The following interview of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu provides an important insight into the views of the Russian leadership towards the current military and diplomatic situation around the world. This is especially interesting amid the rapidly deteriorating US-Russian relations as a result of repeated and blatant aggressive actions of Washington towards Moscow.
Interview of Russian Defence Minister General of the Army Sergei Shoigu to the Kazakhstan online edition Tengrinews.kz (source):
The first question is about what is happening now in relations between Russia and the United States. In its military and national strategies, Washington for the first time designated specific countries as geopolitical or regional adversaries. The first group includes Russia and China, the second – Iran and North Korea. According to the election of a new president, there seems that some softening towards China is planned. It seems that the Biden administration is going to return to the Iranian deal. And what about Russia? How does this relate to Kazakhstan together with Russia? What can we expect?
What the new administration says today, these priorities were set in different periods with different priority. Geopolitically, in the opinion of the United States administration, international terrorism has always been in the first place before. Then – Russia and China, Iran periodically came out on top. You can also remember that international terrorism in Syria was on top. For this, a large international coalition led by the United States was created. The coalition created by Saudi Arabia added to them. There was a certain surprise that occurred when Russia took up the fight against international terrorism.
After everything that happened in Syria, we were those who established peace in Syria, from those who had the main influence on the situation in this country, defeated terrorism, starting an operation when Damascus controlled that 18 per cent of Syrian territory, and today in fact more than 90 per cent, then, naturally, they began to say that “Russia is behaving somehow wrong in Syria.”
Let me also remind you of those times when, despite all the difficulties, we had a fairly prompt and very effective dialogue, work and cooperation. At the suggestion of our President Vladimir Putin, when he suggested: “Well, why strike the country?” Then it was due to the presence of chemical weapons in Syria. Why strike? When an agreement can be reached, both technologies, equipment, and these weapons and their remnants will be transferred and destroyed peacefully by those who have technologies for it.
There were big doubts then. Obama said:
“It is unlikely that Assad will agree to this, but if he does, it could be done.” Then such a large operation was carried out to transport, collect and destroy chemical weapons by joint efforts.
This was a really important resolution for this region and for the world as a whole. Because it would be difficult to imagine that they do not give up their weapons and do not transfer them, but the blow is delivered. And the blow is delivered precisely at the places where it is stored. And we can imagine the consequences for the entire region. This was a great joint work.
I will not hide the fact that today in Syria, at the operational and tactical level, we have very close contacts with our American counterparts. Maybe if this is a secret for someone, I reveal will a secret. We have contacted several times a day at the level of airspace control and conducting work in the air to combat terrorism.
What can change? You know, the first steps are encouraging. They are encouraging because of such rapid progress towards the extension of the Strategic Offensive Arms Treaty. . It is now clear that, after all, they have moved from unrealizable demands and proposals to completely normal and constructive dialogue. I hope that in the future, those steps can be taken first in which not only the United States and Russia are interested, but also other countries. So, today they say: “Yes, we need to cooperate with Russia, but only in those areas where it is beneficial for us.” This is the negotiating platform today.
I hope that someday a full-fledged and equal dialogue and the work of the Russia-NATO Council will be restored.
Indeed, it is necessary to come to an agreement, there is an extreme need for this. For our part, we made all the steps, all the statements, we were waiting. In my opinion, the treaty on intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles was quite acceptable. But, as it seems to us, special reasons and facts were found and invented in order to withdraw from this agreement.
Of course, we said: “If you want, you can leave, there is nothing we can do?” But we have committed ourselves not to deploy such weapons if it is not deployed in Europe. We will not do this. But if it is deployed, we will respond appropriately. As well as in the east of our country, I mean the possible deployment on the territory of Japan and South Korea.
And we, unfortunately, have not yet received an answer to this question.
I conclude for myself that the political rhetoric may be different, but in fact, it is not politicians who decide and make decisions, but the military.
First of all, this is our Supreme Commander-in-Chief, who determines the main strategic line on such important issues as the treaty on strategic offensive arms, on intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles, the open skies treaty and many other issues.
And the Afghan direction? How can you assess now, at the present time, the threats for Russia, for the republics of Central Asia? Is there any threat from this direction?
What we are seeing today is such a periodic “leave-stay, stay-leave”. And this happens in different countries. They seem to be a coalition, each responsible for their own zone, but with the change of presidents, we “leave”, then “stay”.
I told my counterparts from the United States, I told my counterparts in Great Britain that you still need to leave when you are absolutely sure and convinced that a peaceful life has improved there. And when the local population got something that they can earn, except drugs. Therefore, it is necessary to give them such an opportunity so that they can produce something and sell this in order to have a normal life.
But that’s not what we’re talking about right now. It is clear that complex processes are going on there.
What’s bothering us? And not just us, the whole region.
Large groups of terrorists are moving to different countries, including Afghanistan. Islamic State (IS, a banned organization in Kazakhstan) has already appeared there, and we are seeing the arrival of those who, first, left Afghanistan for Syria, and plus those who have already arrived from Syria to another country.
And, of course, what is very, very serious about drug trafficking and drug production. We all live in this region, in this common territory of ours. Our neighbours and we cannot fail to understand that they are not only neighbours with us, they are neighbours with our closest allies, with our fraternal peoples, with those with whom we have lived together for centuries and, God willing, will continue to live together. Of course, this includes Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.
Russia’s partnership with Turkey has recently been quite productive. But at the same time, some individual, let’s say, politicians in Turkey have questions, and among some circles, we have the idea of recreating the “Great Turan” and creating the “army of Turan” — a single army of Muslim countries. What is your opinion on this?
The first thing I would like to say to these people is that I don’t know whether to call them politicians or by whom. Well, you wish that, what steps are you trying to take to achieve it. For what and against whom? Exactly the same Turkic-speaking peoples live on the territory of Russia, we have quite a lot of them. Our country is multi-religious and multi-ethnic. And live together for centuries.
Talking about our relationship with Turkey. We have very complicated but effective work. . It is complicated because Turkey is a NATO member. Of course, it is complicated, but it is a unique experience. One country is a NATO member and the other is not. They find a common language, they conduct joint work and joint operations, they find compromises where it seems impossible to find them. But we find solutions. For example, the Idlib de-escalation zone. In general, the creation of de-escalation zones in Syria, in our opinion, is a new page and a new mechanism for resolving such conflicts.
Currently, we (with Turkey) are conducting joint patrols in the north-east of Syria. And together we are engaged in the fight against terrorists. We are working together, quite often in a common airspace. And we regulate and control many crossing points, we deal with refugees together.
This is not an easy job. I will not comment the reasons for the sanctions they are trying to impose, and in some parts, they have already been imposed against Turkey by their own NATO partners. The latest work is, of course, Nagorno-Karabakh. This is a very difficult operation. When two fraternal peoples, two close neighbours, those with whom we lived, are at war with each other, I will repeat once again, and we will continue to live in peace, harmony and friendship…
Turkey is involved in this, so we had to deal with our Turkish colleagues. Our president made a titanic effort to make all this happen. And everyone had to be persuaded. We have also spoken with our Turkish colleagues at the level of defence ministers. But what has been done today is, first of all, that people have stopped killing each other. Secondly, I hope that now is the time for them to move on to bilateral contacts and start talking to each other. I mean Armenia and Azerbaijan.
And here much depends on the relations that have been developed between Russia and Turkey. New players also appear, but they appear with their own proposals. I mean Iran. This is the development of infrastructure, railway, hydroelectric power, and transport links. A lot of questions come up.
You are now talking about those who are really trying to solve the problem in a positive way. But if we talk about those who try in every possible way to divide our countries and try to put Russia in a negative light. We even have some who seriously believe that Russia wants to annex Kazakhstan to itself.
You know, these are the kind of questions I listen to patiently from you, only because I know that you are a deeply educated, very intelligent and, very charming person, who knows history well and understands it. But let’s get down to earth from all these fantasies! I can discuss Abylai the Great (Abylai Khan) — a historical figure that I have studied, his path, exploits and merits.
You can argue a lot, but we have long-established fraternal relations. We have no reason to share anything. Because we did a full border demarcation back in 1998.
Moreover, we signed a border agreement in 2005. We have a great relationship, why interfere in all this?
And in general, everything that concerns interference from outside, especially when two friends start arguing about something, there is someone third, whom they did not know and never took into account in their friendship.
In this case, I am talking about Ukraine and the United States. Those who sat down at the same table signed up under guarantees that everything will be within the framework of the constitution, that the president is outgoing, elections will be held within a year and that he will not go to these elections. And after 4 hours, they were already looking for him. After that, they got on a plane and flew away. And after that, someone will blame Russia for all this? Russia is responsible for everything that happened there next?
Is Russia responsible for the fact that they started shelling the peaceful cities with multiple rocket launchers? That helicopters and planes have started flying over peaceful cities and firing at them? Well, you sat down, you guaranteed, you signed up for this. Well, then, go on with it all!
Therefore, on April 17 it will be 30 years since I am a member of the Russian government, and it so happened that I had to deal with the conflicts of South Ossetia – Georgia, Abkhazia – Georgia, Transnistria – Moldova, the Uzbek-Tajik conflict. And a lot more, and the reception of refugees from many republics of the former Soviet Union, who came here from the same Karabakh, from Baku, from Armenia. It was such a difficult time, but even then I was never left with the confidence that everything would be fine and we would live together in peace.
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