Our Interview with Jacques Baud

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.

Jacques Baud, Darfour.

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).

Jacques Baud with the New Sudan Brigade.

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.

Jacques Baud.

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.

So, despite his probable willingness to achieve a political settlement for the crisis with Russia, Zelensky is not allowed to do so. Just after he indicated his readiness to talk with Russia, on 25 February, the European Union decided two days later to provide €450M in arms to Ukraine. The same happened in March. As soon as Zelensky indicated he wanted to have talks with Vladimir Putin on 21 March, the European Union decided to double its military aid to €1 billion on 23 March. End of March, Zelensky made an interesting offer that was retracted shortly after.

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…

TP: You have written a very interesting book on Putin. Please tell us a little about it.

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 Swedish military lab that analyzed Navalny’s blood—redacted the name of the substance they discovered, which is odd since everybody expected “Novichok” to be mentioned.

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:

Be curious!

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 Military Situation in the Ukraine—An Update

The Operational Situation

As of March 25, 2022, our analysis of the situation confirms the observations and conclusions made in mid-March.

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:

… and as published by the French Ministry of the Armed Forces:

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:

The Situation as of March 25, 2022. [“Poussée principale”= main thrust;
“poussée secondaire”= secondary thrust].
The bone-shaped, blue area marks the location of the mass of the Ukrainian army (in reality, this “massed” Ukrainian army is split into several smaller cauldrons). The red-lined arrows show the overall offensive of the Russian army. The orange-lined arrows show the thrust of the Donbass forces. The red dotted line shows the maximum advance of Russian coalition forces.

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.

The Role of the Volunteers

A particularly disturbing aspect of this conflict is the attitude of European governments that allow or encourage their citizens to go and fight in the Ukraine. Volodymyr Zelensky’s call to join the International Legion for the Territorial Defense of Ukraine, which he recently created, has been greeted with enthusiasm by European countries.

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?

Distributing weapons indiscriminately could well make the EU—volens nolens—a supporter of extremism and even international terrorism. The result—we are adding misery to misery, in order to satisfy the European elites more than the Ukraine itself.

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 newsL’affaire Navalny. His latest book is Poutine, maître du jeu? published by Max Milo.

This article appears through the gracious courtesy of Centre Français de Recherche sur le Renseignement, Paris. Translated from the French by N. Dass.


Featured image: “Medal in Khankala,” by I.S. Araslanov; painted in 2007. (Photo Credit: Moscow Museum of Modern Art).

The Military Situation In The Ukraine

Part One: The Road To War

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.

The characterization of the Ukrainian paramilitaries as “Nazis” or “neo-Nazis” is considered Russian propaganda. Perhaps. But that’s not the view of the Times of Israel, the Simon Wiesenthal Center or the West Point Academy’s Center for Counterterrorism. But that’s still debatable, because in 2014, Newsweek magazine seemed to associate them more with… the Islamic State. Take your pick!

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.

Demilitarization:

  • 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.

Denazification:

  • destruction or neutralization of volunteer battalions operating in the cities of Odessa, Kharkov, and Mariupol, as well as in various facilities in the territory.

2. Demilitarization

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.

3. Denazification

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”  TotalDecrease compared with previous year, per cent
201812827716241.9
20198518210535.2
202061907033.3
202136804437.1
Total310629381 
Per cent81.416.32.3100.0 
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.

This article appears through the gracious courtesy of Centre Français de Recherche sur le Renseignement, Paris. Translated from the French by N. Dass.


Featured image: “Capitulation,” by Petr Krivonogov, painted in 1946.