Interview with Leon Panetta, former CIA director: “Only after Putin understands that he cannot achieve a victory will we have a chance to end this war”

Leon Panetta knows the United States government from the inside and has held important positions from which he has guided its security and intelligence policy.

He was chief of staff to the president bill clinton (Democratic Party) and head of the CIA and Secretary of Defense during the government of Barack ObamaAlso a Democrat.

Being in charge of the CIA, he was responsible for supervising the operation that led to the location and death of Osama bin Laden.

As head of the Pentagon, he had to take charge of the system of security alliances that the United States has with countries in different parts of the world, beginning with the NATOwhich is now playing a central role in the war in Ukraine.

Panetta: “There is only one message that Putin understands and that is strength.”Getty Images

Panetta is a harsh critic of the invasion ordered by the Russian president, Vladimir Putinfrom its neighboring country and sees the current conflict as a “proxy war” (a conflict that is carried out through third parties) between the United States and NATO against Russia.

In this interview with BBC Mundo about the war in Ukraine, Panetta affirms that Putin only understands the message of force, so that is the path that Ukraine must take to make peace negotiations possible.

– You have said that diplomacy is going nowhere unless the Ukrainians have the ability to influence the negotiations. What can Ukraine do to gain that capability, and how can the West help it achieve it?

– The most important thing for the Ukrainians is to keep winning the war against the Russians. That is the most important advantage they have. Obviously so far they managed to prevent the Russians from capturing their capital, kyiv, and now they are at war to make sure the Russians do not take control of the Donbass area. But the better the Ukrainians confront the Russians on the battlefield, the more power they will have in the negotiations.

– Would that be the way to reach peace?

– It’s right. There is only one message that Putin understands and that is strength.

According to Panetta, the Ukrainian forces have to show Putin that he will not win, despite all the destruction he may cause.
According to Panetta, the Ukrainian forces have to show Putin that he will not win, despite all the destruction he may cause.Getty Images

– While you were Secretary of Defense, the United States diverted its attention from Europe to Asia, although Putin had already waged war against Georgia. Do you think the so-called turn to Asia was a mistake?

– No, because at the same time that we were deploying additional warships in the Pacific, we were also increasing our troop presence in Europe to maintain strong support for NATO.

– Would you say that Russia is currently the biggest threat to US security and world order?

– I think the reality is that we face a number of threats in the 21st century. Russia is now at the top of the list because of the war in Ukraine that they are waging. The message sent to Russia about the price it would have to pay for its invasion is the same message that the United States and its allies must send to China, North Korea and Iran, so that they understand that they will pay a price if they decide to go to war.

– You have said that what is happening in Ukraine is a proxy war against Russia. Could you explain why you see it that way?

– The United States and our allies in NATO have united in opposition to the invasion of Ukraine ordered by Putin. And it is clear that because of that alliance they are working to ensure that Russia pays a price for this invasion. They have implemented severe economic sanctions against Russia. They are supplying arms to the Ukrainians to help them fight the Russian invasion and they are reinforcing NATO countries to make it clear that they will resist any further Russian invasion. The United States and its NATO allies have made a very important decision to support Ukraine in its efforts to defend itself. It is evident that these democratic countries that have come together are doing everything they can to stop Putin and Russia from invading.

The United States and its NATO allies have been equipping Ukraine with advanced weapons to defend itself against Russia.
The United States and its NATO allies have been equipping Ukraine with advanced weapons to defend itself against Russia.Getty Images

– Then it would be the level of involvement and the intention of the western alliance that would make this a “proxy war”…

– Yes, I mean, to the extent that the United States and our allies are doing everything they can to support Ukraine in its war against Russia, you can say that this is the equivalent of a proxy war.

– Some experts argue that the West is not using Ukraine as a “proxy” (a third party that in this case would serve to wage war on Russia), but that they are simply helping a legitimate government to defend itself…

– Well, that depends on your definition of “proxy”. It’s clear from what President Biden has said and from what Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said over the past few weeks that the goal here is to weaken Russia.

[Nota de BBC Mundo: después de que se realizó esta entrevista, Biden negó que lo que ocurre en Ucrania sea una guerra proxy en contra de Rusia].

– If the United States and NATO conduct a proxy war against Russia and the US Secretary of Defense has said that they want to see Russia weakened. Is it possible that Moscow feels that it has the right to take the war beyond Ukraine’s borders?

– Putin and Moscow made a decision to go to war and invade a sovereign democracy. They are the ones who have to bear the consequences of their invasion and the best way to end this conflict is for Putin and Russia to decide to leave Ukraine. That is the conclusion.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said he wants Russia to come out of the war in Ukraine weakened
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said he wants Russia to come out of the war in Ukraine weakenedGetty Images

– You were Secretary of Defense and also head of the CIA. How do you assess Biden’s initial strategy of publicly sharing intelligence about Putin’s plans for the war in Ukraine?

– I think it has been a very effective strategy to provide information to the public about what Russia was up to in its plans to invade Ukraine. Russia kept denying, Putin kept denying that they were going to invade Ukraine, while all the evidence and intelligence clearly showed that they were planning the invasion. I think it’s important for the public to understand the hypocrisy that Putin and Russia displayed in lying to the world about what their true intentions were.

– Some argue that by doing that, Biden could have put some intelligence assets at risk…

– I think these days there are a number of sources of intelligence, whether technological or human. There are different sources and some of those don’t put people at risk, so I’m sure they were careful about what intelligence they released.

Before the start of the war, Biden publicly released intelligence about Putin's war plans.
Before the start of the war, Biden publicly released intelligence about Putin’s war plans.Getty Images

– Regarding the expansion of NATO, do you consider that the alliance went too far to include new members or should it have gone even further while it still had the opportunity to expand?

– I think that the decision on NATO is a decision that independent and sovereign countries take and if those countries made the decision that they wanted to be part of NATO – like, for example, Finland and Sweden, which are considering that possibility today -, So I think it’s a decision that those countries should make. I believe that alliances are absolutely essential to confront our adversaries like Russia and others.

– But normally the great powers feel threatened if there is a powerful alliance around them…

– The best way for Russia not to be threatened is to become part of the international family of nations, participating in trade, entering into financial relations, engaging with other countries to try to promote peace and prosperity. This is how you protect your safety. Not going to war.

– How do you think this war will end?

– I pray it ends soon. I think that Putin must understand that he cannot achieve victory in Ukraine, no matter how much he destroys, no matter how many innocents he kills. Once he is willing to understand that, I think then and only then will we have a chance to end this war.

– How close are we to that point?

– I think the next few weeks will tell us a lot about whether we can get to that point soon or whether this war will drag on further into the future.

By Angel Bermúdez (@angelbermudez)

We wish to give thanks to the author of this short article for this outstanding content

Interview with Leon Panetta, former CIA director: “Only after Putin understands that he cannot achieve a victory will we have a chance to end this war”


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