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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6. Ukraine Strikes Back

6. Ukraine Strikes Back

Fri, 16 Sep 2022 01:00

In the wake of the massive Ukrainian breakthrough in the Kharkiv area, and the recapturing of vast swathes of Ukrainian territory, we hear from the former head of the British Army General Lord Dannatt, who has been closely following events in Ukraine.

Saul and Patrick also discuss what this all means going forward, as well as the alleged attempt on Putin's life.

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Hello and welcome to another episode of Battleground Ukraine with me, Saul David and Patrick Bishop. This week we're going to concentrate inevitably on the huge breakthrough by Ukrainian forces near Kharkiv and the recapture of more than 8,000 square kilometers of territory since the start of September. But what does all this mean? Is this the beginning of the end for Russia's brutal occupation of Southern Ukraine, the Donbass and the East, or even Crimea, or is it a significant but not necessarily game changing that realignment of the front lines before winter puts an end to the fighting on the battlefield and makes it more likely that Ukraine's less staunch allies feeling the pinch from high energy prices might start demanding a negotiated settlement? Who better to try to answer these questions than General Lord Dunnett, the former head of the British army who has been keeping a close eye on events in the Ukraine? Was there anything the West could have done differently to prevent the war in the Ukraine? You think did for example NATO and the EU miss an opportunity to forge closer links to Moscow at the end of the Cold War? Well there's no doubt in my mind that had NATO and the West agreed that Ukraine could become a NATO member then the collective responsibility, the collective defense arrangements provided by Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty would have deterred Vladimir Putin from attacking Ukraine in the first place. But for I think understandable and very good reasons NATO hesitated about allowing Ukraine to join. I think it was felt because wisdom of hindsight is a wonderful thing. I think it was felt that allowing Ukraine to join NATO would be a provocation to Putin that was unacceptable. Well, Ukraine didn't join NATO, it didn't actually stop Putin doing what is done. So I think I come back to my start point, had we taken a risk and allowed Ukraine to join NATO? I don't think this war would be happening now. Okay, it seems extraordinary to anyone observing this from the sidelines that given that Putin was gaining a lot of his regional goals without launching a full scale invasion of Ukraine, that he did that. Have you got any kind of insight into why he took that decision when, as I say, he was getting the destabilization of Ukraine, the prevention of it becoming part of a NATO anyway? I think the rational thing would have been for him not to have invaded. During the course of last winter, when he was building up a force of about 150,000 troops, which we assumed were fairly well trained, fairly well equipped, very well motivated. He was intimidating, he was bullying, he was threatening, and that meant so a lot of Western politicians beat a path to his door because they wanted to talk to him. So that logical thing for him to have done would have been not to invade, but to have kept that force there threatening, and he might have been able to make rather more progress. Now, he was talking in terms of wanting to roll back NATO's influence. He seemed to suggest that former Eastern Communist countries, such as Poland and the Baltic states, might have their ties with NATO loosened or indeed leave NATO, I think that's most improbable. But I think the main point is that when he had a force on the border of Ukraine threatening, he was in quite a strong position. Logically, that's where he should have stopped. It seemed irrational to the point of almost being crazy that he then decided to attack. I suppose having said that, it was not crazy because Hitler man is not crazy. He is cool calculating and deliberate. But where he made a huge miscalculation was believing that his military was capable of making a lightning strike on Kiev and affecting regime change, and that other functions of his state had so undermined the Ukrainian state that along with his military attacking the internals of Ukrainian government, the Ukrainian government, where would have collapsed, and he would have achieved his aim pretty quickly. That was a huge miscalculation. The military were incompetent. We can come back to that. I think that a number of the covert operations that the FSB and others have been carrying out were poorly done. We will come back to the performance of the Russian military in a moment. If we go back 10 years or so, Richard to your own time as head of the British Army, was there, again with the benefit of hindsight, an overinflated sense of Russia's military capability even at that point? During the years of the Cold War, we had a very healthy respect for the Soviet Army, Warsaw Pact Forces. We took their capabilities seriously, as we took our deterrent and defensive precautions seriously. I think there was a period of revaluation after the end of the Cold War, when we began to think twice about just how ready they were and how capable they were. In autumn 2008, while I was chief of the General Staff, we ran a major exercise, a staff ride, if you like, for the senior end of the Army, senior generals, whatever. Two of our guest speakers were senior Ukrainian generals, who had been very much part of the wider Warsaw Pact Forces during the Cold War. It was very interesting talking to them that they were not as ready and as capable and as well equipped and prepared as we had thought they were. In tandem with that, as the Cold War ended, Russia's economy collapsed, their military was hugely scaled down. I think we perfectly reasonably felt that a conventional threat from Russia was much diminished. Over the last five to ten years, of course we have noticed Putin starting to modernize and increase the capability. Such that over the last three or four years, people have been talking quite seriously and concernededly about a resurgent Russia with having a greater capability. It's that regrown capability. I think we probably overestimated. We've talked about Russia having a fourth generation main battle tank. Well, the T14 armata tank appears to be a very problematic tank. It's hardly appeared on the battlefield at all. So I think it's technically too experimental and hasn't appeared. So I think we probably did overestimate the revived revitalized capability of the Russian military. And we can come back to it later. As the events turned out, they were woeful in their performance. Well, let's talk a little bit about why you think they were so woeful. From the, as you say, the initial lightning strike attempted lightning strike on Kiev in those early days of the invasion in February, 2022, pretty much nothing has gone right for the Russians apart from gains in the Donbass. Why might this be so rich? You do think? Well, let's focus on that failed strike from Belarus to Kiev. Well, first of all, the planning was really poor. Commander control was really poor. There was no military overall commander for the various thrusts. I have a on good authority that the various army groups that took part in that operation were effectively under the direct command of Vladimir Putin himself. So there was no operational level, no campaign level overall military commander. So coordination was very poor right from the start. They failed to gain air superiority. Once they started to move south, they failed to integrate air and land capability. Even more importantly than that, they had briefed their soldiers that they were going into Ukraine as peacekeepers and as liberators. The soldiers had a mentality that this was a kind of administrative move to occupy a country that where they would be welcomed. Also bear in mind many of their soldiers have spent the whole winter on the border training in the cold weather and didn't really have a mindset that they were going on operations. It's sad truth to tell, but when you're on exercise, you don't take things quite as seriously as when you're preparing for war. So the silly things like checking the tar pressures, checking the oil level in the vehicle or the rest of it, those things weren't really done. So when they attacked, the soldiers had the wrong mindset. I've been really poorly briefed. There was a failure of commander control, failure to integrate air and land. But then there were other things that began to screw them up. Their communications on the battlefield were highly ill disciplined. They resorted far too much to the mobile telephone network. So they were subject to intercept, which is why a lot of senior officers got targeted and killed fairly early on. Their logistic resupply was very much predicated on the Belarus to Ukraine railway system. It happened that the Belarusian railway workers didn't agree with what was going on. So they screwed up their own railway system such that logistics had to all go down that single highway from Belarus to Kiev, which caused after a number of attacks by the Ukrainians, that enormous traffic jam that became a hugely attractive target for whatever air Ukrainians had or artillery that they had or indeed determined men stalking from the woods and the forests and picking people off in ambush. So whichever way you looked at it, the performance of the Russians for every angle was woeful. And now we know what we know about their level of incompetence. It is therefore not surprising that they decided to end that operation, whose intention was a lightning strike for regime change and that failed. Meanwhile, they had to attack up from Crimea and had some success towards Mariapol. They were determined to try and achieve this land corridor from Crimea through to Russia proper through the Donbass, which they eventually achieved. But the Ukrainians holding out in Mariapol in particular tied down a lot of Russian troops, used up a lot of Russian energy, ammunition and time, which meant that Putin had to then switch to a much reduced operational objective, which was securing the two Donbass provinces of Donetsk and Luhans. And they endeavoured to do that in a pretty old fashioned low tech steam rollering way, standing off as far as they could using mass artillery and then only following up with their ground troops when they felt really there wasn't going to be much opposition. And for a while, they ground their way forward and have been pretty successful in capturing one of those two provinces in a fair chunk of the other. And that was where, come sort of May, June, July, the war was running out of steam and grinding to a halt. The Russians were always going to continue to make some success. But when the West began to respond to Zelensky's cries for high tech artillery, endless ammunition, training of their people, the balance of advantage began to shift. And that's what we're seeing now, which we can come back to in a moment, if you like. Yeah, so more generally, I mean, how significant do you think the NATO support for the Ukrainians being? Because we're not just talking about since the start of this invasion. We're talking about a lot of training, a lot of assistance since the 2014 war, the loss of Crimea for Ukraine and of course the fighting in the Donbass. So generally speaking, did that make a big difference to the ability of the Ukrainians even to withstand the initial incursion by Russia, do you think? Well, going back 10, 15 years, well, before 2014, we in the UK, and I think although NATO countries as well, but just keep it far the UK is concerned, we had begun to engage rather more with Ukraine. I visited Ukraine on the Ukrainian army in late 2008, early 2009, and frankly, it was pretty appalled by what I found. No names, no pictorial, but my opposite number was a complete drunk. And frankly, we had a pretty negative view of them and their capability. 2014 changed that up to a degree, and the Western leaders made quite a fuss about the fact that Russia had taken over Crimea. And we began a program of assistance and training the Ukrainians, but you know, we were fairly halfhearted about it, and why were we halfhearted? Because I think it was, although it was an outrage to Ukraine's territorial sovereignty, there was a bit of a feeling in the back of Western policy makers minds. Well, actually Crimea is really always Russian, isn't it? When Khrushchev was the Soviet leader, albeit he was a Ukrainian, he said that Crimea would always be part of the Soviet Union, Stoke, Brackets, Russia. And then you think back in history, in the 1850s, the British and the French were fighting the Russians where in Crimea. And why was it in Crimea because it was Russian? Now I know it was involved Turkey and all the rest of it and access to the high seas and so on and so forth. But I think there was a bit of a feeling was, well, it's wrong that they've done it, but actually, well, Crimea has always been a Russian, really, hasn't it? So I think we were fairly halfhearted about the support we were giving to Ukraine. That said, you know, the Brackets we had training teams there and we undoubtedly did help them improve their military capability. But it was only really from sort of 24th of every onwards that actually we, everyone said this is really serious. And again, I think give credit to the UK, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss, as far as Secretary, we very much got in there pretty quickly. And in the early days when it was defending against Russian armoured attack, I think the N law and attack systems that we gave them were significantly useful. They became less useful later on when it became a standoff or great length focusing on on mass artillery. But I think the real game changer was when the United States seriously got engaged. I mean, when Uncle Sam puts his mind to something that changes, that changes things. And Joe Biden clearly decided that it was not in NATO's interest. It was not in the West's interest. It was not in the interests of European security. And by extension, America's involvement with European security, he decided big time the Americans really needed support the Ukrainians. And that's when we've seen the high mars coming in, masses of artillery, masses of other equipment. And I think couple that with training programmes. I mean, there have been hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers in the UK, trainings become decent combat infantrymen, put all those things together. It has actually meant that whereas on the one hand, Russian military capability has been declining, Ukraine's military capability has been increasing. Now, there's an imbalance in population size. I mean, what was it? 45, 50 million Ukrainians, 145, 150 million Russians. But at 150 million Russians, I've spread right across that huge, ungovernable chunk of the world that is Russia. So probably numerically in growth terms, they're actually probably weighing off each other. But with the military capability of the West, particularly America, I can't stress that enough, particularly America. Now, weighing in very heavily on the Ukrainian side, it has changed the balance. And we're seeing this change now coming to fruition on the battlefield. Question, how long can it go on and how much further can it go? Well, we come to that in a minute. And we'll also come to the specifics of the recent counteroffensive that maybe a game changer, I'll be interested in your opinion on that Richard. But some comments made in the early stages of the war by former American generals along the lines of this is the best thing, or this could be the best thing that's happened to NATO for a long time because it's going to shake up the need for everyone to pull their weight. And it's going to make people realize there are proper threats that are still coming from the east and other parts of the world. And it's going to lead to a properly funded United NATO. Do you agree with that opinion? Well, the reality of a land war in Europe, inevitably it was going to make NATO sit up. And strategically there have been a number of changes, not the least of which decisions by Sweden and Finland that they want to join NATO. That's a significant expansion of NATO capability and NATO responsibility and an extension of Article 5 responsibilities. There has been a stated significant change within Germany's outlook. Although I think what Chancellor Schultz said and what actually is happening, there's a bit of a gap there. But just look at the statistics, Germany 1.4% of GDP being spent on defence and now they pledge to spend 2% up to the NATO target. That actually in sort of Euro terms is a huge increase if they actually do it. So strategically quite a lot of things have changed in NATO's favour. But then of course, you have to go beyond that to look at Russia. Well, clearly Putin's got a bloody nose. He's not going to win in simplistic terms in Ukraine. Is he going to stay in power? Probably. So what is his attitude then going to be towards go back to his earlier statements about other former communist countries with a common border with Russia, Poland, the Baltic States, Finland and Sweden all come to mind. So it actually puts a greater emphasis on significant credible forward deterrent deployments by NATO nations to actually make sure that he can't do anything of an unwise nature or adventurous nature again. And this of course plays into individual countries decision making processes. And as far as United Kingdom is concerned, when Boris Johnson was to a Prime Minister, he was talking about an increased UK defence spending about to turn 1.5% by the end of the decay. Liz trusts probably for campaign reasons, but now she's a little hoist by that particular target is now tied to 3% of GDP by the end of the decay. And frankly, we've got to hold her to that in terms of the UK Armed Forces, but also in terms of the UK's contribution to NATO and as an example, to others that to take this seriously. And I would say this is a former head of the army. But the integrated review in the UK that was published in March last year had this much vented tilt towards the Indo Pacific, giving us a pretty much maritime and air heavy defence posture. The army has been the poor cousin really since 2010. I mean, in my day, we were fighting two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still had to fight tooth and nail for the resources we needed. But frankly, once those operations were effectively over, the army has been pillaged rotten, savings taken by reducing our manpower to put money into the equipment program, large enough for the maritime and the air programs. So the increased defence spending now on the UK's capability significantly has got to go into the army. And narrowly, the planned cuts to the size of the army must be stopped, probably reversed. Maybe the army increased in size somewhat. The programs where only have 148 modernised Challengers, three tanks, is woefully inadequate. The decision to take the warrior infantry fighting vehicle, which is a tracked vehicle out of service, must be reversed. You can't have tank maneuvering with tracks on a battlefield and the boxer wheeled on a personnel carrier trying but failing to keep up with it. So there's a whole bunch of things. And of course, what this war has shown us amongst many other things is the dominance of artillery on the battlefield. Well, in the UK, we do not have enough artillery. We do not have enough rocket or two artillery and we don't have enough air defence artillery. So there's a whole range of things there whereby the army's capability has got to be increased in equipment terms, but numerically, if we're going to continue with these forward deployments on extended bases, numerically, we've got to be increased as well. So these are all consequences for individual countries and for NATO collectively. Okay, and returning to the Ukraine war for a moment, historians like me, while we'll be looking at in 20 or 30 years time, probably Richard, I think, while we'll be looking at the initial rationing version as how not to do it, we might also be lauding the Ukrainians in their recent counteroffensive and how actually to make extraordinary gains. What do you think has underpinned all of this? You talked a little bit about the equipment the West was providing. We've got to give a little bit of credit to the Ukrainians too, don't we, for this really astonishing turnaround in their fortunes. Well, what we have seen is an operational level surprise. We've been focusing on for the last four, six, eight weeks, noting that the Ukrainians capability has been increasing as a result of Western weapons. We've been focusing on the south and the counteroffensive around Kerson, believing it to be very important in its own right, believing Kerson to be the gateway to Crimea, and the emphasis was very much on what the Ukrainians going to achieve in that area in the south. We've got a much talk about the Deningpro River and some of the Russian forces being trapped on the wrong side of it. A lot of focus on Kerson. Their intention all the way along was to deploy their increased capable forces in the Kharkiv area in the north, and they've actually pulled off an operational level of surprise. It's had everybody, including the Russians, thinking the counteroffensive is going to come in the south. Some of the better Russian troops were taken out of the Donbass area and moved to Kerson area when, in fact, they struck in the north. I think this is a very clever operational level of maneuver. When I say operational level, you know, exactly what I mean. We like to talk about the strategic, the operational and the tactical. The tactical battles are going along. We know we understand the strategy, but what was been missing here are two, is actually joined up campaigns at the operational level. This is what we're seeing. Now, if we're going to give credit where it's due, we say, well, this is brilliantly planned by the Ukrainian general staff question. I don't know the answer to my own question. Is this all their own work? Or is there the hidden hand of Fort Leavenworth in there as well? I go back to OpStorm in Bosnia in 1995, which was a sequence of six or seven very carefully, cleverly constructed operations by the Bosnian and Croat troops, which effectively defeated the Bosnian Serbs. And I have no doubt at all, because I've studied it quite carefully, that contracted military officers who understand operational art had designed that campaign plan. And if the Americans are giving that kind of support in 1995, why aren't they giving that kind of support to Ukraine now? I don't want to belittle the Ukrainian's capability, but I think there's been such a clever operational level coup that I think that there is some more educated hand in the glove there. Yeah, and you refer to Fort Leavenworth, you mean, of course, the US staff college or staff college type training that senior American officers get. I couldn't agree more with you. Of course, it's very politically sensitive, so we won't be hearing any confirmation of that all denialized respect. So moving forward, Richard, is this a real opportunity for the Ukrainians to effectively win a victory in this war? That means to get back most, if not all of their territory? Or is this just another setback for Russia? Will this settle down particularly with winter coming into a long drawn out conflict? How do you see this playing out? I think the next few days and few weeks are really critical. And if what is happening on the ground is so disruptive and so panic inducing and chaos inducing amongst the Russians, that frankly, the residual Russian army loses the will to fight, then we could see the pack of cards going quite quickly. I mean, the fact that the Ukrainian advance, Kapians and Izium, significant logistic hubs, so as a historian, go back to the German Spring Offensive in 1918. If the Germans had captured Amir, which was the British hub, then probably they would have swept the B.E.F. after four years of fighting back into the channel. They didn't capture Amir, which was that critical hub. But the Ukrainians have captured Kapians and Izium. Base hospitals, doctors, nurses are fleeing. Amir, this is being destroyed. I mean, there is chaos and panic going on at the present moment. If the Ukrainians are able to exploit that, we could see a really significant change in fortune. If however, they've shot their bolt for the time being, or the Ukrainians have shot their bolt for the time being, and allow the Russians to recover, then we may see this thing going back into the deep freeze, particularly during winter. And then we'll have to see what happens in the spring next year. My hope is that actually the momentum that's been created will continue. My fear is that it won't. And what we're also seeing is the Russians resulting to their very blunt instrument type tactics of sharing a long range, trying to destroy critical national infrastructure in Ukraine. The power cuts around Karkiv and all the rest of it as a result of the power stations being hit. We're going to see more of this. The Russians are losing big time on the battlefield at the present moment. Putin has not in his own mind lost overall. So he's stretching around, he's stretching around destroying infrastructure. And then away from the battlefield and go back to the conversations of a week or two ago, he's actually also fighting this very heavily on the economic front. The cost of living crisis, the energy crisis, a lot of that's induced as a counter reaction to Western sanctions on Russia. And he's very much hoping that less determined European countries will not have the stomach for a long cold winter and might decide to start to argue to loosen sanctions to get their energy flowing again. And frankly, we undermine ourselves because we haven't got the courage to hang in over a long cold winter. I mean, have you noticed any weakening of resolve on the western side? Yes, it's been the fear among media commentators for a fair while now. And analysts, of course, that that might be the case as you've just put it. It's undoubtedly one of Putin's aims. And have you noticed any weakening of resolve on the one hand? And on the other hand, how far can the West, can NATO go in its support for Ukraine at this vital moment? Well, on your first question, I think we just have to watch and see what other countries do. I mean, Germany, which has, here the two, relied so heavily on Russian gas and oil, is frantically trying to find alternative sources of its power. And I think it's making quite good progress as far as that's concerned. And with Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2, just not happening at the present moment, they've got to go elsewhere. So I think Germany, and what Germany does is the bill whether as far as this is concerned. Other countries like France are looking at this of nuclear capability, the power generation and so on and so forth. Hungary, of course, is a little joker in the pack and all ban is sort of sitting on the fence really, seeing which way it's going to go. So I think we just have to watch and wait to see what does happen on the economic front. And so what was your second question? Well, the second question is how far should the West go in terms of its military support for Ukraine? Well, I think we should go as far as we possibly can. Of course, the worry is that Putin might lash out and go nuclear. But will he really? I mean, we said it was irrational to attack in February, and you might have described it at the time as being crazy. I don't think it's crazy because I think Putin is calculating, I think he is rational. And he must understand just as in the days of the Cold War that both sides, Russia and the West have massive nuclear capability and any use by Russia, even of a limited nuclear weapon, will attract almost instant response and probably a counter response and a further response. And then we are into uncharted territory, which could be annihilitical. Does that word actually exist? You've coined it, really. Can we just get annihilational by both sides? And actually, I think that he's sufficiently rational to realize that actually there's not a good option. I think the other thing we have to remember too is that he doesn't just sit at his desk with a red button and think I'm going to push one. Even the Russian nuclear fire and chain has to go through three or four different decision processes and various people have to consciously do something to enable it to happen. And what has to ask whether other rational people in the Russian nuclear fire and chain might actually say, this is madness. So I think we can't discount the nuclear threat, but I think it remains manageable and low. So I think the West can afford to continue to really, really support Ukraine. I don't think we have any alternative actually, because Ukrainians are fighting the sort of values that we hold dear. So we really can't see them go under. Month or so ago, I was routinely saying the world might say that the Russians have got to leave Ukraine. The Russians will never voluntarily leave Ukraine. The West will not mount a sort of Kuwait style coalition operation to throw them out. And thirdly, I don't believe the Ukrainians will ever be strong enough to throw them out themselves. The first two of those three points I still believe, the second one I've now got my doubts, because I think Ukraine is beginning to show that it might be able to significantly throw the Russians out. If my three premises were correct a month or so ago, then I can see no alternative other than for Ukrainians to have to accept that they've lost Crimea, they've lost the Donbass provinces, about 20% of their territory. And that's where the thing would go into the deep freeze permanently. And negotiations will start on trying to work out a new normal with 20% of sovereign Ukrainian territory being Russian occupied. I said that quite publicly in a couple of broadcasts, got panned on social media for being sort of an appeaser or rewarding the aggressor. But frankly at that stage I really couldn't see an alternative. I do actually now, because I think that Western support and Western know how, but actually that fought level with potential intervention, is such that Ukrainian attacks can be so damaging to the Russians that the Russian army's will to continue just might collapse. And final question Richard, of course the crystal ball has to come out again as it always does, whether in the middle of a war as opposed to looking back, which is my normal job. Can you imagine a scenario given that you say one of those three crucial elements has changed now that not only does Ukraine recover its lost territories in the east and south, but it also recovers the Crimea too? I think it is known within the realms of possibility. I think the long range attacks on the sake airbase and crime air of four or five six weeks ago really shook the Russians. To this day I don't actually know how the Ukrainians did that. I think well, attackums, which is the very long range missile system, the Americans specifically did not give to the Ukrainians. And unless Joe Biden has spoken with Fort Tang, then I don't think it was attackums because the Ukrainians haven't got them. Hamas doesn't have that range. I think what is possible is that the Ukrainians being clever people found a way of fitting some of them, MiG 29s, with harms missiles and they were able to fly their aircraft close enough to launch off the missiles, which are essentially anti aircraft defence attacking missiles and they honed in inevitably on targets around that large airfield. The point is that the Russians realized that Crimea is not sacrosanct, that Crimea is part of the extended battlefield and they made a side that actually it's not worth the candle. So I think all possibilities of the Ukrainians recovering Donbass and the Ukrainians recovering Crimea, that I think that is possible. Whether it's likely, I don't know, we'll know that in a few years time. But I think it's become possible. We have to wait and see him, afraid so. Well, that was General Lord Danut giving us a lot to think about. And from my point of view, I find it very refreshing to hear a senior military man of Mittely may have gotten his previous analysis wrong and that very encouragingly with enough NATO support, Ukraine he thinks now is capable of winning this war. Join us in part two when we'll consider this in more detail and look at the very latest developments. Welcome back. In part one, we heard from General Lord Danut, the former head of the British Army, who made a number of telling observations about the origins of the war in Ukraine, mistakes that were made and what might happen next. And I think the standout comment from me was his suggestion which seems to have been confirmed by other reports now that part of the reason for the Ukrainian operational success, which of course was a fainting the South to produce a breakthrough in the North, was down to possible US involvement. He talked about the fingerprints of Fort Levenworth, the US Army's command and General Staff College being all over this plan in terms of planning and staff work. And you could say on the one hand, well that's taking away a bit of the credit from the Ukrainians. But on the other hand, it means that the Americans are playing a full and central role in this and it may not just be the Americans either. Yeah, I mean to give credit where it's due to the Ukrainian commanders on the ground, a lot of that doctrine that they would be adopting is the idea that you allow local decisions to be made by local commanders right down to kind of an NCO level. And what seems to have happened is that when they found that they weren't meeting any significant resistance, they basically decided just to go hell for leather and perhaps sees much more territory than had been in the original plan. Anyway, part of that plan was a disinformation campaign which suggested that all the effort was in the Count Great Counter, much heralded counter offensive, was going to be in the South, in the Kerson area. Now we saw, we have to admit, were among those duped pilots lined. But so were the Russians too. So we were in good company there. I think it's fair to say Patrick, we're happy, we're willing dupes on this. And we never suspected for a second, of course, that when we were speaking to our man in charge of communications and digging out intelligence from the Russians, eavesdropping on them, that actually he was, it was all part of the plan. Let's talk to as many people. And the Russians really are going to begin to think that the main effort was in the South. Yeah. Now, coming back to Danette, he was brave enough to admit that he might have been wrong with his earlier assessment that the war was bound to end in a negotiated settlement. And the perpetual loss of big chunks of Ukrainian territory. Again, this is pretty much the received wisdom of only a couple of weeks ago or 10 days ago. So that was what all the smart money was on. But he's now saying that, you know, a battlefield victory is possible for Ukraine and the recovery of the Donbass. And maybe even Crimea itself. It does strike me that Crimea would be politically a bit more of a difficult one to sell. We're all, I mean, by and large world opinions on the side of the Ukrainians. But I think when you get to Crimea, as he said, in the minds of some people not that they perhaps thought about it very deeply, they do think, well, maybe Crimea is Russia. It might be propaganda terms a bit more tricky that one. Well, it's an extraordinary turnaround, though, Patrick. You have to say, I mean, he's been a a leading commentator on the war since the start. And for him to now say that it's possible for the Ukrainians to win this war and not only get to a status quo antebellum, that is the situation pre the invasion in February, but actually to recover Crimea. I mean, that really is something. And it tells you that this is not only a stunning victory. We know that, but it may be a game changing victory as well. I was struck by his optimism on the question of where does Putin go next to the obvious thought being, well, if he really is cornered, then he may actually go up across the nuclear threshold and start deploy at least one tactical nuke on the battlefield. No, he's not a madman. He's rational and calculating. Well, I think these sort of judgments don't really help us very much. Do they? I think he's shown that he did say that he is capable of a very irrational act such as invading Ukraine. People are blaming it on 40 intelligence as a former intelligence officer, chief of the KGB slash FSP. He should know just how how kind of flaky a lot of intelligence is. So I don't I'm afraid I don't buy the idea that he's this coldly calculating person that nine times out of 10 gets things right. I think he's he is capable of doing the unthinkable. So let's hope I'm wrong and Danette is right. I'm a bit more sangrid and I have to say and I'm more in Danette's camp on this one, Patrick. I think his assessment of what Putin was trying to do at the beginning of the war. He originally said the reaction was an irrational one because he was getting a lot of what he wanted in terms of destabilizing Ukraine and making sure it kept out of the clutches of NATO without invading. But the point about events like this is that they always look silly afterwards. He was clearly being told erroneously of course by intelligence and maybe his military too that it would be a short campaign that he would be able to decapitate the Kiev regime and therefore present the world effectively with a with a bloodless victory, almost bloodless victory and a fate of complete. So for him to believe that doesn't mean he behaved irrationally, it looks irrational after the event. So I'm more sangrid. I don't think there's any win for Putin in trying to use either weapons of mass destruction in the form of chemical warfare or nuclear weapons. But you know that's my cold cow collated view on this. I think he's leveraged them very well to blackmail the West up till now and all the signs are frankly coming out of the European capitals but also the US that they're no longer prepared to be blackmailed. And then the latest news of course in the Americans is that they are in this for the long haul and they are beginning to ramp up even further the military support they're prepared to give Ukraine. And America of course is the key to all of this because we can talk about our contribution. We can talk about the rest of Europe's contribution but frankly it pales in comparison to the amount of military hardware and know how that the Americans can put on the table. Okay well let's talk about the scale of the Russian defeat because that is exactly what it was. It was a route. They originally came claimed of course from the Kremlin that this was an orderly withdrawal. That fiction didn't last very long and indeed they're now openly talking on state media about it being a defeat and trying to apportion blame for it. Well come on to that a bit later on this is a very interesting development but just look at those pictures. Incredible huge numbers of vehicles, abandoned munitions scattered around personal possessions. It really was like the kind of Murray Celeste with their meals interrupted halfway through as the soldiers took to their heels. Proceeded it must be said by their officers who seemed to have shown no leadership or loyalty to their men at all. I think we were talking earlier to sort about that bit of footage on social media showing a Russian tank with infantry stuck all over it, careering in panic along the road and then crashing into a tree. So this is this is army whose morale is it is absolutely a rock bottom. Can you think of a parallel that came to mind when you're looking at that? Well two immediately spring to mind. I have to say Patrick. I mean the first is the Ludendorff offensive in 1918 when interesting enough the British army collapses in very short order. This is the famous last throw of the dice for the Germans in the First World War when they launch a series of offensive but it's the first offensive operation Michael that creates not only the first breakthrough into enemy lines of the First World War because of course that had happened many times before but the breakouts. Huge chunk of territory taken and a real danger that the British were going to be knocked out of the war and you say to yourself because there's this theory among military theorists in recent years of military historians that the British army was on a great learning curve in the First World War and it actually got to a place where it was pretty effective by 1918 but it was also low on morale having been in the trenches for of course many years and in many instances you can always tell a broken army when the prisoner of war figures are much much higher than the general casualties and that's exactly what happened on the first day of the so called Michael offensive on the 21st of March 1918 but also brings to mind frankly and I think this is an even better comparison the collapse of Marshall Graziani's Italian army in North Africa in 1940 to 1941 when it's attacked by a much smaller British and Commonwealth force commanded by General Wavel and completely destroyed and forced all the way back from Egypt into Libya and that was a catastrophic defeat that showed and here's the interesting parallel that the the vaunted Italian army of Mussolini was just that they had big did up they'd pretended it was something amazing there were all these newsreels shots of tanks and artillery and planes and it was a paper tiger just frankly as the Russian army has been shown to be that's right I mean don't know if it's talking about the way that we have consistently got it wrong our assessment of just how much of a threat the Russian army poses it's now looking at mile wide and an inch deep and I was very struck by those images of acres of abandoned tanks armored vehicles supply trucks and all the rest of it all bearing that zed sign which we all remember from the beginning of the conflict he looked very menacing and ominous and now that dourbed on the front of these abandoned vehicles it's beginning to look very much like hubris on the scale of the Ukrainian victory okay it's not an overall victory but it's a very significant change in the Ukrainians battlefield fortunes what the land they've taken the territory they've taken it's vast but it's also strategically significant the town of Isian which was the second big one to four was a fortified rear base it was home to logistics dumps it sits on a rail junction that controls the flow supplies south to the vital curse on area where the second prong of the counteroffensive is taking place it may have been disinformation but there is real fighting going on there and and territory is being recaptured but I think fundamentally beyond that it will have a devastating effect on troop morale with soldiers flooding into the Donbass area the Russian controlled area carrying their tails of woe I was very interested to read a report that the mobile phone networks in Lukansk have been shut down let's presumably to stop the fleeing troops from sending defeatist messages back home yeah and we're going to have to wait and see of course which is why we ask the question to general down it is so as to what might happen next I mean to see whether this counteroffensive has run its course and indeed the one in the south because there are just the first indications that the Ukrainians are beginning to make ground there as well so of course we've depicted it now Patrick very modestly allowing ourselves to be the willing juke as we said at the beginning of the show but maybe the one in the south wasn't just a faint maybe it was preparing the ground you know you think of it like a boxer you jab with the first fist you punch with the second it's not quite a knockout blow and then you come back with the original fist so is that what is that what's going on here or and this of course is the other fear will general winter do its work I mean general winters work very effectively for the Russians in the past as we know against the Germans in 1941 42 43 but will general winter actually do the business for the Ukrainians this time in other words will the of course it was slowed down the battlefield but will it degrade the Russian capability to fight these guys have been on exercise on the Ukrainian border since the end of last year and they may not be prepared to spend another winter in the trenches yeah and I think that's absolutely right 1812 Nipelians Glondar may froze to death on the threshold of Moscow on the on the approaches to Moscow and then on the way back and in 1941 of course the Battle of Moscow it made life very difficult for the Germans very similar scenario actually this was meant to be a quick victory and it turned into a long drawn out battle from the autumn of 41 right through to the spring of 42 and it it was a defeat for the Germans so there's a bit of a precedent there generally speaking Putin whichever way you look at it he's in a very tight spot just in broad terms in terms of the assets that both sides have technologically speaking thanks to largely to the Americans and to a lesser degree arson and others in Europe the Ukrainians have got the old turkey of course is a big player there with the with the drones but technically speaking they've got the edge now the Russians can't upgrade they they have got some modern kit we heard from Danis about the the new tank which turns out to have so many problems that it's pretty much undployable but even if they if they were trying to buy kit in it's too late no one's going to sell to them because of their the sanctions regime and so they're reduced as we've seen to buying having to go to pariah states like North Korea and Iran and Iranian drones have been found on the battlefield to get new supplies so that doesn't look like a way out of the difficulty so they're thrown back on on their one the historic military resource which is human beings they've got to rely on numbers the vast numbers that they potentially they have at their disposal but that's going to be very hard for all sorts of reasons and the basic one is that not many people in Russia actually want to go and fight for it so statistic that I came across the other day which I think is terribly significant according to sources apparently leaked from the Kremlin these are official sources death grants have been issued to 48,000 families now that's means that money has been paid to 48,000 people whose sons have died in Ukraine now even though a lot of these kids will be from poor areas rural areas uneducated people more than likely that means that politically it's much less significant that if it was 48,000 people from some Petersburg and Moscow but nonetheless it will in time have an effect it'll certainly have an effect actually in the theatre so I think we should be looking out for mutiny's desertions just like you're talking about in the First World War saw where you've got mass desertions in 1917 some of it of course a lot of it fermented by Bolshevik agitators they're not there now but the fundamental conditions I think are in place yeah and it's an extraordinary statistic battery because there's been a lot of talk about casualties of course the Americans most recently estimated about 80,000 but that was the total that would include wounded and you know and people taken off the battlefield for illness and other reasons psychological too and that generally speaking means a number of dead at about 25,000 well actually we're getting accurate figures out of Russian sources that say no they've actually lost double that 50,000 it's an astonishing number when you compare it to the number who were killed in Afghanistan for example which eventually with all those body bags coming home and I think that was in the region of about 13,000 is that correct Patrick I think it was 15,000 spread over nine years 15,000 over nine years and you've got three times that in six months and that of course means you know the usual calculator at least two or three times that in in other casualties so 150,000 I mean if the Russians started the campaign with an army of you know 150, 200,000 it means that almost all that original army are no casualties and they're having to bring in people as we can see from all over the place I mean it's not a happy scenario and of course slowly but surely those those body bags will be going back to bits of Russia that will start talking and we already know that the talk about the military defeat is seeping into official circles it's getting onto social media and the ability of the Russians to control the flow of information and the flow of bad news is slowly but surely being weakened. So military bloggers who are very important to know this there are a big constituency there in public opinion this is of course people on the on the far right you think the war isn't being fought hard enough are urging a general call up but Putin's clearly very reluctant to do this because of the potential political upheavals popular upheavals that will result. Now even if they could start raising large numbers of troops they couldn't really have any effect on the battlefield for at least six months you'd have to train these people up there are reserves but they're only half trained it appears and so they if they were thrown into the line they'd essentially be cannon fodder the new vast new numbers that would be needed to sort of change the game on the ground couldn't be actually given any real training so they would be cannon fodder as well so generally I think the shine is coming off Putin now this is a lead us to a fascinating report of a mysterious incident which has only just come to light we don't know the date that this has meant to have happened but it seems that there has been an attempt on Putin's life this is according to the general SBR telegram channel owned by a carclave lawyer so it's coming from the other side and it claims to have an inside blind to the Kremlin what do you make of this to tell us about the details well it's some it's amazing if true you know the the report says that in it's a it's a quite detailed report and it says that Putin was in a five car motorcade we don't exactly the date of this but he was in a five car motorcade of armored vehicles returning to his official residence just west of Moscow I believe it is when his path was blocked by an ambulance now as Putin who was in the third car passed there was an explosion apparently in the area of the left front wheel a lots of smoke he was unheard of course as we know but a dead man was found at the wheel of the ambulance it's it's fascinating and it indicates a potential assassination attempt but you know who knows if all of this is accurate yeah I think the detail makes it a bit more credible than otherwise it's it's the you know the ambulance aspect of it the dead man of the wheel it's not the kind of thing that he was sitting down to write a fictional account of an assassination attempt I think you'd have those kind of slightly bizarre details so anyways you say who knows but it is an indication that the fact that these stories are circulating true or otherwise is an indication of the pressure the fact that the Kremlin's admitted defeat for the first time if we look back at the information strategy when the Russians fell to take give at the beginning they presented that as a considered decision that they were concentrating on liberating the east and we'll remember also the loss of snake island in the black sea very strategically important base there for the Russians now when they were essentially sort of blasted off that they passed that off as they said it was a good will gesture obviously absurd but this time they're actually having to admit that this is a retreat and again I think that is part of that broader information strategy to shift the blame away from Putin and instead it seems to be going heading into direction it has been for some time onto the shoulders of the defense secretary defense minister Sergei Shui Goff so all this is an indication that the pressure is coming in on both sides on Putin from the right the war mongers and the fear that at some point ordinary people who are already clearly getting anxious about the war are going to represent their fears in a way that that presents a threat to Putin yeah you you mentioned the defense minister Shui Goff if I was sitting in his seas I'd be sitting very uneasily indeed perchega must admit so let's look at the bigger picture of Putin's strategy to weaken the west by using energy as a weapon we've mentioned this in a number of previous shows and there is of course the danger that as high energy prices rise the support for Ukraine in the west will diminish but there seems to be a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel good news on this front because those fears seem to be receding with the publication of a report by the leading American investment bank golden sacks that Europe has now and I quote from their report successfully solved the puzzle on how to face the winter without Russian natural gas and as a result of that that effectively this means stockpiling from other sources and those stockpiles are almost full prices are likely to drop by more than half in the coming months and that is great news indeed because there was a danger as we've all discussed about ordinary people in capitals across Europe saying we're not paying for the war ourselves you know we must find a way out of this and as we've discussed many times Patrick and even the situation now if there's a negotiated settlement now that leaves Russia in control of more territory than it had at the beginning of the invasion the status quo antebellum that in effect is a victory or be a small one for Russia and it defeat the Ukraine and that frankly is setting a very dangerous precedent for for the years to come yeah I think this this trust would have liked to have had that news before she made her recent announcements about capping energy bills on a broader point I think that the battlefield successes of Ukraine also are going to boost resolve among among Western governments I mean if it looks like Ukraine could win there I think they're much more likely to stay the course so I think all around Zalensky and Ukraine have had a very very good couple of weeks and things look pretty positive for them in the medium term now on a lighter note we came across a story that the Russian brewing companies a breweries are complaining that the taste of their beer I don't know what Russian beer is like I don't know if they're actually drunk any but it's being affected degraded by the unavailability of German hops and one owner said it would take years to develop domestically grown alternatives I think that is that's bad news if you're in Russia but I think not as bad as if you were reading that the vodka production was starting to dry up and on a slightly more serious note there is concerning news that the Caucasus Republic of Azerbaijan which of course is an ally of Turkey has taken advantage of Russia's troubles in Ukraine the distraction frankly of the Russian military to launch an attack on his orthodox neighbor Armenia now eyes you probably know Patrick I'm of Armenian descent although admittedly not for a few centuries I'm not I don't have family in Armenia anymore we left we left a long long time ago and the Armenians of course have you know been through some tough times they they're a bit like they Jews there's a great diaspora of Armenians all over the world which is why I'm now in the UK they were the terrible Armenian massacres by the Turks during the first world war and they are a country that does seem to or a people that does seem to have attracted a lot of persecution at times over their history so this is not good news what you've got clearly here is the destabilization of a very dangerous part of the world that is the Caucasus as a knock on effect and that we're already beginning to hear other reports that there is a conflict between other central Asian republics so while Russia who's really the policeman of this part of the world has got its eye off the ball in Ukraine more trouble seems to be breaking out elsewhere yeah this is a another sign I think that weakness has been perceived as blood in the water and frenemy is which is kind of describes Turkey's relationship with Russia over the years have seen that there's some advantage to be gained here that's another very worrying thing for Putin I would have thought now we come to the end but I don't want to go without mentioning Saul's new book it's called Devil Dogs and it's a long way away from from Russia and Ukraine it's in the Pacific theater in the Second World War and it follows the fortunes of a company of US Marines all the way from the beginning at Guadalcanal to the end at Okinawa now you've had some rave reviews already the times gave you an absolutely fantastic one it sounds like it's it's really your territory Saul the territory made your own of really digging into the reality of war I haven't had the chance to read it yet I will be but just tell us a bit about what kind of led you to this subject well a couple of years ago I wrote a book called Crucible of Hell which is about the final cataclysmic campaign of the Second World War in Okinawa the island of Okinawa which is the most southerly of the of Japan's prefectures and and the significance of Okinawa is that battle indeed is that it convinced the American military and politicians that if the Japanese had fought that toughly for an island that wasn't even part of the home islands and that many civilian casualties were caused and just to give you an idea of casualties that's 100,000 Japanese troops died on that island and 125,000 civilian casualties then it was going to be an absolute blowbath when they got to the home islands and that really was the thinking that went into let's use nuclear weapons as a means of putting this war this terrible global conflict to bed so it was in the course of writing about the Marines on fighting on Okinawa that I thought to myself well okay this is the end game how did it all start and what was the experience of these young men these 18, 19, 20, 21 year olds as you say what's fascinated me about war is not not war porn but the experience of war on ordinary people you know you and I you've had experience of war Patrick as a war reporter but actually fighting in combat is a different ballgame how do people cope what does it turn them into and what do they become if they survive after the war so that was really the purpose of this book to drill down into a small group of men a company is about 180 men but only a relatively small number come all the way through the second war war and no single soldier fights in all the campaigns so it starts in Guadalcanal moves on to Cape Gloucester the green hell of Cape Gloucester then to the unbelievably bitter fighting on an island called Pella Lou which is very similar to the fighting on Iwo Jima and then finally Okinawa and it's following this small group of men as they begin to experience the or begin to you know face the consequences of fighting for freedom but there is a point about all of this because although some of them do terrible things in the end it's balanced by their the brotherhood that they create with their fellow Marines which you know as you know and we both know from writing military history is the reason ordinary soldiers fight and you could even bring a parallel to what's going on in Ukraine at the moment which is that Ukrainians have proper motivation to defend their homeland and the Russian soldiers generally speaking do not have anything like the same motivation and that's before equipment that's before training and that's before you know good leadership that that basic willingness to fight and the American Marines had it but they did ask themselves of course at the end was it all worth it and the conclusion from the survivors of Cape company the devil dogs as I call them is that yes it was worth it because sometimes you need to put everything on the line for the cause of freedom and of course it's a sentiment that would bring absolutely true in Ukraine today absolutely well there you have it devil dogs souls latest go out and buy it now you won't regret it we'll be back next week when we'll be talking to legendary war reporter I use both those terms advisedly Anthony Lloyd is a genuine legend he's been there since Bosnia I take some pride in the fact that I sort of set him helped to set him on his path to where he is today when we were both in Bosnia together anyway he'll be talking about the media aspect of the war he is like I say a war reporter he's not a foreign correspondent who goes to war he's someone who's absolutely immersed himself that's the only thing he does really and he does it absolutely brilliantly he's very brave and resourceful but he's also got a beautiful penny right psychoanagial and he's he's got a real understanding of what we've just been talking about so join us next week and in the meantime have a good week goodbye