"NATO Too Weak to Face Russia: Scott Ritter on Russian Offenssive "
Interview with Scott Ritter
RM - Richard Medhurst (February 24, 2022)
[Transcript in work as time allows]
Scott Ritter: "Well, First of all there's nothing limited about it. This is an all-out invasion of Ukraine. We already have reports Russian troops taking the city of Mariopol supposed to be the hardest fought. That's where the Azov battalion is. In less than an hour the city fell. Russian troops have landed in Odessa. Russian tanks are pouring out of Crimea and pouring down towards Kartikov [?].
It's all over. I mean, this is a massive operation and the Ukrainian military is not up to the task right now. I feel bad for these guys because they've been led to believe that they can fight the Russians. They've had NATO trainers there. They've received so-called lethal weapons. Those lethal weapons were in warehouses. Those warehouses are destroyed right now. I just watched the explosions. They're gone. Any Ukrainian who tries to use a Javelin missile will be dead the second they try to use it. But they can't communicate. They can't move. They can't do anything. All they can do is surrender or die."
That's the reality of it. This is an operation that will demilitarize Ukraine.
RM: ". . . Who are we supposed to believe here . . ."
Scott Ritter: "I let the facts speak for themselves. You are going to see paratroopers in Kiev. They already have paratroopers in Odessa. Naval infantry has taken Mariopol. And the tanks are pouring in. Call it what you want. That's just what it is. The reality? He said it was a limited operation for Donbass. But he also said that they're going to demilitarize and de-nazify Ukraine. That means two things: one, the Ukrainian military will cease to exist. There will be no Ukrainian military when this is finished. And, two, the Ukrainian government is gone. Because it's a nazi regime. Not because I say so, but because President Putin has labeled it as such.
And this is a Russian operation. We in the West can sit back here and shake our heads, wag our fingers. It doesn't matter. he reality is made by Russia and that reality is transpiring on the ground right now. Afterwards we can dissect it and criticize it, etc., but you know, right now I just let the facts speak for themselves. And the facts are that Russia is running over Ukraine as we speak."
RM: ". . . What does he mean by [nazi]? . . ."
Scott Ritter: "I don't want to denigrate the entire Ukrainian military. I'm sure that it is staffed by professional officers and soldiers who believe in the defense of Ukraine. But they've allowed themselves to be infiltrated by a radical right-wing nationalistic element whose loyalties are to a Ukrainian nationalist named [Stepan] Bandera who fought on the side of the Nazis during World War II. They've torn down memorials to the Soviet liberators from World War II and instead they've put up monuments celebrating Ukrainians who fought for the 12th SS Panzer Division. S S Panzer Division. It doesn't get any more Nazi than that.
So, there are two categories of nazis in Ukraine. There are those who are actual nazis -- and there are thousands of them -- and there are those who tolerate them who are facilitators of this radical right-wing, hateful ideology. And we in the West can sit here and say, 'come on, don't overreact. It's not that big of a deal.' For the Russians, it's a huge deal. Thirty million dead is a big deal. This resonates with the Russian psyche in a way that no one in the West will understand or comprehend. So there is a temptation in the West to say, 'This is just Putin exaggerating. This is Putin making a mountain out of a molehill.' No it's not. It needs to be taken seriously. It should have been taken seriously. I think there are a lot of people waking up right now, understanding that maybe we should have listened more carefully to what the Russian President was saying. And had we listened and taken action this war could have been prevented. But now it's too late. The war is on and Ukraine as we know it is never going to exist again"
[6:18] RM: ". . . The big elephant in the room is NATO expansion, right? . . ."
Scott Ritter: "This war would not be happening [if Ukraine had forsworn NATO membership]. That creates room for a diplomatic settlement, because there are still a lot of problems between Russia and the West. But the big one, the one that was and existential threat of Ukraine becoming a NATO member. People are going to say, 'Wait a minute. Even with the Open Door policy, Ukraine wasn't going to become a member for ten years, that's what Germany was saying. So why the urgency?
[7:43] "There is "membership" and then there's de facto membership. Right now, what was happening in Ukraine was that NATO was pouring in billions of dollars of weaponry. They were sending in hundreds and thousands of trainers who were training Ukrainian military to become a de facto proxy of NATO.
I mean, Ukraine had already been a proxy of NATO. They deployed troops to Iraq. They deployed troops to Afghanistan. They were training to NATO standards. So, from a Russian perspective, it doesn't matter if you're a NATO "member." You're acting as though you were a NATO member. And therefore Russia said stop. Cease and desist. We won't tolerate it, and they made it a red line..
"Now, in the United States we've become accustomed to president drawing red lines and then ignoring them. Well, Putin drew a red line. There's no ignoring this. He's acting on it. It's time for the West to wake up. It doesn't mean we surrender. The last thing anybody should do right now is to say we're going to give [?] everything to Russia they want. Because that's not how you react after something of this magnetude. You don't let [?] the tiger think he can eat everybody in the room."
"But you don't want to go to war, either. The West needs to establish some serious red lines, like the Polish border, the Romanian border, the Baltic states. And be prepared to defend them with force if necessary. You know the West is having a major wake-up call because NATO has allowed its military capability to rot for the last 20 years. The United States has been killing goat-herders and kicking down doors in Iraq. We can't fight the war that's taking place right now.
"What the Russians are doing is just stunning. The Russians are unleashing [?] the kind of hell that a modern combined-arms military is capable of doing. NATO has got nothing that can stand up to this right now. This is a wake-up call to NATO. If you want to take on Russia, OK. But put on your big boy pants, put the dollars down and rebuild your military. Otherwise, it might be time for you to think about maybe we need to listen to what Russia's saying. Because Russia doesn't want to take over Europe. This isn't the Soviet Union. They're not driving to the Rhine.
[10:07] "They do, however, want NATO to withdraw to their pre-1997 borders. At least the military. They're not saying that Poland and the Baltic states can't be NATO members. what they're saying is no German forces, no American forces, no British forces. No non-Polish or Baltic-state NATO forces can be in those states. Pull them back. But get rid of the so-called anti-ballistic missile capability in Poland and Romania."
And, before, everybody was just yawning: 'No, that's just the Russians overreaching. I don't think anybody is yawning anymore. Putin has always said to people: 'You don't listen to me when I speak'. And he had a famous speech where he showed the Russian nuclear capabilities and said: 'Are you listening to me now?' Well, guess what. Putin is sending a giant wake up call saying: "Are you listening to me now? And, hopefully, the West is listening."
[10:55] RM: ". . . He doesn't want the West defining Europe's borders, right? . . . "
"He doesn't want the West defining slavic borders. He rejected the effort by the European Union to dictate the outcome of the August 2020 election in Byelorus. He opposed efforts by NATO and the EU to support Byelorussian opposition figures. And what we've seen now is that he has permanently transferred the First Guards Tank Army to Byelorussian soil. So, he's guaranteeing that Byelorus will be a slavic state aligned with Moscow. And he's doing the same with Ukraine right now. He is eliminating, terminating, all pro-western structures, the nazis, all those hard nationalistic elements that operate out of Livov. They're gone. They'll either die, be arrested , or they're going to flee to Poland. I think we're going to see a large ex-patriate population residing in Poland for the next hundred years. Because they're not coming back to Ukraine. It's over. I don't know how to be more definitive than that."
The reality of Ukraine as we knew it -- and I've warned about this all along -- and I said, if Ukraine doesn't understand what's about to happen to it, it's going to cease to exist as a modern nation-state as it's currently configured. And that's true. It's done. And so, Russia is defining the slavic borders and we may see some action with the transnisteria region in Moldova. Now that Russia is going to expand into Ukraine, there are some shared borders there that may become part of the greater slavic family as well."
"But Russia's not going to dictate, for instance, the eastern border of Poland. But we've got to be careful here with the Balics, and this is why NATO needs to grow a spine right now. Because there are some large, Russian-speaking populations in the Baltic states that are being oppressed by the Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians. And Russia may feel emboldened by what's happening right now and seek to flex its muscle up north -- [note: Dmitry Orlov would disagree with this] -- but this gets a little bit more dangerous and tricky. And its important for NATO not to show too much weakness because right now they're just impotent. This is pathetic. This is truly pathetic and I'm glad. Because I don't want a war between NATO and Russia.
But, you know, the fact of the matter here is we've got this transatlantic alliance that has been walking around as if they're the big man on the block and we find that they're just pathetic. They're an overweight little pudgy bully in the recess yard who is finding out that just about anybody can kick his butt." [14:37] RM: ". . . The Soviet Union doesn't exist now . . . can we really say that [what is happening in Ukraine] is really an invasion or it's just going to be limited strikes and then they're going to put in their 'peace keepers' -- or whatever they're calling them -- in the Donbass. What do you think?"
[15:36] Scott Ritter: "It doesn't matter what I think. It's what the facts are. And the facts are unfolding as we speak, meaning that I don't know. Nobody knows. We'll know sometime tomorrow. I mean, if the 76th airborne division lands in Kiev at the airport and drives its vehicles into Kiev-proper to seize the government facilities, that's an invasion. If naval infantry are disembarking in Odessa, as rumors have it, that's an invasion. So, you know, we'll find out soon enough. Right now, it's 'the fog of war.' We simply just don't know."
[16:19] RM: "The thing I wanted to ask you about is the point of contention in International Law, because the Russians are saying that they're recognizing LPR and DPR under the right of self-determination ... and then the West and NATO are saying that Russia is violating Article Two Paragraph Four, you know, territorial integrity of Ukraine. How do you reconcile these two? Who is right in this case? "
[16:47] Scott Ritter: "This is where international lawyers come in. We saw the same kind of ridiculous discussion going on when the United States went into Iraq as to whether it was an invasion or a necessary operation to get rid of weapons of mass distruction. It was an invasion. End of story. The Russians can't come right out and say 'We're violating international law. No nation is going to say that. They're going to develop a line of legalistic argumentation that paints what they're doing differently. They should be able to do it. I mean, look, Putin has already said that the government that's in Kiev is an illegitimate government. It came into power through a coup. He has used some very crafty language when referring to them. Not as an official government but 'those who came into power through an illegal coup', etc. By doing that you eliminate legitimacy on the part of the Ukrainian government. And so what you have is a nazi regime, an illegal regime and maybe through an extension, expansion of peacekeeping, it is necessary to eliminate that."
[18:06] "You know, I'll let the diplomats and lawyers twist this any way they want to. But I think if we're going to condemn the United States for violating international law through the invasion of Iraq, we have to be consistent. [note: the fallacy of false equivalence]. It doesn't mean that Russia is evil. It doesn't mean anything. It just means that international law doesn't know how to deal with an instituation like NATO. NATO exists outside the framework of the United Nations Charter. NATO exists outside the framework of international law. Where were all these people who were concerned about international law when NATO created the nation-state of Kosovo, stripping it away from the Serbian nation just because some Albanian Kosovars said 'We want to be independent.'
And Putin at the time said 'You guys are making a horrible mistake. This is going to come back and bite you.' Well, it just did. Russia just used the exact same playbook to create Lugansk and Donetsk. The exact same playbook. So no one in the West can literally have any credibility."
"And where was the rest of the world when the United States invaded Iraq? Where was the world? Where was the condemnation? Russia just took the same playbook. And they're doing it better. I'm not going to sit here and pretend that Russia is operting in total conformity to International Law. They're not. What I am going to say is that International Law, as it is currently configured, is not up to the task of dealing with the situation, because if Russia were to abide strictly by International Law, then NATO would get away with everything Russia says represents the nexus, the threat to their existence."
[19:51] RM: "Putin is saying our objective is not to occupy Ukraine. Do you think he's right? What about the Minsk agreements? Are those even relevant anymore?"
[16:47] Scott Ritter: "Minsk is no longer relevant. The Ukrainians had seven years to save their country. They opted out. Primarily because the United States, Germany, France, Great Britain, didn't put enough pressure on them, and indeed, in the end, took the Ukrainian side, saying that Minsk is unfair. Well, then, you shouldn't have signed it. But the bottom line is that you needed to implement Minsk. It was only too late. Watching Tony Blinken speak before the United Nations Security Council and, you know, 'We are pushing the Ukrainians to implement Minsk.' Well, the Ukrainians turned around and said: 'We're not going to do it. OK. You make your bed and now you've got to sleep in it. That means that you don't exist any more."
"That doesn't mean that there can't be a mew Minsk afterwards. When this is all said and done, I do believe that the Russians don't want to occupy Ukraine. That would be a disaster. The last thing the Russians want to do is create the legitimacy for an insurgency. They are going to terminate this government. They are going to demilitarize Ukraine. And then they're going to put in place a new government that will create a new military that is more or less along the lines of the Byelorussian military, meaning that it will cooperate with the Russian military, etc. But Russian troops will secure the Russian border for awhile. But they're not going to occupy Ukraine. I believe that because that's not in Putin's interest. But Ukraine is not going to exist like it currently exists. You know that Ukrainian ambassador to the UN raising hell and havoc right now, he's gone. He represents a dead government. "
[21:56] "That government's gone. There will be a new government. A new constitution. A new conception of what Ukraine is. And what Ukraine will be is part of this. It will be a slavic rump state that is subordinated to the will of Moscow, much like Byelorus is."
"What do you think is going to happen next? ..."
[23:05] Scott Ritter: "The goal is set forth in two draft treaties that Russia provided the United States and NATO back in December. That's the goal. There is no secret here. There' no mystery. There is no 'What is Putin thinking.' First of all, let's stop talking about what Putin is thinking. It's about what Russians think. And Russian national security interests require that Ukrain cannot be a member of NATO. Ukraine had an opportunity to become a neutral state. They opted out of that opportunity. Now they're going to become a pro-Russian rump state. But they are never going to be part of NATO And that is the new reality."
"The other reality, I think there's going to be two realities that emerge from this. One, I think this military operation is going to be over in less than a week. I think it's going to be one of the most decisive miltitary victories in the history of modern warfare. [RM: "Why do you think that?" Because the Ukrainian army can't fight and the Russian army is vastly superior. The Russians have a plan. They're acting on it. And it is unfolding at lightning speed. So this is going to be over in less than a week. That's my opinion. Now you can call me back in a weeek when the Russian army is bogged down outside of Napal Petrovsk and the Ukrainians have launched valiant counter-attacks surrounding the 20th combined arms army, taking thousands of Russian prisoners. OK. Then I'll eat my tie. But I don't think that is going to happen."
"As I've said. The Ukrainian military can't talk. All their communications are jammed. All their command posts have been destroyed. The soldiers are cold, alone, in the field, and surrounded. And they're either going to die or they're going to surrender. That's what happening right now. We're either seeing a lot of dead Ukrainian soldiers and a lot of surrendering. And I'm betting you a dime to a dollar that Russia's going to process far more prisoners of war than they're processinig dead Ukrainians. It's over.
[24:57] "And because this is going to be such a decisive, one-sided battle, NATO is going to wake up to the fact that, you know, we can't talk about military confrontation with Russia. We can talk about defending ourselves. We need to recognize that in order to challenge Russia, we will have to spend hundreds of billions of dollars that we don't have. NATO isn't spending money on defense. And the other thing they're going to realize while this debate about rebuilding their military capability is unfolding, and these sanctions are going to be kicking in. Some of these sanctions are going to target Russian gas. If they shut off the SWIFT bank [messengering] system, as soon as they shut off SWIFT, Russia shuts off gas for Europe at that point."
[25:52] RM: "Regarding sanctions, what is going to be the response from the Biden administration and the West in general? They are not going to start sending U.S. troops there are they?"
[26:02] Scott Ritter: "No. I mean, you hear some ridiculous talk about the Ukrainian ambassador about NATO invoking Article Four and he wants NATO to come to the rescue, even though they don't get Article Five protection, the collective defense, Article Four, they can deploy NATO troops to protect a friend and ally. Just not going to happen. NATO is going to realize that to rebuild their military is going to take a lot of time and a lot of money. While they're having that discussion, though, they're going to be implementing additional sanctions. There's no doubt in my mind that we're going to see a tremendous number of very serious sanctions being imposed. And given the gravity of the situation and the decisiveness of the Russian action, the shutting down of SWIFT may be on the table. It's a suicide pill, though.
[27:07] "If you shut down SWIFT, you're going to collapse the global energy security. The oil prices are going to go through the roof. Europe is going to shut down. Their economy will collapse. ... 90% of Austria's energy comes from Russia. Your power plants are going to shut down and you're going to be liviing in the dark. It's going to be the Cold Ages. Germany is going to freeze. The winter isn't over. And then, it's not just that. People say, 'Well, it's only 40%. You take away 40% of capacity in a Western-oriented economy where everything operates on a razor thin edge of efficiency. There is no fat in the West. They produce things. They bring it to market. They put it on the shelves. And it's sold. And then the produce it again. It that system gets disrupted, supply chains break down and nothing works. Nothing is going to work in Europe very soon if they implement these sanctions.
[28:19] "And Russia has been preparing for this for years. They've built up their reserves. They have gold reserves, foreign [currency] reserves. Their sovereign fund is vibrant. And they've started working with other nations to have economic relations that bypass SWIFT. It's just the West committing suicide by doing this. And so, I think that Russia will be able to wait out the sanctions. And the interesting thing about Europe is there are all these democratically elected officials right now who are destroying the economic well-being of their constituents. James Carville, a famous democratic presidential consultant said when Bill Clinton was originally running for president: 'It's the economy, stupid.' That's all a politician needs to worry about. It's the economy. You have a good economy, you get re-elected. You have a bad economy, you're out of office. All of these democratically elected officials who have opted to go down the path of sanctions are going to be voted out of office because they're destroying the economic well-being of their constituents. And their constituents are not going to be happy."
[29:35] "This was a war that could have been avoided had the West not been stupid and stubborn and inconsiderate of legitimate Russian concerns. It's not me being pro-Putin or pro-Russian. One has only to refer to the 2009 memorandum written William Burns -- then the Ambassador to Moscow, today the CIA director -- he wrote a memorandum after the 2008 Bucharest summit where NATO invited Ukraine and Georgia to become members. And he wrote it, saying 'Nyet means Nyet,' meaning 'No means No.' The Russians said 'No' and this is a red line. This is serious. The Russians are dead serious about this. And this was a legitimate concern. That was the other thing he said. We should not give this short-shrift. We should pay attention to this because this is a red line which if we ignore it will come back to haunt us.
He said that in 2009. People should have listened to him because had we listened to him we wouldn't be in this situation today. We wouldn't have sought to invite -- you know people have to feel sorry for Ukraine and Georgia. They've been dangled the false promise of NATO membership. They will never be NATO members. Ever. They don't qualify. And Russia will never let it happen. And then NATO, instead of recognizing reality, speaks of an Open Door policy. There is no Open Door policy. Read Article Ten of the NATO charter. Article Ten says that if a nation in Europe qualifies for membership and applies for membership, then NATO will consider it only if inclusion improves the security of the NATO alliance. There is not a single person who can articulate how Ukraine's and Georgia's membership in NATO improves NATO's alliance, especially when Russia has said if you do this it will put us in conflict with you."
[31:33] "So this is just a falsehood that has been propagated by the Secretary General of NATO, by Tony Blinken, by Biden and by others. There is no Open Door policy. It doesn't exist. It is a fiction. Had NATO simply done what its charter tells it to do, it would have reflected on the fact that neither Ukraine improves their security posture. Therefore they will be precluded from membership. Even if they resolved their internal territorial problems which exclude them from consideration right off the bat. As long as Russia is in Crimea, Urkaine could never be a member because the second Ukraine becomes a member and seek to resolve their territorial conflict, Article Five kicks in, NATO finds itself at war. That is why neither Georgia nor Ukraine improve the security posture of NATO. It's just a false premise.
[32:30] "Ukraine has been sacrificed on this hill. It's sad. Very sad.
RM: "Used as a pawn, you could argue, putting it mildly. Just as a last question ... What do you think of the way NATO has been interacting with the world. Because, honestly, if you look at the most recent accomplishments, provoking a Russian incursion, invasion, whatever you want into Ukraine -- we'll see in the morning -- destroying Syria, Libya. A lot of people think NATO should be abolished because the Soviet Union doesn't exist. It doesn't serve any purpose. Do you agree with that view?"
[33:10] Scott Ritter: "A hundred percent. NATO lost its reason to exist when the Cold War ended. When the Soviet Union collapsed. When the Warsaw Pact disintegrated. There was no reason to have NATO. It's reason for existing had disappeared. But instead of recognizing this and doing the right thing and abiding by the promise they gave to Gorbachev, then the Soviet President, who said look guys, never forget I have 400,000 troops in East Germany and I can stoo German reunification on a dime if you want to go down that route. But I'm in favor of stability, so I'll go along with German reunification. I'll withdraw my troops. But if I do so, you have to agee not only not to bring NATO troops into the Eastern portion of Germany, but you can't bring NATO troops east of the Elbe. You can't go into Poland. You can't do this."
"And he was given assurances, and everybody said 'it's just verbal' -- we now find out it's in writing -- that this wouldn't happen. So, right off the bat we have an expansive NATO. Now NATO says, 'that's OK. You don't be worried about an expansive NATO because we're a defensive alliance. Really? Then why did they bomb Belgrade in 1999. There was nothing defensive about that. That was offensive military action against a slavic state. Why did NATO send a training mission to Iraq in 2004? Why did NATO members participate in the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. They say, 'Well, it's just a training mission in an occupied state that was occupied from an illegal war of aggression. So you're facilitating, you're legitimizing an illegal war of aggression. That's what NATO did. Why did NATO go into Afghanistan? What business is Afghanistan of NATO's? None. Zero.
[35:09] "What did NATO do to Libya? Offensive aggressive military operations. But it's not just these examples. It's a transatlantic organization. Why then did they start a partnership in north Africa where they were seeking to expand their sphere of influence -- there's a word we're not allowed to use -- in North Africa. Why did they set up offices in the United Arab Emeriates to create a sphere of influence in the Persian Gulf? Why are they talking about a North Atlantic Treaty Organization operating in the Pacific to create a sphere of influence to counter China?They are not a defensive organization. It's an offensive minded, expansive organization with a proven record of carrying out regime change operations in countries they view as a threat.
"Who is the greatest threat to NATO today in NATO's own words? Russia So, NATO not only has no reason to exist, NATO is a suicide pill for Europe. And it is high time that Europe recognizes that. And I think that one of the biproducts of this current crisis, this debacle, this tragedy, whatever you want to call Ukraine -- because there is nothing good about it -- I mean, I'm happy the nazis are being kicked out and that -- but there is nothing good about what's happening, this is human tragedy of a horrendous scale. But the one thing that can come out of this, maybe Europe will wake up [to the fact that] there is no legitimate reason to continue the NATO alliance. And that maybe people like Macron can start putting forward this concept of a new European security framework that respects Russia's spheres of influence."