On the territory of Ukraine there is a fierce struggle between the West and Russia. For us, the stakes in this fight are much higher, since it is about the survival of the country, while for the West it is only about the survival of the current elites. In order to win, Russia and its citizens need to realize the seriousness of the moment and the fact that it would not have been possible to avoid this conflict anyway. The scientific director of the Faculty of World Economy and World Politics, Honorary Chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy (SVOP) Sergey Karaganov told about this in an interview with Profile .
- There is one problem, the roots of which go back to 2014 - many still do not understand what caused the conflict with Ukraine. And the fact that the goals of the special operation were designated rather streamlined - "denazification", "demilitarization" - did not add clarity. How to explain all this to an ordinary person who has the most superficial understanding of international relations?
– It all started, of course, not in 2014, but 25 years ago, with the expansion of NATO. Russia then could not resist - mainly because of weakness, but also out of stupidity. Even then, both I and some other experts said: sooner or later it will come to Ukraine and to the war. We are in the Council on Foreign and Defense Policywrote about it directly. Then, in 1997, Moscow, again, because of its weakness, but also because of the remaining illusions about the decency of the West, signed the Russia-NATO Founding Act, which actually legitimized the further expansion of the alliance. And this expansion went on slowly over the following years. In 2008, President Bush Jr., secretly from his allies, decided to push through a quick decision to admit Ukraine to NATO. When the French and Germans found out about this, as far as I understand, from us, they went completely crazy and blocked this plan. But then, at the insistence of the United States, Ukraine received assurances that someday it would become a member of this bloc. And sooner or later it would.
Considering the composition of the population of Ukraine and the fact that it was possible to try to create a state there only on an anti-Russian basis, we faced the prospect of getting a hostile country as a neighbor, and even a member of a bloc hostile to us, which already had several aggressions on its account. But we did not want to think about it for a very long time, hoping for a chance. However, in reality, everything was predetermined back in 2004-2008, when a new cold war began, and Ukraine began to be pulled to the West.
So 2014 is incorrectly called a turning point. This year could be such if we not only annexed Crimea, but also truly supported the uprising in eastern Ukraine. But then we lacked either determination or strength. I personally was deeply distressed by this. And in subsequent years, Ukraine was made into an instrument of constant military-political pressure on Russia, not paying attention to what kind of regime is in Kyiv and what is happening there in general. A military-political spear was being prepared from the country, aimed directly at the heart of Russia. In short, the question was not whether the crisis would happen or not, but when it would happen and what scenario it would follow.
- We did not let Ukraine into NATO. But then Finland and Sweden join the alliance...
- In my opinion, this is due to the fact that we realized it late. We should have started earlier. For the last five or eight years there has been not just anti-Russian propaganda in the West, there has been military propaganda. It was needed to solve internal problems - the Western elites failed in all directions, and they needed the image of the enemy. In 2012, I ordered a content analysis of the Western press - not a single positive publication about Russia! And this was at the time when we supposedly had a decent relationship.
– In an interview in 2018, you said: “The new cold war meets the deep needs of the societies of the countries of the European Union and, to an even greater extent, their ruling classes.” Is this thesis still relevant?
– Absolutely. Over the past time, the European ruling class has failed even more and therefore was forced to whip up anti-Russian and anti-Chinese hysteria. Moreover, this hysteria has reached such intensity, which was not even in the 1950s!
But there are other reasons for the current aggravation. Russia's strike on Ukraine killed the hopes of European elites who believed that their countries would live forever in peace and quiet, hiding from all big problems under the American security umbrella, abandoning defense preparations and strategic thinking in general.
- Since the Western elites turned out to be so poor quality, is there a chance that the beginning economic crisis will lead to their renewal?
- Most likely it will. Undoubtedly, the current crisis - and it is not only economic, but also political and social - will lead to the renewal of the elite. This is what they fear the most! These, as I have already said, elites who have failed in all directions are now fiercely fighting for survival. But I believe that the change of elites will take place in three or four conditional electoral cycles, that is, in one generation. This is not a question of the near future, and it is not worth building a policy, counting on the fact that completely different people will soon be in power in the West.
- And what is happening with our elite now?
- And we have dramatically accelerated the process of its nationalization. Pro-Western, comprador people and sentiments are being washed away. The mentality of the elite is changing. Well, plus to this, we are beginning to understand that that Western capitalism and democracy, that Western world in which we aspired, turned out to be an illusion. We misunderstood them, misunderstood the world. To justify ourselves, we can only say that for seventy years we lived in the conditions of Soviet unanimity, from which ignorance and stupidity arose, and therefore our picture of the world turned out to be erroneous. But we have learned our lessons and now we understand the world much better. And in general, for one beaten they give two unbeaten.
- Minister of Defense Shoigu stated bluntly: "We are at war not so much with Ukraine as with the collective West." Does such a clear designation of the West as an adversary change something?
- Shoigu said the obvious thing. I and many of my colleagues have been talking about this for a long time. Ukraine is just a small detail of a huge picture of changes taking place in the world. The West has dominated for five hundred years. Now the balance of power is shifting away from it towards what is often called the non-West, and we in the SWOP came up with the idea of calling the world majority. This is the most important process.
And the second most important is the struggle of the West specifically with Russia and China. Since our country is considered the more vulnerable member of this pair, the main blow is dealt to it in order to ultimately expose and weaken the PRC. I repeat, in all this Ukraine is only one of the theaters of action. For us, of course, it is very important, but on a global scale, and for the West itself, it plays a secondary role. However, this by no means means that we can afford to lose in Ukraine . But we need to take this military operation more seriously. If we are at war with the collective West, then appropriate measures must be taken so that it loses the desire to continue the war.
“Actually, why can’t we lose?” Can the West afford it?
– For us, this is a matter of the survival of the country, and for the West, it is a matter of the survival of the elites. This gives us a moral, psychological advantage. But in order to take advantage of this advantage, one must clearly understand the nature of what is happening in Ukraine.
- So you approve of the decision to start mobilization?
This step was inevitable. If the corresponding decision had been taken earlier, the conflict in Ukraine would probably have ended faster, and many victims could have been avoided. At the same time, I perfectly understand the reluctance of some fellow citizens to go to war, the meaning of which is not very clear to them, to send their sons there. But this will have to be done so that the war does not come here, so as not to use nuclear weapons. Although this terrible scenario cannot be ruled out.
And here's something else. When people like me called for the mobilization of society to prepare for a really big conflict, we insisted that all this should be directly called the Fourth Patriotic War. The first - 1812, the second - 1914-1918, the third - the Great Patriotic War. The West is fighting furiously with us on the territory of Ukraine. The sooner we understand that this is precisely the Patriotic War, the better for us. We have been delaying mobilization, including industrial, mental, for too long.
- In his address, Vladimir Putin said : "To protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal." It was about nuclear weapons. Moreover, the president stressed: "This is not a bluff." How big is the risk of using nuclear weapons really now?
“For seventy years, nuclear weapons have served as a guarantor of peace. But, unfortunately, now we find ourselves in a situation that can be characterized by the term "strategic parasitism" - everyone is so accustomed to peace that they are convinced that there can be no big war . And this is not so. It can happen. This is first. And secondly, now the probability of using nuclear weapons is higher than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis. But I really hope it doesn't come to that. This is a straight road to hell. Many, of course, should be reminded of what hell is in the religious sense, and what kind of hell it was in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
– What conclusions do the Chinese draw, looking at what is happening in relations between Russia and the West?
“The Chinese have clearly taken our side. They are well aware that the defeat of Russia will result in a qualitative deterioration in the position of the PRC. Therefore, they will help us more or less openly. But we must also understand: first of all, they naturally care about their own interests, and not about ours.
- The other day, Biden for the first time explicitly promised that the US military would defend Taiwan if Beijing tries to take control of the island by force. Should these words be taken seriously?
- Biden can safely make such statements, because he knows that in the next two or three years, Beijing will not try to return Taiwan under its jurisdiction by force. On the mainland, while accumulating forces. So Biden's promise is an empty phrase.
- And to what extent are the Americans ready to get involved in a conflict with Russia?
- When Biden was asked the other day about the use of nuclear weapons in Europe, he replied that Russia would become a pariah and that terrible consequences awaited her. But he did not say that the US would strike back at Russia. Knowing the history of American nuclear strategy, I am 99 percent sure that if a nuclear strike is inflicted on one of the European countries supporting Ukraine, America will not use nuclear weapons. Another thing is that 1 percent still remains, and it means hundreds of thousands of victims on our part and a possible escalation to a general thermonuclear war. The psychological barrier that kept mankind from big wars will be broken. Therefore, we must do everything possible so that this does not come to this. But I do not rule out that the need to use nuclear weapons will appear. The current Western elite is inadequate. There are enough signs of this. What is the cost of waging a war on the borders, in the zone of fundamental vital interests of a great nuclear power. In the last Cold War, this was unthinkable.
- In what situation can the Americans still use nuclear weapons?
“They will retaliate with a nuclear strike against Russia's limited use of nuclear weapons only if there is a lunatic in the White House. Or a person who hates America and is ready to sacrifice, say, Boston for the sake of Poznan.
- Who benefits more from the Ukrainian crisis - the United States, which tied Europe to itself, or China, which tied Russia to itself?
“China is a big winner, America is a huge beneficiary, but in general everyone is a loser because the whole system is crumbling. Ultimately, perhaps everything will turn out for the better, including for Russia, as the world will be reorganized. But so far it seems that everyone is losing.
- You have repeatedly written that the absence of the need to feed the union republics and friendly states is an important advantage of Russia compared to the USSR. Will the need to maintain annexed territories devalue this advantage?
- It worries me a lot. Therefore, in the media and in all sorts of analytical notes, I have repeatedly spoken out against the complete occupation of Ukraine. Ukraine in the Soviet Union was the largest recipient of direct and indirect subsidies, de facto, from the RSFSR. Do we need it again? True, the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine provided 75 percent of the country's GNP. But now they are badly damaged. So in any case, we will have to pay for our historical choice.
And here there is another problem - we are spending resources (human, financial and all kinds of others) on the Ukrainian operation, instead of investing in the development of more promising Siberia and the Far East. But we did not choose the geopolitical situation in which we found ourselves. The West dragged us into it. We will have to help restore the liberated lands. Our people are there. In addition, the country's best human capital is in the east and south of Ukraine.