YouTube video

Reports of Ukrainian triumph and imminent Russian defeat have flooded the West since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in February. Yet how much merit is there to this narrative? Former US Marine Corps intelligence officer and UN weapons inspector William Scott Ritter Jr. speaks with Dimitri Lascaris in a special interview for The Real News. Despite taking some ground in September’s counteroffensive, the Ukrainian military has taken heavy losses and is totally dependent on external support. Moreover, Ritter argues that Ukraine’s objectives in this war are unachievable, whereas Russia’s can be met through a negotiated settlement. While the war rages on and attempts to sanction Russia continue to backfire, more damage is being done to the people of Europe and Ukraine than to Russia. Ultimately, what must come out of this conflict is an admission from Europe that NATO is an anachronism and a new security paradigm is needed to promote international peace and cooperation. This interview was recorded Nov. 4, 2022.

William Scott Ritter Jr. is an author and pundit and a former United States Marine Corps intelligence officer and United Nations weapons inspector.

Dimitri Lascaris is a lawyer, journalist and activist from Montreal, Quebec. In 2020, Dimitri ran for the leadership of the Green Party of Canada.


Dimitri Lascaris:  This is Dimitri Lascaris reporting from Montreal, Canada, for The Real News Network. Today I’m joined by Scott Ritter. Scott is a former US Marine and Core Intelligence Officer whose service over a 20-plus year career includes tours of duty in the former Soviet Union, implementing arms control agreement, serving on the staff of US General Norman Schwarzkopf during the Gulf War, and later as a Chief Weapons Inspector with the UN in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. He’s also the author of several books, including his latest work Disarmament in the Time of Perestroika. Welcome to The Real News, Scott.

Scott Ritter:  Thanks for having me.

Dimitri Lascaris:  So Scott, the focus of our discussion today, which I’m sure won’t be any surprise to you because it’s been such a hot topic for all of us recently, is the Ukraine war. And as many of our viewers will know, you’ve commented and written extensively on the Ukraine war, expressing views which I think it’s fair to say have departed considerably from those which dominate Western mainstream discourse about this war. And one of the dominant themes, as you well know, in Western mainstream discourse about this war, is that Ukraine is winning and that the performance of Russia’s military has ranged from disappointing to disastrous. And that claim reached a fever pitch during the Ukrainian Army’s recent offensive in the Kharkiv region, which resulted in the Ukrainian military seizing control of a large chunk of territory that Russia had controlled for months.

But even after the loss of that territory by Russia, Russia still had control of numerous cities that it did not control before the invasion, including Sievierodonetsk, Lysychansk, Mariupol, and Kherson. After the counter-offensive, Russia also retained something very important: a land bridge to Crimea. And finally, two things have happened since the Kharkiv counter-offensive. One, the frontline appears to have stabilized, and secondly, the Russian military has begun to systematically degrade the power grid in Ukraine. So with that as background, background with which I’m sure you’re completely familiar, what do you make, given current circumstances on the battlefield, about the claim that Ukraine is winning this war and Russia is losing it?

Scott Ritter:  Well, let’s just start with basic strategic objectives. Let’s look at the Russian strategic objectives first. First and foremost, Russia is seeking to get Europe and the United States to buy into the notion of a negotiated new European security framework. It’s something that Russia put on the table prior to invading Ukraine. If people remember back to Dec. 17, I believe, of last year, Russia submitted two draft treaties, one to NATO, one to the United States, which articulated Russia’s stance on what its vision of a new European security framework could look like. They invited the West to read it and have a serious discussion about it, and they were ignored.

Then Russia invaded Ukraine, and Russia has two objectives. One is the demilitarization of Ukraine, the other is the deNazification of Ukraine. Demilitarization means the elimination of all NATO influence on the Ukrainian military, and deNazification means just that, getting rid of everything that Russia considers to be related to the ultra nationalistic ideology of Stepan Bandera and the white supremacist manifestations of that.

Now, these are words that I’m not using. I mean, people are going, well, Ritter, yeah, you’re very good at Kremlin talking points. I’d advise people to go back and actually read the amendments put by the United States House of Representatives on Department of Defense Appropriations legislation from 2015 up until just this year. They continuously forbid funds, US taxpayer funds, being used to train the Azov battalion, which is listed by the US Congress as a white supremacist neo-Nazi organization. So anybody who wants to pretend that there isn’t a Nazi problem in Ukraine, simply I refer you to Congress and its own legislation.

The Russians believe that this is a big problem and they want it eradicated. Now, why did I bring this up? Because Russia hasn’t shifted gears at all. Russia’s still saying, we want a European security framework out of this and we are adhering to our original objectives. Russia hasn’t altered course at all. Ukraine, on the other hand, is saying that victory can only be achieved when Russia is evicted from all territory, including Crimea.

I would say that Russia’s closer to achieving its objectives than Ukraine is to achieving its objectives, which tells me Russia has the momentum, Russia has the initiative, and Russia has realistic objectives that can be attained. Ukraine doesn’t. I mean, there’s just literally no one on this planet besides maybe… I don’t even think the Ukrainians believe it, that they’re going to recapture the Donbas, that they’re going to recapture Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, that they’re going to recapture Crimea. This is fantasy. So you have one side that their objectives are fantasy based, you have another side whose objectives are, while difficult to achieve, are very realistic. So I’ll go with the realistic side over the fantasy side as to who I think is going to prevail.

Then we take a look at capabilities. For certain, Ukraine had a good September. There’s no one that’s going to debate that issue whatsoever. But at what cost? And what I mean by that is in order to achieve this good September, Ukraine had to absorb billions, tens of billions of dollars worth of NATO equipment. It took months to do this. It took months to get people trained on this, to bring the equipment in, to match the equipment with the people, organize it, and bring it to the battlefield. And then in one month, Ukraine pretty much burned through everything. The casualties they’ve suffered have been horrific. They’ve lost the equipment, they’ve lost most of the manpower, and they’re down to a position now where they’re begging the West to help them reconstitute this capability.

Russia started September with pretty much the same force structure that it brought in when it invaded in February, and what had happened is Russia pretty much had insufficient resources to the task they had set forth for themself. They had many parts of the defensive line that were stretched thin, and the Ukrainians were able to exploit this. And the Russians wisely, I believe, traded territory for lives. Now the Russians aren’t in the business of just throwing away Russian lives, and so they weren’t going to hold on to a strong point and defend it to the last man. They were more than happy to withdraw, trade territory, save lives, consolidate their defensive positions, all the while inflicting what should have been prohibitive casualties on the Ukrainians, tens of thousands of losses.

Meanwhile, while Russia is consolidating their lines, they’re reinforcing. Vladimir Putin ordered the partial mobilization, 300,000 reservists have been called up, 87,000 of them are currently deployed into the special military operations zone, the rest are finalizing their organization into fresh combat units, which will give the Russians tremendous flexibility and operational capacity. So as Ukraine is shrinking its combat capability, Russia is increasing its combat capability.

And then we take a look at the strategic aspects of this conflict. I think the West made a mistake in misinterpreting Russia’s soft approach to the special military operation, going in with fewer numbers than many people thought was necessary, and going in softer, not doctrinally, not using overwhelming firepower, not rolling through, in effect, trying to reduce civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure. While the reduction of civilian casualties continues to be an objective of Russia, the day and age of saying, we don’t want to harm civilian infrastructure, is over. Russia has taken the gloves off and has shown that it can close down Ukraine as a modern nation state anytime it wants to.

It’s degraded their electrical grid, their power grid. Ukraine has rolling blackouts, and the Russians are taking it easy. Russia could easily shut everything down, but they’re not, they’re making a point right now that they can do this damage. Meanwhile, Russia is dysfunctioning as it is, and then we take it out a step further because it’s not just Ukraine that’s suffering.

You see, the West thought they were going to A, deter Russian aggression and B, compel Russia to stop its aggression by imposing massive economic sanctions, I think that’s the word that was used, unprecedented economic sanctions. I mean, we were told there were masterful economists, experts in energy security that had solved the issue of how to shut down this gas station disguised as a nation. All we have to do is cut off their gas, their energy, and they’re going to shrivel up and go away.

Russia proves that the gas station actually knows more about global energy security than the West does. They flipped the script. Russia’s not the nation suffering, Europe is suffering, the entire continent is suffering. America’s suffering. What people are talking about, we have a couple weeks left of diesel fuel. I don’t think people comprehend what that means, when we run out of diesel fuel or we get such a shortage that the prices go through the roof. Because diesel powers the trucks that make the supply line work, that bring food to our stores at a reasonable price. And you start jacking up the price of the cost of transportation, it will be transferred to the consumer. And if you eliminate diesel potential to where transportation is frozen, nothing makes it to market.

Russia doesn’t have this problem. So they’ve won that battle, too. So across the board, from the big picture strategic aspect of the West supporting Ukraine to Ukraine’s ability to sustain the conflict, but what’s happening on the battlefield, it’s advantage Russia, advantage Russia, advantage Russia, advantage Russia. Russia’s winning this war. Call it controversial, but that’s my take.

Dimitri Lascaris:  Now, you touched upon the nuclear security framework, and this is a matter that should preoccupy us all, a matter of the utmost urgency, as I know you know, and the subject of nuclear war has come up repeatedly in the mainstream discourse since the special military operation began. And again, the predominant narrative in the West is that Russia is threatening to use nuclear weapons and its government cannot be trusted to manage its massive nuclear arsenal responsibly.

But in the years leading up to the special military operation, it was the United States and not Russia that withdrew from major arms control treaties, and as you’ve talked about oftentimes, in 2002, the Bush administration withdrew the US from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. In 2008, the Trump administration withdrew the US from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and in that same year, the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran, also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal. And I’d like to know your thoughts, Scott, on the importance of those treaties to global nuclear security, and whether the United States government, in your opinion, had any valid reasons to withdraw from any of those treaties?

Scott Ritter:  Well, let’s just start with first principles. Here we are, 2022, and we have a bunch of people running around as if they’ve invented the concept of nuclear security and nuclear-based muscle flexing. No, we’ve tried it before in the 1960s, we did the whole arms race thing. And we realized at that point in time that we’ll quickly bankrupt ourselves and get nothing from it if we continue to try to build bigger and better missiles, more warheads, all this stuff. One of the first things we had to teach ourselves back then is that you can’t win a nuclear war. You can’t win it. It should never be fought. And that’s when we embraced something that one would normally say shouldn’t be embraced: the notion of mutually assured destruction. That is, if I use a nuclear weapon against you, not only will I kill you, but you’re going to use a nuclear weapon against me and you’re going to kill me.

The best way to keep mutually assured destruction alive and viable was to stop pretending that you could defend against a nuclear attack. See, that was the other part of the arms race that was starting to occur, not only we’re building bigger missiles and stuff, we’re trying to build defenses against these missiles. And all that happens when you build a defense is that they build a better offense to get it. You build a 500 missile interceptor system, they put multiple warheads on their missiles so they have 1,500 coming at you. You put 1500 down, they double their missiles. The bottom line is you’ll never catch up, and everybody will go bankrupt, and you increase the possibility of nuclear conflict. So the decision was taken to sign the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, I think in 1972, and this basically said, “Yeah, we can have nuclear weapons, but we both agree that if we use them we’re all going to die, and we’re not even going to pretend. We’re not even going to try and defend ourselves. That’s it.

And this opened the door for what’s called the Strategic Arms Limitation talks. We weren’t talking about reducing the numbers, but we were talking about putting a cap on how many weapons we can build and what kinds of weapons. It was the beginning of responsible dialogue between the United States and the Soviet Union on nuclear weapons. And from the Strategic Arms Limitation talks, once we reach these caps, we realized, that’s too many, and we need to start talking about reducing them.

And it took a while to get there, it wasn’t an easy transition. The first thing that helped the pivot was the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty signed in 1987, implementation began July 1 of 1988. This one’s personal to me because this is the one that I played a part in. I was actually the first inspector on the ground in the Soviet Union. I’m sort of proud of that little… that honorific. It’s meaningless, but it’s a cool thing to have in your memoirs.

But I did play an important part in the implementation of this treaty. This treaty saved the world, I believe, from nuclear annihilation. We had acquired certain weapons capabilities in Europe, both Soviet and American, SS 20 missiles, Pershing II missiles, ground-launched cruise missiles, that put us on literally a hair trigger from global annihilation. And we got rid of those weapons. We got rid of those weapons. Didn’t reduce them, got rid of them. And in doing so, we actually freed Europe up from going to bed at night worrying about whether you’re going to wake up the next morning. I mean, Europe owes me and all my colleagues and all the Soviet colleagues a huge debt of gratitude. Because from 1988 until now, you could sleep at night not worrying about whether or not the world’s going to end. You don’t get to do that anymore. You get to thank the United States for that.

Then after that came these START Treaties, Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties, where we actually started talking about reducing the strategic arsenals, the big boomers. But this stalled. Why did it stall? You see, we could have these negotiations with the Soviet Union because we respected them. Why did we respect them? Because we feared them, because we realized that they could do to us as we could do to them. But then the Soviet Union collapsed, and for the decade of the ’90s, we lost respect for Russia. We stopped fearing Russia. We viewed Russia as a defeated nation. We were exploiting Russia economically, we were dominating Russia politically, and as a result, arms control stopped being a front burner issue and went on the back burner, and then it got put into the warmer, and then it got put into the refrigerator. It left. It wasn’t even getting heated up anymore.

Because we just weren’t afraid of anybody. We were the sole remaining superpower, we were dominant across the board, and with that dominance comes people who start to say, hey, we got this nuclear arsenal. Why don’t we make it work for us? But how do we make it work for us? But we’d like to build a missile defense, not against Russian missiles, cause we don’t fear Russia anymore, but against North Korean missiles, against Iranian missiles, against Chinese missiles, although we didn’t want to admit it.

But we can’t do that because we have this ABM treaty. Well, it’s a relic of the Cold War. Let’s just get rid of the ABM Treaty. And we did. And the Russians went, whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait a minute. That’s an important treaty. That’s a foundational treaty. That defines everything we’re doing. And Bush said, no, no, don’t worry about it, it doesn’t apply to you because you’re weak. You’re useless. We don’t view you as a threat. It only applies to these rogue nations. Although it didn’t, because the only way that we’ve implemented it is in a manner which has the potential of shooting down Russian missiles. Nobody else.

So we got rid of that. And then the INF Treaty. The problem wasn’t that Russia was cheating, they weren’t, we made that up, literally. I mean, I could go into the details about the allegations made by the United States. The Russians, on the other hand, said the United States was cheating and we were, we really were cheating. Those anti-ballistic missile things we talked about, I said the United States put two sites in Europe, one in Romania, one in Poland. They’re called the Aegis Ashore, the Mark 41, it’s basically a system we use on ships as an anti-missile defense system, and we brought it ashore, the giant phased array radar.

And then we have the launching system, basically canisterized systems. Normally it’s a vertical launch system on a ship, but now we brought it ashore. But the thing about the vertical launch system is not only could it shoot the SM 3 surface to air missile, which we’re now modifying to shoot down missiles, but it could shoot the Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile.

Now, as long as it’s on a ship, it’s okay, the treaty doesn’t ban that. But when you put it on the ground, it’s prohibited by the treaty. We got rid of that. It’s called the Ground-Launched Cruise Missile. And the Russian said, you’re bringing a system that’s designed to shoot cruise missiles ashore. It’s a violation. And we said, don’t worry about it. We changed the electronics so it can’t shoot. The Russians said, that’s not good enough. It’s a system tested to shoot cruise missiles, you’re bringing it ashore. And we said, we would never do that. Don’t worry. One month after we got out of the treaty, we tested a Ground-Launched Cruise Missile from the Mark 41 Aegis Ashore system. We lied through our teeth. We lie every time we get involved in arms control. That’s the bottom line.

But we got out of that treaty, not because of what the Russians are doing, we were worried about the Chinese and their intermediate range missiles. And we said, if we’re going to confront China in the Pacific, we need to get our own intermediate missiles to compete with them. So we had to get out of the treaty to do that. But what’s happened? Now we take a look at Europe. Suddenly we want to deploy intermediate range missiles back into Europe. We actually activated last year the 53rd Artillery brigade, I believe it is.

That’s a Cold War Air brigade. Anybody who served in Germany knows this. That was the Pershing II brigade. That was the brigade that almost caused us to all die back in the 1980s. That was the brigade that went away once we destroyed the Pershing missiles. We now reactivate it and we’re going to equip it with something called the Dark Eagle. It’s an intermediate ranged hypersonic missile. The thing that made the Pershing II so dangerous wasn’t necessarily its nuclear charge, but the fact that by the time you launched it, within five to seven minutes, it would hit Moscow. There’s no reaction time. That means if there’s a mistake, if there’s a mistake in identity, a glitch in the system, the Russians are saying, we only have five minutes to respond. Hit the button anyways. Get it out of here, launch on detection. Well, we got rid of that, but now we’re bringing the hypersonic Dark Eagle in, which could be nuclear or conventional.

The Russians won’t know when it’s launched, but either way, they know that that hypersonic missile is going to hit Moscow in five minutes. So we’re back to exactly where we were in the 1980s pre-INF Treaty, but this time we don’t even have the ABM treated to help us out. People think they can win nuclear wars today. Why do I say that? Well, because we developed what’s called a low-yield nuclear warhead, the W76-2. It’s deployed right now on submarine launched ballistic missiles, the Trident, that are on Ohio class submarines. We actually tested one in a war game, I believe in 2020. Then Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, went to Omaha to strategic air command, or strategic command they call it now, and there was a war game where he actually walked through the process of authorizing the release of a low-yield nuclear war had fired from an Ohio class submarine targeting Russian troops in the Baltics.

So not only did we practice firing this missile, we practiced firing this missile against Russians. This is an extraordinarily dangerous situation that we’re in right now. There’s a lot of talk about nuclear weapons. Why? Russia respects Article five of the NATO treaty, which is an attack against one is an attack against all. Russia is fully cognizant of the fact that if it attacks Poland or the Baltic states, it’s at war with NATO, and they know what that means.

But NATO doesn’t respect anything about Russia. NATO knows no limits. NATO’s been expanding nonstop. They lied about it, about not wanting to do it back in 1990 to Gorbachev, they’ve lied about it ever since, they’ve been expanding. But one of the whole reasons we’re at war in Ukraine right now is because of NATO wanting to expand and bring Ukraine into its umbrella. So when Russia moved into Ukraine, it also had to mollify Belarus, which is very nervous saying, well, okay, while you guys are down here doing the Ukraine thing, what’s to protect us? What if NATO decides to come into us?

So Russia put a marker down and said, if NATO decides to get involved in this, intervene, we will use all the means at our disposal to protect ourselves. And everybody went nuclear, nuclear, nuclear. And I’m pretty sure that Putin was sort of hinting at that, except that doesn’t fit the Russian doctrine, and Russians are very doctrinal. There are other weapons that Russia has called hypersonics. See, we are trying to build a hypersonic. Russia has hypersonics. And I think what Russia was saying is we will take out NATO cities, NATO decision making centers, with non-nuclear means, all the means at our disposal. And Putin talked about weapons that are deployed such as the Kinzhal or the dagger, the hypersonic missile that’s been used, NATO can’t shoot it down. There’s nothing NATO can do to do it. If Russia launches it against NATO, it will hit the target that it’s aimed at.

But they have other hypersonics, something called the avant garde, which is currently deployed on ICBMs, intercontinental ballistic missiles. They have three to five avant gardes per missile. They don’t have to be nuclear. They could be non-nuclear. So Russia has the ability right now to fire a road mobile ballistic missile with five hypersonic warheads that could come down and hit five targets in Europe per missile. They have hundreds of these missiles. Russia can annihilate Europe overnight in a non-nuclear attack. And this is the message that Russia was sending, but we immediately said, no, no, no, that’s nuclear. He’s threatening the use of nuclear weapons. Russian doctrine is quite clear. There’s only two conditions under which they can use nuclear weapons: one is if a nation uses nuclear weapons against them, and the second is if, through conventional forces, nations threaten the very existence of Russia.

Getting involved in Ukraine does not threaten the very existence of Russia, but it does threaten the very existence of Europe in a non-nuclear retaliation. But Europe misunderstood this, the West, and we’ve been hyping this up. Russia has made it clear they will never, there’s no circumstance under which they would ever use nuclear weapons in Ukraine against Ukraine, against NATO. They won’t use a nuclear weapon in Ukraine. If it comes down to time to use nuclear weapons, they’re not going to nuke Kyiv, they’re going to nuke London, they’re going to nuke Paris, they’re going to nuke Berlin. They’re not going to nuke Kyiv. So the West has totally misconstrued this, totally misunderstood this, and it’s the West that’s done the most aggressive behavior here. One, you have Zelenskyy giving a speech where he basically begs the West to carry out a preemptive strike, a nuclear strike, some people implied, against Russia to prevent them from nuking Ukraine. So Zelenskyy uses a false premise, that Russia’s going to nuke Ukraine. Russia will never Ukraine. But to prevent something that Russia will never do, he wants the West to nuke Russia preemptively.

And then a week after he issues that speech, NATO holds a nuclear exercise where they practice loading on B61 air delivered nuclear munitions onto aircraft whose sole purpose is to drop those bombs on Russia. And if you’re a Russian, you’re going, wait a minute, Zelenskyy just begged you to launch a preemptive nuclear strike, and now you’re carrying out a nuclear exercise, which, gosh, if you wanted to, you could load the real thing on and carry out the real preemptive strike. Very dangerous situation. Russia responded by testing its own strategic nuclear forces, showing the world that we have all these missiles and we can use them and you’ll die and there’s no reason to do this. Both those exercises were planned in advance. These weren’t something that were done because of Ukraine, but responsible leaders on both sides should have stopped their exercises. Russia didn’t announce their exercise until the very end. So there’s a possibility that Russia would have taken the lead from NATO. If NATO said, we’re going to delay this exercise, Russia may have done the same thing.

But now those exercises are over, and I have a feeling that more mature minds in the West are reconsidering what’s going on. You hear some dialogue out of the Biden administration about, we don’t see any evidence of Russia preparing to use nuclear weapons. This is good. I think the more we don’t talk about nuclear weapons, the better off we are. But eventually we are going to have to talk about nuclear arms control. Bottom line is the diplomatic off ramp for the situation in Ukraine is probably best served by reengaging with Russia in meaningful talks about arms control. Perhaps breathing new life into the INF Treaty to prevent the deployment of Dark Eagle, to get the Russians to do whatever needs to be done to mollify the West, but to walk us away from the edge of the cliff, we don’t need to be standing on the cliff staring over it. That’s not a good place to be.

Dimitri Lascaris:  Right. So I’d like to, in the time remaining to us, focus on the question of, as I mentioned at the outset, I’m in Montreal, Canada, I’m a Canadian, and I’d like to talk to you a little bit about Canada’s relationship to NATO. And I’m going to offer to you a kind of contrarian perspective that is entirely non-military, I have absolutely no military expertise, never served in the military, never studied military science. I’m just a layperson looking at the lay of the land, and I have a certain view, which you can’t even talk about in the mainstream of Canadian politics. It’s simply taken as a given that Canada should be a member of NATO and that being a member of NATO enhances Canada’s security’s interest.

As I look at it, however, NATO undermines Canada’s security. And the reason I say that is, first of all, I think, again, from a non-military perspective, Canada has formidable natural barriers protecting it. It has the Arctic Ocean on the North, the Atlantic to the East, it has the Pacific to the South, it has the longest unfunded border with the United States, but the United States government is supposed to be our ally. That’s the official position, that this is a country to which we are closely tied, which would never do anything to threaten the security of Canadians.

And I think we all know that if Canada were to come under attack from one of the few countries that might be able to actually sustain an attack on Canada despite these formidable natural barriers, like Russia or China, the United States would not tolerate the presence of hostile military forces so close to its Northern border, and it wouldn’t take a treaty, a NATO treaty, or any other treaty to cause the United States government to intervene, to bring that threat to an end.

Now conversely, because we now have signed onto Article five, countries which are very vulnerable to attack, for example, the Baltic States, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Ukraine itself, although it’s not yet a member of NATO and hopefully will never become one, these countries we have a reciprocal obligation of mutual defense, they probably couldn’t come to our aid if we needed, it and we probably would never need it because we have the United States, in theory, protecting us. So as I look at the situation, I think that there’s no real upside for Canada being a member of NATO. There may be for other NATO states, but I can’t see an upside, and I can see a hell of a lot of downside. And I’m curious, with your military expertise, what would you say to Canadians about whether NATO enhances their security? Do you think it does? Do you think it doesn’t? And if so, why?

Scott Ritter:  Well, let’s go back to the roots of NATO in the post Second World War. I don’t think anybody who’s knowledgeable about the history of the war in Europe can minimize the role played by Canada. Canadian troops were there in the fight, in the thick of the fight. Canada stood side by side with the United Kingdom and the United States in defeating, helping defeat Nazi Germany. Therefore, Canada earned a seat at the table of the postwar security framework that became NATO, North Atlantic Treaty Organization. And the Canadians maintained a permanent military presence in West Germany, I think in Lahr, and they were integrated, highly respected troops, very professional. And they continued to play a meaningful role in preserving the security of Europe during the Cold War.

The problem comes when the Cold War ended. At that point, what role is Canada playing and why? What role does NATO have? When NATO stops being about preserving the post World War II security framework and becomes more about securing European stability, Canada probably needs to, at that point, start questioning why they’re there.

And then when Europe and NATO deliberately start this policy of expansion, and in doing so basically empowering nations like Poland and the Baltics to call the shots. I mean, they’re the ones on the front lines, they’re the ones… their voice is far more important than Canada’s voice about Ukraine. Canada literally has no voice about Ukraine. I know Canada’s providing munitions and stuff, but no one’s listening to Canada, because you don’t get a vote. You’re not there. I mean, yeah I know there are some Canadian forces at the headquarters, but what does Canada bring to the table? Frankly speaking, nothing. Nothing. That Canada can’t bring anything to the table. First of all, for Canada to deploy troops to Europe, you need the United States. So in effect, you become an extension of the United States, you can’t function without the United States.

And as you rightly said, let’s say Russia, God forbid, decided to move on Canada from the North in the Arctic. Where’s Latvia? Where’s Lithuania? Where’s Estonia? Where’s Poland? They’re not there. They’re not going to be helping you. The United States will be. I think Canada would be wise to strengthen its relationship with the United States. That means a bilateral security treaty with a guarantee of the American nuclear umbrella, to have the same Article five type protection. But with the United States, that an attack against Canada is an attack against the United States kind of thing, and recognize that Europe has become a poison pill. I mean, the bottom line is there’s no upside for Canada in Europe today. You gain nothing from that relationship, it only threatens you with war, and it basically gives a veto of Canada’s very survival to Eastern European nations that don’t have Canada’s best interests in mind. NATO is an organization that is long past its useful life.

And that’s being proven today. First of all, NATO was humiliated in Afghanistan, and Canada played a role in the Afghan… I mean, again, I’m not denigrating the service of Canadians, but you didn’t win. For what purpose were you there? It cost you a lot of money, it cost you lives, and to what end? And now we talk about what’s going on in Ukraine. NATO’s not going to win. You’re going to yet again be humiliated. Canada has literally stripped its defenses bare helping Ukraine. I don’t believe there’s anything left in Canada to give. For what purpose? Russia’s going to win. Russia has a legitimate interest in Ukraine. What interest does Canada have in Ukraine? So I think from a purely Canada-centric point of view, NATO is very expensive and very dangerous and very risky, while maintaining a relationship with the United States is the smart thing to do, cheaper by far and it entails virtually no risk, because nobody’s going to go to war against United States, and therefore nobody’s going to go to war against Canada.

Dimitri Lascaris:  And I know we only have a few minutes left, Scott, so I’m going to ask you a big question which is going to be quite a challenge for you to answer within the limited time available. But what do you think a path to peace looks like in this extraordinarily dangerous war? And I’ll try to narrow my question a little bit. If the parties were minded to sit down at the table and have a serious discussion about a resolution of this conflict, what concessions do you think the Ukrainian side should consider making, in the realm of reality, and what concessions do you think the Russian side could and should consider making within the realm of reality that might get us to a negotiated settlement to this war?

Scott Ritter:  Well, the short answer is Ukraine’s going to have to accept reality. It has permanently lost Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, the Donbas, and Crimea. You will never get it back, Ukraine. Never, ever, ever in a million years. And if you continue this fight, very soon you’re going to lose Odessa. You’re going to lose Kharkiv, and you will never get them back. You will lose Mykolaiv, you’ll lose Dnipro­petrovsk, you’ll lose your very existence. You’ll never get it back, ever. Russia’s reached a point where it is not in a mood to negotiate. What the Ukrainians would have to offer the Russians is a lot, which is recognition of all territory, a guarantee that they will never join NATO, and a concerted effort to eliminate the ideology of Stepan Bandera from mainstream Ukrainian politics. He’s no longer a national hero, Nazi symbology and parades will no longer be tolerated, things of that nature.

In exchange for that, what Russia can offer Ukraine is, you get to live, you get to maintain your government. We’re not going to remove Zelenskyy, we’re not going to eradicate your Parliament. You get to live, and we’ll help you rebuild and we’ll help you survive, but that’s all we can offer you. And basically what the Russian position will be is, if you don’t accept this, then what we can offer you is death. And not just death of your soldiers, but death of the nation. You’ll cease to exist as a modern nation state. Ukraine will never again look like what you thought Ukraine should look like. Ukraine’s lost the right, really, to negotiate a meaningful outcome. They had that opportunity on one April, there was the Istanbul discussions, and Russia was ready to back off this conflict and only take Donbas and Crimea.

Russia wasn’t going to take Kherson or Zaporizhzhia, but the Ukrainians bent to the will of Boris Johnson, who was acting on behalf of NATO, who said, you can’t get NATO military assistance if you negotiate with the Russians. So Ukrainians terminated that negotiation, and here we are. You don’t get a second bite at the apple. I personally believe that there is no off ramp that doesn’t include total Russian victory. It’s not Ukraine that should be looking for an off ramp, it’s the West that should be looking for an off ramp. And the best off ramp for the West is termination of the conflict that allows for meaningful discussion of a new European security framework, one that doesn’t require NATO to bankrupt itself by massing military forces in the East, one that encourages Russia not to similarly mass forces, one that recognizes the neutrality of whatever is going to be Ukraine when this is done, and one that deemphasizes conflict-based competition between NATO and Russia.

Because otherwise, NATO’s going to be caught in a trap of its own making that it can’t afford and it can’t win. NATO simply can’t build up. I mean, all this mythology of NATO building up 300,000 men and pouring more money – With what money, with what economy? I mean, Europe is going through some very difficult times. The European economy is shutting down. There’s no promise that it’s going to reopen anytime soon, and without that economic base, how does Europe think they’re going to re-arm? How are they going to afford the billions and billions of dollars or euros necessary to do this? So the best path, diplomatic path, is one that recognizes Russian victory in Ukraine, but seeks to mitigate the harm to Europe of that victory by negotiating a European security framework that respects the rights of everybody. Except Ukraine, because they lost the war.

Dimitri Lascaris:  Well, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you, Scott. We’ve been speaking with Scott Ritter, former UN Weapons Inspector, author and his latest work, again, I’ll mention, is Disarmament in the Time of Perestroika. I hope we can have you back on The Real News, Scott, to continue the discussion as this tragic story unfolds.

Scott Ritter:  Anytime. Anytime. Thanks for having me.

Dimitri Lascaris:  Thank you.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Dimitri Lascaris is a lawyer that focuses on human rights and environmental law. He is the former justice critic of the Green Party of Canada and is a former board member of the Real News Network. You can follow him @dimitrilascaris and find more of his work at