Former Defense Minister Andriy Zahorodnyuk believes Ukraine will win despite Russian terror tactics

27 April, 06:53 PM
Former Defense Minister Andriy Zahorodnyuk (Photo:Defense Ministry of Ukraine)

Former Defense Minister Andriy Zahorodnyuk (Photo:Defense Ministry of Ukraine)

Former Defense Minister Andriy Zahorodnyuk in an interview with NV Radio, has stated his belief that Ukraine will win in the current war against Russian aggression, even though Russia is stooping to use terror tactics against civilians, and provides a prognosis on the war’s current trajectory.

We republish an excerpt of the interview below.

NV: How is the growing anti-Putin coalition (around the world) affecting Ukraine’s defensive capabilities?

Zahorodnyuk: I’m in close contact with Western military analysts, and I would put it this way. Once it became clear that an invasion was imminent, most of them were very skeptical about our ability to resist effectively.

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This assessment was grounded chiefly in the so-called “force comparison” of the Ukrainian and Russian militaries. Basically, the analysis entailed comparing the number of war planes, tanks, and so on, the two sides had at their disposal. This comparison was decisively not in our favor.

Military leaders of Western countries concluded that our armed forces won’t be able to withstand the Russian onslaught for more than a short while, even though they expected the Ukrainian people to refuse surrender and put up fierce resistance.

This resistance dynamics could have lasted for years, and the West was planning to support and arm the Ukrainian insurgency, which was expected to be centralized and controlled on the basis of the National Resistance Law of Ukraine we passed last summer. The assumption was that this insurgency was going to be based around the core of armed forces, with the support of the local population, Territorial Defense, etc.

That’s why we were getting light, man-portable weapons, that are easy to carry around and transport in civilian vehicles. Next, there was the doctrine of small fighter groups, which envisioned the splintering of the fighting force into small-scale regiments that are going to strike at the enemy from all sides – day and night – with all that light military equipment.

The lynchpin of this analysis was the assumption that Russian will be able to achieve total air superiority in no time, becoming free to dismantle the Ukrainian military with air strikes. As we all know, it all went awry immediately on Feb. 24.

And while analysts remain divided in their current thinking about our situation, the military officials of our key allies – the United States, the UK, Canada, among others – are absolutely convinced in our ability to achieve victory.

The question now is whether our allies will be able to supply us with weapons in the quantities, time, and composition that we require. As you know, our diplomatic corps is working on this full-time, and considerable progress has already been made on this front.

NV: So, we can trace the evolution of Western thinking from supporting a guerrilla insurgency to arming our standing army with the tools needed to dismantle the enemy at long range.

Zahorodnyuk: We’ve always asked them (our allies) to avoid the term “guerrilla warfare,” since it implies a majority involvement of civilians and various paramilitaries. Instead, we characterized the insurgency as a resistance effort, based on our armed forces. The insurgency was going to be based on a strict doctrine – most of which is, naturally, classified – as outlined in the aforementioned law. The shift in Western thinking came once they saw that the most damage to the invading forces was done by our artillery and other heavy weapons, supplemented by the mosquito strikes of small squads.

NV: How would you describe the likely developments in the main theaters of war – southern and eastern Ukraine?

Zahorodnyuk: Much relies on how quickly we’ll be getting military aid. It’s going to be absolutely critical, even if this may seem obvious. The rest of the campaign will depend on this.

NV: Should we be concerned with the symbolic date of May 9 (VE day in Russia), when Putin could throw everything he has into the meatgrinder?

Zahorodnyuk: It could be just talk, or he could escalate further – who knows what they’re thinking. They will, of course, try to achieve something by that date, but strictly for domestic propaganda reasons, and the Russian populace will eat up anything the Kremlin serves in that sense. Their information environment is completely isolated from the rest of the world. Sitting in their armored fish tank, Russians will believe anything they are told. So, I’d say it’s reductive to say that by May 9 the end of the war will be in sight.

NV: What can you say about Russian tactics, given what they’re doing in Mariupol and their efforts around Slovyansk, Kramatorsk, and Izyum? Are they fully committed to wiping out cities?

Zahorodnyuk: Their strategy is clear – the destruction of Ukraine as a state. Their tactics boils down to strategic bombing, dating back to 1930s, when bomber aircraft were first invented. Tactical bombing relies on precision air strikes against targets that are directly related to the enemy’s war effort via guided munitions.

In contrast, strategic bombing means total destruction of settlements, aiming to crush enemy morale by overwhelming carnage. Essentially – intentionally annihilating an entire city. That’s exactly what happened in Mariupol: it was an attempt to demoralize our side, as opposed to trying to achieve some military objectives. Unfortunately, we can expect the Russians to try the same approach again. However, Ukraine has clearly shown that it won’t work.

NV: Is that the same reasoning behind them using cruise missiles to hit residential buildings in Odesa, killing civilians, children?

Zahorodnyuk: This strategic bombing of theirs is an indication that they have no other effective tools left at their disposal. I think Putin has already lost; he has nothing else to resort to. Even setting aside the moral and legal dimensions, their approach is clearly not working. Ukrainians are becoming only more and more resolute, understanding that there is no fate worse than a Russian occupation. At this point, there is no room for compromise, victory is our only option. That’s what each and every one of us has to work towards in every capacity we can.

I think we can prove that by targeting civilians with their bombing runs, Russia is engaging in state terrorism. After all, terrorism seeks to demoralize and coerce the other side into making concessions.

More often than not, terrorism has political aims: forcing the government to change its policy, or crushing people’s morale and will to resist, by means of horrific, brutal violence. The difference between this and warfare is that terror attacks are aimed at civilian – as opposed to military – targets.

When we see Russian strikes against residential high-rises in Odesa, at the Kramatorsk railway station, it’s patently clear that they were aimed at decimating the local population. That’s state terrorism. We should make all efforts needed to ensure that Russia is internationally branded as a terrorist state.

Let’s be honest – if all these acts were carried out by some non-state organization, the world would have long declared it a terrorist one. It follows then, that Russia is a terrorist state, and we should call it out as such.

Moreover, they stoop to other immoral and criminal tactics that aim to strike terror into the hearts of the civilian population. Russian troops have been greenlit to loot, kill, and rape our citizens.

Some of our allies, like the UK, have already communicated through their officials that the rape of Ukrainian women and children by Russian troops is part of Moscow’s policy. These barbaric acts are facets of the Kremlin’s policy on Ukraine, and not just some isolated incidents of crimes, perpetrated by ill-disciplined Muscovite soldiers.

NV: Obliterating food stockpiles is another component of the nature of Russian war crimes, it seems.

Zahorodnyuk: Absolutely.

NV: On the topic of that law about national resistance, I’ve heard that it’s set to be substantially amended, based on what we’ve learned during these two months. What are the changes that should be made to this law, or perhaps even you’re aware of the ones that are going to be proposed?

Zahorodnyuk: This law and the doctrine it puts in place will be getting amendments and improvements for as long as this war lasts, and even beyond that. Naturally, there are some frictions when it comes to coordinating resistance efforts between the armed forces, Territorial Defense, military commandants, chains of commands, military and civilian local administrations, and so on.

Furthermore, there is the question of arming the irregulars and keeping track of how and where those weapons are stored, as well as their reclamation. Another area that requires attention is various aspects related to criminal responsibility during wartime. That’s something we’ve worked on, and those amendments were supported in initial hearings, but I can’t say I’ve kept track of all the details.

But we definitely need to introduce the concept of “combat immunity” from prosecution, as it’s still lacking in our legal system. It regulates criminal responsibility for combat orders during wartime that lead to casualties among personnel. This legislative gap has already presented some legal challenges during the past eight years of the war in Donbas.

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