Today’s episode will consist of:
- Possible Ukrainian offensive or counter-offensive expectations and estimations (1:49)
- Will there be a spring of offensive strategy by Ukrainians? (7:11)
- Russian forces within the Crimean Peninsula (8:41)
- Predictability due to the usage of satellites (11:15)
- Implications of newer technology on modern warfare (13:13)
- Mood in the US and China’s Perspective (18:38)
- Is there a potential for Russia to use nuclear weapons? (22:11)
- Status of Russian air for and the efficiency of the Ukrainian air defense (27:44)
- German response to the war (32:00)
- Ukraine’s growth in military adaptability and innovation due to the war (38:04)
General Ben Hodges, retired U.S. general chief of U.S. armies in Europe, currently works for a German think tank and as a NATO senior mentor for logistics, maintains heavy activity within the German public discourse, and advocates for the U.S. and Europe for helping Ukraine defeat Russia. This week’s episode of the War Zone podcast by Jan Macháček, chairman of the Institute for Politics and Society, and commentator and foreign news editor, Štĕpán Hobza, explores the complexities, and the strategic and logistic implications of the ongoing war between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
General Hodges opens the interview by identifying the key players and regions involved in the conflict, stating that „Russia and by extension China is such a threat to all the values we care about in Europe…and it’s interesting if you think this war actually started in 2014 so after nine years Russia only controls about 16 percent of Ukraine but that includes the most important part which is Crimea.“ Further, he explains that the most decisive terrain of the war is the region of Crimea. The report highlights a range of topics discussed in the interview, including the possibility of a Ukrainian offensive, Russian forces in the Crimean Peninsula, the use of new technology in modern warfare, and the impact of the conflict on Ukraine’s military adaptation and innovation. General Hodges notes that while the situation remains tense, Ukraine has made significant progress in improving its military capabilities.
The interview discusses the possibility of a Ukrainian offensive or counter-offensive. Unsure of when, General Hodges affirms that the Ukrainian offensive will occur, “aiming to isolate the Crimean Peninsula to cut off the land bridge that connects Crimea through Melitopol.” He explains that to engage in a Ukrainian offensive or counter-offensive, three conditions must be met: (1) the readiness of Ukrainian forces, (2) the disruption and degradation of Russian forces, and (3) dry ground for easier transport. The expert further notes that the Ukrainian military has been restrained, reorganized, and equipped with modern weaponry to take a more aggressive stance against Russia. They are confident in their ability to do so, and may be preparing for an offensive in the near future. Commentator Štĕpán Hobza inquires about this moment of surprise in the spring, in which we will see a Ukrainian offensive or counter-offensive, to which General Hodges asserts “I don’t think they ever intended to tie it to the calendar or to a season, [but] it’s when the conditions are met.”
A vital aspect of predictability in the current war is the usage and implications of satellites and drone technology, “everything is followed not only from drones but from a very precise satellite; everything and every movement is seen by both sides in this respect,” states Jan Macháček.
General Hodges asserts that drones are everywhere and are expendable, so everyone is learning to incorporate and integrate drone technology, whether for observation, targeting, or delivering a weapon. However, because both sides know this, they are figuring out ways to deceive drones, such as through decoys, hiding in plain sight, or breaking the link through electronic or digital means. Artificial intelligence is also being used to create fake pictures and deceive. Therefore, Hodges claims that while movements by either side are easier to view and expose, learning how to mask that is a part of modern warfare. “President Biden probably didn’t anticipate or didn’t want this war…he has not said what our strategic goals are, it’s not clear that he wants Ukraine to win. He does say things like we’re with Ukraine for as long as it takes all right for as long as what takes…I mean what does that mean? I think this is an empty statement, but it’s one that’s also used in Berlin and in London and everywhere else. That’s not a strategic outcome. I think that there is reluctance to actually say we want Ukraine to win, which means Ukraine gets all their territory back. It means that there will be let’s get these thousands of children back home to Ukraine and it also means some sort of security guarantee or some relationship until Ukraine finally becomes a member of NATO and the EU.”
General Hodges explains his analysis of the mood of the United States of the war in Ukraine. Undoubtedly, he expresses the lack of substance with the words and actions of the United States. Further encompassing this analysis, General Hodges explains the mood that China possesses in regard to the war, “China is watching to see if we are willing to stick together to do what’s necessary, that’s number one. I think China probably is not happy with Russia because this war did wake us up and all of us are improving our relationships so we’re growing capability producing ammunition…Of course, a lot of that’s going to happen right here in the Czech Republic and with Slovakia to become once again one of the main producers of armaments, which the West needs.”
The interview continues to discuss the possibility of Russian use of nuclear weapons. General Hodges believes that “there is an exaggerated concern over Russia using a nuclear weapon that if it comes down to it if Ukraine is being too successful and they’re about to take Crimea, which I think they will. I think the administration believes that President Putin might actually use a nuclear weapon. I don’t believe he will, in fact I’m sure he won’t but the administration does and so that’s why they stopped short of saying we want Ukraine to win…I don’t think we have clearly defined strategic goals yet.”
The next question posed towards General Hodges inquires why Putin does not use nuclear weapons if Crimea is reason enough? To which, General Hodges responds by saying that “I hear this also but this is what self-deterrence looks like, they have threatened to use a nuclear weapon since we provided the Javelin Stinger…and then nothing happens because they really can’t do anything. The Russians have not been able to destroy a single train, not one train coming from Poland with ammunition or equipment, not one convoy. They don’t have the ability to hit a moving target. They have failed to achieve air superiority. How can that be? They have a gigantic advantage in numbers of aircraft because air superiority is not just about numbers of airplanes. It’s about all of it’s an operation to eliminate air defense, eliminate the enemy’s air and so on. They couldn’t do it and so all of these threats about what they might do have been empty threats but they see that we stop or hesitate.”
His analysis of Russia’s self-deterrence, expressed in his discussion of the Russian military’s empty threats and inability to achieve air superiority, underscores the complexities of the conflict and the challenges facing those involved in seeking a peaceful resolution. The interview also discusses the impact of the war on Ukraine’s military adaptability and innovation. He notes that the conflict has forced Ukraine to develop new military technologies and argues that this could help to level the playing field in the conflict. General Hodges further explains that Ukraine has been investing heavily in research and development to develop new weapons and tactics to counter Russian aggression. Ukraine has made significant progress in improving its military capabilities and that this could help to deter Russian aggression in the future.