Text resize: A A
Change contrast

Ex-CIA head Petraeus: Russia has really been weakened by Putin

Interview with David Petraeus, retired US Army general and former director of the CIA.

February 19, 2024 - David Petraeus New Eastern Europe - Hot TopicsInterviews

Former CIA Director and retired US General David Petraeus speaks at a special event of the Kyiv Security Forum, Kyiv, Ukraine, September 5th 2023. Photo: Shutterstock

NEW EASTERN EUROPE: The big news that has completely overshadowed the first day of the Munich Security Conference is the death of Alexei Navalny, who died in a Russian prison on February 16th. So let’s start with your thoughts and your immediate reaction?

DAVID PETRAEUS: It’s tragic and it’s deeply saddening. Navalny was a courageous Russian patriot and it was really quite extraordinary that he had, again, the courage to go back to Russia, knowing that this might be the kind of conclusion that waited him. To see the most effective, most articulate and most capable of Putin’s opponents and opposition figure in Russia, pass away as he has, presumably from unnatural causes, is, again, really tragic. It is also one more reflection of the state that Russia has become. We’ve also seen recently, that a major figure who could have run against Putin in the March election, Boris Nadezhdin, has been declared ineligible for trumped up reasons. We also saw what happened when Yevgeny Prigozhin challenged Putin. We have seen time and again what happens to anyone who criticizes the tsar… 

What do you think of the manner of Navalny’s death. They tried to poison him, previously, then after he returned to Russia, they put him in prison but took their time before exacting their vengeance. What’s the rationale, here?

It is really hard to tell what the reasoning is in Putin’s mind. Again, this is a state that is now one person, where any pretence of democracy and freedom of expression has been extinguished. Russia often described is a gas station with guns. And there’s something to that – or rather, nukes, albeit with a lot of crude oil and natural gas and coal, which, unfortunately, still finds buyers around the world. That really is the foundation of the Russian economy, that has been completely put on a wartime footing to sustain this brutal, unprovoked invasion of Putin against Russia’s neighbour.

How powerful of a cautionary tale do you think this will be for other members of the Russian opposition in exile, that this will happen if you come back, if you speak up, if you, basically, don’t surrender?

Well, Russia has a long reach. And it has an individual in charge who does not seem to shrink whatsoever from directing these kinds of assassinations.

What do you expect the West’s reaction to be?

I think it will be robust. There’s a continued process of tightening personal financial and economic sanctions and export controls, going after those who are seeking to evade the sanctions. I also hope it will result in more of an impetus towards western aid to Ukraine.

With Prigozhin gone, Navalny now dead and elections practically in his pocket – would you say that Putin is at his most strongest since the invasion began two years ago?

I am not sure if strongest would be the correct term. That would imply a degree of honest, sincere support of the population. He certainly has consolidated his power and eliminated any possible opposition, far more than he ever has in the past. So in that sense, yes. Putin is the new tsar. But again, that kind of strength often has some weakness associated with it as well. History is full of these assessments, that it is inconceivable for a tyrant to fall and then they do. And then everyone looks back and says – “well, of course it was inevitable”. But when that moment might come, if it does, this is impossible to say.

What is his weakness then? What should he be afraid of?

The people, above all – by putting his country on a wartime footing, the quality of life for the Russian people has to be deteriorating. He is not getting full price for crude oil, and his country is the subject of very considerable financial, economic and personal sanctions. Yes, the economy has survived. The sanctions haven’t had the kind of real negative effects that many of us had hoped. But it hasn’t survived as it was. Russia also lost more tanks now than it had operational since the beginning of the war. They still have a lot of old tanks in storage that they can bring out and refurbish, but they’ve lost a staggering quantity of their armoured forces. So they’re also a weaker military power.

And if by putting the economy on a war footing, Putin manages to achieve his military goals. How long can Russia go on feeding the notion that Russia matters again? That Putin made Russia great again?

Well, I don’t think that he has made Russia great again. But we can say that he definitely made NATO great again. And this is so ironic, because he criticizes the last leaders of the Soviet Union for weakening and bringing about the dissolution of the USSR, which he views as the worst geopolitical event in the 20th century, a century that had two world wars and the Great Depression…

Okay, but let’s look at things from the Russian perspective, or rather, those Russians who are in favour of this war. They will say that “we are a great power again and we have got more land than we started with” … So how long can this sustain Putin?

I am not sure, but Russia has really been weakened by Putin, since it has taken both an economic toll and a personal toll on many of the best and brightest in Russia, especially among those who have left. In the beginning we saw a substantial haemorrhage of really talented people who no longer wanted to live in a country that acts the way the Russian Federation does. And then we saw another exodus of Russian men fleeing the country to avoid mobilization. True, Russia has now adapted in Ukraine, and its military has begun to learn how to better integrate unmanned aerial vehicles and overpower missile defence with a mix of drone swarms and missiles, etc. But at the end of the day, they’re also using waves of human attacks, preceded by an enormous quantities of artillery ammunition… so the question is how long can the Russian people accept this? Sooner or later Russian mothers and fathers should recognize what is going on. I am not sure they do now, as Putin not only controls TV and traditional media, but has increasingly sought to control social media as well.

Do you expect Putin to go out peacefully? To die of old age, in bed?

I really don’t know. It is obviously an imponderable question. One never knows who might emerge … but it is pretty difficult to topple him at this point. Putin’s surveillance state is increasingly present in the lives of Russian citizens – all criticism and opposition has been stifled. But I don’t think one should ever give up hope that Putin can be defeated, that his objectives in Ukraine will not be met. Keep in mind that if he were ever to succeed in Ukraine, then Moldova, Georgia and Lithuania might be next which leads to implications elsewhere in the world. In the book that historian Andrew Robert and I co-authored, which came out last October, [Conflict: The Evolution of Warfare from 1945 to Ukraine], we note that what happens in one part of the world reverberates in another. The conclusion is if you don’t have the determination to continue to support Ukraine, that will certainly undermine deterrence elsewhere in the world.

General David Petraeus is a retired US general. He also served as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency between September 2011 and November 2012. Prior to his assuming the directorship of the CIA, Petraeus served 37 years in the US Army.

Please support New Eastern Europe's crowdfunding campaign. Donate by clicking on the button below.

, , , , , ,


Terms of Use | Cookie policy | Copyryight 2024 Kolegium Europy Wschodniej im. Jana Nowaka-Jeziorańskiego 31-153 Kraków
Agencja digital: hauerpower studio krakow.
We use cookies to personalise content and ads, to provide social media features and to analyse our traffic. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. View more
Cookies settings
Privacy & Cookie policy
Privacy & Cookies policy
Cookie name Active
Poniższa Polityka Prywatności – klauzule informacyjne dotyczące przetwarzania danych osobowych w związku z korzystaniem z serwisu internetowego https://neweasterneurope.eu/ lub usług dostępnych za jego pośrednictwem Polityka Prywatności zawiera informacje wymagane przez przepisy Rozporządzenia Parlamentu Europejskiego i Rady 2016/679 w sprawie ochrony osób fizycznych w związku z przetwarzaniem danych osobowych i w sprawie swobodnego przepływu takich danych oraz uchylenia dyrektywy 95/46/WE (RODO). Całość do przeczytania pod tym linkiem
Save settings
Cookies settings