- Russia’s war with Ukraine could come to a conclusion this year, according to a former US Army general.
- The Kremlin would likely turn to nuclear weapons if Moscow faces defeat in the conflict, he said.
- However, this outcome is not the most likely, retired US Army Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan told Insider.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked war with Ukraine could come to a conclusion this year, according to a former US Army general who warned that the Kremlin would likely turn to the dire option of nuclear weapons if Moscow faces defeat in the conflict.
Retired US Army Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan told Insider on Tuesday that he believes that Russia “would use a nuclear weapon before it allowed its military to be defeated in the field.”
Putin has repeatedly threatened the use of nuclear weapons since he ordered the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, but Ryan said that the Kremlin may seriously consider using them if Ukraine was “on the verge of destroying the Russian army in the field” or if Ukrainian forces were poised to recapture the Russian-annexed region of Crimea.
“If the Ukrainian military was having great success in the spring, and was chopping up the Russian military and was threatening to take back Crimea, then I think that the Russian military and leadership would use a nuclear weapon” to not only “destroy Ukrainian military targets” ,” but to “convince Ukraine that continuing to fight this war would leave Ukraine as a nuclear holocaust,” Ryan said.
He added that the “choices are broad” for how Russia may use a nuclear weapon.
“The level of deaths could approach Hiroshima, or it could be far less if they only intend to fire like a warning shot of a nuclear weapon” in a less populated area, Ryan said.
This outcome, said Ryan who served as the defense attaché to Russia for the US, would be a “devastating” one with the potential of tens of thousands of deaths — but it’s not the most likely scenario.
The most likely scenario to play out this year, according to Ryan, is that the war will end in a stalemate after relentless fighting and heavy losses on both sides.
America’s top general, Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in November that about 40,000 Ukrainian civilians had been killed and “well over” 100,000 Russian soldiers had been “killed and wounded” in the war so far with the ” same thing probably on the Ukrainian side.”
The fighting of this war “at this intensity” and death rate, Ryan told Insider, will “likely not be able to go another 12 months.”
“I think another year would be a good estimate as to when this war might end or reach a stalemate,” Ryan said as he noted that he has been wrong before about his predictions about the war.
However, there is no doubt that 2023 will be a “pivotal year” for the war, said Ryan, a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
“Both sides need to inflict more damage and harm on the military on the other side in order for this to come to a conclusion,” he said.
Ryan explained: “Both sides are still too strong to agree to say that they don’t have a shot at winning this war. Both armies have a chance at taking more territory, so we have to watch for the next battles to unfold.”
Although Putin’s forces have had a “terrible performance” in the first 10 months of the war and failed to seize Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv, the Russian army “is getting stronger” and “digging in to create better defenses in the regions it occupies,” Ryan said.
The Ukrainian military, aided by the US and the West through billions of dollars worth of weapons and equipment, “is also getting stronger in the same way, but it may not be getting strong enough to kick the Russians,” said Ryan.
“This is the big thing that will become more clear to us in the spring and summer when the major fighting resumes,” he said.
If Ukrainian troops can force the Russians out of their defensive positions, “then we might be moving toward a situation where the Russian military might get destroyed or a nuclear weapon might be used,” according to Ryan, who posed the question, “Is it more dangerous to have a tactical nuclear weapon used in Ukraine? Or is it more dangerous that the Russian military should be defeated in the field and destroyed?”
Russia suffered a brutal defeat at the end of World War I and “it helped bring to power the communist regime in Russia,” Ryan said, adding, “Russia being destroyed — its military being destroyed — would greatly weaken the country and cause internal revolt .”
“It could lead to uncontrollable forces being unleashed in Russia,” he said.
If the Ukrainians are unable to kick the Russians out, “then we’ll be in a stalemate,” Ryan said, explaining, like the end of the Korean War, “It could happen that Russia and Ukraine agree to a ceasefire, which doesn’t “t requires a lot of negotiation.”
Last year, Ukraine launched a stunning counteroffensive forcing Russian troops to give up large swaths of territory, but as winter rolled in, the pace of the advance slowed.
“How this war goes isn’t going to be determined at the negotiating table for a while and won’t be determined in the air by missiles and bombs,” Ryan said. “But it will be determined by the fighting on the ground.”