Putin Could Attack Ukraine Power Grid After Failure of Shock and Awe, General Says

After Vladimir Putin's shock and awe campaign failed to subdue Ukraine, his next target may be the country's power grid, an option with dire consequences for Ukrainians still in the grip of winter.

Newsweek spoke with Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré (ret.), to get his perspective on the Ukraine crisis. Gen. Honoré's 37-year career in the U.S. Army included serving as commander or the 4th Battalion, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division (Forward) in Operation Desert Storm, and commander of the Joint Task Force Katrina, in which he coordinated military relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina hit the Louisiana Gulf Coast.

This interview has been edited for length and conciseness.

Q: Do you think that as the war continues to go on, it gives Ukraine a greater advantage?

Yes. The longer this lasts the more advantage the Ukrainians have, unless Putin changes the parameters and starts doing more heavy bombing. If he goes after the grid, that's going to be a game changer.

Q: Is that a game changer specifically for the urban areas?

Everybody in that cold weather. Because most of the people there depend on gas and heating oil to create the electricity and the heat in their homes. And we still got a good piece of winter left in Ukraine.

Q: What do you think targeting the civilians might do for the morale of his troops? And do you think that could be a rallying force for the Ukrainian troops if that starts to happen?

Lieutenant General Russell Ho
Lieutenant General Russel Honoré says if he were leading Ukraine's forces he would go after Russia's military supply chain. Here, he directs the recovery operations in Cameron, Louisiana 26 September, 2005 on the southwestern coast. Photo by ROBERT SULLIVAN/AFP via Getty Images

When we went into Iraq we took the lights out. That's a very demoralizing impact. And we cut the coms [communications] — he's not done that yet. But that's an option in that 30-degree weather. This would be almost uninhabitable if that happens, because the food that's on hand will rot, and those major metropolitan cities that still have the majority of the people in them — he'll create a significant humanitarian crisis.

So any idea that he's gonna win over the people and put his government in? Every day he attacks, every day he bombs something, he's creating more enemies in Ukraine.

And the other power is the power of social media that the world sees this is happening. This is not like something happened in the middle of the desert, or in some isolated place in Africa, where they have these large genocidal attacks and kill people. This is happening on television and the world is seeing that this man is going crazy.

Q: Is that what has stopped him from not taking down the power already? Is that something that they could have done by now but haven't chosen to do?

It goes back to the old saying, "If you break it, you got to fix it." If you take that power out and plan to put a government up and people don't have power, you know, that's not like parts you got standing around, how you stand a grid back up. Because it took us over two months to put the grid back up in New Orleans from a hurricane, let alone when you put bombs on — you know what I'm saying?

Q: Yes, that makes sense.

Everybody out there's trying to kill the troops. I mean, a part of an occupation is to win the hearts and minds. He's not winning the hearts and minds. There's no way he's going to accomplish that objective. There's no way you can do it.

Q: There's a RAND corporation study that says that an invading power needs to have roughly one soldier for every 50 people. Do you think that's still a reliable measure in today's warfare?

Not in these big expanding metropolitan areas, no.

Q: Do you think it needs to be higher?

You got to think of Texas. Ukraine is the size of Texas. So he took that combined arms army, and he, like, sent one out of Oklahoma to Dallas, took one out of the Shreveport area and sent it toward Austin, and he took another army and sent it toward Houston, a town down by Crimea.

You know, if you're attacking to destroy an army, you want to attack at least three to one. In an urban area, you've got to have at least six soldiers for every one defender. And to go to the occupation force, inside a metropolitan area, without cooperation of the local government, where everybody is hostile to you, I'm not sure if we have a good numeration of what that number is.

Because nobody's really successfully done that, other than the Russians in Crimea and in Georgia, where they overwhelmed them with thousands and thousands of soldiers.

You got to think of Texas. Ukraine is the size of Texas. So he took that combined arms army, and he, like, sent one out of Oklahoma to Dallas, took one out of the Shreveport area and sent it toward Austin, and he took another army and sent it toward Houston, a town down by Crimea.

And his intent was to use the shock and awe of these armored columns. What he had not accounted for was the will and the skill of the Ukrainians to fight, who have basically been at war with him for eight years in the contested zone. He put his formation up, and at this point in time, shock and awe hasn't done it. And he outran his logistical tail because he sent regiments in one at a time.

He first put in the reconnaissance forces with "spec knots," or what we call Special Forces, spec knots with reconnaissance forces, and in many cultures that might work. That didn't work with Ukraine. Yeah, he took the airfield, but he's paying a hell of a price for it, as we speak.

His ability to switch this will be to do something he said he was going to do, which is to start targeting the civilian infrastructure where people are still living and then come running to shelters.

He outran his logistics. You know for every soldier you got to fight you got about five to six backing up, communications to medics to fuel to ammunition to mechanics. And that ratio by itself doesn't work. But we're happy it's not working. We are happy they're stupid, and follow their own tactics.

Q: So, it sounds like with those ratios, especially in the urban areas, which they really need to take over, that they're not even close with the sort of number of troops that they've sent in.

No. Hell no. But they need to figure that out. I would just say they have not. There's a value to mass in combat, and to avoid an attrition warfare battle. His ability to switch this will be to do something he said he was going to do, which is to start targeting the civilian infrastructure where people are still living and then come running to shelters.

Q: I want to circle back to a question you might like to answer more because you kind of touched on it a bit here. I was wondering if you could tell me about how this situation compares to the invasion of Iraq. You know, back particularly in the March 19 to May 1 part of things when the roughly 177,000 NATO troops were sent in.

Well, in Desert Storm, 31 years ago today as we speak, significant battles were fought, and we went in ... [unintelligible] to kill the Iraqi army, and we did that. We occupied the city, then it turns into an insurgency with the Sunnis and the Shias, Sunnis being supported by the Saudis and the Shias being supported by Iran.

So, we won the conventional war. ... and it's hard to win an insurgency. And we finally left with a small footprint on the ground still in Iraq, but they run their own country, they've got their own army. Because the U.S. government objective in the First Gulf War was to kick Sadaam out of Kuwait. We did that, and we destroyed most of his army.

The second invasion of Iraq will not be handled well in history, because we went in with a Putinesque idea, taking down Sadaam because he had weapons of mass destruction, which we all found out was never proven, invaded that country for the second time.

But the first attack 31 years ago was a legitimate action and oh, by the way, Kuwait was not a part of NATO. NATO showed up to fight Sadaam in the First Gulf War, and the Second Gulf War was a different story, and history will not treat us well for that.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit more about how that second invasion mirrors what Putin's doing now?

Yeah. Well, going back to 2014, Putin has been attacking and trying to claim parts of Ukraine. And he, when he gave out his manifesto of the recreation of the USSR, or the Soviet Republic, as he referred to it, we all were listening. He just doesn't want Ukraine, he wants all those former affiliated countries to be a part of Russia.

The one good thing might come out of this is Europe transitioning from fossil fuel, because he has weaponized fossil fuel. There's enough wind, solar and geothermal that Europe does not have to be dependent on Russia at all, and this is going to force them to optimize those systems.

He's a gas station. He's creating gas. Yeah. And he produced tanks and missiles. That's his forte. That's what they do. And much of the technology is imported from Western countries.

There's no spirit of entrepreneurship left, people solving problems. The capacity, when we looked at what they did with the space station and things they've done in space, what they really could do, all those were government programs, and he has weaponized oil and gas.

The one good thing might come out of this is Europe transitioning from fossil fuel, because he has weaponized fossil fuel. There's enough wind, solar and geothermal that Europe does not have to be dependent on Russia at all, and this is going to force them to optimize those systems. Because every government must set up their own security, and security depends upon having the ability to provide energy to run your industry and take care of your people. This might do more for climate change than anything that's happened in the last 50 years.

Q: if you were leading the Ukrainian army, how would you attack the Russians and defend those cities?

I would block the front and attack the rear, much like Washington's army took on the British and then the patriots attacked them from the rear and the flanks. Attack the trucks. Without the trucks those formations can't move. And get more drones into Ukraine.

Q: Since Russia has to have a really long supply chain to get into the middle of Ukraine, would you then be attacking that?

I would attack the supply trains.

Q: There's been talk of those supply chains being pretty vulnerable. Do you agree with that assessment? And how would you go about attacking them?

They're trucks, like fuel and ammunition. And I would unleash the snipers from building tops. The idea is not to stand and fight. The idea is that every soldier you kill, that's nothing. But every one you injure, that takes two soldiers to take care of him.

Q: Would those snipers be targeting the trucks and everything in them?

Shoot out the windows. Shoot out the people, and destroy the trucks.

But I'm sick and tired of hearing NATO say, "We're not going to fight the Russians." Why do you think you existed? To be prepared to fight the Russians.

Q: What do you the Ukrainian army and NATO should do to protect and maintain that sort of supply chain on that side of materials coming in for the Ukrainians?

They need to step it up, and they need to create a no-fly zone along the border. So the people evacuating, you know, I think they're talking about a couple of hundred thousand people. NATO needs to be prepared. I think they need to take this on as a mission of up to 10 million people, myself — that's an estimate. They need to be prepared for 10 million people.

And I need to create a no-fly zone along the border, so the Russians don't harass my evacuation.

The only way to deal with a bully is through strength. You can't deal with him through appeasement. And they're using economic power, which is good, and information is bound to get to his people. But there comes a point in time where they need to stand up and say, "Okay, that's enough."

Q: Do you think there's anything else that NATO should be doing to play a more active role?

They need to be prepared to stand up to Putin. And the only reason they haven't done it is because he got nukes. But guess what? We got nukes too. And we got air power.

So we got to stand up to this bully and say, "OK. Don't cross this line. And I don't know what that is, but that's why they get paid the big bucks.

But I'm sick and tired of hearing NATO say, "We're not going to fight the Russians." Why do you think you exist? To be prepared to fight the Russians.

Q: That's a good point. It's odd that they kind of just let Putin keep pushing on, because there's no firm line drawn there. Because you wouldn't think he would want to get into a nuclear war either.

The only way to deal with a bully is through strength. You can't deal with him through appeasement. And they're using economic power, which is good, and information is bound to get to his people.

But there comes a point in time where they need to stand up and say, "Okay, that's enough." You have to sue for some kind of peace here, and determine what you're going to do. But you can't be just killing people.