How long can the war with Russia go on, when and under what conditions it will be possible to return the occupied lands, and what will the Russian Federation be like after Putin – in an interview with RBC-Ukraine, member of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on National Security, Defense and Intelligence Sergei Rakhmanin (Voice faction) said ).
In the sixth month of a full-scale war with Russia, the vast majority of Ukrainians have probably already lost hope for an early end: either “in two or three weeks,” or even in some foreseeable future. The ultimate goal is outlined quite clearly: the minimum program is a return to the demarcation line on February 23, but such a scenario looks less and less likely.
But the Ukrainian leadership does not get tired of emphasizing the maximum program: the restoration of the territorial integrity of Ukraine within the internationally recognized borders of 1991. But the aggressor country, with its gigantic, but still not infinite resources, will definitely disagree with such a development of events – and will try to achieve its goal at any material and human cost.
Sergei Rakhmanin, as a person who is very well versed in the subject of the Russian-Ukrainian war, gives the most sober, without excessive optimism, but also without all-out debauchery, a current assessment of the state of affairs and forecasts for the foreseeable future.
“The full-scale war is now in its sixth month. Who is playing for time: on us or on the aggressors?
– It is very difficult to say, because right now it is determined who is more tired and who has more resources. There is a fairly simple way to assess the possibilities: you look at the country, its weapons, mobilization resources, the state of the economy, and it is theoretically clear who won. How good gamblers deal cards and may not play – everything is clear. And from this calculation, many, even our Western partners, expected that the victory of the Russians would be quick and inexorable. But that didn’t happen.
If we talk about a long history… The war lasts a long time and, unfortunately, it can go on even longer, and the Russians have a fairly large resource. But as long as they do not carry out even partial mobilization, they are able to maintain a grouping of 200 thousand, painlessly enough for themselves so far, they have an adequate supply of weapons and ammunition. They are destroying the latest modern weapons, but their iron reserves have been created for years, decades, so they can still fight for a long time.
But they run out of steam, their offensive pace slows down, and they fail to advance in any of the directions for a long time. And the Ukrainian Armed Forces do not have sufficient resources to provide a full-scale, effective, convincing offensive operation. Therefore, now, when these positional battles are going on, when the vast majority of time is spent on maneuvers and counter-battery combat, now it will be determined who will have more resources left to try to seize the initiative.
To date, none of the parties has the initiative. The Russians are advancing, they have advanced, albeit slowly, but in recent years, actually captured the Luhansk region, advanced in the Donetsk region, positional battles are going on, when settlements in the south and in the Kharkiv region change hands. But today it is impossible to say that any of the parties has the initiative. And there is no direction of the main blow either.
In the coming weeks, before the end of the summer, it should be decided what character the war will have in the future: either one of the parties will seize the initiative and develop it, or we will talk about a protracted war that can even last for years.
– That is, until the end of the summer we will be at the current stage?
– In the fall it will become clear. Firstly, everyone is waiting for sufficiently active actions by Ukraine in the south, this will depend on how much Ukraine will leave Russians without warehouses, and whether it will be able to cut off a group of Russians in the Kherson region from communications along the Dnieper.
And for the Russians, this will depend on how quickly they can assemble a reserve corps, which is now being actively formed in Mulino. They are going to form the 3rd army reserve corps by mid-August, according to the plan – this is about 15 thousand military personnel. Now equipment, artillery systems and the like are brought there from all over the Russian Federation from storage bases.
How quickly they manage to form this corps and how effective this reinforcement will be in the combat zone will largely depend on the nature of the war in the future. In September, we will be convinced of this completely.
– Is 15 thousand military men enough to make a significant difference?
– Insufficient. But what were the Russians missing all the time? They have a huge territory, resources and, in particular, a huge population, they have a huge mobilization resource. But Putin does not want to carry out mobilization, because this is almost the only thing that can, if not break the situation, then significantly undermine it inside the country.
Secondly, even if the Russians are still getting a lot of money for selling energy, mobilizing and creating an army of three million, for example, is a story that will slowly undermine the economy, because sanctions will start to work more effectively towards the end of the year.
Based on these considerations, for the time being they will hold this 200,000-strong grouping. This is enough to perform local tasks. The classic simple story: Russian units break through the defenses after appropriate shelling, air and tank drills, and try to develop the offensive. Units that have been in combat for two months cannot do this. This requires a sufficiently large fresh reserve.
At some local site, this (15,000 reserves – ed.) will be enough. So far, they have not had such reserves.
– What our counteroffensive might look like: we will definitely squeeze back city after city, village after village, or destroy their logistics with long-range artillery, take them into some kind of pincers or boilers and hope that they will either capitulate or retreat, for example, from all over the right bank of the Kherson region?
– To answer this question, you need to know the plans of the General Staff. I don’t know them, the real picture of the resources and reserves that the Defense Forces have. I have a rough idea, a little more than the vast majority of citizens of Ukraine, but I don’t know the exact numbers, and it’s probably good that a limited number of people have access to this information.
But, based on the general logic, it is unlikely that we will be able to use the same tactics that the Russians use. For simple reasons. Even if we manage to mobilize a large number of people, create a multiple superiority for the offensive, at least three to one, then we will definitely not be able to create such an advantage in weapons, in particular in artillery. All artillery systems, from MLRS to self-propelled and trailed artillery, they still have a large supply of ammunition. They have an advantage in this, we will not be able to get it. And we certainly will not be able to apply the tactics that the Russians use.
Therefore, the most logical option is to make the most efficient use of what is, what the Armed Forces of Ukraine are doing in the south. They are trying to blow up bridges, cut communications in order to cover individual parts of the Russian group in the south, in order to encircle them if possible. This means that it will be possible to surround and destroy.
We have less artillery than the Russians, but according to many even Russian experts, our artillery works better and more accurately. Our MLRS, Haymars and MLRS, that is, M142 and M270, we quickly mastered them and use them effectively, although they are in an amount that does not yet allow us to create parity with the Russians. Therefore, it is possible to squeeze them out, but not by breaking through, as the Russians do, not with the help of aircraft, missiles, long-range artillery, in which they have a huge advantage, but through maneuvers, outreach, to force them either to retreat or to surrender.
– Do the Russians have another trump card up their sleeve, which they can use if things do not go according to their plan at all, except for general mobilization?
– If we talk about weapons, then in fact all types of weapons that they have, they have already used, absolutely all the latest weapons, except for the “Armata”, which exists in several copies and which is hardly effective on the battlefield. Self-propelled guns “Malka”, MLRS “Tornado-S”, they began to use BMPT (tank support combat vehicle), all their missiles, precision-guided munitions. The only resource they have left is nuclear weapons, but even in my worst nightmare I don’t see them deciding on this.
– Why? This is Russia. Who or what might be the deterrent?
– For Russians, the inevitability of punishment may be a deterrent. They are not sure that if they use nuclear weapons, someone will strike back, but they are not sure that this will not happen. This is one of the reasons why they are not seriously going to resort to this type of weapon yet.
Secondly, the vast majority of the world perceives this war as aggressive and predatory, respectively, perceives Russia as an aggressor and invader. But they are still trying to give at least some part of the world the impression that this war is just.
The use of nuclear weapons is one thing that will be a little more difficult to explain. I don’t think that this is much stopping Putin, but it is also a deterrent. And one more thing – according to the forecasts of many analysts, some experts in Russia itself, the use of nuclear weapons makes a world war almost inevitable. It is unlikely that Russia is ready, wants and strives for a world war.
Now there is a very popular proverb that Russia is fighting against the whole world, but Ukraine is fighting for the whole world. Very often, parallels are drawn with the lend-lease law of the Second World War and the current one – but then there was a coalition of states that fought against another coalition of states. Today Ukraine is at war with Russia on its own. Our partners are partners, not allies. They do not repay a debt, they do not fulfill an obligation, they do a service that they can not do. They do not feel this war as their own.
Roosevelt, when he began to help Great Britain during World War II, when America was not yet a participant, still understood that it was a matter of time, perceived Germany and Japan as enemies, albeit potential ones, but enemies. The United States, with all due respect to what they are doing, the assistance they provide, diplomatic, military, political and financial, is not yet an enemy of Russia, they are not at war with it yet, they are helping Ukraine to fight with Russia.
– Do not perceive as an enemy? Although Russia and its regime are contrary to all the values on which the United States is based.
– The vast majority of the American population really perceive the position of Russia as the position of an aggressor, the position of an enemy, they perceive Russia as a threat to values, to everything that the United States professes. But they do not feel this war with their skin.
Here the Poles feel with their skin, the Balts feel with their skin, they begin to understand the Finns better, even in Germany moods begin to change. But, for example, for France-Portugal-Spain, this is infinitely far away, and even more so for the USA. And despite the fact that they play a huge role in world politics, for them this is not a doomsday war, this is not the last war. So far, they are helping us not to lose, but they are not yet doing enough for us to win, for various reasons.
– If for them this is not a matter of life and death, primarily for the Germans and the French, under such conditions, the Russian energy blackmail of Europe can work? When will a society that absolutely supports us morally face the prospects of a cold winter, a deterioration in the usual standard of living, and will begin to put pressure on its government in order to “look for some way out” regarding relations with the Russian Federation?
– This option is theoretically possible, moreover, the change of governments in some European countries, which has already taken place and will take place in the near future, emphasizes this. There are two factors here. The first one is the external influence of Russia, which has done its best to discredit those politicians who take a pro-Ukrainian position and support Ukraine in the fight against the aggressor.
The second is an internal factor – the dissatisfaction of at least part of the population with rising prices, rising inflation, fears of a cold winter, and the like. It is clear that all these things work, and such an option is possible.
But what is a positive thing – if earlier statements like “let’s still negotiate at any cost” are changed to “the war must still end in peace, but we must prepare for the fact that …” – and further in the text. That the power system of any country cannot depend on the conditions of the supplier. That it is impossible to put the economy above human rights, although it is clear that each country should proceed from its national interests and take care, first of all, of its citizen.
Even in March this rhetoric was different from what it is now, and this applies even to Germany. Therefore, this option is possible, but less likely than before. Russia is achieving exactly the opposite results.
What was she planning ?
– Yes. She hoped that there would be discord in the European Union, there would be gradually more and more steps towards the collapse of the EU, but she received a fairly serious unity. Which neither Russia nor we actually expected. Yes, we would like more returns, more help, but what the EU is showing is better than we could expect.
Precisely because the groundless aggression was so shocking, the “Putinfersteiers” in many countries simply did not have arguments to pursue this line. This is such an irrational evil in the absolute. Sweden and Finland, which seemed to be neutral countries to the end, asked to join NATO.
The shelling of the port of Odessa, the comments that Russian officials distributed after that, once again convince even those who really want to make peace with the Russians that such agreements are a very risky thing. And the option you are talking about is possible, quite dangerous, but less likely than at the beginning of the aggression.
– The Russian elites, if this word can be used here, they still, after half a year of the war, have not understood that by such things as shelling the port after the deal, they achieve the opposite? When they are rude to European politicians beyond the limits of any diplomacy, they do not make these politicians tremble with fear, but cause a completely different reaction? Do they not understand this, do not want to understand, or do they simply act within the limits that one person, who is the main decision-maker, sets for them, and they act within these limits?
– The advantage of Russia (and at the same time its disadvantage, how to look at it) is that there are no elites and opinion leaders there anymore, there is one person who decides everything. And this man… I wouldn’t say he’s crazy, he’s insane, he’s completely out of touch with reality.
What happened on February 24 and how it was presented … sometimes it is useful to review and re-read certain things, I reviewed two of Putin’s speeches, February 21 and 24 – these are the speeches of a man who has completely lost touch with reality. And so this person can stop at nothing.
It still stops for now, at least for today there is no talk of a real threat of using nuclear weapons. And therefore, he absolutely does not care about sacrifices, suffering, logic, rationality, he needs victory at any cost. How many people, forces and money he puts into this, he doesn’t particularly care, and this is inherent in people who lose touch with reality.
What does “victory” mean to him?
– In his understanding, as far as I can tell: a country that is completely deprived of sovereignty. In what form is not so important. It can be an association – Ukraine is part of the Russian Federation, maybe something like the Union State with Belarus. It may even be a conditionally sovereign state, but in which Moscow places personnel and whose policy is determined by Moscow. That is, the form itself does not matter to Putin, what matters to him is that he must own this territory and control it.
If he had succeeded in winning it all, he would have won it. But since it turns out to be much more difficult, then he will probably win victories in some other way, in a different form. But the fact that he will not stop as long as he is alive to achieve his goal is absolutely certain to me.
And even if, relatively speaking, we have some kind of pause, with or without a truce, with the fixing of some political agreements or without them, this will mean that Putin is hiding in order to gain some strength and start again. He will not stop until he is stopped or until he reaches his goal. I exclude the second one altogether, but there are problems with the first one too. To stop Putin, the efforts of one country are not enough, it must be a common resistance, which we only dream of.
– These may be some intermediate victories that he will try to “sell” to his own population: the banal annexation of the Donbass, the South, how much of it will they have under control at that time?
– As a tactical, intermediate goal, this was set. They constantly postpone this date, they wanted to reach the administrative borders of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, first before the end of May, then before the end of June, then before the end of July. As far as I know, now they have a minimum task to reach the administrative borders of Donetsk and Luhansk regions before the end of summer. And an additional task was to reach the administrative borders of the Kherson region.
But in fact, although they lose a little, but more than they gain in this area, they have the following intermediate idea: before the end of the summer they will try to seize as much as they can, then hold pseudo-referendums in these territories. The issue of holding referendums coincided with a single voting day in the Russian Federation, on September 11 these referendums should take place, and according to their results, they will “include” these territories in the Russian Federation, that is, annex them.
Since they are unlikely to reach the borders of the Kherson region, even with optimistic calculations for them, and for sure they will not be able to capture the entire Zaporozhye region, then obviously from the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions they will come up with some kind of “Taurian province”, unite the entire occupied south, which annexed as a separate entity, not tied to administrative boundaries.
– If you look at the situation a little more globally, do you see an option in which Ukraine and Russia will be able to hold some real negotiations that will lead to something and materialize at least in some document, and with which we, Ukrainians, will be satisfied?
– In the foreseeable future, if we are talking about months or even a year, not a single political document that can be signed by the President of Ukraine and the head of Russia is unlikely to be accepted by the Ukrainian society. Ukrainian society will only accept such an agreement, which will fix the return of the occupied territories.
– Well, at least as of February 23, but we must be realistic: in the foreseeable future, this is impossible to do. We can win back territories, we can win back quite a lot, but not everything is certain. And for sure, we are not yet talking about the de-occupation of Crimea, for today it is unrealistic.
Are such agreements possible at all? Theoretically yes. When they can appear, what can and should be the underlying reason for them? If indeed one of the parties seizes the initiative. And here the question is not only in military affairs.
A war, especially a war of attrition, if there is one, requires certain resources, economic, financial, energy. No one except the president knows for sure, not just how many power plants, oil depots, railways, roads, etc. have been destroyed, but how quickly we can restore it. Not just how much fuel we have left, but how much we can get and at what price. How much money we have and what kind of inflation we will have and how much money they can give us.
And there may be a situation where not so much military things will prevail, but purely economic ones, when it will be clear that you need to get some kind of pause, a respite, it will probably be hard to take, but from the point of view of the head of state, it is logical to fix that what is happening at the moment. I emphasize – in no way, and I am sure that President Zelensky will never do such a thing in his life – not to give consent to a piece of Ukrainian land. But some kind of conditional truce to get a pause is possible.
Or another option – if it really turns out that the plan of our military will be successful, that we have accumulated enough resources, even the limited stock of weapons that we received from partners will be enough for a counteroffensive, and the Russians may be afraid that their front will simply fall apart – and this, although unlikely, is possible – they, too, can make some concessions to us and demand some kind of truce.
That is, provided that one of the parties seizes the initiative, but there is not enough resources to develop this success, then a respite is possible, and it may end with the signing of some paper that will not be an international legal act, it will be a political agreement, politically binding for the parties who are not sure that they will adhere to these obligations for a long time.
– You said that Putin will not stop as long as he is alive. We would all like the bright day of his death to come as soon as possible, but the main thing for us is what: what will happen then, the next day? A conditional Patrushev will come, here any surname can be substituted, and everything will continue the same as now? Or can some disintegration processes in any form begin in Russia?
– Disintegration processes in Russia can only occur in the event of a tangible military defeat. I would very much like this to happen, but today there are no objective reasons to talk about it.
I have no illusions that Russia’s course will change significantly, drastically, even if Putin leaves, ends up in hell for whatever reason. This is a two-way street: Russia is like this because it has such a president. On the other hand, her president is the same as the country, there is a request for such a president, otherwise he would not have been president for so long.
But if there is no Putin, then no matter who is considered to be his successor, a struggle for power will begin in Russia. And the decision-making center will become forcedly collective. Today there is no figure who would be unequivocally and unanimously perceived by the population and pseudo-elites as an equivalent replacement for Putin.
– Will there be some kind of “politburo” or “seven boyars”?
– There will be some time, days or weeks, for the shrinkage, the formation of a new system of power or the adjustment of the existing system of power. This system was built for one person. If there is no person, it will not fall apart, but it will slow down. And, accordingly, they will be a little less up to it.
At that moment, when the power will change, it is unlikely that Russia will conduct active offensive operations. The collective West, primarily the United States, will have additional opportunities to influence and negotiate. With Putin, all options to scare or negotiate have already been used. Any new person is a new chance, new opportunities.
Russia will remain an aggressor, a dangerous neighbor, but perhaps it will become less dangerous, more accommodating. Theoretically, there are people in Russia who at least do not like the war, I would not say that there are many of them, but they are. With a specific Putin, they are afraid to express these thoughts.
With an abstract anyone who comes in his place, even conditional Patrushev or Shoigu, the chances that they will at least try to organize some kind of protests are much greater. A change of power is always a chance, even when it comes to a person of the same diabolical disposition as Putin. But anyone who is in Putin’s place will be weaker than Putin, this is quite obvious.
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