The Russian army, fighting at full strength for a month now, cannot take a single major city.
Olga Lautman, a senior researcher at the Centre for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), spoke in an interview with Charter97.org about possible scenarios for Russia's war against Ukraine.
— Top Russian generals Gerasimov, Shoigu and other have been disappeared from the public view for weeks. What is going on?
— When Putin was planning attack on Ukraine, he was planning to capture key cities very quickly. And he thought that would be no major fighting, that Russian military would go in, they would be able to put in a pro-Kremlin loyal politicians inside of Ukraine into key positions.
When this failed and after few weeks when we saw Russia beginning to take heavy losses — the chatter inside Russia is that Putin got extremely furious with his top officials and also with FSB. The first rumors came of 2 FSB officials who are responsible for providing political situation on the ground in Ukraine being put under house arrest. And then after that we saw rumors come out (and we don't know if it's true with the rumors) that Zolotov's right-hand guy was investigated and also put under house arrest. It generated enough chatter that later Kommersant came out and said that Zolotov's deputy has resigned.
And then from them we saw one by one them disappearing. For the most part we haven't seen anyone since March 12. They attempted to put Shoigu on a zoom call but a few Russian independent media outlets almost immediately went frame by frame to show that it was prerecorded.
Right now, I am pretty sure that Putin is furious because of this military operation. Not only has he suffered the most losses since the Soviets in Afghanistan over 10 years - and that is what he lost in one month; but also this is a huge humiliation for him because everyone thought that the Russian military was so powerful — and you see, how the Russian military at its full might can not even capture one Kyiv city a month later.
— Are this movement among top Russian generals a sign of failure or is it a consolidation of power?
— I thinks it's a failure. Even from Putin's comments you see he is lashing out domestically: he gave this Tsar-Stalinist speech treating traitors like flies, spat out of the mouth, and that he can do cleansing inside of Russia of anyone who does not support the state. And at the same time you see him lashing out against Poland and other countries neighboring Russia.
So, I think it is just a failure. And I think he is infuriated that his top officials conduct this operation that to date has been a huge failure.
— Are Russians serious about chemical attack, are they serious about nuclear attack?
— Yes to both questions. We saw that the first few days of the military operation they were striking military facilities, but as the operation was failing, Russia directed their attack specifically at civilians and at civilian infrastructure and at humanitarian corridors, at shelters, like Mariupol Drama Theater where you could see from space big letters which said that there were children inside — and they bombed that theater. So, the more frustrated they are — the more you see them turning to more devastating tactics to punish Ukrainian people. There are reports they are kidnapping thousands of Ukrainians in Mariupol and Kherson and deporting them inside Russian some sort of filtration camps like Soviet Gulag. Each day you see Ukraine holding key cities or, at least, not allowing Russia to fully capture the city. So, the more they fail — the more you gonna see them turning to chemical weapons and potentially tactical nuclear weapons.
On the Russian side, in Russia media for the past several weeks they have being laying the groundwork for a false-flag operation. They keep discussing how Ukrainian Intelligence, Ukrainian Army, Ukrainian nationalists are preparing chemical attacks inside of Ukraine. This is what Russia would do in Syria where they say that terrorist would prepare chemical attack in Syria and then we would see a chemical attack by Assad forces days later.
Analytics group InformNapalm have been collecting evidence that Russia possibly may have began administering antidote drugs to Russian military in order to shield them from the effects of chemical attack. And we see US and Britain sounding alarm as well in the recent days.
So, I think all these factors together show that there is a chemical attack on the way, and Russia has been preparing for one for a month.
As far as for nuclear attack, over the past several weeks, the Defense Ministry has been saying that Ukrainian military, Ukrainian "nationalists" have disrupted work of nuclear plants. And this is very concerning.
Also, we know, Russia seized 2 nuclear plants in Ukraine and they fired upon a third nuclear facility, a research center, in Kharkiv.
So, it's extremely dangerous when it's happening. Hope the West prepares a solid response for this.
— As this response, should some sort of retaliatory strike be on the table?
— My personal opinion is yes. We can not allow Putin to use chemical weapons against innocent citizens in Europe. Today it's Ukraine — tomorrow it could be Poland, it could be any other country. So, I think we have to put an end to it, because now we are sitting and watching Putin committing atrocities and war crimes in Ukraine with hundreds of children and women, and elderly — who are trapped in their homes and dying in their homes, because they have no access to medicine and water.
I think that chemical weapons should be an absolute read line — there should be a response. If we would have a response during Syria when a red line was issued then we wouldn't be here tonight. We allowed Putin to use Syria as playground for committing massacres and using chemical weapons on civilians. And now, years later he has taken the Syrian playbook of decimating cities and moving it to Europe. This is an extremely dangerous point we're at right now.