“We cannot defeat them now, neither can they defeat us.” BBC interview with the head of military intelligence of Ukraine Kyryll Budanov

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Combat operations in Ukraine have now reached a dead end, neither Ukraine nor Russia can achieve significant success, says the head of Ukrainian military intelligence Kyrylo Budanov. Meanwhile, Kyiv is waiting for more modern weapons from the Western allies.

“The situation has simply reached a dead end,” said Budanov in an interview with the BBC. “The situation is not developing in any way.”

After Ukrainian troops recaptured Kherson in November, the fiercest fighting broke out around Bakhmut in eastern Donetsk region. In other parts of the front, Russian troops, as you can understand, took up the defense, and the pace of Ukrainian ground operations along the entire 1,000-kilometer front line slowed down with the onset of winter.

According to Budanov, Russia “is now in a complete impasse”, suffering very significant losses. He believes that the Kremlin will announce another mobilization of conscripts. But the Ukrainian forces, as before, lack the resources to move forward in many directions, he added.

“We cannot completely defeat them in all directions. They can’t either, he said. “We really hope for new batches of weapons and the supply of more modern weapons.”

In December, after a series of retreats by the Russian army, Ukrainian officials suddenly talked about the possibility of a new ground offensive by the Russian army in early 2023 from the territory of Belarus. The Ukrainian military believes that the Russians may make a second attempt to take Kyiv, which will involve tens of thousands of reservists currently undergoing training in Russia.

Budanov, however, believes that Russia’s actions in Belarus, including the transfer of soldiers and equipment there, are an attempt to pull part of the Ukrainian troops from the southern and eastern directions to the north.

Photo caption: Ukrainian troops are asking for more Western weapons

According to him, recently a railway train with Russian soldiers stopped near the Belarusian-Ukrainian border, and after a few hours went back without disembarking a single person.

“They did it openly, during the day, for everyone to see,” said Budanov. “Currently, I do not see any signs of preparations for an invasion of Kyiv or the northern regions from the side of Belarus,” he continued.

Budanov’s BBC interview took place in his dimly lit office in Kyiv, days after Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Minsk for the first time in more than three years. It is clear that immediately there were versions that he went to convince Alexander Lukashenko to send Belarusian troops to Ukraine.

Russian troops have already attacked Ukraine from the territory of Belarus, but Budanov believes that Belarusian society will not support further participation in the war, and analysts question the level of readiness of its 48,000-strong army. “That is why President Lukashenko is taking all steps to prevent a catastrophe for his country,” Budanov believes.

After the capture of Kherson, the heaviest battles with Russian troops took place around Bakhmut. The situation around the city is rightly compared to the trenches of the First World War. The capture of Bakhmut by the Russians would cut Ukrainian supply lines and open the way for Russian forces to other Ukrainian strongholds in the east, including Kramatorsk and Slovyansk.

Ukrainian troops in Bakhmut, December 2022.
Photo caption, Ukrainian troops have been protecting Bakhmut from Russian attacks for several months

According to Budanov, the attack on Bakhmut is directed by the “Wagner” PMC. It is believed that for its founder, Yevhen Prigozhin, the capture of the city is a political prize and another trump card in the underground struggle within the Russian leadership.

Since mid-October, Russia has also been waging a merciless air campaign, striking Ukraine’s most important infrastructure with missiles and drones, leaving millions without electricity, heating and water. Budanov believes that these attacks are likely to continue, but predicts that Russia’s stockpile of missiles is running out, and Russian industry is unable to replenish them quickly.

Although Russian forces use Iranian drones, Tehran refuses to supply more powerful weapons, including missiles, fearing new sanctions from Western countries.

Despite the stalemate at the front, Budanov is convinced that as a result, Ukraine will return all occupied territories, including Crimea, and return to the 1991 borders established with the declaration of independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

With Hannah Tsyba and Robbie Wright.

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