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.

Goalhanger Podcasts

Hosted on Acast. See for more information.

20. Escalation dominance

20. Escalation dominance

Fri, 23 Dec 2022 01:00

On this latest episode of Battleground: Ukraine, Saul and Patrick speak to leading British Military Historian Sir Hew Strachan, who gives his expert analysis on the conflict, and discusses the need for diplomacy to bring this conflict to an end. There is also some interesting discussion around issues and questions raised by our listeners.

Producer: James Hodgson

Twitter: @PodBattleground

Hosted on Acast. See for more information.

Listen to Episode

Copyright © Goalhanger Podcasts

Read Episode Transcript

Hello and welcome again to Battleground Ukraine with me, Saul David and Patrick Bishop. Well there's a distinct feeling of deja vu about the latest developments. The noises coming out of Kiev are suggesting that we might soon be back to where we were in February with the Russians preparing to launch another attack on Ukraine in capital. Just as they did 10 long months ago back in February, is this for real? Or is it perhaps as some are suggesting a gambit in the information war designed to ensure the West's continuing support for Ukraine? It's a fascinating one isn't it, Saul? I think we're getting to a stage in the war where the emotion that's played such a large part in sustaining Western backing for Ukraine is becoming the decisive factor in where it goes. As the war goes on it's becoming ever clearer that there are really huge stakes at play here not just in Europe but for the future of the world. And we're very fortunate in having as our guest today Professor Hugh Sirhue, story I should say, one of Britain's foremost military historians and thinkers who will be sharing his thoughts about the deepest significance of the conflict. But before we get to that, a new Russian attack on Kiev, what do you think the likelihood of that is Saul? Not very likely. There are lots of indications as you say Patrick, the chat coming out of Kiev that the Russians are about to do this. The fact that Putin has just visited Belarus for the first time in the conflict and the implication being that he's about to twist Lukashenko's arm, the president of Belarus, to not only support the war which of course he's been doing tacitly up to this point having allowed an initial invasion of his territory, but actually that he's going to put his forces into the field. Well, I think this is problematic on many different levels. Lukashenko has been saying, you know, pretty digging his toes in from the word go that yes, he's prepared to support the war up to a point, Russia's war up to a point, but he doesn't want his troops to be involved. And I don't think anything's changed in that sense. And of course, why would he be even more determined to stick to this position for the very good reason that the war is going badly for the Russians? And why would you want to double down on a losing position? The other question mark is whether or not Russia has either the troops or the material to launch an invasion from anywhere, frankly, or at least a new major offensive from anywhere. And I think that's very doubtful too for some of the reasons we're going to discuss in a moment. Yeah, I think this is part of a multiple Russian strategy which plays into what they're doing in the east around Bakhmut. I mean, we've been puzzling about why would you actually expend all this energy and lives in material around this city, which is its strategic value, is very limited. And I think the answer is that they're trying to fix Ukrainian forces there to keep them fighting around there in order to allow them to get on with other stuff further north of the east in Lugans, which actually does matter more to the Russians. So I think this is part of that. Again, the Russians are always doing this. They're always threatening things, saying one thing, doing another. So this would seem to me to actually try and get into the heads of the Ukrainian generals and get them thinking, well, we better just, okay, it may not happen, but just to be on the safe side, we're going to have to deploy some of our very limited resources in terms of manpower around Kiev. But I agree with you. I don't think it really makes much sense from there sort of strategic standpoint. Just on that, where this came from, this actually was in an interview, obviously coordinated between Zelensky and the economist and two of his top generals. So they're obviously had already kind of prepared the script, if you like. But what they did say, which rang true to me, the generals, is that they're not writing off this Russian mobilization. People were initially alarmed when they then they sort of started saying, well, if you're just sending a load of raw recruits into the battlefield, you know, there's only one fate that awaits in there, which is death or injury, which may all be true. But it's still in a numbers game this war, isn't it? As Hugh Stormby saying later on, despite all the kind of fancy 21st century technological aspects to the battlefield, it basically comes down to numbers of killing who can kill the most people. And so, okay, they may be under trained, bad, the equipped, but the Russians have got more men than the Ukrainians can put into the field and they don't care how many of them they lose. So that is a real concern, I think, the Ukrainians. Yeah, absolutely, but remember, Patrick, we are getting increasing indications from lots of different sources, actually, and most recently from the boss of the CIA burns that actually the Russians have been degraded quite significantly. Their armed forces have been battered badly. So of course, we've got extra potential, extra numbers from the conscripted class, but how useful actually are they going to be? I mean, they're going to be effectively half trained by the time this so-called offences is going to be launched. So, of course, there's always a worry that you're just going to use numbers, but how much effect those numbers are going to have against really a battle ready and battle hardened force like Ukrainians. I doubt very much. And I suspect this attack is never going to happen. I think you're right. The Russians are trying to divert Ukrainian forces from the places that they actually want to launch their main attack, which has chiefly been around back moot. And yet, even there, we're hearing that there's been a setback for Russian forces and that some of the ground that they were capturing around back moot and therefore potentially encircling the Ukrainians in the city itself has actually been won back by the Ukrainians. But these are unconfirmed reports, but certainly even the battle of back moot is not going particularly well for the Russians. Yes, I think you're right, Saul, that this may be part of the sort of bigger propaganda picture. I mean, the crucial element in this war is Western support for the Ukrainians, as the Cykni overwhelming U.S. support. Now, Zelensky's in America today is first trip surprisingly to the U.S. since Russia invaded. He's probably going to address a joint session of Congress sometime today. And this is going to be a really important thing. And I think if he goes into that meeting with this sort of threat of a new Russian offensive in the air, then it's going to only aid his case, not that he actually needs to make his case particularly strongly at any well. Because I think, you know, despite all the murmurings in the media, I think basically political support and public support in the West is holding up pretty well. But he's got to keep the level of enthusiasm for if that's the right word for the war up. He knows that it's really as the crucial thing he's got to keep in play if they're going to win this war. There's been a very interesting counterpoint made by our friend of the podcast, that's Phil O'Brien, who came on a few weeks ago. And he has absolutely sort of made this similar points that I've just made, which is he doesn't believe the actual attack from Belarus against Kiev, that is a second attack is that likely. But he's also warned that maybe the Ukrainians are getting a little bit too clever for themselves, because as you say, it's almost certainly an attempt to shore up support from the West and possibly speed up the flow of arms. But Phil's made the interesting point, and he's American himself, of course, that American public support for the war depends actually on the American public believing that Ukraine can win this war. And as soon as it begins to doubt that, then you have got a potential problem. And of course, that can feed into what's happening in Congress. So the reason he puts up the warning flag in this sense is that, you know, don't start talking about a attack that's probably never going to come, because that in itself can affect American public opinion. Now, so there are some interesting developments in the region, not directly on the battlefield, but there's been a series of big explosions in the last few days. The latest one came just yesterday. There's a huge explosion at a Russian gas pipeline, a very long way from the Ukrainian border, nearly 600 miles from Ukrainian border to the east, way to the east of Moscow. And basically, there was this huge explosion. Three gas workers were killed, and it looks like huge destruction was done. Very mysterious where did this come from. It seems to be a very long way from Ukraine for it to be a Ukrainian sabotage exercise. So that's raised the question of whether this is actually internal dissidents that are doing that. What are your thoughts about that, so? Yeah, it's interesting, isn't it? I mean, we wouldn't put anything past the capability of the Ukrainians to actually carry out some of these attacks. I mean, we were talking last week, of course, about the drone attacks, which make much more sense being Ukrainian initiated, but in these particular cases, Patrick, I think your suspicions are probably correct. And that is that it's not Ukrainians. It's actually Russian dissidents. I mean, the sheer distance that this is taking place away from Ukraine would kind of indicate to me that this is not a special forces, partisan type operation. It's not a drone operation either. It looks like it could be distance within Russia, which of course is going to set different alarm bells ringing. And there's a backing for the point that Ilya was making to us a few weeks ago, which is that there is a danger that these outlying regions are going to begin to turn against the war. And is this a sign that this is happening? Well, they do seem to be some indications that some of these mysterious incidents are the work of Ukrainian special units, security teams. We're hearing from American security sources have indicated they think that it was a Ukrainian hit team, if you like, that was behind the killing of Daryen Dugina. Remember her that she was the daughter of ultra-nationalist Alexander Dugin, and she was blown up in a car bomb, apparently aimed at him, and her father on the outskirts of Moscow back in August. Now, it seems that was actually the team was sent from Kiev. So they are operating right in the heart of the enemy's capital, which as he was saying, knows that they do have this reach and they do have this ability to strike when and where they kind of deem it to be worthwhile. Yeah, so we can't rule out these operations many miles from Ukraine, as you say, you know, way into the interior of Russia actually being the work of Ukrainian units. But at the same time, it was strike me that they're more likely to be distance. Having said that, you know, going back to the Dugina one, I think we said at the time it was most likely to be Ukraine because that's what it appeared, but we can't know for sure either way. What is clear is that they have the capacity to carry out these attacks, and it must be, as you say, Patrick, very unsettling for the Russians. Yeah, so I think the effect is mainly psychological rather than military, but it's still effective. It still adds to the pressure. Okay, well, let's move on to our guest for this week, and I'm very delighted to say it's an old friend of mine, Professor Sir Hugh Straun. He was just ordinary Hugh Straun when I first met Hugh in the 1990s. He was actually, I suppose, if anyone was my patron in the military history world, it would have been Hugh encouraged me to do a PhD, which I did under his supervision at Glasgow in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and very delighted am I that I did go down that track because it gives you sort of validity, I suppose, on academic underpinning, even if you have written as I have mostly done since then commercial history. Anyway, Hugh is not only a brilliant military historian, expert in the First World War in particular, but he's also really been working on the future of war. He's a professor at Upper San Andreas University, a colleague of Philips O'Brien, and this is what he told us. Here with your historians' hat on, how do you think we'll explain in years to come Russia's invasion of Ukraine? Well, I suppose that's asking me to take a pro-Russia stance, which is not what, of course, like everybody else having climbed to do, but it is sort of understandable from the Russian point of view. I mean, Ukraine's been the bread basket of Russia, forgetting on for two and a half centuries. Ukraine has been vital to Russia's raw materials in two world wars, and of course, fought over in the second particularly because of its raw materials. And Ukraine has been, therefore, within both Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union for most of its recent history. And of course, many people have described themselves as Russian Ukrainians or Ukrainian Russians. So you can understand the sense that this somehow belongs with Russia. It's not to excuse Russia's behavior, but that is the context. And as everybody now knows, there's only been a very short period before the end of the Cold War when Ukraine in modern history has had an independent existence. And especially in the Second World War, finding itself essentially between two unattractive paths, many people were uncertain which way Ukrainians were jump, and Ukrainians themselves were uncertain which way they were jump. Some were expected to welcome Hitler when the Germans invaded in 1941, and some, of course, crucially joined the partisans and staged a significant effort behind German lines once Ukraine was within the German occupied areas. So there is a complicated history there, and both sides are now reading it in light of their own national agendas as of 2022. Yeah, we've been speaking to a lot of people about the deep past actually. Ukraine's claims to independence in Russia too. If we look more immediately in the last 10 or 20 years, it strikes out. I think both Patrick and I that Russia was getting a lot of its strategic aims without actually invading. So why do you think it did? A good question. I mean, I think like any sensible commentator on this, you have to go back to 2014, rather than to February 2022, and see that in some ways as unfinished business on both sides. And it's also important, of course, that we, by we, I mean the West collectively and NATO specifically were extraordinary feeble in our responses in 2014. And although we've given aid of various sorts since 2014, that commitment has not been clear and loud in the way in which it would have been, of course, if Ukraine had been a NATO part, it's very striking now that the press very quickly refers to Ukraine's allies as though we are actually formally in an alliance. And we're making as much of a commitment almost as if we were genuinely allies, which is paradoxical, given NATO's considerable resistance to the idea that it should be an ally. And I remember going to meetings in 2014 at the time of the September 2014 summit when this issue of Ukraine and the Russian invasion of Crimea or annexation of Crimea was so central. And it was very clear that there was no appetite either specifically in the United Kingdom and the US, so indeed across Europe, actually to come in a direct sense to Ukraine's support. What are the areas of expertise is on the changing character of war? What do you think this conflict tells us about the future direction of wars and how they waged? Well, you know, for any historian, what's been striking has been the familiarity of rather the unfamiliarity of what's gone on. Many commentators are referred to the First World War, but you could equally well say, particularly as we're now entering the winter, that this reminds people of the Ardenne in 1944-45. And the both the loss of life and the close quarter combat that's characterized this conflict on top of that use of artillery, the debate about tanks, it all sounds familiar. And I'm prompted to say, you know, where is hybrid warfare, where is cyber war, where is gray zone war, where are all the, you know, the questions, where are all the new forms of war, which we were told to anticipate for, and which, which of course, are central to Britain's own integrated review. And the answer to that is they're not there, of course they're there. But what I think it highlights is the things that so often we stress as the powerful forwarding war are in some ways false friends, because what most of them are enablers, they enable us to fight war better, or more leethely, or more accurately. But they don't take away from war, the fact that it's about violence and it's about two sides engaging in a lethal exchange. And Russia and Ukraine have proved that and play over the last year. Of course we're thinking about drones, especially at the moment, because of their importance in terms of the defense of Ukraine, and indeed it's a capacity also to take the offensive. But what drones above all do is enable reconnaissance, persisted observation, what cyberdance, of course, is enable communications in real time, and therefore cyber war is essentially a way of disabling another power from using its military power effectively. So these radons rather than game changes. And I think the tendency very often when people talk about the change of character of war is that they want to take one particular technology and says this change is everything. If this really were a cyber war, for example, we wouldn't see people being killed in the numbers that are being killed. And that would be in a great relief to us all. This essence and in some ways the attractiveness of the idea of cyber war is that this is a war without violence. People may get killed as a result of a cyber attack. But not directly be killed as a result of a cyber attack. It would be an indirect consequence. People are killed directly by the use of dumb bombs or of artillery shells or indeed of cruise missiles. You're given that, you know, as you say, this is a war about violence and power chiefly with all those other addons making a difference, but not not playing an absolutely key role. Why given Russia's advantage in the size and power, do you think it's performed so poorly on the battlefield and the Ukrainians on the other hand so well? Well, I think the many answers to that. I think first of all, it was extraordinary that people were as surprised as they were by Ukraine's successful defense. And I think that suggests they hadn't really been paying much attention to what happened between 2014 and 2022. I mean, Ukraine did put itself in a better position and was anticipating this. Part of the reason that people underestimated Ukraine was to do with, I think, quite successful Ukrainian deception operations, influence operations, which helped cover the level of preparedness that there was there and the degree of national resilience. And part of it too, I think, was, of course, there were genuine divisions within Ukrainian politics in 2013 or right into early 2014, which suggested the country was more divided than proved to be the case. It is extraordinary, as I understand the historian, I'm always tempted to make this parallel, of course, not always true, but you know, the very fact of invading a country does produce a degree of national unity, which ends those divisions. You know, there's somebody worse off than your own internal opponent. And that is the enemy from outside and it has produced that response. I think the other obviously surprising thing is that we associate the army, the Red Army, the Soviet Army with the idea of the operational level of war and with its development in the 1920s and 30s and we associate it with the ideas of deep battle and so on in the Second World War. And here was an operation absolutely set up to be conducted successfully at the operational level. And it seemed on the map as though Russia had that opportunity, Ukraine bulging up with Belarus to the north bulging eastwards and with all its army, it seemed at the time well forward with therefore the opportunities for involvement. And yet, the Russian army was not capable of mounting an operational level attack. It didn't even have a theatre commander, let alone the capacity to coordinate the separate offensive, which it launched at the very beginning. So that is to me the big mystery. I mean, where did that expertise go? Was it never really kept alive? Had the Russian army been led by comparatively easy campaigns, I suppose from Chechnya onwards and very different forms of fighting? So did it loss the thing that actually we thought it was rather good at? Well, that was fascinating. Join us in part two to hear the rest of Professor Storn's analysis and to hear some of the very interesting points that listeners have been raising with us. Welcome back. We're now going to hear from Hugh Storn on his thoughts on one of the intriguing aspects of the war, the relative leadership styles of Zelensky and Putin and how this impacts on the course of the war. Can you say something about leadership? There seems to be a massive disparity in political leadership, certainly, between the style of relative styles of Zelensky and Putin. Do you think that has an effect on battlefield performance? I'm thinking of the fact that Putin hasn't even visited the theatre of Zelensky's brilliantly made himself very present, very visible. Can you say something about that? Yes, I think that the physical presence is clearly a striking contrast. Of course, the war is being fought in Ukraine. So Zelensky's there. Well, except it's meant to be Russia. You know, it's in Russian terms, in Russian propaganda, Russia's. There's no reason for not to go there for that reason. Sure. And of course, now what even we regard as Russia is come under attack and you might have expected Putin to be more at the front than otherwise would have done. I think what for me is interesting about this question is how each is managing the civil military relationship in the making of strategy. Putin does seem to have wanted a divided command in order to maximize his own leverage. And it's been very hard to work out exactly where responsibility is laid until as recently as October, when we now have a theatre, a Russian theatre commander in place. But even now you wonder at what point and how continuously does Putin intervene. Zelensky by contrast has presented himself publicly as the political face, the national face of Ukraine and has kept quite quiet about his relationship with his generals. Although, of course, as they succeed and succeed so admirably, they themselves are requiring political leverage of their own, which in a country with a history of pretty divided political loyalties is not an immaterial consideration as this war lengthens. Hugh, you mentioned the NATO alliance in inverted commas as you put it or maybe not, maybe maybe literal alliance. It's been a delicate balancing act thus far, hasn't it? Providing Ukraine with weapons, intelligence, cyber capabilities, etc. But not troops on the ground or long-range weapons that can take the fight into Russia. Do you think this is going to continue? Are we beginning to get to a point not least because of the attacks on civilian infrastructure, where the West are going to hand over more of these types of weapons that they feared earlier on would lead to escalation? Well, I think that the core here is that the West actually has escalation dominance. And because the West has escalation dominance, it has less cause to fear. Putin can only lose from an escalation of this war. He's struggling as it is in Ukraine. I think how much more he would be struggling if he were dealing with the whole of NATO as well. And we worry about nuclear escalation, understandably. Well, actually, the real ways in which you could escalate this are less nuclear and more geographical. I mean, if he took this into Poland and also attack the supply lines through which NATO is channeling his equipment, or if he broke the somewhat tenuous hold on an arrangement in the Black Sea, I mean, any of these things would have escalatory consequences, but he's very clearly not done that. And I think NATO has become more confident its appetite has grown with the eating. At the very beginning, the nervousness about escalation absolutely determined how NATO members were behaving, and particularly the US. Nervousness about the possibility of escalation was absolutely central to Joe Biden. And he stressed again and again that no American soldiers would go to Ukraine. But given the level of aid and support which the United States, especially his given, the US is effectively complicity in this war. And it will be totally understandable if Putin had said we are in a day fact or war with the United States. And therefore we will take direct retaliatory steps against the United States. He said the first part of that that were effectively in a war with NATO, but he actually hasn't taken any military action as a consequence of that statement. And I think he's realizing that he can't afford to take that step. Given the likelihood of Russian failure, let's not talk about defeat, but failure in its stated war aims in this conflict. What do you think that tells us about the West's future grand strategic problem thinking particularly of China? It's short, do you think this makes a conflict with China more or less likely? Well, I think that is a very open-ended question, a contingent question. I mean, what has been most striking about this war is that the lukewarm nature of China's support for Russia. And although from Russia's point of view, the use of China as a trading partner has been central economically. It's one of the reasons, of course, the sanctions haven't bitten as hard as people hoped, which should probably have come, as has surprised a very few, but if you think of the expectations of only a few months ago, clearly a lot was vested in sanctions. So China may have blunted the effect of sanctions, but on the other hand, China is clearly not supportive of this war and has indicated that very strongly to Putin. And how that leaves the Western relation to China, I think depends as much on the West as it does on China. Is it going to take a moment to think about the possibility of detente? Joe Biden seemed to want to do that very recently, but of course, was hesitant. And the US version of the US National Security, Straszy continues to guard China as the principal threat over and above Russia. Chancellor Schultz has had criticism too for trying to seek some sort of talks with Xi and with China, but my view would be that there is this is an opportunity to dial down some of the rhetoric in relation to China, because the one thing that the West does not want is a dual threat of Russia and China operating together. And the way we handle ourselves over the next weeks, months and perhaps even years, will determine whether we confront that or whether we don't. The best and most effective way to handle the relationship at the moment from the point of view of the West is indeed an unequivocal victory for Ukraine over Russia, which would both send a deterrent message to China, but also crucially, and in addition, would mean that Russia wouldn't be a very effective ally for China anyway. So, you know, this could go very well for the West, but equally, it could go very badly. I mean, if Russia manages to kick back or we end up with a compromised deal in relation to the war between Russia and Ukraine, and at the same time, we embed the hostility in the relationship with China, then we've got a pretty bad situation set up for the 2030s. Yeah, Hugh, I want to ask you actually something that's relatively close to you, and that's a piece that Phil O'Brien, who we both remember from Glasgow University days, and is now a colleague of yours at St Andrews, suggested might be a possible peace settlement. I don't know if you've read this or you've had a chat with Phil about this, but he sent me an email obviously yesterday, which I haven't replied to, but anyway, so don't tell me what you said. Probably got the details, and I just see it very interesting here, your take on this. He suggested that a deal would, a possible deal would result in the West picking up the tab for Ukraine's reconstruction, and in return, Russia would agree to Ukraine joining both NATO and the EU, and thus guaranteeing its future security. I mean, that was it, and in Phil's view, that satisfies both of Ukraine's immediate and indeed long-term concerns. Is anything like that remotely feasible, do you think? Well, I think the question is how many steps you have to take to get from here to there, and at the moment, the biggest stumbling block of the lot is Crimea, and I can't see how there is a basis for discussion when, on the one hand, the vast majority of Ukrainians, I think the polling suggests about 80 percent expect the return of Crimea as a result of this war, and Zelensky has added his own name to that, and furthermore said he won't negotiate with Putin. And on the other side, of course, if Russia sees Ukraine as its own, then plenty of Russians don't, but obviously quite a lot do, the vast majority of Russia see Crimea as Russia. That is not an outlying position for the majority of Russians. So there's a lot of fighting to be done before there can be a deal if Crimea is in the frame. Some people argue that, of course, there is a possibility of negotiation before that, and that Ukraine's bid for Crimea is part of a negotiating strategy, and that might be true. I have no entry to the mind of Zelensky where he might be, and of course he's got the credibility to argue that this is the best TV's likely to get, and that doesn't include Ukraine. But I don't see how you would get a trade-off with Russia in the current situation. I think this war's got a long way to go, before there's a possibility of a serious discussion. As far as the detail of what fellow Browns proposing, Russia would of course be only too happy for the West to accept the bill for Ukraine's reconstruction and for reparations. The issue of NATO membership was made so central by Putin. It would be very hard to see, you know, that was a sort of original war aim, and it's odd because Ukraine's real concern was not so much with NATO, but with the EU. But the effect of the war is to make NATO more important than the EU, because NATO is obviously the military alliance, and the EU is struggling to catch up as a military alliance. The other big, big question is not just whether Russia will accept that, but would the EU accept it? I mean EU members had considerable doubts about Ukraine's track record in relation to criminality, corruption, and so on. And of course, those criticisms of Ukraine had been put on hold, but where Ukraine actually will be in relation to EU membership won't actually be clear until after this war is over. And how far there is the sort of stability in Ukraine, the lack of criminality, the lack of corruption, which would make Ukraine an acceptable EU partner? That's a question from me, Hugh. We've often, in the course of the podcast, looked back to the First World War to try and see if there are any kind of echoes of that in the current Russian situation, trying to read the runes to see whether a complete collapse, such as was seen in 1917, is developing. Do you see anything like that brewing at the moment, which would actually change the situation dramatically? These have been Crimea, for example, if there was a total internal collapse, then that would have to accept the same sort of humiliating rejoin of boundaries that followed the collapse in 1917. No, I don't. I think there are certainly analogies of the First World War, which are helpful, but I think that particular one, sadly, has not. And the principle reason for that is most Russians, particularly most Russians, in major cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg, are basically unaffected by this war. Their standard of living has not been affected, and they're not actually bearing the brunt in terms of casualties, because, of course, as we know, many of those who conscripted come from the remote areas of Russia and areas further east. Whereas in 1917, the cities were in many ways the focal point, particularly Petrogrant, as it was then. That's where the revolution began, and that's ultimately where the Bolshevik sees power. And there's no indication of any of that sort of undermining of the Russian government going on right now. And I think there's another aspect to that expectation, which is also a First World War related one. Be careful what you wish for. I mean, one of the consequences of the collapse of Russia in 1917, and it's agreeing terms of the Germanic Brestlatovsk over the Central Powers at Brestlatovsk in 1918, is that it wasn't at the peace settlement. And therefore, we created an interwar order without Russia. And that is just as destructive in the long term. We also, of course, created out of that a number of independent states, including Ukraine, temporarily, which also would create obligations for the West collectively, as Ukraine has created an obligation now. So we need to think what the second or third order consequences would be of that. I thought you were going to go for the outbreak of the war rather than its end, because in Germany, the worry is, is this a crisis which could so easily become a bigger war in the same way as a small war led to a big war in 1914. And that I am more concerned about, but I get reassured as time passes, and that hasn't happened. And it seems that so actually the great powers, and I include Russia within that category, the great powers have got quite good at negotiating and managing their own dangers of the middle of this war. I mean, the fact that there are at least some bilateral conversations going on with Russia between the United States, Britain and France is a good sign. It's not that those countries, the United States, Britain and France haven't wanted to have bilateral link, but the fact that there is that there, that is in place now, and that there does seem to be a lack of appetite for escalation in Russia, means that with contact, there is a possibility of negotiation and a possibility, therefore, of when the military circumstances is the right of some sort of discussion. We have to remember that every form of war ending requires negotiation. When people say we have to get a military result, and then Ukraine will be able to say whether it's ready to accept it, and Ukraine says, well, we've got to have it independence, we've got to win absolutely before we're about to do that, even an unconditional surrender by the enemy, by the Russians in this case, still requires negotiation. So you need to have diplomacy in play from as soon as you can bring diplomacy into play. Well, lots of deep observations there. What were the standout points for you, Zal? Well, they were quite a few weren't there. I mean, it's absolutely fascinating, you know, from his initial point that actually in some ways, when we look back as his story, it's going to be understandable in inverted commas. And by the way, don't get confused into thinking, that means it's justifiable, but understandable that Russia might have perceived that Ukraine was an area of its vital interest. But why did Putin act? Well, one of the key points that he makes, which is, you know, he's been pretty robust about this, is that NATO's response was extraordinarily feeble. In other words, NATO partly responsible for the ultimate invasion this year because it had been so feeble as he puts it in its response in 2014. And what we've now got, of course, is the gone way further than just firmly backing Ukraine. We've got to a point where, you know, in all the normal metrics of war, NATO is actually fighting this war. It doesn't have soldiers on the ground, but it's doing pretty much everything else. I was also struck by his cautionary word about the changing character of war. Of course, this is one of his great areas of expertise. And what he says is that it's the familiarity that he is struck by not the way that the battlegrounds change because of new technology, et cetera. So he references the Ardennes in 1945, you know, terrible struggle there in the forest in the depths of winter battles that we no longer really remember like the Battle of Hurt, and the Forest, where the fourth infantry, division of the US, was pinned down. They're probably one of the worst battles of the war on any front. So he says it does come down despite all the drones and the cyberspace to tax and all the rest of it. It does come down to men slugging it out in the battlefield at close quarters. And it comes down to, as we were saying earlier, how many people you can kill. So that was a kind of sobering reminder that war essentially remains the same. I was also interested in his analysis of the poor performance of Russia in the opening stages and how long it took them to actually catch up and get the act together. And it really comes down to, I think, just sort of incompetence, doesn't it? That there was his message. We were misled by the kind of relatively easy campaigns they fought in Chechnya and then in Syria and were kind of bamboozled into thinking that their presentation of themselves as a 21st century modern army that had really moved by the times was accurate. Well, I thought his historical parallels were very interesting too. We've had a lot of people, a lot of historians, professional historians, but also armchair historians are bigging up the Red Army at so-called expertise at the operational level of war, deep battle in World War II. You'll be familiar with all these arguments, Patrick, this almost hero worship. And yet here we were with Russia fighting a war that should have been very good at the operational level as you put it. And yet it simply didn't have the expertise, where had that expertise gone, had it ever really kept it since Second World War days? And this comes back to the whole kind of question of whether the Red Army during the Cold War was ever as effective as we always thought it was. Too many easy campaigns in places like Chechnya. I mean, easy, of course, is a bad way of putting it, I suppose, much better way of putting it is a war fought just with brute force against an enemy. He really wasn't comparable. And they had lost that ability to fight operational campaigns. Joined up thinking, in other words, you know, with a single leader who, with a single commander who's in overall charge, you know, a kind of zoo-ko from the Second World War. But having said that, he wasn't very optimistic about the prospect of an early Russian collapse. Was he? He was saying that even though it looks bad on the battlefield, what really matters is how things change at home. And according to Hugh, Russia is basically unaffected by this war as it's being fought over the horizon, if you like, the conscripts are, as we've said before, from remote areas. So the big cities can sort of pretend that life is really going on as normal. So, you know, there's different views about this. I actually feel that you can be a bit too logical about when you're peering into your crystal ball. And, you know, to one or two factors in the unexpected, I don't know, some instinctively, I feel that something could change dramatically over the winter. Some sort of palace coup or something like that, which no one will have predicted. You know, this has been actually a feature of the war along, hasn't it? Starting with the fact that even the heavily stigmat, everyone will start taking by surprise when the invasion actually went ahead. Yeah. And the question about the Russian collapse, I felt when you asked it, I mean, to tell me if I'm wrong, Patrick, because actually there's much about a collapse on the battlefield as it was on the home front. I think he underestimates actually the level of pressure that there is on Putin on the home front. We heard from Ilia that it's growing steadily. We also know that from pretty reliable opinion polls that support for the war is dropping quite dramatically from around 60% to around 25%. If that's not putting pressure on Putin, I don't know what it is. And yet at the same time, you've got a potential collapse on the battlefield where, as we're also hearing from multiple sources, we've been discussing for weeks now. Russia doesn't have the care, he doesn't have the munitions, and it certainly doesn't have the trained personnel. So I am a bit less sanguine. I have to say in terms of the potential for a Russian collapse. I mean, he doesn't think it's going to happen anytime soon, and the war's going to drag on and on. Well, it might. But as you say, Patrick, you have to be prepared for a sudden collapse, which brings us on to another very interesting point you made, which is that you need to keep channels of negotiation or at least discussion diplomacy open because when the conditions on the battlefield do mean that it's possible for negotiations, we need to be ready for them. Yes, indeed. Well, looking on the brighter side, he does say, and I think we'd both agree with him on this one. So we actually, if you're looking at the overall balance of the war, NATO is performing extremely well, and it also has a crucial thing, which is escalation dominance, that is, that it has the ability to actually raise the tempo of the war without terrible consequences. Putin can't do that. If he escalates, it's only going to go badly for him. So that's one reason that he thinks he hasn't actually gone to the next stage. So all this talk of going nuclear is really just rhetoric, and it's just another sort of propaganda tactic. So that, I suppose, a reason to be hopeful in 2023, that the thing will start to tip very dramatically in the other direction, and that battlefield collapse, or the internal political collapse that we're all hoping for, will actually come about. Yeah, and the final sort of vaguely encouraging point he made is to emphasize, as we know well enough, and have been making the point ourselves, that China's support for Russia during this war, though it's been trading with Russia, and therefore enabling it to escape the worst of sanctions, has been actually a China's lukewarm support for Russia, which means that it's not really supporting the war, and this opens up one other potential avenue for the West, and that's a potential datant with China. I mean, he's pretty convinced that this is an opportunity to dial down the rhetoric in relation to China, and that if we don't do that, we could face in the longer term a really worrying scenario, which is a very disgruntled Russia in alliance with China, if we don't see this as an opportunity to separate this unholy alliance. So there are opportunities there, but there are also concerns too. Yeah, I don't think anyone would actually want to be allied with Russia, given its recent performance, and I think that's very much the signal we're getting from China. It doesn't want to get stuck to this tar baby. So I think that is a rather optimistic and plausible take away we can get from the current situation. Okay, let's move on to some readers' points that they've raised with us. We got one here from Mike Moyner, from Swan Hill, Australia. All right, geographical reach, quite impressive these days, isn't it? It's good stuff actually, and I'm just looking down the list of questions about, you know, well, the majority are from abroad, which is quite nice. The odd expert living abroad, but it's great to think this pod is being listened to all over the world. Well, Mike's saying I'm new to the podcast, another good thing, which is highly informative. I have no idea of the scale of destruction of tactical nuclear weapons and the degree of fallout. So he's asking, you know, what do you know about this? Well, you know, it's such a broad category, isn't it? It's all tactical nukes. I mean, you've got really, you know, small two-man portable ones that are sometimes referred to as suitcase nukes, which things like the Davey Crocket recoilless rifle, which fires a kind of projectile, nuclear projectile on the battlefield, which has a very low yield. I mean, I say low, like one kiloton, that's still, one kiloton is a thousand tons of TNT and explosive parts. So it still packs a hell of a punch, but they can go right up to 50 kilotons. Just by point of comparison, the bomb that was dropped on, Hiroshima's 15 was 15 kilotons, one and five kilotons. So they're still hugely destructive. I think the reason they're not used is because they could probably create more problems than they sold. Fallout being one of them. The yields have fallout are relatively low, but they're still problematical. And basically, they have enormous destructive power, but it doesn't actually necessarily bring great military advantages. Is that how you see it? It's all. Yeah, I mean, I love the expression battlefield nuclear weapon as if you can just drop one, and that's going to knock out the enemy, you know, a bit like blowing up a mine on the first world war Patrick, and then you move into the ground that's been vacated. I mean, you quite rightly point out you've got the issue of radioactivity. You've got the issue of friendly deaths, of course, if it's too close to your guys. So no, I mean, it's a misnomer in my view, battlefield nuclear weapon. Of course, they have them, but as we've discussed many times, they're not going to be using them anytime soon in Ukraine. I don't believe, or indeed, any weapons of mass destruction. For the same reason that you points out, we have, that is the West. NATO has escalation dominance here, and Russia's not going to go there. Okay, the next one, another international contribution is from Philip Gluxman. He's in Gothenburg in Sweden. He listens to the podcast when he's taking his kids out for a walk. And he also goes on to say he's told his brother-in-law who's in the Swedish military to start listening. And he now does that together with his whole regiment. So we're to keep up the good work. Where we're certainly trying to, and it's quite nice to think actually that some foreign militaries, NATO militaries, or potential NATO militaries are listening to this. His question is, I want your thoughts on a scenario where Ukraine is given, or even steals tactical nukes. Well, we've just talked about tactical nukes. So Philip is asking the question, what happens if Ukraine gets nuclear weapons of some shape or form? Is this a big game changer? Well, potentially, I don't think it's terribly likely, but would Russia do preemptive nuclear strikes he asks, almost certainly not since they have not been attacked? The reason why they would not be attacked is because Zelensky is not a lunatic. I mean, what he's basically saying is, would Ukraine be better off if it had a nuclear capability? And the answer to that, Patrick, of course, is yes. And we know that in the 1990s, immediately after the split-up of the Soviet Union, Ukraine very unwisely as it turns out, did a deal with Russia to hand back the weapons it had, and it had many stations on its territory in return for territorial integrity, which clearly wasn't worth the paper it was written on, that deal. So, yes, of course, it would be in a much stronger position. Should it at some stage look to get hold of nuclear weapons possibly? But you could say that about a lot of countries in the world. I mean, Iran wants nuclear weapons so that it doesn't feel so threatened by Israel and probably has even more malign motives, too. I think the general point here is that the fewer countries that have nuclear weapons, the better. But if your question is, would Ukraine be a safer place in relation to a war with Russia, then that is probably true, yes. And the point has been made, hasn't it, Saul, that this conflict is really almost inevitable, because it can lead to nuclear proliferation. So, the opposite of a reduction in the number of nuclear armed powers, and it makes, as you've just said, a case for nuclear deterrence. So, it's going to be harder to counter those arguments of nations who say, look, we need one as well, otherwise, look what happened in Ukraine. Look at the leverage that the Russians were able to get, because they had the nukes and the Ukrainians didn't. The short circuit to that, of course, Patrick, is that you join NATO, which of course is what ultimately we believe Ukraine wants to do, and certainly Finland and Sweden have already said they are up for that. And what you get there is the nuclear umbrella without actually having to develop and pay for nuclear weapons, yourself. So, that is the ideal middle route, so to speak, for Ukraine's long-term security. But it doesn't work further afield, though, when other nations outside the geographical domain of NATO make the same argument. One here from Ronnie Bradford, I think you know Saul, who's in Vienna, and he says, dear Saul and Patrick, thank you for the very informative, interesting and erudite podcast. Now, he wants to know why more noise hasn't been made about Russian targeting of civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, and indeed the Gaster individual abuses committed by Russian soldiers. He says, yeah, of course, they're condemned, but not on the scale that he would like to hear. He's an ex-soldier, Ronnie, he served in the Black Watch, retired as a colonel, and he says that he met usual some time ago, and you interviewed his father, who will book on the 51st Highland Division, which of course was pretty much captured or mass at the end of the Battle of France. I think you've already got a good point here, Ronnie. I think we've heard from several people now that the UN, which you would expect to be taking the lead on this, has actually been remarkably feeble in its response. If you think back to previous conflicts in the late 20th and early in this century, they were really sort of front and centre condemning atrocities, trying to get competence to sort of mitigate their behaviour, but we heard very little from Antonio Gutera as the Secretary General, and I think perhaps one reason for this is that they don't want to intervene in something which they really have practically no ability to affect events. So it would be given that it's coming a little of a lot of fire and has been for some time now about its purpose and usefulness. They don't want to get involved in a situation which actually reveals the extent of their impotence. Now thanks to the question Ronnie, he's got a long memory actually, a very good memory. I interviewed his father Bill for my first book as you mentioned Patrick almost 30 years ago now. I mean, extraordinary. I remember chatting to Ronnie back in those days. I think he was still a serving officer then. The broader point here is that the issue I think as far as the United Nations is concerned is Russia's membership of the permanent security council and the long-term legacy of this war and Russia's behaviour should be that it is removed from the permanent security council. There's already talked about that happening. How easy that's going to be as another matter. Of course, Russia will fight tooth and nail to prevent that happening. It would probably need some kind of say so from China or at least an abstenture from China to make that happen, but it would certainly send out a pretty strong signal, I think, if that were to be the case. And of course, the United Nations at the moment with Russia on the permanent security council finds it absolutely impossible to pass a resolution condemning Russia in these terms, which it absolutely should be doing. Yes, in its current iteration, the United Nations Security Council is a very strange thing, isn't it? Because two of the five are actually the sorts of most of the existing and potential conflict in the world. It's a second world war creation, isn't it, really, the United Nations. So it was time that it was overhauled. I think everyone agrees on that, but whether it will actually happen a lot anytime soon, I think, is extremely doubtful. Got one here from Mike Harrington High, guys. Love the pod. Quick question, with the Vagno Group on the ground, is it possible? He's basically saying, is it possible for us to counter them with a Western-essentially mercenary outfit? He's thinking of companies like Blackwater operated a lot in Iraq. Could the West consider using similar force around backward in direct action? What's your thought about that, Saul? It's an intriguing one, isn't it? Because, I mean, is there anything in international law that would actually prevent that? On the escalation point, as we said earlier on, we have the West has a lot of wiggle room on the escalation front. So, do you think that would be a runner? Not really. I mean, unofficially, I suppose you could get units going in there. We know that from some of our listeners' comment and also press reports that people are serving in legions, volunteers, but effectively using Western mercenaries to fight against the Vagno Group. Well, frankly, the Ukrainians are doing pretty good job themselves in combating Vagno. Vagno's attempt to capture back move was supposed to give a big propaganda boost to Putin, and they haven't done it, and they've lost an awful lot of men trying to do it. So, no, I don't see that as likely, or indeed advisable, for the moment we need to continue doing what we're doing, which is supplying all the crucial things that make a difference to the Ukrainians in their war against Russia, but allowing them to do the actual fighting on the ground. Okay, we've got another one from David Forbes Whitehead, and I'm assuming he is British based, although it doesn't mention it. Pod continues to provide insightful and engaging commentary on the conflict, and has prompted a couple of questions, interesting questions, actually. First one, in the light of the current mass Russian drone strikes and the shortages of weaponry in the Ukraine, could these slow-flying UAVs, that is the drones, not be shot down by good old-fashioned anti-aircraft fire, which costs peanuts compared to missile systems? Well, interesting, you ask the question, David, because just this week there have been pictures on Twitter, which Patrick might have missed, of course, not being on Twitter, in which Ukrainians are effectively creating meagged-shift anti-aircraft systems, with really just, I mean, we're talking about twin heavy machine guns mounted on the back of a pickup truck. It's like something out of Somalia, and it also reminds me a little bit of the SAS-K gun system that they had mounted on Jeeps in the Second World War. Basically, heavy machine guns to use, and these are actually working, apparently, or at least there's some evidence that they're working. So, yes, they are heading a little bit in that direction, and I think the broader point here is that, you know, as we've heard from previous contributors, the Ukrainians are very flexible about what they do, and they are using every method they can to try and counter the drones that are coming against them. The second question, Patrick, you might want to answer this, it refers to me saying that armor couldn't be used on the battlefield, and yet, David has a student carrying out an EPQ on whether the tank is obsolete. So this question is, is it obsolete, or can it simply not be used on the current battlefield? Because of the tactics being used incorrectly. In other words, is there still a future for armor? Patrick, what do you think? Well, first of all, I want to know what an EPQ is. Do you know what that's a sort of? Yeah, that's an extended project question. That's a basic NSA that you do probably at A level, but yeah, an EPQ is an extended NSA, basically. Yeah, when tanks are there, aren't they? We've seen lots of imagery of them firing off artillery rods, but I think that's the point is that they're basically kind of mobile artillery, rather than being used to support infantry. And I think the reason that they're not in that role is because they're just too vulnerable. Is that how you said? Yeah, and I don't for a minute think that armor is finished in the longer term. You just need the sort of aerial cover that's going to protect them, basically. It's a bit like saying, you know, our capital ships and even aircraft carriers, well, particularly capital ships, you know, big warships, in other words, obsolete because of the danger of missile attack and an aerial attack. No, you just need cover. So you so any of these weapons will have a use. They just need to be used in conjunction with other weapons and other forces. So really what we're talking about, you know, in a nutshell, is combined arms warfare. If you're going to send tanks out on the battlefield, they need air cover, but they always did need air cover, Patrick. Didn't they? Even in the second of war? Yes, very much so. Okay. Just on your people are really interested in this SBS things, all your special subject, Chris Burke here saying, thanks for the podcast is brilliant. He talks about what we referenced last week about left and general McGowan stating in the Marines magazine Globe and Laurel that the Marines have been operating in Ukraine. And he says that a point we didn't make that General McGowan said that four five commando was the unit probably responsible. Is if you heard any more about that? Yeah, he does specifically mention four five commando because he's not going to mention the SBS and they never are mentioned as actually being involved in operations or at least even being in theater. It's the sort of a murder under which the British army and the Ministry of Defense more generally operates. But I did make the point that commando's had been mentioned actually I didn't specify it was 45 commander but 45 commando's role in in Ukraine is also acknowledged and that is that it's guarding a lot of British installations there be they diplomatic or or anything else. So 45 commando are definitely there. My my argument is SBS are also there too and when McGowan was talking about these kind of very threatening situations that some of the British forces are finding themselves in he's really talking about the SBS although he's not specifying it. Okay, well that's all we got time for this week. Before we go we'd like to say a huge thank you to James Hodgson our producer who tidies up all our arms and ours and makes us sound vaguely professional. Thank you very much James. Look forward to working with you next year and finally, Shest Livohor Rizdva that's happy Christmas in Ukrainian and let's hope and pray that 2023 brings some relief to everyone who is suffering in this war.