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The Inside Story-Flashpoint: Ukraine TRANSCRIPT

The Inside Story-Flashpoint: Ukraine SKINNY HORIZ
The Inside Story-Flashpoint: Ukraine SKINNY HORIZ


The Inside Story: Flashpoint Ukraine

Episode 76 – January 26, 2023

Show Open:

Unidentified Narrator:

Ukraine pleads for more on-the-ground help.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy:

Hundreds of thank you’s are not hundreds of tanks.

Unidentified Narrator:

How soon will German, British and American tanks roll into Ukraine?

From the frontlines to the capital …

Now, The Inside Story --- Flashpoint: Ukraine.

The Inside Story:

ELIZABETH LEE, VOA Correspondent:

Hi, I’m Elizabeth Lee, VOA Correspondent, here in our newsroom.

While thanking allies for supplying his country with billions of dollars in weapons to defend Russia’s attacks for the past 11 months, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, “I can thank you hundreds of times … but hundreds of thank you are not hundreds of tanks.”

Supplying Ukraine with tanks --- specifically, German-made Leopard-2 tanks --- is creating some tension among the allies.

Poland’s prime minister says he is asking Germany for permission to send some of its Leopard-2's to Ukraine --- while trying to get other countries with those tanks to band together and send them to Ukraine whether Germany agrees or not.

We’ll go deeper with two reports --- first from our European Correspondent Henry Ridgwell in London.

HENRY RIDGWELL, Reporting for VOA:

Germany decided this week to send fourteen of its powerful Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine — and allow allies to send theirs, too.

Berlin said the tanks should be delivered by the end of March. The West is now racing to get the equipment in place.

Boris Pistorius, German Defense Minister:

If you look at ammunition, there is also the issue of quantity. As announced yesterday, I will also hold initial talks with the arms industry on this issue.


Poland, Spain, Norway and Finland have all said they are willing to send Leopard tanks. Germany said Wednesday two battalions will be given to Ukraine — around 80 vehicles.

In addition, Ukraine will receive fourteen British Challenger 2 tanks and thirty-one American Abrams. Ukrainian troops will require several weeks of training on the different equipment.

John Lough, Chatham House Russia Expert:

The Ukrainians have proved to be remarkably capable of absorbing Western military assistance. But it does take time. And time is not on their side, given that spring is round the corner, and there’s an expectation that Russia is going to mount some form of major offensive.


NATO described the decision to send tanks as a "pivotal" moment.

Angela Stent, Georgetown University Russia Expert:

What Vladimir Putin is hoping for, and has been for the past few months, is that this kind of threat of intimidation and then weariness in the Europeans — particularly for the impact that sanctions is having on their own economies — that all those things will cause the transatlantic unity on this to break. But so far, it hasn't. We've seen the opposite.


Kyiv says it needs three hundred tanks — and Western fighter jets to defeat the Russian invasion. Could that be the next barrier for the West to overcome?

Ed Arnold, Royal United Services Institute:

It'd be another escalatory measure. But I think at the moment, what they want to do see how Ukraine get on with the tanks and then assess from there.


The West is now heavily invested in the Ukraine war. Its flagship battle tanks — crewed by Ukrainians — will soon go head-to-head with Russian armor on the steppes of Europe.

John Lough, Chatham House Russia Expert:

This could go on for a very long time. The Russians recognize this, and we can tell from Putin's messaging to Russian society, he is preparing the country for a long war. The question I think, however, on the Western side, is whether Western governments are prepared to do the same thing with their own societies.


Western weapons could help Ukraine expel Russian forces. But the war won’t be over anytime soon — and the resolve of governments and the public will be tested.

Henry Ridgwell, for VOA News, London.

CINDY SAINE, VOA’s Senior Diplomatic Correspondent:

President Joe Biden entered the Roosevelt Room at the White House Wednesday, confirming media reports of new military assistance to Ukraine.

President Joe Biden:

Today, I'm announcing that the United States will be sending 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, the equivalent of one Ukrainian battalion. Secretary Austin has recommended this step because it will enhance Ukraine's capacity to defend his territory and achieve strategic objectives.


Biden’s remarks came just hours after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stood in front of parliament to announce Berlin will provide 14 Leopard 2 tanks and open a path for other European countries to send tanks from their own stocks to Ukraine, with the aim of assembling two tank battalions with Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine within the next several months.

Scholz’s announcement had been long awaited by Ukraine, Poland, the Baltic states and others. The German leader said Berlin supports Ukraine but made clear he does not want to provoke Russia.

Olaf Scholz, German Chancellor:

We must always make it very clear that we are doing what is necessary and what is possible to support Ukraine, but that at the same time we are preventing the war from escalating into a war between Russia and NATO, and we will always continue to observe this principle.


Biden thanked Scholz, saying Germany has stepped up for Ukraine.

The U.S. leader also noted the purpose of the tanks is to help Ukraine defend its own land.

President Joe Biden:

There is no offensive threat to Russia. If Russian troops returned to Russia – they will be there, where they belong. This war would be over today. That's what we all want, an end to this war in just and lasting terms.


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had long been pleading for heavy tanks, saying it is not about five, 10 or 15, but that Kyiv needs between 250 and 350 tanks. Military experts say the total number allied countries have promised so far is about 90.


In Moscow, Russia’s Foreign Ministry has called any such decision dangerous and warned it will escalate the conflict.

Cindy Saine, VOA News.


Powered by a 15-hundred horsepower engine, America’s Abrams M1 tank is widely considered the world’s most technologically sophisticated tank.

A crew of four operates the M1.

It is equipped with a 120-millimeter smooth bore cannon, used to destroy enemy tanks and other heavily armored vehicles.

The Abrams also has three machine guns — a heavy one to take out lightly armored vehicles and a pair of lighter ones that are considered anti-personnel weapons.

It can move at a top speed of around 65 kilometers per hour, with a maximum road range of about 425 kilometers.

The Abrams M1 turbine engine runs best on jet fuel, which adds to the expense and logistics to operate it.

Germany’s Leopard 2 uses the more available diesel fuel to power its 15-hundred horsepower turbo-charged engine.

The Leopard 2 has many of the Abrams M1 features, such as the 120-millimeter smooth bore cannon and a pair of light machine guns.

The German and U.S. tanks are designed to better protect its four-person crew than the Soviet-made tanks that both Ukraine and Russia are currently using.

Gian Gentile, Former U.S. Army Tank Commander:

So, the M1A1 tanks, along with the Leopard 2s, the crew is much safer because the ammunition for those two types of tanks are outside of where the crew is sitting in the turret. And so, if a — If a M-1 tank or a Leopard 2 tank is hit and everything is right in the turret, the rounds go up and out. Whereas on a T-72 tank, the rounds are inside the turret with the crew, and they're much more prone to be set off and cause catastrophic damage to the tank crew and the tank itself.


With a crew of four, the Leopard 2 has a similar maximum speed as the Abrams, but its range is about 340 kilometers.

Availability is the Leopard’s biggest asset. More than 2,000 are spread through multiple European countries.

Britain's Challenger 2 has a 120-millimeter rifle gun as its main weapon, along with a couple of light machine guns, like the other tanks. And its ammunition is also stored outside of the crew compartment.

Its diesel fueled engine is smaller --- 12-hundred horsepower. And the Challenger 2 does not move as fast as the others.

But its maximum driving range of more than 500 kilometers is significantly better than either the U.S. or German-made tanks.

Steve Redisch, VOA News.


Ukraine wants the tanks to try to push out Russian forces that are occupying parts of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.

The city of Bakhmut is the focal point now in the Donbass region.

VOA’s Heather Murdock is in the field for us there.


Today we are reporting from Bakhmut in Ukraine, a city that has been bombed and under fire for months.

The sound of shelling in this city is nonstop, and locals say they expect only five to 10 minutes of quiet a day. The war has gotten worse recently as Russian forces draw closer.

Most people have left the area, but about 10% of the population remains in the city. A few run this outdoor market, moved from its original location after a bombing.

Others stay indoors and underground as much as possible. Families come to this shelter for a little bit of food and safety. They also come simply to talk to people, saying life under fire is lonely.

Volunteers say almost all of the food and water is carried in by aid workers.

Electricity, heat, and cooking gas are also scarce or not available.

Lyudmyla Malynovska, Bakhmut Resident:

There's nowhere to go, so we stay here. You can still come here and talk to people. It's scary to go outside. No one walks on the street because of the bombings.


Some residents who remain in other cities and towns in Donbas try to keep their homes intact, despite the frequent bombings, in hopes that the people will return when the violence subsides.

In Chasiv Yar, about 10 kilometers from the frontlines, residents say only a year ago, their town was alive with natural beauty and industry.

Alexander Pavlovitch, Chasiv Yar Resident:

It was a cluster bomb that fell here, and the shock wave went over there and smashed [that building]. Then the debris fell on the house. You see, the whole wall is covered in holes from shrapnel.


The markets in Chasiv Yar are mostly closed now. Sellers who remain in town say the constant shelling makes it too dangerous to work outside. Others say remaining in town and staying open for business is an act of patriotism.

Serhi Zamulenko, Chasiv Yar Resident:

I am a patriot of Ukraine. Ukraine is my homeland. It is my land, for me. This war only made me stronger in my resolve. And Russia is a terrorist country.


Some of his neighbors disapprove of his loyalties, says Zamulenko, in a region with familial and cultural ties to both Russia and Ukraine.

The Donbas region has essentially been at war since 2014, long before the full-scale Russian invasion began almost a year ago. But the current level of violence is unprecedented, and widespread across the country.

The United Nations says more than 7,000 civilians have been killed in Ukraine in the past 11 months.

People we have spoken here to today say they have learned mostly to live without enough water, without enough heat, without enough electricity or internet, or sometimes even enough food, but they are exhausted, and they want this battle to end.

Reporting from Bakhmut in Ukraine, Heather Murdock, VOA News.


Human rights advocates have been sounding alarms about the Russian private military company Wagner Group using convicts as soldiers in Ukraine.

Amid reports the U.S. will sanction Wagner, the White House confirms “extraordinarily high” casualties among the some 40,000 convicts fighting for Wagner in Donbas.

VOA’s New York Bureau Chief Igor Tsikhanenka expains.


As Russia has struggled to hold territory in Ukraine, the White House says the Kremlin is increasingly relying on the Wagner group to recruit thousands of prisoners for the war’s frontlines.

John Kirby, US National Security Council Spokesperson:

The casualty rates for the convicts are extraordinarily high. As a matter of fact, what we think is that 90% of their casualties are convicts.


Moscow disputes foreign tallies of war dead, but it’s clear Russia’s convicts are dying at high rates. Ukrainian officials estimate that some 77% of the 38-thousand Russian prisoners brought to fight in Ukraine have been killed, wounded or captured or have gone missing.

John Kirby, US National Security Council Spokesperson:

They are just throwing them into this meat-grinder.


Russia dismisses most outside assessments of its war performance, insisting its troops are consolidating their gains. But experts say it is becoming difficult for the Kremlin to cover up the grim fate of convicts under Wagner commanders.

Yuri Butusov, Ukrainian Journalist:

They are calling these prisoners “refillers.”


Yuri Butusov, a Ukrainian war correspondent, told VOA that in just the battle for the town of Soledar last month, Russians were losing several hundred soldiers a day. Almost all of them were convicts.

Yuri Butusov, Ukrainian Journalist:

In order to attack the Ukrainian firing points, the enemy is using penal battalions. It's not a new invention. In Soviet times, Stalin also had them.


Those World War Two battalions consisted of Soviet Gulag prisoners and were tasked with the most difficult assignments – like breaking through intense fire without any heavy equipment support.

Butusov says in some cases, Russia’s ill-equipped prisoners are used for similar missions, such as drawing Ukrainian artillery fire.

Yuri Butusov, Ukrainian Journalist:

When they are fired upon, the Russian commanders detect the artillery positions of the enemy.


Olga Romanova, executive director of the civil rights group Russia Behind Bars, told VOA that prisoners who agree to sign 6-months contracts with Wagner are paid about $3,000 a month. But it’s not the money that motivates them.

Olga Romanova, Russian Prisoners' Rights Activist:

Their main motive is, of course, to become free.


So far, out of tens of thousands of prisoners recruited by Evgeny Prigozhin, Wagner’s leader and confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin, only 106 were freed and allowed to go home, Romanova says.

Olga Romanova, Russian Prisoners' Rights Activist:

By the end of last year, the desire to go serve in Wagner diminished significantly among convicts — first of all, because of extrajudicial executions, unfulfilled promises and, of course, high, very high casualties.


All of that, however, is unlikely to disrupt the Kremlin’s plans to use prisoners in its geopolitical objectives, Romanova says.

Olga Romanova, Russian Prisoners' Rights Activist:

Prigozhin will squeeze out 20 to 30 thousand people more out of jails, and then the authorities will start formal mobilization.


In November, Putin signed into law a bill allowing mobilization of individuals with outstanding or unexpunged convictions, creating an even greater pool of potential war recruits.

Igor Tsikhanenka, VOA News


Ukrainians were used to 24-hour-a-day-seven-day-a-week uninterrupted electricity. It wasn’t until Russia began bombing their power plants that the country’s “new normal” began.

Even in the capital, Kyiv, there are daily power outages. Sometimes it’s on a schedule, and sometimes, when there is an attack, the lights just go out.

This tent is a power center, with access to lights and Internet, manned by emergency service workers.

Locals come here to work, and grow small businesses, despite the chaos.

Nazer Senychak, IT worker:

There were a few times when we heard very loud explosions here during the massive rocket attacks in October, the 10th if I’m not mistaken. But in general, it feels okay.


Russian attacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure began in October, with massive strikes across the country, killing civilians and knocking out power structures. Since then, the devastation has continued.

On Saturday, a strike hit a residential building in the central city of Dnipro, killing more than 40 people.

At the Kyiv power center, locals say the daily grind of surviving the war is exhausting.

Victoria Kozlova, Kyiv Resident:

I only hear the explosions. I don't see it. I hear the explosions. The water is gone, and the electricity is gone.


Kozlova says she is trying to rebuild her advertising business, which fell flat in the first months of the war as she fled west, further away from the danger. Now, she is back home in Kyiv, trudging up 12 flights of stairs to her apartment when the power is out.

And as night falls in the capital, some entire neighborhoods are in the dark, but residents say life goes on as normally as possible, with or without the light.

Heather Murdock, VOA News, Kyiv.


Russian attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure have crippled the nation’s power grid.

About 40-percent of the grid has been damaged leaving millions of people without a reliable source of electricity in the middle of winter.

While the US and other allies have rushed generators and other aid to Ukraine, an idea for another source of power is being floated.

From Istanbul, our Dorian Jones explains how a Turkish shipping company can help.

DORIAN JONES, Reporting for VOA:

Russia's latest attack on Ukrainian civilians not only targeted their homes.

The streets of Ukraine are constantly plunged into darkness as Russian forces relentlessly hit Ukraine's electricity infrastructure.

Petro Burkovskiy, Democratic Initiatives Foundation:

What they are seeing is that they are doing this in order to kill as many Ukrainians as possible, but in a kind of indirect way, by creating the unbearable conditions for life without electricity, heating and water.


But the Turkey-based company Karpowerships says it can help alleviate Ukraine's energy crisis. Its power ships operate worldwide, including in hotspots like Beirut, and can supply millions of homes with electricity.

Zeynep Harezi Yilmaz, Karpowership:

We have been in contact with Ukrenergo (Ukraine National Power Company) since August last year and with the Odessa governorate as well. We could potentially place 300-megawatt ships. So, totaling 300 megawatts in various ports in Odesa, and a 100 megawatt could power the Odesa port and its related facilities. The others could power the related residential areas around Odessa.


Protecting the power ships remains a significant obstacle, says Karpower. Ankara has maintained good relations with Moscow, but it is unclear whether the goodwill extends to the protection of the ships.

Karpowership says that with some of its ships already close by, they could be supplying Ukraine with electricity within thirty days.

Dorian Jones, for VOA News, Istanbul.


The effect of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is creating unprecedented challenges at the borders for some EU nations.

With millions of Ukrainians fleeing for safety, along with asylum seekers searching for a new home, Europe’s migrant crisis is now at a tipping point.

From London, Henry Ridgwell explains.

HENRY RIDGWELL, Reporting for VOA:

330-thousand so-called irregular crossings were detected on the European Union’s external frontiers in 2022 — a steep rise of 64 percent from the previous year, according to Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. That figure doesn’t include millions of Ukrainian refugees.

Syrians, Afghans and Tunisians together accounted for almost half of the irregular migrant crossings. There were high numbers of migrants from Egypt, Bangladesh and Nigeria as well.

Martin Hofmann, International Centre for Migration Policy Development:

The security situation and the economic situation in most of those countries and regions has worsened even more during last year.


The Western Balkan route and the Central Mediterranean route to Italy accounted for most of the irregular arrivals.

Italy’s government passed a raft of asylum legislation this month, which charities like Doctors Without Borders say make it harder to rescue migrants at sea and bring them ashore.

Greece is also cracking down on migrant rescue organizations. Political attitudes have hardened with the war in Ukraine, says analyst Camino Mortera-Martinez.

Camino Mortera-Martinez, Centre for European Reform:

The common discourse at the moment here in Europe goes something like, ‘OK, we are dealing with a massive refugee crisis from our neighborhood. Why should we shoulder all the conflicts from other parts of the world?’”


Thirteen million Ukrainian refugees entered the European Union since the start of Russia’s invasion. Some ten million crossings were also registered from Europe back into Ukraine.

Martin Hofmann, International Centre for Migration Policy Development:

We see that attacks on the civilian infrastructure are part of the war strategy of Russia, and so far, they have not resulted in increased outflows. There is the remarkable resilience of the Ukrainian society and the economy. But there are, of course, potential tipping points where the situation becomes unbearable for larger populations, and then we might see an increase.


A special summit aimed at agreeing on a common EU policy on migration is due to be held next month. Observers say long-standing divisions between member states mean a breakthrough is unlikely.

Henry Ridgwell, for VOA News, London.


That’s all for now.

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For all of those behind the scenes who brought you today’s show, I’m Elizabeth Lee.

See you next week for The Inside Story.