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Ukrainian General Kyrylo Budanov: ‘We are approaching the end of the war’

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General Kyrylo Budanov, head of the Ukrainian military intelligence service (GUR), in his office in Kiev, February 15, 2023. General Kyrylo Budanov, head of the Ukrainian military intelligence service (GUR), in his office in Kiev, February 15, 2023. LAURENT VAN DER STOCKT FOR “LE MONDE”

General Kyrylo Budanov, 37, head of the Ukrainian military intelligence services (GUR), received Le Monde at his headquarters in Kyiv. Military insignia and paintings cover the walls of his office and a table is covered with medals. On the floor, there is a pile of rocket launchers, automatic rifles and handguns: “Russian weapons,” he said, trophies taken from the enemy by the units he commands. In front of him, the TV screen displays a Google Earth map of the city of Moscow. “Their priority target was Kyiv. Why wouldn’t I look at the map of Moscow?” he said with a smile..

Since graduating from the Odesa Military Academy in 2007, Budanov has served in the GUR Special Forces as well as in the Foreign Intelligence Service (SZR). Since the 2014 Russian-Ukrainian war, he has been injured several times in covert operations, still classified to this day. He has suffered various assassination attempts, including a car bombing. The young major general was appointed director of the GUR in 2020 by President Volodymyr Zelensky.

One year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, how would you describe the current state of the war?

If I had a precise answer to this crucial question, life would be easier. Let’s just say that I believe that we are nearing the end of the war.

How do you envisage the end of the war?

The end of this war is possible only with the restoration of the territorial integrity of Ukraine to its 1991 internationally recognized borders. Any other option is not acceptable to us. Any territorial concession could only lead to a new conflict later on.

A battle is raging in the Donbas, in the east of the country. Do you think the current Russian offensive has a chance of success?

They will not win. Conquering the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk has been the Russians’ goal for one year, and they have failed so far. We only need to mention Bakhmut, which they have been attacking since July and which they keep saying they “almost have it under control.” It is now February and they are still trying to conquer it.

The reality is that after one year of war, Russia does not have the army it had at the beginning. Many Russian units are in their second or even third wave of soldiers, who are obviously not of the same quality as the original unit. My logic is very simple: if the first unit failed to accomplish its mission, it is unrealistic for the second or third component of a unit to have any success.

Consider the particular example of the recent Russian attacks on Vuhledar, which were defeated. The backbone of the assault was the 155th naval infantry brigade. We are familiar with this brigade, which we faced last year near Kyiv, during very tough fighting. At that time it was the real 155th, a very well-equipped, very well-trained unit. At Vuhledar, we captured some guys from the 155th and none of them were real Marine infantrymen. We interrogated them and learned that at most, each platoon had only two soldiers from the original unit. The majority of them were sailors removed from their ships or logistics support men taken from warehouses. They had been sent to the Donbas, where they were suddenly promoted to a naval infantry assault unit. We saw the result.

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