Putin will never stop or be satisfied with what he got, and beside this, all of us will be compelled to live for a long time under conditions of uncertainty
Interview by Corneliu Pivariu
The Russian personality agreed to grant me this interview under the condition of anonymity, something I accepted as I know him since more than a decade and understand the reasons behind his decision.
To call him“X” is too prosaic, “Z” is something I believe it is not fit for the present symbolism and also it is the last letter of the alphabet, so I will call him in this interview “Mister Y”.
An … uncomfortable introduction, for some … uncomfortable questions
The Russian-Ukrainian families seemed to be in the past … a genuine people. The Poles seem to be closer to them (Ukrainians) as the former strongly influenced the language of the latter. Otherwise, the Ukrainians did not get along with any neighbouring state or people or enter a lasting and dependable friendship relation. As far as the majority of minorities they are living with together for centuries are concerned, they turn against them and hate them while the authorities oppress them.
The social cohesion, the national identity and religion are not strong enough to unite them in one vigorous nation.
Although they naturally want to be a nation, the only binder uniting them now is the tragedy of the war triggered by the Russians, namely those with whom they surprisingly have the strongest historical and family ties, deeply rooted in the past, ever since the beginnings of their common history – the history of the Eastern Slavs.
Corneliu Pivariu: So, are the Ukrainians a people or a population? In the same idea, Gogol, whom the Ukrainians designate as their gratest writer wrote in Russian. Was Bulgakov a Russian or an Ukrainian?
Mr. Y: It is a well targeted issue. These are complicated, important and profound questions and the answers given could bring us closer to understanding what is going on. Of course, everybody knows about Gogol’s Polish-Ukrainian origins and about the fact that Bulgakov, who was born in Kyiv, was Russian. Nevertheless, these aspects do not establish these persons’ belonging to one or another nation. For instance, Edgar Allan Poe became an American writer although he was the son of an English woman and an Irish father, the Argentinian Creole Che Guevara became Cuban revolutionary and, as they say, the Georgian Stalin, when answering once to the question about his ethnicity he said: ”I speak Russian, I think in Russian and I write in Russian. I am certainly Russian”. Both Gogol and Bulgakov are part of the Russian culture.
Regretfully, a people’s culture and traditions do not mean that the said people reached the status of a nation. The Ukrainians and the Russians were not too lucky in the process of becoming a nation, so that the nation’s forming process lasted a long time. A common territory, language and economic system are important elements of a nation, but they do not suffice. The most important component is the national idea, the national nature and the solidarity feeling.
We notice that these components were never completed either in Ukraine or in Russia. The permanent territorial and political transformations in the Euroasian area did not allow proper conditions for a true continuity, for really shaping the national elites and the national ideology. By far, the Grand Duchy of Muscovy is not the Russian Empire, and the USSR is fundamentally another state than the Russian Empire. So, the present Russia is not the successor of the former USSR, either politically or ideologically, but rather vice-versa. The named states are fundamentally different, although they existed approximately on the same territory. Any of the multiethnical states within was achieving the national policy with various results.
During the Grand Duchy of Muscovy, the notion of a nation was again very far away and the foreigners issues were decided upon the friend and foe principle. The Russian Empire, which evolution was discontinued by the revolution, was on the way of solving the issue by putting in place the Christian Orthodox religion. The Communists’ trial of creating a new community of people, ”the Soviet people”, through terror and collectivization failed.
Generally, the modern Russia and Ukraine do not have a clearly determined national policy and perspective. This is, in my opinion, the historical root of the Ukrainians’ and Russians’ problems concerning the self-determination and nation shaping.
C.P.: What is your take on Vladimir Putin’s declarations on the sidelines of the 350th birth anniversary of the Tzar Peter the Great, according to which Russia is not conquering but only recovering territories with reference to the invasion of Ukraine?
Mr.Y: Vladimir Putin proved to be on several occasions a not too well educated person in historic issues. I do believe that his historical research should not be taken seriously in any way. As far as if he ”conquers” or ”recovers” territories, that should not be seen in terms of a history textbook, but in terms of interstate treaties and agreements. By deepening the research into history, there is no conflict we can stop. Any side of the conflict would have their own arguments with certain facts and historical discoveries that can not be verified. For instance, there was no Ottoman Empire until 1453, Crimea was Greek territory, Kaliningrad was German, yet there was no German state until 1871 as it was the case with Italy until 1861 etc.
The interstate documents show, in their turn, that in 1992 diplomatic relations were established between Russia and Ukraine, i.e. Russia recognized Ukraine as a sovereign state. An Agreement on Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership was signed between these two states in 1997. Putin and Kucima signed in 2003 an agreement concerning the state borders, whereby the borders were drawn from Belarus to the Sea of Azov and, thereby, Ukraine’s territory was indisputably recognized in the very areas where fights are taking place now. In 2010, Medvedev and Ianukovich signed an agreement on drawing state borders, a process that was finalized in 2014. Even without going deeper into Peter’s (the Great) wars, the answer to the question of ”recovering” or ”conquering” seems to me obvious.
C.P.: What do you think about Henry Kissinger’s declarations on the margins of WEF in Davos (2022) according to which the Ukrainians should resign themselves to losing certain territories in exchange for ending the war and the loss of life?
Mr.Y: I think that Henry Kissinger is a very experienced and cunning politician who is far away from charity processes.
Ending hostilities resulting in human loss is, indeed, the task number one. The issue lies in the cost of such a solution.
Ukraine’s acknowledging the loss of its territories will prove the success of Putin’s illegal actions, the absolute helplessness of the international community and guarantees, as well, Ukraine’s future liquidation and Russia’s continuation of its attempts to ”recover” territories such as the Baltic states, Moldova or Kazakhstan. Besides, it will be, for instance, a telling signal for China which is analysing very carefully the anti-Russian sanctions and their consequences in the sense that Taiwan can be occupied without any punishment. Where shall we place the threats and promises coming from London, Washington, Paris, Berlin, Rome and elsewhere? Tens of politicians will have to end their careers.
C.P.:At the end of June the NATO summit in Spain will endorse the New Strategic Concept of the Alliance. With high probability, in the document the Russian Federation will be indicated as the adversary of the Western World, alongside China. How do you think Moscow will react to that and within what timescale?
Mr.Y: Moscow will react to that endorsment as always in a quick, threatening, nervous, provocative and senseless way. In fact Russia has no pressure tool at its disposal with the exception of energy resources and nuclear weapons. CSTO is an organization for regional consumption, the Russian economy is weakened, corruption is at an incredible level, the armed forces are ineffective, unable to fight simultaneously on more than one theater of operations on a large scale. Moscow will continue to intensify its propaganda and isolation, to initiate new special operations and provocations on NATO’s member states territories. Putin will indeed try to consolidate around him regimes who oppose the global West: Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, certain states in Africa and Latin America. He will go on trying to bring on his side China and India by using various contradictions.
C.P.: How do you assess the effectiveness of the Kremlin’s strategic communication on the sensitive topics of the confrontations in Ukraine?
- the ideea of declaring or not the mobilization of the military, be it even partial;
- the human losses (especially those refering to high ranking officers) and also the material losses;
- the way Moscow senses the implications of the international sanctions on the civilian and military production and on the social stability.
Mr.Y: The Kremlin uses the old Soviet strategy of keeping any information secret. The distortion of the information environment is primarily intended for the Russian society.
In the context of massive economic and military losses, the Kremlin tries to maintain its influence and authority by publishing fake news and by exaggerating its achievements.
The lack of formal mobilization, acknowledging the minimal military losses and imaginary economic gains are designed to persuade the Russian society of Putin’s successful policies and to maintain domestic stability. Toughening the criminal law in the field of extremism, restricting the constitutional rights, closing any alternative sources of information and establishing total control on the social networks are to be seen in the same context.
Beyond that, the attention is drawn by the kind of information tactics the Russian propagandists are using. I would call it ”the tactic of peculiarities”. In all news broadcasts, TV debates and shows the attendees discuss peculiar details only: what missiles hit and where this evening, how the price of the gasoline increased in the United States, who urged the Europeans to spare gas and give up washing themselves, how much a Donbas inhabitant suffered in the absence of Russian soldiers, mythical birds carrying lethal viruses for the Slavs only, the way Ukraine refuses to conclude peace on Russian terms and so on. Yet nobody tackles the deep causes of the conflict, Yanukovich’s election as president of Ukraine, the close Russian-Ukrainian corruption built around the Gazprom pipeline during a decade, the Russian troops landing in Crimea on February 23, 2014 and the unfolding of the unconstitutional referendum on March 16, 2014 only, or provocations in Donbas during the spring of 2014, including military operations involving Russian military units. Everybody discusses small details and current events trying to avoid the analysis of the general picture. All that misleads the society.
C.P.: With regard to theRussian Federation’s intelligence system:
- Does the Kremlin dispose of a really integrated intelligence community?
- How do you assess the FSB initial appraisals concerning the real state of the Ukrainian society?
- Why was Gen. Vl. Alexeiev (Deputy Head of GRU) appointed the Russian intelligence operative leader in Ukraine many weeks after February 24, 2022?
- Is Russia, as it declares, in informative control of the Western military logistic flows bound for Ukraine?
Mr. Y: I think the Kremlin has a rather extended network of informants who, through the institutions of the Russia’s diplomatic and commercial missions, are primarily relying on the Russian communities abroad. As far as the FSB analytical assessments on the Ukrainian society on the eve of the war are concerned, it is necessary to separate the assessments meant for internal briefing and the assessments meant for the Kremlin briefing. The assessments meant for internal briefing are quite objective and realistic. Nevertheless, they are not adequate for briefing the president and that is due to several reasons:
• Corruption, since during several years a huge amount of money was lost under the disguise of carrying out ”successful” special operations;
• Joint businesses on the Ukrainian territory with different businessmen such as Serghei Kurcenko;
• Costs for maintaining and ensuring the political opposition, including Viktor Medvedchuk and his party, the controlled transfer of certain types of businesses from Russia which incomes were to be used for preparing the future presidential election etc.
Since many years, everything was all right according to briefings and a lot of money was spent to that purpose, so it was quite impossible that someone come at a certain moment and report the real situation. President Putin could have concluded that either his subordinates were incompetent or they were deceiving him. At the same time and as far as I know, the FSB operatives acting on the Ukrainian territory had excellent knowledge of the real information yet among their leadership nobody was willing to committ political suicide. Putin likes good news only.
As far as the Gen. Vladimir Alekseev is concerned, I can express the opinion that he is an experienced fighting officer born in Ukraine, he graduated from the Ryazan Military Airborne Landing School, served in the special forces units, went through the war in Syria and is distinguishing himself by his toughness and a certain boldness in making decisions. In recent years, he headed the special operations of the Russian military intelligence abroad, Ukraine included, where the first weeks of fighting revealed certain deficiencies in the intelligence activity. Perhaps that due to all these factors, he was sent to operate directly on the Ukrainian territory.
I cannot judge how efficiently he will succeed in correcting the deficiencies. Speaking of the Russian control on the Western arms deliveries to Ukraine, one should mention that these weapons ultimately reach the Ukrainian Army. Consequently, the Russian control is not as complete as they say. Russia has, indeed, certain information on the military logistic flows, yet it has not the necessary resources to completely stall them.
C.P.: The beginning of the conflict let it be understood that Kyiv was the main strategic target, yet subsequent developments pointed to something else. How do you see Odessa’s future on a short term? Will the potential junction with the Russian troops in Transdniestria mark the completion of the strategic objective of Novorossiya (“New Russia”)? Or will it mean just an intermediate stage?
Mr.Y: Kyiv was, indeed, the main target in the first stage of the war, yet the reality proved to be different. Russia had to regroup its troops and change the order of its targets. I think that the Russian troops will try to occupy Odessa and move towards Transdniestria, but only after stabilizing the situation in Donbas. Other than that, the situation changes daily and we are witnessing on the forefront a possible conflict with Latvia, which restricted the transit towards Kaliningrad. The Kremlin enjoys very much the Baltic (playing) card and will play it but that will not cancel at all its desire to cut Ukraine from the Black Sea and to tackle directly the Transdniestrian issue.
C.P.:In the framework of the present military confrontation in Ukraine, how do you assess the Russian Federation’s capacity and production pace of ballistic and cruise missiles – classical and hypersonic – as compared to the rate of their use in the battles and how restrictive is the imports component for producing these missiles?
Mr.Y: It is obvious that under current circumstances, Russia’s using different types of missiles on the battle ground is higher than their production pace. The production pace is confronted with certain difficulties due to lack of important components of the missiles. A great part of the Russian modern military equipment depends on sophisticated electronic components imported from the USA, Great Britain, Israel, France, Germany, Holland, Japan and other countries.
The Russian cruise missile of the Iskander-K complex operates relying on American electronic components. The American gyroscope with optical fibres is used for the navigation system of the projectils of the Tornado launching complex. The Russian system of air defense TOR-M2 uses the British oscillator for controlling the radar of the platform. The same thing is valid for the Kalibr cruise missiles and many others. The GPS modules of the U-blox Swiss company, the SAITO Japanese engines, the starting engines of the American Texas Instruments Incorporated and starting generators and a French-Italian STMicroelectronics flight controller are used in the Orlan-10 UAV. It is obvious that the imposition of sanctions has limited Russia’s possibilities, although the country can acquire some of the necessary components as they could be classified as ”double use electronics”, available on commercial base.
C.P.:How credible is in your opinion the news concerning President Vladimir Putin’s real health condition?
Mr.Y: Vladimir Putin reached an age at which a person has to compulsory have some illnesses. I consider that the circulated news about his health condition is unfounded. Even so, I am certain that a very limited circle of persons possesses truthful news and not all the news about his health condition can be trusted. There are a lot of suppositions of the pseudo-experts and, I do not rule out that special fake news of different special services, including the Russian ones, is spread.
C.P.: How do you evaluate the truths/untruth concerning the real involvment of Gen. S. Șoigu, V. Gherasimov și Al. Dvornikov in the unfolding of the battle action?
Mr.Y: The mediocrity of the initial stage of the military operation in Ukraine confirms undoubtedly in my opinion that the authors of the operations are exactly these army commanders who commanded the designated operations. Gherasimov’s and Dvornikov’s whole career suggests that they are far from the military genius of a Suvorov’s or a Mannerheim’s. In what concern the minister of Defense Shoigu, who really wanted to enjoy the dubious fame of Marshal Jukov, he never served in the army and graduated a military department of a civilian faculty only, and has a rather vague idea about fighting operations. Consequently, Moscow was confronted with a great number of failures on the front following which the failed commanders were in fact removed from commanding positions and moved in the shadow.
C.P.: According to publicly available data, the existing human resource of the Russian Federation’s armed forces is of about 1 mil. people and the reservists number about 2 mil. people. The number of the Russian military deployed for the special operation in Ukraine is of approximately 200,000 (namely one fifth of the total active force). How can you explain Moscow’s difficulties in expeditiously replacing the forces used in battle?
Mr.Y: 2 million reservists are numbered on paper, yet they have to be called to duty. To say nothing that such calls will trigger a negative wave in the society and will publicly confirm Russia’s incapacity of standing relying on a regular army only and Putin is very sensitive in what concern his image. A million people of the Russian military are an ordinary force which includes different military subunits and units, including those which are not directly designated for fighting operations.
The troops are complete to a level of 90%. The terrestrial and railroad troops, the navy and air-spatial ones, the anti-missiles and air defense forces which are fulfilling their duties on Russia’s entire vast territory cannot be fully involved in a military operation. Moreover, the total number includes a rather extended apparatus of the Ministry of Defense and of the General Staff, students of the military schools as well as garrison units. If one counts everything, there remain only 30% of the mobile fighting units. One should add to that the issue of huge expenses of the Russian budget for maintaining the army in war conditions.
According to the Russian Ministry of Finance, in April 2022 only, the budgetary expenses for the national defence reached about 627 billion Rubles, namely three times more than during the same period of 2021.
C.P.:What are in your opinion the military conclusions drawn so far by the two sides from the unfolding of the military operations?
Mr.Y: After starting hostilities and significant losses, the Russian side realized the error of its tactic. The Russian Army were forced to move away from Kyiv, to change the forward moving and fighting tactic and focused on the mission of completely capture the Donbas. The military of the Ukrainian Armed Forces proved heroism in their confrontation with a stronger enemy, used a good knowledge of the terrain and were more maneuverable. Nevertheless, their miscalculations in coordinating the actions of different units and lack of offensive armaments became evident.
Russia controls the air space yet up to now it could not benefit from its advantage in the coastal area of the Black Sea area. It is obvious that both sides are confronted with a lack of resources, either human or military. The general situation is original, under the circumstances of tough confrontations whereby each of the two sides of the conflict understands that it is not the winner. As a state, Russia already lost from a strategic standpoint. In the meantime, Ukraine, in the meantime, has the chance to ultimately emerge as winner. No, not in this war, but in the geopolitical confrontation with Russia. If Ukraine is able to achieve that, it depends on primarily on the Ukrainian themselves.
The Ukrainians could save themselves through unity, through overcoming corruption, an adequate behavior and the acceptance, by the entire society, of the universal human values, tolerance included. Yet in case of Russia, achieving such goals in the near future is regretfully impossible.
C.P.:How do you assess the level of the Polish-Ukrainian cooperation in the military field and security intelligence? What implications could that have on a short and medium term?
Mr.Y: I think that presently Ukraine is developing the closest cooperation in the military field with Poland, including exchanging military intelligence. The issue of confronting Russia is, for Poland, a historical one. Warsaw will exert utmost efforts in order to support Ukraine and that brings the former to a new political level in Europe. On a long run, Warsaw could become a rather significant center of attraction in the EU for the Eastern European countries while the heavyweights such as France, Germany and Italy could have their positions shaken. Moreover, in its efforts, Poland works hand in hand with Great Britain which adopted a clear and tough position towards Russia. That brings about as well the possibilities of the future development of the triangular relations among Kyiv, Warsaw and London. Will Poland be directly involved in the hostilities with Russia? I don’t think so. Russia does not have resources for that and its plans do not include yet a clash with NATO. Of course, you should always let the chance that an inappropriate dictator marginalized in a mental dead end and who feels unpunished and offended to adopt the most extreme steps.
C.P.:The Black Sea covers three areas of great interest: Crimea, the mouth of the Danube and Bosphorus. History shows us that he who controls them enjoys a significant strategic advantage.Where do you place Turkiye (Turkey) in the framework of the conflict in Ukraine?
Mr.Y: Turkey is, in my opinion, a quite strong and slippery player who plays for itself only. Turkey, as always, flirts with both sides and does not abstsain from making promises and statements and follows its own economic and political benefit. Ankara supported publicly Ukraine in the conflict and continued to maintain economic ties with Moscow and seeks to acquire from there certain types of weapons. At the same time, Turkey conducts military operations in Syria definitely without any coordination with Moscow and in spite of the latter dissatisfaction and supplies UAVs to Ukraine. Ankara showed up in the debate concerning Sweden’s and Finland’s joining NATO.
To some in Moscow, Ankara seems to play the Russian hand but I assure you that during that debate Russia was the last thing Ankara was thinking of. Turkey has its own development strategy and apart from the countries it sees within its tough sphere of influence, all the others are not strategic allies but temporary fellow travellers.
Q.C.P.:How do you see the end of this Russian aggression against Ukraine having in mind that Putin’s agenda (and that of his heirs, let us not delude ourselves) covers, beyond Ukraine, as well: the maximum enlargement of the ”Russian World”, the breaking up of the EU and NATO, and discrediting and humiliating the US as a guarantor of the Western World security?
A.Mr.Y.: This war should be halted sooner or later. As a consequence, I regretfully think that Ukraine will lose for a long time part of its territory. Maybe it could recover in the future that part, yet it will be a very difficult process. It is unlikely to expect the collapse of the EU, but their leaders’ authority has already received a blow as did the United States’. Once more, the whole world witnessed the inability and lack of determination of the international institutions. However, it is too early to draw final conclusions. Life and politics are unpredictable.
Q.C.P: What is your take on the idea launched by the US with regard to a new global energy order? Does this project have any connection to deglobalisation and the new policy in the field of the critical minerals as far as the energy storage is concerned?
Mr.Y: The war in Ukraine and the imposition of sanctions against Russia revealed the extreme vulnerability of the global energy market. This conflict brought the state’s energy security at the forefront of the political and economic agenda and served as a catalyst for transforming the state planning in the energy sector. All the states are today concerned about deciding on the issue of assuring the stability of the regional cooperation and of the energy generation on the domestic market.
The US proposals could mean that a type of localization within the energy alliances will lead to a kind of diminishing the high level of energy interdependency in the world, something that was reached during the last decades. Such a situation should affect, of course, the processes in the field of acquiring natural resources. This tendency foresees a possible increase of the state intervention in the energy sector since all the elements of this business, including generation, transportation, prices, selecting ”trustful partners”, setting the emissions standards and so on became elements of the state security and stability. At the same time, mention should be made that an excessive involvement of the state in the economy can lead to distortions and negative consequences for the market. The state is hardly ever an efficient owner.
C.P: How do you assess, on a scale from 1 to 10, the endeavor of certain states to set up another financial settlement system for the international trade, different from the one based on the American dollar?
Mr.Y: There are indeed states wishing to abandon the American dollar which can be rated 10. For instance Russia is trying now to insert an alternative settlement currency in the framework of BRICS and CIS. Yet there are states which desire to abandon the dollar is 0. Therefore, I do not think it is necessary to assess this tendency on points. The issue here is efficiency, stability, convertibility and the safety of the settlement currency.
There is no real alternative to the American dollar so far and most of the countries understand that.
C.P: What is your opinion about the idea that the Russian military aggression in Ukraine is one of the main causes of a possible global food crisis?
Mr.Y: In my opinion, the Russian military operation in Ukraine influenced indeed the possible development of the global food crisis but this is not the main reason for the time being. The main reason is Russia’s foreign policy and its propaganda around this possible crisis. Russia set for her the task to destabilize to a maximum the situation in different regions of the world. Primarily, these are some countries in Africa and Latin America. The goals pursued are to discredit the global West, to divert its resources towards solving the emergent socio-economic and humanitarian problems, to create around Russia a pool of states dissatisfied with the USA’s and EU’s actions and to try to shift the political balance of power.
C.P: What about the fact that, on June 6th, Moscow decided to classify the information concerning the level of its currency and gold reserves? What is the actual impact of that?
Mr.Y: The Kremlin decided to classify not only the information about gold and currency reserves.All the relevant informationis now classified in Russia: the budget of the Ministry ofDefense,the losses incured in Ukraine, the reports of the state and commercial banks, the membership of banks boards, data on the possessions of the officials, the number of prisoners, the number of civilian domestic protests, the real level of corruption etc. The Russian President classified all data about his children, their activities and their income. The Russian leadership say to the society that in such a way they are protecting the country’s interests and ensure its security. In fact, the regime protects itself and all its actions aim at suppressing the oposition, at hiding the information about the incredible wealth of the presidential entourage and at holding the power in the hands of a restricted group of people.
Deliberately and for the same purpose, a break from the civilized world is taking place – renunciation to the Bologna System, the precedence of the Russian legislation against international law, Russia’s withdrawal from the UNWTO and the Council of Europe, from the UN Council for Human Rights, the calls for abandoning the Basel agreements and the requirements for adopting standards. Modern Russia is a kingdom of distorted mirrors. The consequences can be the saddest. There is no need to speak of Russia’s partners loss of confidence – confidence no longer exists.
The power system as such becomes more and more entangled in its own biased data and inscriptions stimulated by total corruption and by the apparent struggle, which is in fact a competition for concentrating the financial flows and the influence. And all that should lead in future to the transformation of this state. Yet you should not expect that to happen too quickly – Russia is an immense state with slow processes and a backward population, mentally retarded, who never had any rights under any power whatsoever.
C.P. Do you want, in the end to add any significant ideas to supplement the present geopolitical picture?
Mr. Y: Under the present circumstances, I would like to emphasize two obvious aspects. Firstly, all of us will be compelled to live for a long time under conditions of uncertainty. Secondly, one should become aware that there can be no certitude as far as the agreements with modern Russia are concerned. Putin will never stop and will never be satisfied with what he has. As long as he is alive, no one can count on adequate actions. So, all have to be prepared.
C.P.: I particularly thank you for your time and the honesty of your answers.
About the author:
Corneliu Pivariu Military Intelligence and International Relations Senior Expert
A highly decorated retired two-star general of the Romanian army, during two decades he has led one of the most influential magazines on geopolitics and international relations in Eastern Europe, the bilingual journal Geostrategic Pulse.