TEN days ago James Delingpole interviewed Colonel Jacques Baud, a retired Swiss intelligence officer trained in strategic intelligence who has worked closely with Western intelligence services and is an expert on Putin and Russia.
From the start of the Ukraine-Russia war, we at TCW argued that the mainstream media’s ‘official’ Ukraine narrative was not the only one and have tried to comment as dispassionately as possible, with expert commentators and analysts – notably Donald Forbes and Lieutenant-General Jonathon Riley – and to avoid the uncritical dramatisation of much of the MSM’s coverage.
In these edited extracts from James’s ‘Delingpod’ that we are publishing over this week, Baud offers a ‘corrective’ – a compelling alternative account that few of the public will be aware of – to the ‘standard’ explanation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In this first section James starts by asking Baud whether, as a Swiss, he has ‘a dog in this fight’ at all, or whether he is completely neutral?
Colonel Jacques Baud: No, that’s correct. We are not supposed to participate to combat operations. We are ready for doing that, but we are not allowed to.
But the advantage of being neutral is that, on many occasions, especially in Sudan or a place like this, where we had to negotiate between parties, between Islamists, for instance, or tribes and so on, being Swiss is an advantage because then, of course, people have some kind of trust for you and you can communicate with everybody.
That’s what I experienced in Afghanistan as well. So that gives then, a point of view on a conflict which is quite unique as compared to other, let’s say, parties to conflict.
James Delingpole: I’ve come to the conclusion late in life, having previously bought completely into the propaganda narrative of the Western media and, you know, Western publishing and so on …
I now realise that what we in the West are told about these various wars – be it Afghanistan or Iraq, or currently Ukraine – is not necessarily the objective truth, that we’re given very partial information.
In fact, I feel it very strongly about Ukraine. I don’t know whether you’ve been looking at the media in the UK and the US and elsewhere, but it’s very much as if Ukraine is our war, we have to get involved, we have to pour billions of dollars worth of material into supporting the plucky Ukrainians fighting the evil dictator Putin, who invaded the country for no reason other than that he wants to recreate the Soviet Union. He’s ambitious, he’s mad, he’s dangerous. Maybe you could give us a different, a less biased perspective, perhaps.
Baud: Well, in fact, what you just said illustrates what Clausewitz used to say, that war is the continuation of politics with other means. So it makes sense then that when you’re a party to a conflict … then, of course, you tend to present the reality in a different way. And that’s exactly what happened in Afghanistan and in other places, Iraq, or right now in Ukraine.
As an intelligence officer, you cannot go with those biases, because then you misunderstand, let’s say, the enemy, if you want. And that’s the worst mistake you can do, is to misunderstand the situation or misunderstand your adversary.
And myself, having been for several years in strategic intelligence, I’m used to trying to understand the situation as it is and not as we want to understand it.
So I think it’s important to take some distance with the events, try to understand how people think, how the Russians think, how do Ukrainians think? And then we can start to reconcile those different views with the realities on the ground.
And unfortunately, what we see now in our media, and in the political establishments in the West especially, is that we tend to adjust the facts to the political narrative, instead of adjusting the narrative to the facts.
And I think it’s extremely dangerous because, first of all, we see that the situation in Ukraine is not exactly as we portray it. As a result, the main victims of our understanding are the Ukrainians themselves.
I have the feeling that because we don’t pay any attention to the realities on the ground, we tend to misuse or to exploit the Ukrainians for other purposes than just helping Ukraine. In fact, we tend to use Ukrainians to fight Putin instead of helping Ukraine. And I think that’s what disturbs me the most in this conflict.
I’m not making any judgment, who is good, who is bad, who is the Nazi, the non-Nazi or whatever. It’s not the question. The question is: What kind of objective do we want to achieve?
And we see that the problem with the West right now is that with all these sanctions and all that, we tend to shoot on ourselves, so it backfires. Everything we do tends to backfire.
And I come to the point to question myself, but what are we really wanting to achieve? And that should be the main thinking of civil society: What are we going to achieve?
Public opinion in Russia is stronger in favour of Putin. In fact, Putin has increased his approval rates in the last three months. https://www.statista.com/statistics/896181/putin-approval-rating-russia/
The idea, according to some people, of sanctions and all that, was to provoke some kind of rebellion or revolution or regime change – you can name it as you want – in Russia. But it’s definitely not what’s happening. In fact, we see quite the opposite, that the population tends to reinforce itself and to be closer to power.
We have, in the West, for about 25 years, a deficit in strategic thinking, in fact. I think we tend to confuse tactics and strategy. And I think that’s the main problem in the West.
Delingpole: Can you explain that a bit more?
Baud: We think that because we inflict, let’s say, damage (on our) enemy, that we weaken this enemy. And that’s not true.
That was exactly the same with terrorism, for instance. With terrorism, we thought that the more we strike people in the Middle East, the more we weaken terrorism. But in fact, it’s the opposite. You just stimulate a resistance: The willingness to resist, the willingness to come in Europe to perform terrorist attacks and things like this.
And we have something very similar that’s happening in Russia today. The more we apply sanctions, the more we reinforce, in fact, the sense that Putin was right, because the narrative that Putin developed in the last ten years was that the West doesn’t like Russians. And today, each additional sanction we apply tends to reinforce and to confirm what Putin said.
In addition to that, when we do, for instance, (as) the French minister of economy, Bruno Le Maire, said – that was very controversial, by the way, about one month and a half ago –‘We want to destroy the Russian economy. We want the Russian people to suffer,’ that’s when you make the Russian population responsible for the decision of Putin. That means, in other words, that you consider Russia as a big democracy.
So it’s totally paradoxical. And it’s definitely not the message we want to promote. But in Russia, it’s understood that way.
(The risk being) that everything we do mathematically or logically will backfire on us.
On two things. First of all, okay, I’m not going into details of the economic sanctions, but if you just go in terms of public opinion in Russia, we have just reinforced the public opinion in favour of Putin. So it’s exactly the opposite of what we wanted to achieve.
Delingpole: Yes. When you were talking about confusing tactics with strategy or vice-versa, I was thinking immediately of the Vietnam War and I was thinking of the US military’s obsession with body counts, as if somehow, you know, the more people you kill …
Baud: This is exactly the same thing. Absolutely. And, in fact, that was a debate in Afghanistan. As you know, I spent the last five years of my active life, so to say, in Nato. And the question of body count was a debate within Nato, because you tend to confuse tactics and strategy. Because the body count doesn’t mean that you weaken your enemy. It just means that you reinforce his willingness to fight.
Delingpole: But tell me about what the Russian case is? I mean, do the Russians have a case? Can you understand why Putin invaded Ukraine?
Baud: Yes, absolutely. I think whether or not his decision was wise, it’s a topic that’s beyond my discussion. But the problem is that when we judge the Putin decision, we tend to discard a lot of facts that explain his decision.
And the first one is that in March 2021, President Zelensky issued a law to reconquer by military means Crimea and the south of Ukraine, meaning that they were preparing an offensive to attack Crimea and the Donbas. And since March last year, we have witnessed a reinforcement of Ukrainian troops in the southern part of the country.
Nota bene, that’s exactly the problem that the Ukrainians have today. They are completely encircled in the southern part of the country. In the northern part, the Russians couldn’t make a very fast advance towards Kiev because there were no troops. Their troops were all in the south. And that’s exactly what’s happening today.
So that’s the background, that the Ukrainians wanted to reconquer Crimea and the Donbas. And on February 11, you may remember that Joe Biden said he knew that Russia would attack on February 16.
Now, how could he know that? In fact, he knew that because he knew that the Ukrainians had planned to start their offensive on February 16.
And if you look at what the observers of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe have reported, from the 16th of February onwards, you see a dramatic increase of shelling from the Ukrainian side into the Donbas, that forced the Donbas authorities to evacuate the population, because they were under heavy artillery fire.
And on the 16th, nothing happened. The Russians didn’t attack. What happened is that the Ukrainians increased their firing and their shelling on the 16th, 17th and 18th. On the 18th, it was about 40 times the normal rate of shelling that you observed in this region.
And what happened is that in Russia, the parliament asked Putin to recognise the independence of the two so-called republics, the self-proclaimed Republic of Luhansk and Donetsk.
Why is that? Because by recognising the independence of those republics, Russia could sign a friendship and assistance treaty with them. And those two republics could ask for military assistance in case of external attack. And that’s what happened.
On the 23rd, the two republics asked Russia for military assistance because they were under attack, and Russia could intervene in Ukraine by invoking Article 51 of the UN Charter that provides for collective defence and assistance to a country which is attacked.
So that’s a legal trick that Putin used. We can have a different assessment of that. But that was a political trick to have some kind of legality and legitimacy to attack Ukraine. And during all this time, the shelling of the Donbas continued.
So at the victory parade in Moscow on May 9 (commemorating the defeat of Germany in 1945), Putin made a speech and he explained exactly that.
So, basically, whether or not we consider it as propaganda from a factual basis, from a factual point of view, what Putin said is correct. Whether there were other options to react or to help the two republics, that’s a matter of judgment.
He decided that his best decision was to attack. That he did. But the fact is that Ukraine started, in fact, this, not the war in that sense, but the offensive.
The reason why the Russians speak about a ‘special operation’ is because for them, the war started in 2014 and the Minsk Agreements that were signed in September 2014 and the second one in February 2015, those two agreements were in fact the way to stop the conflict.
But since Ukraine didn’t implement what was written in this agreement, then the war continued. So from a Russian perspective, (they see themselves as) in a war since 2014, and this is just an operation in a wider conflict.
You can listen to the whole conversation on The James Delingpole Podcast here