Sputnik: In a recent interviews with Sputnik you said that if Russia is "able to achieve some sort of demonstrable battlefield victory of such a large scale that the inevitable defeat of Ukraine is played before the European community, that would put a damper on the provision of weaponry [by the West] in a futile exercise." Could the surrender of Ukrainian military, National Guard and neo-Nazis in Azovstal be considered this sort of victory?
Scott Ritter: It's an impressive victory. It's an important victory. It's a strategic victory, but it's not the victory over Western weaponry that I was speaking of. It was a static victory, achieved after driving defenders underground. That was the latter half of the battle. It wasn't a battle against Ukrainian forces that had been trained and equipped, especially, with this new wave of military assistance. Now that battle is taking place. I think with what we're seeing in Donbas we see the potential formation of several cauldrons that have the potential of surrounding many thousands of Ukrainian troops. That's the victory I think that could turn the tide in terms of shaping or influencing opinion in Europe and elsewhere.
Sputnik: On 21 May, Biden signed a $40 billion military aid package to Ukraine. Could the provision of new weapons become a game-changer for Kiev?
Scott Ritter: It's not could, it is a game changer. That doesn't mean that Ukraine wins the game. But Russia started the special military operation with a limited number of troops and with clearly stated objectives that were designed to be achieved with this limited number of troops.
Today, Russia still has the same number of troops and the same objectives. But instead of going up against the Ukrainian military as it existed at the start of the conflict, it's now going up against a Ukrainian military that is supported by a weapons package that by itself nearly matches the defence budget for Russia in all of one year. I think the defence budget for Russia in 2021 was around $43 billion.
This package that was just provided nearly matches that and when you add it to what has already been provided during the first five months of 2022, that's $53 billion. That's nearly $10 billion more than Russia spends on the totality of its military in one year. That changes the game. Again, the $40 billion package is not all weapons. A lot of it is humanitarian support and then some other financial support. But it's still... The amount of money it's provided through in terms of weapons, it's a lot.
The United States and NATO are also providing real time intelligence support to the Ukrainians. That's a game changer. And NATO's countries have now provided Ukraine with strategic depth going back through Poland and Germany, where bases are being used to train Ukrainian forces on the new weapons that are being provided.
The game has changed. It's a completely different game today than what started on 24 February. Russia's special military operation continues to operate using the resources which had been allocated based upon a military capability that existed on 24 February. That military capability, that military reality has changed. Russia's capabilities have not. So it's a different game. It doesn't mean that Russia's going to lose, but it means that Russia will probably have to adapt to meet this new reality.
We can sit here and attack the $40 billion package. We can say that much of that are old weapons. We can say that the Ukrainians aren't trained on some of these weapons, that maintaining the weapons would be difficult, that Russia may be able to interdict some of these weapons before they get to the battlefield. And all of that is true. $40 billion is a lot of money, and it buys a lot of weapons. That's a lot of interdiction. And I don't think Russia has shown that it can get everything. We have seen some of these modern weapons appear on the front lines, which mean that Russia's not interdicting them.
Sputnik: Could you please provide your prognosis on how the military situation may evolve following the fall of Azovstal? Will Russia manage to encircle 8,000-15,000 armed forces of Ukraine in the Slavic-Kramatorsk direction?
Scott Ritter: Well with the last part of your question first. Using my skills with an incomplete set of data, I believe that Russia is achieving its stated operational objectives on the battlefield in Donbas, inclusive of the potential of encircling tens of thousands of Ukrainian forces. And some of these encirclements are taking place as we speak, especially near Severodonetsk to get some other areas. So I believe Russia is on the cusp of achieving some very major battlefield victories that will immensely further its phase two objectives of liberating Donbas from the Ukrainian forces.
We didn't learn about the second phase of the special military operation until late March when Russia suddenly said, okay, phase one is over. Now we begin phase two. So now, to evaluate phase one, we have to say, well, then what were the objectives of phase one - and Russia said - the objectives were to shape the battlefield. That is to achieve the objective of liberating Donbas and other unstated but obvious objectives such as securing a water supply for Crimea and that's why we see Kherson bridgehead, creating a land bridge between Crimea and Donbas and the Russian Federation. And that's where we see the drive up the Azov coast. These are part of, I think, the liberation of Donbas package.
And apparently by March, mid-March, late March, Russia believed that it had accomplished all of its objectives under phase one, meaning they had shaped the battlefield, they had destroyed sufficient Ukrainian military capability or neutralised it to the point that it could now focus on a successful battle in phase two, which focused on the Donbas.
And phase two is designed to complete the tasks, the military tasks of liberating the Donbas, creating the land bridge and securing water supplies for Crimea. And that seems like an important military victory. And it is. But now we go back to phase one. Because Russia said in addition to achieving its territorial aspects of this victory, it had two other military tasks, de-Nazification and demilitarization, and these military tasks were being done to achieve. And this is the really important part, a political objective.
Russia's objectives in this thing - and this is what Russia has said, a permanently neutral non-NATO Ukraine, linked to the strategic objectives that were outlined by Russia. I believe, on 17 December, when they provided two draft treaties, one to the United States, one to NATO, that said that Russia finds the existing situation in Europe this to be NATO and Russia unacceptable and it goes beyond simply Ukraine, beyond simply saying no to the eastward expansion of NATO. And it includes that NATO must work with Russia to redefine what European security looks like and that the new European security framework needs to include NATO's withdrawing back to the 1990-1997 lines. Now, this is Russia's stated objectives.
And now we have the United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaking about using this conflict to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia by inflicting so many casualties that Russia becomes weakened to the point that it can never again carry out an operation like this in Europe.
That's a completely different objective than what the United States was saying at the beginning. And NATO is bought into that objective. So my point is, when Russia finishes phase two, they're still going to be confronted with a hostile Ukraine that is more closely linked to NATO today than they were when the conflict started. And with a NATO that is not willing to roll over and accept Russia's demands regarding a new European security framework where both sides can live in peace together, but rather which is focused on destroying Russia and Ukraine through continued nonstop combat operations. Which means that Russia better have a phase three in mind because this war isn't over when they finish with phase two.
About the Author:
Scott Ritter is a former US Marine Corps intelligence officer whose service over a 20-plus-year career included tours of duty in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control agreements, serving on the staff of US Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf during the Gulf War and later as a chief weapons inspector with the UN in Iraq from 1991-98. The views expressed in this article are those of the author.