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Political scientist Sauer in an interview: “Russia has no high-tech weapons up its sleeve”

Political scientist Sauer in an interview:

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has stalled, and now civilians face even greater suffering. At the same time negotiations are ongoing. But can Russia still be a partner? And how great is the danger of an attack on NATO territory or even a nuclear strike? The politics professor from the University of the Bundeswehr in Munich, Frank Sauer, answers this in an interview. ntv.de: The war has lasted almost two weeks. Did the Russian military make a fool of themselves?Frank Sauer: You have to be careful with hasty conclusions, because we only see a part of what happened. Above all, we see the Ukrainian narrative. But I can now say with certainty that Russia is doing much worse than expected in various areas, including the military. Some say yes, the old material is being sent ahead and at some point the new tanks will come. In your opinion, is there any evidence for this? dr Frank Sauer teaches and researches at the Bundeswehr University in Munich and is an expert on security policy, which he also regularly discusses in the “Sicherheitshalber” podcast. Of course, we mainly see things that Russia has a lot of. We see T72 tanks, the T80, we see these infantry fighting vehicles, some of which date back to the 70s and 80s. Russia has maybe twenty new tanks like the T14 Armata – and I doubt if ten of them are actually running, let alone combat-ready. So that doesn’t surprise me, and it’s not as if any high-tech weapons are still being held in reserve. Do you think it’s getting bloodier now that Russia is now using tactics like in Syria? I’m afraid so, yes. Is it still possible to estimate what Putin actually wants to achieve? Viewed soberly, he doesn’t have much to gain. I don’t see any reason to assume that Putin wants anything other than what he communicated from the start. I assume that he wants to eliminate Ukraine’s territorial integrity, Ukraine’s sovereignty and Ukraine as a separate country. To do this, he must eliminate the Zelenskyi government and install a government that he can influence directly. The fact that he will no longer be able to achieve this political goal, even if he wins militarily in the long term, does not seem to irritate him further. At least that’s what the outside world can tell. The foreign ministers of Ukraine and Russia are scheduled to meet on Thursday. What do you expect from it? Not much. I believe that Russia will continue to insist on its maximum demand. In principle, Russia is demanding the complete surrender of Ukraine and negotiations according to Russian dictates. In addition, it seems to me that Putin wants to use military means to change the negotiating conditions in his favor. If that succeeds, Ukraine may have to make concessions at some point. At the moment it doesn’t look like Ukraine wants that and so these negotiations remain deadlocked. In principle, Russia demands total self-abandonment. Understandably, Ukraine refuses and vehemently defends itself. Can Russia still be a negotiating partner at all? You actually need a minimum level of trust. My background is actually in arms control and I have experienced on a small scale the difficulties that Russia has caused the international community or at least Western negotiating partners in the last few years. The confidence that certain arms control instruments were able to build up after the end of the East-West conflict has almost completely evaporated with Putin’s invasion. Hopefully, with great effort, over the years and decades we will hopefully get back to a point where we can regain trust in order to collectively reduce risks for everyone involved. No one wants to go back to that ultra-tense Cold War situation where two totally irreconcilable blocs face each other and constantly threaten each other with nuclear escalation. Only one thing is clear: Putin set us back decades. As a result, Western Europe in particular is now developing completely different positions and is rightly paying much more attention to its own ability to defend itself. Do you have any idea how the war in Ukraine could end? Different variants are conceivable. About a consolidation of the division of Ukraine. Russia is still making the best progress via the south. And if Odessa comes under Russian control and one or two other cities in the south and there is a land bridge from Crimea to eastern Ukraine, then one might well assume that this will be difficult to reverse. If Kyiv also falls, then of course a new variant is possible. Then you would have a division of the country that would be much further west than the border line with the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. But it is also possible that the Putin system will implode and the war will end that way. In this way, Ukraine could possibly free itself entirely from Russian influence. I can’t look into the crystal ball. At the moment I definitely don’t expect the war to end very soon. I believe that Putin is sticking to his military goals and will pursue them slowly, much more slowly than he himself expected, but stoically. With catastrophic consequences for the civilian population in Ukraine. Do you think a Russian attack on NATO territory is realistic? At this point in time, I think it is more likely that Russia will try to pin-prick cyberspace. However, an accidental attack is conceivable. That a convoy carrying arms shipments is being fired upon. Or that a Russian plane accidentally enters the airspace of a Baltic country. This danger is absolutely real. I don’t expect a targeted conventional attack on NATO territory because Putin hasn’t made any noise in that direction. As far as I know, there is nothing on the ground to that effect either. Perhaps not least because NATO reacted immediately and strengthened its forces in the Eastern European member states. How do you assess the fact that Putin has put the “deterrent weapons” on alert? A nuclear strike would be suicide, wouldn’t it? Well, that depends a lot. His statement was clearly only a political signal at first. Looking at the actual movements in the nuclear apparatus in Russia, there are no special occurrences that suggest that something is being prepared or that an alert level has somehow been raised in any significant way. A few U-boats left the port, but some came back again. A few mobile ICBMs drove into the forest, but that could very well be a normal rotation. Nothing has increased dramatically in terms of numbers. There is nothing to suggest that anything nuclear on the battlefield should be expected in the foreseeable future. In this respect, one can only take note of Putin’s message at the moment. NATO and the US administration did that and reacted correctly, accepting it calmly and not responding with the same means. Putin just pointed to his nuclear arsenal and said: Please don’t forget that with all your sanctions and arms deliveries to Ukraine. And we are certainly still further away from an exchange of blows with strategic nuclear weapons. Putin also knows that whoever shoots first is dead second. Especially as someone who is primarily concerned with these questions, this is currently not robbing me of any sleep. The situation of the civilian population worries me more. Many experts say that in the end Russia will prevail. Does the resistance of the Ukrainians make sense at all? That’s not for us to decide. Ukraine decides that. We’ve only ever talked over their heads for long enough. If Ukraine wants to fight, and it has every right to defend itself, then we can and must support it to the best of our ability. But to judge that now from the outside and according to the motto: “You’d better surrender! Then it won’t be so bad.” No, that’s not my attitude. Volker Petersen spoke to Frank Sauer

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