Former Top Russian General: Russia Will Keep Eastern Ukraine, Even if it Means Taking Kiev

Former Top Russian General: Russia Will Keep Eastern Ukraine, Even if it Means Taking Kiev

Evgeny Buzhinsky has spent much of his professional life with the threat of global nuclear destruction hanging over his head. A lifelong Russian military officer, he earned his PhD in military sciences in 1982, just as the Cold War was entering its most dangerous period, and served in the Soviet general staff during an arms race that several times came perilously close to triggering a nuclear war that neither side wanted.

AUN-TV Note: The following is clearly from the Russian point of view.  To better understand the situation reading what both sides think or at least say is important. 

Buzhinsky retired a lieutenant general in 2009, after a long career on the Russian general staff, including several years heading the Russian Defense Ministry’s international treaty agency, which brought him into frequent contact with European and American generals over some of the most contentious issues of the post–Cold War era. He now heads the PIR Center, a well-respected Russian think tank that focuses on military, national security, and arms control issues.


Gregarious, bear-sized, and clearly accustomed to dealing with Westerners from his years working on international treaties, Buzhinsky surprised me by waving off two fears that are most pronounced among Western and some Russian analysts: a military conflict in the NATO-allied Baltic states bordering Russia, or an accidental collision with Russian military flights buzzing along NATO airspace with their transponders switched off. But he nonetheless foresaw war as a possibility, however undesirable.

If Ukrainian forces attempted to retake the territory in eastern Ukraine (Donbas) held by pro-Russia separatist rebels, he warned, the Russian military could very well declare war and march on the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, whatever the costs. He also described potential dangers from the military buildup in Europe — particularly American missile defense there — and discussed when Russia’s nuclear doctrine would or would not allow the use of nuclear weapons.

Buzhinsky is not a government spokesperson, nor was he always the most objective as an analyst, as would be expected. But his view seems to reflect, at least to some degree, that of the Russian military leadership, which remains one of the most important and least understood actors in Russia’s tensions with the West — not to mention a group with control over thousands of nuclear warheads.

What follows is a partial transcript of our conversation, edited and condensed for clarity.

“If Russia starts a war, it never stops until it takes the capital”

Max Fisher: I had a question for you about Ukraine. We’ve talked to people in Russia from a number of perspectives and political parties about their view of the crisis in eastern Ukraine and how Putin has handled it. But something we hear very little about is how the Russian military general staff views the crisis. I’m curious if you have any sense for how it’s seen.

Evgeny Buzhinsky: For me, it seems to me that people in Donbas decided — because, you see, the dominant majority of the population are Russians. The plans to Ukrainize the east and southeast of Ukraine — this stupid law that everybody in Ukraine should speak only Ukrainian, although 75 to 80 percent in their day-to-day lives speak Russian — of course, this prospect frightened people.

And they decided that it would be as easy as it was in Crimea. But the cruelty with which the [Ukrainian] nationalists suppressed the pro-Russian activists in Odessa, that kicked off everything, and afterward, of course, the situation went out of anybody’s control.

A year ago, I was absolutely convinced Russia would never interfere militarily. I’m not talking about volunteers, instructors — I mean interfere with regular forces. Now I’m not so sure.

In the West, they say there is a peace party [among the Ukrainian leadership] headed by [President Petro] Poroshenko, and a war party of [Oleksandr] Turchynov and [Prime Minister Arseniy] Yatsenyuk. That’s not true. All of them are from the same party, and they don’t want a political settlement. For them, political settlement is a defeat. They all are for military victory.  Read More:

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