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Erfan Kudus: When Crimean Bridge Will Fall

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Erfan Kudus: When Crimean Bridge Will Fall
ERFAN KUDUS
PHOTO: CHARTER97.ORG

The war in Ukraine will end with the liberation of not only the Crimea, but also Belarus.

Will the Ukrainian army bomb the Crimean bridge? What is happening on the peninsula now? What are the moods among Crimean Tatars? What are the common and opposite features of the Belarus and the Crimea situation? How will the de-occupation of the Crimea and the liberation of Belarus be carried out? This and much more in the Studio X-97 interview with Erfan Kudus, a well-known public figure and one of the leaders of the Crimean Tatar people. Host — Yevhen Klimakin.

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— Erfan, we are quite familiar with you, so let's be informal in our communication. You are a well-known civil activist and, let's be clear here, one of the leaders of the Crimean Tatar people. There is a widely discussed and actual topic. I would like to start our interview with it: the Crimean bridge. This is an especially sensitive issue for you, I believe, because you were forced to leave the Crimea after the beginning of the occupation. Should Ukraine bomb it now?

— It is obliged to. The question is: when? However, I can't answer this question. It is the issue of our military, the Commander in Chief and the Zaluzhny General Staff. Why? I can explain. The Crimean bridge today is actually not so much a civilian as a military facility, through which the logistics of supplies, weapons from the south of Ukraine and the fueling of the invaders with missiles, bombs, shells and personnel go. But there is the other side of the coin: what will be the tactics and strategy for the liberation of the south of Ukraine and the Crimea?

Will we give the occupiers, that civilian population of the Russian Federation, drugged by propaganda, an opportunity to, let's say, escape? Do we want to give them an opportunity to escape by crossing the Crimean bridge? Are we ready to lock them in this bag, in fact, on the island, as an option? The tactics of our military command depend on this, I believe.

Although, you know, today 20-25% of Ukraine is under occupation. We do not know what can happen in a month or a year, after the de-occupation of the Crimea, the possible overthrow of the Putin regime and the defragmentation of the Russian Federation. It may turn out that that side, the Krasnodar Krai and so on, will be under the control of Ukraine or some international organization such as the UN or any other. Maybe this bridge is needed. We don’t know.

— However, there are opponents of the idea that Ukraine would bomb the Crimean bridge. Many such opinions are expressed in the West. They are afraid that Putin will then become even more unpredictable and aggressive.

— This is nonsense, to be honest. I do not share Western fears in this regard, because Russia is already behaving absolutely inadequately. I mean the political and military leadership. They have already crossed all the lines. They can do anything, regardless of the presence or absence of the bridge or strikes on this bridge by the Ukrainian military. They can do anything at any moment and without any casus belli. There is a war already, and Russia is already using all possible means and methods, that is, it is using all types of weapons, except for nuclear weapons. Nothing will stop them.

— Cluster weapons and any prohibited types.

— Yes. All prohibited. All non-conventional weapons have already been used. Only weapons of mass destruction remained unused: biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. Nobody knows if they will decide to do it. However, there are no limits for Russia, I believe. Therefore, these fears are groundless. You just need to be ready. That's it.

— What are the moods in the Crimea now? There are many Crimean Tatars who have stayed.

— Most of them are there. The majority of the Crimean Tatar people are in the Crimea, and will not leave anywhere. There are about 90% of them, in my opinion. Because we returned to the Crimea (I'm talking about the Crimean Tatar people) not to run away. And only those who can be subjected to the most severe repressions, kidnappings, tortures or are subjected to forcible conscription into the occupying army are forced to leave.

— Erfan, when asking about the mood in the Crimea, I meant not only the mood among the Crimean Tatars but in general. Because we see either a picture that everything is bad, bad, bad, or Russian propaganda, that everything is fine. Where is the truth?

— The truth is complex. It is necessary to separate the Crimean Tatar community that lives in Crimea, which is quite unified and is waiting for a return and, of course, perceived the active phase of the war that began on February 24, let's say...

— … with hope?

— With hope. When Ukraine begins to win, although the territory is occupied, we resist and the Crimean Tatar community in this regard, of course, looks at everything with hope. Earlier the hope was somewhere over the very distant long term. Now I communicate with relatives, friends, and acquaintances and I see that the release is already in some foreseeable perspective for the Crimean Tatar people. This is one factor.

As for the other part of the population, we will call it conditionally Slavic: Ukrainians, Russians, and other nationalities. Also, a sufficiently large layer of them is waiting for Ukraine. Pretty big, because I communicate with them, too, with my neighbours and fellows. Many are hopefully waiting for Ukraine to return. It is unfortunately impossible to express or do something active there. Immediate arrests. There are plenty of snitches next door. Like in Stalin's time. The Stalin-Beria regime of the 1930s returned when it was possible to be caught very quickly.

— When you can talk only in the kitchen.

— Not always even in the kitchen. Because the means of obtaining information are now more advanced than in Stalin's times. So, that part of the population that is not Crimean Tatar, they are mostly also waiting for Ukraine. That is, people are waiting, people remember Ukraine, people remember normal life and want Ukraine back.

— Is it true that the Crimea is now almost full of the wounded Russian soldiers and corpses of those who came to liberate Ukraine without knowing from what?

— I have many friends who are physicians. Once I moved to the Crimea, I started living in a hostel of a medical institute. And in this way, I have many friends since the 1990s, doctors, surgeons and so on, who work in different regions. And I can say for sure that the hospitals are all full. I am talking about Simferopol and Sevastopol, many regions, including Dzhankoy. There are field hospitals in the north of the Crimea. Many doctors and many civilians living in the Crimea do not see this. Because Russia is trying to hide its losses, as well as wounded soldiers. They simply burn the corpses of their soldiers, nothing to say about Ukrainians... But they hide wounded and seriously wounded. Then they take part of them to the mainland, to Rostov, and so on.

The Crimea is often an intermediate link, the closest logistics hub, a lot of the wounded and killed are brought here. The losses are huge, those figures that are announced, today the figure is 38,140 Russian military: including the dead, so for you to know, seriously wounded and wounded. They are also considered to be lost.

But in fact, I estimate the losses many times more. Why? By indirect evidence, one can judge by the number of military medical institutions in the Crimea, in the Rostov region, and so on. There are more losses. Ukraine, unfortunately, does not have the opportunity to know more precisely. Intelligence abilities are also limited, to let you know. I think that the losses are at least 2-2.5 times higher.

— Russia is conducting intense mobilization on its own territory and occupied Donetsk, Luhansk and the Crimea. Does this concern Crimean Tatars?

— Regretfully, yes. Our guys also fell into the occupiers' troops. Many, of course, run away from the Crimea. Not everyone manages to avoid this, and someone has already ended up in the occupying forces. This is a violation of all possible international conventions. Russia has not cared a dime a long time ago. I have already heard about several deaths. This can affect any noncitizen of Russia. This can affect Belarusians in the most direct way, right today or tomorrow. You can't joke with this. It is necessary either to leave or to take any measures not to fall under this press. And this press, unfortunately, covers everyone, including our small people.

— What advice would you give to your people who are now in the Crimea?

— It is difficult for me to advise since I live in a free country in Ukraine and now I am in Poland temporarily. But there are universal and simple things. Leave if you can. Especially those who may be subject to conscription. If you can escape in any way, roughly speaking any kind of excuse, up to bribing the military commissariats - then do it. Because in everything that concerns war, there are no principles there. You must not fight for occupiers.

Today they violate all conventions, and tomorrow, as a result of such pseudo-legal obedience to the occupier, you may die. I am talking about conscripts. It is necessary to avoid the call by any means. If suddenly you have already got there and you are already somewhere in the front area, then you must immediately surrender to the Ukrainian army.

— Are there such cases?

— I have heard such cases. I will not claim that there are a lot of them, but I heard that there were some. Because tanks, bullets, and missiles won't distinguish your color. They'll kill anyone. The closer you are to the front, the more likely you are to die, unfortunately. And the chances are very high, given the saturation of the most powerful weapons when often there are no even positional battles, but just shelling takes place tens to hundreds of kilometers away. There are very few chances to survive.

— Erfan, we know the history of the Crimean Tatar people well. There were mass deportations in 1944, and only in the 1990s people were able to return. You weren't born in the Crimea, were you?

— Correct. Unfortunately, like all people of my generation, I was born in Central Asia, the place of deportation of my father and my grandmother. I was born in Uzbekistan. This press has touched many peoples, but the only people of the former Soviet Union who were not returned to their homeland back in those Soviet and communist times were our people. Kalmyks, Ingush, and Chechens received their autonomous republics, almost all, and they received at least some minimal rights. It was forbidden to us, and therefore I returned to Crimea and Ukraine in 1991.

— Occupation and annexation of the Crimea happened again in 2014... Did you live in Yalta at that time?

— I lived in Yalta at that time, yes. And unfortunately, this press came again. I never in my life could imagine that the Stalinist regime had not disappeared. It just changed the shield and that's all. Yesterday we said fascism, but today it is the same with the ruscism and Putinism. The same things.

As we can see, this bulk, which today has seized 20% of Ukraine. They are fighting openly there, openly creating filtration camps, prototypes of concentration camps. Hundreds of thousands, according to some sources, about one and a half to two million people, citizens of Ukraine, were deported to the Russian Federation. It's pure fascism. How else can this be explained?

— What do you think about modern Belarus?

— I don't know it well, but I know people from Belarus. I know some guys who serve in the Kalinouski Regiment. I won't tell their names here. I know the Belarusians who were on the Maidan. Those who are fighting today, because they are fighting for the freedom not only of Ukraine but also of Belarus. They are real Belarusians for me. Those who are fighting the regime today are real Belarusians. The society that rebelled against Lukashenka after these 2020 elections - they are Belarusians. Not those who slept, not those who were afraid, but those who took to the streets.

The situation, unfortunately, turned out to be such that today the regime in Belarus is so tough that it does not allow you to raise your head. I fully understand this, but I think the Belarusian society is ready for even more revolutionary changes. There was the same situation in Ukraine, we also thought that it was not possible to change anything. However, the national rise began in 2004, there was faith, then there was a decline and then Yanukovych came.

I compare all this with Belarus and I think that Belarusian society will change a lot in the near future, it is already making progress. The people who have taken up arms and are actually preparing to enter Belarus are the future armed forces of Belarus, they are the future law enforcement services and special services.

— I know from the Kalinovites that there are more and more of them.

— At first, they were a battalion, today it is an even larger military unit - a regiment. I think this process is underway. We are in touch all the time and help each other as much as we can: informational, and so on. This is the Belarus of today for me. For me, Belarusians with a capital letter are those who are partisan in Belarus, those who risk their lives today, realizing that if we do not win together, then everyone will be lost.

— It seems to me that the more people realize that they will not be able just to sit it out, the more people realize that it’s impossible not to take risks, and then the faster it will end.

— In order for the Belarusians to understand that, unfortunately, the realities are such that it is necessary to come to real freedom through some kind of sacrifice. And the sooner you start, the less bloody these victims there will be. Once upon a time, it was possible to demolish Luka (Lukashenka - ed.) with less bloody effort, but that time has already passed.

No one can sit it out, and in order not to die yourself, you need to learn how to shoot, fight and eliminate enemies. And these enemies today are the Lukashenka and Putin regimes.

I am optimistic. We will win anyway! I am saying "we", I am speaking for all of us. I speak for Belarusians, I speak for Ukrainians and for Crimean Tatars. Everything started with us, with the Crimea. But it will end not only with the Crimea, but it will also end with the liberation of Belarus. But the more people understand this and rise at the right moment, now, the faster it will happen and there will be fewer victims.

— You said about the right moment. Has it already begun?

— Yes, right now. It has already begun.

— Please, tell us about the Crimean Tatars Battalion. Where is it now?

— The battalion is a strong word. Because, unlike the Belarusians, we have only half a million people, I would rather call it detachments. There are two official detachments. One of the detachments has the name of our first Crimean Tatar President Noman Chelebidzhikhan. He was president in 1917-1918. At the time when there was the Ukrainian People's Republic, there was also the Crimean People's Republic. The detachment is named after him and Lenur Islyamov, the owner of the ATR TV channel, heads it. Today, this detachment is in the process of formation, training, coordination and so on. We must be prepared for liberation.

The second is the Crimea detachment, its commander is Isa Akaev, who has already fought in Donbas, near Savur-Mohyla. There are men who have already been at the front. There are a lot of guys and a lot of people who want to join, but these detachments are quite small. There are not a lot of us in general. But it is possible to join the detachments. I hope that there will be cooperation with the Belarusian regiment. And I hope that the territories that are occupied today, including Belarus, will be liberated through our joint efforts.

— Resistance in the Crimea itself. Our viewers are well aware of what is happening on the territory of Belarus, when trains are derailed, when partisans transmit information to the Ukrainian special services and the Ukrainian army about the location of Russian planes and Russian equipment. What's going on in Crimea?

— There’s a similar situation there, but more closed. In the Crimea, we, Crimean Tatars, unfortunately make only 10-12 percent. And we are not settled throughout the Crimea. In some regions we are 2 percent, in some — 10, in some — 40. The situation is complicated by the fact that the whole of Crimea is a total military base. More than 100,000 Russian invaders are stationed there. This is not counting the FSB officers and other special services. They don't let you raise your head. This is such a large aircraft carrier, but we do receive data, the special services receive data, leaflets are distributed, and there is no life for the occupiers there.

I'll give you an example. In Sevastopol, leaflets were pasted with the name and photograph of the commander of the Alyje Rosy submarine, who gave the order to fire cruise missiles at Vinnytsia, where civilians, including children and women, were killed. Such leaflets appeared in Sevastopol today. This suggests that there is an underground movement there, it is working, and is ready to continue its activities to return to free Ukraine.

— And it's wonderful that the names and surnames of these creatures are becoming known. Because no one can escape responsibility.

— No one will run away, and neither in Belarus, nor in the Crimea, nor in Russia will they hide. The world has become so small that today all countries of the world are responding to military actions. Someone is more active, someone is less, but this is evidenced by the presence of the Foreign Legion in Ukraine. There are both Americans and British, who sacrifice their health and life and go to fight, realizing that this Kremlin infection will spread to all countries.

You know, the paradox is that this occupation contributed to the strengthening. I don’t know what word to choose, but the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar nations have become like diamonds. There was graphite, if you can compare it with physical processes, but under this pressure, the people became so friendly, so steadfast, so sacrificial in their love for their homeland, that I compare it today with a diamond. Ukrainians are setting an example for Europe, which has somewhat relaxed in the post-war years.

They have already forgotten what it is like.

— Yes. They have forgotten what a city is, what missile hits are, what losses are, what destruction is.

— And thank God that no one here in this part of the world remembers all this, but since the stakes are raised ...

— The stakes are raised to the maximum. And we mustn't give up, we won't give up. And Belarus is very important to me. Because we cannot have real freedom while our neighbor has such a de facto occupying regime.

— And such a bastard in power ... How do you see the de-occupation of the Crimea?

— Another six months and a year or two ago, everyone said that there would be no war, some diplomatic international sanctions, maybe some territory that would be controlled by the international community. Today the situation is completely different. Only a military operation.

What can be applied maximum is a military-police operation. But these are not diplomatic negotiations, there can be no peace agreements with the occupier. Because all possible red lines have been crossed. It is a non-negotiable society, if it can be called a society. Russia today is not incapable of negotiating and does not fulfill any obligations — neither international nor bilateral — and all attempts to call it for something today ... Yesterday we heard in the news that “Ukraine does not want to negotiate, but we are ready” — this is a sign that they got good people.

— Erfan, they have been singing these songs...

— Yes. And you can't give in to them. No negotiations.

— The Kremlin says that about everyone. They can't agree with anyone.

— They cannot come to an agreement for the simple reason that in fact this state, as they say now, is a sponsor of terrorism. Although no, Russia is not a state sponsor of terrorism, it is a terrorist state.

— I remember 2014. I recorded an interview with Mustafa Dzhemilev. He told me that initially, after the annexation, they tried to lull the Crimean Tatars to sleep, appease them, somehow persuade them, convince them that maybe they would change their position on the Crimea. And then he said during telephone conversations “I don't talk to terrorists”. I remembered his words. How now, are there any signals from them to you, the Crimean Tatars?

— No. There are no more signals. There are only signals of the opposite order, that they will bend us into an arc, and recently there was such a stuffing of Russian propaganda. I mean, maybe you heard such a story that in Sudak some Russian military men were beaten, who were being treated in one of the sanatoriums, and they allegedly had the notorious letter Z on their clothes. And there was information that it was the Crimean Tatars who beat them. In fact, it is not clear whether there were Tatars there or not, but the entire Russian propaganda machine, all these NTV, Channel One, Vzglyad, Izvestia, and so on, wrote clearly that it was the Crimean Tatars who were beating, that is, the disloyal population. These are signals to find the inner enemy.

— You couldn't be beaten. Therefore, it is necessary to make enemies out of you.

— It is necessary to press hard, and they want to do it by the hands of both the special services and the population, which today illegally entered the Crimea. Hundreds of thousands of Russians came to the peninsula, thinking it was forever.

— After you moved to Kyiv, you opened an institution in the center of the capital, which has become absolutely iconic. Although it is small, but, let's be honest, politicians, public figures, diplomats come there. After the full-scale war began, all establishments closed.

— Kyiv almost did not work for a month.

— Are you working now?

— Yes, we are working. We literally didn’t work for a month, because I cooperated with the territorial defense, they even gave me a machine gun, no matter how ridiculous it sounds, although I am not liable for military service. Now we are working. I can say that part of the contingent is our fighters, they are volunteers. Of course, the political public, if you can call it that, also comes, and ambassadors, and diplomats, and so on.

— And you, after the start of a full-scale invasion of Russia, were heavily engaged in volunteer activities. Tell us about it.

— In general, I have been involved in volunteer activities before, because the war has actually been going on since 2014. And back in 2014-2015, the guys who were at the front sometimes asked me to buy something there: the sound moderator, roughly speaking, a silencer, then some other stuff for military ammunition. I helped out as much as I could. It's just that since the beginning of active operations, after February 24, it has intensified a lot, and many guys have joined, friends, Crimean Tatars.

— Do you deliver something from the EU countries?

— Yes. Cars were transported and delivered. We raise funds as much as possible. We do it in my cafe, and we also have a website, and the El Cheber group - this is with my friend Rustem Skibin, a famous artist. That is, we help. By the way, the Belarusian opposition also helps.

— Give us more details, please.

— I won’t call names, but we transferred resources, we could buy something with this money, because, I understand that Belarus today is in a situation of actual occupation, without any doubt. Missiles are flying from there, and the Russians are preparing strikes, one has already been repulsed, but today, you know, our units have contacts with the regiment of Kastus Kalinouski. We know each other. We have the Crimea detachment of Crimean Tatar fighters, and a unit named after Noman Chelebidzhikhan.

And this is a problem for Russia, you see. It is not known what we will first liberate together: Minsk or the Crimea. We don't know, but we are preparing.

— You need to be prepared for both.

— Yes. It could happen at the same time. And surely it will happen soon. There are contacts, there is work, and I think that this will happen very soon. Everyone should be ready for this. The Crimean Tatars in the Crimea, and Belarusians in Belarus, and all those groups that could get involved should get connected now. Now the key moment for this is to have a friendly shoulder nearby.

— And after the de-occupation, what to do with the people who sincerely supported the Russian world on the territory of the Crimea, walked around with all these St. George ribbons? It’s not like a few people, but a huge number of them.

There are hundreds of thousands of them, maybe even a million. Because there are more than two million people in the Crimea, especially since a lot of them also illegally entered from the Russian mainland.

— By the way, after 2014, I read the statistics that a million people came.

— I don't think it's a million, but the figures were from 200 to 800 thousand. It is difficult to say where the truth is here, and there is no point in establishing this today, because at the time of the liberation of the Crimea, I think there will be a powerful wave of emigration back to the mainland. Those who have arrived will be forced to leave, because they have no legal protection under international laws and Ukrainian legislation. They illegally crossed the border.

— For which there is an article, by the way, in Ukrainian legislation. 3 years in jail, if I'm not mistaken.

— They illegally acquired the property, if they did. They will have to leave the Crimea, Ukraine immediately. I think that Ukraine, as a state of law, will give 24 or 72 hours for the civilian population to leave the territory. This is the first.

Filtration measures will also be taken, I think, so that those who were involved in some kind of criminal cases or military crimes are detained. This concerns the part of the population that moved to the Crimea after February 20, 2014.

As for that part of the population, the citizens of Ukraine, who lived in the Crimea, but helped the occupation authorities. These are not separatists, these are collaborators. The legally correct name of collaborators is those who help the occupying power, participate in elections, and participate in the activities of state bodies.

— There are hundreds of thousands of people.

— Yes. With regard to them, I think, an investigation will be carried out, separate for each case. No matter how large-scale it may be, Ukraine will be obliged to do it. And those who are involved in collaborationism, will receive prison terms, either conditional or real. It's not hundreds of thousands of people actually, it's dozens of thousands. But this needs to be done so that what happened does not happen again.

And those hundreds of thousands of people who, say, tacitly and publicly greeted Russia and did nothing else, waved flags — they will bear political, moral responsibility to Ukraine, to Ukrainian society. Nobody will deport them, I think, neither the laws of Ukraine nor the Constitution of Ukraine allow it.

But they will bear moral and political responsibility. I think it makes sense to deprive them of some political rights for a while. The right to vote, the right to be elected. And in general, I think that after the de-occupation, for at least 3-5 years, maybe it is not worth holding elections in Crimea, because there should be a military-civilian administration. This is normal.

Ukraine will not come up with anything new in this regard. This is a normal phenomenon, which happened after the Second World War with both Germany and Japan. The central administration of the Ukrainian authorities from Kyiv will appoint officials of those loyal to Ukraine, and there will be no elections yet. Until we cure this disease, and this disease needs to be treated with:

— criminal legislation and criminal law enforcement;

— defeat in political rights.

This is the methodology. Everyone should receive their own method of treatment for the disease.

— How should Russia, the Russians, and the authorities of the Kremlin should pay for what they are doing, for what they have done. I am now talking not only about Ukraine, which was flooded with blood. I am talking about the same Belarus, which, if Russia had not intervened in 2020, would have been a completely different place. About Georgia, Syria.

— You know, we can probably talk about repatriations, about indemnities, about things that are hard to believe in today. But it seems to me that Russia will pay in a different way. Maybe with indemnities, but it seems to me that Russia will pay to Georgia, to Moldova, to Ukraine and to Belarus, which it occupied, in a different way — with its disappearance. It will be the best option for Russia — to simply disappear.

— Like the Soviet Union once?

— Yes. Everyone thinks: that’s a fairy tale. In fact, before the eyes of my generation, the union disappeared. Where is the union? You show me a man with a Soviet passport. They don't exist, these passports don't exist. And this is the best gift that the Soviet Union left behind — disappearance.

Of course, Russia will not disappear geographically, people will not disappear, but as an empire, Russia must disappear and its successors, I so hope, will be responsible for the crimes that it has committed against each of these countries. These are financial reparations, property reparations, and so on.

— And also territorial reparations.

— And also territorial ones, probably. But it is precisely the defragmentation of Russia in the historical period that is the strongest, I believe. Because this is an empire that was founded on the blood of the peoples it actually colonized for 300 years, without bringing anything there. These nations will come out of this empire. These are conditionally Yakuts, Buryats, Tatarstan, Ichkeria, which actually held a referendum on independence, gained independence, but could not defend it. It was simply wiped off the face of the earth by missile strikes.

Russia must disappear as a state. Maybe literally 5-7 regions will remain from it, including the Moscow region. And this is the best price. For me, this is better than reparations.

— Then the main question. How to win the war?

— Unfortunately, a war can only be won with weapons, and casualties are inevitable. I do not feel sorry for the biomaterial that Russia wastes. Because it throws criminals, drug addicts, and youngsters into the furnace of this war, who have not seen anything in life and are simply marginalized. Unfortunately, the best people in Ukraine are dying here, including Belarusians, people of other nationalities, and Crimean Tatars. But no war can be won without casualties.

After all, today we are not fighting alone, in fact, regardless of what anyone may say, this is the Third World War, but only Ukrainians, Belarusians, Crimean Tatars are physically fighting, that is, residents of this region, patriots and those who understand that without freedom everyone will die.

Why World War III? Because today the entire European Union, the entire civilized world is on the side of Ukraine, and the supply of weapons means participation in the war. No matter what anyone says and no matter what they call it, for me it is the Third World War. And it is not a fact that it will take place only with the participation of Ukraine. It seems to me that if it drags on, there will be small deliveries, dosing of weapons, then this war can last, and expand to other countries.

If there is some kind of qualitative change in the supply and training of our military, this war can quickly be ended with the victory of Ukraine over Russia.