Former U.S. Navy Captain, Russia Expert: American Weakness, Lack of Leadership, Caused Putin to Invade Ukraine

Tatiana Popova, former Ukraine Deputy Minister of Information and Policy and former Adviser to the Ukraine Minister of Defense (2014-2015), recently interviewed former U.S. Navy Captain Gary Tabach. Russian-born Tabach served for over twenty years as a Foreign Area Officer in Eastern Europe. During this time, he worked out of Moscow where he served as Chief of Staff for the NATO Military Liaison Mission to the Russian Federation. He also spent time in Belarus, Poland, and Ukraine. Following are excerpts of the Russian language interview.

Popova (00:50): How do you assess the situation on the warfront?

Tabach: In general, I would say that it is very difficult. Clearly the Ukrainians are doing a great job. There is no real “front” in the traditional sense as it’s constantly shifting. Russian troops have not been at war like this since World War II. Absolute lunacy. The Russian officers seem to have only been trained for two or three days in the same tactics that they used during World War II. This surprised me because I knew, well I know a lot I know a lot of Russian officers who graduated from Frunze. They’re smart guys. I simply don’t understand their actions, how they maneuver, it seems very disorderly, bombing all over the place. It’s just savagery, pure savagery.

Popova (01:46): He also bombed in Syria, as far as I understand. The day before yesterday, after the bombing of the Mariupol Theater, Syrian journalists wrote that it’s the same thing that happened there. They bombed places where refugees were taking cover, their camps, places where food was distributed. Russians immediately appeared there and killed civilians. This is their standard tactic, “carpet bombing.”

Tabach: Yes – and what’s the point of that? What’s the point? It’s insanity, insanity.

Popova (02:23): I don’t even understand the meaning of war. Can you explain to me? You worked with them [the Russians], talked to them.

Tabach: Look, I was one of many, one of many so called “military experts,” but I’m not an expert. I would never call myself an expert… I just served thirty years as a Captain in the U.S. Navy, the last twenty years of that time I served as an expert on the Soviet Union as what we call a FAO – a Foreign Area Officer. My area of expertise was Soviet Russian troops. I was in Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine. I served in Poland. But I don’t understand, I didn’t think they would invade Ukraine. In the first place I didn’t see any point for it or any sort of planning or preparation for that. This accumulation of all that “scrap metal” was just stupid. In any case, no matter how many troops they gather they will not have enough to occupy the whole country. Somebody apparently told them that the Ukrainians would just happily go over to their side and be happy that they came, that they “liberated” them; that it would not be necessary to occupy anything at all.

Popova (04:00): Maybe they just wanted Mariupol, Kherson, and Kharkov? We still don’t know their plans.

Tabach: I think you must wonder about how they bomb and everything they do. Why bomb Kiev? Why put troops in Kiev?

Popova (04:18): Maybe to intimidate?

Tabach: Maybe to intimidate, maybe to intimidate. I’m going to share with you an expression – “there is no weapon more terrifying than a frightened Jew.” That’s why maybe…

Popova (04:38): And we have a president just now who is Jewish.

Tabach: Well right, and now it’s the Purim holiday, that’s when he [Putin] wanted to kill Jews but the Jew’s killed him instead. When Jews could go out and drink, this is a time of joyful holiday for Jews when Jewish people go out and have fun. Stalin, when he wanted to deport all the Jews, he would wait for the Purim holiday to do it. You wouldn’t have to chase down or look for Jews during the holiday… Therefore yes, these plans are incomprehensible, clearly bad planning. I have no idea who – well it’s not just one person who plans [something like this]. In my opinion it’s not just military planners, these types of things are planned by the military, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, intelligence, foreign intelligence, internal intelligence, special agencies. Not just the military. Therefore, I don’t understand how they planned for this. They’re so stretched out they don’t have food, no fuel, their equipment is malfunctioning. All they can do is launch rockets.

Popova (05:32): Not even all their rockets explode! And they just fall to the ground.

Tabach: Well, that’s because they aren’t made like ours, lower quality…

Popova (06:03): I want to tell my audience that Gary was born in Moscow, so when you say “ours” [laughter]

Tabach: [laughs] No [laughs] I was born on February 23rd and people say I should be congratulated on Defender of the Fatherland Day [Russian Veteran’s Day celebrated on 23 February] … but I was born there, but I have never considered myself part of that country… But I don’t understand how they planned this, nor for what reason – the reasons for all of this. And we said there won’t be a World War II type frontal attack, this won’t be like the Second World War. And he [Putin] is former KGB, it’s not his style, not how he works. And that’s how he’s achieved everything – that’s how he achieved everything in Ukraine. In Ukraine they hate their president and all that, the economy is bad, and they want it fixed, they have a fifth column, so you just step in and that’s it. In America we’re always quarreling among ourselves, in Europe they can’t stick together. So, he would achieve it in the same way. And he [Putin] still gets invited everywhere – to the climate summit…

Popova (07:28): But that was before the start of the war.

Tabach: Yes.

Popova: In principle, before the war he was needed.

Tabach (07:35): Under Trump, he [Putin] sat quietly and did nothing. Oil prices were low, and Nord Stream 2 was blocked. Then Biden came. Biden’s Nord Stream 2 was unblocked, oil prices went up, he was invited everywhere. Biden began to call him to consult, got down on his knees and suddenly he [Putin] realized, what else did he need? He had achieved his goal – his man was sitting in the White House, he outwitted everyone, right. He [Putin] was brilliant, he called Trump his friend, convinced everyone that he was his agent and they agreed on everything. And this one [Biden] comes in and everyone [advising Putin] says this is Obama’s team. They did nothing to Putin for Georgia…

Popova (08:26): Nor Crimea, and nothing about Donbas…

Tabach (07:35): He [Obama] did nothing about Georgia, the downed plane, nothing for the Chechen people. So, he [Putin] had everything. So, why should he go to attack and take such a risk? What was he thinking of doing? I don’t understand what the plan was, what the goal was. And what is he thinking now? Just destroy the Ukrainian infrastructure, kill the civilian population? Does he think that now you will just surrender? It doesn’t work that way. It’s the other way around. He also likes to study the Second World War. He also loves that the Soviet Union defeated fascism, the Nazis. But is also clear that when the Germans came in, the Ukrainian people believed that they had nothing against Hitler. They thought it was such a salvation from Stalin, from the Holodomor, that he had come to save them. Then, as soon as they realized that he [Hitler] was crazier than Stalin, guerrilla groups began to form and everything else. So, what does he think now when he invades Ukraine, kills them, kills their children, and they are violating all the rules of war? They are terrorists, wearing masks, covering their faces. I can’t even call them soldiers, they are terrorists. This is not a “special military operation.” this is a special terrorist operation, there is nothing military here. Bombing and killing civilians and destroying infrastructure is not what the military does. The military fights against the other militaries [as in not against civilians]. This is absolute terrorism, which terrorizes the population, causes panic. Even without studying the history of the Second World War, when Banderites fought against the Soviet government and they weren’t able to smoke them all out until 1956. What does he think, that you will not organize, that you will not resist? I don’t think anyone can understand. He’s [Putin] just paranoid and a psychopath…

Popova (11:18): Yes, but at the same time they are afraid of him. Biden won’t impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Is this Biden’s position as a Democrat, or do Republicans also think so too?

Tabach: In my opinion, well understand, I don’t think Biden thinks anything anymore.

Popova (11:36): Tell me, I don’t know.

Tabach: Unfortunately, I think he is in such a state that he has senile insanity. Listen, he calls Ukrainians Iranians in his conversations. He says that Putin attacked Russia. Probably, according to Freud, it means something that he keeps saying ‘Putin attacked Russia, attacked Russia.’ He still calls himself a senator and Kamala Harris president. Apparently, when he’s loaded, he can talk for an hour or two. But the same can be seen on his face. I’m not a doctor, I’m not a psychiatrist, but it’s obvious. So, when we say Biden, we mean, of course, the Democratic Party and all this left-wing Davos rubbish. Today there are those in NATO, in Europe who say – ‘why should they listen to what the United States or NATO has to say,’ that is, those who lead the United States? Why won’t they give them planes? Why won’t they give them the S-300? Why won’t they close the sky over Ukraine? What are they waiting for?

Popova (12:50): Do you mean Europe?

Tabach: Europe, America. The only one who is not waiting is Turkey. It is also a NATO country. Why aren’t they afraid? They’re giving them the Bayraktar, the ones that burn up the Russian columns. This is the deadliest weapon we have today [in the Ukraine war]. Why are these [U.S. and EU] afraid and they [Turkey] are not? They are not afraid of nuclear war, but these, they are afraid. Stupidity, stupidity, they just sit and wait.

Popova (13:13): For what reason?

Tabach: Until they run out of Ukrainian blood.

Popova: Why?

Tabach: I think they agreed on this a long time ago, I think they agreed on it back in 2008 – divide up the world.

Popova (13:20): With Democrats? Or with who? I don’t understand.

Tabach: It was the “left wing” at Davos. Putin and at that time it was under Obama and maybe Bush too. This is not Democrat or Republican. This is the “left wing,” and this isn’t a conspiracy because they’re all leftists. Putin is also a leftist, only they each approach it in their own way. So then when there was the attack on Georgia, they realized that this was possible. Bush at that time was already a “lame duck” but he was a “hawk” and sent warships into the Black Sea and Putin quickly left Georgia and he didn’t start a nuclear war. Why weren’t they afraid of a nuclear war then? Then, when Trump came in everything changed. It was supposed to be Clinton. And I think when Obama came into power with Biden and they sent Clinton with a “reset button,” they gave him [Putin] the green light. He started with Crimea, started in Donbas, and got his hands on all of that. Of course, they threatened, shouted and said “we’ll show you” and all that, but they didn’t do anything. And I think they were waiting for Clinton to be elected. And with their foothold in Crimea and Donbass by 17’ or 18’ they would have moved on all of Ukraine just like they did on Poland in 1939. Then Trump got into his [Putin] head…

Popova (13:35): I just wanted to tell my viewers – look we invited General Hodges who appeared to be a Democrat. And he spoke from the Democratic position. Gary, it appears, is a Republican and is speaking from the Republican position.

Tabach: I’m not speaking from a position, from a Republican position.

Popova: You know, my Republican friends tell me “The enemy has to be defeated far from our borders and therefore we send weapons, everything that is needed to defeat the enemy there. The Democrats are a bunch of communists, all they worry about here is healthcare.”

Tabach: Well, I speak factually about what happened…

Popova: That was just a remark for my viewers, continue.

Tabach (16:18): This is not from a Democratic position nor from a Republican position. You can’t just say he’s older, and everyone older in the U.S. is for Trump. I’m not for Trump, I’m not against Trump. I’m just giving facts about how things happened historically. We must see where this is going. I’m not a Democrat or Republican. This is my personal opinion of how things happened, from this little old Captain. So, when she showed up with the “reset button” I think they decided how to divide Ukraine. Because Ukraine was for Putin like a hemorrhoid – a pulsating, bleeding, itchy hemorrhoid. For Putin that was Ukraine. He had already changed Georgia by force, also Kazakhstan, and Belarus, obviously this was the only one left.

Popova (17:06): So, what year are you talking about now?

Tabach: When Obama came to power. Obama was elected in 2008, so 2008-2009.

Popova: So 2009 after Georgia?

Tabach: This was right after Georgia. Georgia was in August, then he won the election.

Popova: And then Clinton flew off to meet Putin.

Tabach (17:27): Flew off to meet Putin with the “reset button.” And he knew then that he could do all of this. And I believe that before 2016, under Obama they took Crimea, that was under Obama and Biden. Biden’s son was in Ukraine, he worked wonders and occupied himself in corrupt dealings. Biden flew in and told them to fire this prosecutor and hire another one or lose the economic aid. And they start managing the economic affairs of Ukraine from the United States and that begins to destroy Ukraine. They’re all destructive people and they have harmed Ukraine. When they took Crimea, Biden called and said don’t shoot, don’t fight back or we’ll sanction you too, so Ukraine was left in a very weak position. The Army, the economy, and they gave up Crimea and they didn’t fight for it. Then they [the Russians] moved into Donbas and started with shooting down an airplane and “stopping” the Ukrainians. This is similar to the Arab – Israel situation…

Tabach (18:55): Then they were going to expand in Ukraine, and Hilary Clinton was supposed to win the election – but she didn’t win. Nobody expected that. This strange guy won. Nobody knew who he was, nobody knew anything about his politics. He was absolutely not a politician. And he won the election and completely changed course. He started by shouting at NATO countries to pay their part. Asks them why they’re building Nord Stream 2, scolds them for not paying their part.

Popova (19:30): Probably this started under Trump, that’s true, the first deliveries.

Tabach: That was because Biden and Obama, and the senators, they decided in 2014 not to sell nor to deliver lethal weapons to Ukraine. Biden and Obama were against that. Then came Trump and he understood that Ukraine worked against him [Putin], he looked at all this and decided to give lethal weapons to Ukraine. He closed Russian consulates all around the United States because of Crimea. Then issued sanctions to stop the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that Germany and Russia were building. And he did a lot of other things. But everyone condemned him and said he was working for Putin. He saw Putin and talked about how he was a good guy, about how good he looked, about his wife and so on. But just because he said good things about Putin does not mean that he is pro-Putin, including me. These are facts. I’m not saying anything from one side or another, these are facts. If you agree with fine if not fine but say why and what are the other facts.

Popova (20:45): No, listen, right now I don’t know anything about American internal politics. What I’m interested in right now is the situation in Ukraine. Why don’t they give us a no-fly zone? Why are they afraid of nuclear weapons?

Tabach: Well, why don’t you want to go into American politics? If you don’t want to go into American politics, what is it that you want? “They don’t want to do that!”

Popova: Simply, Biden doesn’t want that.

Tabach (21:16): Understand, you’re a journalist. You’re sly, and people – you’re so sly. [Popova smiles] You say “we don’t know anything about American politics, why should we get involved in American politics? What does American politics have to do with it, what difference does it make to us here if it’s Biden or Trump?” Does it make a difference to you? [Popova nods head] It doesn’t make any difference to you. Well, here you go, there’s your price, here’s your price. When Trump calls your president and says, “it looks like you have some corruption problems with the former Vice President, maybe you need to look into this.” Impeachment! He’s influencing and so on. You didn’t figure it out, you didn’t get yourselves involved in American politics? Well, here’s your payment, what don’t you want to talk about?

Popova: Understood, good.

Tabach: What do you hope for? [laughs]

Popova: Good, look, is the EU also afraid of Putin in your opinion?

Tabach (22:08): I don’t think anyone is afraid of him. I think they agreed with him there. But an error occurred, the first mistake. A clown appears in Ukraine and becomes President of Ukraine. Thanks to you, the journalists. Of course, it is easy to get rid of him, who he is. He has no experience; he is a clown. He has no experience. Why did the error occur? Because it turns out that he wasn’t a clown. He turned out to be a man with balls, who will stand firm and look you in the eye. Also, they did not expect this. They immediately called him: “move to America. You drop these Ukrainians. And you will entertain our people. You are loved here, you are a cheerful, popular guy.” And he sends them on a direct course for a Russian warship, and says, “give us weapons.” And they were not ready for this. And then the Russian army was not able to fight, it could only kill civilians, people, and children. And here they are debating about handing over airplanes. And here they are dancing around. Should we give them planes – no we won’t give them planes. And the planes are offered by European countries, but the American president forbids them to do this. Strange, yes?

Popova: Yes.

Tabach (24:03): Then they say that instead of planes we will give them Patriot missiles. Then Patriot missiles are not given. Let’s give them S-300 [Soviet built surface to air missiles]. Slovakia can give S-300s. Again, something is slowing it down. Now let’s give them our American kamikaze drones, they are disposable. Of course, we will burn up Russian columns. But the sky is not covered by this. And it’s the third week, and the sky is still open. And they [the Russians] use it. “We don’t want a nuclear war, we’re afraid.” And how many of us will blackmail this KGB stooge with nuclear war or something else? He [Putin] is already hitting nuclear reactors. Chernobyl was seized and cut off from the IAEA. And we are all afraid. And what about saying that we also have nuclear weapons? Why do we have nuclear weapons then? Or why go and tell him right away that we are removing the option from the table that we will use our Armed Forces if he attacks Ukraine? And then this, “if there is a significant invasion, it is one thing but if it’s a minor incursion” it’s different. What kind of talk is this coming from the President of the United States? Why do we have aircraft carrier groups or strategic bombers, if we immediately say that we will not participate. Especially after the exit from Afghanistan? What’s the point? It makes no sense. Even Putin sees that NATO is nothing. It’s all “hell knows what” in America. We always say that we always have the option to use our most powerful, most professional, strongest army in the world. Why do we need it then if we do not have such an option? What kind of Commander-in-Chief do we have who immediately removes this option in front of a psycho like Putin? And he removes our embassy from Kiev knowing that there will be an attack and not doing anything at all when your president says: “well, at least impose sanctions once you know when there will be an attack.” And the same time he provokes them when he says, “we’ve opened Nord Stream 2 to you, let’s make money now.” We have reduced Ukraine’s weapons and their military budget. We have not sent an ambassador to Ukraine for more than a year, we have not even announced it. Even a representative of Trump, Kurt Walker, was not sent. The embassies were removed from Kyiv. Come on and take it. Well, how else can this be understood? We did not remove the embassy from Afghanistan, although they shouted, “everyone, get out of here.” And they removed it from Ukraine. Leaving, by the way, Ukrainian [U.S. State Department] employees in Kiev. That is, if the Russians came, they would look for them first.

Popova (27:06): Yes, and torture them.

Tabach: And your brothers [fellow journalists] continue saying, thank God, Trump is gone, and under Trump it would be even worse. Thank God Biden has come to us now. Here he promised to give us a weapon. Biden said today or yesterday that Putin is a war criminal. He immediately said that he was a murderer.

Popova: Yes. But with the Patriot [air defense missile system] we would be better off.

Tabach: No, [sarcastic tone] you don’t need a Patriot, you don’t need planes. You need to hear us say we love you, listen with your ears.

Popova (27:49): No, no, no, no, when bombs are falling you love the Patriot!

The conversation continues for another twenty minutes or so on the topic of the ongoing negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. I may transcribe that excerpt later.