- Sputnik International, 1920
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Every Russian Target Struck is Legitimate Under Laws of War, Ex-US Intel Officer Says

© Russian Ministry of Defense In this photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022, a Russian warship launches a cruise missile at a target in Ukraine.
 In this photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022, a Russian warship launches a cruise missile at a target in Ukraine.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 11.10.2022
On October 10, Russia carried out strikes using precision-guided weapons against Ukrainian infrastructure used for military supplies and connectivity in response to the crimes committed by Kiev against Russian civilian infrastructure, President Vladimir Putin told Russia's Security Council.
In an interview with Sputnik, Scott Ritter, a military analyst and former US Marine Corps intelligence officer who served in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm and Iraq, expressed his opinion concerning Russia's recent strikes on Ukraine, Kiev’s shelling of Donbass, and the West pumping weapons into the country.
Sputnik: What do you make of the timing of Russia's strikes on central Ukraine, including Kiev?

Scott Ritter: Clearly, it's a cause-effect relationship between the attack on the Crimea bridge and the retaliation. I think Russia had warned that an attack on critical infrastructure such as the Crimea bridge would represent a red line and that if Ukraine crossed it, the nature of the conflict would be transformed. And so I think we're seeing the manifestation of this. Russia doesn't bluff. I don't know what Ukraine thought they were going to accomplish by attacking the Crimea bridge. I don't know if the momentary feeling of accomplishment is worth the price. That's a question only Ukraine can answer once the full extent of the retaliation is understood. But this retaliation may be extended over time and it will most likely be devastating. This is a tragedy for the Ukrainian nation. I'm not saying that Russia is not justified in doing this – I'm saying that it didn't need to happen. And the blame rests fully with Ukraine for attacking the Crimea bridge.
Sputnik: Do you recognize the difference in approach: the Ukrainian military bombs civilian infrastructure in Donbass, whereas Russia's strikes are aimed at military targets, such as the SBU headquarters?

Scott Ritter: It's not as though Ukraine just woke up recently and decided that civilian infrastructure was a legitimate target. President Poroshenko made it clear that the Ukrainian approach to the Donbass conflict would be to terrorize the citizens, the civilians of Donbass. The Ukrainian government did that for eight consecutive years and they've continued that policy, that approach. I think Russia, while not legitimizing it or accepting it, recognized that that's just the way a criminal regime operates. This is why you didn't see Russia escalate like this as Ukraine shelled Donetsk’s civilian targets and other civilian targets, including targets inside Russia itself.

Now we have the Russian retaliation. The reality is the world will never give Russia any credit or any recognition of the professionalism and strict adherence to international law that Russia follows, even when carrying out retaliation. Every Russian target struck is a legitimate target under the laws of war. They are legitimate infrastructure targets. They are legitimate command and control targets. This is not an assault on innocent civilian population centers. So there is a distinct difference between the way Russia approaches strategic conflict and Ukraine approaches strategic conflict.

Sputnik: The US ambassador to Ukraine tweeted that "Russia has escalated its barrage of attacks on Ukrainian civilians," and the EU's Josep Borrell said he's "deeply shocked by Russia's attack on civilians" - as a military expert and former soldier, how would you assess today's strikes?

Scott Ritter: As somebody who participated in Operation Desert Storm back in 1991 against Iraq and understood the full scope and scale of the strategic air campaign that the United States waged against Iraq, I would say that Russia's attacks today mirrored the targeting approach taken by the United States in Desert Storm against Iraq. So anybody who criticizes Russia's approach as an assault on civilian infrastructure, an assault on civilians, simply speaking, doesn't know anything about war, the laws of war, and if you're an American making this or an American ally, then you're a hypocrite. Because this is the exact same approach that the United States took against Iraq back in 1991.

Sputnik: Bearing in mind the US campaign in Iraq which you were a part of, what's the difference between the Russian and American approach?

Scott Ritter: The big difference is that Russia didn't initiate this conflict in this manner. I mean, we are more than eight months into this conflict, and Russia only now is undertaking the kind of strikes that the United States took on day one. I think it points to the fact that Russia has taken a very restrained approach to this conflict, that this conflict was indeed never meant to escalate to this level, that Russia clearly had limited objectives and was applying limited military means to achieve those objectives. That it is Ukraine that has made a decision and Ukraine’s supporters in the West to make a decision to take this conflict to the next level. And so now Russia has joined them at the next level. But Russia's contribution to the next level far exceeds anything that Ukraine can bring to the table.

Russia warned about this. Russia did not want to go down this path. And that's the difference. The United States did indicate prior to Desert Storm that Iraq should withdraw from Kuwait and prevent a war. Iraq didn't. So the United States came in heavy. We initiated a strategic air campaign that was devastating to Iraq, one that made the eventual ground war proceed that much more quickly because we degraded not only military, but the will and capabilities of the nation to fight. And that's what Russia is doing right now.

The strategic targeting that's taking place now and perhaps will take place over an extended period of time, is designed to degrade the will and capability of the Ukrainian nation to continue to resist, and that this will have a direct impact on the ability of the Ukrainian military to continue the struggle in the field. Many military people, like myself, believe Russia should have done this on day one. But I'm an American. I'm not Russian. I don't understand, necessarily, the totality of the thinking behind the special military operation. The Russian leadership does, and they conducted themselves accordingly. But now I think we're at the point where the Russian leadership has made the determination that the original means that were authorized for the special military operation are insufficient to the conflict that Ukraine and NATO and the West have decided they want to wage.

Sputnik: What outcome are you expecting? Do you believe Donbass will be safer now? To what extent could today's strikes put an end to Ukraine's shelling of Donbass?

Scott Ritter: The Ukrainian government and particularly the right-wing political parties and their militarized elements, like Azov, Aidar, Kraken, and others, have an absolute indifference or disregard for international law and the norms of combat. They have shown a proclivity from day one to attack civilians. That's what they do best. They don't function well when they fight as a military-on-military organization, they tend to be defeated and destroyed. But they attack the weakest. And right now, they're attacking the civilians of Donbass and civilians in other areas as well - Lugansk, in Russia, and other places. I don't believe they will change their tactics. I believe that this is their true nature and this is something they will continue to do so long as they have the means and ability to do this.

Sputnik: How will today's strikes affect or change Ukrainian actions on the battlefield?

Scott Ritter: It's always a gamble when you escalate conflict in this nature, meaning that it could either cause the morale of Ukrainian troops to collapse as they come to grips with the price that their families are now having to pay. But it could also fuel their resolve to continue to resist the Russians and have them develop a more intense hatred towards Russia that allows them to fight. But that kind of resolve is meaningless if you don't have the means to resist. And I think these strategic attacks aren't just about impacting the morale of the Ukrainian nation, but the real capability of the Ukrainian nation – the ability to transport troops and equipment, the ability to communicate, the ability to survive, with no electricity, no fuel. The Ukrainian nation will collapse and so too will its military. I think that this is going to make it much more difficult for the Ukrainian military to continue the struggle.

Sputnik: To what extent is the West responsible for the present situation, given how many weapons it has pumped into Ukraine?

Scott Ritter: The West is 100% responsible for the totality of this conflict. First of all, let's start with the West's involvement in the Maidan coup that saw the legitimate government of Ukraine replaced with this right-wing neo-Nazi-affiliated monstrosity that currently exists today, and then the West's unwillingness or inability to compel Ukraine to implement the diplomatic solution that was put forward by the Normandy format – the Germans, the French, the Russians observing, the Ukrainian government promising. That didn't happen. We know why, it was a sham, again, according to Poroshenko, a sham designed to buy time so that NATO could train the Ukrainian military capable of resolving the Donbass situation by military force. This is the West’s fault. The West trained the Ukrainian military. The West never backed away from NATO expansion. The West rejected Russia's diplomatic outreach in December of last year, and then the West has turned what could have been a limited military engagement into a full-scale strategic conflict between the collective West, inclusive of NATO, and Russia on Ukrainian soil. The West provided the weapons, the West provided the intelligence, the West provided the training, the West provided the communication, the West provided the logistics. This is a war between NATO, other European allies, using Ukraine as a proxy to fight Russia. They're 100% responsible for everything that has happened and will happen in Ukraine.

Sputnik: President Putin has emphasized that if Kiev continues terrorist attacks against Russia, Moscow’s response will be tough. Do you expect any further escalation from Kiev?

Scott Ritter: Unfortunately, I do. These are ideologically repulsive individuals, common sense does not factor into their way of thinking. Their actions are those of extremists everywhere, including terrorists. And so they will, I believe, continue to carry out acts of terrorism against Russia. It's up to Russia how to determine what it wants to do. I think Russia would make a mistake if they allowed a pause in the current retaliation, because Ukraine will not stop. Ukraine will continue to carry out these actions. So the quicker this conflict can be brought to a decisive conclusion, the better it will be for everybody, including those who want to limit Ukraine's capability to wage terrorism against Russia. The longer this conflict goes on, the more opportunities Ukraine will have to attack Russia using the tools of terror.
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