Russia's war against Ukraine may take a pause in May-June 2022, suggests Oleksandr Martynenko, director general of the Interfax-Ukraine news agency.
Journalist Roman Kravets interviewed Martynenko on Radio NV about whether a meeting between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin would be needed to create a truce or a lasting peace, whether peace agreements would be signed in Belarus or Turkey, why the Kremlin head envies the Ukrainian leader, and why Putin dislikes Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko.
NV: Lukashenko and Putin met at the Vostochny spaceport in the Far East in Amur Oblast. What was that about? Does that meeting mean anything?
Martynenko: It doesn’t matter where they met. They could meet in the Arctic Circle, somewhere in Sochi or the Maldives – it doesn't matter. It turned out that they met on the Day of Cosmonauts.
From time to time, Putin likes to poke fun at Lukashenko and put him in an unfavourable light. He does not like him, we've been seeing that for many years. So Putin made Lukashenko fly (to Amur Oblast) for 12 hours.
So that's why it happened there. As for what happened at this meeting, it does not matter at all. We live in a time when epoch-making, defining decisions are made not during meetings, but on the battlefield.
NV: Why does Putin not like Lukashenko?
Martynenko: It all started when Alexander Grigorovich (Lukashenko) thought that he could be the leader of the Eurasian Union of Belarus and Russia. At one time, especially when (former Russian President Boris) Yeltsin had health problems, they considered a situation where there would be such a union state, with an election of its president. (They considered Lukashenko's candidacy).
He is a charismatic man, of course, he will beat any Russian politician. This idea did not last long, because Putin came to power – it became clear to everyone in a year or two or three that there would never be another election. Or any, since then.
Lukashenko has been living all these 20 years, trying to deceive the Russian leadership, promising it God knows what, getting paid for it. And he is still doing it successfully. Everyone understands this and can do nothing about it. Therefore, of course, Moscow doesn't like him.
NV: A few days ago, Lukashenko himself said that he wanted to be a party in the talks between Ukraine and Russia. Now Putin says talks need to be held in Belarus. What game are they playing?
Martynenko: This is a tactical game. Of course, Russia is more comfortable in Belarus than in Turkey, under various devices installed by (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan's people in all the rooms.
NV: Negotiations are quite difficult now. Do the Russians expect what will happen in the Donbas in the coming days? Are they procrastinating to look at the result?
Martynenko: Of course. From Russia's point of view, negotiations can bring results of two varieties: before the victory or after the victory. Conditionally – after the enemy's military defeat. It is believed that negotiations can be most effective for them during these two phases. Now there is neither one nor the other: neither the understanding that an unconditional victory would be guaranteed, nor any achievements.
(To capture) Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts is the main goal.
The third point is that the army has to put something real on Putin's table to show people. At least for themselves. Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts within their administrative borders are, of course, not a victory for Russia, but at least something.
In fact, the Russians do not need to explain anything, they will "eat" anything. But the system fell into disrepair during this war: a stratum of society emerged that was eager to seize Kyiv. Something needs to be done about them because they're active. What should they be told now? "We fought, fought, and decided to compromise?" No! There must be something. If the army can't even reach the administrative borders, then it will be interesting, because then it already smells like a defeat, not just a draw.
NV: That’s what’s most interesting: how will they react to this?
Martynenko: The war has been going on for a month and a half, and there has been no success at all. There is nothing on any of Putin's stated goals – either on demilitarization, or on denazification, or on non-aligned status, or on reduction of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, or on recognition of the so-called "DPR" and "LPR" as independent states. Nothing!
Since the ultimatum to Ukraine was issued, it has become clear that the strategy failed because it was based on incorrect data, and there is no new one! Therefore, many different people in the Russian leadership are saying something different. Some say that "we are defending the LPR/DPR," some say that "we are at war with NATO," some say that "we are destroying nationalists.
"However, it is unknown which ones – no surname has been (named). Someone says that 80% of the population of Ukraine are nationalists, so they all need to be destroyed.
Now they have to find some ideas on the go. And the Russian system has never worked in as tense conditions as it does now. And, of course, it began to fail.
NV: Will there be any agreements in the coming months, in May, June? In my opinion, the public expects that there will be some kind of agreement, a break.
Martynenko: This is possible at least because any war is either stopped or suspended when neither side can achieve the goals it has set for itself – because of equal forces, because it's just impossible.
It seems to me that this Ukrainian-Russian war may reach such a stage in May-June, when it will be clear that Russia will not be able to do everything it has planned, and Ukraine will not be able to drive Russian troops out of its territory. Then, of course, there will be a pause, which will need to be fixed. I assume it isan option when this can happen – either a truce or a more or less stable peace.
But we understand very well that this is all short-lived. Because one way or another, Russia has entered a long phase of ending its existence: it has challenged the whole world, and the world does not like it.
NV: Will Putin sit down at the negotiating table with Zelensky? Will other people do that?
Martynenko: (He will sit down) when he comes to the conclusion that he can look bright against Zelensky's background. I don't understand what needs to happen for this. Anyone who looks at two presidents understands who's bright and who isn't. But, as we know, all ideas about the beautiful, about the deserving, are distorted in Russia, so, perhaps, he will somehow come to the conclusion that "I'm a winner, and this is a loser."
First of all, Putin envies (Zelensky). He's jealous of his youth, he's jealous of his energy, he's jealous because Zelensky is now one of the main, shining, political leaders in the world, not Putin. This is envy, which often turns into hatred, so it will be difficult to talk about this meeting. But if we talk about political decisions to suspend hostilities, they can be made without leaders, even at the level of governments, at the level of foreign ministries, for example.
NV: I didn't believe that Putin could envy Zelensky, but it makes sense.
Martynenko: I was in Paris in 2019 (at the Normandy Four summit), sitting in that hall. I deliberately followed Putin when Zelensky spoke. Even then it happened. Like any person who is, frankly, old (Putin is 70 years old soon), he sees before him a (really) not very experienced, frivolous man, but young and, most importantly, energetic. He understands that (Zelensky) has energy that he no longer has, and moreover, never will again. Of course, this is envy.