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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28. Military Incompetence

28. Military Incompetence

Fri, 17 Feb 2023 01:00

This week Saul and Patrick discuss the Russian military incompetence which has resulted in, according to the British MoD, the heaviest rate of casualties for the Russians since the start of the war. They also talk to a remarkable woman Melania Podolyak who works for the Serhiy Prytula charity foundation, which delivers not only humanitarian aid to Ukrainian civilians but military kit and hardware including drones Ukrainian soldiers.

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Producer: James Hodgson

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Hello and welcome to another episode of Battleground Ukraine with me Saul David and Patrick Bishop. Well fighting is certainly intensified in certain hotspots in the east of Ukraine, but so far it's been hard to see a definite shape emerging from all this activity, and we are learning of really significant losses on the Russian side. We'll be sifting through the reports to try and get an idea of the direction the war is going in. We'll also be talking to a remarkable woman, that's Melania Padoljak, who works for an equally remarkable organisation, the Sergei Prytula Charity Foundation, which delivers not only humanitarian aid to Ukrainians' civilians, but military kit and hardware, including drones to Ukrainian soldiers. Okay, let's cut to it Saul, I've been searching for signs on the Russian side of the sort of preparations you might expect to see in advance of the big offensive operation that we've been hearing about so much in the last weeks, but so far I can't really see anything that looks like events are taking a markedly different turn at what are you seeing? Well not a lot to be truthful Patrick, come as I mentioned at the top, we can see attacks ongoing right across the front, a little bit of ground being gained by Russia in various locations. They're talking about some significant gains as they put it, that's coming from Russian sources in Lohansk this morning, but in reality these are pinpricks, frankly, compared to the huge gains made by Ukraine later in the year in 2022. So what's going on? Well, attacks in 11 locations in Donetsk and Lohansk, as I said, also, and this might be significant reports of a Russian build up of fighter jets and attack helicopters in the border areas, is that an indication of a bigger attack as underway? We don't know. And yet on the other hand, huge losses have been taken by the Russians in recent weeks. The British MOD says that in the last fortnight, Russians have suffered their heaviest rate of casualties since the start of the war and that very much backs up the information we're getting from Ukrainian sources, the official MOD sources in Kiev that says that the Russians are losing up to eight or 900 killed a day. It's an astonishing rate of losses. Well, a lot of the action seems to have been around a place called Rulidar, which is a small mining town. It's significant, says that it's slightly elevated. It looks down on a plane and through that plane runs a railway line that connects Donetsk and Crimea, so it's got significant strategic value. Huge efforts been made by the Russians involving Speznats, special forces troops and Marines, so-called elite units of Marines, to try and take it so far without success. In the process, they've taken horrendous casualties. There's an amazing video of tanks just sort of maneuvering around, sort of fairly pointlessly, and suddenly erupting in flames and smoke as they hit, was either by drone-guided munitions, also driving straight into minefields, apparently kind of completely unaware that they're there. Now, I think the story, which is the Ukrainians are pumping up, they're saying that the brigade has actually been more or less destroyed, and this is the second or even third time. This has happened, it was involved initially in the attack on Kiev and got very badly battered there, and now here they are again, and pretty well being wiped out. Now, the Russians themselves are reporting a bit on this, people are making reports from the battlefield, one says, something very interesting to me. This is described as an elite unit, but according to someone who spoke from an independent news organisation in Russia, 80% of the troops are actually mobniics, they're mobilized troops, so they're untrained, relatively untrained, and this explains the huge displays of incompetence we're seeing. So when we see these so-called elite units go into action, they're not really a leader tool, they're basically been patched together and filled up with people who really don't know what they're doing. So if they're being used at this stage of the war, it does make the question of what have they actually got in reserve, they may have numbers, but what are the skill sets of these people that are waiting to go into the line? Well, I'm definitely moving to the view, Patrick, that there is going to be no mass offensive by the Russians, because they simply don't have that capability. So yes, this could be the offensive, they're trying to move in multiple different locations for what purpose? Well, I think Putin's war aims now, the revised war aims are relatively clear. He wants to get his hands on those four territories that they were all ready proclaimed as part of Russia, and he will then try and sell that to the Russian public as a victory. In other words, the offensive, such as it is, is going to take place in the use of the country. I doubt very much there'll be an assault on Kiev. Of course, the Russians want the Ukrainians to think that that might take place, because then they will keep some of their best troops that, you know, looking over the border at Belarus and other parts of that sort of location in Ukraine, and away from the heart of the fighting. But if you think about it, the one way that Putin can get out of this mess at the moment is to try and recover certainly all of the Donbass, but also possibly those other territories too. I don't think it's going to happen, but that seems to be what he's trying to do. Now, there has been trouble at home as a result of all this. There are still voices that are raised against what's going on in Ukraine, and in the last few days we've heard from someone who's been a persistent critic of Putin, that's Colonel General Leonid Ivashov. He's old school, he's 79 years old, he was a stalwart of the old Red Army, and he's the chairman of something called the All Russia Officers Assembly. I don't know what that is, but it kind of in my mind sort of raises an image of a sort of Moscow equivalent in and out, the Naval and military club in London, with lots of retired old Soviet generals sitting around in Lilla, armchairs, sipping Georgian brandy and saying that the country is going to the dogs under this scoundrel Putin. He's actually a serious critic, like I said, he was a vocal critic at the outset, and he then predicted disaster when the war began. He's popped up again basically to say, I told you so, but saying that it's actually much worse than he feared. He's saying it's total military incompetence, but beyond that total diplomatic isolation, he said, I wrote then that we would become a pariah state, but I didn't think we would not have a single serious ally. Now, that clearly includes China. He feels they've lost China. Indeed, he says there's now a kind of new world order by Polar World Order, which has been created by the US and China, and in which Russia has no parts. And beyond that, he says this war's actually saved NATO. It's now actually expanding in a way that it wouldn't have done if it hadn't been for the invasion. And also, unified the West, he says there was no collective West before. There were lots of contradictions, but today we're creating a collective West with our own hands. That seems to be a pretty good analysis. And this is coming from someone who's proud patriotic Russian, not from a dissident. And at the root of it, he says it's really this military incompetence, which goes back to the way that Putin has hollowed out the state and replaced competent professionals with his own KGB slash FSB cronies. And of course, the general is one of the victims of this. He was sat by Putin 20 or 20 years ago, I think. I think that's very significant, Patrick. He sounds like he's got a bit of an axe to grind, but nevertheless, he's speaking out and saying basically the reality of what's gone on. And he's not the only one. Another significant comment came this week from a character called Gennady Goodkov. Now, he's a former KGB colonel and an ex-Russian MP who lives in Excel. So he can speak a bit more openly, but what he says also is pretty hard-hitting. Putin can't rule the Kremlin like before. He has made lots of stupid mistakes and everyone from the general staff of the armed forces to the leadership of the FSB to his close aides understands this. Officials are becoming bolder and brash and in fighting is escalated. There is no longer the subordination to Putin that there was a year ago said Goodkov. And he cited conversations with relatives of Kremlin insiders, aides to political figures in Moscow, and unnamed Russian tycoons. And here's the significant bit, Patrick. This is a quiet rebellion against him. So we've been speculating about, is there a move against Putin? It sounds like there might at least be a quiet rebellion. Yes, and I suppose it will be triggered by events on the battlefield which make the outcome of this intensification all more significant. Down to nuts and bolts is a NATO meeting going on in Brussels now. I think it's about details, the details of how to get this aid that has already been promised to the Ukrainians in short order. And the Secretary General Jen Stoltenberg is dampening down talk of fighter jets and extending the range of kitlets. Getting to them, he did say something which is pretty worrying for the Ukrainians that they're running out of ammunition. They will of course know them that themselves. But Stoltenberg is saying, well, you know, do we actually have the capacity to keep up with the rate of ammunition expenditure that's going on on the Ukrainian side? I think the figure that's being badly to round is that they're firing off 6,000 shells a day against the Russians 20,000 a day. The Russians, of course, don't have sophisticated munitions as Ukrainians do, but they have a hell of a lot more of it. So that is a real issue. He says it's a basically a logistical race that both sides are in now. So that's something we've got to keep an eye on. Yeah. And actually another interesting statement made by Mark Milley, who of course, General Mark Milley, who of course is chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. And they are concerned about ammunition. They are determined to get as much kit to the Ukrainians as quickly as possible. But he said, you know, quite a categorical statement. And it was this, Russia has lost the war in Ukraine strategically, operationally and tactically. Russian President Vladimir Putin was wrong in thinking he could defeat Ukraine, Milley said, adding, Ukraine remains free. They remain independent. NATO in this coalition has never been stronger. So that's sort of supporting the point that Ivershoff made, which is that actually this has benefited the West. Okay. Well, that's enough from us. On with the interview, Melania Podolia, who's a young Ukrainian woman, working for the Sergei Petrula Foundation. Now, this started off as a humanitarian aid organization, but like so much of Ukrainian society, it's been transformed by the war. And it's now a military supply resource as well. We spoke to Melania in Ukraine, and this is what she told us. Melania, welcome to the podcast. We're very, very honored to have you talking to us. I think we're going to start off just with a general situation. If you can tell us what your organization does, and broadly what the picture is of the way people live day to day in Ukraine at the moment, you've kind of lost sight of it here in the UK. We know all about the huge number of displaced, people, huge number of refugees who've left. Can you tell us how people are coping at the moment? Thank you for having me. I work in the organization called Sergei Petrula Foundation. It was founded in 2019 and it was supposed to be a charity that was dedicated to typical humanitarian causes like education, inclusivity, other things like that. Then COVID struck so the charity was kind of switched a bit to working with local hospitals. And charity's founders, Sergei Petrula, he has been a like a volunteer since 2014, but his charity did not do that. So he just did it on his own. But on the 24th of February, obviously everything changed. And so the foundation just switched to supplying first just military aid to our armed forces and then later on expanded into humanitarian aid as well. Currently we're the second largest war related charity in Ukraine. In the past 11 months, we were accumulated more than 3.8 billion thirvneas in aid total. And about 70% of our activities have to do with military. So we were mostly known for buying all sorts of drones. We've purchased actually received as a gift to free birektars from bicar after making this like very big sort of like fundraising for a while. We also purchased a satellite for our intelligence services that they're currently using. So that has been our main area of concern and also humanitarian aid later on when we got our heads a little bit about the water and we started building temporary housing for people from the deoccupied territories, these modular homes. We're currently supplying people with these food packages again in Kherson region and Makolive region especially. And so yeah, that has been our our main areas of concern as per now. When we're talking about the daily lives, obviously that's kind of divided into two. So we have this civilian population which is struggling obviously. There has been, as you've said before, a lot of displaced people that are currently trying to sell in either in the west and central of Ukraine or moving abroad. Some of them are coming back, not all of them and we're, we will have problems and issues with that in the future. But people are trying their best. The situation is critical in the sense when you compare it to the peaceful times. But in terms of the situation we found ourselves in now, I mean it's I guess natural. People are helping each other. So it's, it's not great, but we're holding on. And as to the military side of it, our troops and whatnot, well, the situation is not dire. The morale is pretty high. However, there are serious concerns related to lack of ammunition. I mean, there are basically most of them, most of our units are supplied efficiently with food, with, you know, personal items and whatnot. But our founder and director of our foundation have been traveling to the battlefront last week or so. And I think what they brought back with them was this kind of feeling, you know, not of hopelessness, but military personnel is concerned with the lack of certain ammunition. So that's been the largest issue for now. Just to go back to your initial statements about the military aid you gave. Can you tell us a little bit in a little bit more detail how that actually works? How do you go about purchasing a drone and getting it to your people in the areas they need it? Well, it's a large chain. Our foundation has like a, I think at this point, around 250 employees and volunteers who help it. But we do have a procurement division that is concerned with finding and purchasing drones in large quantities because our foundation mostly works with the military on the battalion brigade level. So we don't just donate it to smaller units because that would be impossible. We work with commanders of battalions and figure out their needs. And so the, for instance, the procurement department will purchase, I don't know, 246 thermal vision goggles. You can actually see that on our Facebook, it was purchased and arrived like maybe three days ago. And then they will get checked and then they will get this special, like engraving on it that says that it's military aid and it's not for sale or purchase. And then it will be sorted and supplied depending on the needs of units. We have a special department dedicated to checking and talking to military commanders so as to know, make sure it's fair and evenly distributed to those who actually need it. It's a lot of work and it takes a lot of time and a lot of people. But our members of our charity, our workers, it's not, it's personally, it's my first time like working in a military charity. I haven't done that since 2014, like my colleagues have, but they have a very good experience in knowing what kind of, you know, vehicles, what kind of equipment soldiers need. So they talk to the commanders directly and check and then distribute it evenly as evenly as they can, obviously. And this presumably is done in conjunction with the government. So you're basically a kind of civilian support, supply chain working in harmony with the actual military of defense. Where is the money coming from then? Who are your biggest donors? Our biggest donors are Ukrainians, Ukrainian business especially, but we get all sorts of donations from Ukraine ranging from millions to 10 million as a day. But also we do get a lot of help from businesses and people from abroad, especially when we talk about our humanitarian wing of our foundation. Usually we don't work with government funds yet, or I don't know if that's even in the plans, but mostly those are private donations. And the way Ukrainian and big Ukrainian military charities work is that you either, you do have some donations on a regular basis that come in daily, but also some, from time to time, we will announce something that is called like a mega fundraiser, where we will give you know, a number of items that we want to purchase and what those items are. So for instance, kamikaze drones or birektars or anything, and then we will set a deadline and usually we are able to fundraise that amount in two to three days. Well that was all very interesting and it has to be said quite surprising. Join us after the break for more from Malania and our responses to all your questions. Welcome back. Well, so we went on to our last Malania, how Ukrainians felt about the West's piecemeal approach to supplying Ukrainians with a military aid that they've been begging for, and wondered whether people were angry at the slow rate of delivery. Malania, can I ask you a broader question about Western military aid. I saw an interview you gave a fair while ago, and which you quite understandably implored the West to give Ukraine all the weapons it needed to defend itself. We've been saying pretty much the same thing on the podcast for some time now, but of course the reality is they've been drip feeding weapons usually on the using the argument that we need to be wary about provoking Russia. Has this provoked or is this caused both anger and disappointment in Ukraine? I mean clearly Western aid has helped but should there have been more and earlier? Yes, there has been continuous outrage by Ukrainian, the British Ukrainian civic society especially, and that is understandable, at people keep referring to even though there are certain discussions whether that is actually even a document that should be referred to, but people do keep coming back to Budapest memorandum and people keep coming back to the fact that not a lot of people talk about this, but Ukraine back in the 90s, we did not only give up our nuclear arsenal, we also gave up a large portion of our aviation arsenal and a lot of weapons overall. So in exchange for these things, we were given certain guarantees, but to put that aside, all kinds of papers or whatnot, Ukraine has had this understanding that if we apply ourselves and do the things we and the West and Europe has agreed on in 2014 and 15, that we would get support and protection. We are obviously very, very grateful for the things we are receiving now and the aid and the military aid that reaches Ukraine and Battlefield, it is ridiculously helpful, it has changed a lot. I mean we have seen that in Kherson especially, but also, I mean you have seen the way the frontline moves, but nevertheless this could have all been over sooner if we had as much as we needed from the very beginning, it is not easy battling a force that has such numbers and especially given the constant air raids and the cruise missiles. So I kind of feel that this tactic that the West has decided to use with Ukraine is to give the patient as much medicine as it takes for him not to die, but not enough to overcome an illness because of this preexisting notion that somehow that could provoke Russia. Well that was said before, you know, before for instance Ukraine was supplied with high-mires, a lot of Western, you know, experts were saying that this would provoke Russia into, you know, something grander and nothing happened. I just have this feeling that at the end of the day we're going to get everything we have requested and even more, it's just the problem is the longer we wait, the more people we lose daily, the losses are, I'm not, you know, I'm not my government, I'm allowed to, you know, be as realistic as I can, the losses are very big on Ukrainian side as well as Russian, you know, I'm not the kind of person who, you know, I love to celebrate Russian losses obviously as a Ukrainian, but I have to be realistic about these things. The longer it takes for the West to supply us with the things we require, more Ukrainian people will die as a very dear friend of mine who currently serves in Donetsk Colbus in the military. He says it would be very nice if by the time we get those things we still had people who can actually drive them. That is very important. Now, the immediate future, Melanie, you must be very concerned about all this talk of a big Russian offensive. Have you actually got plans in place with dealing with that? I have to be honest with you before the 24th of February, I was what you would call a war denier, not in a sense that I didn't think it would happen, I just didn't expect it to be on this scale. So I did not have any plans back then. If we're talking about the current situation, now at least I know what to do in case everything goes down, but the thing is that I'm most likely going to stay put because I'm all for people that need and want to leave. I support that actually, I'm not the one to tell them to stay at home, but I can be of help and I will remain here for as long as it's needed. So even though I do have certain plans, you know, put in a paper as for now, I don't think that I will actually need to use any of them. I do have a very strong belief still in Ukrainian armed forces, they have shown ridiculously good results. And even if I hate making these kinds of predictions because I'm not a military expert, but it just common sense tells me that if they were to actually start the second offensive, we would suffer heavy losses, but their losses would be immensely bigger even than before because even though our military suffered losses, but we you know, a different kind of army now anyway. So I don't doubt that I won't have to go anywhere. But does the organization, has it made plans for, you know, massive disruption as a result of this anticipated offensive? Well, as of now, the overall strategy of our foundation, as I am aware of it, is that we are currently, we have won up the tempo of procuring and delivering. So now it takes a day to deliver any sort of equipment from a KUF2, let's say, I don't know, any part of the night's call list that is reachable for our volunteers. So all I know for now is that we're making these extreme plans to kind of encase everything, first of all, to supply as many units as we can, with as much as we can now, in faster pay, in a faster pace, but also they're looking into making, you know, difficult logistical roots and plans in case something changes. But overall, the kind of feeling and the prognosis are very positive. So I don't think the foundation has any plans to, you know, evacuate in case something happens. I don't think that's on paper. The latest round of military support coming from America includes a weapon that we think might be a bit of a game change. A Justice High Mars was six months or more ago. And that's these ground and air launch precision bombs that have a much further range than high Mars. And this allows the Ukrainian Armed Forces to dislocate the Russians. Justice High Mars did, but deeper into the interior. And apparently these weapons can be used not only in all of Ukraine's main territory, but also big chunks of Crimea as well. Do you believe, is there a feeling in Ukraine that yes, this is going to make a crucial difference before a potential Russian counteroffensive? So the major reason why Ukraine has been requesting the, you know, especially the high precision weapons, it's not, I mean, people like to talk about how far these weapons can reach and entertaining this idea that, you know, actually some military installments in Russia are currently a legitimate military target for Ukraine. Military support to disrupt, you know, logistics and whatnot. But actually the real reason that Ukraine demands high precision weaponry is because Ukraine is very aware of this civilian population unlike Russians. So I think it's not about, you know, Crimea being a valid target, even though we like to entertain these ideas. And there's a very important, but most people are very realistic. And I think especially in the Ministry of Defense and in the office of the president, they know for a fact that we're, we still have other goals to achieve before moving forward and deeper into, you know, certain areas like Crimea, even though we know of the war, military, they can either come from Norden, but we know of some disturbances on the peninsula. But it's mostly about being very precise at what we're targeting because, I mean, abiding by international law is very important for Ukraine and information policy and military policy as well. That's what DIVT makes is different from Russia and from Russian regime. So it's mostly about that. And also, you know, having better equipment lets you not waste ammo, which is, I want to say, you know, scarce, but in reality, we don't have as many resources as Russians do. So I think it's more about being more precise, more professional and more effective than, you know, being able to strike something very far, even though, again, Ukrainians do love that narrative. And I know for a fact that these, you know, striking fuel bases and whatnot is helpful because that way, you know, we do break up supply chains. But yeah, I think it's mostly about being as accurate as possible. It's fascinating. We've actually never heard that argument on the program before, mainly because we're concentrating so much Melanie are on the military aspects, but it's really interesting to hear that, of course, you know, you've got this double effect really. You're reducing civilian casualties at the same time. Final question about the future. Terrible, terrible war crimes. We're hearing them more of them every day. We've spoken to people in detail about this. There has to be some reckoning at some point, doesn't there? You know, in some senses, it's not just the criminals themselves, but the, you know, the enablers we've seen this before in history. What's your sort of feeling? Your sort of gut instinct about what needs to be done, or at least the price that needs to be paid by some of these perpetrators? Um, even though I'm relatively young, I was not born yesterday and I have read a lot of history books, and I'm sad to say that usually, I mean, people who have suffered at the hands of people like Russians now, they rarely get, you know, justice, and even if they get it, it's not to an extent that they wish or to an extent that would be fair. There is, however, in my opinion, a better remedy to the situation, you know, when the war ends and ensuring justice. A lot of people talk about, you know, regime changing Russia, and a lot of people think about changing Russian, you know, possibly turning it into a democracy, and things like that, and then prosecution, and Hague, and whatnot, which all sounds very nice, but I, in my mind, is attainable. And I wish they would pay all the reparations and contributions, and I wish they would give out their war criminals to, you know, and we could try them in court. I do not think, however, that will ever happen. So the only thing that is viable, in my opinion, is when it's all over, just making sure that Russia is physically unable to do anything like this ever again. Can I ask you a question, Melania, about the minimum terms that Ukraine will accept for peace? And I asked that question because we've been, you know, obviously hearing a lot officially from the Ukrainian government, but what we'd like to know is whether the Ukrainian government is at one with the Ukrainian people on this. And what is, you know, in the sense that any country when it's been fighting, and as you have for almost a year, you might imagine some kind of war-wearingness would creep in. Are those two crucial bits of Ukraine, the government and the people on the same page, or the minimum terms, they will accept? And what are they? As of now, in my opinion, like I'm 99% sure that our government's position on these things is aligned with the Ukrainian public. And that is both because I think, I honestly think that's what they believe in their heart of hearts, and that's what actually makes sense politically for them. But also, they are there to, you know, exert the will of the people. So even though we have martial law now, and basically most some of our constitutional rights have been, you know, temporarily unhold, but still they have to take into account what people think. And I have seen some numbers on some polling, and they are risking losing a lot of support if they don't follow up on the position they have been, you know, very vocal about for the past months. Obviously, it might seem kind of unrealistic. And I fear that there may be some rhetoric change from our Western partners, if and when, actually when Ukraine reaches the pre-24th of February borders. So I expect there to be some sort of discussion about this. And that would set a very dangerous precedent. And I really fear these conversations because it'll just show yet again that Russia can't do anything they want, and you know, they will not suffer any consequences. And I know that for some European politicians, a matter of Donbass occupied parts of Donbass are open to discussion, whereas Crimea is not, and their minds, it's already Russian territory that Ukraine has to come to terms with. However, I don't think that on any level, on any time, any Ukrainian government will be, you know, able to accept that. So we'll see, but for now, too much blood has been shed, actually, I think, for anybody to change their opinion and that. Well, there was some interesting stuff in there, wasn't there, Patrick? You know, that point about civilians funding arms procurement is just another sign, I think, after Oli Lambert's interview with us last week that this really is a People's War. It shows, doesn't it, the adaptability of Ukrainian society? Melania is also echoing what Jen Stoltenberg's been saying about this lack of ammunition. So obviously, that's a concern that filters right through into civilian society, and she's echoing, again, what we've heard from so many Ukrainians about their support for Zelensky's maximalist approach to negotiations that the Russians have to clear out of everywhere before they consider the job to be done. That's obviously going to be a huge political consideration for. So let's give it also for the West, you know, we have been so vocal in our support of Ukraine. If we then start saying, okay, it doesn't really work for us anymore, this view. I think we're going to get a lot of diplomatic fissures developing in the months to come. If this latest sort of round of fighting doesn't produce some kind of definite change of direction in Ukraine's favor, I think the thing that we've spoken about before, the possibility of that Western solidarity beginning to fracture may start to become a reality as the year wears on. Yeah, and it's interesting. The Americans seem to be aware of this because they have been talking this week about absolutely the need to not give any concessions to the Russians. Otherwise, they will and Putin will be able to paint this as a victory as we've been talking all along. She mentioned a couple of other interesting points I thought Patrick. I mean, this use of long-range precision weapons, of course, is very useful for the Ukrainians because it's much more effective, frankly. You're not just firing off ammunition willy-nilly as the Russians are, but also it saves lives. It saves the million lives. And after all, they are Ukrainian lives that they're targeting, generally speaking, you know, when these weapons are being used. So that's an important point. And she said, we need to distinguish ourselves in this fight from the Russians. And that is an important message, of course, the Ukrainians need to get over. The depth of, let's be honest, hatred that Ukrainians now feel for Russians is pretty clear from that interview, isn't it? She says she loves to celebrate Russian losses. Now that sounds a bit shocking to us, but I can completely understand it. But beneath that, I think you've got this again, a real problem going forward. There can be no friendship that I can conceive between the two nations for generations to come. And this is reflected in something that we ought to talk about in a future program, which is the de-Russification program that is going on in Ukraine. It's been going up for some years now, but it's things like, you know, removing all signs of Russian culture from Ukrainian culture, renaming street names that have Russian names, taking Russian books out of libraries and recycling them, taking down statues of great Russian figures like Pushkin and Catherine the Great, etc. Of course, this is only doing what the Russians did to the Ukrainians back in the day and during the reign of the SARS. But it is sort of depressing to think that this is just a continuation of this cycle. And it's another blow to the idea that there's any such thing as progress in the underpinnings of this conflict. But let's not lose sight of who's right and who's wrong in this great struggle. And in a Malani, a very admirable woman, she tweeted something which I found rather moving the other day, just a couple of lines what's going on in her mind at the moment. And she said, I must not fear. Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. I think there must be a lot of Ukrainians who've got that thought ticking away in the back of their mind day and day out. Okay, well, let's go on to the questions. We've received this week, big haul again. There's one here from Mike and his question is obviously Ukraine could not do a preemptive strike on the Russian forces at the start of the war a year ago. But with Russia telegraphing the likelihood of a possible offensive taking place shortly, is it feasible or possible that Ukraine could have the intelligence and suitable forces to launch a preemptive strike on any planned Russian offensive this time? What do you think? Yes, I think that is absolutely the case. I mean, if we follow on from the feeling, we're increasingly getting that Russia has already launched its offensive in these multiple locations. You can bet your bottom dollar that Ukraine is planning a response. The question is where is it going to be and how effective is it going to be? Well, we've speculated that Ukraine needs to get hold of the tanks and some of the other weaponry it's been promised, the armored personnel vehicles too. In armored warfare, if the tanks are going to be moving forward, you need infantry close beside them. They now or at least will have the capacity to do that. So I think we're looking at a counter strike by the Ukrainians sometime in March, possibly April, when they built up their armored forces. Anything else sort of surprising before then, I think unlikely, but you never know. And of course there, we also said, well, they would be looking forward to a big Russian attack because they could then knock out its long lines of advance just like they did at the beginning of the of the campaign. I suspect the Russians either don't have the capability or know that their supply system simply would break down under those circumstances. So that's quite comforting in one sense for the Ukrainians, but nevertheless a lot of people are dying while all this is going on. Now moving on to the next question, Patrick, this is an interesting one because it actually comes from our producer, James's old university lecturer, a guy called Bart Browers, and he teaches journalism and media studies at the University of Groningen in Holland. And first of all, he says thanks for your superb weekly updates. He particularly liked hearing from Julius Strauss. So his question is, what's going on behind the scenes, seeing the build up of forces on the Russian side? What do we know about the Ukrainian side? You know, he's making the point that is it in the Ukrainian's interest to just wait and see what the Russians are going to do? Or should they, given the danger of war fatigue, among voters in the West actually try and take the initiative? Well, my feeling is they should try and take the initiative, but where and how? Well, he's speculative. They might even attack Russia next. I don't think that's that likely, Patrick, is it an attack on Russia? But in attack somewhere, yes, we think it's likely. What's your feeling? Well, I think we're both seeing our arm chairs here. We're very very very grieve and what we would do if we were commanding the Ukrainian forces, which is to let them come on. Hopefully they will actually go for an old Soviet style deep battle approach, whether I come punching through, you allow them to come through and you basically wait till they run out of steam, whether supply lines are extended. We all know the difficulties they have with logistics and the sort of level of incompetence that they operate in. And then use their definite superiority in high-tech skills and their motivation to then come in behind them, cut them off, and typical classic encirclement battle and annihilate them or take the prisoner. I mean, that's the way I would be thinking, but it sort of depends on the Russians actually playing along with your plan and concentrating their forces in one old-style deep battle type manoeuvre. Yeah, my feeling is they're inching forward in the east of Ukraine and the hope as I've already said, of basically getting control of enough territory so that they can claim a victory. I doubt very much they're going to risk an all-out attack for the very reasons you've just been explaining in the factory. Right, let's move on. There's a very interesting one here from Alan in Belfast, who says, I'm a pilot instructor at a major European airline. So I understand some of the problems of aviation training, logistics, and operations. And basically, he goes on to say that, look, to send fighter jets to Ukraine's going to cost enormous amounts of money, they are very vulnerable because of the counter-battery fire that the Russians have got. It's going to take a long time to get them up and running in terms of training for pilots, logistical support, package, well-defended airfields, etc. But on the other hand, he asks, why on earth aren't we supporting the small drones because they're having the really meaningful impact on the battlefield, rather than as he puts it, highly specialized F-16 pilots, the general tech-savvy young Ukrainian soldiers and effective drone operator, much sooner while also being less risk and easier to replace of loss. I mean, he goes on to say that surely the whole point of this is that the drones is where we should be putting our major effort. And it's absolutely true, isn't it Patrick? We both watch the XM film last week. And we realize, of course, that just, you know, these guys don't need much training to be very effective at using drones. So it's at the point, you know, that the fighter jets are a bit of a red herring here. I think Alan's absolutely right about that. Several people who have specialized knowledge have made the same point. These are like formula one racing cars. Incredibly sensitive. Even just things like the runway, the quality of the runway has to be very, very clean, very, very well maintained in order to operate them. So, you know, why would you put all your eggs in these very costly baskets? And so, yeah, I think that that is the way to go. And as we've seen it, the Ukrainians obviously understand that what we were hearing from Melania about getting biotard drones and things like that, that's where they see value from money. And, yeah, so I think that's absolutely what they should be doing. Now, I've got a very interesting one here, a very technical one from Simon Gymson, who again has got a bit of specialist knowledge. I've been interested to hear how Ukraine are maintaining their tank and artillery barrels as a graduate of Div 1 of the Army staff course, he says he's showing his age here. I recall learning about the complex manufacturing of barrels, et cetera. Given the rate of fire, I would expect the artillery is either wearing out or becoming inaccurate, or there's a lot more support being provided by Western Arms companies. Well, tank barrels, yeah, they do need replacing after about 200 pounds, which is not actually that many. The artillery barrels can survive a lot longer, several thousand rounds can be fired before they need replacing, but actually replacing tank barrels is not actually such a big deal. You can do it in like an hour, even right up in the forward area. All you need is the Artifices who are actually skilled enough to do it. This really comes back to a question of logistics. It's whether you've actually got the tank barrels and you've got them in place to actually replace them. Just on those tank guns, the Abrams, which is on its way to Ukraine from the US, is a smooth-bought gun, which they tend to last longer, there's less wear and tear on them. The Challenger 2 is a rifle gun, which tends to wear out quicker, I believe. That's because the British Army still prefer using these high explosive squash head rounds, hash rounds. So, you know, another disparity there between the actual, not the quality of the kit, but just the actual, the specifications of the kit, which is obviously going to be a complicating factor when they do arrive in theatre. You've obviously been doing your homework Patrick, that's good information. I haven't. Well, it is one of those things that you suddenly realise you don't really know the answer to that. So, you do actually have to start doing a bit of work. Yeah, it reminds me of the debate in the 19th century when the British Army, of course, like everyone else, we were using smooth pours. Although they had the technology for rifle barrels and that had really been available from the end of the 18th century, the big question was how quickly could you load these rifle barrels? Everyone knew that they were more accurate and it's interesting that the debate still ongoing in the 21st century that actually smooth pour still has some advantages. You mentioned it with the A-brabs. Okay, let's move on to, and this is a really interesting one from Helen in Lincolnshire and she says having just heard today's edition, that's of course last weeks, which again, contain references to the extraordinary involvement of Ukrainian civilians in the war effort. I was reminded of a concern I've harbored since the outbreak of the war a year ago when we first heard of weapons training and arming of civilians. It worried me then that this would in effect muddy the divide between professional soldiers and civilian, thereby making everybody in Ukrainian to a potentially leafly armed enemy combat as far as the Russian soldiers were concerned. Now, Helen goes on to say, well, of course, the danger of this is that in some ways it might justify or might be used and excused, but some of the atrocities that are being committed in butcher. I mean, what's your feeling about this Patrick? She's got a point, hasn't she? That there is a danger that particularly with the sort of partisan work that's going on behind the lines, we know about. I think we need to distinguish actually, while we're talking about this, between civilians who've gone into the armed forces, which is really what Oli was talking about in his film, and civilians operating as partisans, very, very different. I don't think there's any justification in the slightest for any of the monstrous behavior at Butcher, where it really was murder, rape, and the appropriation of kids. But there is a point here that there is a danger if you get a whole nation under arms, it will encourage maybe some of those Russians who wouldn't have committed atrocities before to jump in and do that, although I suspect not many of them need that much provocation. Yeah, thanks very much, Helen. Helen says self-deprecatingly that she's a 70-year-old textile artist and grandmother and has absolutely no knowledge of military matters, but this is a very good question, a very fundamental question about the nature of warfare, and it's as old as warfare itself, isn't it? I mean, you go back to classical times, the first thing an army does when it gets in the field is it starts pillaging in order to keep itself going, and the justification for that is that even though you might be starving the local population, you're actually taking food away from the enemy, so it's a sort of strategicly justified. Jump forward to the Second World War, when we start to the strategic bombing campaign against Germany, we elaborated all sorts of moral arguments for why bombing a city in the full knowledge that it's going to kill hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians, whereas because a lot of those civilians would be working in arms factories, so you go over and bomb Essen where the crops works are, you kill lots of crops workers, and that stops them making steel, which is going to be turned into artillery, tanks, etc. And that was, they wanted to do their heads and said, yes, yes, yes, that's I think that's okay. And you know, clearly if you stand back and look at it now, it looked pretty horrendous, but there are people can always find ways of justifying why civilian lives have been lost, and I think the Russians will have no difficulty at all in saying, you know, basically everyone in Ukraine is a is a soldier of some description, even though they might not be wearing uniform, even if they, it does actually occur them to ask themselves that question. Okay, here's one from Andrew and Singer Paul. I'm curious, he writes, what you think about Russian surveillance capabilities, and what we can deduce about their spy satellite network, and whether it even works, given the apparent inability to pinpoint Ukrainian targets for their artillery, maybe they launched empty boxes into space to fool us, shouldn't finding an identifying large equipment like artillery and tanks to target has been much easier and winter with the leaves falling from the trees, and yet we don't seem to be hearing of Ukraine losing all that much equipment. It seems NATO spy satellites and surveillance is again in a completely different league to Russian capabilities. Have we, he asked, and here's the question, being guilty of believing their hype, and is the truth that the Russians are substantially less capable than would all expected them to be? I think the answer is yes on that, but don't forget for a minute that Ukraine has the capacity from NATO spy satellites and surveillance, as Andrew points out, which is an astonishing capability and clearly better than anything. The Russians have got, they seem to be getting this information almost in real time. This is not a military secret, it's pretty much been acknowledged now that the West is giving them all the intelligence capability that it has, and this is making a real difference, not just in targeting, but in warning of a potential attack, and getting back to the possibility of a big Russian offensive, if there was one planned anywhere, the American spy satellites would know about it because of course they would have to move vast numbers of vehicles, tanks, and everything else to be in position for an attack, and that clearly is something that the Ukrainians would be able to respond to. So the fears of a big Russian counterattack, big Russian offensive, I suspect, are not causing sleepless nights in Ukraine at the moment because they know they'll be forewarned. Okay, well I think that's enough from us for now, just to update on the podcast itself, we're getting some really good news about numbers. We were number one in the history podcast chart of Spotify a couple of days ago, and we were delighted to see there are 26 of you who are actually listening in from Russia, most of them from Moscow, what do you think are Russian listeners are? Well, we think they must be FSB, XKGB, keeping an eye on us. We haven't had too much trolling actually, interesting in a patch that you very sensibly don't operate on social media I do, and I haven't had too much stick, I mean I've had a little bit from the hard left to our sympathetic towards Russia, I've had a block of a couple of people, but now generally speaking, we haven't had much trolling, I mean maybe they haven't noticed us yet, but now we're number one in history podcasts or at least were briefly that might make a difference, but no, a broader point to make to everyone listening is thank you so much, keep spreading the words. It's tremendously important Patrick and I feel that we don't lose sight of what's going on in Ukraine for all the reasons we've given, we are going to keep an eye on things for the foreseeable future, and it's a worthwhile process both for us and hopefully for you to listen to us, so keep sending your questions through to Well, Saul, I'd like to think that our listeners there in Russia are not FSB Spooks, but ordinary citizens who will find out what's happening beyond this wall of disinformation that Putin has constructed around the country, so if that is the case, warm welcome to the podcast, keep on listening, same goes for everyone else. Next week of course is a big landmark, it's one year after the invasion, do join us then for more analysis, reporting, and another great interview. Goodbye.