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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14. President Zelensky

14. President Zelensky

Fri, 11 Nov 2022 09:51

This week on Battleground: Ukraine, our guest Iuliia Mendel - the former Press Secretary of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, gives some fascinating insight about the mindset of the Ukrainian leader. She travelled everywhere with him, and was present in his meetings with Vladimir Putin. Her book just out is: The Fight of Our Lives, which sheds light on where Ukraine was going before the war intervened


Producer: James Hodgson


Twitter: @PodBattleground



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8KAS powers the world's best podcast. Here's a show that we recommend. Living in America today often feels like living in a movie, a mashup of Blade Runner, a clockwork orange, and idiocracy. The pandemic, the mass shootings, the climate on fire, the economy ravaged by recession and inflation, the electorate, addled by conspiracy theories in our democracy on the brink with Donald Trump trying to push the whole thing right off a cliff. I'm John Hyalman from Showtime's The Circus and MSNBC, and in Hellenhyde Water my weekly podcast for the recount, I explore this apocalyptic moment with seminal figures and politics, entertainment, tech, the media, and beyond. The conversations are deep and rich and recently real, but also surprisingly hopeful. So join us every Tuesday, wherever you get your podcasts, as we grapple with the fact that, to quote Bob Dylan, everything is broken and try to figure out how to fix it together. The cast helps creators launch, grow, and monetize their podcasts everywhere. There's been plenty going on on the battlefield this week, but we're going to put more of the focus on the broader international developments. In particular, we're going to look at what is being called Ukraine fatigue. That is what some perceive as a filtering of interest and indeed indignation as to what is going on in Ukraine. Mountain concern affects the rest of the world's feeling as a result of the conflict, and a consequent sense that its time negotiations began to end the fighting and cobble together some sort of agreement. Now, we recorded this program before the news of a Russian announcement that they were withdrawing from Kursong came in. It was heavily choreographed on State TV to put the blame of the decision on the shoulders of the Ministry of Defence and the Army not on the President Putin. So some of the discussion about the southern front you will hear later on was sounded a bit behind the curve. I will talk, obviously, about it in detail next week, but what we would say now is that although it's undoubtedly a very significant Ukrainian victory at a big Russian humiliation of defeat, it will not necessarily bring the end of the war much closer. The Russians are now withdrawing to very defensible lines on the east bank of the Dniepero, and we're also just seeing satellite images of trenches being dug on the northern border of Crimea. This is a strategic withdrawal. It's not a sign of imminent collapse. As President Zelensky said, the Russians do not give us presents. Well, we're fortunate in having as our guest this week someone who can speak with great authority on the view from Ukraine and in particular on the mindset of Vladimir Zelensky. She is Julia Mendel, who from 2019 was Presidential Press Secretary, that is, Mr. Zelensky's spokesperson and she traveled everywhere with him and his meetings with other national leaders, including Vladimir Putin. They could scarcely be more contrasted characters and she's given us some real understanding of both men. It's all in her new book just out, The Fight of Our Lives, which also sheds a lot of light on where Ukraine was going before the war intervened and it's an absolutely fascinating read. Now, a slackening of international interest and support is something the Ukrainians have always feared, isn't it? How serious do you think it is, Zool? Well, I suspect it's been a little bit overblown, but it is concerning, particularly when you look at the politics in the US and what's happening in other countries. So where does this all come from? Well, some of the best indication we've had of this so-called Ukraine fatigue is a report in the Washington Post. It says that the United States is privately encouraging Ukraine to signal an openness to negotiate with Russia. The newspaper cited unnamed sources of saying the request by American officials was not aimed at pushing Ukraine to the negotiating table, but a calculated attempt to ensure Kiev maintains the support of other nations. US and Ukrainian officials acknowledged that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's ban on talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin had generated concern in parts of Europe, Africa and Latin America, where the wars effects on the costs of food and fuel have felt most sharply. The Ukraine fatigue is a real thing for some of our partners, the Post quoted an unnamed US official as saying. So this is concerning. What we seem to have is sort of a bit of double speak as you typically get in these situations, Patrick. The concern is, as we're beginning to get a sense of, that the Western partners of Ukraine might be weakening their support. How real is all of this in terms of properly encouraging negotiated talks we don't know. Of course, it takes two to tango. There's absolutely no sign on the Russian side that they're willing to engage in the sort of discussions that Ukraine would find remotely acceptable. Yeah. I mean, all the signs are on the battlefield that they're digging in for the winter and they're hoping that Ukraine fatigue is a real thing and that a combination of international waiting of support plus Ukraine lacking the resources, particularly in manpower, will leave them in a position where they do feel it worthwhile going to negotiations. I mean, they'll be taking a great deal of interest in what's happening in America with midterm elections. They'll be hoping that Biden loses control of Congress and that will make it much harder to get aid packages through, whether that's true or not. I don't know. I think they may be being a bit optimistic there, but it is part of the broader mood music that we're picking up. Mainly kind of media noise. For example, the other day, there was a debate organized by this spectator on the motion now is the time to make peace in Ukraine. Now opening for the motion was a journalist. Well, I say a journalist, he's more of a professional contrarian. The go-to guy for the beef if they want to voice from the right. This is Peter Hitchens' brother, of course, of the more famous late-Lemente Christopher Hitchens. Well, Peter has been hesitant about the war from the very start and sympathetic to the Russian view that NATO's actions over the years have pushed them into a corner and this line was supported by Mary Djevsky speaking for the motion of former Moscow correspondent for British newspapers who claimed that British public support was waning. As you seem to be saying, that Ukraine wasn't playing the game by such acts as blowing up the Kirch bridge, which its allies had warned it not to, and that this unsporting attitude was losing them sympathy. Also, that Ukrainians blitz spirit might not hold up. I don't know where she got all that from, as we'll hear nothing but resolution and defiance from our guest, Yulea Mendel. And I'm pleased to say that the motion was defeated by a margin of two to one. Well going back to the American midterm elections for a moment, there have been recently actually Patrick some concerning signs that frustration is growing within Republicans in Congress about America's open checkbook to Ukraine, which is why, of course, the midterm elections could mark another key milestone in the conflict. So far as we know, the US has contributed 45 billion to Ukraine twice as much as all the other donors combined. Now in September, and here's an interesting poll that was done at Pew Research Center Poll found that 32% of Republicans and Republican leaning independence believe that the US is providing too much support for Ukraine. And that's up from only 9% in March. So clearly there is a bit of a shift there. We can report, of course, that some of the early results of the midterms are in this morning, this is Wednesday morning as we're recording. And that actually the so-called Republican red wave, which is going to sweep away democratic support in both houses of the Congress, has not materialized. It's more of a tide or sort of gentle tide coming in. So maybe the concerns of the Ukrainians that the Republicans are going to turn off the taps have been exaggerated a little bit. And certainly the Ukrainian government are pretty insistent that this broader issue of negotiations they're not going to enter into. And advisor Zelensky said this week that Ukraine will never negotiate with Putin and will continue to fight with Islam, even if it is as he put it stabbed in the back by its allies. Okay, so let's get back to the war itself. The Russian attacks on infrastructure are continuing. At least a third of the country's electricity has been knocked out. We heard this actually firsthand from Julia, who had to interrupt the interview when I was talking to her because of the blackout knocked out all the electricity her husband got stuck in the lift. This is becoming as winter descends. This is becoming a real problem just in bronch of the think tank, Rousey. I've said the other day that more strikes will be on the way. There are 2,600 of these Iranian Shahid suicidrons waiting arrival. So there's a desperate need for us to give the Ukrainians the means to combat them. They have been pretty successful. But they're running out of these shoulder-held anti-air missiles and mobile anti-air batteries. So we're in a bit of a kind of race against time here. Whether the Shahid's get there before we can resupply the Ukrainian is going to be a big issue. Temperatures go down to minus 20 in Ukraine. So they're really, you know, he's saying there's a real threat of people freezing to death in large numbers. On the actual fighting in the east, Donetsk, very heavy fighter going on around there. Kerson, again, we're in the dark there. Are they staying or are they going? What do you make of the Kerson situation? What have you picked up, Saul? Well, it's fascinating, isn't it? The signals are going both directions. My broader instinct is they're going. They've effectively removed the civilian population already. There are, there's a possible belief that they're preparing a Stalin-grad type situation that soldiers are actually taking off their uniforms and hiding in civilian houses. But the likelihood of the Russians fighting for Kerson with the river at their back in some kind of last-ditch action when it's going to be tremendously difficult to resupply them, I'm not entirely convinced about. I think they're already seeing this as a strategic loss. They're going to have to find a way to paint it as a strategic withdrawal, so to speak, rather than a retreat. But that's probably what it is. And I would be very surprised, given all the indications we're getting, if Ukraine is not in possession of that city by the end of the year. Yeah, this isn't a sign that the generals may be taking back control of the war, the strategy. Putin was behaving very much like Stalin and indeed hit around the Second World War, where much trying to micro-manage the campaign, interventions usually disastrous. It seems that he might now be backing off and letting them do their job, which actually is bad news for Ukraine, I've thought. So this retreat is quite interesting. I mean, it's been a lot of fascinating imagery of Russian troops pulling back and taking everything they can lay their hands on with them, stuff like the remains of Prince Grigoriev Pottyamkin, the 18th century Russian military commander of favorit of Catherine the Great, taking that back to Russia. Well, you can see the point of that is massive symbolism involved there, but there's lots of other junk they're taking with them. They were even pictured departing with a sort of kiddie miniature train. This all reminded me of the kind of weird things that retreating troops do when they're seized by this sort of panic as they flee. I saw it myself in Kuwait City in February 1991. The Iraqis were pulling out in great haste. The way out was over this sort of high point called mutler ridge, which leads to Basra. And I was just after we arrived in Kuwait City. I mean, literally a few hours afterwards, an American officer said to me, get up to mutler ridge as an amazing scene up there. So I jumped into my Jeep with some of the colleagues and we got up there. And indeed it was an incredible scene. There was a six-lane highway absolutely crammed with smoking vehicles, dead bodies all over the place. They'd been attacked on the way out by US Apache helicopters, absolute college massacre in Sioux. But one of the weird things that struck me was the stuff that they had loaded up in the back of their trucks. So things like office desks, swivel chairs, you know, absolutely no value to anyone, but they'd sort of delayed their escape to load them up. So there's a sort of madness, I think, the descends that we're maybe seeing a little bit of here in Kerson. Well, back to the present, we've had more stories of low morale among Russian troops, haven't we saw? We have. Well, I'll come to those in just a moment, but I just wanted to comment on the Potemkin situation because I think it is quite significant, apropos, my previous point, that I suspect the Russians will not fight for Kerson. Potemkin was buried in Kerson. He plays a key role in the advances of Russia as you pointed out Patrick in the 18th century. And Putin very much sees himself as a modern Potemkin. He's a great hero of Putin. And the fact that he's taking the body back to Russia implies to me that Kerson is about to change hands. That's certainly my reading of it. I mean, you're point about the withdrawal out of Q8. You tend to take everything with you when you're heading away, not when you plan to make a last stand. But yes, there are signs of diminishing morale. I'm afraid all more signs of them. Very interesting. 21 mobilized men from Moscow surrendered recently. We know this because the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense allowed them to be filmed, or at least the Ukraine's interior minister allowed them to be filmed. And they were saying on this film that they'd been sent into battle without any training or food, and that their officers had simply run away. Other indications of Italy coming from the Ukrainian side, of course, Zelensky, have said that hundreds of Russians, again many of the mobilized troops, are being killed every day in eastern Ukraine. And his quote is, the ground in front of the Ukrainian positions in the Donets region is literally littered with bodies of the occupiers. Just getting back to Potemkin or Potiumkin, as I think her ace put here, you say it. Is there not very good orguries for Putin, are there? Because the two things that we associate that name with. One is the battleship, Potemkin, the great Eisenstein movie about the mutiny by the crew of this, of the battleship, Potemkin, which was a kind of a harbinger of the Russian revolution, of regime change. And of course, the other one is Potemkin villages, which Potemkin ordered to be built along the road sides when Catherine the Great was making a sort of progress out of the capital. And persuader, that the country was amazingly happy and prosperous. And of course, they were just facades. Well, that's kind of what we're seeing with Potem's military posturing, isn't it? That it's all Smokomiras and no real works. Well, there's certainly substance, but not of the order of magnitude that he would have had us believe beforehand. On the question of the collapse, we're seeing sort of patchy mutines and refusals to serve that, but I think we're a long way off from a complete collapse. And it's interesting that when the troops complain, they sort of ask that President Potemkin be informed of the true situation. So we're back to the old thing that it's the King's advisors who are really the problem that if Good King Vlad really knew what was going on, he would step in and sort it out. So they haven't reached the point when they actually dawned on them that it's bad King Vlad. Anyway, that's it for the first half. Join us after the break when you're here at truly fascinating interview. Winning a World Cup takes a lot. You need a crazy genius in the team. It's the Dan! And normally beating the Germans in the semis helps. Oh! At the end of the day, it all adds up to the ultimate footballing prize. The World Cup is back, paid Brazilian ham. Join me, Gary Lenica and World Cup winner Cess Fabregas, as we chart what you need for success in how to win a World Cup. In order for the original podcast, listen now, subscription required. See audible.co.uk for terms. Welcome back. We're now going to hear from former press secretary to president Zelensky, Julia Mendel, who has just written a book about her experiences working alongside him. It's called The Fight of Our Lives, and I urge you to read it. This is what she told Patrick. Right, Julia, thank you very much indeed for agreeing to talk to us. It's in quite dramatic circumstances. You just had a blackout, the energy blackout in Kiev. Let's start off talking about you and your experience. Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got into journalism? Oh, well, Patrick. Thank you for having me and thank you for telling the story of Ukraine in the crucial time that Ukraine is passing. So, I'm journalist for years since 2008, and I was very lucky to get to the level when I was collaborating within New York Times, covering Ukraine and very big international scandals and internal politics. And I also was working as the World Bank Communications Consultant where I could learn about the reforms and about what homework actually Ukraine needed to do to join the free world, to improve our policies and politics. When a new president, Volodymyr Zelensky came to power in 2019, and he was absolutely crazily popular as a rock star. Everybody wanted to work for him, and he became the first president to announce transparent competitions for top political positions. That's a fascinating process about how you actually got the job, because this is not the way things are done in the West. This seems to me that the way it should be done in the West. Tell us about that. That wasn't there way how it had been done in Ukraine, too. It was for the first time, and that's why nobody believed it would work. Everybody believed it would be just some nepotism, you know, or something would be involved there. So he really hired HR companies, and they had several stages of competitions. And then the latest was already the interview with the president of top five participants of the competition. And then I learned that there were around 4,000 of participants of applicants who wanted to become his press secretary. I still cannot imagine that I got that competition, that I want that competition. It's so crazy to believe in. But then it happened that President of Ukraine came on Saturday to the office to interview us. And we had some performance like there were eight people from president's team, including the president, and they were playing media sharks, testing me, how I knew the situation, politics, economies, scandals, you know, everything like that. And there was one question very important that I think was decisive for Volodymyr Zelensky. He asked me what was my motivation to get the job. And I said, look, if you, a person from some very modest background from some province of Ukraine, could in democratic way become a president of this country. And then me, a journalist from another region and also very poor background in a transparent way could become your press secretary. What is it if not a Ukrainian dream when everyone can achieve whatever he or she wants? I think then he understood that we had the same vision of Ukraine and then he decided to hire me. Now, you obviously had a view of who Zelensky was before you went to work for him. Can you tell me about what that was and how it changed as a result of actually being in daily contact with him? And Zelensky used to be famous as a comedian, of course. He used to perform on the stage for dozens of years. He built the empire of humor in Ukraine. And I knew him as a comedian and I followed closely the program, political program that his team put together. And let me say that right now, I understand that he was very underestimated by many politicians at home and abroad because of this image of a comedian. People did not pay attention much to the fact that he is a lawyer by his educational background. And how difficult it is actually to build such a huge business as he has done when you work in post-sovets country. When Russia was penetrating our information space, our entertainment business, when Russia was actually even forbidden him to make performances, I described this very much in details in the book The Fight of Our Lives. So when I started working for him, I understood that he is very different from his performance image. He is not acting in life. He is taking responsibility, taking the things very seriously. He is super hardworking, super dynamic. And he, on one hand, has values that he considers to be fundamental. But on the other hand, he is very flexible so that he can come up with new creative decisions if their challenges are very new, like coronavirus, let's say, or like large scale war, right? I mean, in this way, he is very flexible and that's why old school Ukrainian politicians could not compete with him. Now we all remember the video of him and his Ukrainian leadership starting in the street immediately after the war is declared. This is an absolute key moment, isn't it? In the conflict, tell us what he means to the Ukrainian war effort. He's central, isn't he? Of course, this is maybe, you know, that was his mission in life to appear in this position and to make the most important, the most crucial decision not only for him, but for our country at that moment when his life and the life of his family was under threat. And when actually we did not know what to expect, when we were not thinking about what the future will like, we were thinking if the future will come. And you know, there was this absolutely famous phrase that went around the world, I need ammunition, not a right. That's how he responded to the U.S. kind invitation to take him into exile, right? But when he stood there in front of Bancova, in front of his office and said that all of us are here and we are staying to give a battle, that was the message that every Ukrainian wanted to hear. Then we understood that we had the leader that we elected and he was for us. And then it was a mutual cooperation. So Ukrainian prized him for this decision a lot, over 90% of Ukrainians immediately supported all his decisions. And that's actually when he united Ukrainians, he raised our spirit and he united the whole civilized world to stand for Ukraine. So that contribution was absolutely crucial and absolutely the most important in this war against Russia, in this war for democracy. Where do you think that comes from, that ability to articulate, to be exactly the right thing, and do the right thing, was that evident in your understanding of him in the time you worked for him? Did you think he was going to be the man he became or could become the man he became? You know, the world only now recognizes that Russian hybrid war is conducted with weapons and words. But the Leninsky knew it much earlier and he was very concerned by the fact of ability of propaganda to penetrate into democracies and to divide the societies based on our emotions and fears. Russia tested this in Ukraine and then went further to democracies in the West. So the Leninsky really practiced the word as a tool that could defend us from the weaponized Russian lies and propaganda. And he always was saying that's why social media was so crucial and that's why communication was so crucial because Russia weaponized the world. So I remember he was particularly a very perfectionist about communicating of all the issues that were happening and that he's his tool, his instrument that he is improving all the time. I'm very glad that he changed his image. Look, he doesn't play anymore. He doesn't have this utentile. He doesn't shave, he is as natural as instinctively it could be necessary to show how the country is filling these days. And the messages that he is extrapolating to the world, his messaging absolutely shows what Ukrainians are filling and shows what the Ukrainian people are standing here for. You're saying your book that he and that is opening days. He demonstrated a voice to moral clarity that had not been seen for 80 years since the end of the Second World War. And I think this is as close as you get to a sort of black and white conflict like the Second World War. It's also reflected in the personalities of the two leaders. Can you say something about the contrasting characters of Putin and Zelensky? Vladimir Putin met in person only once. During the Normandy meeting, that was the meeting of four leaders, Angela Merkel, MNL Macron, Vladimir Zelensky and Vladimir Putin were meeting to find the possible way towards peace in Ukrainian war zone, because Russia attacked it back in 2014 and had conducted military actions there. And that was a very surprising meeting for me. For the reason that Putin has developed an image of a strong man. So everybody would think that he was a strong negotiator too. But in fact, being in power for over 20 years and building such an autocracy, aggressive and stronger autocracy, Putin forgot how to negotiate. He was used how to order. He was not used to someone who would say something contradictory to oppose in him. That's why he was absolutely lost because he didn't expect that somebody as Zelensky, who at that moment had been at power only for six months, would know in details what was happening in Donbass and would know the decision solutions and how to move forward and how to persist on his requests. Let me say that at that moment during those negotiations, Zelensky changed three positions in communica for the benefit of Ukraine. Putin was lost. He was putting his eyes down. He wasn't feeling comfortable sitting on the chair. He was always repeating his propaganda and saying that he didn't own the data. He didn't know the facts. He needed to check them back in Russia. He was asking his advisors. He really did not feel comfortable. He was lost. Even before the conference, Zelensky, Merkel and Macron were staying together, chatting, preparing, discussing something. Putin was standing in a different room with his secretary. He did not feel he belonged to this part of the world. And I am explaining that my personal impression was that he and his delegation were very outdated. That means that they had outdated worldview, thinking, wording, behavior. Everything was as behavior from the past. And then I saw that these people from the past, they cannot build the future. That's what exactly I see during this terrible war in Ukraine. Putin returns all the horrors from the past. He returns the genocidal practices. The world were too horrors, the famine threat. Now he returns to Ukraine back into 90s with all these attacks on facilities. So he is the person from the past. And he was building his aggressive autocracy on those values that are not relevant and cannot match the democratic way the world wants to progress. Do you think there is anything personal in Putin's enmity to Ukraine after all? Vladimir Zelensky used to poke fun at Putin in his days as a comedian, often very effectively, very pointedly. Do you think that that's an element in this story? I think there is no justification for this war. There is no reason how you can say this war can be justified by personal relations. I was just asking about it this time for Putin's personality. Do you think that he's the sort of person that would get needled by a big box like that? Yes, but I wanted to continue that. I think that Putin definitely takes a lot of things personally. And he feels bad about not being a part of something bigger. He says that the West achieved a lot of results. And he says that Ukraine wants to achieve this result. And he saw that he could press somehow the previous leaders of Ukraine. And somehow somebody would be bending in some decisions or just stepping back. And Zelensky is so persistent and he never steps back from the important decisions, from something that he considers to be really important, crucially and valuable. And I remember that Putin stopped talking to Zelensky, I think, in summer 2021. Zelensky made a call to him to ask to release a person. That was a person from Crimea that was a political prisoner in Russia. That was a very terrible story. His very small son died and allegedly was killed. The boy was two four years old. So Zelensky asked to allow this prisoner to come home. And there were so many prisoners that that would be an act of good will to allow this person to come back. Putin was very irritated. He again said he did not own the information and he was pretty irritated by the wording that Zelensky put there. And obviously he didn't have any intention to talk further. So I guess Zelensky also appeared as a leader who could be very attractive to post-Soviet region. Let me say that in summer 2019, New York Times wrote that Zelensky could be already a challenger for Putin, because Russia could love such image as Zelensky built, as well as Belarusians and Kazakhstan, you know, and other republics. And obviously Putin also felt that kind of competition and felt that he could lose, you know, with his condition in which he appeared with many years of corruption, with not understanding of the Western world, I think he was wanted to get rid of any possible alleged competitor on this political post-Soviet market. Can we talk a bit about the broader conflict? You say in your book that before Zelensky came along, there's essentially a divide in Ukrainian society between those who look westwards and those who look towards Russia broadly. Do you think the war will resolve that division and a completely unified Ukraine will emerge from it? Let me say that as a Ukrainian who didn't leave Ukraine and who goes through the whole war here, I see that this war actually destroyed all artificial that existed in our society. And we feel the life has never before. We appreciate every second, every moment of our life, and we are very much united. We feel like every essence of us has been attacked. So I believe that it changed us by making our identities stronger, by appreciating our identity. And I really believe in Ukraine, and I believe we can build the future that my people deserve, the future of the part of free world. Now there is a view that the present state of position of Ukrainian is that all territory inside its legal borders will be won back. That is the ultimate war aim and there will be no diversion from that ambition. There's another view that says that do you actually want to carry on with these disputed areas as a constant distraction, indeed, as a constant source of continued conflict in the east and in Crimea? It's been said why not just lock off what's been called these gangrenous limbs and carry on with the healthy part of the country once some sort of peace returns? What's your attitude towards that? You know what Putin has attacked almost every region of Ukraine. I don't know why you consider that those regions that he conquered earlier are not healthy. Probably Russian propaganda penetrated there really hugely, and probably he destroyed the society and destroyed the infrastructure and everything that was built there. But if we give up part of our country after part of our country, the West will get Russia in the border. Putin is not going to stop, and he is pretty precise about this. If he gets eastern and southern part of Ukraine, he will move forward. What he has done back in February in March with having thousands and thousands of tanks approaching to Kiev, and as we saw from intelligence from different countries and Ukrainian intelligence that he wanted to put here at puppet regime that shows that he has lost any borders of morality, any borders of any kind of respect towards independent and sovereign country, but most of all what is important with this way he tries to battle the Western world order that appeared after World War II. He disrespects the international law, he disrespects the Western approach towards building the societal systems. So let me say that Ukraine is just a battlefield, but the real goal is to undermine democracy. And we are not fighting here for the lands, we are fighting here for our homes, we are fighting here for human values, and we are fighting here for democracy, because we believe that we must choose our way, and we believe that we belong to the free world. If you give up Ukraine, you will get this aggressive, unpredictable, autocratic regime just near your border, and he will move forward. Well that was absolutely fascinating, so many interesting takeaways. I mean first of all, and really quite surprising I think for me was this complete reversal in the image we have of Zelensky as a comedian who really struggled to adapt to political life. I mean what Julia tells us of course is that actually he was a lawyer by educational background, a successful businessman, and that his character very much fitted the role of politician, hard working dynamic and with fundamental values. And here's the really interesting one Patrick in relation to Putin, very flexible and able to deal with new challenges and that crucial meeting there had in 2019 I thought was fascinating in terms of the difference of their two characters. It's a story she tells it and I think very credibly of the past versus the future isn't it? So you've got this postmodern figure, life imitates art or art imitates life, I'm not sure which way around it is really, but the thing that really propelled me into power was this TV show, Servant of the People where he plays a high school teacher who's sickened by the corruption he sees all around him, so he runs for president and wins, which is pretty much what happened, you know, and it does tell us that good guys can win. And that media power which we often see in a complete in a negative light that's certainly how the Russians use it as part of their information war can be applied in a very good way to create hope not fear hatred and division as the Russians seem to try and do so it's a really kind of mannequin sort of drama we're seeing here. I don't think it's nearly as nuanced as the likes of Peter Hitchens and Mary, the Jirvsky would have us believe. No, and she was very clear when you asked her the question Patrick about the lopping off of the gangrenous limb that there was no question that they would voluntarily concede any territory because of course the danger was that would just bring Russia a little bit closer to the free world as she put it and he wouldn't stop there in other words there would be no guarantee of security thereafter. We may get to a situation as you and I both know in reality rail politic where that has to happen my personal view is that Ukraine will be secure once it's able to join NATO and certainly any negotiations that if and when they do take place will have to have that as an absolute sort of key element to guarantee their future security. It doesn't necessarily have to be NATO full fat it could be kind of NATO like not in the sense of what's actually offered in security but in terms of the other kind of diplomatic architecture of it I mean it would be very very provocative to move from NATO to move through Ukraine right up to Russia's border so you could have the reality of a NATO defensive alliance without actually the sort of day jury version of it. So I think as you're absolutely right this will that's got to be central to any discussions into any settlement. Well on that point Patrick I think we need to recognize NATO is already on Russia's borders of course in the Baltic Republic so the idea that we can never have a situation because it's too provocative in Ukraine that would be similar to that. You know I don't buy that argument at all of course Russia wants us to believe that the reality is that Russia has launched an unprovoked attack on a neighboring country and it needs to know that if it does that again there will be a response that that's my feeling and therefore full NATO membership is the only way to guarantee that in my view. Yeah I just think that Ukraine is a special case given the history there so anyway I completely agree with the sentiment that it's it's got to be essentially the same NATO government. The same NATO guarantees that the other NATO members enjoy getting back to Zelensky versus Putin I think one of the reasons that Putin's animus against him is so strong is that Zelensky was always poking fun of him in his days as a comedian there was one great joke in Julia's book which he tells about who used to tell about Putin's mistress the Olympic gymnast Alina Kabaeva. The joke goes that it's 2014 Putin gets back to their apartment in the early hours of the morning Alina wants to know where the hell he's been he says he's really sorry but he's been up late discussing troop movements in Crimea with his generals. She replies don't give me that rubbish I watched Russian state TV and I know there are no Russian troops in Crimea. That's a very good guy. Yeah great staff and there's no question that he does take things like that terribly you know seriously and very personally I mean what was interesting about their meeting in 2019 is that he simply wasn't used to negotiating you know he's used to yes men at home and of course when you go on the international stage. There has to be a bit of give and take and he seemed to be completely lost in this scenario with his eyes cast down in his body language all wrong whereas in Julia Mendel's explanation Zelensky was on top of his briefing you the details so you get a bit you know this goes back to your past and future or modern and ancient kind of analogy frankly between the two types of government. Okay well let's we've got a batch of good questions here from listeners so we're going to do our best to answer those do you want to kick off so yeah we've got a first one from Brendan Evans thanks for your wonderful and informative podcast your welcome Brendan your guests and yourselves are presenting excellent insight into what is such a terrible modern catastrophe. And his question is do you believe that the coming winter will be advantageous to either side militarily will this be uniform across all fronts or will different regions be an advantage to Ukraine or Russia tricky question Patrick do you have an immediate response to that. Well I think it'll be bad for both essentially as we were saying earlier winter is very very severe though so it's going to hamper certainly it will very much limit the opportunities for any offensive actions and just basic questions of resupply. Etc. Are going to be called into question I would have thought in a way that Ukrainians have got the edge in terms of supply lines they can also stand off with their high miles etc in terms of weaponry and hammer the Russians as they try and get stuff into their troops but the answer honest answer is I don't know but I think what we will see is a real scaling down at all field activity with back to the kind of you know all rules of pre modern warfare that the seasons sort of dictate the tempo of the fight. Yeah I know just to add but you know one quick point to that is that in a sense the obvious side that's going to benefit from winter is Russia of course because Russia has been losing recently on the battlefield and and winters any military story in any anyone reads military as she knows tends to bring military operations to a stand so the status quo at the moment is better for Russia than it losing more ground but as I said earlier in the program I suspect Kerson will go before the end of this year. Well now the question do you want to ask that one part of the year I didn't think this is really a statement by Andrea Voldka and I think we're just read it up because it's some very good points here Andrea is saying that really can't see the logic of the argument that Ukraine ought to let go of Donbass and Andrea says I don't find it persuasive for four reasons Russia isn't offering a piece on this basis Russia keeps stressing they want to defeat Ukraine so peace offer by Russia on that basis is unlikely. Second it's clearly true that the east sorry it clearly isn't true that the east has been ethnically cleansed after liberating car key of last many people who had been under the Russian occupation reported torture murder etc etc so by the let Donbass go argument Ukraine would have to tell people have been living under the Russians sorry we're not going to help you're going to have to carry on under this terrible regime. Looking back historically this question of a will Ukraine actually be a functioning state after all the damage to the infrastructure. Andrea says Germany managed to rebuild from cities almost totally flattened by the Allied Air Forces that certainly true every major city in Germany and town that was leveled practically to the ground and so there's no reason Ukraine couldn't follow that example and rebuild. And finally Ukraine agreed to the Minsk Accords after the 2014 invasion Russia came back for more when it had been able to rearm why should Ukraine trust any peace deal with Russia. Yeah and that's pretty much Patrick Julius argument and but thank you Andrea for excellent points which counter of course some of the arguments made by Owen last week and we're we're going to be moving back and forth on this that's the whole point of the podcast now another interesting question came in from Simon Hackett could you please spend some time looking at repatriation of Russian soldiers who died in the conflict now this is fascinating isn't it because there are indications that Russia's not taking all the bodies back. And yet we have a pretty good indication of how some of them how many of them rather may have died by the payments the compensation payments that are made to families now we spoke about this before and said that there were tens of thousands of payments and that this was the first really you know vaguely accurate figure coming out of Russia. Simon speculating that possibly up to a hundred thousand Russian dead and of course this will have serious political ramifications for Putin's regime I mean Simon is right and I think this is a ticking time bomb personally Patrick particularly if some of these mobilized troops who aren't necessarily coming from the far off regions we've spoken about before where effectively the Russian army traditionally has used as cannon fodder if guys from St Petersburg and Moscow are either going back in body bags or just simply disappearing this is going to be a problem for Putin we've seen some really interesting footage actually lately from Lugensk it's not clear when it was taken but it's a really chilling and moving image the footage is shot from a vehicle that's moving slowly down a central reservation on what's looks like a main boulevard on the town and it goes on and on on past these graves festooned with unit flags and Russian flags and the it's difficult to tell how many there are there I would say at least a thousand and there's a there's a ironic hashtag on it Putin liberated Lugensk from the invaders now this was actually posted on a bit of Russian site it's just a you know very very striking and rather moving image you know we may have talked about what the Russians are doing there but men are dying a lot of certainly don't want to be there and if that sort of stuff is circulating that will have a political effect just going to move on to the next one from someone calling themselves burly giant he says I see me to he I have a dreadful feeling that Putin is now luring Ukrainian forces into a trap with the evacuation of Kerson if ever there was a location he could use tactical nuke this must be it any thoughts well I think we saw the doubt with that but saw what you reckon to a nuke over Kerson no I don't think so I don't think that's terribly likely one of the you know in the interesting themes that we brought out in recent programs is that there is a line of communication between America and Russia it's ongoing there's more in the press about it this week the discussions have been taking place and they will be making it very clear as we've said before that that would be a red line so no I don't think that's very likely it's possible of course that they I do feel they'll give up Kerson and they'll try and maybe knock out the dam which of course is upstream of Kerson which would be a considerable problem for the city itself so there may be a scorch earth policy being planned by the Russians as they come out of Kerson but the use of tactical nuclear weapons on Kerson now I don't think that's likely OK final one from Nigel Mortimer would it be possible to do an episode on the air war I've heard very little does either side have air superiority over the battlefield well I think this is something that we haven't really had a proper look at so so we're definitely flagged that up for a later episode Nigel OK well that's all we've got time for this week thank you for joining us and do listen again next week where we'll have more analysis news reflections and another great interview you imagine sitting on the final must be thinking it's no no no no no no and I want it to be the star you want to make a difference if I wanted someone to score and that final it was Holland no and that moment yes what for me to come on and make a difference yes I was confident I promise you I'm not joking I knew I could make a difference in that game that's a lot of time I promise you because you could feel that the game was broken you know we needed some to see she been on and I could we think yes I think I could have gone on on a bit earlier but also I had the doubt because the semi final I didn't play because of the heat I had on my on my legs so but it's one of those days that I was so so confident that to make a difference I think it's one of the best games in my career for this not 40 minutes you know we have to finish there because I don't know where to go from that why not because there imagine sitting there playing a well-cut fine on being on the bench and thinking I hope they school because I know that I wanted the nil nil as long as you will for me to come on and prove a point and show it and show I can make a difference and you know what you did and I did and that's that's why I'm saying that I is one of the proudest moments of my career I may I may have gone a bit too far I'm just going to say that I have to say that it's okay you say what you like Tony a podcast but you know in that time as a football player we were talking about it before sometimes you have that selfie you know you say you know I get you know I can totally relate to that in all honesty I really can not that was everyone in bench says you're lucky then yeah how to win a World Cup an audible original podcast listen now subscription required see audible dot code UK for terms I'm Arthur Snell and I'm uncovering more of the dangers threatening our world in 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