EXCLUSIVE—NATO Russia Expert: Why Putin Can Win

by Breitbart News

Apr 23, 2014 5:16 PM PT

​Chris​ Donnelly served four NATO Secretary Generals as Special Adviser for Central and Eastern Europe. Author of Red Banner - The Soviet Military System in Peace and War, he now directs the UK's Institute for Statecraft, and before advising the highest level of NATO was director of the Soviet Studies Centre at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.

Breitbart News asked him, "What does Putin want, and can he win?"

Breitbart News: With the movement of American troops from Italy to Poland and the Baltic states, is the Ukrainian crisis over?

Donnelly: No. It has just begun. All the states on the periphery of the Russia Federation are now very vulnerable – not just the "Stans" of Central Asia, but also Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and even the Baltic states. And the danger is not simply a classic military one. Just look at the financial and investor markets. Since the crisis began, foreign investment in any of these states has become practically impossible. They have been isolated, and that is exactly what the Kremlin wants. This isolation from international markets strengthens Putin's position and his power over these countries.

Breitbart News: What is Putin's strategic goal; is it really the recreation of the Soviet Union?

Donnelly: Language matters. In Russian there is more than one way to talk about the independence of a nation. Nezavisimyy is the obvious word used to talk of independence, but in fact it is better translated as "legal independence," de jure independence. The word that expresses true independence is samostoyatel'nyy, a word that is best translated as the ability for somebody to stand on their own two feet.

We now know that Moscow has been running a program for years to undermine the actual independence of her neighbors while maintaining the illusion that they are still free – just as during the Cold War, Hungary, Poland, or any of the Warsaw Pact nations may have been legally independent, but they were in fact under the control of the Kremlin. This is the power that Putin wants Russia to have once again.

Breitbart News: The Western response has been delayed and confused. Why?

Donnelly: The current political leadership in Washington, in London, in the West in general, does not understand Russia, its strategic culture, what it wants, and how it intends to achieve it. During the Cold War with the USSR we developed a whole industry of educational and research institutions that produced Sovietologists who would be hired by our governments and intelligence services to inform policy and strategy at the highest level, from George Kennan, the author of the Long Telegram, to Richard Pipes, the leader of President Reagan's 'Team B.' How many people inside government in the US or the Western allies of NATO have even read the Long Telegram, or know that Stalin was responsible for the death of an estimated seven million Ukrainians? As a result, much has been written and said about the crisis that is simply wrong. We need to illuminate the facts, uncover the Kremlin's lies.

Breitbart News: Is the inadequacy of the West's response just a function of ignorance of Russia?

Donnelly: No. It's deeper. We don't even have the right vocabulary. We do not understand Putin's way of war. To our citizens, war is Saving Private Ryan. That's not Putin's war. Russia was a military superpower, but it was also masterful at the indirect, non-kinetic way of war. See the book Unrestricted Warfare authored by two colonels in the Chinese army. This is a superb guide to how to defeat a nation that is militarily much more powerful than you. It lists all the various ways you can undermine a strong Western nation without firing a shot: the use of economics, the NGO sector, sympathetic members of your ethnic diaspora, or space and the cyber domain. Russia has honed this mode of war since the fall of the Soviet Union and used it in Georgia and now Ukraine and its neighboring nations.

Breitbart News: Russia today has an economy the size of California, or the Republic of France. Could they win this war?

Donnelly: Vladimir Putin is a long-term strategic thinker whose goal is to rebuild Russia's greatness, and he has a natural advantage. It is relatively easy to defeat an adversary who does not have a game plan, even if they are stronger than you. You may have a PhD and an IQ of 160, but if you've never played chess before and have never heard of the Fool's Mate stratagem, a child can defeat you with it in two moves.

Also, you hear the constant refrain, such that "Russia would never do X because it has too much to lose." This betrays a complete misunderstanding of the difference between the strategic culture of Russia and the culture of our politicians. The winner may simply be the side that is least concerned of losses in general. That is definitely not us. (Editor's Note: The estimates for WWII are that the USSR lost 14% of its population – 22 millions lives. The figures for the US and UK by comparison are 0.3% of the population and 419,000 dead, and 0.95% of the population and 450,000 killed.)

Breitbart News: What should America and her NATO Allies prepare for?

Donnelly: Yanukovych has placed pro-Russian governors into key positions in regions where there are ethnic Russians. Putin's recent unequivocal statement that he will invade if force is used in these sovereign Ukrainian territories is not grandstanding. These are not empty threats from a person unwiling to use force. We have been completely outmaneuvered by Putin. The deployment of 600 troops to NATO-allied nations is not a serious response to the violent redrawing of European borders. 600 troops is less than a token.

Breitbart News: If you were asked to help prepare a truly strategic response by America and her allies, where would you begin?

Donnelly: Firstly, our politicians must be led to understand that this crisis is not about Russia – which hasn't really changed – but about Ukraine. Putin has been able to achieve what he has achieved because we were unprepared and Kiev was weak. We need to focus on Ukraine. The biggest blow to Moscow's dream of renewed Russian hegemony in Europe would be to help Ukraine become a unified and well-functioning member of the democratic West. We need to stop talking and help, help the legitimate political elite in Kiev build a future for its citizens in which they enjoy the liberties and freedom we have come to dearly cherish.