“We are not sending tanks to Ukraine to fight today, but to liberate Crimea tomorrow”

The Contact Group in Ukraine met this Friday, January 20 at the Ramstein air base (Germany) to discuss in particular the delivery of heavy weapons, such as battle tanks which were claimed by kyiv for months. In this meeting, the Germans, who had been hesitant about the delivery of their Leopard tanks, had to take a position. Description of the situation with Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, former Commander in Chief of US Army Europe from 2012 to 2017, and currently Coordinator of Strategic Studies at the European Center for Policy Analysis (CEPA).

Marianna: Does Russia still have the capacity to recruit other troops and, most importantly, to train them and assist them in the field?

Ben Hodges: Naturally, Vladimir Putin was able to mobilize new troops. On the other hand, I don’t believe Russia has the necessary logistics, military leaders, or equipment to train recruits. The last partial mobilization last September was nothing out of the ordinary and more than half a million Russians of military age left the country to escape this military levy. I believe that we will see another exodus even if the Russian government will try to be stricter this time around to try to prevent a departure

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The Russian army is in trouble in the Donbass region. Does the possibility of delivering battle tanks really match the needs in light of the current situation?

Russia is not in a very good position. It took them five months to take the city of Soledar in Donbass. Even if they now managed to take Bakhmout, which was uncertain and would cause thousands of casualties, it would probably be worth it. We must continue to assist Ukraine in order to stop the Russian army, prevent it from advancing and prepare for new attacks. It is in this perspective that the delivery of battle tanks becomes important. This is not to fight in Bakmut but to create a large military force in anticipation of next spring, when Ukraine decides to launch an operation to liberate Crimea.

Do you feel that eventually, Germany will agree to deliver Leopard II tanks to Ukraine?

I believe that it is much more important in the near future that Germany allows other countries to send their Leopards to Ukraine. I think, for example, of Poland, Finland and Norway. If this possibility materialises, it means that a number of Leopards could quickly arrive in Ukraine. A very embarrassing article was published a few days ago in Germany in which German manufacturer Rheinmetall (which manufactures battle tanks), stated that the Leopard cannot be delivered before 2024. I feel that they could get things done quicker if they had more money.

Vladimir Putin has always said that battle tanks represent a red line and he will not hesitate to use nuclear weapons if we send heavy weaponry like tanks. Do you think Moscow will react? And how?

It doesn’t mean anything. Moscow has been raising the nuclear threat for a year and we continue to ship weapons to Ukraine. The Russians are trapped and they will never go nuclear. They know that it will not bring them any advantage, on the contrary. Joe Biden has been very clear on this point in saying that the consequences of such an action would be catastrophic for Russia, and his message was very well conveyed in Moscow. They will continue to complain, making speeches like they did two days ago when Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s head of diplomacy, declared that everything was the fault of the West. The fact is that they no longer have any credibility. We should have delivered the heavy equipment earlier.

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Can we talk about the escalation, the evolution of the war, with the delivery of the Leopards?

The question is not being asked in terms of one arsenal or another. Battle tanks alone are not the key to solving problems and ending wars. All it takes is to step on the accelerator to form a brigade, a division capable of using the ordnance that is delivered. With the French AMX10RC armored vehicles, for example, we prepared the artillery. We must succeed in creating the units that will allow Ukraine to launch an offensive next spring to isolate Crimea. I believe that in the end Russia will be defeated if we do everything we promise. We must provide the Ukrainians with long-range precision weapons to enable them to encircle Crimea and force the Russians to retreat. This scenario implies difficulties for Vladimir Putin who will find it difficult to stay in power. Everyone knows that the Kremlin’s tenants cause wars and all the ensuing disasters. There may be significant changes.

Joe Biden is currently grappling with the issue of classified documents found at his residence in Delaware. Could this affair have an impact on American aid to Ukraine?

Never. This case is called political distraction. Congress supports Ukraine. Apart from some representatives of the extreme right as well as the extreme left, everyone admits that victory for Ukraine is very important from a strategic point of view. America’s prosperity is linked to Europe’s prosperity, which depends on European stability and security.

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