Fernando Alejandre, former Chief of the Defense Staff: “We have never been so close to mutual destruction”

On September 5, 2021, General Fernando Alejandre, former Chief of the Defense Staff, put an end to his book ‘Served King and Honored Homeland’ (Deusto). In all probability, he did not expect journalists to be hit by the military view of him. He wanted to leave a legacy to the younger military and a warning to the political class. But Vladimir Putin and his ruthless invasion of Ukraine have made him an invaluable resource: in his file, Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. And above all, he was a senior NATO official when the head of the Kremlin deployed his Armed Forces on the Crimean peninsula.

Generals like Gan Pampols say that only those who wanted to be surprised have been surprised. Match?

In 2014 I was stationed at NATO Allied Command Operations Headquarters. When we saw that the Russian authorities mobilized troops in Crimea, we knew that it was the tip of the iceberg. It was the first step. The second has now arrived, eight years later. And I see the shipment of grenade launchers, machine guns and cars and I think: “It’s late.”

What other things do you think?

Look, two years ago I broke camp and I follow the evolution of the war on television, like everyone else.

Not all of us have 46 years of military experience.

In my opinion, it is an ordeal of Putin. The international community has not taken it seriously. But we don’t know what the next step is. I suspect that he has launched an operation the result of which is very unlikely to be Ukraine’s cession of part of its territory.

“It is difficult for the Russian operation not to end in the cession of Ukraine of a part of its territory”

Just a part?

I hope so. Putin and his generals are perfectly aware that going beyond that would be a difficult and costly effort to sustain. One can face economic sanctions, the betrayal of their armies in combat, but maintaining a military presence in a territory like Ukraine is exhausting.

Military tactical analysts agree that the Russian advance is going badly.

In this type of conflict misinformation is mixed with good intentions. We have an interest in believing that he is doing very poorly, but I disagree. He has launched an operation and, surely, what he wants is to acquire a privileged position to reach a negotiation in the conditions he wants.

At least he hasn’t deployed the air force.

He doesn’t need it at all. He has a huge border to the north of Ukraine and that is enough for him to control any movement on Ukraine. If anything moved in Ukrainian airspace, it would be shot down immediately.

“Putin is a dangerous enemy. He does not respond to any type of Western parameter”

Former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb says that we have reached a point of no return.

I hope is not like that.

Are there reasons to be afraid?

They are in all wars. The key is that once it starts, everything has to go as planned, because mistakes are very easy to make, on one side or the other. In this case, we can see ourselves in a very long war by Putin against an organized Ukrainian resistance. And if the error is on the other side, we can see ourselves in a global nuclear war. If right now, with Putin’s privileged position, a negotiation could start, there would probably be a return.

Probably? If not?

Someone can make a mistake and press the wrong button.

Some of Russia’s nuclear warheads are out of service.

I wouldn’t put my hopes up on that. It has a useful nuclear force.

“Putin is a dangerous enemy. He does not respond to any type of Western parameter”

What kind of enemy is Putin?

A very dangerous one. Putin does not respond to any kind of Western parameters. His decisions are put into practice, while on this side of the border there are mechanisms of democratic control. Once Putin takes a step, he doesn’t back down. There is someone who has believed that he is crazy, but it is not true. He is operating with enormous support from his own generals and from the ruling classes. They have a thorn in their side since 1991, with the official dissolution of the Soviet Union. If a commando killed Putin, another Putin would appear the next day.

In your 46 years of service had you seen anything like this?

We’ve never been this close to mutually assured destruction. The Cuban missile crisis in 1962 was a very delicate moment, but it did not come to this, far from it.

Very reassuring aren’t you.

There are two things I’m not good at: reassuring people and making predictions.

Even so, from 0 to 10, what grade do you give to the real risk?

Throwing at 5. Although Putin seems like a monster to us – which he is – I am sure he knows that there is a threshold that he cannot cross.

“Negotiating with Nicolás Maduro is putting ourselves at the feet of the horses”

Negotiating with Nicolás Maduro the purchase of oil was also a threshold. And Joe Biden has done it.

That is putting us at the feet of the horses. I don’t understand the reason for the urgency. There is no need to negotiate when the bombs are falling on Kiev. Or at least, you don’t need to know. Send a sorry message.

What else is the West doing wrong?

We do what we can to make things go wrong. Putin learned the lessons of Afghanistan, we did not. And by dint of repeating the mantra of peace, we have come to believe that we have it assured and that we do not have to do anything to achieve it. I suppose that, seeing the images of the surroundings of Kharkov, society will understand what we mean. For the Armed Forces it is very painful to try to fulfill our mission in the face of misunderstanding, and sometimes rejection, by the society we serve.

Do you allow a game? Imagine that you are still the Head of the EMAD. That makes?

To have absolute faith in the Atlantic Alliance and to insist again, as I did when I was active, on the need to increase the defense budget and provide the Spanish military with means in keeping with the importance of Spain in the international context.

“I trust that hell will end before summer”

Nothing more?

Nothing else can be done. No free adventures. We must grit our teeth, train more and continue hand in hand with democratic nations. I hope that this drama at least serves as a wake-up call and that, as much as we repeat the mantra that we are a peaceful society, we see that there are others that are not.

I swore that the danger will not spread and will reach home.

I can’t swear because we don’t know. Who tells us that someone shoots at the plane that is not, or touches a city that should not?

When will this hell end?

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I hope before the summer. But remember I told you that the worst thing I’m good at is prophesying.

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