Ben Hodges is one of the most well-known retired US generals in Ukraine. He served as the commander of the US Army in Europe from 2014 to 2018, during several Russian operations in its armed aggression in Donbas. He later retired but remained deeply involved in Ukrainian affairs and continued to be vocal about the responsibilities associated with his official position.
Since 2022, he has been publicly advocating for arming Ukraine and criticising the US government for not providing sufficient support to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Hodges had previously made optimistic predictions about the liberation of Crimea which did not come true, but here he explains why this was. This interview also covers the key mistake the Biden administration made regarding Ukraine and why Biden continues to insist on this mistake. What should the turning point be that guarantees Ukraine's victory? Why does the United States believe that Russia will not risk a nuclear strike?
You can find answers to these questions in this interview, which was recorded during the Warsaw Security Forum.
"They don't believe that Russia can actually be defeated"
We know that Ukraine will win. But does everyone in Europe and the United States believe this, considering the pace of the counteroffensive?
Yes, of course Ukraine is going to win.
I think people misunderstand what the counteroffensive is.
It's not just what we see on the ground – fighting in trenches and minefields. That's only the land component of a much larger, very sophisticated counteroffensive, what NATO calls multi-domain. That's what Ukraine is doing: air, land, sea, cyber, information, special forces.
All of these things are being done, integrated in a way that gives Ukraine the initiative and also puts enormous pressure on the Russian General Staff. I would say that the Ukrainian General Staff is running rings around the Russian General Staff.
This attack on Crimea over the last four weeks, all of these things together, this was not a coincidence. This was a very sophisticated approach to remove radar, to attack and destroy a logistics maintenance site, and then to destroy the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet.
This is all part of making Crimea untenable for the Russian forces. That's the key to victory.
Not so long ago, you were giving optimistic predictions about Crimea being liberated by the end of this year. Why did this not happen?
I believed that Ukraine would liberate Crimea by the end of this summer.
But as you will recall, I always had the caveat: if the West provides everything that's needed.
So I was wrong in my estimation that the US administration and the German government would have decided to give to Ukraine the long-range weapons that it needed, the capabilities that were needed.
I was wrong. I was sure that my president by now would have said: "We want Ukraine to win, and for them to win, they need all of this." We haven't done that yet.
My president has done a very good job in so many ways to help keep the 50-plus nations together [in the Ramstein format], and of course, what the US has provided is not inconsequential.
But he has failed to do what I think is the most important task – to describe: what is our objective?
What do we want the outcome to be? Instead, what I hear is: "We're with Ukraine for as long as it takes." What a totally empty statement! That means nothing. As long as what takes?
My president has got to say: "We want Ukraine to win. We want Ukraine to eject Russia back to the 1991 borders."
Why isn’t this being said? Is Biden afraid?
It’s not only him, but the people around him. These are good, smart, hardworking, intelligent people, but most of them are the same ones that were wrong about Russia during the Obama administration.
They haven't changed their thinking that – number one – that Russia could even be defeated.
Number two: they worry about escalation.
Then number three: they're not sure what happens when Ukraine has catastrophic success and Russian forces are defeated and then maybe the regime collapses. What happens?
I think those are the things that are in their mind, and they can't or haven't answered that yet.
Do they believe that Russia can be defeated?
I do. I don't think they do.
Many of them have always had this idea that somehow the Soviet Union, now Russia, is just too big and too powerful, and they can just keep absorbing punishment, and they have thousands of nuclear weapons. I think that’s the image. And so the idea that Ukraine could somehow defeat Russia – they can’t get their head around it.
For me, it is obvious that Ukraine is going to defeat Russia. We know from history that war is a test of will, and it’s a test of logistics.
I see no bright spots on the horizon for Russia. None.
Except when they hear us talking about, "We hope Ukraine can have a strong negotiating settlement", or "Come on, Ukraine, let Russia have Crimea for the sake of peace."
This kind of nonsense is oxygen for the Kremlin.
"Ukraine wins by liberating Crimea"
Under the current circumstances, when the West and the US are providing Ukraine with some weapons but not everything it needs, is it possible to retake Crimea militarily?
To me, that only prolongs the conflict.
So many more people get killed, there’s so much more destruction, when it really could be over much faster if the US and Germany in particular would say: "We want Ukraine to win. Here – this is what you need. Take this."
Crimea is the only thing that matters. If Ukraine liberates Crimea, then it's over.
I don’t think Russia cares a drop about Donbas. They've done nothing to improve Donetsk and Luhansk, since they've controlled it, nothing. Except grab men and put them in the military. They've done nothing to improve those occupied territories.
They need Crimea as a military base that led them to control…
… the Black Sea!
The Ukrainian General Staff, which has been brilliant in this war, understands that Ukraine will never be safe or secure as long as Russia occupies Crimea.
They'll never be able to really rebuild their economy as long as Russia occupies Crimea and can disrupt shipping from Odesa, Kherson, Mykolaiv, or block ships coming in and out of Azov. Even after Kherson and Berdiansk are liberated, the Russians will still block the Azov Sea.
I don't see how Ukraine can accept a solution – nor why any of us should push a solution – where Russia keeps Crimea.
What weapons do the Ukrainian Armed Forces currently lack? You mentioned long-range missiles – is that the only thing? And won't it be like with the tanks: we heard many times that several hundred tanks would change the situation. But when we received the tanks, it turned out that it wasn't enough because the Russians countered them with Javelins and minefields.
This has been the problem. There's been so much emphasis on specific platforms.
F-16, ATACMS, tanks, Patriot, and so on – all of these are important. But there is no one weapon that changes everything. It's the effects of a combination of weapons that are properly employed.
That’s why I prefer to talk about capabilities. What capability does Ukraine need to win?
We have to ask ourselves: "Well, how do they win?"
Ukraine wins by liberating Crimea.
So what do you need to liberate Crimea? You need to have forces that can isolate Crimea, cut the land bridge, cut the Kerch Bridge, and then make Crimea untenable for Russian forces.
Make it so that the Black Sea Fleet cannot stay in Sevastopol, the Russian Air Force cannot stay in Saky, Russian logistics cannot stay in Dzhankoi.
For that, you need long-range weapons.
They can hit Sevastopol, Saky, every day, so that they have to leave.
I heard General Cavoli recently said that precision can defeat mass. The only advantage the Russians have is mass. That's it. And they don't care how many of their people get killed. So you have to neutralise mass by destroying headquarters, logistics, artillery.
You need long-range precision fires to do that.
So whether it's ATACMS, Taurus, Storm Shadow, Grey Eagle drone, or Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb – I don't care. You need that capability to hit those things.
I do believe it could be over next year if the US says: "Look, Putin is going to keep doing this until he realises he has lost. When it’s in his head, "I've lost" or "I'm losing", then he'll have to stop and he'll change the narrative.
Or he can use a nuclear weapon.
Okay, let me come to that.
So the way we make him realise he's lost is when 50 nations say, including the United States, Germany, UK, France: "We want Ukraine to win. It's our policy that Ukraine is going to win."
Then, when he sees us do all this, then he knows.
But right now, he sees that we are not committed to Ukraine winning. So he just has to hang on.
Yes, of course you have to take the nuclear threat seriously. They have thousands of nuclear weapons. He doesn't care how many people die, including his own people. He doesn't care.
So why would he use a nuclear weapon? I don't think he will. There's no benefit. There's zero benefit to Russia if they use a nuclear weapon. Ukraine has already said: "We're not stopping." My president has said: "If you use a nuclear weapon, you will see catastrophic consequence for Russia."
I think they believe him.
[Chinese] President Xi has said, do not use nuclear weapons.
And I think the people around Putin are looking at him and saying: "He's 70 years old. What about our life after him?"
So I'm not so sure that everybody in Moscow or St Petersburg would support the idea of him using a nuclear weapon. And of course, we're talking about tactical nuclear weapons, not strategic. Tactical nuclear weapons require a lot of people to follow orders, to do things. We would see, we would know if they were beginning that process.
It means that even if Putin became that crazy, some people would stop that process?
I think so.
"Russia, as terrible as they are, does not want to commit suicide"
To finish up, let’s talk about NATO. We lost in Vilnius because we didn't receive an invitation to join the Alliance. Is there a chance of Ukraine receiving an invitation during the Washington summit?
It is possible. I think the language has changed. The mood sort of changed at Vilnius, even though we didn't get the invitation that we had hoped for, for Ukraine. It's like we've gotten over a hurdle emotionally and intellectually.
So I think now what we’ve got to do is separate invitation from accession.
I even heard it from Mr. McFarland, the American national security advisor, if Ukraine is invited to join NATO, we'll immediately be at war. No!
That's not true.
Of course it's not!
But that came from the American National Security Advisor. We have got to work hard on the language to make it clear.
Look at Sweden. Sweden was invited over 18 months ago, and they're still months away.
There's an example already of a country that was invited, and they're on the path, which would be a very important signal to Ukraine, but also to Russia, that Russia does not get to choose.
Some in the US are against Ukraine's NATO membership even after victory. They say that in that case, if Russia starts a war again, the US would have to step in.
Yeah, we've been prepared to do that since 1949 when any member was attacked.
The best way to make sure Russia doesn't attack is for Ukraine to be in NATO.
Russia, as terrible as they are, does not want to commit suicide, which would be an attack on NATO.
My country needs to get behind this.
This will improve security and stability in Europe much better than what it is now, by having Russia see that because of what they've done, they now have NATO from Finland to Türkiye, all the way, and in the Black Sea. We need to have a strategy for the Black Sea region.
Stop talking about Ukraine like it's an island, but instead, talk about Ukraine as part of a region that is strategically important for the West as a member of NATO. Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Türkiye, and then who knows, Moldova and Georgia at least inside the EU.
That would change the security dynamic historically, for generations.
And it will happen.
Interviewed by Sergiy Sydorenko
Video by Volodymyr Oliinyk
European Pravda from Warsaw