Former Defense Minister Zahorodniuk on Zaluzhnyi's article — interview

Former Minister of Defense of Ukraine Andrew Zagorodnyuk
Former Minister of Defense of Ukraine Andrew Zagorodnyuk

On Nov. 1, The Economist published three texts from Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valery Zaluzhnyi: a column with a brief summary of his vision of Ukraine's needs; an essay titled Modern Positional Warfare and How to Win It, and an article by the magazine for which he was interviewed.

Former Minister of Defense Andriy Zahorodniuk called the publications sensational. He explained why in an interview with Radio NV.

NV: General Zaluzhnyi puts the main emphasis on technology in his text. What is the problem with getting technology? Do our Western partners have reservations about giving us high-tech equipment?

Zahorodniuk: Let's start from the beginning. We are talking about a fairly sensational publication. It has already received enormous attention among the analytical community around the world. Moreover, we know that there were two publications: one is a short column with a reassessment of [needs] and technology; and the second is an interview, as a follow-up to this essay, which explains the strategic context in which we need everything.

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The fact is that Zaluzhnyi is arguing that we are at a new stage of the war. He effectively argues that the plan that our partners have been building from the beginning is not one that should be relied upon. He runs through that plan quite quickly, in one sentence, but it was already known in the analytical community.

The plan was, after all, to force Russia to negotiate. In Ukraine, this plan has always been considered quite idealistic. But by now it is clear that it is utopian even for our partners.

Connected with this was that most of the weapons and military equipment provided to Ukraine were provided exclusively for the counteroffensive, which was planned for the summer and autumn. And it is clear that no sensible pragmatism was to be expected from the Russians, nor any change in strategy. But in reality, our partners planned very little beyond this counteroffensive. That this problem was called out and named is the first rather sensational thing.

Secondly, the calculation was that the Russians would view insane, massive losses as too painful. That turned out not to be the case either. That is, they are managing to hide their losses from their population. These losses are indeed constantly compared to the First or Second World War, where they ran into the millions. But the main thing is that the war still does not affect the majority of the Russian population.

That is, they have already lost more than 300,000 servicemen, as Zaluzhnyi says, including 150,000 killed. But at the same time, their plans have not changed at all.

And finally, the third sensational thing: many of the technologies needed for this war simply don't exist right now. Therefore, Zaluzhnyi devotes a large part of this material to the fact that technologies must be developed. That is, they need not simply be handed over to Ukraine, but many of them need to be developed or brought from the early stages of development to serial models. That is, in fact, we are talking about a historical process — a transition of war to completely new technological processes.

For many who are working on this, this was already known, as we all see that drones are a huge part of everything that's going on right now in the operational context [of the war]. Most of our plans were stopped by landmines, against which there is currently no technological solution, and to the extent such solutions exist, they are insufficient. And we see that much of the standard, traditional armored vehicles are stopped by drones, both from our side and from the enemy’s.

And now there is a massive reinforcement of troops with new technologies — both means of electronic warfare, drones, and others. This is happening on both sides. That is, we are seeing a qualitative technological leap of war in general. And this will completely drive all future wars in this direction. That is, we are really standing at a historical turning point.

NV: Zaluzhnyi identifies five tasks that are the most important, in his opinion, in order to deter and defeat our enemy. They include air superiority, air defenses, radio-electronic warfare, counter-battery fire, and GPS. Do we simply not have these things at all?

Zahorodniuk: For several of these domains, there are certain technologies that are [currently] in very early stages of development — either in prototypes, or in concepts, or in single copies. Of course, there are technologies for many of them. When we talk about aviation, the technologies are there, we just don't have them. There are technologies for counter-battery fighting. There are also technologies for combating electronic warfare. The only thing is that successful technologies cost serious money, and we can talk about cost reduction through scaling production.

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That is, some [technologies] are available, some are at an early stage, some are available in fairly small quantities and at a high cost. That is, each situation is different.

We cannot say that the situation is absolutely hopeless, because most of the technologies exist. They simply need to be scaled to completely different levels and delivered to Ukraine at cost, or for the cost to go down.

NV: And is there the caveat of "what if the technology falls into enemy hands?" in the sense of Russia, and then — to Iran, China, or Hamas and Hezbollah? Can we expect that our partners would also have reservations about this?

Zahorodniuk: They do have reservations. This story has been known since ancient times. Even before and during the full-scale war, the entire advocacy for delivering weapons constantly ran into two problems. First is the problem of escalation. This is a very relative concept that doesn't have specific criteria, but it really delayed us getting [weapons].

By the way, Zaluzhnyi notes in this interview that the delay in the supply of weapons and the delay in decisions played a huge, problematic role, because it gave the Russians time to prepare a new type of defense.

Now [the threat of] escalation is not as big a problem as it was at the beginning of the hostilities, but it remains.

And the second issue is Russia's (and then other countries in this axis of evil) access to technologies. We are constantly dealing with this problem and are fighting it. Of course, this will continue to be a serious challenge.

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But let's put it this way: these are secondary issues. The primary question is: do we have a concrete plan to win? One that our partners support and are investing in? This is the key question.

Currently, as I have written and said many times, we are facing this problem. We have a victory plan in Ukraine, but our partners do not. That is, they still need to understand that this war must be won unequivocally militarily.

From a strategic point of view, this is still the main challenge for us, as they were still counting on us to have some kind of breakthrough success, after which there would be some kind of resolution to this conflict. This will not happen. Until Russia finally loses, there will be no [other] solution to this war.

NV: How do you understand this rhetoric about breakthrough success? Many U.S. and NATO military officials expected what happened in Kharkiv Oblast, that by some miracle, the Armed Forces of Ukraine, despite lacking enough weapons and forces, would somehow drive the Russians out of our territory. Where did it come from? War is a matter of mathematics.

Zahorodniuk: To some extent, it is mathematics. The problem is that this data that is used is very often either incomplete or the rules for using the data are not precise.

Mathematically, even before the start of the war, our partners decided that Ukraine had no chance. It was also a matter of mathematics. They compared the number of tanks, the number of personnel and said: "That's it, Ukraine has no chance." Turns out, everything was much more complicated.

And here the story was such that they really saw that Russia was not ready for a positional struggle, and it was in despair. It was the end of last year. They were most likely told: "We need this amount of equipment, and we will prepare this number of units. Give us the equipment and we will make some progress."

By the way, Zaluzhnyi mentions NATO standards in the same article. And he says that, according to the doctrines adopted by NATO, it should already have been possible to reach Crimea and back with such a large amount of equipment.

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But the equipment was provided very slowly. If you remember, there were publications, and this is the tip of the iceberg, unfortunately... Knowing the situation inside, it was much more difficult. Equipment very often arrived from our partners in non-working condition. The Deputy Defense Minister gave several interviews about this, and there were several other publications. But in fact, it was a serious problem, because the equipment arrived disassembled, without spare parts, without tools. And it was necessary to bring it into order. Time was running out for that too.

All this time — months, more than half a year — gave the Russians a chance to prepare, to lay unprecedented minefields against which there is currently no technical solution. That is, the existing technical solutions are from the 70s and 60s, and they don't work effectively in the environment we're in now with FPV drones and everything. That is why General Zaluzhnyi also writes about this in his article.

NV: Can we already sum up the results of the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the summer-autumn of 2023? The weather is still good, but are there intermediate results?

Zahorodniuk: We can [assess] the interim results, but [the operation] is not finished, so I would not draw the final line. Some foreign analysts who wrote four months ago that everything is not going according to plan would very much like to do this. Our partners built slightly inflated expectations for themselves, and these expectations were built very far from Ukraine and even more so very far from the front line.

I would say that we need to draw conclusions (as do our partners, in particular) about the speed of aid, and particularly about our strategies — where we're going, in terms of winning, and about technological supplies.

In no case should we focus on the fact that something is going wrong. We must go for victory, and without any options, because this is the only acceptable way out for us.

We need to talk about the development of technology, and about the procurement and mass production of drones, because they really change everything on the battlefield. [We need to talk about] their production and the adoption of the necessary political, legislative, and any other decisions in order to maximally follow the path of technological fulfillment and saturation.

The Russians are following this path. We have to get ahead of them.

NV: General Zaluzhnyi is in contact with his colleagues from other countries, and we can be certain that he has spoken to them about the things he wrote in his publications. Who are these texts aimed at? At politicians or ordinary people?

Zahorodniuk: The Economist is a well-known magazine read by the entire world's expert audience. That is, all analytical organizations, academic politicians, political assistants — it gets to everyone. It is one of the most widely read, authoritative publications in the world. Therefore, of course, this is primarily a Western expert audience.

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Those people who have a relationship with war in Ukraine know about the critical importance of technology and about the problems our Armed Forces are facing. But there are a lot of myths, illusions, misunderstandings, and speculations abroad. And most importantly, there is still no acceptable plan for victory, even at the general, strategic level.

Therefore, he is appealing primarily to a Western expert audience, but most likely, not a military one, because they have constant contact with a military audience. The military, who are involved in our events, know this very well.

NV: At the end of this essay, Zaluzhnyi writes that technology can turn positional warfare into maneuver warfare, that is, to make it dynamic again. Does this mean that we should now prepare for a long phase of positional warfare?

Zahorodniuk: Everything will depend on what political, financial, and organizational decisions are made.

If we recall the Second World War, many new types of weapons and military equipment were constantly introduced (in the absence of electronic developments, computers in general, etc.). Something new appeared almost every week. War prompts people to make quick decisions, to quickly provide resources, and to concentrate them.

If we (Ukraine and its key partners) do it right, we will be able to change the situation quite quickly.

Russia will try and is already trying to do so independently. They are developing new drones and new models of equipment.

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[Zaluzhnyi], by the way, mentioned experimental samples of air defense. We know for sure that there is a constant improvement in electronic warfare. We know for sure that there is a constant improvement of signal transmission from drones for greater controllability at longer distances.

An arms race is actually already underway and has been for some time.

For a large number of expert audiences, this should certainly not be news. And the question is, to what extent will we react correctly, in terms of scaling, acceleration [of production], and the allocation of the necessary resources.

Russia would like it to happen as slowly as possible here, of course. And further, where they are not able to make breakthroughs, they will move into a positional struggle. That is, it will be a constant combination of positional and active war. Where they can, they will try to attack.

NV: If you talk to our lower- and middle-ranking military personnel, they usually complain that we are not building defensive fortifications. Do you understand why this is not happening?

Zahorodniuk: Because there are operational plans. We have an operational command that deals with operational plans for our movement. And this is the decision of very serious, qualified generals, which, fortunately, we have.

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These are highly qualified military experts with many years of experience. Let's give them the opportunity to make these decisions on their own, because, fortunately, Ukraine has people to rely on in these matters.

As for technologies, the development of technologies is not only a military issue. There are questions, in particular, of production, of obtaining technologies, of financing, and of resources. That is, there is a large political, state, and even international component to all this. Our military needs help here.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine