Espreso. Global
Interview

Signs point to Putin's preparation for major offensive, yet Russia’s strength is insufficient — political analyst Morozov

6 May, 2024 Monday
15:30

Oleksandr Morozov, political expert, publicist, lecturer at Charles University in Prague, in an interview with Anton Borkovskyi, host of the Studio West program on Espreso TV, spoke about serious changes in the Russian army and preparations for a new offensive

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The arrest of Russian Deputy Defense Minister Ivanov seems to be a small story against the background of the general apocalypse, but it is symptomatic: the man whose main function is to be Shoigu's wallet has been blackballed by the FSB. So, the Patrushev clan is being strengthened at the expense of the Shoigu clan.

First, I must say that the arrest of a person of this status is an extraordinary event for the entire Russian political machine and the military and political machine. And the consequences of this will naturally be very significant.

I believe that those who are now saying that the blow to Sergei Shoigu is quite serious are right, and no matter how hard he tries to soften this blow, many expect that after the inauguration, when Putin announces the composition of the new government, there will be a new defense minister. This is quite possible.

But this is one side of it - the personnel side. It can be quite important, because who will be next is significant, and if indeed the blow to Shoigu is inflicted by Patrushev and his people, and they are the first to initiate this, then, of course, this will mean further mobilization, escalation of the war on their part. But there is one more assumption, which is that the Kremlin is preparing to create a so-called defense council, a super-agency body. Such ideas have been publicly put forward - to transfer to this body everything related to military construction, army supply, that is, the entire system of public procurement, to take it out of the Ministry of Defense. In this case, Chemezov would be the beneficiary, and perhaps then his man would probably head the Defense Ministry. So far, these are all assumptions.

As for the corruption component, it should be noted that Deputy Minister Ivanov lived very well, everyone saw it, he did not hide his wealth and the prosperity of his family, even by Kremlin standards it was too bold. He felt secure. But at the same time, the whole system of kickbacks, which is now being written about a lot on Telegram channels, where some details of the investigation are reported, and those who managed the subcontractors are already giving some testimony. There are really huge kickbacks and stretching of budget funds.

In fact, there is also good news in this, because this whole environment of Z-patriots, all those who are engaged in the development of the occupied territories for ideological reasons, are now shouting out loud. Looking at the arrest of Ivanov and the details that are getting out to the public, they are all upset because they can see clearly that this so-called restoration of Mariupol is a huge financial scam and looting.

In fact, it's not so bad, because it demonstrates the terrible perversity of the entire Putin system. Of course, I would like to see some conclusions drawn from this by the citizens who are watching this in Russia.

Unfortunately, I am not very optimistic that anyone will draw any conclusions. You said that strengthening Patrushev would mean strengthening the “party of war.”

On the one hand, Patrushev is primarily the FSB and the rest of Russia's security forces. And in this sense of the word, he is indeed a key figure in the “party of war.” But we cannot rule out a completely unexpected turn of events. Why? Because, of course, Patrushev is a supporter of the whole concept of the destruction of Ukraine and the conflict with the West. But at the same time, it is quite likely that he may insist, or at least propose a scenario or at least an operational game around a truce scenario. This is quite possible.

The problem here is that we don't see anyone from the military directly who is actually supposed to put any successes on Putin's table on the battlefield. Who among these military men is proposing a long-term military strategy for this war, that is, what to do. We read, and everyone sees it, of course, that the Kremlin is going to storm Kharkiv, or capture Odesa, or maybe it's going to go to the banks of the Dnipro. These are all political fantasies, and they only become reality - even in domestic Russian politics - if there is a military plan.

So, big changes in the power structures are possible here. And, depending on who will be there and how, we will then be guided by the scenario that both the security and military structures will offer Putin, which will determine the war scenario.

The kind of operational war plan that Putin has on his desk boils down to the old formula of Marshal Shaposhnikov: attack until the offensive impulse is exhausted. By this impulse, we mean Russian military personnel and equipment. When these resources are exhausted, they would like to try to nullify the results or establish some kind of truce. So are they preparing for even bigger actions or do you think they would like to maintain the current level of escalation and aggression? The attacks on peaceful cities with ballistic missiles with cluster munitions are a war crime that fits into a strategy of intimidation of very specific residents of very specific cities.

In recent days, I have been observing, reading what is being written, following the news and military reports and comments of military experts, I am inclined to think, I have a feeling that we still need to focus on a possible major offensive by the Kremlin. That is an attempt to organize a breakthrough. Why - because, on the one hand, it is clear that such a tactical tangible success would look good for the Kremlin against the backdrop of the upcoming American elections. This is the first thing. Secondly, it would look good against the backdrop of European solidarity, which is now being actively formed and has been forming for all these six months. In this situation, the Kremlin would be showing the United States and Europe that no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, we are still achieving tangible results. And in this sense of the word, yes, the temptation is very great. I think Putin is preparing for a convincing offensive.

But let me emphasize that at the moment we do not see the military capabilities with which the offensive can be carried out.

Because when it is written that 20,000-40,000 soldiers are ready to storm Kharkiv, this is again an unrealistic number for such an attempt, and it is obvious that the General Staff should insist on 100,000, 200,000 just to try to take a large city.

And, among other things, I do not doubt that Russian military leaders will be weighing the consequences for themselves of the scale of civilian casualties and casualties of their own military in such an offensive. I think this is a difficult issue to resolve.

Large-scale mobilization in Russia: They are afraid, first and foremost, but large-scale offensive actions involve increased manpower. But there is also a sociological concept of the level of absorption of corpses by society. At one time, this threshold was lower, for example, during the Afghan war. It was also lower during the Russian-Chechen war. And now the threshold has risen, and there are hundreds of thousands of dead - and no noticeable public reaction.

Yes, this is an important problem. In fact, it should not be treated in this way. Of course, the Kremlin is a cynical dictatorship that knows no moral boundaries, but it cannot be viewed too lightly. Why? Because it's clear that Putin says to himself that he is fighting a war to minimize casualties. That is why the shelling, the missile attacks.

But the attempted “meat assaults” last summer, around which a major conflict arose that led to the Prigozhin rebellion, is a kind of wound on the body of this whole Putin military concept, the military machine.

It is obvious that Putin and his inner circle are afraid to mobilize and organize this big offensive precisely because they have already had a rather ineffective attempt to break the Ukrainian front through a massive raid. This problem exists here as well. That is why we see the Kremlin continuing these exhausting attacks, i.e., acting according to Surovikin's plan, which is futile, cynical, and leads to civilian casualties, and creates problems, but problems that can be technically solved by the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian economy. Yes, there is a lot of damage to infrastructure, but everyone understands that this is something that can be restored technically in a fairly short time.

Will Putin rely on an offensive? It's a difficult question to answer, because in addition to the strengthening of the “party of war” and Patrushev now, and in addition to perhaps the creation of a defense council, we are, of course, seeing a great, continuous heating up of this ultra-patriotic propaganda in Russia. That is, if the Kremlin wanted to move toward a truce or not launch a major offensive, not to achieve results, it would most likely turn this “tap” or “wick” - the presidential administration would tone it down a little bit.

But I don't see it happening. And everyone who is watching this sees that on the contrary, there is a turn up of the temperature, pressure on cultural figures who speak out against the war, the announcement of all famous people on the wanted list, that is, an attempt to shut everyone up. And vice versa, the number of supporters of a long war with the West, not only with Ukraine, is growing very noticeably.

A kind of collective Dugin has taken over the discourse. And Tucker Carlson, a well-known media personality, interviews Dugin. What does it mean that there are interviews with Durov, then Dugin, and before that, the Kremlin Fuhrer?

I think Tucker is continuing a line that is being constructed for the possible rise of Trump to power. And this line is as follows: let's look at who is in Russia, not from the point of view of the liberal democratic opposition, not from the point of view of supporters of the democratization of Russia, but let's look at the people who represent... That is, who we will have to deal with if, for example, we decide to move to a policy of containment with the Russians, and, accordingly, we will have to accept that they have some ideologues and politicians. So the point is that Tucker is talking to Dugin, and the next move is to find a figure in the Russian Federation Council or State Duma and do an interview with them, showing that, of course, such a person will not be against war or a supporter of eternal peace according to Immanuel Kant. On the contrary, Tucker is going to show the line that we have to continue to deal with, if we recognize that the Russians in this form should sit at home and trade with Iran forever. This is the logic of the meeting with Dugin.

And Dugin played along with Tucker, quite thoughtfully. And, as many people write, he did not portray an Orthodox crazy bearded man, but persistently portrayed something that should suit the extreme right wing of the Republicans.

That is, he portrayed a principled critic of liberal democracy from, I would say, not Orthodox, but radically individualistic positions, that is, the positions of Texas isolationism, relatively speaking. So this is a rather important event.

In this way, Dugin goes beyond the Russian fascist discourse and tries to build bridges of understanding, demonstrating that it is actually an attempt to form a new order based on right-wing conservative values.

Yes, I completely agree, it is. This attempt, strange as it may seem, because many people automatically continue, knowing Dugin, to believe that this is a demonstration of Russian fascism, but in fact the idea is to demonstrate that there is a group with a negotiating position in the future that would suit the Republican administration, with recognizable anti-liberal but quite acceptable rhetoric that does not go into madness.

Yeah, that is “fascism with a human face” that can be sold or converted into some understandable forms. And what about the real influence of Dugin and his associates on the discourse of the ruling party in the Kremlin?

Still, we must proceed from the idea that the Kremlin does not rely on the concept of sovereignty of Karl Schmidt, for example, or on the philosopher Ilyin, or, as it was once written, on the methodologists of Shchedrovitsky, who influenced the presidential administration. Still, we can clearly see, both from the texts Putin delivers and publishes on his own behalf and from what Patrushev says, that what we are looking at is simply, without any deep philosophy, a classic discourse from a Soviet KGB textbook on foreign policy. It is very crude, one level lower.

Indeed, various initiative intellectual groups come up with something - some to justify a union state with Belarus, others to justify Eurasia as a whole, others for something else, and add different materials - some the Slavic idea, others, on the contrary, Gumilyov's ideas of commonality with the Horde and Central Asia. But at the same time, with regard to the entire “war party” at the top, I have doubts that they have read Ilyin at least carefully. They are simply relying on a specific late Soviet party manual about the state of struggle we are in against the West and how the West is using the rest of us as proxies against us. This is the fundamental discourse, and they adapt everything to it.

Dugin has a new campaign here, which has never ended in the Kremlin, an attempt to find partners in his philosophy. Tucker is making an understandable move in this. Nowadays, it is constantly being written that the Kremlin has only Iran, North Korea, and possibly China. Some people say that there is an axis of evil, but moderates say that China will not be part of that axis and the Kremlin will remain with Iran and North Korea. And in response to this, Dugin comes on the screens with Tucker's help and tells us: no, we see ourselves as part of the West as well, and we want to see the West as partners, but with an anti-liberal right-wing ideology, and we are ready for a dialogue.

Have they already moved to the doctrinal phase of preparing for an existential war? This is currently a rhetorical figure of the design of the aggression against Ukraine.

At the beginning of the February 2022 aggression, the very beginning, entire blitzkrieg, clearly demonstrated that this is the format of war aimed at destroying Ukraine as a state - overthrowing the government and completely transforming the government. After that, there came a period when the Kremlin lost the initiative and could not achieve this and formulated different goals of the war - it began to spawn different ideas that the goal could be this or that.

But now we have been in a situation for more than six months where the Kremlin is clearly saying that this is an existential war, that is, an either/or war. That is, either we or they. Either we or the West and Ukraine. It is a matter of life and death. In fact, this is the main obstacle even for those who would like to initiate some kind of peace talks - if we take the Vatican, or India, or China. They are all bumping up against this because the Kremlin responds to any attempt to ask what the point of the war is by saying: we will not discuss this because this war has an existential meaning for us.

That is why this remark by the Chinese foreign minister seemed to me quite important at the meeting with Lavrov, because when he commented on this meeting with Lavrov, China, quoting the Chinese foreign minister, wrote that from our, that is, Chinese, point of view, the war does not make practical sense for Russia.

This meant exactly that - that China does not see it. An existential war is understandable, it is a metaphysical war, it has no boundaries, it is rationalized differently. But on the practical side, it is a destructive war, if you look at it through the eyes of China, not only Ukraine, which is a colossal loss, but it destroys a lot of different kinds of spaces - communications, global communications - and from this point of view, it makes no practical sense. But Russia is carrying it out. Yes, and that's why this is an existential war to destroy Ukraine.

Chancellor Scholz and President Macron have visited China, and Xi Jinping is now preparing a visit to France, Hungary, and Serbia. Antony Blinken visited Xi Jinping, and a certain framework was also very clearly discussed. They are trying to stabilize China, but to what extent is China ready to stabilize the Kremlin?

Yes, this is the most important question now. In my opinion, there is a rather crude, naive point of view that China has completely taken Russia's side in this war, that behind Russia's back it is the source of the conflict with the West, and so on, and that Putin is just a proxy for China. But I don't see it that way. I think that China is a very big, really independent player, as it was before. Despite the fact that China has gained a relatively large market in Russia as a result of Russia's self-isolation, it is still extremely important for China to have relations with the United States and with European countries, on the one hand, and with Europe, on the other. Europe remains the most reliable, expensive, and calm market for China, and not only that. And the situation is the same with North America - the United States, Canada, etc. So I would say: we will see now, literally within 6 months.

We will see the final self-determination of China. And China, in my opinion, will fulfill - quite voluntarily - the requirements to restrict the supply of dual-use goods to Russia, which are expected of it, these restrictions. It will comply with them.

It should be borne in mind that China is a very big problem that cannot be solved. Chinese companies and businessmen will, of course, remain part of the global economic darknet, the shadow trade. But here it should be said that this is not a government policy, but the policy of giant layers of entrepreneurs from different countries and different nations who are engaged in any kind of shadow business. It doesn't matter if we're talking about withdrawing Russian money through cryptocurrency or withdrawing Colombian mafia money through cryptocurrency - it's all done by the same people, just like they do any smuggling through any sanctions barriers. It's a darknet, and it has to be fought, but in any case, it should not be identified with the Chinese state position on Russia.

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