Kremlin critics Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Garry Kasparov, and French-US writer Jonathan Littell, who spoke at the Free Russia Congress held in Lithuania, agree that the outcome of the six-month-old war depends on the weapons that the West can deliver to Ukraine.
However, according to them, the West is not yet interested in supplying weapons that could lead to a breakthrough in Ukraine’s favor.
The participants of the discussion also emphasized that the most difficult stage of the war awaits in the winter, but Ukrainians are psychologically more prepared to withstand the challenges of the cold season and a desperate struggle than a country that suffers from increased energy prices and does not get involved in a direct conflict. Europe.
Sees the initiative of Ukraine
“The war is not going the way V. Putin wanted. The war is not going as the West expected. It can be said that the war exceeded all predictions: Ukraine not only held its own, but also managed to gather probably the most powerful army in Europe and constantly takes the initiative. At the current stage, it is obvious that V. Putin has not lost yet, and Ukraine has not won, but the initiative has passed to the side of Ukraine,” said G. Kasparov.
“Everyone is thinking about how the winter will pass, what will be the military, political, economic conclusions of this winter. This winter will be fatal,” he is convinced.
M. Khodorkovsky pointed out that Russia is still avoiding actions that may have consequences within the country, that is, global mobilization, while Ukraine is completely dependent on regular Western military supplies.
“If the trends that are observed in the conversations of Western politicians prevail, that Ukraine does not need to be allowed to lose, but also so that V. Putin does not feel defeated, and Ukraine may go too far with the amount of weapons it has, I am afraid that the consequences will be severe,” said M. Khodorkovsky .
G. Kasparov also called for fighting the narrative that “Ukraine needs to be helped, but it cannot win”, so it is necessary to negotiate with the Kremlin. According to him, this is exactly what Russian propaganda is aiming for.
The West is afraid of nuclear weapons
According to J. Littell, there is a feeling that the West, in particular United Statesthe weapons supplied to Ukraine are “calculated to keep Ukraine from losing, but not enough to make Ukraine win.”
“I think Putin’s nuclear weapons threats had a big impact on the West. I know people in the French government who are taking these threats very seriously, and they are very afraid that if Putin appears to be losing, he will use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine (…). This explains why Ukraine is not given enough weapons to really crush Russia,” he said.
According to J. Littell, Russia faces a lack of weapons, human resources, poor military leadership, so it relies on artillery.
“They don’t have anything, but for now it’s enough for them to keep what they have and maybe go even further,” Mr Littell said.
He was sure that the tactics of the war would change in the winter, but he doubted whether the Russian offensive would intensify in the winter.
“Ukraine will probably survive the winter, we’ll see.” But judging by what the US is currently supplying, I don’t see the possibility of a breakthrough for Ukraine,” he admitted.
Leadership is missing
G. Kasparov said that the idea that the war could cross NATO’s borders “paralyzes” Western leaders and the administration of United States President Joe Biden, which could affect the history of the West for decades to come.
“Regarding the supply of arms, what we are seeing now, I don’t want to say the word ‘shameful’, but it is a deplorable picture.” The amount of US weapons in the last six months is laughable compared to what the same America did in the first half of the year when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union”, said the Russian oppositionist.
“There is not the political will that Roosevelt and Churchill had,” he added, referring to the US and United Kingdom leaders during World War II.
According to M. Khodorkovsky, the West is in a crisis of political leadership, because the heads of states prefer to find out the mood of their voters and try to fulfill “those wishes broadcast by the electorate”. He also admitted that the West’s behavior is also determined by the fear of using nuclear weapons.
“You have to struggle with the balance of leadership and management. I completely agree with Garis – there is no political leadership, we can see this by observing the military situation in Ukraine,” he said.
“Yes, today no one can say with certainty whether V. Putin is ready to push the button or not, but to create policy in fear of someone pushing the button… sometimes you have to admit that the threat is there, but we have to ignore it,” he urged former head of the Yukos oil company.
Europe will endure the winter harder
According to Mr. Littell, there is no doubt that the situation in Ukraine in winter due to lack of heating and fuel will be incomparably more difficult than in Europe, but its war-hardened people are better prepared for difficulties.
“The West is not psychologically prepared for difficulties, if we talk about inflation, rising gas prices and their shortages. This will intensify the political problems we observe in Europe, especially the right-wing parties will use it as an instrument (…) in order to change the “power conjuncture”, said the expert.
According to him, the Baltic countries and Poland understand much better and remember the Soviet repressions, so they should be able to endure the problems more easily.
M. Khodorkovsky urged not to dramatize the situation, saying that the accumulated energy reserves allow Europe to survive this winter.
“We are talking about tens of billions of dollars, but it is not hundreds of billions or trillions (..) it will be painful, but not fatal. As far as the Western leaders are able to deal with it – I will return to pessimism: they are not such leaders and the energy policy mistakes of the last two decades threaten energy stability”, he asserted.
“I am also an optimist: I do not think that this hysteria, which is entirely possible, has a real economic basis,” said M. Khodorkovsky.
G. Kasparov is convinced that the alternative to sanctions, which cause energy prices to rise, would be much more pessimistic, without ruling out that the war will spread to the eastern European Union and NATO countries.
“We have to accept that the temperature in the apartments will be a few degrees lower, but Ukraine is paying for it with blood every day. When this becomes clear, Western society will be ready for a difficult choice,” the oppositionist claimed.
Only a coup would change the government
According to Mr. Littell, the Russian president Vladimir Putin has invested a lot of political capital in this war, so if he loses the fight, there will be no compromise and there will have to be a change of government.
“I don’t know who will be in power in Russia. I see no other way to change the government than a coup inside Russia (…). There is no way forward for V. Putin – more war, more aggression, but there is no way back either,” the writer is convinced.
He emphasized that Western sanctions affect the Kremlin, but Russia should not be judged by Western standards when leaders care about the opinion of the electorate. According to him, the liberal intelligentsia may “hate Putin”, but this does not affect ordinary people.
In his opinion, a complete ban on Russians traveling to Europe can further strengthen sympathy for the authoritarian leader.
“Others think – V. Putin or nobody, because the sanctions are working, because life will become more difficult (…). If people are not released from Russia, then either the tsar or nobody. Because they have no third way. The effect and the means to freeze this system are not working,” claimed Mr. Littel.
“I think the future of Russia is dark. I don’t think it will be like that in North Koreabut the next 10-15 years will be difficult and dark for Russia,” he added.
Sees the Kremlin’s “foundations shaking”
G. Kasparov compared the situation with Germany in 1942, where “normal life was going on” at that time, despite several intellectuals spreading anti-Nazi sentiments from exile. According to him, V. Putin’s “modernized fascist dictatorship” has no real ideological basis, except for power, money and propaganda apparatus.
Still, he saw signs of change in the Kremlin.
“We can already see the shaking of the foundations of V. Putin’s state order. If the West keeps the sanctions, I’m not talking about five or ten years, I think the winter will be decisive, because in the spring Russian economy will actually fail,” G. Kasparov is convinced.
“There is no chance for Russia to hold back, mainly due to the fact that for the first time in its history it is opposing the entire Western world (…). They expect the West to stumble. This is a bluff,” he added.
The former world chess champion called for the sanctions to be maintained, stressing that, for example, every undelivered shipment of chips means an unmade missile that would land on Ukrainian soil.
“Changes in Russia are not possible without the victory of Ukraine and the readiness of Western leaders to respond to V. Putin’s nuclear blackmail,” he claimed. Kremlin critic.
Both M. Khodorkovsky and G. Kasparov said they believed that Russia could turn to the path of federalization after the end of the war. M. Khodorkovsky claimed that he did not think that it could be divided into several decentralized states. According to him, “Russian federalization is a key task for the post-Putin Russian establishment.”
“Should we talk about the complete disintegration of Russia, I think that, first of all, this is fortunately impossible, secondly, it would be bad, because we would have five or seven nuclear states whose federal borders turn into state borders – this would be a nightmare for the whole of Europe,” said M. Khodorkovsky.