Original published by Eurasia Daily; translation by J.Hawk
Sergey Karaganov, a personal advisor to President Vladimir Putin, gave an interview to Der Spiegel that was published on July 13. The interview itself, conducted by Christian Neef, is remarkable because of its harshness and the absence of the usual compromise formulations.
Sergey Aleksandrovich, NATO is planning to expand its activities in Eastern Europe…
I’ve been talking about the situation that approaches the state of war for 8 years.
Do you mean ever since the beginning of the war in Georgia?
Already then, the level of mutual trust among our big adversarial countries was close to zero. Russia was only beginning its rearmament process. Since then the level of trust had only worsened. We warned NATO ahead of time: there’s no need to approach Ukraine’s borders. Fortunately, Russia managed to stop NATO’s advances in that direction. Which lowered the danger of war in Europe in the middle-term perspective. But the propaganda which is being conducted right now closely resembles a state of war.
I hope that, when you reference propaganda, you also mean Russia?
Russian media are far more modest in that regard than NATO’s. And here’s the main thing you must understand: for Russia, it is key to have a sense of security against an external enemy. We have to be ready for anything. Which is why our media sometimes exaggerate a little. But what is the West doing? You are chiding us for being aggressive. It’s a lot like the late ’70s and early ’80s.
You mean the deployment of Soviet medium-range missiles and the US reaction?
At that time the USSR had practically collapsed from within, but nevertheless still made the decision to deploy the SS-20s. Thus starting an unnecessary crisis. Right now the West is doing exactly the same thing. You are trying to calm down countries like Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia by placing your missile systems there. But that provocation will not help them at all. If there is a large-scale crisis, we’ll destroy those weapons at the outset. Russia will never again fight on its own territory!
That is, if I understood you correctly–Russia will attack? Move forward?
You have to realize that the current, new weapons, are very different. The situation is far worse than it was 30-40 years ago.
President Putin is trying to convince his people that Europe is all but planning an invasion of Russia. But that’s absurd! You don’t believe so?
Naturally, that’s an exaggeration to a certain degree. But the Americans are currently openly saying that the sanctions against Russia are intended to result in a regime change in Russia. That’s open aggression, we must react.
Very recently, a presidential advisory council you head published an open report to the president. I acquainted myself with it. You write that Russia’s only available path is the restoration of its past power. It’s a clear idea, but what are your concrete proposals?
First of all, we are doing a good thing–we want to prevent further destabilization of the international society. And we want a status of a great power, we want to restore it. Unfortunately, we simply can’t avoid it–300 years of history have left their mark. We want to be the center of the great Eurasia, a place where peace and cooperation rein. Europe will be part of that Eurasia.
Europeans currently don’t trust Russia, don’t understand its policies, believe them to be strange. The objectives of your Moscow leadership are not clear to us.
You must understand–we don’t trust you at all. It’s natural after the recent disappointments. That has to be your base assumption. We are doing something that might be called a tactical warning. The objective is to make you realize that we are smarter, stronger, and more decisive than you think.
For example, we were heavily, and negatively, surprised by your recent approach to the fighting in Syria. We don’t exactly operate jointly, but nevertheless do cooperate in some sense. But you recently withdrew some of your forces without even notifying us. That’s not how trust works…
That was a very strong, magnificent step by my leadership. We act on the basis of being stronger in this region. Russians may not be as strong when it comes to economics, or in the art of negotiations, but we are magnificent fighters. You have in Europe a political system which will not stand the test of time. You can’t adapt to new challenges. You are too narrowly focused. Your chancellor once said our president was divorced from reality. Perhaps you are too close to it in that sense.
It’s easy to notice Russia is actively enjoying our failures. In particular, our refugee problem. Why?
Yes, many of my colleagues are chuckling at your problems, but I constantly remind them not to be arrogant. But otherwise, what did you expect: European elites wanted a confrontation with us–and they got one. Therefore we will not help Europe, although we could easily do so concerning the refugees. For example, we could all together close borders–we can do this far more effectively than you Europeans. But instead you are trying to cooperate with Turkey. That’s shameful! So we are holding our hard line, and are holding it successfully.
You keep saying you are disappointed in Europe and with what’s happening there. But Russia, after all, only recently wanted to become part of Europe? Or did you want the Europe of the Adenauer and de Gaulle era and are surprised by the changes?
Don’t make me laugh–the majority of Europeans also want that Europe, not the current one. In the coming decades, Europe clearly will not be an example for us, something we want or need.
Your report states several times that the use of force “is the obvious and correct measure when the state interests are clearly affected.” Do you mean Ukraine?
Yes, without any doubt. Also in cases when major enemy forces are gathering close to borders.
Are you suggesting that NATO concentrations in the Baltic States represent such a case?
The idea we are ready to start a confrontation is idiotic. But why is NATO gathering forces there, tell me, why? Can you imagine what will happen to these forces in the event of open confrontation. That is symbolic aid to the Baltics, nothing else. If NATO launches aggression against a country that has a nuclear arsenal such as ours, you will be punished.
There are plans to revive the Russia-NATO dialogue. My understanding is that you are not taking such ideas seriously.
Such meetings are illegitimate. Moreover, NATO has transformed itself over time into something different. You started as an alliance of democratic countries with the idea of self-defense. Gradually all of that transformed into the idea of continuous expansion. When we needed a dialogue, in 2008 or 2014, you did not give us that opportunity.
…let me count…You meant the crises in Georgia and Ukraine? Now it’s clear. Please tell me, your report frequently uses such terms as “honor”, “courage”, “bravery,” “dignity”…is that political language?
That’s what has value to the Russian people. In Putin’s world, and also my world, it is simply unimaginable that a woman’s honor could be trampled in the most scurrilous of ways.
Are you referring to that fateful Christmas night in Cologne?
In Russia, men who would have tried something similar would have been killed on the spot. The mistake lies in that both Germans and Russians have spent many years searching for some universal values without understanding what that even means. We are seeking socialism during the Soviet era. Your pursuit of democracy is very similar to our pursuit of socialism.
What do you view as Russian foreign policy mistakes in recent years?
In that we did not have any coherent policy in recent past concerning our closest neighbors, the post-Soviet states. The only thing we did is subsidize and buy elites. The money was partly stolen, on both sides. And, as the conflict in Ukraine had shown, it was impossible to avoid a global crisis using such methods. Our second mistake was that our policies were focused far too long on addressing the mistakes of the ’90s.
Last question. Are there chances Russia will seek a path toward cooperation in the near future?
You shouldn’t expect us to make any direct or open confessions that we are in the wrong–because we are in the right. At present, Russia has become a powerful Euro-Asian state. And I am one of those who believes our eastward path of development is the correct one. But at the moment I can say that to a certain degree we ought to turn back toward Europe. That’s the only thing I can say.