Andrei Hvostov: Ukraine war first in history whose outcome we don't know

Andrei Hvostov.
Andrei Hvostov. Source: ERR

The war in Ukraine is a first in the history of humankind, in that it is a war whose outcome we do not yet know, journalist Andrei Hvostov says.

Whereas in previous conflicts, there was a certainty that negotiations of some kind would start at some point, this time, it may end in a global nuclear war, leaving nothing left to negotiate with, Hvostov continued, in an interview with ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera"'s end-of-year review.

The interview, with ERR's Tarmo Maiberg, follows in its entirety.

Maiberg: How were you feeling, when the war started?

Hvostov: Frankly, I was deeply disappointed that it had actually happened, in that we didn't want to believe that it could happen. It hasn't really sunk in. There has been a lot of talk lately that people are getting fatiegued and bored with the war, and it is becoming something of a daily routine. I for one am not one of those for whom it has become a commonplace.

Have the people in Russia realized that the leaders have done committed to a wrongful line of action?

We have this problem, where none of the public opinion polls conducted in Russia, when they get conducted at all, can be considered reliable. This puts us in a situation where we have to look at the indirect signals. We already had the news that Putin was to cancel the annual press conference in December. This was a very large-scale event, lasting four or five hours. 

Selected journalists, who had been told the questions to pose in advance, so that the format should not pose a threat to Putin, were in place, yet now it was canceled any way.

This is a very significant development. As a result, Putin has no arguments. Even when previously coordinated questions are asked for a stretch of four or five hours, there is no way to avoid the topic of the war in Ukraine within that time-frame.

If there arises a question on how things are going on the fronts, Putin's answer that everything is going according to plan has been from the summer impossible to state now, because the question immediately will follow: I'm sorry, but what is the plan? Was the plan really to retreat from Kyiv, from Kharkiv, and to abandon Kherson?

He has no more arguments. This fact alone demonstrates that the regime is in a muddle-headed state. They don't know how to talk about this war anymore, but it seems that very unpleasant questions may start to be posed. In short, it seems that there is no enthusiasm for war inside Russian society, and skepticism is growing.

Did this come to the forefront with the mobilization (in autumn-ed.) or was there another tipping point?

This is certainly a lengthier process, but if we are talking about mobilization, it was probably still scraped together, whereby people who could be reached were called up. 

Plus they were somehow ready to go to the draft. A second wave of mobilization, which is expected at the beginning of next year, in January, will probably be a much more complicated process. 

Setting aside all the propaganda, if you just look at what is happening on Russian social media, with the first wave, the men who were called up to war, went there with a certain readiness that, 'if the motherland is calling us, let's go'. Maybe it wasn't such a big problem for the regime then, but these retreats [from Kherson etc.] are, however

Here is the peculiarity of the Russian psyche, in which the Russian person 'knows' that the Russian army is invincible. The Russian army can never be defeated on the battlefield. If this then does start to happen, the ordinary Russian person will immediately find a reason. This is betrayal. Somewhere there are traitors working against us and that is why we might lose the war. The Commander-in-Chief, Papa Tsar, or in other words Putin, is never at fault. He has bad advisers, bad generals instead.

However, if these defeats go on for a longer period of time, the following assumption arises. Again, this is a very big generalization, but maybe daddy Tsar is the wrong person?

Maybe he's not who he used to be. Maybe someone else has been put in his place? Perhaps while he was a KGB officer in East Germany, he was recruited by Western security structures. 

Maybe they have been secretly working together all along, in order for Russia to lose and disintegrate, and be defeated once and for all? This is a very, very Russian thing – there have been times in Russian history when, during or before disasters, doubts start to arise as to whether "Papa Tsar" is still in the right. And since I believe that everything is fine with the historical memory in the Kremlin, they will also be considering such an eventuality.

Does regime change have to take place within the elite, given there is no sign of dissatisfaction in society?

It seems that both Western analysts and those Russian analysts who have fled to the West are more likely to wager on that, still hoping that the elite will get fed up. 

But it seems that economically speaking, Russia is not doing so badly. In the spring, it was predicted that the Russian economy would collapse in the fall. Nothing along those lines has transpired, when you consider that the Russian regime is a 'petrocracy', that is, the regime survives on oil revenues. Everything is fine with these oil revenues. It is working. Russian oil is being bought, and its price has risen. Incomes have thus increased. Putin can pay off the important allies, who support the regime. In that respect, there is enough money.

Who in Russian society is the beneficiary, which segments, has also been delved into. Among these beneficiaries are Russian agro-industry, meaning agricultural companies. This economic sector began to flourish immediately after the sanctions were created after the annexation of Crimea (in 2014 -ed.). Everything which relates to food preparation. Plus of course the military-industrial complex. They seem to be benefiting from this war.  

What effort within society is needed to win the war? [General Sergey] Surovikin is now in the limelight, could he bring victory to the inner circle?

They want to make a new [Napoleonic Wars era Field Marshall Mikhail] Kutuzov out of Surovikin. Historically speaking, Kutuzov, brought victory to Russia over Napoleon, though in the initial phase there was an endless retreat. Even Moscow had to be abandoned and was burned to the ground. 

But after that came the big win. The regime is going through difficult times right now, and somehow they are looking for some kind of historical examples or pointers, from which to learn from previous crises, so that they can try along the same lines this time as well. It can be felt and seen that the regime is trying to cast this war in Ukraine as a new "patriotic war". The Great Patriotic War part two (where part one was World War Two – ed.). If this trick succeeds, we will be in a situation in which the cup of suffering of the Russian people is far from full

How will the war end?

Nobody knows that. For the first time in human history, this is the kind of war we don't know the outcome of. What was certain about all previous wars was that, once the tumult of battle subsided, negotiations began, and that all wars end with negotiations sooner or later. It might not be like that this time. This time, the current conflict could end in an all-out global nuclear war, with no one left to negotiate on anything. This possibility also exists.

Hence my despair; with the development of humanity, we have reached the stage where we have triggered some processes, whose final outcome no one can predict.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Karin Koppel

Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera 2022'

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