During the third week of January 2022 as a consequence of the Ukrainian crisis the contacts between Russia and the West have intensified. In the Western media the overwhelming coverage is presented from the Western, i.e. American, viewpoint. We present here a Russian viewpoint, through the following interview to Russia academician, Professor Sergei Karaganov made by Vitaly Tseplyayev and originally published in “Argumenty i Fakty” (AIF) on January 19, 2022.
In the talks with the United States, NATO, and the OSCE on the table are Moscow’s proposals for security guarantees in Europe. On January 14, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he expected the final response to them within a week. But will he get it? AiF addressed this question to Academic Supervisor of the Faculty of World Economics and International Affairs of the Higher School of Economics, and Honorary Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy Sergei KARAGANOV.
A Nightmare for Washington
Question: Sergei Alexandrovich, have the talks failed or there is still hope to come to an agreement?
Answer: Let’s wait and see. For the time being we are pressing ahead (not only verbally; I am sure some non-public steps are being taken in the military and other fields) and demonstrating our preparedness for any turn of events. There is a tough, offensive diplomatic game in progress, with a very powerful element of force.
Long before the talks began, you predicted that “the partners in the West will try to drag their heels on the Russian demands.” Looks like that is exactly what is happening.
Russia has rich experience of conducting such talks. And we are well aware of who we are dealing with. We understand that the system of relations, the system of institutions that we inherited from the Cold War era, and from the 1990s, has outlived itself and must be demolished. And I do hope that the new Russian policy will bear fruit in the years to come. When signing the Charter of Paris for a New Europe in 1990, we mistakenly agreed that any country had the right to join any union. Our leadership at that time apparently thought that we would join NATO ourselves, or that at least NATO would be a peaceful defensive alliance of democratic countries. But since then, NATO has committed a series of aggressive acts. And yet we kept conducting meaningless discussions with them through the Russia-NATO Council, the Partnership for Peace program, etc., talking about anything but the real danger: the bloc’s movement towards our border. All these forums and gatherings were used to preserve the system that the West had created for itself following what it believed was its victory in the Cold War, and to legitimize the NATO expansion. Well, there is no more time for empty talking.
Many call Moscow’s proposals an ultimatum. But an ultimatum is a risky thing: if the opponent does not respond, you need to do something to hurt him. How can Russia hurt America?
I would not like to discuss all our possible actions on the pages of my favorite newspaper. I can only say that we now have weapons that can threaten the United States quite severely. We also have such a weapon as the deepening of military political cooperation with China, which could be a real nightmare for Washington. And if the Americans are threatening us with “crippling” sanctions, and that would be a declaration of war, they should remember that Russia and China also have the capability of crippling the economy and societies of Western countries through cyber war.
You say that the historical experience of Russia inspires optimism: we have repeatedly managed to tame other countries’ imperial ambitions, “turning their carriers into relatively vegetarian and comfortable neighbors ― Sweden after the Battle of Poltava, France after the Battle of Borodino, and Germany after the battles for Stalingrad, Kursk, and Berlin.” That is true, but there is one problem: we tamed other people’s ambitions with the help of wars. Will we also have to fight with the present main empire, the USA?
I hope a war can be avoided, especially since the current international situation is slightly different. Needless to say, if we did not have nuclear weapons, we would have been attacked a long time ago. And they still serve as a psychological fuse against a large-scale war. But we can show colleagues that this is not our only resource, that we generally have harder muscles and a cooler head. And they are beginning to understand that. Even the latest discussions indicate that our Western partners are beginning to back down. They are already offering military-to-military dialogues and arms limitation negotiations, which they strongly opposed just recently. So maybe we will come to some agreement after all.
Some analysts believe that we are in for a whole series of crises like the Cuban Missile Crisis. It is not accidental that some are already talking about a new deployment of missiles in Cuba and Venezuela…
It was precisely after the Cuban Missile Crisis that the previous Cold War started to wind up. Many in Russia seem to have come to the conclusion that if something like this does not happen again, if our partners do not sober up, they will definitely spark a hot war. This is exactly what Russia wants to ward off and prevent a new version of what happened on June 22, 1941.
Why Is Russia Not the USSR?
You call NATO “European cancer” and suggest “curbing its metastases by a combination of therapeutic measures such as military radiology, political chemistry, etc.” But does the “oncologist” have enough drugs and instruments?
To begin with, it is important to recognize that it is cancer. And it is metastasizing. In order to survive, NATO has to constantly ramp up confrontation. Surgery can be deadly for the fragile subcontinent. Therefore, for starters, it is necessary to curb this disease geographically, and then we will see. And surely we must stop calling the disease a “partner.” By trying to appease we only helped it spread further.
You also argue that Russia’s geopolitical position is more advantageous than that of the USSR, if we do not seek to become a superpower, which is what killed the Soviet Union. What are the advantages?
The Soviet Union supported a huge number of Third World countries that adhered to the “socialist orientation”. The USSR subsidized Eastern European countries, and Russia was a donor for almost all Soviet republics. As a matter of fact, Ukraine was the largest recipient of subsidies, and Georgia received the most per capita. And, apparently, having gone bust, they are now seeking new donors, including NATO… Finally, the USSR maintained a colossal military machine, totally excessive. At the end of the Soviet Union’s existence, we had more tanks than all the other countries combined! Moreover, we were preparing to fight on two fronts―with the West and China.
Now China is a friendly power, and we can rely on it, which increases our cumulative power significantly. And, in turn, we are the source of strength for China. And lastly, in the late Soviet Union, almost everyone (both the elite and the people) considered himself morally flawed, seeing how the communist idea was dying away, how ineffective our economic system was, and how poor we were. We all wanted to be “like them.”
Some still think this way. But in general, the moral condition of both elites and society is radically different now. We know that we are right, and that makes us strong.
In early January, the major five nuclear weapons countries issued a joint statement that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” Is it not surprising that the United States agreed to sign at least some kind of joint document with Russia and China in the current situation?
They are beginning to understand that they have gone too far in their games. I do not rule out that if we pass this period peacefully, then in ten years from now we will have decent relations with most Western countries. In fact, such relationships would be very beneficial to us, because, despite our deep friendship with China, the imbalance between us will grow, and reliance on other partner cannot hurt. We would benefit from having a peaceful and calm western flank.
Of course, it is difficult to say now what will happen in the West itself. If it is seized by new anti-human ideologies denying history, gender, and homeland, worshipping the LGBT cult, ultra-feminism, etc., then we will have deep ideological differences. But I do hope that reasonable forces will keep Western countries from falling into the moral abyss.
Ukraine as a Buffer
How did events in Kazakhstan affect the balance of power in geopolitics? Has Russia strengthened its position by providing military assistance to President Tokayev?
It certainly has. It showed the ability of our armed forces to respond to a dangerous situation within half a day. But there is another problem. Obviously, many countries of the former Soviet Union are not turning into capable states. And sooner or later the question of how to keep them afloat will arise. Basically, this is a question of new gathering of the lands. I thought it would happen in five to seven years. But events in Belarus, Armenia, and now in Kazakhstan show that we will have to deal with this much faster.
And this worries me deeply, because this can disperse our resources and distract us from internal development, from the development of Siberia and Russian Asia as a whole, which should become our main development asset in the next half century.
Are you suggesting we should stop repeating Zbigniew Brzezinski’s assertion, “sly and induced by Polish genes,” that Russia cannot be a great power without Ukraine? Why are we holding on to Ukraine so tightly, if it is desperately trying to break away from us?
Firstly, because many of us really believed Brzezinski. He was an outstanding trickster, a brilliant mind. It was he who “helped” the Soviet Union tumble into Afghanistan, which he was very proud of later. Therefore, any of his words should be taken with a grain of salt. Secondly, Ukraine is a buffer, which either separates us from potential Western aggressors, or is used to put pressure on us. And the Ukrainian question now boils down primarily to non-expansion of a hostile alliance into the territory of this buffer state.
But what really made us a great country was the incorporation of Siberia. This is all the more relevant now, in the century of Asia. It would be very bad if we get involved in European squabbles too much and distract ourselves from furthering our turn to the East, which is beneficial for the future of our country.
But even if the NATO military are deployed in Ukraine, is it really so dangerous? In fact, the Baltic states have been in NATO for almost eighteen years, and nothing terrible has happened.
When Eastern European countries, like Poland and the Baltic republics, were joining NATO, the West reassured us that we should not worry because after admission they would calm down and become our peaceful and good neighbors. But it turned out the opposite: they have gone even more hostile. This is because being a member of an alliance based on the idea of confrontation reinforces the worst elements in political and public sentiments. We can see what has happened to the Baltic states and how the Poles have gone insolent, once they found themselves on the NATO front lines. So we have absolutely nothing to gain from having a Ukraine like that on our doorstep. Yes, there are a lot of pro-Russian people, who are close to us spiritually and culturally. But there are also other, dark forces. Do we want all this mud to rise to the surface, so that Ukraine, like the Baltic states and Poland, becomes the main driver of anti-Russian politics in Europe? Not to mention the weapons that will be deployed there.
But, of course, we definitely should not fight for Ukraine till the last Ukrainian. We definitely do not want to fight there. All this blaring that we are going to take Kiev is total nonsense. Yes, our troops stand at the Ukrainian border, but only to make sure that no one on the other side takes it into his head to attack Donbass. I am sure we have no plans to invade Ukraine, if only because invading a country that is emasculated economically, morally and intellectually, a country with destroyed infrastructure and an embittered population would be the worst possible scenario. The worst thing America can do for us is give us Ukraine in the condition they have brought it to.
Source: Interviewed by Vitaly TSEPLYAYEV published in Russian newspaper “Argumenty i Fakty” on January 19, 2022
Photo: Protesters at Independence Square on the first day of the Orange Revolution. Photo by Marion Duimel, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9027926