The Biden administration needs to openly state that it wants Ukraine to “win” in its war against Russia, retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges has told Newsweek.
As the battle for Bakhmut in the Donetsk Oblast grinds on, the former U.S. Army Europe commanding general told Newsweek that the “liberation of Crimea” would be the “decisive” part of the war, but believes it would require a more overt declaration by the U.S. about a Ukrainian victory.
“You could kill every Russian within 200 kilometres of Bakhmut and it would not change the strategic outcome, but you liberate Crimea and then I think you completely change the entire strategic context,” he said.
Hodges has consistently argued that Kyiv should be provided with all the weapons it needs to retake Crimea and said that Ukrainians will never feel secure or able to rebuild their economy while Moscow occupies the peninsula Vladimir Putin illegally annexed in 2014.
The weapons could include ATACMS, (Army Tactical Missile Systems), which would allow Kyiv to conduct long-range precision strikes on the peninsula and knock out targets such as headquarters and ammunition storage facilities. Explosions have previously rocked Russian military sites in Crimea and the strike on the Kerch Bridge linking the peninsula to mainland Russia dealt a blow to Moscow.
Hodges said the tide of the war could change “very quickly if we decided we wanted Ukraine to win and to agree that liberating Crimea is the key to Ukraine winning.”
He praised “all the good things that the U.S. administration has done” in providing military support, along with its allies. “But what’s missing is that the president, the administration, has not said publicly ‘we want Ukraine to win.’
“Instead, they say things like ‘we’re with them for as long as it takes’. What does that mean? Or, ‘we want Russia to suffer a strategic loss’”.
“Just say, ‘we want Ukraine to win,’” said Hodges, which would mean the “full restoration of all of its sovereign territory,” including Crimea.
“Instead, what we hear from very good, smart, hardworking senior officials, ‘we want Ukraine to be in the best in the strongest possible position so that when they go to the negotiating table, they’re in a good, strong position.’
“Why don’t we want them to win? That’s what’s missing.”
Hodges believes that the reason for this was because the U.S. is “not confident in the outcome yet.” He added that while Biden has done a good job of keeping allies together, the U.S. and its European partners “are also anxious about what will happen if Putin is gone.”
“People haven’t gotten their heads around the idea that Russia is going to be defeated here, they’re having a hard time with that. I think that the administration also is overly concerned about the risk of Russia somehow escalating to a nuclear conflict,” he said.
Hodges, along with many analysts, does not believe that Putin will escalate his invasion to include nuclear weapons.
When contacted for comment, the U.S. State Department referred Newsweek to the recent comments made by Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressing steadfast U.S. support for Ukraine until it prevails against Russia’s illegal invasion.
When Biden was in Kyiv on February 20, the U.S. president said that “the Americans stand with you and the world stands with you,” adding “we stand here together.”
The State Department spokesperson also referred Newsweek to Blinken’s comments on February 23 when asked by The Atlantic what victory would look like for Ukraine and whether this could include Russia remaining in any part of Ukraine, including the area seized in 2014.
“That’s up to Ukrainians to decide,” Blinken told the news outlet. “They may decide…that one way or another every part of Ukraine needs to be made whole.”
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