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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16. Frontline Reality

16. Frontline Reality

Fri, 25 Nov 2022 01:00

What is the reality of the situation on the frontline and in Kyiv? This week's guest is Colin Freeman, who is expertly placed to tell us, as he has recently returned from near the frontlines in Kherson. He gave us some valuable insight into what has actually been happening on the ground, the reality of life for Ukrainians, and the motivations of foreign volunteers fighting in Ukraine.

Producer: James Hodgson

Twitter: @PodBattleground

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Hello and welcome back to the latest episode of Battleground Ukraine with me, Saul David, and Patrick Vischel. This week all the concern parties in the conflict seem to be catching their breath as they gear up for the next phase. Despite the lack of news and there is an information blackout on detailed military developments on the Ukrainian side, we seem to be entering a significant new period which could decide whether the war finishes before the spring or drags on and on. Yes, well the Ukrainians have certainly been making optimistic noises predicting that it's going to be the former and earlier this week, the Deputy Ukrainian Defence Minister Volodymyr Havriliev said Ukrainian forces could be back in Crimea before the new year and the Russians comprehensively defeated by the spring. We shall see. The Ukrainians may not be telling us about the battlefield but we have our own sources notably journalist Colin Freeman, the former Chief Foreign Correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph and for my money one of the finest foreign correspondents of our day. He's just been on the front lines around Kerson and he's given us a fascinating account of what he saw there and what's going on. But first how do you see things going at the moment Saul? Well Havriliev's remarks are very interesting aren't they? In the interview he gets some dark hints that the optimism is in part based on the likelihood of what he calls a black swan event in Moscow, i.e. an out of the blue development such as a coup of some sort to topple Vladimir Putin and it's interesting that other indications are coming also from the Ukrainian side that Putin is living in fear for his life as the army retreats. You know this is all playing into the idea that someone or something is going to act against it. Now we know who the usual characters are Patrick but the question we have to decide is whether or not this is a Ukrainian led story or whether there really is trouble of foot inside Russia at the moment. Yeah before we get to that point though Ukraine has admitted that it's continuing operations in a big way to exploit its success in recapturing Kerson. They're now attacking Russian positions in the Kinburn spit. I think this is a place a location we're going to be hearing a lot about in the coming weeks which is a gateway to the Black Sea basin and the parts of the southern Kerson area that are still under Russian control. Do you know about this place? Have you heard much about this before? I think this is very significant actually. There's a story coming out today that not only are operations planned but they're actually ongoing and they're having a lot of success and the reason this is so significant is if you look at a map Patrick the Kinburn spit is actually on the south bank of the Deneepro River. It not only controls the entrance to this huge waterway that effectively divides eastern West Ukraine but he's actually on the south bank. In other words if it's true if these reports are accurate and Ukrainian forces have already got a foot hole there. All this talk about the difficulty of actually crossing this huge waterway. Colin mentions that as we're going to discover in the interview later on. That's already underway and they will have a foothold on the southern bank so I think it's massively important. There are lots of indications that Ukrainians are pretty convinced they're going to retake prime here. Well not everyone believes that of course and there's a long way to go there but the taking of this spit would be certainly an important marker along that road. All this sounds to be saw as if the Ukrainian sense that they've got to finish the job quickly. They're pushing on they're not letting winter hold about there's something else we'll hear from Colin later on. This notion that everything stops for winter seems to have gone out of the window in this upcoming next phase. But I think behind it all is a sense that they've got to keep western support high and at the moment it's a very high level but they understand it's finite and over time it's bound to a road. So they want to create the impression that imminent victory is a possibility in order to keep support high. If you think about it the US is currently giving them everything they need militarily which is a very expensive business but you're getting voices on the left and the right who are wondering how long this is going to go on for. I always get the feeling that the shines going off President Zelensky I'm not surprisingly you know he's been this golden voice since the beginning but it's a bit of exasperation I feel in the White House following his insistence. Remember this story last week about the rocket that landed at Eastern Poland killing to farm work. Well he was insisting it was a Russian rocket even when it became clear that it was actually Ukrainian missile that had been trying to fend off a Russian missile attack. Now this is the sort of thing that just encourages the Dalters and conspiracy theorists who are a significant factor in shaping American public opinion and they'll be saying you know how much is you key of manipulating the narrative in order to drag the US deeper into the war. You've just been in the States haven't you saw I think you were taking your yacht in for another refit is that right. But no not quite Patrick but I was over there for a history conference and it was interesting to sort of pick up on the sense of support or not for Ukraine actually the support felt pretty firm but there was a very interesting story while I was there and that is the news that the American journalist who broke the story for a wire service that it was almost certainly a Russian missile he cited one source in defense official who was pretty convinced that this was a Russian missile fired by Russian forces that had struck Poland as you mentioned Patrick. We almost certainly know now that that was a Ukrainian missile it may have been Russian built of course an S 300 but it was almost certainly fired by the Ukrainians and it's interesting that Zelensky's insistence on that is as you suggest Patrick really his first big misstep in the information war it seemed that he saw it as a great opportunity to bring NATO in even more firmly on the side of Ukraine and he's definitely overplayed his hand on that one does this also feed into these suggestions that there's a trouble of foot Vladimir Putin we don't know for sure but it's it's very interesting just to go into a bit more detail about that story about him living in fear of his life well this comes from one of Zelensky's chief aides and he said this week Putin is very afraid because there is no forgiveness in Russia for Tsar who lose wars and the man who says this was Alexei a rest of it she's an advisor to the Ukrainian president's chief of staff and he went on to say he is fighting for his life now if he loses the war at least in the minds of Russians it means the end the end of him as a political figure and possibly in the physical sense now we know Patrick from history that there is a law that is not a truth in that but the question is is there really trouble of foot for Putin or is this the Ukrainian stirring up mischief? Yeah and I think what's happening is that we are in a kind of reality check mode here the US want to know that it's in their strategic interest to stay the course and they're looking beyond the battlefield to what happens after whichever way the war ends and I think all the scenarios are pretty pessimistic Russia is not necessarily going to be a better place than it is now it may in deep be a much worse place this is a point that one of our listeners makes later on so we'll be discussing that further but also I think it's dawning in Western capitals just how enormous the task of recovery is going to be in Ukraine you know are they ever going to get back to this free war state where everything was pointing in the right direction are you westwards and towards openness and democracy against defeating the kind of grip of the oligarchs turning into a twenty-first century modern place you know that's going to be an enormously daunting task and a very expensive one so I think the idea that this is some sort of wonderful crusade has fallen by the wayside and people are asking some very tough questions okay well that's all from us now in this half the rest of it's going to be devoted to Colin Freeman who's just come back from Kerson I talked to him earlier this week and this is what he told me Colin welcome thanks very much for coming on the podcast now you've been down on the front lines around Kerson despite all the kind of media presence and all the resources there are there to record what's happening we still have a very sketchy view of what's going on actually on the battlefield can you describe for us the kind of sights and sounds of what you've been seeing so I spent about four days down there about two weeks ago with some British military volunteers actually who were part of an international unit of volunteers working alongside the Ukrainian forces we were not right right upon the front lines themselves but we were kind of what you might call a sort of rearward operating base or something like that in a village about 50 or 60 miles north of Kerson the front lines themselves I think were about a half hours drive from where we were but it's still very but you feel like you're in the zone as it were it's not a part of the country that you're allowed to access just independently you have to be there with military people as there's various jet points and so on that you have to go through and you hear the sound of missiles coming in occasionally but from spending some time up that I got an idea of what the lion the land is it feels a little bit like someone like Norfolk really it's very flat mainly farmland with the odd village here and there and then up towards the real point of contact itself which I think locally they refer to it as the zero line I think of line zero that's where you have the two opposing sides of usually several miles apart but at certain points where they set up observation points are sending in recon units basically to observe each other they can end up pretty close together so you've got the two sides there trying to take what is effectively very flat no-ppin land which makes it difficult for one side to gain an advantage over the other and a number of the towns and villages that were being referred to when I was there were the same towns and villages that were being referred to when I was previously in southern in that same general region back in July so in some ways that had not been an enormous amount of movement what tends to happen is you'll get a recon unit will head up pressing forwards trying to observe where the Russian lines are that is a hazardous procedure because there's no cover the only ways of moving around really are through ditches you know agricultural ditches primarily and tree lines I.e. belts of trees which are built to protect the fields usually quite narrow you know maybe sort of 20 30 yards wide or something like that and occasionally they are culvert as well so you're really just using any cover that you can those recon units of which the Brits that I was with move one they crawl they spend the time crawling up through these things trying to get a fix on where the enemy positions are which ones are moved someone and so forth and then trying to dilate I think artillery strikes etc etc and then occasionally there's a there's a big push on a village or a town where you do tend to get quite intensive fighting some of the Brits told me that there's there's no other way of doing it you this is not like Afghanistan where you can game plan around things using air power or something like that and try and minimize casualties or have no casualties at all in several of these towns they have had to basically go steaming I think with artillery support with lots of preparation but still having to go in with several relatively narrow points of approach along the tree lines or wherever there's cover and then often sustaining quite heavy casualties was told that in one big battle back in September which was really that I think the last big battle they'd had they lost I think the Ukrainians lost something like about 150 guys 200 injured or something and the Russians lost anything up to about 700 that was just to take one relatively small town they were gearing up for another big push when I was there but then as we now know the Russians pulled out of course on anyway so that big push did not happen that's absolutely fascinating so it's basically a lot of preparation and then a brief and bloody encounter it sounds like when they basically go in to a heavily defended area and just slug it out over a couple of hours until you either take it or or you retreat that's right yes the battle that I've just referred to where 150 Ukrainians were apparently killed I've not been able to verify these casualty figures by the way but they were told to me by more than one person that that was referred to as a battle in in a day we lost that many in a day I think it was all over within a day or certainly not not much more than that so yes it's a lot of crawling around positioning etc etc with artillery going on here and there and then one big burst of fighting intense fighting to take a particular town or village and then sometimes some of those towns and villages see saw back as well yeah tell us about the bridge you were with I was with two brits I'm not going to name them at the moment but both guys X military guys ones in his late 20s and all one in his early 30s and they have fighting with a mixed volunteer unit there are Americans in the unit there are other Europeans and they liais also that they're part of the also with them are a number of Ukrainians as well the foreign volunteers some of them you know I've not fought before they're not a previous military experience so though they they had other relevance relevant experience as being men at arms I suppose you could say one one was a policeman a former policeman from from America so you know he had some relevant experience for example in in house clearing which of course policemen do quite a lot in the US with weapons anticipating you know armed so somebody perhaps with a gun on the other side of the door or whatever and mainly what they were doing was training quite a lot we went down to a training range where they were training local Ukrainians in infantry tactics and that was quite interesting because you for certainly for a non-soldier like me you realize that there's a great deal more to infantry tactics than meets the eye it's not just a case of perhaps you know I'm probably typical in thinking that when I see a group of soldiers wandering through a battle field you see them all going marching single fire maybe five meters behind each other you think that's perhaps as much as there is to it they don't you know don't bunch up too much in actual fact there's all sorts of tactics like peeling and things like that which means basically that if you come under fire one group of you goes one way and one group of you goes the other but it's done in a kind of choreographed semi synchronized fashion so that someone is always putting down gunfire and so on so it was interesting to see that and you you realize just the extent to which all that kind of thing has to be drilled and the extent to which so much of those tactics are organized around coping when you come under fire or your soldiers get singed it brings home the sort of sense of danger to you a little bit then the other thing these guys were doing was as I say recon stuff but in terms of their you know their motivations well there's a mixed group of motivations really a lot of them are saying well you know we we don't like what Vladimir Putin is doing and we want to help Ukraine fend him off and I suppose that that all well in sense really following in the footsteps of George Orwell in volunteering for the Republicans in Spain in the 1930s just trying to fight evil really and quite a lot of them say you know Putin's invasion of Ukraine is merely fascism in it in in another form but there are other motivations there as well for some of them who missed out on combat in Afghanistan or Iraq for example it's a chance to put their combat skills to the test for others I mean quite candid about this they say you know civilian life back in the UK or or elsewhere doesn't really offer for military people quite the sort of same sense of purpose and so on and this is an opportunity to rediscover that and sometimes to to put right some of the to sort of address some of the angst and the boredom and just dissatisfaction they have with civilian life I think a lot of them they just say they miss the discipline of army life they don't like being in civilian in the civilian world while people turn up late and people tend to complain about a lot of things that you know if you're in a battle field probably don't seem to be that relevant in life so there's a variety of motives so could I just put in the to draw the question morale that Ukrainian morale you know of course we get a picture here of everyone's rock solid and everyone's behind the kind of war aims are stated by Zelensky in the government did you find that to be the case in your dealings with both civilians and Ukrainian soldiers yes I didn't find anything to suggest that it wasn't the case obviously when you ask people that sort of question as a reporter about morale they may want to give a certain answer to present a certain face to the world but the soldiers I spoke to both the foreigners and the Ukrainians all said morale was good and the civilians largely said the same thing certainly in the case of the soldiers some of them you're asking that question well aware of the fact that they've lost numerous comrades but never did I encounter anybody saying oh you know I can't stand this anymore what you do get a bit of sometimes and I only really heard this second hand I asked some of the soldiers all what what do the others say to you when what did the some of the Brits soldiers I said what did the Ukrainians say to you you know privately about you know how they're feeling and they said well occasionally they'll say I'll you know we're tired of constantly being in in fear of our lives and so on but I think generally speaking morale is okay for the obvious reason that the battle and the war generally is going their way so there is a sense that the sacrifices seem worth it and what are the conditions like when you're that out of the line there's sort of distances you're talking about it seems it might be possible to actually live in some degree of comfort when you're not actually out on patrol is that the case yeah I mean we were in a village where the most of the soldiers were living in requisitioned houses we weren't so close to the front lines that we everybody was living in trenches or dugouts or foxholes in this village they had electricity it was a bit patchy and they were living in mainly in kind of you know local farmers cottages the place where you went wherein was was not terribly flash it had a kind of you know outdoor hole in the wall toilet etc but other people had you know places that would not have looked out of place back here in the UK really perfectly serviceable accommodation it depends on what they can get from people really well that was fascinating stuff and join us in part two for the rest of Collins interview and for the listener's emails welcome back well we've heard a little bit from Colin about life on the battlefield but we also asked him we were also interested to hear what was life like on the home front at Kiev this is what he told us can you say something about life in Kiev because you've been coming and going from the capital clearly you know it's tough with the blackouts more rest of it how are people coping and what what is daily life like that well I was there for several days the week before last to be honest I didn't notice that much difference Kiev generally I've spent a lot of time there in the last nine months and it's remarkable how quickly people have adapted to living as a city under war the war quite a few air-raid zones while I was there but I don't think there were any actually any bombs or drones and I was wondering around the city eating in cafes and restaurants and I also noticed that in the evenings there were lots of people going out for quenching bars and restaurants streets are actually pretty busy you know at night the clock on a Friday night so broadly speaking it seemed pretty much as normal now winter is coming what's your view of how that's going to affect the future of the war or the temper of the war well it will certainly slow things down for a bit what tends to happen before the the onset of the real hard winter is you get a lot of very wet weather for several weeks I think we may even be going through that now which bogs down fields and ground and so on which makes it difficult for heavy armor to move around but then after that of course it all starts to freeze and as I understand I think the ground color hardens up again what I also do know is that during the the Donbass war that's been going simmering really since 2014 2015 fighting often carried on during that period and you occasionally had a number of key battles that were waged in January and February so for everyone who says you know everything's going to go right or a halt once the snow starts there are others who are saying well no that's not going to happen it will be tougher and it will be more unpleasant but if one side or the other thinks they can spot an opportunity by pressing ahead during the winter season they'll probably do so can I ask you about your own feelings about the war collar and you've done a lot of war reporting down the years you've seen a lot of different kinds of conflict what does this one mean to you does it have a special quality for you I think to some extent of course it's it's interesting because it is a war on your back doorstep in a way that other ones haven't been I was too young to cover Bosnia or any of the Balkans wars at the beginning it was a bit scary when I was first in Kiev at sorry in Ukraine at the beginning of the war you sort of thought right you know this is not like a war in the Middle East or certain parts of Africa this is Vladimir Putin and the second superpower of the world everybody presumed that he would be you know almost omnipotent and you had no idea where soldiers were going to land and you know what borders might be cut off where suddenly power troopers might turn out where Russian saboteurs might appear and start causing mayhem and chaos with that anybody really knowing who they were it was pretty scary but as time has gone on of course we've realized the limitations of the Russian military what is also novel to me is being welcome as a reporter by the Ukrainians a lot of conflicts have covered in parts of the Middle East where you're worried about kidnapping and things like that that is not an issue for us here I do also get the sense that it has been the making of Ukraine that is not just a sort of bit of mythologizing the country has come together in a way that it never had done before you hear a lot of Ukrainians saying that they may not have been huge fans of President Zelensky prior to the war they are now and my sense is that for certainly for Ukraine in the coming sort of decades and if things go the way they're going this will be the making of the country and it will give them the most enormous lift I think perhaps comparable to the lift that Britain got after World War II that the sense of victory and I think certainly Ukrainians will with World War II you can you can argue over who was the you know who played the definitive role in bringing you know Hitler's rule to an end but in Ukraine they will be able to say yeah we did the fighting experiments go on we did the dying and I think that will probably last them for at least a generation to come and give them the will to perhaps sort of fix some of the political problems that the country has had until now although many of them I think if you have the as the average Ukrainian have been caused by not being hitched to the European Union project that has raised most of the rest of Europe into some degree of prosperity certainly by comparison with Vladimir Putin's Russia. There have been lots of optimistic noises coming out in the wake of the victory in Kerson from the Ukrainian government with one official rather minister saying this week that they could be in Crimea by the new year and it could all be over by the spring do you think that's a realistic prophecy. There was certainly talk of that but there was equally talk that the Russians are well dug in and there are lots of natural boundaries that the Ukrainians would have to overcome to get from Kerson to Crimea all sorts of budges and rivers to cross which would obviously be very very difficult if they were contested. There's also the question of just how much Crimea wants to be liberated depending on who you speak to quite a lot of people in Crimea are pro-Russian anyway although that may have something to do with the fact that it's it's long been a kind of retirement zone a sort of Slavic born myth if you like for retired Russian military people who go there because of the the barmy climate and so on the warm summers and general winters but it's very hard to say I mean I don't think anybody till a month ago nobody thought that Kerson would be taken without a very fierce fight and of course but that happened so who is to say that it might not happen with Crimea as well certainly the Ukrainians are talking about it I talked to somebody an ex-defense minister last week who was full of chat about some sort of move for Crimea in the new year and there are also plans been drawn up for if the Ukrainians do take Crimea back to remove all the Russians who have moved there since Crimea was annexed in 2014 they're pointing out that annexation was illegal and therefore those Russians had no legal right to resettle there that's something like half a million people so yeah they do seem to be intent on doing it but if they do do it it will in potentially involve a lot of fierce fighting and then actually that sort of a second half of removing all the the Russians who moved there that could be difficult and generate perhaps even some unfavorable stories for the Ukrainians that there seem to be turfing people out of their homes but I think they seem to be fairly kind of keen to stick to their guns on that that these people should not have moved there anyway it's also predicted that if they did take to try and take Crimea and try Crimea did for the majority of the Russians who have moved there since 2014 would would probably have cleared off by the time that Ukrainians turned up anyway. Colin that was great thank you so much for talking to us you're welcome. Well there were some great points made there Patrick weren't they it's really interesting to hear really for the first time what life is like on the front line or at least very close to the front line and more interesting than that the nature of the fighting I mean he's he's been knocking around with some of these foreign volunteers and the first point I found particularly fascinating was the motivation of these guys you know yeah there were a few Brits there Americans in fact all different nationalities working with the Ukrainians and the question is why they there well some are there of course because they want to do their bit for Ukraine and stopping Putin but others are there for slightly more selfish reasons I we should be surprised about this I suppose when he comes to soldiers Patrick they missed out on combat in Iraq and Afghanistan but they're also trying to fill in the sort of gaps in their lives you know the sort of boredom that sets in particularly for soldiers no kind of sense of purpose so they've gone out there really to and let's not kid ourselves a lot of soldiers actually quite like the kick of combat or at least the combat theater so all of these things swirling around in terms of why they're there yeah so I think that's something that civilians don't really get is that soldiers actually like fighting or volunteer soldiers people in in peacetime armies actually want to go off and test themselves in a war somewhere and they're certainly getting plenty of opportunities to do that I thought it was brilliant word portrait that he painted there just want to say something about colonies like I said I think he's one of the best around he's self-effacing guy I mean he goes with a lot of trouble to get to the story and takes you know a significant amount of risk and for me he's really what foreign correspondent war correspondent should be about he sees the big picture which he really did describe for us pretty well there one of the things that I got from it was this attitude of the ordinary Ukrainians I mean Merrell seems to be very very solid and it reminded me brought me back to Lebanon the Lebanese wars of the end of the last century and I remember being in Beirut in 1990 in East Bay which is sort of the Christian half and everywhere I saw these giant billboards with the words elepe rétile guinter brûlée don pludable et con mea effrayl translation and of course this comes from the great Jacques Brelison Némikitabah and the translation is it sometimes happens that scorched earth produces more wheat than the best apron now this is the kind that was the spirit of the Christians at the time okay we're in the middle of this male strom of violence and destruction but out of it is going to come this great new society and I think that's what the spirit of the Ukrainians is now of course you have to look at you great as sorry you have to look at Lebanon now and see that it that wasn't the consequences it's a broken state essentially and you know I'm afraid this week I'm in a bit of a gloomy mood about what lies ahead for Ukraine that out of this destruction I'll be going to see this sort of you know phoenix rise and reactions I don't know I don't know what's your thought for well there's been there have been some suggestions we mentioned Zelensky it's the first misstep and there've been some suggestions and in the Western press or at least better way putting it Western commentators on social media that Zelensky is heading for a fall I'm not quite sure where this comes from if you listen to Colin Zelensky hugely popular in Ukraine at the moment you're right of course Patrick we can't predict the future Colin talks about the war at least in the minds of Ukrainians being the making of Ukraine in the same way that the Second World War in some ways has sort of been the making of the UK at least in terms of its national identity some would argue that you know that's a legacy that's you know a bit of a misstep too but of course the danger of this absolute conviction that everything's going to go well is that you you don't really see the reality of how you get out of a conflict like this I think the real issue is at what stage the Ukrainians are going to accept they need to do a deal that's going to save their country you know really from being destroyed we're hearing now that half of all the power and electricity in Ukraine has been destroyed now whatever you feel about the morality of what Russia is doing that's the reality on the ground they're talking about evacuating people from Kesson because you know they literally can't live there without power without heat so you know the country is not in a good state but it is fighting heroically and some of the nature of the fighting I think that Colin brought out was pretty fascinating sort of confirm what we've heard which is this slow methodical approach using artillery but and this was new really at least for me this sudden violence assault by large numbers of Ukrainian soldiers and the result of course quite heavy casualties he talked about one battle in September where 150 to 200 Ukrainians were killed and maybe 700 Russians I mean that's in a single day that's a pretty bloody type of fighting so it's not just a question of using artillery to inch their way forward they are actually making attacks on the ground and it's costing them lives yeah but that's you know it still plays to a picture of a very carefully husbanded approach to casualties I mean those are the gallup in-work in inverse proportion to what you would expect there to be with attackers versus defenders it should be the other way around so I still think they're you know they're showing great signs of intelligence on the battlefield just to go back to what I was saying earlier my sort of you know slightly pessimistic told what I was saying doesn't mean that anyway I feel we should be slackening our support for Ukraine I see it like they do as them actually fighting a proxy battle for our values they're fighting on our behalf they're spilling their blood on our behalf so I think they're right to have this stick with this absolutist approach even though it may not look very realistic if you're sitting in a think tank and writing about it I mean you know if we adopted a ultra realistic attitude in the second mobile we would have given up in 1940 so that's something like having a dream is a great motivating factor I think in conflict yeah it was very interesting to hear sort of following on from that Patrick you're right why would they stop when they're winning Colin left us in little doubt that the fighting is going to go on deeper into the winter than many people expect the the ground freezes up and that of course is an opportunity to make advances so they'll keep going while they can they're threatening the Crimea we'll see how that goes and on the other side of the court it was the fascinating portrait of what's happening in Kiev where it's basically life was normal where it seems to me even with the air raids you know people are going out to cafes and and this is huge the importance psychologically the huge city cosmopolitan city like Kiev is carrying on even in the midst of war I think it's it's pretty impressive frankly quite so well we've got another batch of questions from listeners this week people seem to be enjoying it and they're raising some interesting points here's one from Mike Millis who says hi guys fascinating podcast really enjoying it my question is why is Putin so against NATO and sees them as such a threat surely a defensive body would never be a threat to Russia and he's only concerned about Ukraine joining for the exact reason that it stops him invading other countries on Russia's border well might take on that very simply so a lot of people to hear what you have to say is it's just part of that kind of paranoid mindset that whether out of conviction or out of sort of propaganda manipulation this this is the narrative that is constantly stoked in Putin's Russia everyone's against this everyone hates us they all envious not just our natural resources but also our soul you know they've got this idea that their culture is something that we envy and whatever the NATO says about being only a defensive organization secretly it's a huge conspiracy to basically take over Russia yeah that's what they believe of course we we should look at this in the context of the end of the Soviet Union I mean if you think of Soviet Union times Russia that is heartland Russia has an enormous buffer zone between it and the West which is something it's been trying to create for three or four hundred years so you have to see Putin's mindset in relation to that because that's what he grew up in and pretty much since the end of the fall of the Soviet Union NATO has encroached ever closer towards Moscow so it's not total paranoia his argument is that it poses an existential threat which of course all of us in the West you know wouldn't go along with but you can see why he's got a little bit more paranoid and and of course what this war has done as we mentioned in previous episodes is make it even more likely that NATO's going to encroach on his borders because now we've got you know a pretty strong block in Scandinavia saying they want to join too with Finland and Sweden so he's actually produced the opposite of what he wanted to achieve which plays into another question we've got from Ivoras Kulbenas who talks about an interview he saw on YouTube in which a you create a little sorry Lithuanian military analyst puts the view that a NATO clash is inevitable with Russia because Russia in five or ten years time will spiral into pure fascism and you will really be into a direct confrontation he says is this your view do you think that this clash is inevitable well I mean what I'm hearing from Russia from what we see in Russia there is no viable political opposition that's that's offering a different picture of the future to Russians than more of the same really more nationalism more centralization more paranoia even if this black swan moment does arrive in Moscow and Putin is toppled as we've said before it doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to get anyone who's more to our liking who thinks the way that we do because there simply isn't anyone there who's free to actually form some sort of pool for opposition to form around and of al-Ni the only person who who's who seem to be offering a viable alternative vision is well and truly in jail and there is no sign that the regime is going to let him out anytime soon even so he's not the leader of a mass movement again as we've said before basically civil society been hollowed out in the Putin years and it will take a long time before it's re-created yeah I think your pessimism is justified Patrick I wouldn't entirely rule out Navalny producing some kind of comeback he's quite a remarkable character actually I saw an amazing documentary about him in the aftermath of his poisoning that is one determined man and he does have a lot of support in Russia of course it has to keep its head down so you know let's see how things play out if the if the war goes particularly bad for Putin and there is growing unrest among the public you never know there may be a possibility he'll be released and and some kind of political opposition will be possible but maybe that's a little bit optimistic let's move on to some other questions his Roland Howard hi guys thanks for your podcast three questions why can't Poland use its high Mars to protect Western Ukraine particularly now that the casualties are spilled into Poland well again I think we we've sort of already dealt with that because we now know that this wasn't a Russian missile that hit Poland in which case Poland has no kind of you know sense of using its own weapons that is its own military to enter this war we're not quite at that stage Roland so I don't really think that's relevant to this stage your second question it seems unthinkable that Ukraine can't attack missile batteries in Russia when they are sharing Ukraine with debilitating civilian and infrastructure attacks could the West not change their stance on this as it means Ukraine is fighting with one hand behind their back and I think by that he's asking the question should we be giving them longer range missile systems Patrick well it also should we actually sanction Ukrainian attacks on Russia so well there have been some mysterious incidents haven't they have you know fuel depots etc being struck no one claiming responsibility for it but it being fairly obvious that this was actually a Ukrainian operation but clearly the West has told Ukraine this is a red line that that you can't cross and they by and large they seem to have stuck by that and that's obviously the price for the continued military support that's the reason behind that of course is that they don't the West doesn't want it to escalate any further they want to keep it as contained as possible so I think that's the answer to that one he goes on to ask about no fly zones are we talked a bit about this last week with Philo Brian but I just I think it's really the same answer is that if NATO had declared a no fly zone which is what our friend is asking why they asking us why they didn't the reason that they help out with again because it would be huge escalation no fly zones are a bit of a sort of tricky area they came in just after the first Gulf war when America and the Gulf war alliance decided to impose one on a rock in the north of a rock to protect the coast and the south to protect the shears and they went on for about a decade and it was a sort of mixed story they actually attacked targets on the ground and managed to kill quite a few civilians so just by no means an unalloyed success and of course the major difference there is Iraq had no real air force to speak about that point whereas if we got into an air confrontation with Russia you would very quickly be into escalation territory you will have in effect declaring war on Russia okay we'll move on to another question now this is from Matt Walters high battle ground team I've really been during the pods since I discovered it a few weeks ago really insightful and informative with great access to guests one thing's been puzzling me since you mentioned it in an earlier episode and this is the question of whether or not the Russian economy is going to nose dive whether we're almost at a cliff edge well he suggests that we mentioned this early I don't think we did I think one of our guests did that might have been oh in Matthew certainly one of our experts on Russia and we do know from the latest figures coming out actually that the Russian economy is likely its GDP is likely to shrink by 4% next year so that may not sound like a cliff edge to you but of course this is a pretty significant contraction and economically and in terms of military supply the squeeze is definitely being put on Russia its ability to provide munitions its ability to keep its population happy frankly in terms of rising prices and production is going to be a big issue in the new year so I think there is trouble coming Patrick what's your reading of this? It's slow it coming slower than we anticipated I think but it's definitely coming I mean just in the last week Moscow's issued 11.4 billion pounds worth of debt you know it's selling its debt on the international money markets you know this is something that shouldn't really have happened we were told at the beginning of the conflict that they had this huge war chest they've been actually planning financially for this for some period well that seems to already run down they've expended a huge amount of munitions they've got two problems their one is finding the money to actually buy replacements and more importantly finding someone who's actually going to sell them the kit that they need figures coming out the last couple of days have been suggesting they've really got through a lot of their stockpiles and so they're in a bad place if they want to continue the war it's going to cost them a hell of a lot of money which is only going to accelerate economic decline so yeah there I think there is going to be a steep downturn on the very near horizon they're already feeling the pinch but I think Russia's got a big capacity to absorb pain like this but it's not finite okay Chris Paffet is a long time listener living in Kenya and he asked the question who's actually making the military decisions on the Ukrainian side it strikes Chris that Zelensky although obviously very clever and adaptable is not an experienced military commander and therefore who's making the decisions well Chris you're almost certainly right it's not Zelensky I think it's a big mistake when Patrick and I know from history that it's a big mistake when a politician interferes with military decisions we've mentioned this before of course most infamously in the Sakamoto war with Hitler but also it seems that Putin has made a number of key military decisions and that his chief of staff and that his senior military people have not been allowed to run the war at least possibly until now what does seem to be happening on the Ukrainian side is that their senior generals are running in the war they've got a particularly good chief of staff but also a very good and maybe this is even more significant chief of military intelligence they are undoubtedly winning the intelligence war hugely assisted of course by NATO a point that was made by Phil last week but generally speaking the senior elements in the Ukrainian war have frankly been playing a blinder since the invasion if you look at a map of where Russia was in those first few days of the invasion where they are now enormous areas of territory have been won back the question is how much more can the Ukrainians win back because you know as they're saying as we've discussed earlier they want to win everything back and you know we sympathize in there in their attempts to do that the question is is it practically possible I think the other thing that's in play here is it has been a very conscious decision on the Ukrainian side in their information campaign to centralize the whole story around the figure of Zelensky and so the narrative isn't muddied by having these other figures who public attention will be diverted away from either terrific magnetic personality of the leader so we don't know the names of key military commanders in the field there's been no attempt to sort of build them up into heroes this may be something that actually becomes an issue when the fighting stops but for the moment I think it's the right thing to do even though we know Zelensky isn't making you know key sort of battle field decisions we see in him the personification in carnation of the struggle and that's been very effective in maintaining support thus far. Okay question from Peter Richards he's from Australia a wider the Russians not utilize their air capabilities tactical aircraft bombers where is the air war surely Ukraine cannot defend against strategic bombers well we did address this actually in Patrick's questions to fill last week and he made it pretty clear that in the tactical sense the airspace over Ukraine is pretty neutral at the moment in that neither side is really able to use many of their air assets it's simply too dangerous which is why you've got a lot of unmanned air drone activity both in the air and in the sea actually interesting enough but also it should be pointed out that Russia is attempted to use its strategic capabilities a lot of these missiles that have been launched into Ukraine in the last couple of weeks have been coming from planes so they're certainly doing that but they are not unless of course they use weapons of mass destruction an attempt to actually win the war they're an attempt to degrade civilian infrastructure in Ukraine and of course it's having a certain amount of success in that sense but it's not a war-winning capability on its own. Okay one more interesting email came in from Paul Gallagher it's quite detailed and I'm just going to refer to one specific part of it and that's on nuclear weapons the question keeps coming up but would you agree that Putin has played the nuclear wolf card for the last time Russia's disastrous campaign might be seen to have undermined their own nuclear deterrent given their poor showing on the battlefield could they even pull off a strategic first strike or even limited tactical use it's a really interesting question isn't that Patrick because you know I have the same feeling that Paul does is only some of you times you could threaten to use nuclear weapons are you actually going to do it and if you do do it you know it does everything change with NATO coming in I mean it seems to me I know people are still concerned about this but it seems to me that actually the nuclear card can no longer be played what what do you think I think that yeah it's it had its uses potentially earlier on you know couple of months back I suppose it all started and it even longer and the West played a pretty good hand I think in calling as bluff and I think it's diminishing returns isn't it you can't keep on raffling that nuclear saber the effect gets weaker and weaker and I think that's what we're seeing now right well that's all we've got time for this week as mentioned in this episode the information aspect of this war is very significant indeed and next week we're going to be talking to Dr. Ilya Yablukov who's an expert in all this how information is used in war and but he's particularly going to be talking about the Russian strategy in this conflict do join us then hello I'm Reese James and I'm Lloyd Griffith and we host a new comedy podcast called Fit and Proper available now each week we invite a different guest to take over a football club and rebuild it however they want from moving the stadium nearer to their house to insist in all the players have a mustache just for a bit of a laugh then our super computer decides if they are a fit and proper person to run a football club here are a few examples as some of our guests ideas so far I am a visionary owner I'm a future based owner so I would be looking to you know not only scout young players but create young players back in 1920 they wouldn't go oh let's sign a 14 year old he might get good they'll just buy a good to 18 year old now they buy a good 7 year old I'm buying good fetuses this afternoon at Easter road hebs take on come on Nick FC also I thought of lovely and also before the match I've got the biggest change will be to the mascot mascot should get at the crowd raging so I want the I want the hebs mascot to be the most English looking bastard you can think of then the hebs team come out and like Chuck slamming and then we all go menflin in the game starts great it's going to be a tiered seating but not according to price according to what type of fan you are we will have cameras trained on everyone and then I have a team of people they'll be watching assessing you and they will be reallocating your seat according to how you respond to the game so they'll be making notes every time you talk so is it a one game thing and then it's allocated or is it every game you can get reallocated no I will do it I'm not unreasonable I'll do it over a period of possibly two games one thing I'm going to have I'm going to section off the away end right away section yeah they've like they've like actual like dividers right so that actually you feel safe and secure and then hanging over them if you're a massive bee's nest you don't even need to be a football fan to enjoy it new episodes of fit and proper are released every Tuesday with guests including Tom Rosenthal Emily Dean Ian Sterling Ivo Graham and many more so search fit and proper to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts