Of Russian-Ukrainian origin, the former diplomat, craftsman of the end of the cold war, now a successful writer, gives his view on the war launched by Vladimir Putin.
Events rushed to Ukraine this week: recognition of the self-proclaimed Dombass Republics by Putin who then launched the war…
You know, it tears me apart, I am a Russian-Ukrainian writer, former diplomat and great gravedigger of the Cold War with Gorbachev. All my work is screwed up! I had talked a lot in recent days about avoiding this escalation. I am very sad, I had warned several months ago that there was a danger of a definitive rupture between Russia and the West which would be very serious. There will be bloc against bloc, with an anti-Western alliance between Russia and China and possibly Iran because what is at stake is also the atomic bomb over there.
How do you explain this break with the West?
We have to go back to what we did so brilliantly at the time of the fall of communism. We wanted to build a new world and we defined the architecture of European security. As a great American ambassador whom I had the good fortune to know, George Kennan, inventor of the theory of containment against Russian expansionism, said, the fact that Russia was not associated with the time with what you call “the free world”, Europe, it was the biggest mistake of the West since Jesus Christ. He is right. Russian public opinion remains convinced even today that the West did not want to kill Communism but Russia.
Russia does not have its share of responsibility?
Yes, she also has her huge responsibility. Instead of creating the new world, in the early 90s, Russians started stealing like crazy, admittedly with the complicity of Western banks, but 120 billion dollars a year were illegally leaving the country while 50% of the population approached the poverty line. The idea of an alliance with the West was discredited in those Yeltsin years. In my time, with Gorbachev, 80% of Russians were pro-Western, today it’s barely 10-15%.
What can we fear in the coming days?
Today the situation is much more serious than during the cold war because at the time there were agreements, limits and a great distinction between propaganda and real politics. Today, there is such a mix of genres that it becomes complicated to manage.
Is the hypothesis of a third world war credible?
What is happening before our eyes is the prospect of a new cold war, if not a “hot war”. We’ve come so far, I think the split is almost irreversible. All it takes is analysis errors for things to get out of hand. Contacts were never broken as they are today during the Cold War, and I was a diplomat…
Can a nuclear conflict break out?
Nobody wants it. But the accumulation of errors on both sides can lead us to a nuclear conflict. Because Putin’s tragedy is that he is psycho-rigid, he does not back down. We can go to the threshold of war, not retreat and afterwards, it’s screwed up, as it happens in a few minutes… That’s the tragedy. Who will be the first, the second to press the button? Hard to say but I’m terribly worried.
There is a lot of talk about the degree of sanctions to influence Putin…
My perception of the sanctions is that the Russians will certainly live badly, but under Yeltsin, it was ten times worse. They will lose purchasing power significantly but it would have nothing to do with what they experienced. They will put up with it if there are no deaths: 30% of the population is a mixture of Russians and Ukrainians, I am the symbol of that, you have to take that into account.
Does Putin have popular support?
We must not be in the American logic which would like many Russians to demonstrate in the streets and that they will fire Putin. Because 93% of people support him and these are not bogus polls.
He also promises severe retaliation if the sanctions fall, what can he do?
There is the possibility of the reorientation of the Russian economy towards Asia, to cause a collapse of the European economy. All we have to do is cut gas and oil and it will be two shocks. Russia also has very sophisticated weapons, it was proven on Thursday. In particular Poseidon who can annihilate the United States. Putin has a years lead and Americans know it.
How to get out of the conflict?
We will have to find a balance of interests, the Russians want us to take into account this question of NATO, which wants to absorb Ukraine. Military technique makes the situation very dangerous. Their argument is that the installation of rockets in Ukraine or Poland makes Moscow accessible to atomic weapons in six minutes. Putin is convinced that he cannot back down, it is his conviction.
Doesn’t this rhetoric of NATO’s betrayal have other goals?
In this matter there is also a lot of domestic politics, on all sides, but for Putin it is vital. He was down in the polls and, let’s face it, he was not successful with his economic policy. The context of tension with the West makes it much more popular today. There is a bloc around the leader against the Western plot and the Russians were impressed that he succeeded on Thursday in blockading Ukrainian territory in ten minutes. The goal is to forget the question of the succession which arises and his re-election, obviously, in 2024 which no longer arises.