Everything that I am going to say is based on facts, I am not going to get into opinion…But if I do, I will clearly say that. What I will try to do is to furnish a picture of the history and the reasons why Putin became Putin that we all know today.
I would like to start and look back to 1985 when most of you weren’t born yet I guess and when Gorbachev was the leader of the Soviet Union. What we should always remember is that Gorbachev’s intentions were to preserve the Soviet Union and to preserve socialism. One of the most positive things that happened during the Gorbachev period was his meeting with Ronald Reagan, the US president because the two men liked each other. We should never underestimate the importance of personal relations at the very top. Just for example look at the ex-president Obama and Vladimir Putin, they cannot stand each other and you can see it from their body language, the way they look at each other. This makes it difficult to achieve any kind of understanding. On the other hand, Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan hit it off which made it possible to begin their discussion together that turned to become extremely important to both sides. When they both were leaders, one of the most important issue was the reunification of Germany. If the Soviet Union did agree to the German reunification, there had to be some kind of promises:
1. Would the united Germany become a part of NATO?
2. Whether or not any other countries (closer to the Soviet Union’s border) would become the members of NATO?
We should keep in mind that for the better or for the worse, the Soviet Union always consider NATO to be a threat, whereas the NATO was presented by the west as a defensive military union, that was created to protect Western Europe from the possible Soviet attack, and therefore had no offensive strategic role at all. However, the Soviet and Russian side always saw NATO as a threat. James Baker promised that should Germany reunite, NATO would not move 1 inch east side. People said that it was never said and not recorded anywhere, that is not true and it did not happen! If he did promise that, so that is the question of trust. On December 12th, the national security ORCA published the minutes of discussions between James Baker and Gorbachev. This is now the official document that finally published for a long time as it was a secret document. James Baker does say that we will not move NATO one inch east way, so that promise was actually made. Gorbachev was led to believe that should Germany reunite, NATO would stay away. Of course, the West had to develop some kind of policy: would the Soviet Union exist? If it did, would it be a very different Soviet Union and what kind of? If it fell apart, would that lead to a civil war? How would that impact Western Europe and the US? Would it be a threat to the west or not? What policy should be adapted? Should the West be involved?
In December 1991, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. 3 presidents: Kravchuk (Ukraine), Shushkevich (Belarus) and Yeltsin (Russia) signed an agreement of the Soviet Union ending. Despite all other republics, these three republics were at the core of the entire USSR structure. So why did this happen? It happened because the system was not working anymore, the war, no territory expansion etc. In my opinion, the real reason was that Yeltsin wanted to be on the top; there was the Soviet Union and it had a president and the president was Mikhail Gorbachev. Yeltsin was the president of the Russian Federation, so he was formally and officially the second. So how to become the number one and get rid of Gorbachev? Simply by disbanding the Soviet Union. No Soviet Union = no president = no Gorbachev. Basically, in my view, that was the reason why Yeltsin wanted to get rid of the USSR. The West had to make a decision on what to do with Russia, how to react and treat this new situation? It was unclear at all…
In 1992, Mr Paul Wolfowitz wrote a paper the “Wolfowitz Doctrine”. It was a defence planning for the US for the future. It was leaked to the New York Times and was very widely criticized by many people as the document outlined a policy of unilateralism and pre-emptive military action to suppress potential threats from other nations and prevent any other nation from rising to superpower status, specifically Russia. Such was the outcry that the document was hastily re-written under the close supervision of U.S. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell before being officially released on April 16, 1992. Many of its tenets re-emerged in the Bush Doctrine which was described by Senator Edward M. Kennedy as “a call for 21st century American imperialism that no other nation can or should accept.” The main idea of this paper clearly stated that America is the only superpower, it should remain the only superpower and should do everything necessary to convince that no other country is able to threaten the US the way the Soviet Union was. We continue to recognize that collectively the conventional forces of the states formerly comprising the Soviet Union retain the most military potential in all of Eurasia; and we do not dismiss the risks to stability in Europe from a nationalist backlash in Russia or efforts to reincorporate into Russia the newly independent republics of Ukraine, Belarus and possibly others. We must, however, be mindful that democratic change in Russia is not irreversible…” Lots of American leaders looked at Russia with great suspicion, what is actually understandable, but they had to make a decision on how to treat Russia. At that point, there was a great window of opportunity – Russia had not been Russia for a very long time. It was a very difficult situation – economically and military very poor. There were two possibilities:
1. To adapt a kind of a Marshall Plan (that was adapted after the WWII) by the United States with the idea that fascism will not come back in Europe.
In other words, to spend money to enforce and reinforce democratic change. Not just give money but aim it very carefully and very effectively in ways that it would enhance democratic development.
2. To supress Russia. To make sure that Russia not to get back on her feet; she is weak and lost the cold war and keep it that way.
In November 1992, Bill Clinton was elected as a president of the USA and initially had a friendly relationship with president Yeltsin but by 1996 he had decided to enlarge NATO. Surely, there were lots of discussions on this matter. By including Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic into NATO, there would be more effective and positive things in the US interest rather than not doing it at all. So why was NATO created in 1949? It was created as a defensive military union against a possible Soviet attack. So then the question arises if there is no more Soviet Union, so why do we need NATO? And why do we need to enlarge it? Mr.John Kannon said that “I think that the enlargement of NATO is the beginning of a new cold war. I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any other serious way. NATO expansion was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs.” In the end of the article Kannon concluded that “…the seminal events of this century took place between 1989 and 1992 – the collapse of the Soviet Empire, which had the capability, imperial intentions and ideology to truly threaten the entire free world. Thanks to Western resolve and the courage of Russian democrats, that Soviet Empire collapsed without a shot, spawning a democratic Russia, setting free the former Soviet republics and leading to unprecedented arms control agreements with the US.” And what was America’s response? It was to expand NATO cold-war alliance against Russia and bring it closer to Russia’s borders. What this has led to is the collapse of many trusts between Russia, the west and the US. NATO did whatever they wanted to do actually e.g. the bombing of Yugoslavia. A full breakdown of trust.
When Putin came to power in 2000, he spoke with Bill Clinton and suggested that we joined NATO as well. Clinton said that it was OK with him but nothing happened out of that. Just imagine how the situation would have changed if Russia was in NATO. After all of these things, in 2007 in Munich Putin made a speech (that is very well known) and said: “I think it is obvious that NATO expansion does not have any relation with the modernization of the Alliance itself or with ensuring security in Europe. On the contrary, it represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust.” We have to ask – against who is this expansion intended?
The Secretary General, Mr. Manfred Worner in 1990s said that “the very fact that we are ready not to deploy NATO troops beyond the territory of the Federal Republic gives the Soviet Union firm security guarantees.“ So where are those guarantees? And from that speech on, Putin became as a monster, evil, dangerous for the western world. The point that I am trying to make is not that I am certainly not a Putin’s fan and there are lots of things that I would disagree in his policy, but about the Western Policy; the Western Policy is not a Russian policy. Western policy has led to this very dangerous situation. For example, Russia says if NATO puts a Defensive Shield in Europe this means they are pointing it at Russia.
The US is modernizing its nuclear forces today and surely Russian nuclear forces are more powerful, but American conventional forces are far more powerful than Russian. Back to 1980s and earlier, in the Soviet Union people were really afraid of a nuclear war. President Trump probably has a little understanding of what the nuclear weapon can actually do. Today there are 9 countries in the world that have a nuclear weapon.
My grandson was born in Germany and he is basically more German than Russian. He speaks Russian but with an accent and makes mistakes; he is 22 years old now. When he was about 10 or 11 years old, I asked him what they teach you at school about fascism. Well, he said that “it is not just Hitler who we blame, it’s the German people. Because the German people supported Hitler and his ideology. It’s the German people who we blame.”
I don’t know any other country in the world who teaches that its people who we need to blame, but not the president, the Congress, the Duma etc. I keep coming back to that thought that if something happens, we are to be blamed. I tell people that they should go and vote on March 18th, but people say “oh why should we vote? We can’t change anything…” And I say “don’t you think that it is important? How many people are not going to vote for Putin but for someone else? Is that not of your interest at all? If nobody votes, how do we know why you are not voting? Just because you are lazy, want to sleep longer or simply tired? You have a duty to vote.” Some countries are sending to jail for not voting. There are lots of people who never thought of that. I always come back to a statement of Hermann Goering “Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.” “… voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”
When we listen to our politicians, we need to think more often of what they say and why they say this and that to us.
Am I optimistic? There is no reason to be optimistic. I think there is a total lack of understanding. The interesting fact is that we now have so many possibilities to communicate across all borders and the world, you can create any kind of organizations, exchange ideas and thoughts, could really impact the situation but we are not doing anything! The new generation has an incredible ability to talk to each other in any language, but we are not doing anything and this does not contribute to my optimism.
One of the things that the West says about Russia is that Russia is not democratic. The media in Russia is controlled by the federal government and the local governments. There is no independence… It’s important to remember that Russia never had democracy, not in the Soviet and the post-Soviet times.
When was the last time you heard anything positive about Russian on British television? Why is that happening?
Think about it…
Please contact me directly, if you would like to hear the recorded version of this lecture.