Battleground: Ukraine

A history podcast that explores the narratives, turning points and characters that shape conflicts, encompassing a blend of social and military history. Following on from the series on the Falklands War, best-selling military historians Patrick Bishop, and Saul David turn their attention to the war in Ukraine.

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13.  How did we get here?

13. How did we get here?

Fri, 04 Nov 2022 02:00

With information about what is happening in the eastern and southern fronts getting harder to come by, Saul and Patrick speak to guest Owen Matthews. Owen is half Russian himself and has reported on and lived in Russia at key moments in its recent history, including since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, and he gives a brilliant analysis of how we got to where we are, and what is likely to happen next.

Producer: James Hodgson

Twitter: @PodBattleground

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Hello and welcome back to the latest episode of Battleground Ukraine with me Patrick Bishop and Saul David. The fact that things are moving at a slower pace on the battlefield or perhaps the information about what's happening on the eastern of southern France is getting harder to come by has meant that we've been turning our thoughts to the long term consequences of the war and what it means for the world, the West and for Ukraine itself. To help us understand we've been talking to someone with profound knowledge of the situation, Owen Matthews is half Russian. He's lived in and reported on Russia at key moments in his recent history over the last 30 years and is the author of several highly acclaimed and very successful books. The latest just out is called Overreach, the inside story of Putin's war with Ukraine and it's an absolute must-read if you want to understand what's going on. It's a brilliant analysis of how we got to where we are and what's likely to happen next, so rather than cut a word of it we've decided to run it in its entirety which means our news roundup will be rather truncated this week. Well Saul for me this standout event the last few days is the Russian decision not very surprising it must be said to pull out of the UN broken deal to allow Ukraine to export its grain via the Black Sea and they're citing them recent drone attacks on their fleet at Sevastopol, apparently by Ukraine as justification. They're saying quotes they can't guarantee the safety of any further sailings. Yeah it's very concerning isn't it? I mean if we just go back to the attack for a minute it was extraordinary ingenuity that seems to have been used both surface that is vessels, unmanned drones heading on the water but also in the air attacking the Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol as you say Patrick. The threat from Russia is very concerning isn't it? We're given the consequences. I suppose the good news is that ships have sailed nonetheless with 15 living on Monday and Tuesday after Ukraine back by Turkey which of course is crucial all this as is the UN gave the go ahead. None have sailed today and so far nothing has happened but the situation is of course very ominous and the US has accused Russia of weaponizing food. I just go back to those attacks they are as you say it looks like quite impressive effort on the part of Ukraine if we assume it is Ukraine must be Ukraine really but there of course there have been accusations that we were involved in in some way. Yes there has not just in the attacks on the on the Black Sea fleet which in my view are credible and when I say involved I would suggest some of our forces possibly the SPS have been advising on the use of these drones but a much less credible accusation has also been made by Russia that the British Navy and again the implication is that it's our naval special forces the SPS were responsible this isn't just a suggestion they are actually making a direct accusation for destroying the Nord Stream underwater gas pipelines and here is the quote from Peskov the Kremlin spokesman there is evidence that Britain is involved in sabotage a terrorist act against vital energy infrastructure. Now interestingly enough Patrick he goes on to say well there is evidence but we are not going to give it to you and you are going to have to take it as red that our defence ministry deserves trust well clearly it does not deserve trust so just to go back to my point yes the SPS or some form of British involvement could easily be part of the attack on the Black Sea fleet but the Nord Stream pipelines no not a bit of it and of course the Ministry of Defence has denied any involvement and as basically just said this is Russia detracting from its disastrous handling of the illegal invasion of Ukraine. Now going back to last week Patrick when some of our listeners suggested that it may have not been Russian it could have been the US that attacked the pipelines I didn't buy that and I am not buying any British involvement either. Stepping back from all this what I see here is that this is all you know implied threat that they are going to shut down the grain exports from the Black Sea it seems to me to be part of the Russian strategy of ensuring that whatever happens on the battlefield the end result would be that they succeed in another way which is by undermining or even destroying Ukraine's long-term viability as a country by where the damage they've done to the infrastructure are already massive damage and also the undermining of the foundations of the economy of which grain and not just grain lots of agricultural exports are a large part Ukraine is huge in the world food supply chain it supplies 40% of sunflower oil and nearly 19% of the world's wheat and barley now this is vital for poor countries Ethiopia really is very reliant on grain from Ukraine you know Putin here is really really playing with the prospect of famine in poor African countries if he goes down that track there's a question that often comes up why can't they just take out the grain by train or truck through the Western borders the answer is there aren't any facilities there to store it so without those you can't really have a sort of reliable exit route via land now the west I know is is currently looking at building facilities at crossing points but of course that's going to take time and it also provides a big juicy target for Russian long-range missiles well it's an interesting point you make Patrick and it's something that is going to be addressed by an Owen Matthews our guest today as we will hear in a moment what we're really talking about here are other elements of you know the so-called hybrid warfare that Russia is exercising it's not winning on the battlefield so it's trying to destroy infrastructure and as you say more importantly the long-term viability of Ukraine effectively as an independent country so the question rises you know is it better to get out with a bit of the country intact and of course that would require negotiations as we're going to hear we've been concentrating of course over the last month or so on advances on the battlefield which might have led some of our listeners and ourselves to believe that ultimate victory for the Ukrainians was possible but you have to ask what they'll be left with as you quite rightly do there we've lost sight of with the concentration on kind of military advances of September etc of the bigger picture which is rather black I mean battlefield victory doesn't really necessarily pay the way to a rosy future if the country you inherit is in ruins and so you create will survive I'm sure but it may be that the Ukrainians inherit a wasteland there's nothing that all these refugees who are still you know biting their time looking for opportunity to come back but there may be nothing very much for them to come back to in this talk of a martial plan which is coming out of Europe I think that's pretty optimistic the EU isn't really in a position to pay for it we heard from Max that last week that the Americans are not necessarily going to pay for it either who knows who will be in power in a few years time I mean very possibly a Republican who's maybe Trump for it a sort of pseudo Trump will be banging the quasi isolationist America first Trump agenda so you know I think you've got to always keep your eyes fixed on what comes down the line and it's it's not a necessary a very happy picture no we should not get too depressed on this show Patrick there's a little chunk of good news as far as the war on energy prices which of course is another arrow in the quiver of Russia and that news is this comes from Goldman Sachs who estimate that natural gas wholesale prices are about to come down by about 30% and given that they've already been falling this genuinely is good news I mean benchmark prices currently are about 120 dollars per megawatt and they feel they'll come down to 85 they were as high as 340 dollars per megawatt hour in August so that's all good news in the sense that we feel that they won't be in huge pressure on European countries to you know to relinquish their support for Ukraine well I'm sorry sort of counter with some bad news but there's some breaking news coming up now that American officials are saying clearly based on on intelligence intercepts that there is a serious conversation going on among Russian military leaders about the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons now we kind of thought that that was perhaps slipping off the table but it looks like it's back again our understanding of what's going on in Russia is pretty imprecise isn't it and I'm thinking here not just of what's going on in the Kremlin but also what's going on in the minds of ordinary Russians who are seen to be at the very least reacting only passively to what's going on in Ukraine well there's one way of informing yourself is to watch a brilliant documentary which you can get on YouTube called Broken Ties by a Russian filmmaker andrei Lushak and it tells the story of a number of families who've been ripped apart when family members have fallen out over their conflicting attitudes to the war so you've got mothers and daughters mothers and sons even husbands and wives is fascinating very very revealing and what it tells you is how successful the authorities have been in creating or rather reinforcing a belief that the West has always been hostile to Russia coveting its natural resources and in being its deep spirituality and its essential goodness of heart this is how the Russians see themselves and the narrative that they've woven about Russia's part in the Second World War it's a deeply distorted one it must be said is central to all this and so you come away from the film feeling not anger so much is just sorrow at how ordinary people have been joked by their cynical masters at every stage of the game great stuff Patrick fascinating but let's hear more about all of this and some other stuff from our brilliant guest Owen Matthews who we've just spoken to this is what he told us congratulations on the book it's it's a wonderful read I suspect this is going to do very well sales wise you attempt very ambitiously I feel to answer two interrelated questions which you point out at the beginning of the book how did the idea of violently carving out a greater Russia backed up by mystical orthodox nationalism travel from the marginal fringes of Russian politics to become official Kremlin policy and into related to that how and wide it putin decide to throw decades of carefully constructed macro economics and diplomacy out of the window and launch this reckless war so not easy to answer that I know but can you can you try and give us some sort of background to all of this Owen and your part in all of this well thank you first for having me on it's a great pleasure and privilege I've well the question is I think we can begin to answer the question of why Putin did this simply because he had done it before I think that's one of the things that is really underappreciated in general sort of consideration of what happened in the run up to the war is that from the point of view of Putin it was actually not nearly as reckless from the inside as it seems from the outside and that's for three reasons one he had spent his entire career winning wars he came to power after the second Chechen war in 1999 he successfully bit off a bit of of Georgia in 2008 he he had next premier in 2014 and he stayed a very successful military intervention in Syria in 2015 so he's won five wars and further war unfinished war that he continues basically in 2022 it's a continuation of what happens in 2014 in 2014 many of the things that he thought remained true in 2022 were true in 2014 specifically there was genuinely I was there I reported on it a quite strong pro-Russian feeling in the Russian speaking parts of Ukraine in 2014 there were pro-Russian demonstrations large ones in high-pitched in the Pithrovsk in the desert and so on and in Donbass where I also reported quite extensively in summer of 2014 there was actually in a quite a strong feeling that the Kiev government was not the government of those Russian speaking people in the aftermath of the of the Maidan which overthrew the Russian supported president Viktor Yonikovych there was a very large alienated pro-Russian speaking population in 2014 now that situation had actually changed very radically by 2022 after eight years of war but Putin didn't realize that so in many ways the real issue is that Putin was operating as many dictators do water crats do in a bubble of misinformation and that's really crucial to understanding that his his decision-making because not only do you have the sort of mystical nationalistic irrational ideological part which I think will will obviously come to and discuss in more detail later but just on a sort of operational practical level he's being told all sorts of things which are not true by his intelligence services by his military and so on why they line to him partly because particularly I mean crucially the FSB there's a very key senior FSB officer Colonel General, sir Gaby Sierdham who ran the department that was in charge of subverting Ukrainian politicians and senior officers and Bissierdham was reporting the success of his subversion operations throughout 2020 and 2021 and we now know that in fact he had been paying a very large sums of money millions tens of millions of dollars to various Ukrainian officials but also I think it's very likely that he and his people were povertying quite a lot of it so it's a question of sort of corruption on the ground people were reporting that military reform again hundreds hundreds billions of dollars being put into that you know the Ukrainian the Russian military you know saluting saying everything is going swimmingly our army is that twice as powerful or however much as powerful as it was ten years ago but actually pocketing the money and the army is rotten same with the subversion campaign the FSB tells Putin everything's hanked or you know the the Ukrainian officials are all bribed they're all ready to sort of roll over and run up the Russian trickle or as soon as we show up none of that was true as was very painfully and tragically demonstrated in the first weeks of war there's a fascinating chapter if we go back into the little bit of the historical background to all of this oh and called poisoned routes you explode pretty effectively I feel Putin's claim that Russia somehow has a historical right to govern Ukraine I mean it's long and involved we know and we've already spoken to other historians about this but can you sort of give us the praise see really of the historical background and the legitimacy frankly of Ukraine to feel that it must run its own affairs now well let's start with something that there's perhaps a little bit controversial let's start with what Putin is right about so Putin writes in the summer of 2021 in July 2021 a very long apparently self-pinned essay which it's on which he'd spend several senior sources concur on this he wrote it himself supposedly I mean yeah other historians feeding him material and so on but he'd became an amateur historian in lockdown he spent weeks and months researching his big essay and the thesis of which is that Russia and Ukraine are basically one country and very simply he's right about two things is that the modern Ukraine does not have the same borders as historic Ukraine now historic Ukraine actually the borders of that country since it's very rarely actually being a country in in the early modern or modern period have been variable but let's say at least in the most very most simple way to define it is just linguistically your modern Ukraine is at least 40% non-Ukrainian speaking and the great seesaw the great debate the great sort of culture war within Ukraine ever since independence of 1991 has been how to accommodate that Ukrainian identity which is felt very strongly by the populations of central and western Ukraine and the rights of other minority which are basically Russian speaking and what Putin was wrong about was that language is destiny or that language equates to political identity and in that sense he was actually fundamentally wrong because his thesis was that the Russian speakers of Western Ukraine continue to feel themselves closer to Russia than they did to Ukraine and that may have been true at a certain point in Ukraine's history it was the flashpoint that actually caused the rebellion or was fueled the rebellion of 2014 when those two republics small republics in the east of Ukraine broke away with Russian strong Russian support but in terms of Putin's historical thesis he believed that there was a fundamental disconnect between the Ukrainian state and the reality of Ukraine and he believed that that necessarily meant that Ukraine could not exist within his current borders the irony was that actually it was the invasion that really finally after 30 years of independence it was actually Putin's invasion that created Ukraine really properly as a historical polity and furthermore Vladimir Zelensky who is in fact himself a Russian speaker he speaks to all of his inner circle in Russian he speaks his children in Russian he's a Russian speaker he Zelensky came to power in 2019 with the express intention of defusing that culture war and his message which he made in several speeches before the war even was Russian is not just the language of Russia Russian speaking Ukrainians are Ukrainians they are heroic defenders of our Ukrainian motherland you don't have to be a Ukrainian speaker to be a Ukrainian hero he said that very explicitly and in fact the aftermath of what's been very clear in conversations with people and certainly on a political level but just most strikingly in my conversations with you know dozens of private citizens Russian speakers who have fled the Russian invasion is that they identify themselves as culturally culturally Russian but politically Ukrainian so just to repeat Putin actually created for the first time a strong sense of Ukrainian political identity independent of just the Ukrainian language well we're going to take a break now and join us in the second half of the episode for the rest of our interview with Owen. Welcome back to part two of our interview we were obviously interested to know what Owen thought and what was currently going on inside the Kremlin as Putin tries to deal with a blowback from Russian failures on the battlefield and this is what he told us Owen can I ask you what do you think is going on inside the Russian elites right now it's very hard for us looking from the outside to get any idea of the kind of political dynamics of the Kremlin what are your thoughts on that? It's very interesting to see how various Kremlin loyalists have been positioning themselves or have been criticizing the military campaign as it's being waged on the ground so from the wider possible focus nobody inside the Kremlin has as yet dared to criticize Putin but there have been plenty of people close to the Kremlin who have criticized the Russian army and specifically personally criticized the defense minister so Gashore and those people most notably are Ramzan Kadirov who is the president of Chechnya he is a passionate fanatical Putin loyalist he himself has sent a lot of troops to fight in Ukraine they've been some of the most savage in fact and they've been accused of lots of war crimes but Kadirov has been very active in bashing the performance of the general staff enough shoygul and more intriguingly and more worryingly there's a man who gained a pre-gordon who is a St Petersburg billionaire he's in fact caterer but he made his millions some of his millions in supplying supply contracts to the Russian army he's a former convict by the way and was instrumental in forming a private military company in other words a mercenary army known as the Wagner group in 2015 it fought his Syria it fought in central African Republic and the Wagner group has actually taken a very important role on the ground in the Ukraine conflict so pre-gordon this the head of a private army that's been contracted by the Russian state to fight on the ground he's been very active in recruiting prisoners literal prisoners out of prisons at least 11,000 of them have been recruited by pre-gordon with blessing of the government but pre-gordon has emerged as one of the fiercest critics of shoygul as well so don't see a question what's happening inside the Kremlin we have a situation which I think is fairly standard for Russian history is you have either the good Tsar and the bad advisors so it's okay to criticize the bad advisors of the Tsar but not the Tsar himself now I think the this is not necessarily a sign that Putin is weak in fact I think it's just a sign of more or less as a business as usual because Putin has always throughout his career utilized that basic technique of deflection you know he just escaped goting and it's even possible that shoygul may fall and the people who criticize shoygul are not criticizing the war in itself they're criticizing the war effort and how it's been prosecuted and they themselves I think are not in any way against the Kremlin they're jockeying for position within the Kremlin nonetheless I think it's really I think it's fair to say that a large section of the Russian elite who include basically business people who have something to lose who's basically been robbed of their future mid to high level bureaucrats who also enjoyed a western lifestyle they enjoyed traveling their children were educated abroad a large swath of Russia's elite is dismayed horrified appalled by this war the crucial point is that they are not the inner circle of the Kremlin they're not the decision makers at the top of the Kremlin and furthermore they still have too much to lose to actually create any kind of revolutionary situation or attempt to overthrow the powers that be because I think they realize and this is a very important point to consider whenever one discusses Russia is that when foreigners and Russians debate Russia whatever the metric of the conversation is the fundamental underlying fact will be the foreigners will commonly argue that Russia could be so much better and the Russians will always argue that Russia can be so much worse and in fact both parties will be entirely right so lots of Russian elite you know including officials are horrified but they just think that you know they're on the train derailing it is not going to improve their lives or get them to a different place and can I just follow up with something that's equally difficult to gauge which is a mass opinion in Russia again you know it's such a big place there's so many people I think it's a bit fast-siled to talk about kind of chit-ilive massive changes of attitude or opinion but do you get any sense at all now the sort of thing that happened in Afghanistan which you know went on for a long time, a million decades battle field defeat did translate into political pressure and indeed change at home do you see any signs of something like that happening in the current situation well the short answer is no because I think for several reasons but mostly the most importantly is that I think I mean I've been in Russia three times since the beginning of the war and most recently the end of September beginning of October and the thing that was most striking to me so I was there just actually during you know before and immediately after the the the partial mobilization was announced of February on September 21st and the most striking thing was the extent to which the war before the mobilization the war was um it's totally invisible like 99.5% invisible you had to look out very carefully for any sign that you were in the capital of a country that is fighting the most major war of 21st century it was quite extraordinary and deliberate by the way entirely deliberate the city authorities in the first few days the first few weeks had because I was also there in the first few weeks the war you know are that though there were big posters with a zed which has become sign of the mobilization and patriotic posters and so on now I mean there were a few patriotic posters up all the zed signs were gone zed sign no one I didn't see a single car with a zed sign on it you know I tuned into a million conversations in bars and restaurants and clubs all completely packed full by the way um nobody was talking about the war so there was there was a very strong and actually sort of officially encouraged wall of silence it's just it's something that's like the weather it's happening somewhere else it's not a very urgent part of Muscovites lives then came the mobilization and I think that got people's attention in a bad way for the Kremlin suddenly actually people realised that this was actually you know something that could affect their lives but again the mobilization is now officially over by the way they've announced that they've gotten off people there were some sort of flashpoints of resistance to the mobilization particularly in Dagestan places that have not here the two really been famous for opposition to the Kremlin but there was people protests in Dagestan and so on the little tiny protest in Moscow I was there by Kovansen it was like 200 people completely under the radar screen so if you're talking about the war opposition creating any kind of revolutionary situation or any kind of mass resistance in Russia absolutely not no not at all nor is there really any visible impact from sanctions although in fact we know you know macroeconomically sanctions are terribly you know terribly damage into the Russian economy I mean but again not in the you know we're not talking about 1917 it's not you know there's not bread riots there's not shortages of anything people's incomes are suffering inflation is going up people's purchasing power is going down people are losing their jobs all those things are happening but it's not critical it's not anything like doesn't have anything like the momentum or the observable momentum of a mass protests for instance that I observed in St. Petersburg in 1991 because I was actually also there you know because I was then witnessed history my I was there in August 1991 as a student in then Lemmingrad and there was massive anger and there was an enormous upswell and palpable I mean it was that you know it was sort of powder cake levels of tension now Moscow nothing nada it's just it's it's not even close to an emergency or a revolutionary situation returning a second to the Putin's motivation and the origins of the war and you describe the conflict as the final bloody act of the collapse of the Soviet Union and and that in some ways this is Putin's revenge can you give us a little bit more detail on that well I think the it's Putin's revenge insofar as he it's very important to I think pause what Putin really thinks as says about the end of the Soviet Union because that most famous quote that everyone knows the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century that's Putin's number one most famous quote he made it in his address to the federal to the houses of parliament in November 2005 but everyone forgets the first part of the quote the first part of the quote is for the millions of Russians who found themselves stranded outside the borders of their motherland the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest real strategic tragedy of the 20th century so that's why is that important why is that not sort of a why is that sort of little piece of ancient history important to us now today because the big debate and the historical debate but also it has a strategic impact today in terms of decision-making is whether Putin is an imperialist that wants to recreate the Soviet Union is he a nostalgist that actually wants to recreate the Russian empire as people like Radex Sikorsky out debate to the bad tech a few months ago about this is you know rather the Slavs Sikorsky is the former defense minister of Poland and he's he's always been a Russia hawk he's always said that the the Putin is an imperialist I actually disagree quite fundamentally and I think if you read Putin's interviews and indeed his interminable historical essays which I read so you don't have to but if you actually sort of pick those apart very carefully you realize that he's actually an ethno nationalist now so what's the difference between an imperialist and ethno nationalist functionally you know it still means that you invade your neighbor's country that's true but in fact sometimes dictatorships in fact more often than one might imagine dictatorships and dictators say what they tell the truth they say what they mean more often than you might imagine so in fact like the slogan behind this invasion was miswagony but I say I'm we do not abandon our own and and the whole messaging was you know our people our Russian people are being oppressed and sort of genocide did by these Ukrainian fascists we need to save them and so it's not really about conquering Ukraine and subjecting it to Russian imperial rule I really don't think they're actually very interested in Putin is not interested particularly in conquering or annexing non-Russian parts of the empire he has not annexed Abhazir he's not annexed South Asetia they were they've been independents in 2008 he's had no interest in in annexing them I mean now maybe he will but the the point is that it's all about sort of reuniting the gathering the Russian peoples as defined by you know Putin's sort of rather expansive and sort of essentially imperialistic view but it's an imperialistic view which applies really only to Russians that have found themselves sort of by happenstance beyond the borders of Russia and that includes Russian speaking Belarusians or all Belarusians which he thinks are not really a people and Russian speaking Ukrainians too I was the other day I was watching broken ties no don't you see that it's very good documented by Andrei Loshak which I think gave for me anyway gave an insight into the way that ordinary Russians feel which is quite a hard thing to obtain what it told me was rather reinforce something that I probably basically knew anyway which was the degree of a sense of victimhood that seems to run right through Russian society and which is very closely linked to the the World War to experience so the narrative of the World War II is very present in the way that Russian patriotism is expressed and encouraged to be expressed by the authorities that's all let me to think what happens if Russia is defeated this is something we talked about with Max Hastings last week is that going to bring about any fundamental change of the way the Russians see themselves the way they see the world or is it just going to reinforce this sense this sort of victim delusion well you're very right Patrick that in fact the memory of the World War II has always been a touchstone of Soviet now Russian modern Russian culture and the the reason is that it's more or less the last truly great thing that Russia ever did it's that and the and Yuri Gagarin post Yuri Gagarin it's extremely difficult to think of a single heroic moment that all Russians can point to where they were unequivocally right and heroic and on the side of the angels everything else has been so so I mean the point is that that memory has been used very cynically and very systematically by the crown and spin doctors to sort of create this notion first of what they used to call sovereign democracy but then essentially it's about putting together a Russian identity around which Russians can unite and all the language that surrounds this this campaign in Ukraine is completely taken from the sub-propacandistic language of Soviet war films and of the Second World War itself starting with this crazy I mean seems to us for now inside completely mad narrative that the leadership of the Ukrainian government are literal Nazis I mean that's inconceivable to us you know I met them they are not Nazis for the record but this is just something for internal consumption and the whole structure of the ideological structure of this you know we are fighting fascism Europe has gone fascist we are we are on the side of the angels is so the ideological underpinning of this whole war and if you ask what happens if they lose I think there is that's an extraordinarily dangerous situation not just for you Russia but for Ukraine and for the world and I'll explain why because the only thing that can really disrupt that can really is the the row the Kremlin out of kilter and undermine this sort of cast iron propaganda machine that they build underneath themselves which seems to be holding up with a remarkable degree of success even after nine months of frankly not very successful campaigning on the ground the only thing that can really undermine that is full scale battlefield defeat and then I think you get into a situation where firstly you have people within the Kremlin certainly around the the the secure crats who are Putin's closest allies notably the current head of the FSB the federal security service security successor to the KGB who is called Elizhan the Borgnikov and he's predecessor as head of the of the FSB who is called Nikolai Patraship and Putin himself as a former head of the FSB so you have a Russia that's headed by three current or former heads of the FSB though that's the decision making in a circle and you're going to be looking at in a circle is just trying to save its influence its property I mean it's commercial interests and its lives and the only way that they could possibly go if you were looking at a sort of Nikita Hrushoff type situation where you have a Putin's that are replaced from within is to be you know more aggressive and more nationalist and that's the biggest threat I think to the Russia's future is the idea of a battlefield defeat leading to a Versailles style humiliation and that humiliation leading to something much worse and in that analogy I mean as a historian myself I'm very wary of historical analogies but in this analogy Putin is not Hitler Putin is Kaiser Wilhelm II you know the fool that led his country into disastrous into disastrous and humiliating defeat and what comes after is national humiliation and something far worse and if you're looking for other threats from outside the Kremlin you have a whole plethora of extraordinarily dangerous and volatile people whose ideas as we said at the beginning this program the ideological godfathers of this orthodox mystical ultranationalism aggressive imperialist fantasy who are philosophers like Alexander Dugin whose daughter was blown up in Moscow in Karabakh a few weeks ago and you have father Tikhan Shifkhanov who is a sort of orthodox monk who's a sort of media superstar you have people like Egor Gyrkin who is a former military reenacto who became the defense minister of one of the rebel republics in 2014 you have all these all these frankly crazy people who find themselves now today marching in ideological lockstep with the Kremlin because the Kremlin has sort of come round to their point of view but these people have spent their political careers in opposition to the Kremlin they are the nationalist opposition to the Kremlin who became loyalists when the Kremlin's policy started to coincide with their own but what these people are going to do next in the case of a military collapse these are the people we need to be scared about because they're not the indifferent masses who are just sort of easily bamboozled you know by Kremlin propaganda these are armed angry highly motivated people and the Kremlin itself I think is very concerned about what you do with you know not just those politicians in Moscow but the hundreds of thousands of military veterans on the ground who are going to come home the people who did them the Butchermasica they're out there somewhere they're going to come home they're going to come back to a defeated Russia what are they going to do they're just going to roll over and say sorry we were wrong unfortunately I don't see that happening and suddenly I don't see any kind of pro-Western or anything like it successor government to Putin everything that comes after Putin is much more scary and dangerous which is a long winded way of saying that actually we should be rather careful of what we wish for in the end game of this war and the awful thing that the awful truth is what Manuel Macron has said and got a lot of political flag for but Macron has said like you know we shouldn't humiliate Putin that's really dangerous to humiliate Putin I mean it's appalling to have to admit that because if we want the good guys to triumph and we want evil to be defeated but the problem is that defeating evil in this case actually involves getting ourselves into a whole different ballpark of much more lethal and scary political ventralities. Oh and continuing that thought you quote one source in the book who tells you real victory for Ukraine is not a matter of territory the best victory is to be prosperous and free a country that Russians will envy do you agree with that I mean it is this what ultimately is likely that eventually Ukraine will have to negotiate a peace and it won't be a return to all their territory. Well yes I do agree strongly and unfortunately the question arises how politically feasible is that for any Ukrainian leader to admit that because actually the future for Ukraine is not a forever war with Russia you know going backwards and forwards shelling each other's territory blowing up each other's infrastructure the path to the future for Ukraine basically involves you know cutting off this gangrenous limb which is the frankly devastated Dombas you know just surrounding it with a you know barbed wire fence and just sort of saying goodbye in a Russian world we're sailing off to the west we're going to put our country back together and you know you can get lost forever and you know good luck with the Kremlin unfortunately you have what really happens in every conflict in the world is you have once blood is spilled you have you know angry people not only people who have fought themselves and died because his colleagues have died you have the people who have been exiled from those Russian speaking areas who are now all over Ukraine you know what are you going to say are you going to look you know the people of who fled Mari Opel in the face and say like I'm sorry we're not going to fight for your city anymore we're just going to let it go it becomes in a democracy an enormous problem and it becomes a more or less insurmountable problem so just to sort of recap and summarize indeed actually I think the only the quickest point to a sort of prosperous and stable future for Ukraine is to just cut off the areas which they have at the end of the war which no longer are feasibly recoverable whether that includes I think they're the Ukrainians are very likely to recapture have soren for instance I think but are they really is there really a feasible chance that they're going to recapture the rebel republics have done bastard little guns and then yes in their entirety I don't think so and furthermore and very importantly the those areas have already been subject to de facto ethnic cleansing both voluntary and involuntary so the point is about that the the the rebel republics the LDN the LNR and also the areas continue around them that have been occupied by Russia is that everyone who is pro Kiev has already left they rather they've fled they've been forced to leave they've been deported the people who are there who remain there are pro-Russian by definition that's just how occupations work so you you're faced with with the with the situation potentially I mean let's say you know let's let's for fast forward to next spring where you're asking you know Ukrainian lads to to fight and die using western weapons to occupy parts of Ukraine that actually don't want to be Ukrainian anymore you know and you know that you can debate the equity of that you know whether that's good and right on proper but the practicalities of it are that Russia is moving very fast to essentially you know a eliminate and liquidate and expel all the anti-Russian elements and to incorporate those areas by hook or by crook into Russia and I think inevitably there's going to be a point where the front lines stop moving and the question will arise you know how much more blood and treasure we're prepared to spill for the prospect of making you know in a medieval Ukrainian or Russian and that that actually becomes a proper proper serious debate because it's really in between you know peace and justice and at a certain point a responsible leader I think has to decide that you know peace is more important than justice because justice is unachievable well that's fascinating stuff isn't it Patrick I pretty grim listening I have to say but interesting nonetheless and you know so many interesting points he makes most of them pretty pessimistic frankly if you're a supporter of Ukraine which of course we all are his points about you know the likelihood of Putin being ejected by other members of the elite I mean he doesn't really that of course but he's saying there's no real sign that that's likely to happen at any time soon no change in public opinion either really or no no big change in public opinion you know we're not talking about 1917 as he put it or even you know his experience on the ground in St Petersburg in 1991 when he could feel a kind of visceral feel the change was in the air so you know nothing likely to remove Putin anytime soon certainly while the war is underway defeat doesn't seem to really change anything in his prediction at the pace is like you say 1917 in in Petersburg in one breath but also reminds me of 1918 in Berlin he does make this peril with German post-war defeat where in his brilliant comparison Putin isn't Hitler Putin is Kaiser Bill and you know it's not hard to to see that actually being highly plausible you got defeated Russian troops traumatized brutalized by the war coming back no jobs to go to and so you know you're reminded of the Freikor these German troops who have made life in German cities are very dangerous they're angry they're bitter and of course they're the foundation really they're the foundation human resource that Nazi Dumb is built upon I think the expression he used Patrick was be careful of what you wish for you know he mentioned Macron who got a lot of criticism for for making the point you shouldn't humiliate Putin but Owen has made that exact same point I mean his overall view of the best case scenario as he effectively put it is a negotiated piece and he's talking about the sort of thing that you know as he says no Ukrainian politician can admit at the moment which is maybe it would be better to cut off what he describes as the gangrenous limb that is the Dombas and forge ahead with what you have left turn it into a Western style country make the best of a bad job join NATO and allow the Russians to look over their new border at what you've become you know that so there is a little bit of hope they're actually Patrick it's not all depression yeah it's interesting we sort of come full circle on this haven't we at the beginning of the conflict I thought that was probably the way to go I mean who wants this you know quite blighted eastern chunk of the country it's full of sort of rust built industries and all the rest of it and as he says everyone who's there now wants to be there you're not going to win their hearts and minds so any interests of peace rather than the interests of justice why not let it go I must admit I found that rather persuasive right well let's some let let's move on now to listeners questions because this is going to be quite a long episode and we need to rattle through these reasonably swiftly if we if we can Patrick otherwise we're going to lose the attention of our our listeners so let's let's kick off with Jack Price um he says found your comments and the mind reading of how President Trump may have reacted to the Russian invasion of Ukraine surprising it seems it would have been fair to also conjecture that without the disastrous Biden evacuation of Afghanistan Putin also may not have attempted such a gamble or tested the unpredictable nature of Trump's character if he had won a second term what what's your feeling about that well fair enough um I think on that uh probably Putin was encouraged by what happened in Afghanistan and there is um you know one thinks when he took when he talks about the unpredictable nature of Trump's character one was reminded reminded of the old Nixon madman theory do you remember this saw when he's he sort of encouraged he and the people around him encouraged communist block leaders to think that he was crazy and irrational and capable of absolutely anything um I don't think when he talks about us reading Trump's mind I think it's plenty of evidence that Trump uh would have been an unreliable ally on this war I mean two months after the war began he was still bragging about his special relationship with Putin and he's always uh been going on about uh Europe's reluctance this good reason it has to be said for failings put their hands in their pockets have paid for their own defenses so I think he might have carried on feeling he had to make a point well I'm just thankful that he's not in power now so we don't have to find out yeah well let's move on to Jason Becker um he writes hi there after hearing the episode with Janine DeGiavani I was wondering if Wagner is an official part of the Russian government if not would that have any impact on holding them accountable for war crimes for example would it be easier to arrest the individuals if they visited a neutral country uh and he goes on to say love your show I'm really appreciate the episode with Anthony Beaver that gave some great insight into the Russian army's treatment of soldiers well the position of Wagner is very interesting isn't it there's been some more information about Wagner this week actually from Kordakowski this is a sort of exiled uh and recently jails businessman who is very anti-Putin now for obvious reasons and he points out that Wagner play a very important but you know double facing role so technically in russia today to run a an army of mercenaries is illegal and yet of course this is being um uh you know this is being sanctioned by Putin because it's very useful for him to to actually wage war with uh whether so could you call Wagner an official part of the Russian government certainly not could it be held accountable for its crimes almost certainly but we get back to a broader issue here Patrick which is the difficulty of holding people to account even after the event even in the event of russia losing this war and well come on to that with the final comment is made by one of our listeners in a minute but you know do you have any feeling about about whether or not there's a good chance of Wagner being held to account uh I'm afraid I'm quite pessimistic about that just for and we just look at the everything we know about prosecuting war criminals uh in modern times a tiny proportion of those responsible ever have any sort of justice applied to them and then it's usually the foot soldiers it's not the people who are actually directing the war crimes themselves so I'm afraid not um now we've got another one here from uh someone asking us actually a question we often ask ourselves so which is how long do you anticipate producing the podcast relating to the Ukrainian war if as Max Hastings said last week it may go on for months if not years I'm beginning to think it's more like to be years than months how long we got a carry on cover here well war weariness may set in it's a brilliant question Richard we we can't answer it because we don't know what's going to happen but if you would have absolutely pin us down and say can you imagine doing this in a years time probably not actually I mean after all the whole principle behind the battleground podcast was that it was going to look at modern wars and not be fixated on any particular war of course the Ukraine war is an obvious one for us to address because it's unfolding in an unbelievably fascinating and gruesome way in front of our eyes but nevertheless I feel we would have to move on if you've got any kind of feeling about how much longer we could keep going patching I think at least six months if necessary but probably not longer yeah but I think as long as we're getting um we're getting great responses and um you know people seem really engaged and we feel we're providing some kind of a service so as long as people like it I'm inclined to keep going yeah he goes on to say Richard what's the possibility of finding out what life is like right now in the country directly in in Russia's path and who might feel they are next well actually we've got a question about that in a second so we hope that will answer that bit for you Richard and thirdly Richard asked what preparation if any is underway within the British military to prepare to deploy troops to participate in the NATO war well that is you know as far as I'm aware Patrick that is currently undergoing now what we're really hoping is that this conflict will encourage the British military or at least encourage the British government to spend more money on its military because clearly it needs more money spent there are preparations underway to participate in a NATO war there's no question about that the the British military is very effective at planning ahead but of course the cuts have not helped and the fact that another question that's come to us is why why have troops recently been pulled out of one of the Baltic countries or one of the Scandinavian countries you know is this sending all the wrong signals that's presumably redeployment because we don't have enough troops to provide all over the place well I think the answer to what people in the in on the front line actually feel is that they feel very uncomfortable we've got this directly from one of our correspondents I borrows from Lithuania who was in touch last week and he's saying precisely that if NATO is dangerously and slowly heading into a direct conflict with Russia they are going to be in the firing line and that is something that no one feels very happy about yeah I mean he he makes the point that makes me feel uncomfortable so that's what they're feeling and more NATO support for all the front line countries is clearly something that needs to happen having said all of that the the key point to all of this and this relates to another question we've had is that NATO will defend those countries there is no doubt about that so I you know I hope that brings some solace to people on the front line because if you're already a NATO member you are going to be defended well let's move on to you're running out of time so we're going to move on to our final fascinating email quite a detailed email from a former army major called Robert Campbell and he writes to us I listened with interest about the reckoning project that's the gathering of evidence for war crimes set up by Jenny De Giovanni which we mentioned a few programs ago but he says that the project didn't really address the realities of war crimes investigations and prosecutions he's actually someone who's been through the mangle as he put it accused of war crimes later exonerated and we should stress that and he writes I can tell you from firsthand experience that the road from accusation to conviction is long slow and not completely fair so he's not entirely convinced that the right people are going to be accused of war crimes are going to be convicted of war crimes and of course sometimes the wrong people can get drawn in there you also makes a really interesting point about a topic that was very much in the era last week dirty bombs he's a decorated explosive ordinance disposal officer and he regards the talk as being rather absurd with Russia claiming that of course that Ukraine was in the final stages constructing a dirty bomb he says I could build a dirty bomb in around 10 minutes it's not some black art that requires intricate technology or even stages to complete so he found the accusations very very implausible apart from the ease with which a dirty bomb can be made all the radio act and material including the waste products are highly regulated in catalogued so the idea that some evil boffins are cobbling this together and no one notices the material is missing is a bit silly also the idea that the Russian intelligence services must detect this plot but failed to notice three Ukrainian brigades swarming around Karkiv back in September he thinks that makes the story even less credible well I think that's all we've got time for this week join us next week when we hope to be speaking on the subject of President Zelensky his role in the whole thing and we're talking to someone who knows him very well that is Julia Mendel who served as his chief communications officer for several key years that's going to be fascinating do join us for that I'm Arthur Snell and I'm uncovering more of the dangers threatening our world in a brand new season of Doomsday Watch from the deadly mission creep that comes from our increased use of drones and special ops forces to the invisible war between Saudi Arabia and Iran to America's worsening political crisis that's the new series of Doomsday Watch out now on your favorite apps so subscribe now before it's too late