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Atlantic Council | 30Mar2015 | General Wesley Clark, [2] 26Feb2015, [3] Ashish Kumar Sen

Briefing from Ukraine’s Front Lines

General Wesley K. Clark (Ret.)
Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander
March 30, 2015

[ ... video ... ] [01:25:19]


 The Kremlin has been waging a covert, hybrid war against Ukraine since February of 2014. In this war, Moscow has used a combination of local separatist forces, irregular volunteers, and Russian special forces and regular (conventional) forces. Since the original Minsk I ceasefire in September and the Minsk II ceasefire in February, the Kremlin-directed forces have taken additional territory.

The team consisted of General Wesley K. Clark (Ret.), former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, Lieutenant General Patrick M. Hughes (Ret.), former Director, Defense Intelligence Agency, and Lieutenant General John S. Caldwell (Ret.), former Army Research, Development and Acquisition Chief. The team met with senior civilian and military officials, including Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Ukrainian Chief of the General Staff Viktor Muzhenko, US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, and Ukrainian ministers, parliamentarians, and leaders at all levels of the military, both in Kyiv and in the operational area.

Key Findings

The form of warfare currently undertaken by aggressor forces in Ukraine is a hybrid-heavy form of warfare -- a new model not seen before. Despite political and media commentary to the contrary, the fighting in Ukraine is not a civil war driven by Ukrainian separatists. It is a war directed, financed, and supplied by the Kremlin that also exploits the discontent of some of the population of the Donbas.

The idea that Ukraine is helpless against Russian aggression is wrong and should be refuted, but, on balance, Ukraine’s capabilities are woefully inadequate.

Ukraine Is Marshalling All Available Resources

The Ukrainian government has adequately marshalled the resources it has, but Ukrainian forces are arrayed against a much stronger aggressor. Ukrainians are mobilizing under conscription. Some forty-one thousand troops have been mobilized thus far. New forces are being rudimentarily trained and sent into the operational area for further training during this cease-fire.

 Russian Forces Are More Numerous and Technologically Advanced

Ukrainians do well against the separatists and irregulars but cannot withstand direct engagement with Russian regular forces, who are heavily involved in the fighting in Ukraine’s east. According to estimates, some nine thousand Russian Federation personnel and thirty to thirty-five thousand separatist fighters are in eastern Ukraine. These forces include some four hundred tanks and seven hundred pieces of artillery, including rocket launchers. Another approximately fifty thousand Russian military personnel are located along or near Russia’s border with Ukraine. A further fifty thousand Russian personnel are located in Crimea.

Russian forces use very advanced weapons systems -- tanks, artillery and mortars, air defense systems, helicopters, secure communications, electronic countermeasures, communications intelligence, imagery systems, satellite-borne systems, and other tactical and operational capabilities.

 Ukrainians Are Missing Key Capabilities

Ukraine is using old “Soviet-era” equipment combined with limited numbers of modern equipment and capabilities. Ukrainian forces are at a huge military equipment shortage:


Ukrainian forces expect attack within the next sixty days. This assessment is based on geographic imperatives, the ongoing pattern of Russian activity, and an analysis of Russian actions, statements, and Putin’s psychology to date.


By itself, Ukraine will not be able to stop the aggression. Ukraine needs immediate military assistance in seven critical areas:

  1.  strategic imagery and other electronic/communications intelligence detailed and timely enough to be able to provide warning of an impending attack;
  2.  long-range, mobile anti-armor systems, as well as the shorter ranger Javelin system, both equipped with thermal imagery;
  3.  secure tactical communications down to vehicle level;
  4. long-range, modern counter battery radars able to detect firing positions for long range rockets;
  5.  sniper rifles with thermal or night vision sights for counter sniper teams;
  6. modern intelligence collection and EW systems effective against Russian digital communications; and
  7.  whatever counter UAV systems can be made available on a near-term basis. The urgency here is driven by the pending Russian spring offensive. At the minimum, a palletized, emergency assistance package consisting of as much of the lethal components as possible should be assembled and pre-deployed for strategic airlift upon commencement of the Russian offensive.

USA Today | 26Feb2015 | Wesley Clark

Remember Rwanda. Arm Ukraine.

Diplomacy can't stop wars without military power.

In the old days of the post-Cold War world, the U.S. learned the hard way that when we could make a difference, we should. In Rwanda, we didn't, and 800,000 died. In Bosnia, we tarried, and more than 100,000 died and 2 million were displaced before we acted. It's time to take those lessons and now act in Ukraine.

In the Balkans in 1991, we let the Europeans lead with diplomacy to halt Serb aggression disguised as ethnic conflict. Diplomacy failed. We supported the Europeans when they asked for United Nations peacekeepers, from Britain, France, Sweden and even Bangladesh. That also failed. Only when the U.S. took the lead and applied military power to reinforce diplomacy did we halt the conflict. And we did succeed in ending it with minimal expense and without losing a single soldier.

In Ukraine today, Russian-backed forces continue to reinforce and attack Ukrainian positions. The Minsk II agreement that calls for a cease-fire, pullback of heavy weapons, and withdrawal of foreign forces hasn't been implemented. Losses on both sides are heavy, far heavier than publicly acknowledged. Russia is using its newest equipment -- tanks, long range rockets, cluster munitions, drones, electronic warfare -- to slowly grind away Ukrainian forces that lack modern equipment. Russia, of course, still denies its troops are present: This is "hybrid warfare," military aggression covered by the cloak of lies and propaganda. But, actually, except perhaps for a few stubborn European diplomats, there is surprisingly little dispute as to the facts.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel insists there is no military solution -- but, as in the Balkans, there will be no diplomatic solution until the military "door" is closed for Russian President Vladimir Putin. And closing the door is actually simpler than many would have you believe.

According to Ukrainian sources, Putin ordered Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian general staff, to seize territory out to the provincial boundaries of Luhansk and Donetsk by Jan. 31. Russia failed to secure these provinces in the face of stubborn and heroic Ukrainian resistance.

But as a result, Ukraine's forces are much weaker, while Russia continues to pour in tanks and artillery.

For diplomacy to work, the front must be stabilized. Ukraine needs the means to defend itself: anti-armor, counterfire radar, drones, night vision capabilities and secure communications. All this is readily available from the stocks of the United States, Poland and other allies. It requires no U.S. soldiers in the fight and no U.S. air power. It is not a proxy war against Russia; it is simple assistance to a fledgling democracy seeking the right to choose its own course.

The U.S. should take the lead now, as we did in the Balkans: Tell Putin he'll get some eventual phased sanctions relief if he halts aggression, pulls back and obeys international norms of behavior. The Minsk II agreement is a starting point, but Russia needs to recognize all Ukraine's borders, including Crimea. If not, the Ukrainians will receive all the arms they need to stop his aggression. This can all be couched in the normal diplomatic terms, and we can invite Germany to come along to deliver the message. In the meantime, we need to accelerate the delivery of the minimal assistance we have already promised and encourage our allies to immediately deliver anti-armor and artillery ammunition.

Some will say this won't work because Putin will simply reinforce, but there are limits to Russian power, even on its borders. After six trips to Ukraine, including meetings with the Ukrainian president and defense minister, I have come away impressed with Ukrainians' determination. They will fight hard. Meanwhile, Putin is still trying to disguise Russian aggression from his own populace. Russian losses are increasingly difficult to conceal.

Others say Putin might retaliate elsewhere, with a wider war, or break off cooperation on the Iranian nuclear weapons talks. But if Putin seeks a wider war, far better to find out now than when he has digested Ukraine and is on NATO's borders. So far as his participation in the Iran talks are concerned, he knows that this is his most powerful leverage. He's unlikely to throw it away.

As a senior officer who worked with Richard Holbrooke on the Dayton peace accords, and later as NATO commander for the peace implementation, I find all the arguments about Ukraine depressingly familiar. What is new is America's reluctance to understand and fulfill its leading role as the guarantor of peace and security in Europe.

Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has remained deeply engaged in European security. We recognized that our security depended on a free, democratic and peaceful Europe. During the Cold War, we maintained 400,000 servicemembers there to deter the Soviet Union. In the post-Cold War, we acted to bring peace to Bosnia and halt ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Today, our challenge is Russian aggression in Ukraine, contravening international law, threatening stability in Europe. We cannot recreate American prosperity, ameliorate income inequality, "pivot" to Asia, or deal with international terrorism without stability and support from Europe. Strategic patience will fail if we accept Russian aggression in Ukraine. It is time for America to lead.

Retired General Wesley K. Clark, a former supreme commander of NATO, led alliance military forces in the Kosovo War. He is a senior fellow at the Burkle Center for International Relations at UCLA and author of Don't Wait for the Next War: A Strategy for American Growth and Global Leadership. Clark's Ukraine trips were paid for by the Potomac Foundation and the Open Society Institute.

Atlantic Council | 30Mar2015 | Ashish Kumar Sen

Russia Plans Spring Offensive in Ukraine, Warns Ex-NATO Chief Wesley Clark

“At every level, people are very conscious of the fact that they are fighting what they consider the battle for Western civilization. They are fighting for us,” retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, said of Ukrainian troops.

Russian-backed separatists are planning a fresh offensive in eastern Ukraine that could come within a matter of months, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, warned March 30, 2015.

“What is happening now is preparations for a renewed offensive from the east,” and this could take place following Orthodox Easter, on April 12, and “most probably” before VE Day on May 8, 2015, Clark said, citing multiple local sources he spoke with on a recent fact-finding mission to Ukraine.

“That’s what all the talking is about right now, preparing the cover for the next attack,” he said.

Given that an attack is “imminent,” Clark said the Obama administration should take two specific actions to bolster Ukrainian security forces:
These two actions would fall within the parameters of the administration’s current policy not to provide lethal assistance to Ukraine.

“In the event you can’t change [US policy], at least you can have a package and promise it, promote it, explain it, and use it in deterrence … The fact that the United States is coming to the rescue would go like a shot of adrenalin from top to bottom of the Ukrainian armed forces,” said Clark.

“At every level, people are very conscious of the fact that they are fighting what they consider the battle for Western civilization,” he added. “They are fighting for us.”

Seven areas of assistance

Clark briefed an audience at the Atlantic Council on the findings of his mid-March visit to Ukraine. He traveled with retired Lt. Gen. Patrick M. Hughes, former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and retired Lt. Gen. John S. Caldwell, former Army Research, Development and Acquisition Chief. The Atlantic Council and Open Society Foundations sponsored the trip.

Clark specifically laid out seven key areas of immediate military assistance for Ukraine. These are:
A report produced in February by the Atlantic Council, the Brookings Institution, and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs urged the United States to give Ukraine defensive weapons and $3 billion in military aid over three years in a bid to deter Russian aggression in Eastern Europe.

Clark supported the call to provide defensive weapons, adding that Ukraine’s military has fought frontline Russian forces, separatists, and high-technology weapons and drones that even US forces have not had to face.

Jan Lodal, one of the authors of that report and a Distinguished Fellow and former President of the Atlantic Council, moderated the March 30 discussion with Clark. He said Washington’s “slowness” to provide this military assistance to the Ukrainians “is a major risk to us.”

Minsk II ‘roughly in place’

Russia and Ukraine agreed to the so-called Minsk II ceasefire in February. The previous Minsk agreement collapsed within days of its September 5, 2014, signing in Belarus’ capital. 

At the time of his visit, Clark said, “Minsk II was roughly in place. Some artillery had been pulled back by the separatists, but some had been, according to sources, concealed in forward positions.”

Additional military supplies and equipment were being brought into Ukraine from across an open border with Russia, he added.

Under Minsk II, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is to verify the withdrawal of heavy weapons. However, the OSCE is handicapped by the fact that it has only a couple of observation points, and that Russian military personnel make up more than half of its monitoring missions, said Clark. On these missions, Russian military personnel are free to check out Ukrainian positions and are bound by an “honor code” not to relay this information to Russian forces.

“OSCE is essentially non-functioning,” said Clark, who led Operation Allied Force in the Kosovo War during his term as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe from 1997 to 2000.

Putin’s bigger goal

Moscow’s goal in Ukraine is to bring its eastern neighbor back into Russia’s orbit, said Clark. As part of that effort, Russia’s war plan has four phases: terrorism, irregular forces, Russian peacekeeping forces, and a de-escalatory phase.

He said Russian special forces known as Spetsnaz had occupied buildings during operations in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.  

He described Putin as the “military commander” of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, but cautioned against simply focusing on the Russian leader’s objectives as purely being military or geographical.

“[Putin’s] objective in this would be much broader than Ukraine. It would be to shatter the sense of well-being and confidence among the nations of Eastern Europe in NATO protection and, ideally, to drive a permanent wedge between the United States and its European allies, and the Western allies and Eastern Europe,” he added.

The United States and the 28-member European Union imposed economic sanctions against Russian officials and companies after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and its aggression against eastern Ukraine, but as Clark said, “there are limitations to what we should expect of sanctions.”

“You need a balanced approach,” he explained, “You need the sanctions, you need the ability of the Ukrainians to resist, to strengthen their ability to resist, to drive this back into the diplomatic channel and to keep it there.”

Ashish Kumar Sen is a staff writer at the Atlantic Council.