British investigative journalist and author John Sweeney, who has covered wars and chaos in more than 80 countries, says Ukraine has no choice but to win the war against Russia.
“If they don’t fight, there is no Ukraine,” said the award-winning journalist and author of “Killer in the Kremlin – The Explosive Account of Putin’s Reign of Terror.”
Sweeney, who has worked on two flagship BBC news and current affairs programs, “Panorama” and “Newsnight,” and the Observer newspaper, said the Ukrainian spirit is so extraordinarily strong, that the fight would continue. The question was whether the West had the willingness to keep helping Ukraine in its fight.
“If you look at the reality on the ground, you will see the Ukrainian army has three great things going for it: great spirit; logistics getting better thanks to NATO; and great leadership from President Zelensky and General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”
Sweeney has been to Ukraine countless times and was there during the battle for Kyiv. In his book, he comically wrote on the opening page: “Some idiot is moving heavy furniture in the flat above and I wake up with a start. I’m about to give Lambeth Council a ring to get them to sort him out when I remember I am in Kyiv, it’s four o’clock in the morning, and it’s not tables and chairs that are going bang but Russian artillery.”
With the current waves of missile attacks pummelling Ukrainian infrastructure, Sweeney said Russian President Vladimir Putin was playing what he described as a de-civilization game.
“He is trying to degrade ordinary society,” he said. “This is a war between good and evil.”
Sweeney believes it would be very difficult for the leaders of the Western world and other democracies to back down and let Ukraine die because the Russian killing machine is so barbaric. He offered the example of Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Russian paramilitary group Wagner, pretending to send a blood-stained sledgehammer to the European Parliament.
Responding to a report that Russia is circulating a document among the military called “Conclusions of the war with NATO in Ukraine” calling for five million Russian troops to be deployed in Ukraine for a Russian victory, Sweeney called it hot air.
“The Russians have lost the battles of Kyiv, Kharkiv and Kherson. He would need five million soldiers to take Ukraine, but Russian society is not North Korea.”
In his book, Sweeney said that Putin has probed the West’s steel and found jelly. Asked whether this missile attack was just that he said he didn’t think so.
“It is entirely likely it was a Ukrainian missile that hit Poland,” he said and continued, “The West needs to provide better air defense missiles so that Ukraine can defend itself properly. The air defense missile was probably from the Soviet weapons store, so poorly made it went astray.”
Sweeney spoke passionately about what he has seen in Ukraine. One occasion that stuck in his mind was when he visited the crash site in July 2014 of the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 shot down by Russian forces and the carnage he saw with his own eyes.
He wrote: “Dusk is falling. I am in an endless cornfield in the middle of nowhere in eastern Ukraine, the land rising and falling like a calm sea, looking at the nose of a passenger jet and plane seats and Air Malaysia logos and bodies in black bags being dumped in the back of a bin lorry.
“Paperbacks and bits of plane seats and luggage and Trunkis, those little wheelie suitcases that you pull a toddler along on, litter the ground. And every time I see a kid on one of those at Heathrow or Gatwick, I get a flashback and I start to cry.”
This outrage made Sweeney want to confront Putin, but he knew he couldn’t doorstep him in Moscow where security is tight, so he took a flight to Siberia, where Putin was inspecting the Mammoth Museum in Yakutsk.
Sweeney jumped out of a line of Paleolithic period academics and asked him the question: “What about the killings in Ukraine, sir?” The Russian media thought the question was included in the schedule, so the TV lights came on for the answer.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov was furious, but Sweeney asked Putin again: “Thousands are dead, Ukrainians, Russians, Malaysians, British, Dutch. Sir, do you regret the killings in Ukraine, sir?”
Sweeney said in his book that he got a long and very boring answer in Russian, which Peskov translated, even though Putin can speak English.
Sweeney’s book is not based only on his observations, but on eyewitness accounts and compelling testimony from those that have suffered at Putin’s hands.
It also deals with the bravery of the Ukrainian resistance and the heroism of the Russian opposition, not to mention the assassinations and locking away of his opponents.
In his book, Sweeney chronicled a whole list of Putin’s misdeeds which the West let him get away with lightly: from the first Moscow apartment bombings which led to the Second Chechen War, the gunning down by a lone assassin of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the annexation of Crimea, the poisonings of Alexander Litvinenko, Sergei and Yulia Skripal on British soil, the shooting down of Malaysian airliner MH17, and numerous opponents falling out of tall buildings or dying in mysterious circumstances.
Sweeney added that part of what drives Ukrainians to fight the Russians in the incredibly brave way that they are doing is the Holodomor, the artificial famine brought about by Stalin’s collectivization of farms, which led to about seven million deaths, though he qualifies that number by saying nobody knows the exact figure because no one counted.
Sweeney mentioned Stalin’s hatred for Ukrainians because they humiliated him during the Russian civil war. According to Sweeney, the tragedy of the Holodomor is three-fold: No soviet leader – in particular Stalin – paid for their crimes; it was never properly explained or taught to Putin’s generation so they don’t know what happened; this was a display of Russian imperialism and Russia has never said sorry for this appalling act of imperialist nonsense.
Sweeney said his book was the most critical about Putin written in English to date. In it he explains how he slept at night having witnessed all of humanity’s horrors.
“To deal with this, I deliberately brought with me six books by P.G. Wodehouse,” he wrote. “I would interview Chechens who had been tortured all day, then return to my hotel and knock back a bottle of vodka and inhale “The Code of the Woosters.”
“By around two o’clock in the morning the combination of alcohol and Bertie getting back the cow-creamer for Aunt Dahlia would work its magic and I’d fall asleep. Some nights, I just could not.”
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