As dedicated fans of the blog know, I only started coming around to the “doomer” view in autumn of last year and now believe that the situation has only dramatically worsened since then. Rusty has access to information that I don’t have, although most of it is technical in nature. That means he knows a lot more about hardware capabilities and shell reserves than I do, but he doesn’t know what Putin had for lunch.
Overall, the interview was definitely worth sharing, even though it re-trods ground that should be familiar for diligent readers of the blog. For ZAnoners though, it should be a wake-up call. But then, these people are mostly lost cases.
Without further ado, let’s dive in.
* * *
Welcome and thanks for talking to me. This interview has been a long time coming. So you work for a think tank now? I didn’t know Russia had those. They certainly didn’t when I was around.
Yes, thank you. And yes that is true, this is a new development for Russia. We used to rely simply on government sources of analysis and information gathering, but as the SMO continued, the government started hiring groups like the one I work for now to provide a secondary perspective on things. We provide realistic assessments about Russia’s capabilities and Ukraine’s capabilities and then provide common-sense suggestions.
Sometimes, we are even listened to by the relevant ministries.
Is it fair to say that the private sector was brought in because the Kremlin realized that they couldn’t trust their own bureaus and ministries and employees?
Well, they realized that they needed a second opinion, let us just say that. Also, the Americans use such a system and if the Americans are doing it, then the issue is settled. [He means the Kremlin likes to copy Washington in everything].
Also, we are often told that nothing is done in Russia without a bark [an order]. That Russia has no civil society. The last year is proof that this is not the case. We organized privately around private investors and then secured government contracts for our work. And we are far from the only example. If we are talking about civil society and private initiatives like my think tank, or even private armies like all the NGOs or PMCs [Private Military Companies, like the Wagner Group] that have been created, we have to state that the government does not resist these developments.
In America, they have had this system for a long time, but they have another problem now, which is that they only listen to information that they want to hear. The customer is always right — that kind of mentality. They say what the customer wants to hear.
For example, the Ukrainian counter-offensive in summer.
I remember reading one of the big names, Ben Hodges, on the topic. The analysis was totally wrong, but he continues to get paid very well for spreading it. They claimed that Russia had nothing but demotivated conscripts and that Ukraine had an army of pros. But nothing worked out for them, as we well know.
Not to defend him, but many people thought that [Minister of Defense] Shoigu would give the order to retreat again without putting up a fight. The Americans seemed fairly confident that Russia wouldn’t put up much of a fight. I think that informed their optimism just as much as any faith in the UAF [Ukrainian Armed Forces].
Yes, but the Russian army stood its ground. And it is always better to be on the defensive. Even if Russia has not had success with offensives and coordinating combined arms attacks, they still have the ability to defend pre-prepared positions. For once, the Ukrainians were the ones fighting at a tactical disadvantage. And the heroism of the Russian soldiers cannot be discounted. They wanted to stay and fight and to prove themselves and so they did.
I think it is fair to say that the war would have collapsed a long time ago if it weren’t for Russian civil society stepping in, organizing itself and helping out the soldiers. Who paid for our soldiers’ warm clothes, their equipment and their quadrocopters in the early, critical days? Or the info-war initiatives. It was all done by citizen initiatives. By volunteers. Especially in the early days when the Russian army was revealed to be severely unequipped and unprepared.
Hasn’t Shoigu often accused these volunteers of discrediting the army? Hasn’t he threatened arrests, maybe already arrested some in some cases?
I have not heard of this. That it, I do not think it is a systematic policy of suppression. Shoigu and his MoD [Ministry of Defense] may occasionally lash out, but here we have to differentiate between the targets of his ire. There is a difference between volunteering to bring supplies to the front and actively critiquing the MoD and organizing like Strelkov [Igor Girkin] did.
Actually, you sound a lot like Strelkov at times. Who, by the way, was arrested for critiquing the Khan [Sgiugu].
Strelkov? Oh no. He has a kind of nature to him — that is he is a pessimist by his very nature. Maybe I would be as well if I went through what he did. But he was always negative and so yes, he eventually was proven correct. I would say though that his methodology was flawed though. Besides, you can critique the government and provide suggestions, but it has to be done through the proper channels. Public attacks are a different matter. We understand that there are many problems that plague Russia’s war effort, but we are allowed to voice them. So the issue is more complex than you make it out to be. It has to do with politics and how the critique is done, not the content of the critique, which is oftentimes true.
You aren’t a pessimist? Really? Compared to the Western analysts, you sound very dour.
I am neither an optimist or a pessimist. The truth is that we are in a long, protracted war with no solution in sight. Someone like Strelkov would be right to point that out and predict it when he did. There are no clever plans and there won’t be any resounding Russian victory any time soon. But that doesn’t mean that measures aren’t being taken now to prepare for a long war. Strelkov’s claims that Moscow will surrender are more a fear than a reality. From what we can tell, the elites’ backs are against the wall. Western sanctions and rhetoric has painted a target on all their backs. So, increasingly, they are realizing that they have no choice but to resist in some way.
It seems to me that if Russia were serious, they would at least do something about the Western agents of influence who are still active in the country.
Well, we have some improvements with the whole traitor situation. This is also undeniable.
Our economists and technocrats are doing better with the economy. The agents of influence from the West have become less influential. Some have even switched sides because of the sanctions, because they feel like they have no choice at this point, really. We have a lot of civil society stepping up to help the effort and making up for the incompetence in the MoD. You know, even patriots can be incompetent — that is a problem too. It may not be maliciousness in all cases, necessarily.
Are you familiar with the concept of Convergence, whereby Putin and his Liberal occupation government were simply continuing the work started by Andropov to converge with the Western elite into a globalist world government status quo? Do you think it explains the traitor situation?
Well, this is not so much a theory as much as it is history. Putin started his career as a Westernizer. He gave many speeches explaining that he wanted to integrate Russia with the West and his elite is probably more pro-West than even he is. When the Russian government began resisting the West, they were still in negotiations for better terms. This, at least, is the old understanding of the situation. But the SMO has definitely changed a lot in Russia. It does not seem like Convergence is an option anymore. It is an old idea at this point and the sooner the elites wake up to this, the sooner Russia will be able to start effectively resisting NATO.
But if things have indeed changed, why then does the Kremlin continue to pursue such crooked war policies? The bridges remain intact, resources continue to flow and secret deals are made. Why not at least start targeting key Kiev officials?
Look, the situation with the bridges is overblown. Bridges were actually hit in the first days of the SMO, but they were patched up in a matter of days afterwards and traffic was resumed. People think that it is as simple a matter of landing a Kinzhal on a bridge and then, “poof” problem solved. Bridges require sustained bombings and for that you need air dominance and Russian planes have never been able to fly above Ukraine’s skies because of the air defense systems and fears that we would lose many planes and pilots; we did lose some.
In general, large buildings take large amounts of bombs to take out — it’s simply physics, which most people remain ignorant of. Short of using nukes, we cannot simply take out all the facilities that we would like to see gone.
Take the ports — it is impossible to sink an entire port without sustained bombing. And even so, we continue to bomb the Ukrainian-Romanian port. It would take a lot of bombs to totally destroy many key facilities and we do not have that many bombs to spare. We were able to create glided munitions by attaching wings and other such improvisations, which again, proves that we are doing the best we can with the very limited resources that we have. And I know you don’t like the SBU [Ukraine counterintelligence], but we have hit them several times as well. We have hit many official buildings.
The problem is that they are always empty before we hit them.
The Texeira leaks alleged that it was because of spies in Shoigu’s Ministry of Defense telling them where the strikes would hit ahead of time.
It is a war and it is difficult to say such things definitively one way or the other. I would assume that spies are everywhere and on both sides. We get information from Ukraine as well.
You know, many well-meaning Russian patriots have this idea in their head that if Russia wanted to, Russia could easily win the war. They think that Russia is holding back either because of moral considerations or because of traitors in power. They seem to still think that Russia is the USSR, with huge war factories and massive shell arsenals. But those warehouses are long gone. They were sold off years ago. Those factories are rusted-out hulks. We are restoring some of our war potential in manufacturing, this is true, but it will take time. In other words, we are fighting with the means that we have now. The people demanding that Russia ought to stop holding back don’t know what they are talking about. We are at our limit now.
Actually, we are not the only ones with supply problems. With the end of the Cold War, the Americans also scuttled their war production industry. Now they have problems with manufacturing, for example of 155-mm howitzer shells. As a result, they also have supply shortages, and they had to run around the whole world looking for warehouses of supplies to buy and send to Ukraine.
Consider what another mobilization for Russia would entail.
People would have to be pulled out of the economy at a minimum. And what would we equip them with? We struggled to equip the first batch. And the new recruits can’t just be sent in naked. They need support vehicles, artillery support; they also need training and we have a deficit of officers.
This is because the SMO was officer-heavy in the initial days, right? Anyone with a contract was scooped up and sent out leading to severe officer shortages to train new men.
Well, we are making up for the deficit now. We now have enough veterans to train the soldiers instead of having them sit around in the polygons. We also rely on a different system now to make up for the shortfalls of the military. For example, all the PMCs. Why was Wagner called in to take Bakhmut? They didn’t want to be there. The arrangement was that Wagner wasn’t even supposed to exist officially. It is, from a legal perspective, not strictly a legal organization. Here, I want to be careful to not sound like a Western propagandist with what I am saying, but anyway, it was tolerated as long as it operated abroad and did not involve itself in Russia. But then the military showed its inability to defeat the UAF and Wagner had to be asked to come in. They were paid very well for lending their expertise.
That is what Russia lacks the most — expertise and competency.
Say what you will about Wagner, but they had created a structure that was capable of fulfilling the tasks assigned to it. Losing Wagner was a blow to Russia, that is undeniable. But Prigozhin left the Kremlin no choice. They would have killed them all, frankly, back during the mutiny if they could. But then Prigozhin pulled back at the last moment. With the Prigozhin situation — he was given all these resources because there was no one else doing what he was doing. Eventually, he decided that he was stronger than the MoD so he tried to shake things up politically and look what happened to him.
So would you blame incompetence for the mutiny? Specifically Shoigu? It seems to me that the in-fighting was so public and so wasteful. Were there no adults in the room?
Well yes, of course, this is very clear. How was their conflict allowed to reach such public heights with no one stepping in? And then we lost Wagner in the form that it was. What we have now is remnants. All of it a huge waste.
But again, the true reason for this was, at its root, that the military was run very poorly. Wagner was run well and so they started gaining more and more weapons and strength. If the MoD was competently run, Wagner would have stayed in Syria and Africa making deals.
But we can also say that Shoigu got stronger because of the mutiny. Once Prigozhin was eliminated, he was able to consolidate even more strength and resources.
Is it fair then to say that Shoigu simply wanted to steal Wagner from Prigozhin and that this fueled the conflict?
Actually, the situation was more complicated than just Shoigu trying to steal Wagner. Consider the situation where Wagner was just recruiting prisoners (zeks). This was a dangerous situation and an unprecedented one. No one was allowed to do what Wagner did and get away with it. This made many powerful people worry. Wagner became too powerful and stepped over too many lines. Many interested parties did indeed want to tear off a piece of Wagner, leading to its eventual dismemberment. But things were complicated by Prigozhin crossing too many lines himself. He eventually spooked Putin as well.
Didn’t the mutiny prove that the Kremlin was weak and divided? It seems like the West’s plan to foment an elite uprising against Putin makes sense and is viable.
Well, if we look at who did what, we can see that the governors supported Putin. They came out firmly in support of the current leadership during the mutiny. Other members of the elite simply didn’t know what to do. There was confusion and chaos. As for the internal factions within the Kremlin, it is hard to say who is where now. The lines have been blurring more and more as the war has continued. The “economic bloc” of elites [he means the oligarchs and the liberal bureaucrats/politicians and liberal media owned by them] is usually accused of being anti-SMO and pro-West, but they are doing what they are told to do now. The problem for them is that there are no options now. There aren’t really even options for surrender. So they have reinvented themselves and changed their cloaks, many of them. The West simply won’t offer them a deal, so what can they do?
What about Zolotov? I read speculation that he now leads a kind of Praetorian guard around Putin with his newly-reformed National Guard army. They’ve been issued heavy weapons taken from Wagner. It was Zolotov’s personal army that defended Moscow, not anyone else.
Well, this comes back to Wagner. Again, the funny thing about Wagner is that it didn’t really even exist officially. It couldn’t. They wanted Wagner to exist abroad, but had no place for them at home and wanted to make sure of this. So Zolotov was empowered to be a counter-weight to this and to bolster the internal police. But have they become a Praetorian Guard? They were indeed promised heavy weapons, but those may still be in transit or held up by Shoigu. Broadly speaking, this isn’t a new thing actually — the Internal Troops even had their own aviation as well during the Chechen wars. This was taken away from them later and so people have gotten used to the idea that the National Guard does not have heavy weapons and aviation of its own. But because of the needs of the front, they may not get the equipment, so it is pointless to speculate.
I wanted to ask you about whether you think that there will be any offensives from Russia’s side, it seems like the plan is just to hold what they have if they can.
Well, we have a WWI scenario. And we still don’t understand how to fight in these conditions. This is a war in which hundred dollar drones destroy 20 million dollar heavy equipment. No one was prepared for this. I think that any military, even the Americans, would struggle in these new conditions until they figured out how to wage war in a better way. I don’t think that the Russian military performed particularly poorly given this new military reality. Who would perform better?
Look at Kherson and Zaporozhye. There, the Russian army achieved its objectives and did it well. In other parts of the country, the military foundered and was torn apart by the Ukrainians. By the way, this translated into pro-Russian sentiment as well. Where the military performed well, they garnered local sympathy and support. Where they failed, the pro-Russians were marched out of their homes at gun point by the Ukrainians soon after and the locals cooperated with Ukrainian intelligence to give away Russian positions. People always side with the stronger side. So, it wasn’t really a language issue that led to so many problems for our soldiers stationed in Ukraine. In parts of the country where the Ukrainians defeated the Russians, the locals didn’t come out in support of Russia. Why would they? No one sides with the loser.
Syria went well for Russia, so they got complacent. Even American advisors complain that they haven’t been able to prepare the UAF and have any offensive success. Everyone got used to desert wars where you ride around in Humvees and order in airstrikes.
What about Wagner in Syria? Prigozhin said that Shoigu didn’t help, but that Shoigu actually helped the Americans bomb them.
It is true that Wagner was the main ground force. About the betrayal, I can’t say. I would think that it was more complicated than that. The victory wasn’t just achieved by Wagner though, but by Iranian militias, the Syrian army, and support from Shoigu’s MoD. The situation now in Syria is very tough. The economy is even worse than it was during the war. We may see more problems emerge in Syria soon.
Since we are on the topic of the Middle-East, what is Russia’s official and unofficial position on the Israel-Palestine/Gaza situation?
Well, Russia’s position hasn’t changed much. Putin moved the pro-Israel agenda forward a bit by stating that West Jerusalem is Israeli and East Jerusalem is Palestinian. Of course, in reality, this is not a reality. Both belong to Israel and their proxies. And then there is the embassy situation.
Russia isn’t really pro-Palestine. Other countries give more aid and support for Palestine when compared to Russia. Furthermore, some elites in Russia consider Israel their second home. And many others wish that they were part of that club, but they cannot qualify for Israeli passports, sadly. We would never see the Kremlin siding against Israel because of these factors.
It seemed to me that the Russian media came out in favor of Gaza.
No, this is more about addressing the hypocrisy of the West in relation to Ukraine. According to our media, the Israelis have killed more children over the last week than have died in Ukraine because of the war. This is because of how the war is being waged. So it is the hypocrisy that is being addressed by the Russian media. The double standards. Israel can siege Gaza and kill everyone and then demand support and threaten the world with accusations of being anti-Semites. This rankles people. But in Russia there aren’t any rallies in support of Palestine or in support of Israel for that matter either. This isn’t a divisive point in Russian society. Besides, there is a suspicion of refugees and how the situation might unfold.
Putin condemned Hamas and said that they don’t represent everyone in Palestine or Gaza. This is a more nuanced position than what Western officials have voiced when they demand the incineration of Gaza and show the fact that they have no moral ground to stand on when accusing Russia of committing war crimes.
Yes, and there may be several reasons for this. Maybe they want weapons from Israel. Maybe they know that the West expects them to support Israel. They are a beggar-country now. Also, their elite is all Israeli, not Ukrainian.
Ukraine has lost all autonomy. If they have any autonomy left, they will sell that off too. Without Western aid, Ukraine cannot continue functioning. The entire economy and war effort is being carried by the West. Hopefully, the Israel situation will distract some of the West’s attention and resources.
Is that the plan then for winning in Ukraine? Hoping that the West loses interest?
We cannot just sit back and hope that the situation resolves itself. The West is an active agent and they are constantly making moves, but we are just reacting. We need to become proactive. Measures are indeed now being taken, and resolve is building to fight this war out to its end. Suggestions are now being heard and implemented.
Did you hear about Rybar’s head editor dishing it out with Shoigu over basic safety-hangars for exposed Russian aircraft in the field? He demanded Shoigu stop leaving the planes out in the open to be bombed by Ukrainian drones. It seems like many months later, they are taking his advice and building the hangars.
Actually, I would be surprised to hear that rudimentary safety measures like building hangars for aircraft are being taken. As far as I have heard, this still remains a problem.
We should be under no illusions about what to expect going forward.
It will take many years and thousands of lives. Ukraine has many more men to spare and they are even calling on young men and old people to fill in the gaps. Previously, they were lenient towards young professionals and students and allowed them to not be drafted. This is changing now. This is not to say that morale will collapse the army or anything like that, but fatigue is indeed growing. In the early months of the war, the UAF had no shortage of volunteers. They didn’t need to go hunting for recruits because people were enthusiastically signing on to fight the invaders. They were bolstered in this by the early successes of the UAF and the disasters of the SMO offensive in many parts. Also, Washington, which was pessimistic about Ukraine’s chances of holding out for long, decided to fund the UAF and give them a fighting chance because they saw that they were capable of putting up a fight and because of how weak Russia’s military proved itself to be.
Shoigu and others have said that the MoD plan is to weaken the Ukrainians by attrition over many years. They probably hope that the West will get tired of bearing the costs and be dissuaded from continuing the war by Russia’s static defensive lines. But this means many more years of war and many more casualties on both sides. People need to stop believing in clever plans.
This is what victory will look like if it comes.
So the plan really is to just keep the butchery going for a few more years?
Yes, it seems so. What else can they do?
Fine, then I have to ask a burning question that I think cuts to the heart of all this: who lost Ukraine? Wasn’t the FSB tasked with this? How did we get to this point where we are facing a total catastrophe? I think you will agree that hundreds of thousands of Russians on both sides dead is a catastrophe and not a clever geopolitical victory? Just the other week, Lindsay Graham bragged about what a success the war was for Washington. So, again, who is to blame for this?
Well, again, the elites were not thinking in such terms back then. They were more concerned with access to Western capital markets. It is my hope that this war will lead to more competence in the government. We already see progress with this with elites switching sides to defend their own interests if nothing else.
I know you don’t like the FSB [Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation].
But the situation is more complicated than you make it out to be, I’ll just say that.
It seems to me that the main topic of this interview has essentially gravitated to a discussion about whether or not the elites in Russia are simply incompetent or if they are saboteurs. For the most part, it seems that you are saying that we shouldn’t misattribute what could be attributed to stupidity and greed by concluding that there is treachery afoot.
There are undoubtedly both traitors and simply incompetents. We have both. And yes, many traitors still haven’t been taken down from their posts. But the large bulk of the people with power that we are talking about now are simply incompetents with the wrong set of mental tools who are not equipped to face the new geopolitical reality that we face. But this is changing slowly but surely, and the results can be seen in the economy and war production and the seriousness of the statements being made by officials now.
This is not about optimism or pessimism, but about looking at the facts.
Well, I won’t keep you any longer. You’ve given me a lot of your time. Thank you for the answers and let’s do it again some time.
Thank you, happy to talk to you. Yes, let’s.
* * *
Regarding the last point and the main topic of discussion of today’s interview, I figured I’d weigh in and add my last couple of thoughts on it. In my mind, there is no difference between incompetence and treachery. This is because I see the world as a series of actions that are pseudo-explained and rationalized after the fact. In terms of results, there is no difference between intentional and unintentional sabotage — a smoldering ruin is the result of a gas line rupturing by mistake as much as if it were an act of deliberate insurance fraud sabotage.
For me, the debate over sabotage or incompetence is a distinction without a difference. Both types should be put against the wall.
But, if you wanted to get into the hazy and mystical world of thoughts, intentions, and best wishes, then I could also argue that allowing incompetents to staff every single high level post in the government is a kind of treachery and a form of deliberate sabotage as well. After all, through the laws of chance, we’d expect at least SOME competents to make their way into positions of power in what is a high-stakes, high-reward professional sphere that ought to select for such types. Instead, it seems that we either have competent traitors or incompetent patriots, and the results they both produce are largely the same.
In the end, it all depends on how we define terms and whether or not we believe the sputtering explanations of well-fed ministers and public officials and half-public/half-private oligarchs who happened to accidentally make all the mistakes necessary to end up with pockets full of government money allocated for other things, but also made all the mistakes to totally mismanage the Ukraine crisis for the last three decades.
It begs the question: if they are so incompetent at waging a war, why are they so competent at stealing money? Perhaps this isn’t a competency crisis so much as it is a priority crisis? An identity crisis, maybe? How many ministers, oligarchs, and spooks have Israeli or Turkish or Latvian passports? A relevant question to ask, no?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve stopped believing in accidents and coincidence.
Me, I never attribute to bad fortune and incompetence what can more readily attributed to a coordinated conspiracy. The stakes are too high in geopolitics to believe that anything is left up to chance. But hey, a lot of people seem to prefer comforting lies. This SMO has definitively proven that Western peasants prefer to lap up soothing lies about clever plans and secret patriots and believe that end times prophecies are coming to pass.