April 26, 2023 - 10:30am

Ukrainians will be able to “out-suffer” Vladimir Putin as the war wears on, former director of the CIA and retired army general David Petraeus has said. Speaking at the Bush School of Governance and Public Service in Washington D.C., Petraeus predicted that the spring “counteroffensive” would convince the Russian President to change his approach.

“I believe that’s what’s going to happen,” said Petraeus. “The question, then … is can Putin, over time, be convinced that he will not be able to out-suffer the Ukrainians, the Europeans, and the Americans, which is what he currently thinks.”

Petraeus was discussing an upcoming US-trained Ukrainian offensive against Russian military operations in Crimea at an event on 30th March, the video of which has only just been published. He noted that there are intensive US training, arming, and recruiting efforts to equip Ukrainians for the coming effort in Russian-occupied Melitopol, a southeastern city known as a gateway to Crimea.

“This May, early June, there is going to be a heck of an offensive from the Ukrainians, very likely in the south,” he said. “It probably has to be roughly in the Melitopol area, and they will try to sever the ground line of communications that Russia has established along the southeast coast of Ukraine linking into Crimea.”

Petraeus advised that “training centres the US runs in Germany, Grafenwöhr, Hohenfels, UK, Poland, Ukraine itself,” have been preparing “entire new brigades… with new recruits from Ukraine”. The former CIA director noted that these brigades will execute the upcoming offensive “equipped with Western tanks … Western infantry-fighting vehicles … and Western-wheeled armoured vehicles — really, quite an extraordinary array of systems.”

During the talk, Petraeus made clear that the US-trained Ukrainian brigades will have “engineers and EODs to produce obstacles and defuse explosives and mines,” and emphasised the novel Ukrainian capacity to hinder Russian military communications in Crimea, claiming that “they’ll have electronic warfare to jam the Russians’ networks.”

Petraeus expressed broader confidence that Ukrainian forces, with US training and additional reserve forces, would be able to continue offensive and defensive operations for as long as necessary against Russian advances.

Other retired US Army personnel have also commented on the prospective counteroffensive following Petraeus’s remarks. Lieutenant General Ben Hodges — former commanding general for US Army Europe, former Commander of Nato Allied Land Command, and current Nato Senior Mentor for Logistics — claimed just days ago that Ukraine will aim to retake Crimea, echoing many of the same details regarding armaments, strategy, and regional advances. 

Petraeus and Hodges, both retired US generals of different ranks, believe that Ukraine has the capacity to make Russia “bleed” in this counteroffensive. Leaked US intelligence documents from February suggest that current Biden administration officials are less optimistic about Ukraine’s ability to fully succeed. 

Mana Afsari is a writer and editor based in Washington, D.C.