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- Putin has wound up basically creating a proxy war with the West, a former US Army general said.
- Putin’s long-held “fear” about a conflict with the West “encouraged” him to invade Ukraine, he said.
- “And it backfired. It failed,” retired US Army Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan told Insider.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was so worried about a conflict with the West that he basically wound up creating one by proxy through his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, a former US Army general said.
Putin, who first ascended to the presidency in 1999, has had a long-standing “fear” about a “coming war with the West” and that worry “encouraged” him to “start that war in a battle that he thought he could win,” retired US Army Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan told Insider on Wednesday, pointing to the war in Ukraine.
“Putin believed that war was inevitable with the West,” Ryan said. “He saw NATO moving into countries in 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 chose to wage war in Ukraine in part with the mindset that NATO and the US would in turn be “afraid” of Russia after it quickly achieved victory over the Eastern European country as planned, he said.
“And it backfired. It failed,” said Ryan, who served as the defense attaché to Russia for the US. “There was a huge miscalculation by the Russians.”
Putin’s “fear about the encroachment from the West led him to pick Ukraine as a place to start to fight back against that, and he and his military were not prepared for that fight,” he said.
The Kremlin’s forces, Ryan said, “have been struggling to stay above water the whole time.”
Putin suffered a major setback in the early days of the war when Russian troops — which greatly outnumbered and outgunned Ukraine’s military — failed to seize the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.
Ukraine, aided by the US and the West through billions of dollars worth of weapons and equipment, has managed to defend itself from Moscow’s aggression and even successfully launched a stunning counteroffensive last year, forcing Russian troops to give up large swaths of occupied territory.
As winter rolled in, the pace of the advance slowed. The year ahead will be a “pivotal” one for the war, Ryan previously told Insider, warning that the Kremlin would likely turn to the dire option of nuclear weapons if Moscow faces defeat in the conflict.
This does not mean that Russia has not seen some successes in Ukraine, where it has crippled much of the country’s energy infrastructure and seized “much more” land along the Black Sea coast, Ryan noted.
But Putin “didn’t get what he wanted,” he said. “He was hoping to just absorb Ukraine the way he absorbed Crimea in 2014.”
“But that was a gross miscalculation,” Ryan said.
Ukraine has put up a fierce defense, which is backed by a continuous flow of Western weapons and equipment which now includes armored vehicles and could soon include tanks. With his attack on Ukraine, Putin has essentially “created this reality of the war with the West,” he said. “He’s fighting us through his invasion of Ukraine.”
“The Russian leadership believes it is in a war with the West, that the West wants to destroy them,” the former general said.
The West, according to Ryan, did not initially seem to think it would be in a proxy war with Russia, but since the beginning of the invasion, “we are coming to the realization that we are in this war too even if our soldiers are not dying there.”
In addition to supplying Ukraine with weapons and equipment, Western nations have hit Russia with severe economic sanctions as punishment for its invasion of Ukraine, choking its economy.
“One thing [the West] has to do — which it may already be doing — it must stop debating every new class of weapon that it gives to Ukraine, and instead it should look at Ukraine as the forward line of this war,” said Ryan. “It should assume that the Ukrainians are on our side and they are fighting this battle for us right now.”
Ryan, a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, warned that the West needs to try to “get ahead” of Russia by prepping and strengthening its militaries and examining production rates for “key weapons and munitions.”
“If you’re not in front of this war, if you’re not ready for it, and then the war happens, it costs more in lives and money than it would otherwise,” he said.