The Crimean Bridge Will Cease to Exist: Interview with the Head Ukrainian Military Intelligence

Recently Ukrainskaya Pravda’s Roman Kravets sat down with Kiril Budanov, head of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense. Since the beginning of the war, Budanov has become one of the most authoritative Ukrainian sources on the conflict. He accurately predicted that Russia would initiate hostilities with Ukraine a year before the invasion. In late May of this year the young intelligence expert predicted that by August Ukrainian forces would be able to launch an offensive that would reclaim most lost territory by the end of the year. The subsequent summer offensives and ongoing push in the south toward Kherson and in the Donbas are the fruit of those predictions – made at a time when it appeared that the Ukrainians and Russians were locked in a seemingly unbreakable stalemate. In this, the second Kravets interview with Budanov, the intelligence director comments on the situation in the war and makes another round of interesting predictions. The full interview is posted below in Ukrainian. Following is an English language transcript of the thirty-nine-minute interview.

Reporter – In the last two weeks, we have seen a new intensity in the shelling of the territory of Ukraine. The Russians actively use Iranian combat drones and missiles. What is the ultimate goal of these attacks, to leave us without electricity, without heat, to sow panic?

Budanov – Everything that Russia is doing now is an act of terrorism. You correctly noticed that the most important goal is to sow panic, fear, uncertainty about the future. Panic and fear are the main weapons of terror. And now about the practical steps, how exactly they try to do this. Firstly, they are trying to cause serious losses to our energy sector, and secondly, they are trying to stop the export of electricity from Ukraine to inflict an economic blow as well. In general, as they say, plunging Ukraine into total darkness and cold winter is their dream. But, believe me, this will not happen, all our services work properly, and their dreams will not come true. There are indeed complications, but nothing critical yet.

By the way, an interesting point, previously the Russians mostly hit military targets, with a smaller number hitting civilian targets. And now they don’t hit the military at all, only the civilians. This once again confirms my claim that Russia is a terrorist state and uses terrorist methods to achieve its goals. In addition, even the very name of the Iranian drone “Shahed-136” [meaning of Shahed is martyr] is an example. They love symbolism and use symbols of terror.

Reporter – How much longer can terror last on the scale that we have seen in the last two weeks throughout the country?

Video by Donetsk Police, October 26, 2022. Residential building hit by Russian rockets.

Budanov – Terror with the use of “Shaheed” may continue for a long time. But not with the use of missiles, because their reserves are almost exhausted. About 13% remain for Iskanders, about 43% for Kalibr-PL, Kalibr-NK missiles, and about 45% for Kh-101 and Kh-555 missiles. It is generally very dangerous to fall below 30%, because it already goes to “NZ” (the use of strategic reserve stockpiles).

With regard “Iskanders,” Russia has long exhausted their reserve, but with their “Kalibrs,” Kh-101, and Kh-555 rockets they are still trying to somehow stay within their limits [maintaining strategic reserve]. Due to the lack of missiles and their low efficiency and accuracy, they were forced to use Iranian drones. This is Mohajer-6, which in principle did not show itself here [not present in large quantities], and “Shahed-136.” They use the “Shahed” here en masse.

Reporter – How many Iranian drones do they have left?

Budanov – That’s completely the wrong question to ask because they order them all the time. As of October 22, they used about 330 “shaheeds.” Of those, as far as I remember, 222 were shot down. Others, to one degree or another, reached their target – not always the intended target, sometimes somewhere close, but 30% of drones reach their goals. A one-time batch delivery is about 300 units. 

Reporter – How many such deliveries have already been made?

Budanov – The second batch is now being delivered. 

Reporter – And are the Russians going to continue buying them?

Budanov – They ordered about 1,700 drones of all types, currently the second batch has been shipped. You must understand, they ordered 1,700 pieces, but they still need to be produced.  Therefore, there are also certain problems here. But, as you can see, the anti-aircraft defense in principle copes, 70% are shot down.

Reporter – The other day, the General Staff made an alarming statement that the threat from Belarus is growing, and that the direction of the offensive may be changed to the west of the Belarusian-Ukrainian border. So, will the Belarusians go to war?

Budanov – I would like to remind you that the story of the Belarusian attack on Ukraine has been in our media since April. About once a month and a half, they declare that these terrible legions of Belarusians will attack tomorrow. But the reality is a little different, and I have debunked these myths many times. Is there a potential threat from Belarus? Potentially there is. This is also not a secret for anyone. The Russians are now transferring a certain number of units there. But what they say and what they do in fact are completely different things. There is currently no indication of any form of strike force formation. As of now, the Russians have taken about 3,200 personnel there.

Reporter – But they say that there are thousands of them…

Budanov – You can report what you want. But they are without heavy equipment. On the contrary, Belarus sends all its equipment from long-term storage bases to Russia. That is, physically, what will they fight with us now? I do not understand. And they don’t understand either.

Reporter – Similarly, many people are worried about whether there will be another attempt to attack Kyiv in the coming months.

Budanov – As of now, there is no such thing. Is it possible to do this theoretically? You can. This will require about two or two and a half weeks of transfer of troops. There is no such thing [happening now]. 

“When we return Crimea, the Crimean bridge will cease to exist”

Destroyed portion of Crimean Bridge. Photo by Ukrinform.

Reporter – On October 10, there was a huge shelling across the entire territory of Ukraine…

Budanov – …It’s not huge, but it was the first of its kind in a long time. Remember the first days of the full-scale war, when Kyiv was also hit . Russians love numerology and everything related to it: 10.10.22. 

Reporter – The self-proclaimed president of Belarus Lukashenko said that this was the Russians’ response to the Crimean bridge …

Budanov – I will ask you the following rhetorical question, why was the answer not there on the 7th or 8th? The things you are talking about are very loosely connected to each other, because several rockets hit Kyiv, and all the others hit energy infrastructure facilities.

Reporter – A missile flew down Volodymyrska street , next to the Hrushevskyi monument. Do I understand correctly that the Russians wanted to target the SBU with a missile?

Budanov – I also understand that it was aimed at the SBU. But I am saying that the real accuracy of Russian missiles turned out to be not at all what they all dreamed of. That is, plus or minus 500 meters for their missiles – this is normal now. There were about 800 meters, and this is within their TTX (tactical and technical characteristics). Although they write that the TTX is plus or minus 50 meters, but we see the reality [is different].

Reporter – I will ask you as the chief intelligence officer of the country, what happened to the Crimean bridge?…

Budanov – It will be a difficult question to answer. Let’s talk about it some other time. I can only say that the Crimean Bridge was severely damaged. This bridge is one of the symbols of the “Russian world”. The cruiser “Moscow” went to the bottom, the Crimean bridge actually went down too. These are all signs that this regime does not have much time left. 

Reporter – We heard Zelensky’s statement about the Crimean bridge that “we definitely did not order this.” But the Russians immediately accused GUR of undermining it and said that you were personally involved in the explosion on the bridge. How do you feel about such accusations?

Budanov – Personally? [laughs] You know, I don’t take it completely seriously. I can’t remember the exact name, but one of the largest print publications of the Chinese Communist Party put out an article saying that Russia is blaming Ukraine for this, with a very high level of skepticism about these accusations. And it must be understood that what is printed in the publication of the Communist Party of China is agreed upon by everyone, that is, it is the official position. And they so lightly pushed the idea that, in principle, Russia likes to do similar things on its own, in order to accuse someone of something and then supposedly free its hands. I say once again that this is an official publication that is connected with the highest military and political leadership of China. If even they doubt it, then draw your own conclusions.

Reporter – Volodymyr Zelenskyy hinted to foreign media that the story with the Crimean Bridge may be the result of a conflict within the Russian security forces…

Budanov – That’s right. I can’t add anything else here. But I will say something else, the Crimean bridge is the symbol that will be destroyed. When Crimea returns, this bridge will cease to exist. Nobody really needs this traffic artery.

“Surovikin is preparing the basis for the decision to surrender Kherson”

Reporter – The mass media also associate the high intensity of shelling of our territory with a change in the military leadership of Russia. Questions about the commander of the Russian group Sergey Surovikin. Previously, he led the Russian troops in Syria, he is personally accused of terrorizing the Syrian population. Is this Surovikin currently overseeing shelling of our country?

Budanov – He does not supervise, but manages – these are two different things. He is an officially appointed person who leads the so-called “special military operation in Ukraine.” That is, he is the only person from a legal point of view who is personally responsible for this. His signature is on the official orders.

Reporter – Can he somehow seriously cause a change in the course of the war? Is Surovikin a big threat to us?

Budanov – It should neither be underestimated nor overestimated. It won’t change anything; I can tell you that directly. You won’t surprise anyone with cruelty here. If it had been done in the early days of a full-scale war, it probably would have had results. Not now. There are too many victims, too much time has passed, people are used to explosions, murders, and deaths. They are used to everything. It won’t work like that here. 

Reporter – Recently Surovikin stated that “difficult decisions may be made” in Kherson. What did he mean?

Budanov – They understand that Russia is going to lose both globally and locally. If he [Putin] can say that “it’s not my business” about a global loss, but for a local one, Surovikin will be responsible. He prepares the groundwork so that, if a decision is made to surrender the city, or they will simply be kicked out, the groundwork will be prepared and somehow smooth it all out. But at the same time, I cannot tell you that right now they [the Russians] are fleeing from Kherson. No, there is no such thing. 

Reporter – We have also seen statements by the occupation authorities that they are going to “evacuate” the population to the left bank of the Dnieper. What is happening in Kherson now?

Budanov – In many aspects, this is an information operation and manipulation. There are certain facts. For example, “Promsvyazbank” and other financial structures that the Russians brought there are being withdrawn. Moreover, as they are taken out – cash is taken out, the servers, the so-called occupation authorities, are transferred – they are transferred – all the non-walking, seriously injured are taken out, they try to discharge those who can walk as soon as possible from the hospitals, and they conduct this crazy information campaign that “we care about people ” and so on. 

That is, they create the illusion that everything is gone. And at the same time, on the contrary, they bring new military units there and prepare the streets of the city for defense. That is, they understand that if we take at least control over the Kakhov dam, which is the only transport artery that is fully functioning now, they will have to decide very quickly. Either very, very quickly leave the city and get out, or they risk ending up in the same situation that our units in Mariupol found themselves in earlier. The situation is a little different, but conceptually it will be very similar. And understanding all this, they are preparing the groundwork so that, if necessary, they can get out of there very quickly. However, they are not preparing to exit now, they are preparing to defend.

Reporter – You mentioned the Kakhovskaya Dam. There is constant news that it is now mined. What is the threat that the Russians will launch a terrorist attack? [And blow up the dam.]

Budanov – It is partially mined, that’s true. Well, it is very difficult to evaluate the stupidity of Russians using logic. I will say this, blowing up the dam would certainly cause an environmental disaster, that’s a fact. There are just other aspects. First, why do it – what will they lose and what will they gain? Secondly, you can partially blow up the dam, or you can blow it up completely. The work necessary to completely destroy it has not been carried out. They have mined so that it can be partially destroyed if necessary. To destroy a structure of this size, tens of tons of explosives, properly placed are needed. You can’t put a Kamaz somewhere nearby, it won’t work [a truckload of explosives, Kamaz is a Russian made truck]. 

Kakhovka hydroelectric station, Nova Kakhovka, Kherson Oblast, Ukraine.

Reporter – If we start entering Kherson, will they blow up the dam?

Budanov – Let’s look at it from their perspective. To destroy it completely, they will launch all the missiles that are available, plant a bunch of explosives, somehow try to do it – and what will they get? They will receive continuous flooding of the left bank of the Kherson region. They will lose, even theoretically, the possibility of supplying water to the Northern Crimean Canal, to the Crimea, until we rebuild the dam, and that will take a very long time. It will be impossible to do. And the most interesting thing is that they will destroy the continued existence of the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant, because this object is inextricably linked with it. Well, of course, they will make it difficult for us to advance for a certain period of time. And this, by the way, is not a very long period, it will be somewhere around two weeks. But they will be forced to retreat directly to the Crimea. In other words, if they completely destroy it, then the scenario is as described. Are they ready for that? I think not.

Reporter – And if they decide to partially destroy the dam?

Budanov – They will disable the lock section, engine rooms. That is, they will make the dam unsuitable for its intended use. But the Northern Crimean Canal will be preserved, there will be a partial spill of water, but it will not be that bad. But they will make it difficult for us to advance. So I don’t think they intend to totally destroy it. In addition, we do not see signs of complete mining of this structure.

Reporter – Do you think they will do it the way you described?

Budanov – The dam is partially mined. But it should also be understood that it was mined back in April. 

Reporter – To close this bloc, I will ask the following question, will we recapture Kherson by the end of the year?

Budanov – I think so.

“Kiriyenko sees himself as Putin’s successor”

Reporter – We saw the ceremony of legalization of Putin’s annexation of  four of our regions. We looked very carefully into the faces of the people who were in the hall…

Budanov – [Smiling] No one was happy. I’m telling you this, even though I don’t like Russia. But I can’t tell you that they are all idiots – it’s not like that.

Reporter – How did the political elite of Russia react to another annexation? 

Budanov – This is a disaster for them, they know it very well. They understand even more that this was the end. This is the end and we have to look for ways out. 

Reporter – And how do they look for these exits?

Budanov – The higher military and political leadership began to carry out massive strikes – this is an act of terrorism – to force negotiations. They see it that way. It won’t work. Others ran to negotiate, as they say, with Western countries. How to negotiate? By saying, “We’re useless here, it’s not us. But we’re ready for changes, it all has to stop.” 

Reporter – Did the representatives of the political elite of Russia try to communicate with the Ukrainian authorities in the same non-public way, saying – “Let’s talk, we have to somehow get along later?”

Budanov – I will not answer this question, I’m sorry, it’s not time yet. 

Reporter – Let’s skip the question, okay. In our political circles, they say that after the annexation of four regions in Russia, the struggle for the “throne” has already intensified. What information do you have about this?

Budanov – It definitely got worse. Do you understand what they did? That is, they annexed new territories for themselves, and the next day they began to lose them. Many people in Russia said that this cannot be done, give them conditional independence there, create a “Chinese People’s Republic,” “ZPR” of some kind there, or join them with the “LDPR” – whatever, just don’t join Russia. Because in the case when it will be necessary to either negotiate, or withdraw, or simply knock them out, it will be a disaster for Russia. How do they explain to an ordinary Russian that Ukraine took a city from Russia? It all worked even with the liberation of Izyum. This fact shocked their society. 

When Kherson is liberated, the capital of the region, which they just annexed so pathetically, as they said, “Everything, Kherson is forever with Russia,” what will happen next? Well, how do they explain it to an ordinary Russian who lives there, sorry, sitting there and believes that he has the best missiles in the world, “we will destroy everyone.” And here at once, vice versa! It’s mind-blowing.

Reporter – What can such a mental blow lead to?

Budanov – The loss of trust in the authorities and the weakening of the chain of command itself. This is everything upon which the Russian leadership in the management of Russia is based.

Reporter – Is it true that Dmitry Medvedev and Nikolai Patrushev ‘s son, Dmytry Patrushev, who is currently the Minister of Agriculture, are secretly fighting for the right of succession to become the president of the Russian Federation ?

Budanov – Medvedev has no chance. As for Patrushev’s son, it is primarily his father who wants to see him as president. He is the main one who wants this. Does Patrushev have a chance? Hypothetically he does. But he is not alone in this.

Reporter – Who else?

Budanov – Kiriyenko sees himself in the chairman. 

Reporter – Is Kiriyenko the deputy head of the AP [Presidential Administration of Russia] who helps Putin carry out the occupation now? 

Budanov – Yes. He sees himself as the successor in a more or less peaceful transfer of power. 

Reporter – Are there any other candidates?

Budanov – Let’s stop at these for now. Let’s wait a little longer.

Reporter – Then how does Putin live after the annexation? Has his lifestyle changed in any way? Does he still live in the bunker? 

Budanov – He has not changed at all; he is degraded in his mental state. He continues to have some kind of “Putin condition.”

Reporter – Recently, Turkish President Erdogan said that Putin has become “much softer” regarding negotiations. What did Erdogan mean? What “softness” was he talking about? 

Budanov – You certainly became softer when you have 13% of the missiles left from [what you had at] the beginning of a full-scale war, when you have more than 60 thousand people killed and three times as many wounded, when strikes are carried out, when there is nothing to fight for. When you started a victorious “special operation” for yourself and started military mobilization. When you are no longer accepted anywhere in the world and everyone mocks, “And this is the ‘second best military in the world,’ right? Interesting…”

Reporter – Journalists often ask you if Putin is still alive. And you rather cunningly answer that “we have to wait for the answer to this question.” But have you been told that the president of the Russian Federation is no longer among the living? Did you receive such information?

Budanov – We are dealing with the whole situation. Take your time. If you know everything in advance, life is less interesting [smiles].

Reporter – Since we mentioned Erdogan, I want to talk about the exchange of prisoners. As you know, we do not have any political negotiations with Russia. The question arises, how do you manage to negotiate an exchange [of prisoners]?

Budanov – I will not give you this answer. You must understand, because, unfortunately, we still have many people in captivity, and we need to free them somehow. If I reveal all the secrets to you now, it will be incorrect and destroy all processes. 

Reporter – Okay, how did you manage to free the commanders of the Azov Regiment from captivity?

Azov Regiment Commanders after release from Russian captivity with President Zelensky. Ukrainskaya Pravda.

Budanov – The only thing I can say is that we all worked on this issue for three and a half months. That’s all I can tell you.

Reporter – At a meeting with Jesuits, the Pope talked about his participation in the exchange of prisoners of war. Pope Francis said almost verbatim that he had a meeting with you, and sources close to the Catholic Church confirm the fact that you met with the Pope. Tell us about your conversation with Pope Francis.

Budanov – Let’s put it this way, according to my position and functionality, I have communication with many organizations and people in the world – this is all absolutely normal. What I did or did not talk about is a slightly incorrect question, it seems to me.

Reporter – In the context of the exchange, did the Pope help?

Budanov – We appeal to many people and organizations in the world for help at one or another stage of the operation to liberate our people. Did we appeal to the Vatican? It is among those we addressed. Once we get everyone out, then we can chat as much as you want.

Reporter – Another person who was exchanged was Viktor Medvedchuk. Is it known where Medvedchuk is now, what is his condition, was Putin happy to meet him?

Budanov – I can tell you for sure that he was not received on a red carpet. Where is he right now? I need to pick up the materials, so I can’t remember now. But I can say that he was brought to Moscow.

Reporter – I thought that he was taken to Ankara.

Budanov – He was brought to Ankara, but later after that he appeared in Moscow, this must also be understood. I know that he had a lot of questions from the FSB. The questions are absolutely not political, but practical.

Reporter – Where is the money?

Budanov – [laughs] That’s right. “Where’s the money?” – the question is usual. Therefore, if you think that I should have a headache about what he will be asked there and to whom he will write back, I don’t care at all. 

“Currently, the nuclear threat from Russia is the same as it was three months, and eight months, and two years before.”

Reporter – In one of your interviews, you predicted that the war could end by the summer of next year. Do you really think so, or is this a psychological operation? 

Budanov – No. You must understand that I draw my conclusions based on information, not simply because I feel like it. I hope so very much.

Reporter – Next summer is still a long time away. What will be the tactics of the Russians in the near future?

Budanov – First of all, it is an attempt to keep everything that they were able to seize, and attempts to somehow advance in the Donetsk region. Because in fact, none of the strategic tasks set by the Russians at the beginning of the “special military operation,” as they called it, were achieved. Moreover, now they are losing even what they were able to occupy. And this, again, brings us back to the average Russian watching TV and being told that the Russians have lost this, that, that, some village over there. This is a disaster. They downplay it in different terms, for example, “tactical regrouping,” “occupation of more profitable borders” and so on… But everyone understands everything. 

Reporter – What should we, civilians, prepare for in the coming months?

Budanov – Nothing new will appear. Everything as it is, so it will be. Gradually we will move forward little by little, they will lose little by little. Somewhere they will continue to strike with their Shaheeds and a smaller number of missiles, because there are not so many of them left. 

Reporter – So the terror will continue?

Budanov – Unfortunately yes. The entire Russian regime is pure terror, they cannot do otherwise.

Reporter – Earlier you told “UP” that the war will subside a little in the winter. What should we expect?

Budanov – This is also logical, because in winter there will be physical and geographical problems, as they say. We still have a winter like this, more or less warm, so the soil will be muddy, and in principle, even now wheeled equipment on the battlefield almost does not work, only tracked. All this will only become more complicated with the onset of continuous rains.

Reporter – I cannot but ask about the nuclear threat from the Russian Federation. If the occupiers really begin to lose Kherson, Melitopol, and other large cities, is there a threat that the Russians will use nuclear weapons against us?

Budanov – This is also just a scare tactic. Do you remember, about three weeks ago, people even called the dates when it would be? I will answer, it will not happen [on those dates]. This is the first thing. Secondly, can they do it, or can’t they? In theory – they can. Will they do it now? They definitely won’t do it now. Will they do it when they have a disaster? This is an open question, no one in Russia, nor in our country, nor anywhere in the world has an answer to it. 

Reporter – Who has the authority to decide on a nuclear strike?

Budanov – It takes several people to launch missiles. But the decision must be made from above. It is necessary to give a clear command, and it must pass, let’s say, all levels. 

Reporter – What is the current state of nuclear weapons in Russia? 

Budanov – Are we talking about strategic nuclear forces? Yes, money was spent on them, they were supported, they tried to somehow modernize them. If we are talking about tactical nuclear weapons, then, sorry, the last time someone thought about them was in the 1980s, nothing new was produced. The warranty period of most nuclear charges of tactical nuclear weapons was 10 years. It’s been 40 already.

Reporter – If an order is given, isn’t it a fact that it will be possible to execute it?

Budanov – If an order is given, they will try to carry it out. But what will be the effect?

Reporter – Besides Putin, can anyone give this order?

Budanov – No. 

Reporter – To make a point, is the nuclear threat to Ukraine real?

Budanov – It is always real since our neighbor is a little sick and has nuclear weapons. But the threat is the same as it was three months, and eight months, and two years before. It is the same. 

Reporter – That is, Shchekavytsa should be dissolved, right? [This is a reference to Shchekavytsa hill in Ukraine. Several weeks ago there was a news story about a group of Ukrainians who announced plans for a large orgy at that location in response to Putin’s nuclear threats.]

Budanov – [Smiles] If people like it, why?