NV: I think you have already seen these videos where a kamikaze drone hits the Novoshakhtinsk oil refinery in Russia’s Rostov Oblast. Russian media report that they have allegedly found the remains of two drones. How effective do you think it is to use drones to hit oil refineries in Russia, given that, for example, they launch 10 missiles at our refineries?
Zhdanov: The thing is that you have to be insane to use a strike drone as a kamikaze. Is the country so prosperous that it can scatter strike drones left and right? … That’s the first thing. And the second thing is just look at the map: the range of our largest drone (Bayraktar) is 150 kilometers. And the distance from the territory we control to the town of Shakhtinsk is probably more than 300 kilometers.
NV: That is, there is a question as to whether we did it, and in general how it is possible.
Zhdanov: Yes, whether it is our drone or not. By the way, there is one in the Russian line of drones similar to Bayraktar.
NV: Got it. There is another topic from what I saw. Yesterday there was news that a Russian Su-25 plane crashed with the pilot in Rostov Oblast during training. The same was reported on June 17, also Su-25, but in Belgorod Oblast. Why do you think their planes are crashing and what does that mean? Or is it an obsolete equipment, what’s your version?
Read also: Ukrainian military shoots down Russian Su-25 warplane in Donetsk Oblast
Zhdanov: I think it’s the ignorance of pilots, incompetence. The fact is that they have a very large shortage of pilots. By the way, the last Su-25 shot down over the Donbas, again was a Su-25 with a pilot who is already retired, who fought in a private military company, and then was recruited and came to fight in the Donbas – and he’s a Su-25 pilot. The fact is that the Su-25 is an attack aircraft that must work on the front line of the enemy, it is also called a flying tank (this is what it was called during the war in Afghanistan). The pilot has to be really skilled when he comes to fire on enemy positions. And here, most likely, young pilots do not manage to fly, although I do not rule out (it’s a problem with) the technical condition of the aircraft themselves, because these are Soviet-era aircraft. Yes, they could be partially upgraded in Russia, but most of these aircraft were produced before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
NV: It was also reported that our operation on Zmiinyi (Snake) Island is still underway. From what (was known) as of June 20, there was a series of strikes by Ukrainian forces. According to the Ukrainian Operational Command Pivden (South), a Pantsir C1 air defense system, etc. were destroyed. In turn, Russia’s Defense Ministry says they have repulsed an attack on Zmiinyi by shooting down 13 Ukrainian drones. Where do you think the truth is, what exactly is happening on Zmiinyi?
Zhdanov: I think the truth is on our side, I will explain why. The first thing is that we do not have enough to strike at the same time. Secondly, in order to shoot down drones, the right skills and the appropriate density of anti-aircraft weapons are required, this was not there on Zmiinyi Island. And if we take into account the Russian Defense Ministry’s statements, I sometimes listen to what they say, they have crazy numbers. When they report that they have already destroyed 3,500 tanks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and we have never had that much at the beginning of the war. About thousands of fortified positions they destroy, the Russian artillery, too. There are just numbers taken from a fantasy book, I wouldn’t believe them.
Read also: Ukraine confirms it struck Russian-occupied Snake Island in Black Sea
NV: Another interesting thing, the Operational Command South reported that the military operation continues and requires “information silence” to complete it. What does it mean?
Zhdanov: Most likely, our command does not want a detailed analysis and discussion in the media and on the Internet, why would it? Because obviously, if they say that they have not finished anything and it continues, it is obvious that there will be some measures to destroy the Russian troops who are still on Zmiinyi Island. By the way, let me remind you, do you remember when we first struck Zmiinyi Island and destroyed Russian troops there during the Russian landing, what did Russian propaganda say then? They showed a video and said that a helicopter was Ukrainian, not Russian, and that it was Russian troops who destroyed the Ukrainian landing troops. And then they failed by airing a photo of an allegedly killed Ukrainian soldier, but as it turned out in the photo, he was dressed in the uniform of a marine of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Today there may be similar (lies) – 13 drones. What is more, they claimed they had shot down more than 10 NATO planes around Zmiinyi Island. So I’m not surprised what they tell their viewers and, unfortunately, the viewers believe it.
NV: What about that one viewer, Putin – he also watches it and believes it. If we talk about information policy on how to report what is happening on our fronts, many say it would be appropriate to have a “One Voice” policy. However, as you may have seen, Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Oleksiy Danilov criticized the head of the Servant of the People parliamentary faction, David Arakhamia, and adviser to the President’s Office Mykhailo Podolyak, for allegedly talking about what we need or what is happening in our country, although the Defense Ministry should be talking about (those topics). Who do you think we should trust? What do we need to remember here?
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Zhdanov: The fact is that there should be one official source of information during a war. This source can be represented by three instances: The Ministry of Defense (official spokesman), the National Security and Defense Council (also an official spokesman), or an official spokesman for the president as commander-in-chief, or a spokesman for the headquarters of the supreme commander-in-chief. … This source of information should be official, with a clear schedule, except for short breaking news, and the rest of the information space should work with these sources of information.
NV: Another topic that we have been discussing for two or three days is our hitting the gas drilling rigs in the Black Sea. For what purpose do you think this was done? What do you think about it?
Zhdanov: By the way, going back to the official source of information, I would interpret the implementation of this fire task in a completely different way. I would say that we have destroyed naval reconnaissance facilities of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which were located on gas drilling rigs seized from us by Russia in 2014. There were 100 military personnel and 23 civilians on the most targeted platform. So what did this platform do: did it extract gas or conduct radio technical reconnaissance or radar reconnaissance in the Black Sea, which is part of our exclusive economic zone? Therefore, it should be interpreted that we have destroyed two or three enemy reconnaissance objects in the Black Sea, which (actually)belonged to us.
NV: You remember that after this, news came from the so-called “Crimean occupation authorities,” even from (Russian terrorist Igor) Girkin, the criminal, that the Black Sea Fleet was about to attack Odesa, and I remember that this caused alarm among the people of Odesa. Do you think it is even possible for the Black Sea Fleet to attack Odesa?
Zhdanov: Theoretically, yes, it is possible. By the way, I would be very pleasantly surprised if the Black Sea Fleet went to our coast. Why? Because as soon as they entered the zone of destruction of our anti-ship complexes, we could easily fire on the ships of the Black Sea Fleet. By the way, that’s why they are not going anywhere, they are standing there in the Black Sea and preparing to launch missile strikes on our territory. And they are afraid to enter the zone of probable destruction of the anti-ship missile system, which is on combat duty, as (Defense) Minister (Oleksii) Reznikov said.
NV: That is, if they approached Odesa, it would be a great chance for us to just sink them.
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Zhdanov: Yes. To Odesa – it is said very loudly. I think that as soon as they enter the zone of destruction, we could inflict fire damage on these ships. So, they’re not going anywhere.
NV: At the same time, we see both attacks on Odesa, and attacks on Kharkiv, and Mykolaiv. Are these mass missile attacks just terrorism? Is there any strategy to it?
Zhdanov: Yes, unfortunately, there is a strategy – it is intimidation and creating panic and chaotic moods among the population in order to force them to surrender and not resist. Not literally, but in terms of making the population ready for peace at any cost.
NV: There is a resolution – the United States has such a tool for declaring a state to be a sponsor of terrorism. So far, Syria, Iran, Sudan, and North Korea have been declared as such states. Do you think it changes something when a country is declared a sponsor of terrorism?
Zhdanov: For the United States, if we are talking about this country, yes, this is a very important decision, why? Because if Russia were to be on that list, no company associated with the United States could do any business with that country. It could not invest in that country, could not get money from that country. It would be a violation of U.S. law, and this company would be punished in various ways – this is very important.
NV: Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in Luhansk Oblast. I listened to your latest report, you said that the situation in Luhansk Oblast is difficult, even close to critical. What do we see there?
Zhdanov: Unfortunately, indeed, they’re trying to move from Popasna towards Lysychansk and they gradually succeed. They’re succeeding due to their numerical advantage in firepower, they are actually taking us out of our positions. We’re trying to stop this advance, it is very slow, but the forces are unequal in this direction. Indeed, today the situation is very critical since there is a threat to the encirclement of some of our armed forces.
NV: As for the forces of the so-called “DPR,” there was an assessment of the UK military intelligence … that (the DPR’s) losses are equivalent to about 55% of the original number. This means the extreme depletion of Russian and pro-Russian forces in the Donbas. What are these forces? We understand that the “DPR” would never have existed without the Russian military and equipment. So what exactly are these 55% losses?
Read also: Military expert Zhdanov on Russia’s ‘worse than expected’ performance in Donbas
Zhdanov: You are absolutely right, there are no “DPR” forces, there is the 1st Army Corps from the 8th General Army of the Southern military district of the Russian armed forces. And even those whom they caught on the streets, put into military service, they all take the oath of the Russian Federation, sign a contract with the Russian armed forces. And the fact that their documents are issued by God knows what organization, not recognized by anyone, does not take away responsibility.
How they are registered is a secondary issue. But without combat experience, appropriate weapons and equipment, judging by what we know from intelligence, they are armed and equipped by the residual principle – they act as cannon fodder on the battlefield. They are either sent forward, or to the hottest spots, or just thrown into battle and behind them, the Russians reach our trenches on their shoulders, and then begin the assault. This is used by both regular units of Russian troops and fighters of private military companies fighting on Russia’s side.
NV: In the next segment, we will discuss a BBC article on how they recruit volunteers. And now there is more talk that the Russians are trying to use fewer of their military units and rely on these volunteers, whom they are recruiting in depressed regions. As far as we understand, this is also in our favor, because these are not the kind of people who could do something remarkable on the battlefield.
Zhdanov: No, I do not agree with you. Why? The fact is that private military companies hire these proxy soldiers, mercenaries, and there is more or less selection. Those who have combat experience or served in the army are sent there. That is, they have an idea of what military training is and the basics of combat operations, this is the first. Second, there is a higher cash allowance, according to some information it reaches more than RUB 300,000 ($5,600) a month. Third, they sign a contract with a private company, in which they undertake to conduct active hostilities, otherwise they will be punished up to criminal responsibility. This makes these private companies more combat-ready and more dangerous for us.
NV: Let’s talk a bit about the international situation. I think you’ve seen the news that Russian troops are simulating missile strikes against Estonia daily, our colleagues from Sky News said. Will they dare to do something there? We also know about the crisis they have with Lithuania. Do you think they can dare to do something in the Baltic states?
Zhdanov: As for Estonia and Lithuania, they are NATO members, NATO will protect its members from attack in any case. NATO is a defense alliance, as they put it. Therefore, Russia is provoking them – the helicopter that tried to enter Estonian airspace today flew with its transponder off, and did not respond to requests from Estonian controllers. They are provoking as much as possible, provoking a NATO country, or in its face the entire NATO bloc, in accordance with the statute of making the first shot be against Russia, so that Russia could say that NATO is an aggressive bloc that attacked the Russian Federation. And it would immediately offer a negotiation process, but with NATO to resolve the crisis. This is what Russia is trying to achieve. But they are afraid to make the first shot.
NV: Because they should remember that the NATO bloc is much more powerful than Russia with its old weapons.
Zhdanov: Yes, it will be a very brief war and not in favor of the Russian Federation – they understand that.
NV: There was a political statement by the commander of the UK army, General (Patrick) Sanders. He said that, first, British troops must be ready to fight in Europe once again, and that they must forge an army capable of defeating Russia. Is it politics, is it just intimidation? Or will these be real actions, what do you think?
Zhdanov: I think they will be real. Our war has become a trigger, which, to my mind, will break the deadlock of the military and industrial complex in most countries. Now everyone will look at their army, its reserves, combat capability and begin to restore equipment and weapons, deploy their troops and train them in readiness for their intended use. This is a kind of impetus, by the way, it will give economic development to those countries that launch their military and industrial complex.
NV: I also want to ask you about Belarus. Putin is going to Minsk, where the Forum of the Regions of Belarus and Russia is scheduled for June 30-July 1. Do you think he will be able to put pressure on Lukashenko? If he can, you know this narrative why Lukashenko does not agree to send troops to Ukraine: because they will rebel against him. Do you think he will agree? And if he agrees, will they rebel against him?
Zhdanov: I think yes, he can agree, although, in my opinion, it will be a death sentence for him – a sentence of removal from power. The fact that they will rebel against him is also quite possible, especially if he now deploys an army of another 35,000 and these are conscripts from civilian life, who will bring with them an even higher percentage of anti-war sentiment in the Belarusian armed forces. … He is in a very serious situation, you would not envy him, but I think he will try to avoid Belarus intervening in this war on the side of the Russian Federation.
NV: Finally, we have June 22, the anniversary of Hitler’s Germany invading the Soviet Union. It is clear that this is also an important date for Russia, because they have “exaggerated ‘victorious’ hysteria,” etc. What do you think, if we say that they never mention that Stalin and Hitler were allies, divided Poland, how does it help them live?
Zhdanov: You see, they separated this episode of World War II, it is called the “Great Patriotic War.” By the way, this was hidden by the Soviet Union, why? Because it would be unclear how this was the case, they were allies for two years and were preparing together for war with the rest of the world, but then suddenly attacked each other. So I think they just don’t want to mix the colors they painted today in this “exaggerated ‘victorious’ hysteria” paradigm. It was so much easier for the then Soviet Union and for Putin to do propaganda work to glorify this episode of the Second World War that they call the “Great Patriotic War.”