On the front line when Ukraine did the unthinkable in Bakhmut after months of retreat

The Telegraph

On the front line when Ukraine did the unthinkable in Bakhmut after months of retreat

Roland Oliphant – May 12, 2023

An air defence unit from the 80th Air Assault Brigade in Bakhmut - Heathcliff O'Malley
An air defence unit from the 80th Air Assault Brigade in Bakhmut – Heathcliff O’Malley

Usually when a multiple rocket launch system is firing you can count the whooshes out and listen to the rapid drum roll as they land.

Not near Bakhmut on Thursday.

So many weapons were firing at once that outgoing booms and incoming rumbles became impossible to distinguish.

Hell was being unleashed on the other side of the ridge but no one would say who was being hit.

“When it happens you’ll hear about it,” said an officer watching the smoke rise on the horizon when asked to explain what on earth was going on. “But only afterwards.”

It did not take a genius to read between the lines.

After nine months of bloody retreat and strict shell rationing, the Ukrainians had not only begun to push back here. They had unleashed one of the loudest artillery barrages of the war.

The long-waited Ukrainian counter-offensive, or at least a part of it, had begun.

No one announced the beginning of the battle. In fact, Ukrainian authorities are playing this battle down.

While the shells were raining down on Thursday, President Volodymyr Zelensky was telling the BBC that Ukraine was still not ready to take the offensive.

On Friday he acknowledged he had “heard a report from General Syrskyi, whose units had made extraordinary efforts to stop the enemy and even pushed it back in some directions”, but again avoided saying anything referring to an attack.

Russia also on Friday admitted it was coming under attack, claiming it had suppressed Ukrainian offensives along 60 miles of the front line around Bakhmut.

The first signs that something was up came on Tuesday, when the Third Separate Assault Brigade, the latest incarnation of the Azov regiment, attacked Russian lines on the southern edge of the Bakhmut salient.

The following day General Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, said the Russians had retreated up to 1.2 miles.

It was a respectable but very localised gain that eased pressure on a critical supply road, but on its own meant little.

Then at 2am on Thursday, the 10th Mountain Assault brigade attacked Russian lines near Khromove, a village on the north-western outskirts of the town.

The Russians tried to fight back, firing rockets at Ukrainian tanks and calling in mortars and artillery. But in the end they crumpled.

In a few hours the Ukrainans had advanced about 1,600ft and reinforcements were moving in to consolidate the gains.

It is too early to tell whether this assault on Bakhmut will develop into the main thrust of the much-heralded counter-offensive.

But the fact that the Ukrainians are gaining ground after nine months of exhausting, costly and demoralising urban battle is notable.

And the coordinated assault on both flanks of the attacking Russian force was enough to throw Russia’s pro-war commentariat into panic.

Yevgenny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner mercenary group, declared the Ukrainian counter-offensive “well under way,” and blamed the Russian army for imminent disaster. He added that Russian forces were fleeing and the “front was collapsing”, a possible exaggeration to fuel his growing feud with the Kremlin.

Maj Gen Igor Konashenkov, the Russian ministry of defence spokesman, on Friday denied any Ukrainian breakthrough and said Russian forces in Bakhmut were “regrouping” in more favourable terrain.

He said that up to 40 tanks and more than 1,000 Ukrainian servicemen were involved in “offensive operations” along a front of around 60 miles.

Time will tell who is telling the truth.

Some of Russia’s more sober pro-war battle bloggers confirmed that its 10th Motor Rifle Brigade had retreated from Khromove and Bogdanova.

That matches the Telegraph’s understanding of developments on the Ukrainian side on Thursday morning.

The bloggers, many of whom are close to the military, appeared to be gripped by panic and predicting disasters all along the front.

Some claimed large numbers of Ukrainian troops had been seen on the move in the Kharkiv region and predicted an offensive in the northeast.

Others firmly asserted the next blow would come in the Zaporizhia region, and that river crossing boats were massing on the Dnipro.

Several repeated a rumour, entirely unsourced, that the Ukrainians were firing “chemical shells that cause loss of consciousness when inhaled” near Orikhiv.

Yevgenny Podubny, one of the most popular Russian military bloggers, even reported a Ukrainian breakthrough to Soledar, which Russia captured in January.

That would have been a remarkable development but remains unconfirmed.

It is possible even the Ukrainian generals themselves do not know what they will do next.

An air defence unit from the 80th Air Assault Brigade - Heathcliff O'Malley
An air defence unit from the 80th Air Assault Brigade – Heathcliff O’Malley

They have at least three other possible axes for the grand offensive: against Svatove in the north; towards Melitopol in the south; and across the Dnipro river near Kherson.

The first would cut a critical Russian supply line for forces in Donbas. The second would sever the “land bridge” between mainland Russia and Crimea, turning the prized peninsula into a trap. The third, though risky, would take advantage of weak Russian defences along the river.

Russia’s generals are all too aware of these options, but until the Ukrainians make a firm commitment one way or the other they cannot be sure where to concentrate their defence.

The Ukrainians will exploit that ambiguity to the full, waiting to judge the Russian response in Bakhmut before deciding where to commit more reserves for a breakthrough.

The point is not to kill every Russian in Ukraine, or even to retake every inch of land. But a severe battlefield shock would cause political reverberations in Moscow.

Bakhmut would be a good place for that.

A BMP-2 drives along a road in the Bakhmut area - Heathcliff O'Malley
A BMP-2 drives along a road in the Bakhmut area – Heathcliff O’Malley

This week’s attacks on the Russian north and south flanks seem to have been aimed initially at pushing the troops back from the critical supply roads.

But if they go further they could develop into a pincer movement of their own – potentially leading to an encirclement of thousands of Russians committed to the assault on the city.

There are tantalising historic precedents for such a reversal.

In November 1942, Nazi Germany’s sixth army was on the verge of victory in Stalingrad after months of gruelling urban warfare.

A sudden Soviet counter-offensive on the flanks left the Germans themselves surrounded and led to a devastating defeat from which the Nazis never recovered.

A similar encirclement of the Russians at Bakhmut might just provide the kind of shock to cause chaos in Moscow. It is a scenario that many top officials in Kyiv believe is the most likely way to end the war.

It is almost impossible to tell how the battle is actually going at the front.

Journalists have not been allowed anywhere near the assault and the Ukrainians have been very good at concealing their intentions.

Images selectively released by Ukrainian units show very close-quarters firefights involving infantry and armoured vehicles working closely together.

Body camera footage released by the Third Assault Brigade showed infantry dismounting from an armoured vehicle before engaging unseen enemies in fields and trench systems.

A grenade lands and explodes close to the man wearing the camera but he appears to be unhurt.

The troops are then seen throwing their own grenades into Russian dugouts as they clear positions.

Another video shows Ukrainians walking past several dead Russians lining a trench. They appear to have been killed by artillery.

A BMP-2 drives along a road in the Bakhmut area - Heathcliff O'Malley
A BMP-2 drives along a road in the Bakhmut area – Heathcliff O’Malley

A drone video purportedly filmed during the battle showed Ukrainian infantry and a tank fighting at extremely close quarters with Russians in a treeline.

Those journalists who happened to catch a glimpse of the start of the operation were there by accident.

One Ukrainian news crew who emerged grimy and dazed from the battlefield on Thursday morning had been doing a routine front-line visit when they got swept up in the attack.

Bohdan Kutpiepov, a Ukrainian documentary maker, was on his last day of filming a documentary about a medical unit when he realised he might be witnessing the first day of the spring offensive.

“In just a few hours, I experienced so many emotions that I don’t even want to begin to describe them here,” he wrote on Facebook.

He ended with a photograph of a wounded Ukrainian soldier, a reminder, he said, of the cost of liberation.

The Telegraph happened to be visiting an air defence echelon of the 80th airborne brigade near Chasiv Yar, the heavily shelled town controlling the last supply road into Bakhmut.

Their job is to lurk in camouflaged positions and wait for Russian drones – helicopters and jets don’t dare cross the lines these days – before popping up and zapping them with shoulder-launched rockets.

Most of them had no more idea what was going on under the barrage than we did.

“Is that yours?” I asked Mikhailo, the sergeant from Lviv in charge of a squad carrying shoulder-mounted air defence systems next to me as we watched smoke on the horizon after a particularly loud salvo.

“Nope,” he said, unsmiling. “Not us firing that.”

Something else opened up nearby

“Cannon,” said Mikhailo. A howitzer was clearly concealed in the trees behind us.

Then a heavy machine gun. Someone had spotted a drone.

The 80th is one of the Ukraine army’s most seasoned spearhead infantry units.

While new brigades trained for the coming offensive they, along with other veteran units such as the 93rd and 92nd mechanised brigades, have been holding the line in what has become Ukraine’s Verdun.

The soldiers thought they had arrived around January. Or was it February? Time telescopes in war, and many of them have been in combat since the invasion began.

On verge of being cut off

Back then, almost everyone here – soldiers, civilians, foreign volunteers – considered the Ukrainian position impossible.

Russian flank attacks had made breakthroughs to the north and south, the last remaining supply roads were under heavy fire and were on the verge of being cut altogether.

Chasiv Yar, the last town astride the last road in, was coming under increasingly heavy fire and was being evacuated ahead of the inevitable siege.

Even American officials were urging Ukrainian commanders to get out before they were encircled, according to Pentagon intelligence briefings leaked online.

“I remember that moment. I also thought Bakhmut would have to be given up,” said Mikhailo, the commander of a Strela-10 air defence system hidden in a treeline near the town. “But our guys wouldn’t give up our land.”

Like everyone, they are mostly relying on old Soviet kit, despite high-profile deliveries of Western weapons.

Mikhailo’s Strela was built in 1980, has no radar and relies on the operator’s eyes to spot incoming targets.

That means it cannot work at night and although it can fire in 30 seconds, sometimes it misses targets.

“I’d like a Gepard,” said Mikhailo, referring to a German anti-aircraft system. “It would solve all those problems.”

His commanding officer, who asked to remain anonymous, repeats the request when asked what he needs: “Gepard.”

One man who was caught up in the Ukrainian offensive on Thursday said the Russians had started “answering hard” at the front.

On May 9, the day the first Ukrainian attack began, a Russian grad strike near Chasiv Yar killed Armand Soldin, an Agence France Press reporter on assignment in the area.

The Ukrainian military never comments on its own casualties but everyone knows it has fewer men to lose than Russia.

Then there is the risk of a Russian counter-strike elsewhere.

For months, Ukrainian commanders and soldiers on other parts of the 600-mile front have quietly complained about the vortex of Bakhmut leaving them vulnerable.

The Donbas town has become a black hole with a gravitational pull out of all proportion to its size, sucking up men, weapons and ammunition that other units could also have put to good use.

One artillery man on another part of the frontline told The Telegraph this week that he is still painfully short of shells.

Fortunately, he said, the Russians in his area seem to be in the same predicament, so both sides are avoiding a fight.

But if that changes while most Ukrainian forces are concentrated for assaults elsewhere, his and other under-equipped units may find themselves in serious trouble.

Ukrainian commanders will be hoping the Russians do not have the resources or intelligence to find and exploit those weak points.

And the Russians, too, have a problem with concentration of force. Even their army cannot provide enough men to hold every inch of the front.

The greatest risk of all is political.

Mr Zelensky’s reticence about announcing the offensive is partly simple misdirection.

But he has also worried about disappointment. Both he and Oleksii Reznikov, his defence minister, have recently warned against inflated expectations.

The concern is that Western countries impatient for a quick end to the war will lose the stomach to continue to support the country if gains are not quick and spectacular.

The possibility of Donald Trump, who has openly questioned support for Ukraine, returning to the White House in 2024 adds to the time pressure.

Four months since Bakhmut seemed doomed, the tide of the battle – and of the war – may be changing here.

Every window in Chasiv Yar has been blown out. One road is still, but barely, open. And the 93rd are still clinging on to a tiny foothold in Bakhmut’s western-most suburbs.

But the attitude of the troops has changed remarkably.

Gone is the sense of impending doom. Instead, there is an indefinable confidence of men who have a feeling it is going to be all right.

“You’re not scared, being here?” asked another Mikhailo in the brigade, as a salvo rolled across the landscape.

“I mean, who isn’t? I’d much rather be sitting at home.” He shrugged and pointed out at the field in front of us. “Don’t film it, but there’s 40 craters there. It was all last week.”

He looked back at the smoke on the horizon. “Yeah, we’re waiting for the offensive. Everyone is waiting.”

Dramatic video shows a Russian soldier being shot at by his own side as he tries to surrender to a drone

Business Insider

Dramatic video shows a Russian soldier being shot at by his own side as he tries to surrender to a drone, Ukrainian official says

Mia Jankowicz – May 11, 2023

Drone footage shows Bakhmut in ruins after months of some of the bloodiest fighting of the Ukraine war

Three stills from drone footage by Code 9.2 of Ukraine's 92nd Brigade, showing a Russian soldier gesturing in an apparent wish to surrencer.
Three stills from drone footage by Code 9.2 of Ukraine’s 92nd Brigade, showing a Russian soldier gesturing in an apparent wish to surrender.Code 9.2/reddit
  • Dramatic video footage shows a Russian soldier’s surrender to a Ukrainian drone, Ukraine said.
  • A Ukrainian official told Insider that he was targeted by his own side as he ran.
  • Explosions can be seen going off around the soldier as he scrambles towards captivity.

A Russian soldier seen surrendering to a Ukrainian drone in dramatic footage in Bakhmut was fired on by his own men as he made his dash to captivity, according to a Ukrainian official.

In striking drone footage that has circulated widely online, a soldier can be seen making his way through explosions and trenches across ruined ground before approaching a dugout with his hands raised.

Vitaliy Matvienko, the spokesperson for Ukraine’s “I Want to Live” surrender hotline, confirmed to Insider that the footage was taken by the Code 9.2 unit of Ukraine’s 92nd Mechanized Brigade near Bakhmut, and said that it showed a Russian soldier surrendering to them.

The soldier, from the Pskov region in western Russia, is safe in captivity as a prisoner of war, Matvienko said.

Two edited versions of the footage have circulated online, one of which shows the explosions, and one which appears to be filmed by a second drone.

A longer video of the Russian surrendering to a Ukrainian drone
by u/YoulethalJB in ukraine

The “I Want to Live” hotline, which claims to receive thousands of calls a month, is an official project of Ukraine allowing Russian soldiers to pre-arrange to surrender once on Ukrainian territory.

But it has also released instructions on how active duty soldiers can surrender to a drone — a phenomenon that appears to have taken place several times in this conflict.

A still from aerial footage shared by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, showing a uniformed figure walking with hands up in apparent surrender. Insider marked up the image to highlight the figure and add text saying: "hands up"
A still from aerial footage shared by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense showing an apparent surrender in November 2022, marked up by Insider.Ukrainian Ministry of Defense/Twitter/Insider

In this instance, Matvienko said the surrender was not pre-arranged through the hotline but took place spontaneously, with the 92nd Brigade’s drone operator recognizing that the soldier was trying to signal.

In the footage, the soldier can be seen making various signals to the drone indicating he doesn’t want to fight, Matvienko said. At one stage he makes a pleading motion, while at another, it looks like he is offering to tear the insignia from his shoulder.

The drone drops him a package containing a note which, per Matvienko, tells him to surrender and to follow it.

But the soldier points to himself and shakes his head, making a slicing motion across his neck — seemingly to say that he would be killed if he fled.

Three stills from drone footage by Code 9.2 of Ukraine's 92nd Brigade, showing an explosion, its aftermath, and a Russian soldier running from the scene during a dramatic surrender attempt in Bakhmut.
The soldier shelters by an abandoned vehicle as an explosion goes off, before continuing on his journey to captivity.Code 9.2/reddit

Nonetheless, he appears to opt to follow the drone, being led through a warren of trenches, past apparently dead bodies and over wreck-strewn open ground.

Twice, as he scrambles between abandoned vehicles, explosions go off nearby.

“At that time, his comrades-in-arms began to fire at him from the Russian positions, but he was not hit,” said Matvienko.

Eventually, as the soldier approaches a dugout, he removes his helmet and puts his hands in the air, before being received by another soldier.

The encounter, Matvienko said, is one example of how “Ukrainian soldiers find such creative ways to defeat Russians on the battlefield.”

Russia denies reports of Ukrainian breakthroughs along front lines


Russia denies reports of Ukrainian breakthroughs along front lines

May 10, 2023

Aftermath of a Russian military strike in Zaporizhzhia region
Aftermath of a Russian military strike in Zaporizhzhia region
Aftermath of a Russian military strike in Zaporizhzhia region

(Reuters) -Russia’s defence ministry on Thursday denied reports that Ukrainian forces had broken through in various places along the front lines and said the military situation was under control.

Moscow reacted after Russian military bloggers, writing on the Telegram messaging app, reported what they said were Ukrainian advances north and south of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, with some suggesting a long-awaited counteroffensive by pro-Kyiv forces had started.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had earlier said the offensive had yet to start.

“Statements circulated by individual Telegram channels about ‘defence breakthroughs’ that took place in different areas along the line of military contact do not correspond to reality,” the Russian defence ministry said in a Telegram post.

“The overall situation in the area of the special military operation is under control,” it said in a statement, using the Kremlin’s description of the war in Ukraine.

The fact the Russian ministry felt obliged to release the statement reflects what Moscow acknowledges is a “very difficult” military operation.

Ukraine says it has pushed Russian forces back over the past several days near Bakhmut, while a full-blown counteroffensive involving tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of Western tanks is still being prepared.

“We still need a bit more time,” Zelenskiy said in an interview with European broadcasters.

Reuters was not able to verify the reports and it was unclear whether Ukrainian forces were attacking in force or just mounting armed reconnaissance raids.

Ukrainian military analyst Oleksandr Musiyenko said Kyiv’s backers understand that a counteroffensive “may not result in the complete eviction of Russian troops and the definitive defeat of Russia in all occupied areas.”

“We have to be ready for the war to continue into next year – or it could end this year,” Musiyenko told Ukrainian NV Radio. “It all depends on how the battles develop. We can’t guarantee how the counter-offensive will develop.”

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Russia’s Wagner private army which has led the fight in Bakhmut, on Thursday said Ukrainian operations were “unfortunately, partially successful”. He called Zelenskiy’s assertion that the counteroffensive had not yet begun “deceptive”.


Ukrainian forces had already received enough equipment from Western allies for their campaign but were waiting for the full complement of armoured vehicles to arrive, Zelenskiy said.

In a major step up in Western military support for Ukraine, Britain said it was sending Storm Shadow cruise missiles that would give Kyiv the ability to strike deep behind Russian lines.

The missiles “are now going into, or are in, the country itself,” Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told parliament in London, adding the missiles were being supplied so they could be used within Ukraine.

Western countries including the U.S. had previously held back from providing long range weapons for fear of provoking Russian retaliation. Wallace said Britain had weighed the risk.

The Kremlin earlier said if Britain provided these missiles it would require “an adequate response from our military”.

In an evening address on Thursday, Zelenskiy said he would soon be able to report very important defence-related news.

“Foreign flags will never reign on our land, and our people will never be enslaved,” he said.

The war in Ukraine is at a turning point, with Kyiv poised to unleash its counteroffensive after six months of keeping its forces on the defensive, while Russia mounted a huge winter offensive that failed to capture significant territory.

Moscow’s main target for months has been Bakhmut, which it has yet to fully capture despite the bloodiest ground combat in Europe since World War Two.


There are no signs of peace talks between the two countries to end the war, which began in February 2022 with a full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces. Zelenskiy is expected to meet Pope Francis in the Vatican on Saturday, diplomatic sources said, days after the pope said the Vatican was involved in a peace mission. The pope has given no further information on such an initiative.

The war worsened a global food crisis – Ukraine and Russia are major agricultural exporters – and while an agreement last July safely reopened some Black Sea grain shipment channels, negotiations to extend the deal were difficult.

Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations discussed on Thursday U.N. proposals to keep the pact alive. Moscow has threatened to quit on May 18 over obstacles to its grain and fertilizer exports.

Meanwhile in South Africa, an important Russian ally on a continent divided by the war, the U.S. ambassador told journalists that Washington was confident a Russian vessel had loaded weapons and ammunition from South Africa in December, a possible breach of Pretoria’s declared neutrality in the conflict.

The government is opening an independent inquiry led by a retired judge into the allegation, the office of President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a statement. No evidence had yet been provided by Washington to support its allegation, the president’s office said.

Washington has repeatedly warned countries against providing material support to Russia, saying that those who do may be subject to economic sanctions similar to those imposed on Moscow.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Peter Graff, David Ljunggren and Grant McCool; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Diane Craft and Daniel Wallis)

Putin may not outrun the warrant for his arrest – history shows that several leaders on the run eventually face charges in court

The Conversation

Putin may not outrun the warrant for his arrest – history shows that several leaders on the run eventually face charges in court

Aaron Fichtelberg, Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice, University of Delaware – May 9, 2023

Russian President Vladimir Putin is shown in Moscow in March 2022, shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine. <a href=
Russian President Vladimir Putin is shown in Moscow in March 2022, shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine. Mikhaul Klimentyev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

The Russian government, U.S. President Joe Biden and mainstream Western media are among the observers who all responded to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s arrest warrant for war crimes with a shrug.

In March 2023, the International Criminal Court announced the warrant for Putin and his commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, because they allegedly directed the abduction of Ukrainian children. The court says that these charges amount to war crimes.

While Biden said the arrest warrant was “justified,” he also noted that the International Criminal Court “is not recognized by us either.”

The skeptics have a point – the ICC, based in the Hague, Netherlands, does not have its own police force to execute its orders and must rely on other countries’ police to arrest the people it indicts.

Indeed, there are a number of barriers potentially preventing Putin’s arrest.

One is that Russia, like the United States, is not a member of the court – so as long as Putin does not set foot in a country that is a member of the court, he is safe from arrest. Putin also remains popular within Russia and is unlikely to soon be overthrown and turned over by his successor.

But it still would be rash to assume that Putin is safe from the court’s grasp.

am a scholar of criminal justice who specializes in international courts and the creativity that prosecutors show in catching their targets, often under very difficult political circumstances.

History shows that it would require a little bit of good luck for prosecutors – and a few bad decisions by Putin – for the Russian autocrat to end up in handcuffs. But it’s far from impossible.

The ICC’s arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin is seen in a news release in March 2023. <a href=
The ICC’s arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin is seen in a news release in March 2023. Jonathan Raa/NurPhoto via Getty Images
How international courts work

A group of 60 countries established the International Criminal Court in 2002 to prosecute people who commit the worst crimes, including genocide and wartime sexual violence, that violate international law. The court is part of a long line of international criminal tribunals going back to the military tribunal the U.S. and allies set up to prosecute Nazis at the end of World War II, as part of the Nuremberg Trials.

There are other international criminal courts that prosecute war crimes, but the ICC is the largest and arguably most influential, since 123 member countries fund the court and abide by its rulings.

Since its inception, the ICC has issued 38 arrest warrants, arrested 21 people, convicted 10 and acquitted four. Other suspects, like Putin, remain at large or have had their charges dropped.

Yet there are a number of options for prosecuting war crimes outside of the ICC that have been used in the past.

There are also other, smaller tribunals similar to the ICC that countries have helped set up to focus on specific conflicts. In other cases, individual countries can use their own courts to prosecute international criminals who have evaded arrest abroad.

In the case of the Ukraine war, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called for a new international tribunal to prosecute war crimes committed by Russia during the conflict. Others have argued that Putin could be prosecuted in a Ukrainian court specifically designed for this purpose.

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor appears in court in July 2006 in the Netherlands. <a href=
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor appears in court in July 2006 in the Netherlands. Rob Keeris/AFP via Getty Images
Lessons for Putin

There have been several long but ultimately successful efforts to arrest fallen political leaders and mass murderers.

For example, Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia who helped instigate a civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone in the 1990s, is now serving a 50-year prison sentence in the United Kingdom.

Prosecutors from an international tribunal set up in Sierra Leone announced Taylor’s indictment when he was in Ghana in 2002, forcing him to quickly flee a political conference and head home for safety. But Taylor then fell from power in 2003, in the midst of a rebel insurgency. He then fled to Nigeria.

Eventually, Nigerian authorities arrested Taylor and handed him back to Liberia, which quickly passed him off to Sierra Leone for trial in 2006. He was then convicted in 2012.

Slobodan Milošević, the late president of Yugoslavia, was indicted by an international tribunal that addressed the Balkans wars – along with two of his cronies, Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić –- for crimes committed against civilians during the wars in the 1990s.

They, too, initially evaded jurisdiction – Milošević initially remained in power, while Mladić and Karadžić went into hiding. Serbian authorities ultimately handed Milošević over to the International Criminal Court in 2001, months after he stepped down from his post in 2000. Serbian police arrested Mladić and Karadžić about a decade later.

All three faced trial in the Hague. Milošević died while on trial in 2006. Mladić and Karadžić are now serving life sentences.

And in Finland, former Sierra Leone rebel group leader Gibril Massaquoi is facing trial for war crimes he committed during Sierra Leone’s civil war from 1991 to 2002.

Prosecutors at a Sierra Leone tribunal granted Massaquoi immunity in 2009 in exchange for his testimony against other rebels. He then relocated to Finland under a witness protection program.

But that did not stop Finnish prosecutors, who arrested Massaquoi in March 2020. His trial is currently under appeal in Finnish court system following Massaquoi’s acquittal by a lower Finish court in 2022.

Even without prosecution, life won’t be good

There are people such as Omar Al-Bashir, the former president of Sudan, who have so far avoided extradition to an international court. The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Al-Bashir in 2009 for allegedly committing genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. Al-Bashir remains in Sudan and has continued to avoid the ICC’s arrest warrant. But with the current civil war in Sudan, the warring powers may yet conclude that they’re better off with Al-Bashir in the Hague and away from Sudan.

But even if Putin isn’t prosecuted, his life will probably get much more difficult as a result of the arrest warrant.

When the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet left office in 1998, he declared himself “Senator for Life,” ensuring under Chilean law that he would never be prosecuted for the tortures, killings and disappearances of leftist political opponents that took place on his watch.

But while Pinochet was receiving care for a back injury in London, a Spanish judge requested his extradition to Spain, and he was arrested by British police in 1998.

After over a year of legal limbo, the British government declared that Pinochet was mentally unfit for extradition and returned him to Chile. By then, he was a very diminished man and the target of many lawsuits before his death in 2006.

Putin may ultimately elude prosecution, but not the effects of the charges against him.

History shows that prosecutors are willing to wait for years for their targets to either fall from power or make that crucial mistake that exposes them to arrest, such as a medical emergency abroad or a visit to a country that is willing to cooperate with international prosecutors.

Read more:

Aaron Fichtelberg does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Putin’s scaled-down Victory Day celebration not much to cheer. Putin tells WWII event West is waging a ‘real war’ on Russia

Associated Press

Putin tells WWII event West is waging a ‘real war’ on Russia

The Associated Press – May 9, 2023

Military vehicles move toward Red Square to attend a Victory Day military parade in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, May 9, 2023, marking the 78th anniversary of the end of World War II. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Military vehicles move toward Red Square to attend a Victory Day military parade in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, May 9, 2023, marking the 78th anniversary of the end of World War II. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Iskander, mobile short-range ballistic missile system launchers, drive past during the Victory Day military parade at Dvortsovaya (Palace) Square to celebrate 78 years after the victory in World War II in St. Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, May 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
APTOPIX Russia Victory Day Parade
Iskander, mobile short-range ballistic missile system launchers, drive past during the Victory Day military parade at Dvortsovaya (Palace) Square to celebrate 78 years after the victory in World War II in St. Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, May 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

President Vladimir Putin declared Tuesday that the West has unleashed “a real war” against Russia, reprising a familiar refrain at scaled-down Victory Day celebrations that may reflect the toll the Ukraine conflict is taking on his forces.

Putin’s remarks came just hours after Moscow fired its latest barrage of cruise missiles at targets in Ukraine, which Russia invaded more than 14 months ago. Ukrainian authorities said air defenses destroyed 23 of 25 missiles launched.

The Russian leader has repeatedly sought to paint his invasion of Ukraine as necessary to defend against a Western threat. Kyiv and its Western allies say they pose no such threat and that Moscow’s war is meant to deter Western influence in a country that Russia considers part of its sphere of influence.

“Today civilization is once again at a decisive turning point,” Putin said at the annual commemorations celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. “A real war has been unleashed against our motherland.”

Putin has often used patriotic rhetoric that harkens back to the earlier war in an effort to rally his citizens and forces — and May 9 is one of the most important dates in the Russian political calendar. But this year’s celebrations were markedly smaller, at least partially because of security concerns after several drone attacks have been reported inside Russia.

Some 8,000 troops took part in the parade in Moscow’s Red Square on Tuesday — the lowest number since 2008. Even the procession in 2020, the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, featured some 13,000 soldiers, and last year, 11,000 troops took part. There was no fly-over of military jets, and the event lasted less than the usual hour.

“This is weak. There are no tanks,” said Yelena Orlova, watching the vehicles rumble down Moscow’s Novy Arbat avenue after leaving Red Square. “We’re upset, but that’s all right; it will be better in the future.”

The Kremlin’s forces deployed in Ukraine are defending a front line stretching more than 1,000 kilometers (600 miles), presumably thinning the ranks of troops available for such displays.

“This is supposed to be a showpiece for Russian military might. But so much of that military might has already been mauled in Ukraine that Russia has very little to show on its parade in Red Square,” said Keir Giles, a Russia expert at London’s Chatham House think tank.

Meanwhile, the traditional Immortal Regiment processions, in which crowds take to the streets holding portraits of relatives who died or served in World War II — a pillar of the holiday — were canceled in multiple cities.

“That seems to be for fear that those people who have lost their relatives in this current war on Ukraine might actually join the processions and show just the scale of the casualties that Russia has suffered in its current war,” Giles said.

Russian media counted 24 cities that also scrapped military parades — another staple of the celebrations — for the first time in years. Regional officials blamed unspecified “security concerns” or vaguely referred to “the current situation” for the restrictions and cancelations. It wasn’t clear whether their decisions were taken in coordination with the Kremlin.

Last week, Russia claimed it foiled an attack by Ukrainian drones on the Kremlin that it called an unsuccessful assassination attempt against Putin. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denied involvement.

There was no independent verification of the purported attack, which Russia authorities said occurred overnight but presented no evidence to support it.

On a tribune in Red Square, Putin praised soldiers taking part in the war in Ukraine and urged Russians to stand together.

“Our heroic ancestors proved that there is nothing stronger, more powerful and more reliable than our unity. There is nothing in the world stronger than our love for the motherland,” Putin said.

The guest list was also light amid Putin’s broad diplomatic isolation over the war. Initially, only one foreign leader was expected to attend this year’s parade — Kyrgyz President Sadyr Zhaparov. That was one more foreign guest than last year, when no leaders went.

At the last minute on Monday, officials announced that the leaders of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan would head to Moscow as well.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian air force said in a Telegram post that eight Kalibr cruise missiles were fired from carriers in the Black Sea toward the east and 17 from strategic aircraft.

The missiles came hours before European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the European Union’s executive branch, arrived in Kyiv.

Von der Leyen urged EU member nations to take measures to prevent countries from helping Russia to circumvent the bloc’s sanctions. The EU has noticed that certain products that have been banned to undermine Russia’s war effort are still getting through, she said.

Von der Leyen did not name the countries, but unusual trade flows through China and Turkey have been on the EU’s radar for some time.

Ukraine is keen to join the EU, but membership has many requirements and is still a long way off. Ukraine is also hoping to join NATO, after moving close to the Western military alliance during the war.

In the latest help from a NATO member, the U.S. was expected to announce Tuesday that it will provide $1.2 billion more in long-term military aid to Ukraine to further bolster its air defenses.

Russia’s losses are worse than anyone thinks

The Telegraph

Russia’s losses are worse than anyone thinks

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon – May 9, 2023

Ukrainian sappers explode anti-tank mines and other explosive materials found near the town of Bucha, on a military range outside Kyiv (Kiev), Ukraine, 13 April 2023, amid Russia's invasion
Ukrainian sappers explode anti-tank mines and other explosive materials found near the town of Bucha, on a military range outside Kyiv (Kiev), Ukraine, 13 April 2023, amid Russia’s invasion

It was a curious sight. Russia’s annual Victory Day parade, a display of military might and a celebration of its role in defeating Nazi Germany, could only muster a solitary T-34. The serried ranks of tanks seen in recent years were absent; many of them will be lying burned out in the Donbas. Putin’s speech, meanwhile, was desperate, even delusional. He claimed civilisation was “at a decisive turning point”; that a “real war has been unleashed against Russia”; that the West seeks the “disintegration and destruction” of Russia. The only person driving towards that goal is Putin himself.

His army is in a shambolic condition, with multiple reports indicating that troops are fighting without adequate body armour. Young men are conscripted and thrown into the meat grinder of the Donbas, backed by antiquated tanks. They face forces combining modern Western equipment with significant new tactical innovations. And they are being slaughtered.

Over the last century, battlefield casualties for Western forces have seen a steady decline. Modern medical techniques, antibiotics and military developments have all played their role. But assumptions based on this experience may not work when estimating the losses suffered by Putin’s poorly-equipped conscripts.

Ukrainian reports of Russian casualties resemble something from the fronts of the First World War, with hundreds killed and injured each day. Western analysts have tended to be more conservative in their estimates.

But this conflict is not like those we have seen previously. Kyiv’s forces are innovating new ways of conducting warfare, with drones at their heart. Tech savvy young men and women are repurposing and re-engineering for the battlefield off-the-shelf and inexpensive equipment developed for peace.

This is a game changing moment. Russia’s armed forces are centred around the use of artillery; various sources list Moscow’s expenditure of shells as multiples of Ukraine’s. And yet even pessimistic assessments show a casualty ratio skewed heavily in Ukraine’s favour, despite being theoretically outgunned.

The key to this appears to be innovation. What is unique to the Ukraine conflict is the use of both drones as striking weapons and as platforms for observation. Some analysts suggest that using the standard ratios of deaths/wounded will be very far from reflecting the lethality of this new mode of warfare. Some have gone so far as to suggest that the vast majority of artillery rounds and mortar shells fired by Kyiv’s forces will be watched by drone, allowing for – in artillery terms, at least – pinpoint accuracy.

And the pace of change is set to continue. The Ukrainians have trained 10,000 drone operators, who will add to Kyiv’s capability to observe and guide indirect fire. This type of attack was called precision targeting when I first went to Afghanistan in 2008. In those days we would have a huge Nimrod aircraft with 20 or so operators on board, flying at 20,000ft with a single camera. There would be five or six of us on the ground monitoring the live feed; if the right target was identified we called in a precision air strike from a fighter jet. We conducted a few of these strikes per week. Later, we moved on to Reaper drones with hellfire missiles. But these strikes were rare; what Kyiv is doing is new.

Fighting a battle for national survival, every tank or enemy combatant is a fair target. the Ukrainians are developing techniques not only focused on precision attack but also on directing artillery fire. Battlefield footage may look like the First World War – trenches, shells and casualties abound – but we have moved on from rare balloon spotters sending messages to guns. Now, there are hundreds of tiny drones with amazingly capable cameras, giving detailed pictures and highly accurate meta data back to the guns. This is a type of warfare which few in Nato have ever experienced; when Russian casualty rates as estimated by the West appear to be half what the Ukrainians are claiming, it is surely possible that the Ukrainians are right.

This is backed up by the scramble in Russia to find soldiers. Both sides might lack ammunition, but the Kremlin appears to be running out of soldiers to fire that ammunition. The long-term costs for Russia are likely to be devastating.

Col Hamish de Bretton-Gordon is a former commander of the 1st Royal Tank Regiment

Ukraine military says all 35 drones Russia launched overnight destroyed


Ukraine military says all 35 drones Russia launched overnight destroyed

Reuters – May 7, 2023

An explosion of a drone is seen in the sky over the city during a Russian drone strike in Kyiv

(Reuters) – Ukraine’s top military command said on Monday that its forces destroyed all 35 Iranian-made Shahed drones that Russia had launched overnight at different targets around the country.

“The Russian Federation (also) launched 16 missile strikes last night, in particular on the cities of Kharkiv, Kherson, Mykolaiv and Odesa regions,” the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said in its daily update.

It added that in addition, 61 airstrikes and 52 attacks from the heavy rocket salvo fire systems were launched over the past day on the positions of Ukrainian forces and populated areas.

“Unfortunately, there are dead and wounded civilians, high-rise buildings, private homes and other civilian infrastructure were damaged,” it said.

Reuters was not able to independently verify the reports. Kyiv’s Mayor Klitschko said that at least five people were injured in the capital amidst damage done to buildings and infrastructure.

(Reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by Michael Perry)

Russia launches mass strikes on Ukraine ahead of May 9 Victory Day holiday


Russia launches mass strikes on Ukraine ahead of May 9 Victory Day holiday

Valentyn Ogorenko and Gleb Garanich – May 7, 2023

An explosion of a drone is seen in the sky over the city during a Russian drone strike in Kyiv
An explosion of a drone is seen in the sky over the city during a Russian drone strike in Kyiv
An explosion of a drone is seen during a Russian drone strike in Kyiv
An explosion of a drone is seen during a Russian drone strike in Kyiv

KYIV (Reuters) -Russia launched a large-scale wave of strikes on Kyiv and across Ukraine sowing destruction and injuries, officials said early on Monday, as Moscow prepares for its cherished Victory Day holiday that marks the anniversary of its defeat of Nazi Germany.

At least five people were injured due to Russian strikes on Kyiv, Ukrainian officials said, while Russian missiles set ablaze a foodstuff warehouse in the Black Sea city of Odesa and blasts were reported in several other Ukrainian regions.

The fresh attacks come as Moscow prepares for its Victory Day parade on Tuesday, a key anniversary for President Vladimir Putin who has evoked the spirit of the Soviet army that defeated Nazi German forces to declare that Russia would defeat a Ukraine supposedly in the grip of a new incarnation of Nazism.

Russia intensified shelling of Bakhmut hoping to take it by Tuesday, Ukraine’s top general in charge of the defence of the besieged city said, after Russia’s Wagner mercenary group appeared to ditch plans to withdraw from it.

Three people were injured in blasts in Kyiv’s Solomyanskyi district and two others were injured when drone wreckage fell onto the Sviatoshyn district, both west of the capital’s centre, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on his Telegram messaging channel.

The Kyiv’s military administration said that drone wreckage fell on a runway of the Zhuliany airport, one of the two passenger airports of the Ukrainian capital, causing no fire, but emergency services were working on the site.

It also said that in Kyiv’s central Shevchenkivskyi district, drone debris seemed to have hit a two-storey building, causing damages. There was no immediate information about potential casualties.

Reuters’ witnesses said they had heard numerous explosions in Kyiv, with local officials saying that air defence systems were repelling the attacks. It was not immediately clear how many drones were launched on Kyiv.

Serhiy Bratchuk, spokesperson for the Odesa military administration, posted on his Telegram channel photos of a large structure fully engulfed in flames, in what he said was a Russian attack on a foodstuff warehouse, among others.

After air raid alerts blared for hours over roughly two-thirds of Ukraine, there were also media reports of sounds of explosions in the southern region of Kherson and in the Zaporizhzhia region in southeast.

Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-installed local official in Zaporizhzhia, said that Russian forces hit a warehouse and Ukrainian troops’ position in Orikhiv, a small city in the region. Reuters was not able to independently verify the report.

Separately, Russian forces shelled eight locations in Sumy region in northeastern Ukraine on Sunday, the regional military administration said in a Facebook post.

In the past two weeks, strikes have also intensified on Russian-held targets, especially in Crimea. Ukraine, without confirming any role in those attacks, says destroying enemy infrastructure is preparation for its long-expected ground assault.

Putin invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, calling it a “special military operation” to defend Russia from neo-Nazis in Ukraine, but Kyiv and its allies say it was an unprovoked, land grab.

The invasion sparked the biggest conflict in Europe since World War Two and has killed thousands and forced millions to flee the country.

(Reporting by Valentyn Ogirenko, Gleb Garanich, Lidia Kelly and Elaine Monaghan; Writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Michael Perry)

Ukraine downs Russian hypersonic missile with US Patriot

Associated Press

Ukraine downs Russian hypersonic missile with US Patriot

David Rising – May 6, 2023

FILE - Patriot missile launchers acquired from the U.S. last year are seen deployed in Warsaw, Poland, on Feb. 6, 2023. Ukraine’s defense minister said Wednesday April 19, 2023 his country has received U.S-made Patriot surface-to-air guided missile systems it has long craved and which Kyiv hopes will help shield it from Russian strikes during the war. (AP Photo/Michal Dyjuk, File)
Patriot missile launchers acquired from the U.S. last year are seen deployed in Warsaw, Poland, on Feb. 6, 2023. Ukraine’s defense minister said Wednesday April 19, 2023 his country has received U.S-made Patriot surface-to-air guided missile systems it has long craved and which Kyiv hopes will help shield it from Russian strikes during the war. (AP Photo/Michal Dyjuk, File)
FILE - Members of US 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command stands next to a Patriot surface-to-air missile battery during the NATO multinational ground based air defence units exercise "Tobruq Legacy 2017" at the Siauliai airbase some 230 km. (144 miles) east of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, on July 20, 2017. Ukraine’s defense minister said Wednesday April 19, 2023 his country has received U.S-made Patriot surface-to-air guided missile systems it has long craved and which Kyiv hopes will help shield it from Russian strikes during the war. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis, File)
Members of US 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command stands next to a Patriot surface-to-air missile battery during the NATO multinational ground based air defence units exercise “Tobruq Legacy 2017” at the Siauliai airbase some 230 km. (144 miles) east of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, on July 20, 2017. Ukraine’s defense minister said Wednesday April 19, 2023 his country has received U.S-made Patriot surface-to-air guided missile systems it has long craved and which Kyiv hopes will help shield it from Russian strikes during the war. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis, File)
People donate blood in Kyiv, Saturday, May 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
People donate blood in Kyiv, Saturday, May 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s air force claimed Saturday to have downed a Russian hypersonic missile over Kyiv using newly acquired American Patriot defense systems, the first known time the country has been able to intercept one of Moscow’s most modern missiles.

Air Force commander Mykola Oleshchuk said in a Telegram post that the Kinzhal-type ballistic missile had been intercepted in an overnight attack on the Ukrainian capital earlier in the week. It was also the first time Ukraine is known to have used the Patriot defense systems.

“Yes, we shot down the ‘unique’ Kinzhal,” Oleshchuk wrote. “It happened during the night-time attack on May 4 in the skies of the Kyiv region.”

Oleshchuk said the Kh-47 missile was launched by a MiG-31K aircraft from Russian territory and was shot down with a Patriot missile.

The Kinzhal is one of the latest and most advanced Russian weapons. The Russian military says the air-launched ballistic missile has a range of up to 2,000 kilometers (about 1,250 miles) and flies at 10 times the speed of sound, making it hard to intercept.

A combination of hypersonic speed and a heavy warhead allows the Kinzhal to destroy heavily fortified targets, like underground bunkers or mountain tunnels.

The Ukrainian military has previously admitted lacking assets to intercept the Kinzhals.

“They were saying that the Patriot is an outdated American weapon, and Russian weapons are the best in the world,” Air Force spokesman Yurii Ihnat said on Ukraine’s Channel 24 television. “Well, there is confirmation that it effectively works against even a super-hypersonic missile.” Ihnat said.

He said successfully intercepting the Kinzhal was “a slap in the face for Russia.”

Ukraine took its first delivery of the Patriot missiles in late April. It has not specified how many of the systems it has or where they have been deployed, but they are known to have been provided by the United States, Germany and the Netherlands.

Germany and the U.S. have acknowledged each sending at least one battery and the Netherlands has said it has provided two launchers, although it is not clear how many are currently in operation.

Ukrainian troops have received the extensive training needed to be able to effectively locate a target with the systems, lock on with radar, and fire. Each battery requires up to 90 personnel to operate and maintain.

Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said he first asked for Patriot systems when visiting the U.S. in August 2021, months before Russia’s full-scale invasion but seven years after Russia illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.

He has described possessing the system as “a dream” but said he was told in the U.S. at the time that it was impossible.

The Patriot was first deployed by the U.S. in the 1980s. The system costs approximately $4 million per missile, and the launchers cost about $10 million each, according to analysts.

At such a cost, it was widely thought that Ukraine would only use the Patriots against Russian aircraft or hypersonic missiles.

In a Telegram post on Saturday, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, said he had thanked U.S. Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for the ongoing American aid to Ukraine.

Zaluzhnyi said he also briefed Milley “about the situation at the front and preparations” for Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russia.

Ukraine has not said when it might launch the counteroffensive, but it is widely anticipated this spring.

In an interview this week with Foreign Affairs magazine, Milley said he would not speculate on if or when it might come, but that with NATO assistance to help train and equip nine brigades’ worth of combined arms, armor and mechanized infantry, “the Ukrainians right now have the capability to attack.”

He also said that their capability to defend was “significantly enhanced from what they were just a year ago.”

“I don’t want to suggest that they may or may not conduct an offensive operation in the coming weeks,” he said. “That’ll be up to them. They’ve got a significant amount of planning and coordination and all of that to do, if they were to do an offensive operation. But they’re prepared to do offense or defense.”

In other developments, officials in both Russia and Ukraine said they had carried out another of their regular exchanges of prisoners of war.

The Russian Defense Ministry said it brought three military pilots back to Russia, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said 45 fighters who defended the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol had been returned to Ukraine.

Also on Saturday, Ukraine’s Special Operations Forces accused Russia of using phosphorus munitions in its attempt to wrest control of the eastern city of Bakhmut from Ukrainian forces.

Russian troops have been trying to take the city for more than nine months, but Ukrainian forces are still clinging to positions on the western outskirts.

On Saturday, the Ukrainska Pravda newspaper quoted military officials as saying that “the enemy used phosphorus and incendiary ammunition in Bakhmut in an attempt to wipe the city off the face of the earth.”

A photo accompanying the newspaper report showed an urban area lit up with fire in multiple places.

The allegations could not be independently verified.

Russian forces have not commented on the claim but have rejected previous accusations from Ukraine that they had used phosphorus.

International law prohibits the use of white phosphorus or other incendiary weapons — munitions designed to set fire to objects or cause burn injuries — in areas where there could be concentrations of civilians.

White phosphorous can also be used for illumination or to create smoke screens.

Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

‘We will keep killing Russians,’ Ukraine’s military intelligence chief vows

Yahoo! News

‘We will keep killing Russians,’ Ukraine’s military intelligence chief vows

Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence agency, told Yahoo News that Russian forces no longer have the ability to launch a “serious offensive anywhere in Ukraine.”

Michael Weiss and James Rushton – May 5, 2023

Ukrainian soldiers
Ukrainian soldiers in Donetsk, April 24. (Muhammed Enes Yildirim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

KIYV, Ukraine — The light is dim and the windows are sandbagged. Classical music plays on an unseen speaker somewhere. The man sitting at the large wooden desk, in this fortified bunker office on the Rybalsky Peninsula, on the edge of the Dnipro River, has a pistol holstered at his side.

“They’ve been trying to charge me with terrorism since 2016,” Maj. Gen. Kyrlo Budanov, the chief of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, said. “But I want to begin by saying that the things they call ‘terrorism,’ we call liberation. And this began not because I went mad and started killing people in Moscow. It happened because they invaded our country back in 2014.”

“They” refers to the Russian government. On April 21, just a few days before Yahoo News sat down with Ukraine’s most recognizable spymaster, the Lefortovo District Court of Moscow arrested Budanov in absentia. He stands accused of creating “a terrorist community,” the “illegal acquisition of weapons by a group of persons,” and “the illegal acquisition of explosive devices by a group of persons.”

Kyrylo Budanov, center
Chief of Ukrainian Intelligence Kyrylo Budanov, center, attending an event in Kyiv, March 10. (Yurii Stefanyak/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)

The implication is that Budanov’s intelligence service, more commonly known by its Ukrainian acronym HUR, was behind a string of audacious and lethal attacks inside Russian territory — or what the Kremlin considers to be Russian territory. These include the August car-bomb assassination of Daria Dugina, daughter of Russia’s notorious far-right theorist Aleksandr Dugin, in central Moscow, and the suspected truck bombing in October that partially dismantled the Kerch Bridge, Russia’s only direct link from the Black Sea to occupied Crimea.

U.S. intelligence has attributed Dugina’s killing to the Ukrainian government, although not specifically to the HUR. Asked about this allegation, Budanov said, “Don’t continue with that topic. All I will comment on is that we’ve been killing Russians and we will keep killing Russians anywhere on the face of this world until the complete victory of Ukraine.”

At 37, Budanov has a full face, dotted with light stubble and a slightly shorn forelock, possibly to raise his hairline in an effort to appear older. He is one of the youngest generals in modern Ukrainian history, and probably the youngest director the HUR has ever had — certainly the most famous. Memes of Budanov grinning or his eyes alight in bright red, à la Superman villain General Zod, routinely circulate online whenever something catches fire in Russia or goes badly wrong for Russian occupiers on the Ukrainian battlefield.

After a surprise Dec. 26 drone attack on the Engels-2 air base in Saratov, home to Russian strategic bombers, Budanov told an interviewer he expected to see more of its kind, “deeper and deeper” in enemy territory. According to the Washington Post, the CIA had to persuade Budanov to “postpone” HUR anniversary strikes on Russia on Feb. 24, including one proposed naval-borne TNT assault at the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk.

An oil tanker moored at the Sheskharis complex, one of the largest facilities for oil and petroleum products in southern Russia
An oil tanker moored at the Sheskharis complex, one of the largest facilities for oil and petroleum products in southern Russia. (AP)

Officially, the HUR claims no responsibility for any cross-border attacks, of which there have been many documented examples. It adopts a Mossad-like air of menacing ambiguity whenever they occur.

On some matters, though, Budanov is unambiguous. “As of today, Russia has no military, economic or political potential to create another attempt for a serious offensive anywhere in Ukraine,” he said. “Besides that, it is completely capable of waging serious defensive operations, and this is the very problem we are about to face,” referring to Ukraine’s anticipated counteroffensive.

Budanov believes that Russia’s supply of missiles are running low, almost to the point of exhaustion. “They are trying to accumulate certain stocks and have them ready in order to try to disrupt our offensive, but the truth is that they have taken their stocks almost to zero.”

As with Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, Budanov declines to offer details of where and when that campaign will be. But he is equally confident that occupied Crimea “will be liberated because our victory is impossible without liberating Crimea.”

Policymakers in Washington have long fretted that a recapture of Crimea, assuming such a thing is even feasible, would be something Russian President Vladimir Putin could not tolerate and would prompt him to undertake a massive retaliation, possibly with weapons of mass destruction, but Budanov is not swayed by those fears.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin addressing the Federal Assembly, April 28. (Alexey Danichev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)

“I’d like to underline here that it is unpleasant for me to recognize the following but it’s the truth,” Budanov said. “Unfortunately, the Russian Federation knows how to work with the information space. That is why any event — imagine a rocket that falls into the Kremlin — they will show it as a victory for Russia. They will claim that they’ve prevented the biggest catastrophe to mankind by having that rocket fall into the Kremlin, that this missile has actually demolished the building it was supposed to and has even helped them. It sounds like a joke, but indeed, Russian society is accepting of such stupidities.”

Yahoo News’ interview with Budanov took place on April 24, more than a week before two drones were recorded striking the Kremlin, lightly singeing its domed roof. The Russian government has blamed Ukraine for the attack, which it hyperbolically characterized as an assassination attempt on Putin. Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky denied his government’s involvement. “We don’t attack Putin or Moscow,” he said while on a trip to Finland. “We fight on our territory. We are defending our villages and cities.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington could not validate reports of the drone attacks, adding, “I would take anything coming out of the Kremlin with a very large shaker of salt.”

Budanov is calculating and curt. He speaks English well enough to field questions in the language but prefers to answer more precisely in Ukrainian. Often he begins replying before the question has fully been articulated, and throughout the hour Yahoo News spent with him, he at times betrayed an impatience bordering on hostility.

Some of his more eyebrow-raising claims — that Putin is “terminally ill with cancer” and other ailments, or that the Putin shown in photographs or on television is a body double — have a whiff of psychological warfare to them. In that regard, they are hugely successful, fueling tabloid speculation to the point that even Western intelligence has had to sprinkle cold water on them.

“Back in 2021, there was a statement, I believe it was mine,” Budanov said, “that Putin is greatly sick with cancer. It has been two years since then and now everyone starts saying something might be wrong with him. Time will show who was right.” (Bill Burns, the CIA director, characterized Putin as “entirely too healthy” at a public event in July 2022.)

Whatever the veracity and intent of Budanov’s big assertions, there is no doubt he has at his disposal a vast intelligence-gathering capability, if not an extensive agent network operating inside Russia, as is obvious from what the HUR has managed to do. Behind his chair hangs a large portrait of an owl grasping a bat in its talons. This is in homage to the HUR’s official emblem, whose motto in Latin is sapiens dominabitur astris, “The wise man will rule the stars.” The nocturnal bird of prey was selected by a previous HUR director because the bat features in the emblem of the special forces of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency and the HUR’s counterpart. “And owls eat bats,” that director said.

Oleksii Reznikov
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov. (Andre Pain/AFP via Getty Images)

About four months before the Russian invasion, one of his deputies showed Yahoo News a website HUR put together featuring the personal photographs, fake passports, even the results of a prostate ultrasound, all belonging to Maj. Gen. Andrey Averyanov, commander of Russian GRU Unit 29155. Also featured were the fake passports of the various young Russian women with whom Averyanov has traveled on “business trips” to Sochi and Crimea. Unit 29155 is an elite murder-and-sabotage squad that Western intelligence has blamed for poisoning GRU defector Sergei Skripal, along with his daughter Yulia, in Salisbury, England, in 2018; mounting a failed coup in Montenegro; and blowing up a series of weapons and ammunition facilities in the Czech Republic and Bulgaria.

How did the HUR manage to quite literally see up the backside of a senior Russian intelligence operative? This question prompted a rare bit of laughter from Budanov. “We are not a consuming body,” he said, “we are a collecting body. That is why everything we say oftentimes is very much different from what others say. We base our assessment on things that are real and some other people watch a lot of TV or just talk to other people and that’s how they build their assessments. The fact that we are geographically close to Russia — let’s put it this way: We have capabilities in the Russian Federation, quite powerful ones.”

Ukrainian soldiers
Ukrainian soldiers take part in military exercises outside Kyiv, April 20. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images)

Budanov was appointed to what became a crucial wartime intelligence role in August 2020 after having served a brief stint as deputy director of one of the departments of Ukraine’s foreign intelligence service. Before that, he was a HUR Spetsnaz or special forces commando dispatched behind enemy lines: Even now, he occasionally appears in selfies from the front, kitted out in full tactical gear, in what one senior HUR official said are no mere photo ops: “Budanov still takes part in special operations.”

In August 2016, so one story goes, he was part of a saboteur campaign in Crimea that killed a lieutenant colonel of Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, one of the successor agencies of the Soviet KGB. Whatever Budanov got up to as a soldier, it was enough to merit receipt of Ukraine’s Order for Courage, roughly equivalent to the Medal of Valor. Russia has tried to assassinate Budanov ever since, including by blowing up his Chevrolet Evanda in 2019 (the bomb detonated too early).

There is a birdcage at one end of Budanov’s office with two chirping canaries. An apocryphal but plausible tale has it that they’re here to die — that is, provide an early-warning system in the event poison gas is ever deployed in this room. The truth is more mundane: They’re just pets, as is the frog frantically trying to climb the glass wall of its aquarium behind Budanov.

According to leaked Pentagon intelligence, Budanov played an instrumental part in fortifying the besieged city of Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine. For months, the Russians have been devoting enormous resources and manpower into capturing the city, in itself of limited strategic significance, but symbolically a large prize for Moscow. Ukraine’s policy has been to bleed the Russians there for as long as possible in order to weaken their defensive capability when Kyiv presses its counteroffensive in the next few weeks.

A Ukrainian soldier on a destroyed Russian tank
A Ukrainian soldier on a destroyed Russian tank in Luhansk, Ukraine, June 9, 2022. (Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The U.S. was highly skeptical of such a plan. It anticipated that Bakhmut would fall in January, and U.S. intelligence, as reported in the Pentagon leaks, cited Budanov describing conditions in the city as “catastrophic.” He personally ordered a Ukrainian special forces detachment, the so-called Kraken unit, to deploy to Bakhmut to help beat back the threat of Russian encirclement. It worked. Budanov, who correctly predicted the date and timing of Russia’s Feb. 24 full-scale invasion, is dismissive of those in the West who argued that the effort to save Bakhmut would fail or wasn’t worth the cost in untold Ukrainian lives.

“Whoever says this, and you just mentioned these leaks of U.S. materials — we can add to the statements of the Russian leadership at various levels,” he said. “They have been saying since June 2022 that they have almost captured Bakhmut. We are almost in May now and they are still capturing Bakhmut. It’s very easy to talk about territories you have no relation to. It happened in Syria, with people saying, ‘This can be given away, that can be taken.’ It happened in Chechnya. It happened also in Iraq.”

While Bakhmut remains contested, Russia has made unmistakable gains toward the center of the city, largely thanks to the Russian mercenary group Wagner, the vanguard fighting force that has suffered its own catastrophic losses. “It’s three times the number of killed in action that the United States faced on the Guadalcanal campaign in World War II, and that was over the course of five months,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said of Russian losses in Bakhmut on Monday. Nearly half of those killed in action since December, Kirby explained, were Wagner fighters.

A Ukrainian medic
A Ukrainian medic on the frontlines in Bakhmut, Ukraine. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Budanov esteems this enemy, now labeled by the U.S. as a transnational criminal organization, above all other Russian military formations. “Unlike the regular troops of the Russian military, Wagner engages in training,” Budanov said. “Even the convicts they recruit from Russian prisons are being trained to serve and that is why the results are a lot better than what normal regular army have. They are our enemy, but we need to admit that they are an enemy you’re not ashamed of. It’s incomparable to the level of regular troops. They are a lot higher.”

In yet another sign that the Bakhmut meat grinder has had serious repercussions in Russia, Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner Group, this week took to social media to denounce the Russian Ministry of Defense, general staff and “fat-bellied” bureaucrats in Moscow for what he alleges is their refusal to supply adequate ammunition to his guns for hire. “My lads will not be taking senseless and unjustified casualties in Bakhmut without ammo,” Prigozhin said, surrounded by dozens of masked Wagner mercenaries, in a video. Whether a theatrical ploy or something more serious, he threatened to withdraw all his forces from Bakhmut on May 10, a decision that would in effect mean a Russian abandonment of the city.

For Budanov, Prigozhin has played politics over his private army’s sacrifices in the war since last year because he has to. “His political future is directly linked to his physical survival because there are too many forces in the Russian Federation who want to eliminate him. He obviously will try to defend himself because for him it’s not even an issue of exile or prison; it’s an issue of life and death.”