RUSSIA DID NOT GO TO SLEEP
Wiesława Lewandowska talks with Andrzej Wilk about rebuilding the Russian empire, making the West dormant and the European dream about times before the First World War
WIESŁAWA LEWANDOWSKA: – We are talking when after the press conference of the president of Russia, Władimir Putin, the Western world reacted with an intensified diplomatic action: In Brussels there was an extraordinary summit meeting of the European Union with the participation of the prime minister of the new government of Ukraine Arsienij Jaceniuk, and the Union announces a kind of help for Ukraine. The USA does it as well. The mission of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe was not allow to appear in Kremlin, and the Russian invasion of Kremlin is spreading. 12 airplanes F-6 arrive in Poland. There are discussions about scenarios of the military conflict on the local scale, but there also appeared anxieties that we may be an omen of the Third World War…
ANDRZEJ WILK: – I am calm about it. The world with serious arsenals of nuclear weapons, in much extent, guarantees us peace. So, there is not going to be a global conflict. It might happen only when one of the parties gained a real prevalence allowing them to destroy the nuclear potential of another party. However, countries situated at the interface of impacts sphere among powerful countries must consider this kind of sparks, which may lead to local tragedies, not excluding a war. Globally speaking, as long as there is a balance of fear, that is, a guarantee of mutual destruction, conflicts on the world scale will be less possible.
– Although one of the superpower parties starts to show aggression. Why does Russia start scaring the world just now?
– This aggression of Russia started growing already 10 years ago. In the beginning of the last decade the Russians had to prevent the army from degradation for years, which had lasted for whole 90s of the last century. Thanks to the growing impacts from the export of oil, it was possible to reform it and make it modern. In the last years quite big portions of modern armaments are introduced into service. Today Russia gains very little from the West, because it had already engulfed – stolen or bought – a lot of modern technological solutions. And in some spheres in the competition with European countries it is even in the lead. The Russian army still remains left behind the American army, but it is surely one of the armies of the world which is quickest in re-armament.
– Is the Russian army able to conquer Ukraine today without greater effort and keep it close to Russia by force?
– In my opinion, with whole respect for today’s Ukrainian army, its conquer by the Russian army – and without using the big war machine and scaring with the nuclear weapon – is only the matter of time. The Ukrainian army has been poor for many years, has not carried out any exact military trainings, if not including its several units delegated for cooperation with NATO. Whereas the Russians have been training for years. Moreover, the Russian army proved its pugnacity in the war against Georgia. There is only a question whether Russia would endure economically the invasion of Ukraine, which is not so meek, like for example, Belarus. The costs of this kind of Russian occupation, that is, maintaining the big Russian empire – which does not make sense without Ukraine – may be enormous. So, Russia would rather act ‘in a peaceful way’ and may not put its relations with Ukraine on the blade of a knife.
– But it is doing it, isn’t it?
– Let’s look at Kremlin, where on the one hand, military Ukrainian sentries are being blocked and threatened by the Russian army in various ways, and, on the other hand – one can hear soft Russian arguments: because we are brothers, so we should get on with each other, we all want peace, and we should be together. Quite a characteristic sign of this specific schizophrenia is aiming at fraternization and even cases of the common partying in the fire of the conflict….
– It is probably said about the Ukrainian army that it has a lot of Russian elements….
– Probably. However, this army has been seconded for over a decade – from our perspective it is an essential optimistic element – as a forum of cooperation between Ukraine and NATO. There are basis to think that it is one of the pro-western subject in Ukraine (especially educated commanding staff). It is also apolitical. It is confirmed by the process of the so-called Russian Spring which is being prepared in the eastern Ukraine now. Russia could hope for a success of this operation, if the local Russians managed to take over some Ukrainian military units. And it is not successful although a lot of ethnic Russians serve in it.
– Can we assume that Russia will be satisfied with some form of possessing Kremlin?
– In my opinion it is going to be only a consolation prize for Russia. Kremlin itself, as a province, generating costs, is not needed by Russia. So, all current actions in Kremlin – mainly the instrumental using Kremlin Russians – should be understood only as a means of pressing the authority in Kiev. In fact the Russians are able to return Kremlin to Ukraine, provided that this Ukraine is subordinated to them in whole. So, today there is a political game about whole Ukraine, not only the eastern or southern one. If Ukraine remains in the sphere of Russian impacts, Kremlin will be Ukrainian.
– When could Russia resign from Ukraine?
– Only when it is brutally forced to it – either economically or militarily.
– But nothing announces it, despite many declarations of the West about applying sanction towards it and supporting Ukraine?
– Unfortunately, it is a brutal truth. Although we think that Putin separated himself from the reality, his behaviours prove the reasonable evaluation of the international situation. He knows very well that the arrival of 12 additional F-16 airplanes in Poland is an insignificant gesture. Russia could have reasons for real anxiety if the Americans started developing the original Bush’s version of the base of the anti-missile shield. But even this version of Obama was postponed till the year 2018 and despite the aggressive attitude of Russia nothing is said about any acceleration, although everything is possible. The American anti-missile shield would prove that the Americans want to stay in Poland longer and this would be very painful for Russia.
– Putin emphasized during his conference that any actions of the West are aimed against Russia with a double-edged weapon.
– That is true. Russia is joined with the West with various common economic and political interests. The Americans decided that they do not have a Russian problem anymore and the Russians, suffering from the ‘American sense of inferiority’ would like to share the world with them. At the present situation the behavior of some European countries is ambiguous. A few days ago, the French prime minister stated that what is happening in relation to Ukraine, will not influence the technical-military cooperation of France with Russia. Even ironical comments appeared that the French may even accelerate building the first helicopter Mistral for the Russians, so that it could participate in conquering Odessa.
– A lot has always been said about mutual Russian-German friendships, now a lot is said about similarities and historical analogues.
– This year we have the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. And, what is interesting, Russia and Germany are aiming at showing this war as the biggest tragedy of XX century whose effect was the Second World War, Holocaust, etc. A blissful picture from before the First World War is reminded and nobody cares about the fact that for many nations it was Europe without their own countries…
– Therefore, we should not be surprised that big western countries did not willingly react to the events in Kiev and Kremlin.
– In my opinion, both for Russia and for the West the Ukrainian Majdan was surprising, its turns of events and determination. It has unexpectedly inhibited the Russian-Western status quo, the West became simply shocked and Russian scenarios and concepts simply collapsed: Majdan rejected both Janukowycz and Julia Tymoszenko released from prison, with whom Russia would be able to talk. Intransigence and inability for leadership of Majdan completely destroyed the whole narration, so strongly built in Europe by Russia and Germany, which was to lead – despite the European Union – to a new concert of powerful countries, to multi-polarity, within which every country gets on well with Russia on advantageous conditions for itself.
– Certainly, over the heads of ordinary people, with permission for implementing the scenario of the restoration of the Russian empire?
– Whatever opinion, the Russians will still be aiming at rebuilding the whole empire within post-soviet borders. If Russia pursues this policy with such a fictional and purely verbal resistance of the West, with which we are dealing, then in the perspective of a few years – if, certainly, nothing goes wrong – after conquering Ukraine, there will also be other Baltic countries endangered. However, I hope that earlier the Russians will exaggerate in their ambitions as they exaggerated in the cold war.
– Can we hope for bigger determination of the West in inhibiting Russia today?
– I do not know, but we can hope so, at least. In the cold war Russia did not get a good lesson; it lost the war with the West, not in a direct battle, but because of economic problems. It was similar with Germany after the First World War…We can find many analogues between today’s Russia and the end of the Weimar Republic, in which, despite the crisis, there were attempts to rebuild military capability. Today’s Russia is in a situation like Germany was before the Second World War.
– So, there is a reason for which we compare Putin and Hitler today?
– However, I would be careful about using such comparisons. Today’s Russia is not even similar to Stalin’s and soviet Russia; it is not a country possessed by ideology which tells everyone to make irrational decisions. Certainly, there are decisions made on the verge of a serious risk, however, they are very rational from the point of view of Russia. For example, the process of Russian armaments – if it is maintained, then in the years 2015-16 Russia will spend 4 per cent of the GDP on armaments, that is, as much as the Americans spend on it all the time.
– As a result of the escalating Ukrainian conflict , fear appeared in Poland, politicians started thinking seriously about the endangered safety of the country and the state of the army.
– This present fear is slightly strange; because the Russian scenario has been known and obvious since at least the year 1999. The Russians are not ashamed of it and speak about it openly. Russia did not learn and, probably, it will not learn to choose any other way. It can be understood in the category of the natural law. Polish politicians should know about it.
– But they have assured recently that we are not endangered, that…we will not ever be able to defend ourselves, anyway…
– If we were to rely only on ourselves and could not rely on support within the North-Atlantic Treaty, then, indeed, we are not in a better situation than Ukraine is. Surely, without clearly defined and permanent treaties, and with better and equipment of our army more developed technologically, than the Russian army, we are in the position of September 1939.
– And nobody may defend us, despite of declarations?
– I hope that it will not happen, although we know very well, that only Russia has a very clearly defined aim. Whereas in Europe, the need of defining the purpose of the army has been lost somewhere recently. We all in Europe are dormant. Too many responsible people believe the end of history. It was difficult to get convinced that we do not live in excellent and unique times.
– Are we, finally, waking up?
– Yes. But with such waking up it turns out that somebody has got up earlier.
– Did Russia get up earlier?
– It did not go to sleep at all, although it was very tired in the beginning.