What Putin really wants to achieve: Mikhaylo Podolyak on the downfall of the IL-76 (Part 1)

Posted on 28 January 2024



26th January 2024

The article discusses the crash of a Russian IL-76 plane in the Belgorod region and the subsequent use of the incident by Russia for propaganda purposes. The adviser to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, Mykhailo Podolyak, emphasizes the need for an international investigation into the incident and accuses Russia of attempting to manipulate the narrative in the UN Security Council. Podolyak asserts that Russia’s main goal is to reduce pressure on its tactical and strategic aviation, particularly in the face of increasing Ukrainian access to high-quality weapons. The article also touches on Ukraine’s diplomatic efforts with European countries, the issue of gas transportation, and the impact of Russian propaganda on aid to Ukraine, emphasizing the importance of transparent and factual communication.


Authors: Kateryna Soliar; Oksana Kharkovska

Translation: @Anastasiya1451A (Twitter/X)


On January 24, an enemy [Russian] IL-76 crashed in the Belgorod region (Russia), where, according to the Russians, there were Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) who were being taken to be exchanged. Russia has already begun to use the incident with the plane to achieve its main goal.

In order to gain advantages in war, the aggressor country not only constantly uses the information component, but it also wants to reduce the pressure on its tactical and strategic aviation. In an exclusive interview with Kanal 24, Mykhailo Podolyak, the adviser to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, spoke about all the currently known details of the downing of the Russian IL-76 .

What is known so far about the fall of Il-76

Interviewer: In Russia, they are once again talking about IL-76. What really happened? How did it happen? Who was on board? Why was this story spread so much?

First of all, you should definitely not trust what Russia says. For two years, Russia has in one way or another disguisedly used its own war crimes within the framework of propaganda programs. Everything that the Russians say does not make any sense and does not correspond to reality.

Secondly, the President of Ukraine clearly stated our position. We are waiting until there is some opportunity to get information from the Main Directorate of Intelligence (GUR) and the Security Service of Ukraine in order to understand what exactly happened there. GUR had preliminary data about the exchange, but not that there could be people on the plane.

Of course, it is necessary to conduct an international investigation under the auspices of international institutions, in particular International Civil Aviation Organization or the same UN, but Russia categorically rejects this. Appropriate conclusions can be drawn from this [Russian reaction].

Today we have the fact that a plane was shot down, and we do not understand whether there were weapons or people in this plane. We have the position of Russia, which is an absolutely fake, propaganda state. But we do not have the opportunity to conduct even an international investigation. That is, the world has no opportunity to obtain objective facts.

As a result, we see Russia’s attempts to once again use the platform of the UN Security Council to insist, in my opinion, on two things:

  • Russia should not be condemned for unconditional genocidal manifestations, for violating the principles and customs of warfare [Geneva conventions].
  • Ukraine should stop being supplied with anti-missile systems to the Patriot, IRIS-T, etc. systems. First of all, because it is dangerous for Russians.

The Russians want to continue flying on their territory with impunity. From their territory, they want to bomb large cities of Ukraine, using tactical or even strategic aviation. They want to be able to fly shells, missiles right to the battlefield to simplify logistics. Therefore, they say to the world: “Stop, don’t give Ukraine the weapons that will significantly prevent us from doing this.”

I will return to the main point: if there is no investigation, just like in Olenivka, then we will not have any established facts. After all, you and I cannot trust anything that is happening on the territory of Russia.

How Russia is using the plane incident

Now let’s move on to the character named Lavrov [Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov]. This is a strange creature that keeps talking about some diplomatic tools. Yet, notice that he clearly says that Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 and killed people.

Today, the Russians want to scale it [the invasion] up, but everyone prevents them from doing it and “provokes”. That is, Lavrov openly talks about the same thing every time at different platforms: they say that if the West had not done this [helped Ukraine to resist the Russian invasion], then Russia would not have started a war, etc.

This is completely delusion, because there is a specific criminal named Lavrov, who participated in the meeting of the Security Council of Russia and made the decision to start a large-scale war with the specific intention of killing as many civilians as possible in Ukraine. It is paramount to realize this.

By the way, on January 25, the UN discussed the incident with the Russian IL-76 . They emphasized that the downing of the [Russian military] plane should be considered precisely in the context of Russia’s invasion of the territory of Ukraine.

That is, we must understand that Lavrov directly took part in the meeting that legalized the right of the Russians themselves to kill you and me with impunity. Therefore, it makes no sense to listen to and analyse the words of Mr Lavrov, but it makes sense to talk about what is wrong in the world today.

Do not give Russia platforms for the promotion of war. Currently, Russia goes to the UN Security Council and actively promotes the concept “we will kill, because we have the right to do so”, and everyone listens calmly. This is wrong because it completely destroys the international security framework.

Interviewer: Russia wants to appeal to the UN regarding the investigation into the downing of the Il-76 plane. The UN currently says that it cannot establish the circumstances of the Il-76 crash and whether Ukrainian prisoners were on board. So, the question remains: are prisoners of war really transported to the territory of Russia by plane?

This is the problem. There is the Coordination Headquarters for the exchange of prisoners. It can provide a clearer understanding of how the exchange procedure and logistics work. It is a bit strange to transport military personnel to a direct combat zone by transport plane. You must understand that there will be risks in any case.

Again, I will refer to the President of Ukraine, if we could have the opportunity to conduct an investigation to reveal all the circumstances, which Russia will definitely not allow because then the whole picture will look completely different. (And as to the treatment of our POWs, if they were on board or if they were not.) Then, all the circumstances of this propaganda campaign will be clear.

Russia will continue to use it exclusively as an [dis]information component, as it tried to use the Olenivka [Ukrainian POWs massacre by Russia] at one time. Therefore, let’s wait for the conclusions. If we can obtain additional data, then we will have a clearer understanding of what happened. But at least I advise once again not to pay attention to Russian disinformation programs, not to pay attention to the statements of subjects like Lavrov. They do not relate to reality in any way.

It should also be understood that any actions and events on the occupied or bordering territories of Russia are a result of war. And its initiator is only Russia. Therefore, Russia will be solely responsible for all the consequences of certain actions, particularly those of a genocidal nature, for the murder of people of certain social categories, including POWs. As per purview of international law, and the rules of human morality.

This is precisely what is important to Russia. It wants to always moderate the main global narrative. [Russia] wants everyone to talk about IL-76 within the narratives that Rusia itself established. This is nonsense after two years of a large-scale war. In order for you and I to understand correctly the events, I would like to note:

  • Everything Russia says cannot be confirmed by independent sources. Therefore, this is all classic fake propaganda.
  • Russia is the initiator of the war and is directly responsible for all its crimes: against the civilian population, against military personnel, POWs, etc. That is, {Russia] will be responsible for what happened to IL-76;
  • Russia uses any international platforms exclusively to promote its false narratives. Therefore, it is necessary to continue the campaign of pressure on these international institutions.
  • The circumstances of what is happening within this war will be clarified only if Russia is completely defeated. If we want the world not to be bogged down in conflicts, we have to bring this war to an end and hold a huge number of trials where every crime and sentence will be clearly recorded.

What is the main goal of Russia in the story of IL-76

Interviewer: We understand that the Russians spread this story in order to magnify it, to discuss it, to put pressure on the international community not to help Ukraine. But, it seems to me, they did indeed achieve the main goal they set for themselves. First of all, because we hardly heard any comments from the Ukrainian authorities for the first few hours.

Let’s look at everything objectively. There were certain statements of the General Staff [of Ukraine] and its representatives. As it seems to me, a balanced statement of the Main Directorate of Intelligence was developed, with a preliminary analysis of the facts. It would be important for any mass media to quote it. Because we can only comment on versions based on facts.

Crash site of Russian military IL-76 / Telegram channel NEXTA Live

Russia did not achieve results. What everyone is talking about IL-76 for the third day is not the result, but the means. And the result that the Russians sought was statements by countries that they would not provide military aid to Ukraine. At least, anti-missiles for anti-missile defence systems. This outcome was very important for Russia.

For them, the key goal is not the media component, although it is always used, but the reduction of pressure on Russia’s tactical and strategic aviation, which is gradually increasing. The Russians are in a state of panic over this.

That is, the Russians understand this: if Ukraine has a larger number of high-quality high-tech weapons with a long range, then they will lose their last advantages, which, unfortunately, they still have today. This is missile dominance in the air, if we are talking about the entire territory of Ukraine, or the dominance of tactical aviation and attack helicopters on the front line. For the Russians, this loss is extremely dangerous, because they simply have no other strategic advantages.

They had two advantages: air dominance and quantitative superiority in mobilized human resources and old equipment. If the first option is removed altogether, then the second will be easier to weaken. That is, if the Russians do not dominate the air, then they will not be able to intercept all means of long-range strikes.

Therefore, Russia did not achieve the desired results within the scope of this, let’s say, “conventional informational special operation” [Translator’s note: a play on words “Special military operation” which is the euphemist that Russia used to describe the full-scale invasion of Ukraine]. And Ukraine is really careful about commenting on these or other facts, because you need to have these facts to speak professionally. I will remind you again about the extended statement of the Main Directorate of Intelligence, which clearly recorded the exchange procedure and everything related to this plane.

Importantly! The Main Directorate of Intelligence of Ukraine (GUR) confirmed that there was supposed to be an exchange of prisoners with Russia. Andriy Yusov, a representative of the GUR, said that Ukraine, for its part, fulfilled all the agreements regarding the exchange that was disrupted by Russia. Also, it was supposed to be one of the largest exchanges since February 24, 2022.

Therefore, it seems to me that it is not entirely correct to claim that Ukraine commented on something incorrectly. On the contrary, if we, not having access to the facts, immediately started putting forward some versions, it would look a little strange, as if we are also playing fake information campaigns.

Interviewer: Most of all, we are worried about the fact that if the Russians said about the 65 soldiers who were on board, and they were not there, then these 65 soldiers will have big problems on the territory of Russia.

Everything related to our POWs must be commented very carefully, because they are all in extremely difficult conditions. Russia does not follow conventions. We understand this, and that it has been going on for two years already.

This should be approached exclusively through the Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Representatives of the headquarters should comment on this from the point of view of logistics, further negotiations and those processes that will still take place.

Is Slovakia really pro-Russian now?

Interviewer: The other day, we had an important meeting with the Prime Minister of Slovakia, Robert Fico. On January 29, we expect another important meeting with Hungary. We have seen a change in Slovakia’s rhetoric. How did we achieve this? Are we good negotiators, or is the Western world putting pressure on our enemies little by little?

All together. But I will ask a counter question: do we need to talk to European countries that have a specific position? Or do we need to isolate ourselves and say “we will be alone” because someone said an offensive word or is not quite friendly?

This applies not only to Slovakia and Hungary – but also to political movements in various countries that have a pro-Russian position or say something not in favour of Ukraine. Do we need to communicate with those countries?

One can have a radical position: either you say that you are on Ukraine’s side and give us everything you can, or we don’t communicate with you. But it’s a bit childish to act like that, right? In today’s world, there are many different countries and different political groups with different interests. This world is not black and white, not perfect.

Of course, you need to constantly explain your position, conduct effective negotiations. I know for sure that Denys Shmyhal prepared as best as possible, found arguments and conducted effective negotiations with Mr. Fico.

Denys Shmyhal met with Robert Fico / Ukrainian Prime Minister’s Telegram

We understand that Slovakia is a country with an extremely pragmatic government, which in any case does not have a pro-Russian position and is not hostile to us. Today, Slovakia is focusing on the European Union (EU) in view of the specific financial, technological and other opportunities it has in the EU.

Within the framework of relations with the EU, of which Slovakia is an integral part, if the EU generally supports Ukraine, invests in us, etc., then Slovakia, if it wants to receive something from the EU, must adhere to the general policy of relations with Ukraine.

In the same way, Ukraine offers something to the European countries with which it is conducting discussions. And it is right, because, despite all the nuances, these are democratic countries. We can be pragmatic, find points of contact, that is, we give them this – they are something special to us. This is general bilateral pragmatism.

The same will happen with Hungary. You can pay attention [to contradictory statements – 24 Kanal] – make counterstatements at the level of the relevant ministries, the same Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but you still need to have discussions.

The only countries with which there is no need to have a discussion are authoritarian countries that have made aggression, escalation and blackmail the only tools of their foreign policy. For example, I am talking about Russia. We cannot talk with Russia, because it perceives any dialogue as a weakness of the opponent.

The Russians will think: if you sat down at the negotiating table with them, then you have already lost, you are already allegedly ready to submit to their terms and you need to be pressured. Russia will not fulfil any agreements as soon as it gets the opportunity to break them. This must be understood.

All other countries use dialogue in their relations. That is, they talk, receive income, approach various issues pragmatically, etc. Therefore, we will calmly talk about controversial points with our Hungarian and Slovak partners.

Today, our European partners clearly explain to countries that have a special position that if you are in the EU, you have a certain system of values. Ultimately, these rules and values ​​must be observed and behaved according to agreements within the EU, and not according to pragmatic agreements, for example, with Russia regarding certain businesses.

About transportation of Russian gas through Ukraine

Interviewer: After this meeting, the issue of gas transportation remained. It has been reported that Ukraine is ready to allow the transportation of Russian natural gas through its territory after the current transit agreement expires in 2024.

Let’s rely on concrete facts. The agreement will expire – and there will be no transit of Russian gas directly from Russia through the territory of Ukraine. Our government additionally gave comments and clarifications about this.

Any reverses, “Blue streams”, “TurkStream” [Translator’s note: gas pipelines transporting Russian, Turkish and Azerbaijani gas to Europe via Turkey] for European citizens will be open. These are completely different business relations, completely different strategic routes – routing not only Russian gas, but any other gas, etc. But everything related to Russian transit gas through the territory of Ukraine will not happen.

Undoubtedly, there will be attempts by Russia and other pro-Russian political groups to say that Ukraine is playing some kind of game. We understand why they do it, within the confines of which misinformation propaganda programs. Let’s take it easy: there will be a lot of this [propaganda rhetoric].

There are more and more such conversations, because today Russia is looking for any opportunity to influence the psycho-emotional state of both Ukraine and Ukraine’s partner countries. This is obvious. The Russians are spending a lot of money on it, looking for any excuse.

Russia spends a lot of money to show the seemingly huge volume of sales of weapons that are transferred to us. The Russians have been talking about it for almost the entire war, peaking at certain periods. But these conversations are standard, they will continue until the end of the war or until the moment when the political system is transformed in Russia.

Interviewer: Yes, Ukraine is a country of factual statements. We can back up our every word with specific data, photos, videos, etc. We speak with facts, and facts are traditionally dry. But Russia is constantly trying to put pressure on emotions.

A small clarification. We live in the 21st century, in a strange time when a lot of things happen online, live. That is, all events can be seen. If we lived, for example, in the middle of the last century, it would be possible to create fake programs on the radio and draw some conclusions based on them.

But today there is direct access to events. And Ukraine is an open country, our partners are also open, and everything that happens here is obvious. It is a mystery to me that some people continue to listen to Russia and believe it, because you can review a huge amount of information that concerns both the war and Russia’s intentions.

You can see the destruction caused by Russia, [by Russian] missile attacks on the centre of Kharkiv. You can see what Kharkiv, Kyiv, Lviv, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Maryinka, etc. look like today. In the 21st century, this requires three mouse clicks.

Everything is obvious here. There is Russia, which started an unprovoked war. Moreover, many genocidal elements were planned in this war, that is, the systematic destruction of the civilian population of another country.

Mass graves in Mariupol at the end of 2022 after 95% of buildings were destroyed or damaged by Russia/ MAXAR satellite images via BBC

Among Putin’s entourage is such an individual as Sergei Kiriyenko, the deputy head of the president’s administration. He planned what the genocide of [Ukrainian] children – how they should be taken away [to Russia], how to conduct the genocide of the population in the occupied territories, what should be done about it.

Putin’s henchmen made an identical network of torture strategies in various occupied regions, where they mock our citizens. They came up with the concept of passporting through coercion. For example, without a Russian passport, you will not have access to medical care. The Convention on the Laws and Customs of War clearly states that in the occupied territory everything related to social service requirements is performed by the occupying country. You can’t tell a person: either you take the passport we give you and have medical care or die wherever you want.

All this can be seen live today, where everything is transparent and clear. The same about gas. There is no point in talking about it because we are clear in our statements and facts. Please, everything is opensource and transparent – look, check, ask questions, do not speculate. And when Russia does something, it builds everything exclusively on lies.

Does Putin’s propaganda affect aid to Ukraine?

Russians really don’t like it when emotions flare up within their society on their territories. As soon as some kind of protest mood begins in Russia, some event like the IL-76 takes place. This whole story [that] they’ve been pushing on social media seems very staged but sloppy, like it was done at the last minute. Is it a switch of attention?

Yes, this is primitive technology that they use. You can go back a few days, when there were protests in Bashkortostan and the Russian attack on the market in Donetsk. These are obvious things. In this way, the Russians significantly increase media citations of the latest incident, and everything related to certain protest manifestations recedes into the background.

And what do they do after? We see that today in Bashkortostan they drive around the settlements, take away people who were spotted at protests, and these people disappear. It is clear that [protesters] will be [charged with “criminal” offenses and] sentenced to imprisonment. This is the standard practice in Russia.

When you build a Gulag (and what we see in Russia today is a classic Gulag), you [living inside this forced labour camp] can only silently work for little money or silently mobilize to go to another country and kill. This is the classic Soviet Union.

They understand that today we live in the information era, so they are looking for opportunities to influence the public opinion in the European countries and the public opinion in their own country. They want to continue to keep their country in fear, and for Europeans, they want to create the impression that two countries are fighting in the same way: that Russia is violating something there, but Ukraine is also violating something. Therefore, “don’t help them, we will quickly resolve it all there, and then we will find an agreement with you.”

This is a standard practice of the Soviet Union, today Russia is also trying to do it, but there are also positive points in these events. In my opinion, everything that Russia has been doing in Ukraine these two years has clearly proven Russia’s inability to belong to modern countries. Western countries, except for certain parties, have already abandoned the illusion that Russia can be their partner.

Moreover, a large number of countries of Eastern, Northern and even Central Europe clearly realise that Russia, in its modern format, should not be persist any longer. That is, it must be transformed. This is the only guarantee of security in the European continent. Everything else is an illusion.

Undoubtedly, these countries have already created an appropriate support system for Ukraine. They work as efficiently as possible informationally and diplomatically, they transfer significantly increased packages of military aid.

You and I understand that, for example, Norway cannot be compared to the United States in terms of the quantity or quality of weapons provided. But such countries actively help, increase aid packages, because they understand that Russia will not return to a state of law-abidingness and will attack Europe as brutally as possible if Vladimir Putin and his regime remain.

Furthermore, European countries feel that it is not only Putin who is out for blood: 60-70% of the population of Russia sincerely want to kill European citizens.

Of course, Ukraine is No. 1 on this list: to raze to the ground, to kill children – Russians openly talk about this in social networks. So, we should have no illusions, we must understand that a huge number of Russian citizens, if we do not lose, will always wish for us and for you [the rest of European citizens] to die and will look for an opportunity to bring this death here.

If, for example, Putin loses or disappears somewhere, Russia without transformation won’t change its behaviour in relation to other countries. No, the Russians will behave the same way without Putin, if they don’t lose.

European countries understand this, so Russia’s propaganda influence is not significant, in particular when they talk about various incidents. This does not affect support for Ukraine today.

Interview with Mykhailo Podolyak (PART 2)

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