The following interview with the Italian Lieutenant General Fabio Mini, General of the Corps of the Italian Army and former Chief of Staff of NATO’s Southern Command, was first published in Italian.
Translation and subheadings were provided by United World International.
“Negotiate, stop being only focused only on one thought and on propaganda, help Ukraine to coming to her senses and provide Russia a chance to get out of the tunnel of the encirclement syndrome – not with plain talks but with concrete acts”.
This is the thought of Fabio Mini, Lieutenant General of Corps of the Italian Army, former Chief of Staff of the NATO Command of Southern Europe and commander of the international mission in Kosovo. “And when the crisis is overcome, hoping to be still alive then, Italy and Europe will have to make a serious commitment to conquer that autonomy, dignity and strategic independence that guarantees European security regardless of the interests of others”, states Mini to l’AntiDiplomatico.
It has been correctly written that generals are the most sensible voices in a landscape of one-sided propaganda, as they know well how to weigh words at times like these. As L’AntiDiplomatico, we had the honor of being able to interview one of the most authoritative of them.
From the Gulf of Tonkin to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq – and even going back a long way in history – you have brilliantly reconstructed in your book “Why are we so hypocritical about war?” the forgeries that have determined the pretext for the outbreak of several wars. What is the hypocrisy and falsehood behind the ongoing conflict in Ukraine?
The false claim is that the war began with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In reality, this invasion is not even the final act of a war between Russia and Ukraine, a war that began in 2014 with the insurrection of the provinces of Donbass, which later declared independence. Since then, Ukrainian forces have battered the Russian-speaking population on the verge of the massacre and no one has said anything. For that population in revolt against the Ukrainian regime, the expression ‘war of liberation’ or self-determination, so dear to some international observers, was not even used.
It was sufficient for them to state that “Putin’s Russia” wanted to return to the tsarist empire – and the issue was settled. Hypocrisy is the attitude of pro-Ukrainian Western propaganda, which, recognizing that there is a war, pretends not to know who and what caused it. Instead, that propaganda is surprised that someone shoots, someone else dies and many are forced to flee. The hypocrisy even more serious than the propaganda is the conspiratorial silence of those who disregard the fact that since 2014, the United States and NATO have poured billions in aid almost entirely destined to arm Ukraine and thousands of war professionals. Extremist groups and neo-Nazis were trained and enriched.
“NATO’s deliberate goal was to turn Ukraine into an outpost against Russia”
In the Western press, Putin tends to be defined as “a madman who shocked the world with his initiative”. Yet in a 1997 video, the current US President Biden declared that NATO’s enlargement to the Baltic countries (not Ukraine!) would be able to cause a military response from Russia. Do you think that since 2014 Europe has underestimated the Ukrainian question?
I don’t think it was underestimated. On the contrary, it was a deliberate goal to gradually transform the country into an outpost against Russia, regardless of its admission to NATO. Hence the so-called ‘orange revolution’ (2004), the internal and external sabotage of every attempt at stabilization, the alternation of corrupt governments, the pseudo revolt of Euromaidan, the coup against President Yanukovich (2014) and the election of Zelensky.
The latter has began with an electoral program opposing the oligarchs, political corruption and the promise of “serving the people” and ended at an openly provocative policy towards Russia. And this was exactly what the United States and the NATO wanted since 1997.
The topic of the NATO expansion, however, has always been taboo for us.
NATO’s expansion to the east began in the year when a series of steps to involve the Eastern European countries in “military cooperation” (the “Partnership for peace” program) were undertaken, and it has been a constant provocation for 24 years.
For over a decade Russia was unable to oppose it. NATO, urged in particular by Great Britain, Poland and the Baltic republics, thought it could close the circle around it by “activating” both Georgia and Ukraine.
Russia intervened militarily in Georgia and this gave a strong signal to the US and NATO, which did not want to participate in that war.
During the Syrian crisis of 2011, Russia sided with the government of Bashar Assad and subsequently intervened militarily with the war against ISIS, making a substantial contribution to the group’s neutralization. Bashar Assad is still there. The Russian operations in Syria, although agreed and coordinated on the ground with the American-led coalition, have disturbed the plans of those who wanted to take advantage of ISIS and related gangs to destabilize the entire Middle East.
Another sign of the changed Russian mood was the annexation of Crimea immediately after the coup against Yanukovic – a coup supported by the United States and in particular by the envoy of the State Department Victoria Nuland and by then Vice President Biden.
From 2014 onwards, Ukraine – with the support of the United States and NATO – followed an even more hostile line towards Russia and began to integrate neo-Nazi groups that had “proven themselves” in the Maidan clashes into the armed forces and the police. The very same people are now organizing the “Ukrainian resistance” and coordinating the approximately 16,000 mercenaries scattered across the country.
“NATO pushed Ukraine into an adventure”
For all of this, I would like to say that NATO has not neglected Ukraine, on the contrary, it has strongly pushed it into an adventure that is dangerous for both all of us and especially for the Europeans.
In a recent TV appearance, you said you got to know Russian generals firsthand and called the Russian operation “a limited war for limited purposes”. What are the objectives that the Russians have set themselves in Ukraine in your opinion?
In Kosovo I was also supported by the Russian contingent, a part of which guaranteed the security of the military / civilian airport of Pristina, while another part was deployed in the mountain sector on the border with Serbia. I had almost daily contact with the Russian generals, who were always very correct especially towards me (as an Italian).
We were talking about collective security and the future of Kosovo, something that no one in NATO had thought about before going to war. We also talked about military operations and doctrine. Twenty years ago.
Limited warfare is a category also foreseen by Clausewitz and the Russians have always been Clausewitzians.
At the beginning of the invasion I began to see the signs not of a special operation as Putin called it, but of a series of operations with limited objectives, united by the strategic purpose of preventing Ukraine from becoming the epicenter of a military threat to Russia, but tactically independent.
The operations concerned the securing of territories in the Donbass, the coastal strip of the Azov Sea and the Black Sea up to Odessa and, if necessary, up to the border with neutral Moldova. The advance on Kiev was to be mainly a political operation of pressure for negotiations and the eventual establishment of a government favoring the Russian position.
“Russian operation is not limited in time or objectives – its path depends on the unfolding events”
This operation is not limited either in time or objectives: it depends on the unfolding events. If the diplomatic, political and operational events evolve satisfactorily, the operation can be stopped. Otherwise, marching in forces can move to be deployed around the city, and if the events are still negative, they can move on to the “preparation” of fire, then to the aerial fire and then, if and when the city is exhausted, they can start the real grip on the city.
This type of artichoke operation has blown away all improvised analysts who expected and perhaps cynically wished to see the firestorm Americans have accustomed us to in all their wars.
Obviously this operation modus fueled speculations about the effective power of the Russian apparatus and the heroic Ukrainian resistance, which would have halted the invasion.
The military apparatus we see on television, however, tells something different: the operation is still intentionally in the first phase, awaiting events. In this situation, the advantages come only from the effectiveness and credibility of pressure. The disadvantages concern both external provocations (by NATO) and the strengthening of internal resistance, which will not change the result of the operation but would do much more damage.
Risk of moving from tactical to strategic forces and direct confrontation between NATO and Russia
Do you think that the weapons that Italy will send and the mercenaries that are arriving will have an impact on the fate of the conflict? Will this step not cause further risks?
I really do not think so. They will make it bloodier and lift the war on an even higher operational level. In the event of an imbalance of tactical forces, there is a tendency to move to the strategic one. Then weapons of strategic level such as bombers, missiles and even tactical nuclear weapons can be used: all kind of things that would lead to a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia.
Do you think there is a danger that mercenary jihadists could flow from Syria to Ukraine in large numbers? And what complications would be created in the conflict?
Mercenary jihadists will be few in Ukraine. They will be able to influence the level of barbarism, in the sense of increasing it. There are many mercenaries and they are also well paid. We pay those who are fighting for Ukraine with our money, and Russia pays those who are fighting for Russia with Russian money.
However, the influx of mercenaries has an interesting aspect: it completely dismantles the thesis people voluntarily fighting for their homeland. Furthermore, companies of mercenaries or contractors are never satisfied with simple pay for soldiers. They always demand greater things from the states that hire them. They also want power, important national assets such as mines, industries and sensitive infrastructures. They are never satisfied. Kingdoms have fallen due to dissatisfied mercenaries.
“Russia’s requests are the basis of discussion”
On the negotiations in Belarus: France and Germany seem to be oriented towards a more mediation approach while our country, absent from the Franco-German-Chinese summit, seems to prefer a more extremist vision. Do you consider Russia’s requests a valid starting point for Europe and what is the risk of waiting longer in terms of a real confrontation?
Russian requests, as in any negotiation, are the basis of a discussion. If they are not satisfying, if there is no consensus, then each party must stop saying what it wants and start thinking about what it can give.
In general, the strongest party is the one most willing to give in, because it believes that it is “conceding” and therefore keeps the prestige intact. The weaker party only needs to reduce the level of ambition. In this case, every slightest reduction in Ukrainian ambition would lead to a great concession: the salvation of the country.
Our country unilaterally decreed, as if speaking for everyone, the end of negotiations, among other things with a bullying attitude. The attitude of others is much less arrogant. And this makes them play the tune. But even in bullying, we are not among the best. Great Britain and Poland beat us.
No Fly zone would accelerate desaster
The Polish government has declared its intention to supply MiGs to the Ukrainian forces, but sending them from the German bases. The United States then held back the Polish initiative. How real is the option of a No fly zone in Ukraine and how likely is a future NATO military involvement?
The declaring the Ukrainian skies a No fly zone would be a way to accelerate the disaster. Those who are clamoring for it want this disaster and demonstrate their inability to control their airspace. They want a pretext to drag all of Europe into the war. We must not give in to this perverse temptation, especially in moments like these when an air attack ends up hitting a hospital pavilion and emotion suffocates rationality.
Ukrainian army had opposed the introduction of radical elements into its ranks
Western narration today tries to minimize (or completely censor) the presence of neo-Nazis in the battalions incorporated into the Ukrainian forces, despite dozens of reports (from the BBC to Time to the Guardian), which in the past had shed light on the affair with justly horrified tones. Do you think Putin is credible when he announces as one of his goals the de-nazification of Ukraine?
The de-nazification, to which Putin refers, does not concern Ukraine, but its government apparatus, where these elements are at the top. The press reports are all correct and in any case do not give an exact account of the presence and influence of these groups.
It was precisely the Ukrainian police and intelligence forces that opposed the inclusion of these elements into their ranks. They had to suffer but today, the hunt for the Russian (or pro-Russian) can change into a hunt for the Nazi. And given the numbers and the frenzy of the interested parties, I would not be surprised if tomorrow Ukraine falls from the pan of the war against Russia into the embers of a civil war.
What should the Italian government do in this context and Europe more generally?
Negotiate, stop being only focused only on one thought and on propaganda, help Ukraine to coming to her senses and provide Russia a chance to get out of the tunnel of the encirclement syndrome – not with plain talks but with concrete acts. And when the crisis is overcome, hoping to still be alive, Italy and Europe will have to make a serious commitment to conquer that autonomy, dignity and strategic independence that guarantees European security regardless of the interests of others.