Starting from February 24th, the day the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Toni Capuozzo has updated his readers with a series of daily dispatches. Analysis and comments on what happened during the conflict. Often, proposing theses that went (and continue to go) against common opinion. On the occasion of the release of his latest book, Days of war. Russia and Ukraine, the world in pieces (Signs Book)we interviewed him.
Let’s start with the interview that the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergej Lavrov, granted to Zona Bianca, on Rete 4. Why so much controversy?
First of all for some things Lavrov said: the statement about Hitler’s origins and the fact that it is not significant that Zelensky is Jewish to ensure that there are no Nazis in Ukraine. And then for the mention made of Italy. As I see it, in reality, every interview, even to the worst of enemies, is useful for knowing the opponent. To understand what he thinks and what he has in mind. Lavrov is certainly a very important figure in the Putin regime, but he was also, at least for those who follow the events of the Kremlin, one of the most reluctant to follow Vladimir Putin in the invasion. Furthermore, the tone of the interview was that of someone who has to reaffirm his loyalty to the boss and ends, obtorto collo, to be more realistic than the king. I think it is more interesting to read the interview from this point of view. However, the fact remains that any journalist would have been happy to have interviewed Lavrov, even though arrangements had probably been made so that no irreverent questions were asked and the Russian minister was not interrupted. It’s a classic of these interviews.
Is there anything different in the story of this war?
Yes: from a general point of view, it is the first war told by social media, with all the good and bad that this entails. There is a lot of material that anyone can post. There are anonymous rumors and propaganda. But above all, this war is different as regards the Italian information, the so-called mainstream, which is 110% deployed in defense of the attacked. Like everyone else, I have a clear opinion on the fact that there is an aggressor (Russia) and an attacked (Ukraine). But we must also make an effort to understand the reasons. To understand how it got to this point and if there were any mistakes on the part of the West. This is not to divide the blame or for a comfortable equidistance, but to avoid repeating the mistakes that have been made in the past. The same principle also applies in the conduct of war. If you read the Corriere della Sera a few days ago, there is a piece in which we talk about the Azov battalion. It is obviously an empathic article. However, it must be emphasized that in their “Bella ciao” they also praise Stepan Bandera, who was the king of Ukrainian collaboration with the Nazis. It is evident a forcing of sympathy towards the besieged Azov Battalion, which does not intend to give up its weapons and wants to be evacuated as if it were Private Ryan. But there are many, many people to evacuate Private Ryan. But that was Private Ryan. Those of the Azov battalion are simply soldiers heading towards defeat. They can expect, and have every right to do so, the treatment that is reserved for prisoners of war and therefore respect. By the way: even today the Corriere has an interview with the Russian prisoners, ignoring (as the Russians also do) that the prisoners, according to the Geneva convention, cannot be interviewed because they are not able to be free to speak. We, in the name of the no to aggression, overlook this minimal respect for the rules of a conflict.
In an interview granted to Rai, the wife of an Azov battalion soldier says, “When the civilians are out, our husbands will be easy targets.” Do you think it will be so?
It is war. I’ve seen outrageous headlines for a Russian bombing raid on seven stations that resulted in five deaths. Let me be clear: it would have been better if those dead had not been there. But it is a minimal balance in a conflict of this magnitude. That the Russians have committed a first crime with aggression and that, as in all conflicts and perhaps more, they commit crimes in the occupation of the villages, is something that does not surprise me. It is part of all wars. Even the one in Syria against the Islamic State. Even the one in Afghanistan against the Taliban. Do we think they were conducted with white gloves? Did we get the defeat of Saddam Hussein with good manners? No. It’s war. Many people have only just discovered it now. Was it a humanitarian mission when NATO bombed Belgrade? This is the reason why we must be against wars today and demand peace as soon as possible. Every day of war is a day of crime. On both sides.
Speaking of war crimes: Bucha.
Bucha has become something of an untouchable myth. But let’s be clear: there are hundreds of deaths in mass graves, which were dug by the Ukrainians themselves behind the church. They weren’t mass graves hidden in the woods. In those pits the dead were buried during the Russian occupation, which lasted more than a month. Whether they were killed after torture or in cold blood is easy to imagine. The Guardian, however, also spoke of a number of victims who had darts, which are typical of cluster bombs fired by artillery. They would therefore have died under the bombings, which were not Russians, because they held the city, but probably Ukrainians. Surely, it was a massacre that needs to be investigated, especially the number of victims attributable to war crimes. But we must also go and investigate how many there are, unfortunately, the so-called collateral victims.
But the dead on the street?
I asked questions about those, but I still don’t feel satisfied with the answers. I noticed that several victims had white armbands and was told they were civilians who wanted to surrender. In fact, we know that it is the Russians, and those who collaborate with them, who have the white handkerchief on their arm. Some of those victims also had Russian food rations alongside. No one has ever explained why. Did the Russians give them food rations and then kill them? There is not a photo where you see shells on the ground, which instead are when you kill a man from a short distance. Finally, there are the images in which the bodies are dragged with a cable. Now, I’ve seen the mined bodies in Bosnia. The mine is made so that once there is no more pressure it explodes. Those bodies were dragged for meters. Is it just inexperience or something else? Nobody replied. How were those bodies preserved which, according to satellite photos, would have remained there for more than twenty days? Without any trace of vilification of wild animals, then? They answered me with the analysis of a veterinarian. But I ask: is there someone who explained what the special police team, called Safari, went to do according to the Ukrainian press he was there on April 1st to defuse unexploded ordnance, to hunt down saboteurs and collaborators. Is there a balance sheet of that raid? No. In my opinion, everyone should make an effort to answer these questions. It is not secondary. It is obvious that those 360 mass graves deaths deserve revenge and justice. But it is also necessary to understand if the dead on the street are victims of this special police operation and were killed as collaborators or if they are dead recovered from cellars and placed on the streets in favor of cameras. It is not irrelevant. I have seen these things in other conflicts. Because tragedy is one thing. Another is the exploitation of the tragedy. I have no doubts about the Putin massacre. As I have no doubts about Mariupol, a martyr city. But I wonder whose martyr he is.
According to Luttwak, certainly not a dove, you have to find a way out …
He should tell Biden.
What he claims: “The US government pays me to get my opinions and I get them.” Returning to the question: in your opinion, is it time to find an agreement between Russia and Ukraine?
I’ve been saying this for a long time that we need to find an agreement. But Zelensky says they want to keep fighting until Crimea takes back, Either it is a statement made to raise the bar before the negotiations or, if it is a plan, it means they will go on for a very long time. There are some of us who think that Ukraine, however armed by the West, as much as it has the help of Western intelligence, as much as it has Western instructors, can push the Russian army back to the historical borders between the two. Villages? No. I believe that without direct NATO intervention it will be difficult. Negotiations are the only way to avoid a world conflict or to encyst in that part of the world with terrible consequences. But the question must be asked of Westerners. Von Der Leyen who became general speaks of victory. Borrell talks about victory. Biden talks about victory. What does victory mean? Do we want to continue until Putin is shot down? And who goes in his place, given that Putin’s defeat does not equate to free elections in Russia. Furthermore, Russia is neither Libya nor Somalia. It is a country with a nuclear arsenal and it must be taken into account.
For years, Russia has been our strategic partner. Are the sanctions we imposed on Moscow turning out to be a boomerang for us?
That sanctions do us more harm than they do is evident. But they are also a long-term threat that has no immediate influence. I am not an economic expert, but my experience tells me that embargoes and sanctions are paid by the people and not by the governments. As happened in Cuba and Iran.
According to New York Times, citing intelligence sources, the Americans allegedly helped the Ukrainians in the sinking of the Moskva. Why did this news come out right now?
I believe that a debate on this conflict is opening up in America too. There is no clarity as to where this is headed. Although public opinion is distant, there is a debate: is this war really worth the US? So far, America has achieved a resurrected NATO, a Europe put in line and, from an economic point of view, depressed. And this doesn’t displease Washington. As the prospect is no longer winning within a few weeks, but facing a long conflict to win back Donbass and Mariupol, everything has changed.
We are moving towards May 9th. On this date, Putin could either proclaim total war against Ukraine or claim that all goals have been achieved. What do you think is the most likely scenario?
Putin is not a chess player. He is a judoka and his main strategy is to exploit the mistakes of the opponent. He transforms the opponent’s attack energy in his favor. He is therefore waiting for our mistakes. If he were to say: from tomorrow I order a ceasefire, I take Azovstal with hunger and I no longer fire a shot, he would leave the responsibility of firing the shots to take the Donbass back to Ukraine, thus putting it in great embarrassment. It may well be that it declares total war, but I believe it will exploit the weakness of the opponents.
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Capuozzo’s “prophecy”: “May 9? What will Putin do …”
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