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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21. Peace talks?

21. Peace talks?

Fri, 30 Dec 2022 02:00

Are peace talks on the table? On this episode of Battleground: Ukraine, Saul and Patrick discuss the latest peace murmurings, the suspicious death of a Russian sausage magnate, and answer listeners questions. They also speak to the brilliant Mark MacKinnon, senior international correspondent for the Globe and Mail, Canada’s leading newspaper, who gave some fascinating insight into the early days of the conflict and China's stance on the war.

Producer: James Hodgson

Twitter: @PodBattleground

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Hello and welcome back to Battleground Ukraine with me Patrick Bishop and Saul David. Well Vladimir Putin seems to have been touched with the Christmas spirit in recent days, telling Russian TV that he was ready to talk peace. And the goodwill to all men front not so much. Now we've been there before but the statement produced an immediate response from Ukraine who floated the idea of an international peace conference to take place as early as February. So however you look at it, it seems that both sides are at least feeling the pressure to look as if they're seeking a way out of the conflict. Yes indeed, this would seem to be a very good time to look at where we are with the first anniversary of the conflict looming and to examine the prospects of the war ending in 2023. Now to shine some light down the dark path ahead, we've got as our guest this week Mark McKinnon, the brilliant senior international correspondent for the Globe and Mail Canada's leading newspaper. Mark has reported on Ukraine for many years and was in Kiev when the Russians rolled in earlier this year. He's extremely well placed to answer some of the big questions with the wealth of experience and expertise behind him. And as well as having deep knowledge of Ukraine, he's also served as the Globe and Mail's Bureau Chief in both Moscow and Beijing. But first these peace murmurings Patrick, do you think they are any more substantial than what we've heard before? Not really, I think this is an indication of the pressure that both sides are feeling to talk, to talk, even if they have no real intention of walking the walk if you see what I mean. Putin's comments were pretty vague, they're not new, he said it before and they were immediately followed by an accusation that it was the Ukrainians who weren't willing to talk peace. The Ukrainian counteroffer which came from the Foreign Minister to meet you at Kulabah was for a peace conference under UN auspices, but it was contingent upon Moscow agreeing first to be put on trial for war crimes in an international court. Now I don't see that happening anytime soon. Now I think there's still a lot more fighting to be done yet. I was thinking about the comments that Hugh Straun made last time about how people overestimated Russian capability and that this was really reflection of the reputation they won for themselves and the second world war when they were really very good at winning battles. They got off to a shaky start, that was largely because Stalin had executed all the most capable officers in the 1937 purge. But the doctrine they had invented for modern warfare, the deep battle concept that Hugh referenced, didn't die with them. It was the basis for the great Red Army victories at Kursk, the Begratian operation of June 44, etc. This was tremendously effective and after the war the US Army and the US Marine called lifted it wholesale and used it as the basis for their air land battle operational doctrine. Now I'm rambling on a bit here, but the point is that Russia showed its capacity to recover from what seemed to be a catastrophic situation. I think that if we do believe that there are lessons to be learned from history, then we shouldn't rule out the possibility that they can do that again. Now the next phase of this war, it's a bit vague. The Russians have been talking up a big spring offensive. Now they've done this before. This falls into the category of Masquerovka, which is a Russian word meaning disguise, which the Russians have used in this campaign. They used it very effectively in the Second World War, which is to disguise their real intentions by saying one thing and doing another. So it could well be in my analysis that they're actually really preparing a deep defensive campaign, allowing the Ukrainians to come forward, enveloping them in a classic deep operation and then counter-attacking and pushing them back. So they've been building up their defenses ever since the autumn, so it could be that Ukrainians have a very, very difficult time ahead. What do you think about that, Zol? Yeah, it's a very interesting thought, Patrick. I think you're probably giving the Russians a bit more credit than they deserve to be truthful. Part of the issue here is to act on the defensive is very risky politically. You're not taking any ground. Meanwhile, you're giving the initiative to the enemy. We've discussed this before. And the big problem for Putin at the moment is credibility. Given the advances that were made in the early stages of the war, it's been nothing but reverse gear since then. And I think this lies behind their absolute determination to get some kind of propaganda victory at back moot in the central Don Bass. A lot of Western analysts, ourselves, included a wonder what strategic value is, but clearly it has a propaganda value. But the problem Russia's got with back mooters, that it's not really making any progress there. We've just had a recent British military intelligence assessment that says that despite a number of increasingly desperate small-scale Russian attacks, and they've been going on since August, Russia's actually made virtually nil progress. And the reason this is a bit of a problem is because the group leading the attack there, so we're told, is the Wagner paramilitary group led by Yavgeny Prigoshin, who of course, otherwise known as Putin's chef, and a man who apparently has his own political aspirations. Well, there seems to be divisions now between Wagner and the Russian military. And these were brought into stark relief, I think, when claims were put out on telegram of the social media communications site. By two Wagner are two-readmen, accusing someone no less senior than General Valerie Garassimo of the Russian Army's chief of staff of deliberately obstructing the delivery of artillery shells to let our guys die. Now these soldiers went on to say that Russian attacks were getting nowhere, and that assault groups were being cut to pieces. So yes, in an ideal world, they would sit back. And you're right, the whole idea of deep battle is as much about defences it is about attack Patrick. So, you know, I think these attacks at Backmooch show how desperately they are for a propaganda victory, and they can't really afford to sit on the defensive. Yeah, I was just positing it as a possibility, but as you say, they haven't showed any great strategic awareness up until this point. And the bigger question, of course, is can Putin afford a stalemate, as you rightly say, I think, so he can't afford just to sit back, because the pressure is at home, only going to build him, you see this whole time coming as ever, not from people trying to stop the war, but from people who want to escalate the war, who at least make it more effective. We've had another intervention from Igor Gyrkin, aka Strelkov, he called him, so his nom de Gyrr is Strelkov, which means the shooter, which pretty much tells us where he's coming from. He's been very, very active in stirring up the Donbass. He played a big part in the annexation of Crimea back in 2014. And of course, he also was, by his own admission morally responsible for the shooting down of that Indonesian airliner with the loss of nearly 300 lives. Now, he's saying, once again, that the generals who use this, and he's, you know, by extension, that's really a criticism of Putin. Now, interestingly, Putin, who once saw him as a kind of useful guy for stirring things up, doesn't probably see him quite as benignly as that nom, and may regard, well regard him as a potential threat. Nonetheless, he doesn't seem to feel that it would be a good idea to move against him. Unlike some of the smaller fry, I was struck by a story, I saw, I don't know if you noticed it, about another of these mysterious deaths. This one was Pavel Antoff, who was a sausage tycoon. He was a big meat process, or ran, a big meat processing factory. And was a loyal Putinista, he was a member of a pro-Putin party. But one day, perhaps over come by one vodka too many, he posted on social media a comment, which appeared to condemn Russian missile attacks on civilian areas. He immediately retracted it the following day, saying, oh, someone got onto my social media, and posted this without my knowledge. Yeah, we all, that's what happened to all of us, hasn't it? Not. Anyway, a couple of days ago, he jumped from a hotel window well on holiday in India, and the Indian police very helpfully said, oh, he was perhaps very depressed because his friend who is on holiday with a diet, also a mysterious circus says, a couple of days before. Well, you know, we never get to the bottom of these stories, but it seems to be very much, that this is a very vindictive late strike by the FSB. So the stakes are getting higher all the time, aren't they? It's all. Yeah, they are. I mean, this interesting, you mentioned the Antonov story, Patrick, because if you add the numbers out now, we now got at least 20 former high-profile industrialist tycoons who have criticized the war and have died in mysterious circumstances. So, you know, as you're suggesting, Patrick, put two and two together and try and work out what that means. It's interesting, isn't it? You know, your suggestion that there is a possible palace coup, because we have an extraordinary story this week from a former Putin speech writer, Abbas Galiomov, who claims that Putin is just in case, and this plan may be needed sooner rather than later. It's code name Noah's Ark, and it's a plan for Putin's escape to South America in the event of him losing the war in Ukraine and things getting a little bit too hot in Russia. Sounds far fetch, doesn't it? But actually, you know, why wouldn't you have a possible escape route? And of course, it reminds us, doesn't it, Patrick, of all those attempts by Nazis to flee at the end of the Second World War? Always a favorite destination for bad guys, isn't it, South America? I wonder where the mullers are going to go, because I've just been, I've been following with great interest and huge admiration of what's going on in Iran at the moment with these demonstrations which show no sign of dying away despite all the kind of brutal pushback that they're receiving from the revolutionary guards and the Vasees and all the other instruments of repression in Iran. But there's very strong evidence that they're planning their own exit strategy at a very basic level, all the kind of luxury villas in Iran that the regime own are being flagged off at kind of bargain basement prices. So, you know, even very confident regimes like Iran can think, okay, well, this could all go per se very quickly. So yeah, I mean, the lesson of history is again that things can change very, very rapidly, you know, Russia being the classic example of that with the February revolution in 1917 when suddenly, literally overnight, there's this combination of striking workers, women marching on the streets, demanding bread, and the military just suddenly decided to switch sides and go with the flow. That literally took a couple of days and six months later you had the Bolsheviks in the past, so, you know, there's plenty of lessons from history that things can go bad very quickly, even for very authoritarian regimes. Yeah, now, another very interesting story actually, Patrick, that relates to, there's been a lot of criticism I've noticed on social media in the last week or so, that although the West is continuing to arm Ukraine, it's not actually giving it its best weapons. A lot of the stuff, as we've already reported on the podcast, are coming from sort of excess kit and even the recent announcement from the Americans that they're going to be giving Patriot missiles. Well, they're already quite old these Patriot missiles. Now, they are going to be very useful, don't get me wrong, but of course there's a, you know, is there an understandable criticism that they're not getting the best stuff? Yes, there absolutely is, but really fascinating story has just come out, reported in the times, that the Ukraine is making great play of the use of artificial intelligence. Now, this was software developed by a company called Palantir, US Tech firm that's closely linked to the CIA. You won't be surprised to hear. And it uses intelligence gathered by commercial satellites, heat sensors and reconnaissance drones, as well as spies and Ukrainians working behind enemy lines to produce a map with the probable location of Russian artillery tanks, troops, and supply depots. Now, it's as simple as this, Patrick, once you've got the map up and running on your iPad, you just tap in the coordinates where these targets are and you can knock them out. Now, how effective is this? Well, former British Army General Sir Richard Barons says that 20 years ago, a military HQ would have had the capacity to target about 10 targets a day, using this new AI software that's increased to 300. I mean, this is considered to be a real game-changer. It is something we haven't really discussed yet on the podcast and we'll be looking to get more information about this. On the subject of the Patrick, so, you know, we were quite encouraged by that, weren't we, last week, but it now emerges that there is going to take six months for them actually to be deployed operationally, which is not so good. My feeling is that this is going to be an issue later down the line, a political issue for the West, even though, yes, America really did step up and it did pour in a great deal of military support. But it hasn't been that targeted, has it, in the sense that they didn't get the best stuff that they really could have swung the war early on, once things were going Ukraine's way more forcefully in that direction. And it's been coming in sort of dribs and drabs in terms of the actual quality of the kit. Okay, there's been some terrific stuff. High Mars, we've all been very impressed by what that can do on the battlefield. But I think that escalation we talked about last week, not actually sanctioning that earlier may come to seem a big strategic mistake. And I think whichever way you look at it is going to cost a lot more in the long run, not giving them the really high quality game changing kit early, because in terms of the destruction that's being done, you know, the cost of reconstruction. But also it just means you're going to have to pour more munitions in to get the result that the West wants. It's a very tricky balance, isn't it Patrick? We've been selling on the podcast for a long time, give them more and better stuff. There's no doubt who the villain in this scenario is and who deserves to be supported. But I think, you know, if you kind of drill down into the kind of long term politics and strategy of this, there may be a kind of fear among the West to not humiliate Russia as we've discussed before, not to leave them as a kind of seething enemy for years to come to sort of give Putin or at least Russia, if not Putin, because I think you and I probably both are finding it hard to imagine a scenario where Putin can lose the war in a vertical commas and stay in power. But anyway, a Russian regime not to get some extremist groups to somehow tread a middle way. I bet you that's in the back of a lot of Western thinking through all of this and is playing into the idea that they're not giving them the best kit so that they can finish the war quickly and in a humiliating fashion. Of course they're using the argument about escalation, but we're hearing from increasing numbers of sources, including who's strong, that escalation really isn't a problem anymore. Yeah, I mean, in a way it puts one in mind of the Iraq scenario after the first Gulf War in the early 1990s when the decision was made okay, we don't, we want to leave Saddam in power. That didn't go very well because we just had to come back ten years later and bring down the regime, you know, okay, we could be very well-occupied about whether that was a good thing or not. But you've got the same sort of set up here, haven't you really? The big fundamental question is, is it better for Russia to collapse in the hope that more amenable and more democratic regime more like us, a kind of Russia that shaped like us with our values emerges from that or is it better to follow a kind of containment policy, which was the idea behind the decision not to go all the way in the first Gulf War of 1993. It's a very, very tricky one and, you know, whatever you do, you're probably going to wish you've done the opposite. Anyway, well, that's enough from us for the time being. It's time to hear now from Mark McKinnon, the star of the Canadian Globe and Mail Foreign Service on his thoughts on where we're going. This is what he told us. Hello, Mark. Welcome to the podcast. I'm trying to remember when we first met. When and where was that? Long, long ago, it was in the, boy, it was the first days after September 11th. And my editor is for some reason, the Americans would be so rash as to invade a country called Iraq, despite there being no direct tie to that conflict. And so I was a very young reporter. There was scrambling for people who were not locked down in North America. I happened to have been in South Africa at the time. I was put me on a plane to a man, Jordan, where I was completely lost, had no idea what to do. And a very helpful and humble Patrick Bishop sort of would agree to sit and eat chishtoke with me every night and tell me who to call the next day. That's good to hear. Well, you certainly been in the right place at the right time since then, Mark, including being in Ukraine when the war began. Can I start off by asking you how you see things, how things felt then and how you see things now, you've been there from the beginning right up until this point. What are your reflections of where you were then and where you are now? I mean, those first days of the war were terrifying. We all thought that the Russian army would have surrounded Kiev within days. This is what our contacts at Western embassies were telling us. They were leaving. They were telling us Western journalists to leave as soon as possible. And the first few days of the war, I was living in the Radisson Hotel in Central Kiev and sort of running up and down the stairs to the bomb shelter and you had no idea the size or scope of what was being hit in the city outside. All you knew was there was a siren sounding and everybody just sort of coward in the basement until morning. And then we were so convinced that the Russians were about to surround Kiev that about sort of two days, three days into all this. Some colleagues from the Guardian newspaper and I decided to redeploy outside of the city so that we could sort of cover this, we were thinking of like a seizure of Sarajevo scenario where we'd be able to sneak in and out of the city every day. So convinced was everyone of the imminent Russian victory that we moved to sort of a cottage on the outskirts of the city so we could try and cover this awful siege that was to come without being sort of trapped inside it. Anyway, if you think back to that and the assumptions we were working with and the belief that we had that the war would be a quick one and the outcome was certainly going to be in Vladimir Putin's favourites to my last visit which was concluded in early December. You know, where you're sort of in Kiev for a respite almost and then you go redeploy to these front lines, hundreds of kilometers to the east. And you know, it's not comfortable obviously living in Kiev these days with the attacks that are happening on the infrastructure and the trying to keep your batteries charged up. But then the assumption now is that the front lines will keep moving east, which is a remarkable shift from where we were ten months ago. Mark, you've written a fascinating piece for your paper, The Glover Mail, in Toronto, about a number of Ukrainians. I think it's eight of them that you've been following since the beginning of the war. They've all had very different experiences, summer in the military, summer sort of supporting the war and other guys. Can you tell us a little bit about just a few of them and how they've fared since the conflict began? Yeah, that was a project took us all year obviously and there were actually more than any characters we've been following. Those were sort of the eight that made into a cogent picture of how the year has gone. And it was just trying to make merit of the fact that I've been covering the country for a while. Some of these people were, one was a translator that I'd hired 20 years ago in my first trip to Ukraine that I just stayed in touch with and she's sort of just an ordinary, she's a mother trying to give her kid an ordinary life in the middle of a war and so they get propelled from hot Kiev in the east of the country to Denebro in the center. They're living in Kiev with their home and their lives are back in hot Kiev and trying to keep their son in sort of a normal situation to a political analyst that I've quoted repeatedly over the years because he's sort of happy to talk to mediating or the day named Taras. We spent the first few days of the war sort of like everyone else fleeing Kiev not in sure what the future was going to be setting up a new life in the west of the country. And then as the course of the war turns, he sort of remembers they went to military school and joins the army and ended up being assigned to a special forces unit that ends up helping liberate the hot Kiev region and then most recently he was on the front line as Ukrainian troop entered his son and he's from Crimea and he's now beginning to think well maybe this war is going in the complete opposite direction. Maybe one day I'll get to go back to Crimea after all and others was a young woman who got married in the middle of the war. There was a soldier I got to know who unfortunately was killed very early on in the conflict. A couple of others one lost his eye, one on the shrapnel on his head. So it was as a collective I guess what these people told us is every one of them in the first hours and days was sort of on their back foot not sure how long their country would would continue to exist. And then gradually they sort of turned around and faced the enemy and like I said, one got killed two are very badly entered, two lost. They're hope they've sustained enormous damage but they're still holding together. Let me switch to your thoughts about Russia Mark. You've spent time there as a bureau chief in Moscow from what your contacts presumably taught from still sometimes inside Russia. Can you get any feel of how Russian morale, Russian public opinion if we can possibly gauge that is holding up in these circumstances? I mean it's always been very hard to gauge broader Russian public opinion because of the risks associated with pulling there and people giving it on the stands or to a stranger over the phone about their political beliefs. But at the start of the conflict, the shall I say, as one day we're right before the war began I was calling sort of a couple of people that I knew who had in the past worked inside the Kremlin trying to understand what they understood of what might lie ahead. And there were two conversations that really stuck out of my head. One was this sort of a long time Kremlin-connected foreign policy advisor there who had been telling me, this is all really just a bluff. Putin's looking for concessions from NATO. He doesn't want to go to war. He's just trying to see how far I can push it. And then he got off the phone and called this other guy. More hawkish, always been more hawkish line. At times marginalize within the Kremlin today, very central it seems. And he was saying, no we're going to go and get rid of the Nazis and Kiev, etc. And I hung up the phone and I turned him a Ukrainian colleague and I said, you know, it depends who's in charge right now. It depends which Kremlin we're dealing with. If it's that last guy, we're in for a very long and dangerous conflict because, you know, the world he's talking about, there's no room for peace, there's no room for negotiations. It implies there are Nazis and Kiev and NATO is going to build installed nuclear weapons on the border. And you know, as poorly as the war has gone for the Russian military, if you watch Russian state television right now, this is still the overriding narrative. You know, there is this quote unquote fascist regime next door that the West is pumping up with weapons because it intends to destroy Russia. And that, you know, whether or not people believe it or not is almost beside the point because that's the narrative. And it's very hard for the Kremlin to back down from that narrative to suddenly say, oh, look, we've made a deal with these guys. We're all going to go back to the way it was before. It is sort of being presented inside Russia as an existential struggle. And if so, then as, and Ukrainians, of course, now do see this post-Bucha, post-Isium as an existential struggle. They have a very clear reason for believing that. It's very hard to see where the de-escalation ramps are in the near future. Talking about your own continent, North America, I've been struck in recent days by the way that the right, the commentary at on the right, which of course is very influential, is starting to undermine American solidarity for the war or attempting to undermine American solidarity behind the war efforts. Did you see that as being a dangerous development? Of course. And it's, you know, it's deeply confusing how the party of Ronald Reagan has ended up in this place where many of them openly admire Vladimir Putin and, you know, see logic in his reasons for invading Ukraine just because it fits with their worldview about a very confusing worldview that, you know, about who runs the world, I guess. And it does, I mean, we got through the American midterm, which there was not this feared red wave that, you know, when I say fear to say, I was in Kiev at the time, and the Ukrainians were quite concerned that if, you know, the American military and political support started to wane, if there started to be more pressure from Washington to accept what Russia would call peace, which the Ukrainians would see as, you know, annexations and giving up land and setting the stage for another conflict. You know, they were worried that if the American solidarity cracked, then European solidarity, which has always been more questionable, what would quickly fracture. So we got through that for now. There's another, of course, the American presidential election looms large. And I mean, this narrative, I'm Canadian. I haven't lived there for a while now, and I don't follow American politics. But when you go home to Canada, I'm traveling around, especially in parts of the country that more traditionally vote conservative, again, it's rather confusing. There is an understanding that, Mom, maybe Putin's just trying to put things back in order. So he somehow become representative of something else besides dictating his neighbor. He's somehow aligned with, because of his sort of support for traditional, quote, unquote, Christian values, et cetera. He's got support in the sort of North American political right for baffling reasons. Mark, we have a similar situation in the UK as I'm sure you're aware as your resident here. Not only the hard right, but also the hard left seem to be quite sympathetic towards. Putin, it must be completely mystifying to anyone coming to the UK for the first time to see that. So broader picture here, I mean, the recent visit of Zelensky to the United States, Biden's firm commitment for more money for Ukraine. Is this being seen in Ukraine as a victory of sorts and a conviction, at least that the West or NATO more generally, is going to be supportive of the war, at least in the short to medium term? I think so. I mean, there was a moment of nervousness. And I'm not inside the Ukrainian presidential administration. I do recall back in November, there being some worried text messages that I was being sent by my sources there about sort of an overall sense that the West was drifting towards a, you know, as winter loomed and gas supplies were in question and the war seemed stagnant just before the fall of Headson. You know, there was this sense of the West. You need to look for an off wrap. Like, okay, we've made our point. Let's give Vladimir Putin sort of a gentle way out of this and we can all sort of return to something like business as usual before we have a hard winter with people in Europe shivering in their homes and thinking about voting for somebody else. And so that was right before, again, you know, the sequence of events is this nervousness is rising, the Ukrainian military, you know, frankly, was looking for a win that would convince the West that it could continue to take back land that this was not a frozen conflict yet. How does Sun happen? Because we're Russian strategic withdrawal, frankly, but because of a long term Ukrainian plan of, you know, using their Western donated long-range weapons to strike, you know, make it untenable for the Russians to stay there, it happened at a very fortuitous time, just as sort of Ukrainians were beginning to wonder, you know, are we going to be forced to make another Minsk? The Minsk agreements were this deal that was back in 2014 was sort of imposed on Ukraine by Russia to end the hot phase of the conflict that preceded this one. They were worried to be, you know, forced into another Minsk's like agreement. And then, Hesson falls and all of a sudden, you know, Ukraine's back on leading newscasts at night. And I think capitalizing at that momentum, Mr. Zelensky decides to make his first trip outside of Ukraine since February, since the start of the war. And obviously, he chose the United States, he chose Joe Biden to say thank you because that's been their biggest ally both in terms of military support, but also in terms of leading Europe forward on this, because Europe has been more reticent. So yeah, it was a big deal for the Ukrainians. They do feel like right now they do have the support of the West. They can continue to try and liberate more and more of their territory inside Russia. Of course, it fit the narrative that we're not really fighting against the Ukrainians, we're fighting against NATO and, you know, the hawks are pushing for the Russian military to fight that kind of conflict to sort of strike at, if not NATO countries, then NATO will supply it as they cross the border. So there is some obviously some escalation risk in this as well. Well that was great stuff. We're just going to take a quick break now. Please join us for part two when we'll be hearing more from Mark McKinnon. Welcome back. Well, as well as the situation on the ground, we were interested in the broader global developments arising from the conflict, which Mark has well qualified to comment on. He spent several years based in Beijing. This is what he said. Mark, your amount of many parts you've also been Beijing, pure achieved for your newspaper. Can you say a little bit about the Chinese role in all this and their perspective on what's going on? I mean, the Chinese role at the start of this was I think they were most reporting suggests that in the run up to the Olympics, Vladimir Putin being the only foreign leader who attended the Beijing Olympics, briefed Xi Jinping about what was to come. Xi Jinping for told asked Vladimir Putin to wait till the end of the Olympics before attacking Ukraine. There was a lot of fear at that time that as Russia invaded Ukraine as, you know, sort of the West rallied or responded or didn't respond to that conflict, that would be a great time for China to sort of test the waters around trying to retake Taiwan, for instance. And I think the Russian military failures in Ukraine, a surprised China. They have, there was that meeting halfway through the year where Xi Jinping, he didn't say to think himself that Putin said, you know, side by side press conference that, you know, the Chinese leader had questions about the war and I tried to answer them. And I suggest that China didn't expect it to take this long or for it to go the way it has. And maybe that's China's own calculus. Certainly, the way the West has supported Ukraine and the clearer lines that Joe Biden has drawn around Taiwan probably have changed China's thinking towards what it can do with regards to Taiwan hasn't changed its rhetoric, of course. But I think, you know, we're further away from Chinese moved on Taiwan that we might have been back in February. At the same time, we haven't seen yet much has been made of the fact that Russia is running low on munitions from, you know, it's firing hundreds of shells a day at Ukraine, it's using up its store of cruise missiles. Now, it's turned to these Iranian drones, apparently it's sawtons and perches, North Korean artillery shells. There is a giant armors manufacture with a shares of border with Russia and should it decide to throw its industrial military complex behind the Russian war effort that could allow Vladimir Putin to not just carry this war on, definitely to escalate the number of tax per day it does. And so we haven't really seen China's play yet. We haven't seen it say, you know, condemn Putin and stand against this war in a strong way. But he also hasn't thrown China's industrial might behind Russia in a way that it would be profitable for China, but also would aid the Russian war effort. China is still watching and waiting as it traditionally doesn't foreign policy issues and could yet become a bigger player. Mark, we've been speculating about the sort of motives for all the nuclear saber rattling since the early stages of the war. And we also feel that China starts over this, which is that, you know, this mustn't get into a position where even tactical nuclear weapons are used on the battlefield has influence Russia. Do you think that is the case? I do. It has to have. If you look at it from a purely military perspective and the fact that the input of the other nuclear powers, Britain, France, the United States, those are the main ones, obviously, the fact that, you know, what they have to say at this point probably doesn't influence Vladimir Putin very much. And you look at the front lines and you think, boy, you know, Putin lose this war. His regime might be over. He's reputed to have watched the video of how Malmar Gaddafi was killed dozens of times and that's his nightmare, right? As the people take to the streets to overthrow the regime and then he ends up in a ditch like Gaddafi did. You know, I have several times, you know, just working with our local staff there. We've gained out, you know, what we would do if, and there's not much you can do if a nuclear attack comes into play. It does seem, especially given the Kremlin has been proven to have used chemical and nuclear devices in Syria and in assassination attempts, you know, it certainly wouldn't be a red line for Vladimir Putin to someone's drawn a red line for him whether that's, you know, his staff saying they refuse to push the button, which I highly doubt, or the Chinese have said, listen, you know, we're your friend and this is our request as they've done in the past. This seems the most plausible reason for why we haven't seen the sort of technical, nuclear weapon, you know, which would have limited battlefield effects, but it would certainly demoralize the Ukrainian military and population and haste in the conversation that Mr. Putin wants, which is sort of a summit with the West, but how they have more. So yeah, there's somebody, there's something holding him back, thankfully that most likely is shooting ping. Fascinating. Last question from me, Mark, how do you see things going in the coming year? I'm sitting here with a giant starlink Elon Musk sort of satellite modem device that I'm going to lug back into Kiev with me. We've just bought three massive batteries and trying to secure a generator for our apartment in Kiev. We're batting down the hatches for a long conflict, at least another year. The front lines may not change as much as they have in the near future. You know, there was a moment there where it felt like the Ukrainians were going to drive all the way to Crimea into the Netherlands. And we now see the Russians building fortification lines to prevent that from happening. And we do have this, you know, this ongoing Russian mobilization and we're allegedly hundreds of thousands of troops are in Belarus for training, which if nothing else forces the Ukrainians to defend the northern border. So, you know, I guess another year of war is what I would predict at this point, inconclusive war, you know, I think we'd all be thrilled if it ended before then, if Ukraine got its territory back before then, I don't see how that happens under current conditions. If we're still discussing this, you know, will here won't he nuclear question in a year's time, that will be a victory as well. Yeah, last question from me, Mark, one of the key things, I think both Patrick and I feel about this is the stage at which the Ukrainians get that they feel that they have any kind of negotiations for peace. They are, of course, playing a very hard line at the moment. They've had success on the battlefield and they're really talking about the recovery of all their territory. But what do you feel on the ground is the absolute minimum that they could accept for any kind of peace still in the future? This is a really important question and the rhetoric is clear from the president's office and down through all those who speak for Ukrainian security structures. We are going to regain our land. This is the only way this war ends and we won't negotiate with Vladimir Putin, we'll negotiate the next Russian president. Of course, that's not how peace gets made. I think Ukrainian attack south from Zaparizhye, to split the Russian holdings into what would give them more bargaining power than they currently have. I think a push towards Donbas would be very difficult but is politically possible. When you get towards Crimea, then I think we are advancing towards Vladimir Putin's real red lines. That's his legacy. That's the one thing that he wanted to go down in the history book for is returning, quote unquote, Crimea to Russia. I think that's where he might go to Xi Jinping and say, this is actual Russian territory is similar to any part of China. What would you do? If I was a Western ambassador in Ukraine, I'd be advising them to treat Crimea with caution because of that. What the trick for Vladimir Zelensky or any Ukrainian leader right now is that all these military political realities come up against what we talked about at the start. Ukrainian nationalism, the belief that they're going to win this war and the fact that most Ukrainians after having eight years of proxy war in Donbas, 14,000 people were killed before this conflict even started. After seeing Bootsha, after seeing as you, after watching the celebrations and liberated have some, they're not in the mood for a deal. They actually would refuse a deal for the majority of Ukrainians that I know for certainly. That has a risk for Zelensky. If he says tomorrow morning, listen. I've made a deal to end the war and it involves Russia keeping Crimea, Luhansk and Demetsk. I think there would be massive street protests against that Ukrainian leader and I don't know that he would survive that politically. Or that any Ukrainian politician would survive that politically. So there is a real, there's another player in this, and that's the Ukrainian population that thinks it can, it's military can win this war and that they don't need to make concessions, that they don't need to make concessions and they don't, then they should not. It would be morally reprehensible to make concessions. It's hard to argue with that. I mean, I've had these conversations repeatedly. And that's again why I predict just more and more war in the year to come because it's just not a popular mood on the Ukrainian side and there's no rhetorical groundwork on the Russian side for anything like peace. Well, that was great stuff. I just want to say something about the genesis of the interview. I met up with Mark last week at the front line club, the great institution that Saul and I both know all too well, don't we saw? It's in an old iron foundry, kind of 19th century, late 19th century iron foundry in Paddington and it was set up by a friend of ours, Vaughan Smith, the former Grenadier guardsman, turned combat cameraman about 20 years ago and it's basically for, it's Cleontele, foreign correspondence, people working in foreign news, but also aid workers, diplomats and military types, etc. It's a great institution, but it's not one of my wife's favorite places. She refers to the club habituaries as members of the when I was tribe because she says that every conversation starts with when I was in Afghanistan, when I was in Bosnia, when I was in Iraq, etc., etc. Most unfair, I think, sort of. Yeah, it's funny. I've often been surprised that I was allowed in and this was about 20 years ago, not really coming in, any of those groups you mentioned Patrick, but I suppose military historian possibly as a kind of vague add-on to all the rest, but great stuff. I mean, Crikey, it was fascinating, wasn't it, to hear from Mark because he has, as you pointed out at the beginning, Patrick, those areas of expertise, not only reporting on the ground in Ukraine, but also his knowledge of Moscow and China too, you know, having served as bureau chief in the capital of both those countries. And you know, the most interesting thing, or at least the most striking thing, he said to me, was really about China, how it began, you know, he confirmed, which is something we'd long suspected that began the war, you know, really supporting Russia, knew about the attack in advance, probably thinking it would give it a free pass in Taiwan, but as Mark says, the failures, then, have not a surprise China, but it's made the recovery of Taiwan less likely in the short term, and yet, of course, there and yet, the danger at some stage, as Mark points out, is that China will decide to come into the game supporting Russia militarily, and this could really tip the balance. Yeah, so that was quite a sobering thought, wasn't it? I was also, you know, rather kind of cast down by his assessment that the war's going to last, last at least another year, with little chance of the peace moves that would kind of, in the year, we were talking about at the beginning of the show, actually coming to anything, I think we probably agree on that, but he seemed to be less sanguine at the thought of a Russian collapse than we've been from time to time. So the point he makes that, you know, Zelensky has made life quite difficult for himself going forward in terms of any negotiating headroom, because he has repeated over and over again that there can be no peace without the expulsion of the Russians from every centimeter, as he said, of Ukraine's national boundaries, and that message has gone down so well that in Marx's assessment, it's basically supported, that view that stance is supported by the vast majority of the population, but on the other side, he says the Crimea really is a red line for the Russians, and the narrative that's being spun from the Kremlin, that this is a kind of battle for national survival, will become a reality in Russian minds if Crimea is attacked. It's all very sobering stuff, isn't it? But you know, I think in many ways, we won't know where exactly how things are going to pan out, of course, more than anyone else does, but I think there are little indications there that despite the success that Ukrainians are having on the battlefield, this doesn't necessarily make peace any closer to, you know, grab hold of, so to speak, and that we could be in it for a fair, well, longer, yeah. Okay, well let's move on to some questions. Now quite a few of them are about procurement and supply, so we're not going to answer them all individually, but just to give a kind of general sense of some of the questions. Here's one from Bart Doulard, from the Netherlands. He says I'm a big fan of the podcast, thank you for putting all your efforts into providing high quality content, and his question regards the Western weapons support Ukraine gets. The longer the war progresses, says Bart, the more advanced and expensive the weaponry you're creating receives, what factors do you reckon are in play when deciding which weapons are allowed and which weapons are not? For example, lately the use of Patriot systems is allowed, but Migs from Poland are still not. Well, I don't think there's any big secret here, Bart. I mean, what's going on here is that yes, they are providing weaponry, but they're still sticking to this kind of broad line that they're going to give weapons that are chiefly of useful defense as in the Patriot anti-A, anti-missile systems, rather than offensive weapons. They still seem to be playing that basic card. There was some suggestion recently I noticed from some news outlets that right at the beginning of the war, Ukraine had wanted war-togged tank busters, the A-10s, which, actually you probably remember, from the Gulf War, a very effective system, quite difficult to fly apparently, but those haven't even given to Ukraine. You could argue that there's an element of a defensive capability there, but yes, they've been very cautious about what they give them, and we don't necessarily agree with that. Yeah, following up on that, we've got one here from Simonas, who lives in Belgium, who says hi, guys, good podcast, a bit Anglo-Saxon-centric, but still good. I think that's... We've been accused of being a bit heavy on the male contributors, but Anglo-Amizet kind of the inevitable consequences of a kind of lopsided information scenario we're in, which he actually makes this point later on. But first of all, he reiterates his business of attacks on Russian targets inside Russian borders. He says, if Russia is attacking Ukraine's energy infrastructure, would it be fair to give Ukraine weapons to attack the nearby Russian power plants as well? Well, there's been a bit of that, hasn't there? He's ongoing mysterious, a pair of drone raids on energy targets, et cetera. Would it be an effective deterrent? I don't think it's a deterrent, really. I think there are dangers in that one is that you actually get into a moral equivalent situation. There's a lot of voices on the right in America, particularly during Zelensky's visit. You've got these right wing rabble rouses like Taka Carlson, kind of basically. In the insulting Zelensky and saying, why are we pouring all this money into Ukraine? So I think if they start kind of following the Russian lead, then that will only damage the very lofty moral standing. They've got at the moment in the eyes of most ordinary people in the West. So yeah, now his final point, I think, is definitely one worth making. You're answering at least. He says, this is a cheeky one. How much better would your podcast be if you were to interview some local Russian military experts, not only emigrates? Well, it's a thought, but I think we kind of know what they think and say from these are the sort of mill bloggers. These kind of guys, a bit like Strelkov, who are ultra-nationalists, ultra-militarists. And their kind of outlook is that we just want to do what we're doing better and harder. So there's not much kind of nuance in that. The other difficulty is that if you're dealing with an authoritarian regime, it's very hard to get anyone who's actually going to give you a kind of nuanced, believable, credible view from inside Russian territory. So that we are actually forced to talk to emigrates who perforce are going to be anti-Putin. Yeah, not ideal, but I think it's the best you can hope for. And as you say, Patrick, we start talking to genuine insiders if they'd agreed to talk to us. We'd just be repeating their propaganda, albeit with a cautionary warning, which is something we're not in the business of doing. Okay, let's move on to Peter Richards from Brisbane, Australia. It's nice to see the podcast as we've said before getting such a global reach. Thanks for a terrific podcast, he writes, can you tell me when Congress allocates billions for Ukraine? What does that mean? Are the funds given to Ukraine to spend as it wishes? Can they buy military hardware from any sources? Or is it tied to spending on US military equipment? Well, it is a good question, actually, because I think I know the answer, and I think the answer is the latter. They're giving kit, which is worth a certain amount of those of the sums they're adding up. Okay, we've got the final one here from Chris Robilewski, who asks about whether NATO should really be worried by the Russian threat given the performance that we've seen on the battlefield to date, i.e., basic military incompetence, further undermined by massive corruption. This is something we ought to discuss at a future pod-soul. He asked the question, should NATO members really be that worried given all that's now known about Russia's military shortcomings? Do you think they pose any kind of threat to NATO at the moment, Saul? The answer is no. It's really interesting, isn't it? Because a year ago, I wouldn't have said that, and I'm sure you wouldn't have either Patrick, but the proofs in the pudding, what we realize now, as you've hinted at, or suggested Patrick, is the enormous amount of corruption there was. This information is coming from very reliable Russian sources, by the way. And of course, it does explain a lot of the inadequate kits and the chaos in supply, because for an army to operate well, all the different elements of it have to function effectively. So should current NATO members be concerned, absolutely not, because it would mean that one was attacked or attacked. I think the places that still should be a little concerned are places that are not yet currently NATO members. Next to Russia, I'm talking of course, places like Sweden. And yes, it makes complete sense to me that they get into NATO sooner rather than later to give them that extra security, but frankly, given what the Russia has done in Ukraine, it does make you wonder, to what extent they can be a reliable partner for someone like China in the future. Going back to some of Marx's thoughts about China, they must really be wondering what they've got themselves shackled to. Yeah, I think from China's point of view, the only real advantage is that they've got access to the vast supplies of energy, which in the short term will of course be of some benefit. But in the long term, like you say, do you really want to be allied to Russia and its current state? Okay, well, that's all we've got time for this week. But before we go, a couple of things, we don't often blow around Trumpet, but we've been getting some very nice accolades recently, though we thought it would be good to pass on. The times this is our last week as one of the top 25 podcasts in the UK in all categories for the year, which was very nice of them. And we're building our audience all the time. We were number three in Apple History Podcasts last week. So do keep listening. Yes, please do. Next week, we're not having a break for Christmas and New Year. We'll have another fabulous guest and we'll be summing up the latest news from Ukraine and elsewhere. Thank you, join us then.