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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30. China's Peace Plan

30. China's Peace Plan

Fri, 03 Mar 2023 01:00

This week Saul and Patrick discuss the main news coming from the battlefield, which is the growing possibility that the fighting to control the town of Bakhmut may be reaching a climax. Furthermore, they discuss the big diplomatic news from last week, the Chinese announcement of a 12 point plan to bring the war to an end.

Saul and Patrick also take a deeper dive into listeners questions, and Saul tells us about his exciting new project the Content Club -

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Producer: James Hodgson

Twitter: @PodBattleground

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This episode is brought to you by Progressive. Most of you aren't just listening right now. You're driving, cleaning, and even exercising. But what if you could be saving money by switching to Progressive? Drivers who save by switching save nearly $700 on average and auto-customers qualify for an average of 7 discounts. Multitask right now. QuoteToday at Progressive casualty insurance company and affiliates. National average loved one savings of $698 by New Customer Survey who saved with Progressive between June 2021 and May 2022. Potential savings will vary. Disgowns are not available in all states and situations. Hello and welcome to another episode of Battleground Ukraine with me, Saul David and Patrick Bischoff. Well, as the full-scale war in Ukraine enters its second year, the main news from the battlefield this week is the growing possibility that the struggle for control of the town of Bakmut may be reaching a conclusion with the growing likelihood that Ukrainian forces may be forced to withdraw or surrender. Now set against that, we're getting the first hints of when and where Ukraine will launch its much anticipated spring offensive. And on the diplomatic front, rather surprisingly perhaps, President Zelensky has given a cautious welcome to China's recently issued peace proposal. We've also got some news about our podcast. From next week, we're going to be moving from one to two episodes a week. The first episode on Wednesday will be an in-depth interview followed by our usual discussion about what we learned from it. And this will be followed by a second episode in the usual Friday slot that covers the latest news and listeners' questions. Well, we want to come in with a bang with this new format. So we're opening with a wide-ranging interview with Simon Seabag Montefiori, who over the years has proved himself a brilliant interpreter of Russian history and culture, and his work's been applauded everywhere. He even has a big fan in the Kremlin. Vertebeer Putin is on record as having liked Simon's book on Catherine the Great and Prince Potemkin. Anyway, it runs for about 45 minutes and it's packed with fascinating stuff. So a great way to start our new approach. Remember, that one goes out on Wednesday, next Wednesday. Okay, so this week to get you used to the new format, we're going to concentrate on news and answer more listeners' questions. Before we move on to the battlefield, let's start with the diplomatic developments. Last week to coincide with the first anniversary of the war, the Chinese announced a plan to bring the war to an end. It contained 12 points to create conditions and platforms for negotiations to resume that included a demand for respect of national sovereignty and territorial integrity and for the end of economic sanctions. It also called for all parties to strictly abide by international humanitarian law, avoid attacking civilians or civilian facilities, protect women, children and other victims of the conflict. Now, President Zelensky in his aides have given a proposal of cautious welcome saying they would welcome a dialogue with China. He charged a fair to China, Janna Lashinsky, called the paper a good sign and hoped that the Chinese would urge Russia to stop the war and withdraw its troops. But she added she did not at the moment see China as supporting Ukrainian efforts. So what's going on here? Do you think Patrick is this just more diplomatic maneuvering by China? So 12 points as opposed to President Wilson's 14 points to bring the first of all to Berlin. We'll see how this one goes. I think if you're an optimist, you might see it as a positive sign that China, who for many decades we should remember, play a pretty passive role, in fact totally passive role in international diplomacy. And I suppose because we can see this as a sign that they're increasingly keen to get engaged. The question is whether that engagement is positive or negative. I think we should pause before we get too excited. First, we've got to remember that although Beijing is presenting itself as a neutral party in all this, in reality it's refused all along to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Instead, it's blamed the West for inflaming tensions as if there's some kind of near equivalence of guilt on both sides. You know, only last Friday, they abstained for the fourth time that is from a UN vote demanding that Russia withdraw from Ukraine. Having said that, it didn't oppose the vote unlike Syria, Iran and North Korea among others. And another of the points in its peace proposal was to state that nuclear crisis was to be avoided and that China opposes the research development and use of chemical and biological weapons by any country under any circumstances. So all that sounds quite, you know, making the right sort of noises in those departments. On the Ukrainian response, I doubt very much that they think this is a practical proposal that can be built on. But I think they were right to answer in the way that they did. There's nothing for them, I think, to be gained by alienating the Chinese and by sounding cautiously enthusiastic. They make it difficult for Beijing to tilt further towards Moscow down the line in the months ahead. When you say so, but it's a confused picture and the Americans have been dumping huge amounts of cold water on it, haven't they? Yeah, I mean, I think with good reason they've been dumping huge amounts of cold water because the Chinese, fairly typically, I would suggest, the plague a bit of a double game here. The Western leaders have been saying that Beijing does not have the international credibility to act as a mediator. And, you know, and that's a fair point. The US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the other day that his first reaction to it is that it could stop at point one, which is to respect the sovereignty of all nations. You know, forget about all the other points. Let's just look at that. And if we go along those lines, you know, it's obvious what should happen next, which is a Russian withdrawal. Ukraine, he went on to say wasn't attacking Russia. NATO wasn't attacking Russia. Russia's aims in the war were to wipe Ukraine off the map. Now, there's also the claim by the US government, which we mentioned last week, that Beijing is considering supplying weapons to Russia. You know, this is a bit of a contradiction, frankly, to the idea that they're promoting peace. And this report became a little more concrete when the Spiegel, the German magazine, ran a report that Moscow was in negotiations with a Chinese company about supplying large quantities of strike drones. Chaminif Ritspart has rejected the US, claims as baseless smears and has not commented on the the Spiegel report. But I think Chaminif has absolutely nothing to gain and plenty to lose, frankly, by tying itself to the diplomatic corpse that is Russia's war in Ukraine. Let's not kid ourselves if the war had gone as planned. And Moscow had taken Kiev and installed a pro-Russian regime in just a matter of days. China would have taken this as a signal that its own ambitions to invade Taiwan could now be realized. But that didn't happen, of course. And the US has been very clear in its intention to defend Taiwan. So what is China up to? Well, who knows? This may be misinformation or America sending out a signal that any of the arming of Russia simply won't be tolerated. But the signals are generally a very, very difficult to read, aren't they? I mean, on the one hand, they're making this peace proposal to Chinese, that is. And then on the other hand, they're talking about having a new friendship deal with Belarus. They've announced on Monday what they call an all-weather and comprehensive strategic partnership with Belarus at the same time as they're trying to introduce some sort of concrete diplomatic peace proposals. I mean, you know, Belarus is essentially Russia at all in terms of purposes, but it comes to diplomacy. So this sounds remarkably clothier, I think. And it turns out President Lukashenko is going to be visiting, I think, this week, later on this week, for talks with senior officials, though not actually with the boss himself, with the Xi Jinping. Anyway, let's move on to Beckmann, the town north of Donetsk, which has been the focus of the heaviest fighting in recent months, where Ukrainian forces have been essentially under siege, yet from the north and the east. They've been repelling continuous attacks often led by the mercenaries of the Wagner group. Well, the sides are this morning that the battle may be reaching a critical point, but the Russians raising the tempo to new levels. I saw some film the other dead. And if you've seen this sawlips taken from a drone, and it's really quite extraordinary, very, very dramatic picture of what's happened to the city. It's basically been completely bombed to rubble by this months and months of artillery bombardments. And there's some footage also from the ground of some Ukrainian troops inside what looked like a factory, and it very much put me in mind of Stalin, it looked very similar to the famous black and white film taken inside the Volga-Grad tractor plant. So rather kind of chilling reminder once again of how we're seeing the past resurrected in this war. Now people are talking about this battle, you know, the kind of conventional wisdom is that strategically it doesn't have huge significance for the Russians, that even though I think capturing it would open the way to the Russian takeover of the rest of the Donets oblast, and that would put Putin in a place where he could claim that a key war aim had been achieved. But I think it's true that it's really the kind of psychological value of the thing that is causing the Russians to expend so much effort on it. I mean, Putin desperately needs a success. But it seems to me that the Ukrainians have made a bit of a mistake by investing a lot of military prestige in holding onto it. Only the other day on Tuesday, President Zelensky said defense of the city was essential. What do you think? Well, we're getting mixed messages from the Ukrainians actually. You're absolutely right. On the one hand, there's been this line in Ukraine for a long time, back moot holes. I mean, it's like they're done in the First World War and Stalin, rather than the second, as you say, Patrick. But also, Zelensky's been preparing the ground for a possible withdrawal, too, saying we might not be staying there forever, which might indicate, you might assume it indicates that a withdrawal is going to happen relatively soon. The consequences of losing backward, of course, are absolutely crucial. As you say, the Russians need a win. They think it could lead to the taking over the rest of Donetsk. I don't think that's likely to be truthful, Patrick. It's strategic significance is relatively important in the sense that it's that it's cited just on the edge of high ground and that could be a jumping off point. But that would imply that the Russian army and the Russian forces are in a state given the casualties they've taken over just a few miles of ground in back moot to really launch another advance. I simply don't think it's that likely. So yes, it was possibly a mistake to say we're going to hold onto it, per se, but they haven't lost it yet, Patrick. And that's another important point to make. It does look like it's going to fall, but it hasn't fallen yet and it hasn't fallen for a long time. And it's looked very, very shaky during that period. Now, interestingly, if we talk about Russian capability, a report from the ISW, the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, DC, notes that Russia continues to use up its already limited stock of precision weapons and that a captured Russian military manual suggests that Moscow's forces are implementing new assault tactics to overcome their lack of offensive capability. This is really interesting. So what are these capabilities? They use some smaller and more agile combined armed formations that were used earlier in the war. And it reminds me, as I'm sure it reminds you, Patrick, of the storm troop is used by German troops at the end of World War One and even Russian infiltration tactics during the Battle of Starlingrad. The extent to which all of this is actually going to make a difference is another matter. It's a tweaking. And I think it's partly been promoted actually by some of the tactics Wagner are using, but nevertheless, they're losing an astonishing number of soldiers. Well, it all sounds very good, doesn't it? But I don't know how they're going to retrain their troops into this quite sophisticated new approach in the time available or indeed where that would actually happen. And what seems to be happening is what's been going on all along, they're using up soldiers' lives at an astonishing rate. This use of Russian soldiers as cannon fodder is something that's got a very long tradition. We're going to hear from Simon Seabag Montefuri next week whether it'll achieve, if it actually exists, whether it'll achieve a breakthrough against some agile Ukrainian army with all its sophisticated Western weapons. I don't think so. And we've got another reminder, haven't we, that some very timeless factors as old as warfare itself are at play in the conflict at the moment. I'm talking about the weather, of course. Temperatures are rising and with a thaw and the rainfall, fields and roads are turning it to swamps and rivers and all the technology in the world can't be overcome that. There's a word for it, apparently, in Russian, Rasputitsa, which means literally no road. And the Ukrainians have a very similar concept in their word, Bizdolizia, which means roadlessness. So there you are, Saul. Anyway, on the subject of Western weapons, there's an interesting bit of news this week about Ukrainian tankers learning to operate the Challenger 2 tanks down at Bovington in Dorset. And apparently they were taking to it like Ducks to Water, with one describing the Challenger as more technically advanced and user-friendly than they were used to. And they hope to complete the training in about a month. So what do you think that tells us about the timing of the Greek Ukrainian counteroffensive? Well, it's an interesting indication, isn't it? It won't be until at least late March, early April, possibly a little bit later than that. But we've also had a fascinating clue as to its possible location, which was given by Vadim Skibitsky, the deputy head of Ukrainian military intelligence, who told the German newspaper Berliner Morgan Post, it is one of our strategic goals that we try to drive a wedge in the Russian front and the south between occupied Crimea and Russia. He added, it is possible that we will also destroy arms depots or military equipment on Russian territory, for example, around the city of Belgorod. Now, the spring offensive is aimed, he went on to say, at liberating the entire country. So that's just emphasizing the point, they want to get back all their territory, including Crimea. But let's get down to the Nitya Gritty here, the effect of the counteroffensive, if Skibitsky is right, would be to sever the land bridge between Crimea and Russia, leaving Russian forces in the south of Ukraine, reliant for supplies on the damaged Kerch bridge. This, of course, if it happens, would pose a serious threat to Russia's hold on Crimea. But given that Ukraine has indicated an attack in one direction before and attack somewhere else, might this be another case of misdirection, do you think, Patrick? Yeah, they do seem to be very free and easy, don't they, with the predictions and projections of what they're going to do, and it does make you think, well, would they really be doing that, would they really be being so frank, if that was a genuine intention? I was also struck by what Skibitsky said about attacks on Russian territory. That was a red line before, wasn't it? But it sounds like they've got the means to actually do this, only this week, Ukrainian forces were able to blow up an arm, just dump in Marupa, which is, you know, Russian occupied in Southeastern Ukraine. And up until recently, I've been out of range, so this might be the use of these new long-range bombs that you're very keen on, or, aren't you, that the Americans have been sending. Anyway, the Ukrainians, I think, I won't make any secret of the fact that they can now bombard a greater distance than they were doing before. What do you reckon to this weird bit of news out of Belarus about the attack on the Russian spy pain, the Betty Ev-A50, which is a kind of AWACS aircraft? And now this was said to have been destroyed by drones operated by members of the Belarusian resistance, where we know a lot of people don't like the regime, but we haven't really heard much about any armed resistance before, have we saw? No, not much, although there have been sort of, you know, various mentions in the press that there have been attacks on infrastructure. We'll come onto that in a second. I mean, the source of the information you're referring to is Bipol. This is an opposition movement, and it insists the attack took place at the Mal-Kolisky airbase, and that's near Minsk and the capital of Belarus. The damage is serious, said Bipol. And Bipol's members, interesting enough, include former security officials who resigned in protest at the brutal crushing of anti-Ragine demonstrations at Russia's behest in 2020. Bipol went on to detail the fact that the front and central part of the spy aircraft, including its radar, were damaged as a result of two explosions. Well, that claim actually was backed up by a red by an advisor to Svetlana Tikanov-Skaya, who's the exiled Belarusian opposition leader, who said the attack was the most serious against Russian forces in Belarus since the start of the war. Now, this is quite a serious bit of kit. It cost about 274 million pounds each, and the Russians have only got nine of them. And it has been operating out of Belarus. Apparently, it's been on six missions overflying Ukraine and doing target direction. But the story's actually been confirmed by some of these ultra-nationalist pro-war Russian mill bloggers and journalists. So it sounds like it's a real thing. Yeah, I mean, my first instinct when I heard this story is that it's almost certainly the Ukrainian who carried out this attack. But as you point out, pro-chip, there have been other reports. And I mentioned, for several months apparently, train traffic cross-Belarus has been disrupted by a series of attacks on the railway infrastructure by apparently ordinary Belarusians who oppose the war and want to stop the movement of Russian weaponry and equipment. And we know for sure that at least a couple of them have been given lengthy jail sentences. Yeah, once again, you know, echoes of the Second World War and thinking of the actions of the French rail workers, especially in 1944, when the Shem-mi-Nurse, they were called, really did play a significant role, make a big contribution to messing up the Germans' reinforcements around the beachhead area. Once the Allies were assured. So maybe we're seeing something along those lines. It really does the insulate how little we know about what's going on inside Belarus, but a fascinating development. Okay, well, we're going to take a short break now and in part two, we'll be answering listeners' questions. This episode is brought to you by Progressive. Most of you are just listening right now. You're driving, cleaning and even exercising. But what if you could be saving money by switching to Progressive? Drivers who save by switching save nearly $700 on average and auto-customers qualify for an average of seven discounts. Multitask right now. Quote today at Progressive casualty insurance company and affiliates. National average 12 month savings of $698 by new customer surveyed who saved with Progressive between June 2021 and May 2022. Potential savings will vary. Discounts not available in all states and situations. Welcome back. We've been getting an increasing number of listeners' questions, which is one of the reasons why we've decided to move to two podcasts a week to give us a chance to do the questions justice. Now the first one this week is from Mark from Liverpool. He writes, Morning, with the development of a Wagner-style group within NATO countries, be a good work around for getting boots on the ground in Ukraine without causing World War III. Ukraine could pay for it with the funding it is getting from Allies. He goes on to say the podcast, the great, kick up, keep up the good work, etc. Thanks so much, Mark. It's an interesting one Patrick, isn't it? I mean, there are various legions. We know there's a Russian Legion actually, which was mentioned in a report by our good friend Antony Lloyd in the Times recently. So something similar is already happening, but Wagner's style in terms of mercenaries, I'm not sure that's a particularly good look, Patrick. What do you think? No, I don't think that was going to fly. And indeed, it's not actually working for the Russians either, is it? Okay, been using them in this cannon fodder role with limited success. What does it tell you about the Russian state that they have to rely on paid soldiers to do their work for them? It has the potential to be a force within a state that could potentially turn hostile, which is what we're seeing at the moment. And all the signs are that they're trying to rein Wagner in. Brigadian is becoming increasingly sort of a loose cannon. And so it just seems to me to be an indication of weakness if you actually have to pay people to fight and allow a warlord essentially, like, pre-Gojin to get some traction inside your country. What does that say about your sovereignty? I think it's, I don't think anyone would be seriously looking at it. And as you say so, these people who are fighting from who aren't Ukrainian, non-Ukrainian, combatants are essentially in the role of the international brigades in Spain and in the Spanish Civil War, they're there for good motivations, which don't have very much to do with money. Yeah, and on the subject of pre-Gojin, I mean, I noticed a report this week that suggests, you know, it was an opinion rodent factual, of course, but suggests that he's a dead man walking. I mean, he's made it so many enemies with his criticism, very robust criticism of senior figures in the Russian military, including, of course, Shogu, the defense minister, that, you know, he is sooner or later going to be taken out. Well, we'll see where that one goes. Now, here's an interesting one from Jeffrey Russell from South Carolina. It's quite long. So I'm just going to read the sort of relevant bits. And he says, I listen to your weekly podcast as soon as they are released. Coverage here in the US is usually limited to 60 to 90 seconds on the network news. So your in-depth coverage is much needed and appreciated. You are doing, he says, a service to the people who do Ukraine. Well, thank you, Jeffrey. We appreciate that. Now, here's to his question, what other sources can you recommend for more in-depth information on the war? There are some out there, but I'm dubious of their accuracy. Your informed direction would be greatly appreciated. Well, we don't want to give away all our secrets as the way we're getting our information. And we're getting it from all over the place. But the ones that I've used, I rely on in particular, forgetting details every week, Patrick, are, you know, this is where we'd be surprised to hear the institute for the study of war. I'm on their mailing list. So just go to their website and you can sign up there. The Kiev Independent Online newspaper, which is in English, is one of the best sources from inside Ukraine. And of course, we mentioned it before, Philips O'Brien, professor at San Andreas University, but he has a sub-stack newsletter. If you follow him on Twitter, just, you know, type in Philips O'Brien, you'll find him quite quickly. And he has a weekly newsletter that will set you straight to. Yeah, the both excellent sources in terms of mainstream media. You mentioned earlier, Anthony Lloyd, he's a friend of the podcast, a friend of mine from Wayback. His reporting from Ukraine for the time, he's a real seasoned veteran now. It's been at it for decades. I find it superb. Also, on the kind of analytical front, I would urge you to read Mark Galliotti's contributions, which you can read in the spectator. They're extremely good, very insightful. He's clearly got a lot of contact still inside Russia. So you get some quite sort of juicy updates on things and insights that I don't see elsewhere. So definitely have a look at that. Okay, Ivara's called Venus is back in touch. He's been a very enthusiastic contributor of questions. He lives in Lithuania. And Ivara asks, you, Ukraine uses more shells than the Allies make now. Can production ramp up to satisfy the hunger of the Ukrainian army quickly enough and in time? Is this realistic? Having in mind all the complexities to make production of these weapons on a more massive scale in Western economies? You seem to be talking about both shells and weaponry here. What are you reckon for? Well, the answer is yes, they can. But this is, this is a good question for Ivara's because it's concerning quite a lot of people. Actually, it's senior military people or ex-military people in America are making the same point. And we do have to begin to ramp up production, not only because the Ukrainians need the kit now, need the weapons now, need the ammunition now, but also because we are working through our stocks as well. So yes, it's possible. Yes, it's important and it needs to happen soon and it needs a bit of political direction, frankly. One here from Graham, I've recently started listening to the podcast and enjoying the information given. I'm wondering, is there support from elsewhere in the world like Africa and Asia being given to Ukraine? Well, I think this raises the whole question of the degree of global support that Ukraine is getting and how nations have divided up. I think what's been lost actually is the recognition that the whole world doesn't see the conflict in the way that we do here in Europe and the West. For example, no country in Africa, South America, or the Middle East has imposed sanctions on Russia, nor of course has China. So I saw a statistic the other day that only 18-18% of the world's population live in countries where sanctions have been imposed. If you look at the kind of sanctions map, if you like, there's basically a north south divide. So I mean, just the map of where Russian aircraft are allowed to fly in and out of without any restrictions, that's the whole kind of the southern hemisphere, basically Africa, South America, China, India, the Arabian Peninsula. That seems to me to be a bit of a reflection of the old Cold War heritage. Do you think that's right, Saul? Yeah, absolutely is right. You know, there's still this kind of sense that the West and America and Britain in particular, the old imperialist, you know, the Cold War knowledge is a good one because a lot of countries haven't been able to shake their kind of sense of the West as being their old kind of imperial masters. And therefore, to a certain extent, their enemies. So yes, that is still playing out today. It's fascinating, isn't it? To think that only 18% of the world is actually supporting sanctions. On the other hand, Patrick, we should stress the vote that was in the UN last week at the anniversary of the start of the war, which there was an almost unanimous, over 140 countries voting for, you know, an immediate end to the war and Russia leaving Ukraine's territory. So, well, six poses against the usual suspects we already mentioned them on the pod, but 144 tells you that there is broad support for Ukraine, much broader than he's actually putting its arm up and saying we're prepared to take a bit of economic pain. Okay, let's move on to another one from Arnie. He writes, hi guys, really enjoying the podcast. Great place for cutting through the spin and getting some real information from real journalists. I fully understand that sending complex and very expensive jets like the Typhoon or F-16 is a bit of a hard-ass, but how about the hawk jet, which is cheaper? Now, this, I should say, this question from Arnie, we could also take in conjunction with another question, which says, why are we not sending helicopters if planes are too expensive to send? Well, I think Arnie's right. We could start sending these slightly less sophisticated jets, which are actually probably better at ground attack than some of the more sophisticated ones, but also on the subject of helicopters, some helicopters have been sent. There are some Apache's in the Ukrainian arsenal and recently, interestingly enough, the British sent three Seekings. Now, it's not many, I know, but it's better than nothing. So, I think we are going down that track, and sooner or later, as we keep saying, they are going to get the things they need. On the hawk jet, I mean, it may be a cheaper, less complicated, more restrient, but it's still going to be just as vulnerable to what we've spoken about before, which is the pretty sophisticated, effective, in-depth ground to Russian defenses. So, I think, you know, the caveats that the West had before remain the same, whatever the actual aeroplane is, that they just don't want to see loads of their stuff being shot down by the Russians. On the helicopter, if I think the old Seeking, I mean, that's been around for Donkies years, hasn't it? Well, it must be 50 years old, at least, I mean, probably near 60 years. I can't imagine that's got any military, you know, sort of aggressive capability. It must be really as being used in the support role, but a fantastic bit of kit. Okay, we've got one here from Simon, who says it's reported that Russia has lost 50% of its armour having spent some 25 years in the army, I would suggest that their capability is far less. The armour they have pushed forward will be the roadworthy specimens, and I would surmise that the material left behind is extremely poor. They must be reaching their idea. Well, great ones again to have someone who really knows what they're talking about asking a question. I think you're absolutely right. In any kind of assessment of what your resources are, there's always a number, which is the big number, and then there's the real number, which is how many of those are actually serviceable, and it can be anything from, you know, the actual usable kit can be just as little as half of what you've actually got on the books. So yeah, I think that's probably the reality, and of course, the quality of the kit's going to be nothing like as good as what let me up against in the coming months with these new main battle tags coming in from the West. Is that how you read it, sir? Yeah, exactly. I think so. I mean, it's fascinating, isn't it? They were initially started out with, and as you say, Patrick, this big number, 2,600 pieces of armour, and that of course covers a multitude of sins. But anyway, let's go with that number. They reckon they've lost about half of that, or at least that reports say they've lost about half of that. So if they've got 1,300 left, Simon's point is, actually, all that 1,300 are not going to be serviceable. They must be nearing their Nadia, as he says, and that's very much the sense I'm getting to, which is why going back to these small unit attacks, they're attacking with infantry, and they're taking a pooling casualties. Okay, moving on to this question from Robert Maxwell, obviously not the Robert Maxwell. So he didn't go down in the lady Gilein after all, apparently, according to this, he's a Canadian listening from Vietnam. So that is a major mystery, it's not this I'm just kidding, but it's a really, really interesting question, which I personally can't answer, because I'm not an expert, but maybe you can sort and certainly Simon Seaburg, Montefiori, I think we'll be addressing this, won't he? In the interview, but anyway, carry on. Yeah, so fascinating question from Robert. He says, separation of powers is, I understand, the most important part of the British constitutional arrangement, and it was imported very successfully to the US Constitution, or so we were taught in high school. And he goes on to say it seems that in Russia, there is no effective constitutional separation of powers. Hence Putin taking absolute power. Is that correct? Is the primary problem the constitution? Well, it's not the constitution. It's the way the constitution has been adapted, a bit like the Nazis in the 1930s, you know, the Vimar Republic, was a, had separation of powers, had these sort of safeguards in there. But when a dictator takes over and persuades enough of his lawmakers to change the law, then you've got a problem. That's exactly what's happened in Russia. Now, he goes on to say, is this a problem in Ukraine? How resilient to the user-patient of absolute power is the Ukrainian constitution? Well, no more resilient than any other country that has people on the inside who are prepared to adapt it if you take my point, Robert. What I would say with Ukraine is that if it's going to hope to guarantee its security in the future by being part of the EU and NATO, it is going to have to operate on a democratic model that will have the sort of safeguards and separation of power that you're talking about. So I don't think you need to be too concerned Robert if and when Ukraine is eventually welcomed into both the EU and NATO. Very interesting one here from Robert Perrett in Hackley in London. He's referencing the strength of Russian propaganda, which has the effect of suppressing, you know, internal dissent opposition to the narrative spun by the Putin's regime. And he asks, what do you think should be done by the West count to this? He says, my own view is that as much energy and resource as is being devoted to arming Ukraine should be devoted to this problem. It feels to me that keeping the door open as wide as possible is important because without it and without the general Russian popular seeing the West in a more positive way, it would be difficult to see how we could have peace with Russia in the medium to long term. Well, I mean, this is a huge element in the story, isn't it? But I don't think we often ask ourselves that question, do we? What can we actually do to overcome the information hegemony that Putin exercises over the Russian people? What do you think, sort of? Well, it's difficult. It's certainly difficult in time of war and it's difficult when they're really shutting down the methods by which people get free information. I mean, you know, they're controlling the internet. So it is tricky, but it does remind me. I mean, a robot goes on to say, you know, he suggests a counter-propaganda initiative, which could include ensuring that non-government controlled information is available, including promoting cultural initiatives, as well as ensuring that we do not shut the door on ordinary, especially young Russians from coming to the West. All of that works better in peacetime and it reminds me of what the CIA were actually doing in the 1950s when they were promoting a lot of these sorts, sort of initiatives, cultural initiatives within Russia, obviously by stealth, but trying to promote a kind of positive view of the West, which I think is what Roberts getting at, or at least a sense that they can get free information, they can actually get the truth in inverted commas. The truth is difficult currency to come by even than the West, as we've known in recent years, Patrick. So, Roberts, you know, ideas are absolutely right, but very difficult to do in wartime, particularly with a country that has been so, or a population better to put it, that's been so brainwashed, as the Russians have been already. Yeah, the efficacy of these enterprises is pretty doubtful, isn't it? You rightly say so that the CIA and the Empti-Dedent-American going to kind of mainstream diplomacy has been trying to do that, not just during the Cold War with things like Radio Free Europe, but also if you remember, after 9-11, there was an attempt to try and set up major news organizations, TV stations in the Middle East that would actually promote and project a kind of Western point of view, and they failed. Dismatically, I think people are automatically and probably quite rightly suspicious of any kind of state-sponsored propaganda effort, and you'll probably only be preaching to the converted. So, I don't think anyone's found an efficient plausible way that carries credibility, which could actually undermine seriously at the moment the Putin propaganda. Okay, on to one from Felix in London. I love the show and thanks for all your efforts. He refers to the Spring Offensive, which we've already mentioned, and in particular, advancing to the South to cut the land bridge in order to leave Crimea vulnerable. Now, he asked the question, wouldn't the more significant threat in this scenario be not to Crimea, but to any Russian forces left behind in Zapparisha and Kursan Oblast, potentially quite a large number, which would effectively be cut off. No expert, but a quick look at Google Maps shows that this area is bounded on all sides to the North and the East by the Deneepa River, to the South by the Black Sea and to the East by advancing Ukrainians. The only escape route would be through the tiny isthmus, a few miles wide, and a couple of rather vulnerable looking bridges to Crimea. Could there even be a stampede? It's a very good question, Felix. I think this is part of the potential Ukrainian scenario. You break the land bridge, you trap the remaining troops as Felix points out in those two oblasts, which of course the Russians are already annexed, but don't control all of, and then you leave both those troops there and Crimea vulnerable. That's the plan. That's exactly what they should be thinking of doing. It's interesting going back to our discussion earlier on about whether this was misinformation, misdirection. It strikes me that it probably isn't, because that is the most logical way to completely dislocate the Russian war effort. I think that's exactly right. That's been signaled over and over again. It does make perfect sense. I think we can expect to see a big part of the offensive pointing in that direction. On to one from Eileen, from the tiny Scottish island of Millport. I don't know where Millport is. Do you know where Millport is? I think I've been there, actually. I've got a feeling it's reasonably close to Glasgow, but Eileen will probably tell me that's absolute nonsense, but it rings a bell. Anyway, she says thank you for the work, guys, much appreciated. She wants to know how can I maintain optimism that this fight will ultimately go Ukraine's way, given Russia's infinite human resources, particularly where China, when and if the war becomes genuinely existential for Russia, will move to arm her so-called friend without limits. What grounds have you got for optimism? I think we're both optimistic, aren't we? But you kick off. Yeah, I can lay Eileen's concerns to rest a little bit here. The infinite resources are human resources. We've talked about how they're running out of kit. Yes, there's a possibility, a very, very slight possibility that China will step in, but I've already pointed out the reasons why it's not going to. If I have them, I'm going to reiterate them. China's interest at the moment is getting back on its feet economically. If it moves against Ukraine in any way by supporting Russia, it's going to have sanctions slapped on it that are going to make it very difficult for it to do any trade. Of course, it's maneuvering and of course, it's kind of seeing which way the wind is blowing, but I don't think in any way, particularly now China's going to come in and arm the Russians. I don't think that's going to happen. It's a matter of time before, in my view, Ukraine wins. It's just a question of what that wind will turn out to be. It's certainly going to regain some of its territory. Will it regain all of it? That's the question for me. Okay. One from Jordan here, he asks, if world leaders have already proposed a sort of martial plan post-war Ukraine, that being, of course, the American initiative to get a Germany and the European economy is including Britain, actually, back on its feet after war very generous and well-remembered American slice of generosity there. So he says the country's devastated. It will take decades to rebuild. Many people are saying solidarity means whether Ukraine just doesn't mean military support, but also humanitarian and infrastructure support far into the post-war future. Well, yeah, there is lots of international funding already going into Ukraine to patch up the infrastructure and much work is being done on long-term planning, allow martial plan. It's a timely question because we're going to be talking to Matteo Patrone, who's the managing director of the four Eastern Europe and the Caucasus operations at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which is responsible for the finance thing of all this. So we're talking to him next week. So that interview will be up the following Wednesday. So listen out for that. Yeah, we should also reiterate the interview we had with James Kahn of the Halo Trust awhile again, which he was talking about this very, we making this very point and how much preparation needed to be done now for the potential end of the war. That's getting the finances together and everything else and the Halo Trust are doing their best in that regard. Okay, moving on to our last question. Apologies for those of you sent in questions, but we don't have time to answer all of them. We'll try and give you a quick name check at the end of this. But last question we're going to deal with today and that's from Catherine Vidman. She doesn't say where she's from. I'm wondering if she's German, but who knows? Good day. I'm wondering why historians compared to political scientists seem to understand key factors in the current war on Ukraine and current war dynamics better. I'm non-plus by pure political analyses. Also, why politicians so hesitant to deliver decisive military support? Is it all a result of Putin's propaganda campaigns in the West, including political interventions? So, Patrick, what do you think about this point? Very generous point given that we're historians that we seem to understand things better in the current war than political scientists. Do you think that's true? Yeah, I think it's a great subject and thanks for bringing you up, Catherine. I think the illustrates the very limited nature of current political thinking wherever in the West. And that's got something to do, I would say, with a decline of history teaching. I read it really, alarming statistic yesterday about how few permanent academic posts there are in the history departments in the US at the moment in US universities. And I think this has a very bad long-term consequence in that it encourages short-term memory over reflection about what's gone before in all aspects of life, not just in politics. I mean, it's to boil it down to a very simple thing we all do. Google, you Google something, you get the headline, you don't have to kind of research the subject in any depth that might lead to some real understanding. So day-to-day analysis doesn't take account of the substrate of history. And I think you're also right about the passivity. I don't want to sound like a sort of grumpy old gip, but I am taking it back about how little this conflict seems to occupy the minds of the young. Going back to the 60s with a Vietnam war, the massive anti-American demonstrations, I'm thinking of the one in 1968 in London when thousands of people took part in a march on the US Embassy, which was then in Groverness Square and hundreds were arrested. We don't see anything like that at the moment. And I do worry that that's got something to do with it, the way that we don't actually take things seriously because they're they're sort of part of the news cycle, everything's reduced to kind of very sort of simplistic terms. And the big issue is that this war has resurrected, are not really being taken with the seriousness that they deserve. Now we thought that would be the last one, Patrick, but actually I've noticed this brilliant one from Andre Possell in the Czech Republic. And I really need to read this out. I have a question for you, he says, often you mentioned Poland and the Baltic States as a strong Ukrainian allies. However, you never really mentioned the Czech Republic as one of the states that are trying their hardest to port the good fight. We have provided a safe space for over 500,000 Ukrainian refugees, as well as providing military hardware ammunition and our expanding our ongoing production of military goods. One of them, and this is the really fascinating bit of information I didn't know, is fake high Mars props, which might be the reason why Russia is reporting destroying high Mars numbers exceeding by 140% the actual number of high Mars who've been delivered to Ukraine. Isn't that fascinating? That's a brilliant bit of information. They've built these kind of fake high Mars and the Russians are knocking them out. Thanks so much for that Andre. He goes on to talk about other things that are relevant to the Czech Republic's contribution. We apologize and we will try and make sure that in future when we mention the states that are firmest in support of Ukraine, the Czech Republic is included among them. Okay, well thank you so much for all those questions and apologies to Victor Crawford, Matt Peter Richards, Gary, Philip Hatton, Ian Edwin Dixon, Russell and Mike for not getting around to yours, but we hope you enjoyed it nonetheless. Keep them coming. Okay, that's all we've got time for, but before we go, Saul has some exciting news about a new broadcasting venture called the Content Club. That sounds fascinating. Tell us more about it, Saul. How does it work? Well, it's very dear to my heart as he's going to become clear. It's a brilliant new way, I think, to get quality history documentaries back onto our TV screens. Now, only 10 years ago, Patrick, there were more than 30 history documentaries on terrestrial TV every week. Now you're lucky to see six. With most broadcasters refusing to commission programs, they can't market as brands. The only TV history that you see will lack sophistication and originality. It's poorly funded. It's generic and the best directors, and we have a lot of them can't do their best work. So the Content Club was devised as a solution. It's the brainchild of someone I know very well. John Farron, the former editor of the BBC's flagship series, Time Watch, which was shut down in 2009, despite my best efforts to save it. And Farron went on to a set of a successful indie production company, which was behind digging for Britain 360 production. Digging for Britain, interesting enough, is the only repeatable history format still left on BBC 2. Now, John retired in 2014, fed up with pitching ideas that I never got made. But recently, thanks to the success of Dan Snow's history hit and our sister podcast, the rest is history, and we have ways. John came to the conclusion that there's a huge audience out there of passionate history fans who are prepared to pay for high quality content. So he set up the Content Club with me as founding historian. I'm not sure that's a thing, but that's my title, Patrick. The plan is to make 10 quality history programs a year and then sell the finished product to TV channels in the UK and internationally. And here's the way it works. For the relatively modest summer 300 pounds, club members, and there will be a thousand per program, will get a pass that allows them to attend weekly production meetings, review scripts, suggest locations, hear daily reports during filming, get their name in the credits, attend the premier, and even receive a sale of sales revenue. Farron makes the point that they might get their money back, maybe even a small dividend they might not. But either way, they're going to go on a journey of a lifetime, help make a film on a subject they love, and tell their friends that their show has been seen on TV screens around the world. Well, that sounds like a brilliant idea. We both bit of the game saw we know what it's like. I'm even a part owner of a TV production company, and the rigmarole of getting decent made is just mind blowing. We've took two years to get a documentary on the fault plans made for Channel 4. It got rave reviews, got big audiences, so I really don't understand what the problem is with the big TV companies. So what's the club's first program and how do listeners find out more about it? Well, you need to go to the website to find out more. I'll give you that website in a moment. Just briefly, the first up is a film called Rooms Forgotten War. I mean, you know, the name itself draws you in, doesn't it? And it bears more than a passing resemblance. I have to say to what's going on in Ukraine. It's about the gruesome but long overlooked tenure war between the legions of Emperor Augustus and the Celtic tribes of Northern Spain. It was also a war of aggression launched by a land, hungry and ruthless dictator like this one. And we can only hope that Ukraine doesn't drag on for a decade, and then in a victory so peric for Augustus that even Roman historians chose to ignore it. Well, the film will be made by the award-winning director Sarah Jobling and it will use groundbreaking archaeology to reveal the true identity of the mountain tribes and the tale of their demise from 29 to 19 BC. Now, if any listeners want to know more or are interested in getting involved, they should check out the content club's website at That's Okay, well, that's enough for one week. Do keep sending your questions into our email address, BattlegroundUKrain, or one word at And do join us next Wednesday for our first standalone interview with the excellent historian of Russia, Simon Seabag Montefuri. 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