Look on the other side of the Board

Well-known journalist on international Affairs Alexei Pushkov – author and many years of leading analytical program “Postscriptum”, member of the Federation Council Committee on constitutional legislation and state construction, and to 2016 – Chairman of the state Duma Committee on international Affairs, has released a new book called “Global chess. Russian party”. About who and what rules today is playing on the global chessboard, he said in an interview “RG”.

Alexei Pushkov: Russia is Now playing on the global chessboard of his own “Russian party”. Photo: Alexander Korolkov/RG

Alexey, seeing that name brings to mind a book by Zbigniew Brzezinski “the Grand chessboard. The domination of America and its geostrategic imperatives”. It is not a coincidence? Your book is a view from the other side of the chessboard?

Alexei Pushkov: of Course, no coincidence. This title is not so much a response to Brzezinski, already deceased, as a reaction to his work, which was written in the mid 90-ies, when the United States acted as the sole and indisputable global center of power. In the 90s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union with them could not compete weakened Russia and could not yet China. It was a period that lasted, in my opinion, for about 15 years. One well-known American publicist later called this time “the unipolar moment”. Successful definition. An intelligent man knows that it is infinitely the absolute domination of the United States on the world stage will not last – there will inevitably be other centers of power. But this “unipolar moment” really was. He was associated with a sharp increase in the global U.S. position after the collapse of the Soviet Union back to Russia to a secondary role in world politics, as well as the fact that new centers of power, which could cast doubt on the omnipotence of the United States, has not yet formed.

The title of my book is to show that if at the time when he wrote his book Brzezinski, Russia appeared on the global chessboard as a slave, dependent and retreating player, she plays on her own “Russian party”. And it is generally accepted. The President of Russia, in all the polls and rankings, including the us (for example, in such high ranking publications like Forbes or Foreign Policy), consistently ranked in the “top three” world leaders, and often ahead of the US President. By the way, say, Barack Obama could not survive this, it drove him mad. Trump, by contrast, recognizes, and even emphasizes the role of Vladimir Putin. And it is obvious today that the world’s largest issues are resolved in the triangle USA-Russia-China.

That is, the party is not only between Russia and the United States? This Board is not two countries?

Alexei Pushkov: In fact, “global chessboard” is an allegory. The game is played on many boards. Party of Russia with the United States is in a stalemate position where we’re playing defensively, but with a sharp counter-attacks in Syria. I think this situation on this Board will last a long time. Now actually there is a positional confrontation between the two countries with a predominantly US pressure, and without tangible prospects for a normalization of relations.

You deliberately use the word “confrontation”?

Alexei Pushkov: we are Talking about the opposition – with one important amendment: not so much Russia opposes the United States, how the United States confront Russia, trying to put her Mat and remove from the global Board as a leading player. It can be called a situation of a unilateral “cold war” with the United States. After all, the classic “cold war” which was between the United States and the West and the Soviet Union for nearly 45 years, consisted in the fact that the US tried to expand its domination, and Soviet Union – his. We were faced with the Americans in many regions of the globe – from the Far East to Latin America, where we supported Cuba, Nicaragua, the government of Salvador Allende in Chile. It was a global scramble for leadership. Now Russia does not claim to hegemony, and, by the way, not their actions cause serious harm to the United States. It does not introduce sanctions against them, not to place their military bases near their territory, not trying to squeeze them out of Europe and other regions of the globe. On the contrary, the United States is strategically closer to our borders through the expansion of NATO through the deployment of their troops and bases closer to Russia. The US is waging against us an economic war. According to estimates of the Ministry of foreign Affairs, they already told us about 50 sanctions of various kinds – personal, financial, military-technical and economic. Mobilizing to fight with us the entire Western Alliance strikes anti-Russian resolution in the UN, OSCE and other structures. That’s what I call a situation of a unilateral “cold war”.

Not so much Russia opposes the United States, how the United States confront Russia, trying to put her Mat, and remove from the global Board as a leading player

But if we compare this situation with the dispositions on the chessboard, it is still confrontation because their position we, however, try not to give in, defend them, and in a number of areas to improve. For example, the US has long required us to leave Syria, stop supporting a legitimate government. We did not do that. On the contrary, we have expanded our operations and provided critical support to the government of Syria in the liberation of the country from Islamist militants. We are required to transfer Crimea to Ukraine. And why should we pass the area, which is only because of a historical incident and unwittingly Boris Yeltsin became part of Ukraine in 1991? Moreover, if the people of Crimea don’t want to! We do not give and will not give up. US urges us to “wash his hands” and turn your back to the Donbas. But we do not. Our position is well known: the Donbass part of Ukraine, but the crisis should be resolved on the basis of the Minsk agreement and not “Stripping” DNI/LC, which is planned in Kiev. So a stalemate between the two leading nuclear powers of the world on the global chessboard – it is confrontation, do not be fooled.

In the United States, it seems that there are only two policies, which would improve relations with Russia. The first is the President of Donald trump, the second – Senator Rand Paul, who recently came to Russia and took the initiative for the lifting of sanctions to the Russian Parliament. But President Trump not allowed to go to the normalization of relations with Moscow, moreover, he imposed anti-Russian sanctions by the Congress. And Rand Paul after his return from Moscow, has undergone a monstrous criticized as “Putin’s agent” and “traitor of American interests”, and its amendment proposal to repeal the personal sanctions was predictable, failed in the U.S. Senate. With two politicians who wanted to improve relations with Russia, even if one of them is President, the United States, I think that not moving this is not enough – the entire American political elite is, I would say, to fight “to the bitter end.” This does not mean that the United States will announce to us a real war, but the economic and political war against us they are already – that’s obvious. And any war has a purpose. The purpose of this war, at least, changes in the foreign policy of Russia, the retreat of our country in key areas – such as Syria, Ukraine, middle East, Nord stream-2, plus the overall weakening of Russia’s positions in the post-Soviet space. And the maximum task – it’s one or the other form of “regime change”, in which Russia would be manageable, obedient and recognizes American hegemony, abandoning its sovereignty and independent development. In 2007, Vladimir Putin gave a speech in Munich, where he said that a “unipolar world” led the United States to Russia is unacceptable because it is contrary to Russian national interests. From that moment he became a target for the American elite, and since the summer of 2008, after the Russian-Georgian war and recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, we have entered a new phase of relations. Make no mistake: it all began long before the events in Ukraine. What happened in Ukraine and around Ukraine, was only the highest point of confrontation. Then West through an illegal change of power in Kiev tried to pursue his longtime goal: to tear Ukraine away from Russia, to oppose them to each other. Russia responded to the reunification of the Crimea and support for Donbas. Began a new phase of the crisis. So we started to play a private party on the global chessboard, in my opinion, after the Munich speech of Putin. This is its historical significance. We stopped playing with US in the giveaway, and then they switched to a policy of direct pressure on Russia, trying to force us to return to this game.

What do you think, was it possible to play this game differently? And how it would affect the current position of the pieces on this chessboard?

Alexei Pushkov: Any party can be played in different ways. Mikhail Gorbachev played for her, almost not looking at the Board and giving in on all the tricks of their counterparts. The result is known. Please note: during the so-called “perestroika” of our foreign policy any concessions to Russia, the West did not. Moreover, even in a situation when the West was willing to go to any steps, which would take into account the security interests of our country as it was before the so-called reunification of Germany, Gorbachev and foreign Minister of the USSR Eduard Shevardnadze failed to get anything.

In the book I cited an eyewitness account of the diplomat who participated in negotiations in Moscow. In the United States perfectly understood that the formation of a unified Germany on the basis of Germany, i.e. the absorption of Eastern Germany, is actually a victory in the “cold war”: after the formation of two German States and started a large confrontation between the Soviet Union and the West led by the United States. President George Bush gave his Secretary of state James Baker instructed to promise the Russians all that they ask as long as they agreed to a “merger” of the two Germanys. And in the GDR, remember, was then about 350 thousand of our troops and thousands of tanks. We had a very powerful position, but Gorbachev had already considered that the party is lost and nothing can be done. And when Baker said at the talks, saying that we understand that the emergence of a unified Germany could pose a threat in your eyes, since Germany is part of NATO, and offered to give the Soviet Union certain guarantee of security, Gorbachev and Shevardnadze said, no, no guarantees are necessary, we believe your word. Stunned, Baker returned to the United States and referred to President George Bush the answer. Bush didn’t believe it. He felt that the Russians were up to something, probably, want to disrupt the whole plan. “Go again, offer them anything you want, any warranties of security, but we need to get a unified Germany.” Baker again came to Moscow, this time with Soviet colleagues to set out the conditions of German unification. “We promise you that NATO is not an inch will not move to the East if there is a Union, – said the Baker. – Have you had your wishes? We could fix.” For this Shevardnadze said, “We don’t negotiate”.

In my opinion, Shevardnadze already knew that the case may go to decay, or severely weakening the Soviet Union, and were preparing for their own “special relationship” with the Americans, so was taking the position quite consciously. As for Gorbachev, I think, the reason for this behavior lies in the fact that he was very weak political player. It seemed to him that need to abandon the “cold war”, and then everything will line up by itself. Not lined up and line up couldn’t. We got rid of the legacy of the cold war – was dissolved the Warsaw Pact, Yeltsin withdrew our troops from Eastern Europe, but the West did not put off. On the contrary, NATO has not only not ceased, but have increased dramatically, absorbing in its membership those countries that were “abandoned” after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In politics believe, especially in the word, is impossible to anyone, in politics there are only interests, they “run the show”. And even if your buddy has good intentions with them reached a verbal agreement, most likely, will be cancelled and their followers – the future Prime Ministers and presidents. But most often Gorbachev, Western leaders simply lied from the very beginning, since he was happy to be deceived. For five years he managed to lose a lot of power and create the conditions for the collapse of the vast country. Gorbachev himself had presided over its main retreat everywhere in the world. These are the facts. And it’s not me, and history has rendered his verdict.

As for Boris Yeltsin, he play chess not know how. He had a tendency to sweep all the pieces off the chessboard and try to personally negotiate with the company. Judging by recently published in the U.S. transcripts of the talks with Yeltsin, he has repeatedly said bill Clinton saying, let’s you and I alone where no one will interfere, we’ll meet on the island or on a submarine, and there without all these prevent us people (he was referring to advisors, Ministers, consultants) everything you and me agree. When reading this, I think: what should be the level of thinking of a person, if he believes that it is possible to arrange everything with Clinton in a submarine? Does he realize that the Clinton’s are serious and influential circles, which have their own idea of what should be us foreign policy? And, even if Clinton something located if he wants to be an effective President, should coordinate their approach with his administration and with Congress. The US President is not omnipotent figure. And Boris Nikolayevich as a person deeply provincial, who all his life was a Builder in the Urals and never dealt with foreign policy, it seemed that everything is decided by personal relationship. Yes, they have a special meaning in politics, but only as a supplementary factor in the “big game” on a global Board, where the interests of cooperating States. In my opinion, the worst player for his country than Gorbachev and Yeltsin, and hard to imagine.


Alexei Pushkov: Yes, “lucky”. That Putin played in serious chess. He’s a strong player.

Especially in the world now very few strong chess players.

Alexei Pushkov: no doubt, but with the amendment that today the Western world is experiencing a leadership crisis. And strong leaders are beyond. XI Jinping, Narendra modi, Erdogan is a strong modern leaders. To them I believe Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, President of Egypt, who recently came to us in the Federation Council. But in the West we see the eccentric tramp, which I hate 95 percent of the U.S. political class, and it’s not like almost all leaders of Western countries. Trump is a living example and a product of the crisis of American leadership. Traditional American liberal elite has failed to nominate one of their number, a policy that would take the baton from the hands of the former henchmen of the elite that ruled America all these years – bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama (some of them more conservative, someone less, but they are all the flesh of the American establishment). The baton was trying to pass Hillary Clinton, but she tripped and the stick fell. At this critical moment it was picked up, suddenly bursting into the stadium runner with fiery red hair, which nobody was expecting at this mileage. And while Clinton understood what it was, Donald trump has suddenly become the President of the United States. Well, who is a convincing leader in Europe? British Prime Minister Theresa may destroy her own party. The President of France Emmanuel Makron period of time the popularity has changed a huge decline. His level of support is now lower than it was after a year and a half at the Elysee Palace by his predecessor, Francois Hollande – the most unpopular President of France for the entire postwar period. A successful leader has long been considered the German Chancellor Angela Merkel is a cautious, a balanced politician who tries to play the role of leader of the European Union. But she entered during your sunset, having made a big mistake with taking million migrants in Germany. This error is costly for both her and her party. Remember the great: Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Konrad Adenauer, in modern Europe there is no one who could compare with these figures. It seems that the lack of strong leaders becomes a lasting feature of Western development, one of the manifestations of the political crisis facing Europe.

The recent statement of the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe thorbjørn Jagland about the fact that Russia may in the following year to exclude from the Council of Europe if it will not continue to pay contributions – it is also an indicator of the crisis?

Alexei Pushkov: of Course, the rate. After all, the Council of Europe runs the risk of losing in the face of Russia one of its most important members, the largest country of the continent and one of the main payers. I must say that the crisis in our relations is long overdue. The COE accepted Russia into its membership in 1996, prescribing certain rules and sum rules. Then we agreed with them, in particular, imposed a moratorium on the death penalty. We agree that citizens who are dissatisfied with our proceedings, may apply to the European court of human rights. But since the accession, Russia was always the target of attacks, harsh criticism, or the direct pressure of the parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Once we left from there because of charges related to the Chechen war. The second time we went in April 2014. At that time I was the head of the Russian delegation to PACE, so I have personal experience in this organization. This experience suggests that the crisis in relation to PACE was inevitable, as the meaning of this structure is that we can prescribe how to behave in certain situations and to put us in a dependent position. The crisis in relations between the us and other European institutions (EU, Council of Europe, European Parliament and others) are also caused by the fact that they operate in a rigid prescriptive way.

Take the same PACE: it is nothing more than an Advisory body of the Council of Europe, as it somehow forgot. The Assembly can recommend, advise, to take a position, to adopt a resolution, but it is not the UN Security Council: it has no right to prescribe to other States. And can not deprive the country of the right to vote in the Assembly on the grounds that this country did not fulfill recommendation of PACE resolution. It is a violation of all principles and norms of the parliamentary system, as the participation of Russia in the Council of Europe. These principles require the equality of the member countries of the organization.

In 2014, we refused to play this game, and in January 2015 confirmed the decision to boycott PACE session, when we will apply sanctions. And in the case that the parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe will not accept changes in the Constitution that prohibit the powers of the national delegation, we will not be returning to PACE. Later it was decided: we do not return to the PACE, so we do not pay part of our fee. And since we are one of the major contributors of SE, the waiver of payment of an instalment has created a noticeable gap in the budget of the Council. And now his Secretary General T. Jagland said that it could lead to our exclusion from the CE after June 2019. But this impasse is not visible yet. Therefore, if we ensure that the PACE in the beginning of next year will not change the approaches and will continue to insist on their right to declare sanctions Russia, I believe that we need to be ready to leave the Council of Europe on their own initiative.

What are the implications?

Alexei Pushkov: In the current situation on the global chess Board – almost anything. Loss is the reduction of the field of political cooperation with Europe. But the field already is very much narrowed, the European Union, apparently, does not intend to abandon its sanctions against Russia. With those countries that want us to decent relations, even in terms of sanctions, we have such a relationship. Talking about Hungary, Austria, Finland, Italy, Slovenia. And for those countries that want to see us as enemies, no matter, we will be in the Council of Europe or not.

In the context of our overall relations with the EU and our withdrawal from the Council of Europe will not change anything, but it will give us greater freedom of arms, will expand the field of our domestic jurisdiction. For example, we will be able to solve it, we need the death penalty or not. In addition, in this situation, it is difficult to say what the pluses from our stay in PACE. Within the Executive structures of the Council of Europe has at least regular contacts between the foreign Ministers of the cooperation programme, involving our Ministry, our Ministry of culture, etc. But we cannot withdraw from the PACE and stay in the Council of Europe. It’s impossible. And make the decision to exit SE and when to take it – it should depend on how the situation will develop in the Council of Europe: because there are forces that are concerned about the prospect of Russia’s withdrawal from its membership.

Last week you returned from Brussels, where he participated in the forum “Minsk-2 or war: prospects for resolving the conflict in the East of Ukraine” in the European Parliament. What is your impression: are you interested MEPs in the end of the conflict in Ukraine, and whether they plan to go observers on elections of the head of the DNI, which will be held on 11 November 2018?

Alexei Pushkov: “Round table” in which I participated, was organized by the representatives of the left faction, which refers to Russia with sympathy, but which, unfortunately, does not define the General tone in the European Parliament. This forum showed that the situation in Ukraine remains in focus European institutions: it was also recorded no alternative to the Minsk agreements. Moreover, some left-wing MEPs said about the possibility of his visit as observers to the elections of the head of DND.

In addition, in Brussels, I had meetings with several MEPs, including representatives of the European people’s party, which it has a majority. I had the feeling that the European Parliament is in some disarray. First, about how to be with Russia, because the sanctions do not bring the desired result, and, secondly, because Ukraine is absolutely not the delicious juicy fruit that, as it was expected, would fall into their hands. “Fruit” this was not very edible, but still require regular fertilizers in the form of cash infusions. But the main reason for this confusion in Brussels do not know what will by the EU, including by the European Parliament after the may elections. According to the forecasts of its members, due to the strengthening of eurosceptic parties in the European Parliament will be qualitatively different composition. Externally there are, as always, but now – six months before the election and discuss who will be the next President of the European Commission, who will lead the foreign policy of the European Union, who will be the President of the European Council – after all, Juncker, Mogherini and Tusk go. And it is already clear that these elections will not be like the previous ones, which simply confirms the absolute domination of the liberal forces in the EU. In may they will be challenged. How serious – that is the question.

* This is an extended version of the text published in the “RG”