've said to you many times: Ukraine needs to sort its diplomacy out because it's no good sending second rate people to be diplomats. You have to send the very best people that you've got. As those best people are the ones who can unlock money and support from different countries. And if you send secondary people, you'll get a second rate result. You won't get what you need. So diplomacy is absolutely vital. It's not a job for sending friends from Bankova anymore. They must stop doing that. They must start sending the very best that Ukraine has got to other countries.

But do the Americans have a strong-willed political decision to increase military aid?

The one big one is if Russia attacks NATO. That would change the game completely. No question about that. That will be the game changer, but I don't think that Putin wants to play that game, not for a long time yet because probably his army is at the weakest that it's been for 30-40 years.

To attack NATO now will be suicide for the country and they know that. I don't think that's going to happen. And because this will not happen, they are likely just to continue the whole thing trying to bleed Ukraine to death and wear out the enthusiasm of the West whilst doing hybrid activities to try and bring more countries into the Russian sphere of influence. I said more things would happen. I am sure that Russia is plotting other things, Hamas was one. I'm sure that they're plotting other activities in other countries and in other places to cause the West and to cause America problems.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces have established bridgeheads on the left bank of the Kherson region. In fierce fighting, the occupiers are being pushed back from the Dnipro. At the same time, an offensive near Robotyne is also underway in Zaporizhzhia. What are the possible scenarios?

The boys and girls are fighting cleverly now in Zaporizhzhia area, they're moving forward as steadily as they can. They can't move forward any faster than they are because of the mines, not enough artillery and just generally the difficulty of fighting that battle.

The marines have crossed the river, that is a completely different activity, and I'm not sure that Russia was prepared for that. This is going to cause them problems with their reserves because now they have to decide whether they're going to put people in the East of Avdiivka or whether they're going to pull some of the best ones out of Avdiivka and put them down facing Kherson. And I know that the troops in the Kherson area are moving forward slowly. They will continue to move forward slowly, as Russia has no capacity now to push them back. So I think it's going to be a case of where the break comes, whether it's in Zaporizhzhia or Kherson areas.

And it may not come all winter, but I think that both those areas will continue to move forward slowly until something happens. Let's keep our fingers crossed that the Russians actually just have not got the ability to handle three fronts at the same time.

Do you feel that the decision on F-16s has been made and that they will soon appear in our skies? Or can this story still be ongoing?

The training is taking place. You've seen that the school in Romania is opened and working. We know that F-16 pilots are training in other countries. So the F-16 is going to come. What effect does it have when it comes? It may not have much effect at all until the Air Force and the Army get their act together on how best to use the F-16. That may not be an easy thing to do in the initial stages. I'm sure it will have an effect but I don't think you can expect that it's going to have a grand effect because Russia has been preparing for the F-16 coming for a long time. They know they're coming, and they will do everything to keep them out of the air, to make it difficult for them to fly and to be active.

This is going to be a game changer, but not maybe as much as we expect. What's going to be important is how cleverly the General Staff use the F-16 and with how much focus they use them to break through in areas if they can, or at least to remove the Russian aircraft out of the sky because they don't want to fight F-16s. But I don't know when they're coming. I don't think anybody knows yet.

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