"The first casualty of War is Truth (Live w/Scott Ritter)"
Alexander Mercouris and Alex Christoforou with Scott Ritter
The Duran (April 4, 2022)
[Program length 2:16:44 -- transcript as time allows]
Alex Christoforou: Introductory remarks ...
[5:12] Alexander Mercouris: "... what do you think about the general, overall military situation? My very own, uninformed, civilian view is that there is a major battle now happening in Donbass -- or is shaping up and about to happen in Donbass. The Russians have said pretty much from the start of this war that that was the focus of their interest. People continuously forget that the operation started -- the actual grounds for starting this operation-- were to protect Donbass. It was done in reponse to a request for help from the leaders of the two Donbass Republics, the Donetsk and Lugansk peoples republics. But I get the sense that we are moving towards a climactic battle in Donbass and that will probably be the decisive battle of the war. I mean, is that your perspective? And if it is, maybe we can talk about what happened in Kiev and what's happening in other places."
[6:31] Scott Ritter: "No. You're 100 percent correct. I always like to listen to what the principal parties say when trying to assess what they're doing. And there's an awful lot of people out there today who talk about Putin's Playbook, the Russian Playbook, as if they have a copy right next to them and they can flip over to page 63 and tell me exactly what's transpiring. Nobody has a copy of it except Putin and the Russian General Staff. And they're not sharing it. To the extent that they do provide insight we would do well to listen to them.
"For instance, in Putin's lengthy address justifying his decision to launch this special military operation, it was quite clear that this was done for the sole purpose of freeing Donbass -- Lugansk and Donetsk -- from Ukrainian occupation; to return the totality of the territories of these newly independent entities to their sovereign government.
"But he said, if we limited simply to this operation, there's a huge mass of Ukrainian troops that Russia believed was getting ready to attack the Donbass. And if you didn't take them into account, then this battle would become very complicated very quickly. And you can't take them into account simply by attacking them. But you also have to understand that they are connected to the Ukrainian military as a whole. So if you limit your attack to just addressing the 60- to 100,000 Ukrainian troops that are amassed in the Donbass region you allow Ukrainians now operating on interior lines -- that's a nice little military term meaning that they're using their own railroads, their own roads, their own logistics system, they have their ammunition dumps already in place -- so logistically, operating is very easy. And logisitics is sort of the heartbeat of modern combat. If your logistics is funcioning and you have well-trained troops, you're going to do pretty good in this war."
[8:57] "And so, if you just leave Ukrainians alone, they're going to be able to bring in reinforcements; they're going to be able to bring in Logistic sustainability; they're going to disrupt your entire operation, up-to-and-including they may win because they have a larger military in the immediate vicinity than the Russians had brought to bear. So, Russia had to expand the operation to nullify this Ukrainian advantage. And I guess this would be what's called Phase One."
[9:22] "Now, to be fair to the critics of the Russians, and Russia didn't come out and say Phase One from the start. The Russians have not had a very good track record of explaining this war. And they've -- again, from a military perspective, theyu don't need to -- you and I really don't need to know what's going on. The Russians don't care. But when your opponent is engaged in a massive information warfare operation that is done in concert with NATO members, with mainstream media, etc, in a very virulent social media presence, you will be on your back foot diplomatically and from a public relations standpoint by ceding the information battlefield to the enemy. And the Russians have pretty much done that."
"So they launched an operation that wasn't explained at all, what was going on. Why did they put an airborne assault in the, you know, hostile field, on Day One. What was the purpose of that assault? What was the purpose of coming into Kiev? Were you trying to take Kiev? Or were you trying to isolate Kiev? Or, were you trying to create a diversion? They didn't explain everything. They're leaving it up to speculation."
[10:43] "Now we come to Phase Two. And, apparently, the Russians have said, No, No, what we were doing was shaping the battlefied which, from a military standpoint is absoulutely what you needed to do. They needed to shape the battlefield to divert Ukrainian resources; to pin them in place; freeze them to make sure that reserves didn't go down to the east, but went north; to destroy the logistics infrastructure that could sustain combat. And it appears that Russia did all of this. But we're only finding out about it after the fact. And some people are saying, 'Well, that's just Russia, you know, redefining their objectives because they got beat so badly in Phase One.' And that's one of the narratives that's out there. And Russia has suffered, you know, if not a strategic defeat, at least an operational defeat compelling them to redefine their operation."
[11:36] "But the operation that they're 'redefining' sounds an awful like what President Putin said was their original objective. They are in the process of diverting significant combat power away from Kiev bringing it down to the Kharkov region where they can launch an attack south from Kharkov. And they are taking the 40,000 troops that had been investing Mariupol and bringing them to drive north. And at some point in time on the territory of Eastern Ukraine, that northern pincer and that southern pincer are going to meet and they are going to have surrounded 60-100,000 soldiers who will be rapidly eliminated as an effective combat fighting force."
[12:23] "And that's going to be one of the great military victories of all time if it occurs the way it appears to be occurring.
"Which then, you know, we come back to the information battlefield. When you're losing. When ground truth on the field of battle doesn't reflect in your favor, what do you do if you're the side that's losing? You seek to divert attention away from the defeat you're getting ready to suffer and you create alternative narratives. And I think this weekend we saw one of those alternative narratives."
[12:59] Alexander Mercouris: "Can I just, before we go on to that though, again, I speak as a civilian, you talk about information war and military war, but if you're engaging in a diversion, if you're seeking to divert Ukrainian troops by concentrating them in Kiev, do you tell them what you're doing? You know, if you're going to follow an operational plan, don't you try and keep it secret?"
[13:34] Scott Ritter: "Assuming that the Russian narrative is correct, that this was, in fact, a diversion, I believe it will be studied as one of the greatest diversions in modern military history. Because, with a force of between 40- and 50,000 troops -- which, by the way, is not capable of taking a city of 3.1 million -- the Russians held in place, significant Ukrainian military resources AND captured the attention of the world. If you think about it, the mere act of putting trucks on a road that extended for 40 miles paralyzed Ukraine and the world. Every waking moment people were looking at those trucks going 'What are they doing? What are those trucks doing? Why do they have the trucks on the road? Are they going to attack Kiev?' The Russians didn't have to do anything except keep the trucks there and the diversion was complete. Because that's all everybody focused on was the trucks."
[14:42] "Meanwhile, while the Ukrainian government's reserves that are in western Ukraine that should have been sent while they could be sent -- while the rail network is working, while you have fuel, could have been sent to the eastern concentration of forces to reinforce the flanks making any eventual pincer all but impossible -- had to go to Kiev. Or, had to go down to Odessa. If you remember, a big battle near Nicolaev coming our of Kherson. Big battles. And, again, the Ukrainians rushed down to reinforce. So the reserves are now depleted. They're gone. There are no more reserves. They've been committed to Kiev. And now the main objective for the Russians is sitting there like a ripe apple waiting to be plucked."
15:33 "So you're right. The Russians don't need to come out and say 'This is nothing but a grand diversion.' They could have said, however, that they have an objective [in mind]. But they didn't need to. You and I would like them to better define what they're doing. But from their perspective, the less said the better. Because the uncertainty that is derived from a lack of information from the Russian side feeds speculation; feeds the western propaganda machine, wondering 'What the [heck] are the Russians up to?"
[16:16] "At some point in time, this war is going to end. At some point in time the truth is going to come out. Documents are going to be provided. And I believe that, one, we're going to see one of the great pincer envelopments of modern times. But the thing that made the pincer possible was this diversion -- the Kiev diversion -- which if it is what I think it is and what it appears to be was masterful."
[16:45] "Now, some people say that it was a bridge too far, that this was a repeat of Arnheim back in 1944 that the Russians were going for the coup d'etat; to send these elite paratroopers into Hostomel; that they were going to reinforce them with the 73rd Air Landing Brigade that was going to make a bold thrust into a city of 3.1 million defended by over a 10,000 people; and somehow capture the government in Kiev and change -- That's a wonderful story but I don't think you'll find a single military professional that will tell you that was possible.
"And I know one thing about the Russians. They are professional, professional, professional. They're not perfect. We've seen video proof that they're not perfect. But they are professional. And I just can't imagine a situation where they would say we're going to send an elite airborne regiment into Kiev to be slaughtered in the streets like sheep. The Russians learned this lesson once in Grozny, early on in the Chechen conflict when they dispatched armored regiments into the Chechen capitol only to have them cut off and slaughtered. I don't see this modern-day iteration of the Russian military making that same mistake in Kiev. So, I view this as a masterful deception that will be studied by military historians for years to come as one of the prime examples of what strategic deception is. But I could be wrong ..."
[18:22] Alexander Mercouris:" ... "
[18:59] Scott Ritter: " ... "
[28:07] Alexander Mercouris: "... why would the Russians carry out a massacre like this in this kind of place? I don't understand the logic of it at all. But have you any thoughts about this?"
29:47] Scott Ritter: "We'll start with the military question. I think early on when the Russians were making their demonstration in force that there were major battles. I think there had to be major battles because you had to convince the Ukrainians that this was a major fight. I mean, if all you are having is a series of tactical probes the Ukrainians might not be so panicked into diverting the majority of their strategic reserves into the Kiev battlefield. So I do believe that early one we saw the Russians make some major pushes. And suffered some serious tactical defeats as a result. They pushed hard, maybe too hard, and the Ukrainians were able to cut off some units, bring some artillery to bear. Because, remember, this is early on in the battle so the Russians hadn't totally shaped the battlefield yet. So the Ukrainians still had effective command and control. They still had effective fire support. Their units on the front lines would be able to call back, call in fire, etc."
[30:52] "So, and then the Russians are doing the same. Let's not pretend for a second that the Ukrainians weren't taking horrific casualties. They were. These were big fights. But then things slowed down. I mean, it slowed down to molasses. The 40-mile convoy. And after that I think what we saw is that the Russian presence alone was sufficient to cause panic in Kiev and then the response. And then, when you have a static battlefield, and I think the Russians have made the decision that if the idea was decepiton, they made their point with the aggressive thrust in, but now you don't want to sacrifice troops needlessly. Every soldier lost in early on was lost in a strategically just decision. People can criticize the tactics all they want. But from a strategic standpoint, losing 300, 400 soldiers in order to pin down 120,000 Ukrainians is a strategic victory. But it's a horrible tactical defeat for the soldiers that got killed or wounded."
[32:03] "But they're also slaughtering Ukrainians. The Ukrainians don't want to talk about the number of casualties they've taken, for obvious reasons. But they're horrific. But now the Ukrainians, again, because let's also understand something else. These aren't amateurs. The Ukrainian military is very well trained. Very well led. Very well equipped. They're professional. And all the concepts that the Russians know of strategy, tactics, and operations, the Ukrainians know as well. And so I believe the Ukrainians began to launch a series of localized counter-attacks."
"Now the Russians have a choice. Because when I say localized counter-attack, what that means the Ukrainians seek to achieve military superiority in a given area of the battlefield before they launch a counter-attack. Now, the Russians could either stay in place and lose more men for a piece of territory that no longer has strategic importance. Or they can do tactical withdrawals, tactical redeployments on the battlefield. And so that's where people are starting to talk 'Well, the Ukrainians are pushing the Russians back.' No. The Russians were basically doing a series of tactical withdrawals. And again, if you study military history and World War II is a prime example of this. You study the detailed campaigns of what was going on with both the Russian side and the German side. And you'll see that the major battles were really formed by a series of minor engagements, minor probes, minor counter-attacks, minor maneuvers that take place.
"And when you're down there looking at it you realize that you have a bunch of ants running around doing stuff. But when you pull back all you see is a red blur. And it looks just like a static line and there's nothing going on. But then you come back down and those ants are going at it again. And that's the reality of the Kiev battlefield, from a distance it looks static. When you look at a map, you'll see one day, you know, you've got a little bulge here and the next day the bulge is gone. Oh, the Ukrainians. Strategic counter-attack. No. Just a bunch of ants moving around on the battlefield, shifting up in a better position. And the Russians did that because they still needed to keep the Ukrainians frozen in place. Having created the diversion to suck the Ukrainian reserve in place you now have to keep them frozen in place so you have to keep this static maneuvering going on."
[34:41] "But, again, I think that at some point in time the grand strategists and the Russian General Staff sat there and said -- and the key to this is Mariupol -- the key point is when Mariupol stopped being a major battle that required 40-50,000 men to do it through a minor battle that could have 10,000 men surround a limited area and reduce it and allow the other 40,000 to be redeployed after, again, everybody is like 'shouldn't it happen in an instant?' If you are in high-intensity urban conflict for weeks and now you want to pull them out and get them ready for an offense, you have to stop, rest, rearm, re-equip and, frankly speaking, re-orient. Because if your troops now have broken down into tactical battlegroups that are designed to storm buildings and hold urban terrain, and then you're pulling them out saying we're going to launch a major open-field maneuver war here, you've got to literally pull all your commanders aside all the way from the lowly sergeant all the way up to the colonel and re-orient them on the battle, and actually give them a chance, while they're re-equipping, to do a little bit of training. To get their vehicles out they've been used to sneaking down a city block and now saying your vehicle is now going to be charging ahead at higher speed, we've got to get back into providing covering overwatch fire, flank protection. We've got to get you all [up to speed] on this which takes time.
[36:13] "so everybody's like, 'Well, OK. So they freed up the 40,000 but why aren't they attacking right now?' That's not how war works. That's not how military professionals work. There is always an operational pause to refit, rest, and reorient. And that's what's happening right now. And when the time's right, and the Russians will decide when the time's right. They're in control of this war. They're in control. The Ukrainians are doing nothing proactive. Everything that's happening right now is happening because the Russians are driving every aspect of this conflict. They own the timeline. The only thing the Ukrainians can do is fight harder and maybe slow things down. And they are.
"Again, hats off to the Ukrainian army. Hats off to them. I don't think you're going to find a single Russian soldier who is going to say 'This is a pushover. This was a walkover.' I think the Russian soldiers say this is a hard fight, even if it's against the Azov Batallion. You know who else fought hard? The Waffen SS. Didn't make them good people. They all died like the dogs they were, but they fought hard. Azov's fighting hard. The Ukrainian army is fighting hard. They're marines. The real lions of Mariupol were the Ukrainian marines. They're all dead now. They have some of their elite airborne units out there fighting right now defending the flanks in Donbass. They're dying right now. But they're fighting hard. So, hats off to the Ukrainian military. But, you know, courage -- as Leonidas and his 300 found out, you can only stand up against the immortals so long. Eventually a million arrows are going to come out of the sky and you're all going to die. That's just the reality.
[37:55] "And that's happening to the Ukrainians right now. They have no fuel, no ammunition, their command and control is shot. Their units no longer have the ability to operate as a large cohesive force. They've been broken into smaller components that are being isolated and ground down. Could the Russians go faster? Yes. But speed sometimes brings with it risk. And risk brings with it casualties. I think right now the Russians, because they are in total control, they don't need to take risky moves. They don't need the Kiev deception anymore. They don't need to make a bold thrust in Odessa. Right now, they are in control of everything. And this is going to be a slower fight, not because the Ukrainians are fighting that hard, but the Russians just don't want to take the casualties that sometimes speed entails. It's a slower-paced fight. The Russians in control of the battlefield. And the pincer is going to come together sooner rather than later."
[38:51] Alexander Mercouris: "If troops ..."