Yuriy Butusov on Bakhmut: “I don’t think it’s logical to comment on the situation based on what someone in the West writes”

Yuriy Butusov on Bakhmut: "I don't think it's logical to comment on the situation based on what someone in the West writes"

Yuri Butusov, editor-in-chief of censor.net and war correspondent, interviewed by Alexei Tarasov on Radio NV.

-Mr. Butusov, welcome to the program. Glory to Ukraine!

- Glory to the heroes.

- I want to ask you about Bakhmut first. You are a person who personally visits there, who knows a lot about what is happening there. The news we had a few days ago was that the Russian occupiers had taken control of most of eastern Bakhmut. The Ukrainian armed forces are holding the west of the city. How should we understand the situation around Bakhmut, could you explain?

- Russian troops are attacking, indeed they have taken the eastern part. Now they are fighting to capture the northern part. They are gradually trying to storm from house to house. Now the main direction of efforts is from the north. Because in the east, the frontline positions are along the Bakhmutka River. There is a fairly wide undeveloped strip there. The enemy cannot overcome it without losses. That is why they are now trying to focus their efforts on attacking from the north. At the same time, the enemy is widely bypassing the city from the north and is trying to completely cut off the road near the villages of Khromove and Bohdanivka, to go further and cut off all communications around Bakhmut near the village of Ivanivske and completely surround the city. 

- We have seen, and this was more than a week ago, reports from our Western partners who said that perhaps the Ukrainian Armed Forces should withdraw from Bakhmut, that even the loss of this Ukrainian city would not be such a big defeat for the Ukrainian Armed Forces. But we see that this is not happening. We see that, for example, the same General Oleksandr Syrsky has already visited Bakhmut three times, I think. That our military, our defenders continue to hold this city. How can we understand how Bakhmut, which, for example, NATO representatives or representatives of the US Department of Defense do not consider a strategic city, has become a strategic city for us, for Ukraine, for the Armed Forces of Ukraine?

- I will not comment on what you said. I don't think it's logical to comment on the situation based on what someone in the West writes. In fact, we have to understand that people who are far away, who perceive the situation by rumors, by maps, and who are not on the scene, of course, cannot have such a clear picture. They often say things that seem obvious to them, but which are not obvious in reality. Of course, Bakhmut is a strategically important city for the defense of the Ukrainian Donbas. There can be no doubt about it. Because it is a very favorable defense line that allows us to safely hold a large agglomeration of two other cities. So of course we need it for defense. So I can't say that there is an obvious solution to withdraw from it in order to hold on to some other land. I think that the main problems that we need to discuss here are those that we need to discuss at home, without relying on distant Western analysts who don't really have the information and, in my opinion, are often wrong in their assessments of the situation. I think that the main thing is that we should not look at the fact that we need to withdraw from somewhere, but we should look at how our troops are organized. How our defense is organized. What are the problems in command and control, in training. This is the main problem. This problem does not depend on the positions where we are. It depends on the quality of the organization of work, on the quality of combat use of troops. This is the main problem. It is not that we will move away and it will be easier for us. It will not become easier for us if we do not change, constantly change, it must be a constant process, and improve the organization of combat operations, combat management, the use of troops, training of troops and tactical intelligence. That is, all these things that make up victory in war. 

- Mr. Yuriy, what problems do you see in the Bakhmut sector, if we can talk about them at all?

- I said that the main problem now is not even the position itself. It is the organization of management. This is the main thing. The main problem of what is happening there, the problems we have, is not that our positions are uncomfortable. They are comfortable. They are more comfortable than the enemy's. The main problem is that we cannot use our advantages. That is, this is a problem of command and control and the use of troops.

- Okay, I understand your point. I'm sorry to quote again from a Western publication, The Economist, which wrote that General Zaluzhnyi was not trapped in Bakhmut. They said that the main task of our enemy was also to make the Ukrainian Armed Forces use their reserves. Could you assess this thesis? How true does it seem to you, or again, do we not need to listen to this because these are some Western experts who are looking at this thousands of kilometers away from Ukraine?

- Such estimates are simply extremely far from reality. What is there to discuss? If we just want to discuss a certain thesis, in itself, this is a question that you want to just raise the thesis itself, whether we are trapped there or not? Well, okay, I don't think, I don't think we are trapped there. I believe that the enemy is advancing very slowly. The possibilities for its destruction are not exhausted. But we really need to consider what forces and means are allocated and how they are used. There must be responsibility in the first place - not for soldiers. In my opinion, our soldiers are doing more than can be expected in such a war. This is the responsibility of commanders. I don't hear anyone discussing this at the top. And the materials and conclusions that I have seen for official use regarding the circumstances of the abandonment of Soledar, for example, I can say that they are not sufficiently thought out and do not correspond to the situation in all respects. That's the problem. 

- Do you think, again, that what can be voiced, the responsibility of commanders, this was emphasized, that this is not discussed properly, and I think you are right. What is missing in the way the consequences of certain events are analyzed? If we are talking about Soledar, we can talk specifically about this city in the Donetsk region.

- I can tell you that the nature of the fighting in the area of Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, Soledar and Bakhmut, the reasons why the situation there was deteriorating, are absolutely the same. And they are very similar to each other. We have a big problem that, unfortunately, there is no... there is a big gap between the use of troops and the adoption of management decisions in the headquarters that draw dots on the maps. This is obvious to everyone who is directly in the combat zone. Let's take a look, for example, between Soledar and Bakhmut there is a tactically important village called Krasna Hora, Red Mountain. On December 30, there was a feat in this place that the whole country saw. Hero of Ukraine Oleksandr Matsiyevsky was captured. A motivated soldier who bravely looked the enemy in the eye and said "Glory to Ukraine!" and was shot. This is the only video we have seen. But what happened? Matsiyevsky's unit was sent to an area already occupied by the enemy, the frontier of defense deployment. Why did this happen? Who is responsible for the fact that brave people who are not afraid of death, not afraid of the enemy, were thrown into battle in such conditions, without being given this situation, without being informed where the enemy was?

They were thrown into a landing on an unequipped position with no trenches. And this led to the death of motivated fighters. This is the other side of this feat. Because it was not accidental. Oleksandr Matsiyevsky was not a soldier looking for an opportunity to surrender. On the contrary. He was not looking for it. But it happened. That's what I mean when I say that drawing a line on the map, you know, as one brigadier said at the beginning of the war, that it is very easy to draw a line on the map, but very difficult to live it. It is easy to draw a line on the map, but very difficult to live it. So, we must understand that the main problem we have now is the problem of managing large masses of ground troops. Our enemy also has these problems. This allows us to beat them. But we also have these problems. And in order to lose fewer lives and be able to defeat the enemy, to stop him where we need to, we have to improve ourselves. Unfortunately, we do not have such an objective analysis of the situation based on video, photos, i.e. objective data. In Ukraine, there is no such NATO concept as an after-action review, that is, a post-operational review, an analysis of one's actions. And we do not draw true conclusions from the events that are happening. The cost of this is very heavy. We cannot defeat the enemy. We are being driven out of Bakhmut, which is strategically important. We are losing many lives that we have no right to lose.

- In your opinion, is this a strategy on our part, a cap-and-trade strategy, that we can draw a line, as you say, an arrow, and throw a unit of our motivated defenders there, and they may die there. What is the reason for this? That there is not enough feedback from those who are directly in this or that area, or it is a relic of the Soviet past that it simply does not matter who and where we send, the main thing is that we need to report to the leadership that everything is fine.

- I want to tell you that the main reason, in my opinion, is the large number of lies in the reports. Why is it going on? Because we don't want to ever report bad news, it's an old habit. Even good military commanders are punished for bad news. In the area of Bakhmut, the 93rd Mechanized Brigade performed well. Both in Bakhmut and at the beginning of the war. They fought heroically and skillfully, which is important. Not just heroically, but skillfully. They held their positions for a long time. Unfortunately, the brigade commander was removed from his post. A man who really should have been awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine. Why? Because we have a commander who reports bad news, that the enemy is advancing, that it is difficult to stop it - for objective reasons. He can become inconvenient. He is also filmed. Just like a commander who, for example, has lost his position and is incompetent. There is no difference in this. Because of this lie at many levels, but primarily at the highest levels, we have no objective analysis. Our commanders are even afraid to report an objective situation, even the highest leaders. At first, we start losing some positions. One, two, three. All the commanders sit in silence and wait for the finger to be pointed at them, for them to be blamed. And then the heroism begins. That's when the enemy has squeezed Bakhmut and there are only a few ways left. In fact, the city is semi-circumscribed. After that, heroism begins. Reserves are thrown in. All forces are thrown in. Patriotic calls are made. All this should have been done earlier, then there would have been no heroism. It is not needed in war. The enemy is no longer advancing as it was at the beginning of the war. He is already defeated. The Russian cadre army has been defeated by the Ukrainian army. But the enemy has mobilized. He analyzed why he was beaten. He changed his tactics. He changed a lot of things. Organization, training, tactics, intelligence. He changed a lot. And we have to change. We must continue to stay ahead of them. And not to keep silent when we fail, and then perform heroics. We had such heroism in Severodonetsk, heroism near Lysychansk, heroism in Soledar. We had a lot of heroism. Where we have a lot of heroism, we can say 100% that there were wrong decisions at the highest level. This is not the fault of the soldiers. This is the fault of the command, which should be responsible for this. There is nothing to be ashamed of here. Everyone makes mistakes. If we want to draw conclusions, people have to have the courage to admit it honestly. Unfortunately, we don't see such courage in our command.

- Mr. Yuriy, in your opinion, who should initiate the process of ensuring that there are no lies in the reports, given that we have such a huge enemy who will not disappear, who will only lick his wounds and return to destroy Ukraine? Should it be the General Staff? Should it be the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces? Should it be the Supreme Commander-in-Chief? In your opinion, where should this initiative come from, so that the same commanders, the same leaders understand that bad news is not bad news, but an opportunity to avoid mistakes?

- Of course, since we have a Supreme Commander-in-Chief in the country, he holds meetings of his Staff, analyzes, among other things, the issue of holding specific cities. This is announced publicly. Meetings are held, and there have been meetings on Soledar, Bakhmut, and Sievierodonetsk. Of course, this is the responsibility of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief. It is up to him to assess the actions of his subordinate officials and military leaders. Of course. That it should be up to him. He is the one who is most interested and he bears the highest responsibility. Secondly, of course, the Minister of Defense is politically responsible. Thirdly, of course, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and his subordinate structures bear this responsibility. It turns out that we have a separate Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, who has his own vertical. There is a vertical of the active army. This is the commander, General Syrsky. But I want to say that it shouldn't be a matter of pointing a finger and saying: you're to blame for everything, go away. It should be a logic. We don't have this managerial logic in our country right now. Something is happening here, and instead of honestly saying: yes, the enemy is stronger, that's why we have the second most armed army in the world. The enemy is stronger, and we have failed. Why? How can we improve this situation? Why did we succeed in other situations, but not here? Why is this happening? The enemy has been at it for a long time - the battle for Bakhmut has been going on since the first days of May, this situation did not arise overnight. It has been going on for a long time. It's been going on for a long time, and we... I mean, I was in Bakhmut on May 1, I saw the offensive, and I'm coming now. And just as I didn't see the defense line in the areas where it was needed then, I don't see it now. How many months have passed? It's hard to even count. 7, 8, 9 months. There are still people going out into the open field, into the landing. So do we have a problem with engineering equipment? The number of excavators? Do we not have enough of them in the country? Is it impossible to dig defense lines, cover them with concrete, slabs, and protect people from shelling in 9 months? I just don't understand why no one is responsible for this at the highest level? Why is this not being discussed? Isn't someone responsible for this? People are dying. This must be said to finally start treating it responsibly. We do not hear this. There are no conversations. I want to say that I would really like to.

So that those people who take photos at the front, high ranking officials, once - I'm not saying constantly, just to get a feel for what modern warfare is like - sit there for a few hours at some advanced platoon stronghold. Or we tried to feel what an ordinary mobilized soldier feels when he is thrown to the front line for an unequipped landing. Just to visit for a few hours and feel what emotions it causes. To try it on for yourself, so that you can take photos not from the battalion's COP, but a little further away. and immediately, I think, a lot will become clear. And if you do this regularly, I am sure that there will be more systematic actions.

- Do you think that we have, as you said, so many lies in such reports that come from the top, that is, to the top leadership of our country, or is it connected to - how to put it correctly - the populism that we had before the large-scale war and which, unfortunately, continues now, because if you look at some controlled media, everything is generally good, everything is cool, we are winning everywhere, it is difficult in Bakhmut, but our heroes are holding this city and so on. Or is populism still the biggest problem?

- Populism is a derivative of lies. I can't say that we don't need any positive news about the situation at the front. They are needed. But there must be a certain balance. Unfortunately, we do not have this balance. Unfortunately, we have this desire to manipulate public opinion... I can't even say that this is populism. Populism is about keeping power. And how can we keep power here? Do we want to lose the war? How do we treat our people? The West will eventually produce and supply us with weapons. Where will you get the people? We have no people. This is the main problem. By the way, today there was a very good article about this. I mean, one of the rare objective articles I've seen in the Washington Post. Where one of our officers, the battalion commander of the 46th Airmobile Brigade, speaks about this very clearly. He is a very honest man who distinguished himself with his battalion in Soledar and fought heroically. I am pleased that we have an honest analysis of the situation at the level of active combatants. Such people should be promoted to the highest positions in the army. Unfortunately, we see that these are very isolated cases, very rare. Somewhere in our social networks, very rarely, an article will appear. But no conclusions are drawn from this. I want to say that this is not even populism, what is happening. It's just suicide. Suicide of the country, if the authorities do this, and it is a huge loss of people who could actually live. I don't even know how to characterize the consequences of this tragedy.

- You have at least given an example, our hero by the name of Matsievsky. We all saw this shooting by the Nazi occupiers. Mr. Yuriy, you are saying very important things. Thank you very much for this conversation. Yuriy Butusov, editor-in-chief of censor.net, was in touch with us.

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