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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32. What Next in Bakhmut?

32. What Next in Bakhmut?

Fri, 10 Mar 2023 01:00

As the Battle for Bakhmut looks as if it is reaching its climax, Saul and Patrick - equipped with information from a specialist insider briefing by Western officials, delve into the latest developments and look at where the Battle is likely to go. They also explore some rare details of Putin's personal life, and answer a multitude of fascinating listeners questions.

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Producer: James Hodgson

Twitter: @PodBattleground

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Acast powers the world's best podcast. Here's the show that we recommend. Hi, I'm Cara Berry, host of Everyone's Business Footline. Think of me as your friend and fellow busybody as I talk about everything under the pop culture sun from How to detect when maybe Chloe and Tristan are back together based on the types of IG stories she posted to, re-napping your favorite reality shows from Sister Wise to Vanderpump World, the housewives of the Mad universe, and the upcoming TLC show Speaking for other husbands. So check me out, Everyone's Business Footline. Here's three times a week on Apple Podcasts to modify and everywhere you listen to podcasts. Acast helps creators launch, grow and monetize their podcasts everywhere. Hello and welcome to the Battleground Ukraine podcast with me Patrick Bishop and Saul David. While the focus again this week is very much on Bach Mutt, all the talk about a possible Ukrainian strategic withdrawal has died away, and instead Kiev seems determined to hang on to it, sensing perhaps that this is where the Russian army could begin to crack. We'll be going into that in some depth armed with some really good information given to us by Western officials. We're also going to be going slightly off-piece to have a look at some rare details of Vladimir Putin's private life, which have leaked out thanks to some indiscretions by his long-term lover and mother of his children, the one-time Olympic gymnast, Alina Khabayevna. We'll also be asking what they tell us about someone who, despite having been a world player for a quarter of a century, remains strangely opaque. But first, Bach Mutt. Now we were pleased to be invited to an insider briefing by Western officials the other day and given a fascinating readout on the intelligence assessment of what's been happening there and where the battle is likely to go, I was unable to attend, unfortunately, had to go to the dentist. So Saul and James are producer represented the podcast. Saul, tell us what they told you. Well, first of all, Patrick, the fact that we're invited in the first place is proof that the word is getting out about the pod. You know, as you know, from your time as a war correspondent, it's great to be invited to these things because you're getting a much fuller picture, frankly, than ever really comes out into the press. So what did they say? So many important points. The battle for Bach Mutt had they pointed out to us no operational or strategic significance. From a tactical level, there was an opportunity for Ukrainian forces to kill lots of Russians. And that really, in their view, is what it's all about. That's why they're still there. They reckon they can still keep killing a lot of Russians. And there's no likelihood in their view, or at least reading between the lines, that the city's going to fall anytime soon. Lots of fascinating statistics, Patrick, a total number of casualties in the whole war. I think this numbers come out before. They estimate about 200,000 Russian casualties and about 100,000 Ukrainians. Now that, of course, is dead and wounded. But of that total, in Bach Mutt alone, 20 to 30,000 casualties on the Russian side. Now, the fascinating thing is how many on the Ukrainian side? Well, they wouldn't really be drawn on that, but they said it was in the thousands, which doesn't tell us much. We know that various other outlets have estimated anything between 1 to 5 to 1 to 10. But if it's, let's say, somewhere in between that number, you can see why the Ukrainians are keen to keep the fighting there. Not least, because other reports have suggested that because of this power struggle, of course, between pre-Gojen and the senior leaders in the Russian regular military, there's a determination from the Russian regulars to actually win the battle, so to speak. But so from a Russian perspective, what are the Russians actually getting out of this? Is there anything, any real kind of military benefit for them in carrying on slogging away there? Well, frankly, they're a bit mystified as to what's going on from a Russian perspective. I mean, they talked about this power struggle, frankly, between pre-Gojen and the regular Russian military. There's obviously a determination for one side or another to be there when they actually take control of the city, if that's going to happen. But interestingly and significantly said that even if the Russians take the city, it's not going to lead to a collapse in the Ukrainian line because there are prepared positions not far back from back-mute itself, which they can withdraw into. So the decision to stay there by the Ukrainians is interesting. We've had Zelensky saying, now we think we can keep fighting, the implication is important, kind of symbolic decision to stay there. But actually, it's probably about killing Russians. That's certainly the sense we were getting from the briefing. And what about the idea that this is the prelude to a bigger wider offensive? Is there any indication that that is in the pipeline? No, they don't think so. They are talking about the culmination of the battle. When you talk about, if you're reading between the lines of the military parlance, culmination means end. It doesn't mean now they're going to kick on from back-mute and move inextrably onwards to Kramatos and other key locations. They really don't think this is going to happen. The capture of the city would be in their view a peric victory. It has, as we know, opened up fissures between Wagner and the regular Russian forces. And there was no doubt in their view that actually precautions demand for more ammunition was actually genuine. They gave some interesting figures on the use of artillery shells. They reckon tens of millions, Patrick, had already been fired. And as a result, the Russian army lacked both ammunition and trained soldiers. And we've been seeing from other reports, and they mentioned it too, that they're being forced to use old tanks, T62s, outdated artillery. And I even saw a report yesterday, I think, Patrick, of the fact that the Russians are getting so desperate. And they're now bolting bits of ships that are armaments from ships onto armored personnel carriers. It all sounds very desperate to me. What about on the Ukrainians? Did they give any indication of what the plans were for counteroffensive? Yeah, a couple of very interesting hints, actually. They talked about combined arms training, and the fact that it was going to take at least another couple of months. So that might indicate a possible start date. We've been speculating on this, as you know, Patrick, but that might indicate a possible start date for early May. They are convinced that Ukrainians are capable of an effective counteroffensive at some point in the spring. And they might even, and here's a fascinating nugget, counterattack at back moot itself. And you know, you're coming to the top of the program, Patrick, that they might be seeing the first possibility of the Russians cracking around that city. And the fact that the pregusion himself actually had suggested that they might vagner if they're not given what they need, be forced to withdraw from bug moot. So that's not out of the question. And the final interesting comment is the West rolling all of this is to support them. It's not to encourage them to negotiate, it's to give them the kit and support so that they can win an outright victory against the Russians. Now we've got a question from a listener, Alex, sorry, Axel, Norland in Stockholm asking about the Russian preparations to counter the expected Ukrainian push. And he was specifically mentioning mines. Do we know anything about what preparations to Russians have made for that eventuality? Well, we do, but remember we're talking matter and they pointed this out in the briefing. There's 1600 kilometers of defensive positions now built by the Russians and the Ukrainians. So the frontline runs for 1600 kilometers, effectively a thousand miles. And you can't hope to make that secure and watertight in all places. And the other point that the briefing made is that they don't think that there's a big Russian reserve ready to go. Now you could either say they're going to use this offensively, which is what most people have assumed. Or you could say they move it as you know Patrick from years gone by and wars gone by as a tactical reserve to plug any breakthrough. Now the briefing didn't seem to think that they had any kind of sizable force that could be used in that way. So it's not looking great for the Russians. Frankly, if this briefing is to be believed, and this is the best intelligence that the West has got in the most up-to-date intelligence. Yeah, you might be tempted to feel a tiny bit sorry for the Russians, but don't. I'm thinking of a video that's just emerged, which has been publicized by the Ukrainians. I imagine it was taken off of dead or captured Russian or Wagner soldier. And it shows a captured Ukrainian soldier standing in a shallow trench, which could well be the grave that he's been made to dig for himself. He's calmly smoking a cigarette. He stands there casually resigned. And then he murmurs, Slava Ukraine, he glory to Ukraine as a burst of automatic fire. And he falls down dead. The Russians just carry on chatting. A Ukrainian friend sent me the uncensored version of this. You can get it on YouTube, but it's not. It doesn't show you the full picture. And the full picture is pretty chilling and shocking. Particularly the casual way that the Russian soldiers just carry on talking after they've essentially murdered someone. And it seems to me they probably do quite a lot on this, but this really is a sign of military depravity, isn't it? It's all the sort of thing you very much associate with the Germans in World War II, who not only routinely did this kind of casual killing, but actually took pictures of their crimes as if they were holiday snaps. What does that tell you? Well, two things. This is same old as far as the Russian way of war is concerned. But I think much more interesting is the reaction of the poor Ukrainian soldier, calmly and determinately, still saying glory to Ukraine right at the end. I mean, this stoicism and love of country, patriotism, determination must chill the Russians to the bones, actually. They kill this guy. But if that's a motivation of the whole country, whereas on the other hand, the Russians simply don't have that same kind of morale and motivation. In my view, you know, looking at the kind of broader piece of the war would lead me to, you know, the obvious conclusion that the Russians are in big trouble. So yes, they can kill as many people they get their hands on as they like, but it's the it's those soldiers facing them in the front line that they've got to worry about. Okay, well now for something completely different as they used to say on the old Monty Python program. The independent Russian investigative media outfit project, which specializes in digging the dirt on Vladimir Putin, his gargantuan wealth lavish lifestyle and interesting love life. Have they just released some fascinating details about his private life, which appears to emanate from friends of his longtime lover, the former Olympic gymnast, Alina Khabayevna. Now, the first word about project is a serious outfit founded by a very respected and reputable Russian journalist called Roman Badanin. You can find the website in English very easily and for years, it's been revealing corruption in high places. It's been the subject of much official harassment in 2021 project was declared an undesirable organization. Basically, it confirms the very important place that Khabayevna occupies in Putin's life. She's 39 years old. They lived together in an array of lavish country and seaside homes, decorated it with Siemens or Ganks, the chic style with loads of bling gold, Mahogany leather, fleets of limos, and helicopters to ferry them around. She's also a very rich woman. Now, her real importance seems to be that she's given Putin a son. He's got children with his first wife and a subsequent mistress, but they're all daughters. But according to project, he's had further children with Khabayevna and one of them is a son. This seems to be a very important issue for Vladimir Putin, doesn't it, Saul? It does. It's interesting, doesn't it, because as we hear in the Seabag interview this week, he has great admiration for Catherine the Great, but he's clearly an unreconstructed male showrunner, which doesn't really surprise us to be honest. But when it comes to who will inherit his legacy, we've got no idea how old this son is, of course. Although it's interesting that the proct was suggesting that they did know the ages and number of all the children, but they weren't releasing that information and that may be a question of yet. But there's also Patrick, another odd bit of the story, too, isn't there, because there's been talk of him favoring the son of someone else who might succeed him. And that's Dimitri Patrick Shev, who's currently minister for agriculture and the son of the former director of the FSB. We've mentioned a number of times who is now a long time secretary of the National Security Council. So, clearly he's thinking of his legacy at some point and who might replace him. As far as the son's concerned, of course, Patrick, there's also this massive wealth that he's amassed. He and Kabaeva, I mean Kabaeva herself is supposed to have a property empire in excess of $100 million. So, you know, a lot of cash has managed to find its way into sticky pours. I don't think he's going to do many favors over this story, is it? Because if you're shivering in some village out in the boonies and you hear that this lady is living very, very high on the hog, it doesn't actually make you very warm towards your leader, does it? And it reminds me a bit of Raisha Gorbachev, the wife of Mikhail Gorbachev, the former transitional leader between the Soviet Union and the new Russia. Now, she was often accompanied him on his trips around the world and came back laden down the stuff she'd bought in the very posh boutiques of the capital as she visited and became very rapidly a hate figure for the Russian. So, I think Putin will have one eye on that. But it's kind of an interesting question, this business of sons of dictators. I'm thinking of Stalin's son, you know, being an heir to a Russian autocrat is not necessarily something you would wish for. Stalin had a son, Yakov Dugashvili, who was rather kind of sensitive young man. He wanted to be an engineer, but his father insisted that he went off and became an artillery officer when the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa in June 1941. Stalin insisted that his son was sent to the front lines. He didn't last very long though, he was captured by the Germans a few weeks later. And this was a matter of huge embarrassment to Stalin. He'd given orders that no red army sold him us to surrender. So, he was furious when the reports came back that Yakov had apparently surrender, given himself up instead of doing the decent thing and shooting himself. So, he was carted off to Berlin. The Germans used him for propaganda purposes at one point. They tried to exchange him for General von Paulus after he surrendered at Stalin's grad, but Stalin was having another bit. And for all Yakov eventually died in Saxon House and concentration camp. They weren't quite knows how. It's interesting, isn't it? I mean, you know, there is, of course, a curious parallel on the British side. Churchill's son Randolph, I've written a little bit about this, joined the commandos. He fought with the commandos in Crete and Egypt. And if he'd been captured, and of course, you know, there's a reasonably good charge you are going to be captured if you're in the commandos fighting behind enemy lines. It's very doubtful that Winston Churchill would have done much to get him back. I think he would have behaved pretty similarly to Stalin. And one of Churchill's relatives was captured, Giles Romali, the nephew of his wife Clementine. And he was held among the prominente, the important prisoners in coldest, that the Germans were hoping to use his bargaining chips right up until the end of the war. But it never came to anything. And there wasn't a serious attempt to get Romali back. And I doubt that would have been for Randolph either. At the final point to make about Khabiyeva Patrick going back to her for a second is that Putin's apparently furious with her and her entourage for leaking this information. That's where he thinks it comes from. That's where he thinks that product got the information from. So she is in the doghouse at the moment. And we can't leave this segment of the program without mentioning that absolutely bizarre item on Kremlin TV, in which the contributors insist that, you know, they're kind of berating Britain for supplying arms to Ukraine. Well, you know, we're not surprised about that. But it was it was their explanation of what this is costing Britain that's I found so entertaining. We were putting all our eggs into the basket of weapons. We're basically running out of food. How did they know this because British restaurants, according to them, have been forced to put squirrel on the menu. You couldn't make it up. But of course they have. It's just a brilliant story. Yeah, but we've had squirrel on our local pub menu for months now. So haven't hasn't it reached you yet? Well, I don't I don't I don't go out to the pub to get it. I've got squirrels in my fields that I can easily trap. But yeah, I mean, it's great stuff, isn't it? And presumably vast ways of the least those who are still watching Russian news. And remember we reported months ago that many returning off are believing this stuff. I'm sure they are. Yeah, okay. Well, that's enough for us. Join us in part two when we'll be answering a treasure trove of listeners questions. Welcome back. Well, a really good post bag this week. But let's start with a couple which are statements rather than queries. And the first is a fascinating contribution from Ben Standen, who's a flight test engineer at Leonardo Helicopters in Yovol, Somerset. And it answers very clearly. Some of the questions many of you have been asking about the role of conventional air power in the conflict. Yeah, so this is what he says listening to last Friday's podcast. The question was asked about sending second line aircraft in ground attack roles in your response. As you mentioned, the patches have been sent to Ukraine by the UK. This is not in fact the case. The claim was made on Twitter a few weeks ago, which is probably where I saw it, Patrick, and has no basis in fact. Somehow, this has now become accepted as truth. The Apache was designed as an anti-Armer attack helicopter intended to stand off from targets using terrain and trees as cover. I imagine a Russian armored division approaching an align over the German planes versus a load of Apache's hiding behind a hill line. The Apache is far from a distance, rapidly refuel, rearm and redeploy to destroy armor. It's also very effective at close air support in Afghanistan, where there was no advanced anti-aircraft threat. Hence the role that, you know, as we already mentioned that Prince Harry is involved in. Neither of these situations, he makes the point, are relevant to Ukraine. He goes on to say there was also a question regarding the use of such aircraft as hawks, these are sort of royal air force jet trainers. In the ground attack role, this would not be possible. He says, basically the British have retired the hawk and while it's very good for training, it's not a very effective combat aircraft. And the real point here is something that has come up before is that the extreme concentration of anti-aircraft weaponry in Ukraine means that aircraft have a limited role. Ben says fighter jets are extremely vulnerable to even 1960s Sam, that's service to air missiles, providing the, the Sam's are deployed in high concentrations and attack helicopters are even more vulnerable as Russian anti-air weaponry is both effective and numerous. He says it's very clear from videos and pictures that aircraft on the front line in Ukraine on both sides have an extremely short life expectancy. And the final point he makes which is another fascinating one is that what most people seem to fail to understand is that Western air power does not affect it because of the capability of any one aircraft. It is effective because it is an integrated system which uses coordinated attacks to achieve a specific effect. It was not designed to operate in the close air support role when fighting a near-peer. There is a valid comparison to the battle of Britain says Ben when many people think that it was the performance of the Spitfire that won the battle in reality. It was the doubting integrated but dispersed air defense system that gave Britain a strategic and operational advantage over the Luftwaffe. So some fascinating points there he also goes on to talk about sea kings. We don't have really time to go into that. But great stuff from Ben and if any of you do have specialist knowledge about any of the things we're talking about, please set us straight on some of them. Okay, another second one is from cyber expert and another friend of the podcast David Alexander. He is illuminating us about the role of drones. He says there's no doubt that drones can very successfully conduct ground attack operations under certain conditions. But the fact that all nations still have more piloted aircraft for this role than drones is indicative of the fact that drones still have limitations. The drones are getting better but they can't do it all. So this is answer something that we often hear from listeners is, you know, why not just sort of do away with fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters and all the rest of it and just let it all be done by drones which no one dies, they're cheap, they're maneuverable, all the rest of it. Yeah, and he goes on to say the area in which the drones so far have no effective capability is in the air defense superiority role. All air defense aircraft still have a seat in them in other words, they're piloted aircraft. And the reason David knows so much about this is because he used to be a fighter pilot himself. He adds, while the time will come and some very near impressive demonstrators have been tested in the US, we are still some years away from air defense drones. If you want to detect, deter and interdict enemy aircraft from your own airspace or even from launching standoff weapons from within their own airspace as the Russians are doing, the only effective way of doing that at the moment is a fighter with a seat in it. So I think that puts to bed the idea that it could all be done by drones. We do still need fighter aircraft and it's why of course the Ukrainians have been asking for them. Now we've got one here from Roger Bentley in Cardiff and this is a query, something that's obviously concerning quite a few of our listeners because we've got several questions along the same lines. And what he's basically saying is what happens if Republican gets into the White House in January 2025. And particularly if that president happens to be Donald Trump, given his previous record does this mean that we can look forward to cuts in the weapons supplier, indeed halting the weapons supply to Ukraine altogether. Now you've been looking into this, so what do you think the possibilities of that actually coming to pass up? Well, it is a concern, but the date's important January 2025 after an election in November 2024. That's still 18 months away. So the clock is ticking, I suppose, as far as the Ukrainians are concerned, but they would hope to make serious advances this year. I mean, they're not imagining the war is going to be running for another couple of years. It might, of course. So it is a concern, but even if there is a Republican victory, it's not necessarily going to be Trump. By the way, Patrick, we've had a shot far across our bow by one or two Americans who say we don't understand American politics and we shouldn't be commenting on it. Well, we may not understand it as well as a native born American, but we do get the broader brush strokes of what's going on. And what seems to be clear, even on the Republican side is that there is a split. Yes, you've probably got more Democrats supporting an active role in the war than you have among Republicans, but even Republicans have split. So it doesn't necessarily mean that a Republican victory is going to mean a withdrawal from supporting Ukraine, but it could happen particularly if Trump gets in. So would we prefer on the podcast, someone like the Santas to win if a Republican is going to have to win? Yes, we probably would. His position vis-a-vis the support for Ukraine is not that clear at the moment, but we suspect it might be a little bit more positive than Trump's. Okay, and I can put together two from Richard Hastings from the East Riding of Yorkshire and Christopher. Now Richard is asking, does the idea of a European army hold water anymore? And Christopher describes a conversation he had with the next Patriot Hungarian woman who he said initially was against Putin's aggression in Ukraine. Now, however, she thinks her friends and family in Hungary are convinced that Putin is in the right. Now, these may sound like dissonant questions, but they're boiled down to the same thing. Now, I'll start off with Hungary's role. Now Hungary's role inside the EU is an indication of how a European army in my view will never work. The idea has been floating around for decades, and it never gets any closer, because as far as I see it, there's no real foreign policy alignment likely to come about at any one time. As this current conflict shows very well, I think the army, the European army could only operate if it had a clear political directive agree by all the 27 members. And even in something as relatively clear, CUP is the war in Ukraine. There's a very wide divergence, which is seen in Hungary's attitude. Prime Minister Orban has made very clear his sympathies with Russia and his suspicions of Ukraine. Now, it's a very complicated picture. You think that historically the Hungarians have been hostile to Russia, given that as recently as 1956, the Soviet army moved in to crush a democratic uprising. However, against that, you've got this friction that exists between Hungary and Ukraine, Orban and his Fidesz party. It was very vigorously nationalistic ideology. They pursue. And their rhetoric sometimes doesn't sound very unlike that, that emanates from Moscow. And they've been repeatedly claiming that Hungarians living inside Ukraine's borders with Russia have been discriminated against, and that the Hungarian languages suppressed our Kiev's policies have sometimes been a bit clumsy, and to the extent that that's a kind of plausible narrative just about for people like your friend Christopher. And it's not just the unsophisticated who feel this way. I was in Budapest fairly recently and had dinner with some young undergraduates at an elite university that's funded by Fidesz. Very bright and full and good nature, but they completely sympathized with that point of view. So, but you know, look at the polls on the other hand, they've got a similar kind of history, lots of conflict in the past between them and Ukraine, bloody territorial disputes yet there very much of the other persuasion that they've said a huge amount of kit relatively speaking to Ukraine. They've been incredibly welcoming to Ukrainian refugees. Hungry said no military kit at all, like Austria, they're saying they fear that Army Ukraine further will only escalate the war. So sorry, I've been rambling on a bit, but basically it comes down to the fact that given the great divergence of opinion between these neighboring countries, how are we ever going to get a coherent pan European Army all agreed on objectives, all agreed on the desirable political outcomes. I don't think that so we're going to have many times soon. No, very unlikely Patrick, it's a political enterprise. Let's not kid ourselves NATO actually as long as the individual countries are are funding their armed forces effectively works as well as you could hope for frankly. Yes, there's always going to be a joint command, but you know, can you imagine within European Army who's actually going to take command? And what we've seen of course, you know, as you've made the point Patrick, the Fisher between the West and the East in terms of European countries, their willingness to build up their military and their strong support for Ukraine. So no, I can't see it happening anytime soon either. Right, let's move on to Rob. He actually asked three questions. So we're going to try and wrap up through them quite quickly. So the similarities between this war and Russia's war in Afghanistan and can we draw any interesting comparisons? Well, we've spoken about it before. I think the big difference, the most obvious one for me Patrick is that that was really an asymmetric war. That was a war against an irregular force that never really took on the Russians in open combat. And therefore a very different kettle of fish when you get to the idea of strategy much more like frankly the Americans fighting in Vietnam. People when they're fighting a regular warfare is a very good way to lose a war. Now the Russians are showing us that they can probably lose it in a conventional sense too. But I don't think you can draw that many interesting parallels apart from the fact that the body bags eventually became a big issue in Afghanistan. Yeah, I think the two situations are pretty dissimilar. And there's not much to be gained by comparing them. Now there's another question here. He makes about the Cold War saying that when I was studying for my master's degree in 2013, the question I was never able to answer satisfactorily was whether the Cold War ever ended. Do you think it did ever finish or have the last 20 to 30 years just been another long detente with Ukraine being one indicator of it heating up again. Well, I think you can make a very good case for saying the Cold War never ended just as you can argue respectively that the first world war never ended in the 20s and 30s. I were just a breathing space. The point being that the fundamental power politics that drove the first world war was still unresolved. And if you look at the situation now, post-Cold War gave us ways of Europe were restored to some kind of capitalistic democracy. And they're pretty happy that that transformation took place. But Russia hasn't been and the Cold War in my mind wasn't really about ideologies. The Communist Party long ago had given up trying to export revolution to the rest of the world. That happened way back in 1943. So it was really always about Russian imperialism, which is where we are now. Okay, we've got a question from a Gabriel Stein. Now, that name rings bell to me because I had a former student of that name. And as I read on, I realized this was indeed that Gabriel. He wrote a very good dissertation about the fact that Russia almost came to blows of Sweden during the Crimean War. So he knows a little bit about the long-term background of trouble between the two countries. And he asked this question, which is that in the debate, much is made by certain politicians notably in continental Europe, that we must avoid the risk of breaking up Russia. But why? And if you remember one of our contributors, not that long ago, said this was exactly the solution she was looking for. So he asked why. And he says the two problems with Russia and its relations to the rest of Europe are one. Since the end of the Great Northern War, Russia has been vastly larger in terms of population and land mass than any other European country. That's going, of course, back to the beginning of the 18th century. This has always created instability as well as a feeling among the Russian elite that they deserve to be the dominant power in Europe. Russia is not now and has never been a satisfied nation. This may be related to the fact that it has no natural borders. Russian history going all the way back to Ivan III has always been one of expansion as far as possible. We've spoken about this before. Until says Gabriel, they meet resistance. The borders shrink when they were pushed back. But the moment that resistance is perceived to be gone, they expand again. Both these factors have throughout the centuries created substantial instability in Europe. Would it not therefore be better for Europe and hopefully the world if Russia did indeed break up into its various republics, let the Chechen, the English, the Asetians, the Tartars, and everyone else go their own way. And if Russia itself breaks up and we go back to Muscovy and an independent great Novgorod, so much the better. So his question is, what do you guys think about that? Anke? Well, it's an interesting point, isn't it? If you look at what happened after the Soviet communism collapsed, these states like Hungary, Poland, the Baltics, they came back to their previous existence, their previous culture, their previous political traditions that existed before. They fell under Moscow's hegemony. What do we know about the East? We're not terribly well informed about the extent to which nationalism is sort of developed political impulse in these sort of eastern territories of the Russian Empire. So yeah, it's definitely something to dig into. And in principle, I don't see why that should not be a desirable thing. Okay, moving on, question hit from Neil Brum, MBE, a former Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy, totally hooked on your podcast. He was a veteran of the Falklands and fascinated if not shocked and disappointed with the carnage being unveiled in Ukraine. Your future podcast, he goes on to say, is likely to be Battleground Taiwan. Well, we weren't considering that Patrick were we, but yeah, it's not a bad point. We may well get to that. But this is his question. If you were a Chinese president or general, wouldn't you be curious to know how your weapons systems stand up to Western systems? If so, would you be tempted to try them out in Ukraine? And of course, this is off the back of the, you know, the recent publicity that China might be about to arm Russia. What do you think, Patrick? It would be quite useful for them to test them out, but I think there were bigger obstacles aren't there? Yeah, I think it would be as Neil says, yes, it would seems like a desirable thing, but the consequences could be enormous. And of course, there's a lot, you know, historical precedence for this, I'm thinking of the Spanish Civil War, where the Nazis sent off their air force in particular, Luftwaffe, to see how things worked in real battlefield conditions. And it was a big advantage when it came to their first big test in the Battle of Britain. They were actually a lot of experienced fighter pilots there who cut their teeth in the Spanish Civil War, but I totally agree with you. So I think the risks massively outweigh the benefits for China in this one. Okay, moving on, question from Rob Barash, though perhaps not directly related to the Battleground in Ukraine, I would really appreciate it if you guys would do a deep dive into the state of Ukrainian democracy and it struggle against corruption. While Russia's naked aggression would be wrong, even if Ukraine was as authoritarian and corrupt as Putin's Russia, there's no doubt the Western support for Ukraine is predicated on the perception of Ukraine as a fledgling democracy, albeit an imperfect one. Is that perception correct? Well, we can give you a little bit of insight into that, Rob, because we've just done an interview with a senior official of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, whose basic task is to, has been since the end of the Cold War to pump money into former Soviet aligned countries and bring them into the Western fold, so to speak. And they're very much up on all of this and he gave us a very encouraging response, actually. He said they had been terrible problems with oligarchs, you know, much publicized, but they were making a real effort, a real genuine effort to change things. A lot of ground has already been covered in that regard and that in his view, the long-term future of Ukraine in terms of its security and economic prosperity did depend on this and he felt that they were likely to keep going. So I hope that gives you some encouragement, but do listen to the interview when it comes up in a couple of weeks time because it's great stuff. Well, we've got one from Juan Pablo in Barcelona, a lot of what Juan is interested in, I think we probably dealt with them in the previous answers in the body of the podcast, but there's one final point he makes. He asks us, what's your take on pregoition touring the front lines? I believe that he's only doing it to avoid falling from some window or having a heart attack. Well, I think so. You said the other last week that you think that pregoition is a dead man walking. Has that changed, you think? Well, I think I was repeating a comment that someone else had said, but yeah, it's interesting. I like the point almost front lines because he wasn't really in the front lines. He was a few miles back, but pregoition is, I think he's trading a very delicate line at the moment. By the way, he's not giving up on his criticism of the senior military command. He would have thought he'd been put back in his box to a certain extent, but the argument, of course, one argument is all in now. This is a serious power struggle that he has to win and he has to show that Vagna Fighters are going to, first of all, win the Battle of Bagmute and then play a crucial role in the rest of the war. What we also know from the briefing, which I mentioned earlier, is that actually he's running out of fighters. That's the problem. He's certainly running out of convicts. I suppose it's their version of capital punishment. Actually, this reminds me of a story I read the other day about Ramzan Kadirov, the Chechen warlord, who's been very, very vocal as Progigen, if not more so, calling for New Clear War against the West, etc. Now, he's sort of being put back in his box. We don't hear nearly as much from Moscow, but as we did a few months back. He's fallen ill with a severe kidney disease, but interestingly, instead of sending to Moscow for some specialist to come down and treat him, he's actually got someone from the United Arab Emirates telling his friends that he doesn't actually trust those Moscow doctors. Great stuff. Well, we would urge you all to please listen to our now bi-weekly episodes. We've got an interview on Wednesday, or we've got the usual news and the listeners questions on Friday. We kicked off this week with Simon Seabag Montefuri, an absolutely brilliant interview. Please listen to that, because it gives a wonderful, kind of, toward a horizon of the whole history of Russian rulers and also Putin and where he stands and all of that. We'll be back next week as usual for an interview on Wednesday and the usual Friday episode. So please join us for that. Yeah, we're not quite sure who we're going to have on Wednesday, but we've got a cup of really interesting people lined up. So watch this space and do join us next week. Goodbye.