(January 18, 2024 – EPC)
- Andriy Zagorodnyuk, Chairman, Centre for Defence Strategies / Former Minister of Defence of Ukraine
- Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, Former Commanding General of US Army Europe / NATO Senior Mentor for Logistics / Senior Advisor to Human Rights First
- Amanda Paul, Senior Policy Analyst, European Policy Centre
This discussion provided valuable insights into the current situation on the battlefield and the potential trajectories for the conflict. The speakers discussed key aspects such as Ukraine’s defence capabilities, allies’ support, and the situation in the Black Sea Region.
1. Situation in 2024:
- Andriy Zagorodnyuk emphasized the pivotal role of active citizens, experts, and ex-militaries in shaping the security environment. The ever-changing context and the fluctuations in the public opinion underscore the impossibility of accurately predicting the future, because the security environment can be shaped by everybody, including all of us.
- The future remains uncertain, and Ukraine holds the power to influence the outcome of Russia’s invasion. The choice between victory and defeat is a political decision.
- The only certainty that we have now is that Ukraine is not going to surrender. Ukraine will fight with whatever they have. The Minister of Foreign Affairs recently stated that they will fight with shovels, if they need to, because for Ukraine there’s nothing worse than Russian occupation.
2. Challenges in Weapons Supply:
- Ukraine is facing a problem because it needs sufficient weapons. That’s crucial for Ukraine’s defence and potential counterattack. However, Ukraine is not receiving them, neither from Europe nor from the US.
- Nevertheless, there is a huge abundance of weapons around Europe and in the US. For example, in Sierra Army Depot, a basis in the United States of America, more specifically in California, there are vehicles and tanks, armored vehicles standing till the horizon.
- The EU’s ability to achieve its target of delivering 1 million shells to Ukraine by April 2024 remains uncertain. Current indications suggest that it is an impossible task, although the experts hold a pessimistic view on the matter.
- Lt. General Ben Hodges stressed that “our defence industries are not charities” and that “it’s possible to increase production, but you have to put money on it, this is a voluntary sort of thing for any business in any country.”
- The German Bundestag’s decision not to provide Taurus missiles was highlighted as a significant political failure.
3. Redefining Ukraine’s Success:
- Regarding the narrative of Ukraine’s impossibility to win, Lt. General Ben Hodges underscored that this narrative is absolutely false and is not based and any veridic facts. The reality is that Russia still only controls about 18% of Ukraine, and they have lost over 350,000 soldiers, either killed or wounded.
- Andriy Zagorodnyuk highlighted the announcement made by Ukraine of shipping pre-war volumes of grain, in the current moment. That is almost a phenomenal situation: even without having its own fleet, Ukraine did it. He added that Ukraine has only one ship, which deliberately remained in their control after being intentionally sunk by the Ukrainian Navy at the onset of the invasion to prevent it from falling into enemy hands.
4. Success and Challenges in the Black Sea:
- Ukraine has achieved success in the Black Sea, countering Russian presence. Nevertheless, the Former Minister of Defence of Ukraine emphasized that “the command of the seas is something (?), is a process, it’s not a status, so it needs to be supported all the time, so it needs weapons, it needs a continuous presence of Ukraine in waters, it needs drones, it needs all these missiles and so on.”
5. Shift in US Aid Situation:
- Till now, the US played a crucial role in delivering military aid to Ukraine. Nonetheless, the situation has changed since 1 October of 2023. The lack of US commitment to decisively support Ukraine is a huge problem for Ukraine.
- The Former Commanding General of US Army Europe accentuated that this situation makes him “embarrassed and angry that the US is failing to think and act strategically.” According to him, the American prosperity and security depends on European prosperity and security. The US shouldn’t let domestic political issues dominate and overtake the strategic thinking.
6. Ukraine’s and Russia’s Industrial Development:
- Andriy Zagorodnyuk underscored that without any type of help from of the US, “it will be extremely difficult, there is absolutely no way anyone in the world can replace that capacity, especially in a more or less short period of time.”
- Ukraine has been developing its own defence industry quite rapidly. On the other side, Russia is investing a lot of money into the military industry.
- The disadvantage of Russia is its older equipment because the country doesn’t have access to European and American companies.
7. Competition in Innovation and UK’s Role:
- In the current moment, there is a huge competition between Russia and Ukraine. Both are competing not only in the battlefield, but as well, in a technological war.
- On one hand, Russia has a centralized initiative, and an authoritarian regime, that is mostly government owned. (But I think this sentence doesn’t totally make sense like this) On the other hand, Ukraine is extremely decentralized, and they have basically a startup culture.
- The conflict extends to innovation approaches. The UK supports Ukraine with technologies in the current battlefield.
- Andriy Zagorodnyuk stressed that “each country has their own peculiarities, some countries may have more money than technologies, some may have more technologies than money, but I’m sure we can balance that if we build up a chain of these agreements it will be huge, so that’s what’s happening now.”
8. Challenges in Helping Ukraine:
- The first concern revolves around preoccupations regarding the escalation of war and the potential use of a nuclear weapon by Russia.
- The second factor involves Washington relying on advice from individuals often referred to as experts who have dedicated decades or their whole academic career to study Russia. Their perspective tends to view Russia as a great country and too big to fail.
- The third, China doesn’t have any advantage if Putin collapses because they have the cheap gas and they don’t want any disruption in that. Furthermore, for the Chinese population, witnessing the collapse or defeat of an autocratic regime is not viewed as favorable.
9. Sanctions and Economic Impact:
- Lt. General Ben Hodges discussed the limited utility of sanctions and their impact on the general population.
- Suggested targeting the top 100 richest people in Russia to make them feel the economic pain, putting pressure on the Kremlin.
- Highlighted the positive impact of sanctions on limiting Russia’s access to quality weapons and components.
10. Potential Game-Changing Operation
- Lt. General Ben Hodges reiterated the significance of destroying the Kerch Bridges to isolate and make Crimea untenable for Russia and for Russian forces.
- Discussed the importance of disrupting land approaches to Crimea.
In conclusion, the discussion was centered on the imperative of political will for imposing impactful sanctions on Russia. Both speakers accented the unpredictability of future scenarios and underscored the necessity of international support to ensure Ukraine’s defence and counteroffensive capabilities.
Link to the video recording of the conference: