Putin created the ‘reality’ of conflict with the West after lingering fears: former general

  • Putin actually ended up creating a proxy war with the West, a former US Army general said.
  • Putin’s long-standing “fear” of conflict with the West “emboldened” him to attack Ukraine, he said.
  • “And it backfired. It didn’t work,” retired U.S. Army Brig. General Kevin Ryan told Insider.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was so concerned about conflict with the West that he essentially created it through an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, a former US Army general said.

Putin, who first came to the presidency in 1999, has long had a “fear” of a “coming war with the West” and that worry “encouraged” him to “start that war in a battle he thought he could win.” retired US Army Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan told Insider on Wednesday, referring to the war in Ukraine.

“Putin believed that war with the West was inevitable,” Ryan said. “He saw NATO entering countries in the former Warsaw Pact regions. He saw Ukraine in particular choosing the West over Russia…He saw that Russia without Ukraine in its pocket was not really the Russia he thought it should be.”

Nearly 10 months ago, Putin decided to wage war in Ukraine partly thinking that NATO and the US would in turn be “fearful” of Russia after it quickly achieved victory over the eastern European country as planned, he said.

“And it backfired. It didn’t work,” said Ryan, who served as military attache to Russia for the US. “The Russians made a huge misjudgment.”

Putin’s “fear of an attack from the West led him to choose Ukraine as the place to start the fight against it, and he and his military were not prepared for that fight,” he said.

Kremlin forces, Ryan said, “struggled to stay above water the whole time.”

Putin suffered a major setback in the early days of the war when Russian troops—outnumbered and outgunned by the Ukrainian military—failed to capture Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

Ukraine, backed by the US and the West with weapons and equipment worth billions of dollars, has managed to fend off Moscow’s aggression and even successfully launched a stunning counter-offensive last year, forcing Russian troops to give up large swaths of occupied territory.

As winter approached, progress slowed. The year ahead will be “crucial” for the war, Ryan previously told Insider, warning that the Kremlin is likely to turn to the dreaded option of nuclear weapons if Moscow faces defeat in the conflict.

That’s not to say Russia hasn’t had some successes in Ukraine, where it crippled much of that country’s energy infrastructure and seized “a lot more” land along the Black Sea coast, Ryan noted.

But Putin “didn’t get what he wanted,” he said. He hoped to simply absorb Ukraine as he absorbed Crimea in 2014.

“But that was a huge miscalculation,” Ryan said.

Ukraine has mounted a fierce defense, backed by a steady flow of Western weapons and equipment that now includes armored vehicles and may soon include tanks. With his attack on Ukraine, Putin essentially “created this reality of war with the West,” he said. “He is fighting us with his invasion of Ukraine.”

“The Russian leadership believes that it is at war with the West, that the West wants to destroy them,” said the former general.

The West, according to Ryan, initially did not think that it would be in a proxy war with Russia, but since the beginning of the invasion, “we understand that we are also in this war, even if our soldiers are not dying there.”

In addition to supplying Ukraine with weapons and equipment, Western countries have imposed severe economic sanctions on Russia as punishment for its invasion of Ukraine, stifling its economy.

“One thing [the West] he has to do — which he may already be doing — he has to stop debating every new class of weaponry he gives to Ukraine, and instead look at Ukraine as the front line of this war,” Ryan said. “We have to assume that the Ukrainians are on our side and that’s now they are fighting this battle for us.”

Ryan, a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, warned that the West should try to “pre-empt” Russia by preparing and strengthening its military and examining production rates for “key weapons and ammunition.”

“If you’re not in front of this war, if you’re not prepared for it, and then the war happens, it costs more lives and money than it would otherwise,” he said.

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