Ukraine War 'Unmitigated Disaster' for Putin: Former U.S. Ambassador

Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst said Russia's invasion of Ukraine has been an "unmitigated disaster" for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"There's no doubt about that," Herbst told Newsweek when pressed on whether he agrees with U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan's assessment that Russia has failed to achieve its key goals in Ukraine.

Sullivan said at a press conference on Tuesday that Russia has "manifestly failed" in achieving its three major goals in Putin's invasion of Ukraine. These goals are subjugating Ukraine, enhancing Russian power and prestige, and dividing and weakening the West, Sullivan told reporters.

"Putin had the goal of dominating Ukraine on the one side, and on the other, he wanted to keep open his plans to weaken the West, including establishing substantial Russian control over all the states of the former Soviet Union, which includes three NATO allies, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania," said Herbst, senior director of the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center, and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine from 2003 to 2006.

Putin declared his intentions in a televised address just before the launch of his "special military operation" in Ukraine on February 24.

John Herbst
John Herbst, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, speaks in front of the Lincoln Memorial during a rally in support of Ukraine on February 20, 2022. Herbst told "Newsweek" that the Ukraine invasion has been an "unmitigated disaster" for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kenny Holston/Getty Images

"He said in his speech just before he launched this new invasion that he wants to have major influence in all the post-Soviet space. That includes all the countries that emerged from the Soviet Union 30 plus years ago. So it's not a secret," said Herbst.

The Russian leader has previously claimed that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century."

"It was evident within three or four days of this new invasion, that his [Putin's] second goals relating to the West, relating to the other former Soviet states, had suffered perhaps a fatal reversal, because of the very strong response of a united West, to the Russian invasion," explained Herbst.

"That very strong response includes massive sanctions. It includes large arm supplies to Ukraine, it includes an end to most, if not all, Russian soft power in the West, as Germany, in particular, changed a rather soft policy toward Moscow," said Herbst.

The former ambassador was referring to Germany's long-held Russia policy, which has been focused on rapprochement as opposed to confrontation.

"That's now pretty much gone," said Herbst.

"So that was true within three or four days of the invasion. And then over the last two weeks, it's become clear that Russia's invasion in Ukraine has bogged down," Herbst continued. "So there too, Putin is at this point, unable to achieve his objectives in Ukraine."

Western intelligence updates have emphasized that more than a month after Putin launched his full-scale invasion, Russian forces appear to be facing supply and morale issues, while Ukrainian troops continue to put up stiff resistance.

Ukraine's successful counterattacks are likely to "disrupt the ability of Russian forces to reorganize and resume their own offensive towards Kyiv," Britain's Ministry of Defence said on Wednesday.

Russia's forces are "basically frozen around the country on multiple lines of axes, struggling to fuel themselves and to feed their troops and to supply them with arms and ammunition," a senior U.S. defense official told reporters on March 17.

"It has been an unmitigated disaster for Putin," Herbst said.

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Ukraine-Russia conflict
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a joint-press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz following their meeting at the Kremlin, in Moscow, on February 15, 2022. National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Tuesday that Russia has "manifestly failed" in achieving its three major goals in Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images