A year on from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, writer, justice campaigner and CEO of Hermitage Capital, Bill Browder suggests two possible scenarios for the end of the conflict. Chillingly, he told Claire Byrne on the eve of the first anniversary of the invasion, one of them involves Russia pushing the war deep into the heart of Europe:

"Either Ukraine wins and pushes the Russians out, or Russia wins, in which case they then move on to the next country, which is Estonia, Latvia, Poland or a NATO country like that. In which case we have a thousand times worse problem than we do right now."

The man who has come to be known as 'Putin's public enemy number one’ says that current sanctions against Russia are having an impact. This is true, he says, in spite of what the Russian premiere claimed in his state of the nation address earlier this week. Bill Browder believes that Vladimir Putin cannot be trusted:

"Everything that comes out of Vladimir Putin’s mouth is a lie."

Bill Browder’s knowledge of Russia is deep and hard-won. In his 2015 book Red Notice, he describes being detained in a Moscow airport and deported on foot of false charges of tax evasion, involving his Russia-based investment business, and the alleged murder in a Russian jail of his lawyer Sergei Magnitski. Browder picks up the money trail connected to Sergei’s death in his latest book, Freezing Order (2022). Bill Browder says that economic sanctions like asset freezing can only go so far; the biggest and most effective sanction, he believes, would be a worldwide ban on buying Russian fossil fuels:

"As long as the West continues to buy Russian oil and gas, Putin will be able to continue to afford the war. And that’s the big loophole, that’s the big problem."

Browder acknowledges the enormous challenge posed by shutting off the Russian supply, but he says that the Western world has two options:

"At the end of the day, it’s a question: Do we want to have higher oil prices or do we want to have Putin continue to kill Ukrainians? I would say that we should probably suck up our gut a little bit, let the oil prices stay high and cut off Russia."

Western governments are failing to give Ukraine the kind of military backing that could end this conflict quickly, according to Bill Browder. He says the drip-feeding of arms has unnecessarily prolonged the war. Browder says that this half-hearted commitment is a deliberate policy and it’s not working, he says:

"Everybody is basically saying, ‘We don’t want to escalate this conflict.’ Well, Putin is escalating this conflict! And every time he hears us saying, ‘We don’t want to escalate this conflict,’ he smiles, because that’s just appeasement talk."

Browder believes the only solution is to give the Ukrainians what they are crying out for: sufficient military might to beat the Russians:

"We give the Ukrainians everything they need, it’s not as if Russia is all of a sudden going to say, ‘Okay, we’re at war with NATO.' I mean, they can barely handle Ukraine, which was considered to be, not even a very serious army before and Ukraine is pushing them back. There’s not a chance in the world that Russia would challenge NATO right now. If they did, they would be gone in 3 days."

Putin’s threats of long-range missile testing are just bluster which would evaporate in the face of a robust international challenge. Browder is convinced that if undefeated in Ukraine, Putin will move on to the next challenge, and there will be no pause for peaceful negotiations. Bill Browder says that despite his apparent power, Putin has painted himself into a corner. He has no choice but to fight on, because any show of weakness would be fatal:

"I don’t think there is any chance of negotiation that will lead to peace. And I say that because Vladimir Putin can’t negotiate, he can’t compromise, he can’t back down and he never has. Any kind of compromise is a sign of weakness in Russia; any sign of weakness would mean that his power would be challenged. If he’s not in power, he goes to jail and he dies."

Equally, the Ukrainians have suffered and lost so much that they will not back down either. The only solution Browder sees is to arm them sufficiently to beat back the Russian offensive:

"It’s the obvious answer to this question and it’s the one Russia dreads most."

You can hear more in Bill Browder’s interview with Claire here, or subscribe to the Today with Claire Byrne Podcast, where you will find all the best interviews and past shows.

Freezing Order by Bill Browder is published by Simon and Shuster.

And check out RTÉ Brainstorm, where politics lecturer Jennifer Mathers asks, Will Russia still be able to get large numbers of soldiers to fight in Ukraine?