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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15. A storm in a teacup

15. A storm in a teacup

Fri, 18 Nov 2022 01:00

It has been an eventful past week in the war in Ukraine, following the recapture of Kherson by Ukrainian forces, as well as a missile strike killing two in neighbouring NATO member state Poland. Joining Patrick and Saul to discuss all this and more is one of the most incisive commentators on the war - Professor Phillips O’Brien, head of the School of International Relations at the University of St Andrews.

Producer: James Hodgson

Twitter: @PodBattleground

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Hello and welcome back to the Battleground Ukraine podcast with me Patrick Bishop and Saul David. The big excitement as we've been recording this has been the missile strike in eastern Poland right next to the border with Ukraine. For a moment it seemed like a vital threshold had been crossed that a NATO country had been attacked by Russia thus triggering Article 5 of the NATO Treaty which says that an attack on one is an attack on all and thus paving the way for a potential huge escalation of the war. Well, we can all breathe again now. It seems that the storm has passed the Polish President Andrei Duda has said that it is probably not a Russian missile but a Ukrainian air defense missile. One of the many fired that against a barrage of incoming Russian missiles onto Ukraine itself. Well, we'll have a closer look at that later on but the big news for me is still really Kerson. Wouldn't you agree, Saul? Yes, I would. As you say Patrick, the missile strike did look alarming for a moment but a bit of a storm in a teacup. And the real news is what's happening at Kerson and what might happen soon. It's clear now that despite all the talk of ruses and feints the Russians really have withdrawn from the only regional capital they captured after the invasion in February and they've now established new defense lines on the far side of the Deneepro river. The big question is what next? Is the abandonment of Kerson strategically cited close to the neck of the Crimean Peninsula, the beginning of the end for Russia's war? Or is it a sensible tactical move that allows its hard press military to hold more easily defensible positions in the south while it moves troops to the battle that is raging in the Donbass? After the break we'll be putting these and other questions to Professor Philip Sobrine, head of the School of International Relations at the University of St Andrews and one of the most incisive commentators on the war as proven by his huge and ever-growing following on Twitter. OK, so let's talk about that missile strike, a lone rocket hit a farm near the town of Pellejavod of killing two farm workers, collateral damage, you know, another couple of little personal tragedies there that will quickly be forgotten, I'm afraid to say. Well, first thing that strikes me is you know, it's surprising that really that this didn't happen before. There's a lot of rocketry flying around the place often fired from what seemed to be pretty incompetent hands. And of course the initial assumption was that this was the Russians, and that was certainly the line put out by President Zelensky immediately. The Russians of course responded by saying it was a provocation, a black flag operation designed to justify a NATO intervention. In fact, the sort of thing that they would have done. However, their problems always been that having constructed an empire of lies in which the truth has more or less been abolished when they deny having done something, no one believes them. This time it seems actually they were right. What's your take on it, Saul? Well, it does seem, Patrick, as you say, that they're telling the truth in this instance, but that doesn't absolve them of responsibility far from it. It seemed pretty clear to me when I was initially writing up our response to this that it was one of two things. It was either what it seems to have been a Ukrainian missile or it was a Russian missile that had been hit by a Ukrainian missile and knocked off target. Well, it seems to have been the former, but let's not kid ourselves without the massive unprovoked and pretty barbaric attack on infrastructure in Ukraine by more than 100 missiles yesterday. This wouldn't have happened in the first place. But all this, of course, is diverted attention from what seemed like a very important development and that is the mood music emanating from various quarters, suggesting that the conditions are developing in which some sort of slackening of the cessation of hostilities might be in the offing and that might create the conditions for some type of negotiations. There was a startling claim this week from Professor Valerie Solovey, a former member of Moscow's prestigious Institute of International Relations and a man with good connections in the Kremlin that Putin has been offered surrender terms by the West. The terms include the surrender of all territory in Ukraine, including the Donbass, but excluding the Crimea, which would become a demilitarized zone at least until 2029 when its status would be discussed. And in return, Putin and his cronies would avoid criminal charges over the war and be allowed to remain in power. It's a tantalizing prospect, frankly, Patrick. What's your feeling about this? It sounds a bit far-fetched to me, doesn't it? So, I mean, what makes it interesting is that it's part of a kind of theme that we're hearing echoing around the political, diplomatic space surrounding the war. There's some little bits of corroboration coming from elsewhere. General Mark Millie, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this week that the Russians may have lost up to, well, this seems to be their estimate. A hundred thousand killed and wounded in the war. Interestingly, probably Ukrainian casualties of a similar order. And that Tudek-Maisu, both sides, now that the Russians are pulled back from Kerson to actually start moving through this window of opportunity that seems to have just slightly opened for peace talks. It's also been a meeting in Ankara between the CIA director William Burns and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Nareeshkin, ostensibly to de-escalate the nuclear rhetoric we've been hearing lately, but add to demonstrate that channels are open. But clearly, at some point, they must have talked about this possibility of negotiations. I think from what I understand, the US have stuck pretty firm to the line that the Russians have to withdraw from all Ukrainian territory. But that's obviously an opening bid. There are clear concerns in the American military foreign policy establishment in the White House that this can't go on forever. This open check policy, which has been the case thus far, will have to come to an end at some point. The midterm elections raise the possibility of a Republican in the White House. Although I think that Trump announcing that he's making another run will probably reduce that possibility. What do you think about that when we were talking about the midterms last week? It wasn't so clear, but I would have thought that the situation from the perspective of American support has actually got a bit better since Trump's announced. Do you think that strikes all? Yeah, I think Zelensky will be very pleased to hear the news that the Senate at least stays under the control of the Democrats. The Democrats, of course, have been offering incredibly firm support for the Ukrainians, the most vital support of all the NATO members. That is good news for Zelensky. The presidency, of course, is a couple of years away. We hope and we pray, Patrick, the war that won't go on that long, that we won't be still talking in two years' time. It was something else interesting related to General Milley that I picked up. When he was talking about the need for at least a consider piece negotiations, he used the fascinating historical parallel to warn Russia that a refusal to consider negotiations as happened in World War I could lead to disaster. He didn't even think specifically about who actually he was talking about when he mentioned World War I. There were two possibilities in my mind. He could be the Germans, who the Americans tried to encourage, to at least agree some kind of peace deal towards the end of 1916 and the Germans refused. He might also, and this is probably more likely, be alluding to Zarnikolus II, who carried on fighting the good fight with a Russian army that was performing almost equally poorly as the current one. It eventually led to not only his removal but revolution in Russia. Of course, the implication being that Putin may suffer the same fate. When you get to what happened after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia, the first of the Bolsheviks worked to undermine the kind of moderate regime that takes over. They eventually succeed, of course, in November 1917. The first thing they do is they try and make peace and the peace that they are offered is a really humiliating one. It includes, interestingly, the loss of Ukraine, Ukraine is granted independence. They lose all their old Western empire, Poland, the Baltic states, etc. And Lenin's attitude towards what constituted Russia was very similar to Putin's actually. So he was absolutely hopping mad when these were the only terms they could get. Trotsky was the negotiator on all that. That may have been the beginning of the end of a Trotsky. Just to get back on to a couple of things about that peace deal allegedly being floated that Professor Solovey was talking about. This business of avoiding any kind of war crimes charges against Putin and his gang just illustrates to me just how notional the whole thing is. If we go back to Neweremberg, which is the sort of template for modern war crimes proceedings, the central charge there was waging aggressive war. Not waging aggressive war as a nation, but the people directing the war are actually there on the charge sheet. So that to me, there is no more glaring example of waging aggressive war than what Putin's done in Ukraine. But to take that off the table seems to me really a very retrograde step. Even if it's just noional, it seems to me that it ought to be in the mix somewhere. Realistically, the way we were able to put 21 Nazi military and political leaders on trials, because we'd occupy their country and we'd absolutely hammered them. That clearly isn't going to happen in this case. But it does seem to be a little bit of a retrograde step to me. One final point on this whole business is that you've got to have some tangible sign that the Russians are backing off and we certainly didn't get that this week with this massive missile strike. This was, remember, was happening while the G20 summit was going on. So it was quite the FU to the political leaders gathered there, many of whom, of course, were lining up to stick it to Putin and the Russians. Well back to Millie for a second. I think he's making quite a clever argument, actually. The implicit threats that if Russia doesn't negotiate, it could lead to Putin's removal. But at the same time, Washington seems to be covering its back by assuring Ukraine that in spite of Millie's comments, it will continue to support Kiev militarily as it launches the next phase of its advances on the battlefield. These, of course, were flagged up earlier by Zelensky, who during a triumphal visit to Kesson earlier this week, promised his people that they would expel Russians from all Ukrainian territory. So what, Patrick, do you think is going on here? It's a tricky situation for Zelensky as well. He's gone out of his way to repeat in Kesson what he's been saying all along, saw that every square centimeter of Ukrainian territory is going to be recovered. And it's been a very inspiring message. I mean, think of every Ukrainian we've had on this show. They've all spoken absolutely clearly on this subject and said that this is how it has to end. Not one of them has said this is an unrealistic war aim and argued that it might be better to lower the target a bit in the interests of peace rather than justice. But having said all that, you get to a point where two factors make Zelensky's position increasingly untenable, I think. I mean, I hear what you have to say about this. But one is that clearly international support, particularly military support, is going to start becoming linked to the Ukrainians taking a more flexible attitude towards negotiations. And a final settlement that leaves the Russians with something. And I think Zelensky's, we both agree, paid a blinder up until now. Everything he's promised has come true. So he's got at some point in the real world he's going to have to kind of start managing expectations rather differently. I think if anyone can do it, I.e., let the Ukrainians know that perhaps their dream is not going to come true of getting every centimeter back. Like I said that, if anyone can read the mood of the people in Ukraine, it's him. He's done it fantastically, efficiently to date. And I don't see him losing his touch now. But it's all very well for us to sit here and comfortably in the far west of Europe. We're used to an easy life, an easy political compromises which come naturally to us. Because our existence isn't threatened, the Ukrainians see this as a life and death struggle. And you know, their eyes, and we've got to sympathize with this, any deal that leaves the Russians anywhere on Ukrainian soil, it's a bit like having a kind of tranquilized bear asleep in your front garden. He's going to wake up one day. So much better to drive him off back into the forest where he belongs. That's how they see it. Yeah, and I agree with your latter sentiment, Patrick, rather than your former comment, because I think, well, first of all, he's got no option really but to play a hard line at the moment. But secondly, while Ukraine is still having military success, and we'll hear later on from Philip Sobrion, his view that actually the campaigning is going to continue longer than we think into the winter. But while he continues to have military success, the West will stay strong. That's my view. And who do we mean by the West? Well, we really mean America, Britain to a lesser extent. So I think he's got nothing to lose, frankly, at the moment, by continuing to play this hard line. Now moving on to a slightly different issue, which is we've been discussing all the way through this podcast, Patrick, almost from the start, the sort of appalling conditions in which the ordinary Russian soldiers are being asked to fight. And we got another flavor of this from a Reuters report recently that described the conditions Russian troops were forced to endure in mile after mile of now abandoned trenches in the approach to Kesson City on the West Bank of the Deneepro. The correspondent witnessed trenches that were narrow, muddy, and often exposed to the elements in contrast. And this is the interesting one. It reminds me of the Second World War, the difference between the British and the German trenches. The German trenches were very good back then. In contrast to the wooden floor trenches of the Ukrainians, some equipped with internet and that screen TVs. I mean, obviously that's a bit of an exaggeration. They won't be everywhere, but it does give you a sense of the different conditions in which the armies are expected to fight. And it doesn't bow well, frankly, in my view, for Russian troops elsewhere, because after all, their best guys, their most experienced guys, and their best equipped guys were supposed to be in the Kesson region. You make me say a major here that this is not the first time that I, well, I've heard about. I've actually seen TVs on the front line when I was in the Iran-Irach war, the real Iran-Irach war. And when it was pretty much back to World War I conditions where trench warfare along either side of the Shatana Rabbi visited the Iraqi side once and was astonished to see exactly the same thing. These kind of really quite comfy trenches with carpets on the floor and deep battery-powered TVs, not flat screens in those days. Of course, there was kind of chunky ones, sort of eight-inch screens, but there they were. Yeah, I mean, you know, good soldiers always make some self-comfortable, whatever possible. Going back to Russian morale, not just troop morale, but morale generally. I was really very struck by something that I'm sure the listers would have seen as well. This video circulating of a Russian soldier who defected to the Ukrainians was recaptured and then sledgehammered to death by his former comrades in the Wagner group. Now this was posted and accompanied by a gluting comment from, you know, Gennie Pregozhin, the guy who runs Wagner, basically, who was saying, you know, a dog deserves a dog's death or something. This was picked up by Margarita Simonian, another stall with a lot of podcasts, another ghoul from the Putin girl there. And she picked it up and said, oh, you know, officials who lie about war to Putin should suffer the same fate, IEB sledgehammered to death. Now this tells me two things. One is that morally speaking, you know, Russia as a state has been hollowed out in a healthy country. These two characters would be imprisoned instead of their standard bearers for the regime. What does that say about Putin's Russia? Second is that, you know, this line from Simonian about it's the advisors, you know, who are the problem. It's the enemies within narrative. And that's clearly alive and flourishing and preparing the ground so that when an admission of defeat comes, it will not be Putin, but the so-called evil counsellors around him who get the shock. Now that message seems to actually have stuck. There's a recent poll I came across by the Levadis Center. There are proper polls in Russia, all kinds of ones that you can get some real sense of what people are thinking from. And this showed that only 36% want to press on with the war, 57% want peace talks. So support for the war definitely very shaky. But an astonishing 79% still support Putin. So he's in a good place to claim that he was stabbed in the back. He had no alternative but to bring the boys home and make a peace. And all this of course plays into the wider, you know, Russia is the victim narrative. Yeah, I have fascinating Patrick. Well, thanks for that. And that's all we've got time for, for part one. Join us after the break when we'll hear from influential analysts, Professor Phillips O'Brien of St Andrew's University. 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. What? Oh! At the end of the day, it all adds up to the ultimate footballing prize. The World Cup is back, paid Brazilian have. Join me, Gary Lenika and World Cup Winner Cess Fabregas, as we chart what you need for success in how to win a World Cup. An audible original podcast, listen now, subscription required. for terms. Welcome back. Now it's time to hear from this week's guest, Professor Phillips O'Brien, head of the School of International Relations at St Andrew's University. I first met Phil when I was studying for my PhD at Glasgow University in the late 1990s. He was lecturing then. He's now a hugely respected historian, professor and expert in international relations, who's in size of tweets on the war in Ukraine. I've attracted a huge following on Twitter. His Twitter handle, if you're interested in joining the throng, is at Phillips, that's two L's and one P-O Brian. This is what Phil told us. I'm going to come on to the latest developments in a moment, but if we go back to February of this year, how do you explain this really mystifying decision by Putin to invade Ukraine at a time when he's achieving many of his aims by diplomacy and following on from that, if you don't mind answering two parts of the same question. Why is his military made such a poor job of prosecuting the war? But many ways those questions are related in an odd way. He invaded because he thought his military was better than it was. Actually, he'd be honest, many commentators and analysts in the West thought the military would be far better than it was. So I don't think, of course, he had any idea what he was doing in terms of, he had no idea what the reality was going to be of the war or he wouldn't have done it. I think the question is, why did he think the military was going to be so good? That is a very interesting question, is it that he believed what he was being told by his generals and his advisors? Was it that he believed what sort of Western analysts were saying? But for whatever reason, he believed both his military was good and he assumed to believe that the Ukrainians wouldn't be competent. I mean, the invasion plan, as constructed, was a quick dash to keep assuming that the Ukrainians couldn't stop him. So I'm not very good on Putin's thinking. It's never been anything I've been terribly incisive about because it doesn't make a lot of sense to me the different choices that have been made. And I don't want a hazard except by saying he had to think it was going to go much better than it has. When it comes to the performance of the Russian military, I think the question we have to start back on, why did people think it was going to be so good? The reason I'm here talking with you is because I was one of the people back in January and February saying, why do we think this military is any good? I didn't know it would be as flawed as it was, but I was totally mystified by the fact that everyone was going to say it was so great. But based on what? The war is solved. You know, as well as I do, wars go wrong. Plants fail. Militaries before they go to war, we're going to war exposes. Big flaws in militaries. You don't know where they are. And what seemed to me the odd thing is why we didn't think or why a lot of people didn't think that was going to happen. It has performed, I think, even worse than most of assumed. It seems to be a combination of the fact that it had no real experience in this kind of war. The equipment was not as good as advertised. The training was not as good as advertised. I don't know what degree corruption played role in it. And of course, the Ukrainian resistance was far more competent than most people had expected. OK. We'll come on to the specifics of the chaos on and what that all means or what you think it might mean in terms of moving forward. But there have been extraordinary number of Ukrainian advances and victories. You mentioned turning the Russians back from Kiev. We've had the advances up in the car Kiev region and now, of course, here's on. So what do we put this down to? I mean, I can think of three reasons, Phil, and it may be a combination of all three, but I'd be interested to know where you feel that the balance lies. You've got on the one hand, of course, Ukrainian competence or even brilliance in many different aspects. You've got Western firepower, high mars, the triple seven artillery and other things. And you've also got Russian incompetence. So where do you think the balance lies between those three? And by the way, also Western intelligence, which we assume makes a big difference to. I mean, I sort of think you can look at the war and long-term trend. I mean, when we talk about the Second World War, when we write about it, I'm not interested in battle. You know, I look at the war as long-term trends and growths of strength and sort of declines of strength. So the outcome of the battle doesn't matter to me. If you look at 42, 43, 44, what's happening is the Allies are getting stronger and the Germans are getting weaker and eventually that collapses in on itself as the Allied strength becomes too much. What has happened in Ukraine since February 24 is really in some ways relentless change in the trend of power from February 24th to today, the Russians have become weaker, steadily, steadily weaker. They've lost their best troops or a lot of their best troops. They've lost a lot of their best equipment. They have replaced both of those with less well-trained troops and from what we can tell, a lot of less well-maintained equipment. So they're running out of a lot of their most advanced materials. So the trends of Russian strength from February 24th to today have been on the whole down. Russia, the Russian armed forces are less. The Ukrainian trend has been exactly in the opposite direction. Yes, Ukraine has suffered casualties, but Ukraine actually has more soldiers that it can access. But Ukraine has been getting stronger. It's been getting better weapons system. The high maris, most famously, but a whole range of equipment systems. They've been getting probably better intelligence. They've become better trained. You've had Ukrainian soldiers trained by NATO militaries, a number of different NATO militaries. So they have been getting progressively stronger. And at some point in July, basically you might say a bit like December 1941 or July, 1942, the trends begin to cross and Ukraine's strength in a sense passed over Russian decline and the initiative switched to Ukraine. And then I think the difference that has gone far is Ukraine has a very intelligent way of fighting, which is this way of absolutely hammering logistics and avoiding on the whole massed attacks against defensive Russian lines. They don't like to sort of batter their heads against the wall. So they have this strategy of really beginning in July, particularly when they got the high maris, of just relentlessly going off to Russian logistics. And they stretch the Russians out and made the Russians in this and try to defend too long a position. That allowed Karkiv to happen, which is they hit an area when there were few Russian troops. And Karkiv was simply they hit an empty bag. And there were hardly any Russian forces there. Their son was different. There were a lot of Russian forces there and supposedly some quite good ones. So that's why it took a lot longer, but they just relentlessly went after the logistics, cut them off, cut them off, cut them off. And that's how why the war is developed in these battles. Now what Russia seems to be trying to do from September onwards is start growing their trend line of strength back up. That's why they started this conscription, this mass conscription. And they have taken some of those soldiers and rushed them right at the front as a way of trying to desperate the whole line. But the other ones now they're trying to make into a new army. Can I just take you back to what you said about the Ukrainian manpower situation? You seem to be saying that there's the reservoir of troops who are highly trained, technologically smart, and then they're able to operate high tech weaponry, etc. Who haven't actually been thrown into the battle? Is that the case? Or they've been rotated in and out. And so they're fresher. I mean, the Ukrainians went into the war with 80 or 1000 or so active soldiers, but another 200 or 300,000 reservists, they then conscripted almost every mail of a certain age at the country. They're overall mobilized forces somewhere over half a million. We don't know exactly what it is and we're not going to know. I mean, I've actually seen some people say 700,000, but let's be more conservative and say half a million. If they have suffered what seems a reasonable amount of casualties, about a third of the Russian casualties would probably be safe. We're still talking over 400,000 troops. And what about the Russian capability to actually use the slackening of tempo on the battlefield that will inevitably come with winter to actually train up those reserved forces into something like good fighting order? I wonder if there will be, I mean, I think Ukraine now understands that the spring, there might be a new Russian force ready and the Ukrainians will keep pressing. I wonder, I mean, I'd less we end up with a winter like the winter of 1941-42, which forces the army's not to move. The Russian invasion went off on February 24th. You know, they were able to fight throughout the end of February and early March. So we'll have to see how the winter goes. But the way Ukraine is fighting right now actually winter will not provide as much of a dampen air as it would be because it tends to be using longer range systems to take out supply lines. And those should still be able to function over the winter. Now it's where they choose to do that next, do they move off from Karsan now to the center of the line and start hammering it there. But I'm not quite sure it's not going to be, I think, a second world-world kind of winter break unless the weather is so bad that they can't actually move. What's your reading fill on the consequences, the significance, maybe a better way of putting it, of the Russian withdrawal from Karsan and the West Bank of the river, Deneepro? I mean, do you think it's a game changer that might lead us to Zelentsky, of course, hopes and claims to Ukraine recovering all its lost territory? Or is it a sensible tactical move on the Russian side to protect their hard pressed and as you've quite rightly explained badly, because they simply can't get the supplies to them and moving them to places where they can influence the battle, which presumably is in the East in the Donbass? Well, I mean, it wasn't the sort of the only move, I think, was to pull out of Karsan. The Russians trying to hold on to whether you call it the West Bank or the North Bank. I've heard different ways of being described. But I use West Bank to hold on to the West Bank of the Deneepro actually was just, I think, it's going to be too difficult. So they had to just pull down and then they will try and hold a much easier defensive line using the Deneepro river. So I tend to think that's a rational move by the Russians, because already they were trying to hold too long of a line with two few troops. It does, who knows what it signals for Ukraine? On the one hand, this is a victorious campaign, but it's not a victorious war. They've done what they needed to do. I think they'll also have trouble going across the river. That's not an easy thing to do. And they don't have a bridge now. So they've got to go and try and go across a really wide river with very little, in the way of supplies themselves. So it might be that what this means is the war moves to other theaters right now. The sort of Ukrainians move to a place that they can attack more easily. But I think it just indicates that the Russians really are trying to bunker on in now for the next few months. And that would be the rational strategy until their new army, the new trained soldiers appear to try and just hold on. But what Ukraine did in April May, when the Russians began these big assaults, the Ukrainians needed to integrate all these new weapons that were coming to train all their soldiers. And so for a few months, they literally just took the attacks and themselves, you didn't strike back in terms of major offensives and used that to try and exhaust the Russians before they did attack. Maybe the Russians are thinking that they will do that. I'm not sure the Ukrainians will fall for it. What about the war in the airfield? We've not really heard that much about it. This is something that you're pretty knowledgeable about. Can you just paint us a picture of why it hasn't been quite as the element that we thought it was at the outset in the conflict and whether that might change? Well, it's in your right, absolutely right, Patrick. It was the, in some ways, the ace and the whole that most people assumed Russia had. If you read a lot of the pre-war analysis, it's based on the fact that Russia will have air dominance and that they will be able to use the air dominance on the battlefield. That was regularly stated. And the most widely discussed example of Russian military prowess before February 24 was the Russian air campaign in Syria, which often gets a lot of coverages, an example of Russia using its weapons or its air force quite effectively. And of course, that didn't happen that in many things, Ukraine was better prepared and more flexible than anyone had imagined. Now, what they've done is basically it's been an air denial that neither side has the ability to fly over the battlefield for very long. It's simply too dangerous. So Ukraine has denied Russia that and Russia has also, by the way, denied Ukraine that. Ukraine planes might fly and drop a bomb and get out. But they're not doing what say the US military would have done. The US military would have simply stomped on every anti-air system and would be patrolling the ground and taking out anything they see. That's why the most stunning pictures to me early in the war were Ukrainian armored vehicles driving around on wide roads under open skies. That would not have happened in a war against the United States. It wouldn't have happened in war against Israel. It wouldn't have happened against the war against Britain and France together. They would have been able to patrol the area and control the skies. And in some ways, we've forgotten about air power because air denial has been so successful on either side. And from that point, a lot of the air campaign has switched to UAVs. They're smaller. You can have many more of them. They're much easier to maintain. And so that that's been a different way of fighting. The one thing to remember though is if, say, the Russians can get there, I have, the Ukrainians run out of planes. Ukrainians are flying old, MiG-29. These are not advanced aircraft. And if the Russians ever do find a way to use their air power more effectively, it could be very important for them. I think that's one of the reasons Ukraine is putting a lot of stress on getting more anti-air systems. And the Ukrainians would like to upgrade things like F-16s. As going forward, they know the MiG-29s have a relatively short shelf life. There's a lot of fascinating mood music going around this week, Phil, which I'm sure you're aware of about the possibility of a negotiated peace in the wake of Russia's withdrawal, of course. General Mark Milley, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, certainly seems to think so. And it's interesting too that there seems to have been a meeting between intelligence chiefs in Ankara this week. I think that's pretty well sourced. What's your take on all of this? And also this extraordinary claim by Professor Valerie Solovey, formerly at the Institute of International Relations in Moscow, that Putin's actually been offered surrender terms and he goes into the details of those terms. I mean, I think everyone would like this war to be over. But the Ukrainians would like the war to be over. Certainly, I imagine Putin would love the war to be over and the US and China and everyone else would like it to be over. It's whether you can actually reach a condition where Russia and Ukraine could agree on terms to end it. Right now, I don't see it because I think the Ukrainians think they can take back more territory. Again, this is just a guess. Amazingly, they don't confide in me. But with the war developing the way it has developed, I think the right now Russia still occupies a lot of ground, they didn't occupy on February 24th and the initiative is still with Ukraine. So I would think they would look at this and go, why would we negotiate now unless we can negotiate a Russian retreat? And I don't know about that. The report you were mentioned, but I'd be very surprised that Russians would give up territory at this point. Yeah, well, I'm just going to mention some of the terms because they are rather extraordinary and your reaction to them would be interesting, I think. Putin has apparently been often surrendered to him, said he will have to give up all territory in Ukraine, including the Donbass, but excluding the Crimea, which would become a demilitarized zone. And then it'll be discussed in the future in 2029. Putin, this is the sweetener, apparently. Putin and his cronies will avoid criminal charges over the war and be allowed to remain in power. Obviously, if he's a fellow countryman, as a result of this humiliation, agree to that. I mean, does that sound to you pretty fantastical and unlikely? I mean, I always get Putin wrong, Saul. It does seem that that would be not a deal he would take at present as he still occupies a lot of Ukraine. I mean, it seems to me, and again, I don't know that they are trying to gear up to create this new army. They've had this conscription. They have had their new draft class come in as well. This would have the draft year has come, and they're trying to get a large new force together. And I think that seems to be what they're aiming towards to get that together for the spring. I mean, if there are maybe begins to collapse, that might be an appealing offer for them. But certainly, I'd be surprised if they take that now, but don't ask me about Putin. I'm terrible on it. It's interesting, though, isn't it, that those terms for the first time I've seen terms that you can imagine Zelensky might actually be able to sell to his people, because obviously you've got these two sides of the same problem. How many of you go back into history? First of all, war, neither side could ever find any terms that were acceptable, that they could sell to their own people. But these would seem to be terms that might work for the Ukrainians, whether they're wet for the Russians or not, it's another matter. Yes, I would think a Ukrainian government would have to look at that offer incredibly seriously. I mean, the other thing that would have to be, do they get EU membership agreed that there would have to be, Ukraine will want some security guarantees. And it might be, you actually have security guarantees within it. So it might be that they would have to have a few more extra terms in it. But certainly, I think Ukraine would have to look at something like that very seriously and consider it. Fela, on a slightly lighter note, we've had a number of people contacting the podcast who clearly think that despite all the evidence that the country, Russia will prevail. And moreover, it was provoked into invading Ukraine in the first place. Do you, I mean, I'm guessing you've had a similar sort of reaction to some of your tweets. Do you have any idea what is driving this model thinking in the West? Well, I mean, it's actually very widely shared before the war. There's the John Mearsheimer, Stephen Welter, there's a whole group of IR scholars that have been articulating that view. And both you might say in the US, from the Trumpite wing to the more sort of left wing of the Democratic Party, a lot of people have articulated that. So it's interesting that it tends to appeal on the fringes of both of the main political groupings. And by the way, that's the same in the UK too, I would think. You know, both the Jeremy Corbyn wing of the Labour Party and the Nigel Farage wing of the populist right would also have been more of that ideology. So it seems to me that it has a background. There's a lot of people who were saying it before the war and they aren't going to change their minds. I just don't know what evidence they have. I don't see any evidence that when Ukraine didn't want this war and Ukraine wasn't going to be allowed into NATO, it seems to me Putin wanted this war. He planned it. He put his army together and he launched his army. We drain the information. We could tell it didn't even think until just before February 24th he'd actually do it. Phil, as historians, we're not really in the business of predictions, but we put you on the spot. What do you feel? What is your instinct tell you? What is your sense tell you as the most likely outcome to this conflict? That's a great question. I think neither side is ready for peace right now in terms of the negotiation. So I think we're going going forward. My guess is it would be very hard to continue this war after another year, just because the law put these losses in perspective, the Russian equipment losses compare not unfavorably with the great campaigns of the Second World War, the amount of tanks and armored fighting vehicles they've lost or vast. You just can't keep that up. And they've done their conscription. They've done their dragging all the guys off the street. That's a one trick pony too. You can't do that again. So they seem to have been creating one large army, and I think that's one they plan to use next year. So I think we'll have a good idea at the end of the next year. It's hard to see the war go on. Ukraine will not be conquered. I'm entirely sure about that. It's whether the Russians, I think, can hold the line. But I can't see them pushing the Ukrainians back anymore, unless the Ukrainians are starved of weapons and ammunition from outside. So as long as Ukraine has the weapons, they're in quite good condition now. It's whether, if there is a threat to those and the Russians can rebuild, well, maybe they can take back some area. Otherwise, it's still trending towards Ukraine. OK. And ultimately, some kind of negotiated peace in which we have to assume unless things go very badly wrong, as you say, Russia is going to remain in possession of at least some chunks of Ukraine. Unless the army collapses, one would think, but there is a chance of a military collapse here. They've already suffered such great casualties. That's why I think the Ukrainian, we're probably thinking we've got to push them now, well, they still don't have these new troops. So I would think it would be very hard to drive them out of all of Ukraine unless they're closer to a collapse than we think. But that's possibility. So fill on that point, what would it take to bring about a Russian collapse on the battlefield? Well, I think what the Ukrainians have to keep doing what they were doing and basically deprive the Russian army of supplies and then the poor Russian soldiers at the front will eventually be unable to fight. And then that case, the real dangerous area for the Russians is the western half of their front, which had been supplied over the carriage bridge because they don't seem to have a working rail line now to that part of the front. That both the carriage bridge rail line is out and the rail line that had run along the sort of south coast through Marriapol is also out. They're having to do that by truck right now. This might be a little too technical, but truck delivery is much more expensive and more difficult than rail and you have to really keep the truck lines running to keep that kind of supply. So it's going to be far more difficult for the Russians to supply the people in the west and the east. And that's probably therefore the most natural thing for the Ukrainians to do is to try and cut the supplies to those troops. And they're now going to find it somewhat easier because they've gone all the way to Kerosene, so they're now closer to the rail, the road lines, but I would think that's where they'll press ahead. But knowing the Ukrainians, they'll press ahead where they see an opening. That's the other thing they've been remarkably flexible. I don't think they ever thought Carcube would be the kind of victory that had ended up being, but they press there, they found an empty part of the line and then they went for it. And that seemed to be what happened. And I think that's probably what they're going to do, keep pressing, keep pressing, keep pressing and see where an opening occurs. Their Patrick, the first one that struck me was how he doesn't really see it about battles winning battles and losing battles and he sees it as the sort of transfer of power. He talked about his brilliant book on air power and the Second World War, which is where he's developed this theory. And there's a lot going for it, isn't there? The idea that Russia started the war with a preponderance of power, certainly in terms of numbers, although he questioned the actual numbers of soldiers available, but certainly in terms of material. And how gradually this has been degraded partly through Russian incompetence, partly through excellence by the Ukrainians and the support, of course, from the West with weapons and intelligence. And slowly but surely, the Russian power has degraded and Ukrainians has overtaken them. And when did that happen? Well, he felt it was roughly July, which is, of course, you know, it'd be fascinating if we look back at this and see the big turning point of the war as July. Many people think the big turning point, of course, was right at the beginning, which was the withdrawal of Russian troops from around Kiev. But Phil would argue that that's just one step along the way. The real key moment is when the preponderance of power or force switch from one side to another. Is that convincing sort of thesis to you, Patrick? I think he's right. Yeah. The power of the Second World War is really the way that it's just your, you know, your resources, and of course, the way you use them. But at a certain point, there's a pretty straightforward kind of equation going on there, isn't it? And it tips in favour of one side or the other. And that's, I think, very much the case here. I was also very impressed by one thing you said at the beginning, which was that how wrong people got it and the way that everyone, you know, so-called experts were overord with what appeared to be the might of the Russian army and was very rapidly exposed to being a likely settler last week, a putty-emkin village. I was also struck by his assessment of Ukrainian manpower strength. I've been assuming that, you know, one of their big problems was they were going to run out of capable troops, but he's saying, no, not a bit of it, and that, you know, they're kind of rotation basically, they look after them and much, but on the Russians do. They're rotating about, and they've got this, you know, big reservoir of skilled experienced troops to draw. And that's, that's, that was a bit of an eye opener for me. So, you know, Russia is losing. Oh, you know, this big mobilisation is barrel scraping. It's not going to make any difference in his eyes, and I think that must be right. So, Russia's losing both on quantity and quality. His response to the surrender terms was also interesting, wasn't it? You know, it sounds very enticing, but he didn't really put much story in it. First of all, he doesn't think that Zelensky is going to stop while he's winning, and I agree with that. And secondly, he's not entirely convinced this is a deal that you can sell to the Russians either. So, you know, it's already well putting a piece deal, but you've got to have both sides winning to agree it. And he's definitely doubts whether either of those are possible. So, the slightly more depressing follow-up to that is how long is the war going to go on, where we don't know how long is a piece of string, but he's thinking at least in terms of another year, which frankly is pretty depressing. Do you think it might be that long, Patrick? You know, I really don't know. I mean, there've been surprises at various stages of this war. And the thing that he was mentioning, the possibility of a collapse, that seems to me to be a, like he says, it's so that the conditions are there for it. So I think it's in everyone's interests, but including the Russians, actually, for there to be a collapse and the worst possible outcome would be this sort of continual war of, you know, a trition that impacts, obviously, the soldiers, but also very, very much makes life appalling for the poor people of Ukraine. Let's hope that on this one, I'm right and feel as wrong. Let's move on to some listeners' questions. But we're getting a great response to our appeal for, you know, your queries, thoughts, et cetera. And we've got one here from George Tyler, who says, in a large proportion of the combat footage coming out of Ukraine of Russian vehicles being attacked, it never seems to be any more than troop strength, ie, they're very small numbers involved in these attacks. He asks, I'll be not seeing the footage of large combined arms movements, because for whatever reason that the Ukrainians aren't putting them out. Or is it simply that that's the way it is that the time of a big battlefield of the newvers is over? And they're just not employed as a tactic anymore. Well, I agree with you, George. I think it's very hard to get a picture of the battlefield. My sense is that we're not seeing big maneuvers anymore and that companies don't operation in this kind of war phase is quite a big one. But we're hoping next week to get someone to be able to answer that in some detail from his own personal experience. That's Colin Freeman, who's a journalist. We both know who's been on the front lines around Kershonest there at the moment. And he's going to talk to us next week and we'll be able to give us some real feel of what the battlefield looks like. I mean, just to add to that, Patrick, one very quick point, which has been evident from the start of the war, actually, and is becoming increasingly evident now, is the capabilities to knock out large numbers of vehicles when they're operating together. By precision strikes, you've got handheld weapons, which can knock out tanks. And we've seen that from the beginning, as I say. But you've also now got this incredibly precise artillery in the hands of the Ukrainians. So you're not going to be seeing any big formations of Russian tanks or vehicles, in my view, anywhere near high miles in the triple seven artillery. And the same goes for the Ukrainians, of course, because they've been very clever at dispersing their forces, as Phil has pointed out in his interview, air power is a non-factor. They cancel each other out, but they do have very effective artillery on both sides, and particularly on the Ukrainian side. OK, we've got a very interesting question from Ivarus. He's Lithuanian. I'm listening to every episode, and I have some thoughts and questions about war. Now, I'm going to have to summarize. This is quite long this email. But in a nutshell, Ivarus is opening up the possibility that tactical nuclear weapons might be used. He says, of course, it may get to the point where Putin's life is in danger. If he loses on the battlefield, he's got nothing to lose. Why wouldn't he use nuclear weapons? So Ivarus' question is, what is the West going to do if that happens? Well, we've already answered that. And so Ivarus' question is, what's going to happen next? We've said, from our sources, and the various reports we've read, that there will be a massive conventional response. That's certainly the indication that the West has given Russia. But Ivarus' response to that is, OK, fine, but unless you're going to destroy the whole of Russia, there is a chance that there could be a nuclear escalation. Well, of course, that's true. But if I'm going to say anything that's going to allow you to sleep at night, Ivarus, because you're a little bit closer to the Russians than we are in Lithuania, it's the relatively good news that what was, well, two things, actually. What was being discussed, so we know between the intelligence chiefs in Ankara, that's the Russian and the US intelligence chiefs, is the use of nuclear weapons. And it's quite clear that there was a warning laid out by the Americans there, but even more significantly, in my view, this joint statement that's been put out by the G20 conference in Bali this week by China and America condemning the use of nuclear weapons. And it's pretty clear that this is a diplomatic shot across the bow of Russia and coming from China, I think that's hugely significant. We've got another one here from Andres Selcheido. We're probably mangling these names, though, it takes a vex if we can't. We don't get them right. We're doing our best. Anyway, he says, hello, congratulations for your podcast. I never miss an episode. Good for you, Andres. But he makes interesting parallel, actually, between the current podcast, not previous one, because he says, as time goes by in the Ukraine war, I can't help it. I can't see some parallel aspects of this war with a faultful conflict with Argentina. He mentions the Navy, the way the Argentinian Navy was very active at the beginning of the war. And then after seeing the Belgrano went back to Port, he says a similar thing is happening with the Russian Navy. But he also makes interesting point about the conduct of the infantry. He says, the Argentinian infantry was left to fend for themselves. They chose to dug in on fixed fortified positions around Stanley. And of course, fell when they were attacked by a smaller mobile British units. He doesn't mean to undermine the bravery of Argentinian soldiers, but he thinks so that history may well repeat itself. And he sees no other possible outcome than Russian defeat. Well, yeah, he's at your right there. Andres, I think there are some interesting parallels. Of course, there's much bigger scale, but perhaps the essentials remain the same. Yeah, and particularly that is pointed about Manuva. I mean, Manuva is terribly important and who's doing all the maneuvering in the current conflict? It is, of course, Ukraine. Right. Moving on to the final one, this is Simon who has asked a question before. So he's thanking us for responding to his question in the previous podcast and he really appreciated that. And it led to a conversation with a Ukrainian guest. So he's obviously got someone staying with him called Katia after he played the podcast to her. She spoke about how many of the Russian soldiers are from regional areas. She described traveling from Sumi in Ukraine to Moscow to visit a relative on poor roads and witnessing rural poverty in land that was very unproductive. I had not fully appreciated this, Simon, until she pointed it out. Then in many ways, Ukraine has more large cities and is more developed in many areas than considerable parts of Russia. Katia was evacuated from Sumi in April following the threat of encirclement from Russian troops. She was very pleased to hear news today from her Ukrainian friends about the Russian retreat from Kerson. Thank you again for your excellent work on battlefield Ukraine. However, I do look forward to a time when you can return to covering a story rather than how it was. And so say both of us. Thanks so much, Simon. Well, that's the subject we keep returning to. Simon, I think it will probably go unresolved for some time yet. Okay, that's all we've got time for. Before we go, just a quick reminder, you can email any questions to us at Battleground Ukraine, all one word, at So do join us again next week when we'll have another brilliant guest, Colin Freeman, telling us all about life on the front lines around Kerson. Good bye. I don't know if you guys did some traditions before games or anything to you. As a team. Yeah, as a team. Angle and play is probably drink a lot. Coffee, coffee. No, but seriously, if I tell you this without having won anything or just like that, you will say these guys are some professional. These are these. I really want to know what I said. We want it. No, but he we finished the training, let's say the day before the game. We have dinner. And after that, everyone goes a little bit to have their treatments or something like this. At 12 o'clock, midnight at paper rena's room, we always had normal rooms. All of us, 22 players, normal rooms and then paper rena has this big like suite. No, when he was happy, he got a best friend. But there is a reason behind this because all of us, 23 players meet in his room the night before the game at 12 o'clock. And there is crozans, chocolate crozans, you know, the powder, you can put the chocolate powder on the milk, you mix it. Next week. Yes, that's cool. Correct. The next week. And we start telling stories and we love and we have so much fun. You know, are you remember 10 years ago? Midnight. At midnight. We all go, we live one o'clock. Yeah, we still bosky with you? No, no, no. Did he know? After that, he knew. Obviously, he had not at the beginning, but after he did know. And it made such a special atmosphere around the team spirit, team spirit. And little things like a note. I've got to note to myself, ever I'm coached, right? I've got to have a midnight. It doesn't sound good. I know it sounds, but with Quasol, leave me in chocolate. Next quick, he'd help. That's fantastic. That's it. That's the secret. That's how you win a World Cup. We've solved it. How to win a World Cup. An audible original podcast. Listen now. Subscription required. for terms.