Historian: Friction in Russian military leadership is good news for Ukraine

Andrei Hvostov.
Andrei Hvostov. Source: Patrik Tamm

The friction amongst Russia's military leadership and power struggle between different factions is good news for Ukraine, as it shows that the Russian military hierarchy is unsettled, historian and journalist Andrei Hvostov said on morning radio show "Vikerhommik."

According to Hvostov, the latest example showing the split among the Russian military leadership is the complaint made by the commander of Russia's 58th Combined Arms Army, Maj. Gen. Ivan Popov, in which he leveled serious accusations against Gen. Valery Gerasimov.

"We don't know whether these accusations were made before or after his [Popov's] resignation. However, the 58th Combined Arms Army was operating in the south of Ukraine and there are around 70,000 troops there, which is one third of Russia's military forces in Ukraine. Popov said, without holding back, that there was a villain up there who could not ensure a normal rotation of soldiers. By 'normal rotation' we mean that frontline soldiers can be brought off the front line. They should be on the front line for a week and then they ought to be in the rear for two or three weeks to recover. That is the only way to keep the soldiers fit to fight. However, in the Russian army, they are on the front line for weeks or even months," Hvostov explained.

In addition to the rotation of soldiers, another problem for the Russians, according to Hvostov, is that the war is currently an artillery battle.

"There are systems, which register where the enemy's weapons are in the terrain and then rocket fire is drawn there to destroy them. The statistics say, that during the current phase of the offensive, which we seem to be unhappy with, for every Ukrainian artillery piece lost, there have been four Russian artillery pieces lost. It has been said that the Ukraine war is currently an artillery duel. That is to say, who has more guns and whose guns are more effective. It appears that the Ukrainian artillery is far superior to Russian artillery," said Hvostov.

Speaking about the Ukrainian offensive, which has now been going on for several weeks, Hvostov acknowledged that, while of course they had been hoping for something more dynamic, in war, things are not that simple.

"The Russians have deep defensive lines and a lot of minefields. Warfare is also a weather-sensitive activity. The major offensive has now been going on for over  five weeks. In the first few weeks there was a lot of heavy rain, now there is a heatwave. Around Kherson, for example, it is over 30C. Imagine a soldier with a flak jacket, helmet and ammunition. It's 32 degrees and you have to move fast because if you don't, you'll die. You can do that for ten minutes. Alongside all the news report on the war, we should also always provide the context, which includes the weather conditions at the time," Hvostov said.

Hvostov also attended last week's NATO Vilnius Summit. The outcomes of the summit have been met with criticism, as Ukraine did not receive an invitation to become a NATO member, something it had hoped for beforehand. However, in Hvostov's view, such expectations were naive and rather a symptom of the fatigue being felt from almost a year and a half of war. He added, that the electorate of NATO member states did not want a NATO-Russia war.

"The Ukrainians were hoping for an invitation to NATO in the belief that Russia would not want to be in a direct confrontation with NATO and would therefore end the war. This was such a naive hope. Nobody was going to offer that invitation because it would mean NATO having to go to war with Russia. And we, the electorate of NATO member states, do not have a burning desire to do so either. So, the outcome of the Vilnius summit was predictable - it was announced that NATO would not go to war for Ukraine, but would do its utmost to ensure Ukraine wins the war itself."

Hvostov said it was important that the G7, the major industrial democracies, including Japan, which is not a NATO member, issued a joint declaration  saying they would support Ukraine.

"The world's largest industrial democracies are making bilateral agreements of a military nature with Ukraine. This looks like the long-standing military cooperation between the U.S. and Israel. And this same model could also work between the U.S. and Ukraine in the future. Other countries are able to join the G7 declaration. The Nordic countries, including Iceland, have already joined it for example. And this could be an effective form of help for Ukraine."

From a more critical perspective, Hvostov said, that claims Ukraine is winning the media war are self-deception.

"It's a bit of self-deception, because the world is a diverse place. China and India are more pro-Russian, and a third of the world's population lives in those countries. And in Indonesia, they also have a different opinion. The whole of Africa [also]. We have to understand that many developing countries have a grudge against the U.S. and they see this war as Russia giving the U.S. the middle finger. And there are people who are delighted that Russia is a country, which wants to give the U.S. a hard time."

Hvostov added that feelings of support for Ukraine are also beginning to cool in Western countries. He gave the example of a recent opinion poll in Germany, in which 55 percent said they were in favor of providing unconditional support for Ukraine, while 45 percent were against.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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