Fr, 30.09.2022

President Zelenskyi’s close advisor: Attacking Crimea is a key issue for Ukraine

Jaanus Piirsalu
, ajakirjanik
President Zelenskyi’s close advisor: Attacking Crimea is a key issue for Ukraine
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Photo: Dmitri Kotjuh
  • Ukraine’s counter-offensive changed the Western nations’ idea of the progress of the war.
  • Russia has given up fighting in the battlefield and is attempting to torment the entire nation.
  • Destroying the Russian bases in Crimea would mean the beginning of the end of the war.

Mykhailo Podolyak, can we say that Ukraine is how holding strategic initiative in the war?

I would say that the third stage of the war has begun, where Ukraine has the tactical-operational initiative. The first stage of the war was the battles and the withdrawal of the Russian army from the vicinity of Kiev, the second stage was the fierce battles in the Donbass which began in the spring.

The war is now being fought according to the rules established and dictated by Ukraine. Russia can only do two things: use a massive superiority in artillery and attacks against the important infrastructure of Ukraine, which they are doing with cruise missiles in almost all of Ukraine.

How does Ukraine intend to use this operational initiative?

The initiative gained by our offensive represents a fundamental breakthrough. But we look at things pragmatically. It is important for us that the offensive is accompanied by logistics, so that rapid transport of ammunition, fuel, food and other supplies is ensured.

At the same time, the reunification of the already liberated areas with Ukraine is underway, one part of which is the special activities of the police, so that the authorities could start working there again. Our pressure in the southern direction is also getting stronger, where 500 square kilometers have already been liberated. In addition to 6,000 kilometers in the Kharkiv region. Vigorous activity begins in Luhansk region. The direction of Zaporizhzhya with a structure posing hazard to the whole of Europe (Europe's largest nuclear power plant at Enerhodar, currently under Russian occupation - J.P.), and of course Crimea, are also very important to us. Crimea is a key place in the war for us, from where the entire Russian military formation is supplied logistically. This means that the diversionary activities of the partisans will increase towards Crimea.

What should be done so that Ukraine could also gain a strategic initiative in the war? How does Ukraine define it?

For us, this means reaching the stage of bringing the war to an end.

What does that mean?

For this, it is necessary to cause a number of further major tactical defeats to the Russian army. It is necessary to continue striking the rear of the Russian army to destroy their logistics. Because, as the work of HIMARS and other mobile rocket launchers shows, they significantly reduce the capabilities of the Russian army and essentially leave them without weapons, transport, reserves and support.

In order to be able to switch to a really serious strategic counteroffensive, we need many more types of weapons. In particular, mobile rocket launcher systems and armored vehicles, mainly tanks and armored vehicles, such as the German Marders.

Marders are excellent vehicles which can drive away the Russian army very effectively. They have no equal. The negotiations show that all our allies understand this perfectly.

What is needed to seize the ultimate initiative at the front?

Liberation of Luhansk or Donetsk is needed to achieve the strategic initiative. These are symbolic places, the fall of which would also lead to the fact that the Russian public opinion would no longer support the “special military operation”. They would then be demoralized for good.

And another important direction is the strikes at special targets located in Crimea. Their main munitions stores are concentrated there, there are huge stocks of military equipment – these must be destroyed. This is a key direction; our saboteurs must operate there, ATACAMS (US surface-to-surface missiles with a range of 350 km - J.P.) must work there, which, unfortunately, we do not have yet.

What is the political impact of the current counteroffensive?

This has dramatically changed the opinion of the leaders of our partner countries. They have now realized that we not only know how to defend ourselves effectively, but we also know how to counterattack just as effectively. They have realized that in order to develop operational-tactical success, we need a certain amount of certain equipment which I have already talked about. All of them also understand very well that Russia is no longer going to fight on the front lines, but their goal is to destroy our vital infrastructure. This has only strengthened the understanding of our partners that Ukraine must be provided with anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems. This is our key issue now.

Will you receive this equipment?

Negotiations are in the final stage. Sunday's strikes against one of Ukraine's largest power plants in Kharkiv and transformers in many regions clearly showed our partners what kind of warfare Russia has switched to. Russia no longer hides that they will fight on the front only in certain places, but the main blow will be directed against our vital infrastructure. The opinion of our allies has seriously changed; negotiations for new weapons are going much faster.

From which countries, above all, does Ukraine expect to receive armored vehicles?

The United States, Great Britain, but most of all we now rely on Germany, which can play a very decisive role in ending the war. Germany could assume a leading role in continental Europe in the military support of Ukraine and directly provide the necessary military equipment to Ukraine. If, of course, Germany wants the war to end as soon as possible and with minimal economic damage to Europe.

It seems to me that the old, conservative attitude towards Russia is changing very quickly in Germany. Because of how ineffective the Russian army has shown itself, and because of their inhumane attacks on our infrastructure.

It becomes clear to the heads of state that they need to help Ukraine in order not to prolong the war. Not the other way around, as was thought at the beginning of the war. This perception has clearly started to change after the latest counteroffensive in Ukraine. It demonstrated to all our allies that Ukraine is extremely effective in implementing modern warfare.

Russia's behavior after our offensive was a very important sign for the Allies, when a few hours after the conversation between French President Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin, Russia launched missile strikes on our infrastructure. By doing so, Putin showed that Russia has chosen the path of increasing the number of strikes against peaceful population, and is not going to pay any attention to the appeals of the European leaders.

It seems that Europe has begun to fully understand that Russia is not going to change its behavior in any way. People who talk about any further negotiations are just destroying their own reputations. Either they are somehow on the side of Russia or they simply do not understand what is happening in Ukraine.

Apart from missile attacks on power plants, what else can Russia threaten Ukraine with in retaliation for the successful offensive?

Moscow's behavior is predictable. These are strikes with cruise missiles, which is essentially their only option. Or they blackmail us with the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, or with the blockade of grain ships on the Black Sea. They can also increase the offensive force in the direction of Donetsk region, because they have concentrated a lot of manpower there. There is more and more information that they are denying entry to Russia to former Ukrainian citizens who have received Russian citizenship after 2014 (in the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republic - J.P.). This means that they will keep these people as a manpower reserve which will be sent to the front.

We are not surprised by their behavior. It is clear to us. There is only one way to end the war: to push the Russians out of the borders which Ukraine held back in 1991. President Zelenskyi has stated this unequivocally. There can be no other end to the war. Our allies have understood this.

As well as the fact that Russia was not ready for a new type of war. Russia was ready for the type of wars waged in the 1960s–1970s. Our biggest problem – and indeed the whole world's – is that Russia still has a lot of Soviet-era ammunition and equipment. Another big problem is Russia's ability to earn from its energy carriers.

You stated that the threat assessment is clear: Russia will attack your critical infrastructure before winter. What can you do about it until you have enough anti-aircraft weapons?

We are dealing with the physical protection of these objects, power plants and transformers. We have been doing this for a long time.

What does physical protection mean?

The protection of their structure, which prevents them from being directly hit.

Are you building sarcophagi?

In essence, yes.

Secondly, we are very seriously dealing with the possibilities of diversifying electricity and district heating lines. Additional lines, alternate sources, and more to make the electricity come from many sources.

The third thing is the improvement of air defense. We shoot down 90 percent of their missiles.

The offensive in the Kharkiv region was also a great information operation: you managed to completely hide the fact that a strong strike was coming from there, while all attention was directed to the Kherson front, where the attack had essentially been publicly announced.

Let us agree not to discuss it until after the war. At the moment, I can only say that Russia is a much more primitive country than it seems to us. Unfortunately, not all of our partners understand this yet. One should not be afraid of Russia; one should handle Russia in a modern way. They do not approach war creatively, they do not approach information warfare that way either. Their propaganda is very rudimentary, but it is of course very extensive. Russian propaganda does not affect Ukraine in any way, but ours affects them very much.

Why?

Because they do not have access to truthful information there. Therefore, we can do anything with them. It turned out that in this sense, Russia is a very archaic country from the past century. It would be necessary for all of Europe to understand that there is no need to fear them when they say – see what will happen if we push the nuclear button. Russia as a country ceases to exist as soon as it tries to press that button. In this sense, it is also necessary to work with them through information. You shouldn't be afraid to wage informational war with them, you shouldn't be afraid to deceive them.

The commander of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, General Valery Zaluzhnyi, stated in the last public writing that in 2023, the task of the Ukrainian forces is to make the war much sharper, natural and fully felt for the Russians, and for this, Ukraine needs weapon systems of the corresponding scale. What does it mean? Is Ukraine asking the allies for long-range missiles to launch them into Russian territory?

This is the key question. It is clear that the military always proceed from the most pessimistic developments. Zaluzhnyi proceeds from the fact that Russia has enough resources to wage war against Ukraine for quite a long time. This is the pessimistic scenario. But he points out that there are two factors which allow Russia to do this. First, impunity. They install their logistics and supplies so far from the front that it seems to them as if they have inexhaustible resources. This is a key question for us. These resources must disappear.

Now the next question is how to achieve this. Our goal is to liberate our territory. As we begin this, the disintegration of Russia will begin, the disintegration of its entire vertical structure based on power agencies. This will be followed by excesses where the manpower and equipment of the Russian army are concentrated.

Once it has begun it will be an irreversible process. This is an irreversible consequence of war. Look at this in Zaluzhnyi's article. Another important aspect of his article is that we need to reach Russia’s key bases in Crimea as soon as possible. For this we need missiles with a certain range. If we get them, it will mean the end of Russia's Black Sea fleet, which threatens all countries in the region. By the way, if we liquidate the Black Sea Fleet, it will also make it clear to others that the Russian Baltic Sea Fleet will no longer exist as a serious threat.

However, I want to clarify: does General Zaluzhnyi's sentence mean that Ukraine is asking Western partners for long-range missiles in order to attack other Russian territories besides Crimea? To take the war there?

Our goal is to liberate our territory. We are not interested in the processes of disintegration of Russia. These will happen naturally. We are talking with our partners about getting long-range weapons of a range of 300 kilometers, because these would help achieve our operational-tactical goals.

What does it mean?

To destroy all Russian manpower along the front and in Crimea. This would mean the destruction of the entire resource of the Russian army of occupation. If we get these missiles, the finale of the war will arrive much faster.

Mykhailo Podolyak

Mykhailo Podolyak (50) is a Ukrainian journalist, a politician and an advisor of President Volodymyr Zelenskyi.

He was a member of the Ukrainian delegation during peace negotiations with Russia in spring 2022.

Podolyak has lived in Belarus and graduated from the Medical Institute of Minsk.

In 2004, when Podolyak worked in Belarus as deputy editor-in-chief of the opposition publication Vremya, the local authorities accused him of subversive activities and he was deported from Belarus.

In April 2020, Podolyak became the advisor of the presidential chief of staff and manager of crisis situations. Podolyak is a direct advisor of the president and manages the information traffic of the office. Podolyak instructs the Ukrainian cabinet ministers before their public addresses so that their messages would coincide with those of the president.

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