Retired General David Petraeus, who also served as CIA Director, told CNN on Sunday that there were two key points in the battle of attrition between Russia and Ukraine as fighting has effectively reached a stalemate.
Petraeus said that the battle of attrition between the two sides was more than just how many physical losses they were sustaining on the ground, it was about both sides’ will to fight as other painful aspects of the war continued to play out.
“It’s a battle of attrition. It’s a stalemate on the battlefield, again, with lots of continued damage on both sides, lots of destruction, especially from the Russians,” he said. “But there’s a battle of attrition, in a sense, between the will in Kyiv and the country and then between that in Moscow, and especially in the Kremlin, as their economy, their financial system and all the rest of that is just collapsing.”
Petraeus noted that in one example, the city of Mariupol, that the Ukrainians are completely out of supplies and yet they are still holding on to the city because the Russians are having to do the kind of fighting that they are not accustomed to.
“This is the first place where the Russians are having to do no-kidding urban fighting, having to go building to building. Every single room has to be cleared in this kind of endeavor,” he said. “And they’re finding out that it is very soldier-intensive, and it just eats away at the reserves and forces that you have.”
"It's a battle of attrition. It's a stalemate on the battlefield with lots of continued damage on both sides, lots of destruction." Former CIA Dir. Gen. David Petraeus tells @jaketapper Russian forces are meeting stiff resistance in major urban areas of Ukraine. #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/WzjfWdW3bx
— CNN (@CNN) March 20, 2022
FULL TRANSCRIPT PROVIDED VIA CNN:
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Russia is suffering troop losses and has been unable to take Ukraine’s capital city of Kyiv as of yet, but the Russians are expanding their attacks. And retired General and former CIA Director David Petraeus is here to talk about the latest on the ground. So, General, thanks so much for joining us. Let’s start with this map of Ukraine, because, right now, we know the Russians are working on four major fronts. There’s Kyiv. There’s Kharkiv. There’s, obviously, the Donbass region, the separatist regions, and then, of course, Crimea. But the stale — it does seem as though right now we’re hearing that it’s something of a stalemate. What is going wrong for the Russians right now?
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS (RET.), FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, an awful lot, actually. It’s a stalemate. But we should note it’s a bloody stalemate.
PETRAEUS: This is not a cease-fire. And also, arguably, it’s a battle of attrition. It’s a stalemate on the battlefield, again, with lots of continued damage on both sides, lots of destruction, especially from the Russians. But there’s a battle of attrition, in a sense, between the will in Kyiv and the country and then between that in Moscow, and especially in the Kremlin, as their economy, their financial system and all the rest of that is just collapsing. But what you see, up here, this is the main effort. We can come in and show that in a second.
TAPPER: You want to go to…
TAPPER: You want to look at Kyiv?
PETRAEUS: Let’s do that, yes.
TAPPER: So here’s Kyiv.
TAPPER: And so, right now, they seem to have been — they haven’t been able to — here’s Kyiv right now.
TAPPER: And they haven’t been able to get in there.
PETRAEUS: No, you have really seen no big change to these lines for about two weeks. The Ukrainians have actually been counterattacking around in here, but very local counterattacks. Here, the Russians are actually digging in. They’re actually digging holes for their tanks because they have taken such losses. And they’re really not quite within artillery range of the center of the city. They have rockets, missiles, bombs, and everything else that we have seen. And they’re rubbling these little villages that are on the outside. Keep in mind, this is 320 square miles, compared with New York City, all of which is 300 miles in total. So, again, pretty much a stalemate here, but, again, very much a bloody one. But if we go in now — let’s go down to the south.
TAPPER: So let’s look at this corridor…
TAPPER: … because this is important.
PETRAEUS: It is.
TAPPER: You — we have Russian troops just absolutely pummeling Mariupol. We have heard just these horrible stories about citizens being taken out into Russian camps of sorts…
TAPPER: … and that city just being devastated.
But Russia has reportedly established a land corridor between the Donbass region…
PETRAEUS: Yes. Yes.
TAPPER: … which is here, and Crimea…
TAPPER: … which they seized in 2014.
PETRAEUS: Which they have wanted for a long time.
TAPPER: This is important.
PETRAEUS: It extends all the way across here. It is very important.
Mariupol has not yet fallen. It is out of food, fuel, water, everything except for heart. They are still fighting very hard. This is the first place where the Russians are having to do no-kidding urban fighting, having to go building to building. Every single room has to be cleared in this kind of endeavor.
And they’re finding out that it is very soldier-intensive, and it just eats away at the reserves and forces that you have.
TAPPER: And who are they — are they fighting the Ukrainian military or the Ukrainian resistance, or both?
PETRAEUS: It’s all of the above.
Keep in mind that — you know, everybody wants to say, well, the Russians have, I don’t know, 200,000, and the Ukrainians have 100,000. It’s not so. The Ukrainians have 100,000, plus every other adult, just about, in the country, all of whom are willing to take up arms or help in some way, even if it’s just jam radio signals or conduct vlogging.
They call Russians in Russia and say, do you know how poorly this is going for you?
So, everybody’s engaged.
But the problem here is, again, that they are literally starving. This is a siege. That’s what the Russians are doing here. And, again, how long they can hold out — and that’s very important, because once — if they do surrender, these forces will be freed to go back up.
And if you want to go back to the Ukraine map overall, what that would do is free forces to go up this way. Eventually, you could actually surround a lot of Ukrainian forces that are in here. So, you…
TAPPER: So the significance of having this part right here, which is what we’re talking about — here’s Mariupol. Here’s Crimea.
TAPPER: Connecting Crimea, which they seized in 2014…
PETRAEUS: Yes. Yes.
TAPPER: … with the Donbass is — what, they can consolidate forces and go that way?
PETRAEUS: Well, that — it’s that on the battlefield now. It’s also that you have a land line of communication between essentially Russia and Crimea that doesn’t require the bridge here in the…
TAPPER: Right. They have got this…
PETRAEUS: That’s right.
TAPPER: Let’s go back to the corridor here, which is just this — this is what they had previously.
PETRAEUS: That’s right.
TAPPER: All they had was this teeny little bridge, which you can’t really get everything you need if you’re in the Russian military across this bridge.
PETRAEUS: That’s right.
TAPPER: It’s just not big enough, right?
PETRAEUS: That’s right. That’s right. That’s right.
TAPPER: What is the significance — can I just ask you, what’s the significance of Odessa?
TAPPER: Why do they want Odessa so bad?
PETRAEUS: Odessa is the single biggest port. If they take Mariupol up here, that’s the last big port.
It is directly on the Black Sea. It doesn’t have to go through the Strait of Azov and so forth, which can be blocked by the Russians. It’s the lifeline for all of Ukraine when it comes to what’s coming in.
And so what they have tried to do is go here. They have tried to get through Mykolaiv, which are two key bridges. They are already rigged for demolition if they have to. And they have just — again, it’s a stalemate. They haven’t done much. They have gone a bit north to try to get around a river that’s up here.
Ultimately, they want to invest Odessa in a siege. And there’s also ships standing off here offshore that can conduct an amphibious landing. So far, that’s all essentially on hold.
TAPPER: So, I want to just talk briefly about this, because…
TAPPER: … the Ukrainians say they have killed five Russian generals in Ukraine. CNN has not independently confirmed that. We also hear that a top USA general says Russian soldiers don’t appear to be particularly motivated.
I only recall the U.S. — and I might be wrong about this, so I apologize if I am. I can only recall one American general being killed in Afghanistan in the entire conflict.
And that was a green-on-blue insider attack, right?
PETRAEUS: I think that’s right. I would have to…
TAPPER: It’s not common to kill a general. PETRAEUS: It’s very, very — very, very uncommon. This is in the first three weeks. And these are quite senior generals.
The bottom line is that their command-and-control has broken down. Their communications have been jammed by the Ukrainians. Their secure comms didn’t work. They had to go to single channel. That’s jammable. And that’s exactly what the Ukrainians have been doing to that.
They use cell phones. The Ukrainians blocked the prefix for Russia. So that didn’t work. Then they took down 3G. They’re literally stealing cell phones from Ukrainian civilians to communicate among each other. So, what happens?
The column gets stopped. An impatient general is sitting back there in his armored or whatever vehicle. He goes forward to find out what’s going on because there’s no initiative. Again, there’s no noncommissioned officer corps. There’s no sense of initiative at junior levels.
They wait to be told what to do. Gets up there. And the Ukrainians have very, very good snipers, and they have just been picking them off left and right. And at least four of these five are absolutely confirmed. And I think the fifth, we will hear today.
TAPPER: Are these like the kind of guys you have heard of?
PETRAEUS: Some of them are.
PETRAEUS: Yes, yes, yes, yes. Some of them are, especially the three- star general right there, yes.
TAPPER: All right, David Petraeus, thank you so much.
PETRAEUS: Always a pleasure.