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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45. The Big Interview: Philip Ittner on the Realities in Ukraine

45. The Big Interview: Philip Ittner on the Realities in Ukraine

Wed, 26 Apr 2023 00:00

On this week's big interview, Patrick ad Saul are joined by veteran reporter Philip Ittner - who at the outbreak of the full scale invasion headed straight to Ukraine - where he has remained since. He describes the situation on the ground in Ukraine and the palpable sense of suspense surrounding the much discussed upcoming Ukrainian counter-offensive.

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Producer: James Hodgson

Twitter: @PodBattleground

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Hello and welcome to the Battleground Ukraine Podcast's Big Interview. Today we're talking the veteran war reporter, Philip Irkner, who worked for CBS News for 15 years and is now a freelance. Bill speaks Russian and covers the rise of Putin in 2000, the invasion of Georgia in 2008 and now the war in Ukraine. This is what he told us. Felt welcome to the podcast. Can you tell us where you are now and what you've been up to recently? Well, I am currently in the capital of Ukraine, Kiev and have been in country in Ukraine except for a short sit when I had to go back to the States since the beginning of the war. Now I started in Levyv before we kind of, I mean, the first week of the war I crossed over. I flew from San Francisco and flew to Warsaw, gone on a train to Krakow, got in a taxi from Krakow and drove across and that was the first week of the war. We couldn't predict how it was going to go. So I decided to go as far as Levyv so that I could be inside Ukraine, but in two we knew what was going to happen in the Battle for Kiev. That was as far as I was going to go. And I lived in Levyv for the first, I'd say roughly three months of the war. Then I moved here and have been as I can moving around the country with colleagues and we're all kind of freelancing, we're all kind of doing our own things. So we kind of bandied together and I have been mostly vlogging, doing podcasts, radio, stuff. I am a veteran broadcast journalist with over 25 years of experience in the region. And well not just in the region, but also in America's wars in post-9-11. I was the deputy bureau chief for CBS News and Baghdad, for example. I was the bureau chief for Voice of America for a year in Kabul and well, it's split my time between Islamabad and Kabul. So I've seen my fair share of conflicts. I was just about to hang up my spurs so they say when this war kicked off and I have a very strong connection to Ukraine. I've been coming to Ukraine for 22 years. When I first started my career, I was a radio correspondent for CBS among others in Moscow. And I came down here for the visit of Pope John Paul II in 2001 and I've been coming here ever since and fell in love with the country, fell in love with the people, deeply interested and treated by the history was on my dawn in 2014. And this is where my story takes a little bit of an odd turn. Nate promises on my dawn to Ukrainian people who knew this was coming. They knew this war was coming. Well, I can't reiterate that strongly enough. And they I hadn't encountered on my dawn in 2014 with the two elderly women weeping and tearing to their clothes begging me not to let Ukraine fall from the front pages when the eventuality of this war would happen. And it was an extremely emotional moment and I made a promise on that night, on that day during my dawn, the my dawn revolution, that I indeed I would come back. So as much as I am loathed to be in a war again, I had hoped I'd never see another one. I made a promise and I believe in keeping one's promises. So I'm here and I'm going to stick it out until the end. And what one of the things that has been interesting in this year so far is the fact that I thought I was giving something to Ukraine and trying to tell their story. But what's really happened to me is I have been deeply humbled to bear witness to the birth of a nation that is long overdue in gaining its independence and self-determination. So that's my stick. Thanks so much Phil. We're a little bit later to the party than you as I think you probably know Patrick's got experience of this sort of thing. Not so much me. I tend to look back at history with a good 20 year gap. So this is quite unusual what we're doing. But we're also winning it for the long haul. We feel a responsibility, frankly, to keep covering this through the podcast until the resolution. So we're going to range about a number of things recently. But of course the big news over the last week were the Pentagon leaks. Can you give us a sense for what effect they've had in Ukraine, particularly the revelation that the US is not particularly optimistic or at least wasn't when the document was relevant a couple of months ago about the much anticipated counteroffensive. Well, there's a lot to unpack about the documents. I think, you know, not unexpectedly many Ukrainians are just disappointed that this information was leaked. You know, how much can we tell our American partners? Because they do not have open disclosure to the Americans. We've run into this in the past where the Ukrainians do one thing. The Americans say do the other. And you know, it is not completely open between the two. So the question that I'm hearing, hearing Kevin off a lot is how much can we tell the Americans if indeed their intelligence is not secure? It's just not a good look. As far as the American military saying that they're skeptical of any gains that Ukraine can make, well, the Ukrainians of course don't like hearing that. But they've been hearing it for a year. They've been hearing it for longer than a year. And they kind of shrug it off is, you know, well, they just, they don't know what we're capable of. And they don't understand that we're fighting for our existence. The existence, you know, the future of our children. And for countless generations down the road, I mean, this is, this is roughly 500 years in the making in many ways this war. So they're not terribly surprised that Western military leaders underestimate them. They certainly hope that the Russians keep underestimating them. And then lastly, I think they also use the Pentagon leaks to say, so you do know that we are running out of ammo. So you do know that we need many more, you know, one one and one five five millimeter shells. We need to show you because part of the leak indicated that we do know that there are these deficiencies. And so the Ukrainians have said, aha, you know it too. Now let's do something about it. So they've they've capitalized on it in some ways. I think those are the three most important salient points when it comes to the leaks. Is there a sense in a key of a film that some kind of climactic is approaching? A sense of sort of anticipation about this. You're much, much older. It's counteroffensive. Is that a buzz you feel on the street? Absolutely. 100%. There's a feeling of anxiety and waiting for the shoot to drop. I remember years ago, I interviewed a woman who worked at Bledchley Park and she was involved in the buildup to D day. And I kind of I kind of equate these two things because she said to me, this woman, Jean Doke would work at Bledchley cracking Nazi codes and also prepping for D day, we knew it was coming. We knew it was coming and we were so we were excited for it to happen. But we were terrified of what might go wrong and we were so very anxious about all the young men that were about to die. And I find a similarity here with the so offensive because this is an incredibly important counteroffensive of offensive, whatever you however you want to refer to it. There is a sense within Ukraine of boy, this better work. This we better not only do of course we want these military gains, but there is a there is a recognition that they have to show some results. Otherwise, their international partners might start to pray, which is the primary objective of Vladimir Putin. I mean, all along this thing he has been hoping to fracture the alliance supporting Ukraine. And so the Ukrainians know that haven't been given the support that they have been given for months and months now. It's time to deliver. And there's that and you know, obviously they want to liberate their country. So it is by and large and not just here in Kev, I was down in Zaporizha about a week ago. Very much a frontline city. I mean, that will be a state that is a staging. I saw it with my own two eyes. That's a staging area. You could see the mobilization happening. Well, I suspect we saw the tip of the iceberg of a very larger shaping operation. But you know, down there it was the even more palpable, the sense of like, okay, the you know what is about to hit the fan and boy, let's say it goes our way. Like everyone else, we've been discussing the battle for back moot for months now. It seems I saw on your vlog that you visited the front line there not long ago. Do you get the sense that the Ukrainians are determined to hold on to the city because frankly, they're killing so many Russians there. Why wouldn't they? And it's going to make it easier for them to break through somewhere else. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there's so much unpack and discuss about the the Bakmut salient. And I got to a town called Chasivjar, which is just the next town along the road after Bakmut, which the Ukrainians are using as a staging area. And then they're also firing outgoing artillery into Bakmut. And it's just most of the people have left. Not all. There's soldiers everywhere. I got to talk to some of them. They're mood. They're despite what they're going through. And look, it's tough. It's a month ago, it was mud and rain and cold. And these guys were coming off the trenches to get a hot meal to basically maybe get a couple of hours of good sleep. And then they would go back out into the trenches. This was really hard fighting. You could tell. These guys were battle hard. They'd been in activity. And again, I'm somebody who's been I've covered many conflicts. And I, well, I wouldn't say I'm not a soldier. So I don't have that perspective. But as a course, one of the who's covered many wars, I, you know, there's telltale things about the mental state, the morale, all that. There's no doubt in my mind that those soldiers, despite what they're going through, still are very much determined to make the Russians pay for every inch that they try to take away. And you're absolutely right for some reason. And people who've speculated about this and there's all sorts of different ideas about why the Russians are so determined to take buckmoot. Now, it might be because of its strategic location and the roadways that connect it with other places than the Donbass and the fear the Russians might have of being split, you know, if the Ukrainians are able to kind of break north and south, they're Donbass offensive. But at the end of the day, what it is is just a spot where they're just killing so many Russians. And the Russians have a term for this. And we do as well. Of course, we call it, you know, cannon fodder. It's important. It gives a sense of where the Russians come from in that they don't refer to as cannon fodder. They call it cannon meat. Meat. That's what they refer to their soldiers as. The Ukrainians have this sense again with a high morale. But also they have this sense of like, if this is the hill you want to die on, Russia, we are happy to accommodate you. I am aware that there were some internal struggles within the Ministry of Defense here in Ukraine, where Zaluzhni or Sirsky, the kind of commanding officers on the ground, there was a period, really. We're going to Zalinsky and saying, you know what, maybe we want to we want to fall back. That was the kind of discussion in the military groups here in Kiev. And apparently the consensus was made. No, we're going to hold here and we're going to make them pay for it. And that's apparently what they've been doing. But despite obviously some grumbling, soldiers with grumble. That's part of soldiering, I believe. But they know that they're going to have to kill more Russians. And so why not pin them down? And oddly enough, what drives me nuts about the Russian tactics is they don't change. This is Mariopol. Again, they pinned them down in the initial invasion in Mariopol. There were months and months of fighting those tragic awful visuals we saw coming out of Mariopol, the theater that was flattened, all these terrible things. But they got fixed there and they didn't they didn't keep mobile. The Russians didn't keep mobile. They got very static for some reason. And then just through soldiers that are for it's almost like they didn't learn their own lessons from Stalin grad. But for some reason they did and they're done it again in back boot. And you know, the Ukrainians are like, okay, you know, if this is where you want to die, this is where we'll kill you. We all know that the Russian attitude to death and to losses is very different from a kind of Western perspective, the amount of punishment that a military unit can soak up before it cracks. But from your knowledge, Phil, of the kind of Russian way of doing things, do you think the moment might arrive when the or the regular army people, let's leave Vagna to one side for the moment, might just say, look, I've had enough. We're out of here. I mean, historically it has happened in the 20th century. In the first world war, do you think that is a possible scenario? Yeah, I have said this in the past and it's kind of my go-to when I'm asked questions like that about Russia. And again, I was a, I lived in Russia. Speak very bad Russian. And I, you know, I have a little bit of knowledge in this area. And what I say about Russian history is that it's all, there are long periods where nothing happens, nothing happens, nothing happens. The power structure is the way it is, nothing happens, nothing happens. And then everything happens. It all happens at once. I mean, we saw, you know, of course you'd talk about the Bolshevik revolution, but you could also apply that to what happened in 1991, where there was this long period of stagnation of the Soviet Union. And then all of a sudden, I mean, if you were reading your tea leaves and maybe if you were deeply on the inside, but generally what happened with the Soviet Union was this long period of stagnation and oppression. And then finally, people said, no, we're not going to take this anymore. I think the possibility of that happening for Russian soldiers is real. I don't want to overstate it because, of course, I'm not on that side of the front lines. I'm on the Ukrainian side of front lines. I can tell you whether Ukrainian soldiers are in general terms of how they're functioning in their morale. But what we're hearing and what we're gleaming from the other side of the equation, the Russian side of the equation, there is already massive dissatisfaction with the way the war has been conducted. Of course, the Russians are drinking themselves. And I've seen evidence of the, I've seen direct evidence of their alcohol consumption. You know, this is a big problem, society within Russia. And when I've had Ukrainian soldiers or foreign fighters come back to me and show me photographs of Russian camps, base camps, and there are piles of vodka bottles, just enormous piles of vodka bottles. So there's already, I think, the seeds for some sort of, I don't want to overstate it. I don't want to say a route. I don't want to say a collapse. But there might be, maybe more analogous to the French in World War One and the issues that they had with desertion. That might be more applicable. But, you know, it's, it is not going well for them. Their leaders are using terrible tactics. Absolutely ridiculous. I mean, just in the 21st century, the tactics they're using are reminiscent of their 20th century tactics. Again, not being a soldier, but having studied war and having been at war a few times. I mean, they don't even have air superiority. I mean, the first thing we do in a NATO military, whatever NATO military, I mean, day one, you know, you get the skies and they don't have the skies. It's amazing to me. I've seen Sukhoi's Ukrainian Sukhoi's Ukrainian high into helicopters, Ukrainian, you know, anything flying and we're, what, 14 plus months into this thing. I mean, that's inconceivable to a NATO military. I mean, you take out command and control, and you control the skies. And the Russians seem to have just absolutely paid very little attention to that and have relied on Russian military doctrine because I've seen that as well in the past. And that is basically vast numbers of conscripts and artillery. Your armored core is, of course, it's respectable, but it's not woven into their military doctrine. That's why NATO has been training so hard with the Ukrainians to do combined arms. So that, and I've seen that working here in Ukraine where it's armor supported by, you know, infantry fighting vehicles that then dismount soldiers and they all work in conjunction with air and artillery and intelligence and signal intelligence and human intelligence and now the drone capacity, you know, they're just a better fighting for us. So it's a long way around for me to basically say, I don't know what the Russians are going to do when they come under the pressure of the counteroffensive. I think there's a possibility that they will route or rebel or say, I've had enough. But until that starts, I don't know, but I would rather take one Ukrainian soldier for 10 Russian soldiers. I'll tell you that. Well, that was very illuminating. Do join us in part two for the second part of Phil's interview. Welcome back. Well, this is what Phil had to say next. Can we switch directions just slightly and talk a little bit about what we've described or other people have described as the culture wars? I mean, I saw you have logged about the removal of the Orthodox monks from the monastery in near Kiev Phil. There's been a certain amount of criticism of this in the West as you acknowledged in that blog. So can you as succinctly as possible put it into a little bit of context for our listeners? Sure. I'll try to focus on brevity. But I will make one quick point in just in the last 24 or 36 hours or something. There was an announcement that the Russians exchanged, I think it was 28 Ukrainian soldiers for one Ukrainian Orthodox church pastor or priest. That tells you something. The UOC, the Ukrainian Orthodox church, is still beholden to the patriarch in Moscow, patriarch Karel, who was a former KGB agent. And it is well known within Ukraine that the UOC is just a fifth column pretending to be a church. And so that's why they kicked him out of the Pacharsk Lavra, which is this revered spot within Eastern Orthodoxy. Because basically they were stockpiling money, they were stockpiling propaganda, they were giving the aid and comfort to the enemy. And so why would you let them stay in the Lavra? They have that outright said that the UOC is an outlaw to religion, but they are highly skeptical of them. There are raids around the country and many of them have produced things. And also in addition to that, this goes back about, I think it was 2016 or 18, pardon me for not knowing the exact date, when the Ukrainians after my dawn went to Istanbul, where the ecumenical head of the Orthodox church exists. And they said, hey, we don't want to answer to Patriarch Karel. We want to have our own Patriarch because we are divorcing from Russia. And they were granted that. So there is the UOC, I always have to double check myself on this, the UOC, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and then the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. And that's the one that has a Kiev-based Patriarch. So look, I am very well aware of the propaganda that is used with surrounding this thing. Religion is not being shut down here by any stretch of imagination. They just celebrated Eid. Okay, it was officially recognized within the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense signed off by the President that every year the Ukrainian military will officially observe Eid as part of Ramadan. There are Muslim fighters in Ukrainian uniform, particularly Tatars from Crimea. And there's not five minutes walk from me. There's a central synagogue for the Jewish community here. And Zaluzni on Passover celebrated with the chief rabbi of Ukraine. The propaganda is so ham-fisted coming from the GRU because it's so easily debunked because you can see it. And it also pays, it also discredits this idea of fascism because fascism cannot exist in conjunction with pluralism. And this is a pluralistic society for reasons that go way back and are very really, really difficult to go into. But the UOC thing is, they're fifth columnist. They're not. It's not the religion. It's the fact that they're supporting the Russians. Well, the Russians are killing Ukrainians. Yeah, thanks for that illumination because it's a sort of murky subject. And as you say, it's sort of become part of the culture wars. It's something that the pro-Russian lobby seized on big time at this end. Can we talk a little bit about Zelensky? It seems from here that his grip on power is completely firm that there's very little visible internal opposition to him in the normal way that you get even in quite, you know, unified societies as in Britain and World War II. I mean, Churchill was came under a lot of pressure. There were votes of no confidence, etc. And while the war was raging, can you give us a little kind of idea of the internal politics as you see them, as you hear about them from your vantage point in Kiev? Well, not being Ukrainian myself and not speaking Ukrainian. I'm sure that it's more complicated than what I'm about to explain, you know, from my perspective, but living here and spending time with Ukrainians, including, you know, people who kind of have not an ardent hatred of Russia, they might have Russian relatives, they know all that kind of... So there's a... It's very complex. Ukraine is a very complex country. As I say, it's multicultural because it used to be a colony of Russia and other empires. So the multiculturalism is an integral to Ukrainians feelings and opinions and all the rest of it about their government. But there are those who are highly critical of Zelensky. We're highly critical of Zelensky before the war for a variety of reasons, most of them having to do with his relationships with different oligarchs and some, you know, high profile business deals that were done. Now, when the war started last February, a lot of that was stifled. And willingly, a lot of Ukraine, I have a very good, my very first fixer that I had in Ukraine. He's a lovely guy. He's hypercritical of Zelensky. And even he said to me, it's not... This is not the time. This is not the time. We will go back to politics after the war. We will... But now we need to be unified. And I will tell you that Zelensky's performance has been loaded domestically here. Of course, there are still criticism. Some of them do bubble up every now and then. But by and large, this country is so unified. I have never, ever experienced anything like it. Everybody is laser focused on one objective. And that is repelling the imperial interests of Russia and becoming a colonial slave state or a vassal state to Moscow again. And that consumes everybody's waking hours. I know people who are... If they're a chef, they worked to get food to the front lines. If they're an electrician, they're making sure that the lights are kept on. And they're loaded for it. Even when I was in Harkiv about two months ago, about three months ago, they were putting these propaganda posters up around Harkiv of these women cleaning the town square. And just saying, we're all in this together. So when it comes to the leadership, when it comes to Zelensky, they are unified behind him. I do not know how long that's going to last after the war ends. But right now, despite some grumbling here and there, for the most part, everybody recognizes that right now the enemy is the Russians and not internal within Ukraine. So turning to Russia for a second, Phil, what's your take on this bizarre past struggle? It's been ongoing between pre-Gojan and Wagner and the senior military figures in the Russian military. Like, show you go and grasp off. I mean, is this a classic case? Have you won one sort of relatively unsophisticated reading of this? Is this a classic case of Putin dividing and ruling? The sort of Hitler-like encouraging his subordinates to compete so that he retains the position as ultimate arbiter? Or is it just a little bit more chaotic and fluid than that? Well, no, I actually think it's, I wouldn't equate it to Hitler's general set. I would relate it to the Tsars and the Boyar class. Historically within Russia, there were the Boyars, the guys, the landowners and the elite, the aristocracy. And whenever oftentimes what would happen is the Tsar would come under pressure. But there's a tradition within Russia called, if the Tsar only knew. And it is a way to abrogate responsibility. It's not that Putin messed up the war. It's that his, the guys who he trusted, they're the ones that messed up because obviously the Tsar can't be at fault. That would call into question the entire thing. So what he does is he allows these guys, the second strat up below him, the Shogu's and the Grasimov's and the Pregozion and what Abu Kedirov to squabble amongst themselves. Now this does a couple of things for Putin. Again, it elevates him above the Hoy Polo and then the kind of the Boyar class fighting one another. It also allows him to solidify loyalty because whoever comes out of that scrape is going to be, you know, he's now your man sort of thing and he can scapegoat. So let's say Grasimov loses to Pregozion. Then Putin can say, it wasn't me. It wasn't our great Russian military. It was Grasimov who let us down or it could equally be Pregozion. It's just a function for Putin to elevate himself above the fray and then also find a scapegoat and also solidify his control because, you know, once you've won that fight, you're all in. You're all in. You are now part of the Kremlin power structure. So I think that's a lot of what's happening here. But obviously there's a lot of merceness in the Kremlin as well. Let's talk a little bit again about the counteroffensive, where it might take place. Fascinating reports over the last couple of days about this foothold that the Ukraine is a said-to-have now on the eastern bank of the Denepro River just below his side. Obviously, one way to look at this is a possible launch point for a counteroffensive aimed at severing the land reach to Crimea. You've already alluded to that. What have you heard about this? Are we now pretty confident that that is actually the case? The Kyrushan might be the launch point for the counteroffensive or indeed that they definitely are on the eastern bank and that it's a possible launch point. It could be multi-pronged, of course, this offensive. One thing I certainly know is that everybody raves about Volodymyr Zelensky as they should. He's been an amazing leader. He's been an international success. Also, he's been amazing in keeping his country and his people together and optimistic. But as much as we rave about Zelensky, we have to talk about the military command in Ukraine and they have lucked out with some absolutely amazing commanders. To start with Zelensky, Zelensky is this bigger-than-life guy. He's a military career, obviously a career military guy. I harken back to the offensive that was expected at the end of last summer. Everybody thought that they were going to go for a hair salon. That was the obvious objective. They let the Russians believe that that was where the offensive was going to be and then what they did was seize back Harkiv. A totally unexpected fate. It is analogous in my mind to what the Allied powers did when it was either Normandy or Kale. There's a loosely Eisenhower and the rest played their opponent like a fiddle. The Russians really thought it was going to be a hair salon because that does make sense. That is where the canal that feeds the water to Crimea is. Kershon has some issues with a Russian population but it was thought to be a malleable and a possible place where Ukraine could make advances. Indeed, they did once they wrapped up Harkiv. But that faint towards Harkiv took everybody by surprise and it was a heck of a thing to see. And I think we're going to see it again. I have stopped speculating. My friends and I and colleagues here in Ukraine and around the world will kind of, because that's what we do. We'll talk about where do you think it's going to be, how's it going to go. I've kind of stopped doing that because the loosely is going to do what's the loosely is going to do. He's got a battle plan. And in addition to that, we know that they are going over to Germany and gaming this out with the help of the Americans and other NATO leaders. They are playing out every scenario I am told. You know, like if A happens then B. If A happens and we don't want to go to B, let's go to D. If D doesn't work, we'll go all the way down to Z. Whatever it takes, but they game this out. And now in a quick addendum to all that when talking about the offensive is the NATO weapons are here. The striker, the strikers are here, the Brad Lee's are here. I see M-113s, a kind of older generation armored personnel carrier, but it still works and it still functions within that combined arms doctrine. I see M-113s all over the place. I mean, I go out to the Buck mood or I go out to Zapparruja. They're all over the place. These 113s. So, you know, things are coming, things are online. You know, more and more are coming. I think that the Ukrainian army has getting, they're getting all their ducks in a row because again, it comes back to what I said earlier. You cannot lose this offensive can out, go badly for the Ukrainians. It will set the pace for everything else. Whether this is going to be, you know, whether this war drags out into 2024 or, you know, God forbid more, or, you know, it's going to set the pace. It's going to set the way the international community responds to. Ukraine that is not on the defensive, but rather on the offensive and how Ukraine handles taking territory and holding territory. They have the advantage because it's their own country and they will be in essence liberating fellow Ukrainians. So, they won't have that problem, but the Russians have had. But at the end of the day, all of this combines into the importance for this counteroffensive to show real tangible successes. And whether or not that is from the planning of Zaluzni and the gaming it out with NATO, you know, military officers in Germany somewhere or, you know, whether or not that is the intensive training on new weapon systems that the Ukrainians have received or indeed their infrastructure and their prepping for this offensive. Whatever all of these elements are when they come together, boy, they better show results because the Ukrainians, they're not ignorant people. They're well aware of what is happening around the world and they're glad for the support, but they are aware that, you know, that could change. That support for the Ukrainians could diminish if they don't start to actually do something with these weapon systems. Well, apologies for this, but at the end of our call with Phil, the connection dropped. He is speaking to us from Kiev and the audio quality, unfortunately, diminished a bit, but we feel it's really important that we include it. So, sorry, for the reduced quality and what comes next. Let me just make a quick point and I take this opportunity because I really want to re-emphasize and push back against Russian propaganda. This is not a war against Nazis. This is not a war against NATO expansionism. NATO didn't expand. The countries that were liberated after the collapse of the former Soviet Union came running away from Moscow because they don't want to live under that kind of authoritarian system. And it's equally not about Naziism, even if there are far-right elements within Ukraine, which I would argue there are far more far-right elements internally within Russia. If Russia wants to combat Nazism, they should look in their own backyard. What this war is about in so many different ways is the end of Russian imperialism. This is the crown jewel in Russia's empire and it's a very strong part in their sense of self, of who they are. And the Ukrainians who have been abused for centuries have finally said, look, this has happened in the last, you know, 100 years plus, roughly a century. This is the third Ukrainian war of independence. And this is the one that has to stick. This has to be finished. This question of who controls the territory in Europe between the Baltic, the Adriatic, and the Black seas. It has been this destabilizing factor in European history for centuries and it has to end. This is the war that has to draw that question of who controls that triangle of territory to a close. The era of empire is over and it's essential that we support Ukraine. And Ukraine is fighting for nothing short of its sovereignty, its sense of self-determination. And they want to be a member of the Democratic Party of nations. So that is my diatribe there. That's my little soapbox moment saying, you know, we cannot lose our resolve. This is really important and the Ukrainian people are worth supported. We agree totally Phil. Thanks so much for coming on. It was great to hear your thoughts. Well, I have to say Patrick, I've been waiting quite a few weeks for someone to be talking in such an impassioned and optimistic way about Ukraine's chances in this war. And we certainly got that from Phil. I mean, he explained himself, of course, that he's emotionally invested in this. In a way, I suppose you might say Patrick as a journalist, you know, you need to kind of keep an Olympian detachment. But I'm fully with him on all of that. And it's just so interesting to hear someone right, you know, with a proper field for what's going on in Ukraine to talk about the determination of the Ukrainians on the one hand. And the fact that the Russians, frankly, are in serious danger of falling apart on the other. Yeah. Well, not on that question of journalistic detachment. It kind of depends on which war you're in. I mean, if you're in the fall cleanse war, you know, you want to, you're sorry to win, obviously not just with patriotic reasons, because you want to stay alive. I'm thinking all the things like the siege of Sarajevo, where everyone was basically all the journalists were basically on the side of the Bosnians, you know, they were kind of good guys. It was a mixed picture, but biologic is the service who were the aggressors and the Bosnians who were on the receive again. So yeah, again, you know, one that one sympathy is just naturally in those circumstances due tend to slide in one direction. Just on what Phil was saying, you know, very good here, that kind of buzz around town with an analogy with a build up to D-Day, which I thought was very apt and telling. Yeah. And also, you know, although, of course, it was, there was a lot of optimism and steely determination and everything else in his comments. There was also kind of proper sense of perspective, wasn't there? He talks, you know, very interestingly about the culture wars, the fact that basically, which I think we mentioned before, Patrick, that the, you know, the Russian Orthodox or at least the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, it reminded me a little bit of Monty Python the way they keep changing the titles around, but the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is really an agent of the Russian government. I mean, I don't think there's any doubt about that anymore. And therefore, the criticism is really misplaced. But also, he was very honest, I think, about Zalensky, not super popular when he came to power. There were some question marks about links with some dodgy characters, but basically the country is absolutely united around him at the moment. He's the right man in the right place. You know, he talks about the country being laser-focused on repelling Russia and preventing Ukraine ever becoming a slave state in the way that we can see Belarus has become. Yeah. Good to hear that the preparations are so thorough as well. I didn't know about this wargaming that's been going on at NATO headquarters, which sounds very promising, doesn't it? The way that this has been thought through, really, with every option being covered and weighed and measured. And of course, hopefully, this is put in a much superior position to the Russians. I'm really struck by his reference to the vodka bottles. I mean, that's an interesting thing. So, if the mountains of empty vodka bottles is climbing, then that's good news for Ukrainians. It wasn't an interesting parallel he used with the Russian power struggle, going back to the Tsars. This idea that the Tsars stands above everything, he lets the power struggle play out beneath him and the winner is then locked into being a creature of the Tsar. And yet the Tsar doesn't take responsibility for anything. It's a great historical parallel and I think it has real relevance in this case. Now, if we flip to the other side, so interesting, his talk about the Ukrainian military commanders who, frankly, haven't got the credit they deserve, from America or elsewhere, for actually the operations they've launched prior to this point, he talks about the extraordinary faints that was a little bit like D-Day when they took Karkiv or the Hugh Jairian Karkiv in the summer of last year and how that org as well, frankly, for what's to come. So, generally speaking, Patrick, it was a fascinating conversation, but fills me with a lot of confidence. Yeah, and Phil Marx, too, Phil, for staying in the course. I was very struck by what he said at the beginning, that for him, it was kind of fulfillment of a pledge. All those years ago, back in the Midan demonstrations that he would stay with the story, stick with the story, keep telling the world what's going on, which is what he's done for us brilliantly today. Thanks very much, Phil. Is it encouraging you to get out there and do the same thing? Patrick, are you happy carrying on with the podcast? We'll be there. Well, we're there sometime there, some of listeners. We're planning a trip, so we'll keep you posted on that one. In the meantime, do join us on Friday for the Friday episode when we'll be digging as usual into all the latest events and offering our thoughts and analysis. Goodbye.