Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged this week that the war in Ukraine has taken longer than expected, and predicted the conflict could be a “long process.” He also warned the risk of nuclear war is increasing, but vowed not to use nuclear weapons first. Putin’s comments come as Russia continues pounding civilian targets across Ukraine, including energy infrastructure, leaving much of the country in the dark and cold with winter approaching. The United Nations reports more than 17,000 civilians have been killed since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, including 419 children. For more, we go to Moscow and speak with Russian dissident Boris Kagarlitsky, who says war fatigue is sweeping Russian society. “It will end badly for us in Russia,” says Kagarlitsky, who adds that Russian elites are increasingly uncomfortable. “Russia is losing the war, and Russia is going to lose the war inevitably.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
We go now to Moscow to look at the war in Ukraine and U.S.-Russian relations. This breaking news: The WNBA superstar Brittney Griner has been released by Russia in a one-for-one prisoner swap with arms dealer Viktor Bout. Griner had been recently sentenced to nine years in prison for bringing a small amount of cannabis oil into Russia.
Meanwhile, Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin has acknowledged the war in Ukraine has taken longer than expected, and predicted the conflict could go on and be a “long process.” Putin also warned the risk of nuclear war is increasing, but he vowed not to use nuclear weapons first.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] We don’t deploy our nuclear weapons, including tactical nuclear weapons, in other countries. But the Americans do, and Turkey and a number of other countries in Europe. … We haven’t gone mad. We understand what nuclear weapons are. We have these means, and they are more advanced and modern than in any other nuclear country. This is obvious today. It’s a fact. But we are not going to swing it like a razor, running around the world. But, of course, we proceed from the fact that we have got it.
AMY GOODMAN: Putin’s comments came as Ukraine’s government says Russian artillery fire killed 10 people, wounded many others Wednesday in the eastern Donetsk region. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s national electrical grid operator announced new emergency cuts to try to repair energy infrastructure damaged by Russia. This week, the United Nations reported more than 17,000 civilians have been killed since Russia’s invasion, including 419 children.
We go now to Moscow, Russia, where we’re joined by Boris Kagarlitsky, Marxist theorist and Russian dissident, professor at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences and a contributor to the Russian Dissent project. His recent translated piece, into English, appears in Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, headlined “Putin’s Russia: War fatigue sweeps the ranks.”
Boris Kagarlitsky, welcome to Democracy Now! If you could start by responding to this breaking news, Brittney Griner released in a one-to-one prisoner swap with the arms merchant Viktor Bout? The significance of this?
BORIS KAGARLITSKY: Well, first of all, hello. I am very happy to be here on your show.
And, well, then, I think, inside Russia, the Bout case is not very prominent. Of course, well, Bout was, as we know, involved in our arms trade. And, by the way, he traded arms of — for some guerrilla groups in Latin America, in America, among other things. It is very clear that Bout was somehow connected to Russian intelligence services, and that’s why he was badly needed to come back to Russia, from the point of view of the government.
Though I don’t think it is a major news for Russian public, because people are much more worried and much more interested in following what happened recently when, supposedly, Ukrainian drones managed to reach some airfields inside Russia, very deep inside Russia, like in Saratov region. So, they attacked an airfield, a military air base, where they managed, supposedly, to damage a few strategic bombers, which shows the outreach for Ukrainian forces in terms of bringing the war back into Russia is getting much, much more serious. So, that is really the news which is discussed and that is really very important, because it really brings the war back, so to speak, back to the doorsteps of Russian households.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And so, Boris, could you explain what the perceptions of the war have been over these last many months, and how that might be changing precisely because of this incident that you mentioned, the attacks on the two Russian airfields by Ukrainian drones?
BORIS KAGARLITSKY: Actually, there were three airfields, because it was one in Ryazan, one in Engels near Saratov, and also one in Kursk.
But, anyhow, well, you see, Russian society used to be — and, to some extent, even now remains — very apolitical and very apathetic. So, in that sense, maybe it would be difficult to understand abroad, but most Russians didn’t acknowledge, 'til very recently, that there was a war — whatever you call it, “special operation” or whatever. Most people didn't care about something happening abroad. And as long as there was a professional army fighting somewhere abroad, nobody cared.
And now the situation is changing, for two reasons. One reason is that there was this so-called partial mobilization, which didn’t really work out. The number of people who left the country to avoid mobilization is at least two times bigger than the number of people who they managed to mobilize. And don’t forget that it seems that there are quite a lot of people who managed to hide, hide themselves away from the mobilization. So they seemed to fail to reach the numbers which they originally planned, and it seems that there was a major political failure and major political disaster accompanying this attempt, because people who 'til very recently didn't care about the war now started to care.
And, of course, it doesn’t mean that people are opposing the war, so to speak, en masse. People are worried. That’s a more adequate term. So, people are not supporting the war, but they are not opposing the war, either. It’s a very kind of confused situation, a very confused feeling. And still, it looks like the popularity of the war among those groups which did support the war is decreasing very, very rapidly, because, before, I have spoken about the majority of Russians who are apolitical, who are not interested in politics and foreign politics and even military events, but there is also a minority which is very political, which is interested in politics and so on. And this minority, of course, was badly divided, because there was a segment that supported the war, supported the government, and a segment which opposed the war. So, within this section of the population, the situation is changing very dramatically, because the numbers of those who support the war are falling down very fast, and the numbers of those who are either opposing it or are critical of it are increasing also very, very fast.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Boris, could you explain why that’s the case? Why are more people among the — including among the elites, why have they come to be more critical of the war or oppose the war? And you also said earlier that almost twice as many or more than twice as many people fled Russia as were mobilized, and this doesn’t take into account, as you said, the people who simply disappeared and did not participate in the mobilization. Where did the Russians flee to? And is there any sense of their returning?
BORIS KAGARLITSKY: Well, let’s start with those who are leaving the country, are young people, both — of course, mostly male guys, but also their families and their wives and girlfriends and their children are leaving, mostly to Kazakhstan, also Kirgizia, or Kyrgyzstan, as the country is called now. They’re also leaving for Georgia, for Armenia. Some managed to go as far away as to Western Europe or even to Latin America. I know some people who left for Argentina. So, they go where they can, you know? If you can leave for Kazakhstan, you go to Kazakhstan. If you can only leave for, say, some other — for Georgia, you go to Georgia.
The point is that Kazakhstan, for example, is now — seems, at the level of the government but also at the social level, extremely happy with all these Russians coming, because these are usually young educated people who bring in the skills, who sometimes also keep working at a distance and getting the money paid by some Russian company, so they bring in money. In Armenia, they calculated that their actual GDP growth this year will increase by 13%, which is an absolute record since the independence of Armenia. And, of course, there are also local nationalists who are very unhappy with so many Russians arriving. So it’s a mixed bag, so to speak. But, in general, for example, if we take Kazakhstan and Kyrgyz, which accepted the most of — the highest numbers of these, as we now call them, relocationists, or émigrés, whatever, these countries, at the government level, they’re praising the arrival of Russians, and reasonably so.
There was a very interesting advertisement on Kazakh television where they were actually advertising chocolate, local — a brand of chocolate called Kazakhstan. And there is a Russian refugee who is moving, crossing the mountains, where they’re a very, very kind of exotic environment. So, he’s crossing the mountain somewhere into Kazakhstan, and then a Kazakh riding a horse arrives to him, gives him this piece of chocolate as taste freedom.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you how you think this war will end. I mean, Brittney Griner being released in this one-to-one swap with the prisoner known as the “Merchant of Death,” Viktor Bout, who you say is clearly tied to the Russian government, means that the U.S. has been directly negotiating with Russia. And in fact, Biden had said a while ago that, yes, he would directly negotiate when it came to Brittney Griner. And since then, he has said he is open to negotiations to speaking directly with Putin — this last week, with the big state meeting with Macron, the first state visit to the White House. Macron has been repeatedly talking to Putin, and probably a back channel for the United States. What are your thoughts on how this is going to end? And how important do you think is it for Putin’s survival, political survival, in Russia?
BORIS KAGARLITSKY: Well, it will end badly for us in Russia. I failed to answer the previous question, by the way: why our Russian elites are so worried and feeling so uncomfortable about what is happening. And the answer is very simple: Russia is losing the war, and Russia is going to lose the war inevitably. So, this is a very, very dramatic news for the Russian public. But now it is — what has been happening is that the Russian public is beginning to understand this reality.
What is the real meaning of defeat? That’s the big question, because the war is already lost in some way. But the question is: What’s going to be the price and the meaning of defeat? And, well, first of all, I think there is no way Ukrainian troops will stop, unless Russian troops get back to their starting positions, to the positions they used to stay on February the 24th. So, no matter who negotiates and what is on the negotiation table, that’s not going to stop ’til Russian troops are back to their original positions.
However, the situation now is getting much worse, because in Ukraine there are some radical voices which are saying that they have to get further into Crimea and into Donetsk and Luhansk republics, which — as you know, which are separatist republics which declared their independence as early as in 2014, and Crimea, as we know, was annexed by Russia also in 2014. So, well, as you see, Putin started with a claim to get new territories, integrate new territories into Russian Federation. Now there is a danger of losing what they already used to have before the beginning of the war. And this is definitely a disaster for Putin and for his regime.
However, the question is: What’s going to follow? Because even if things turn out so badly and so nasty for Putin, and even if the military finally manage to make him resign, which is not excluded, then the question is: What kind of country are we going to inherit after Putin is gone?
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what kind of country do you imagine that might be?
BORIS KAGARLITSKY: It’s a very divided country at this point. It’s a very divided country facing a tremendous political but also social crisis, with a society which is not used to organize itself, not used to do politics, so to speak. And we have to learn, as a collective, as a society, to organize ourselves, to defend our interests. In that sense, you see, we can speak about whatever happens, say, in Latin America, for example, but we have to understand that the level of mobilization of Latin American societies is much higher than that of, say, Russian society today. And, well, this society is failing — lacking the experience, lacking the experience of self-organization, and that’s why it will be very difficult.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Boris, if you could just say — going back to the question of how Russia is faring militarily in the conflict, you’ve written, as well, about the role of the Wagner Group, not just in Ukraine but beyond Ukraine. Could you talk about the role that they’ve been playing in this war and, in particular, the extent to which their aims differ from the aims of the Russian military?
BORIS KAGARLITSKY: Well, the so-called Wagner Group is a private military company, which is more than just a private military company. It’s just a private army organized by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is a former felon. And his army is not completely but to some extent composed of criminals who were released from labor camps, from criminal custodies and — from custody. So, it’s a really dangerous group of people. There are already cases where they’re known to be involved in crimes not only against civilians in Ukraine, but also against civilians in Russia proper. And, of course, Prigozhin and his friend Ramzan Kadyrov, who is now the head of Chechen Republic, they are — well, they are trying to — well, to get some — I don’t know, some portion of real political power and influence, privatizing, to some extent, certain public and state functions. This is very dangerous.
Though I am not that pessimistic, because I think that the military already understood where the danger is, and there is a growing conflict between Wagner Group and the military. There are quite a few known cases where they started shooting at each other. And I think that the power of the military is much more than the power of — much more serious than the power of this private army. So, in that sense, I think if Putin is forced to leave — which is not guaranteed, of course, but it’s not excluded, either — then we can also witness some sort of short civil war between military and the Wagner Group. But it’s not going to last for very long, because the military are much stronger.
AMY GOODMAN: Boris Kagarlitsky, do you fear for your own safety as we speak to you in Moscow?
BORIS KAGARLITSKY: Not more than anybody else in Russia these days. You know, the government declared me a foreign agent, though they failed to explain a foreign agent for which country am I. Anyhow, well, no, I don’t think you have to be so much afraid. I’ve been jailed in Russia at least for two times. I was here for many years through all sorts of different changing regimes. And, well, it’s an interesting time coming.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Boris, finally, we just have a minute, but could you explain the impact? What’s happening? How are ordinary Russians suffering from this war in terms both of sanctions, economic conditions, employment, inflation? If you could talk about how the war is impacting ordinary Russians?
BORIS KAGARLITSKY: Well, actually, economic situation is deteriorating, but the economic situation in Russia was deteriorating for nine years. It has been deteriorating for so long. And so, in that sense, this is kind of business as usual. So, things are getting worse, and it used to be bad, and it’s going to be worse anyhow. That’s how people appreciate it.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Boris Kagarlitsky, we thank you so much for being with us, Marxist theorist, Russian dissident, professor at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, contributor to the Russian Dissent project. We’re going to link to your translated piece appears, into English, that appears in Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, headlined “Putin’s Russia: War fatigue sweeps the ranks.” He’s speaking to us from Moscow, Russia.
Next up, we look at the historic Supreme Court case that could upend democracy. Back in 30 seconds.
AMY GOODMAN: “Anything Could Happen” by The Clean, whose influential and beloved founding drummer Hamish Kilgour has died at the age of 65.