Aleksandr Ryklin: Apparently the West wasn’t ready for Putin’s maneuvers
14:14, — Interview
But soon everyone will have to awaken.
Editor-in-chief of charter97.org Natallia Radzina discussed the situation in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus with famous Russian journalist and politician Aleksandr Ryklin. Aleksandr Ryklin is one of the organizers of the anti-military rally in Moscow to be held on March 15.
The rally is organized as a protest against the military breach of Ukraine’s sovereignty and against Russia’s invasion to Crimea. Last week’s attempts to hold a similar rally in Moscow resulted in detentions.
- Aleksandr, let’s start with your recent article Sliding down to the abyss where you write that today the Russian society is split by the events in Ukraine. What is going on? Is it a trick of state media?
- Indeed, it is a problem. It may seem that the entire Russian propaganda machine has been getting ready for this moment for the last several years.
Something terrible, something that makes us shut our eyes in front of an obvious problem has grown within us. The problem is that neither in Russia nor anywhere else in the world there are people who would believe the outrageous, hypocritical, cynical lies that, for example, there are no Russian troops in Crimea.
Absolutely everybody knows that there are Russian troops in Crimea. And those who say the opposite or argue with it, know it perfectly well. But the thing is that this terrible, completely hypocritical lie of Putin is his major achievement. A person who is capable of doing such a thing, of spitting on the international community, of acting the way he pleases, is definitely very cool. People should stay in such a person’s shadow, enjoy rays of his glory, help him in every possible way and do everything he says.
People will awaken as soon as it becomes clear though. Of course, in the beginning the anti-western message will become stronger, but sooner or later the realization will come.
- Would you agree that today Russia reminds of Germany between the two world wars when Hitler “raised the self-esteem” of the nation with his Nazi ideas and occupation of new territories?
- I would say that to raise self-esteem, one needs more significant steps. I believe that this is the beginning of this movement. It is hard to compare. It may be true as far as it goes for the degree of fraud, attempts to plant hideous values and to represent the country as some kind of reviving empire. But in general it seems to me that it is wrong to compare. Many years have passed, new generations have come, and they have a very different understanding of the reality.
- In other words, you disagree with those who compare Putin and Hitler?
- Yes, I do. All these comparisons have a very bright package. But the backstories are different, even the stories of their coming to power. I don’t know… Is it based on the feeling of national humiliation? Partially, yes, but that’s it. Prospects? Putin doesn’t have the option of starting the WW3. I don’t think he’ll be able to do that.
- Why not?
- The world has changed. What I believe is plausible is the return to the era of nuclear restriction, full-scale cold war and iron curtain.
But even with the iron curtain and cold war, during the most sever periods like the Caribbean crisis, the world realized that there would be no nuclear war.
- As you have remarked, the Russian powers have already ”reduced to the rhetoric of the Caribbean crisis”. Today Ukrainian Crimea is basically seized by Russian troops. What can happen next? Andrei Illarionov doesn’t exclude the possibility of Russia’s invasion to the Ukrainian land. Putin’s “tourists” have been active in the country’s eastern parts for a long time now.
- It’s true, but I wouldn’t say that Crimea has been seized. There are reasons to believe that the attempts to invade Crimea won’t go as smoothly as some Russian officials plan. There are Crimean Tatars, there are many other people who realize that the future that these Russian “tourists” offer them is an unhappy one.
This is the future of the country, and it is unclear how it can function even in Russia. Don’t forget that the border between Crimea and Russia is very thin. Yes, they do plan to build a bridge, but when will they build it? Until now, Ukraine can respond to the events even in a non-military way.
Blockade is the future that the people of Crimea can see. It can be hard, it even can be a humanitarian catastrophe. I don’t want it to happen; I am just describing one of the plausible scenarios.
We do realize that Crimea gets fresh water, electricity and partially gas from Ukraine. Moreover, Crimea can be cut off logistically: how can one get to the peninsula without the railway? Today we read that ticket sales to Simferopol and back have been stopped. Ukraine can even close the air routes. What will be left? Ferries in Kerch?
And the world will never recognize Crimea as a part of Russia. It means that this piece of earth with great sea, lovely climate and amazing scenery will lose its chance for a good future.
- If Putin seizes Crimea, nothing will stop him.
- I admit that one month ago when asked if Russia will occupy Crimea I gave a firm reply: no, it won’t. We all have made a terrible mistake.
Today, with all provocations that Russia’s special services are doing all over Ukrainian East and South-East, all those busses that drive from the Belgorod region to Donietsk or Kharkiv, I don’t think I can say for sure that at one moment Russia will not take more active steps.
It is terrifying to believe that, I don’t want to believe that, but nor can I deny this scenario.
- Today people in Belarus are afraid that Russian troops will defend Lukashenka in case there are national protests. During one of the recent military trainings, Belarusian and Russian military men worked with “destabilization” scenario when Tamanskaya unit blocked the Polish border. Do you believe this is possible?
- Don’t you even doubt, any protest will be suppressed in no time. Today Russia is becoming Europe’s gendarme according to its old definition. But I still haven’t heard Lukashenka approving of the Russian annex of Crimea. Or have I missed something?
- Today he is trying to play this card just like he did during the Russian-Georgian war. During that military conflict, Lukashenka supported the Kremlin, but then refused to recognize Southern Ossetia and Abkhazia – and got multibillion loans from the West.
- And he is likely to act the same way now. Of course, on the one hand you are right when you say that there is a threat of Russian intervention in case Belarus starts to shake off the tyrant. But there is something else.
Today all post-soviet leaders are reflecting upon their future. This undisguised interference to interior affairs of another country is obviously very disturbing to Russia’s other neighbors. They put themselves in Ukraine’s shoes and they realize that this guy is capable of sending a group in uniform with no differentiating markings anywhere. This is a very disturbing situation and it doesn’t strengthen the CIS.
- Recently former president of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma offered Lukashenka to become a middleman between Kyiv and Moscow. In your opinion, will the new Ukrainian powers flirt with our dictators in the future, spitting on the Russian and Belarusian opposition, as you put it?
- I doubt that. Anyway, the situation in Ukraine is completely different now. Any new leader of Ukraine will have to not just look back at Maidan, but to follow the politics that Maidan is elaborating.
Maidan has become a political subject. This is a new reality in the global politics. And anyone who shakes hands with Lukashenka today will have to resign tomorrow.
- Today sanctions against Russia are a topic of vivid discussions. In your opinion, what can stop Putin?
- I would say that this question should be addressed to professional doctors. I don’t know what can stop Putin. For many years we have assumed that the West can influence Russia. Putin’s elite is tied to the West with their money in European banks, children in European schools and wives in European shopping malls. In general, they manage to somehow steal here and live there.
It seemed as if Putin was aware of the fact that his only support is the elite. But today he is simply ignoring their interests. He told the elite: why don’t you bring all your money here, your money shouldn’t be there anymore; why don’t your wives and children live here, shop here, bathe and travel here.
This may be his fall. The so-called corporation Lake that includes several dozens of thousands members will not accept this attitude, and its members will start to leave. But I don’t believe in a palace coup. This group has degraded so much, these people are so incapable and unprepared, that it is inconceivable that they would suddenly start plotting something against Putin and his closest circle.
- Will the West be able to become independent of Russia’s energy sources?
- Yes, it will. Earlier nobody in the West could even think of Russia as a foe. They are certainly completely unprepared for this. It is true that there is no Reagan or Thatcher among modern western leaders. But nevertheless, there is a sensation of a new political reality. A huge piece of land is under total control of a completely unpredictable person. Moreover, this territory has some nuclear missiles.
Western politicians believed that they do understand Putin to a certain extend. He might have breached against all freedoms, taken control over everything which can be controlled, put all dissidents to prison, but still, geopolitically he is no danger. Apparently, he is a danger, and he can surpass any expectation.
As it turned out, the West was absolutely not ready for that. I believe that they are still in shock. But the reaction will be tough; I think they will learn to diversify. The Americans have already banned export of liquefied gas; they will transport it on their own special vessels to Europe where terminals are being constructed as we speak, like for example in the Baltic region.
In my view, fall of oil prices is another issue that will become crucial in the new future. Here, the USA has some tools, like the Far East – first of all, Saudi Arabia. In the coming 6 months oil prices can fall significantly.
And let’s not forget about the political sanctions. “Magnistky list” will definitely become longer, and Europe will fully join these sanctions. Of course, it will affect the situation in Russia. The guys from the parliament who have just unanimously supported the intervention to the neighbor state will hardly allow us to freely travel to the West while their own bank accounts are arrested and they are forced to spend vacations somewhere outside Klazma.
The situation where they are locked here punished by the West while we fly between Moscow and New York or London will never happen. They will sabotage it for us, mark my word. I don’t think that it will be a full-scale iron curtain as before, but they’ll invent something similar. For example, they can re-introduce exit visas which will hit millions of Russian families hard.
- The Olympics in Sochi were compared to the Olympics 1936 in Hitler’s Germany. Today during the war the realization of how wrong it had been to have the games in Russia has come. This May, Putin’s ally dictator Lukashenka is going to host the World Championship in Ice Hockey. According to the European Parliament, if the Championship in Minsk gets cancelled, it will send a message to Putin and Lukashenka. Do you agree?
- Yes, I agree. In my view, the world, however diverse and versatile, should unite and react accordingly to this attempt to undermine the values.
The fact that in the 21st century a country exploits its neighbor’s difficult situation to annex a part of its land cannot be ignored. And the reaction should be comprehensive and include different measures.
Sport has long ago ceased to be just sport. Today it is a huge part of the public life, very influential and important. I am for large-scale sanctions.
- Russian politicians and journalists write and talk a lot about Russia following Belarus’ steps. Russia nourished Lukashenka even under democrat Yeltsin’s rule, with help of the democratic politicians of that time who today are in opposition. As a result, their monster has grown so big that today it influences political situations in Russia and Ukraine. Do you see why Lukashenka’s regime is dangerous for the region?
- Definitely, I do believe that a dictator regime can neither bring happiness to its nation, nor contribute to its development. People only get poorer. The present day’s Belarusian regime matches all these criteria, it is obviously a dictatorship. So is the Russian regime, that until recently tried hard to keep its civilized mask, being closely connected to the western life. Sometimes Putin succeeded in keeping this mask, sometime he didn’t. But Lukashenka crossed his limits for a long time ago. He doesn’t give a damn about the West.
- There is no doubt that both Putin and Lukashenka are afraid of Maidan. Do you think we can get our own “Arab spring”?
- As for this method of expressing nation’s will, there can be different opinions whether it is appropriate or not. But we should realize that there is no other way to change the ruling regimes in the modern Belarusian and Russian structures that have become very similar.
We must realize that because in our countries, a voting has a purely scenical function with no actual elections of candidates. Putin and Lukashenka are afraid of Maidan because basically there is no other way to change the power. They control everything else. They can steal as many votes as they please during elections – 5%, 20%. But they cannot steal a vote from a person who has come to the streets.