Podolyak told how Russia's "hawks" - Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov and Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is the owner of Russia's Wagner mercenary company - are already attacking the powers that be in the Russian government and will break them, as well as why not only Putin, but also his henchmen should "go into oblivion" and how the West will respond to Russia's use of nuclear weapons - if it happens.
NV: Many experts talk about the destructive consequences of everything that Putin has said in recent weeks. I want to discuss the following story in this context. The Kremlin puppet in Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, attacked the Russian commander of the Central Military District, Colonel General Oleksandr Lapin, over Russia's military loss of the town of Lyman (Donetsk Oblast in Ukraine). Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Wagner private military company, supported him. What do you expect from such a confrontation? Is the strengthening of these so-called "hawks," Kadyrov and Prigozhin, possible?
Podolyak: This is a very interesting symptom of what's happening in Putin's entourage. Not everything is so simple there. They definitely don't understand why they can't break Ukraine and won't break it anymore - that's obvious. Based on this, they're looking for someone to blame. But these statements by Kadyrov, and even more so by such a strange being as Prigozhin, indicate that sooner or later they will make Putin responsible for Russia's defeat.
This is the first thing.
Second. Kadyrov and Prigozhin are not systemic people. Today they're attacking the systemic military power vertical. This is key. They will break it.
Read also: Outspoken Kadyrov in conflict with Putin's entourage, says political scientist
Third. I wouldn't say this is the strengthening of the "hawks," but, most likely, the beginning of a conflict between the systemic elite - the political and the military - and the non-systemic, which includes quite odious and toxic characters, like Prigozhin himself. They aren't systematic, they don't know how to work for the state in general. They don't understand what the framework of the state is. They received certain money from the budget, administrative opportunities, like Kadyrov, but they've never worked systematically in terms of the state's framework, matrix, and architecture.
And this is very good, because today they're hitting the remains of this Russian state architecture. And we get a powerful conflict. In another month or two, there will be a couple more "Lymans" and all these manifestations of the (internal Russian) conflict will become quite obvious even to (ordinary) Russians.
NV: We saw the statement of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who said that we wouldn't negotiate with this (Russian) president, but with the next one. According to simple logic, Russian elites should understand that Putin has already committed suicide. Someone leaked the information that Russia's FSB security service opposed the exchange of fighters and commanders of the Azov Regiment. They said this was a huge reputational loss for them, but Putin wanted to release his close ally in Ukraine, Viktor Medvedchuk, and allegedly ignored their objections. It seems to me this is also a sign - "look, the tsar is inadequate." It appeared in the U.S. media - also a symptom. Do you agree?
Podolyak: Not quite so. There is a long-standing conflict between the GRU (the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of Russia's Defense Ministry) and the FSB. Russia's Investigative Committee, which wanted to take over everything related to (Ukraine), allied with the FSB. They thought it would be a successful case that would give them the opportunity to get many medals. I mean trying our prisoners of war, in particular from the Azov Regiment. They didn't expect that the development of events would be slightly different.
I don't think this is a symptom against Putin. I think it's more a symptom of the fact that everyone is starting to look for an opportunity to say that they looked at the beginning of the war differently, whether the war was necessary, how it is being waged.
It was the FSB, the fifth (foreign) department, that specialized in Ukraine: they provided the information on the basis of which a fundamentally tragic for Putin (and good for us) conclusion was made - that 80% of people in Ukraine, and maybe more, would meet Russian tanks with flowers. This is (the work of) the legendary (head of the FSB's 5th Service Sergey) Beseda, who dealt with the Ukrainian direction and communicated with Medvedchuk much more than anyone else.
Read also: Negotiations possible with Russia only with next Russian president, says Zelenskyy's office
The FSB, the GRU, other Russian special services were all in favor of the war against Ukraine. Some - to a greater extent, some - to a lesser extent, but all of them were in favor of a war against Ukraine, because they wanted to get a quick victory (it doesn't matter what exactly - capture the Ukrainian capital city of Kyiv, destroying the government, the president), and after that they wanted to get certain promotions, awards and thus proving that they were worth a lot.
They were all career people and counted on the extremely low military capacity of the Ukrainian army. Today, on the contrary, they're all looking for an opportunity to prove that they were great analysts who gave correct information, and to show that, for example, (Russian Defense Minister Sergei) Shoigu or (Chief of the Russian General Staff Valery] Gerasimov were wrong.
Read also: Seven key takeaway's from Putin's "partial mobilization"
NV: If we analyze what Putin said on Sept. 30, we can say that he declared an eternal war. Did our Western partners get his hint? Did they understand that it's necessary to get rid of Putin? U.S. President Joe Biden said in Warsaw that someone like Putin should not lead Russia. The White House immediately denied this, saying it didn't mean the United States wanted to topple the regime. Is anything changing now?
Podolyak: It's definitely changing. Let's look at it point by point to make it clear.
Firstly, this is not only a question of Mr. Putin's disappearance from the political arena, but a more complex one. The entire political elite is thoroughly chauvinistic and revanchist there. That is, not only Putin must disappear, but also (his friend, businessman Yury) Kovalchuk, for example, (former prime minister and now the one who deals with the occupied territories Sergey) Kiriyenko, as well as (chairman of the Russian Security Council Nikolai) Patrushev and his son (Dmitry Patrushev, who currently hold the position of Russia's Agriculture Minister).
There are many people there who have to go into oblivion, or it will continue.
Second. "War forever" is very optimistic for Putin, because, most likely, he himself won't live forever, and besides, Russia doesn't have enough resources to wage the war in such an intensity as they thought. That is, the resources are already running out: there aren't so many high-precision missiles left, such as Kalibr, Iskander, or Kinzhal, which are very dangerous weapons. These resources are getting smaller and smaller.
Third. The mobilization in Russia showed the lack of logistical infrastructure to ensure a steady flow of people to the front. Step by step, Russians are starting to go out on protests. And this is important.
Fourth. Russia being in permanent war with Ukraine … will nullify their prospects. Not Putin's closest entourage, but the elite in the broad sense. Yesterday, the elite had the opportunity to travel the world, buy houses in Nice or Monaco, it had the opportunity to enter European business clubs and feel equal there. Today they're all outcasts.
Read also: Kremlin mood changed after successful Ukrainian liberation of Kharkiv, reports Meduza
If the war really ended in three months, then it would be clear that they had lost something, but they would get it all back in a year or two.
Today is the point of no return, we have already crossed it. That is, there is no future for these people, in particular for their families.
Fifth, a key point: It's obvious for Europe and the United States that Russia, in the form it is today, which constantly talks about, for example, the possibility of using nuclear weapons, is absolutely not a partner country, it's absolutely impossible to do any business with it, it's definitely necessary to end it in this form. That is, Russia cannot exist under the current elite, so the war will not be as long in terms of time as Putin thinks.
I think Putin has a much shorter life span than he can imagine.
NV: Can they rewind what happened on Sept. 30, i.e. the signing of "agreements" with the gauleiters of parts of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhya and Kherson oblasts? Can those elites, as you say, who are used to traveling and living well, do it?
NV: First, it will be possible to rewind it. They just need to withdraw all the troops from the territory (of Ukraine), sign some kind of ceasefire agreement and after that discuss everything related to reparations - financial issues regarding Ukraine from the point of view of what kind of compensation it should receive for this.
Read also: Kremlin to announce annexation of occupied Ukrainian territories on Sept. 30
They can rewind, but the question is different. The fact is that nothing happened legally. It was a show for the Kremlin elite to compensate for the feeling that they were losing. The show has legal consequences neither for Russia, nor for us, nor for the world.
NV: The world is worried about the risks of using nuclear weapons. The U.S. leadership talked with the Kremlin about the "doomsday," they told them something about the response if the nuclear weapons are used. Were the leaders of Ukraine informed about the arguments voiced by the United States? It seems to me that Ukrainian society would be very relieved if it knew about concrete steps.
Podolyak: The more we talk about a possible nuclear conflict, the more we provoke it. It doesn't make sense.
NV: Are you speaking from the point of view of some superstition or a specific policy?
Podolyak: This is a peculiarity of politics: when you constantly talk about something, it becomes ordinary. People get used to it. We need to talk less about nuclear weapons.
There are several aspects to this.
Read also: What Russia and Putin's power are built on - NV interview with UK writer Peter Pomerantsev
There is a protocol within the framework of the global doctrine of nuclear deterrence, which is signed between nuclear states. It specifically states what the other nuclear powers should do if one of them goes a little crazy and starts threatening a non-nuclear country with the use of nuclear weapons as an offensive weapon. It is clearly written what will happen.
It seems to me that not only the United States, but also other nuclear countries have clearly explained this to the Russian political elite.
Second. Of course, no one will allow Russia to use nuclear weapons, because it will completely nullify even the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. This nullifies the specific space that guaranteed us the absence of nuclear war at any stage of the conflict.
In my opinion, if the world wants to remain free of dozens, of hundreds of nuclear conflicts, today is the time to explain to the only country that doesn't understand the rules of existence in society how to behave. And we know that our partners, at least, have explained this privately. And (other nuclear) countries such as India and China even publicly said they consider the use of nuclear weapons unacceptable.