In interviews Thursday and Friday, the former commander of the US Special Operations Command in Europe, retired US Army Major General Mike Repass, gave his well-informed view of the war in Ukraine. For the past six years, he has advised the Ukrainian military on a US government contract.
While the Russians may be bogged down, Repass says, the Ukrainian side is also under great stress. He said that the Ukrainian counterattacks in recent days may be less effective than the media coverage has suggested. And he says it’s also not clear how many casualties the Ukrainians have incurred, which makes any kind of accurate analysis of how they are faring difficult to do.
Repass also contends that the Ukrainians need more S-300 missiles capable of bringing down mid-to-high-altitude jets and ballistic missiles, which would fall below the threshold of instituting a formal no-fly zone requested by the Ukrainians, which the US has rejected. And Repass says that he believes that Putin’s “must-haves” in the conflict are securing a land bridge connecting Russia to Crimea on the Black Sea and pushing out the boundaries around the two Russian-proclaimed “republics” of Luhansk and Donetsk in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
Disclosure: Repass is on the advisory council of the Global Special Operations Foundation, where I am the chairman of the board. Our conversation was edited for clarity and length.
Mike Repass: The Russians culminated about 5 days ago. In the military vernacular, “culmination” means you no longer have sufficient combat power to continue to advance in the offense. I believe that the Ukrainians sensed that and started conducting local counterattacks, particularly to the north and west of Kyiv. They also started counterattacks in the east recently. The Ukrainians went on the counteroffensive, but in a limited way. They took the town of Irpin to the west of Kyiv and some other towns, but the news coverage of the counterattacks has, I think, surpassed the actual effects of those operations on the ground.
I’m concerned that it’s not a large counterattack because perhaps the Ukrainians don’t have enough forces to launch one. So, if they can’t muster a larger counterattack around Kyiv, they may have a hard time gathering enough forces to push the Russians back in the east near Donbas.
We really don’t know what’s going on, on the ground, in granular detail, so it’s hard to judge the Ukrainian tactics and capabilities, and — this is more important — we have no idea what the Ukrainian losses have been so far. If this devolves into a battle of attrition between both sides and we don’t know what the costs to the Ukrainians have been, our analysis about what is going on will be somewhat shallow, quite frankly.
BERGEN: What do you make of the peace talks?
Source: Retired Army major general: The Russian military invasion has peaked