Global Review had the honor to have another inzerview with General ret. Domroese about the Ukraine war, the situation in Russia after the Prigozhin march and a possible ceasefire agreement. General Hans-Lothar Domröse is a former army general of the Bundeswehr. He was Commander of Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum (2012-2016). In 2011 General Domröse was appointed German military representative MC/NATO and EU in Brussels. He took command of the Eurocorps in Strasbourg (2009-2012). During a 2008 deployment to Afghanistan, he was Chief of Staff at ISAF Headquarters. General Domröse received a variety of awards and honors during his military career. He is a senior consultant in the consulting firm Friedrich 30, which also includes ex-BND President Schindler, and in the global network of the Agora Strategy Group of the Munich Security Conference.
Global Review: General Domroese, if you look at the course of the Ukraine offensive so far, how do you rate it? Does it need some more time to unfold, the much-cited 3 months that some military experts say, to unfold its full momentum and then also liberate the Donbass and Crimea and gain a „victory“ for Ukraine like Ben Hodges prophesises for August /September? The Ukrainians are intensifying their attacks in the south and on Crimea, the Ukrainian intelligence chief even declared that Ukrainian troops would soon “enter Crimea”, although Hodges had previously rowed back a bit and spoke of a blockade, cutting off and quasi-starvation of Crimea. Is this to be expected given the current status or would other deliveries of weapons and so-called game changers such as combat aircraft or ATAMCS be required? How great do you see the danger that Putin would escalate after all, perhaps with nuclear weapons or, like Bomber Harris, with carpet bombing of Ukrainian cities?
General Domrorese: Your question is not easy to answer, because both sides certainly define success differently. What does winning mean? What is the strategic, political goal to which soldiers should contribute? The aim of the Russian attack on February 24, 2022 was to disarm, incapacitate and, in Russian diction, “denazify” Ukraine. In short: to make a “servant vassal”. Ukraine wants to remain a sovereign state within the 1991 borders and therefore wants to reconquer or get back all occupied territories. Mathematically, a classic zero-sum game in which each side wants the same thing – but a negotiated political solution currently seems impossible. A military solution should be enforced. Measured against this, both warring factions are far from achieving their goals, even though Russia has seized significant tracts of land from Ukraine since 2014. Measured against its limited military capabilities, Ukraine has had some success with the counteroffensive since the beginning of July 2023 and has regained the initiative. That in itself is a success – the Russians have been put on the defensive and are also suffering blows in Russia and even in Moscow. This shows that Russia is vulnerable. Russian territory is no longer a sanctuary; Goliath staggers (a little). David fights passionately and with high-tech, highly sophisticated systems he could cause significant damage to the Russian armed forces deployed in Ukraine and cut off their supplies. And because that’s the case and because the Kremlin knows it, it’s threatening escalation, as you described.
Global Review: How do you rate the Prigozhin march? Was it an attempted coup, just the demand to change the war strategy and depose Shoigu and other military personnel, or was this a concerted action based on the division of labor between Putin and Prigozhin, are There „no cracks in the Putin system“ as BND boss Kahl claimed or there are, but still not deep enough to overthrow Putin, even though Ukrainian and British propaganda constantly sees a civil war or a coup in Russia? Also, how do you see the future role and position of Wagner and Prigozhin?
General Domroese: In fact, the unsuccessful rebellion of 16/17 in my view, June was still a disaster for the Kremlin and President Putin. The amateurish announcements show that this was not agreed. The threat of punishment of around 20 years alone is a joke if you compare it with the draconian punishments against Kremlin opponents like Navalny, Kara-Mursa, Skripal or others. Words can get you into the Gulag for umpteen years, accept crimes and offenses such as murder, shots at your own troops, as in the civil war, marches and riots and even grant impunity – if that doesn’t describe chaos, if that doesn’t mean a loss of reputation for Putin, then then I don’t know what else is going to happen. General Popov echoed Prigozhin’s critical words – he was transferred to Syria or retired. General Dwornikov, the „Butcher of Syria“ was replaced after only 3 months due to lack of success in Ukraine. Prigozhin „shuttles“ undisturbed between Belarus and St. Petersburg. This shows: there is a crunch in the leadership, especially in the Defense Ministry, where Minister Shoigu and Chief of Staff Gerassimov are under pressure because there are no successes, the four south-eastern provinces of Ukraine annexed in the autumn are still not fully controlled, the Russian capital and Crimea “ unprotected“ and many deaths are to be mourned. A feeling of insecurity is spreading among the population. The „special operation“ has long since turned into a veritable war with death, wounds and misery. And what does the President do? He entrenches himself, he no longer travels, he holds court, he cleans and relies on personal loyalty over competence. Apparently he has no vision of how to achieve victory. From my point of view, he is „battered“ – a declining star. The role of the Wagner mercenaries is completely different: you need the unscrupulous „foreign service“ in Mali, Niger and Sudan, to name just three countries in Africa where these forces support putschists. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov recently proposed Wagner as a peacekeeping force for Sudan. In Belarus, Wagner is training armed forces and smuggling migrants to the Polish border with the goal of destabilizing the West. All this shows: Thugs fight each other – Thugs get along…
Global Review: Putin doesn’t seem to be traveling abroad anymore, and has now attended summit and meetngs via video “presence” quite often. Apparently he fears not so much that he could be arrested because of Baerbock’s international arrest warrant, but that he could suffer a plane crash like General Lebed, an assassination attempt or, like King Sihanouk back then, be overthrown by a coup and change of power by Lon Nol in his absence, yes then perhaps could at best get exile in China or North Korea. Is the impression deceptive and from which side could such a scenario be carried out?
General Domroese: You describe the classic coup scenario – such a coup would be instigated „from within“. The services have a reputation for being able to do things like this: lethal injections, house arrest, traffic accidents. Together with „the oligarchs“ and the „Medvedevs“ who want to stay „above“. But that would not be a regime change – just a change of personnel in an unchanged dictatorship. According to the motto: the man has done his duty … he can go – and make a nice life at the dacha. Gorbachev, Yeltsin and others experienced similar things…
Global Review: General Vad sees a key difference between the war in Afghanistan and the war in Ukraine: “The Ukrainians, thousands of whom, like in RUS, are also evading military service, are not mujahideens, not a tribal society with their high, religiously based morale and the willingness to fight and to prolong the fight according to the motto: You have the expensive watches, we have the time! And: unlike AFG, RUS cannot give up Donbass and Crimea for strategic reasons. It would be their end as a world power. So I think a long war of attrition or a Korean solution is more likely. But it could also be that RUS first occupies the Odessa region, without which western Ukraine is no longer viable on its own, at least as a bargaining chip for negotiations. From Russia’s perspective, that would be the perfect military position for later negotiations.” But would Odessa be to the West and Ukraine what Crimea is to Putin. Is that even negotiable?
General Domroese: Comparisons are not so easy. The withdrawal from Afghanistan was a mistake – for the Russians and also for the Americans. The misconception that „AFG is not strategically important“ has led to exactly what we see today. The country is a geopolitical pawn between Iran, Pakistan and China. And domestically, an inhuman regime with no rights for the citizens. Women and girls are hit hardest. It’s a pity. It doesn’t have to be that way in Ukraine: firstly, the Ukrainians are putting up admirable resistance – led by their president in an exemplary manner – in Afghanistan, President Ghani was the first to leave his country! Secondly, they are supported by the NATO nations and other G-20 countries „as long as necessary“ and thirdly, the Donbass is de-industrialized, completely destroyed and deserted. I don’t understand why the area would not be strategically dispensable for Russia. Crimea is admittedly the “white elephant” in geopolitical space. Only the Russian Black Sea Fleet would lose its safe haven in Sevastopol. That would be a blow to Russia. However, a new naval base can be built on the Russian opposite coast, for example near Kerch. Even with the surrender of all occupied territories, Russia would still remain a P5 member and a nuclear world power, like the USA after the unsuccessful Vietnam War. The effects for Ukraine are completely different: if the Odessa region were taken away, it would indeed be a “land-locked country” like Afghanistan. A country without access to the seas – that is much more intolerable than the return of Crimea by Russia. The Ukrainians will therefore know how to thwart the loss of Odessa militarily. In this respect, I classify the comparison with Peer Steinbrück’s snappy saying: „…would have, would have, bicycle chain“. Basically everything is negotiable. The 1991 borders of Ukraine were recognized under international law – also by Russia! Why shouldn’t we be able to achieve this again one day? Or why should the attacked Ukraine give up its own territory? Who is the victim – who is the perpetrator?! In the so-called Helsinki Process, it was decided 50 years ago that borders may be changed by mutual consent, but not by force.
Global Review: Professor van Ess also asked the following key question: “A big thing is going on in Ukraine. Germany, with Foreign minister Steinmeier, tried to prevent this in 2015, but saw that its influence was limited when Joe Biden came to power. Since then, the battle between Americans and Russians has raged, and we only take in refugees – and pay for them and for the Russians to be allowed to destroy Leo 2’s. From the analysis of the Afghanistan article, it was frightening that the Americans only delivered the weapons with which the Russian air supremacy was broken and the war against them was decided after 7 years. Before that was war of attrition, which harmed both the mujahideen and the Russians. How does it look today? Do we have to be prepared for a few years of wear and tear, at the end of which comes the game changer? Or are things different because the war has resulted in more casualties and, moreover, Russia itself has been directly affected?”
General Domroese: I admit that at the beginning of the Russian invasion in February 2022 I assumed „a 6-day war scenario“ and thought that a world power would quickly bring the Ukrainians to their knees with large-scale joint operations. And today? We see an armed force that does not master its craft, marauding, pillaging, raping and undisciplined “stuttering” – for a year and a half now – with no end in sight anytime soon. In this respect we must indeed prepare ourselves for a longer course of the war. Since Ukraine is now solely dependent on western arms supplies, the “western powers” will have a say, I think. One criterion could be the so-called “operational minimum”, which we must not fall below if we want to continue to be able to defend ourselves. It is also a question of the production of ammunition, weapons and equipment – currently the warring factions are consuming more than we are producing. No nation wants to convert the economy to a war economy. In addition, there will be elections in Europe and the USA next late summer – this can also influence the course of the war. My guess is that eventually the West will provide more powerful weapons and systems to allow Ukraine to survive. Not to destroy Russia. However, one thing is clear: Goliath is much larger and can last longer. So wisdom is called for when both sides are stuck militarily and only death and misery prevail. Then you should stop the fighting and negotiate. Exchanging prisoners, handing over the dead and missing would be the first steps. Before a ceasefire, however, Ukraine must be granted security guarantees so that the Russians do not use the pause as a respite from another attack. The example of Israel has the advantage that one does not have to station security-guarantee troops in Ukraine, but has strong forces „over the horizon“ ready for the worst case. In addition, one could take over air policing with air forces, as in the Baltic States. The Korean (and German) variant forces the immediate deployment of strong US and European battalions at the „ceasefire line“. Either way, years of tough peace negotiations would start – under the UN or US-CHN co-chair.
Global Review: General Vad, General Kujat and former Putin and Gazprom adviser Dr. Rahr went to the Chinese embassy in Berlin last week for a meeting with the Chinese ambassador on the PLA Army Day. #. As far as Dr. Rahr described it was more specifically about the grain agreement and Africa. Especially since Africa, especially South Africa’s ANC-BRICS-Ramaphosa, was not satisfied with Putin’s promises of grain deliveries and debt relief at the Africa-Russia summit in Saint Petersburg, but also demanded an immediate end to the Ukraine war, especially citing the African and Chinese peace initiative. According to Rahr, China is hoping for concessions from Russia and, after the fall of Niger, for a keynote speech from Putin on a new multipolar world order. It was not told if more was discussed. According to Vad, China is hoping for a Franco-German initiative in Ukraine that will be compatible with China’s GSI. It actually sounds like that China sees Putin and Russia then only as an auxiliary and unspoken regional power with nuclear weapons for hinese ambitions and as a junior partner who, because of Wagner troops and a few joint SCO and naval maneuvers, still sees himself a bit as a world power and is allowed to hallucinate as a sort of new Soviet Union and provide aid to China in Africa and elsewhere, especially since Putin claimed to have signed military treaties with 40 countries after the coup in Niger. How do you rate that?
General Domroese: First of all, if I can, I want to tone down your expectations of a multipolar world order. I continue to see a bi-polar world, namely the USA and CHINA as THE respective leading powers. Only these two states are able – for good or ill – to impose POWER on a global scale. In this respect it remains bi-polar. This shows that Russia is no longer one of the „big players“ – but like the central powers England and France, they remain P5 members. No reason to „start a war“. We are witnessing how difficult it is to guarantee European security in the midst of global power shifts. Using the example of the Ukraine, we can see very clearly: it is the Americans who are saving Europe – not us Europeans. that should make us think. We have to change that! If we don’t defend ourselves, then Americans won’t do it in the long run either. Simply because they are also needed elsewhere. The focal points are clear and resemble a triangle: Taiwan, Iran, Russia. It’s about freedom or coercion, the rule of law or dictatorship. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is virtually the focal point of a larger challenge that continues to put the Global South at an extreme disadvantage and weighs heavily on all of us. An “unholy trio” of Putin, Xi and Raisi are challenging us. Ambiguity makes it difficult to find a transparent solution for everyone involved: what is Taiwan for China is Crimea for Ukraine. The West supports Ukraine „as long as necessary“ but not „with everything necessary“. We have our ambassadors in Beijing, not in Taiwan. Russia supports China in this regard, but wants to own Crimea for its own benefit and even wages war over it. Iran does not want to recognize Israel, maybe even destroy it – we regard Israel as a reason of state and still stand for a two-state solution. In view of these and other global challenges such as climate change, food shortages and migration, it is time to discuss concrete proposals for working together in partnership. Geopolitically, zero-sum games don’t work. We need a kind of „CSCE 2.0“. Above all, however, we have to overcome the „unwanted side effects“ of our often ambiguous statements if we want to be credible.
Global Review: How do you rate the likelihood that an international game changer, such as a Tump or Le Pen election victory, or a Sino-American conflict over Taiwan or in the Indo-Pacific, or a Middle East war between Iran and Israel, could become a game changer?
General Domroese: Well, as I have already explained, the three autocrats are a particularly great danger if they carry out their actions in a coordinated manner. It is clear to me that the USA, as the lead nation, must ward off this danger for all of us. Europe is not able to do this. Unfortunately. But we must actively support the USA. A deterioration in US-Chinese relations could lead to US sanctions that Germany (and Europe +) would have to support – the negative consequences for our economy are obvious. And I’m not talking about going to arms yet. That would be the worst case: armed conflicts at all three sources of fire at the same time. That would be world war – which fortunately nobody wants because nobody would win. If Le Pen were to govern in Paris, that would not be good – but NOT the end of the EU/Europe. If Trump were to return to the White House, centrifugal nationalist forces would put considerable pressure on our way of life. Left on their own, Germany and Europe’s security, freedom and thus prosperity would be severely endangered – with all the undesirable consequences. So what? Since we cannot influence either American or French voters, it is important to expand and consolidate our sovereignty among like-minded partners. Motto: hope for the best but be prepared for the worst. But even without Trump and Le Pen, we must do more to master the global challenges. We are going from an era of an affluent society to an era of scarcity.
Global Review: Biden has now held out the prospect of an Israel solution for Ukraine, since NATO membership is currently not possible or desired. But does that make sense? NATO membership not now, but as a prospect, but an Israel solution is not a real guarantee of security, especially since Ukraine, unlike Israel, does not have nuclear weapons, but only a permanent US and NATO coalition of the Willing military base in one, but maybe divided Ukraine with access to the sea as a trip wire and and Western bulwark with US nuclear protection against Russia, perhaps after General Milley’s hinted at a „Korea solution“? Anything else could lead to Russia starting a new war after a lull. But does Biden or Trump or De Santis want that, or are they making the same mistake as with the Budapest Memorandum and Dean Acheson’s no guarantee for South Korea just before the Korean War, which Stalin, Mao and Kim were keen to exploit, as Xi and Putin allegedly did with the one Iraq and Afghanistan retreat in the retreating West by means of the Ukraine war, which they hoped to win in 3 weeks, to achieve NATO’s historic defeat and thus the breakthrough to the multipolar world under their hegemony? Why not the Japan model with US nuclear protection, a bilateral security treaty and military bases instead of strategic ambuiguity lijke Taiwan or this neo-Budapest „Israel solution“?
General Domroese: From my point of view, Ukraine’s immediate admission to NATO was not unanimously achievable – also because then there would have been a case of defense immediately. In this respect, the firm commitment „for afterwards“ is credible and expedient. With regard to the so-called „Israel solution“, I do not think that this will do anything. With credible announcements and powerful troops „over the horizon“ one could certainly have a deterrent effect on Russia. Among other things, because a Russian aggression would automatically lead to stationing. Russia would then not be a step further. On the contrary: it would be tanks against tanks again, as it was in divided Germany at Checkpoint Charlie. The Korean or Japanese solution would visibly deny Russia violent access to Ukraine, but at the same time „fix“ the Americans and Europeans. Feasible, but not ideal.
Global Review: How do you see the medium and long term options? Should a European post-Ukraine order be established with or without Russia or against Russia? In a programmatic article in Foreign Policy, Alexander Motley thinks that regardless of who succeeds Putin in Russia, a lockdown barrier should be erected from the Baltic States via Ukraine to Central Asia, and some US expert circles also think of a New Iron Curtain the speech, but Ben Hodges rejects this idea of a New Iron Curtain, and it is also unclear what this catchword and phrase exactly means and whether the West has the financial resources and the strength and endurance to establish and maintain” it”? Other ideas assume selective cooperation with Russia, also with the revival of China’s New Silk Road, which could be combined with the European Silk Road Global Gateway of the EU?
General Domroese: I don’t think we can ignore Russia – this huge country with a population of 140 million – and accept it as a „black hole“. Just think of the Arctic or the long common borders from Finland to Ukraine. We have to live peacefully with our difficult neighbor – not easy after Georgia, Crimea and the ongoing invasion. Nevertheless, I rely on Deterrence & Dialogue. In purely economic terms, Russia needs us more than the other way around. A nuclear power should never be „floating uncontrolled star in orbit.“ This requires patience, prudence, consistency and, above all, perseverance. We can and must succeed.