“Putin is clearly trying to ignite a larger conflict” – Martin Dugard

Author Martin Dugard (source: MartinDugard.com)

After the publication of my review of his excellent book Taking Paris: The Epic Battle for the City of Lights (Caliber), Martin Dugard kindly accepted to answer some questions for this blog. I feel privileged for the interview with an excellent and engaging author, who is also the coauthor of Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Series.

Here is the content of our exchange.

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Mr. Dugard, where did the idea of writing Taking Paris originate from?

The book actually started as Taking Rome but as the research expanded it became obvious that the story of Rome worked more nicely as a small section in the larger context of the 1940 fall of Paris and 1944 liberation.

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Vladimir Poutine et la nouvelle armée russe

Lundi prochain, les troupes russes défileront au pas d’oie sur la Place rouge. Elles sont déjà en répétition sur la rue Tverskaya. Les forces militaires profiteront également de l’occasion pour faire parader l’attirail qui forme l’arsenal de Moscou. Le Jour de la Victoire est toujours un moment fort dans la psyché russe, en raison de la place dominante occupée par la guerre dans l’histoire du pays.

Depuis l’invasion de l’Ukraine le 24 février dernier, l’armée russe est omniprésente dans l’actualité internationale et sa performance outre-frontière soulève plusieurs questions et observations.

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Moscow has no discernible exit strategy in Ukraine

Professor Bettina Renz (source: YouTube)

In the aftermath of my review of her timely and absorbing book Russia’s Miltiary Revival (Polity), author and University of Nottingham Professor of International Security Bettina Renz granted me an interview. I am extremely grateful for her insights, one week from Victory Day parade in Moscow.

Below is the content of our exchange.

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The situation is now a war of attrition with no immediate end in sight.

Professor Renz, considering the last 9 weeks, what is your assessment of the performance of the Russian army in Ukraine? Are you surprised by the way the situation evolved?

Knowing what we know now, the poor performance of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine is no surprise. On the one hand, the Russian military is numerically and technologically superior to their Ukrainian counterpart. On the other hand, the history of warfare has demonstrated repeatedly that superiority in numbers and kit cannot make up for poor strategy.

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A striking parallel between Zelensky and de Gaulle

I initially wanted to review Taking Paris: The Epic Battle for the City of Lights by Martin Dugard last February, but then Vladimir Putin launched his troops against Ukraine and I had to shuffle my publications calendar. As you will see, there are fascinating parallels between the fate of France in World War II and the current situation in Ukraine, if only at the leadership level.

After the invasion of France by the Germans in May 1940, the country is in disarray and its statesmen have given up. In the ashes of defeat, a temporary brigadier general will rise to the occasion. Fleeing his homeland on board an airplane provided by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle left with a “[…] hastily packed suitcase contain[ing] four shirts, one pair of pants, and a single photograph of Yvonne and the children, whose current whereabouts he does not know.” I couldn’t help but think of the same predicament in which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky found himself on February 24th. As did de Gaulle, he chose to fight, but from home.

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« La guerre d’Ukraine a contribué à une détérioration des relations sino-américaines » – Jean-Pierre Cabestan

Les présidents chinois, Xi Jinping, et des États-Unis, Joe Biden (source Al Jazeera)

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Je publie aujourd’hui la deuxième partie de l’excellente entrevue que j’ai récemment réalisée avec le sinologue et auteur réputé Jean-Pierre Cabestan.

Professeur, à la page 132 de votre livre Demain la Chine : guerre ou paix?, vous écrivez : « La mauvaise nouvelle est que même si les États-Unis remportent la bataille du blocus [contre Taiwan], ils ne sont pas certains de gagner la guerre : Taiwan est plus proche de la République populaire que du continent américain et Pékin est probablement plus résolu que Washington à arriver à ses fins. » Observez-vous une baisse de détermination chez les élites américaines par rapport à Taiwan?

Non pas pour l’instant, et pas du tout dans un avenir prévisible. Cette considération porte sur le long terme et surtout dans le contexte postérieur à une tentative chinoise de prise de contrôle de Taiwan par des moyens militaires. Le rapport des forces actuels dans le Pacifique occidental contraint déjà les États-Unis de recourir à des moyens asymétriques pour espérer contrer toute opération de l’APL (Armée populaire de libération).

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« L’invasion de l’Ukraine par la Russie complique les choses pour Xi Jinping » – Jean-Pierre Cabestan

Source: Financial Times

Dans la foulée de ma recension de son dernier livre, le sinologue réputé Jean-Pierre Cabestan, qui est professeur de sciences politiques à la Hong Kong Baptist University, a généreusement accepté de m’accorder une entrevue. Étant donné sa longueur, j’ai décidé de la publier en deux parties.

Puisqu’il y est question de la Chine et de l’impact de la guerre en Ukraine sur les relations entre Pékin et Washington, ses observations mettent en lumière une dynamique incontournable dans les relations internationales.

Voici le contenu de notre échange.

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Professeur Cabestan, dans votre excellent livre Demain la Chine : guerre ou paix?, vous évoquez souvent la notion de « passion et de poudre ». Nous en observons actuellement une manifestation ailleurs sur le globe, en Ukraine. Quelle est votre lecture de l’attitude de la Chine dans la guerre initiée par Moscou en Ukraine? Pensez-vous que l’attitude du Kremlin vient brouiller les cartes pour Xi Jinping?

L’invasion de l’Ukraine par la Russie complique les choses pour Xi Jinping, et pas seulement à propos de Taiwan. Elle montre que le passage du seuil de la guerre a de multiples conséquences, souvent incalculables, et peut déclencher une escalade, voire une nucléarisation du conflit, également difficilement prévisible et contrôlable.

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Drone Wars: The Poor Man’s Air Force

A few years ago, I was intrigued to read that President Barack Obama ordered 10 times more drone strikes than his predecessor, President George W. Bush. Since their appearance, drones have become omnipresent on the battlefield and not a week goes by without a news article about their feats.

Incidentally, drones have played a role in the war of aggression launched against Ukraine by Russia in the last few weeks. They are also used in several theaters around the world. In a nutshell, “the drones developed by Israel and then revolutionized by America have now proliferated everywhere”, writes Seth J. Frantzman in Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machines, Artificial Intelligence, and the Battle for the Future (Bombardier Books).

The author writes that everyone wants drones, notably because they are cheaper than airplanes and reduce the potential for human casualties. They have become the “poor man’s air force”. Hence, their use by Houthi rebels in Yemen in the cross-fight between Iran and Saudi Arabia.About this conflict, the Jerusalem Post correspondent and analyst reminds us of a chilling episode when Houthi drones attacked an Aramco facility in Saudi Arabia – “some 1,000 kilometers from Houthi frontlines in Yemen” – in August 2019. The kingdom which ranked in 6th place in terms of military expenditures in the world in 2020 was defenseless in front of this incursion. A real military representation of the biblical tale of David versus Goliath and a manifestation that superpowers are not immune from an attack performed by a “poor man’s air force”.

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Putin thought he could get away with the invasion of Ukraine

Giles Milton (source: Macmillan)

Giles Milton is one of my favorite authors. And it’s always a real pleasure to be in touch with him. Even before I wrote my review of his last book, he agreed to answer some questions for this blog. If you haven’t read his book yet, run to the bookstore or get it online. This is a must, in the context of the aggression war conducted against Ukraine. For the time being, I trust you will enjoy this interview.

Mr. Milton, Checkmate in Berlin is a brilliant lecture about American and British innovation in adversity, mainly in organizing the Berlin airlift. Do you see the same attitude these days towards Ukraine?

Nothing on the scale of the Berlin Airlift had ever been attempted before. True, the Americans had airlifted vast quantities of weapons to the Chinese during the Second World War, but the Berlin Airlift was supporting (and keeping alive) several million Berliners.

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How Yeltsin Paved Putin’s Way

The Russian army and soldiers are all over the news since the invasion of Ukraine on February 24. It is therefore crucial to understand the military machine that is supposed to serve Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy. In her insightful book, Russia’s Military Revival (Polity), University of Nottingham Professor Bettina Renz quotes a fellow academic who observed that “by the end of the 1990s, Russia had largely been written off as a global military force as it was generally assumed that its armed forces stood ‘perilously close to ruin.’” While Putin’s 2008 modernization program proved instrumental in giving the Russian army its pride and means, the main argument of the author is that this development “did not occur in a vacuum.”

Since the reigns of the Tsars, “[…] having a strong military has always been important to Russia”, mainly to ensure régime stability, its presence in the world as a great power and the necessity – in the Kremlin’s perspective – of keeping a buffer zone against real or imagined potential invasion. Continuity is the main theme developed by Bettina Renz in her book.

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Turkish Drones Over Ukraine

Seth J. Frantzman (source ANF News)

Seth J. Frantzman is a senior correspondent and analyst at The Jerusalem Post, one of the world’s leading newspapers. He’s also a defence expert on anything related to drones in warfare. He recently published an insightful book on the subject, Drones Wars. Since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine by Russians forces on 24 February, drones have played a role on the frontline as videos have circulated about their performance or the devastation and atrocities they permit to observe first-hand. Despite a grueling schedule, Mr. Frantzman, whose book I will review here soon, has kindly accepted to answer a few questions for me. I am sincerely grateful for that.

Here is the content of our exchange.

It does not seem the drones are playing a major role, but if they can show that Ukraine can still operate in their airspace, even when contested by Russian air defense and Russian warplanes, it will be an important accomplishment for armed drones.

Mr. Frantzman, I have watched with amazement the images of the Turkish-made drone attacking the Russian military in Ukraine. What place are the drones occupying in this conflict? 

There is a lot we don’t know about how Ukraine is using the Bayraktar drones it has acquired from Turkey. Basic information about how many are still flying and where they are operating appears to be lacking from most reports. Nevertheless, there have been several videos claiming to show the UAVs targeting the Russian military. It does not seem the drones are playing a major role, but if they can show that Ukraine can still operate in their airspace, even when contested by Russian air defense and Russian warplanes, it will be an important accomplishment for armed drones. 

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