Russia’s latest attacks on Ukraine are not a show of strength, but a “show of weakness” that reflects its inability to advance and seize Ukrainian territory, said Kurt Volker, a senior researcher at the Center for analysis of European policies.
On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed he had ordered long-range missile strikes on a number of locations in Ukraine targeting military, energy and communications facilities.
“Putin’s goal was to take control of Ukraine, to replace the government, to have someone in Ukraine who was subordinate to Moscow. It just won’t happen,” the former minister said on Tuesday. US Ambassador to NATO (2008-2009) on CNBC’s “Capital Connection.” . “The Ukrainians have made huge progress in regaining territory. These are the kinds of things that Putin has to resort to.”
“He is no longer in a position to influence the course of the war.”
Volker, who also served as US special representative for negotiations with Ukraine (2017-2019), added that Russia’s growing aggression is an expected reaction to Ukraine’s resistance.
Last Saturday, an explosion obliterated part of the bridge connecting the Russian mainland with Crimea, which Moscow illegally annexed in 2014, in what appeared to be a strategic move to disrupt a key supply route for Russian troops.
Although Kyiv did not claim responsibility for the attack, Volker said “we have to assume they were behind it”.
“We are going to see continuous efforts by the Ukrainians to ensure that the Russian forces deployed in Ukraine are not able to sustain themselves, and that they have a very difficult winter… This sets the conditions for Ukraine regains its territory later this year, and not next year.”
The West must do “much more” to help Ukraine defend against these unpredictable attacks and end the war sooner, he added.
Putin’s explicit threats to use nuclear weapons have called into question the risk of an imminent nuclear conflict.
Volker said the possibility of Putin using nuclear weapons can never be ruled out, but he will have more to lose than gain.
“It serves no military purpose for Putin to use nuclear weapons. It will in effect render the territory he is attacking uninhabitable…and turn against his own forces in a way that will weaken his own military capabilities.”
Others have taken a similar view. Retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the former commanding general of the US Army in Europe, told CNBC earlier this month that although the nuclear threat is “absolutely credible” because Russia has thousands of nuclear weapons, Putin is unlikely to use them given the lack of battlefield advantage.
Volker added that even the Russian military might not support Putin if he called for the deployment of nuclear weapons.
“The Russian army knows very well that crossing the nuclear threshold is a big problem for the West and other nuclear powers, including China. I have no doubt that this would lead to a direct response against the Russian army, which they certainly don’t want to.”
“Would they even follow an order, if given by Putin? And would Putin give such an order, if he is concerned about the reliability of his army?”