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Gustavo de Arístegui: "Putin is not going to allow his regime to fall"

The Spanish diplomat spoke into the microphones of the programme "De cara al mundo" and analysed various aspects of international current affairs, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine
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 -   Gustavo de Arístegui

In the latest edition of "De Cara al Mundo", on Onda Madrid, we had the participation of Gustavo de Arístegui, diplomat and international analyst, who reviewed international current affairs, with the focus on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Can we think that Putin finally recognises that he is at war, and not in a special operation, and that, moreover, he is losing the war and is therefore mobilising young Russians to join the army?

It seems pretty clear that military aid from many Western countries is beginning to have a noticeable effect on the conflict. For example, with the American missiles, the Ukrainians no longer say how many they have because it is a matter of wartime secrecy, since revealing them would allow the Russians to calculate more or less where they are. Also important is the training of Ukrainian troops in different parts of the world such as the UK, Germany, the US, Poland, etc. The UK alone has given nearly £3 billion in military aid to Ukraine. We must also remember one thing that always seems to escape us in this war, and that is that this war did not start this year, Ukraine has been at war since 2014, in Lugansk, in Donetsk, in Crimea and the strategy followed by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence is extraordinarily intelligent, rotating all its troops in all areas of the conflict, they were not stationary units therefore, they had a very deep knowledge of all possible war conditions, they were not local troops, but mobile. This fact has meant that when the Russians invaded Ukraine, they were confronted with soldiers with 8-9 years of war experience who were far ahead of them in tactical and even strategic aspects. Some of Russia's biggest failings have been not only the lack of motivation of Russian troops, with soldiers drafted in by force and now much more, but also the fact that Russian generals have been overwhelmed by their Ukrainian counterparts. In fact, we have seen how relatively junior officers, captains and commanders have been able to bend the arms of Russian special forces colonels, including how Ukrainian special forces have had direct confrontations with Russian special forces and have also bent their arms. 

What worries me most about all this is that the closer we get to Russian defeat the closer we get to the use of nuclear weapons, Putin is not going to allow his regime to fall or anyone to rise up against him, neither on the liberal side nor on the far-right totalitarian side. If at any point he had the feeling that the war was lost or that he was in a completely desperate situation he would use tactical nuclear weapons, which as President Joe Biden said would completely change the concept of war in the 21st century. Warnings are of little use if the threat remains latent. Let us understand tactical nuclear weapons in this war scenario to mean that Putin might be tempted to use tactical nuclear devices to eliminate entire units of the Ukrainian army. Obviously, imagine eliminating a brigade or a division, depending on how widespread the division is, but, even if it was a regiment, if they eliminate three or four regiments in one go, the meaning of the war would begin to turn upside down.  What would be terrible is the situation in those areas, even if the weapons are of low radioactivity, we would be facing a scenario of radioactive contamination that would last for decades.

Gustavo de Arístegui

It would indeed give it another dimension. It must be explained that such tactical nuclear weapons have a limited effect. In theory, NATO does not have such weapons, but it does have long-range strategic nuclear weapons with the US, UK or France, although the mere use of nuclear weapons would escalate the conflict to a very dangerous level.

The problem is that the escalation is known how it starts, but never how it ends. We are closer to an escalation of warfare unprecedented in humanity than we were to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. I listened to the speech by Mr. Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, which seemed to me to be in keeping with reality, but he is pointing out to us the complete and total inoperability of the United Nations system in these 21st century scenarios.  

The referendums called by the local authorities in Donetsk, Lugansk and Kherson are yet another tactic used by Putin to legitimise the accession of these Ukrainian territories and even to use force in defence of Russia in order to justify the partial mobilisation of troops that he has decreed.

I believe that the call for referendums has a multitude of objectives that can only be described as Machiavellian. It is a rather intelligent initiative on Putin's part, because it will in effect give the impression of a small victory in the eyes of his battered public opinion, since in a country where public opinion is totally dominated, as is the case in the Russian Federation, there is a group with a certain malaise and discontent in public opinion, and this is becoming less and less concealable. On the other hand, there is also the singling out of those who do not vote in favour of the annexation of these territories to Russia, because we can imagine that in a democracy the vote is secret, but in this case it is not secret in territories completely dominated by the Russian occupation forces and their intelligence corps. As a result, every non-pro-Russian Ukrainian would be watched, mistreated, harassed, detained, tortured, anything. This could also be used to try to uncover the elements of hidden resistance, which we know exist in different parts of the Russian occupied territories, passive resistance, not like what we experienced throughout the Second World War, but passive resistance sabotage and dragging one's feet in carrying out orders imposed by Russia, in short, there are many things. The last of the elements, in my opinion, that have led Putin to take this decision is that he is running out of time and perhaps in a very short time these territories will be reconquered, if before this reconquest takes place they have managed to annex these territories they will be able to say that aggression against Russian territory is taking place. Consequently, the war will have changed at that moment, because it is not the same thing for Ukrainian forces to be expelling the invader from their territory as for Ukrainian forces to invade and try to regain a territory that through an illegal and manipulated referendum is considered part of Russia.

Gustavo de Arístegui

Do you think that China or India can somehow condition Putin? In public, we have seen how they have shown certain discrepancies, but privately they might be interested in what Putin is doing. 

With respect to India, a country I know quite well since I was Spain's ambassador there, India's connection with Russia is extraordinarily deep and long-standing. When nobody was India's ally, when nobody supported the country, even in the wars with China or Pakistan, a very important part of the weapons systems they had are Soviet-powered first and Russian-powered now; for example, in terms of the fundamental part of the country's aviation. The only advantage that India, which we must remember is a country that is very dependent on energy that it does not produce, since it produces neither oil nor gas in significant quantities, is having is that it is buying Russian oil and gas under extraordinary conditions, at a time when the whole world is experiencing an energy crisis, paradoxically prices in India are being contained. In the case of China, it is true that China is the first rival, not yet an enemy, of the West, but it is nevertheless an export-driven economy, and these crises (the energy crisis, the war crisis and the inflationary crisis) are seriously damaging China's export capacity, which is its bread and butter, the central element of its economy. Many people have wrongly pointed to a supposed strategic alliance between China and Russia, firstly because China does not consider Russia a world power, but rather a great regional power, an irresponsible regional power that has enormous global nuclear capabilities and military capabilities, which have been greatly discredited by the war in Ukraine, but which was previously considered the second military power on the planet, although from a geostrategic and geopolitical point of view Russia is a secondary actor. Secondly, China and Russia have many points of friction. Let us remember that there has been a certain change, not of regime, but of regime tendency in Kazakhstan; the recent signing of a friendship and cooperation treaty allowing Kazakhstan to break almost indelible ties with Putin's Russia has been a blow that the Russians have received very unwelcome and has been the primary demonstration that Russia and China are not as friendly as they appear to be.

Does the West have to keep up and should we be cold this winter? One of many spin-offs, the attendance at Elizabeth II's funeral is an example of closing ranks around liberal democracies with all the leaders who have gathered there, except Putin, who was not invited.

Well, there were notable absentees, not least Putin, who was not invited, although he wanted to go. What is surprising about the figure of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II is how the UK's bitter adversaries such as Putin's Russia, which knows that the UK is the second or third largest contributor to the war effort in Ukraine, have reacted. However, Putin's condolence statement on the Queen's death is extraordinary; one has to read it carefully to realise the boundless admiration he had for her. In any case, as far as closing ranks is concerned, I am convinced that this was a very good opportunity for many discreet meetings to take place, since the focus was elsewhere. We democrats in the world's representative democracies have, ever since we won the Cold War, considered that all the problems had been solved. We have not realised that the Cold War in some way denaturalised certain conflicts which have reacquired their true nature and danger once the brutal steel frame of the Cold War disappeared, and this is a consequence I fear we are not reading correctly in the West. The extraordinary irresponsibility, to focus on the response to the energy crisis, of Europe in general, of Germany, and of other industrial countries has come in ignoring the calls made by many European Energy Commissioners. I remember the calls from the European Commission for the European Union to be aware of the imperative need to have energy independence, far from that, we have doped ourselves with cheap Russian gas and obviously today we have these consequences, and we were making an energy transition to renewable energies completely accelerated, untimely and without taking into account the consequences and without taking into account an alternative, switching off what let's say was considered unpopular without having implemented the alternatives that today are the most viable to fossil fuels. The day we have mastery over green hydrogen, that day the blackmail of the gas-producing countries, especially Russia, will have disappeared. I would like to recall the phrase of Carter in 73, a president for whom I have no particular devotion, or rather none at all, but who said at the time that responsibility and energy independence had the same moral value as a war and that the energy independence of the United States was a fundamental strategic factor, a strategic factor that had the equivalence of a war and whoever went against this energy independence was committing an act of war against the United States. That went out the window because we have all gone back to the enormous ease of consuming cheap energy supplied to us by dictatorial regimes like Putin.

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One day we will talk about fracking, which has put the United States in an extraordinary position, and yet in Europe some kind of Taliban environmentalism prohibits it...

But it is also illogical, it is illogical that we ban fracking in Europe and that we buy gas produced by fracking in the United States. Where is the logic and morality in this purchase, because if we buy gas from fracking we could produce it ourselves. 

On 1 and 2 October there is the Arab League Summit in Algiers, with the Sahara issue and the tension between Algeria and Morocco. We will see if we can finally find a solution through autonomy within the United Nations and with proper negotiations. Can the King of Morocco go to Algiers and thus turn around a stalled situation and hopefully restore relations between the two countries?

The re-establishment of full diplomatic relations and channels of communication between Algeria and Morocco is essential. They are two fundamental countries for the region, for the security of the Mediterranean and for the security of the European Union; they are two countries that have been decisive in the fight against terrorism, paying very high prices in the fight against jihadist terrorism. That said, today, consulting the press and some analysts in the country whom I know very well, I know that it is highly unlikely that King Mohammed VI will attend the Arab League Summit, but nothing should be ruled out because it would be an extraordinary coup if it were to take place.