Event Recap: War in Ukraine
Analysis with Michael Kofman and Andrew Monaghan,
Silverado Policy Accelerator’s Co-Chairman, Dmitri Alperovitch, continues with his podcast series on the War in Ukraine with Russian military experts Michael Kofman and Andrew Monaghan.
This week, the conversation continues as attacks on Mariupol intensify, experts discuss the involvement of Chechen forces in the Russian-Ukraine War and Putin's current hold on domestic power. Kofman and Monaghan discuss many topics from casualty claims, to current arms systems, and the possibility of a ceasefire.
A complete audio recording is available here, and a full unofficial transcript is available below.
TRANSCRIPT: “War in Ukraine: Analysis with Michael Kofman and Andrew Monaghan”
March 20, 2022 - Online
Dmitri Alperovitch, Co-Chairman of the Silverado Policy Accelerator
Michael Kofman, Research Program Director in the Russia Studies Program at CNA
Andrew Monaghan, Senior Associate Fellow, Royal United Services Institute, London; Non-Resident Associate Fellow, NATO Defense College
DISCLAIMER: This transcript was generated using an automated transcription service, and as a result may not be 100 percent accurate. Please check all quotations against the original audio before publication. Full audio and video recording is available here.
Dmitri Alperovitch 00:12
That was in Flanders Fields by Charles Ives. Welcome, everyone to tonight's Twitter space. It is the end of day 25 of the war in Ukraine. And I'm Dimitri Alpetrovich, Chairman of Silverado policy accelerator, the geopolitical think tank in Washington DC. And tonight, I'm joined once again by Michael Kaufman, an expert on the Russian military and Research Program Director in the Russia Studies program at the Center for naval analysis. We also have with us tonight for the first time Andrew Monaghan, author of The New Politics of Russia interpreting change and a senior fellow at the candidate Stuart, Royal United Services Institute and NATO Defense College. So today, in addition to the military campaign analysis with Mike will do a deep dive on the Russian politics with Andrew to hopefully figure out what is happening in the Kremlin right now as the invasion of Ukraine drags on. So welcome, Andrew and great to have you back, Mike. Mike, let's start with you. So today Secretary of Defense Austin said that Russia's campaign is, quote, stalled, unquote. First, do you agree with that characterization? And maybe talk about what is happening right now, on the various fronts of this campaign, the fight for Mariupol, the push towards Odessa, Russia's attempt to surround the Ukrainian forces in Donbass, and of course, the push towards Kiev. And also what is going on with Ukraine counter-offensive? Are they actually taking back territory?
Mike Kofman 01:34
Thanks, Maitri. I guess my upfront disappointing answer to that is going to be a yes and no. So if we look around what we can perfectly describe as three distinct fronts in the north around Kiev, it's clear that Russian forces are very much struggling to complete any kind of encirclement. I don't think they're in a position to conduct an assault on Kiev. I'm going skeptical about the upcoming Battle of Kiev as some people have called it. And maybe that's something that might happen in the follow on phase of this war, but I'm just not seeing it right now. And they're mostly looking to consolidate territory on the eastern side of the river bank, maybe trying to still encircle and get around the city Chernihiv. If we look in the southwest, the Russian attempt to get around the city Mykolaiv to try to chart a path to Odessa that was had a low probability of success there was a real paucity of forces available for it. It seems the Ukrainian counter-offensive has really cut into their supply lines there and pushed them back to Kherson, now that front is largely stalled and if anything they're probably trying to fix Ukrainian positions there but I don't expect any progress there at all. So that leaves us with really one area to focus on which is in the eastern part of the country and the Donbass the Ukrainian joint forces operation there there's quite a few units. Russian forces have been trying to pincer them via two attacks. One coming down south of Kharkiv to a city called Izyum. Another one coming up north from Melitopol, right, so we have that situation that is where Ukrainian forces if they're precarious in a place that's definitely the part of the map that looks very challenging for them. And then of course, we have the battles that take Mariupol as well, along the coast of the Sea of Azov there you know, if Russian forces do end up taking it that’s been very bloody, if any part of this of this war so far it looks like an analogy to the Grozny or the Chechen wars definitely. Now, I would say that that's the the one city likely to potentially fall but to me that's in of itself, that's not that significant. The more significant part if there's any movement on the front, that's the tumpton circle, a large part of Ukrainian force in the east. So in general, I would say that, yes, it's true that most Russian acts of advance have stalled. A couple of weeks ago I predicted the Russian forces would be around this time reaching exhaustion and a high degree of combat ineffectiveness and without a big operational pause to replenish, resupply, reorganize, they will have major issues making progress. It's kind of looking like that's that's the way things are going. That of course doesn't mean the war in any way is over just means that maybe this initial phase chapter of the war's over. As for Ukrainian counter attacks, they've had some success a little bit outside of Kiev on the eastern side, and the main counter offensive around Nikolayev now and that's led to led to somewhat shifting battlefield. I guess that's all I'll say there. I'm happy to add more I just don't want to drone on because it's such a big topic.
Dmitri Alperovitch 04:36
Yeah, you know, one thing that puzzles me maybe you can shed some light on this is it seems like they're really really serious about taking Mariupol in a way that they haven't been with Kiev, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, all these other cities that they've tried to sort of go into initially, but then pulled out and now just bombarding with artillery. why they're so fixated Mariupol. Is it because of this bridge to Crimea? They just really want to have that city, including at the cost of leveling into the ground. Tonight, they issued an ultimatum to all citizens of the city to leave by 5pm local, which is actually 11 o'clock Eastern time tonight. And if they don't, they'll all be treated as enemies, which seems to be like a war crime. Why are they so intent on taking this one city and not the others?
Mike Kofman 05:24
Alright, so I think there's a military reason and there's a political reason. The political reason, I think, is straightforward. They want to take all the Donbass. I've been watching them revise down what they think that war aims are, and if they're searching for anything that they can claim a victory to get out of this conflict, one of the pieces they would need is to have captured most of the Donbass, and possibly Russians will then say, well, that's this war was really about that. And these concessions that they're going to try to extract out of the Ukrainian leadership. So seizing Mariupol as part of the Donbass I think, is important as a political goal. On the military side of the equation, while logistically it's not a little critical, I think they want to tie up the whole coast along the Sea of Azov. I don't think it's really so much about a land bridge to Crimea, you know, I've never liked any of the landbridge theories, they never made much sense to me. But if they do take Mariupol, they can then free up a lot of forces to help push from the south towards that encirclement of Ukrainian forces in JFO. Regarding the other parts that they've taken the south like Kherson, it's still not clear what their aims are, you know, are they going to try to create a Kherson people's republic or is actually going to be a chip that the Russian leadership will seek to trade away to use as leverage in order to attain a political settlement over other concessions they'd like to extract from from Zelenskyy. I suspect it's more that and rather than them wanting to partition the country.
Dmitri Alperovitch 06:49
Got it. Andrew, let's bring you in here. You’ve spent a lot of time digging into the dark place that is Russian politics. And the even darker place that is Putin's mind, let let's let's take take us into his mind if you if you can here. What is he thinking right now? Obviously, the rapid invasion did not work out. He did not take Kyiv in three days as he had hoped. What is he doing now? Is he willing to concede that he's gonna, that his victory is going to be much less than what he initially desired? Taking Donbass as Mike said. Do you think he can afford to do that?
Andrew Monaghan 07:25
Hello, Dimitri. Hi, Mike. Yes, I think with the with the slow start, so to speak of the of this this operation. In the end, there's going to have to be a recalculation of what can be achieved on the first part. So I think we're looking at revised war aims. I do think that there is a there are a two parts to this. The first is that we have the military question. And the second is the political question. And the political question, in the end, if you if there's kind an insufficient military result of that drive through to achieve complete political ends, this just leads to a pause. And and the strategic question remains open for for all of the Russian leadership who have gone in behind this. So I think for me, this is part of a slightly a rather Bigger, bigger political question. Resolving the policy clash, obviously with with Kyiv but also there's there's a slightly a wider question about the Atlantic security architecture. I'll probably leave with this. There's, there's quite a lot we can we can unpack. But and Mike probably will have something to say about that, too.
Dmitri Alperovitch 08:25
Well just let me follow up on this because he announced this invasion as a way to denazify, quote, unquote, Ukraine, can you really afford to leave the current government in place, and it been in charge of most of Ukraine, aside from the Donbass region, is that really going to be acceptable? Just even internally to his credibility with the Russian people?
Andrew Monaghan 08:47
Well he might have to I think, if if, if there are questions about how far they can push the push the military operation further, I think there's already a question of rolling back from from from a regime change. Yes.
Dmitri Alperovitch 09:01
And, Mike, what are your thoughts on the current state of casualties Zelenskyy in the address last night was talking about over 14,000 dead service people assuming that just KIAs and not wounded that would take us into 20 to 30,000 Is that realistic? Or do you think it's actually much less?
Miike Kofman 09:22
Well no, I'm gonna fall back maybe on Pentagon's talking points and claim their 7000 casualties, which about half was, you know, Zelenskyy claims, but we'll say is that look is the truth? Well, I don't think we know with a high level of confidence what they are, these are best estimates. Right, and they're very incomplete picture. We also know even far less about the state of Ukrainian forces and what Ukrainian casualties are, that's actually a much darker part of, of those puzzles. So you know, working out the casualties and trying to understand what what's been the rate of attrition, what combat effectiveness is left? That's really not easy. I'm sorry to give a disappointing answer. But I think it's far better to be frank about uncertainty than it is to give out numbers that that betray false confidence.
Dmitri Alperovitch 10:07
But do you think numbers aside that he can still sustain this politically, in terms of the notifications to the next of kin, that are going out right now to the Russian mothers?
Mike Kofman 10:20
Oh, yeah. From that respect, I think absolutely. In fact, if anything, it's only been the last week and a half that the Russian establishment has really gotten about the business of mobilizing the public and getting public to support this war, I think they can actually hide a lot of the casualties or if not hide at least isolate the information and news about the casualty. So people are operating in a kind of fragmented information environment at home, I'm probably the less concerned about public reaction to that than I would be about, you know, Russian elite reaction to the catastrophe that is that is likely to become the Russian economy. But on that front, that's to me, it's more of an issue of combat combat effectiveness, and what it really does to the units on the fact that Russian forces really will need a serious operational pause, maybe a ceasefire of some kind if they want to reorganize and replace some of their laws combat power, because I, I suspect they've had a real drop in combat effectiveness in any ability to advance in recent weeks.
Dmitri Alperovitch 11:19
And you know, there's a lot of excitement Mike, over the use of this Kinzhal hypersonic missile for the first time. In the last couple of days to hit weapons storage facility in western Ukraine. What do you make of that? Is that just what typical militaries do whenever they have a war, they want to unleash all of their new toys to justify their procurements? Is that what it is? Or is there something more to this?
Mike Kofman 11:43
I'm sorry, we're gonna disappoint folks here, as a military analyst, I see a lot of missiles hitting a lot of things on a day to day basis, and I'm terribly unexcited by the use of the Kinzhal. It's not even the true hypersonic weapon, it's in ALBM. And the fact that
Dmitri Alperovitch 11:59
what is that?
Mike Kofman 12:00
Air-launched ballistic missile, defacto, maybe quasi ballistic air launch missile. But nonetheless, there's nothing especially exciting about this weapon system. And it being used against fixed infrastructure in no way changes the game from any other missile that the Russian military has used in this conflict. I think the only thing that's happened here, that the Russian military is trying to now contest information environment with Ukraine, right? To push out stories, they're that they're using some kind of advanced or really cool weapons systems in order to change or drive the news cycle somewhat. So to me, what's interesting is not the fact that he's used the missile. To me, what's interesting is that they're trying to inject that into the information environment, because they're starting to work a little harder to contest it, whereas they started the war by completely seeding it, assuming it would be a quote unquote, special operation that would be done within a few days. And they could hide most of what happened, and they wouldn't actually have to fight for the narrative.
Dmitri Alperovitch 12:50
Yeah. And Andrew, to that, to that point, you know, one of the things that we're now starting to see, of course, is mobilization of the Russian public, there's continuous. Now, auto rallies with cars, waving flags with the letter Z on them, that has sort of become the symbol for Russia of this invasion. We obviously saw the huge stadium that apparently included many Bustan workers, working for the government that were brought in to celebrate this morning, Putin came out and gave a pretty mundane speech in support of this invasion. What do you think of the Russian public opinion right now the economy is going into a tailspin. There's now lots of pictures of empty shelves in the supermarket for whatever reason, the Russians are buying up every piece of sugar that they can of all things, sugars, sugar, and condoms seem to be the two things that is missing from all Russian stores right now. How much of that is going to affect Putin's popularity and his hold on power?
Andrew Monaghan 13:53
Well, I think two questions are already material, but his popularity and his and his hold on power. So let's start with the first that this is quite difficult to sell, unfortunately, because we do see a slight bumping up in popularity. And I think it's worth remembering how how the leadership has sought to rally support in in the past. So we look at the fairly major rallies, let's say in 2012, you remember, and then after the elections and around elections, then then of course, there was the Krym Nash rallies and so on to try to build build some sense of support for this. I mean, there's, there are there are fairly serious questions of arrests and so on. But at the moment, it doesn't look like the popular vote is turning immediately against him. No. So I think that's that's one question that we have to be up to be aware of for the longer term, but but doesn't look like it at the moment. The second is about is hold on power. And you know, it's worth saying it again, just reminding that in terms of the conversation that we've been, we've been questioning Putin's hold on power since about 2005. You know, you'll you'll you'll recall all the discussion that we've had more or less every six months about Putin's on his way out and just last two or three years. Well, we had that with COVID, too. I'm I only say that because it's worth remembering that we've been through this that is the end of Putin repeatedly. And so I think we need to consider quite carefully the conditions under which any any kind of threat to that might emerge.
Dmitri Alperovitch 15:22
So you're a skeptic on the possibility of a coup.
Andrew Monghan 15:26
At the moment, I think we need to be we need to be quite careful about that idea. Yes. I think that's how it would come and, and from where, you know, there's, there's the famous line about, about coups abroad in the way. We foreigners are always the last to find out about them. But there are things that have to be borne in mind that there might be an attempted coup that fails, an attempted coup that succeeds but doesn't know where it's going. So, you know, when we start talking about a coup, that's not the end question. Also, I am at the moment a bit skeptical about that. Yes. I mean, I'll get asked me again in six weeks, and then, you know, and in two and a half months, but at the moment, yes.
Dmitri Alperovitch 16:05
What do you make of the spring cleaning, which seems to be Russian tradition, going back centuries, whenever things go wrong to find the fall guy, perhaps not not just in Russia, but you've had now confirmed at least resignation, if not arrest of the deputy chief of Rosgvardia, Roman Gavrilov. You have the US saying that the reports of the arrest of Sergei Beseda, who runs the fifth service of the FSB, responsible for the intelligence analysis on Ukraine, the US government officials saying that is credible. What do you make of all that?
Andrew Monaghan 16:43
Yeah, I mean, I think I think I'd want to I want to play this place once again, in the in the longer term context about what the arrest and and particularly about the Ross Guardia arrest might might be for. I don't yet by the the the arrests of the FSB, I'm, I'm not not rejecting it, but I want to haggle about it. And I want to be sure what this was for before we said, no, there are firings halfway halfway through an operation. So I'm a bit equivocal, about about the the FSB arrests at the moment.
Dmitri Alperovitch 17:14
Got it. But you don't think it's a sign that he's cracking down? He's unhappy with the information he was provided before the war about the potential easiness of this action?
Andrew Monaghan 17:25
Well, that's I mean, that's, that's what's going around at the moment. And we'll, we'll, we'll certainly find out a little bit more as time goes on. I'm, I think that that, for me remains kind of speculation and rumor rather than something confirmed. So I'm, I'm a little bit uncertain about a little bit unsure about pushing too hard on on FSB arrests and, and if it's them, well, what about the chain of command the other chain of command and, and where does that stop Exactly? So again, I know, I know, we're dealing a little bit in speculation and rumors and I don't want to put a put a wet sponge over, over what, what people are talking about, but I'm particularly with the FSB, the FSB, arrests, I'd like to see more evidence.
Dmitri Alperovitch 18:04
Got it. Mike, what do you think? I mean, this has been confirmed the deputy chief of Rosgvardia Gavrilov, of resignation at a minimum maybe arrest. What are your thoughts on that?
Mike Kofman 18:16
I mean, looks like standard practice for that regime. Obviously, a lot of things didn't go to plan, as they expected. And Putin is unlikely to blame himself, he's likely to blame all these people. And maybe they did try to tell him what he wanted to hear. Maybe they grossly overstated their capacities and what they could achieve in Ukraine. Other way, I'm not surprised at seeing the sort of some internal purchase.
Dmitri Alperovitch 18:39
But why Rosgvardia, why not the military?
Mike Kofman 18:44
I mean, that's a really good question Rosgvardia is important, because in terms of defending the regime, they typically handle the public and mass mobilization of the public, they have been used extensively in this conflict. I think they've suffered some pretty significant casualties, actually, especially the more specialized Rosgvardia units SOBR and the like, there's also Kadyrov which are technically under Rosgvardia. But loyal to Akhmat Kadyrov that are being used in a lot of the urban urban combat in
Dmitri Alperovitch 19:17
Mike Kofman 11:19
Yep, that's correct. And in fact, you can see him fighting in Mariupol. Why Ross Guardia? You know, my best guess is that there have been major mistakes maybe made by them. Early on there were a lot of things Ross guardia was doing that were very strange. To be perfectly honest. The first 48 hours I couldn't, couldn't actually understand what they were doing. I mean, the Russian attempt to execute a quick regime change operation by itself was bad, but Ross guardia's Part of it was frankly bizarre. Because they were driving by themselves to cities like Kyiv and Kharkiv of unsupported uncoordinated, like they were just going to roll into the city and start arresting people. And a lot of their troops got killed early on. on some of these strange uncoordinated times, so be frank, I don't know specifically, it's tied to their performance to lack of coordination, or something else within the system.
Dmitri Alperovitch 20:11
What do you think the long term damage to the Russian military has been in terms of all this destroyed equipment that is now numbering over 1000 pieces of armor that has been destroyed, and number of planes that have been destroyed? What is the setback to them, you think, in terms of years or procurement here?
Mike Kofman 20:30
I mean, it'll definitely take them some years to recover, looking at procurement, I don't know, sort of eyeball it, you know, maybe three years worth of procurement. But it all depends on your assumptions and expectations about the future of the Russian economy, their ability to conduct some of the more advanced defense procurement, some of those line items and will have access to I mean, tanks and infantry fighting vehicles and things like that are not very hard to replace and trucks. And that's most of what they've lost, to be honest. You know, lots
Dmitri Alperovitch 20:58
They’ve lost some planes, too, right?
Mike Kofman 21:02
Yeah, they've lost a couple planes, for sure. But Russia has got a very large air force, and a very large part of rotary wing aviation as well. So so their, their helicopter losses were significant, particularly in the attack on Kherson airport. But nonetheless, it's it's a pretty large air force, just to clarify that for folks. So that part actually worries me the least looking out at the Russian military, I think the biggest issues are going to have to do with the force, I think they're gonna have real challenges, maintaining the contract component of the force, which is the majority of it, given the fact that they drum some conscripts into signing contracts in order to be sent to this war, given they generally didn't tell the troops that they were being sent to war and put them there under false pretenses and how they've used the troops, the poor organization lack of support, I think they've terribly damaged the military's reputation. I can't imagine a lot of Russian Russian young men wanting to sign a contract to serve this military now. So you know, to me, I think the bigger challenge will be for the force, they'll probably have to move to a larger conscript system, maybe extend conscript service down the line, if they want to maintain numbers. And of course, the bigger question is, are they going to conduct a series of reforms again, because it's clear that, you know, this military is performed the incredibly unimpressive fashion? You know, there's no other way to pull it, it's done quite badly. So what they make of it still remains to be seen.
Dmitri Alperovitch 22:33
What do you make of the Russian Air Force here? Because that's been probably one of the biggest puzzles is, where's the Russian Air Force? Now we're starting to see a lot more aggressive bombing campaigns. We saw the first videos this weekend that the Russias MOD put out of the SU 35, the fourth plus plus generation plane that they have forced us in Syria now apparently used to shoot down several Ukrainian fighter jets. Are you seeing more activity from the Russian Air Force? They get into the fight? And do you think that the threat of that Lavrov issued over the weekend to the convoys of weapons that are coming in from Poland and other countries that those kind of convoys might may be attacked? Do you think that threat is real? Do you think they have the capacity with their air force to actually hit those convoys?
Mike Kofman 23:24
Dmitri Alperovitch 24:50
Do you think they have the capacity to hit convoys or now
Mike Kofman 24:54
Oh, sorry. I missed the latter part of your question. So the late the Sunday. I'm skeptical. because I'm not sure they have the ISR for that. However, in the last week and a half, we've seen much better use of Russian drones, right of various types with various levels of endurace. So if they start pushing drones more into western Ukraine, they could certainly attempt to they could give it a try. I'm still very skeptical though.
Dmitri Alperovitch 25:23
Yeah, they published a video of the use of the Forpost drone, which is actually these rally made reconnaissance UAV that they apparently are now using that has quite a bit of border time. Right. So they could potentially use some of these to identify threats and then target them through through airpower.
Mike Kofman 25:42
Yeah, they’ve got Searcher too they got, they got a couple others, you know, and and you see them using them more often. And also to they will target of artillery, they're trying to push these videos out as well to, to basically show that they also are using ever constant strike or constant fire type complex. But to what extent that really represent much of the battlefield, it's hard to tell. I'm always wary of the distortionary effect of publish media like that, right? Because you don't know what percentage of the fighting you're really seeing and to what extent that that represents a broader use of remotely operated systems or more boutique use.
Dmitri Alperovitch 26:23
Let me ask you this question. I saw a really interesting Twitter thread a few days ago from Franz-Stefan Gady, from ISSS. And he made a very fascinating point that if you look at Russia's major military victories, over the last few 100 years, they've been always in conjunction with allies, and particularly with allies providing significant economic support. Certainly, during World War Two land lease, support from from the Allies was instrumental, both the weapons and the food, and so forth, in order for the Russians to survive the German onslaught, and then push back during Napoleon in war, you had the same situation. And the cases where they did not have allies, and they were fighting, you know, highly capable militaries, like during the Crimean War, when they were fighting the British and the French, they didn't do so well. And is, should we read anything into that Andrew and Mike, in terms of their ability to actually fight these major wars, under very severe economic conditions, like what they're about to experience, with pretty much complete isolation economically and diplomatically.
Andrew Monaghan 27:36
Look, when you when you come to using historical examples, you see all sorts of different things rocking up. So the Russian military in the, in the so called Crimean War, which which wasn't at all, just of course, as you know, located to Crimea was in the end, won, not on the battlefield, but by having the economy shut off, and its export economy shut off, and arrays of arrays of domestic domestic unrest and protest. And oddly enough, much the same can be said also for the Russo Japanese war, a number of other wars where where the Russian State has been has been defeated in war. At the same time, it's well worth bearing in mind that that the question of military victory, military defeat has a certain limited scale to it, because in those defeats that we've talked about, the Russian leadership was then able to sort of pick away and use statecraft and diplomacy and economic relations to overturn that result quite quickly. So, you know, I think when we when we look at Russian military, or defeat and victory and war, we look at some of the great victories, you know, the Fatherland, victories, as you say, we think quite carefully about the allies in the north in the Napoleonic Wars. Now, because there's, there's there's Russia and Great Britain. But but most of Europe has unified it in Yuval in in the invasion of Russia. At the same time, the Second World War, you know, it does have have Great Britain and the US. That's true. But when we start to think about Russia's defeat, the really main defeat is was was World War One. That's the one that leadership keeps coming back to as the as the as the as the complete defeat where you have economic collapse, government collapse and military defeat on the battlefield. So you know, that Russian military history shows us all sorts of different things. But but it reminds us that the military is only a small part of that, and the economics and diplomacy actually the the important aspects of of the strategic question of warfighting might.
Dmitri Alperovitch 29:32
But I think, you know, Franz-Stefan’s point was that Russia has never really won a war when it was fighting alone. And under very, very difficult economic conditions, like what they're about to experience. So, Mike, any thoughts on that? Do you think we're reading too much into these historical examples?
Mike Kofman 29:48
Yeah, I don't think that that was Franz’s real point, because I talked to him about that a little bit, too. I know quite well. But, you know, let's suppose right? Russia appears basically more frequently than almost any other power? I think literally in militarized disputes in the last 200 years. And so, you know, case selection is gonna heavily drive your conclusions. That is to say, I highly doubt that's true. And I'm sure there's lots of wars where Russia fought largely by itself or at one. But if we look at big wars or great power wars, there's a couple things that are likely true first, most people's best victories are those they fought with allies or good coalitions. Okay. And nobody likes to admit it necessarily. But that's probably the truth. Second, to me, the the more significant takeaway is that Russia has done historically poorly when its taken on fights where coalitions have sided against it. To me, that's the more interesting part of the Crimean example that Andrew thoughtfully brought up, right. And when we look again, in the case of today's conflict, why it's relevant is that when Russia picks a fight, and when a lot of other powers side with Russia's opponents, its likelihood of winning become very low, much lower. To me, that's the more interesting takeaway, right? I don't have a database of Russian wins and losses, and how many people were involved in each fight up in front of me available right now to look back over the last three 400 years of history to answer the other question.
Dmitri Alperovitch 31:13
Andrew, let's go back to Putin. How isolated Do you think he is? I mean, obviously, he is very physically isolated. We're seeing these ridiculous pictures of him sitting 30 feet apart from anyone, because so he is afraid of COVID. But do you think from an information perspective, he's getting very little information right now about what is going on? That is filtering through your hand? Do you think he's only getting the positive news? What's your view on that?
Andrew Monaghan 31:39
Mean nominally, as you say, he's isolated physically, because of this, this the length of the tables that we often see, and that he's having to conduct his his meetings by, by zoom? I'm a little cautious about saying that he's not getting his briefings. First of all, about the war, whether whether good information is passed up the chain or not, is a different question. And we see this in all sorts of other areas as well, where, where, where the the President has had to has to find out the information for himself. You remember there was the the leak up In Norilsk, where where the information chain doesn't work very well, information is not passed up. So I can well imagine that that some some questions around some some poor information is and negative information is not passed up the chain. Yes. This is, this is part of the problem of, of leading that kind of organization or that kind of state. I would say that, again, we keep coming back to this it's one of the constant refrains of watching Russia, whenever there's a crisis like this, we had exactly the same set of conversations in 2014, that Putin was isolated he was out of touch. Same in 2012, Putin was isolated and out of touch. So I'm I'm and yet And yet, certain things roll on and certain things continues, I'm I think that we have to be be quite cautious about the idea that Putin is isolated, we have to be a bit cautious about the idea also that he is getting good information. I think we often see examples where he himself calls out his his ministers or others, for giving him giving him poor information.
Dmitri Alperovitch 33:12
Let's talk with Andrew a little bit about the succession plan. What does that look like now? Whether voluntary or involuntary succession? Who do you think are the people that are most likely to replace them? Given sort of the dynamics that he finds himself in? Poor economy, probably devastated economy going into the 24 election? Do you think he's going to run again? Do you think that if he doesn't run who might replace him?
Andrew Monaghan 33:42
Well, I think I think we were about to start to see. I mean, we're always going to be looking at that shift between the parliamentary elections of last year and and the presidency presidential elections in 24. This idea of the new generation coming through and testing out testing out possible alternatives, I think, for 2024. I mean, it seems to me that the game we have this line that that a succession could be managed and could be managed carefully. And therefore it's the passing on of a baton. I would still think that that's a that's a that's an idea that we will be looking at for 2024. Yes. And then we're starting to look for people who are probably a little bit younger than than the President, you know, maybe maybe 5-10 years younger. People who are, who have proven themselves capable of even in this environment of Russian politics, let's say, of winning elections. So then then you start to look at those who are in the parliament who are rising, and you start to look at the role of someone like Vyacheslav Volodin, who is who's consistently being part of the electoral process, so speaking and organizing that. So it seems to me that we're looking at a new generation of, of people that are already coming through neutrino, we see this in the military. We see this in all sorts of other other sectors. Many of the ministers are a comparatively young in their, in their late 50s are down to they're down to their mid 30s. So it seems to me it's probably is time for this this new generation to start taking up quite senior positions now. And we might well find that there is a, an attempt to pass the baton on to one of them.
Dmitri Alperovitch 35:18
So Volodin is of course, as the Chairman of the State Duma, he is, I think, fifty- eight years old. But Shoigu who is not that much older, and he's a minister of defense. He is the ultimate survivor in Russian post communist politics, right. He's been in government continuously since 1991, under both Yeltsin, numerous prime ministers, do you think that this war damages him? Or do you think that he still has a significant power base in Russia, he used to be extremely popular when he was a minister of the emergency situations, basically, the Russian fixer upper, whenever there was a crisis or a national emergency, he would always be the ones fixing it. So what is the popularity look like? Now?
Andrew Monaghan 36:02
He was the only one who put for years, the only one really who have the ministers who featured who were able to get double figures support. It was quite, and we remember, as you as you say, Dmitri, he's been at the top level of Russian politics since since the early 90s. federal politics and the early 90s He was involved in, in first in unity, and then he was leading United Russia. So so there's there's a lot of politics there in terms of a basis. But it seems to me that that actually for several years now. He's been talking about trying to retire. And and I wonder if that's if that's not an indication he's wanting to do he's talked about going to Siberia and, and developing Siberia, I wonder if, if actually, the, the the point is less so to look at, to look at someone of the same the same age group and more to look at someone who that that organization could be, could be actually supportive to provide provide more dynamic support for someone else? So I'm not so sure about, about Sergei Shoigu being being being set up to the presidency. No,
Dmitri Alperovitch 37:07
But he definitely should be careful what he wishes for, because going to Siberia can mean something entirely different than what he is expected. Let me ask you about I asked this to Mike, last week. And Rob as well, when I get your view, there's a lot of concern right now in the West, about the nuclear threats that Putin is continuously bringing up, he's raised the alert of the nuclear forces. What is the likelihood that he's gonna actually use a tactical nuclear weapon, either in Ukraine itself? Or he's going to get into confrontation with NATO, that will lead to a nuclear exchange? In your view, Andrew?
Andrew Monaghan 37:52
Well, I would think this is probably I mean, Mike, Mike's the one who's done extensive work on on escalation. So I think I'm tempted to pass the ball straight to Mike. But I would say that the nature of the weapons that are likely to be used align with with the delineation in military strategy of how how war is to be fought. And if we if we accept that this is, let's call it a special military operation, that's, that's fine. Let's put that to one side, if we look at how military strategy defines the war, the scope of wars, what we look at is, is at the top end, and the bottom answer, sorry, bottom end, you'd have armed conflict. And right at the top, you'd have, you'd have nuclear war. But in between that you have three, three phase and three levels of war. One is a local war, which is war, fought with general forces between two states, and then you start to move to regional large scale war. And it's really in the large scale war, where you start to see more, more strategic weaponry brought in. But then again, when you start to look at a Russian escalation ladders, the nuclear weapons tend to come in come in quite high in the ladder. So I think unless there is a serious escalation of the war to take this to, to a large scale war, we're not really looking at nuclear weapons, just out of frustration with how this war is being fought, or somesuch. This is, this is a category change in our thinking.
Dmitri Alperovitch 39:11
Yeah, that that was my view on this as well. I just don't know how he's able to justify it, even internally, to the Russian public that he's liberated Ukraine from the Nazis. And then he's going to launch a nuclear weapon on the Ukrainian people and caused massive amounts of casualties. I mean, even he would not be able to sell it as a defensive move on liberated Ukrainians.
Andrew Monaghan 39:32
It's a tough serve, isn't it?
Dmitri Alperovitch 39:36
Yea. What about chemical or biological, do you think that he may use those and blame it on Ukrainians? A lot of concern right now in the West about that prospect?
Andrew Monaghan 39:48
Well, again, I'd say that this this, the way that things are being discussed at the moment and two, I suppose two options come out of this first, if it remains the kind of war that they're fighting a conventional A conventional ground forces war then then still we're not we're not looking at that kind of weapon of mass destruction being used. I suppose. I suppose we come to the question of looking at whether the Russian leadership is able to how can I put this? How can I put this provide evidence that there is this this this biological, chemical biological program within within Ukraine, it seems to me unlikely to be very, very convincing for most certainly in the UK and, and the US. So I would still stay with it with a definition of conventional war. Mike may have something else to say about that. But conventional wars with general forces looks to me at the moment that that kind of war that he is fighting.
Dmitri Alperovitch 40:43
of course, the conventional ways fight fighting is full of war crimes and the use of Chechens right now, in Mariupol is quite troublesome, because these people are quite brutal, oftentimes, and engage in a variety of extreme measures, to torture prisoners and to commit all kinds of atrocities. Mike, what have you seen from the Chechen contingent of these forces? They seem to be loyal to Could there have Kuduro seems to be pretty involved in this operation. How much of is he driving this, how much of the of the operation is sort of independently being conducted by these Chechens?
Mike Kofman 41:28
I don't think he's personally driving that much. But he is demonstrating his loyalty to Putin by sending a large number of his forces there, it feels like there's quite a few chechens in this conflict both in the north in that convoy that was trying to make its way down to Kiev, and more importantly, in the south as well, fighting for Mariupol, a couple comments on them first. I honestly don't know how many of them are in this conflict. They have an outsized presence, because they take so many bloody videos of themselves. It looks like they're the only Russians actually taping themselves in this war. And they're just constantly video taping promos of themselves on this fight. I'm not sure they have that much time to fight. I'm being facetious, of course, but the the number is probably substantial. They tend to at least they appear to have high morale. And the generally tons of better kit, I suspect xxx personally spends a lot more money definitely look better equipped than the average run for Russian infantry men, in terms of what they were sent with. In on, I can't add much more based on the videos they make you won't be surprised when I tell you they're clearly not very familiar with the Geneva Conventions and laws of armed conflict,
Dmitri Alperovitch 42:37
Or they don't bother to be to be acquainted with them. Andrew what why is it? Yeah go ahead Mike.
Mike Kofman 42:46
I was gonna say, yeah, those folks don't strike me as the kind that spend their evenings reading up on international law.
Dmitri Alperovitch 42:51
Some of the videos are coming out of prisoners of war, Ukrainian prisoners of war that Chechens captured or are not pleasant to watch, Andrew why is Petrov have so in on this conflict? Why does it matter to him?
Andrew Monaghan 43:08
That's a very good question, and one that definitely deserves an answer. I think that all sorts of different capabilities are being used in the conflict. And of course, you'd want to try and you'd want to try and bring in as much support across the board across the board as possible. So you've got a variety of different capabilities within within the conflict. So, so military, but also Ross Guardia. And then and then you have also this sense of, of bringing Chechens in which is, which is a, you know, it's a propaganda threat. I think Mike is probably more focused on on the use of the particular kinds of troops. But it's a propaganda question, it seems to me.
Dmitri Alperovitch 43:47
Do you think that this is a way for Kadyrov to extract additional concessions from Putin, potentially, if he ends up putting hands up on into Petrov for, potentially to Mariupol, perhaps even other places around Ukraine?
Andrew Monaghan 44:02
Such as what are the concessions? Would he would he be would he be looking for within the within that he seems to have he seems to have quite a serious, quite a serious bunch of concessions already within the Russian political landscape. So I mean, what kind of concessions would he be looking for?
Dmitri Alperovitch 44:16
A good point. That's a good point. He may have everything he needs. Mike, what should we be looking to in the coming weeks? You've mentioned that there might be an operational pause on the last show that the Russians are a sort of at the end of their logistics and exhaustion. How long do you think they would need to resupply and reorganize for a continued fight? Is that something that's going to take a week or are we looking potentially at a longer sort of stalemate and what do you make of the fact that we appear to be finding trenches been dug up by Russian forces is this about to turn into World War one style trench warfare
Mike Kofman 45:00
I don't think it's about to turn to World War One trench warfare. But I do think we're going to start to see consolidation of fronts and definitely an operational pause. I think you're already seeing it on most of the fronts in terms of how the fighting has been going. I think that it depends on how many additional units the Russian military pushes to the front. They clearly are moving units up from other parts of Russia, right? I think I want folks to be aware that, yes, Russia military has a lot more forces that it can generate, it's a big lift for them. But they can do it, there's a lot more Russian military powers still available. To some extent, they're also reservists in the Russian military that they can call up, obviously, are gonna be at much lower quality. I don't think overall, the are prepared that they were thinking about a long war, but they have choices that they can make, and if they want to they can do and go down the route of more general national mobilization, they have a lot of manpower and material. I think what we should look for in the coming week is first what happens in the Donbass, does the Russian attempt and circle Ukrainian forces there? And then second, whether or not, you know, this operational pause translates into a ceasefire. And then that ceasefire eventually leads us to some settlement or winter, a different chapter in this war, where it's likely to become more of a war of attrition, in which case, I think it's gonna get even uglier than it has been, I think we're gonna have even more bombardment of civilian population centers. And they are just less sanguine in general about the trajectory of the war, if that's what it becomes. And that, you know, it's very hard to see anything in conflict, there are few things that's contingent on sort of indeterminant as war. And a lot, a lot is just contingent there.
Dmitri Alperovitch 46:51
And what do you make their videos coming out tonight out of Belarus, the area near Brest, which is close to the Polish border and Western Ukrainian border, that there's seems to be an aggregation of Bella Russian forces there. They have painted red square on some of their vehicles. Obviously, we saw painting of Zs and v's on Russian vehicles prior to the invasion. That started on February 24. Do you think that may be an indication that Belarus is going to get into this fight Lukashenko made statements last week that he has no interest in going into Ukraine, and that Russia doesn't need Belarus and Ukraine, but what do you make of these developments?
Mike Kofman 47:32
So your question, I've seen that too. Also, I don't know. I'm skeptical, though, that Belarus is going to intervene? I don't think you're gonna make a tremendous difference, that's for sure. But the Russian military can't do it. I can't expect the Belarusian military is going to make tremendous impact. That said, if they could be used as to be honest, it could be used as a pinning force to maybe pin some amount of Ukrainian forces in that western part of the country more as a distraction. That's that's alternative interpretation.
Dmitri Alperovitch 47:59
Could they use them to cut off resupply routes from Poland?
Mike Kofman 48:04
Potentially, I mean, but you don't know what what Ukrainian defense was capable of in that part of the country either, right? They could actually get bogged down quite easily themselves. And it all depends on what Lukashenko says, Well, I mean, how much can you pay to what Lukashenko says either way,
Dmitri Alperovitch 48:25
right? What do you both think, for the prospects of negotiated outcome? Zelenskyy is kind of making contradictory statements on that. In his address to his people every night, he keeps talking about negotiations being the only way out. I don't think he believes himself that he can actually defeat the Russian forces. And he's even said that was always a negotiated outcome. But then, again, he keeps reiterating that Ukrainian sovereignty, Ukrainian territorial integrity is not negotiable. It's hard to see how any negotiation succeeds where there's not at least a compromise on Crimea, and potentially parts of the Donbass. What do you guys think? Are the prospects for a negotiated outcome in the very near future? Andrew will start with you.
Andrew Monaghan 49:16
On negotiate now come in when we say in the near future, within a month,
Dmitri Alperovitch 49:22
Within months, weeks, yeah.
Andrew Monaghan 49:23
Within a week or within a month,
Dmitri Alperovitch 49:24
Two weeks, let's say,
Andrew Monaghan 49:26
Okay, two weeks? Well, I think Mike's Mike spoken a bit about the structure of the situation, how difficult also it is to judge that. But I, I think we could we could easily come to a situation where a negotiated outcome is, is achieved a ceasefire, whether that whether that ends up being a ceasefire that takes us through to the summer or whether that's a ceasefire that takes us through to a more substantive pause over, over over a month over a few months or a couple of years is difficult to tell because it doesn't resolve the policy clashes between between Moscow and Kyiv. So when we talk about us ceasefire, all we're doing is putting putting a plaster over this fairly major dispute. So I unfortunately, when we talk about this, a military stalemate or even even military victory or military defeat, we're talking really about the bigger term problem of of a return to to try to fight this out in a different period later. So yes, very possibly we find some negotiated, negotiated pause. But that's that's really what we're looking at as a pause.
Dmitri Alperovitch 50:28
Do you agree with that, Mike? Is it just gonna be positive? Do you think there could actually be a real conflict resolution?
Mike Kofman 50:35
The band's I mean, yeah, I agree with Andrew but and you're likely to get a ceasefire or some agreement. When both sides feel relatively exhausted, right, you have to have both sides have expectations of the future project, where they believe that militarily they're unlikely to get make further gains and that their position will deteriorate. Unfortunately, neither side usually has necessarily an objective understanding of the battlefield, right. So we're highly depend on Vladimir Putin, actually having an accurate perception of what's going on with Russian forces and their prospects for any further success. And the same thing being true of Zelenskyy. So all things being equal, right, as an analyst, I could guess that in the next couple of weeks, there's likely to be this culminating point probably for both sides. And, you know, we're at the very least for the Russian side. And that could lead to a ceasefire, or at least could motivate both sides to pursue a ceasefire. Both depends on whether or not they could agree, right, if there's sufficient meeting ground between Russian demands, and, you know, what's Zelenskyy iis likely to be able or willing to concede,
Dmitri Alperovitch 51:46
Of course, that there's just a ceasefire pause, it's unlikely the Russians would withdraw from the significant gains they've made in the Donbass and south in the Kherson. area, and in the north, so that could potentially be a very problematic ceasefire for Zelinsky. Given that part of this country country will be a bigger part of this country will remain occupied by Russia. Well, on that note, we're going to end it there. Thank you so much for coming to this Twitter space. I hope you found this discussion informational and fascinating. And thank you so much, Mike, again, for coming back. And Andrew, for your insights into the Russian political system. Please follow them both. Andrew has a terrific book on the Russian political system. I encourage you all to read it. And of course, follow Mike on Twitter, and elsewhere. He is everywhere these days. But thank you, gentlemen, for sharing your insights with us tonight. And hope to see you guys soon.
Mike and Andrew 52:41
Take care. Thanks for a great program. Thank you
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