Evgeny Buzhinsky: Ukraine should accept Russia's terms before it loses more territories



Evgeny Buzhinsky - professor at the HSE University, retired lieutenant general - gave an interview to GEOFOR on the most pressing foreign policy issues.

- What new threats to Russia are posed by the ongoing expansion of the NATO bloc, in particular, the construction of military bases in Finland?

- As far as I know, negotiations with the Americans are underway. I don’t think there will be many bases there. They will build one, for example, on the coast of the Gulf of Finland. What are the threats? First of all, it is a blockade of the Gulf of Finland and restriction of access, i.e. a de facto blockade of Kaliningrad. But I assume that we will not allow this, and the Americans understand this.

- Will the U.S. have enough power next year to finance the tension points they are creating around the world: Ukraine, the Middle East, etc.?

- One should not underestimate the capabilities of the US. They can print a lot of money. Another thing is that they are really close to depleting their reserves for the armed forces and weapons. The trend is that they are not infinite, and the US defense industry is not working at full capacity. There are several corporations in the States that produce primarily for the Air Force and Navy. As for the ground forces, tanks are produced by one factory in Ohio, all the others have closed down. The Americans produced the last engine for Abrams, I think, in 1994. And if it was thought that there were about 3000 Abrams ready for combat, in reality there were 1414 of them.

The U.S. does not have enough forces to fulfill the tasks, as Americans like to say, on a global scale — that is, to fight two and a half wars (large regional and one small war), it is all in the past. Ukraine and the Middle East show that the US is at the limit of its physical capabilities.

- Could the situation between Venezuela and Guyana hypothetically join this list?

- I do not think that something serious will arise there, although if something happens in the Americans’ «backyard» with Venezuela, they may worry. And if we take into account their constant maniacal concern for the Pacific region, first of all Taiwan, we have four conflicts. Two are in full swing and one, if we take Venezuela and Guyana, could theoretically escalate, although I don’t really believe it. There could also be some trouble in the Taiwan Strait.

- Ukraine’s counteroffensive was stymied in the summer. Does it still have the potential for a new counteroffensive in winter? What is your forecast?

- Now they are preparing, although it is much more difficult to prepare in winter than in summer or fall. We started building our defenses in early October last year. And taking into account the fact that they have limited opportunities for air strikes, we managed to organize a very decent strategic defense in three lines and extensive minefields in favorable conditions. Ukraine will certainly find it difficult now, given the winter, the frozen ground, our superiority in aviation and our constant pressure on the enemy by means of artillery and missile strikes from the air. Of course, it is unrealistic for the UAF to think about a counteroffensive in winter. It is better to take care of creating a more or less decent defense, which will also be very difficult.

- If the actions of our armed forces in Avdeevka are successful, how can they turn the tide of the Special Military Operation? Why don’t we just bypass Avdeevka?

- First of all, it is a key transportation hub. Of course, we can leave it behind our lines, but to encircle it is a diversion of forces: it needs to be blocked. And there is still a fairly decent garrison there. Leaving such a grouping behind our lines is not quite right. Moreover, in addition to the purely military reason, there is also a psychological and political one. Donbass must be liberated. Avdeevka is the key to further advances towards Slavyansk and Kramatorsk. And if the command decided to take Avdeevka, it means that this decision is justified. It is easier to judge from the outside, but the commanders know better. I adhere to this position.

- The Valdai Forum-2023 discussed the issue of changing our nuclear doctrine, in particular the possibility of a preventive nuclear strike. But has Russia already used all its options to avoid the use of nuclear weapons?

- My position, unlike the position of Sergei Karaganov and supporters of preventive nuclear strikes and the use of nuclear weapons in general, is the following: I do not believe in a limited nuclear war — it is impossible. A nuclear conflict can only happen between Russia and the United States. In any such conflict, escalation is inevitable, so any use of nuclear weapons will lead to a global catastrophe. It will be mutual annihilation. There will be no Russia, no US, and no Europe. The Chinese will probably remain, and the Indians. So these are irresponsible statements. Nuclear weapons are the last thing that can be resorted to only when there is a threat that we are suffering a total defeat and the existence of our state is at stake. The use of nuclear weapons is the path to global catastrophe. There can be no limited use, in my view. It is a chimera.

- As soon as it became clear that Nagorno-Karabakh was integrated into Azerbaijan, there was a clash in Kosovo, when some 30–40 Serbs attacked 500–600 Albanians for some reason. Don’t you think that these events are not a coincidence? Couldn’t Karabakh become a precedent for solving other disputed territorial issues, for example, Transnistria?

- Well, it is possible to fantasize as much as you want. And who will help Moldova? Will the Moldavians attack Transnistria? The Moldovan Armed Forces are not in the condition to solve the issue with Transnistria by force. 1992 showed that Transnistrians, although they are few in number, are also very well organized militarily. Therefore, I do not think that something will go up in flames there. If the Moldovan leadership makes such a decision, it will be unwise.

- How vulnerable and dangerous for us is the enemy’s bridgehead on the left bank of the Dnieper?

- Our President answered this question very clearly. From the military point of view, they have captured a small bridgehead on the left bank and turned it into a meat grinder. They cross it by boat under constant artillery fire, under the strikes of our aviation and just grind their men, and these people are assault squads, as they call them, elite units. This is complete nonsense. The bridgehead is created for the development of success, for the approach of the main forces and further offensive. And they have been sitting for a month on this patch of ground, all the time redirecting fresh forces there, which are being destroyed. I do not understand, and others do not understand why this is necessary.

- The West tried to use Ukraine as a battering ram against Russia. It didn’t work out. Will it try to freeze the conflict so that it can regroup, build NATO military infrastructure in Ukraine, and in the meantime foment other conflicts on our borders?

- They can try all they want, but we do not need this freeze. Sergei Lavrov has said this repeatedly. And the Russian military leadership believes that until the goals of the operation are achieved, there will be no freeze. Ukraine needs to end this conflict without any freeze and accept Russia’s terms — demilitarization, neutral status, recognition of Russia’s new regions. They need to think how not to lose something more. It is not without reason that Vladimir Putin has repeatedly said that Odessa is a Russian city. I think he has this idea and I fully support it.

- Hungary, on the one hand, supports us, on the other hand, is not against financing Ukraine, if the EU unblocks the allocation of funds to them. Is this allyship or just simple manipulation of Ukraine for their own interests?

- No, of course, they are not allies — they are NATO members and they act according to their own interests. Economically it is favorable for them to cooperate with us, taking into account our geographical position. They need our gas and oil, nuclear power plants, which we are building for them. They act very pragmatically. As for arms supplies, everything is logical here too. They set conditions for Ukraine regarding their Hungarian population in Transcarpathia. They do not like the fact that Ukrainians have started the process of Ukrainianization of this Hungarian minority, and they probably want to annex this part of the Ukrainian population. As for the EU — this is pure trade. Why do Hungarians want Ukraine in the EU? To turn Hungary from a recipient of aid into a donor? In this case, they all turn into donors at once. And the recipient of aid is one country, Ukraine. Pure pragmatism. There is no allyship.

- There are several options for the Middle East scenario:

• Israel returns to the 1967 borders.

• Israel takes the Gaza Strip

• The city of Jerusalem with special status

• War of all against all

Which option do you consider the most acceptable, and which of the listed scenarios is the situation unfolding now?

- All the listed scenarios are fantastic. A return to the 1967 borders, so that Israel withdraws from everywhere — from the Golan Heights and the West Bank — this is impossible. The Americans will likely force Israel to suspend its operation by the end of the year or the beginning of next year, to declare that they are done with Hamas. The Israelis want Mahmoud Abbas and his administration to take control of Gaza as well. That’s not very realistic either. I don’t think anyone knows what would be best in this situation. I am not a great specialist on the Middle East, but even sophisticated experts on the subject cannot fully understand what Benjamin Netanyahu wants. Doing away with Hamas is unrealistic. They will inflict maximum damage on it and will try to ensure that the Gaza Strip is not under Hamas’ undivided control, so that more moderate forces — Mahmoud Abbas and his administration — rule the region.

- How will Iran act in this situation?

- Iran does not need war. It supports Hamas, but not to that extent. If Hezbollah were to get involved and Israel’s operation in Lebanon began, then yes, but as it is, Iran will avoid involvement in this conflict.