Let me state upfront that I like and respect Scott Ritter. If you define a friend as someone you communicate with regularly then Scott is not a friend. He is an acquaintance. I have reached out to him recently but he has not responded. Could be he did not get my email.
I present this background because I take issue with the substance of his latest interview with Sputnick. As a sideline, it is worth noting that Scott’s critique of the Russian military strategy is not silenced by Sputnick. They published it. Please show me one American media outlet that would allow a critique of the Biden policy? There is not one.
Scott is insisting that Biden’s decision to supply Ukraine with $40 billion dollars is a “game changer.” Here is what he wrote in response to questions from Sputnik:
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.
I think Scott is wrong. Let me explain.
Money may make the world go around but it does not magically produce trained, enthusiastic troops willing and capable of using such weapons. During my time at the U.S. State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism, I was the Deputy Director for the Anti-Terrorism Assistance Training Program (ATAP). We discovered that no matter how much money the United States wanted to supply to a specific country to combat terrorism we reached a saturation point. We learned that you reach a point where there are no more people to train or the recipients of the training could not absorb the support.
Ukraine’s problem right now is not a lack of equipment. The had combat aircraft, helicopters, tanks, artillery and drones. Russia destroyed a significant amount of that materiel and killed the soldiers and pilots who were trained to operate those systems. Training replacements–competent replacements–can not be accomplished in a one or two day seminar. Training a pilot or an artillery crew, for example, requires weeks and, in some circumstances, months of instruction before the trainees are ready to go to battle.
As I noted in my previous post, the U.S. decision to send M-155 howitzers to Ukraine is another meaningless gesture. These guns can only get into position by being towed by a vehicle. Once the howitzer is set up and starts firing it is immediately vulnerable to counter battery fire. The best method to counteract counter battery fire is to move the artillery piece to a new location immediately after it fires. You can not do this with the M-155.
I have yet to see a list of the equipment this $40 billion is supposed to buy for Ukraine, but it does not appear that the United States is sending its best first generation weapons. Up to this point we have not seen a single instance of the Ukrainian military mounting a counter attack with air and land assets against Russian forces and winning the day. When the Azov battalion was surrounded at Azovstal, we did not see the Ukrainians attempt an operation akin to Field Marshal Erich von Manstein’s failed attempt to rescue Field Marshal von Paulus at Stalingrad. The answer is simple–the Ukrainians either did not have such a force with the capability to save the Azov thugs or it feared that Russia’s air power and artillery would wipe out or inflict unacceptable casualties on a rescue force. Hence, Azov surrendered unconditionally.
Scott Ritter sees the training of Ukrainian troops in Poland and Germany as a critical variable that could really hurt the Russians. Training reinforcements on new technology might be a potential game changer if the situation on the ground in Ukraine was static. It is not. Russia is grinding down the entrenched Ukrainian forces in the Donbass . Russia is shooting down any Ukrainian planes that dare to take off. Russia is destroying artillery and tank emplacements with counter battery fire. Russia is shooting down drones with regularity. Even if those new trainees graduate and are deployed to the eastern maelstrom, their ability to function as a competent combat unit is limited by Ukraine’s existing and growing deficiencies.
Scott also asserts that intelligence sharing gives the Ukrainians an edge. When you provide intelligence on Russian troop movements, locations or plans, there is an assumption that the recipients of that intelligence will be able to do something to hurt the Russians. How did that work out in Mariupol? How about fending off the Russian missile attack in Desna. In my view, sharing intelligence with Ukraine is an effort in futility. Am empty gesture that will not change anything on the ground.
My new friend, Gonzalo Lira, certainly understands my argument:
The worsening economic situation in the United States and Europe is another key factor that will undermine the policy of reckless spending on useless weapons in the Ukraine. At a minimum the economic troubles will spur domestic opposition to spending billions overseas, especially if babies start dying from lack of formula.
One final observation–Russia is not going to be a passive actor, sitting on its haunches waiting to see how this American plan works out. Russia has its own plan and will continue to pursue it energetically because Russia truly believes this is an existential threat.
I am happy to post Scott’s rebuttal if he has one to my critique. Scott and I agree on one point–well meaning people can have reasonable discussions about substantive disagreements without hating each other.