"russia Is Not Ready for Long-Term Hostilities... and They Know This Very Well," - Head of Ukrainian intelligence Budanov
Kyrylo Budanov, the 37-year-old head of Ukraine's military intelligence, was among the few in Ukraine's leadership who stressed the need to prepare for a full-scale russian strike. According to him, the war was supposed to start in 2021. But then putin was stopped by international diplomatic efforts. The date of the war was postponed to February 2022, he says, and the final decision was made in the kremlin in the middle of the day on February 23. On the anniversary of the full-scale invasion, we talked about the lessons of war and the expecting to victory. How do you manage to exchange prisoners of war during the war? Why is the employment of nuclear weapons impossible and what does Ukraine need today for a real breakthrough? Who is helping russia in the war today? The Voice of America spoke with Kyrylo Budanov, chief of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine, about this.
Myroslava Honhadze: Kyrylo, you are the only person, in fact, as people close to the processes say, who at the very beginning of the full-scale invasion, even before the start of it, emphasized the need to be ready for a major russian offensive. Have you been heard then?
Kyrylo Budanov: Since today is already the 25th and russia has not been able to fulfill any of its strategic tasks, we can see that, at least partly, I was heard.
At that time, let's say, different people had different opinions. However, as the period of February 2022 approached. Certain steps were taken and it was because of this that russia was unable to implement its plan on the 24th."
Myroslava Honhadze: You said, "Because of it". Because of what?
Kyrylo Budanov: As an example, already on the 23rd [of February 2022], our aviation was dispersed. That is, when the missiles attacks began on the 24th [of February 2022], the losses in our combat aviation were almost minimal, almost zero. These are little-known steps, a lot of them were taken at the last moment, probably, but they were taken.
Myroslava Honhadze: How else did Ukraine manage to survive, during the first, very difficult days of the war?
Kyrylo Budanov: Thanks to our people, heroism. What else can I add? Everyone saw ... russia is out there screaming that this is their Great Patriotic War; in fact, it is not yet for them. But for us, it is actually a Great Patriotic War. Everyone, from teenagers to old men, at that time, everyone stood up for defence.
Myroslava Honhadze: Ukraine and russia have very different military power, of course, both in terms of manpower and military equipment. What does Ukraine need most today in order to achieve a turning point?
Kyrylo Budanov: I don't think I will say anything new for you; it is the intensification of weapons supply. It is intensification. As of now, armament is coming, but the pace and volume are not sufficient for a breakthrough. That is, more is needed.
Myroslava Honhadze: Is it about some special, specific equipment, additional equipment, or is it about what is already supplied?
Kyrylo Budanov: Mostly about what I think is already supplied. In addition, we need attack aircraft, which as of now have not yet arrived.
Myroslava Honhadze: There are many calls for the provision of F-16s to Ukraine. Is F16 a panacea, so to speak? Are there different types of similar weapons that Ukraine needs?
Kyrylo Budanov: In my opinion, we need attack aircraft. F-16 and similar platforms are not attack aircraft. Assault aircraft, in the USA, are first of all, A10 aircrafts, Thunderbolt II. This is also army aviation, but these are attack helicopters of the AH-64 type and so on. These are aerial platforms designed for ground strikes.
Myroslava Honhadze: Why, then, does the president of Ukraine and his team talk specifically about the F16?
Kyrylo Budanov: As I already said, this is my exclusively subjective vision, let's say so. Maybe someone sees a different concept.
Myroslava Honhadze: There is a lot of talk about a major Russian offensive. There were predictions that there would be massive missile shelling on the 23rd, 24th [of February 2023]. We did not see it.
Kyrylo Budanov: Thank God, it hasn't happened yet. But this, unfortunately, is quite an everyday matter for Ukraine now. There have already been more than 20 missile attacks. The only regularity in it is that each time, the time between missile strikes increases, and the number of missiles in the strikes decreases. Here is the only regularity.
Myroslava Honhadze: And what is the reason for this trend?
Kyrylo Budanov: Reduction of missile stocks. There is no other reason. They are already, in fact, ranging almost at zero.
Myroslava Honhadze: There is a lot of talk about China being able to supply weapons for [russia].
Kyrylo Budanov: I do not share this opinion. As of now, I do not think that China will agree to the supply of weapons to russia ... I see no indication that such things are even being negotiated.
Myroslava Honhadze: American officials are also talking about it...
Kyrylo Budanov: I am the head of intelligence and, excuse me, but I rely, not on the opinion, with all due respect, of individual people, but only on facts. I do not see such facts.
Myroslava Honhadze: Where else can russia get supplies to continue the war in Ukraine today?
Kyrylo Budanov: Well, let's say, if you are interested in other countries, as I understand from your question, in fact, almost the only country that actually supplies more or less serious weapons is Iran. I won't tell you anything new either. There was information that something was coming from North Korea, but we have no confirmation of that. And there is not a single case when we would record that here is some kind of weapon that came from North Korea, that it was used here. Maybe we just haven't seen it yet or it goes to some other, let’s say, needs. Well, let's say, other countries, russia is just trying to buy anything, anywhere. Because their problems are significant. Serbia, which everyone in russia hoped for, refused to supply weapons. There are certain efforts to buy through third countries. More or less large-scale import of weapons. Now they are trying with Myanmar, we will see what will come of it in time. But in fact, russia is limited, let's say, by Iran in terms of weapons. As of now.
Myroslava Honhadze: How can russia continue this war under these conditions?
Kyrylo Budanov: Being in these conditions, russia cannot afford, as of now, to admit that it will lose. This is, let's say, a direct dependence of the stability of the regime on this factor. However, if you rephrase, reformulate your question: "Is russia unanimous, let's say, on the issue of continuing hostilities?" The answer will be no. Not unanimous. In terms of the top state leadership. Many have come to the understanding that, after all, something is wrong. Let's put it this way.
Myroslava Honhadze: So there is a split in the russian leadership now?
Kyrylo Budanov: Opinions are divided. This cannot be called a split. Opinions are divided. And there are not so many people who speak out, in the leadership, I emphasize, for the fact that there is a war until the end and so on. For the most part, those people who are in favor of it, let's say, behind this desire, they have a banal fear of responsibility. Because there are a certain number of people who will not be able to say that somehow a decision was made there without us, it was not us. There are very few of them, by the way.
Myroslava Honhadze: And those people who do not agree with this war, do they have an influence on the decision, do they have an influence on Putin?
Kyrylo Budanov: Everyone is waiting for a certain moment when, let's say, the tower of the kremlin, which advocates a unanimous war, figuratively speaking, leans against the wall and admits that it is not going well. It's a dead end.
Myroslava Honhadze: And then? What to expect?
Kyrylo Budanov: Then we will see how things will go on. If you want to lead to the idea that, well, then they will get along there. They will not get along. Nothing will happen without our decisive actions.
Myroslava Honhadze: No, I didn't want to lead to the idea that they would get along. I want to ask how they could get out of this situation. How does ending the war look like?
Kyrylo Budanov: The result of this war will definitely be the return to the borders of the 1991. I say this not for the first time. In fact, this is the position of the President and the entire civilized world. There is no other way. No other option is realistic. Because Ukraine will not stop, and it will not allow russia to stop its hostilities. That is, the return, let's say, to the rules and international norms recognized by the entire world community.
Myroslava Honhadze: I have heard such thoughts among the political elite in the USA that they do not see how this war can end, and in particular, maybe it can be just some kind of long-term, deep, unstable truce. Do you see it?
Kyrylo Budanov: I do not believe in this. No. First of all, Ukraine will not agree to such conditions; this is the first reason why it is unrealistic. And secondly, it simply won't happen. And russia is not ready for long-term hostilities. I am telling you this as the head of the military intelligence agency. They show in every possible way that they are ready for "a war for decades," but in reality, their resources are quite limited. Both in time and in volume. And they know it very well.
Myroslava Honhadze: So, they are also in a hurry?
Kyrylo Budanov: Everyone will be in a hurry right now.
Myroslava Honhadze: We have already talked many times about the fact that the next three months will be decisive.
Kyrylo Budanov: Not just decisive. They will be quite active. Well, very active. Which will determine the further course of events. It's active combat if you're leading to that. This is what’s going to happen. Efforts will be on both sides.
Myroslava Honhadze: Are we talking today about the east, Donetsk, Luhansk regions. Or we are talking about the south?
Kyrylo Budanov: Absolutely everywhere.
Myroslava Honhadze: Are we talking about the north?
Kyrylo Budanov: North, do you mean Russia's attempt to attack Kyiv? Let's put it this way. We do not know of such plans and there are no signs of any real ones. It's not that we don't know them, they just don't exist. Maybe when they get certain defeats, they will look for a quick solution, but it will be a disaster for them. Another one, similar to what happened back then [in February-March 2022].
Myroslava Honhadze: From the very beginning of the full-scale invasion, even before the full-scale invasion, very active cooperation with the intelligence services of the USA and Great Britain began.
Kyrylo Budanov: You are wrong; this cooperation has been going on for many years. It just burst into the mass media now, let's put it this way. This cooperation has a long history.
Myroslava Honhadze: How important is it for Ukraine today?
Kyrylo Budanov: Without exaggeration, you understand that we need everyone's help now. These are common truths. This helps us. Certain technical capabilities of the U.S., which we do not have, they significantly add to our understanding. First of all, it concerns the military component. Such as, movement at a considerable depth and so on.
Myroslava Honhadze: Do you have ongoing cooperation with senior intelligence management? If possible, how does this cooperation take place?
Kyrylo Budanov: What intelligence?
Myroslava Honhadze: In particular, the United States.
Kyrylo Budanov: We have all communications.
Myroslava Honhadze: Now, about Ukrainian defence capability. During this year, Ukraine has strengthened militarily very much, and was also able to go further in its technical equipment and developments. What progressive changes have taken place in the army and in intelligence in particular?
Kyrylo Budanov: Let's put it this way, we have accelerated quite a lot, intensified the pace of development of everything related to unmanned aircraft complexes. This area is developing very actively. This is, in principle, such a general global trend, and Ukraine, as, unfortunately, russia, in this aspect did not become an exception. It should be mentioned, as an example, that the first thing russia began to buy was drones. Drones were the first thing that they, and the most important thing, that in principle they try to get from all over the world.
Myroslava Honhadze: Ukraine uses, and has an IT industry, very actively. Can today's Ukraine really be of service in the same way, in particular to NATO countries, because there is talk that after the end of the war, Ukraine will be one of the most powerful military machines in Europe. Can you agree with this?
Kyrylo Budanov: Ukraine will never serve anyone. But becoming a reliable partner, well, it has already happened in fact.
Myroslava Honhadze: How can Ukraine be useful as a partner today?
Kyrylo Budanov: Ukraine is now the guarantor of security, in fact, for the whole of Europe. And this is true without exaggeration. All of Eastern Europe understands this absolutely clearly. There are different opinions further, but what concerns Eastern Europe, everyone agrees on this. And in fact, why is everyone trying so hard to help Ukrainians in every possible way? Because if it somehow happened that Ukraine would have fallen, they would be next. And I'm sorry, but the capabilities of these countries are in no way comparable to Ukraine. Everything would be much worse there.
Myroslava Honhadze: It is clear that the countries of Eastern Europe understand very well that they are next, that is why they are very active, their leaders talk about it and lobby for the interests of Ukraine and their interests, first of all. Why do you think, especially in the countries of Western Europe, there is no such deep understanding of the danger that comes from russia?
Kyrylo Budanov: I am sorry, but what is the danger for them other than this, purely hypothetical? Tell me. What could even be in theory? If, this [aggression] went to the east of Europe, then they would understand that there is a problem, because it would come closer to them. Well, that already happened. After the end of the Second World War, the Warsaw bloc and the NATO bloc stood close to each other. Then everyone understood it. Then such a conditional buffer appeared. Everyone started saying that, well, in fact, you can trade and live normally with russia. It's some of their business there; it's something of theirs, and we don't get into that. Well, it was the same. Very recently.
Myroslava Honhadze: So, Ukraine today, in fact, creates new trends in international politics?
Kyrylo Budanov: Thanks to the idiocy of the russians, all their biggest geopolitical horror stories have become a reality. And Ukraine will become one of the most powerful states, and, let's say, they have already encountered Western weapons. And we all disposed of, let's say, jointly, all the remains of soviet weapons from around the world. And they threw out the defenсe industrial complex of the russian federation for many years from the world arms trade. And, let's say, yes, they limited the activity of their defenсe industrial complex. They disposed of, in fact, the entire able-bodied part of their army. This, again, sets back their military ambitions for many years. Because simply all specialists, the majority no longer exist.
Myroslava Honhadze: If you're talking about russia, I see here are maps of what russia could look like?
Kyrylo Budanov: This is not what it might look like. This is their future. Their very real future.
Myroslava Honhadze: So you see the split of russia after this war?
Kyrylo Budanov: There are already problems in russia and they will only increase. The sooner they leave Ukraine, the more chances, in theory, they will have to keep their territory within more or less similar borders. It will not be the same as it was, but more or less similar. Perhaps it will become a real federation, because in fact, if you look at their legislation, they are closer to a unitary state, although they are called a federation. It could turn into a confederation. And so on. As it was, there will be nothing to hold on to.
Myroslava Honhadze: We have said that there will be a turning point in this war in the next few months. Nevertheless, can we today to some extent predict the duration of this war?
Kyrylo Budanov: It's a very good question. Unfortunately, Israel's experience will most likely come to us for a certain number of years. It is hypothetical situation: everything is over, everything is great, and russia realized that it cannot be done like this, and it was significantly restricted, and so on. It is hypothetical. But the memory of the people will not allow us to live differently now. That is, this, let's say, image of the enemy and the fear that there may be war again, he will live in society and quite actively, and this will be one of the most important trends of post-war Ukraine. That is, this is a security request. You can't do anything about it.
Myroslava Honhadze: If it is possible, two more words about politics in Ukraine. You are not a politician today, but there are many conversations about the general political future of Ukraine, internal political pluralism and possible elections. Is the political campaign and political processes and elections in Ukraine even real today? Are the political campaign, political processes and elections in Ukraine even real today?
Kyrylo Budanov: As of today? Firstly, it contradicts the legislation, and, secondly, common sense. What are you saying? How to conduct in the conditions of war?.. It is only russia that conducts referendums under machine guns and so on, other political actions of all kinds - imitation of political actions. We are really a civilized country.
Myroslava Honhadze: Many analysts predict the possibility of your joining a political campaign. Are there such intentions and desires?
Kyrylo Budanov: You even surprised me. What are political analysts?
Myroslava Honhadze: A lot of people are talking about it.
Kyrylo Budanov: Look, I am engaged in a specific activity. It suits me in everything.
Myroslava Honhadze: So, you do not confirm this?
Kyrylo Budanov: I don't plan it.
Myroslava Honhadze: You have recently visited the Vatican. You have been meeting with the pope. What was the purpose of this visit?
Kyrylo Budanov: Since I hold several positions, and one of them is the head of the center for the exchange of prisoners of war, I have to, let's say, try all the mechanisms that even hypothetically exist in the world. This was my main purpose.
Myroslava Honhadze: That the pope would help in the exchange process?
Kyrylo Budanov: Let's say, try to connect the Holy See to this process as well.
Myroslava Honhadze: And?
Kyrylo Budanov: Let’s put it this way, altogether the mechanisms gave the result we have.
Myroslava Honhadze: How does this exchange process take place today, and how possible and effective dialogue with russia is in the particular context of returning prisoners of war?
Kyrylo Budanov: The situation is unique in all aspects. Because, maybe it was somewhere, but we have consulted with many foreign partners, how they do it. None of them conducted exchanges during hostilities. In fact, so far only we have succeeded in this. To say that everything is great is absolutely not the case, that would be a lie on my part. Because there are people and many of them in captivity. You can't say that things are going great. You can't say that it's terrible either, well, I'm sorry, with all due respect and understanding of the delicacy of the issue. Because, again, these exchanges are going on and about 2,000 people have already been returned. This is quite a significant amount. Therefore, everything is in working order. Unfortunately, the russian side often puts sticks in the wheels. But still, we find effective mechanisms that force them to take such steps [war prisoners exchange]. We have returned about 2,000. You can understand, these are a significant number [of those who were returned].
Myroslava Honhadze: You say you are finding effective mechanisms that work. May I ask, perhaps which ones?
Kyrylo Budanov: We are a special service. I'm sorry, our forms and methods of work are... read the books, they haven't changed in years.
Myroslava Honhadze: How many prisoners of war are there now on both sides?
Kyrylo Budanov: Unfortunately, they have more prisoners of war than we do. This is very easy to explain. First of all, they captured 90% of all prisoners of war in the first days. The first days – the first month. In addition, the terrible tragedy in Mariupol, when everyone was forced to take the step they took. But there is another, let's say, side. Not widely known. About 40% of those held hostage are civilians. Just civilians. Therefore, in principle, it is clear that our number is smaller. We do not take civilians as prisoners. There are a lot of women, unfortunately, and children, there are all kinds of elders, postmen, railway workers, mayors, and janitors. Everyone is there.
Myroslava Honhadze: Are there any that Ukraine simply does not know about?
Kyrylo Budanov: Most likely, there are some, but believe me, 99%, we know who they are.
Myroslava Honhadze: Recently, there has been a lot of information about the fact that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyi announced russia's desire to overthrow the leadership of Moldova. It was very well publicized, there was a lot of talk about it, and Moldova changed its government almost immediately after that. What risks do you see from that side?
Kyrylo Budanov: Regarding the change of government, you have to look at the person who came. Dorin Recean has come into Prime Minister. He is quite a professional person and he is a military bloc, a power bloc; it is more correct to say so. Therefore, it is clear that the situation is not the easiest for Moldova. This is precisely the issue of the russian federation's attempt to overthrow the constitutional authority. Well, as you can see, they haven't succeeded yet. A number of measures have been applied, which, for sure, will give results, and all these plans will once again fail. They have already partially experienced this failure in its infancy.
Myroslava Honhadze: How it was important for you to convey this information to the leadership of Molodva? How high are the risks do you see on that part?
Kyrylo Budanov: I'm telling you, the set of measures that have been taken and are being taken make russia's efforts impossible.
Myroslava Honhadze: Another question about nuclear weapons. Many people talk about this and say that if Ukraine approaches the borders of Crimea and really wants to take Crimea, then the last step will be for Putin to use nuclear weapons?
Kyrylo Budanov: And how many times has it happened already? Red line — russia will use nuclear weapons, russia is already using it, almost. The first time it happened at the end of spring, and then once every month-and-a-half. The apogee was from late summer to mid-autumn. At that point it was that they will launch a nuclear strike right there tomorrow. Did they? No, they did not. Can they do it? Hypothetically, everything in life is possible. In reality? No, it's not possible. Because the russian federation is a state, let's say, a soap bubble. I mean in a sense that they inflate everything. There are not such idiots sitting there as they want to appear to the world. They clearly understand the first thing: nuclear weapons are not weapons. It is a means of strategic deterrence. Secondly: the use of a nuclear deterrent by anyone in the world will lead to fatal consequences for whomever does it. No matter who it is.
Myroslava Honhadze: Even if we are talking about tactical nuclear weapons?
Kyrylo Budanov: What’s the difference? This is the answer.
Myroslava Honhadze: What is the deterrent to them not to do it?
Kyrylo Budanov: Again, if you and I will get into details of this issue, we will spend hours. With all the power of the Soviet Union, and it is incomparable with the russian federation today, absolutely incomparable. Several times everything was on the edge. Well, have they used it? No. And can it be used? No, it cannot. This is not a weapon, I tell you again, it is officially a means of strategic deterrence.
Myroslava Honhadze: Final question. How do you see the end of this war?
Kyrylo Budanov: The most difficult question. The end of the war in the first stage will be the return to the administrative borders of 1991. This is probably the correct answer. This will cause a change in the entire architecture of security, and the economy, and everything else in the entire region. That's why I say: at the first stage, this is access to the administrative borders. Next, we need to look at the security zone around Ukraine, at least from the russian side. To a depth of 100 kilometers or more. And so on.
Myroslava Honhadze: And one more question regarding Ukraine and NATO. How important and fundamental is it today...?
Kyrylo Budanov: This is exclusively political question. This question is not for me.