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Mikhail Zygar: Russian journalist opposed to Ukraine invasion forced to flee Russia

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August 5, 2023 12:00 am

Mikhail Zygar: Russian journalist opposed to Ukraine invasion forced to flee Russia

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August 5, 2023 12:00 am

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Offer valid for a limited time, minimum $10 per order. Additional terms apply. This morning, a Russian drone strike on a port in southern Ukraine damaged vital facilities used to export grain. And Ukraine says more than 10 Russian drones targeted Kiev. Now this comes the day after drones struck a skyscraper in Moscow for the second time in 48 hours. So now the hits are coming inside Russia and Ukraine isn't denying or confirming, but these are drone strikes. It's supposed to rattle the people and let them know what's really going on in the war.

Will it be successful? Joining me now in studio, Mikhail Zeiger, the Russian journalist and author of a new book, War and Punishment, Putin, Zelensky, and the Path to Russia's Invasion of Ukraine. Mikhail, welcome back, I should say. Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Congratulations on the book. Why did you leave Russia? Oh, I couldn't say after the beginning.

More starts you're at. Yeah, yeah. I left on the third day and first it was some kind of moral obligation to start fighting against it. I couldn't fight against the war while staying in Russia as a writer, as a journalist, because military censorship was introduced in Russia on the third day of the war.

So most of journalists had to leave. Well, what happened to you if you stood there and wrote the real situation? If I just called this war a war, I would face from five to seven years in jail.

What do they call it? Special military operation. And here's the reason why they're fighting. Listen to Vladimir Putin. We are fighting with Nazis. The nationalist detachments, which include foreign fighters, including from the Middle East, use peaceful citizens as a human shield. So we're fighting Nazis, you mean human citizens, as a human shield.

Well, when you bomb schools, you might have human beings in them. Yeah, you know, that's the rhetorics he was using right in the beginning. Actually, by now, propaganda has become much more cynical. They are not even denying that this war is brutal aggression. They just explain that there shouldn't be any monopoly for violence.

They usually say that, okay, if the United States could invade Iraq, we should have the right to invade Ukraine. That's the way how Putin thinks. So why do you think that if he knew how this would come out, he still would have done it? No, he didn't know, obviously. He thought he'd have a quick win.

Yes, absolutely. He was sure that in three days, Kiev would surrender and the Ukrainians would greet Russian soldiers with flowers. But he was obviously misled by his people. So Zelensky was weak. Yeah, he was quite sure that Zelensky was weak. He was absolutely sure that all the global leaders are weaker than he was, because he thinks that he's the only capable global leader. So he has Nord Stream 2 done. Joe Biden signs off on it.

He has Nord Stream 1. It would have been permanently giving them control of the energy system soil of Europe. Trump couldn't get through to him.

Viewing for the sound right there on the corner, yeah. So this is done. Didn't he know that he was jeopardizing Western trade in doing this? That this would be, ultimately, there would be some type of response?

And now there's no Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2. That's not a big deal to him? It's not a big deal, because in the beginning, he was sure that the West cannot do without Russian oil and gas. And he seems to be right, because even until now, Russia manages to export its natural resources, now via third parties. And Europeans are still buying Russian oil and gas, not directly via Turkey or Kazakhstan. European Union, it doesn't go directly from Russia. But actually, out of all five gas pipelines that existed and were working before the war, the main pipeline that goes through Ukraine is still functioning. And actually, Poland is buying that natural gas.

I had no idea about that. What pipeline would that be? That's the pipeline that goes from Russia to Ukraine and then to Poland.

That's incredible. So right now, with this counterinsurgency happening, what's the feeling in Russia as drones begin to hit major cities? Major cities. That's interesting, because for many months, most Moscowites were trying to pretend that nothing was happening. That's the way how people try to escape that reality.

They try to pretend that business is usually still possible. Nothing is happening. War is very far. A lot of people are feeling helpless. I don't believe that majority of Russians support this war. They just think that they can do anything about that. And they don't see that war. But now they see it.

Now they see it, yeah. What about the Crimea Bridge hit twice? Yeah, Crimea Bridge is very far. I'm really surprised that a lot of Russians are still going for their summer vacations in Crimea, now through occupied territories of Ukraine. So now we understand that Russia needs soldiers. So here's some of the problem. Well, for example, who is this talking right now, Eric?

It says, okay, never mind. So right now, they need soldiers. What are they doing? Cuz so many people have left rather than serve. Yes, but there are several very depressive regions of Russia, and they are looking for volunteers in those depressive distant regions in Siberia, for example, and they are paying a lot. And they managed to create the system when they're paying like 20 times as much as the average salary in the region. And people are volunteering. They are ready to die in exchange for a big sum of money paid to their families. So now NATO has been unified.

It's been expanded. Finland and Sweden. What do you think really, what do you think Norway and Finland? Sweden and Finland.

Sweden and Finland. So what do you think Vladimir Putin thinks about this? I think that his so-called obsession with NATO is a big lie. He's not frightened of NATO. That's his internal propaganda. He uses that myth of Russia as a besieged fortress and myth of the eternal fight between Russia and NATO just to remain in power.

That's the only way how he can persuade the big part of the population that he's the only guarantor of the peace, of the stability, and so on. So some people who are against and trying to rationalize Russia's decision have said, well, we're the ones who broke our word. That when Gorbachev made a deal with Reagan and Bush, he said, listen, you could have Germany. I don't wanna see NATO in any of these Eastern Bloc countries. I don't wanna see them become NATO nations. Well, Clinton went ahead and said, Poland, you can do it.

And all the Baltics are there, and we know about the nations of Hungary. They are NATO nations. So does Putin have a legitimate complaint? When Putin has just become a president, he openly proposed Russia to join NATO.

And he asked George W. Bush to greet him. He wanted Russia to be part of NATO. He was discussing it with that time NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson from Britain. So he was not hostile against NATO from the beginning. And the idea of Russia as a part of NATO didn't seem to be horrible for him. But he wanted to be really respected. He wanted to be important. He wanted Russia to be a superpower, even inside NATO. And he couldn't achieve that.

He couldn't achieve that level of personal importance in the eyes of George W. Bush. And that was the beginning of his paranoia. And then Orange Revolution started in Ukraine, and he has become even more paranoid. He started thinking that Americans want to topple him.

And he was becoming more and more paranoid all of those years. He includes Hillary Clinton in doing that. Yes, he's got his personal foot against Hillary Clinton because of the huge protest rallies in Russia in 2011, 2012, which were not organized by Hillary Clinton.

She could not do that, but he thought that it was State Department who organized it, and he was not exactly right. And by the way, my guess is Mikhail Zugart. He's a Russian journalist and author of a new book, War and Punishment.

So he's bringing us inside Russia. So the revolution, the green revolution inside Ukraine, was it the green? Orange, orange.

Orange, sorry. I know Senator McCain was there supporting them. To me, it seems that Ukraine wants to be West. They wanna be part of the European Union. Obviously, even before the invasion, dying to be part of NATO.

NATO was like, you're not ready yet. And plus, they thought that would be a problem for Russia because Russia always thought, I guess, to a degree that they should be closer to them. Ukraine has a different mindset than Vladimir Putin understands.

Am I correct? Absolutely, absolutely. And in my book, I write a lot about the differences between Russians and Ukrainians, different history, different culture, different language, although Putin truly believes that Russians and Ukrainians are the same people. And he has done a huge job alienating Ukrainians.

He was pushing so hard in 2004 to install pro-Russian candidate, Yanukovych as the new president, and that was worse than a mistake. They hated him. Yeah, absolutely. The Ukrainians hated him. Absolutely, absolutely. They kicked him out. Yes, absolutely. They had an election, he lost, he was gone, he goes into Russia.

Mm-hm. And then Russia does what? Takes Crimea. And then Russia occupies Crimea, yeah. Putin has a lot of prejudice against Ukrainians, partially because of his background as a KGB officer, partially because of his all-time friends who were children of very well-known Soviet academicians, Soviet historians, who were specializing on two things, on the Cold War and American conspiracy. A conspiracy against Russia, against Soviet Union, and the second one, the father of his closest friend, Yury Kovalchuk, was specializing on history of Crimea. So Putin is one of the few people in Russia who believes that Crimea is the symbol of Russian statehood.

That's very rare. Does he believe that Russian speakers want to be in Russia? For example, the Russian speakers in Ukraine, in the Donbas region, in Odessa, evidently there's some in Odessa, they speak Russian, now they're gonna go- Even in Kiev.

In Kiev. So the fact that they speak Russian, did he legitimately misinterpret their allegiance to Russia as opposed to their country? Yeah, he really does understand that during the last 30 years, a lot of new generations grew up in Ukraine, and those people do not consider themselves to be Russian colony. They do not consider themselves to be part of Russia. They are Ukrainians, even though they're speaking Russian or Ukrainian, they have absolutely different mentality. They want to be part of the Western world, they want to be part of the democratic world, and they don't want to serve to Vladimir Putin.

Last question for you. When we watch Prigozhin and Wagner get within a couple 100 miles of Moscow, Prigozhin gets a deal, gets a base reportedly in Belarus. The Wagner group reports there's some video out.

What's happened to him since? What happens to the Wagner group? How much is the war effort hurt by them not participating in it for Russia? I don't think that it would cause any real troubles for Russian troops because yeah, the frontline is rather stable, and Russian army can do now without Prigozhin and without Wagner group. But it's really weird what has happened to him and why he's not in Belarus for example, because according to my sources, he spends a lot of time not in Belarus, but in St. Petersburg in his home. He's alive. He's alive and he's at home in President Putin's hometown and he's still trying to maintain his business. Cuz he didn't want to take to overthrow Vladimir Putin, you're saying?

Yeah, that's important. That's important because he personally remains loyal to President Putin. Just hates the generals around him. He hates the system, the bureaucracy, the army, but he's still Putin's man. How does this end? I hope and I think according to many of my sources, another coup is possible.

So Putin's system is not that stable as it seemed to be a year ago. How does the war end? Only after he's gone, unfortunately. He will never stop. He will never stop.

Will he begin to lose? Medvedev says if he begins to lose, they're gonna start thinking about nuclear weapons. No, he won't use it because he had warning from the Chinese who don't want him to start a nuclear war and won't let him do that. But he doesn't need the truth. He doesn't need the peace. He wants to continue this war. Even if it's a stalemate, that's okay for him. A frozen conflict is okay for him because he is the president of the war. The only way for him to remain in power in Russia, to hold the power is to be the war leader. And the Ukraine, the grain deal?

He hates the grain deal, yeah. So he's gonna stop it. He's gonna stop it. He's not gonna feel pressure from Turkey and others with starving people in Africa. He just met with all these African leaders.

He's not gonna feel pressure. He wants to be a respected global leader as he perceives it. He wants to make deals directly with Africans. He wants to be some kind of the leader of the USSR who can feel influential in Africa and Asia, in different regions of the world, not only in Ukraine. Why does he like Trump? I think that he believes and I think that he's wrong. He believes that once Trump is back in the White House, he would stop support of Ukraine. And I personally think that that would be a mistake for the United States. Because Ukraine is the ally, is a very important country, is a truly democratic nation that doesn't see itself to be part of Russia. And I think that Putin is wrong in his perception of American position towards Ukraine. I'm impressed with Zelensky, are you? Yeah, absolutely.

All right, great. Hey, pick up Mikhail Ziger's book. He's a Russian journalist, a brave guy, author of a new book, War and Punishment, Putin, Zelensky and the Path to Russia's Invasion of Ukraine. Mikhail, you're also known as a badass in war. So I appreciate you bringing that here. Thank you, thanks for having me.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-08-05 03:53:37 / 2023-08-05 04:00:16 / 7

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