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Brigadier General Kevin Ryan’s Speech at the Conference “Remaking Ukraine – Toward an Age of Global Enlightenment”

First, I would like to thank the organizers and the people who put together this conference for a herculean effort and for taking the time to do this. I think that most of the people in this conference are familiar with the current state of the war in Ukraine, so I won’t dwell on talking about active battles. Instead, over the next five minutes I will get straight to the issues that you’ve mentioned and that the organizers asked me to focus on, namely thoughts about resolving the conflict in a way that upholds the international order and norms.

Today as we hold this conference, I believe we are seeing the final phase of the current fight which began on 24 February. I call it the current fight because the war with Ukraine, the war with the West, started as the ambassador pointed out in 2014, maybe even before, and it will continue on after this current fighting ends, so we cannot fool ourselves into thinking that the war is ending anytime soon, but the current fighting will end.

And when it does, how do we proceed? Russian president Putin and his military leaders have told the Russian people that they have successfully completed the first phase of their war and are now turning their forces to what they say has all along been their main goal, Eastern Ukraine. And whatever happens in the next few weeks in Eastern Ukraine will determine how and when the fighting ends. Both sides, Ukraine and Russia have achieved major victories, but both have also suffered major losses. Ukraine has held off the largest land forest in Europe with an army one-fourth the size of its adversary. Ukraine successfully repelled an attempt to take Kyiv and has stalled Russian advances in several other areas. It seems certain to me that Ukraine’s military has prevented the disappearance of the state of Ukraine, but Ukraine has lost large swaths of territory in the south and east and will likely not be able to kick Russia out of Ukrainian territory that it has already taken. Russia for its part has seized almost all of Ukraine’s southern land along the Black Sea, from Kherson to Donetsk regions, and they have about 80 percent of the Donetsk in Luhansk regions already, but Russia has clearly failed to get all that it wanted. It failed to take Kyiv or to depose the government.

For a variety of reasons including manpower and equipment losses, Russia is running out of forces to continue their war. Almost all the available ground in airborne forces are already committed to the war, so there are no new units available to replace losses. Ukraine on the other hand has an almost endless supply of materials coming to it from the West, so the clock is working against Russia. Perhaps the most damaging loss to Russia will be the loss of the deterrent power of its ground forces, since during the cold war Russia’s security has rested on two pillars: a mighty conventional ground force and a nuclear deterrent. After the cold war, the ground force fell into decay. Beginning in 2008, the Russian military began an ambitious reform program to restore the ground forces to their role as a co-equal pillar of Russian security. The war in Ukraine was supposed to be the re-launching of that new pillar of power, which would then have become the main tool for threatening neighboring states or NATO. But instead, the ground forces have been shown to be a weak tool. The result is that going forward, Russia will rely more heavily on its nuclear deterrent to coerce NATO or European neighbors and to ensure its security against external threats.

So given a war that ends with ambiguous successes and failures on both sides, along with a weakened but still belligerent Russia, we must strive for a resolution of the conflict which does not leave either side unsure of its own security. The US and the West must ensure that Ukraine is as secure and whole as possible, maintaining the end goal of a reunited Ukraine. The US and the West though must also engage Russia to prevent an increased reliance on nuclear weapons in Europe, a situation which could take us back to the 1980s, with medium-range nuclear missiles able to strike all European capitals in under 10 minutes.

So I have five steps to take to begin this process. The first is to make clear to Russia that the use of nuclear weapons will result in, using Putin’s own words when he launched this invasion, consequences greater than any you have faced in history. This is a clear red line stated by the United States, another nuclear power. The second step is to agree to a ceasefire as soon as possible all across the entire territory of Ukraine. The third step is to begin negotiations between Ukraine and Russia and between the United States, NATO, and Russia. The fourth is to remove sanctions on Russia only as Russia itself takes concrete steps to meet the Western and Ukrainian demands. And finally, to begin Western investment in Ukraine’s rebuilding. Many of these steps have been reiterated in the documents that Tuan passed to us last night. Thank you.