When another military offensive might happen in Ukraine, and what it would look like
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Let's bring in Ben Hodges, the former commanding general of the U.S. Army in Europe. We have found him in Germany. General, welcome to the program. And Happy New Year.
BEN HODGES: Happy New Year, Steve. Thank you.
INSKEEP: So we just heard that survey. Many, many Ukrainians seem to think that victory is within their grasp within eight or nine months, end of summer. Is that possible?
HODGES: It's absolutely possible, Steve. And I would say it's likely. I think that Ukraine has the chance to liberate Crimea by the end of August, the end of this summer. And once Crimea is liberated, which is the decisive part of Ukraine for this war, the rest would follow soon after that because that would unleash all sorts of internal challenges for the Kremlin afterwards.
INSKEEP: Wow. That would be a dramatic change. You're saying that you think Ukraine has a chance to move forward, not just recapture territory that the Russians captured in recent months, but to recapture this peninsula that the Russians have held since 2014. I'm just thinking of the technical difficulty - the tactical difficulty of that, General. It's a very narrow neck of the peninsula even getting on there. The Russians, you think, could not even defend that little space?
HODGES: Well, of course, if this was the 18th or even the 19th century, that's how people would try to attack it. But that's not how the Ukrainians are going to do it. I'm glad you mentioned 2014 because here we are after eight years since Russia invaded Ukraine, eight years. Russia still controls only about 10 to 12% of Ukraine despite having every single advantage. And they are losing their grip on the percentage that they do control. I anticipate that Ukraine will isolate Crimea by going after the only two roads that connect the Crimean Peninsula to the mainland. The most well-known, of course, is where the Kerch Bridge connects.
HODGES: And it's already been hit very hard. And I'm sure it will be revisited several times. The other land line of communication is the so-called land bridge that runs from Rostov through Mariupol to Melitopol and to Crimea. And the Ukrainians are already able to hit that. So by doing that over the next couple of months, pretty soon, I think, Crimea becomes untenable for the Russians.
INSKEEP: You're telling me that acting through the air or through the water, the Ukrainians can isolate and besiege Crimea until they give up?
HODGES: Yeah, war is a test of will. And it's a test of logistics. And the Russian logistics system was never designed to support sustained land operations outside of Russia. But that's what they've been having to do for 10 months. And so they're trying to string it out as long as they can by feeding untrained, unlucky men into the battle around Bakhmut, as Julian just talked about, but also by going after the power grid to make this go as long as possible until we lose the will to support Ukraine. That's not working. And so the Ukrainians will be able to disrupt and degrade Russian logistics enough that Crimea eventually becomes a trap for the Russian forces there.
INSKEEP: Do you see any sign, General, that the Russians are recognizing their own errors and making proper course corrections?
HODGES: I think that it's a great question. I can't tell for sure what all is going on inside there. They have tried to fix one of their main problems, which was unity of command, by appointing this guy, General Surovikin. But even he does not have total command over everything. You've got mercenary groups like the Wagner Group. Shoigu, the defense minister, has his own private military company. And Kadyrov, the leader of the Chechens, is doing a pretty good job of keeping Chechen forces out of the meat grinder so that he is positioned, in the aftermath, to either be the savior or to - or the replacement.
INSKEEP: You're telling me that there's really not unified command, that people are still not putting everything on the line?
HODGES: It is a very incoherent command organization. Not one day in 10 months have they done what the U.S. would call joint operations, where you have air, land and sea operating together. Thank God they have not been able to fix that. And I don't think it's in their culture to fix it. Instead, they rely on what they did. They rely on what they did a hundred years ago, which is mass artillery and untrained infantry.
INSKEEP: And sending masses and masses of people into the fight. General, thank you so much.
HODGES: Thanks for the privilege.
INSKEEP: That's U.S. Army retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.