If Putin loses Belarus, the continuation of hostilities will become meaningless.
The well-known American historian and writer Yuri Felshtinsky believes that it is impossible to defeat the Putin regime without the liberation of Belarus. He expressed this opinion in an interview with «Kurier Wileński». The website Charter97.org publishes the translation of the interview from Polish.
— Yuri, our text will appear in newsstands at the end of February — at the beginning of March. Thus, exactly one year will pass since the beginning of Russia's large-scale war in Ukraine. And, probably, I will ask a question that torments many — when will it end? Can we expect everything to be over in months? Or are we talking about years?
— This war will end, firstly, after Belarus is liberated from Russian troops, Lukashenka is eliminated and a new democratic government is formed in Belarus, and, secondly, after rocket attacks are launched on Moscow on five objects: the FSB building on Lubyanka, the buildings of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense and the State Duma of Russia and the Ostankino television tower. After that, Russian troops will leave all Ukrainian occupied territories, including Crimea. However, it may also be necessary to strike at Sevastopol and the Black Sea Fleet for this.
Now I will try to formulate why this is how a military campaign should be conducted, and when all this can happen.
Putin began the seizure of Ukraine in 2014: he seized the Crimea, started hostilities in the Donbas, and stopped. He stopped because the capture of Ukraine had to begin with an attack on Kyiv. And for this it was necessary first to occupy Belarus. He occupied Belarus quietly and imperceptibly by 2021, and on February 24, 2022, he launched an offensive from Belarus to Kyiv. The offensive failed, and the war took on a protracted positional character. Now Russia is again concentrating troops in Belarus in order to make a second attempt to capture Kyiv. Without this, it is impossible to win the war against Ukraine, and Putin knows this.
Russia is conducting military operations from three main directions: Belarus, Donbas and the Crimea. A positional war is going on in the Donbas and Crimea. Serious forces of the Russian army are concentrated there, and their expulsion from the occupied territories is problematic. With a population ratio of Russia to Ukraine of 4:1, despite the fact that Russia absolutely does not care how many Russian soldiers die in Ukraine, while Ukraine does not care how many of its citizens it loses in the war, despite the fact that Russia inflicts more and unpunished air strikes on the civilian population of Ukraine, positional warfare, reminiscent of the First World War campaign on the line of contact between French and German troops, is not beneficial to Ukraine from a military-tactical point of view. A turning point in this war can only happen if Ukraine, with the political and military support of its allies, defeats Russian troops in Russian-occupied Belarus and strikes at Moscow. Why exactly in Moscow? Because a huge state — Russia — is a country of one city. The whole life of a large country is concentrated in Moscow. All management is in Moscow. The whole flower of Putin's Russia is in Moscow. The rest of Russia may go under water tomorrow, no one will notice. In Russia everything is decided by Moscow and everything depends on Moscow. This is where you need to strike, nowhere else. No one will have to fight on Russian territory either.
This requires Ukraine's Western allies to give it offensive weapons, including F-16-class aircraft and long-range missiles capable of striking Moscow. If this happens, the war will end in two weeks with the defeat of Russia. If not, it will drag on for an unpredictable time, until the allies give Ukraine the appropriate weapons and take the appropriate political decision. So you need to count the time from the moment when Ukraine receives long-range missiles.
I understand that what has been said sounds quite unexpected and radical. But the liberation of Germany from Nazism began not with the landing of the allies in Germany, but with the landing of the allies in Italy, Greece and France, and with the liberation of all the occupied territories. And the outcome of the First World War was not determined by positional combat operations on the Franco-German border. It is always necessary to strike at a weak, but strategically important link in the enemy's chain. Such a link in Putin's campaign to seize Ukraine is Belarus — the most important strategic territory for Russia to inflict a nuclear strike on Europe with Lukashenka's hands and a springboard for a future invasion of Eastern Europe. If Russia loses Belarus, the continuation of hostilities in the Donbas and Crimea will become meaningless for Russia.
— What, in your opinion, are the prospects for Russia in this war and after it? Prospects for Putin and his entourage, as well as Russian citizens.
— The prospects for Russia in this war are deplorable. Let’s take the best option for Putin: Ukraine surrendered tomorrow, and Putin captured it. After that, he will move to Moldova. After that, he will move to the Baltic countries. And all the same, a full-scale third world war will begin, in which Russia will be defeated. But it will give Putin some reprieve and satisfaction, and give the Russian people a few months of the feeling that they have become Great again.
A more likely option is that Ukraine will continue to fight, and generally successfully, while the West slowly moves towards providing Ukraine with more and more modern weapons, including F-16s and long-range missiles. And Putin will put on the battlefield new tens and tens of thousands of obedient Russian soldiers who see nothing wrong with being sent to slaughter “in the interests of the state”.
Putin will not survive this war, nor will his entourage. But this is the last thing that worries me, or rather, the last thing we have to think about now. As for the citizens of Russia, they will not change until, after the defeat of Russia, new generations are born who will hate their parents for having participated in this war, actively or passively. And the contempt of children and grandchildren will be the most terrible punishment for all those who are over 15 today and who will live to see the end of this war, as was the case in West Germany after 1945.
— In turn, what do you think are the prospects for Ukraine after the end of the war? And what, in your opinion, should be the prospects? After all, it is one thing — what prospects can be, and another thing — what we would like.
— Ukraine's prospects are easy to calculate. It will be rebuilt with the help of Europe and North America, mostly with Russian money paid as reparations. The seized money of the Russian state and Russian oligarchs, Gazprom and Russian oil companies — everything will go to Ukraine as reparations. It will become a member of NATO, because by the end of the war Ukraine will have the most combat-ready army in Europe (it already has), and a member of the EU, since Ukraine is already in the EU: when several millions of your citizens who entered the EU as refugees, live and work in Europe for a while, your country becomes a de facto member of the EU. Registration of this de jure status may take some time, but this is a pure formality, especially since the EU at the administrative level will be engaged in the restoration of Ukraine, and it is more reasonable to do this, having Ukraine formally a member of the EU. Before the start of the war, Putin published a treatise in many languages that: there is no such country as Ukraine; there is no such people; there is no such language. Following the results of the first year of the war, it became obvious to everyone that: there is such a country, Ukraine; there is such a people, and there is such a language. It is extremely important that this understanding has come to all Ukrainians (until 2022 this was not absolutely the case, especially until 2014). Ukraine will never return under the Russian yoke — like the rest of Eastern Europe. This is Putin's main “achievement” in the first year of the war.
— Do you think that after the war it is possible to change the balance of power in the world? Or will the West accept Russia again and come up with an “excuse” for its war crimes?
— The balance of power in the world will change only in the sense that the Russian Federation will cease to be a threat. The war crimes of Russia and the Russian leadership will be condemned. I don't think anyone will be interested in coming up with excuses to get criminals out of the hands of international justice. Russia will be able to recover from its imperial illness and become a normal country if people come to power in Russia who understand that Putin, his entourage and state security, as a department, are the main and only enemies of Russia. If this does not happen, Russia is doomed to a new war and a new death.
Russia will lose some territories: the Chechen Republic, Ingushetia, Dagestan, maybe Tatarstan. But Russia will not disintegrate into many states, as many assume. It will remain a large Euro-Asian state. Based on the results of the war, of course, the status of the Kaliningrad region should be reviewed and these lands returned to their historical owners. Russia will have to withdraw its troops from Transnistria, finally return the Kuril Islands occupied by the Soviet Union at the end of the World War to Japan, and finally sign a peace treaty with Japan. The question of the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia will have to be decided by the Georgian government. The Russian Black Sea Fleet will cease to exist and leave the Black Sea. Russia will lose the right to have its bases in the Crimea. This is what should be the preconditions for Russia's return to the family of European states.
— At the end of November 2022, your book “From the Red Terror to the Mafia State” was published in Polish in Poland. What conclusion about the ongoing war and its prospects can we draw based on this book?
— In 1918, the state security of Soviet Russia set itself the task of seizing power in the state. Through a cascade of failed attempts to seize power, the FSB successfully realized its dream in 2000, when FSB lieutenant colonel, former director of the FSB Putin became president, who appointed senior officers of law enforcement agencies to the highest state, political and economic posts. In 2000, he returned the Soviet anthem to the country and began to implement a program to redistribute the world. We are eyewitnesses of all its stages: Georgia in 2008, Ukraine in 2014, Ukraine in 2022-2023… If the West does not stop Russia in Ukraine, it will inevitably continue to Moldova and Eastern Europe. But it seems to me that Russia will be stopped.
— From the perspective of the past year and your several visits to Poland last year — what do you think — what awaits Poland in the coming year? What should it tune in to, and what chance not to miss after the end of the war?
— Poland planned to create the strongest army of the NATO member countries in Europe. Poland generously and effectively helps Ukraine with weapons and refugees, forgetting or at least pushing historical contradictions and conflicts into the background. I don't think Poland can do anything more. If the boundaries of the current conflict are not widened, Poland will be able to stay out of it. If they expand, Poland will become part of this conflict as a member of NATO.