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We have every chance to end the war with a victory this year – Ukraine's Defence Intelligence Chief

Thursday, 23 February 2023, 04:30

Over the years, Kyrylo Budanov, who assumed his office in August 2020, has been the most media-friendly Chief of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine (DIU).

His interviews are quoted in the news, and his forecasts are heeded.

Ukrainska Pravda met with Budanov on the day when Russian President Vladimir Putin was giving a two-hour speech to the Federal Assembly [Upper Chamber of Russian Parliament].


In an interview with UP, Kyrylo Budanov explained what Putin's announcement regarding suspending Russia's participation in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty means, shared why Russia is willing to end the war as soon as possible, what is happening to their offensive, and stated when to expect a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Budanov also answered questions on conflicts in the Russian military leadership, the training of Wagnerites, Medvedchuk's [Ukrainian businessman and pro-Russian politician to whose daughter Putin is godfather - ed.] role in Moscow, and the cooperation of Putin's entourage with the DIU.

And, of course, we tried to figure out how the Chief of the DIU nearly became the Minister of Defence in January 2023.

"Russia cannot meet the needs of its armed forces with conventional weapons. Where is there room for high-tech ones?"

We are conducting this interview after Vladimir Putin's speech to the Federal Assembly. In your opinion, what was the ultimate goal of this address?

As we say, I will answer you with another question: what is the ultimate goal of everything they are doing now? Does it have a goal at all?

Look, is there an ultimate goal in their minds? Does it even exist in their heads? This is a purely rhetorical question.

This event had been announced in advance, so they couldn't avoid it.

They had to say something to their society on the anniversary of the great war [full-scale invasion of Ukraine]. By ‘they’ I mean a hypothetical Putin and his hypothetical associates addressing a hypothetical people in a hypothetical Russia. It had to be.

Since they did not find much reason to talk about anything specific, they had to just say something for the sake of saying it.

It was a two-hour historical tour to influence the perceptions of the Russian people. Wasn't it?

What did the lecture lead to? You see, a lecture should always lead the audience to something. And what did it lead to? Well, nothing. Here is the war, it is ongoing, and that's it. This is just a statement of fact.

– How do you understand Putin's statements that Russia is suspending its participation in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty? What does this mean?

This is yet another attempt to manipulate and, unfortunately, to blackmail the world with nuclear weapons. I emphasise: not [only] Ukraine, but an effort to blackmail the world with nuclear weapons.

In the current situation, what may this mean? It means nothing. As the military-industrial complex of the Russian Federation is currently unable to produce advanced types of missile weapons in sufficient quantities, especially for strategic and tactical purposes.

So, if such a statement had been made somewhere even before 24 February 2022, then yes, one could seriously think about it.

However, this year of full-scale war has completely destroyed all of the international community’s beliefs in the power of the military-industrial complex of the Russian Federation.

Can they produce, let’s say, a prototype of something? For instance, a tactical missile weapon or a medium-range strategic one? After all, when they mention such things, it is usually about ballistic missiles with a range of 5,000 kilometres. Well, theoretically, they are capable of producing one or two.

What's next? If Russia engages in this kind of arms race, it has no theoretical chance of competing with the West. Russia cannot meet the needs of its armed forces with conventional weapons. Where is there room for high-tech ones?

"The Wagnerites act more decisively, although they mainly involve convicts"

Very often, society speaks of the Russian army in a derogatory way. However, people who fight on the front say that our enemy is quite fierce. What is your assessment of the Russian forces?

There can be no unanimous answer here, because it varies.

How do you compare a unit of Territorial Defence Forces drawn from conscripts with, for instance, an elite unit of airborne troops or a unit of the Wagner private military company?

Let’s distinguish between the two. How does the Wagner Group fight and how do conscripts fight?

They are worlds apart. The Wagner Group is a head above in everything. Unfortunately, it is true.

Yes, their assault units are usually formed from convicts but they are commanded by professional enough former soldiers. And they act decisively enough, powerfully enough. 

Despite their losses, they are advancing metre by metre. 

And they are, in fact, the only ones who manage to do that. 

What keeps them motivated?

A certain category of them which is not very big – those are the people who have been in the private military company for many years. They are even intrinsically motivated, they have a certain code, so to speak.

And 90% are convicts who are driven solely by fear. They have an order to advance – they advance. If a convict does not advance, he will simply be executed. 

They do such things relatively publicly

Unfortunately, it does work for them by these or other methods. 

All photos: Dmytro Larin

– How many Wagnerites are fighting against us at the moment?

Up to 10,000 are participating in ongoing combat actions. 

Russia conscripted hundreds of thousands of people in the autumn…

They conscripted 316,000 people. And they have not stopped the mobilisation, I would like to point this out again. Covert mobilisation is going on as of now. 

How do conscripts fight in comparison with the Wagner Group?

Without any specific training, with what they have been given, with what they have found somewhere. The outcome reflects this.

"Russia plans a small missile strike"

Do you know what is happening in the Kremlin on the eve of 24 February? Roughly speaking, is Putin shouting at everyone that he needs a quick result?

You know, he used to shout. It is more of a statement now: "I need at least something, at least to reach the administrative borders of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts".

We are aware of the Russian Federation’s love for symbolism when it comes to dates. And, obviously, a lot of Ukrainians are worried that Russia can perform some large-scale provocation on 24 February. Are they planning something unexpected?

Let’s put it like this – there will be nothing extraordinary. Their usual efforts… They are planning a small missile strike. 

Exactly on 24 February?

23 and 24, they have two dates. Believe me, we have already survived this more than 20 times. 

They do combine their attacks differently now. They launch Shahed kamikaze drones from one direction, missiles fly from a different one, and then so-called reconnaissance balloons distract our air defence units…

Those are already pretty old methods. What new things can they have?

Then, I will ask about 14 January 2023. There were strikes in several districts of Kyiv that day. An air-raid alarm was activated only after missiles hit the city. Do I understand correctly that the Russians used some new weapons then?  

It was an experimental missile launch. As far as I remember, it was a 48N6DM from a S-300 [a missile that can hit targets up to 250 kilometres away and has the speed of 2.5 km/h – ed.]. 

They were deployed in Bryansk Oblast, and it was one of the first detected test launches. I am highlighting that these were test launches. 

Can there be many such launches?

As of now, no. This is a problem of the Russian Federation, they are not capable of manufacturing many weapons at once, like a lot of other post-Soviet countries. One-offs – sure. But mass production is difficult for them. 

In fact, things that are Russian-made there are only a body, an explosive, a piece of software. Everything else is definitely not made in Russia. 

They have one programme – parallel imports. It is essentially legalised smuggling. 


Relatively speaking, via Africa? 

Yes. Most often, when you hold a chip, it is just a chip. When you install it in a single system, it becomes a weapon system. That is, controlling such elements is a hard task for the entire world. 

You cannot control the fact that, for instance, company X bought some Japanese-made controllers in the Czech Republic and then sold them to a fourth country through some third one, and then they entered Russia from there without going through customs control. But all these processes were significantly complicated for them [Russia – ed.]. Therefore, they cannot produce weapons in sufficient numbers.

"The Russian Federation understands that the longer it goes on for, the bigger and faster the complete destruction will be"

Before recording the interview, we started talking about Russia’s offensive. And you are somehow very calm when you are talking about this, as you do not see them having enough potential for a major offensive. Nevertheless, you said earlier that there would be fierce battles taking place in the spring. Well, what will happen in the spring, to be precise?

There will be a lot of events in the spring that will possibly be remarkable in this war.

Let’s break down the story. What is Russia preparing for in the spring?

For carrying out task number one. That is, to reach the administrative borders of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts by 31 March 2023 – it is another deadline of theirs. 

Things are very hot now in Bakhmut. They are trying to enter the city from the east and north. What is the situation there now?

At the moment, [they are trying to enter] more from the north. I would rather call it suburban fighting. But in reality it is taking place more in private residential areas. 

Do we have the strength to hold Bakhmut?

Well, as you can see, Bakhmut is still standing.

In Bakhmut, we are losing huge resources, primarily human ones. Can you explain to our readers why Bakhmut is strategically important for us?

(Getting annoyed) You know I was recently asked this question by a journalist. I interrupted the recording and told him what I thought. And I don't think it will violate any ethics. 

Let's talk hypothetically, without reference to the country. For example, imagine that I am in this same position in France. And now someone's troops are storming, for example, the city of Marseille.

And you would say to me: "Why are we doing this? Let's just surrender the city, because many people have been killed there?"...

I am sorry, but I didn't ask why we were doing this. Please explain why Bakhmut is strategically important in this battle.

Every millimetre of our homeland is strategically important and this must be understood. 

I have said it many times, and I am repeating to you again, that every metre of ground lost may save the lives of one or two soldiers. But you may lose ten soldiers trying to regain that one metre of ground.

So do we need to hold on to it because it will be much more difficult to regain it?

Classical tactics say that those who advance should have at least a three–fold advantage of forces and a seven-fold advantage in breakthrough areas.


Do I understand correctly that Russia is still trying to drag out the war for years?

No, absolutely not. Exactly the opposite. Russia is trying in every possible way to end the war as quickly as possible. But their military bloc is still trying to prove that "we can do it, let's limit ourselves to the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, but we will definitely do it and stop the war."

There are a certain number of people who believe that delaying the conflict plays into Russia's hands. And there are a certain number of people who believe that this benefits Ukraine. 

The problem is that, in fact, although I hate all these muscovites, there are also some not-so-dumb guys and girls there. And they clearly understand that no one has time. The longer this goes on, the more and faster the complete destruction of the armed forces and the economy will come.

Every day Western partners agree to supply us with more and more new weapons: tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, artillery, and so on. Are these deliveries already underway? 

Yes, they really are. 

From what is already here and what is to come to Ukraine, do we have enough for a counteroffensive?

(Smiles) A provocative question. This is exactly what we need for successful actions against the invader. Do we need more weapons? Yes, we do.

Everyone understands this, and actually, they talk about it quite frankly.

You said earlier that the counteroffensive is planned for the spring. Is everything going according to plan?

Give or take, yes.

"I’m prepared to assist Prigozhin and Shoigu to destroy each other"

We were just talking about Wagner mercenaries. A public conflict between Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Wagner Group, and the Russian Minister of Defence Sergey Shoigu has been unfolding over the last couple of weeks. What does this conflict mean for us?

This is definitely to our advantage, let's just say, in any case. The more quarrels and serious conflicts they have within the system, the faster our victory will come.

So let them fight?

Absolutely. And I am ready to help both at the same time. Only for them to destroy each other (smiles).

In a previous interview, we talked in detail about Surovikin. He was responsible for the heavy bombardment of our power grid, and you described him as a very violent man. But it so happened that he was ousted, and Gerasimov took Surovikin's place. What happened there?

This is another such example of their internal struggle. 

This process started in the autumn. Then Gerasimov was actually ousted, although he was second in command after Shoigu. Gerasimov began to look for ways to push Surovikin out. 

And closer to winter, he began, I am not afraid to use such an expression, a "special operation" against him. 

This included: conducting checks and inspections, setting up commissions and communicating these results in the correct form to the top leadership of the Russian Federation. 

They painted a picture that Kherson was lost solely because of Mr Surovikin. It was solely because of Mr Surovikin that the Russian Federation suffered terrible losses. Solely because of him, there were problems of drug addiction and alcoholism in the army. 

Well, there were many such examples. In my opinion, the only thing that they really correctly charged him with was an abnormal consumption of missile stocks. 

In fact, these were brought to almost zero in all categories of missile weapons. In short, this is how Gerasimov regained his position.  


"We discussed Kirieiev’s case with the head of the Security Service of Ukraine"

I’d like to turn to the question of negotiations. As far as I understand, official negotiations between Ukraine and Russia are not currently happening…

And can’t happen.

Russian media frequently mention Roman Abramovich in the context of prisoner exchanges and the grain deal [The Black Sea Grain Initiative, an agreement brokered by the UN with Russia and Türkiye  launched on 22 July 2022 to enable ships to transport grain from Ukraine - ed.]. Is he continuing to mediate between Kyiv and Moscow?

What is there to mediate if there are no negotiations?

There are often shadow contacts in politics. Is there no informal communication with the Russians via Abramovich?

I don’t have any reliable information about this.

Talking about negotiations, I can’t not mention Denys Kirieiev. He was a member of Ukraine’s official [negotiating] delegation but was killed on 5 March [2022]. You said that Kirieiev worked in the Defence Intelligence Directorate…

I have publicly addressed all questions about this. I can only add that this is currently under investigation. Let’s wait for its results.

You publicly confirmed that he was killed in a Security Service of Ukraine car and that you knew who did it. Does the person who did it continue to work in the Security Service?

Look, I’m not a Security Service employee.

The only thing I can say is that the information has got out. This is a guarantee that the investigation will be completed, because it is now impossible to bury it.

You had a meeting with [Vasyl] Maliuk, Head of the Security Service of Ukraine. Did you discuss Kirieiev’s case during that meeting?

Of course we talked about the topic that was on the front pages of all media outlets at the time. 

We had a wonderful conversation about avoiding starting a feud between our organisations and services, because we’ve got other things to do.Is there a conflict between the Security Service counterintelligence team and the Defence Intelligence Directorate?

Mr Maliuk and I discussed the fact that this cannot happen. We are working for the same country, Ukraine. [Such a conflict] would make no sense at all in the context of the war. It’s impossible, it can’t happen.

The Head of the Security Service and I have reached appropriate conclusions and said everything we had to say publicly.

An investigation is currently underway and it will connect all the dots.

"The Russian presidential administration listens to Medvedchuk"

Andrii Cherniak, a Ukrainian intelligence officer, has recently officially announced that people from Putin’s close circle are cooperating with Defence Intelligence. Was this a PSYOP to influence the Russians or true information? [A PSYOP, or psychological operation, is an operation to convey selected information to audiences to influence their emotions and reasoning, and ultimately the behaviour of governments, organisations, groups, and individuals - ed.]

A journalist asked a question, and was given a totally straightforward answer. No names were named, none. Clearly I’m not going to give you any names either.

Are there many Defence Intelligence agents in Putin’s entourage?

I’m not going to tell you how many there are either. But they are there.

And since the situation in the Russian Federation really does deteriorate every day, it is getting easier and easier to find people who are prepared to cooperate [with Ukraine’s Defence Intelligence].

What motivates people in Putin’s closest circle to cooperate with you?

An opportunity to live a normal life in the future. I don’t think your readers will be surprised to find out that we maintain close ties with many countries globally.

How can you guarantee that they are not misleading you?

Well, it’s easy to check that. We trust only facts, never just words.

Say someone tells us that tomorrow it will rain, but it doesn’t rain. They say: "I made a mistake, it will definitely rain the day after tomorrow." But the day after tomorrow it doesn’t rain either.

Maybe they made a mistake, but in that case, can we trust a person like that? No, we can’t. It’s an allegorical answer to your question.

There is another character in Moscow, Viktor Medvedchuk [Ukrainian businessman and pro-Russian politician; Putin is the godfather to his daughter; he was handed over to Russia in September 2022 as part of a prisoners of war exchange - ed.]. What is he doing there now?

He is trying to make himself useful as an expert in the Ukrainian question and re-enter the circle of active figures in Russian politics. He is trying to devise some solutions for Ukrainian questions.

He is working with a large team of people, all of whom fled Ukraine for Russia at some point in the past.

Can you name those names?

Those names are well known, there’s no need to regurgitate them. For example, there is a certain Mr Yermolaiev [a Ukrainian political analyst - ed.].

Truth be told, he’s not a bad person. But can he do something that is – I’ll refrain from saying "positive" or "negative" – something real? That’s the main question.

Oleksii Danilov, Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security Council, has said that Medvedchuk is preparing his plan to divide Ukraine up. Can you confirm this?

That’s what I’m talking about. Medvedchuk is trying to come up with different proposals, together with people he is claiming are important experts on Ukraine.

Who will listen to him?

He is listened to there, because they struggle to understand Ukraine. They will grasp at any straw.

They need at least some kind of hope. Let’s listen: maybe that person will say something clever.

I won’t name names, but a certain group within the Russian presidential administration heeds his opinions. He’s not bossing people around there, that’s not the case. But he is listened to. 

Does Sergey Kiriyenko [the First Deputy Chief of Staff of the President’s Office of the Russian Federation, considered to be the "main ideologue" of the destruction of Ukraine's energy infrastructure - ed.], for example, listen to him?

There is a certain exchange of opinions there.

"I want to accomplish the tasks I’m given"

I can’t avoid political questions. Several weeks ago Davyd Arakhamiia, Head of the Sluha Narodu party [Servant of the People, President Zelenskyy’s majority ruling party - ed.] said on his Telegram channel that Kyrylo Budanov would become the new Minister of Defence while Oleksii Reznikov [the current Minister of Defence] will become the Minister of Strategic Industries. Arakhamiia later said that there would be no dismissals or reshuffles in the ministries in the near future. What is going on?

First of all, Roman – and I don’t want to offend you – since when have people’s statements on their Twitter, Facebook and other social media accounts become sources of official information? 

But it was the head of the president’s party who said that.

I am in no way trying to judge anyone’s words. But you have to understand that only information that has been communicated via official channels can be considered official information.

But saying that information conveyed via, say, yours or someone else’s Instagram account, is official information is a bit peculiar.

You mean that it wasn’t true?

I can’t know for sure. And by the way, to respond to your suggestion, I, for one, was definitely not the person to spread that information.


Did the president offer you the job of Head of the Ministry of Defence?

Let’s put it this way: given my current position, I can’t comment on issues I discuss with certain government officials and especially with the head of state, for obvious reasons.

To wrap up: do you want to become the defence minister?

I want to accomplish the tasks I’m given. I always do this enthusiastically.

This isn’t a "yes" or a "no".

Everyone will interpret this as they want. (Smiling)

"Some operations are not that successful, but have a game-like allure"

Who do you consider to be a true hero of the year of the full-scale war?

You’d be surprised, but I do have a hero. The Ukrainian people.

Which Defence Intelligence special operation are you most proud of?

(Pauses to think). It’s an extremely difficult question. You know, I’m proud of all successful operations.

And some operations are not that successful, but have a game-like allure.

That also happens sometimes. I’m not saying that everyone here has superpowers and only ever wins. Unfortunately that’s not the case. So I’ll dodge the question.

You have said, time and again, that we will control all territory within Ukraine’s 1991 borders by the end of this summer. Is everything going according to the plan?

God willing, we will be able to end the war with our victory and regain control over our territory within the 1991 borders.

These are my thoughts and opinions. I stand by them.

Roman Kravets, Ukrainska Pravda

Translated by Artem Yakymyshyn, Myroslava Zavadska, Yelyzaveta Khodatska and Olya Loza

Edited by Susan McDonald