Putin's latest Ukraine war moves an ominous sign, John Bolton says

In interview with The National, Donald Trump's former national security adviser also calls for regime change in Iran

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Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to put his top general in direct control of the war in Ukraine signals that Moscow is doubling down on its invasion and is unlikely to seek peace talks, Donald Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton said on Thursday.

Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu this week named Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov as overall commander for its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Mr Bolton, 74, who served under former president Trump from 2018-2019, told The National the move amounted to Mr Putin further raising the stakes in Ukraine instead of signalling any interest in de-escalating.

“The decision to nominate Valery Gerasimov, the chairman of their Joint Chiefs of Staff, is a signal to me that Putin is pushing his chips in towards the centre of the table,” Mr Bolton said.

“This is his guy that he put in charge overall of Russian military forces. Now he's saying, you go in and fix this mess in Ukraine.

“So there's no way Putin can now lay this off on anybody else. As they say, he's got it all on the table right now. And that's another piece of evidence we're not going to have negotiations for him to back away from that.”

Experts have warned that the arrival of Gen Gerasimov in Ukraine's war theatre raises the likelihood of even more aggressive battlefield tactics. He will replace Army Gen Sergei Surovikin, nicknamed “General Armageddon”, who will become his deputy.

Mr Bolton, whom Mr Trump derided as a warmonger that would have started “World War Six” if he'd had his way, famously fell out with his former boss after he was unceremoniously fired via tweet.

They clashed on numerous issues, including Mr Trump's desire to invite the Taliban to Camp David for peace talks and the former president's friendly outreach to North Korea's Kim Jong-un.

Mr Bolton described Mr Trump's criticism of him as “juvenile”. Such is his disdain for the former president that he is weighing running against him in the 2024 presidential elections.

“I'm considering running. And I was prompted to do so because of the comments that Trump made about terminating the constitution so that he could be declared the winner of the 2020 election,” Mr Bolton said, playing down comments made in the British press that he had definitively decided to run.

Mr Trump, who announced his own candidacy in November, last month called for parts of the US Constitution to be “terminated” so he could claim victory in the election that he lost to Joe Biden by seven million votes.

The overall Republican response to the proposal to shred America's founding document amounted to a collective shrug of the shoulders.

“There hasn't been enough of a clear rejection of that among many of the potential Republican candidates,” Mr Bolton said.

He also lashed out at Mr Trump for failing to do enough to support Ukraine before the Russian invasion, referring to his efforts to withhold lethal military aid to Kyiv unless it investigated Mr Biden and his son Hunter, who previously worked for a Ukrainian gas company.

Mr Trump was “consumed with the idea that Ukraine was a corrupt state that was trying to bring him down in the 2020 election”, Mr Bolton said.

“All of this is utterly unrelated to the strategic interests the United States has had since 1945.”

The saga led to the first of two efforts to unseat Mr Trump through impeachment.

Bombing Iran

Mr Bolton, who detailed his time with Mr Trump in his book The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir, was a staunch proponent for military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He continues to advocate regime change in countries with interests seen as hostile to the US and has long pushed for military action against Iran to stop it from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

“The other way to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons is to overthrow the regime,” Mr Bolton said.

“I think, and have thought for 20 years, it should be declared American policy that we want a new government, hopefully one that's elected by the people.”

An ongoing, nationwide protest movement across Iran began in September following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22 year-old Iranian-Kurdish woman who died in morality police custody after wearing her hijab “inappropriately”.

“The ayatollahs are in their weakest position since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. When you put it on top of the widespread economic dissatisfaction, this is now not in dispute about a dress code,” Mr Bolton said.

“This is a direct ideological attack on the legitimacy of the Ayatollah … I'm not saying the regime is going to fall tomorrow, but I think it's gravely weakened at this point.”

Asked if he still thought the US or Israel should bomb Iran to prevent it from getting a nuclear weapon, Mr Bolton said they should if there were no alternative.

“If they're getting close [to building a nuclear bomb] and there's no other alternative, for the safety of innocent American citizens, innocent civilians all around the world, yes, I would I would use military force against their nuclear weapons programme.”

In Washington, the doctrine of “regime change” that was the guiding star for the George W Bush administration has been dropped in most policy circles after the costly conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr Bolton, though, is unrepentant.

“Not for me,” he said when asked if he thought the concept of regime change had fallen from favour.

As Iraq prepares to mark 20 years since the US-led invasion, Mr Bolton insisted toppling Saddam Hussein was “fundamentally” valid.

“I acknowledge that the developments after that didn't go particularly well, and in every respect,” he said.

Mr Bolton last year raised eyebrows when he said he helped to plan coups. Asked which ones, exactly, he said only that the US should have done more to support the opposition to Venezuela's former president Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicolas Maduro.

“That was something that I felt was one of our greatest failures,” he said.

“I don't think we did nearly enough to help the opposition in Venezuela and it's one reason why I hope we don't miss the opportunity to help the opposition in Iran.

Updated: January 13, 2023, 11:27 AM