Nikolai Patrushev and Elena Chernenko / Kommersant and The Guardian – 2015-07-18 22:36:23
(Photograph: Francois Lenoir/Reuters)
Terrorism, Ukraine and the American Threat:
The View from Russia
Nikolai Patrushev and Elena Chernenko / Kommersant and The Guardian
(July 15, 2015) — Former Russian spy chief Nikolai Patrushev, now head of the powerful security council that advises the president, believes his country is under threat — from terrorists, from colour revolutions and, particularly, from America. Ahead of a recent conference to discuss global instability, Patrushev spoke to Kommersant about civil liberties, Syria, and western aggression.
This has led to sovereignty and territorial integrity being undermined in a series of Middle Eastern and North African countries. That, in turn, gave extremists and terrorists the opportunity to gather their forces and entrench their positions.
The consequences of the spread of chaos across the world are now entering a new phase. We have witnessed a highly dangerous development whereby extremist cells operating in different regions of the world unite under the auspices of the so-called Islamic State (Isis), which is in fact a terrorist organisation created from one of the branches of al-Qaida.
This pseudo-government has secured the allegiance of such odious groups as Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Somalia and part of the Taliban movement in Pakistan. A whole string of terrorist organisations in central Asia and the north Caucasus have also sworn loyalty to Isis, including the Turkistan Islamic Party and Caucasus Emirate.
Isn’t the US calling on all countries to unite to fight Isis?
Such appeals are certainly being made. But anti-terrorist coalitions forged by the US are essentially being used to intervene militarily in the affairs of sovereign states.
You can see this in Syria where the attempt to depose the lawful president, Bashar al-Assad, resulted in support being leant to opposition forces. That explains why airstrikes on Isis positions occur only intermittently. It just so happens that if the terrorists are fighting against Assad, they can be considered legitimate, whereas if they harm American interests, as, for instance, in Iraq, they must be annihilated. [The Americans] define which terrorists you can parlay or have dealings with, and which not, solely on the basis of their own interests.
I would like to underline the fact that fighting international terrorism as a single country or narrow coalition is ineffective by definition. Terrorism cannot be defeated alone or by separate groups because it doesn’t obey neatly defined geographical boundaries and can strike these groups without warning. In this regard, Russia is prepared to cooperate with the security services of any country on any continent, including the US.
Countering terrorism is a task for the whole international community without exception. For any state today to believe that it can remain on the sidelines, unaffected by this threat, is naÃ¯ve. Russia insists on principle that the UN and its security council should take on the role of chief coordinator in resisting terrorism.
Is terrorism the main threat to Russia and its neighbours?
Yes, one of the main threats. In 2014, the so-called Khorasan emirate was formed as part of Isis, including territory in Afghanistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The avowed goal of the terrorists is to overthrow lawful governments and implant Sharia law. They intend to form several governments in central Asia that will establish ties with the region’s radical Islamist organisations.
They are focusing their efforts, first of all, on young people and national minorities, partly through the internet. Their rank-and-file followers are interested not only in religious rhetoric but also money.
Cases of Russian and central Asian citizens swelling the ranks of the terrorists have become more common. Many are now fighting in Syria. But they will represent the greatest threat when they return home.
What is the nature of the threat?
Terrorist organisations generally plant these people in so-called sleeping cells. As locals, they are able to integrate into society completely, appearing to observe laws and norms. But when it comes to crunch time, terrorist leaders are able to use these “law-abiding citizens” to prepare or carry out attacks.
This sort of threat hangs over not only Russia and its neighbours, but also over most countries in eastern and western Europe. [Leaders] there have grasped this and are in the process of amending legislation to bolster the powers of the security services.
It is important, of course, to find the golden mean and not to use the fight against terrorism to infringe citizens’ rights and liberties, as is happening in a range of countries where the population has been subject to indiscriminate wiretaps, and has found their personal life and personal space openly interfered with.
Since we have returned to the US, John Kerry submitted proposals about cooperation in Syria. Are these proposals acceptable to Moscow?
We never broke off cooperation with other countries’ security services, including those of the United States. Where we say that Assad is a lawfully elected president, the United States believe that he is evil and must be removed from power. The US support the Syrian opposition in order to achieve this aim.
We say that the opposition there is very diverse: there is a moderate opposition, but it doesn’t represent the majority, and there is the aggressive opposition, which includes supporters of Isis. They should never be supported. The US formerly maintained contacts with Isis, believing that it didn’t represent a threat to them.
They later changed their tune. But Isis had already turned into the [world’s] most powerful terrorist organisation.
But the Americans regard Assad as illegitimate
Yes, that is the position they take, but if Assad is removed from power, the whole of Syria will fall under the control of Isis. Who will oppose them then?
Look at what is happening now in Iraq. The US say they are supporting the country’s territorial integrity, but remember what happened at the beginning of the 2000s. They declared Saddam Hussein their enemy, produced the notorious vial supposedly containing biological weapons and on the pretext of seeing off this threat, killed a head of state. Whether you liked Saddam or not, at least he was in control. There was no chaos. On what basis did the Americans kill a head of state? And do they really control the situation now in Iraq?
The same thing happened in Libya, where Muammar Gaddafi was toppled. By the way, when he was in power he had more contact with the west than with Russia, then somewhere along the line their interests parted company. Now the west is seeking the same thing in Syria. But why? So that Isis can control even more territory?
How many Russian citizens are fighting for Isis?
More than 1,000. There are thousands of people there from other countries too. Russia, central Asia, western Europe and the US.
How can we stop the flow of volunteers?
I don’t see how it is possible to do so now. It is bound up with the double standards that I have already talked about. When Isis is fighting Assad, it is supported by the US. But at the same time the US is bombing Isis. As long as they keep up these games, all this will carry on.
We have already seen this in Afghanistan. The Americans did not like the fact that Soviet troops went into Afghanistan and organised the Taliban movement. Out of the Taliban grew al-Qaeda, which was in contact with American and some other western security services. They arranged secret meetings and so forth. The Americans believed that their policy in Afghanistan had produced positive results, so they are continuing it now in Syria.
Apart from terror, which threats worry Moscow the most?
Colour revolutions are another form of destabilisation that represent an equally serious threat — the latest iteration of which occurred in Ukraine.
It is clear that behind the campaign to destabilise Ukraine lies an attempt to manufacture an instrument with which to weaken Russia dramatically. It was with this aim in mind that the preconditions were created in Ukraine for maintaining constant tension, further developing extreme forms of nationalism and sabotaging the Minsk agreements. At the same time, the task of keeping EU member states on a short leash was fulfilled: anti-Russian sanctions and positions are imposed upon them in disregard of their [own] opinions and national interests.
And the US is behind all this?
You have to look at events objectively. The US are trying to prove that Russia is party to the conflict in Ukraine, but that is not the case. Moreover, the US themselves started the conflict in Ukraine.
How is that?
Did you not pick up [on it]? It was the US that set all these events in motion. Barack Obama admitted as much in one of his recent interviews.
He simply said the US acted as intermediaries during the transfer of power in Kiev
The transfer of power provided the impetus for what happened there. Under Kerry, there is an assistant [secretary of state, Victoria] Nuland, who revealed that the US spent $5bn to organise these things.
She said that the US spent $5 billion supporting democratic institutions and civil society
There was a democratically elected president — whether you liked him or not was a question of judgement — but he was lawfully elected and no one denied it. But he did not suit the US. Although his presidency was drawing to a close and the people of Ukraine would not have re-elected him, they decided to oust him by force.
That was their mistake, politically. Had they waited, they could have installed their people by lawful means. [Instead], they initiated a coup d’etat. If there hadn’t been a coup, nothing would have happened in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
But didn’t the unrest in Kiev begin after Viktor Yanukovych, under pressure from Moscow, refused to sign the association agreement with the EU?
He postponed signing the agreement — and not under pressure from Moscow. He simply realised that he had not scrutinised what lay at the heart of the document and did not understand what implementing it would lead to. Ukraine was part of the free trade area of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) [a regional organisation of former Soviet republics]. The consequences of such a step [signing a deal with the EU] were explained to Yanukovych. He had not taken account of them before and decided to take a break in order to grapple with these questions.
Blaming Russia for how events unfolded in Ukraine is to confuse cause and effect, putting the cart before the horses. The progenitors of events in Ukraine were the US. They staged a coup d’etat to bring people to power whom they could control. The socio-economic situation in Ukraine is worsening, meanwhile, so they need to think up a reason why. By their logic, Russia is to blame for everything. In reality, they are not bothered about what will happen in Ukraine.
They just need to exert pressure on Russia, which they are [already] doing.
You are concerned about Russians volunteering for Isis. Why are you not concerned that thousands are fighting in the Donbass?
Isis is a terrorist organisation, everyone recognises this. [But] there are no terrorist groups operating in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. All this can be solved without civil war if the Minsk agreements are abided by but they are not being implemented.
In Ukraine now, even within a single family, relatives take diametrically opposed positions and trade insults. It is a civil conflict. We are ready to help — indeed, are already helping — Ukrainian refugees who are not, incidentally, being taken in by the EU or US. But getting involved in a civil conflict is pointless.
But authorities are not stopping Russian citizens going to Ukraine
We do not call on anyone to do so and we do not encourage it. But the reality is that preventing it is impossible. Not only have two million Ukrainian refugees come to Russia, they have friends and relatives here [too]. They tell them about the acts of savagery committed there. Their emotions do the rest. People head off there to take part.
What can Russia do to help fulfill the Minsk agreements?
Russia has already done everything that was necessary. All that is required is that what is written in the documents be implemented. We do not understand why Ukraine is being so stubborn. Nothing bad would have happened to them if they had implemented these agreements. But they do not want to sit down at the negotiating table with representatives of the Donetsk and Luhansk militias. And that is crucial.
Kiev says that if Russia closed the border and stopped lending aid to its supporters in the Donbass, everything would calm down
We cannot close the border. Should we organise a blockade, like happened in Leningrad? For the whole population of the Donbass? We are feeding them now, practically. Living conditions there are extremely difficult. The Minsk agreements state that the Ukrainians themselves must create the conditions for the normalisation of the social and economic situation in Donetsk and Luhansk.
But they are not doing this!
Ukraine says this is impossible as long as the firing continues
So they should stop firing then.
The US is able to deploy large quantities of heavy weaponry in eastern Europe to ‘counter the threat from Russia’. What is your position on this?
We all recall the term used by the Americans to refer to Russia’s neighbours — “frontline states” — clearly hinting that the so-called front line runs along our state border.
Against this background, it is announced that the NATO plans to deploy a contingent of up to 30,000 troops there and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announces the largest expansion in NATO capabilities since the cold war.
What is more, some actions taken by NATO look more like provocations than manoeuvres. For some strange reason, NATO hit upon the idea of conducting training exercises at precisely the same time as those parts of the world still possessed of a historical memory were celebrating the 70th anniversary of victory in the Great Patriotic War.
In the west, they tend to whip up hysteria whenever Russian planes appear in international airspace, even though they are on normal military duty. For years, they have been trying to catch Russian submarines supposedly penetrating Scandinavian waters, but have not found any. We react with restraint to NATO moves under such thought-up pretexts.
Remember the arguments put forward by the west about the construction of anti-missile defence systems in Europe? They tried to convince us that it would be aimed at nullifying the threat of an Iranian missile [strike]. But the situation changed with the agreements reached in Lausanne and the threat began to dissipate.
It would now make sense for the west to take steps to demonstrate that the anti-missile defence system was not constructed to contain Russia after all. For if they truly built this expensive system with Iran in mind, they ought now to reconsider their plans. But instead, they keep quiet and go on building it.
Where NATO really does face challenges in maintaining security and stability, it does not show itself to be particularly effective, to put it mildly. It usually runs away from confronting them head on. Take the example of Afghanistan. Despite the situation patently deteriorating and the Afghans’ proving incapable of guaranteeing their own security, the US and NATO have absolved themselves of all responsibility for how [the country] develops from here. Foreign soldiers no longer take part in military operations against terrorists.
Against this backdrop, the number of civilian deaths rose by 25% last year to 3,700 people, the highest level since 2001, while a further 7,000 civilians were injured.
Exactly the same goes for the Afghan drug trade. Despite the fact that the Americans say they have spent $7bn fighting this evil during their time in Afghanistan, over 80% of the world’s opiates are now produced there. That is 40 times more than before operation Enduring Freedom, and the annual profit from the Afghan drug trade exceeds $3bn.
Having suffered defeat in battle with its real enemy, NATO fastened on to the mythical threat of “Russian aggression”. Among other things, it is important to this organisation now to justify not only its existence but also the rise in military budgets.
You seem to see the US as a world-wide evil?
It is the US that defines what they are and what they are not, they categorised Russia as one of the main international threats. We strive to cooperate with everyone constructively. There are many positive examples of where we worked with the Americans on questions of global stability. We actively cooperated in resisting terrorism, worked closely together on Syria’s chemical weapons and on regulating Iran’s nuclear programme . . . the potential for cooperation in the Arctic was quite good.
Unfortunately, Washington took the unilateral decision to scale back cooperation with us under the invented pretext of “Russian aggression against Ukraine”. The Americans say they are committed to guaranteeing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. But Ukraine does not interest them at all. Their interest lies with Russia.
In what sense?
They would much rather that Russia did not exist at all. As a country.
Because we possess great [natural] resources. The Americans believe that we control them illegally and undeservedly because, in their view, we do not use them as they ought to be used. You surely remember ex-US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s claim that neither the Far East nor Siberia belong to Russia.
You said the US is foisting anti-Russian sanctions and positions on EU countries. But the EU also lambasts Russia over Ukraine
If it was not for the influence of the US, they would not pursue such a line.
Would they agree to the annexation of Crimea?
Are they really opposed to this? They will not say so publically, of course, but that it really the way it is. In the west, they understand that everything that happened in Crimea was lawful, that there was a referendum and so on. The reality is that they have no particular objections vis-Ã -vis Crimea. All [the fuss] will settle down with the passage of time, I think.
As far as EU countries are concerned, the Americans exert very serious influence. On more than one occasion we invited one of the Europeans to come to Russia and suggested a date, only to receive a written reply explaining that the date, or something else, did not suit them. They explained to us off the record that the Americans had leaned on them not to go, [the Americans said], wait a while, now is not the time to nurture contacts.
Is it the US that is strong or the Europeans who are weak?
Both. The Europeans are weak-willed and the Americans are strong. The US strives to dominate in the world — this goal is enshrined in their doctrine. And, for now, they are succeeding. They dominate, despite the fact that the world is changing.
This is an edited version of an interview that first ran on Kommersant. Translation by Cameron Johnston
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