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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17. A Russian's perspective

17. A Russian's perspective

Fri, 02 Dec 2022 01:00

This week on Battleground: Ukraine, our guest is Russian national Dr Ilya Yablokov - Lecturer in Digital Journalism and Disinformation at Sheffield University. Who gives a fascinating interview about his perspective on the how the situation is in Russia and how it is likely to unfold. Saul and Patrick also discuss the battlefield in Bakhmut and answer some of the listeners questions.

Producer: James Hodgson

Twitter: @PodBattleground

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Hello and welcome back to Battlefield Ukraine with the Patrick Bishop and Saul David. Well against earlier predictions the onset of winter has not done much to slow the tempo of the war either on the battlefield or the home front that intensive fighting continuing to rage around Bachmut in the Donetsk and Putin persevering with his campaign to freeze Ukrainian civilians into submission. The failure of the Russians to deliver anything that can be called a victory is creating problems for Putin at home. One area it's really hard to get a handle on is the fluctuations of Russian domestic opinion which is why we're very lucky this week to have spoken to Dr. Ilya Yablakov of Sheffield University. Ilya is a Russian himself and an expert in Russian information strategy which has been of course a big part of the war. He will be telling us all about that as well as painting a very dramatic and alarming picture of what may be coming next in Russia. But first of all let's talk a bit about the fighting and in particular battle around the city of Bachmut. This has been pretty under reported but it's been going on for months and it shows no signs of abating. Reporters who've been down there recently painted picture of a sort of 21st century bird done with imagery of muddy trenches, constant artillery bombardments and landscapes utterly destroyed. So you've got this sort of sea of mud with tree stumps sticking out rather like a sort of poor mashed painting from the Western Front of the First World War. What's going on there's all it seems to me that Bachmut's strategic value to the Russians is pretty limited. You look at the map it's not really near anywhere and here they are you know week in week out feeding more troops into the meat grinder to know obvious sort of beneficial effect apart from the political one of saying that they do control the the Donetsk which of course now is a legitimate part of Russia. How do you sit? Well I think that's it. I think this is you know they need to get hold of it so they can announce it in the press but it's actual strategic and operational value is very limited. It's a complete mystery because what's likely happening here Patrick as we know from some of the pictures and some of the reports is that the body count on the Russian side is going up alarmingly around Bachmut there seems to be strong indications that they're putting a lot of their new guys in there these untrained unmotivated frankly soldiers and this is all going to backfire on them sooner rather than later we're going to hear from Ilya in the interview the potential problems that are being caused at home and of course this seems to be the source of thing that's going to exacerbate that because sooner or later the women of Russia are going to say what an earth is going on. Yeah just to get back to actually Russian battlefield approach I mean what they're doing here seems to me is a fundamental area they're not learning the mistakes of the previous blood bars they've got engaged in again to no great sort of military purpose so I think in the progress of a war the side that actually learns from its mistakes quickest and draws the correct conclusions and adjust accordingly is just going to have an advantage now that's something that we absolutely have not seen on the Russian side they've played into the Ukrainians hands over and over again this is developing into a battle of attrition so concentrating on your forces somewhere like this is just inviting the Ukrainians to use their advantage with their long range artillery, rocket artillery etc. I mean just seems to be an act of stupidity. Yeah what the I mean you've heard from previous guests on the show that what the Ukrainians have done very well is use artillery to soften up and actually they have I mean there'll be an exceptions of course and and back moved is probably one of them but there have been very few instances where they're actually launching large scale attacks we heard a little bit from Colin Freeman last week about how some I suppose you'd call a medium scale attacks are being put in by Ukrainian forces so it's not as though they're not suffering any casualties at all but I suspect it's a relatively small amount compared to the number that the Russians are losing particularly in places like back moved. Yeah this of course raises once again the question of casualties this is a big part of the propaganda war we've just had President Zelensky saying that he expects to be a hundred thousand Russian dead by the end of the year as well as gotten loads how many mercenaries as he puts it now they'd figures are a bit disputed but that there's even the Americans are saying that hundred thousand casualties that's dead and wounded minimum so you know this is clearly an ongoing massive problem for Putin at home and you know recruitment they say they're not going to go for another sort of mass levy but there was an interesting story that came out a few days ago showing footage of a bunch of guys who are jogging up and down in uniform and it turns out according to the story that these are actually football fans or footballers who are supporters of a team called FC Tula Arsenal two years about 125 miles south of Moscow and this has meant to be a sort of morale boosting video showing these guys taking part in drills before being sent to the bloodlines in Ukraine and local media saying these these are sort of known as as local sort of troublemakers but it doesn't say much does it is this you know if we're really rated the prisons another they're drafting you least but who do you think I must say they didn't book to every impressive in there on the video and they were wearing his skull masks which I would have thought was attempting faintly and various people have pointed out well that's what you can expect or what you get so far from lights they're all in all a pretty ham-fisted exercise yeah and there's a fascinating poll that's come out of Russia this week carried out apparently by the Kremlin's federal guard service and obtained by Medusa a Russian opposition website and this is bad news for Putin if it's accurate and it states that the number of Russians in favor of continuing the war in Ukraine has recently fallen dramatically with now just one in four supporting the conflicts in July that number was 57% of respondents so they wanted to see Russian troops remain in Ukraine and the figure as I say it's fallen to 25% support for negotiations on the other hand to end the nine month conflict has risen from 32% to 55% this is quite dramatic isn't it Patrick and it backs up I think the point that Ilia made to us which is that there is a real danger that the war is going to collapse not so much on the battlefield which we've been suggesting in recent weeks but actually in Russia that Russia is getting hollowed out now and that Putin is running out of options the other seems to be supported by another kind of cac handed propaganda intervention by Putin where earlier this week he met group of mothers whose sons were fighting in Ukraine and they were automatically supportive of the war and he did his sort of father of a nation bit saying yes we understand your your pain and your anxiety but to know this is a war that has to be won for Russia and of course all the women were instantly exposed as being professional propagandists all members of pro-opuiting groups etc so the whole thing was completely phony and they were rumbled straight away by russian so there were lots of social media contributions from root mothers whose sons were also at the front and who absolutely did not share this supportive view and saying it's disgraceful that you parade these women as being real mothers is not clear at all how many and actually did have sons at the front so you know again backfired hugely just to get back to the the football who are guns this is not a first actually I remember back in the Yugoslav wars when Arkad remember the notorious Arkad warlord very nasty character sort of professional criminal turned ultra-servian patriot and he recruited his unit the tigers from the terraces of red star bell grade so there is a precedent for that fortunately we haven't reached a point in Britain where we've had to stoop to drafting in millwall supporters I don't know there's still some bad ways that they used to be but anyway we've got a way to go yes now moving on Patrick there was an extraordinary story coming out of Bela Russia that the foreign minister Vladimir Makai died suddenly and the suspicion from some of the commentators who are looking at this including opposition figures in Russia the theory is that he was assassinated by the FSB well that's one theory that's been put up and what are the grounds for that well a couple of things he had been prior to the 2020 protests in Belarus trying to move the country into a more kind of pro-Western stance and that changed very quickly of course when there was a crackdown and he's been a vocal supporter of the way ever since then but the other thing that's given Graham for suspicion is that Makai was due to attend this week an organization for security and cooperation in Europe that's the OSCE and that was in Poland to meet key Western politicians and officials a session from which the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was banned so the theory goes that if he was assassinated and poisoning seems to be the favorite theory it was because he was possibly putting out peace-feelers or at least feelers of cooperation towards the West Patrick do you think there's anything in this? The answer is so I really don't know but what's fascinating is how this sort of thing has just become the norm hasn't it when you hear someone's died in mysterious circumstances connected in any way to the Russian side of this story then the assumption is that they've been bumped off by the Kremlin and it's got to the point where the most interesting contribution I've seen to this story was from Professor Mark Gallyoti who's a very strict knowledgeable expert who made the sensational claim that he may indeed that Makai may indeed have actually died from a heart attack as officially stated so we've got to that point where no one believes anything anymore so we'll be getting some real insights into what's going on in Russia next from Dr. Ilya Yarbuklov Saul and I spoke to him earlier this week and this is what he told us Ilya, welcome to the podcast and thanks very much for giving us the benefit of your expertise in a very important area can I just start off by asking you how both sides have approached the information strategy of the conflict well for the Russian side it's clearly the goal is to you know, muddy the waters whose their gender convinced the international community possible at all that there are neo-Nazis in the Ukrainian government or that the ethnic Russians in the east of Ukraine or under repressions etc so basically all those false narratives false facts that the Kremlin was trying to push either it's the you know the desire of Vladimir Putin it's his kind of personal thing or it's you know the policy the by the policy agenda of the so-called silavix so law enforcement services elites in Russia we don't know well it's we can we can speculate about that for Ukraine it's in a way it's a much easier task because they are on the attack and they have to defend themselves and it's clear when you're playing it's a David and Goliav in many ways when you are fighting such a big and influential enemy attack savvy enemy you know the best strategies to be as open as possible so the Ukrainian government really did a great job in putting together communication strategy that would you know catch the attention of ordinary people around the world primarily in democratic countries by saying there is a democracy in the east of Europe somewhere where you would never have thirds and we are fighting for the freedom of Europe and the whole world basically it's that they turned it into the idea there is a strong line of democracy in the east of Europe and that's really worried but I must say that in terms of communication strategy Ukraine is like in the first league for me at least have the Russians actually made any headway selling their narrative anywhere in the world it depends the strategy they quickly realized the Russians quickly realized that pushing those false narratives in western countries in in Europe or in the United States is very problematic because there is a there's a very clear consensus that what Russia is doing is wrong so they have quickly and we know that from multiple research that mean they quickly switched to breaks countries so they've started targeting India, African countries, the Latin America just to make sure that what Putin thinks is the majority of the world we target them so you want to say and that's kind of that's the recurring narrative in Russian propaganda yes there is a like one billion the golden billion that is against Russia but look at the number of those countries they're actively against Russia and look at the rest of the population who either is neutral meaning they receive bonuses from for example buy in cheap Russian oil or they are pro-Russian they are the majority so that's that's kind of it's a populist trick that the Kremlin is trying to arrange in a way from or really much when they realize that a their strategy falling and b the sources the media sources that have been tailored to do that to fulfill this mission they've been banned first and foremost butnic and arty what interests me earlier is the extent to which people in Russia actually believe some of this propaganda do we have any sense of how it's filtered down to the population at large and and therefore how much support there actually is for this special operation in Ukraine it's interesting that you call it special operation hopefully your puts in quotation marks yeah exactly well I am the aggression in Ukraine let's be clear so there is an easy answer and the difficult answer the easy answer is to say that the majority of Russian support that that answer is wrong so we need to find a difficult answer the difficult answer is we need to see that phenomenon of the so-called again quotation marks support of Kremlin's actions in Ukraine from the perspective of the 30 years of really unfair social economic affairs in the country institutionalized by the Kremlin so we are talking about the way how the country was reformed the trauma for millions of people of the US assigned the way how the US is so collapsed and a highly repressive legislation so if it compared the two things 2014 annexation of Crimea and 2020 to the war in Ukraine in 2014 only a few media have been repressed not even closed right repressed so their teams were expelled or management was expelled but the media kept working because there was some sort of a consensus that it's gonna go smoothly for the Kremlin there will be no social unrest what we've seen 2022 once the Kremlin realized that everything goes against the plan they shut down every voice every possible voice right why is it done because they really afraid off of the rights and the second thing yes certainly there will be let's say when if and if you've got some sociological research in that we've got 25 30 people percent of the population that does support what's happening there mostly the so-called far right conservative right the so-called imperialists so people who support the idea that Russia is the empire that is the kind of again it's a recurrentity from the 18th century more or less right Russia must be huge Russia must be the biggest country in the world Russia must define the laws by which the world is working right so for that it's a trauma that Russia is a second or third league player so these people appreciate what is happening at the same time we've got well let's say 30 35 percent but try to be sort of neutral they say well and they find different ways they say look we know that the Kremlin's not always right they're doing all sorts of crimes they're rich they're corrupt and we can't do anything with that but look at Ukraine I mean they're also thieves and look at the West it's like in the interest of the Western countries to increase the amounts of weapons sold to Ukraine so it's in the interest of this military industrial block of the Western states kind of the cliche taken from the Soviet propaganda and in a way from the far right conspiracy theory is in the U.S. who claimed that it's the military industrial block that killed John John Kennedy right so it's a world of uncertainties so we're uncertain about the arguments of the Kremlin we distrust them but we can't do anything with them at the same time you know Ukraine America they all the same so that the narrative of cynicism that drives that 30 35 percent roughly right and then we've got the people they left 30 percent again roughly that are actively against that but they're afraid because what are you going to do the Rothschild is not at the frontline so if they go and protest they will be arrested immediately right and you don't know what's going to be the outcome you don't know when the regime is going to fall next month or in three years time what is going to happen to you what's going to happen to your family what's going to happen to your mortgage career etc so people sort of try to cope with that and they're silent for very clear reasons certainly when and if there will be a much more massive unrest probably triggered by women mothers wives of those mobilized men when the protests will be slightly wider those people who are not happy about what is happening are going to go to this right because it's easier to go and protest when you are actually in the bigger crowds and you have much more power to change things well that's a very interesting stuff there which we're going to discuss join us after the break for the second part of Ilya's interview plus our responses to listeners questions the How-To Academy podcast is a biweekly show from London's home of big thinking they invite the world's most exciting leaders scholars and entrepreneurs to share their ideas for transforming our lives and the world previous guests include Bill Clinton Isabella Lende Malcolm Gladwell John Ronson leads to set Patrick Radden-Keefe Madeleine Albright Jane Guddle Rory Stewart Melinda Gates Nome Chomsky and many many more available wherever you get your podcasts. Welcome back. Well when Ilya was giving us his analysis on how Russian society divided up in its attitude to the war saw wanted to know but he thought that the third of the population, the young mainly, who are ideologically opposed to the war was getting bigger. This is what he told him before going on to give a startling prediction of how bad things could get in Russia. Just to follow up from that is there any indication Ilya that that 30% you've talked about who are against the war but basically afraid as you pointed out they're uncertain as to the consequences of acting is there any sign that that number is getting bigger? So doing sociological research in the authoritarian regime that is gradually slipping into the totalitarian regime is tricky. There are official sociological polls and there are sort of unofficial polls and unofficial polls say that well that this number is growing. The official polls can only show let's say how the population for example reacts to the media propaganda what kind of media they watch and we see that the number of people who see watching TV shows the major driver of propaganda. This number is going down. Again very gradually again there are a lot of flows in this in this research but it's very important not to have your visual thinking driving your conclusions. As a Russian I like this regime to fall and I like more people to be actually on the side of Ukraine but there's a researcher I understand that probably it's not the point now probably it's there it's something that is going to happen in healthy airtime for example. Again really much depends on many factors. In the event of a Russian military collapse which shows definitely a strong possibility do you think there is enough left of Russian civil society to fill the power vacuum that that will probably create i.e. if there is regime change is the future chaos or is there any kind of you know cohesive opposition that could move in to effectively take over. How many cases of regime change we know that that would be some cohesive opposition coming and to replace the free time regime. Well Iraq is a here an example there would not give you much hope but I'm asking you as a Russian whether you get the feeling that we've used this phrase before that the sides have been so hollowed out that there is nothing but a vacuum. I wouldn't call this vacuum I would call this chaos and I would call this lack of corporation. What Putin's regime has managed to achieve to polarize and atomize the Russian society very rarely you're going to see the cases of solidarity between professionals that actually even applies to journalists in exile. Quality journalists in exile that applies to people like ordinary people there are no unions in the country that would properly work if there was some unionization if there was some kind of attempt to strengthen unity by joining different causes on the big scale on the media side scale that was suppressed by the regime. So the fact that people should support each other contribute to various causes it is there. Lots of young people those who were not able to live the country they were able to grasp that idea. So they are there. The other thing is what happens with the authoritarian regime collapsing and what happens next. Probably there would be a much more violent and aggressive government, provisional governments probably led by some hotliners we don't know. We should fall because in terms of economy they are really bad and there is another issue. Russia is a huge country with lots of regional identities. So if things go really bad in the center we will see civil society and these networks emerging in the regions. Third of from Moscow. Siberia the far east, even this northern Caucasus, Euro etc. That's the biggest challenge to Moscow and they realize that but I don't think they will have enough power to control it. They have already exhausted some resources from the regions. They've taken the police to the front. They've returned some of them back. But if something serious happens in Moscow like Kudeta there will be a lot of like 1991 remember there was quite a lot of uncertainty what was happening and people on the grounds in 1991 they just sat and looked for the outcome. Would it be beneficial for us to move with Moscow? Would it be beneficial for us to just you know stay calm figure out who are the stakeholders on the local level and try to figure out how we're going to work. So there is a very high chance that there will be rapid disintegration of Russia as a result of it and part of this will be civil society and kind of local structures that will be driving them. If anything it's not going to be very smooth process. Can I just ask you about a name that came up last time we were talking about this which is Alexei Navalny is he any kind of force in the land these days? He's in prison. Yeah but he's got a he had a big following beforehand. Is that survived his incarceration? Yeah I mean some of the activists were put into prison and most of the management of his network is now in exile only for any. But again I think it is a quite a strong organization they do have quite a lot of power and creativity soon lead. The question is a do they have the program so do they have do they know what they're going to do in the situation A, B, C, D, another insider so I have no idea whether they're working on that and B whether they want to cooperate with other forces and here I have a very skeptical feeling that from what I know they don't want to speak to or cooperate with anyone who represents the so-called Russian opposition. They see themselves as the main driver of the opposition and here we are going to end up in a very similar dead end in a way of kind of Russian transitional politics. Everyone would want to be the kind of kind of king of the day which will impact on the quality and understanding that democratic regime is needed and even though they do the right thing they're kind of their anti-corruption agenda is very powerful but they again fail on very important thing for every democratic society. Building horizontal networks and trying to make alliances with the people who may not particularly like but the people who want the same thing for the country. Is there any indication, Ilya, that given the sort of potential for disintegration that you've been describing the the current regime have identified that and are therefore looking for a way out of this conflict sooner or later possibly negotiating some kind of face-saving compromise with whom? With the Ukrainians, with the West more generally but obviously with the Ukrainians. I don't think that at this stage there are some negotiations, I might be wrong, I don't know that, right? There are some negotiations with the Ukrainians about some sort of a peace agreement. No matter how harsh this situation is in Ukraine these days, it's difficult to imagine any politician who will strike a deal, a living part of Ukraine after what happened in the hands of the Russian state. So Ukrainians need complete victory, kind of the only power that can really be green-living negotiation is Putin and kind of this the highest circle of the so-called law enforcement elite, Patricia for example. The only reason they want negotiations is to recharge their weapons and bring more man to the front line. And everyone understands that, right? Putin is not the guy who wants to negotiate now for the sake of the peace. He wants like he cannot come as a loser. He cannot end up as a loser and he needs to bring something. And at the moment there is nothing to bring. There is no complete region in Ukraine that is fully controlled by the Kremlin. Those, even those regions that they proclaimed in September as Russian regions are not under control anymore. So they need deep, deep trouble. So we're going to have very conflict in view of what is going to happen. And the only chance for the Kremlin these days is actually to freeze Ukraine and freeze Europe to death. And that's the only thing they want. Because then they think it is going to work. If we manage to go through, we as Europeans, we as in a way hostages of this gas problem. If we manage to go through the winter 2022, 2023, they are going to fail. Because that would leave Putin incredibly vulnerable. Because none of his weapons actually worked. Propaganda, bro, it doesn't work. India and China only need oil and gas. That's the only thing they need from, they do business. It's global business. And they're not interested in shocks. So they need oil. They get this oil. They're happy. But other than that, they're not going to be happy about if Russia sends the nukes to Ukraine. They understand it's going to ruin their business. And millions of people will lose lots of money. So that is the last thing they need. So basically, propaganda strategy fails. Economic war fails. Political gambling fails. The only allies is Iran, right? Not even Turkey, right? Although Turkey also gets its benefits. So Putin is left with nothing. Not even the sports team or not even the football team is now in the world cup, right? So there is nothing to be proud of. Ukraine is not under control. People are dying for various reasons. So what is left? Right? So I'm kind of embedding on the kind of collapse of the regime next year. Just because it very much depends on the gas and oil and all those strategies. But certainly, I might be wrong. But again, visual thinking against rational, critical thinking. Ilya, last question for you. You're a Russian born in Tomtsk. What do you feel about the damage that's been done to Russia's reputation as a consequence of the war? Wow. It's really difficult to find the right words as a Russian. On the one hand, I've been having like second thirds, why is my kind of responsibility, right? As a Russian citizen who left Russia many years ago. But still, I kind of, I, I lived roughly 10 years under Putin, right? And I've seen some of the major milestones. So there is something that I could be blamed for that it's not my, it was my responsibility in many ways. But like, it's a, it was a responsibility of every Russian at that time. But at the same time, I think the regime was going into the wrong direction for 10 years or so. There was a very slim chance of democratization, which we as part of the civil society in Russia failed to realize in 2011, 2012. That was the end, right? When Putin came back to power, the only, the only opportunity he had, on the hands, to smash civil society, because that was the main threat. Then it was a constant search for compromise. That's something that I believe destroyed more than Russia, more than post-Soviet Russia, as we know it from 1991. It was a constant compromise, right? That journalist is arrested. Well, okay, we're going to go on protest, but we're not going to change the whole kind of framework. We're not going to protest. We're not going to push there for it is. We'll see, we'll fight for the next one if it happens, right? That organization is proclaimed for an agent. Well, you can figure out the paperwork, right? So you can still operate in the country. So it's not that bad. Do you know what I mean? So like one step after another, after 2012, or another example, a very good journalist working for the state run media, doing a kind of great, human-oriented project, like getting funding for NGOs, helping kids with terminal decisions. Absolutely fantastic thing to do. But you work and you're funded by this state or state affiliated actors who can always come to you and say, look, we won't be able to give you the money. If you're a journalist and if you're going to run this story about corruption in our company, or how we money laundry could cram this money. So what are you going to do, right? You have in these ways, on the one hand is the life of kids, on the other hand is the investigative report about money laundering. And then you think, okay, how many of these reports have been published so far? What that has changed? And these are realized. What I'm going to opt for. So daily compromise of many Russians and even these days, right? It is a daily compromise. Should I close my eye? Should I just turn off TV, turn off all media sources, news sources and just focus on my daily routine, my career, my life, my kids, my family? Well, it's an escape strategy, right? But in the end, it's not going to be good for kind of Russia as a society, Russia as a country. Now, if you talk about the reputation, reputation wise, it certainly is the end of the Russia that we know. Because it is the moment when the imperial Russia is dying. Russia was empire for many years, for many hundreds of years, right? And the collapse of the Soviet Union was in many ways the first step to kill that empire. What is happening now is the end of this empire in so, so, so many ways. So we're going to have as thinkers, as public intellectuals, academics, as you know, people interested in that, we'll have to try and reconceptualize what is this place like Eurasia, starting from Central Europe and up to Japan and China and Mongolia. Like what is this place? Can we call it, should it be divided into smaller, more national oriented states? How it should look like? How to make this place prosperous, right? How to turn it, in other words, how to turn Russia into the new Canada? So this is what is happening these days. But certainly, the first thing is the blame that the Russian leadership, the Russian media, the Russian political and financial elites, will have what is currently happening in Ukraine. So that's the main thing, right? And certainly it will be a very long period of, let's say, anti-Russian attitudes in many countries. I mean, look, I've been flying through Paris just a couple of days ago and the guy saw my passport and he was shocked and he was not happy that I was there. Although I had all the reasons to be there. So I think many of us, Russians, ethnic Russians, Russian citizens with Russian passports will get used to that. Even though it is directly, it's not our fault and partially it is our responsibility. But that's what it is, right? Well, that was really interesting, wasn't it? And I think the biggest thing I took away from that Patrick was his belief that Russia was backing itself into a corner. If it's attempt to break the West and break support for the West through its war on gas and oil fails, he's absolutely convinced that the regime itself, that's Putin's regime, will collapse next year. He said, I'm betting on the collapse of the regime. He's not absolutely sure of that, but he's beginning to suspect that it's being hollowed out from the inside and that really, they haven't got many cards left to play. Yeah, that really was, if I was listening to that in the Kremlin, I would think, yeah, he's he's absolutely right. I mean, they really are, as far as I can see, they don't really have any options that can restore Putin's power back to where it was before the conflict began. I was also very interested as an expatriate Russian and his acceptance of Russia's future pariah status. I think this is a real burden that young forward-looking Russians like Ilya are going to have to carry with them for the next generation, rather than like the young Germans who weren't directly affected by the war or involved in the war in 1945 had to. But I think something that hasn't been said enough is that for Russia, really, to reform itself and take its place again in the community of nations is that there has to be a mass acknowledgement of what's been going on there, not just in the recent past with Putin, but it's conduct during the whole communist era during the Second World War. Because they won, they've never actually had to confront all the atrocities they committed, all the dreadful things that they did in the same way that Germans had to, as a consequence of their defeat, Germany was transformed by that inevitable judgment that it had to make on itself about its past that hasn't happened in Russia, but I think people like Ilya would agree that it has to, if it's going to ever get out of the morass, it's in at the moment. He also made the point about personal responsibility about how each Russian basically let things happen. He talked about the daily compromise that being Russian forced on you in the early to mid years of Putin's reign, and how gradually the civil and political rights were stripped away freedom of speech. And we are now our where we are. And of course, it reminded me very much, Patrick, given your analogy about Germany and Russia in the Second World War, this reminded me about Nazi Germany in the 1930s, when there were a lot of people who weren't bad per se, but who let things happen. And it got to the point where once the security apparatus was in place, it was very difficult to do anything about it. Once you cross that rubicon and you've allowed an individual or a regime to get too much power. It's how totalitarian states work, isn't it, so it's salami slicing. You just whittle away at people's natural decency bit by bit. It's the old sage saying about how when they came for the communist, I said nothing. When they came for my neighbor, I said nothing, and then they came for me. That's what happens. Let's hope that one good consequence of this war is a swift and hopefully bloodless collapse of the existing order. Yeah, and a tiny note of optimism at the end, depending on which perspective you're looking from, when he talked about the end of imperial Russia, you know, of course, this goes back a long way. We've discussed the history of Russia, but particularly this kind of sense among Putin and the XKGB type since the end of the Cold War that you need to get back to a point where Russia is controlling a lot of the states around it that aren't necessarily ethnically Russian. So if that's the case, then bring it on, frankly, but we know that there are many other potential scenarios. I think whatever happens to the Russia empire as presently constituted is going to wither away. Again, probably no bad thing. Okay, let's move on to some of the questions this week. And here's one from Ted King in Nova Scotia, Canadian, as a retired Canadian sailor of the Royal Canadian Navy. I'm interested in hearing more of the naval aspect of this war, especially in how drone warfare is becoming a force to be reckoned with both at sea and on land. Do you think your crane will be able to send the rest of the black sea fleet to the bottom by the conclusion of this war? Any thoughts on that, Patrick? I think this is one for you. You're on naval expert. I mean, we don't even be speculation what I'm saying. I suppose they certainly haven't gotten anything like the naval capacity of the Russians, but it is interesting that thus far this hasn't really been a big aspect of or except in a big sort of headline moments like the thinking of the of the Moscow. What do you think? I think what seems to be going on is that the naval war in in the black sea is pretty much a non-event, a bit like the air war is over Ukraine because both sides cancel each other out. Now, Ukraine, of course, doesn't have a powerful navy, but it does have the capacity to strike ships in the black sea, as we've already said, not just using improvised missiles, but also with these naval drones. Under unmanned sea drones, we've already speculated on the possibility that our own special forces are assisting the Ukrainians in some way. I suspect that is happening. Does Ukraine have the capacity to send the rest of the black sea fleet to the bottom of the sea? Yes, but only if the black sea fleet comes out. Of course, there's also the risk that it'll be attacked in Harbour as it was in Sevastopol. We don't know for sure, Ted. We're not experts in this, but we are seeing very little activity from the Russian side in the black sea. That would tend to indicate that they don't think they can protect their fleet. I mean, right at the beginning of the war, of course, there was a possibility it was literally going to be anchored off Odessa while a Namibia's force went in. We seem to be a very long way from that now. One from Wayne Totin here who's just been looking at the map and thinking about the next phase of the war, which he sees as being the Crimea, he thinks that both sides will have a problem there. Simply because of its geography, it's connected to the rest of Ukraine by very narrow, isthmus easily defended. He's asking, do you to see a possible recapture of the Crimea by Ukraine? What would you think, as I do, that it could be the biggest stalemate so far in this war? Well, my immediate thought is, yeah, of course, it's very defensible, but at the same time, I think when it gets to the point where Ukraine is actually threatening Crimea, the war would pretty much be over. And in these sort of key battlefields in the south and in the east, they will, Ukraine will have prevailed. So basically, all you'll have left is in Crimea, is a force which will find it almost impossible to be resupplied. It's a retirement century. It's a kind of as college said last week, it's like a sort of Russian born myth, you know, it's full of retirees, who a lot of whom might have fled by then. So I think it may be sort of the last domino to topple. Yeah, and you've hit the nail on the head with the resupply Patrick. We know from the from the damage down to the catch bridge that there is an issue bringing supplies through the Crimea too, of course, the troops in Ukraine proper, but there's an issue supplying Crimea itself. And not only will there be a voluntary flight of civilians from Crimea, if Ukraine genuinely does threaten it. And by the way, one extra bit of news, which we didn't really talk about, was the the fighting that's going on in the mouth of the estuary, that that spit, that sort of vital spit. There are indications that the Ukrainians are making ground there, and this really will as we suggested last week threaten Crimea. So I think the Russians are in a very vulnerable position in Crimea, and we'll be keeping a close eye on that. So let's move on to a new question from our old friend Ivoris from Lithuania. He says, Jonas Irman, a sweet, has created one of the biggest and most influential Lithuanian volunteer organizations in Ukraine, which raises his question on the importance of volunteers in modern war. Our volunteers shaping the face of modern war, are they important? They are a feature of modern war, but they were up, they've been a feature of war from time immemorial Ivoris. Do they tip the balance? I'm not so sure. What you've got with volunteers, of course, is in some cases, former soldiers, so they are trained, but you don't have that kind of unit cohesion, or at least you certainly don't have that at the beginning. It's good propaganda, you know, we think back to the 1930s with the international brigades fighting in the Spanish Civil War. But were they that effective? That's a question, if you read some of the accounts, you've come question whether they really were. So it's good PR to show for Ukraine, for example, that people from all over Europe are going to help in the fight back. How effective they are, I'm not entirely sure. The international brigades in Spain had a very mixed record. I mean, they certainly did shore up the defence of Madrid when it was threatened by Franco's forces, but they were pretty sort of symbolic in other theatres. So as you say, propaganda, I think, rather than real battlefield impact. One now from Barry Hutchinson, whose son is actually in theatre, he's working as a security adviser, he's X-3-parer, and he's working as a security adviser for media organisations. There were Barry's got a couple of questions. One is about US arms shipments. He's staying with these reports that there's a shortage actually of arms coming in from the US after just nine months of the conflict. Why is this given that America was able to sustain much longer campaigns, very long campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. So what's that all about? How come they're running short now? Secondly, why aren't they using the old US-810 war togg this anti-tank aeroplane that hoppers around the battlefield and then sort of dive bombs almost armour? Well, quick response from both of them from me. I think the problem with the US supplies is not that they haven't got the kit. It's just that they own military doctrine means they have to keep a certain level for their own uses and they're getting through that surplus that they had for emergency contingencies. So it's not that they haven't got the stuff. It's just that it's becoming sort of according to their own political and military doctrine. They're going to have to break their own rules. That's how I see it. On the question of the 810, I remember the old war togg from the first Gulf War when we used to see them over the battlefield quite a lot and they're quite scary things. They hover, so they don't hover they kind of circle that are quite slow speeds and often we were, or one or two occasions we were out in the desert, this is when the battle has actually begun and of course they didn't know whether we were friend or foes. So they would circle ominously while we were trying to convey the pilot that we were actually on the side before they sort of after loitering they then sort of rather reluctantly moved. I think the simple answer is that that's the problem is they're too slow that they would be just too vulnerable. Also it's a bit of a kind of huge waving a huge stars and stripes flag over the battlefield doesn't it? It's quite sort of provocative. Given that they may not actually be that military effective. Yeah and they haven't supplied planes full stop so that's the other point. I mean we could argue that they should and we may be getting closer to that point but they haven't done it yet. So I think that's another factor but the other point is you know their main use is in a air-to-ground attack role. Well actually that's not certainly against armour that's not really a problem for the Ukrainians at the moment. There's a very little Russian armour operating on the battlefield as far as we can see because it's so vulnerable to anti-tank weapons. Right, moving on Damien from New Zealand asks us this is an interesting. What do you what do you think would happen if there were freely available internet in Russia? In other words if they could you know get news and there wasn't a news blackout if they could actually you know if there was freedom of information frankly and they could hear reports from all over the world about what was really happening. He asks us whether we think that you know this this would actually lead to unrest against Putin probably as the answer but I suppose the technical question is is it possible to do it you know is it technically feasible as Damien asked the generic provision of free internet across a country that who's government doesn't want it to be there it doesn't sound to me very likely. If people really knew what was going on would it make a difference almost certainly but is that likely to happen anytime soon I don't think so Damien. Yeah the other thing is that of course even if they were told what was going on would they believe it having had the perceptions twisted by you know decades of propaganda within which everything that comes from the West is dismissed as fake news so I don't think that would actually be a game changer. So here's a question from Paul Kuster he's a professor of history in North Carolina in the United States and and he says one of my students has a palette West point they are unsurprisingly following this war very closely this makes we wonder about the implications given the conduct of the war to this point for military doctrine. Well very good point Paul and they are undoubtedly following it very closely we also had the suggestion many episodes back that the you know some of the moves made by the Ukrainian military had West points fingerprints all over them or at least for 11 words fingerprints all over them so we suspect that there's the actual in you know real-time involvement it's just a question of learning lessons which the American military very good at doing it looks like they might actually be involved in the war in terms of advising the Ukrainians at helping them plan and we certainly know that as far as intelligence gathering is concerned there is enormous assistance from the West towards the Ukrainians. Actually we've had a question along those lines from a chap called Ian Leith and he was asking whether we could address the question of to what extent external NATO airborne intelligence assets are being used in Ukraine and what effect they're actually having on the on the direction of the war he particularly mentions the RAF operations out of RAF. What in turn NATO AWACS flights from Germany from Gillen Kirkland and indeed US AF flights operating out of RAF. Fair for it okay we're not going to talk about this this week Ian because we've got next week Robert Foxx very distinguished defence analyst old colleague of mine and he's going to be talking specific about all this sort of stuff so we'll deal with that then. Yeah I think the general response from us at the moment is that it is having an extraordinary effect as false multipliers that that close shave that there was with one of the rivet joints flying over the Black Sea is an indication that the Russians are very aware that this is a problem for them. A final one from Dean Newton who says great pod thanks Dean he says that Russia going after power and water is awful but didn't we do the same thing in Kosovo in the Kosovo conflict and in the Gulf he's very happy to be corrected but perhaps we should put in context well you you are absolutely right and going even further back in the second world war bomber command's main job was to try and destroy all civilian facilities not just power and water etc but the very houses that people lived in so you know I'm actually a staunch defender of former command but certainly that was a pretty extraordinary precedent and in these more recent conflicts yes we did in the Gulf in particular I remember the second Gulf war in particular they on entering Iraq we discovered that all the local water purification plants etc been knocked out by Allied bombing and that had had a very direct and dramatic effect this is the spring it's already pretty hot and dry and the civilian population as we drove in to Basra were lining the streets shouting my my water in Arabic because they didn't have any drinking water so yeah we definitely went after the civilian infrastructure there and that was on people were supposed to be liberating so yeah that was a that was a particularly sort of badly thought out aspect of that campaign and also as it turned out you know pretty sort of in human one okay before we go we should flag up a couple of things first of all at do join our podcast feed that's one dedicated to the podcast and that's at at pod battleground and also sending any questions you have to our email address and that is battleground you crane at well that's it for this week do join us next time when we'll be talking as I said to the evening standards defense editor Robert Fox we're all so gonna give you a bonus episode which is I suppose you could call it the battleground Christmas party it won't be about Ukraine it's going to be about the military history books that have come out this year we're gonna have a couple of guests we're gonna have a bit of fun so listen out for when that's coming probably be the week after next and look forward to joining you all next week 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 of 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 well let's sign a 14 year old he might get good they'll just buy a good to 18 year old now they buy good 7 year old I'm buying good fetuses they're soft on the at Easter road hebs take on come on Nick FC also I thought of a lovely and also before the match I've I'm the biggest change will be to the mascot mascot should get at the crowd raging so I want the I want the hips 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 was going to have I was going to section off the away end right the way section yeah they're like a actual like dividers right so that actually feels safe and secure and then hanging over them it'd be 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