The recapture of the Kharkov region at the beginning of September appears to be a success for Ukrainian forces. Our media exulted and relayed Ukrainian propaganda to give us a picture that is not entirely accurate. A closer look at the operations might have prompted Ukraine to be more cautious.
From a military point of view, this operation is a tactical victory for the Ukrainians and an operational/strategic victory for the Russian coalition.
On the Ukrainian side, Kiev was under pressure to achieve some success on the battlefield. Volodymyr Zelensky was afraid of a fatigue from the West and that its support would stop. This is why the Americans and the British pressed him to carry out offensives in the Kherson sector. These offensives, undertaken in a disorganised manner, with disproportionate casualties and without success, created tensions between Zelensky and his military staff.
For several weeks now, Western experts have been questioning the presence of the Russians in the Kharkov area, as they clearly had no intention to fight in the city. In reality, their presence in this area was only aimed at affixing the Ukrainian troops so that they would not go to the Donbass, which is the real operational objective of the Russians.
In August, indications suggested that the Russians had planned to leave the area well before the start of the Ukrainian offensive. They therefore withdrew in good order, together with some civilians who could have been the subject of retaliation. As evidence of this, the huge ammunition depot at Balaklaya was empty when the Ukrainians found it, demonstrating that the Russians had evacuated all sensitive personnel and equipment in good order several days earlier. The Russians had even left areas that Ukraine had not attacked. Only a few Russian National Guard and Donbass militia troops remained as the Ukrainians entered the area.
At this point, the Ukrainians were busy launching multiple attacks in the Kherson region, which had resulted in repeated setbacks and huge losses for their army since August. When US intelligence detected the Russians’ departure from the Kharkov region, they saw an opportunity for the Ukrainians to achieve an operational success and passed on the information. Ukraine thus abruptly decided to attack the Kharkov area that was already virtually empty of Russian troops.
Apparently, the Russians anticipated the organisation of referenda in Lugansk, Donetsk, Zaporozhe and Kherson oblasts. They realised that the territory of Kharkov was not directly relevant to their objectives, and that they were in the same situation as with Snake Island in June: the energy to defend this territory was greater than its strategic importance.
By withdrawing from Kharkov, the Russian coalition was able to consolidate its defence line behind the Oskoll River and strengthen its presence in the north of the Donbass. It was thus able to make a significant advance in the Bakhmut area, a key point in the Slavyansk-Kramatorsk sector, which is the real operational objective of the Russian coalition.
As there were no longer any troops in Kharkov to “pin down” the Ukrainian army, the Russians had to attack the electrical infrastructure to prevent Ukrainian reinforcements by train to the Donbass.
As a result, today, all Russian coalition forces are located within what may become the new borders of Russia after the referenda in the four southern Ukrainian oblasts.
For the Ukrainians, it is a Pyrrhic victory. They advanced into Kharkov without encountering any resistance and there was hardly any fighting. Instead, the area became a huge “killing zone” (“зона поражения”), where Russian artillery would destroy an estimated number of 4,000-5,000 Ukrainians (about 2 brigades), while the Russian coalition suffered only marginal losses as there was no fighting. These losses come on top of those from the Kherson offensives. According to Sergei Shoigu, Russian Defence Minister, the Ukrainians lost about 7,000 men in the first three weeks of September. Although these figures cannot be verified, their order of magnitude matches the estimates of some Western experts. In other words, it seems that the Ukrainians have lost about 25% of the 10 brigades that were created and equipped in recent months with Western help. This is a far cry from the million-man army mentioned by the Ukrainian leaders.
From a political point of view, it is a strategic victory for the Ukrainians, and a tactical loss for the Russians. It is the first time that the Ukrainians have taken back so much territory since 2014, and the Russians seem to be losing. The Ukrainians were able to use this opportunity to communicate about their final victory, undoubtedly triggering exaggerated hopes and making them even less willing to engage in negotiation.
This is why Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, declared that the moment “is not one for appeasement.” This Pyrrhic victory is therefore a poisoned gift for Ukraine. It has led the West to overestimate the capabilities of the Ukrainian forces and to push them to engage in further offensives, instead of negotiating.
The words “victory” and “defeat” need to be carefully used. Vladimir Putin’s stated objectives of “demilitarisation” and “denazification” are not about gaining territory, but about destroying the threat to the Donbass. In other words, the Ukrainians are fighting for territory, while the Russians seek to destroy capabilities. In a way, by holding on to territory, the Ukrainians are making the Russians’ job easier. You can always regain territory—you cannot regain human lives.
In the belief that they are weakening Russia, our media are promoting the gradual disappearance of Ukrainian society. It seems like a paradox, but this is consistent with the way our leaders view Ukraine. They did not react to the massacres of Russian-speaking Ukrainian civilians in the Donbass between 2014 and 2022, nor do they mention Ukraine’s losses today. In fact, for our media and authorities, Ukrainians are a kind of “Untermenschen” whose life is only meant to satisfy the goals of our politicians.
Between 23 and 27 September, there were four referendums in progress, and the local populations have to answer different questions depending on their region. In the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, which are officially independent, the question is whether the population wants to join Russia. In the oblasts of Kherson and Zaporozhe, which are still officially part of Ukraine, the question is whether the population wants to remain within Ukraine, whether they want to be independent, or whether they want to be part of Russia.
However, there are still some unknowns at this stage, such as what will be the borders of the entities that will be attached to Russia. Will they be the borders of the areas occupied by the Russian coalition today or the borders of the Ukrainian regions? If it is the second solution, then we could still have Russian offensives to seize the rest of the regions (oblasts).
It is hard to estimate the outcome of these referenda, although one can assume the Russian-speaking Ukrainians will most probably want to leave Ukraine. Polls, whose reliability cannot be assessed, suggest that 80-90% are in favour of joining Russia. This seems realistic due to several factors.
Firstly, since 2014, linguistic minorities in Ukraine have been subject to restrictions that have made them 2nd class citizens. As a result, the Ukrainian policy has caused Russian-speaking citizens to no longer feel Ukrainian. This was even emphasised by the Law on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in July 2021, which is somewhat equivalent to the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, which give different rights to citizens depending on their ethnic origin. This is why Vladimir Putin wrote an article on 12 July 2021 calling on Ukraine to consider Russian speakers as part of the Ukrainian nation and not to discriminate against them as proposed by the new law.
Of course, no Western country protested against this law, which is a continuation of the abolition of the law on official languages in February 2014, which was the reason for the secession of Crimea and Donbass.
Secondly, in their fight against the secession of Donbass, the Ukrainians never tried to win the “hearts and minds” of the insurgents. On the contrary, they have done everything to drive them further away by bombing them, by mining their roads, by cutting off drinking water, by stopping the payment of pensions and salaries, or by stopping all banking services. This is the exact opposite of an effective counter-insurgency strategy.
Finally, the artillery and missile strikes against the population of Donetsk and other cities in the Zaporozhe and Kherson region in order to intimidate the population and prevent them from going to the polls is further alienating the local population from Kiev. Today, the Russian-speaking population is afraid of Ukrainian reprisals if the referenda are not accepted.
So, we have a situation where the Western countries announce that they will not recognise these referenda, but on the other hand they have done absolutely nothing to encourage Ukraine to have a more inclusive policy with their minorities. Ultimately, what these referenda could reveal is that there has never really been an inclusive Ukrainian nation.
Moreover, these referenda will freeze a situation and make Russia’s conquests irreversible. Interestingly, if the West had let Zelensky continue with the proposal he made to Russia at the end of March 2022, Ukraine would more or less retained its pre-February 2022 configuration. As a reminder, Zelensky had made a first request for negotiation on 25 February, which the Russians had accepted, but which the European Union refused by providing a first package of €450 million in arms. In March, Zelensky made another offer that Russia welcomed and was ready to discuss, but the European Union once again came to prevent this with a second package of €500 million for arms.
As explained by Ukraïnskaya Pravda, Boris Johnson called Zelensky on 2 April and asked him to withdraw his proposal, otherwise the West would stop its support. Then, on 9 April, during his visit to Kiev, “BoJo” repeated the same thing to the Ukrainian president. Ukraine was therefore ready to negotiate with Russia, but the West does not want negotiations, as “BoJo” made clear again on his last visit to Ukraine in August.
It is certainly the prospect that there will be no negotiations that have prompted Russia to engage in referenda. It should be remembered that until now, Vladimir Putin had always rejected the idea of integrating the territories of southern Ukraine into Russia.
It should also be remembered that if the West were so committed to Ukraine and its territorial integrity, France and Germany would certainly have fulfilled their obligations under the Minsk Agreements before February 2022. Moreover, they would have let Zelensky proceed with his proposed agreement with Russia in March 2022. The problem is that the West is not looking for Ukraine’s interest, but to weaken Russia.
Regarding Vladimir Putin’s announcement of a partial mobilisation, it should be recalled that Russia has intervened in Ukraine with considerably fewer troops than the West considers necessary to conduct an offensive campaign. There are two reasons for this. First, the Russians rely on their mastery of the “operative art” and play with their operational modules on the theatre of operations like a chess player. This is what allows them to be effective with reduced manpower. In other words, they know how to conduct operations efficiently.
The second reason that our media deliberately ignore is that the vast majority of the combat actions in Ukraine is carried out by the Donbass militias. Instead of saying “the Russians,” they should (if they were honest) say “the Russian coalition” or “the Russian-speaking coalition.” In other words, the number of Russian troops in Ukraine is relatively small. Moreover, the Russian practice is to keep troops only for a limited period in the area of operations. This means that they tend to rotate troops more frequently than the West.
In addition to these general considerations, there are the possible consequences of the referenda in southern Ukraine, which are likely to extend the Russian border by almost 1000 kilometres. This will require additional capabilities to build a more robust defence system, to construct facilities for troops, etc. In that sense, this partial mobilisation is a good idea. In this sense, this partial mobilisation is a logical consequence of what we have seen above.
Much has been made in the West about those who have sought to leave Russia to avoid mobilisation. They certainly exist, like the thousands of Ukrainians who sought to escape conscription and can be seen in the streets of Brussels driving powerful and expensive German sports cars! Much less publicity has been given to the long queues of young people outside military recruitment offices and the popular demonstrations in favour of the decision to mobilise!
As to the nuclear threats, in his speech on 21 September , Vladimir Putin mentioned the risk of nuclear escalation. Naturally, the conspiratorial media (i.e., those that construct narratives from unrelated information) immediately spoke of “nuclear threats.”
In reality, this is not true. If we read the wording of Putin’s speech, we can see that he did not threaten to use nuclear weapons. In fact, he has never done so since the beginning of this conflict in 2014. However, he has warned the West against the use of such weapons. I will remind you that on 24 August, Liz Truss declared that it was acceptable to strike Russia with nuclear weapons, and that she was ready to do so, even if it would lead to a “global annihilation!” This is not the first time that the current British Prime Minister has made such a statement, which had already prompted warnings from the Kremlin in February. Moreover, I would like to remind you that in April of this year, Joe Biden decided to depart from the US “no-first use” policy and thus reserves the right to use nuclear weapons first.
So clearly, Vladimir Putin does not trust Western behaviour that is totally irrational and irresponsible, and which is ready to sacrifice its own citizens in order to achieve objectives guided by dogmatism and ideology. This is what is happening in the field of energy and sanctions at the moment, and this is what Liz Truss is ready to do with nuclear weapons. Putin is certainly worried about the reactions of our leaders who are in increasingly uncomfortable situations because of the catastrophic economic and social situation they have created by their incompetence. This pressure on our leaders could lead them to escalate the conflict just to avoid losing face.
In his speech, Vladimir Putin does not threaten to use nuclear weapons, but other types of weapons. He is of course thinking of hypersonic weapons, which do not need to be nuclear to be effective and which can thwart Western defences. Moreover, contrary to what our media say, the use of tactical nuclear weapons is no longer in the Russian employment doctrine for many years. Moreover, unlike the United States, Russia has a no-first-use policy.
In other words, it is the Westerners and their erratic behaviour that are the real factors of insecurity.
I am not sure that our politicians have a clear and objective view of the situation. Ignazio Cassis’ recent tweets show that his level of information is low. First of all, when he mentions Switzerland’s role and neutrality in offering its good offices, he is a bit out of touch with geography. In Russia’s mind, Switzerland has abandoned its neutrality status and if it wants to play a constructive role in this conflict, it will have to demonstrate its neutrality. We are a long, long way from that.
Secondly, when Cassis expressed his concern about the use of nuclear weapons to Lavrov, he clearly did not understand Vladimir Putin’s message. The problem with today’s Western leaders is that none of them currently has the intellectual capacity to deal with the challenges that they themselves have created through their own foolishness. Cassis would probably have been better advised to express his concerns to Truss and Biden!
The Russians—and Vladimir Putin in particular—have always been very clear in their statements and have consistently and methodically done what they said they would do. No more, no less. One can of course disagree with what he says, but it is a major and probably even criminal mistake not to listen to what he says. For if we had listened, we could have prevented the situation becoming what it is.
It is also interesting to compare the current general situation with what was described in the RAND Corporation reports published in 2019 as the blueprint for trying to destabilise Russia.
As we can see, what we are witnessing is the result of a carefully planned scenario. It is very likely that the Russians were able to anticipate what the West was planning against them. Russia was thus able to prepare itself politically and diplomatically for the crisis that was to be created. It is this capacity for strategic anticipation that shows that Russia is more stable, more effective and more efficient than the West. This is why I think that if this conflict is going to escalate, it will be more because of Western incompetence than because of a Russian calculation.
We are pleased to bring you this fresh interview with Jacques Baud, in which we cover what is now happening in the geopolitical struggle that is the Ukraine-Russia war. As always, Mr. Baud brings deep insight and clear analysis to the conversation.
The Postil (TP): You have just published your latest book on the war in Ukraine—Operation Z, published by Max Milo. Please tell us a little about it—what led you to write this book and what do you wish to convey to readers?
Jacques Baud (JB): The aim of this book is to show how the misinformation propagated by our media has contributed to push Ukraine in the wrong direction. I wrote it under the motto “from the way we understand crises derives the way we solve them.”
By hiding many aspects of this conflict, the Western media has presented us with a caricatural and artificial image of the situation, which has resulted in the polarization of minds. This has led to a widespread mindset that makes any attempt to negotiate virtually impossible.
The one-sided and biased representation provided by mainstream media is not intended to help us solve the problem, but to promote hatred of Russia. Thus, the exclusion of disabled athletes, cats, even Russian trees from competitions, the dismissal of conductors, the de-platforming of Russian artists, such as Dostoyevsky, or even the renaming of paintings aims at excluding the Russian population from society! In France, bank accounts of individuals with Russian-sounding names were even blocked. Social networks Facebook and Twitter have systematically blocked the disclosure of Ukrainian crimes under the pretext of “hate speech” but allow the call for violence against Russians.
None of these actions had any effect on the conflict, except to stimulate hatred and violence against the Russians in our countries. This manipulation is so bad that we would rather see Ukrainians die than to seek a diplomatic solution. As Republican Senator Lindsey Graham recently said, it is a matter of letting the Ukrainians fight to the last man.
It is commonly assumed that journalists work according to standards of quality and ethics to inform us in the most honest way possible. These standards are set by the Munich Charter of 1971. While writing my book I found out that no French-speaking mainstream media in Europe respects this charter as far as Russia and China are concerned. In fact, they shamelessly support an immoral policy towards Ukraine, described by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, president of Mexico, as “We provide the weapons, you provide the corpses!”
To highlight this misinformation, I wanted to show that information allowing to provide a realistic picture of the situation was available as early as February, but that our media did not relay it to the public. My goal was to show this contradiction.
In order to avoid becoming a propagandist myself in favor of one side or the other, I have relied exclusively on Western, Ukrainian (from Kiev) and Russian opposition sources. I have not taken any information from the Russian media.
TP: It is commonly said in the West that this war has “proven” that the Russian army is feeble and that its equipment is useless. Are these assertions true?
JB: No. After more than six months of war, it can be said that the Russian army is effective and efficient, and that the quality of its command & control far exceeds what we see in the West. But our perception is influenced by a reporting that is focused on the Ukrainian side, and by distortions of reality.
Firstly, there is the reality on the ground. It should be remembered that what the media call “Russians” is in fact a Russian-speaking coalition, composed of professional Russian fighters and soldiers of the popular militias of Donbass. The operations in the Donbass are mainly carried out by these militias, who fight on “their” terrain, in towns and villages they know and where they have friends and family. They are therefore advancing cautiously for themselves, but also to avoid civilian casualties. Thus, despite the claims of western propaganda, the coalition enjoys a very good popular support in the areas it occupies.
Then, just looking at a map, you can see that the Donbass is a region with a lot of built-up and inhabited areas, which means an advantage for the defender and a reduced speed of progress for the attacker in all circumstances.
Secondly, there is the way our media portray the evolution of the conflict. Ukraine is a huge country and small-scale maps hardly show the differences from one day to another. Moreover, each side has its own perception of the progress of the enemy. If we take the example of the situation on March 25, 2022, we can see that the map of the French daily newspaper Ouest-France (a) shows almost no advance of Russia, as does the Swiss RTS site (b). The map of the Russian website RIAFAN (c) may be propaganda, but if we compare it with the map of the French Military Intelligence Directorate (DRM) (d), we see that the Russian media is probably closer to the truth. All these maps were published on the same day, but the French newspaper and the Swiss state media did not choose to use the DRM map and preferred to use a Ukrainian map. This illustrates that our media work like propaganda outlets.
Thirdly, our “experts” have themselves determined the objectives of the Russian offensive. By claiming that Russia wanted to take over Ukraine and its resources, to take over Kiev in two days, etc., our experts have literally invented and attributed to the Russians objectives that Putin never mentioned. In May 2022, Claude Wild, the Swiss ambassador in Kiev, declared on RTS that the Russians had “lost the battle for Kiev.” But in reality, there was never a “battle for Kiev.” It is obviously easy to claim that the Russians did not reach their objectives—if they never tried to reach them!
Fourthly, the West and Ukraine have created a misleading picture of their adversary. In France, Switzerland and Belgium, none of the military experts on television have any knowledge of military operations and how the Russians conduct theirs. Their “expertise” comes from the rumours from the war in Afghanistan or Syria, which are often merely Western propaganda. These experts have literally falsified the presentation of Russian operations.
Thus, the objectives announced as early as February 24 by Russia were the “demilitarization” and “denazification” of the threat to the populations of Donbass. These objectives are related to the neutralization of capabilities, not the seizure of land or resources. To put it bluntly, in theory, to achieve their goals the Russians do not need to advance—it would be enough if Ukrainians themselves would come and get killed.
In other words, our politicians and media have pushed Ukraine to defend the terrain like in France during the First World War. They pushed Ukrainian troops to defend every square meter of ground in “last stand” situations. Ironically, the West has only made the Russians’ job easier.
In fact, as with the war on terror, Westerners see the enemy as they would like him to be, not as he is. As Sun Tzu said 2,500 years ago, this is the best recipe for losing a war.
One example is the so-called “hybrid war” that Russia is allegedly waging against the West. In June 2014, as the West tried to explain Russia’s (imaginary) intervention in the Donbass conflict, Russia expert Mark Galeotti “revealed” the existence of a doctrine that would illustrate the Russian concept of hybrid warfare. Known as the “Gerasimov Doctrine,” it has never really been defined by the West as to what it consists of and how it could ensure military success. But it is used to explain how Russia wages war in Donbass without sending troops there and why Ukraine consistently loses its battles against the rebels. In 2018, realizing that he was wrong, Galeotti apologized—courageously and intelligently—in an article titled, “I’m Sorry for Creating the Gerasimov Doctrine” published in Foreign Policy magazine.
Despite this, and without knowing what it meant, our media and politicians continued to pretend that Russia was waging a hybrid war against Ukraine and the West. In other words, we imagined a type of war that does not exist and we prepared Ukraine for it. This is also what explains the challenge for Ukraine to have a coherent strategy to counter Russian operations.
The West does not want to see the situation as it really is. The Russian-speaking coalition has launched its offensive with an overall strength inferior to that of the Ukrainians in a ratio of 1-2:1. To be successful when you are outnumbered, you must create local and temporary superiorities by quickly moving your forces on the battlefield.
This is what the Russians call “operational art” (operativnoe iskoustvo). This notion is poorly understood in the West. The term “operational” used in NATO has two translations in Russian: “operative” (which refers to a command level) and “operational” (which defines a condition). It is the art of maneuvering military formations, much like a chess game, in order to defeat a superior opponent.
For example, the operation around Kiev was not intended to “deceive” the Ukrainians (and the West) about their intentions, but to force the Ukrainian army to keep large forces around the capital and thus “pin them down.” In technical terms, this is what is called a “shaping operation.” Contrary to the analysis of some “experts,” it was not a “deception operation,” which would have been conceived very differently and would have involved much larger forces. The aim was to prevent a reinforcement of the main body of the Ukrainian forces in the Donbass.
The main lesson of this war at this stage confirms what we know since the Second World War: the Russians master the operational art.
TP: Questions about Russia’s military raises the obvious question—how good is Ukraine’s military today? And more importantly, why do we not hear so much about the Ukrainian army?
JB: The Ukrainian servicemen are certainly brave soldiers who perform their duty conscientiously and courageously. But my personal experience shows that in almost every crisis, the problem is at the head. The inability to understand the opponent and his logic and to have a clear picture of the actual situation is the main reason for failures.
Since the beginning of the Russian offensive, we can distinguish two ways of conducting the war. On the Ukrainian side, the war is waged in the political and informational spaces, while on the Russian side the war is waged in the physical and operational space. The two sides are not fighting in the same spaces. This is a situation that I described in 2003 in my book, La guerre asymétrique ou la défaite du vainqueur (Asymmetric War, or the Defeat of the Winner). The trouble is that at the end of the day, the reality of the terrain prevails.
On the Russian side, decisions are made by the military, while on the Ukrainian side, Zelensky is omnipresent and the central element in the conduct of the war. He makes operational decisions, apparently often against the military’s advice. This explains the rising tensions between Zelensky and the military. According to Ukrainian media, Zelensky could dismiss General Valery Zoluzhny by appointing him Minister of Defence.
The Ukrainian army has been extensively trained by American, British and Canadian officers since 2014. The trouble is that for over 20 years, Westerners have been fighting armed groups and scattered adversaries and engaged entire armies against individuals. They fight wars at the tactical level and somehow have lost the ability to fight at the strategic and operative levels. This explains partly why Ukraine is waging its war at this level.
But there is a more conceptual dimension. Zelensky and the West see war as a numerical and technological balance of forces. This is why, since 2014, the Ukrainians have never tried to seduce the rebels and they now think that the solution will come from the weapons supplied by the West. The West provided Ukraine with a few dozen M777 guns and HIMARS and MLRS missile launchers, while Ukraine had several thousand equivalent artillery pieces in February. The Russian concept of “correlation of forces,” takes into account many more factors and is more holistic than the Western approach. That is why the Russians are winning.
To comply with ill-considered policies, our media have constructed a virtual reality that gives Russia the bad role. For those who observe the course of the crisis carefully, we could almost say they presented Russia as a “mirror image” of the situation in Ukraine. Thus, when the talk about Ukrainian losses began, Western communication turned to Russian losses (with figures given by Ukraine).
The so-called “counter-offensives” proclaimed by Ukraine and the West in Kharkov and Kherson in April-May were merely “counter-attacks.” The difference between the two is that counter-offensive is an operational notion, while counter-attack is a tactical notion, which is much more limited in scope. These counterattacks were possible because the density of Russian troops in these sectors was then 1 Battle Group (BTG) per 20 km of front. By comparison, in the Donbass sector, which was the primary focus, the Russian coalition had 1-3 BTG per km. As for the great August offensive on Kherson, which was supposed to take over the south of the country, it seems to have been nothing but a myth to maintain Western support.
Today, we see that the claimed Ukrainian successes were in fact failures. The human and material losses that were attributed to Russia were in fact more in line with those of Ukraine. In mid-June, David Arakhamia, Zelensky’s chief negotiator and close adviser, spoke of 200 to 500 deaths per day, and he mentioned casualties (dead, wounded, captured, deserters) of 1,000 men per day. If we add to this the renewed demands for arms by Zelensky, we can see that the idea of a victory for Ukraine appears quite an illusion.
Because Russia’s economy was thought to be comparable to Italy’s, it was assumed that it would be equally vulnerable. Thus, the West—and the Ukrainians—thought that economic sanctions and political isolation of Russia would quickly cause its collapse, without passing through a military defeat. Indeed, this is what we understand from the interview of Oleksei Arestovich, Zelensky’s advisor and spokesman, in March 2019. This also explains why Zelensky did not sound the alarm in early 2022, as he says in his interview with the Washington Post. I think he knew that Russia would respond to the offensive Ukraine was preparing in the Donbass (which is why the bulk of his troops were in that area) and thought that sanctions would quickly lead to Russia’s collapse and defeat. This is what Bruno Le Maire, the French Minister of the Economy, had “predicted.” Clearly, the Westerners have made decisions without knowing their opponent.
As Arestovich said, the idea was that the defeat of Russia would be Ukraine’s entry ticket to NATO. So, the Ukrainians were pushed to prepare an offensive in the Donbass in order to make Russia react, and thus obtain an easy defeat through devastating sanctions. This is cynical and shows how much the West—led by the Americans—has misused Ukraine for its own objectives.
The result is that the Ukrainians did not seek Ukraine’s victory, but Russia’s defeat. This is very different and explains the Western narrative from the first days of the Russian offensive, which prophesied this defeat.
But the reality is that the sanctions did not work as expected, and Ukraine found itself dragged into combats that it had provoked, but for which it was not prepared to fight for so long.
This is why, from the outset, the Western narrative presented a mismatch between media reported and the reality on the ground. This had a perverse effect: it encouraged Ukraine to repeat its mistakes and prevented it from improving its conduct of operations. Under the pretext of fighting Vladimir Putin, we pushed Ukraine to sacrifice thousands of human lives unnecessarily.
From the beginning, it was obvious that the Ukrainians were consistently repeating their mistakes (and even the same mistakes as in 2014-2015), and soldiers were dying on the battlefield. For his part, Volodymyr Zelensky called for more and more sanctions, including the most absurd ones, because he was led to believe that they were decisive.
I am not the only one to have noticed these mistakes, and Western countries could certainly have stopped this disaster. But their leaders, excited by the (fanciful) reports of Russian losses and thinking they were paving the way for regime change, added sanctions to sanctions, turning down any possibility of negotiation. As the French Minister of Economy Bruno Le Maire said, the objective was to provoke the collapse of the Russian economy and make the Russian people suffer. This is a form of state terrorism: the idea is to make the population suffer in order to push it into revolting against its leaders (here, Putin). I am not making this up. This mechanism is detailed by Richard Nephew, head of sanctions at the State Department under Obama and currently Coordinator on Global Anti-Corruption, in his book entitled, The Art of Sanctions. Ironically, this is exactly the same logic that the Islamic State invoked to explain its attacks in France in 2015-2016. France probably does not encourage terrorism—but it does practice it.
The mainstream media do not present the war as it is, but as they would like it to be. This is pure wishful thinking. The apparent public support for the Ukrainian authorities, despite huge losses (some mention 70,000-80,000 fatalities), is achieved by banning the opposition, a ruthless hunt for officials who disagree with the government line, and “mirror” propaganda that attributes to the Russians the same failures as the Ukrainians. All this with the conscious support of the West.
TP: What should we make of the explosion at the Saki airbase in the Crimea?
JB: I do not know the details of the current security situation in Crimea. . We know that before February there were cells of volunteer fighters of Praviy Sektor (a neo-Nazi militia) in Crimea, ready to carry out terrorist-type attacks. Have these cells been neutralized? I don’t know; but one can assume so, since there is apparently very little sabotage activity in Crimea. Having said that, let us not forget that Ukrainians and Russians have lived together for many decades and there are certainly pro-Kiev individuals in the areas taken by the Russians. It is therefore realistic to think that there could be sleeper cells in these areas.
More likely it is a campaign conducted by the Ukrainian security service (SBU) in the territories occupied by the Russian-speaking coalition. This is a terrorist campaign targeting pro-Russian Ukrainian personalities and officials. It follows major changes in the leadership of the SBU, in Kiev, and in the regions, including Lvov, Ternopol since July. It is probably in the context of this same campaign that Darya Dugina was assassinated on August 21. The objective of this new campaign could be to convey the illusion that there is an ongoing resistance in the areas taken by the Russians and thus revive Western aid, which is starting to fatigue.
These sabotage activities do not really have an operational impact and seem more related to a psychological operation. It may be that these are actions like the one on Snake Island at the beginning of May, intended to demonstrate to the international public that Ukraine is acting.
What the incidents in Crimea indirectly show is that the popular resistance claimed by the West in February does not exist. It is most likely the action of Ukrainian and Western (probably British) clandestine operatives. Beyond the tactical actions, this shows the inability of the Ukrainians to activate a significant resistance movement in the areas seized by the Russian-speaking coalition.
TP: Zelensky has famously said, “Crimea is Ukrainian and we will never give it up.” Is this rhetoric, or is there a plan to attack Crimea? Are there Ukrainian operatives inside Crimea?
JB: First of all, Zelensky changes his opinion very often. In March 2022, he made a proposal to Russia, stating that he was ready to discuss a recognition of Russian sovereignty over the peninsula. It was upon the intervention of the European Union and Boris Johnson on 2 April and on 9 April that he withdrew his proposal, despite Russia’s favorable interest.
It is necessary to recall some historical facts. The cession of Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 was never formally validated by the parliaments of the USSR, Russia and Ukraine during the communist era. Moreover, the Crimean people agreed to be subject to the authority of Moscow and no longer of Kiev as early as January 1991. In other words, Crimea was independent from Kiev even before Ukraine became independent from Moscow in December 1991.
In July, Aleksei Reznikov, the Ukrainian Minister of Defense, spoke loudly of a major counter-offensive on Kherson involving one million men to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity. In reality, Ukraine has not managed to gather the troops, armor and air cover needed for this far-fetched offensive. Sabotage actions in Crimea may be a substitute for this “counter-offensive.” They seem to be more of a communication exercise than a real military action. These actions seem to be aimed rather at reassuring Western countries which are questioning the relevance of their unconditional support to Ukraine.
TP: Would you tell us about the situation around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear facility?
JB: In Energodar, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP), has been the target of several attacks by artillery, which Ukrainians and Russians attribute to the opposing side.
What we know is that the Russian coalition forces have occupied the ZNPP site since the beginning of March. The objective at that time was to secure the ZNPP quickly, in order to prevent it from being caught up in the fighting and thus avoid a nuclear incident. The Ukrainian personnel who were in charge of it have remained on site and continue to work under the supervision of the Ukrainian company Energoatom and the Ukrainian nuclear safety agency (SNRIU). There is therefore no fighting around the plant.
It is hard to see why the Russians would shell a nuclear plant that is under their control. This allegation is even more peculiar since the Ukrainians themselves state that there are Russian troops in the premises of the site. According to a French “expert,” the Russians would attack the power plant they control to cut off the electricity flowing to Ukraine. Not only would there be simpler ways to cut off the electricity to Ukraine (a switch, perhaps?), but Russia has not stopped the electricity supply to the Ukrainians since March. Moreover, I remind you that Russia has not stopped the flow of natural gas to Ukraine and has continued to pay Ukraine the transit fees for gas to Europe. It is Zelensky who decided to shut down the Soyuz pipeline in May.
Moreover, it should be remembered that the Russians are in an area where the population is generally favorable to them and it is hard to understand why they would take the risk of a nuclear contamination of the region.
In reality, the Ukrainians have more credible motives than the Russians that may explain such attacks against the ZNPP. , which are not mutually exclusive: an alternative to the big counter-offensive on Kherson, which they are not able to implement, and to prevent the planned referendums in the region. Further, Zelensky’s calls for demilitarizing the area of the power plant and even returning it to Ukraine would be a political and operational success for him. One might even imagine that they seek to deliberately provoke a nuclear incident in order to create a “no man’s land” and thus render the area unusable for the Russians.
By bombing the plant, Ukraine could also be trying to pressure the West to intervene in the conflict, under the pretext that Russia is seeking to disconnect the plant from the Ukrainian power grid before the fall. This suicidal behavior—as stated by UN Secretary General António Guterres—would be in line with the war waged by Ukraine since 2014.
There is strong evidence that the attacks on Energodar are Ukrainian. The fragments of projectiles fired at the site from the other side of the Dnieper are of Western origin. It seems that they come from British BRIMSTONE missiles, which are precision missiles, whose use is monitored by the British. Apparently, the West is aware of the Ukrainian attacks on the ZNPP. This might explain why Ukraine is not very supportive of an international commission of inquiry and why Western countries are putting unrealistic conditions for sending investigators from the IAEA, an agency that has not shown much integrity so far.
TP: It is reported that Zelensky is freeing criminals to fight in this war? Does this mean that Ukraine’s army is not as strong as commonly assumed?
JB: Zelensky faces the same problem as the authorities that emerged from Euromaidan in 2014. At that time, the military did not want to fight because they did not want to confront their Russian-speaking compatriots. According to a report by the British Home Office, reservists overwhelmingly refuse to attend recruitment sessions . In October-November 2017, 70% of conscripts do not show up for recall . Suicide has become a problem. According to the chief Ukrainian military prosecutor Anatoly Matios, after four years of war in the Donbass, 615 servicemen had committed suicide. Desertions have increased and reached up to 30% of the forces in certain operational areas, often in favor of the rebels.
For this reason, it became necessary to integrate more motivated, highly politicized, ultra-nationalistic and fanatical fighters into the armed forces to fight in the Donbass. Many of them are neo-Nazis. It is to eliminate these fanatical fighters that Vladimir Putin has mentioned the objective of “denazification.”
Today, the problem is slightly different. The Russians have attacked Ukraine and the Ukrainian soldiers are not a priori opposed to fighting them. But they realize that the orders they receive are not consistent with the situation on the battlefield. They understood that the decisions affecting them are not linked to military factors, but to political considerations. Ukrainian units are mutinying en masse and are increasingly refusing to fight. They say they feel abandoned by their commanders and that they are given missions without the necessary resources to execute them.
That’s why it becomes necessary to send men who are ready for anything. Because they are condemned, they can be kept under pressure. This is the same principle as Marshal Konstantin Rokossovki, who was sentenced to death by Stalin, but was released from prison in 1941 to fight against the Germans. His death sentence was lifted only after Stalin’s death in 1956.
In order to overshadow the use of criminals in the armed forces, the Russians are accused of doing the same thing. The Ukrainians and the Westerners consistently use “mirror” propaganda. As in all recent conflicts, Western influence has not led to a moralization of the conflict.
TP: Everyone speaks of how corrupt Putin is? But what about Zelensky? Is he the “heroic saint” that we are all told to admire?
JB: In October 2021, the Pandora Papers showed that Ukraine and Zelensky were the most corrupt in Europe and practiced tax evasion on a large scale. Interestingly, these documents were apparently published with the help of an American intelligence agency, and Vladimir Putin is not mentioned. More precisely, the documents mention individuals ” associated ” with him, who are said to have links with undisclosed assets, which could belong to a woman, who is believed to have had a child with him.
Yet, when our media are reporting on these documents, they routinely put a picture of Vladimir Putin, but not of Volodymyr Zelensky.
I am not in a position to assess how corrupt Zelensky is. But there is no doubt that the Ukrainian society and its governance are. I contributed modestly to a NATO “Building Integrity” program in Ukraine and discovered that none of the contributing countries had any illusions about its effectiveness, and all saw the program as a kind of “window dressing” to justify Western support.
It is unlikely that the billions paid by the West to Ukraine will reach the Ukrainian people. A recent CBS News report stated that only 30-40% of the weapons supplied by the West make it to the battlefield. The rest enriches mafias and other corrupt people. Apparently, some high-tech Western weapons have been sold to the Russians, such as the French CAESAR system and presumably the American HIMARS. The CBS News report was censored to avoid undermining Western aid, but the fact remains that the US refused to supply MQ-1C drones to Ukraine for this reason.
Ukraine is a rich country, yet today it is the only country in the former USSR with a lower GDP than it had at the collapse of the Soviet Union. The problem is therefore not Zelensky himself, but the whole system, which is deeply corrupted, and which the West maintains for the sole purpose of fighting Russia.
Zelensky was elected in April 2019 on the program of reaching an agreement with Russia. But nobody let him carry out his program. The Germans and the French deliberately prevented him from implementing the Minsk agreements. The transcript of the telephone conversation of 20 February 2022 between Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin shows that France deliberately kept Ukraine away from the solution. Moreover, in Ukraine, far right and neo-Nazi political forces have publicly threatened him with death. Dmitry Yarosh, commander of the Ukrainian Volunteer Army, declared in May 2019 that Zelensky would be hanged if he carried out his program. In other words, Zelensky is trapped between his idea of reaching an agreement with Russia and the demands of the West. Moreover, the West realizes that its strategy of war through sanctions has failed. As the economic and social problems increase, the West will find it harder to back down without losing face. A way out for Britain, the US, the EU, or France would be to remove Zelensky. That is why, with the deteriorating situation in Ukraine, I think Zelensky starts to realize that his life is threatened.
At the end of the day, Zelensky is a poor guy, because his best enemies are those on whom he depends: the Western world.
TP: There are many videos (gruesome ones) on social media of Ukrainian soldiers engaging in serious war crimes? Why is there a “blind spot” in the West for such atrocities?
JB: First of all, we must be clear: in every war, every belligerent commit war crimes. Military personnel who deliberately commit such crimes dishonor their uniform and must be punished.
The problem arises when war crimes are part of a plan or result from orders given by the higher command. This was the case when the Netherlands let its military allow the Srebrenica massacre in 1995; the torture in Afghanistan by Canadian and British troops, not to mention the countless violations of international humanitarian law by the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo and elsewhere with the complicity of Poland, Lithuania or Estonia. If these are Western values, then Ukraine is in the right school.
In Ukraine, political crime has become commonplace, with the complicity of the West. Thus, those who are in favor of a negotiation are eliminated. This is the case of Denis Kireyev, one of the Ukrainian negotiators, assassinated on March 5 by the Ukrainian security service (SBU) because he was considered too favorable to Russia and as a traitor. The same thing happened to Dmitry Demyanenko, an officer of the SBU, who was assassinated on March 10, also because he was too favorable to an agreement with Russia. Remember that this is a country that considers that receiving or giving Russian humanitarian aid is “collaborationism.”
On 16 March 2022, a journalist on TV channel Ukraine 24 referred to the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann and called for the massacre of Russian-speaking children. On 21 March, the military doctor Gennadiy Druzenko declared on the same channel that he had ordered his doctors to castrate Russian prisoners of war. On social networks, these statements quickly became propaganda for the Russians and the two Ukrainians apologized for having said so, but not for the substance. Ukrainian crimes were beginning to be revealed on social networks, and on 27 March Zelensky feared that this would jeopardize Western support. This was followed—rather opportunely—by the Bucha massacre on 3 April, the circumstances of which remain unclear.
Britain, which then had the chairmanship of the UN Security Council, refused three times the Russian request to set up an international commission of enquiry into the crimes of Bucha. Ukrainian socialist MP Ilya Kiva revealed on Telegram that the Bucha tragedy was planned by the British MI6 special services and implemented by the SBU.
The fundamental problem is that the Ukrainians have replaced the “operational art” with brutality. Since 2014, in order to fight the autonomists, the Ukrainian government has never tried to apply strategies based on “hearts & minds,” which the British used in the 1950s-1960s in South-East Asia, which were much less brutal but much more effective and long-lasting. Kiev preferred to conduct an Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) in the Donbass and to use the same strategies as the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fighting terrorists authorizes all kinds of brutality. It is the lack of a holistic approach to the conflict that led to the failure of the West in Afghanistan, Iraq and Mali.
Counter-Insurgency Operation (COIN) requires a more sophisticated and holistic approach. But NATO is incapable of developing such strategies as I have seen first-hand in Afghanistan. The war in Donbass has been brutal for 8 years and has resulted in the death of 10,000 Ukrainian citizens plus 4,000 Ukrainian military personnel. By comparison, in 30 years, the conflict in Northern Ireland resulted in 3,700 deaths. To justify this brutality, the Ukrainians had to invent the myth of a Russian intervention in Donbass.
The problem is that the philosophy of the new Maidan leaders was to have a racially pure Ukraine. In other words, the unity of the Ukrainian people was not to be achieved through the integration of communities, but through the exclusion of communities of “inferior races.” An idea that would no doubt have pleased the grandfathers of Ursula von der Leyen and Chrystia Freeland! This explains why Ukrainians have little empathy for the country’s Russian, Magyar and Romanian-speaking minorities. This in turn explains why Hungary and Romania do not want their territories to be used for the supply of arms to Ukraine.
This is why shooting at their own citizens to intimidate them is not a problem for the Ukrainians. This explains the spraying of thousands of PFM-1 (“butterfly”) anti-personnel mines, which look like toys, on the Russian-speaking city of Donetsk in July 2022. This type of mine is used by a defender, not an attacker in its main area of operation. Moreover, in this area, the Donbass militias are fighting “at home,” with populations they know personally.
I think that war crimes have been committed on both sides, but that their media coverage has been very different. Our media have reported extensively about crimes (true or false) attributed to Russia. On the other hand, they have been extremely silent about Ukrainian crimes. We do not know the whole truth about the Bucha massacre, but the available evidence supports the hypothesis that Ukraine staged the event to cover up its own crimes. By keeping these crimes quiet, our media have been complicit with them and have created a sense of impunity that has encouraged the Ukrainians to commit further crimes.
TP: Latvia wants the West (America) to designate Russia a “terrorist state.” What do you make of this? Does this mean that the war is actually over, and Russia has won?
JB: The Estonian and Latvian demands are in response to Zelensky’s call to designate Russia as a terrorist state. Interestingly, they come at the same time a Ukrainian terrorist campaign is being unleashed in Crimea, the occupied zone of Ukraine and the rest of Russian territory. It is also interesting that Estonia was apparently complicit in the attack on Darya Dugina in August 2022.
It seems that Ukrainians communicate in a mirror image of the crimes they commit or the problems they have, in order to hide them. For example, in late May 2022, as the Azovstal surrender in Mariupol showed neo-Nazi fighters, they began to allege that there are neo-Nazis in the Russian army. In August 2022, when Kiev was carrying out actions of a terrorist nature against the Energodar power plant in Crimea and on Russian territory, Zelensky called for Russia to be considered a terrorist state.
In fact, Zelensky continues to believe that he can only solve his problem by defeating Russia and that this defeat depends on sanctions against Russia. Declaring Russia a terrorist state would lead to further isolation. That is why he is making this appeal. This shows that the label “terrorist” is more political than operational, and that those who make such proposals do not have a very clear vision of the problem. The problem is that it has implications for international relations. This is why the US State Department is concerned that Zelensky’s request will be implemented by Congress.
TP: One of the sadder outcomes of this Ukraine-Russia conflict is how the West has shown the worst of itself. Where do you think we will go from here? More of the same, or will there be changes that will have to be made in regards to NATO, neutral countries which are no longer neutral, and the way the West seeks to “govern” the world?
JB: This crisis reveals several things. First, that NATO and the European Union are only instruments of US foreign policy. These institutions no longer act in the interests of their members, but in the interests of the US. The sanctions adopted under American pressure are backfiring on Europe, which is the big loser in this whole crisis: it suffers its own sanctions and has to deal with the tensions resulting from its own decisions.
The decisions taken by Western governments reveal a generation of leaders who are young and inexperienced (such as Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin); ignorant, yet thinking they are smart (such as French President Emmanuel Macron); doctrinaire (such as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen); and fanatical (such as the leaders of the Baltic States). They all share some of the same weaknesses, not least of which is their inability to manage a complex crisis.
When the head is unable to understand the complexity of a crisis, we respond with guts and dogmatism. This is what we see happening in Europe. The Eastern European countries, especially the Baltic States and Poland, have shown themselves to be loyal servants of American policy. They have also shown immature, confrontational, and short-sighted governance. These are countries that have never integrated Western values, that continue to celebrate the forces of the Third Reich and discriminate against their own Russian-speaking population.
I am not even mentioning the European Union, which has been vehemently opposed to any diplomatic solution and has only added fuel to the fire.
The more you are involved in a conflict, the more you are involved in its outcome. If you win, all is well. But if the conflict is a failure, you will bear the burden. This is what has happened to the United States in recent conflicts and what is happening in Ukraine. The defeat of Ukraine is becoming the defeat of the West.
Another big loser in this conflict is clearly Switzerland. Its neutral status has suddenly lost all credibility. Early August, Switzerland and Ukraine concluded an agreement that would allow the Swiss embassy in Moscow to offer protection to Ukrainian citizens in Russia. However, in order to enter into force, it has to be recognized by Russia. Quite logically, Russia refused and declared that “Switzerland had unfortunately lost its status as a neutral state and could not act as an intermediary or representative.”
This is a very serious development because neutrality is not simply a unilateral declaration. It must be accepted and recognized by all to be effective. Yet Switzerland not only aligned itself with the Western countries but was even more extreme than them. It can be said that in a few weeks, Switzerland has ruined a policy that has been recognized for almost 170 years. This is a problem for Switzerland, but it may also be a problem for other countries. A neutral state can offer a way out of a crisis. Today, Western countries are looking for a way out that would allow them to get closer to Russia in the perspective of an energy crisis without losing face. Turkey has taken on this role, but it is limited, as it is part of NATO.
The West has created an Iron Curtain 2.0 that will affect international relations for years to come. The West’s lack of strategic vision is astonishing. While NATO is aligning itself with US foreign policy and reorienting itself towards China, Western strategy has only strengthened the Moscow-Beijing axis.
TP: What do you think this war ultimately means for Europe, the US and China?
JB: In order to answer this question, we first must answer another question: “Why is this conflict more condemnable and sanctionable than previous conflicts started by the West?”
After the disasters of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Mali, the rest of the world expected the West to help resolve this crisis with common sense. The West responded in exactly the opposite way to these expectations. Not only has no one been able to explain why this conflict was more reprehensible than previous ones, but the difference in treatment between Russia and the United States has shown that more importance is attached to the aggressor than to the victims. Efforts to bring about the collapse of Russia contrast with the total impunity of countries that have lied to the UN Security Council, practiced torture, caused the deaths of over a million people and created 37 million refugees.
This difference in treatment went unnoticed in the West. But the “rest of the world” has understood that we have moved from a “law-based international order” to a “rules-based international order” determined by the West.
On a more material level, the confiscation of Venezuelan gold by the British in 2020, of Afghanistan’s sovereign funds in 2021, and then of Russia’s sovereign funds in 2022 by the US, has raised the mistrust of the West’s allies. This shows that the non-Western world is no longer protected by law and depends on the goodwill of the West.
This conflict is probably the starting point for a new world order. The world is not going to change all at once, but the conflict has raised the attention of the rest of the world. For when we say that the “international community” condemns Russia, we are in fact talking about 18% of the world’s population.
Some actors traditionally close to the West are gradually moving away from it. On 15 July 2022, Joe Biden visited Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) with two objectives: to prevent Saudi Arabia from moving closer to Russia and China, and to ask him to increase its oil production. But four days earlier, MbS made an official request to become a member of the BRICS, and a week later, on 21 July, MbS called Vladimir Putin to confirm that he would stand by the OPEC+ decision. In other words: no oil production increase. It was a slap in the face of the West and of its most powerful representative.
Saudi Arabia has now decided to accept Chinese currency as payment for its oil. This is a major event, which tends to indicate a loss of confidence in the dollar. The consequences are potentially huge. The petrodollar was established by the US in the 1970s to finance its deficit. By forcing other countries to buy dollars, it allows the US to print dollars without being caught in an inflationary loop. Thanks to the petrodollar, the US economy—which is essentially a consumer economy—is supported by the economies of other countries around the world. The demise of the petrodollar could have disastrous consequences for the US economy, as former Republican Senator Ron Paul puts it.
In addition, the sanctions have brought China and Russia, both targeted by the West, closer together. This has accelerated the formation of a Eurasian bloc and strengthened the position of both countries in the world. India, which the US has scorned as a “second-class” partner of the “Quad,” has moved closer to Russia and China, despite disputes with the latter.
Today, China is the main provider of infrastructure in the Third World. In particular, its way of interacting with African countries is more in line with the expectations of these countries. Collaboration with former colonial powers such as France and American imperialist paternalism are no longer welcome. For example, the Central African Republic and Mali have asked France to leave their countries and have turned to Russia.
At the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit, the US proudly announced a $150 million contribution to “strengthen its position in the broader geopolitical competition with China.” But in November 2021, President Xi Jinping offered $1.5 billion to the same countries to fight the pandemic and promote economic recovery. By using its money to wage war, the US has no money left to forge and consolidate alliances.
The West’s loss of influence stems from the fact that it continues to treat the “rest of the world” like “little children” and neglects the usefulness of good diplomacy.
The war in Ukraine is not the trigger for these phenomena, which started a few years ago, but it is most certainly an eye-opener and accelerator.
TP: The western media has been pushing that Putin may be seriously ill. If Putin suddenly dies, would this make any difference at all to the war?
This is wishful thinking and, on the higher end of the spectrum, it echoes the calls for terrorism and the physical elimination of Vladimir Putin.
The West has personalized Russian politics through Putin, because he is the one who promoted the reconstruction of Russia after the Yeltsin years. Americans like to be champions when there are no competitors and see others as enemies. This is the case with Germany, Europe, Russia and China.
But our “experts” know little about Russian politics. For in reality, Vladimir Putin is more of a “dove” in the Russian political landscape. Given the climate that we have created with Russia, it would not be impossible that his disappearance would lead to the emergence of more aggressive forces. We should not forget that countries like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland or Georgia have never developed European democratic values. They still have discriminatory policies towards their ethnic Russians that are far from European values, and they behave like immature agents provocateurs. I think that if Putin were to disappear for some reason, the conflicts with these countries would take on a new dimension.
TP: How unified is Russia presently? Has the war created a more serious opposition than what previously existed within Russia?
JB: No, on the contrary. The American and European leaders have a poor understanding of their enemy: the Russian people are very patriotic and cohesive. Western obsession to ” punish ” the Russian people has only brought them closer to their leaders. In fact, by seeking to divide Russian society in an effort to overthrow the government, Western sanctions—including the dumbest ones—have confirmed what the Kremlin has been saying for years: that the West has a profound hatred of Russians. What was once said to be a lie is now confirmed in Russian opinion. The consequence is that the people’s trust in the government has grown stronger.
The approval ratings given by the Levada Centre (considered by the Russian authorities as a “foreign agent”) show that public opinion has tightened around Vladimir Putin and the Russian government. In January 2022, Vladimir Putin’s approval rating was 69% and the government’s was 53%. Today, Putin’s approval rating has been stable at around 83% since March, and the government’s is at 71%. In January, 29% did not approve of Vladimir Putin’s decisions, in July it was only 15%.
According to the Levada Centre, even the Russian operation in Ukraine enjoys a majority of favorable opinions. In March, 81% of Russians were in favor of the operation; this figure dropped to 74%, probably due to the impact of sanctions at the end of March, and then it went back up. In July 2022, the operation had 76% popular support.
The problem is that our journalists have neither culture nor journalistic discipline and they replace them with their own beliefs. It is a form of conspiracy that aims to create a false reality based on what one believes and not on the facts. For example, few know (or want to know) that Aleksey Navalny said he would not return Crimea to Ukraine. The West’s actions have completely wiped out the opposition, not because of “Putin’s repression,” but because in Russia, resistance to foreign interference and the West’s deep contempt for Russians is a bipartisan cause. Exactly like the hatred of Russians in the West. This is why personalities like Aleksey Navalny, who never had a very high popularity, have completely disappeared from the popular media landscape.
Moreover, even if the sanctions have had a negative impact on the Russian economy, the way the government has handled things since 2014 shows a great mastery of economic mechanisms and a great realism in assessing the situation. There is a rise in prices in Russia, but it is much lower than in Europe, and while Western economies are raising their key interest rates, Russia is lowering its own.
The Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova has been exemplified as an expression of the opposition in Russia. Her case is interesting because, as usual, we do not say everything.
On 14 March 2022, she provoked international applause by interrupting the Russian First Channel news program with a poster calling for ending the war in Ukraine. She was arrested and fined $280.
As a result, in June 2022, she left Germany to live in Odessa, her hometown. But instead of being grateful, the Ukrainians put her on the Mirotvorets blacklist where she is accused of treason, “participation in the Kremlin’s special information and propaganda operations” and “complicity with the invaders.”
The Mirotvorets website is a “hit list” for politicians, journalists or personalities who do not share the opinion of the Ukrainian government. Several of the people on the list have been murdered. In October 2019, the UN requested the closure of the site, but this was refused by the Rada. It should be noted that none of our mainstream media has condemned this practice, which is very far from the values they claim to defend. In other words, our media support these practices that used to be attributed to South American regimes.
Ovsyannikova then returned to Russia, where she demonstrated against the war, calling Putin a “killer,” and was arrested by the police and placed under house arrest for three months. At this point, our media protested.
It is worth noting that Russian journalist Darya Dugina, the victim of a bomb attack in Moscow on 21 August 2022, was on the Mirotvorets list and her file was marked “liquidated.” Of course, no Western media mentioned that she was targeted by the Mirotvorets website, which is considered to be linked to the SBU, as this would tend to support Russia’s accusations.
German journalist Alina Lipp, whose revelations about Ukrainian and Western crimes in the Donbass are disturbing, has been placed on the website Mirotvorets. Moreover, Alina Lipp was sentenced in absentia to three years in prison by a German court for claiming that Russian troops had “liberated” areas in Ukraine and thus “glorified criminal activities.” As can be seen, the German authorities are functioning like the neo-Nazi elements in Ukraine. Today’s politicians are a credit to their grandparents!
One can conclude that even if there are some people who oppose the war, Russian public opinion is overwhelmingly behind its government. Western sanctions have only strengthened the credibility of the Russian president.
Ultimately, my point is not to take the same approach as our media and replace the hatred of Russia with that of Ukraine. On the contrary, it is to show that the world is not either black or white and that Western countries have taken the situation too far. Those who are compassionate about Ukraine should have pushed our governments to implement the agreed political solutions in 2014 and 2015. They haven’t done anything and are now pushing Ukraine to fight. But we are no longer in 2021. Today, we have to accept the consequences of our non-decisions and help Ukraine to recover. But this must not be done at the expense of its Russian-speaking population, as we have done until now, but with the Russian-speaking people, in an inclusive manner. If I look at the media in France, Switzerland and Belgium, we are still very far from the goal.
TP: Thank you so very much, Mr. Baud, for this most enlightening discussion.
The cultural and historical elements that determine the relations between Russia and Ukraine are important. The two countries have a long, rich, diverse, and eventful history together.
This would be essential if the crisis we are experiencing today were rooted in history. However, it is a product of the present. The war we see today does not come from our great-grandparents, our grandparents or even our parents. It comes from us. We created this crisis. We created every piece and every mechanism. We have only exploited existing dynamics and exploited Ukraine to satisfy an old dream: to try to bring down Russia. Chrystia Freeland’s, Antony Blinken’s, Victoria Nuland’s and Olaf Scholz’s grandfathers had that dream; we realized it.
The way we understand crises determines the way we solve them. Cheating with the facts leads to disaster. This is what is happening in Ukraine. In this case the number of issues is so enormous that we will not be able to discuss them here. Let me just focus on some of them.
Did James Baker make Promises to Limit Eastward Expansion of NATO to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990?
In 2021, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated that “there was never a promise that NATO would not expand eastward after the fall of the Berlin Wall.” This claim remains widespread among self-proclaimed experts on Russia, who explain that there were no promises because there was no treaty or written agreement. This argument is a bit simplistic and false.
It is true that there are no treaties or decisions of the North Atlantic Council (NAC) that embody such promises. But this does not mean that they have not been formulated, nor that they were formulated out of casualness!
Today we have the feeling that having “lost the Cold War,” the USSR had no say in the European security developments. This is not true. As a winner of the Second World War, the USSR had a de jure a veto right over German reunification. In other words, Western countries had to obtain its agreement, in exchange for which Gorbachev demanded a commitment to the non-expansion of NATO. It should not be forgotten that in 1990 the USSR still existed, and there was no yet question to dismantle it, as the referendum of March 1991 would show. The Soviet Union was therefore not in a weak position and could prevent the reunification.
This was confirmed by Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the German Foreign Minister, in Tutzing (Bavaria) on 31 January 1990, as reported in a cable from the U.S. embassy in Bonn:
Genscher warned, however, that any attempt to expand [NATO’s] military reach into the territory of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) would block German reunification.
German reunification had two major consequences for the USSR: the withdrawal of the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany (GSFG), the most powerful and modern contingent outside its territory, and the disappearance of a significant part of its protective “glacis.” In other words, any move would be at the expense of its security. This is why Genscher stated:
…The changes in Eastern Europe and the process of German unification should not “undermine Soviet security interests.” Therefore, NATO should exclude an “expansion of its territory to the East, i.e. to get closer to the Soviet borders.”
At this stage, the Warsaw Pact was still in force and the NATO doctrine was unchanged. Therefore Mikhail Gorbachev expressed very soon his legitimate concerns for USSR national security. This is what prompted James Baker, the American Secretary of State, to immediately begin discussions with him. On 9 February 1990, in order to appease Gorbachev’s concerns, Baker declared:
Not only for the Soviet Union but also for other European countries, it is important to have guarantees that if the United States maintains its presence in Germany within the framework of NATO, not one inch of NATO’s current military jurisdiction will spread eastward.
Promises were thus made simply because the West had no alternative, to obtain the USSR’s approval; and without promises Germany would not have been reunified. Gorbachev accepted German reunification only because he had received assurances from President George H.W. Bush and James Baker, Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, her successor John Major and their Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd, President François Mitterrand, but also from CIA Director Robert Gates and Manfred Wörner, then Secretary General of NATO.
The fact that we are prepared not to deploy a NATO army beyond German territory gives the Soviet Union a solid guarantee of security.
In February 2022, in the German magazine Der Spiegel, Joshua Shifrinson, an American political analyst, revealed a declassified SECRET document of March 6, 1991, written after a meeting of the political directors of the foreign ministries of the United States, Great Britain, France and Germany. It reports the words of the German representative, Jürgen Chrobog:
We made it clear in the 2+4 negotiations that we would not extend NATO beyond the Elbe. Therefore, we cannot offer NATO membership to Poland and the others.
The representatives of the other countries also accepted the idea of not offering NATO membership to the other Eastern European countries. So, written record or not, there was a “deal,” simply because a “deal” was inevitable. Now, in international law, a “promise” is a valid unilateral act that must be respected (“promissio est servanda“). Those who deny this today are simply individuals who do not know the value of a given word.
Did Vladimir Putin disregard the Budapest Memorandum (1994)
In February 2022, at the Munich Security Forum, Volodymyr Zelensky referred to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum and threatened to become a nuclear power again. However, it is unlikely that Ukraine will become a nuclear power again, nor will the nuclear powers allow it to do so. Zelensky and Putin know this. In Fact, Zelensky is not using this memorandum to get nuclear weapons, but to get Crimea back, since the Ukrainians see Russia’s annexation of Crimea as a violation of this treaty. Basically, Zelensky is trying to hold Western countries hostage. To understand that we must go back to events and facts that are opportunistically “forgotten” by our historians.
On 20 January 1991, before the independence of Ukraine, the Crimeans were invited to choose by referendum between two options: to remain with Kiev or to return to the pre-1954 situation and be administered by Moscow. The question asked on the ballot was:
Are you in favor of the restoration of the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Crimea as a subject of the Soviet Union and a member of the Union Treaty?
This was the first referendum on autonomy in the USSR, and 93.6% of Crimeans agreed to be attached to Moscow. The Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Crimea (ASSR Crimea), abolished in 1945, was thus re-established on 12 February 1991 by the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR. On 17 March, Moscow organized a referendum for the maintenance of the Soviet Union, which would be accepted by Ukraine, thus indirectly validating the decision of the Crimeans. At this stage, Crimea was under the control of Moscow and not Kiev, while Ukraine was not yet independent. As Ukraine organized its own referendum for independence, the participation of the Crimeans remained weak, because they did not feel concerned anymore.
Ukraine became independent six months after Crimea, and after the latter had proclaimed its sovereignty on September 4. On February 26, 1992, the Crimean parliament proclaimed the “Republic of Crimea” with the agreement of the Ukrainian government, which granted it the status of a self-governing republic. On 5 May 1992, Crimea declared its independence and adopted a Constitution. The city of Sevastopol, managed directly by Moscow in the communist system, had a similar situation, having been integrated by Ukraine in 1991, outside of all legality. The following years were marked by a tug of war between Simferopol and Kiev, which wanted to keep Crimea under its control.
In 1994, by signing the Budapest Memorandum, Ukraine surrendered the nuclear weapons of the former USSR that remained on its territory, in exchange for “its security, independence and territorial integrity.” At this stage, Crimea considered that it was—de jure—no longer part of Ukraine and therefore not concerned by this treaty. On its side, the government in Kiev felt strengthened by the memorandum. This is why, on 17 March 1995, it forcibly abolished the Crimean Constitution. It sent its special forces to overthrow Yuri Mechkov, President of Crimea, and de facto annexed the Republic of Crimea, thus triggering popular demonstrations for the attachment of Crimea to Russia. An event hardly reported by the Western media.
Crimea was then governed in an authoritarian manner by presidential decrees from Kiev. This situation led the Crimean Parliament to formulate a new constitution in October 1995, which re-established the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. This new constitution was ratified by the Crimean Parliament on 21 October 1998 and confirmed by the Ukrainian Parliament on 23 December 1998. These events and the concerns of the Russian-speaking minority led to a Treaty of Friendship between Ukraine and Russia on 31 May 1997. In the treaty, Ukraine included the principle of the inviolability of borders, in exchange—and this is very important—for a guarantee of “the protection of the ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious originality of the national minorities on their territory.”
On 23 February 2014, not only did the new authorities in Kiev emerge from a coup d’état that had definitely no constitutional basis and were not elected; but, by abrogating the 2012 Kivalov-Kolesnichenko law on official languages, they no longer respected this guarantee of the 1997 treaty. The Crimeans therefore took to the streets to demand the “return” to Russia that they had obtained 30 years earlier.
On March 4, during his press conference on the situation in Ukraine a journalist asked Vladimir Putin, “How do you see the future of Crimea? Do you consider the possibility that it joins Russia?” he replied:
No, we do not consider it. In general, I believe that only the residents of a given country who are free to decide and safe can and should determine their future. If this right has been granted to the Albanians in Kosovo, if this has been made possible in many parts of the world, then no one is excluding the right of nations to self-determination, which, as far as I know, is laid down in several UN documents. However, we will in no way provoke such a decision and will not feed such feelings.
On March 6, the Crimean Parliament decided to hold a popular referendum to choose between remaining in Ukraine or requesting the attachment to Moscow. It was after this vote that the Crimean authorities asked Moscow for an attachment to Russia.
With this referendum, Crimea had only recovered the status it had legally acquired just before the independence of Ukraine. This explains why it renewed its request to be attached to Moscow, as in January 1991. Moreover, the status of force agreement (SOFA) between Ukraine and Russia for the stationing of troops in Crimea and Sevastopol had been renewed in 2010 and to run until 2042. Russia therefore had no specific reason to claim this territory. The population of Crimea, which legitimately felt betrayed by the government of Kiev, seized the opportunity to assert its rights.
On 19 February 2022, Anka Feldhusen, the German ambassador in Kiev, threw a spanner in the works by declaring on the television channel Ukraine 24 that the Budapest Memorandum was not legally binding. Incidentally, this is also the American position, as shown by the statement on the website of the American embassy in Minsk.
The whole Western narrative about the “annexation” of Crimea is based on a rewriting of history and the obscuring of the 1991 referendum, which did exist and was perfectly valid. The 1994 Budapest Memorandum remains extensively quoted since February 2022, but the Western narrative simply ignores the 1997 Friendship Treaty which is the reason for the discontent of the Russian-speaking Ukrainian citizens.
Is the Ukrainian Government Legitimate?
The Russians still see the regime change that occurred in 2014 as illegitimate, as it was not done through constitutional process and without any support from a large part of the Ukrainian population.
The Maidan revolution can be broken down into several sequences, with different actors. Today, those who are driven by hatred of Russia are trying to merge these different sequences into one single “democratic impulse”: A way to validate the crimes committed by Ukraine and its neo-Nazis zealots.
At first, the population of Kiev, disappointed by the government’s decision to postpone the signing of the treaty with the EU, gathered in the streets. Regime change was not in the air. This was a simple expression of discontent.
Contrary to what the West claims, Ukraine was then deeply divided on the issue of rapprochement with Europe. A survey conducted in November 2013 by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) shows that it was split almost exactly “50/50” between those who favored an agreement with the European Union and those favoring a customs union with Russia. In the south and east of Ukraine, industry was strongly linked to Russia, and workers feared that an agreement excluding Russia would kill their jobs. That is what would eventually happen. In fact, at this stage, the aim was already to try to isolate Russia.
In the Washington Post, Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon’s National Security Advisor, noted that the European Union “helped turn a negotiation into a crisis.”
What happened later involved ultranationalist and neo-Nazis groups coming from the Western part of the country. Violence erupted and the government withdrew, after signing an agreement with the rioters for new elections. But this was quickly forgotten.
It was nothing less than a coup d’état, led by the United States with the support of the European Union, and carried out without any legal basis, against a government whose election had been qualified by the OSCE as “transparent and honest” and having “offered an impressive demonstration of democracy.” In December 2014, George Friedman, president of the American geopolitical intelligence platform STRATFOR, said in an interview:
Russia defines the event that took place at the beginning of this year [in February 2014] as a coup organized by the US. And as a matter of fact, it was the most blatant [coup] in history.
Unlike European observers, the Atlantic Council, despite being strongly in favor of NATO, was quick to note that the Maidan revolution had been hijacked by certain oligarchs and ultra-nationalists. It noted that the reforms promised by Ukraine had not been carried out and that the Western media stuck to an acritical “black and white” narrative. A telephone conversation between Victoria Nuland, then Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia, and Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Kiev, revealed by the BBC, shows that the Americans themselves selected the members of the future Ukrainian government, in defiance of the Ukrainians and the Europeans. This conversation, which became famous thanks to Nuland’s famous “F*** the EU!”
The coup d’état was not unanimously supported by the Ukrainian people, either in substance or in form. It was the work of a minority of ultra-nationalists from western Ukraine (Galicia), who did not represent the whole Ukrainian people. Their first legislative act, on 23 February 2014, was to abrogate the 2012 Kivalov-Kolesnichenko law, which established the Russian language as an official language along with Ukrainian. This is what prompted the Russian-speaking population to start massive protests in the southern part of the country, against authorities they had not elected.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine began as a popular movement. […] The protests were organized by local citizens claiming to represent the Russian-speaking majority in the region. They were concerned both about the political and economic consequences of the new government in Kiev and about that government’s later abandoned measures to prevent the official use of the Russian language throughout the country [“Rebels without a Cause: Russia’s Proxies in Eastern Ukraine,” International Crisis Group, Europe Report N° 254, 16 juillet 2019, p. 2].
Western efforts to legitimate this far-right coup in Kiev led to hide the opposition in the southern part of the country. In order to present this revolution as democratic, the real “hand of the West” was cleverly masked by the imaginary “hand of Russia.” This is how the myth of a Russian military intervention was created. Allegations about a Russian military presence were definitely false, an event the chief of the Ukrainian Security service (SBU) confessed in 2015 that there were no Russian units in Donbass.
To make things worse, Ukraine didn’t gain legitimacy through the way it handled the rebellion. In 2014-2015, poorly advised by NATO military, Ukraine waged a war that could only lead to its defeat: it considered the populations of Donbass and Crimea as enemy foreign forces and made no attempt to win the “hearts and minds” of the autonomists. Instead, its strategy has been to punish the people even further. Bank services were stopped, economic relations with the autonomous regions were simply cut, and Crimea didn’t receive drinking water anymore.
This is why there are so many civilian victims in the Donbass, and why the Russian population still stands in majority behind its government today. The 14,000 victims of the conflict tend to be attributed to the “Russian invaders” and the so-called “separatists.” However, according to the United Nations—more than 80% of civilian casualties are the result of Ukrainian shelling. As we can see, the Ukrainian government is massacring its own people with the help, funding and advice of the military of NATO, the countries of the European Union, which defends its values.
In May 2014, the violent repression of protests prompted the population of some areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine to hold referendums for Self-Determination in the Donetsk People’s Republic (approved by 89%) and in the Lugansk People’s Republic (approved by 96%). Although Western media keeps calling them referendums of “independence,” they are referendums of “self-determination” or “autonomy” (самостоятельность). Until February 2022, our media consistently talked about “separatists” and “separatist republics.” In reality, as stated in the Minsk Agreement, these self-proclaimed republics didn’t seek “independence,” but an “autonomy” within Ukraine, with the ability to use their own language and their own customs.
Is NATO a Defensive Alliance?
NATO’s rationale is to bring European Allies under the US nuclear umbrella. It was designed as a defensive alliance, although recently declassified US documents show that the Soviets had apparently no intention to attack the West.
For the Russians, the question about whether NATO is offensive or defensive is beside the point. To understand Putin’s point of view, we have to consider two things that are usually overlooked by Western commentators: the enlargement of NATO towards the East, and the incremental abandonment of the international security’s normative framework by the US.
In fact, as long as the US didn’t deploy missiles in the vicinity of its borders, Russia didn’t bother so much about NATO extension. Russia itself considered to apply for membership. But problems stated to appear in 2001, as George W. Bush decided to unilaterally withdraw from the ABM Treaty and to deploy anti-ballistic missiles (ABM) in Eastern Europe. The ABM Treaty was intended to limit the use of defensive missiles, with the rationale of maintaining the deterrent effect of a mutual destruction by allowing the protection of decision-making bodies by a ballistic shield (in order to preserve a negotiating capacity). Thus, it limited the deployment of anti-ballistic missiles to certain specific zones (notably around Washington DC and Moscow) and prohibited it outside national territories.
Since then, the United States has progressively withdrawn from all the arms control agreements established during the Cold War: the ABM Treaty (2002), the Open Skies Treaty (2018) and the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty (2019).
In 2019, Donald Trump justified his withdrawal from the INF Treaty by alleged violations by the Russian side. But, as the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) notes, the Americans never provided proof of these violations. In fact, the US was simply trying to get out of the agreement in order to install their AEGIS missile systems in Poland and Romania. According to the US administration, these systems are officially intended to intercept Iranian ballistic missiles. But there are two problems that clearly cast doubt on the good faith of the Americans:
The first one is that there is no indication that the Iranians are developing such missiles, as Michael Ellemann of Lockheed-Martin stated before a committee of the American Senate.
The second one is that these systems use Mk41 launchers, which can be used to launch either anti-ballistic missiles or nuclear missiles. The Radzikowo site, in Poland, is 800 km from the Russian border and 1,300 km from Moscow.
The Bush and Trump administrations said that the systems deployed in Europe were purely defensive. However, even if theoretically true, it is technically and strategically false. For the doubt, which allowed them to be installed, is the same doubt that the Russians could legitimately have in the event of a conflict. This presence in the immediate vicinity of Russia’s national territory can indeed lead to a nuclear conflict. For in the event of a conflict, it would not be possible to know precisely the nature of the missiles loaded in the systems—should the Russians therefore wait for explosions before reacting? In fact, we know the answer: having no early-warning time, the Russians would have practically no time to determine the nature of a fired missile and would thus be forced to respond pre-emptively with a nuclear strike.
Not only does Vladimir Putin see this as a risk to Russia’s security, but he also notes that the United States is increasingly disregarding international law in order to pursue a unilateral policy. This is why Vladimir Putin says that European countries could be dragged into a nuclear conflict without wanting to. This was the substance of his speech in Munich in 2007, and he came with the same argument early 2022, as Emmanuel Macron went to Moscow in February.
Finland and Sweden in NATO—A Good Idea?
The future will tell if Sweden’s and Finland’s decision to apply for NATO membership was a wise idea. They probably overstated the value of the nuclear protection offered by NATO. As a matter of fact, it is very unlikely that the US will sacrifice its national soil by striking Russian soil for the sake of Sweden or Finland. It is more likely that if the US engages nuclear weapons, it will be primarily on European soil and only as a last resort on Russian territory, in order to preserve its own territory from nuclear counter-strike.
Further, these two countries, which met the criteria of neutrality that Russia would want for its direct neighbors, deliberately put themselves in Russia’s nuclear crosshairs. For Russia, the main threat comes from the Central European theater of war. In other words, in the event of a hypothetical conflict in Europe, Russian forces would be engaged primarily in Central Europe, and could use their theater nuclear armies to “flank” their operations by striking the Nordic countries, with virtually no risk of a U.S. nuclear response.
Was it Impossible to Leave the Warsaw Pact?
The Warsaw Pact was created just after Germany joined NATO, for exactly the same reasons we have described above. Its largest military engagement was the invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 (with the participation of all Pact nations, except Albania and Romania). This event resulted in Albania withdrawing from the Pact less than a month later, and Romania ceasing to participate actively in the military command of the Warsaw Pact after 1969. Therefore, asserting that no one was free to leave the treaty is not correct.
In this latest discussion, Jacques Baud explains the current situation in regards to the Ukraine conflict, while keeping an eye on the larger geopolitical maneuvering that is now taking place. Colonel Baud speaks with Thomas Kaiser of Zeitgeschehen im Fokus, the Swiss journal, through whose kind courtesy, we are able to bring you this interview.
Thomas Kaiser (TK): You have worked for NATO and know the mechanisms of this organization very well. What does “Nato enlargement” mean in the current situation?
Jacques Baud (JB): In fact, despite the emphatic statements, the situation has not really changed. First of all, it must be understood that the announcement of the candidacies of Sweden and Finland is essentially political. The Madrid Summit merely accepted the candidacies of these two countries. I recall that according to Article 10 of the Washington Treaty, it is NATO that invites new members, not the new members that decide to join the Alliance. NATO needed a “small success.” The forces it has funded and trained for eight years in Ukraine are failing against Russia. The problem is not the determination of the Ukrainian soldiers, who are certainly brave, but the inability of the military staffs to fight a war in a European tactical-operational environment. As a result, the Ukrainian military failure is therefore essentially also the failure of NATO. Added to this are the Western sanctions which tend to backfire on our economies. Thus creating a situation that has already impacted the governments of Bulgaria, Estonia, the UK, France, the Netherlands… and it is probably not over.
TK: How long will it be before the two states are definitely accepted into NATO?
JB: We will have to wait for the next NATO summit in 2023. Then the allies will decide whether to accept – or not – the actual membership of Sweden and Finland. But I expect that it will be done according to plan.
TK: What is the role of Turkey, which wanted to prevent membership?
JB: First of all, Turkey is not trying to “prevent” the membership of Sweden and Finland, but to preserve its own national interests. Secondly, it should be remembered that the admission of new member countries can only be done with the unanimity of the allies. In other words, every vote counts. Turkey is a staunch ally of the Alliance, which is not afraid to assert its national interests. I have worked a lot with the Turks during my time at NATO. One can agree or disagree with their policies, but one must recognize that they are probably the most consistent and honest members of the Alliance in asserting their interests.
TK: Can you give a specific example?
JB: Yes, when the United States wanted to launch its war in Iraq, Turkey opposed it because it felt that it would have an impact on the situation of the Kurds and thus on its own national security. But the Americans did not listen. Today, Turkey is arguing for its national security. Sweden and Finland have always been very supportive of the Kurds and have taken in many refugees, including members of the PKK, the Kurdish Workers’ Party, which is considered as a terrorist movement in many countries. In fact, even the European Union considers the PKK a terrorist organization . For Turkey, it is a matter of national security. It was therefore quite predictable that Turkey would ask for its own security interests in exchange for its voice. What is true for the Nordic countries is also true for Turkey.
TK: Why did Turkey withdraw its veto for the time being?
JB: First of all, it was to be expected that Turkey would not use its de facto veto right. The stakes are too high for NATO. It was clear that Turkey would be pressured to accept the candidacy of the two countries. Turkey is already subject to sanctions by the United States for having “dared” to buy Russian anti-aircraft missiles. It should be noted that the United States automatically applies sanctions to all countries that buy Russian military equipment. This is the CAATSA Act . This is why Turkey was taken out of the F-35 fighter program and no longer receives spare parts for its F-16 fighters. So, it was easy to trade the lifting of sanctions for its approval. But this also shows that Western unity is achieved through the threat of sanctions!
TK: In the Western media, the future membership of the two states to NATO is being celebrated as a great increase in security and military clout. Is this assessment correct?
JB: No, it will not be a radical change. First of all, you have to know that in the early 1960s, Sweden wanted to have nuclear weapons. The United States, on the other hand, wanted to keep its monopoly over these weapons. In order to convince Sweden to give up, the United States offered to provide its nuclear umbrella protection in case of aggression. In other words, since the 1960s, Sweden had the same nuclear protection as NATO members, without the same obligations in case of conflict. So Sweden has not significantly improved its security.
TK: And what advantage does NATO have?
JB: For NATO, Sweden’s membership provides the advantage of having full control over the Baltic Sea passages to the Atlantic Ocean. But this is a very relative gain. For it is Denmark that really occupies a key position, and the military collaboration between Denmark and Sweden, especially for maritime control, works well. It should be remembered that Sweden claimed for years that it was the target of clandestine Russian submarine warfare. As a result, there was intense cooperation in anti-submarine warfare around the Baltic Sea, in order to identify secret Russian weapons. But they never found anything: in fact, it was herring flatulence, which produced the same sound signal as submarines!…
TK: Even if this does little for either side, it does have an outward effect.
JB: The membership of Sweden and Finland is certainly a political signal. NATO obviously sees it as a success. But the reality is more nuanced. For the two Nordic countries, I don’t think it is an improvement of their situation. They have the same advantages as before, but with additional constraints. But here too we have to be careful. It is unlikely that the United States would use its nuclear weapons on Russian territory just to protect Helsinki or Stockholm: this would create a direct threat from Russia against Washington or New York. Instead, they would more likely use theater weapons against attacking forces on Swedish or Finnish territory. In other words, by joining NATO, these two countries have increased the risk of being caught in a nuclear conflict.
TK: Don’t the two countries also have to make concessions?
JB: On the diplomatic front, Sweden and Finland have to expect a loss of the credibility they enjoyed thanks to their neutral or non-aligned status, especially in the non-European world.
In terms of their foreign and humanitarian policy, the price demanded by Turkey is very high, since it means no less than giving up their policy towards the Kurds. We do not know if they will fulfill their commitment to Turkey, but it is likely that they will have to do so, as this is an issue that Turkey perceives as existential.
TK: We are reading less and less about Ukraine’s “military successes” in the mainstream media. Did these ever exist or was the whole thing pure propaganda?
JB: Our media are slowly beginning to portray a more nuanced reality than they have done since February. The irony of this is that by never questioning the Ukrainian government’s narrative and by simply relaying its propaganda, our media have contributed significantly to the overconfidence that led to its defeat. As I have said from the beginning, our media bears a tremendous responsibility for the course of the war and the Ukrainian defeat.
TK: What do you mean?
JB: Our media never tried to help Ukraine, but to fight Russia. Don’t forget that a Norwegian researcher revealed that a journalist described as a “Swiss-French conspiracy theorist” working with some mainstream media that “blacklisted” me in Switzerland, inspired Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik, who is celebrated as a hero by most right-wing militant groups in Ukraine.
TK: Why is the war dragging on for so long, and why is Ukraine making no attempt to reach a negotiated settlement with Russia?
JB: The West and the Ukrainian far-right extremists are literally preventing Zelensky from reaching an agreement with Russia. This is what Boris Johnson went to tell Zelensky in Kiev on April 9: “If you negotiate with Russia we will stop delivering arms to you!”
TK: Can we tell from the Russians’ actions what the ultimate goal of this operation is supposed to be?
JB: No, we do not know. But it is important to understand that Russia’s objectives are not quantitative, but qualitative in nature. In other words, it is not about gaining territory, but about destroying the threat against the Russian-speaking populations of Donbass and Crimea. Being a bit cynical, one could say that the Russians do not need to advance to achieve their goals, but only need to let the Ukrainian military come to them. According to Ukrainian officials, Ukraine is losing 1,000 men a day (killed, wounded, prisoners or deserters). The British have started a training program for new soldiers and promise to train 10’000 men in 120 days. In other words, they will train in 120 days what Ukraine loses in ten days. We are not helping Ukraine: we are pushing it towards disaster.
TK: Der Spiegel writes, “Putin’s soldiers are committing the most serious war crimes.” Do you know more details about this, or does this belong in the realm of propaganda?
JB: I don’t know, because making accusations is not enough, you have to prove them. As Ignazio Cassis, the Swiss Minister of Foreign Affairs, said: “These are not war crimes until a Court of Law rules so.” In the absence of multi-party, international and impartial investigations, these accusations are unsubstantiated. Having said that, it is very likely that Russian military personnel committed war crimes. It happens in all wars and is almost inevitable. Only the Western armies do not seem to commit such crimes. For two reasons: because they do not prosecute their own soldiers and because slaughtering an Arab family is not considered a crime. You can see for yourself that Julian Assange has served more time in prison than the perpetrators of the war crimes he exposed! This tells you everything about the so-called “values” we defend!
TK: When you read the Western media, you inevitably get the feeling that only the Russians are committing war crimes.
JB: The problem is that our media NEVER mention Ukrainian war crimes. As a matter of fact, we mention Russian war crimes, while in Eastern Ukraine the Russians are often welcomed as liberators. But that too, we do not want to say: the German journalist Alina Lipp, who is on the ground in the Donbass, has been condemned by the German justice for having dared to say it! Claiming that Ukraine is a democratic country that does not commit war crimes is just a way to legitimize our blind support for the war against Russia.
TK: On July 4th-5th, in Lugano was the so-called reconstruction conference. President Cassis wanted to use it to put himself in the limelight. The media response seems to have been rather limited. What is the point of such a conference?
JB: I think the idea of such a conference is good. The problem is that it is totally premature. How to seriously mobilize donors to fund Ukraine’s reconstruction means nothing until we have a clear picture of the final state of affairs. Will Western countries fund the reconstruction of Mariupol? Russia has already started to rebuild the cities damaged by the war. In Mariupol, schools have reopened since May and the Russians have already started to rebuild the destroyed residential buildings. Russia has restored banking services as well as telephone services. This is certainly in the realm of propaganda, but for the inhabitants it is a concrete result.
TK: How is such a conference compatible with Switzerland’s neutrality?
JB: As a matter of principle, I think that by organizing such a conference, Switzerland plays its role. The problem here is that in this particular case, this conference is essentially partisan and its real purpose is propaganda.
TK: Are there countries that are currently trying to find a negotiated solution to the Ukraine conflict, or is only the logic of weapons speaking?
JB: This is probably what all Ukrainians are asking themselves. But do not forget that in May 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky was threatened with death by his own neo-Nazi partners if he concluded peace with Russia. By the way, our media and our leaders also say that we should not negotiate with Vladimir Putin. So…
TK: Mr. Baud, thank you very much for the interview.
Featured: “Let us beat Swords into Ploughshares,” bronze, by Evgeniy Vuchetich; dated 1959.
In this recent interview, Jacques Baud speaks with Thomas Kaiser about what is now happening in Ukraine, and the enthusiastic warmongering that still persists in the West. He is in conversation with Thomas Kaiser of Zeitgeschehen im Fokus, whose kindness has made this English version of this interview possible.
Thomas Kaiser (TK): In the past couple of weeks , the narrative in the mainstream media has slightly changed. We hear less and less directly about the war, nothing more about the high losses of the Russians and the military successes of the Ukrainians. What has changed?
Jacques Baud (JB): In reality, nothing has changed. It is a change in perception. It has been known for several weeks that the situation of Ukraine and its armed forces is catastrophic. The human and material losses of the country are very high. Initially, Ukraine and our media downplayed these losses in order to develop a narrative around a Russian defeat and a Ukrainian victory. Today, the reality on the battlefield forces Ukraine to acknowledge these losses. At the same time, Zelensky understood that these losses could be used as an argument to pressure the West for further aid.
TK: On the other hand, what is always an issue is the demanded arms deliveries. Who is supposed to operate the weapons when most of the army is encircled in the Donbas?
JB: First of all, it is important to realize that Western arms deliveries pose several problems. First, even U.S. intelligence agencies do not know if and where the delivered weapons will end up. The head of Interpol warns that some of these weapons could end up in the hands of criminal organizations. Already, Javelin anti-tank missiles are being offered on the Darknet for $30,000. Apparently, these weapons are resold as soon as they arrive in Kiev. Second, weapons are often distributed on a first-come, first-served basis and do not always reach those who need them most in the field. Finally, they often end up in the hands of the Russian coalition.
TK: How can we tell?
JB: Currently, the Donetsk Republic militias are equipped with Javelin missiles, which come from the Ukrainian stocks captured from the Russian army. Remember that Ukrainian helicopters that had come to exfiltrate fighters from Azovstal were shot down with US-supplied Stinger missiles. Furthermore, the weapons supplied by the West make up only a fraction of those destroyed by the Russians. For example, Britain and Germany are each sending three M270 multiple rocket launchers to Ukraine, but at the beginning of the war Ukraine had several hundred equivalent systems. In other words, these weapons will not change anything, but only prolong the conflict and delay the time for negotiations, as Davyd Arakhamia, chief negotiator, and close adviser to Zelensky, explained.
TK: This is actually unbelievable. There was always talk about high Russian losses. Can they be verified, and what are the losses on the Ukrainian side?
JB: In reality, the number of soldiers killed is not known, neither by the Russians nor by the Ukrainians. The numbers mentioned in the Western media are those spread by Ukrainian propaganda. However, in early June, President Zelensky unveiled the death rate of Ukrainian military and spoke of 60 to 100 soldiers killed per day. A week later, Mykhailo Podoliak, Zelensky’s adviser, stated that the Ukrainian armed forces were losing 100 to 200 men a day. Today, Arakhamia speaks of 200 to 500 fatalities per day and a total of 1000 casualties (dead, wounded, captured, deserters) per day. It is unclear whether these figures are correct.
TK: Are there any comments on the basis of which one can get a realistic picture of the numbers?
JB: Experts close to the intelligence community believe that these figures are far below reality. On the other hand, the Ukrainian figures are even higher than the estimates of the Russian military. Some say that Ukrainian forces have 60,000 dead and 50,000 missing. However, these numbers are not verifiable at this time.
TK: Why are the Ukrainians only now reporting such high casualty figures?
JB: It is very likely that the Ukrainians are reporting high numbers in order to press the West to increase its arms deliveries. However, this does not explain everything. The fundamental issue is the way the Ukrainian leadership conducts its operations. Instead of having a dynamic approach to the battlefield and taking advantage by moving troops, Ukraine—and Zelensky in particular—is ordering its troops to “stand and fight.” This is not unlike the situation in France during the First World War. This is the main difference between Ukraine and Russia: in Ukraine, operations are managed by the political leadership, while in Russia, operations are managed by the General Staff. This explains the failing Ukraine’s approach. Even the US military seem to have identified this problem.
TK: In what way?
JB: According to Arakhamia, the attempts to gain ground against the Russian army serve only to ensure a better starting position for negotiations with the Russians later. This is purely political warfare, with no regard for the lives of soldiers. This approach is supported by Western countries and our diplomacy. This is very concerning.
TK: At the beginning of the war, the will of the Ukrainians to resist was emphasized. Does this not exist anymore?
JB: I think the Ukrainian soldiers are doing their job with bravery. They fight from reinforced positions and trenches that they dug back in 2014 surrounding the Donbas. Unfortunately, once confronted to artillery and a mobile enemy, their chances of success are slim . It seems that the Ukrainian general staff wanted to withdraw these men to more favorable fighting positions, but the country’s political leadership refused. In this context, our media and politicians have played a perverse role by perpetuating the illusion of a Ukrainian victory and the promise of large-scale arms deliveries.
TK: In doing so, they led the public, including Ukrainians, by the nose.
JB: Yes. Today it is clear that the Ukrainians and the West lied to each other just to get Russia in trouble. Ukrainians are now constrained to send their ill-equipped and ill-prepared territorial units from the west of the country to the Donbas. This creates discontent, and there have been numerous demonstrations against Zelensky in the west of the country and in Kiev. Because of this, Kiev has had to enact new laws to silence those who disagree with the government. Our diplomacy has clearly actively contributed to the deaths of thousands of Ukrainian military personnel. However, it seems today that it is the Western military that is trying to bring sanity to the way we approach this conflict today.
TK: But are there no resistance movements in the Russian-occupied territories?
JB: Interestingly, there are no movements of popular resistance to the Russian presence. The Western narrative of a heroic popular resistance against Russia is essentially based on the declarations of nationalists in the western part of the country. In fact, the areas occupied by the Russian coalition in the east and south of the country are inhabited by Russian speakers. Ukrainians have never really considered this population as Ukrainian, as evidenced by the Law on Indigenous Peoples of Ukraine, adopted in early July 2021. After having been bombed regularly since 2014 by their own army, such as Donetsk, the Russian-speaking population in the south of the country is not completely opposed to the Russian presence. They even tend see the Russians as liberators.
TK: Based on this, can we already foresee what Russia intends to do further in Ukraine?
JB: The Russians are being very discreet about their intentions as they adjust their goals to the Ukrainians’ willingness to negotiate. As long as the Ukrainians refuse to negotiate, the Russians will continue to advance and gain territory. In March, they were ready to negotiate on the basis of Zelensky’s proposals. However, under pressure from Boris Johnson, Zelensky withdrew his offer. So, the Russians continued to make progress.
TK: What does that mean now?
JB: They will not put back on the negotiating table what the Ukrainians could have salvaged in March. At this stage, it is likely that the Russians will push further towards Odessa to establish a link with Transnistria. It is not unlikely that a “re-creation” of Novorossiya will occur in southern Ukraine. The most important consequence of the Russian actions is that Ukraine will lose its access to the sea.
TK: What has been reported in our media lately is that Russia is responsible for the rising wheat prices and a consequent famine. Do you have any information on this?
JB: The charges against Russia are part of Western narrative to isolate Russia from the rest of the world and for the West to absolve itself of its own mistakes. First of all, the global rise in grain prices is not directly due to the war, but came as a result of measures taken to deal with the CoViD-19, and to the conditions created by Western sanctions by deliberately trying to dramatize the situation. The same phenomenon can be observed in oil prices.
The current rise in grain prices is the result of several factors. First, payment restrictions that lead buyers to fear U.S. sanctions against them. Second, shipments have become too expensive because the oil market has shrunk due to Western sanctions. Third, Western sanctions prevent fertilizers from entering the market; these products are not sanctioned, but there have been restrictions on means of payment that cause buyers to fear them.
TK: However, there is an accusation that Ukraine cannot supply grain because of the Russians. Is that really the case?
JB: No, it is not true, for two main reasons. The first is that our media, of course, do not report that the Black Sea ports were mined by Ukraine because it feared an attack from the Black Sea. As a result of storms, many of these mines have broken loose and are moving freely. They became a danger to maritime navigation. The Turkish Navy had to defuse several of them that had reached the Bosporus.
The second reason is that Russia does not block Ukrainian ports. On the contrary, it allows ship convoys to supply Ukrainian ports; it even guarantees maritime corridors whose coordinates are broadcast at regular intervals over international maritime radio frequencies. The problem is that these corridors are not used because of the Ukrainian mines. Incidentally, Davyd Arakhamia has made it clear that Ukraine has no intention of removing its mines from the Black Sea. It has become a bit fashionable to blame Putin for Western decisions that are not thoroughly thought out and not embedded in a coherent strategy.
TK: Has this actually created a shortage in the market? Or is this an artificial process to drive prices up?
JB: I am not a specialist of grain trade. But for one thing, Ukraine failed to sell its 2021 grain crop before the Russian offensive, and for another, Russia seems to be expecting an exceptional crop in 2022. Consequently, it does not look like there is a grain shortage. The problem is that the grain cannot reach the market. This is mainly due to the Western sanctions against Russia and Belarus. Of course, this situation has aroused the interest of speculators, but I am not in a position to assess this aspect.
TK: Poland has repeatedly shown itself to be quite concerned that a Russian attack on its territory will take place soon. How realistic is this scenario?
JB: Poland has repeatedly poured oil on the fire in this conflict. It dreams of realizing its old Intermarium project, which Marshal Pilsudski had wanted in the 1930s and which would unite the countries between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea. This is reminiscent from the nostalgy of the 17th century Kingdom of Poland. Poland dreams of an open conflict with Russia because it believes—like Ukraine—that with the help of NATO, it could deliver the final blow to defeat Russia once and for all, in order to make this old dream come true. This shows, by the way, that Poland’s interest in Europe is only superficial.
TK: Why don’t the European countries notice what a dirty game is being played here?
JB: The goal of the Western countries (which of course includes Switzerland) is to destabilize the Russian government in one way or another. For these countries, the end justifies the means. Therefore, we have no compunction about attacking the Russian population (including in our countries) and sacrificing the Ukrainian population. As Andrés Manuel López Obrador, President of Mexico, said about NATO’s policy toward Ukraine, “We supply the weapons, you supply the corpses! This is immoral.”
TK: Mr. Baud, thank you very much for this interview.
Featured: “Dawn,” by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson; painted in 1914.
Jacques Baud continues his analysis of the crisis in the Ukraine, this time focusing on the failures that are now facing the West in its confrontation with Russia. The only real winner in the West seems to be a revitalized NATO. Thomas Kaiser of Zeitgeschehen im Fokus leads the discussion.
Thomas Kaiser (TK): The May 19th New York Times editorial questioned the point of U.S. war strategy in Ukraine and questioned further involvement. How should this be understood?
Jacques Baud (JB): In the English-speaking world, the U.S. and European Union strategy is increasingly being questioned by military and intelligence officials. This trend is reinforced by U.S. domestic politics. Republicans and Democrats have a very similar view of Russia. The difference, however, lies in the effectiveness of the investments in support of Ukraine. Both share the goal of “regime change” in Russia; but Republicans have noted that the billions spent tend to backfire against the Western economy. In other words, they seem unable to achieve their intended goal while our economies and influence weaken.
TK: So, the Republicans don’t really have a different position from the Democrats?
JB: In Europe, we tend to think of the Republicans and the Democrats as the political “right” and “left.” That’s not quite true. First of all, we have to remember that historically, until the beginning of the 20th century, the Republicans were “on the left” and the Democrats “on the right”. Today, they differ not so much in their vision of the United States in the world as in how they want to achieve that vision. That’s why you have Democrats who are more to the right than some Republicans and Republicans who are more to the left than some Democrats.
TK: What does this mean for the Ukraine crisis?
JB: The Ukraine crisis has been managed by a small minority of Democrats who hate Russia. They seem more interested in weakening Russia than strengthening the United States. Republicans see that not only this strategy against Russia does not work, but it leads to a loss of credibility of the United States. The upcoming midterm elections and the growing unpopularity of Joe Biden are fueling criticism of U.S. strategy in Ukraine.
TK: Is this “rethinking” taking place only in the English-language media?
JB: In Europe, and in the French-language media in French-speaking Switzerland, France and Belgium, the rhetoric faithfully follows what the Ukrainian propaganda says. We are shown a fictitious reality that announces victory against Russia. The result is that we are not able to help Ukraine overcome its real problems.
TK: Do people in the EU really see it that way?
JB: Yes, there is a general anti-Russian mood there. People are more Catholic than the Pope. That was also the case with the oil embargo. The U.S. Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, advised the EU against an oil embargo. But the EU wanted to do it anyway, leading to skyrocketing oil prices. So, it is obvious that there is a certain dynamic in the EU related to the generation of the current political leadership. European leaders are very young, have no real experience, but are ideologically fixed. That is the reason why European leadership tends not to have a mature assessment of the situation.
TK: What are the consequences of this?
JB: In Europe, our understanding of the problem lags behind that of the USA. We are not able to discuss the situation calmly. In the French-language media, it is impossible to take an alternative view of the problems without being called “Putin’s agent.” This is not only an intellectual issue, but first and foremost a problem for Ukraine. By confirming the view proposed by Ukrainian propaganda, our media have pushed Ukraine towards a strategy that costs a huge number of lives and leads to the destruction of the country. Our media believes that this strategy is effective to weaken Vladimir Putin and that Ukrainians should continue on this path. However, the Americans seem to start realizing that this is a dead end, as Joe Biden stated that military aid to Ukraine is only to strengthen Ukraine’s negotiating position.
TK: What is the view in the U.S.?
JB: In the United States, a distinction must be made between the government and the mainstream media on the one hand, and the military and intelligence professionals on the other. Among the latter, there is a growing sense that Ukraine will suffer more from Western strategy than from a war with Russia. This sounds like a paradox , but more and more intelligence people seem to recognize that. In French-speaking Switzerland—in my experience—people do not understand that. They follow the rhetoric of the American government. This is an intellectually limited, extremely primitive, extremely dogmatic and ultimately extremely brutal view towards the Ukrainians. It is, again, a view that is more Catholic than the Pope, because even the US military seems to understand that this approach will lead to failure.
TK: What does this mean in practical terms?
JB: Let us consider the situation in Mariupol. Our media seem to deplore that the fighters of the Azov Movement surrendered. They feel sorry for them. They would have preferred that they all died. This is extremely inhumane. But now it appears their fighting had no longer any impact on the situation. If you read the Swiss French media, they should have fought to the death, to the last man. These media would have done a “wonderful job” during the defense of Berlin in April 1945! By an irony of history, the two situations are very similar. The situation in Berlin at that time was completely hopeless, and among the last fighters of the Third Reich—the last defenders of the Führer—were French volunteers of the “Charlemagne” division!
TK: What does the use of such volunteers mean?
JB: It is something quite remarkable, actually, because foreign volunteers go to combat not out of patriotic duty, but because of conviction, because of dogmatism—and this is exactly the same mentality as some of our media. A soldier who defends his country does not do so out of hatred for the enemy, but out of a sense of duty and respect for his community and his country. A volunteer who becomes politically involved, like the volunteers of the SS division “Charlemagne” in their time, follows a kind of vocation to fight. It is a different intellectual mechanism. The same thing can be observed in Ukraine. These volunteers of the Azov Movement, called “republicans” by some Swiss politicians, threatened to kill Zelensky for accepting the surrender of Mariupol. These volunteers are not fighting for Ukraine, but against Russia. This is the same mindset as that of the journalists in French-speaking Switzerland. They are just as vehemently against Putin as these volunteer fighters.
TK: What is the worldview behind this?
JB: Of course, this event [Mariupol’s surrender] upsets the narrative that Ukraine is defending itself heroically and that its determination is bringing about Russia’s defeat. Little David (Ukraine) defends itself against Goliath (Russia) and succeeds. However, the reality is quite different. More and more soldiers of the Ukrainian regular army say that they do not want to fight anymore. They feel abandoned by their leadership. Moreover, the Russians have a reputation for treating their prisoners well. Those who still are eager to fight for Ukraine are the paramilitary volunteers. The myth of a victorious resistance was created; but today the Ukrainian military feels betrayed. That Ukraine is losing this war is, paradoxically, perhaps due in large part to the narrative spread by our media.
TK: The fact that reality is being misunderstood can also be seen in the case of NATO. Those responsible are only too happy to declare that NATO keeps the peace and guarantees freedom and security in Europe.
JB: These statements must be put into perspective. First of all, NATO is not a peace organization. NATO is fundamentally a nuclear-power organization, as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. That is the purpose of NATO—to put allies under the nuclear umbrella. NATO was founded in 1949, when there were only two nuclear powers—the U.S. and the USSR. At that time, an organization like NATO was justified. On both sides of the Iron Curtain, there were people who wanted war. That was the case under Stalin, but also in the United States.
TK: Some Western political leaders wanted to keep the war going?
JB: Yes, that was the reason why Winston Churchill did not want to disarm part of the German Wehrmacht that had surrendered. A war against the Soviet Union was expected. The idea of a nuclear umbrella can be justified under these circumstances. But with the end of the Cold War, when the Warsaw Pact dissolved, this justification faded.
TK: Can a military organization be completely eliminated?
JB: It is certainly necessary to have a collective security organization in Europe. There is no question that certain arrangements should be made for a common defense. This idea is relatively well accepted. The problem lies more in the form of this organization and in the way the defense should be conceived.
TK: What should have happened with Russia?
JB: Since the early 1990s, the Russians had a conception of security in Europe that was inspired by the OSCE: security through cooperation, not confrontation. That’s why the Russians were interested in joining NATO at that time. But the very concept of NATO, with a dominant power tied to the very nature of the organization itself, cannot integrate the Russian perspective. If you look at the current challenges in the world, the Russian vision can be seen as much more realistic than the Western vision.
TK: Why do you judge it that way?
JB: Humanity is facing multiple complex challenges. We forget that in 1967, NATO published the Harmel Report in which it reflected on its own future. This is now more than 50 years ago. This report was exemplary and extremely modern. In it, NATO outlined all the current and future challenges and laid down certain guidelines for the organization’s development. It was forward-looking; and I see it as a model for what NATO could look like. In this report, the security concept was rethought. That is, you find there environmental and social problems that were integrated into the security concept. When I look at the problems we face worldwide, and also in Europe, in particular, the Harmel Report offers a lot of food for thought and ideas.
TK: What happened to this report, or its ideas?
JB: The Gulf War and then the Balkan War put us back into conventional thinking. Thus, NATO missed the chance to think in a new direction. Tanks, artillery, aircraft, etc. still define NATO’s model of thinking. Not only was this model unsuitable for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but NATO did not really learn the right lessons from those wars. So, we have increased suffering and misery, without containing terrorism. This is a complete failure at the operational, strategic, intellectual, and human levels.
TK: What do you see as the cause of this obvious failure?
JB: The very concept of war was not adapted to the realities. NATO is a regional security and defense organization. It was designed in 1949 for a war in Europe with nuclear weapons, tanks, artillery, etc. In Afghanistan, however, there were no nuclear weapons, tanks, or fighter-bombers. That was a very different kind of war. But NATO did not identify the problem.
TK: Why did NATO not grasp the situation correctly?
JB: To make it simple, let’s say that a war in Europe is a technical challenge. A war in Afghanistan, on the other hand, is a societal challenge. NATO has not understood this essential difference. I mentioned the war in Afghanistan because NATO was engaged there as an organization. In Iraq, it is better to talk about “NATO countries.” But the fact remains that they did not understand that they were waging totally different types of war. Western armies are not prepared for it and have a dogmatic understanding of war.
TK: What does this mean for NATO?
JB: The alliance has remained at the 1949 level, of course with more modern weapons; but the logic has remained the same. We see this also in the Ukraine crisis. NATO is certainly not involved in the fighting, but it is providing support through training, advice and reconnaissance. Ukraine’s weaknesses are therefore NATO’s weaknesses: they wage a war at tactical level, while the Russians are fighting at operational level. Ukraine was in the same operational conundrum in 2014. The Ukrainian army was poorly advised. Since then, NATO has trained more and more Ukrainian instructors who are making the same mistakes today as they did eight years ago. We see that NATO’s conception of war is inadequate and does not follow developments in world’s societies. War is thought of as it was in the First World War. It is seen as a balance of power.
TK: What should happen here?
JB: I think that NATO should dissolve itself to be reborn in a different form. I think we need a collective security organization in Europe that is independent of the United States. But it needs to be tailored to modern security challenges and be able to deal with them cooperatively.
TK: I would like to come back to the OSCE. You said that Russia favors this model. Wouldn’t that be an alternative to NATO?
JB: Yes, of course. By the way, this was a proposal of the last president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev. He was inspired by an idea of former French President Charles de Gaulle—a Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. Gorbachev called it “the common European house.” Even today, it is a truism—the best way to avoid war is to have good relations with your neighbors. It sounds banal, but it is so.
TK: Why don’t states manage to do that?
JB: There are several reasons. The first is the U.S. “obsession” since the 1970s with preventing closer cooperation between Europe and Russia. The Russian idea of a “common European house” would be a rapprochement between Russia and Europe that the U.S. does not want. This has focused particularly on Germany. Germany is the largest economic power in Europe, has historically been a strong military power, and has had a special relationship with the Soviet Union. The U.S. has always been afraid of having a large Europe as a competitor.
The second reason is that the former Eastern bloc countries that are now part of the EU and NATO have no intention of getting closer to Russia. Their reasons are historical, cultural and political. But they are also a culture of intransigence that has been observed since the 1920s and continues to be seen in their domestic policies.
TK: In what respect?
JB: For example, in the supply of gas from Siberia. The U.S. arguments against “Nord Stream 2” are not new. Germany has been receiving gas from Siberia since the 1960s and 1970s. Even then, the U.S. feared that closer cooperation between the FRG and the USSR would have an impact on Germany’s determination to remain in NATO. Therefore, they did everything they could to sabotage the gas pipelines.
TK: Yes, I can still remember that. There were articles in Der Spiegel and other German newspapers reporting cruel working conditions for workers in Siberia, etc. It was the prevailing mood like we find again today.
JB: In 1982 Ronald Reagan signed a Presidential Executive Order authorizing the CIA to sabotage the “Brotherhood” gas pipeline between Urengoy (Siberia) and Uzhhorod (Ukraine). The pipeline was sabotaged but quickly repaired by the Soviets. Yes, that was the same rhetoric as today. It is tragic, but we are still in the same intellectual dynamic.
TK: This shows that tangible U.S. interests are at stake here, and this will influence the whole development in Europe.
JB: Yes, the idea of a common European house, as formulated by Gorbachev and favored by the Russians, is inconceivable to the United States. For this reason, Russia has always had a certain respect for the OSCE. After the end of the Cold War, this model could have been expanded to build security through cooperation rather than confrontation. This could have been a viable model. But NATO lacked the intellectual flexibility to rethink itself. NATO remained incapable of formulating genuine strategic thinking. NATO’s output is intellectually extremely weak.
TK: So, would Switzerland’s rapprochement with NATO definitely be a step backwards into the Cold War?
JB: No, not really, since we were never in NATO. Besides, a 2017 US Army study found that the USSR did not attack Europe because it never intended to. So, our security does not depend on NATO, but on our ability to have good relations with our neighbors. In fact, I believe that NATO membership would put our security at risk. That applies equally to Finland and Sweden.
TK: Can you explain that in more detail?
JB: There are two reasons. First, as a member, Switzerland could be involved in operations that are not necessarily related to its own national interests. In the fight against terrorism, for example, NATO does not have the doctrinal capacity to address this issue effectively. If we were to engage alongside NATO, we would only attract terrorism to ourselves. That’s what happened with Germany, for example. Besides, it is not very satisfying intellectually to be involved in defeats. Secondly, our neutrality; and I am talking here about Swiss neutrality, which, unlike other countries, like Belgium, has been confirmed and internationally recognized by the major European powers. This recognition has successfully protected us over the last two centuries.
TK: Even from attacks by Nazi Germany?
JB: The Third Reich had planned at least three operations against Switzerland, but Germany never had the opportunity to implement them. That said, we have to remember that this planning was done because Switzerland had not behaved according to its neutrality policy.
TK: In what respect?
JB: One must not forget that the headquarters of the OSS [Office of Strategic Services] in Europe, under the direction of Alan Dulles, had been in Bern since 1942.
The OSS was the predecessor organization of the CIA. Swiss intelligence worked with the OSS and the British services to support resistance networks against the Nazis in Germany, in France and northern Italy. In addition, members of the 2nd Polish Infantry Division interned in Switzerland were clandestinely trained with the help of the Swiss Army to fight with the Resistance in France. Obviously, the neutrality policy was only a façade.
TK: What were the consequences?
JB: I certainly don’t want to criticize Switzerland’s involvement, especially because part of my family fought in the French Resistance. On the other hand, if we take a step back, we must acknowledge that Switzerland was not entirely neutral. And this had its price, because the Nazis knew about these activities. For this reason, Switzerland had to make concessions to the German Reich. The reasons for these concessions were never really explained to the Swiss people, but in 1995-1999 they were widely criticized in Switzerland.
TK: What conclusions can we draw from this?
JB: If neutrality is applied consistently, it also has a protective function. On the other hand, the protection that NATO would offer Switzerland is very limited. If an enemy were to reach the Swiss border in the event of a conventional conflict, this would mean that NATO already had an existential problem. In such a situation, Swiss neutrality would de facto fall. In case of a nuclear conflict, the USA would never bomb Moscow in order to liberate Bern. Anyone who believes this is a fantasist.
TK: What about the new applicant countries?
JB: The same applies to Helsinki and Stockholm. Anyone who believes that the USA would put Los Angeles, New York or Washington in danger is absolutely not of this world. The U.S. would attack Russia with nuclear weapons only in an extreme situation. In fact, the U.S. would do anything to keep a possible nuclear exchange on European soil. So, membership in NATO only has the effect of increasing the likelihood of being hit directly by tactical-operational nuclear weapons. The idea of improving Swiss national security through a rapprochement with NATO is one of incredible naiveté.
TK: The military chief strategist of the Swiss Department of Defense, Pälvi Pulli, openly pleads for closer ties to NATO. All this stems from the mood that has been created in recent years and months that Putin is pursuing an imperialist policy and wants to expand the country further and, in the end, even attack Switzerland. Surely this is nonsense?
JB: I know Mrs. Pälvi Pulli. She is an intelligent person. But she is making the mistake that people in the West make and that results from the disinformation spread by our media. We depart from the idea that Russia wants to conquer Europe and that Vladimir Putin is an irrational person. This is wrong. We know from Ukrainian and Western sources that the Russian decision had its origin in the planned Ukrainian offensive against the Donbas. So, Vladimir Putin’s decision was perfectly rational, even if one can argue whether it was the best one. It is also clear that the Russians have tried to resolve all this diplomatically. This includes other sets of issues, such as nuclear weapons in Ukraine, joining NATO, etc.
Clearly, the West has not even tried to implement the Minsk agreements, or to solve the other problems politically. Russia perceives these problems as existential. It was ready to negotiate. Since the beginning of the Russian offensive, Zelensky was also ready to negotiate. He was prevented from doing so by the U.S. and the U.K., as well as by the far-right elements of the Ukrainian security apparatus, which is very strongly supported by our media. I don’t think NATO is playing a stabilizing role in this crisis. On the contrary.
TK: Mr. Baud, thank you for the interview.
We are grateful to Zeitgeschehen im Fokus for their gracious cooperation in making the English-version of this interview. [Translated from the German by N. Dass.]
This interview comes to us through the kind courtesy of the Swiss journal, Zeitgeschehen im Fokus. In it, Jacques Baud brings us up-to-date on the Ukraine situation, while providing us with great insights, in his usual, inimitable way. He is in conversation with Thomas Kaiser. [Note: This English translation of the original German interview has been exclusively updated by Jacques Baud. Translated from the German by N. Dass.]
Thomas Kaiser-Zeitgeschehen im Fokus (TK): You cannot recognize Switzerland in a certain sense. Everything that was of importance to the state is being thrown away, almost hand-over-fist. What’s your view?
Jacques Baud (JB): We are indeed in a state of hysteria; and it is unbelievable how people forget the fundamental principles of the rule of law. This is a fundamental problem—you forget your own foundations, your own identity. Regardless of who is fighting each other, it is not our fight, and it is an advantage not to be involved in the fight, because that creates the opportunity to develop better solutions and help defuse the problem.
TK: A neutral state could make a positive contribution here?
JB: Yes, but that is exactly what Switzerland is not doing. It behaves as if it were a party in this conflict. This prevents Switzerland from finding a balanced, objective and impartial solution. This is a key point, nota bene for the international community as a whole, not only for Switzerland. The difference is only that Switzerland should be neutral.
TK: How is that relevant?
JB: This neutrality could be exploited, not to take sides, but to help solve the problem, regardless of who is guilty or innocent. These are different things. It’s like an arbitrator. He is not supposed to be a party. We have forgotten that. It doesn’t matter what the referee thinks about a participant, whether he finds him sympathetic or not, he must keep the same distance from both participants. Switzerland should be in this situation, but it does take advantage of it. I don’t mean financially, of course, but intellectually, legally and morally. The problem is that Switzerland forgets that it is not a warring party in this conflict.
TK: If you listen to the Swiss government or even to the narrative of some lawmakers, this neutral stance is completely blurred, even if they claim the opposite is repeatedly..
JB: It is also interesting that if one takes some distance to assess the conflict and does not immediately side with Ukraine, one is declared a ” Putin-Empathizer.” This is unbelievable. What I think about Putin has nothing to do with the assessment of the situation. That is the business of the Ukrainians. I have said this several times: if I were Ukrainian, I probably would have taken up arms. But that is not the point. I, as Swiss, will not give up my Swissness. In order to help Ukraine, I don’t have to become a Ukrainian; but I have to look at the big picture I have as Swiss to bring a less passionate but more constructive point of view. The journalists who criticize me are more Russia-haters than Ukraine-lovers.
TK: Where, then, might Switzerland’s role in this conflict lie?
JB: When an onlooker sees an old lady being attacked by a thug on the street, he does not encourage her to fight back, but tries to separate the two. We are in the situation of this onlooker; but our response is to give weapons so that Ukraine fights. For a Ukrainian it is legitimate to want to fight. But for a Swiss or another European, our role is to try to limit the damage. But no one is even attempting to do that in the West. When Zelensky was looking for a mediator, he turned to Turkey, China, and Israel. He did not choose a European Union country or even Switzerland. He understood that Switzerland is no longer an independent partner.
TK: Isn’t that the result of current Swiss foreign policy?
JB: Yes, it shows the nature of the problem. We have to make a difference between what we think about Putin and what we want to achieve politically. These are two different things. In addition, I always ask myself if are we so keen to blame the aggressor. Why didn’t we blame and sanction the U.S., the UK or France when they attacked Middle Eastern or African countries?
TK: Yes, this question really does arise.
JB: Paradoxically, everything we give to Ukraine today only highlights the help and compassion we have not given to those who have been unjustly attacked by the West in the Middle East and elsewhere. This will have consequences in the future. Many have noticed this with the refugees. The “blond, blue-eyed” refugees are gladly helped; the others are not. Maybe we can understand this, even if we cannot approve of it. But what is incomprehensible, remains the fact that we keep silent about one attacker, while another is punished with more than 6 000 sanctions.
TK: Is this not the well-known double standard?
JB: Yes, it is. It also doesn’t mean that you have to be in favor of Russia; that has nothing to do with it. If you look at Justitia, she is blind and holds a scale in her hand. That is exactly what is missing today. Western countries are partial and biased. The same applies to the European Union. A modern state should not be guided by passion, but by reason. These principles were established by Montesquieu, Voltaire and Rousseau in the 18th century. Our “woke” culture has forgotten them. We let our feelings guide us and we follow them. That is the problem.
TK: Does that mean that the principles of the rule of law have disappeared?
JB: The rule of law means that decisions are not based on feelings or intuitions, but on the basis of facts. That is why modern states have intelligence services. This is about supporting decision-making based on facts and not on the basis of divine inspiration. This is a fundamental difference between enlightened governance and despotic obscurantism. Fighting a dictatorship does not entitle us to forget the principles of the rule of law. Since the Balkan War, the West seems to believe that the end justifies the means. It is irrelevant what individual ministers think as persons, they are allowed to hate Putin, that is their right as citizens —but not as ministers. Feelings cannot be the basis of their policy. Here I would like to refer to Henry Kissinger. He said in 2014, “Demonizing Vladimir Putin is not politics; it is an alibi for not having politics.” That’s what Henry Kissinger said; not Putin or Lukashenko. It behaves like a monarch, like Louis XIV who was guided by a divine inspiration.
“It is not about solving the problem of ‘war,’ but about eliminating the problem of ‘Putin.'”
TK: So, the Swiss government’s decision-making is more based on emotions than on reason?
JB: It is not the only one, unfortunately. This “management by Twitter” that has the upper hand in the entire Western world at the moment is absolutely inappropriate. It leads to this situation where you react before you know exactly what has happened.
Obviously, things don’t get better as a result. We close the doors. We do not communicate anymore. Diplomacy has stalled. In reality, it is not about solving the problem of “war,” but about eliminating the problem of “Putin.”
TK: Reacting before you know the details is common practice?
JB: Yes, after the missile attack on civilians at the Kramatorsk train station on April 8, the Swiss minister of Foreign Affairs summoned the Russian ambassador. At that time, however, only few details of the attack were known. Nevertheless, the Russians were accused. Today, factual evidence, such as the serial number of the missile, the direction of the launch, the type of missile and the strategy tend to indicate a Ukrainian responsibility. But without an impartial international investigation, a direct accusation of Russia means an endorsement of a possible war crime by Ukraine. That is not the way to run states. The fact that the political leadership is unable to take distance to the events is extremely disturbing.
TK: Without distance, it is probably extremely difficult to judge a situation adequately?
JB: In most cases, we are not able to distinguish between a war crime and “collateral damage.” In large part, this is because the media dictate an answer to us. What was provocation, what was reaction, what is propaganda? We don’t know. Despite everything, we accuse and sanction Russia. But if you want to condemn something, first you need an international and impartial commission of inquiry to find out what happened. What we are doing tends to exclude any possibility of dialogue, and that prevents the formulation of a crisis management strategy.
TK: So, the citizen and the state cannot have the same approach?
JB: The citizen can believe what he wants. What the ordinary citizen thinks is completely up to him. He can mean what he wants about Putin, about Russia. He can hate people if he wants to. But a state and state media cannot afford that.
TK: Why not?
JB: The role of a state is not to express the emotions of its people, but to represent their interests. Ukraine’s interest is to protect its citizens from an aggression. Switzerland’s interest should not be to support a war, but to support achieving a peaceful solution. Switzerland’s role should not be to blame or condemn. Today, Switzerland decided the second largest number of sanctions against Russia, but it didn’t apply any sanction against the US, the UK or Israel. In other words, we accept crimes when they are committed by some, but not when they are committed by others.
It has been known for a long time that Ukrainian militias commit war crimes and crimes against humanity. Switzerland has not condemned them. Currently, many Ukrainian war crimes are beginning to be denounced by Western witnesses and humanitarian workers. Their revelations are censored, like the revelation of Natalia Usmanova, censored by Reuters and Der Spiegel, which tells that it was Ukrainian militias and not Russians who prevented civilians from escaping through humanitarian corridors. By turning a blind eye to them, Switzerland is supporting practices that are prohibited under the Geneva Conventions, of which it is the depositary state.
“Kiev and the West are waging a media war against Russia and the Donbas republics.”
TK: This means that the West is promoting crises?
JB: Yes. In 2014, a similar mechanism was observed. Western “experts” and media downplayed the Ukrainians’ resistance to regime change. It had to be shown that the Maidan revolution was democratic. So, they built the myth of a Ukrainian army that was victorious against the rebels. After the defeat of the government in Donetsk, the excuse of a Russian intervention had to be invented to justify Western propaganda. This is how the first Minsk agreements came about (September 2014). Immediately after, Kiev broke the signed agreement to launch the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO). This led to a second defeat at Debaltsevo and the second Minsk agreement (February 2015). Once again, the Ukrainian defeat was attributed to Russian intervention. Therefore, Western “experts” continue to claim that these agreements were signed between Ukraine and Russia, which is not true. The Minsk Agreement was signed between Kiev and representatives of the self-proclaimed republics of Lugansk and Donetsk.
TK: What is the current assessment of the war situation?
JB: Today we can see that Kiev and the West are waging a media war against Russia and the Donbas republics. Russia, on the other hand, is waging a war on the battlefield. As a result, Ukrainians and the West are stronger in the information war, but Russia and its allies are stronger on the battlefield. Who will win? We don’t know. But what has been observed in Mariupol and the Donbas since mid-April tends to suggest that Ukrainian troops have been “abandoned” by their leadership. This observation is also made by Western volunteers who have left the battlefield due to the shortcomings of the Ukrainian command and are reporting this in the media.
TK: What does this mean specifically regarding Russian war objectives?
JB: Russia started with a limited objective. After that, the decision was made to go further. It wanted to demilitarize the threat over Donbas. Based on the first success, it wanted to start negotiations on the neutrality of Ukraine. This was a new objective, which was defined later. Putin saw a chance to achieve his goal through negotiations. If Ukraine did not accept it, he would adjust the objective accordingly. The Ukrainians don’t want negotiations; so Russia is proceeding incrementally until Ukraine agrees to a negotiated settlement.
“The Russians understand war from a Clausewitzian perspective: war is the continuation of politics by other means.”
TK: What were the original war aims?
JB: On February 24, Putin clearly stated the two war aims: “demilitarization” and “denazification,” to end the threat against the Russian-speaking population in the Donbas. Moreover, Putin stated that he did not seek to take over all of Ukraine. This is exactly what has been observed.
Russians understand war from a Clausewitzian perspective: war is the continuation of politics by other means. Therefore, they move fluidly from one to the other. The idea is to get the Ukrainian side to enter into a negotiation process.
TK: Has Ukraine seriously engaged in a negotiated settlement?
JB: On February 25th, Zelensky hinted that he was ready to negotiate with Russia. The European Union then showed up on February 27th with a 450-million Euro arms package to spur Ukraine to fight. On March 7th, with the goal of “demilitarization” and “denazification” nearly achieved and Ukraine having made no progress in negotiations, Russia added that Kiev must recognize the return of Crimea to Russia and the independence of the two Donbas republics. It made clear that its position could change if Ukraine did not want to negotiate.
TK: Has Ukraine responded to this?
JB: After the capture of Mariupol, the situation in Ukraine weakened, and on March 21st, Zelensky made an offer that was accommodating to Russia. But as in February, the EU came back two days later with a second package of 500-million Euros for weapons. The UK and the US subsequently put pressure on Zelensky to withdraw his offer. Negotiations in Istanbul subsequently stalled. This was a clear indication that de West didn’t want a negotiated solution.
On April 22nd, the Russians adjusted their goal. The Ministry of Defense announced that the new goal was to take control of the southern part of Ukraine up to Transnistria, where the Russian-speaking never felt being well treated.
As can be seen, the Russian strategy adjusts the goals depending on the military situation. What the Russians are actually doing is to turn their operational successes into a strategic success.
TK: Does this mean that the Russian targets reported by the media never existed?
JB: That’s right. Vladimir Putin never said he wanted to take Kiev. He never said he was going to take the city in two days. He never said he wanted to overthrow President Zelensky. He never said he wanted to take over all of Ukraine. He never said he was aiming for a victory on May 9th. He never said he wanted to declare that victory at the May 9th parade. He never said that he wanted to “declare war” on May 9th, in order to trigger a general mobilization.
So, by setting the objectives, the West can now claim Putin did not achieve them. The narrative that Russia is losing the war against Ukraine is based on these claims.
TK: What should come out of the military action at the end?
JB: Of course, we do not know what is going on in Vladimir Putin’s mind. But obviously there is a logic. The West is not making it easier for the Ukrainians, and the Russians are moving ahead. In the near future, we’ll see the Russian coalition “liberating” more territories. Some provinces have already decided to introduce the ruble as currency. So, things are slowly moving towards the “recreation” of some kind of Novorossiya.
TK: What do you mean by “Novorossiya,” and how should it look territorially?
JB: After the abolition of the official language law in 2014, not only the Lugansk and Donetsk oblasts rose up, but the entire Russian-speaking south of Ukraine. As a result, in October 2014, the Unified Forces of Novorossiya were formed, with units from the self-proclaimed Republics of Odessa, Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk, and, of course, Lugansk and Donetsk. Only Lugansk and Donetsk survived. The other “republics” have been brutally suppressed by the Kiev’s paramilitary forces. Today, the Russians are using the revival of the Novorossiya as an incentive for the Ukrainians to go to the negotiation table. If they don’t want, Russia will increase the pressure.
TK: Does Russia have a chance of success in this way?
JB: Nothing is certain. What can be said, however, is that the popular resistance to Russia in the territories it occupies is much weaker than Western experts estimated. Moreover, it is clear that the Ukrainian conduct of operations has not been effective. It seems that the Ukrainian military has lost confidence in its authorities, as it did in 2014.
TK: How do we know this?
JB: The testimonies of Western volunteer fighters who have returned from Ukraine confirm that the Ukrainian leadership is weak. It seems that the Ukrainian leadership itself is a victim of its own propaganda, which overestimates the performance of Ukrainian Forces. One gets the feeling that the political leadership is more satisfied with the messages conveyed by the West than with the actual results on the battlefield. Of course, the Western media uses the civilian and military casualty figures given by Ukraine to claim Ukraine’s victory and Russian upcoming defeat.
TK: What conclusions can we draw from this whole situation?
JB: Western activities will only prolong this war, while leaving no room for negotiations. This is exactly what the EU and Switzerland are doing. They are more part of the problem than of the solution.
TK: German Chancellor Scholz has said very clearly, “Russia must not win the war.” With that, the war will continue?
JB: That is childish. The operational situation shows that Ukraine is in a very difficult situation. I do not know whether Russia will “win” or “lose” this war. But I do know that Ukraine is no longer in a position to win militarily. On the political level, the situation may be different. This is debatable, and the future will tell. From a Western perspective, it is certainly a political defeat for Russia. However, for the rest of the world, this may not be the case. In fact, the new Eurasian bloc that will emerge from this conflict will be a significantly stronger contender for the West. We are used to see the fate of the world revolving around the West. But Asia will probably be the next “center of the world.” By isolating Russia politically from the West, you push it into the Asian bloc. In the long run, this could give Russia an advantage over Europe and the United States.
TK: You said that Ukraine cannot win the war. Is that because it is too weak militarily?
JB: There is almost no Ukrainian military left, so to speak. Most of the Ukrainian army is encircled in the Donbas and is being incrementally neutralized by the Russian coalition. The Ukrainian government just started moving territorial units from the west of the country to the Donbas. This has increased tensions, especially in the areas of the Hungarian and Romanian minorities, whose people do not appear keen to fight against the Russians. We see demonstrations of mothers and wives in the west of the country and in Kiev.
TK: Obviously, Western countries behave as if they do not want peace. No one urges caution. Before anything is known for sure, conclusions are drawn, condemnations are made, weapons are supplied. The war is kept alive. What do you think of the announced increase in arms deliveries?
JB: Regarding weapons, there are several things to consider. First, feeding a war and thus keeping it alive is not the job of the international community. By international community, I mean primarily organizations like the UN or the EU. Whether a country pursues this policy like the U.S. or Poland, that is their decision. But the purpose of an international organization is not to support international conflicts.
“Weapons disappear before they reach the front lines.”
JB: That’s the third aspect to look at. The weapons don’t help anything. The arms deliveries are based on the myth that Ukraine will win the war and Russia will lose. This idea is the result of the fact that the West has determined the objective of the Russians. Zelensky is demanding additional weapons because the Ukrainian army has already lost hundreds of battle tanks and artillery pieces. The few dozen supplied by the West will not change the situation. As in 2014, the main problem of the Ukrainian armed forces is not the determination of the soldiers, but the incompetence of the staff.
TK: How can Ukraine finance these weapons, or will the supplier states bear the cost out of solidarity?
JB: The weapons are provided to Ukraine on the basis of the “Lend-Lease” Law. This is a form of “leasing” that was introduced at the beginning of World War II to supply weapons to United Kingdom and the USSR. In other words, Ukraine will have to pay back for the weapons it receives. Just to give an idea, Great Britain and Russia ended the payment of their World War II debts to the USA in the year—2006!
Moreover, Ukraine is accumulating huge debts to international financial institutions (such as the IMF and the World Bank). The paradox is that, because of Western rhetoric about a country that is doing well and on the verge of defeating Russia, these institutions are reluctant to cancel its debt.
TK: So, the weapons supplied and the volunteer foreign fighters have no impact on the course of the war?
JB: They have only limited impact. Remember that, in Afghanistan the Taliban were able to prevail against the Western forces even though they were much more powerful. The Afghans had almost no heavy weapons, at most small arms. Neither the number of weapons nor their quality is decisive for victory. The biggest weakness of the Ukrainian armed forces is leadership.
TK: Why is that?
JB: The Ukrainian military leadership is bad because it is not able to integrate all parameters needed for planning and conducting battles. It makes the same mistakes as NATO forces in Afghanistan. This is not surprising, since the latter train the former. Besides, you have to master these weapons to get the most out of them tactically. They were developed for professional soldiers trained for months, not for casual soldiers trained in two weeks. That is completely unrealistic.
“The weapons that are being supplied to Ukraine have no military effect.”
TK: Do I understand you correctly—the efficiency of these delivered weapons is very low and leads to more destruction in Ukraine?
JB: The weapons being delivered, some of which are obsolete, will not affect significantly Russian operations or give an edge to the Ukrainian forces. They will only attract Russian fire to certain areas. For example, Slovakia has supplied Ukraine with the S-300 air defense system, which, as far as I know, has been moved to the vicinity of Nikolaev. Within a very short time it was destroyed by the Russians. The Russians know very well where this equipment is, and where the weapons depots are. In Zaporizhzhia were stored brand new weapons from the West. The Russians destroyed the depot with a missile, with pinpoint accuracy. The weapons delivered to Ukraine have no military impact on the course of the war.
A few howitzers are ineffective because the Russians can destroy them very fast. The Ukrainians, of course, have to get these systems to the front as quickly as possible. They have to do that by rail. The Ukrainians have electric railroads in the western part of the country. The Russians destroyed most of the electric substations of the network and the main railroads. Today, no electric locomotives are running on the network anymore. As a result, they have to bring weapons, such as tanks, to the “frontline” by road, one by one, using transporters. The problem is that these destructions affect not only military logistics, but also the economic life of the country.
TK: How did Russia react to these arms deliveries?
JB: It should be noted that before the Western arms deliveries, the Russians did not attack the railroad network. If the goal is to totally destroy Ukraine, then you have to do exactly what the West is doing now. If that is what we want. Whether it is what the West wants or not, I don’t know. But if this is the goal, this is the way to go.
Also, it is said that Russia currently has the largest inventory of Javelin missiles in the world. I don’t know if that is true, but it suggests that a large part of the weapons supplied by the West are not getting to Ukrainian fighters.
TK: The Gepard tank that the Germans want to supply has been decommissioned in the Bundeswehr. There is also no more ammunition for it in the Bundeswehr stocks. Isn’t that a point you mentioned earlier?
JB: The Gepard is an antiaircraft tank based on the chassis of the Leopard 1 main battle tank. It is a vehicle whose development goes back to the 1970s. It is a good weapon system, but it is no longer suited to modern threats. A weapon system also means logistics, maintenance and special training for the crews and mechanics. Furthermore, to be effective, such a system must be integrated into a command-and-control system. However, all of this cannot be accomplished in a matter of weeks. Basically, these weapon systems only draw Russian fire.
“A British volunteer fighter who returned from Ukraine speaks of the fighters sent to the front as ‘cannon fodder.'”
TK: Do Western countries have any hope that all this will help accomplish something?
JB: One thing is for sure—it doesn’t do anything. The British made a study of the weapons they had supplied to the Ukrainians. The results are extremely weak, and disappointing. They realized their weapons systems are too complicated, and the Ukrainian soldiers cannot operate them because they are not sufficiently trained. As for volunteer fighters, the picture is also disappointing. A British volunteer fighter who returned from Ukraine speaks of “cannon fodder,” of the fighters sent to the front. The British themselves realized that it was a waste of life and resources. That is why Boris Johnson started back-pedaling, after urging young people to fight in Ukraine. So, everything that is being done only serves to continue the war, without bringing a solution, or decisively winning over Russia. It only leads to the destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure.
TK: So, it is not a matter of helping the Ukrainian army?
JB: In theory, yes. In practice, no. Ukraine already has enormous logistical problems with its troops in the Donbas. It can hardly supply them with weapons and ammunition. And now they are creating a new problem with weapons that cannot be repaired. The mechanics are not trained to do this, nor are the crews trained to operate the equipment. Moreover, in the systems supplied by the West, the instructions and user manuals are in German, English or French, but not in Ukrainian. This sounds so trivial, but it is a problem.
That is why I say Germany also wants to stoke the crisis. This is the attitude of German politicians like Scholz, Baerbock, etc. They want to fight Putin “to the last Ukrainian.” That makes no sense.
TK: But if it is so obvious, why is the West going this way?
JB: I maintain that the West is using Ukraine against Russia. The goal is not to help Ukraine, but to fight Putin. In the English-language media, many analysts confirm that the West is waging a war against Russia through Ukraine. This is called a “proxy war.” This is the point. We are not helping Ukraine. Everything else is a lie. If I were Ukrainian, I would condemn Putin as much as Ursula von der Leyen or even Ignazio Cassis. Because instead of playing a mediating role, these politicians are satisfying their own ambitions by fueling the war in an unhealthy way.
TK: Guterres has let it be known that the war would stop, if Russia would stop the war.
JB: A war always has two parties, and in our case there are even three. We have Russia, Ukraine, and the so-called international community, that is, the Western world. It is clear that if the war is to be ended, it needs both parties, not just one. To this end, negotiations are underway in Turkey, but they are not really moving forward. Why has Ukraine withdrawn its own proposals? So, it is clear, the solution is not only on the Russian side.
TK: One has the impression that history is repeating itself.
JB: Yes, today we are in a similar situation as in 2014. The West does not want to talk to Putin because he is a dictator, and the West urges Zelensky not to make any concessions. Dialogue is therefore impossible. The problem is that Russia achieves operational success and increases its gains when there are no negotiations. The West hides behind the illusion of a Ukrainian victory. But the likelihood of it occurring is diminishing as time goes on, even though on a strategic and media level Russia appears to have lost.
TK: What should Ukraine have done?
JB: One only has to read the Minsk agreements to understand that their implementation essentially depends on constitutional reforms in Ukraine. These reforms, however, require dialogue with the autonomists. Kiev, however, has never taken these steps, and the West has never tried to get the Ukrainian authorities to do so.
What happened since 2014, happened because of Ukraine’s behavior. These agreements are not implemented, and the situation got worse and worse. That led to today’s situation; and this is a result of the previous history; the things that went on before.
TK: France and Germany were the guarantors of the Minsk agreements. What have they done to ensure that these agreements are implemented?
JB: The failure of the Western states is blatant. Ukrainians themselves have invented a new word. It is called “Macronize.” It means “doing everything to look worried, showing that to everyone, but doing nothing.” This sums up Western behavior.
No, the Western states have not taken up their responsibility in any way. Russia has now reacted to an armed conflict that has been going on since 2014 and started with the abolition of the official language law in February 2014. European states did nothing to bring peace. That is why Putin does not want to talk about war, because the war started in 2014. With the Minsk agreements, a solution was found. That is the situation. Guterres is a politician—and the problem is, we don’t have any space in the UN or in our country for politicians to express a balanced opinion. This is exactly as when George W. Bush said, “Whoever is not with us is against us.” We are exactly in that situation today—and there is no space in between at all; there is only good or evil.
TK: Are these developments intentional?
JB: The whole conflict is the result of a scenario carefully worked out by the West. Its basic components were laid out in 2019 in two papers published by the RAND Corporation, the Pentagon think tank, entitled, Overextending and Unbalancing Russia and Extending Russia. These describe the sequence of events that led to the Russian offensive in February 2022. In addition to that, promises were made to Ukraine that it would become a member of NATO if it instigated a war that led to Russia’s defeat, as Oleksiy Arestovych explained in an interview with a Ukrainian television station in March 2019. In fact, Ukrainians were lied to, as Zelensky noted on CNN on March 21, 2022.
As a matter of fact, the Russians knew for a long time that this confrontation would occur. That is why they prepared for it militarily and economically. This explains why they are withstanding the sanctions and pressure better than expected. This is also the reason why the West is using its imagination to elaborate new sanctions or new methods to impose them, such as abandoning the principle of unanimity in the EU. We have entered a phase of “cockfighting” between the West and Russia. As a result, the problem is that international institutions are no longer fulfilling their role as arbiters, but have become parties to the conflict.
TK: But then the EU won the Nobel Peace Prize a few years ago. Where is the commitment to peace?
JB: Obama got it, too. And Obama was the American president who kept his country at war from the first day of his mandate to the last. He started three wars, and the number of air strikes increased tenfold compared to his predecessor. I don’t think anybody takes the Nobel Prize seriously anymore at this point. It is purely political.
In this penetrating interview, Jacques Baud delves into geopolitics to help us better understand what is actually taking place in the Ukraine, in that it is ultimately the larger struggle for global dominance, led by the United States, NATO and the political leaders of the West and against Russia.
As always, Colonel Baud brings to bear his well-informed analysis, which is unique for its depth and gravity. We are sure that you will find this conservation informative, insightful and crucial in connecting the dots.
The Postil (TP): We are so very pleased to have you join us for this conversation. Would you please tell us a little about yourself, about your background?
Jacques Baud (JB): Thank you for inviting me! As to my education, I have a master’s degree in Econometrics and postgraduate diplomas in International Relations and in International Security from the Graduate Institute for International relations in Geneva (Switzerland). I worked as strategic intelligence officer in the Swiss Department of Defense, and was in charge of the Warsaw Pact armed forces, including those deployed abroad (such as Afghanistan, Cuba, Angola, etc.) I attended intelligence training in the UK and in the US. Just after the end of the Cold War, I headed for a few years a unit in the Swiss Defense Research and Procurement Agency. During the Rwanda War, because of my military and intelligence background, I was sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo as security adviser to prevent ethnic cleansing in the Rwandan refugee camps.
During my time in the intelligence service, I was in touch with the Afghan resistance movement of Ahmed Shah Masood, and I wrote a small handbook to help Afghans in demining and neutralizing Soviet bomblets. In the mid-1990, the struggle against antipersonnel mines became a foreign policy priority of Switzerland. I proposed to create a center that would collect information about landmines and demining technologies for the UN. This led to the creation of the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining in Geneva. I was later offered to head the Policy and Doctrine Unit of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. After two years in New York, I went to Nairobi to perform a similar job for the African Union.
Then I was assigned to NATO to counter the proliferation of small arms. Switzerland is not a member of the Alliance, but this particular position had been negotiated as a Swiss contribution to the Partnership for Peace with NATO. In 2014, as the Ukraine crisis unfolded, I monitored the flow of small arms in the Donbass. Later, in the same year I was involved in a NATO program to assist the Ukrainian armed forces in restoring their capacities and improving personnel management, with the aim of restoring trust in them.
TP: You have written two insightful articles about the current conflict in the Ukraine, which we had the great privilege to translate and publish (here and here). Was there a particular event or an instance which led you to formulate this much-needed perspective?
JB: As a strategic intelligence officer, I always advocated providing to the political or military decision-makers the most accurate and the most objective intelligence. This is the kind of job where you need to keep you prejudice and your feelings to yourself, in order to come up with an intelligence that reflects as much as possible the reality on the ground rather than your own emotions or beliefs. I also assume that in a modern democratic State decision must be fact-based. This is the difference with autocratic political systems where decision-making is ideology-based (such as in the Marxist States) or religion-based (such as in the French pre-revolutionary monarchy).
Thanks to my various assignments, I was able to have an insider view in most recent conflicts (such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria and, of course, Ukraine). The main common aspect between all these conflicts is that we tend to have a totally distorted understanding of them. We do not understand our enemies, their rationale, their way of thinking and their real objectives. Hence, we are not even able to articulate sound strategies to fight them. This is especially true with Russia. Most people, including the top brass, tend to confuse “Russia” and “USSR.” As I was in NATO, I could hardly find someone who could explain what Russia’s vision of the world is or even its political doctrine. Lot of people think Vladimir Putin is a communist. We like to call him a “dictator,” but we have a hard time to explain what we mean by that. As examples, people come up invariably with the assassination of such and such journalist or former FSB or GRU agents, although evidence is extremely debatable. In other words, even if it is true, we are not able to articulate exactly the nature of the problem. As a result, we tend to portray the enemy as we wished him to be, rather than as he actually is. This is the ultimate recipe for failure. This explains why, after five years spent within NATO, I am more concerned about Western strategic and military capabilities than before.
In 2014, during the Maidan revolution in Kiev, I was in NATO in Brussels. I noticed that people didn’t assess the situation as it was, but as they wished it would be. This is exactly what Sun Tzu describes as the first step towards failure. In fact, it appeared clear to me that nobody in NATO had the slightest interest in Ukraine. The main goal was to destabilize Russia.
TP: How do you perceive Volodymyr Zelensky? Who is he, really? What is his role in this conflict? It seems he wants to have a “forever war,” since he must know he cannot win? Why does he want to prolong this conflict?
JB: Volodymyr Zelensky was elected on the promise he would make peace with Russia, which I think is a noble objective. The problem is that no Western country, nor the European Union managed to help him realize this objective. After the Maidan revolution, the emerging force in the political landscape was the far-right movement. I do not like to call it “neo-Nazi” because “Nazism” was a clearly defined political doctrine, while in Ukraine, we are talking about a variety of movements that combine all the features of Nazism (such as antisemitism, extreme nationalism, violence, etc.), without being unified into a single doctrine. They are more like a gathering of fanatics.
After 2014, Ukrainian armed forces’ command & control was extremely poor and was the cause of their inability to handle the rebellion in Donbass. Suicide, alcohol incidents, and murder surged, pushing young soldiers to defect. Even the British government noted that young male individuals preferred to emigrate rather than to join the armed forces. As a result, Ukraine started to recruit volunteers to enforce Kiev’s authority in the Russian speaking part of the country. These volunteers ere (and still are) recruited among European far-right extremists. According to Reuters, their number amounts to 102,000. They have become a sizeable and influential political force in the country.
The problem here is that these far-right fanatics threatened to kill Zelensky were he to try to make peace with Russia. As a result, Zelensky found himself sitting between his promises and the violent opposition of an increasingly powerful far-right movement. In May 2019, on the Ukrainian media Obozrevatel, Dmytro Yarosh, head of the “Pravy Sektor” militia and adviser to the Army Commander in Chief, openly threatened Zelensky with death, if he came to an agreement with Russia. In other words, Zelensky appears to be blackmailed by forces he is probably not in full control of.
In October 2021, the Jerusalem Post published a disturbing report on the training of Ukrainian far-right militias by American, British, French and Canadian armed forces. The problem is that the “collective West” tends to turn a blind eye to these incestuous and perverse relationships in order to achieve its own geopolitical goals. It is supported by unscrupulous far-right biased medias against Israel, which tend to approve the criminal behavior of these militias. This situation has repeatedly raised Israel’s concerns. This explains why Zelensky’s demands to the Israeli parliament in March 2022 were not well received and have not been successful.
Apparently, Zelensky is trying to navigate between Western pressure and his far right on the one hand and his concern to find a solution on the other, and is forced into a ” back-and-forth,” which discourages the Russian negotiators.
In fact, I think Zelensky is in an extreme uncomfortable position, which reminds me of Soviet Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky’s during WWII. Rokossovsky had been imprisoned in 1937 for treason and sentenced to death by Stalin. In 1941, he got out of prison on Stalin’s orders and was given a command. He was eventually promoted to Marshall of the Soviet Union in 1944, but his death sentence was not lifted until 1956.
Today, Zelensky must lead his country under the sword of Damocles, with the blessing of Western politicians and unethical media. His lack of political experience made him an easy prey for those who were trying to exploit Ukraine against Russia, and in the hands of extreme right-wing movements. As he acknowledges in an interview with CNN, he was obviously lured into believing that Ukraine would enter NATO more easily after an open conflict with Russia, as Oleksey Arestovich, his adviser, confirmed in 2019.
TP: What do you think will be the fate of the Ukraine? Will it be like all the other experiments in “spreading democracy” (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, etc.)? Or is Ukraine a special case?
JB: I have definitely no crystal ball… At this stage, we can only guess what Vladimir Putin wants. He probably wants to achieve two main goals. The first one is to secure the situation of the Russian-speaking minority in Ukraine. How, remains an open question. Does he want to re-create the “Novorossiya” that tried to emerge from the 2014 unrests? This “entity” that never really existed, and it consisted of the short-lived Republics of Odessa, Donetsk, Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov and Lugansk, of which only the Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk “survived.” The autonomy referendum planned for early May in the city of Kherson might be an indication for this option. Another option would be to negotiate an autonomous status for these areas, and to return them to Ukraine in exchange of its neutrality. The second goal is to have a neutral Ukraine (some will say a “Finlandized Ukraine”). That is—without NATO. It could be some kind of Swiss “armed neutrality.” As you know, in the early 19th century, Switzerland had a neutral status imposed on it by the European powers, as well as the obligation to prevent any misuse of its territory against one of these powers. This explains the strong military tradition we have in Switzerland and the main rationale for its armed forces today. Something similar could probably be considered for Ukraine.
An internationally recognized neutral status would grant Ukraine a high degree of security. This status prevented Switzerland from being attacked during the two world wars. The often-mentioned example of Belgium is misleading, because during both world wars, its neutrality was declared unilaterally and was not recognized by the belligerents. In the case of Ukraine, it would have its own armed forces, but would be free from any foreign military presence: neither NATO, nor Russia. This is just my guess, and I have no clue about how this could be feasible and accepted in the current polarized international climate.
I am not sure about the so-called “color-revolutions” aim at spreading democracy. My take is that it is just a way to weaponize human rights, the rule of law or democracy in order to achieve geo-strategic objectives. In fact, this was clearly spelled out in a memo to Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump’s Secretary of State, in 2017. Ukraine is a case in point. After 2014, despite Western influence, it has never been a democracy: corruption soared between 2014 and 2020; in 2021, it banned opposition media and jailed the leader of the main parliamentary opposition party. As some international organizations have reported, torture is a common practice, and opposition leaders as well as journalists are chased by the Ukrainian Security Service.
TP: Why is the West only interested in drawing a simplistic image of the Ukraine conflict? That of “good guys” and the “bad guys?” Is the Western public really now that dumbed down?
JB: I think this is inherent to any conflict. Each side tends to portray itself as the “good guy.” This is obviously the main reason.
Besides this, other factors come into play. First, most people, including politicians and journalists, still confuse Russia and the USSR. For instance, they don’t understand why the communist party is the main opposition party in Russia.
Second, since 2007, Putin was systematically demonized in the West. Whether or not he is a “dictator” Is a matter of discussion; but it is worth noting that his approval rate in Russia never fell below 59 % in the last 20 years. I take my figures from the Levada Center, which is labeled as “foreign agent” in Russia, and hence doesn’t reflect the Kremlin’s views. It is also interesting to see that in France, some of the most influential so-called “experts” on Russia are in fact working for the British MI-6’s “Integrity Initiative.”
Third, in the West, there is a sense that you can do whatever you want if it is in the name of western values. This is why the Russian offensive in Ukraine is passionately sanctioned, while FUKUS (France, UK, US) wars get strong political support, even if they are notoriously based on lies. “Do what I say, not what I do!” One could ask what makes the conflict in Ukraine worse than other wars. In fact, each new sanction we apply to Russia highlights the sanctions we haven’t applied earlier to the US, the UK or France.
The purpose of this incredible polarization is to prevent any dialogue or negotiation with Russia. We are back to what happened in 1914, just before the start of WWI…
TP: What will Russia gain or lose with this involvement in the Ukraine (which is likely to be long-term)? Russia is facing a conflict on “two fronts,” it would seem: a military one and an economic one (with the endless sanctions and “canceling” of Russia).
JB: With the end of the Cold War, Russia expected being able to develop closer relations with its Western neighbors. It even considered joining NATO. But the US resisted every attempt of rapprochement. NATO structure does not allow for the coexistence of two nuclear superpowers. The US wanted to keep its supremacy.
Since 2002, the quality of the relations with Russia decayed slowly, but steadily. It reached a first negative “peak” in 2014 after the Maidan coup. The sanctions have become US and EU primary foreign policy tool. The Western narrative of a Russian intervention in Ukraine got traction, although it was never substantiated. Since 2014, I haven’t met any intelligence professional who could confirm any Russian military presence in the Donbass. In fact, Crimea became the main “evidence” of Russian “intervention.” Of course, Western historians ignore superbly that Crimea was separated from Ukraine by referendum in January 1991, six months before Ukrainian independence and under Soviet rule. In fact, it’s Ukraine that illegally annexed Crimea in 1995. Yet, western countries sanctioned Russia for that…
Since 2014 sanctions severely affected east-west relations. After the signature of the Minsk Agreements in September 2014 and February 2015, the West—namely France, Germany as guarantors for Ukraine, and the US—made no effort whatsoever to make Kiev comply, despite repeated requests from Moscow.
Russia’s perception is that whatever it will do, it will face an irrational response from the West. This is why, in February 2022, Vladimir Putin realized he would gain nothing in doing nothing. If you take into account his mounting approval rate in the country, the resilience of the Russian economy after the sanctions, the loss of trust in the US dollar, the threatening inflation in the West, the consolidation of the Moscow-Beijing axis with the support of India (which the US has failed to keep in the “Quad”), Putin’s calculation was unfortunately not wrong.
Regardless of what Russia does, US and western strategy is to weaken it. From that point on, Russia has no real stake in its relations with us. Again, the US objective is not to have a “better” Ukraine or a “better” Russia, but a weaker Russia. But it also shows that the United States is not able to rise higher than Russia and that the only way to overcome it is to weaken it. This should ring an alarm bell in our countries…
JB: In fact, I started my book in October 2021, after a show on French state TV about Vladimir Putin. I am definitely not an admirer of Vladimir Putin, nor of any Western leader, by the way. But the so-called experts had so little understanding of Russia, international security and even of simple plain facts, that I decided to write a book. Later, as the situation around Ukraine developed, I adjusted my approach to cover this mounting conflict. The idea was definitely not to relay Russian propaganda. In fact, my book is based exclusively on western sources, official reports, declassified intelligence reports, Ukrainian official medias, and reports provided by the Russian opposition. The approach was to demonstrate that we can have a sound and factual alternative understanding of the situation just with accessible information and without relying on what we call “Russian propaganda.”
The underlying thinking is that we can only achieve peace if we have a more balanced view of the situation. To achieve this, we have to go back to the facts. Now, these facts exist and are abundantly available and accessible. The problem is that some individuals make every effort to prevent this and tend to hide the facts that disturb them. This is exemplified by some so-called journalist who dubbed me “The spy who loved Putin!” This is the kind of “journalists” who live from stirring tensions and extremism. All figures and data provided by our media about the conflict come from Ukraine, and those coming from Russia are automatically dismissed as propaganda. My view is that both are propaganda. But as soon as you come up with western data that do not fit into the mainstream narrative, you have extremists claiming you “love Putin.”
Our media are so worried about finding rationality in Putin’s actions that they turn a blind eye to the crimes committed by Ukraine, thus generating a feeling of impunity for which Ukrainians are paying the price. This is the case of the attack on civilians by a missile in Kramatorsk—we no longer talk about it because the responsibility of Ukraine is very likely, but this means that the Ukrainians could do it again with impunity.
On the contrary, my book aims at reducing the current hysteria that prevent any political solution. I do not want to deny the Ukrainians the right to resist the invasion with arms. If I were Ukrainian, I would probably take the arms to defend my land. The issue here is that it must be their decision. The role of the international community should not be to add fuel to the fire by supplying arms but to promote a negotiated solution.
To move in this direction, we must make the conflict dispassionate and bring it back into the realm of rationality. In any conflict the problems come from both sides; but here, strangely, our media show us that they all come from one side only. This is obviously not true; and, in the end, it is the Ukrainian people who pay the price of our policy against Vladimir Putin.
TP: Why is Putin hated so much by the Western elite?
JB: Putin became Western elite’s “bête noire” in 2007 with his famous speech in Munich. Until then, Russia had only moderately reacted to NATO expansion. But as the US withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002 and started negotiations with some East European countries to deploy anti-ballistic missiles, Russia felt the heat and Putin virulently criticized the US and NATO.
This was the start of a relentless effort to demonize Vladimir Putin and to weaken Russia. The problem was definitely not human rights or democracy, but the fact that Putin dared to challenge the western approach. The Russians have in common with the Swiss the fact that they are very legalistic. They try to strictly follow the rules of international law. They tend to follow “law-based International order.” Of course, this is not the image we have, because we are used to hiding certain facts. Crimea is a case in point.
In the West, since the early 2000s, the US has started to impose a “rules-based international order.” As an example, although the US officially recognizes that there is only one China and that Taiwan is only a part of it, it maintains a military presence on the island and supplies weapons. Imagine if China would supply weapons to Hawaii (which was illegally annexed in the 19th century)!
What the West is promoting is an international order based on the “law of the strongest.” As long as the US was the sole superpower, everything was fine. But as soon as China and Russia started to emerge as world powers, the US tried to contain them. This is exactly what Joe Biden said in March 2021, shortly after taking office: “The rest of the world is closing in and closing in fast. We can’t allow this to continue.”
As Henry Kissinger said in the Washington Post: “For the West, the demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one.” This is why I felt we need to have a more factual approach to this conflict.
TP: Do you know who was involved and when it was decided by the US and NATO that regime change in Russia was a primary geopolitical objective?
JB: I think everything started in the early 2000s. I am not sure the objective was a regime change in Moscow, but it was certainly to contain Russia. This is what we have witnessed since then. The 2014 events in Kiev have boosted US efforts.
These were clearly defined in 2019, in two publications of the RAND Corporation [James Dobbins, Raphael S. Cohen, Nathan Chandler, Bryan Frederick, Edward Geist, Paul DeLuca, Forrest E. Morgan, Howard J. Shatz, Brent Williams, “Extending Russia : Competing from Advantageous Ground,” RAND Corporation, 2019; James Dobbins & al., “Overextending and Unbalancing Russia,” RAND Corporation, (Doc Nr. RB-10014-A), 2019]. .This has nothing to do with the rule of law, democracy or human rights, but only with maintaining US supremacy in the world. In other words, nobody cares about Ukraine. This is why the international community (that is, Western countries) make every effort to prolong the conflict.
Since 2014, this is exactly what happened. Everything the West did was to fulfill US strategic objectives.
TP: In this regard, you have also written another interesting book, on Alexei Navalny. Please tell us about what you have found out about Navalny.
JB: What disturbed me about the Navalny case was the haste with which Western governments condemned Russia and applied sanctions, even before knowing the results of an impartial investigation. So, my point in the book is not “to tell truth,” because we do not know exactly what the truth is, even if we have consistent indications that the official narrative is wrong. The interesting aspect is that the German doctors in the Charité Hospital in Berlin, were not able to identify any nerve agent in Navalny’s body. Surprisingly, they published their findings in the respected medical review The Lancet, showing that Navalny probably experienced a bad combination of medicine and other substances.
The bottom line is that we don’t know exactly what happened, but the nature of the symptoms, the reports of the German doctors, the answers provided by the German government to the Parliament, and the puzzling Swedish document tend to exclude a criminal poisoning, and therefore, a fortiori, poisoning by the Russian government.
The main point of my book is that international relations cannot be “Twitter-driven.” We need to use appropriately our intelligence resources, not as a propaganda instrument, as we tend to do these days, but as an instrument for smart and fact-based decision-making.
TP: You have much experience within NATO. What do you think is the primary role of NATO now?
JB: This is an essential question. In fact, NATO hasn’t really evolved since the end of the Cold War. This is interesting because in 1969, there was the “Harmel Report” that was ahead of its time and could be the fundament of a new definition of NATO’s role. Instead, NATO tried to find new missions, such as in Afghanistan, for which the Alliance was not prepared, neither intellectually, nor doctrinally, nor from a strategic point of view.
Having a collective defense system in Europe is necessary, but the nuclear dimension of NATO tends to restrict its ability to engage a conventional conflict with a nuclear power. This is the problem we are witnessing in Ukraine. This is why Russia strives having a “glacis” between NATO and its territory. This would probably not prevent conflicts but would help keep them as long as possible in a conventional phase. This is why I think a non-nuclear European defense organization would be a good solution.
TP: Do you think that NATO’s proxy war with Russia serves to placate internal EU tensions, between conservative Central/Eastern Europe and the more progressive West?
JB: Some will certainly see it that way, but I think this is only a by-product of the US strategy to isolate Russia.
TP: Can you say something about how Turkey has positioned itself, between NATO and Russia?
JB: I have worked quite extensively with Turkey as I was in NATO. I think Turkey is a very committed member of the Alliance. What we tend to forget is that Turkey is at the crossroads between the “Christian World” and the “Islamic World;” it sits between two civilizations and in a key region of the Mediterranean zone. It has its own regional stakes.
The conflicts waged by the West in the Middle East significantly impacted Turkey, by promoting Islamism and stimulating tensions, in particular with the Kurds. Turkey has always tried to maintain a balance between its desire for Western-style modernization and the very strong traditionalist tendencies of its population. Turkey’s opposition to the Iraq War due to domestic security concerns was totally ignored and dismissed by the US and its NATO Allies.
Interestingly, when Zelensky sought a country to mediate the conflict, he turned to China, Israel and Turkey, but didn’t address any EU country.
TP: If you were to predict, what do you think the geopolitical situation of Europe and the world will look like 25 years from now?
JB: Who would have predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall? The day it happened, I was in the office of a National Security Adviser in Washington DC, but he had no clue about the importance of the event!
I think the decay of US hegemony will be the main feature of the next decades. At the same time, we will see a fast-growing importance of Asia led by China and India. But I am not sure Asia will “replace” the US strictly speaking. While US worldwide hegemony was driven by its military-industrial complex, Asia’s dominance will be in the research and technology area.
The loss of confidence in the US dollar may have significant impact on the US economy at large. I don’t want to speculate on future developments in the West, but a significant deterioration could lead the United States to engage in more conflicts around the world. This is something that we are seeing today, but it could become more important.
TP: What advice would you give people trying to get a clearer picture of what is really driving competing regional/national and global interests?
JB: I think the situation is slightly different in Europe than in North America.
In Europe, the lack of quality alternative media and real investigative journalism makes it difficult to find balanced information. The situation is different in North America where alternative journalism is more developed and constitutes an indispensable analytical tool. In the United States, the intelligence community is more present in the media than in Europe.
I probably could not have written my book based only on the European media. At the end of the day, the advice I would give is a fundamental one of intelligence work:
TP: Thank you so very much for your time—and for all your great work.
Featured image: Detail from the “Siege of Sevastopol,” by Franz Roubaud; painted 1902-1904.
The offensive launched on February 24 is articulated in two lines of effort, in accordance with Russian operational doctrine:
1) A main effort directed toward the south of the country, in the Donbass region, and along the Azov Sea coast. As the doctrine states, the main objectives are—the neutralization of the Ukrainian armed forces (the objective of “demilitarization”), and the neutralization of ultra-nationalist, paramilitary militias in the cities of Kharkov and Mariupol (the objective of “denazification“). This primary push is being led by a coalition of forces: through Kharkov and Crimea are Russian forces from the Southern Military District; in the center are militia forces from the Donetsk and Lugansk republics; the Chechen National Guard is contributing with engagement in the urban area of Mariupol;
2) A secondary effort on Kiev, aimed at “pinning down” Ukrainian (and Western) forces, so as to prevent them from carrying out operations against the main thrust or even taking Russian coalition forces from the rear.
This offensive follows, to the letter, the objectives defined by Vladimir Putin on February 24. But, listening only to their own bias, Western “experts” and politicians have gotten it into their heads that Russia’s objective is to take over the Ukraine and overthrow its government. Applying a very Western logic, they see Kiev as the “center of gravity” (Schwerpunkt) of Ukrainian forces. According to Clausewitz, the “center of gravity” is the element from which a belligerent derives his strength and ability to act, and is therefore the primary objective of an adversary’s strategy. This is why Westerners have systematically tried to take control of capitals in the wars they have fought. Trained and advised by NATO experts, the Ukrainian General Staff has, predictably enough, applied the same logic, focusing on strengthening the defense of Kiev and its surroundings, while leaving its troops helpless in the Donbass, along the axis of the main Russian effort.
If one had listened carefully to Vladimir Putin, one would have realized that the strategic objective of the Russian coalition is not to take over the Ukraine, but to remove any threat to the Russian-speaking population of the Donbass. According to this general objective, the “real” center of gravity that the Russian coalition is trying to target is the bulk of the Ukrainian armed forces massed in the south-southeast of the country (since the end of 2021), and not Kiev.
Russian Success or Failure?
Convinced that the Russian offensive is aimed at Kiev, Western experts have quite logically concluded that (a) the Russians are stalling, and that (b) their offensive is doomed to failure because they will not be able to hold the country in the long term. The generals who have followed each other on French TV seem to have forgotten what even a second lieutenant comprehends well: “Know your enemy!”—not as one would like him to be, but as he is. With generals like that, we don’t need an enemy anymore.
That being said, the Western narrative about a Russian offensive that is bogged down, and whose successes are meager, is also part of the propaganda war waged by both sides. For example, the sequence of maps of operations, published by Libération from the end of February, shows almost no difference from one day to the next, until March 18th (when the media stopped updating it). Thus, on February 23rd, on France 5 [TV station], the journalist Élise Vincent evaluated the territory taken by the Russian coalition as the equivalent of Switzerland or the Netherlands. In reality, we are more in the area of Great Britain.
As an example, let us observe the difference between the map of the situation on March 25, 2022, as published by Ouest-France:
In addition, it should be noted that Ukrainian forces do not appear on any map (presented in our media) of the conflict-situation. Thus, if the map of the French Ministry of Armed Forces gives a slightly more honest picture of reality, it also carefully avoids mentioning the Ukrainian forces encircled in the Kramatorsk cauldron.
In fact, the situational map, as of March 25, should look more like this:
Moreover, Ukrainian forces are never indicated on our maps, as this would show that they were not deployed on the Russian border in February 2022, but were regrouped in the south of the country, in preparation for their offensive, the initial phase of which began on February 16th. This confirms that Russia was only reacting to a situation initiated by the West, by way of the Ukraine, as we shall see. At present, it is these forces that are encircled in the Kramatorsk cauldron and are being methodically fragmented and neutralized, little by little, in an incremental way, by the Russian coalition.
The vagueness maintained in the West about the situation of the Ukrainian forces, has other effects. First, it maintains the illusion of a possible Ukrainian victory. Thus, instead of encouraging a negotiation process, the West seeks to prolong the war. This is why the European Union and some of its member countries have sent weapons and are encouraging the civilian population and volunteers of all kinds to go and fight, often without training and without any real command structure—with deadly consequences.
We know that in a conflict, each party tends to inform in order to give a favorable image of its actions. However, the image we have of the situation and of the Ukrainian forces is based exclusively on data provided by Kiev. It masks the profound deficiencies of the Ukrainian leadership, even though it was trained and advised by NATO military.
Thus, military logic would have the forces caught in the Kramatorsk cauldron withdraw to a line at the Dnieper, for example, in order to regroup and conduct a counteroffensive. But they were forbidden to withdraw by President Zelensky. Even back in 2014 and 2015, a close examination of the operations showed that the Ukrainians were applying “Western-style” schemes, totally unsuited to the circumstances, and in the face of a more imaginative, more flexible opponent who possessed lighter leadership structures. It is the same phenomenon today.
In the end, the partial view of the battlefield given to us by our media has made it impossible for the West to help the Ukrainian general staff make the right decisions. And it has led the West to believe that the obvious strategic objective is Kiev; that “demilitarization” is aimed at the Ukraine’s membership in NATO; and that “denazification” is aimed at toppling Zelensky. This legend was fueled by Vladimir Putin’s appeal to the Ukrainian military to disobey, which was interpreted (with great imagination and bias) as a call to overthrow the government. However, this appeal was aimed at the Ukrainian forces deployed in the Donbass to surrender without fighting. The Western interpretation caused the Ukrainian government to misjudge Russian objectives and misuse its potential of winning.
You don’t win a war with bias—you lose it. And that’s what is happening. Thus, the Russian coalition was never “on the run” or “stopped” by heroic resistance—it simply did not attack where it was expected. We did not want to listen to what Vladimir Putin had explained to us very clearly. This is why the West has thus become—volens nolens—the main architect of the Ukrainian defeat that is taking shape. Paradoxically, it is probably because of our self-proclaimed “experts” and recreational strategists on our television sets that the Ukraine is in this situation today.
The Conduct of Battle
As for the course of operations, the analyses presented in our media come most often from politicians or so-called military experts, who relay Ukrainian propaganda.
Let’s be clear. A war, whatever else it is, is drama. The problem here is that our strategists in neckties are clearly trying to overdramatize the situation in order to exclude any negotiated solution. This development, however, is prompting some Western military personnel to speak out and offer a more nuanced judgment. Thus, in Newsweek, an analyst from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the American equivalent of the Direction du Renseignement Militaire (DRM) in France, noted that “in 24 days of conflict, Russia has carried out some 1,400 strikes and launched nearly 1,000 missiles (by way of comparison, the United States carried out more strikes and launched more missiles on the first day of the Iraq war in 2003).”
While the West likes to “soften up” the battlefield with intensive and prolonged strikes, before sending in ground-troops, the Russians prefer a less destructive, but more troop-intensive approach. On France 5, the journalist Mélanie Tarvant presented the death of Russian generals on the battlefield as proof of the destabilization of the Russian army. But this is a profound misunderstanding of the traditions and modes of operation of the Russian army. Whereas in the West, commanders tend to lead from the rear, their Russian counterparts tend to lead from the front—in the West they say, “Forward!” In Russia, they say, “Follow me!” This explains the high losses in the upper echelons of command, already observed in Afghanistan—but it also tells of the much more rigorous selection of staff-personnel than in the West.
Furthermore, the DIA analyst noted that “the vast majority of the airstrikes are over the battlefield, with Russian aircraft providing ‘close air support’ to ground forces. The remainder—less than 20 percent, according to U.S. experts—has been aimed at military airfields, barracks and supporting depots.” Thus, the phrase “indiscriminate bombing [that] is devastating cities and killing everyone” echoed by the Western media seems to contradict the U.S. intelligence expert, who said, “If we merely convince ourselves that Russia is bombing indiscriminately, or [that] it is failing to inflict more harm because its personnel are not up to the task or because it is technically inept, then we are not seeing the real conflict.”
In fact, Russian operations differ fundamentally from the Western concept of the same. The West’s obsession with having no fatalities in their own forces leads them to operations that are primarily in the form of very lethal air strikes. Ground troops only intervene when everything has been destroyed. This is why, in Afghanistan or in the Sahel, Westerners killed more civilians than terrorists did. This is why Western countries engaged in Afghanistan, the Middle East and North Africa no longer publish the number of civilian casualties caused by their strikes. In fact, Europeans engaged in regions that only marginally affect their national security, such as the Estonians in the Sahel, go there just to “get their feet wet.”
In the Ukraine, the situation is very different. One only has to look at a map of linguistic zones to see that the Russian coalition operates almost exclusively in the Russian-speaking zone; thus, among populations that are generally favorable to it. This also explains the statements of a US Air Force officer: “I know that the news keeps repeating that Putin is targeting civilians, but there is no evidence that Russia is intentionally doing so.”
Conversely, it is for the same reason—but in a different way—that the Ukraine has deployed its ultra-nationalist paramilitary fighters in major cities, such as Mariupol or Kharkov—without emotional or cultural ties to the local population, these militias can fight even at the cost of heavy civilian casualties. The atrocities that are currently being uncovered remain hidden by the French-speaking media, for fear of losing support for the Ukraine, as noted by media close to the Republicans in the United States.
After “decapitation” strikes in the first minutes of the offensive, the Russian operational strategy was to bypass the urban centers, and to envelop the Ukrainian army, “pinned down” by the forces of the Donbass republics. It is important to remember that the “decapitation” is not intended to annihilate the general staff or the government (as our “experts” tend to understand it), but to sunder the leadership structures so as to prevent the coordinated maneuver of forces. On the contrary, the aim is to preserve the leadership structures themselves in order to be able to negotiate a way out of the crisis.
On March 25, 2022, after having sealed the cauldron of Kramatorsk which denied any possibility of retreat to the Ukrainians and having taken most of the cities of Kharkov and Marioupol, Russia has practically fulfilled its objectives—all that remains is to concentrate its efforts on reducing the pockets of resistance. Thus, contrary to what the Western press has claimed, this is not a reorientation or a resizing of its offensive, but the methodical implementation of the objectives announced on February 24.
Encouraged by the media that present a routed Russian army, many of these young people head off, imagining they are going—literally—on a hunting trip. However, once there, disillusionment is high. Testimonies show that these “amateurs” often end up as “cannon fodder,” without having any real impact on the outcome of the conflict. The experience of recent conflicts shows that the arrival of foreign fighters brings nothing to a conflict, except to increase its duration and lethality.
Moreover, the arrival of several hundred Islamist fighters from the Idlib region, an area under the control and protection of the Western coalition in Syria (and also the area in which two Islamic State leaders were killed by the Americans) should arouse our concern. Indeed, the weapons we are very liberally supplying to the Ukraine are already partly in the hands of criminal individuals and organizations and are already beginning to pose a security problem for the authorities in Kiev. Not to mention the fact that the weapons that are being touted as effective against Russian aircraft could eventually threaten our military and civilian aircraft.
The volunteer proudly presented by the RTBF on the 7:30 p.m. news of March 8, 2022 was an admirer of the “Corps Franc Wallonie,” Belgian volunteers who served the Third Reich; and he illustrates the type of people attracted to the Ukraine. In the end, we will have to ask ourselves, who gained the most—[in this case] Belgium or the Ukraine?
Three Points Deserve to be Highlighted by Way of Conclusion
1. Western Intelligence, Ignored by Policymakers
Military documents found in Ukrainian headquarters in the south of the country confirm that the Ukraine was preparing to attack the Donbass; and that the firing observed by OSCE observers as early as February 16 heralded an imminent outbreak in days or weeks.
Here, some introspection is necessary for the West—either its intelligence services did not see what was happening and they are thus very bad, or the political decision-makers chose not to listen to them. We know that Russian intelligence services have far superior analytical capabilities than their Western counterparts. We also know that the American and German intelligence services had very well understood the situation, since the end of 2021, and knew that the Ukraine was preparing to attack the Donbass.
This allows us to deduce that the American and European political leaders deliberately pushed the Ukraine into a conflict that they knew was lost in advance—for the sole purpose of dealing a political blow to Russia.
The reason Zelensky did not deploy his forces to the Russian border, and repeatedly stated that his large neighbor would not attack him, was presumably because he thought he was relying on Western deterrence. This is what he told CNN on March 20th—he was clearly told that the Ukraine would not be part of NATO, but that publicly they would say the opposite. The Ukraine was thus instrumentalized to affect Russia. The objective was the closure of the North Stream 2 gas pipeline, announced on February 8th, by Joe Biden, during the visit of Olaf Scholz; and which was followed by a barrage of sanctions.
2. Broken Diplomacy
Clearly, since the end of 2021, no effort has been made by the West to reactivate the Minsk agreements, as evidenced by the reports of visits and telephone conversations, notably between Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin. However, France, as guarantor of the Minsk Agreements, and as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has not respected its commitments, which has led to the situation that the Ukraine is experiencing today. There is even a feeling that the West has sought to add fuel to the fire since 2014.
Thus, Vladimir Putin’s placing of nuclear forces on alert on February 27 was presented by our media and politicians as an irrational act or blackmail. What is forgotten is that it followed the thinly veiled threat made by Jean-Yves Le Drian, three days earlier, that NATO could use nuclear weapons. It is very likely that Putin did not take this “threat” seriously, but wanted to push Western countries—and France in particular—to abandon the use of excessive language.
3. The Vulnerability of Europeans to Manipulation is Increasing
Today, the perception propagated by our media is that the Russian offensive has broken down; that Vladimir Putin is crazy, irrational and therefore ready to do anything to break the deadlock in which he supposedly finds himself. In this totally emotional context, the question asked by Republican Senator Marco Rubio during Victoria Nuland’s hearing before Congress was strange, to say the least: “If there is a biological or chemical weapon incident or attack inside the Ukraine, is there any doubt in your mind that 100% it would be the Russians behind it?” Naturally, she answered that there is no doubt. Yet there is absolutely no indication that the Russians are using such weapons. Besides, the Russians finished destroying their stockpiles in 2017, while the Americans have not yet destroyed theirs.
Perhaps this means nothing. But in the current atmosphere, all the conditions are now met for an incident to happen that would push the West to become more involved, in some form, in the Ukrainian conflict (a “false-flag” incident).
Jacques Baud is a former colonel of the General Staff, ex-member of the Swiss strategic intelligence, and specialist on Eastern countries. He was trained in the American and British intelligence services. He has served as Policy Chief for United Nations Peace Operations. As a UN expert on rule of law and security institutions, he designed and led the first multidimensional UN intelligence unit in the Sudan. He has worked for the African Union and was for 5 years responsible for the fight, at NATO, against the proliferation of small arms. He was involved in discussions with the highest Russian military and intelligence officials just after the fall of the USSR. Within NATO, he followed the 2014 Ukrainian crisis and later participated in programs to assist the Ukraine. He is the author of several books on intelligence, war and terrorism, in particular Le Détournement published by SIGEST, Gouverner par les fake news, L’affaire Navalny. His latest book is Poutine, maître du jeu? published by Max Milo.
For years, from Mali to Afghanistan, I have worked for peace and risked my life for it. It is therefore not a question of justifying war, but of understanding what led us to it. I notice that the “experts” who take turns on television analyze the situation on the basis of dubious information, most often hypotheses erected as facts—and then we no longer manage to understand what is happening. This is how panics are created.
The problem is not so much to know who is right in this conflict, but to question the way our leaders make their decisions.
Let’s try to examine the roots of the conflict. It starts with those who for the last eight years have been talking about “separatists” or “independentists” from Donbass. This is not true. The referendums conducted by the two self-proclaimed Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in May 2014, were not referendums of “independence” (независимость), as some unscrupulous journalists have claimed, but referendums of “self-determination” or “autonomy” (самостоятельность). The qualifier “pro-Russian” suggests that Russia was a party to the conflict, which was not the case, and the term “Russian speakers” would have been more honest. Moreover, these referendums were conducted against the advice of Vladimir Putin.
In fact, these Republics were not seeking to separate from Ukraine, but to have a status of autonomy, guaranteeing them the use of the Russian language as an official language. For the first legislative act of the new government resulting from the overthrow of President Yanukovych, was the abolition, on February 23, 2014, of the Kivalov-Kolesnichenko law of 2012 that made Russian an official language. A bit like if putschists decided that French and Italian would no longer be official languages in Switzerland.
This decision caused a storm in the Russian-speaking population. The result was a fierce repression against the Russian-speaking regions (Odessa, Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov, Lugansk and Donetsk) which was carried out beginning in February 2014 and led to a militarization of the situation and some massacres (in Odessa and Marioupol, for the most notable). At the end of summer 2014, only the self-proclaimed Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk remained.
At this stage, too rigid and engrossed in a doctrinaire approach to the art of operations, the Ukrainian general staff subdued the enemy without managing to prevail. The examination of the course of the fighting in 2014-2016 in the Donbass shows that the Ukrainian general staff systematically and mechanically applied the same operative schemes. However, the war waged by the autonomists was very similar to what we observed in the Sahel: highly mobile operations conducted with light means. With a more flexible and less doctrinaire approach, the rebels were able to exploit the inertia of Ukrainian forces to repeatedly “trap” them.
In 2014, when I was at NATO, I was responsible for the fight against the proliferation of small arms, and we were trying to detect Russian arms deliveries to the rebels, to see if Moscow was involved. The information we received then came almost entirely from Polish intelligence services and did not “fit” with the information coming from the OSCE—despite rather crude allegations, there were no deliveries of weapons and military equipment from Russia.
The rebels were armed thanks to the defection of Russian-speaking Ukrainian units that went over to the rebel side. As Ukrainian failures continued, tank, artillery and anti-aircraft battalions swelled the ranks of the autonomists. This is what pushed the Ukrainians to commit to the Minsk Agreements.
But just after signing the Minsk 1 Agreements, the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko launched a massive anti-terrorist operation (ATO/Антитерористична операція) against the Donbass. Bis repetita placent: poorly advised by NATO officers, the Ukrainians suffered a crushing defeat in Debaltsevo, which forced them to engage in the Minsk 2 Agreements.
It is essential to recall here that Minsk 1 (September 2014) and Minsk 2 (February 2015) Agreements did not provide for the separation or independence of the Republics, but their autonomy within the framework of Ukraine. Those who have read the Agreements (there are very, very, very few of those who actually have) will note that it is written in all letters that the status of the Republics was to be negotiated between Kiev and the representatives of the Republics, for an internal solution to the Ukraine.
That is why since 2014, Russia has systematically demanded their implementation while refusing to be a party to the negotiations, because it was an internal matter of the Ukraine. On the other side, the West—led by France—systematically tried to replace the Minsk Agreements with the “Normandy format,” which put Russians and Ukrainians face-to-face. However, let us remember that there were never any Russian troops in the Donbass before 23-24 February 2022. Moreover, OSCE observers have never observed the slightest trace of Russian units operating in the Donbass. For example, the U.S. intelligence map published by the Washington Post on December 3, 2021 does not show Russian troops in the Donbass.
In October 2015, Vasyl Hrytsak, director of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), confessed that only 56 Russian fighters had been observed in the Donbass. This was exactly comparable to the Swiss who went to fight in Bosnia on weekends, in the 1990s, or the French who go to fight in the Ukraine today.
The Ukrainian army was then in a deplorable state. In October 2018, after four years of war, the chief Ukrainian military prosecutor, Anatoly Matios, stated that Ukraine had lost 2,700 men in the Donbass: 891 from illnesses, 318 from road accidents, 177 from other accidents, 175 from poisonings (alcohol, drugs), 172 from careless handling of weapons, 101 from breaches of security regulations, 228 from murders and 615 from suicides.
In fact, the army was undermined by the corruption of its cadres and no longer enjoyed the support of the population. According to a British Home Office report, in the March/April 2014 recall of reservists, 70 percent did not show up for the first session, 80 percent for the second, 90 percent for the third, and 95 percent for the fourth. In October/November 2017, 70% of conscripts did not show up for the “Fall 2017” recall campaign. This is not counting suicides and desertions (often over to the autonomists), which reached up to 30 percent of the workforce in the ATO area. Young Ukrainians refused to go and fight in the Donbass and preferred emigration, which also explains, at least partially, the demographic deficit of the country.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense then turned to NATO to help make its armed forces more “attractive.” Having already worked on similar projects within the framework of the United Nations, I was asked by NATO to participate in a program to restore the image of the Ukrainian armed forces. But this is a long-term process and the Ukrainians wanted to move quickly.
So, to compensate for the lack of soldiers, the Ukrainian government resorted to paramilitary militias. They are essentially composed of foreign mercenaries, often extreme right-wing militants. In 2020, they constituted about 40 percent of the Ukrainian forces and numbered about 102,000 men, according to Reuters. They were armed, financed and trained by the United States, Great Britain, Canada and France. There were more than 19 nationalities—including Swiss.
Western countries have thus clearly created and supported Ukrainian far-right militias. In October 2021, the Jerusalem Post sounded the alarm by denouncing the Centuria project. These militias had been operating in the Donbass since 2014, with Western support. Even if one can argue about the term “Nazi,” the fact remains that these militias are violent, convey a nauseating ideology and are virulently anti-Semitic. Their anti-Semitism is more cultural than political, which is why the term “Nazi” is not really appropriate. Their hatred of the Jew stems from the great famines of the 1920s and 1930s in the Ukraine, resulting from Stalin’s confiscation of crops to finance the modernization of the Red Army. This genocide—known in the Ukraine as the Holodomor—was perpetrated by the NKVD (the forerunner of the KGB), whose upper echelons of leadership were mainly composed of Jews. This is why, today, Ukrainian extremists are asking Israel to apologize for the crimes of communism, as the Jerusalem Post notes. This is a far cry from Vladimir Putin’s “rewriting of history.”
These militias, originating from the far-right groups that animated the Euromaidan revolution in 2014, are composed of fanatical and brutal individuals. The best known of these is the Azov Regiment, whose emblem is reminiscent of the 2nd SS Das Reich Panzer Division, which is revered in the Ukraine for liberating Kharkov from the Soviets in 1943, before carrying out the 1944 Oradour-sur-Glane massacre in France.
Among the famous figures of the Azov regiment was the opponent Roman Protassevitch, arrested in 2021 by the Belarusian authorities following the case of RyanAir flight FR4978. On May 23, 2021, the deliberate hijacking of an airliner by a MiG-29—supposedly with Putin’s approval—was mentioned as a reason for arresting Protassevich, although the information available at the time did not confirm this scenario at all.
But then it was necessary to show that President Lukashenko was a thug and Protassevich a “journalist” who loved democracy. However, a rather revealing investigation produced by an American NGO in 2020 highlighted Protassevitch’s far-right militant activities. The Western conspiracy movement then started, and unscrupulous media “air-brushed” his biography. Finally, in January 2022, the ICAO report was published and showed that despite some procedural errors, Belarus acted in accordance with the rules in force and that the MiG-29 took off 15 minutes after the RyanAir pilot decided to land in Minsk. So no Belarusian plot and even less Putin. Ah!… Another detail: Protassevitch, cruelly tortured by the Belarusian police, was now free. Those who would like to correspond with him, can go on his Twitter account.
So, the West supported and continued to arm militias that have been guilty of numerous crimes against civilian populations since 2014: rape, torture and massacres. But while the Swiss government has been very quick to take sanctions against Russia, it has not adopted any against the Ukraine, which has been massacring its own population since 2014. In fact, those who defend human rights in the Ukraine have long condemned the actions of these groups, but have not been supported by our governments. Because, in reality, we are not trying to help the Ukraine, but to fight Russia.
The integration of these paramilitary forces into the National Guard was not at all accompanied by a “denazification,” as some claim. Among the many examples, that of the Azov Regiment’s insignia is instructive:
In 2022, very schematically, the Ukrainian armed forces fighting the Russian offensive were organized as:
The Army, subordinated to the Ministry of Defense. It is organized into 3 army corps and composed of maneuver formations (tanks, heavy artillery, missiles, etc.).
The National Guard, which depends on the Ministry of the Interior and is organized into 5 territorial commands.
The National Guard is therefore a territorial defense force that is not part of the Ukrainian army. It includes paramilitary militias, called “volunteer battalions” (добровольчі батальйоні), also known by the evocative name of “reprisal battalions,” and composed of infantry. Primarily trained for urban combat, they now defend cities such as Kharkov, Mariupol, Odessa, Kiev, etc.
Part Two: The War
As a former head of the Warsaw Pact forces in the Swiss strategic intelligence service, I observe with sadness—but not astonishment—that our services are no longer able to understand the military situation in Ukraine. The self-proclaimed “experts” who parade on our screens tirelessly relay the same information modulated by the claim that Russia—and Vladimir Putin—is irrational. Let’s take a step back.
1. The Outbreak Of War
Since November 2021, the Americans have been constantly threatening a Russian invasion of the Ukraine. However, the Ukrainians did not seem to agree. Why not?
We have to go back to March 24, 2021. On that day, Volodymyr Zelensky issued a decree for the recapture of the Crimea, and began to deploy his forces to the south of the country. At the same time, several NATO exercises were conducted between the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea, accompanied by a significant increase in reconnaissance flights along the Russian border. Russia then conducted several exercises to test the operational readiness of its troops and to show that it was following the evolution of the situation.
Things calmed down until October-November with the end of the ZAPAD 21 exercises, whose troop movements were interpreted as a reinforcement for an offensive against the Ukraine. However, even the Ukrainian authorities refuted the idea of Russian preparations for a war, and Oleksiy Reznikov, Ukrainian Minister of Defense, states that there had been no change on its border since the spring.
In violation of the Minsk Agreements, the Ukraine was conducting air operations in Donbass using drones, including at least one strike against a fuel depot in Donetsk in October 2021. The American press noted this, but not the Europeans; and no one condemned these violations.
In February 2022, events were precipitated. On February 7, during his visit to Moscow, Emmanuel Macron reaffirmed to Vladimir Putin his commitment to the Minsk Agreements, a commitment he would repeat after his meeting with Volodymyr Zelensky the next day. But on February 11, in Berlin, after nine hours of work, the meeting of political advisors of the leaders of the “Normandy format” ended, without any concrete result: the Ukrainians still refused to apply the Minsk Agreements, apparently under pressure from the United States. Vladimir Putin noted that Macron had made empty promises and that the West was not ready to enforce the agreements, as it had been doing for eight years.
Ukrainian preparations in the contact zone continued. The Russian Parliament became alarmed; and on February 15 asked Vladimir Putin to recognize the independence of the Republics, which he refused to do.
On 11th February, President Joe Biden announced that Russia would attack the Ukraine in the next few days. How did he know this? It is a mystery. But since the 16th, the artillery shelling of the population of Donbass increased dramatically, as the daily reports of the OSCE observers show. Naturally, neither the media, nor the European Union, nor NATO, nor any Western government reacts or intervenes. It will be said later that this is Russian disinformation. In fact, it seems that the European Union and some countries have deliberately kept silent about the massacre of the Donbass population, knowing that this would provoke a Russian intervention.
At the same time, there were reports of sabotage in the Donbass. On 18 January, Donbass fighters intercepted saboteurs, who spoke Polish and were equipped with Western equipment and who were seeking to create chemical incidents in Gorlivka. They could have been CIA mercenaries, led or “advised” by Americans and composed of Ukrainian or European fighters, to carry out sabotage actions in the Donbass Republics.
In fact, as early as February 16, Joe Biden knew that the Ukrainians had begun shelling the civilian population of Donbass, putting Vladimir Putin in front of a difficult choice: to help Donbass militarily and create an international problem, or to stand by and watch the Russian-speaking people of Donbass being crushed.
If he decided to intervene, Putin could invoke the international obligation of “Responsibility To Protect” (R2P). But he knew that whatever its nature or scale, the intervention would trigger a storm of sanctions. Therefore, whether Russian intervention were limited to the Donbass or went further to put pressure on the West for the status of the Ukraine, the price to pay would be the same. This is what he explained in his speech on February 21.
On that day, he agreed to the request of the Duma and recognized the independence of the two Donbass Republics and, at the same time, he signed friendship and assistance treaties with them.
The Ukrainian artillery bombardment of the Donbass population continued, and, on 23 February, the two Republics asked for military assistance from Russia. On 24 February, Vladimir Putin invoked Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which provides for mutual military assistance in the framework of a defensive alliance.
In order to make the Russian intervention totally illegal in the eyes of the public we deliberately hid the fact that the war actually started on February 16. The Ukrainian army was preparing to attack the Donbass as early as 2021, as some Russian and European intelligence services were well aware. Jurists will judge.
In his speech of February 24, Vladimir Putin stated the two objectives of his operation: “demilitarize” and “denazify” the Ukraine. So, it is not a question of taking over the Ukraine, nor even, presumably, of occupying it; and certainly not of destroying it.
From then on, our visibility on the course of the operation is limited: the Russians have an excellent security of operations (OPSEC) and the details of their planning are not known. But fairly quickly, the course of the operation allows us to understand how the strategic objectives were translated on the operational level.
ground destruction of Ukrainian aviation, air defense systems and reconnaissance assets;
neutralization of command and intelligence structures (C3I), as well as the main logistical routes in the depth of the territory;
encirclement of the bulk of the Ukrainian army massed in the southeast of the country.
destruction or neutralization of volunteer battalions operating in the cities of Odessa, Kharkov, and Mariupol, as well as in various facilities in the territory.
The Russian offensive was carried out in a very “classic” manner. Initially—as the Israelis had done in 1967—with the destruction on the ground of the air force in the very first hours. Then, we witnessed a simultaneous progression along several axes according to the principle of “flowing water”: advance everywhere where resistance was weak and leave the cities (very demanding in terms of troops) for later. In the north, the Chernobyl power plant was occupied immediately to prevent acts of sabotage. The images of Ukrainian and Russian soldiers guarding the plant together are of course not shown.
The idea that Russia is trying to take over Kiev, the capital, to eliminate Zelensky, comes typically from the West—that is what they did in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and what they wanted to do in Syria with the help of the Islamic State. But Vladimir Putin never intended to shoot or topple Zelensky. Instead, Russia seeks to keep him in power by pushing him to negotiate, by surrounding Kiev. Up till now, he had refused to implement the Minsk Agreements. But now the Russians want to obtain the neutrality of the Ukraine.
Many Western commentators were surprised that the Russians continued to seek a negotiated solution while conducting military operations. The explanation lies in the Russian strategic outlook since the Soviet era. For the West, war begins when politics ends. However, the Russian approach follows a Clausewitzian inspiration: war is the continuity of politics and one can move fluidly from one to the other, even during combat. This allows one to create pressure on the adversary and push him to negotiate.
From an operational point of view, the Russian offensive was an example of its kind: in six days, the Russians seized a territory as large as the United Kingdom, with a speed of advance greater than what the Wehrmacht had achieved in 1940.
The bulk of the Ukrainian army was deployed in the south of the country in preparation for a major operation against the Donbass. This is why Russian forces were able to encircle it from the beginning of March in the “cauldron” between Slavyansk, Kramatorsk and Severodonetsk, with a thrust from the East through Kharkov and another from the South from Crimea. Troops from the Donetsk (DPR) and Lugansk (LPR) Republics are complementing the Russian forces with a push from the East.
At this stage, Russian forces are slowly tightening the noose, but are no longer under time pressure. Their demilitarization goal is all but achieved and the remaining Ukrainian forces no longer have an operational and strategic command structure.
The “slowdown” that our “experts” attribute to poor logistics is only the consequence of having achieved their objectives. Russia does not seem to want to engage in an occupation of the entire Ukrainian territory. In fact, it seems that Russia is trying to limit its advance to the linguistic border of the country.
Our media speak of indiscriminate bombardments against the civilian population, especially in Kharkov, and Dantean images are broadcast in a loop. However, Gonzalo Lira, a Latin American who lives there, presents us with a calm city on March 10 and March 11. It is true that it is a large city and we do not see everything—but this seems to indicate that we are not in the total war that we are served continuously on our screens.
As for the Donbass Republics, they have “liberated” their own territories and are fighting in the city of Mariupol.
In cities like Kharkov, Mariupol and Odessa, the defense is provided by paramilitary militias. They know that the objective of “denazification” is aimed primarily at them.
For an attacker in an urbanized area, civilians are a problem. This is why Russia is seeking to create humanitarian corridors to empty cities of civilians and leave only the militias, to fight them more easily.
Conversely, these militias seek to keep civilians in the cities in order to dissuade the Russian army from fighting there. This is why they are reluctant to implement these corridors and do everything to ensure that Russian efforts are unsuccessful—they can use the civilian population as “human shields. Videos showing civilians trying to leave Mariupol and beaten up by fighters of the Azov regiment are of course carefully censored here.
On Facebook, the Azov group was considered in the same category as the Islamic State and subject to the platform’s “policy on dangerous individuals and organizations.” It was therefore forbidden to glorify it, and “posts” that were favorable to it were systematically banned. But on February 24, Facebook changed its policy and allowed posts favorable to the militia. In the same spirit, in March, the platform authorized, in the former Eastern countries, calls for the murder of Russian soldiers and leaders. So much for the values that inspire our leaders, as we shall see.
Our media propagate a romantic image of popular resistance. It is this image that led the European Union to finance the distribution of arms to the civilian population. This is a criminal act. In my capacity as head of peacekeeping doctrine at the UN, I worked on the issue of civilian protection. We found that violence against civilians occurred in very specific contexts. In particular, when weapons are abundant and there are no command structures.
These command structures are the essence of armies: their function is to channel the use of force towards an objective. By arming citizens in a haphazard manner, as is currently the case, the EU is turning them into combatants, with the consequential effect of making them potential targets. Moreover, without command, without operational goals, the distribution of arms leads inevitably to settling of scores, banditry and actions that are more deadly than effective. War becomes a matter of emotions. Force becomes violence. This is what happened in Tawarga (Libya) from 11 to 13 August 2011, where 30,000 black Africans were massacred with weapons parachuted (illegally) by France. By the way, the British Royal Institute for Strategic Studies (RUSI) does not see any added value in these arms deliveries.
Moreover, by delivering arms to a country at war, one exposes oneself to being considered a belligerent. The Russian strikes of March 13, 2022, against the Mykolayev air base follow Russian warnings that arms shipments would be treated as hostile targets.
The EU is repeating the disastrous experience of the Third Reich in the final hours of the Battle of Berlin. War must be left to the military and when one side has lost, it must be admitted. And if there is to be resistance, it must be led and structured. But we are doing exactly the opposite—we are pushing citizens to go and fight and at the same time, Facebook authorizes calls for the murder of Russian soldiers and leaders. So much for the values that inspire us.
Some intelligence services see this irresponsible decision as a way to use the Ukrainian population as cannon fodder to fight Vladimir Putin’s Russia. This kind of murderous decision should have been left to the colleagues of Ursula von der Leyen’s grandfather. It would have been better to engage in negotiations and thus obtain guarantees for the civilian population than to add fuel to the fire. It is easy to be combative with the blood of others.
4. The Maternity Hospital At Mariupol
It is important to understand beforehand that it is not the Ukrainian army that is defending Marioupol, but the Azov militia, composed of foreign mercenaries.
In its March 7, 2022 summary of the situation, the Russian UN mission in New York stated that “Residents report that Ukrainian armed forces expelled staff from the Mariupol city birth hospital No. 1 and set up a firing post inside the facility.”
On March 8, the independent Russian media Lenta.ru, published the testimony of civilians from Marioupol who told that the maternity hospital was taken over by the militia of the Azov regiment, and who drove out the civilian occupants by threatening them with their weapons. They confirmed the statements of the Russian ambassador a few hours earlier.
The hospital in Mariupol occupies a dominant position, perfectly suited for the installation of anti-tank weapons and for observation. On 9 March, Russian forces struck the building. According to CNN, 17 people were wounded, but the images do not show any casualties in the building and there is no evidence that the victims mentioned are related to this strike. There is talk of children, but in reality, there is nothing. This may be true, but it may not be true. This does not prevent the leaders of the EU from seeing this as a war crime. And this allows Zelensky to call for a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
In reality, we do not know exactly what happened. But the sequence of events tends to confirm that Russian forces struck a position of the Azov regiment and that the maternity ward was then free of civilians.
The problem is that the paramilitary militias that defend the cities are encouraged by the international community not to respect the customs of war. It seems that the Ukrainians have replayed the scenario of the Kuwait City maternity hospital in 1990, which was totally staged by the firm Hill & Knowlton for $10.7 million in order to convince the United Nations Security Council to intervene in Iraq for Operation Desert Shield/Storm.
Western politicians have accepted civilian strikes in the Donbass for eight years, without adopting any sanctions against the Ukrainian government. We have long since entered a dynamic where Western politicians have agreed to sacrifice international law towards their goal of weakening Russia.
Part Three: Conclusions
As an ex-intelligence professional, the first thing that strikes me is the total absence of Western intelligence services in the representation of the situation over the past year. In Switzerland, the services have been criticized for not having provided a correct picture of the situation. In fact, it seems that throughout the Western world, intelligence services have been overwhelmed by the politicians. The problem is that it is the politicians who decide—the best intelligence service in the world is useless if the decision-maker does not listen. This is what happened during this crisis.
That said, while some intelligence services had a very accurate and rational picture of the situation, others clearly had the same picture as that propagated by our media. In this crisis, the services of the countries of the “new Europe” played an important role. The problem is that, from experience, I have found them to be extremely bad at the analytical level—doctrinaire, they lack the intellectual and political independence necessary to assess a situation with military “quality.” It is better to have them as enemies than as friends.
Second, it seems that in some European countries, politicians have deliberately ignored their services in order to respond ideologically to the situation. That is why this crisis has been irrational from the beginning. It should be noted that all the documents that were presented to the public during this crisis were presented by politicians based on commercial sources.
Some Western politicians obviously wanted there to be a conflict. In the United States, the attack scenarios presented by Anthony Blinken to the Security Council were only the product of the imagination of a Tiger Team working for him—he did exactly as Donald Rumsfeld did in 2002, who had thus “bypassed” the CIA and other intelligence services that were much less assertive about Iraqi chemical weapons.
The dramatic developments we are witnessing today have causes that we knew about but refused to see:
on the strategic level, the expansion of NATO (which we have not dealt with here);
on the political level, the Western refusal to implement the Minsk Agreements;
and operationally, the continuous and repeated attacks on the civilian population of the Donbass over the past years and the dramatic increase in late February 2022.
In other words, we can naturally deplore and condemn the Russian attack. But WE (that is: the United States, France and the European Union in the lead) have created the conditions for a conflict to break out. We show compassion for the Ukrainian people and the two million refugees. That is fine. But if we had had a modicum of compassion for the same number of refugees from the Ukrainian populations of Donbass massacred by their own government and who sought refuge in Russia for eight years, none of this would probably have happened.
Civilian casualties caused by active hostilities in 2018-2021, per territory
In territory control- led by the self-pro- claimed “Republics”
In Government- controlled territory
In “no man’s land”
Decrease compared with previous year, per cent
As we can see, more than 80% of the victims in Donbass were the result of the Ukrainian army’s shelling. For years, the West remained silent about the massacre of Russian-speaking Ukrainians by the government of Kiev, without ever trying to bring pressure on Kiev. It is this silence that forced the Russian side to act. [Source:“Conflict-related civilian casualties,“ United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.]
Whether the term “genocide” applies to the abuses suffered by the people of Donbass is an open question. The term is generally reserved for cases of greater magnitude (Holocaust, etc.). But the definition given by the Genocide Convention is probably broad enough to apply to this case. Legal scholars will understand this.
Clearly, this conflict has led us into hysteria. Sanctions seem to have become the preferred tool of our foreign policies. If we had insisted that Ukraine abide by the Minsk Agreements, which we had negotiated and endorsed, none of this would have happened. Vladimir Putin’s condemnation is also ours. There is no point in whining afterwards—we should have acted earlier. However, neither Emmanuel Macron (as guarantor and member of the UN Security Council), nor Olaf Scholz, nor Volodymyr Zelensky have respected their commitments. In the end, the real defeat is that of those who have no voice.
The European Union was unable to promote the implementation of the Minsk agreements—on the contrary, it did not react when Ukraine was bombing its own population in the Donbass. Had it done so, Vladimir Putin would not have needed to react. Absent from the diplomatic phase, the EU distinguished itself by fueling the conflict. On February 27, the Ukrainian government agreed to enter into negotiations with Russia. But a few hours later, the European Union voted a budget of 450 million euros to supply arms to the Ukraine, adding fuel to the fire. From then on, the Ukrainians felt that they did not need to reach an agreement. The resistance of the Azov militia in Mariupol even led to a boost of 500 million euros for weapons.
In the Ukraine, with the blessing of the Western countries, those who are in favor of a negotiation have been eliminated. This is the case of Denis Kireyev, one of the Ukrainian negotiators, assassinated on March 5 by the Ukrainian secret service (SBU) because he was too favorable to Russia and was considered a traitor. The same fate befell Dmitry Demyanenko, former deputy head of the SBU’s main directorate for Kiev and its region, who was assassinated on March 10 because he was too favorable to an agreement with Russia—he was shot by the Mirotvorets (“Peacemaker”) militia. This militia is associated with the Mirotvorets website, which lists the “enemies of Ukraine,” with their personal data, addresses and telephone numbers, so that they can be harassed or even eliminated; a practice that is punishable in many countries, but not in the Ukraine. The UN and some European countries have demanded the closure of this site—refused by the Rada.
In the end, the price will be high, but Vladimir Putin will likely achieve the goals he set for himself. His ties with Beijing have solidified. China is emerging as a mediator in the conflict, while Switzerland is joining the list of Russia’s enemies. The Americans have to ask Venezuela and Iran for oil to get out of the energy impasse they have put themselves in—Juan Guaido is leaving the scene for good and the United States has to piteously backtrack on the sanctions imposed on its enemies.
Western ministers who seek to collapse the Russian economy and make the Russian people suffer, or even call for the assassination of Putin, show (even if they have partially reversed the form of their words, but not the substance!) that our leaders are no better than those we hate—for sanctioning Russian athletes in the Para-Olympic Games or Russian artists has nothing to do with fighting Putin.
Thus, we recognize that Russia is a democracy since we consider that the Russian people are responsible for the war. If this is not the case, then why do we seek to punish a whole population for the fault of one? Let us remember that collective punishment is forbidden by the Geneva Conventions.
The lesson to be learned from this conflict is our sense of variable geometric humanity. If we cared so much about peace and the Ukraine, why didn’t we encourage the Ukraine to respect the agreements it had signed and that the members of the Security Council had approved?
The integrity of the media is measured by their willingness to work within the terms of the Munich Charter. They succeeded in propagating hatred of the Chinese during the Covid crisis and their polarized message leads to the same effects against the Russians. Journalism is becoming more and more unprofessional and militant.
As Goethe said: “The greater the light, the darker the shadow.” The more the sanctions against Russia are disproportionate, the more the cases where we have done nothing highlight our racism and servility. Why have no Western politicians reacted to the strikes against the civilian population of Donbass for eight years?
Because finally, what makes the conflict in the Ukraine more blameworthy than the war in Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya? What sanctions have we adopted against those who deliberately lied to the international community in order to wage unjust, unjustified and murderous wars? Have we sought to “make the American people suffer” for lying to us (because they are a democracy!) before the war in Iraq? Have we adopted a single sanction against the countries, companies or politicians who are supplying weapons to the conflict in Yemen, considered to be the “worst humanitarian disaster in the world?” Have we sanctioned the countries of the European Union that practice the most abject torture on their territory for the benefit of the United States?
To ask the question is to answer it… and the answer is not pretty.
Jacques Baud is a former colonel of the General Staff, ex-member of the Swiss strategic intelligence, specialist on Eastern countries. He was trained in the American and British intelligence services. He has served as Policy Chief for United Nations Peace Operations. As a UN expert on rule of law and security institutions, he designed and led the first multidimensional UN intelligence unit in the Sudan. He has worked for the African Union and was for 5 years responsible for the fight, at NATO, against the proliferation of small arms. He was involved in discussions with the highest Russian military and intelligence officials just after the fall of the USSR. Within NATO, he followed the 2014 Ukrainian crisis and later participated in programs to assist the Ukraine. He is the author of several books on intelligence, war and terrorism, in particular Le Détournement published by SIGEST, Gouverner par les fake news, L’affaire Navalny. His latest book is Poutine, maître du jeu? published by Max Milo.