One of the big errors the West makes in dealing with bad actors is the refusal to believe it when they tell us what they intend to do. For instance, not to go all Godwin’s Law, but in Mein Kampf (originally it had the much peppier title Viereinhalb Jahre (des Kampfes) gegen Lüge, Dummheit und Feigheit (Four and a Half Years [of Struggle] Against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice), Adolf Hitler told us what he had planned for the Jews, the Slavs, and the communists. No one believed him.
On July 12, Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote an essay distributed to all of the Russian Armed Forces titled On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians. In it, he created an alternative universe and declared Ukraine to be Russian.
In the article and the question and answer session, the Russian strongman recapitulates in detail his favorite ideas: there is no such thing as a separate Ukrainian people, they are one with the Russians; the state of Ukraine is an artificial creation, a fluke of history that should be grateful to Russia for allowing it to exist.
According to Putin, the ouster of the (pro-Moscow) President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 was a culmination of a centuries-old Western plot to create in Ukraine what Putin calls an “anti-Russia” — to squeeze and contain Russia proper. Since 2014, Ukraine is not sovereign and finds itself under “external governance” — a code word for the United States, to which the EU plays a slavish sidekick. Moscow will not tolerate this state of affairs. But there are millions of Ukrainians that do not like this state of affairs and are longing to embrace Russia.
Since that time, we’ve seen other examples of essays by prominent Russian politicians and pundits that baldly state that Russia intends to absorb both Ukraine and Belarus (see Did a Quickly Deleted Essay in Russian Media Explain What Vladimir Putin Wants Russia to Gain From the Ukraine Invasion?) and to engage in what amounts to genocide in Ukraine (Kremlin Newspaper and a Putin Confidant Endorse Genocide as Russia’s Final Solution to the Ukraine Problem). Keep in mind, Russia is not a country where people identified with Vladimir Putin idly muse in the media; they have to be read as though they are official statements issued by the regime.
While previous essays have told us what Putin’s intentions are for Ukraine, we now have another data point that reveals how Putin views the current war. This interview comes from Italy’s Corriere Della Sera, and it is an interview with Putin confidant Sergey Karaganov. Karaganov is the originator of the concept that Russia must act as the guarantor of the security of Russians living abroad. He has written that Russia has the right to use military force to create a sphere of influence and that Ukraine is not a viable country and should be broken up. The title of the interview is We are at war with the West. The European security order is illegitimate.
I’ve quoted some key parts from the interview.
Karagonov starts out with the “her dress was too damn short, she had it coming” defense of the invasion of Ukraine.
Q. How can [the attack on Ukraine] be justified on such grounds?
A. For 25 years people like myself have said that NATO expansion would lead to war. Putin said several times that if it came to Ukraine becoming a member of NATO, there would be no Ukraine anymore. In Bucharest in 2008 there was a plan of quick accession of Ukraine and Georgia to NATO. It was blocked by the efforts of Germany and France, but since that time Ukraine has been integrated into NATO. It was pumped up by weaponry and its troops were trained by NATO, their army getting stronger and stronger day by day. In addition we saw a very rapid increase of neo-Nazi sentiment especially among the military, the society and the ruling elite. It was clear that Ukraine had become something like Germany around 1936-1937. The war was inevitable, they were a spearhead of NATO. We made the very hard decision to strike first, before the threat becomes deadlier.
He acknowledges there was never any agreement between NATO and Russia that forbid NATO expansion.
Q. You say that NATO promised never to enlarge to the East and Russia was cheated on that. But former Warsaw Pact countries requested to be included in NATO themselves. And Russia signed up to the Founding Act on Russia-NATO relations in 1997, accepting NATO enlargement. No cheating there.
A. It was the biggest mistake of Russia’s foreign policy in the last 30 years. I fought against it, because the Founding Act of 1997 legitimized further NATO expansion. But we signed it because we were desperately poor and we still were trusting in the wisdom of our partners.
Here he says Russia is locked in a life and death struggle with the West and seems to anoint Putin as president-for-life.
Q. We all agree the Iraq war was illegitimate and was a very serious mistake. Corriere della Sera came out against that war at the time. But one grave mistake doesn’t justify a second grave mistake. And the US people could elect a new leader, Obama, that was against the Iraq war and changed American policy. Can Russians have an opportunity to do the same?
A. I don’t think that in the foreseeable future we will have any change of power in Russia, because we are fighting a war of survival. This is a war with the West and people are regrouping around their leader. This is an authoritarian country and the leadership is always very attentive to the moods of the people. But I don’t see real signs of opposition. Also, in the US or else nobody was really punished for the war in Iraq, so we have our doubts about the effectiveness of democracy.
As if to prove that he is not talking metaphorically, Karaganov makes some very unambiguous statements about what happens next.
Q. You said that the real war now is against Western expansion. What do you mean?
A. We saw Western expansion happening, we see Russophobia in the West reaching levels like antisemitism between the world wars. So war was already becoming likely. And we saw deep divisions and structural problems within Western societies, so we believed that anyway a war was more and more likely. So the Kremlin decided to strike first. Also, this military operation will be used to restructure Russian elite and Russian society. It will become a more militant-based and national-based society, pushing out non-patriotic elements from the elite.
Q. The bottom line question is: Mussolini did not recognize the international order that emerged from the Versailles Treaty in 1919. Does the Kremlin recognize the legitimacy of the European order that emerged from the fall of the Berlin Wall? Do you think this order is legitimate?
A. We should not recognize the order that was built against Russia. We tried to integrate in it but we saw it was a Versailles system number 2. I wrote that we had to destroy it. Not by force, but through constructive destruction, through refusal to participate in it. But after the last demand to stop NATO was again rejected, it was decided to use force.
Q. So the overall goal of this war is to overturn the presence of NATO in central and eastern European countries?
A. We see that most of the institutions are, in our view, one-sided and illegitimate. They are threatening Russia and Eastern Europe. We wanted fair peace, but the greed and stupidity of the Americans and the short-sightedness of the Europeans revealed they didn’t want that. We have to correct their mistakes.
The goal is for a more militaristic and nationalistic Russia. This Russia does not accept the current European security arrangement as legitimate, and it sees the former Warsaw Pact states as Russia’s legitimate sphere of influence. It recognizes military force as a legitimate tool for achieving this end.
We have to take this interview as a message to the West about how Russia views the war in Ukraine and what comes next. It is on our heads, if we choose to ignore what the Kremlin is telling us.
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