Question: The first and most important question: does Russia want a war against the west, against the U.S.?
Answer: Most emphatically no! During the Cold War the primary adversaries went to great lengths to understand the other side’s position – to put themselves in the other guy’s shoes. Today this is not happening. This is why the current situation is so unstable and dangerous. Washington is not interested in resolving conflicts; in fact, it only inflames them, i.e. Syria, Ukraine and the South China Sea. More broadly, Americans refuse to recognize that Russia has its own national security interests – its own “red lines.” The Kremlin has resigned itself to having to deal with an interlocutor that is deaf and dumb. Russia is preparing for the worst.
Q.: How to do you respond to the claim that Russia is determined to undermine NATO, western alliances, and return to the Middle East as a major player? Is Putin’s Russia determined to restore the power and influence of the Soviet Union?
A.: We have to remember the Cold War was never properly ended. Mikhail Gorbachev naively believed Washington would keep its word (a gentlemen’s agreement given verbally – not in writing) NATO would not move eastward with the dissolution of the Warsaw Part. Russia was lied to. NATO did expand eastward and does pose a security threat to Russia. The Kremlin reflects on this every single day as it is endlessly accused of behaving “aggressively.” Does Russia want to see NATO collapsed or reformed in a way that identifies 21st century security realities? Of course it does. This is acting like a rational nation-state actor.
When it comes to the Middle East, it is clear what is happening. Washington has shown itself to be erratic, incredibly violent, and unreliable. Too much of America’s foreign policy behavior is influenced by its unholy alliances with Israel and Saudi Arabia – countries that are only security liabilities for the U.S., its alliance partners in the Middle East and further afield. The illegal regime change in Iraq and the other wars of choice in the region have all ended in disastrous failures. Russia doesn’t want to see the same to happen in Syria. Doing so has made Russia an enemy of the west. Washington’s plans to overthrow the secular regime in Damascus are nothing less than insanity.
On the issue of re-building the Soviet Union or Russian Empire: this is fantasy. Russia was a net loser in the Soviet Union. There are many Russians who do miss the Soviet Union, but not for its empire. They miss certainty and stability – the all-encompassing welfare state. The vast majority of Russians never give Estonia a thought. Even if a majority of Estonians voted to join Russia, I bet the vast majority of Russians would say no. Russian designs on the Baltic States are a western media illusion.
Q.: Why does the west’s media portray Russia as an enemy if you say Russia has no interest in a conflict?
A.: What Russia is, does and says is really not at issue – Russia is merely a bit player in a much greater drama. Washington’s obsession with Russia is about how America sees its place in the world – and that place is at the center. It must have sway everywhere and all the time. Once this hegemonic practice faces resistance all resources are marshaled to assault this “threat.” Because Russia has the resources and will to resist it is automatically labeled an enemy. All the more so as Russia conducts its foreign policy based on its defined interests – this course infuriates Washington’s foreign policy establishment, particularly when the U.S. goes from one policy failure to another. Someone has to be blamed! Just read some of the statements coming from Defense Secretary Ash Carter and State Secretary John Kerry – “if Russia agrees,” if the Russians only cooperated” etc. Translation: Russia doesn’t do what it is told. Viewed from Moscow, Washington acts like an addicted and violent adolescent who can’t accept being told “no.”
Q.: What are the chances the simmering conflict in Ukraine will escalate? Is this where a hot conflict could start? What about Syria?
A.: I have mentioned elsewhere Ukraine could be used as a kind of “October Surprise” in the American presidential campaign – start a war in Ukraine and then blame Russia. The Kiev regime has already signaled it is more than willing to play its part. The recent incident in Crimea is a message to me the American public is being prepared to be inflamed to justify a NATO intervention. This will result in utter failure. Crimea is now part of Russia. The Kremlin will have no choice but to use ALL means available to it to protect Russian sovereignty.
An attack on Crimea will ignite a conflict that could escalate into a general war – including the use of nuclear weapons. Regarding Syria: we already know a Clinton presidency will target Syria for regime change starting the first day of the new administration. Any attack on Syria will also be designed to undermine and end Russia’s legal intervention there. Again, this is very risky. It needs to be remembered Washington only attacks countries that cannot defend themselves. Syria with Russian and Iranian support is something completely different. Syria has the will and means to resist. And I have no doubt Syria and its allies are preparing for such an eventuality.
Q.: You say it is Washington that desires a conflict with Russia, so what can Russia do?
A.: Russia will keep doing what it has been doing – preparing for a conflict. There is no evidence Washington is interested in negotiations to resolve conflicts. It won’t force its client state Ukraine to implement the Minsk agreements, thus maintaining conditions for a greater conflict with Russia. The U.S. and its NATO allies continue to aid and protect terrorist groups in Syria. Washington is far more interested in removing Assad from power – and the Islamic State is a useful tool toward that end. One thing I am convinced of: if the west continues on the path of direct military conflict, it will eventually happen. Confronted to with an overwhelming existential threat Russia will resist and will be determined not to be defeated. It is up to Washington – it must decide whether it wants to pursue another war of choice.
Peter Lavelle is host of RT’s political debate program CrossTalk. His views may or may not reflect those of his employer.