| Background and elements of the war in Ukraine | MR Online Map of the Intermarium. (Picture ma)

Background and elements of the war in Ukraine

Originally published: Schweizer Standpunkt on May 30, 2023 by Swiss Standpoint (more by Schweizer Standpunkt) (Posted Jun 12, 2023)

On the occasion of a trip to Strasbourg, Luxembourg and Brussels, two members of the editorial board of “Swiss Standpoint” had the following conversation with the Swiss military analyst Jacques Baud. He talks about the causes of the war, the current situation of Ukrainian and Russian troops and the influence of the USA on events in the region. In a second part, questions of international trade relations and Switzerland’s loss of trust and credibility abroad are also discussed.

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| Jacques Baud Photo ma | MR Online

Jacques Baud (Photo ma)

Swiss Standpoint: Mr Baud, how do you assess the current situation? Why are there no negotiations?

Jacques Baud: We are in a strange phase. In the West, people think that Ukraine is winning and that is why there is no reason to negotiate.

Recently, François Hollande, the former French president, was lured into a phone trap by Russian pranksters posing as Petro Poroshenko.1 He confessed once more that the Minsk Agreements were nothing more than an opportunity for Ukraine to prepare its armed forces, and he declared that “as long as Ukraine wins, there is no reason to negotiate”. That is the general belief.

In the West, the disinformation is so strong that people don’t even realise that Ukraine cannot win. So why should we negotiate if the Russians are in trouble, not the Ukrainians? On the Russian side, the deliberate refusal of Western countries to implement the Minsk agreements has caused the loss of all confidence in our sincerity.

Minsk Agreements

SS: What happened to the Minsk agreements?

JB: Last year and early 2023, Petro Poroshenko,2 Angela Merkel,3 François Hollande,4 and then Zelensky himself,5 have all declared that they never intended to implement the Minsk Agreements. What does this mean for the Russians? After a first defeat on the ground, the self-proclaimed Donbass republics signed an agreement with Kiev in September 2014 (Minsk 1). Kiev did not comply with the agreement. Just after a second defeat in Debaltsevo a second agreement (Minsk 2) was signed in February 2015. Germany and France were the guarantors of the implementation of the agreement for Ukraine, Russia was the guarantor for the republics of the Donbass. Further, since the Minsk 2 agreement had become the Security Council Resolution 2202 (2015) the other members of the UN Security Council (the U.S., UK and China) were also responsible for its implementation. Since then, however, more than 10,000 Russian-speaking civilians have died in the Donbass.

The Russians have made every effort to have these agreements implemented, as they were meant to protect the Russian-speaking population. However, no Western country has even tried to make Ukraine enforcing them. Today, the Russians say the West is not able to honour its own signature, how can they trust us?

SS: What is the fighting situation in Ukraine? What are Russia’s goals?

JB: The common belief in the West is that the conflict has run into a stalemate, for example in Bachmut. This comes from the narrative saying that Russia wants to seize and occupy Ukraine. But this is wrong. The goal clearly stated by the Russians is to eliminate the military threat to the population of the Donbass. They achieved this goal a first time by destroying the material capacities of Ukrainian forces in May/June 2022. Since then, Ukraine has been almost exclusively dependent on the West for its armament. Because of this constant flow of equipment, the Russians have understood that this is not enough and that they have to destroy their human potential. This is exactly what is happening now.

On 18 October 2022, the newly promoted Commander of the Joint Group of Forces in Ukraine, Sergey Surovikin said it clearly: “We have a different strategy. […] We do not aim at high rates of advance, we take care of every soldier and methodically ‘grind’ the advancing enemy.”6 He uses the term “meat grinder”. This brings us back to the concepts of “demilitarization” and “denazification” Vladimir Putin used on 24 February 2022. The Russians have remained with the same objectives ever since. The “denazification” goal was achieved on 28 March 2022.

Today, we can see in the secret documents leaked recently what is left to Ukraine. For example, in February 2022 the Ukrainians had about 850 T-64 battle tanks; today they have only 43 available for their big counteroffensive. They certainly still have a few in reserve somewhere, but the vast majority has been destroyed by the Russians. So, the Russians have already achieved their “demilitarization” goal twice, and it is likely that they will soon achieve it a third time. It is the sad reality, although the exact opposite is said in the West.

SS: What do you know about the numbers of war victims on both sides?

We have convinced ourselves that the Russians have lost a large number of soldiers, and that extending the war will quickly lead to instability in Russia. But here again, the opposite is true. We assume that the Russians suffered between 100,000 and 200,000 fatalities. However, these figures are based on nothing. Nobody knows the exact figures because neither the Ukrainians nor the Russians communicate their losses.

However, there is a Russian opposition media, Mediazona, which, together with the BBC, is making educated guesses on the number of Russian fatalities based on the death notices in the media. So, this is a pro-Western and certainly not Russian government-controlled media, which probably tends to overestimate the number of Russian dead. However, according to this source one can estimate that between 10,000 and 20,000 Russian soldiers died in combat, but certainly not 100,000. In the West, we tend to rely exclusively on Ukrainian propaganda. On 31 December, the 100,000th Russian killed was celebrated in Kiev, and this was even beamed onto the tallest building of the city. But on that very day, Mediazona’s figure was at 10,000, which means 10 times less.

When other figures were aired for Ukraine, for example when in November Ursula von der Leyen said in a speech that more than hundred thousand of Ukrainians had died, the Ukrainian government vehemently complained. And this statement was promptly retracted. In fact, I think the figure was correct, and Von der Leyen most probably saw it somewhere and didn’t make it up, but she was not supposed to say that.

Propaganda as a basis for decision-making

SS: Where do the Americans get their information from?

JB: The secret U.S. documents leaked in the media in April give us valuable clues about how the West gets its information. Regarding Ukrainian equipment, there is no mystery, as these figures are mostly open. As to the Russian deployed potential, the U.S. and NATO have an intensive air reconnaissance activity which provides them with a good overview of the available forces.

But when it comes to the troops’ locations in the field, for the tactical situation, for the losses or the operations of the opposing forces, the West is almost blind. They have obviously no intelligence capacity of their own. Their only source of information is Ukraine. In other words, most of our decision-making is based on propaganda. That, for me, is one of the most interesting aspects of this conflict. It is said that the CIA is deeply involved in the conflict. This is true as far as special sabotage and terrorist operations are concerned, but it is completely wrong as far as analytical capabilities are concerned.7

SS: How do you go about your analysis?

JB: My approach is not about my opinions or feelings. I want to paint the best possible picture based on what is available, such as the number of deaths. It is about intelligence work. It’s about having as factual a picture as possible. I try to work out of a blank sheet with as little external influence as possible, regardless whether it comes from the left or the right.

Take John J. Mearsheimer for example, he writes interesting and true things. He says that the Russians were lied to from the beginning, etc. That’s true. But then he has his own ideas of the conflict. These do not correspond to the historical reality of the conflict. I can agree with some of his conclusions, but not necessarily with the path that leads to them, and this path is important for resolving the conflict.

For me, it is not about accusing or excusing anyone. It is about having the right picture to find the right solution. And that’s why I agree that the Russians were lied to since the 90s. That is the background of the conflict and adds to the current situation, but it is not the reason why Russia intervened in Ukraine. This is important.

Wars without aims are endless

It is a background element, which makes communication more difficult. The main rationale for the intervention is to protect the population in the Donbass. That’s why Putin has so much support for protecting the Russian population there. This is a key point.

When it comes to negotiations, the Russians will certainly exploit their victory in the field to achieve their political goals. That is clear, that is basically Carl von Clausewitz’s theory. However, to achieve political goals, there are other methods. This should have been achieved through the Minsk agreements. That is why the Russians have insisted on this political solution. Since it failed, they will use the conflict to achieve the goal differently. Hence this logic, a typical Clausewitzian consideration that we in the West do not apply. We have fought numerous wars for nothing, without any clear aims.

We, in the West have no idea what we want to achieve with Ukraine. If we wanted happiness and prosperity for the Ukrainians, we would have promoted the implementation of the Minsk agreements. We did not do that—we pushed them to prepare for war.

We are not pursuing constructive goals. You can see that in the wars in Afghanistan, Libya etc., they are all wars without aims. That’s why it is difficult to find a peace, a way out afterwards. If you have a war goal, for example, to occupy Paris and when you reach Paris, then it is finished, then you have achieved your aim and you are satisfied. But if you don’t know the goal, it becomes endless.

The Soviets had a goal in Afghanistan: to strengthen a government. This lasted for two years after they left—until the Americans brought it down with the help of the jihadists. Twenty-five years later, the Western coalition in Afghanistan had no objective: the government they set up collapsed within 48 hours after their departure.

This is exactly the problem of the Americans and Europeans in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq. They have withdrawn from Iraq, but what have they achieved? They don’t even know that themselves. They fought, but to what end? They destroyed the country, but that was not a goal.

Endless wars breed terrorists

Some say the U.S. did it for the oil. But that’s not true. The oil companies in Iraq today are not American companies. That means there was no aim. If you don’t have an aim, you can never win. That’s why Mali asked the French to leave the country. They wage wars without a strategy and without any clear objectives: they simply kill people, including innocent civilians (and sometimes they torture them). The result is that for every person killed, ten new resistance fighters emerge. It is endless.

That is why Africans rightly question the French military presence and its purpose. Today’s militaries (including in Switzerland) are no longer strategists, but (often bad) tacticians. This can be seen in Ukraine, where the military was trained by the West: it cannot keep up with the Russians in terms of operational art. This is an additional problem for the West.

| Background and elements of the war in Ukraine | MR Online

Map of the Intermarium. (Picture ma)

The Intermarium, a Polish foreign policy goal

SS: What are the Poles’ aims in the Ukraine conflict?

JB: That is very interesting. You are referring to the question of these ready-made divisions described in Seymour Hersh’s article on corruption in Ukraine.

In the 1920s, Jozef Pilsudski had a project. This is the so-called Intermarium [between the seas]. It’s an idea that has its origin in the 17th century principality of Poland and Lithuania. Today, it would be a matter of uniting the countries between the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean into one community. Those are the three seas. Pilsudski wanted to restore that. And about 15 years ago, at the beginning of the 2000s, Poland redefined the recreation of the Intermarium as a foreign policy goal.8

In January, an agreement for cooperation between Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine was signed.9 This corresponds to the first Lublin Triangle, which dates back to the 16th Century. It is an alliance that could be one of the first elements of this Intermarium that Poland wants to achieve.

Visegrad group with its own battle group

The Visegrad group with Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia also plays a role here. This is also an element of the Intermarium. For this purpose, a Visegrad Battle Group has even been formed militarily, a “Battle Group” that is not subordinate to NATO.10 This exists. It is not known exactly what Poland wants with it. But interestingly, it was recently said in England and Germany that in two years’ time (2025) Poland will have the second largest army in Europe.

There is the idea of forming an independent Intermarium, a small Europe within Europe, together with Poland. Of course, the Poles want to head this group.

At this stage, it is difficult to distinguish between rhetoric and reality. There are certainly rhetorical elements, there are certainly also concrete ones, such as those listed in Poland’s foreign policy goals. I did not invent that. This means, some are seriously considering this project.

Every now and then voices are raised, such as that of Emmanuel Macron, who calls for a “European defense army”. That’s pure rhetoric, they’re just words. Whether it’s the same for the Poles, I’m not sure, because there are certain concrete elements, like the combat force and the new treaties. It is difficult to predict the way in which these pieces of the puzzle will eventually fit together, but it could be a different Europe from the one we have in mind.

Goals of the right-wing extremist groups in Ukraine

It is interesting to look at the aims of those who support Volodymyr Zelensky in Ukraine. They are not only fanatical, but they also have a doctrine. Our media try to deny their existence, because many Europeans would withdraw their support for Ukraine if they knew.

These movements are generally against the European Union and prefer the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) (to which Switzerland also belongs). They have realised that the Ukrainian economy is not ready to compete with other EU countries.11 On very many demonstrations of the population the EU flag is crossed out with a cross.

On the other hand, they also have in mind participation in the Intermarium proposed by Poland.12 Their idea of Europe is not that of sharing and integration, which some in the EU have, but a Europe governed by nations, which even goes against the very principles of the EU.13 It is the “idea of the nation” (the N united with an I) that can be seen on the emblem of the AZOV movement and which is claimed by various far-right groups in Ukraine and elsewhere. This is why they support the Intermarium. When they say they are for Europe, they do not mean the European Union or the Europe we have in mind. It is the Europe as Hitler imagined it. That is the difference. And that is clearly stated in the doctrine.

Dangerous dynamics

In other words, we are in a dynamic that I consider very dangerous.

We and the Americans are supporting that. Of course, the U.S. have an interest not having a Europe that functions as it used to. In other words, they do not want a dysfunctional Europe, but a Europe that is unable to get stronger. This is the essence of the so-called Wolfowitz Doctrine.

You can read it all, word for word. They don’t want a strong Europe. Europe is supposed to function, people must be calm and work normally, but nothing more. Europe is closely monitored. That’s why we have this difference between Western Europe and Eastern Europe, and that’s why the United States promotes this difference. It not only helps them in their efforts to contain Russia, but it prevents Europe from becoming strong.

EU net beneficiaries have the strongest influence in NATO

It is interesting to see on the map how the money flows in the EU, and who the recipients are. On the one hand we have Germany, France, and Italy, these are the net payers, and all the Eastern European countries are the net recipients. And these are exactly the ones who want to have “their own Europe”. This is a strange dynamic. You can see that the influence of these recipients in Europe is enormous.

I have personally noticed this in the NATO. This is a policy that the Americans are keen to support. In other words, these states have more weight than Germany and France, which were NATO members from the beginning, but were critical of United States and were not willing to align on its foreign policy. That is why the U.S. tend to favor these East European states.

Aggressive, militant forces

That is the current situation. There is indeed a trend that I think is dangerous for Europe. These are aggressive, combative forces. The Poles and these Baltic countries are not only aggressive, but they hate the Russians. This goes back further than communism. The hatred is much older. These countries are extremely conservative, in the bad sense of the word.

These countries still have respect for the Third Reich. They celebrate the veterans who volunteered in the German Wehrmacht and the Waffen SS. We have to remember that in the West, we tend to see the 3rd Reich as an occupation force, while in Eastern Europe, they tend to see liberators against the Soviets. This is exactly the same thing in Ukraine. If this goes together with a spirit of tolerance and open-mindedness in a democratic context, this is fine. I can understand that veterans want to remember these tough days, regardless of the side they fought for. But it becomes a problem when it goes in one single direction and is no longer open to other perspectives. This leads to polarisation. That is exactly what you can observe today, and that’s where I see a certain danger.

SS: What are the connections to Canada?

JB: On the one hand, there is Christya Freeland, Canada’s vice president. Her grandfather was a Nazi collaborator in Poland and Ukraine. Thousands of Ukrainians emigrated to Canada in 1945/46 because they could no longer stay in Ukraine after the Soviet victory. They were mostly members of the former 1st Galicia Division of the SS. These people have since died and monuments were erected in Canada, to remember them. This is largely unknown in Europe. These are statues with swastikas that caused offence and led to major problems.14 Christya Freeland campaigned for these statues to be allowed to remain standing.

Traces elsewhere too

Ursula von der Leyen’s grandfather was also a Nazi and Victoria Nuland is also from Ukraine. Anthony Blinken’s great-grandfather was also Ukrainian. However, these people are certainly not Nazis today. But the irrationality and emotionality with which the Ukraine conflict is being conducted seems to demonstrate that these leaders were educated in a spirit of hatred and revenge. Some have this rejection or revenge attitude towards the Russians, others towards the Soviets. It is a mixture that converges today against modern Russia. I tend to see in this unhealthy relationship the “revenge of the grandchildren”. This is certainly part of the irrational way the West is managing this conflict.

With Iraq we didn’t have this problem at all. We don’t have any ministers who come from Iraq. But with Ukraine we have this constellation of elements that have a historical origin. I am not saying that they are dominant elements, but one can feel their presence in the background.

Ukraine only an independent country since 1991

When Putin says Ukraine was artificially created by the Soviet Union, he is correct. Ukraine has only been an independent country since 1991. That is only 30 years. Previously, it did not exist. Today, Poland contemplates recovering a part of it, the same with Bulgaria and, even in Hungary people say parts of Ukraine belong to them. The same goes for Romania and Moldova. Moldova itself was a part of Romania. All this is an artificial creation of the Soviets, of Stalin. It is a simplification to say that the Russians are against Ukraine. It is much more complex. It is precisely these elements that are not only state-bound, but also cultural.

| I N the Idea of Nation | MR Online“I-N”, the “Idea of Nation” is the insignia of the Azov regiment. It is similar to the emblem of the 2nd SS Panzer Division “Das Reich”, which “liberated” Kharkov in 1943, except for the inverted “N”. The background of this idea is the notion of “natiocracy” which implies that governance is based on the concept of nation in the racial sense. That is why those who support the Kiev regime speak of “racial purity”, because power cannot be shared with impure nations. This is the “idea of nation” based on the superiority of one race.

The nation must be pure. Therefore, no Russians should be in Ukraine; they do not belong to the “Ukrainian nation”. This is the position of the right-wing extremists, supported by our media, who support Zelensky. This is the logic of the “idea of nation”, it is about the question of purity. Purity is an element that keeps on resurfacing in the Ukrainian ultra-nationalist narative.

Because of this racist idea, the new masters in Kiev decided in 2014 to wipe out the Russian-speaking minority in Ukraine. In this spirit, on 1 July 2021, Ukraine passed a law granting different rights to Russians and Ukrainians in Ukraine.15 This is why our media did not report on the victims in the Donbass, nor on the measures taken against ethnic minorities. However, this was the reason for the Russian intervention.

De-dollarisation of global trade relations?

SS: Now a change of topic: What is your assessment of the current discussion of a possible far-reaching “de-dollarisation” of global trade relations? I see this as a trend. This is no doubt a consequence of the sanctions adopted against Russia, which frighten a lot of economic actors, but we must be cautious.

JB: The dollar will remain the most important currency for trade for some years to come. However, it is a sword of Damocles for the U.S. economy. The problem is that if your economy depends on the dollar, it is vulnerable to U.S. sanctions. Non-Western countries have realised the irrationality of our decision-making mechanisms and political leaders in the West. Faced with the unpredictability of the West, they are therefore trying to reduce their vulnerability to the dollar and the euro.

Many countries have lost confidence in the West. Switzerland is also affected by this. Last year, about 130 billion Swiss francs (145 bn US$) were withdrawn from the Credit Suisse, especially from the Middle Eastern countries.

Swiss sanctions against Russia as a signal

They thought that if Switzerland imposes so many sanctions and may also be able to confiscate their funds, then they should withdraw the money quickly. That is the reason. They are afraid. They don’t want to have dollars in reserve. They have seen that if sanctions have applied to a big power like Russia, it could happen to them any time. It’s the same with Saudi Arabia. Biden has said he would turn Saudi Arabia to a pariah state. The Saudis have rightly understood that time has come to move away from the dollar.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are holding talks

The so-called “Rest of the World” has realised that the West acts exclusively according to its own interests. More precisely, the U.S. acts according to its interests and the Europeans are not in a position to resist and are forced to go along. This has been seen, for example, with Germany and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Since last year, the West has been discussing what to do with the frozen Russian money. Should we keep the money to finance the war in Ukraine, etc.? This situation has naturally worried other actors who might be subject to similar sanctions. Those who had money in our banks have withdrawn their money.

SS: Is Switzerland in trouble now?

JB: No, there is probably no reason to worry, but we have not improved our situation, which is already, according to me, weakening Switzerland’s position.

SS: What is the situation of Germany and the West in general?

JB: Germany has to bear an additional consequence because of its energy situation. In February 2022, the West believed and hoped that Russia would collapse immediately after the imposition of massive sanctions. That’s what French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said. However, this did not happen. The world needs Russia’s commodities. Russia could therefore redirect its economic ties towards Asia. Russia never used oil or gas as a leverage against the West. So, the West has felt the indirect effects of these sanctions.

If you listen to what Oleksei Arestovich said in March 2019 and read the U.S. strategy to destabilise Russia written at the same time, it becomes clear that the U.S. wanted this war. The others have simply followed subserviently, using Ukraine not for the interests of Ukraine itself, but for their own interests.

The idea was to generate a hyperinflation in Russia, that would have created the conditions for a regime change by a discontented population. This did not happen because our decision-making assessed Russia’s situation with outdated data. As a result, we have unnecessarily abandoned a cheap source of energy. I remind you that Europe is not dependent on Russia, but on cheap energy. European leaders merely heeded the demand of Donald Trump, who did not want Nord Stream 2 to be completed.

Russia’s situation

Russian’s economy runs—even very well—because it was very well prepared. It can certainly survive independently of the West. After the Western sanctions adopted in 2014, the Russian leadership understood the problem would come again and it had to harden its economy. Early 2022, Russia was one of the least indebted countries in the world, and it has even less debts today. Russia and China have very low foreign debts. And what weakens a country? Its foreign debts.

SS: Can we speak of a war between NATO and Russia?

JB: This statement is inaccurate. NATO as an organisation does not have an independent decision-making capability of the USA. Therefore, the problem is not NATO, but the USA. Obviously, it is a war in Ukraine between the USA and Russia. The others (NATO countries, Sweden, Finland, etc.) are just “useful idiots”, as Lenin would say. The problem is that no European country has made an independent assessment of this war since 2014. They are paying the price and will continue to pay it.

Switzerland is unable to make its own independent assessment of the situation

This is confirmed, for example, by the situation report “Switzerland’s Security 2022” of the Federal Intelligence Service of June 2022.16 The analysis shows that there is definitely no understanding of the war. Zero. The assessment of the situation is simply based on Ukrainian propaganda. And things like this worry me because they indicate we do not have independent intelligence analysis capabilities.

The problem is not who you decide to support whether it’s Ukraine, or Russia or any other countries. The fact that we are not able to assess the problem independently is very disturbing. It shows that you can run into a problem when you haven’t understood anything. It’s like a child. It runs into a problem because it doesn’t know what it’s doing.

SS: Can Switzerland’s neutrality be saved if the assessment of neutrality is on similar grounds?

JB: Neutrality is a complex problem.

Foreign policy is based on national interests. That is unilateral. But neutrality in itself is not unilateral and there lies the problem. Neutrality works on a basis of trust. It must be credible. Neutrality is not unilateral, it is multilateral.

In fact, Swiss neutrality was guaranteed and specified by the Great Powers in 1815. That is why it became so robust. If other countries do not recognise that neutrality, then there is nothing we can do. You can’t ask Iran, for example, to trust us. Once neutrality, trust, or above all credibility, is lost, you cannot restore it unilaterally through a short-term policy. It takes time to restore trust.

Overcoming our own biases

SS: Why is our assessment of the situation not independent?

JB: It is the same as with terrorism. When assessing a situation, the most difficult thing is to overcome one’s own biases. That is the biggest problem we have. We cannot get rid of our prejudices. Today, the Russians are the designated bad guys anyway, back then it was the Soviets. There we talk about dictatorship. But when I look at what is happening in France now, you wonder what the word “dictatorship” really means.

This crisis is important because it shows us that the problem is not only between Ukraine and Russia, but also the weakness of our society. If closing a Twitter account is considered normal in our country—but not when others do that—then we have a very limited understanding of democracy.

Yet, this is not new. I’m not member of any political party, but here in Switzerland you see that some parties are barely allowed to speak. Democracy is a competitive process that includes the ability to come up with the best arguments. If I ban someone from speaking, it means that I don’t have arguments. That is no longer democracy. This crisis clearly shows that, and this is our weakness.

I remind you of the quote attributed (probably wrongly) to Voltaire: “I do not agree with you, but I will fight to the death so that you can say it.”

Unfortunately, we are beyond this point. Our leadership is made by very young politicians with no life experience and no culture, who are so narcissistic that for them democracy means thinking like them.

SS: Mr Baud, thank you very much for your interesting comments and your commitment.

Jacques Baud studied international security and economics in Geneva. He is a colonel in the General Staff of the Swiss Army and worked for the Swiss Strategic Intelligence Service. For several years, he performed various functions on behalf of NATO in Brussels and Ukraine. For UN peacekeeping, he was mainly deployed in African countries. He is the author of numerous books and articles on intelligence, asymmetric warfare, terrorism, and disinformation. His current analyses of the Ukraine conflict, published in independent media, are well received in Europe and beyond.

(Translation “Swiss Standpoint”)


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