Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev doesn’t like to talk to journalists. But then he’s a member of the narrow circle of the country’s top leadership. For nearly 10 years, from 1998 to 2008, Patrushev was head of the FSB.* And since Dmitri Medvedev’s accession to the presidency, he’s been the undisputed leader of the Security Council.
Our conversation with Patrushev lasted for more than an hour. But in the process of negotiating the text of the interview, he harshly edited the direct quotes, leaving only what was most important in his responses. However, I think even this is enough to provide a three-dimensional picture of Patrushev, his views and beliefs, and how he sees Russia and the world.
Q: Nikolai Platonovich, isn’t modern Russia, with only a part of the resources of the Soviet Union at its disposal, trying to pursue a foreign policy that only a superpower on the level of the USSR could handle?
Patrushev: Naturally, we understand that Russia is only a part of the former Soviet Union, but Russia doesn’t aspire to the role of a superpower. Unlike the U.S., we don’t seek to dominate the world. But that doesn’t mean Russia doesn’t have its own national interests. We are obliged to defend them, including at the expense of an effective foreign policy.
Q: How long, from your point of view, might the active phase of the current confrontation between Russia and the West last?
Patrushev: The Russian Federation isn’t interested in a confrontation with the West. Moreover, at the foundation of Russia’s foreign policy lies a determination not only to defend our own interests but to take the interests of other partners into account as well. The initiator of the current conflict is the United States. Europe obeys its will. So the decision to put an end to the confrontation doesn’t depend on Russia. We are always ready for a resumption of equitable cooperation.
Q: You say that we didn’t start the confrontation. I suspect that any Westerner would retort: Wasn’t it you who took Crimea away from Ukraine and incorporated it into Russia? Surely you didn’t have to do that!
Patrushev: In reality, Crimea wasn’t our initiative either. Here we should “thank” the United States. It was Washington that initiated the process of the anti-constitutional coup in Ukraine. Crimea joined the Russian Federation not because Russia wanted it, but because the peninsula’s people held a referendum and an absolute majority decided: We want to be part of Russia, not part of Ukraine.
The only real alternative to Crimea joining the Russian Federation was massive bloodshed on the peninsula. Therefore, I’m convinced that the international community should thank us for Crimea. They should thank us for the fact that in that region, unlike the Donbass, there was no massive loss of life.
Q: And what, from your point of view, is the chance that the international community will thank us for Crimea by, for example, recognizing the legality of it becoming part of Russia?
Patrushev: The international community will recognize Crimea as Russian territory since the decision of Crimea’s people should be respected, and the holding of the referendum on the status of Crimea was in accordance with international law and the U.N. Charter, and it relied on, among other things, the Kosovo precedent.
Q: And do you believe in the possibility that the Donbass, in both word and deed, will return to being part of Ukraine?
Patrushev: The Donbass didn’t leave Ukraine. We are interested in Ukraine remaining a unified state and not at all interested in its disintegration. We believe that the Minsk agreements should be fully implemented. The question is whether there is such a willingness to do so on the part of the authorities in Kiev.
Q: But is it not a strategic defeat for Russia that Ukraine has turned into a state whose de facto “national ideology” is extreme forms of hatred toward our country? Were there, from your point of view, opportunities to prevent such a development?
Patrushev: Russian analysts, including those within government agencies, warned of a high probability of a deterioration of the situation in Ukraine. But they didn’t predict it would come to a coup d’etat with an anti-Russian subtext. And to the end we provided the Ukrainians large-scale material and financial assistance. At present, Ukraine’s leadership consists of U.S. puppets who carry out foreign will aimed at further distancing their country from Russia. Such a policy has no promise. If it isn’t abandoned in time, it will lead to a complete collapse of the Ukrainian economy and to the disintegration of Ukraine.
At the same time, both within the Russian Federation and within Ukraine lives, in essence, a single nation that is for the time being divided. There will inevitably come in Ukraine a time of rethinking what is being done now. In the end, normal relations between our countries will definitely be restored.
Q: You mentioned the possibility of a collapse of Ukraine’s economy. But how do the prospects of Russia’s economy look? The Americans, it seems, are basing their calculations on this, saying soon Russia will run out of economic resources and put its hands up.
Patrushev: Russia is a self-sufficient country that’s fully able to provide for itself. You asked me about the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The USSR, by the way, by no means disintegrated because of problems in the economy. The leaders of the USSR simply lost their bearings. They didn’t understand how and what they had to do; they didn’t see a way to solve the country’s problems. Well, and most importantly, the leadership of the USSR didn’t take any responsibility. It forgot the fundamental principle of governance: If you make a decision, you’re accountable for it. Let’s recall, for example, the decision to use troops in Georgia or in Lithuania. Does anyone really believe that the decisions were made at the level of those carrying out the actions? Listen, that’s really not serious.
Q: I agree that that’s not serious. But what does that have to do with the economic problems of the USSR or modern Russia?
Patrushev: It has to do with the breakdown of the state’s system. At a crucial moment, the Soviet Union’s leadership didn’t show political will; it didn’t believe in its ability to preserve the country, and didn’t adopt the necessary economic measures. Russia’s current leadership has proven more than once that it has political will and it is able to preserve and strengthen the state’s constitutional order, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.
Q: But are the conflicts between Russia and NATO conceivably resolvable? What, from your point of view, is NATO’s specific strategic objective with respect to our country?
Patrushev: In order to understand NATO’s objectives, it’s first necessary to accept the following: NATO’s leadership clearly proceeds in keeping with American policy. To neutralize the “overly independent” members of the alliance (France, Germany and Italy), Washington skillfully uses the anti-Russian orientation of the countries of the North Atlantic bloc’s eastern flank. The U.S. leadership has designated for itself the objective of dominating the world. As a consequence, they don’t need a strong Russia. On the contrary, they need to weaken our country as much as possible. Achieving this objective through the disintegration of the Russian Federation can’t be ruled out. It would open up U.S. access to the very richest resources which, in their opinion, Russia undeservedly has at its disposal.
We can’t help but be troubled by the buildup of NATO’s military capabilities and the allotment of global functions to the organization in violation of international law. The intensification of military activities by the bloc’s countries, the alliance’s further expansion, and the approach of its military infrastructure to Russia’s borders pose a threat to our security.
Q: The U.S. doesn’t rule out, or does it want, Russia’s disintegration?
Patrushev: Washington thinks that if it wants to, it’s capable of playing a catalytic role in the process.
Q: But don’t we want to grab ourselves a bit of the others’ resources? Recently, a number of Latvian and Ukrainian online publications wrote about some interview with you in which you supposedly talked about Russia’s plans to strike a blow against NATO, even to the point of taking over several countries.
Patrushvev: I said nothing of the kind. Representatives of Ukrainian and Latvian online media attributed words to me that I didn’t say. They were apparently indulging in wishful thinking.
Q: Just how realistically did Russia assess the situation when it made the decision to begin its military operation in Syria? Aren’t we doing the dirty work for others, for Assad or for Iran, for example?
Patrushev: Recently, international terrorist organizations like the Islamic State, al-Qaida and the Nusra Front have stepped up their activity in North Africa and the Middle East. The scaling up of their activities poses security threats to many states, including the Russian Federation. A military defeat of the Syrian Arab Republic and its possible disintegration would inevitably lead to a strengthening of these terrorist organizations and subsequently to a change of mission by the extremists to one targeting Russian territory.
We have previously confronted the actions of international terrorists in Russia. But we can’t let it happen again. For this reason, we’re fighting international terrorism inside our country. In Syria, we’re defending first and foremost our own interests while also defending other countries of the world from international terrorism.
Q: But doesn’t our military operation in Syria belong to the category of those that are relatively easy to start but very difficult to finish with dignity? Won’t we have to be engaged in combat operations in the country for many years to come?
Patrushev: In Syria, there are issues that we by all means need to resolve. It will take some time, but the sooner the military operation ends, the better.
*Editor’s note: The FSB or the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation is the principal security agency of Russia.
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