Can you tell us what the situation is right now? We get a lot of reports of airstrikes, and that the Ukrainian army has been pinned down?
This morning, President Vladimir Putin announced the start of the operation against Ukrainian forces for the denazification and demilitarization of Ukraine. But we don’t yet know how far this will go. This means a change in the direction of Ukraine which will be more friendly with Russia. And the formal reason was Ukraine’s failure to fulfill its obligations under the Minsk Agreement over the past 7 years.
So far, we have witnessed targeted strikes on military infrastructure such as command and control centers, airfields, military depots and fighting on the line of contact in the Donbass between the forces of the two republics and Ukrainian forces. And now there are reports of Russian forces entering Ukraine with virtually zero resistance.
What do demilitarization and denazification really mean?
In Russian political discourse, the thesis about the events in Ukraine in 2014 is that the revolution in Ukraine, as depicted in Western media, was in fact a coup and a forced change of power. And this has been supported by far-right groups. And many of these far-right groups then fought in the Donbass against the Russians. Thus, President Volodymyr Zelensky was elected under the flag of peace. He was supported by the sections that supported the peaceful settlement of [the conflict in] Donbass.
But Zelensky did not find this solution, and so he instead tried to balance his position between the far right and the more peaceful groups in Ukraine. And just a month and a half ago he shut down the last peace channel in Ukraine, the pro-peace channel, which is why I think Putin called it a Nazi regime or a Nazi-supported regime.
The Ukrainian economy is heavily militarized. Over the past eight years, Western countries have pumped Ukraine with a lot of weapons, anti-tank weapons. And some Ukrainian politicians and military officials have talked about restoring Ukraine as a military state. This is what Putin meant when he talked about the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine. Today, Ukraine has an army of around 550,000 men. And denazification, he meant there will be a change of power – new elections in Ukraine.
How are Putin’s actions in Russia itself? What do the Russians think?
It’s not a full-scale invasion yet. It’s something like the Syrian campaign. And so far we only see airstrikes, targeted airstrikes – something like surgical strikes in the Indian sense. So far, Putin does not need the support of the people.
Following these strikes, there is no news of Ukrainian and Russian casualties. The limits of this operation will be known only little by little, as well as the level of resistance of the Ukrainian forces. When you carry out airstrikes, you don’t need a lot of public support – the US didn’t need public support in its campaign against Iraq, for example. Modi didn’t need public backing, didn’t take backing from parliament for the surgical strikes. So until the [time the] scale is limited, the problem of public support is not a problem, not an issue for Putin.
Where do you see all of this headed? Will it stop at these strikes, do you see it escalating?
Due to US and European sanctions against Russia since last year, they have been very soft. The Russian economy has not encountered any problems because of these actions. If it’s large-scale sanctions, problems with Swift, problems with our banks, that will be one thing. If it is a question of softer sanctions, intended to find a solution to the problem, it is quite different. Now the Russian economy is quite strong, we have a very low national debt, we have our own system, we don’t have big loans from the western market. What will happen later, I cannot say now.
How do you see this evolution of Russia’s position in the world, of its own relations in Europe and in the world?
Over the past 30 years, our leaders, our elites, have been overwhelmingly pro-Western. A few years ago it was the bend to the east. So I think this shift is going to happen. Russia will be more east oriented after that. We will have to fix our borders in the west and start shifting our interests to the east, to the markets of the east.
How do you see China’s response to what happened? Yesterday they took a very cautious line, today they blamed NATO expansion.
China is in a really difficult position. China has problems with the United States and some other NATO countries, for example the United Kingdom. For China, support for the Russian position is inevitable. China is one of those who have benefited from the European crisis because after that, the United States and European countries will have to focus on the European situation and the United States will not be able to shift its attention to the Pacific.
And at the same time, China has its own problems in Taiwan – China cannot recognize the republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, as this may lead the Taiwanese to hold their own referendum and a declaration of Taiwanese independence, and China so far has no means to prevent this.
What is the Russian expectation from India?
India has quite a rich and difficult history about restoration of Indian titles and Indian ownership over certain territories – we remember Goa, Hyderabad, Sikkim referendum, etc. In all these cases, Russia supported India, Russia was never against India. And so we now understand the Indian position – India is our old friend, and at the same time we understand that India has no choice but to be close to the United States, the superpower and the hegemony. So we believe that India as a whole will maintain its neutral line and stay above the situation.
Do you think there is still room for a diplomatic settlement of the situation?
Of course, there is always room for a diplomatic resolution. For example, if Ukrainian leaders agree to demilitarize their economy, and perhaps ban neo-Nazi groups, that will be enough. Then it could be talks in the Normandy format, between the Europeans, the Ukrainian leaders, the Russian leaders, maybe to implement the Minsk agreements, maybe to have a new Minsk agreement for federalization from Ukraine.
But I’m not sure – one of the goals for the last month and a half was to try to find a European leader who could pressure Ukraine to implement the Minsk agreement. But Putin did not find this leader. But I hope it will stop as soon as possible and that fewer civilians will suffer.
From Putin’s speech, he got the impression that he wanted to reintegrate Ukraine into Russia. Is it something he would do?
No, he did not talk about the integration of Ukraine. He said that large parts of Ukraine had been given to Ukraine by the Stalinist regime, by the communist regime, etc. He pointed [out] that Ukrainian actions are illogical because Ukraine has started decommunization, and Putin explained [that] Russia can show you (Ukraine) what real decommunization is – Ukraine could lose all of its territories.
But I don’t think he wants to incorporate Ukraine into Russia because for us, in fact, we need a political solution. The Ukrainian question must be decided by compromise and not by incorporation.
I’m sorry for this analogy, but for us Ukraine is the same as Pakistan is for India. And so we are going to have our peaceful Pakistan, and pro-Indian Pakistan on our border.
If the general intention, as has been suggested, of massing troops on the Ukrainian border, was to attract the attention of the West and impress upon them Russia’s uncertainties regarding NATO enlargement and trying to forge a new security architecture in Europe, this escalation does not mean serves that purpose, does it? Now, the new security architecture will be more anti-Russian than it was before, the exact opposite of what President Putin wanted. How do you see the consequences?
From the start, Putin had many options. The main option was to step up, to demonstrate Russia’s military capabilities. The main objective was to create a new security system in Europe. And Ukraine is only one piece of this puzzle. But after a month and a half of fruitless talks, and trying to get answers from the West, Putin thought it was all over. Russia therefore had no solution concerning European security. In this situation, Putin decided to secure the southern and eastern part of the border and to pacify Ukraine. Now let’s see.
For us, there is a great danger that Finland and Sweden will move closer to NATO. But maybe that’s just my opinion, the Ukrainian problem is much more painful, and more important than the problem of Finland’s and Sweden’s participation in NATO. But of course it would be nice if we could avoid this situation.