Against the backdrop of growing support from Ukraine's Western partners in terms of arms supply, including heavy tanks, and mounting concerns about the Kremlin's likely plans to launch another "major offensive" attempt, Ukrinform spoke with Dan Rice, special adviser to the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, who once again visited Ukraine for consultations with the military leadership and assessment of the situation at the front.
He spoke of what weapons should Ukraine ask for from its partners immediately, how Putin's nuclear blackmail is perceived in the West, whether it is worth worrying about further bipartisan support for Ukraine in the United States, what is the modern-day war about, and much more.
MY HOPE IS THAT UKRAINE WILL HAVE A FEW MORE ARMORED COMBAT BRIGADES THAT CAN ENVELOPE AND DESTROY RUSSIAN FORCES
- Germany has freed the Leopards and now President Biden said he is sending 31 Abrams, noting that this will improve maneuverability of Ukrainian forces. How would you comment on this move? Could this be a counteroffensive game changer?
- Modern combat is about “fire and maneuver”. Ukraine has proven very successful at fires- direct fires, indirect fires in both the defense and the offense. In order to take large areas of occupied territory back, it requires an armored force with tanks, armored fighting vehicles, coordinated artillery and air power, so Ukrainian forces can punch through and envelope (maneuver) large-scale Russian forces and destroy or capture them. The main battle tanks and fighting vehicles being provided will provide that capability. The numbers are increasing steadily, and Ukraine will need 300 or more main battle tanks and 300 or more armored fighting vehicles to take a major offensive. My hope is after we have a few more armored combat brigades that Ukraine can envelope and destroy a large-sized Russian division unit.
UKRAINE NEEDS THE CAPABILITY TO REACH DEEP AND DISRUPT ANY SUPPLY DEPOTS, LARGE TROOP CONCENTRATIONS AND COMMAND AND CONTROL THAT ARE OUTSIDE THE RANGE OF HIMARS
- The January 20 package included hundreds of armored vehicles, air defense systems, missiles, and other capabilities. At the same time, Russia still outnumbers Ukraine in terms of most major weaponry – artillery, armored vehicles, and aviation. In your opinion, what weapons that have not yet been transferred to Ukraine are now most required by the Ukrainian army? What kind of equipment should the Ukrainian government ask partners to send?
- The first thing Ukraine needs is the capability to strike deep into the occupied territories with long range rockets such as ATACMs and/or fighter/bomber aircraft such as the F-16. Russia has moved supply depots outside the range of HIMARS, and Ukraine needs the capability to reach deep and disrupt any supply depots, large troop concentrations and command and control that are outside the range of HIMARS. These do not have to be committed upon sequentially, they should be approved immediately by the west to be available in time for the spring and summer offensives from both Ukraine and Russian forces.
TOW MISSILES ARE IDEAL FOR THE OPEN TERRAIN OF THE DONBAS
- Ukraine received BGM-71 TOW systems from the U.S. as part of one of the previous aid packages (1,500 heavy anti-tank TOW missiles, August 2022). The launchers were installed on highly mobile HMMWVs. The first messages about their combat use appeared on social media late September. How did they perform in combat conditions? Is the supply of this range of missiles expected to increase?
- One of the first recommendations I had in May 2022 was to request TOW missiles. The Javelin is an the best “fire and forget” single man launched anti-tank weapon in the world with a 93% kill rate in combat, but there are limited Javelins available in the world. The TOW is a much older system of course, and is a much larger system and requires a crew of three to fire. But there are tens of thousands of them in excess inventory in the U.S. Army. And they can still kill Russian tanks and Russian soldiers. They are both readily available, and despite needing a larger crew, and requiring the operator to guide the missile to the target, they work. And they have longer range than the Javelin. They are ideal for the open terrain of the Donbas for long-range strikes against armor or bunkers. Now that the HMMWV-mounted TOWs have proven themselves in combat, I would expect this number to increase significantly soon.
DPICM IS A LEGAL WEAPON
- Let’s touch on DPICM. Talks about this type of munitions have been going on for some time. It is noted that its use can bring more efficiency to the battlefield, since one projectile does the job of a dozen high-explosive projectiles. But some are concerned about the ethical aspect. There’s ambiguous public opinion on these munitions primarily because 3% of them do not explode, and their use in the urban terrain is impossible due to the threat to the civilian population. What is your opinion on the matter?
- DPICM is needed immediately on the battlefield. It is a legal weapon. I have been publishing and speaking about this since July when I discovered in the Donbas that we were only providing the much less effective High Explosive (HE) rounds. Ukraine will obviously only use this against known Russian military targets. Those in the west that argue against giving Ukraine DPICM have never been to Ukraine during the war. There is unexploded ordnance everywhere, due primarily due to the illegal Russian invaders. To deny Ukraine the ability to defend herself, by claiming someone in the west cares more about Ukrainian civilians than Ukrainian leadership cares, is ignorant, arrogant and dangerous.
DPICM was designed specifically to fight against superior numbers of, specifically, Russian artillery on the European battlefield. It is the moral imperative for the West to provide DPICM rather than the much less effective High Explosive rounds that are currently being provided. The Cluster Munitions Convention was a well-intended, but naïve group of Western leaders who only handicapped the 50 year-old planned defense of Europe against a superior Russian invading artillery force. And Ukraine is paying the price for the West’s naivety. Neither Ukraine, nor Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Turkey signed the Cluster Munitions Convention because they knew the main artillery defense, against a superior Russian artillery invasion, was always intended and planned to be DPICM. Not HE.
THERE ARE FRINGE ELEMENTS ON BOTH REPUBLICAN AND DEMOCRATIC PARTIES
- The United States is certainly one of Ukraine's key partners in the war, and its role in ensuring Ukraine's security is difficult to overestimate. But the need to continue military support for Ukraine is regularly questioned by a certain group of Republican lawmakers. In general, Russia uses the Ukraine issue to deepen the existing tensions between the Republicans and Democrats. How would you assess the domestic political risks for the U.S. in this regard? Is the issue as urgent as Russian propaganda is trying to portray?
- No, I do not believe it is an urgent issue. There are fringe elements on both the Republican and the Democratic parties that used the Ukraine war in the November 2022 election to try to differentiate from their opponents for election purposes. Many of these voices were silenced after the November elections and certainly after President Zelensky's historic and incredible speech before Congress December 21, 2022. I believe the United States, and NATO, will remain firmly behind Ukraine.
WE NEED TO BREAK THE WILL OF THE RUSSIAN ARMY WITHIN UKRAINE AND THE WILL OF THE RUSSIAN POPULATION TO SUPPORT THE WAR
- In your expert opinion, what could be the next turning point in the war and when could it happen?
- In every war, each commander wants to win. There is always uncertainty. A surprise could happen either way. But I believe momentum is decidedly leaning towards a Ukrainian victory. The Ukrainian army is much larger and much better supplied than one year ago. Ukrainian leadership has time and again proven far superior to Russian leadership. The Russian army has been degraded significantly over the past year in every possible way. The Ukrainian army has proven to be the best army in all of Europe, and is now being supplied with the proper arms and ammunition, by all of Europe and the United States. Russian casualties have increased daily to almost 1,000 killed in action and 3,000 wounded every day. Putin’s propaganda at home in Russia can only last so long. Returning soldiers, wounded and those rotating out, all know this war was futile and baseless. Discontent within Russia is reporting increasing with these continued mobilizations and increased casualties for a futile effort.
We need to break the will of the Russian army within Ukraine and the will of the Russian population to support the war. The need for DPICM to increase Russian casualties in this war of attrition could not be over-exaggerated. DPICM could be the game changer to win this war of attrition.
I BELIEVE BOTH COMMANDERS WILL PLAN A SPRING OFFENSIVE
- What is your assessment of Putin’s possible next step in the war? Experts believe he could launch another major offensive despite it not being seen as feasible at the moment? Do you think he will proceed with this plan and if so, where the Russians could strike?
- I believe both commanders will plan a spring offensive. Russia, in my opinion, has lost the ability to make any significant gains on the offensive. Russia has lost the ability to sustain any large-scale offensive due to Ukrainian proven ability to defend, even significantly outnumbered, using a small number of precision-guided weapons supported by very accurate artillery.
EARLY IN THE WAR, MANY WESTERN POLITICIANS WERE MORE AFRAID OF PUTIN LOSING
- Is there a feeling overseas that the leaders are wary of nuclear threats voiced by some Russian senior officials? Do you think Moscow is succeeding in intimidating the West with its “nuclear baton”?
- Everyone in the West is concerned about an escalation, conventional or nuclear. I believe early in the war, many Western politicians were more afraid of Putin losing than they were concerned with Ukraine losing. So the weapons and ammo flow started off terribly slowly. And one by one new weapons systems were approved. And the slow response was paid for in Ukrainian blood. The horror of this Russian horde has become more alarming to the West, and President Zelensky’s leadership has educated them that supplying the Ukrainian military with the weapon it needs to win, is not just in the best interests of Ukraine, but all of western civilization.
Russia has had nuclear weapons since 1949. Putin knows this is an elective offensive war that he started. He knows if he uses a tactical nuclear weapon or intentionally causes a meltdown in Zaporizhia, nuclear facility, would spell the end of his regime. I believe the concern for a nuclear event is very low, and that is reflected in the significant increase in weapons of all types now being supplied by the West. The fear of continued Russian aggression within Ukraine, and if successful in Ukraine, then elsewhere in Eastern Europe, has finally spurred the West to increase lethal aid to Ukraine, rather than withhold it as was done last summer.
THIS WAR IS ALREADY BOGGED DOWN IN AN ARTILLERY DUEL WAR OF ATTRITION
- How would you assess the risk of the war being frozen and moving into a long-term phase? What should Ukraine and its partners do now to prevent this from happening?
- This already is bogged down in an artillery duel war of attrition. Which is why the West MUST immediately provide increased lethal fires, mostly from DPICM and ATACMS. So long as there is a Russian front line in Ukraine, it should be under fire from the most lethal conventional firepower the West can provide. And that is DPICM and ATACMs.
We provided 1 million rounds of High Explosive (HE) and rough numbers probably killed 50,000 Russians. That’s one dead Russian for every 20 rounds. I believe when DPICM is used on this terrain, in the open, with accurate drone observers, and experienced and accurate Ukrainian gunners, against attacking Russians, every round will kill multiple Russians. That’s an exponential increase in lethality that more than warrants any trade-offs.