THIS is the fifth set of edited extracts from James Delingpole’s podcast with former Swiss intelligence officer Colonel Jacques Baud on the Russian justification for their invasion of Ukraine. You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here and Part 4 here. Today Colonel Baud continues with his analysis of deep-rooted hatreds, the current situation on the ground and the abandonment by the West of any diplomatic solution.
COLONEL JACQUES BAUD: We have, then, the hate against the Soviets combined with the hate against the Jews and combined with the hate against the Russians. And that’s everything, all that is combined in one kind of combination, a strange combination. But all of these hates are deep-rooted in the local culture. And that was somehow favoured by the new authorities in 2014, because these were the ones you could rely on to maintain order and to fight against the Russians, or the Russian-speakers . . .
As of today, because we want to have some kind of legitimacy in supporting Ukraine, we whitewash this part of history, and therefore cannot understand exactly what’s going on. When people reconquer Mariupol, it’s not just reconquering any city. Mariupol was the birthplace of the Azov movement. So it’s extremely important for the militia, the Donbas militia, because it’s not really the Russians who liberated – so to say – Mariupol, it was the Donbas militia. We tend to forget that in the current conflict . . . you have Russian forces coming from Russia and you have the Donbas militias, the militias of the Lugansk Republic and the Donetsk Republic. And these are the militia of the Donetsk Republic that helped to liberate Mariupol together, with those Chechen units.
JAMES DELINGPOLE: So Mariupol, particularly the Azovstal complex, seems to be a kind of Götterdammerung scenario for the Azov, it’s their last redoubt.
DELINGPOLE: . . .I got the impression that the Russians sent in the Chechens who are probably their toughest, most ruthless fighters, because they knew that it was going to be a hard, hard fight. What do you know about that? One of the things that interests me about Azovstal – apparently there’s a sort of a whole network of bunkers and levels of reinforced concrete, whatever, living underground. There seem to be quite a few Western intelligence people, and there was a Canadian colonel, I think, who tried to escape and was captured. What do you think’s going on there? Because there’s talk about how there are bioweapons labs that they’re trying to conceal. Tell me about that?
BAUD: Well, I’m not sure we know exactly what is underneath Azovstal. So Azovstal is a huge industrial complex that was established, I think, in the 1920s. That’s a place where a part of those, the famous T-34 tank was built in the early war. The T-35 or 34 was built in many different plants, but it was partly, also, assembled in Azovstal. So it’s a huge complex. And of course, it was built or it was designed to be operational even during the war. It has very deep cellars and anti-aerial shelters underneath. And it’s a huge labyrinth of shelters and all that. And apparently you have the remnants of the Azov movement based here. I mean, as you said in a last redoubt.
Now, we don’t know exactly who is in there. The Russians said that they intercepted communications involving eight different European languages. But that’s about all we know, in fact, this doesn’t tell much because Azov is based on volunteers from all over the world. And it may well be that you have just these volunteers here fighting . . . So these might be just fighters, they are afraid to surrender because, obviously, they might have probably some blood on their hands and they are not sure exactly what their fate would be if they surrender. I’m not in a position to say anything about that, but that’s probably the reason why they are so reluctant to surrender. Some suggested at one point that there were some Nato officers. There was also recently this mention of a Canadian general, in fact, a retired general. To be absolutely honest with you, I don’t know exactly what’s there. Is that just propaganda? Is that just rumours? I have no idea. But it would make sense to have, underneath Azovstal, that you have at least the last quarter of hardliners in there, that’s absolutely possible.
DELINGPOLE: Can you give me an overview about how the campaign has progressed? Because, again, all I read in the Western media is that the Russians are useless, that they’ve been surprised by the scale of the resistance, that they’ve been needlessly destroying lots of, you know, civilian buildings, that their equipment is not up to scratch, that their tactics are no good. And I mean, I don’t know, is that true?
BAUD: No, I don’t think so. I think, of course, we tend to have a biased view. What we see in the media, basically, comes directly from Kiev. There is no real assessment done by our media, or even most experts on the situation.
Well, first, we have to understand how this offensive started. It started very much like, you may have, the operational doctrine of the Russians with a main effort in the Donbas and a secondary effort in the direction of Kiev. The reason why they went to Kiev was not to take Kiev. And in fact, we know because the Pentagon made some estimates about the strengths involved in both main effort and secondary effort line. And we know that around Kiev there were about 22 battalions, more or less, while in the Donbas there were 65 or so battalions. So . . . that’s less than 22,000 people to take Kiev. That’s not enough. And that’s definitely, probably, that was probably not the intent of the Russians to take over Kiev. They just wanted to encircle Kiev in order to pin down the armed forces, the Ukrainian armed forces in the western part of the country, so that they don’t reinforce the main bulk of the Ukrainian forces in the Donbas.
So, by keeping a threat on Kiev, these forces were kept in the west of the country. So it’s very clever. And in the Donbas region, the idea – and it’s very much like what we have observed in the last month of the campaign of the Soviets during World War II, that the offensive went very quickly in the depth of the Ukrainian forces, very fast without really fighting – they just bypassed all the strongholds, they bypassed the cities, they bypassed everything just to reach the depth . . .
DELINGPOLE: Blitzkrieg, a bit like?
BAUD: The blitzkrieg is a little bit different. But we could . . . we tend to use this word, blitzkrieg is a concept, is the first concept of combined arms operation, it’s slightly different . . .
DELINGPOLE: Okay. In the rapidity of the advance, bypassing strongholds.
BAUD: . . . Some say it’s the ‘water flowing principle’, so water flows where it can, it doesn’t stop where it is not needed. And that’s exactly what the Russians have done. So going very fast, try to encircle the bulk of the Ukrainian force that were ready to attack the Donbas. That’s why today you have the main part of the army, the Ukrainian army, in this area between Sloviansk, Kramatorsk and so on. So that’s what they have done. That’s what they have done until mid-March, roughly.
And then they started to grind the Ukrainian forces. They started to attack the villages and things like this. And of course, the first phase was extremely fast, that was the idea. And in the second phase, they started to have a kind of infantry type of fighting. So it’s very slow, it’s not very spectacular. You don’t see that really on maps because it’s house by house and street by street. It’s very slow, but it doesn’t mean that they haven’t reached their objectives. In fact, I think they have reached all the objectives that they wanted to reach.
The first phase was – and that’s what Putin himself announced – on 24th February, which was demilitarisation and de-Nazification. But those two, if you read carefully what he said, this was not the de-Nazification or demilitarisation of Ukraine, it was demilitarisation and de-Nazification of the threats against Donbas and against the population, the Russian-speaking population.
The demilitarisation process is still ongoing. They are destroying the armed forces little by little. And the deNazification process is considered as finished. In fact, at the end of March the Russians removed deNazification as an objective, because they had taken Mariupol. Now it remains only in Azovstal, but they will just wait until these guys are starving or surrender, but basically there is no threat any more. But it’s also interesting to see that the Russians have this Clausewitzian concept of war, that war and politics are connected.
So, the early objectives, as I said, were the demilitarisation and deNazification. On 25th February, Zelensky suggested entering negotiation. And he was talking about negotiation at the Belarus border and . . . they started to have some talks. But the European Union then, to discourage Zelensky, came with a first package of almost half a million euros of weapons in order to, say, ‘Zelensky, don’t negotiate, we’ll help you to fight.’ So . . . the Russians, when they saw that negotiations were going nowhere, they changed the objective. So they had their operational objectives, but they added the political one, that was recognition of the independence of Donbas and the recognition of Crimea. And these were the new objectives, if you want.
On 21st March, Zelensky made a proposal to the Russians. It was about then, the negotiations had moved from Belarus to Istanbul. And Zelensky made a proposal, an offer, to the Russians to discuss on those topics. But two days later, as it happened in February, the European Union came with a new offer, with a new package of half a billion weapons, to say, ‘Zelensky, no, no, no, no. You don’t negotiate, we give you weapons and you fight.’ And, under pressure from the UK and the US, Zelensky retracted his offer to the Russians.
When the Russians saw the negotiation process was going nowhere, they added a new layer to their objectives. And they said, ‘Okay, then we’ll go to occupy all the areas, the coastal area, between Mariupol and Odessa up to Transnistria. So, in fact, the Russians have a kind of iterative process with the objectives. They started with something, expecting a negotiation. ‘You don’t go to the negotiation. Okay? We raise the objective. And if you take the negotiation, we stop here. Otherwise we go further.’ And the thing is, this mechanism is not new . . . that’s very much the Russian approach to war.
The problem is that the European Union, especially, with the US., of course, they made every effort to make this collapse and avoid any kind of negotiation, in fact. They just force Ukrainians to fight, by giving new weapons and now you have this new package that was decided by Joe Biden of $43billion. And what is disturbing about that is that all the weapons that are sent to Ukraine do not really make the difference . . . because, in fact, most of the logistics have been destroyed, because as soon as the US and others have promised some tanks and howitzers and things, I guess, of course the problem was to transport this equipment from the border to the front line. And the Russians started to destroy the infrastructure. And it’s interesting, because before that, the Russians didn’t try to destroy the infrastructure. Meaning that as the Europeans came with new offers and weapons and all that, then they pushed the Russians to destroy more and more infrastructures, command posts and, and airfields and all that. So, in fact, these weapons do not make the difference, but in addition, they tend to attract Russian fire, so to say.
So we are just deteriorating the situation of Ukraine and my understanding of what the international community should be, is not to take the position of a judge that decides who is the good and the bad guy and all that, but try to bring the two parties to the negotiating table and have them discuss the problems. Because now we have totally discarded any diplomatic solution we tend to exacerbate, in fact, a kind of a polarisation of the conflict. And this leads nowhere.
And this is, I think it’s very unfortunate, because in an interview with Oleksiy Arestovych in March 2019, he said – and it’s extremely cynical somehow – but he said that the price for Ukraine to enter Nato will be almost the destruction of Ukraine. So there is a sense of self-sacrifice, with the purpose of joining Nato. And I think the Western community tends to go along with this very, very cynical approach. It explains, the lack of rationality explains that, or this explains the lack of rationality – I don’t know in which direction we have to see that. But certainly we are beyond the rational approach to the conflict in the West. Definitely.
DELINGPOLE: Just to sum up – I don’t want to put words into your mouth – but I mean, I imagine that most of us would like this conflict in Ukraine to end sooner rather than later, because ordinary Ukrainians are suffering, there’s a danger, I fear, that Ukrainians, conscripts, not to mention Russian soldiers as well, are going to die needlessly in what looks like a, sort of almost like a private war between factions in the Western governments, who are determined to destroy Putin and take down Russian powerbase with it. Is that a fair summary?
BAUD: Yes. Absolutely. And I think it’s unfortunate because we are in something that is totally emotional in the way we approach the problem. There is absolutely no rationality. And of course, the way we portray the success or the failure of the Russian offensive means that, of course: ‘They are losing the war, so why should we negotiate?’ This is the rationale. And we tend to add new sanctions and new weapons and all that. And at the end there is something we should ask ourselves, because the rest of the world also looks at the Western world and asks themselves the question – ‘Why is this conflict worse than the previous ones?’ ‘Why are we applying so many sanctions to the one who started the offensive, when we never did that for the UK, for instance, or with the US, for Iraq, for Libya, for Syria and you name it.’
So there is a profound sense of irrationality, [with] every new sanction we apply tending to portray us as more racist than we are. When it comes to Iraqis or Afghanis, we don’t care. . . But when it comes to Ukrainians, with blond hair and blue eyes, then, of course, we need to apply sanctions. And that’s how they perceive us. And I think that’s something that we tend to underestimate. But I think it will have, for the future, huge consequences in the way the West will relate or discuss with the rest of the world.
You can listen to the whole conversation on the James Delingpole Podcast here.