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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36. Xi's Moscow Visit

36. Xi's Moscow Visit

Fri, 24 Mar 2023 01:00

In this Friday's episode of Battleground: Ukraine, Saul and Patrick take a look away from the battlefield, at the big news this week - the visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Moscow. Also discussed is the decision by the International Criminal Court in The Hague to charge Vladimir Putin with war crimes, and Britain’s decision to include depleted uranium shells with the Challenger 2 tanks it is sending to Ukraine. They also spend time as ever, answering a great selection of listeners’ questions.

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Producer: James Hodgson

Twitter: @PodBattleground

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Hello and welcome to the Friday episode of the Battleground Ukraine podcast with me Saul David and Patrick Bishop. Away from the battlefield, the big news this week was the visit by Chinese president Xi Jingping to Moscow in which he demonstrated China's very firm support for Vladimir Putin and Russia and all this despite the decision a few days before by the international criminal court in the hage to charge Vladimir Putin with war crimes, notably the possible deportation of hundreds of Ukrainian children to Russia. We will also discuss Britain's decision to include depleted uranium shells with the challenger two tanks it sent into Ukraine, a drone strike on a Russian train in the Crimea, yet the destroyed cruise missiles and a locally Ukrainian counter attack southwest of backwood that forced Russian troops further away from the last remaining supply route into the beleaguered city and in part to his ever will answer another great selection of listeners questions. So to President Xi's state visit to Russia this week, well the red carpet was well and truly rolled out and there were many schmaltcy references to their shared destiny and dear friendship etc etc but to my mind it must have been a bit of a let down for Putin. If he was hoping that Xi would be offering unalloyed support for his war in Ukraine and his wider claim that Russia is engaged in existential struggle with the West, he was disappointed. Now an indication of the different positions was provided by the pre-meeting statements of both men. Putin spoke of a bipolar struggle against the US-led West, Xi would not go that far. On truth the summit produced in my view few tangible results for Russia, the two autocrats pledged economic cooperation and to work together to shape a new world order. China also criticized the ICC's decision to charge Putin with war crimes. And yet, Xi barely mentioned Ukraine during his two day visit and said on Tuesday in his final remarks that China had an impartial position. There was no indication that his much touted role of peacemaker had yielded results but nor did he make any offer of direct support for Putin's war in Ukraine. Well the Institute for the Study of War summed up the lopsided nature of the summit as follows. It said Putin has likely failed to secure the exact sort of partnership that he needs and desires and Xi will likely leave Moscow having secured assurances that are more one sided than Putin intended them to be. Meanwhile Ukraine has cautiously welcomed China's role as peacemaker, albeit by stressing that withdrawal from all Ukrainian territory is a minimum requirement for a ceasefire. So Patrick, what do you think China is hoping to get from all of this? Well I take a much less rosy view than you do so I'm afraid. I think this is a very ominous development, basically China's signal that it's firmly on the side of the Russians. There may not be actively supporting Putin with arms at least not yet. But they've let him know that they're not going to let him lose and the implication is that they'll feed practical support both economically and if needed militarily to him to prevent that happening. Now why are the Chinese doing this? Well because I think they calculated that Ukraine war presents a great opportunity for them to achieve their fundamental strategic aim, the one that they've been pursuing for the last century really and that's overturning the West's global domination and taking their place, China's place, at the head of a new world order and Russia plays a useful part in this but it still remains a very junior partner. I think the Chinese have realized that the war is actually godsend for them. It took them a little while to wake up to this but I think they in their view by supporting Ukraine so vehemently the West is now stuck to the tar baby. They've opened a pipeline which will drain weapons and political energy and wealth and it'll be very hard to turn it off now. They're so dedicated to Ukrainian victory but Ukrainian victory is going to be pretty hard to realize at least in the terms that President Zelensky's defined it. So all China has to do is sit back, allow the West to weaken itself if you like and pave the way for the achievement of its own grand strategic aims which of course include taking back Taiwan. So really I think we're on the way to this becoming a genuine global conflict. Please tell me I'm wrongs all. Well we do disagree slightly on this Patrick. I think there's a less sinister reading of the visit personally. A good relationship with Russia obviously matters to Xi. There is shared geography, notably a 4,000 kilometer long border that's very hard to defend so they don't want war between each other. And the fact that both there were authoritarian leaders who shared grievances with the US-led global order. She must have been hoping that a quick Russian victory in Ukraine would give him the green light to invade Taiwan. I agree with that Patrick. But he's also being careful as you pointed out not to support Russia's invasion either diplomatically. I don't think there's been that much diplomatic support as an invasion all by supplying arms as you say. Bar, some dual use kits which we've been hearing about from the Americans in the last week or so. And this is an important thing. He's also criticized Russia's threats to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine which in some senses is the only, it is the last card for Russia to play. So Xi has had to tread, it might be very carefully over Ukraine, but let's not kid ourselves what's going on here. He's also taken advantage of Putin's difficulties by tilting the trade relationship, notably by buying cheap Russian oil and gas and it's moving more heavily in China's favor. That relationship. There's also the issue of China buying weapons from Russia. I saw an interesting statistic between 2016 and 2021. 81% of China's imported weapons came from Russia according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute which makes you wonder, you know, the quality of their kit. And in return, China provides advanced technology such as microchips which kind of have a military use as I've just suggested. So the economic ties are undoubtedly strong, but the main reason in my view China wants Russia not to lose the Ukraine war is a kind of defensive reason because it might lead to Putin's downfall and that would mean an emboldened US might turn its full attention towards China. So we're both sort of arguing the same thing, but I think China is slightly more defensive and you think it's being more aggressive. Now meanwhile China is positioning itself as a peacemaker because when peace fails to materialize as it surely will, Chinese officials can claim however disingenuously that they at least try to provide a solution unlike the West which continues to supply Ukraine with weapons. It's all pretty fascinating though, isn't it? Yes, I was particularly struck by Xi's remark when he was leaving. Putin came to the airport to see him off and the body language was very much I thought that he was the humble host on that such a big shot should then to drop in. And Xi said, he's parting unscriptive remark, you know, change is coming that hasn't happened in a hundred years. So I take that, I don't know what you think so, but I take that to be a reference to the foundation of the Communist Party of China as it's officially known back in 1921. And for most of the century that followed the CPC's been fighting innumerable battles first against its internal enemies in the shape of the nationalist Grommingtang, then its own population during the cultural revolution of the Mao era which killed millions, they have an echo with the Russian history there. And finally, it's now in a place to achieve its manifest destiny in the world as it sees it. And like Yalek and Grimley, I think the Russians are useful in that they supply cheap energy and they're keeping the West preoccupied in Ukraine, but that's as far as it goes is a very imbalanced relationship. And we've got to remember there's never been much love lost between the two great powers. So I wouldn't read too much into the talk of friendship without limits, et cetera. And I also agree with you about the Chinese peace proponents. And I think it's just them establishing a narrative that they were always your favourite of a peaceful solution, but they're all approached when certain rejected by the West. And again, just to end on a more cheerful note, I think China's more forward position does reduce the threat of a nuclear conflict. They finally are when it comes down to our position to order Putin not to escalate. And the nuclear war is really the last thing they want if their plan is to be realised. A few. Well, that's a relief to hear you say that, but yes, I basically agree. OK, well, let's move on to the other important bit of news. And that was the decision by the ICC and the Hague to charge Putin with war crimes. And the reason this is significant is because it's the only the third time a serving head of state has been indicted. Now, Karim Khan, the ICC prosecutor, said that Putin had changed the law to make it easier for Russian families to adopt some of the 16,000 children who had been deported to Russia since the invasion in 2022. And he went on to say that there is a very good reason to believe that Putin bears personal responsibility for what's happened there. Now, there are 123 countries that are parties to the ICC under the Rome statute, and they include Britain, most European countries. And Putin is liable to be arrested if he visits any of them. But Russia is not a signatory, and nor is the US or Ukraine as it happens. So will this change make any difference? What do you think, Patrick? I think that the ICC is faithfully undermined by the fact that the US is not a signatory to a party to it. So I mean, you know, Russia is completely with its rights to say, well, if the Americans don't think it's a jurisdiction extends to them, why should we? So I think that is a huge problem in its credibility. And you know, right on cue, Russia's response was very predictable. They said the war was from a legal point of view null and void. It was outrageous. Except for all the sort of things you expect them to say, and even to the point where they're saying, you know, threatening the secular work of the hagg with a hypersonic missile one there. I mean, no matter what it was, it was a Demetri Medvedev who used to be thought of as being a sort of moderate, and he's now reinvented himself as a sort of hysterical plutonista. So he was the one that was saying that they, I think he said the people in the haze should look to the skies, the idea being there any minute now, a hypersonic missile is needed to send on them. I'd love to think those missiles were accurate enough to actually hit the hagg. No, I think we're being a bit joklo about this. But nevertheless, again, we slightly disagree on the tone of this Patrick, because I think it is a big deal. I mentioned the heads of state to be indicted. There were only two up to this point. President Omar Al-Bashiro Sudan and Mohammed Gaddafi of Libya, a bit of a rogue's gallery. Now both were later ousted if not actually tried by the court. So you can't say the ICC decision was fundamental to their ousting. But I think the broader point here is that Putin now has a target on his back, so to speak, and can't physically, can't travel to a lot of countries that he's previously been welcome in. It will be hard, whatever happens in this war, if not impossible, if it had to be welcome back into the international fold, to go to the G.A. conferences, for example, and former allies within Russia might, in my view, see this as yet another reason to withdraw their support for Putin. The ICC meanwhile is well aware that other war crimes have been committed in Ukraine, and that this may just be the first step or the first charge against many that will be laid against Putin, the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. And let's not forget the last point I'd like to make on this, that former President Slobidan Milosevich of Serbia was handed over to the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to face trials for crimes against humanity after he felt from power in 2001. And I remember when those charges were first brought, I think in 1999 everyone was saying, well, of course, the Serbs are never going to hand them over. Well, they did after he was out of from power and something similar may just may happen in Russia one day. Yeah, I suppose it could be part of a Russian rehabilitation strategy, which is pretty much what happened with Slobidan Milosevich in Serbia. I've got to remember, of course, that Serbia is a very insignificant country compared to Russia. And the calculation, I think in his downfall was that those around him decided they had to throw him under the bus if they were going to have any hope of getting the Western help they needed to put Serbia back in on track after its war with the rest of its own partners in the former Yugoslavia. Libya, that was always a tin-pop dictatorship, wasn't it? So I'm not really holding my breath on this one, I have to say. Now, moving on to this depleted uranium tank round story saw. Is that another storm of teacup, do you think? Yeah, a little bit. I mean, this was prompted by the announcement by the British Defence Minister Baroness Goldie responding to a question in the House of Lords that, and she admitted that depleted uranium shells would be delivered to Ukraine for use with the challenger, two tanks. You probably remember them, Patrick, don't you, from the Gulf War, where they were known as silver bullets. And what I mean by that is they were capable of penetrating the heaviest tanks, armour. Putin's reaction, of course, or Russia's reaction has been suitably hysterical. Putin said that Russia would be forced to react since the collective west will start using weapons with a nuclear component. Defence Minister Sergei Shogu added that there were fewer and fewer steps towards a nuclear collision. But it's not an absolute nonsense. They're referring to the fact that depleted uranium is a byproduct of uranium enrichment, which of course, as we know, is a critical component of both nuclear power generation and the production of nuclear weapons. But there's no international ban on the use of these tank-busting rounds, and so it suggests that their use of my lead to nuclear escalation is fanciful in the extreme. OK, now on to the battlefield. Well, one interesting little incident to all, not a little incident. Ukraine appears to have carried out another audacious drone attack on the train in Zenkoi in Northern Crimea that was said to be carrying Russian calibur cruise missiles, which have featured a lot in their attacks on infrastructure, et cetera. And the Ukraine Defence Ministry said a number of missiles were destroyed and posted a short video, which includes a huge blast that can be seen in the distance. The report's actually been partially confirmed by Russian sources, and we said that Zenkoi had indeed come under attack, but as they mentioned, of the cruise missiles for any deaths. Now on to back, there's a really interesting development there, where the Ukrainians have launched a small counterattack to the southwest, which has pushed the Russians further back. And according to the latest intelligence update by the British Ministry of Defence, this attack is likely to relieve pressure on the threatened H-32 supply route, unquote. And further statements from the MOD say that Vladimir Putin's army may be losing its momentum to capture the town after months of fierce fighting. Now, this seems to be a common theme, doesn't it, Saul? There's other Western intelligence assessments saying that the Russian offensive may not actually be coming to an end. Do you remember we didn't really know what it would be getting, it wasn't a formally announced, and it took us a little while to realize this is actually it, the spring offensive is actually underway. And the general view now seems to be that it's actually coming to its conclusion, and the Russians were now switched to defence in anticipation of the Ukrainian counter thrust. Do you think that's what's going on, Saul? Yeah, there seems to be sort of... There are still Russian attacks actually. We should mention not just around back-mute, little attacks around back-mute. So the Ukrainians have responded in a significant way, I think, because the whole point about that last remaining supply route into back-mute is that once that goes, of course, the group insider encircle, then it's the beginning of the end. Well, that hasn't happened, and in fact the corridor has been opened a little bit more. So the Russians seem to be continuing their attacks a little bit further out from the flanks of the jaws, if I can get the sort of metaphor right, almost because they need to be seen to be attacking. There's also attacking going on further north of Dika, and also to the south in certain places, but these are minor, minor attacks making very little ground and still costing casualties. So I think that the vaunted Russian spring offensive, which we were talking about, at least a month or not, a month and a half ago, has run out of steam now. And the question is, what's going to happen next as far as Ukraine's concern? So I'm interested, and Timel is a little bit interesting, bit on Wagner. We keep mentioning Wagner. The ISW, the Institute for the Study of Warrows reporting that mercenary group may now lose most of its remaining convict force in the coming weeks as former prisoners finish their sixth-month military contracts and our granted pardons, and this information comes from the Ministry of Defense, and it's basically saying that this is all part of the battle ongoing between pre-Gorgin and Russian senior commanders. So these guys are now going back into having survived a tour with Wagner and Erbing fed back into Russian society. So expect to see crime rates saw, I think. I don't know if you saw the really interesting footage coming out of the backward front. There was a fascinating report from the BBC's Quentin Somerville and his cameraman showing the reality of the Ukrainian trenches, you know, everyone's waiting around knee-deep in this very gluey mud, and showing them around with some Ukrainian military mineders and they just made me think back to my days as a war reporter and what you depended really on the equality of these mineders to make sure you've got out to your front line visit alive. These ones certainly seem to know what they were doing. Yeah, that's not always the case, is it? I've had to go, remember you're telling me about a trip once to the Iran, Iraq, what absolute sort of chilling moment. Back in the late 80s, do you want to elaborate a little bit on that? Yeah, well, remember, so some mineders definitely have some more confidence than others. I'll just say a few briefly about the visit I made to the front line. This was in 1987 during the now forgotten, but pretty epic, eight year war between Iran and Iraq, which was hundreds and thousands of casualties. The Iranians escorted a bunch of us to visit what they claim was a big victory then, one and then get another long forgotten battle, the battle of fish lake, it was called. And much of the fighting in the south took place on either side of the Shattarab waterway and both sides of flood and vast areas to create barriers. So, I'll turn night mode journey through the darkness in a bus where, on either side, we could see as old Shalfar flashes continuously. Our minders kept getting us lost, they're about a half a dozen of them and they were supplied by the Ministry of Islamic guidance, that's what the propaganda department in Tehran was called. And so, we finally arrived at the starting point for them to visit what were going to be taken up to the very front lines. And in front of us, there's a lot of narrow causeway across these flooded fields. And the Iraqi positions are clearly visible, less than a mile away, I would say, and our transport as if you'd be taken up old highlux pick up trucks and strewn in the back for our protection, were a few flimsy flat jackets and some battered old helmets, so we scrambled to put them on. But the minders didn't seem bothered. They said they carefully unrolled these white strips of cloth, which they then wrapped around their heads, so we immediately said, what's that for? What's that all about? They said, oh, this is a symbol of martyrdom and it shows that we're looking forward to death and entering paradise, when you get it mashing up at that wind, dad. We said, I'm sure, after your Iraqi government spotted a straight away in Shalfar, falling on the either side of our column of trucks with us standing up in the back. We were screaming and shouting, banging on the roof of the car, yelling at them to turn them back, which they eventually did. But yeah, there are definitely minders and minders. Great stuff. OK, well, that's all we have time for for part one. Let's get us off to the break when we'll be answering listeners' questions. Welcome back. Well, we've had another bumper crop of listeners' questions. And the first one is from Adrian Dickinson in Hove, England. I think this is one few saw when in military history has a force for the massive deficit in artillery, managed to inflict casualties at a ratio anywhere near that claimed by the Ukrainians in Bathwood. I can't think of any new. I can, but we're going to have to go back to the 19th century for this. I mean, two of the greatest disasters that ever before British arms and also one Italian. So the two British examples are the first one in infamously in 1842, the retreat from Kabul. And 16,000 set off and only a single man reached the destination in Jalalabad that was Dr. Briden. Now, admittedly, among this group, there were about 12,000 civilians and not all of them were killed, although there were significant number of war. But the army that was defending them, 4,000 soldiers, some Indian soldiers and some British, was completely wiped out by Afghan tribesmen who were effectively armed with their knives, their curved knives, very dangerous, close quarters. And also with their long rifles, jazials, which were actually matchlocked Patrick. So hardly stayed at the art of the time, but a combination of them knowing the terrain, series of ambushes, and they completely decimated the British force. And the British force had artillery on that withdrawal. And the other one, of course, that I've also written about was during the Zulu War of 1879, where the part of a column of 5,000 soldiers, about 1700 were left at the camp of the San Juana with artillery defending it, and they were attacked by a Zulu MP of up to 20,000 strong. So they definitely had the advantage in numbers, but of course a huge technological disadvantage. The Zulu's armed with a few muskets, which they basically farmed in through a wave, but really just their short stabbing spears. And they close with the British force, British and African force at the San Juana, and completely wiped it out. And the Zulu's didn't have a single artillery piece. So there are some examples. And the third one, which I went into the details, I was at a doer when the Italians were destroyed by an Ethiopian army. And again, there was an imbalance in artillery. So it has happened. But 20th century examples, I can't think of many in the 20th century. I have to say. We've had a lot of messages about some of them called John Meersheimer, who is a kind of controversialist, as those who pops up around the place saying that he thinks that ultimately Russia is going to win the war in Ukraine. Now, we spoke before about getting alternative points of view on the podcast. We didn't want to be a monotone of kind of seeing things from a Ukrainian perspective. But we've looked into Meersheimer, and he doesn't seem to be very credible. I'm afraid. I'll just sum up the view, which I've got from several sources, actually expressed in a message to us from a chap called Roy Cornish, who says he's a Brit with Ukrainian permanent resident status currently living and working in Kiev. And he mentions the fact that Meersheimer's name came up last week, I think it was. And he said he's heard him talk and says that basically he's not someone that should be taken terribly seriously. And he wonders where he's coming from. I've had the same response from our old friend, Eskoye Krzyshevsky, who says a lot of the narratives that he spouts pretty much exactly what Russian state media is saying. So yeah, when we're looking for people to present a lot of point of view, I don't think we'll be reaching up to John Meersheimer. No, seems to be a bit of a useful idiot spotted there. We may be wrong, but that's the sense we're beginning to get. It's very interesting when one came in actually just before we started recording Patrick. And this is from an anonymous former senior British soldier who's already listened to our pod on Wednesday. There are the brilliant interview that you did with Mark Urban and we both responded to. And he writes, very much enjoying the pod and fully agreed with the judgements of Mark Urban on the last episode. The great intelligence failure of 20 years ago and he has personal knowledge of this was the presumption that Saddam Hussein had WMD and you can hear all about this on a very brilliant podcast actually ongoing at the moment called Shock and War. That's a BBC podcast. Now for the last 13 years, our senior British officer tells us in this country since Cameron came to power in 2010 and formed the National Security Council, the presumption has been that hard, heavy combat power was the thing of the past and that cyber was the coming thread. And yet in the first year of this war, the 250,000 casualties so far inflicted, not one person has died from a cyber weapon. The truth, he goes on to say, is that the digital powers manifested itself through the creation. And this was Mark's point of the transparent and precision battlefield to which he alluded and not cyber weapons. So his question is, has the obsession with cyber been as much of a misjudgment as the obsession with WMD? Patrick, what is your feeling about that? Yeah, I think that's a consensus, isn't it, it's developing around this. But underlying it is the futility of assuming that one can actually make any kind of reasonable prediction about how warfare is going to be in 10, 20, 30 years' time. We're seeing this with huge effect in Ukraine, as we keep saying, it's a war that no one ever saw, they would see again on the soil of Europe. And yet here we are, and I totally agree with that point that what cyber has done and what technology has done generally is to enhance existing very old-fashioned ways of going to war, no to be artillery, as Mark said, put it up brilliantly in the interview, which anyone who hasn't listened to should really get back because you will learn a huge amount from it. Yeah, so in truth, I mean, I think this is the point, we need a balance, really. I don't think our senior British officers suggesting at all that we don't need a cyber capability, you could argue that the fact that we've got a very effective cyber capability and of course, we've had our expert talking very eloquently about that has allowed us to negate Russia's offensive cyber capability. So it's not like we don't need it, but we need a better balance between the two and hard power clearly as something the British Army, the British Armed Forces are going to have to build up in the next decade or so. Okay, we've got a question here from Roger Bentley, and he says, one of the many great strengths of your podcast is it's cool and level-headed analysis from a distance. Thank you, Roger. I accept that the Western Curse of 24-hour instant pontification and got your journalism concerning every event, but he thinks it's becoming a very dangerous addiction that we've adopted. The question is, do you consider the Ukrainian government's control and opaque attitude to news and journalists access to the frontline events to be a good or bad decision? Well, I think like the answer to the last question, a bit of both, frankly. You know, we'll come to you in a second, Patrick, because of course, you know what it's like to be over-controlled as it were by a government and whether that's a good or bad thing, but from my perspective, you can see absolutely what they're trying to do, which is to control the information, the information war as it were. And to a certain extent, they've had a lot of success, but there's also a bad sign when you're not allowing your own soldiers, for example, we had the case of the battalion commander saying, you know, we need to get more honesty with what's happening, the number of casualties we're taking, and what we require, frankly, to make an effective unit on the frontline. You know, the word we're getting is he's been demoted. So they really are clamping down hard. They don't get for a reason, but it is having unintended unfortunate consequences, in my view. Patrick, what's your more sort of general feeling about this? I agree. I think it worked at the beginning. It was the right strategy at the outset, but longer it goes on, the more you create an impression, if you're really clamping down on information, that you've got something to hide, and I think that's the point we're approaching now, and it will only get worse, I think, when they tend to have actual battlefield events. Except things are very opaque, and every little action in the Ukrainian side, we know very little about political infighting, which must be going on, military infighting, which must be going on. And I think in time it will get out. It's a fairly open, the foundations of an open society are there. And one way or another, it will leak out. And of course, when it arrives in the public domain from unofficial routes, it takes on a greater significance, has a bigger impact than if it came officially, so it tends to distort the picture further. So yeah, I think they need to be careful about this. Okay, we've got a question here from Seth Malak. Now, I just happened to have a cousin call Seth Malak. So I'm assuming this is the same person. He hasn't actually outed himself, but we've had a chat about something similar about this. So I'm just going to read it out. I thought the episode with Simon Seabag-Mondiffuri was fascinating. I'm curious about the different perspectives on the causes of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, particularly regarding the role of the US and NATO. Some narratives suggest that the US and NATO were involved in causing Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Well, others reject this notion. Could you provide analysis on these various narratives? Well, we're not going to go into this in any detail, Seth. Not least because we have covered this with lots of previous episodes. I mean, listen to some of the episodes where we're doing a deeper dive into the history of the Orlando Figes, for example, in which he addresses this idea. Now, all of the experts we've spoken to are absolutely united in their belief that NATO cannot be blamed for this war. Was there some provocation at the end of the Cold War, humiliation of Russia, undoubtedly should things have gone slightly differently? We had some interesting talk on this from the various generals we've spoken to. Yes, is the answer. But you also need to get your head around the fact, and again, Simon's very good on this, that Putin from the word go wanted to reshape the Soviet Empire. I mean, that's really what it comes down to in the end. So whatever excuses they use, in the end, they wanted to bring a lot of countries that were part of the Soviet Empire back under Russian control, and they were prepared to do it by force. So no, I don't think you can blame NATO. And the fact that NATO is now expanding as a result of this war is the price that Russia's going to have to pay. I'm afraid. I'm afraid that it's a Russian because people like Finland and Sweden and other places are naturally feeling very unsafe. And Ukraine too, ultimately, almost certainly, will become part of NATO. And whose fault is that? Well, I'm afraid you have to lay it at Putin's door. OK, got one here from Rom, Barash. He's referring back to Stalin, which is a name that comes up a lot when we're discussing battlefield events. He says, if I recall the history correctly, the Stavka, that's the Red Army high command. Fed just enough reinforcements into Stalin grad to keep the city from falling while tying down and a tritting, the German six army and also allowing the Red Army to build up strength for a massive counteroffensive on Stalin's flanks. Do you think that's what Zalensky and his generals are trying to do here? Well, I'll briefly say, I think that's pretty much what they have in mind. What about you, Saul? Yeah, I do. I think it's a very good analogy. The difference, in my view, is I don't think... What they did at Stalin grad so effectively, I think it was Operation Uranus, wasn't it, Patrick, in November, late November, 1942, which ultimately leads to the surrounding of the Siktharm in Stalin grad and its eventual destruction, was an attack on either side of the Siktharm. So it was a pincer attack. I mean, it was a can-eye attack and brilliantly carried out. And exactly, as Rob has put it, I'd say, I think it was a pincer attack. I don't think the analogy is exactly the same in Ukraine because I don't think they're going to attack on either side of back moot. I might be wrong. We've already seen a little counterattack. I think, actually, they are wearing down the Russians in back moot, drawing more and more people in there, but they're actually going to attack somewhere else. And the obvious place is to try and attack further to the south, to the South, to the reach here, Kesson possibly, and drive all the way to the, as of C, and split Crimea from the rest of the bridge that the Russians have created into Ukraine. So yes, three quarters right, but I don't think the actual attack is going to be on either side of back moot. We'll see. Yeah, I think the Russians have already assumed that's going to be where the, in the Zaparizia area, where the counterattack comes, because there's been lots of reports of them strengthening their defenses in that area. One here from Tom, with the war known as the Tristolophase and casualties, mounting on both sides, can Ukraine's smaller men pool allow them to sustain the current temper of operations beyond this year? So it boils down to, is Ukraine's spring offensive? It's not moving on, but I think we generally agree it's not going to be before May, don't we? So, is that their last serve, the dice? I'd say it probably, maybe that's a bit too dramatic, but we're putting it, but I think it would be quite hard if it doesn't produce not decisive, but impressive results, that Western commitment in terms of support, military support, and the rest of it, the Comedics Support, will be sustained at the current level. So I think a hell of a lot is riding on this. I agree, Patrick, where I disagree slightly with Mark, and I think I made this point on Wednesday's podcast, is that Mark Urban feels that they will get some result. But there'll be tactical, in other words, it's not going to be a big strategic breakthrough. I'm not so sure. I think with all the kit they're getting, and how effective they've been with previous attacks and surprises, I think we may see something big in the coming months, but again, we'll have to wait and see, but the broader point is, is this their last real opportunity to win the war? It might be. We've got one here from Noah, who is probably our youngest listener. Thanks for listening, Noah. It's nice to hear we've got some listeners of your age. He's at school. He says, is in year seven, which we meet in 11 or 12. And his question is, with the arrest warrant for Putin, out now, this is from the OCC, how would he be arrested? And if an attempt is made, wouldn't that escalate the war going against the West's war plan? Interesting scenario, you've sketched Noah. He goes on, keep up the great, the good podcast. Thanks, yeah. Well, thanks to you. Yeah, so that sort of raises a kind of wonderful image of a sort of snatched squad going to the crowd and grabbing Putin and dragging him out. Unfortunately, I think that justically, that's pretty unlikely to happen. What do you think, talk? Yeah, it's not going to happen any time soon. No, there won't be an attempt to arrest him unless he's foolish enough to go to one of those 123 countries I mentioned, and of course, he's not going to do that. So as I mentioned earlier in the podcast, the significance of the ICC, in my view, is that it tarnishes Putin forever. And while a lot of Russians may think, well, we don't care, we're not party to all of this, I do think it makes a little bit of a difference to his standing as a world leader in the future and the possibility that he can continue as president. But no, there's going to be no attempt to arrest him. He may never be arrested, but nevertheless, the decision by the ICC, I think, will have some effect in the longer term. We've been corrected on our pronunciation of Kia Ora here, which is actually not the right way to say it. Nick Gorge, who's clearly writing from some position of knowledge in New Zealand, says that your Ukrainian pronunciation is far better than your tey-array, which is the Murray language. The Kia in Kia Ora is pronounced K. So it should actually be said K or R. K or R, Nick, thanks for that. Now, we've got quite a, we like to like the mood just a little bit. We've been doing it as much as we can with questions. But there's a nice one here from Ian Leith and Cheltenham. I was wondering if it's the obvious place in Cheltenham, maybe, maybe not. And he says there's been a long term and widely disseminated speculation that Putin has used a body double on occasions, including on his recent heroic trip to Maripold. Does this hold any credence with you? There's historical precedent for this, as you will well know. Well, Hitler famously did that. And so did Montgomery, actually, general Montgomery. I'm trying to think were there instances where Churchill did that too Patrick, do you remember? Sure, yeah. Everyone has studied at some point. It seems Stalin had a guy called Rashid, I think he was a sort of, you know, practically part of the entourage. So, that was saying, had several, sometimes they go to enormous density or two plastic surgeries involved. People spend, you know, vast amounts of time getting the gate, the kind of body language of their subject done perfectly. I actually, I'm looking closely at those, at recent footage of the two visits to Mary Pullen, I think the other one was Kravil, isn't it? And he definitely doesn't. There's something a bit fishy about it. It's a fairly good attempt at an impersonation, but just things like the hairline, it doesn't seem to me to be the one that we're familiar with, whoever it was, turned up in Mary Pullen particularly. And also the kind of face, the, particularly the chin, I mean, he's got a bit of a double chin, including, but not quite as pronounced as the person who appeared in Mary Pullen. So I think it's highly likely, certainly, as you say, historical precedent about, to suggest it, this is a real possibility. OK, last question from Elias from Vermont in the United States. Huge fan, he says, question is, we've heard a lot about the importance of land and air warfare, but has there been an appreciable naval components as well? It's very good question, because with the Black Sea, the Sea of As of, you might have thought there'd be more naval action. He goes on to say, it seems like the Black Sea in particular should be strategically important, while it is indeed. And if so, what is your take on the relative strength of the Russian and Ukrainian navies? Well, my take on this, Patrick, is the Ukrainian navies very weak. And the reason it's very weak is because the main naval base was Sevastopol, and that was kept in Russian hands, as anyone knows, who's looked at the history of this over the last 20 years, very controversial. One of the reasons, actually, for the invasion of Crimea is that Ukraine was beginning to talk about canceling the lease for the naval base there, and therefore Russia would have lost the sort of jewel in its crown in naval terms. The base at Sevastopol, and we can go all the way back to the Crimean War to understand the significance of that. So, the reality is, as far as I'm aware, is that the Ukrainian naval capability is very small. Russia much greater. But I think they brought a point about all of this. Why haven't we seen more action on the sea? Is because it's incredibly dangerous to move ships around, because they can be taken out by anti-ship missiles, which is exactly what happened to the flagship, the Moscow early on in the conflict. So, that's the reality. The Russian naval strength is far greater than Ukrainian, but it hasn't really been brought to bear with possible amphibious landings in Odessa, because ships are so vulnerable, and this is really relevant to Britain's naval capability, because we've got two massive aircraft carriers that we've pulled a lot of money into, and clearly, given what's been happening in the Ukrainian war, they are quite vulnerable. Quite so. Okay. Well, that's all we've got time for. This next Wednesday, we'll be speaking to another brilliant guest. Good bye.