How many more Ukrainians must die?
Interview with Colonel Douglas Macgregor
Originally published in De Andere Krant, in Dutch, on August 26, 2023
Despite a disappointing spring offensive, the war in Ukraine is progressing well, according to most of the media. It won't be long until Putin heeds NATO's demand for a complete and unconditional withdrawal of its forces from Ukraine, as outlined in Article 8 of the communiqué issued after the July 11-12 NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. De Andere Krant reporter Nikko Norte has a disconcerting conversation with Colonel Douglas Macgregor about the situation in Ukraine.
On August 20, 2023, during his visit to the Netherlands, Volodymyr Zelensky, president of Ukraine, thanks Mark Rutte, prime minister of the Netherlands, for the leading role the Netherlands is playing within the group of Western allies that will supply fighter jets to Ukraine. Dmytro Koeleba, Ukrainian’s foreign minister, added that even the announcement of the delivery of fighter jets will make a difference on the front line. Until his retirement in 2004, in the rank of colonel, Douglas Macgregor served 28 years in the U.S. Army. On February 26, 1991, during the first Gulf War, he guided the nineteen tanks and twenty-six combat vehicles under his command through a sandstorm to an Iraqi Republican Guard position. In combat with the Guards, his unit took out seventy Iraqi fighting vehicles without a single American casualty. After the Gulf War, Macgregor wrote a book in which he proposed changes in the organization of the U.S. military. He wrote four more books, earned a master's degree in comparative politics and a PhD in international relations, and served as advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Defense under President Donald Trump. At present, he is a regular guest as a defense analyst in various radio and television programs and podcasts. I am impressed when the now 76-year-old colonel appears on my computer screen. A swashbuckler, who radiates the pleasant arrogance of someone who knows what he’s talking about, in his eyes a boyish twinkle. Do I snap to attention, or do we swap war stories? Neither, for I ask Macgregor how we could have been so wrong about Russia – not for the first time in history. “Every conflict in the history of the United States,” Macgregor replies, “begins with amnesia. There are those who deny the importance of studying the area in which military forces are going to operate, of studying the possible opposition in that area, and of studying the motivation of that possible opposition. The globalists, Washington, and European leaders are chasing an ideological goal, and that goal is the destruction of the Russian state, which does not want to open its borders, refuses to squander its national identity, and does not want to be part of Western financial and military hegemony. No one questions whether that goal is achievable, and ...” “Is that goal achievable?” I interrupt Macgregor. He smiles and says, “You're raising an important point. No one, before our interference in the current situation in Ukraine, did any groundwork, and no one knows what we are dealing with. There is no plan, other than that we want to get rid of Putin. But Russia is no longer the Soviet Union, and Putin is not a second Stalin. In addition, what prevents us from having a constructive discussion about the situation in Ukraine is the agenda of a group of extremely wealthy people, who want access to Russia’s resources. Overthrowing the Russian regime and fragmenting the country is financially very interesting to them. A sick premise, but it plays a role in the disaster currently unfolding in Ukraine.” “Disaster?” I ask. “According to the media, it’s just a matter of time until we drive the Russians out of Ukraine.” Macgregor smiles again. “What we are doing in Ukraine is outcome oriented. We forget the process that leads to that canonized outcome. A minimal estimate is that 350,000 Ukrainian military personnel have now been killed, and we must calculate with at least that many wounded. On the Russian side, between 25,000 and 50,000 soldiers have been killed. “The around forty brigades left in Ukraine are undermanned and consist of barely trained young boys and older men; many veterans have died. Desertion is high and entire platoons, even companies are surrendering to the Russians because the Ukrainian high command no longer cares to evacuate the wounded. Morale among Ukrainian soldiers is low, and those soldiers know they will be treated well by the Russians if they surrender. Ten to twelve million people have fled Ukraine, a quarter of the population, harvests are lost. Ukraine is devastated. Yes, it’s a disaster.” “But NATO,” I try again, “stands behind Ukraine. Ukraine’s future is NATO, we read in Article 11 of the communiqué issued after the NATO summit in Vilnius.” “Ukraine is a crime state. Some of the weapons recently supplied to Ukraine have ended up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels. In January 2022, I predicted that NATO would collapse before the end of the conflict in Ukraine. I fear I’ll be proven right, although I did not expect Putin to invade Ukraine so reluctantly. From day one, Putin signaled that he did not want this war. He expected the West to rally against NATO interference, but he underestimated how corrupt, evil, and hostile the globalists are who dominate Europe and the United States. NATO was once created to prevent war, not to start a war. Yet, that is what NATO did in Ukraine. The Russian invasion of Ukraine was engineered in Washington with help from London and Paris. We pushed and pushed and pushed to see how close we could get to the Russian border, but we forgot that we are not dealing with a country like Iraq, but with Russia, an organized nation-state that now has its war economy running at full speed while NATO lags hopelessly behind when it comes to the production of armory. Europeans are going to pay a terrible price; the sooner they wake to that reality, the better.” Silently, Macgregor and I look at each other. Zelensky’s long-awaited spring offensive was a farce that cost many Ukrainian soldiers their lives, and the current summer offensive is a farce as well. Stoically, the Russians are fighting their defensive war. After heavy artillery bombardments, small groups of Russian infantrymen advance - often only four men strong - under cover of unharvested crops. Those infantry groups overpower soldiers in Ukrainian positions who survived the artillery bombardments while kamikaze drones deal with fleeing Ukrainian soldiers. Tanks secure captured areas, infantrymen dig in, and when the inevitable and incomprehensible Ukrainian counterattack comes, the attacking Ukrainians are decimated. Without haste but without pause, the Russians advance toward Kupiansk, and when they cross the Oskil River, Ukrainian troop concentrations, no lines of supply or retreat left, are trapped between that river and the border with Russia. It’s a carnage, and since I don’t have to explain that to Macgregor, I ask him, “What's next? In Vilnius, NATO stressed that only unconditional withdrawal by the Russians is acceptable. When will Putin’s patience run out? When will he march to the Polish border?” “The last thing Putin wants,” Macgregor argues, “is to rule Ukraine. And crossing the Dnieper to march westward was never his plan. All the areas now under Russian military control have been Russian areas throughout history. Those are the areas where Russian-speaking Ukrainians live. In addition, Putin has always said that one day Kharkov and Odessa would be Russian again. The latter is going to happen. At the same time, Putin is keeping a sharp eye on the West, seeing the growing unrest in Europe. How long until Schultz and Macron are gone? New governments in Germany and France could change course. “Some forty undermanned Ukrainian brigades, say a hundred thousand soldiers, waiting along the front lines in trenches that offer little protection from Russian artillery barrages. Putin still has a reserve of 350,000 troops, which he is reluctant to deploy because he fears that a deployment of that reserve will lead to the United States convincing NATO to occupy western Ukraine. If that happens, Putin will have to fight a real war, and he MUST win that war to prevent NATO from gaining a foothold in Ukraine. “And then, there is something else at play. As much as people have trouble believing that, Putin does not want Ukrainians to die. Ukrainians are Orthodox Christian Slavs with whom the Russians do not wish to fight.” Again, Macgregor and I look at each other silently, and I have the feeling we are both struggling with the truth that Ukraine is being sacrificed on the chessboard of geopolitics. As the world looks the other way, two combat veterans look into each other eyes, trying to find the words to force that bit of understanding upon people that might stop what is utterly unnecessarily enfolding. I clear my throat and mention that after all the armory they have shipped to Ukraine, the Netherlands and Denmark will now be supplying F-16s. “That will impress Putin, won’t it?” Macgregor shakes his head pityingly. “Getting F-16s to operate is complicated,” he says, and I realize he knows what he’s talking about, for in 1999, he was involved in the planning of air raids in former Yugoslavia. “Putin knows those F-16s are worth nothing without airborne warning- and control systems. Those F-16s won’t make any difference, and sending those planes is a stupid decision.” “A lot of decisions with regard to Ukraine seem to be decisions made by politicians,” I remark, and I ask, “Are top Western military officials involved at all in what is happening in Ukraine?” Macgregor’s face tightens. Grimly, he remarks, “I would be cautious exonerating Western military for the debacle in Ukraine. Many NATO officers have idiotic ideas about how the Ukrainians should fight. Those officers live in the last years of World War II and don’t understand any of it. Just as it happened to the Germans back then, the Ukrainians have no air- and missile defenses. Every Ukrainian ground unit the Russians detect is destroyed by fighter planes, bombers, or drones. The reason Ukrainian soldiers are still alive is because Putin has not actually attacked Ukraine. If he does, Ukraine does not stand a chance. “Putin is open to negotiations. We have never listened to his terms, and perhaps it would be good to do so for once. If we want to end this conflict by force, Ukraine will be destroyed.” “Could perhaps the supply of cluster munition to Ukraine by the United States drive a wedge between NATO partners?” “Supplying cluster munition,” Macgregor replies, “is also a stupid decision, but there is not much choice because ordinary munition is running out. Cluster munition is only effective against soft targets, and in addition, ten to fifteen percent of that munition does not explode, which means that Ukraine will have to guard its own unexploded cluster munition. Maybe, based on the Convention on Cluster Munitions, some NATO partners will feel obliged to protest the supply of cluster munition. I doubt whether that’s going to make a difference.” To conclude our conversation, I ask Macgregor if he sees a way out of this conflict, which many Western politicians seem to see as a Disney production. Macgregor bursts into laughter. “A Disney production! That is a good analogy, because most politicians have no idea what is really going on in Ukraine. The conlict may stop tomorrow, but egos are too big. No one will want to admit to mistakes and lies. And then, there is that group of extremely rich people with more power than we are willing to admit. “Europeans should use their parliamentary democracies to appoint governments that dare to change course. What is happening in Ukraine is madness. How many more Ukrainians must die until that truth sinks in. It should stop. We can stop it ...”