Question: Let me start with Ukraine. In recent days, the situation in Donbass has escalated dramatically. Is Russia considering any “red lines” that, if crossed, would trigger open intervention in the conflict in Ukraine?
Nikolai Patrushev: We do not have any such plans, no. But we are closely monitoring the situation. Based on the developments, specific measures will certainly be taken.
Question: And what do you see as the reason for the current aggravation in Donbass?
Nikolai Patrushev: I am confident that it is a consequence of serious internal problems in Ukraine. The authorities are trying to divert attention from them in this way. Kiev is solving its problems at the expense of Donbass, while capital has been flowing profusely abroad for a long time, the economy is barely supported by onerous foreign loans, the debt is growing, and even the remnants of the country’s industry that were able to stay afloat have been sold to foreigners, as they say now, at democratic prices. Even the famous Ukrainian black soil and forest are shipped abroad by rail, eventually depriving the country of this last asset. What they get in return is the same snacks the Americans once handed out on Maidan Square.
Question: As for the Americans, how serious was the blow to already tense relations between Moscow and Washington – I mean US President Joe Biden’s scandalous interview, in which a journalist asked him if his Russian colleague was a ‘killer,’ and he said, yes?
Nikolai Patrushev: I would not like to draw any parallels here, but exactly 75 years ago, in March 1946, Churchill delivered the famous Fulton speech in the presence of President Truman, in which he declared our country, his recent ally in the anti-Hitler coalition, an enemy. That marked the beginning of the Cold War.
Question: Are you saying we are in for a lengthy new period of confrontation on the brink of war?
Nikolai Patrushev: We would really not want that.
The Russian and American people have no reason to be enemies; we are not divided by ideology, as before. On the contrary, we have a vast field for cooperation.
Cooperation has become even more essential during the pandemic, which has intensified the challenges and threats to global stability. A number of regions are seeing an escalation of military and political tensions, an increase in international terrorism and extremism, an exacerbation of interstate controversy, poverty, famine, and a difficult environmental situation, etc. This list can be even longer, and each of these problems poses a direct threat to humanity.
The political situation is very unfavorable today, with relations between our two countries at their lowest level since the end of the Cold War. However, the long history of relations between Russia and the United States shows that, at decisive moments, the two states have demonstrated the ability to forge cooperation despite their differences.
Therefore, we believe, despite all odds, that common sense will prevail in Washington and a substantive Russian-American dialogue will begin on issues that can never be effectively resolved without constructive interaction between our countries.
Question: In other words, Russia is ready for dialogue? Which topics could be discussed initially?
Nikolai Patrushev: First of all, we could talk about strategic stability and arms control. We have a positive example in this area. It was our common decision to extend the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START Treaty – Kommersant), which was definitely not an easy decision for the US administration. This achievement offers a chance for developing normal communication, although this is an extremely complicated matter and our interests by no means always coincide.
Question: We failed to coordinate this matter during the previous four years of the Trump administration.
Nikolai Patrushev: They tried to pressure us and force decisions on us that only benefited one side, the United States. We could not accept that, even though we were willing to make compromises. But this was not enough for Washington, which wanted to dictate its own conditions.
We managed to reach an agreement on New START with the new US administration quite quickly, and based on conditions that the Russian party had proposed from the very beginning.
Question: In which other areas is cooperation possible?
Nikolai Patrushev: There is potential for cooperation in the fight against international terrorism and extremism, organised crime, and other threats and challenges, as well as on some regional issues, including Syria, the Middle East settlement, the nuclear problem of the Korean Peninsula, and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (regarding Iran – Kommersant).
We also need to work together on serious humanitarian problems, such as hunger, pollution, and climate change. Neither must we overlook the destabilising effects of the pandemic, which we can work together on to overcome as well.
We should have addressed the issues of cybersecurity long ago, considering Russia’s concerns and the accusations that have been levelled against us for years.
Question: Last year, Vladimir Putin sent a comprehensive proposal on cooperation in cyberspace to the White House. Has the new US administration shown any interest in it?
Nikolai Patrushev: They don’t want to cooperate with us in this area, accusing us, without any reason whatsoever, of cyberattacks on their resources. They have not provided any proof of the involvement of Russian authorities in these incidents to us or to the general public, yet they paint Russia as essentially the biggest aggressor in cyberspace.
Question: US authorities suspect that Russian security services were involved in the hacking attack in the SolarWinds’ software system, which resulted in tens of thousands of state-owned and private sector company systems being allegedly compromised.
Nikolai Patrushev: This is yet another unsubstantiated accusation. Russia has no connection with that hack at all. It cannot be ruled out that such attacks could involve hackers who live in Russia or hold Russian passports, but this has nothing to do with the Russian state. We have told the Americans more than once that in case of any suspicion they can forward concrete information to us so we can analyse it. They refuse to do this.
Question: Do you plan to maintain contact with the United States at the Russian Security Council level?
Nikolai Patrushev: We are continuing with this. For example, in late March I had a telephone conversation with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan …
Question: Who initiated it?
Nikolai Patrushev: It was held at the US side’s initiative. Incidentally, it was held in a calm and businesslike atmosphere; it was a substantive and constructive conversation. Similar contacts are maintained by our deputies and experts.
It is another matter that dialogue should not be limited to official talks alone. There is such a thing as Track II diplomacy, which has huge potential. I am referring to contacts between our countries’ research communities, ties in culture and the arts, and humanitarian cooperation.
These areas of partnership are often and quite wrongly pushed to the back burner. However, it is at this level that we can create the foundations for mutual respect and trust, which are currently in short supply in Russian-US relations.
Question: Going back to the Joe Biden interview, I would still like to understand how this statement, after which the Russian Ambassador to the US was even recalled to Moscow, will influence bilateral relations. Is it possible to describe it as unprecedented?
Nikolai Patrushev: I cannot recall anything similar even during the confrontation between the USSR and the US. The most fanatical opponents of our country, such as Truman or Reagan, tried to be more reserved in their public statements. That said, today, as American archives are gradually being opened and their associates’ personal papers are published, we realise what blatant Russophobia they preached behind closed doors. However, they still understood that there were limits in politics and that they had to be respected. True, it is possible that the US President was deliberately provoked into saying this by the circles that are interested in escalating tensions in our bilateral relations…
Question: Are summit meetings possible at all after this?
Nikolai Patrushev: We would not wish this incident to rule out such prospects. Nevertheless, as I said, it is unprecedented. We hope Washington also understands the situation with this.
Question: And what next? Is the Kremlin waiting for apologies?
Nikolai Patrushev: No, practice shows that the Americans are not capable of admitting their guilt in principle under any circumstances…
After all, George H.W. Bush said, for all to hear, that America will never apologise to anyone. The American elite find it easier to justify a mistake by a fastidious theory that will explain why it had to act the way it did. I would call it the Hiroshima syndrome.
After all, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Japan without any need whatsoever, although the Americans knew well that the Red Army had launched hostilities against Japan in Manchuria. They knew Tokyo was ready to surrender. Meanwhile, they have been telling the Japanese and the rest of the world for three quarters of a century now that the atomic strikes were inevitable. They are even presented as some kind of punishment from above. Do you remember what Obama said in his speech at a mournful event in Hiroshima: “…death fell from the sky.” He did not wish to specify that this death fell from an American plane at the order of a US President. History is being rewritten before our eyes. It is no surprise that Japanese children are no longer sure as to what country destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Some even think it was the USSR.
Question: Going back to today, what does Moscow expect from Washington? Reconciliatory gestures?
Nikolai Patrushev: In considering the prospects for dialogue between the US and Russia, we need to be realistic.
It is time to acknowledge that relations with our country are not decisive for the US. Russia is only viewed through the prism of domestic political struggle.
Considering the unprecedentedly difficult domestic situation in the US, the forecasts for the further development of our relations are unlikely to be promising. Still, as I said, we look forward to a dialogue based on mutual interest and hope the US will be equally interested.
Question: US authorities call Russia “a threat” to their security. Does Russia see the US as a “threat” as well?
Nikolai Patrushev: We see today’s main threat in the pandemic. Incidentally, this became a moment of truth for the US. It revealed the problems US politicians concealed from their compatriots, in part, by distracting them with myths of an “aggressive Russia.”
It turned out that a malicious Moscow was not at all the main threat to American lives. In the US, the number of dead from the epidemic has exceeded 560,000 people — more than the US lost in both world wars put together. About the same number of people were killed in the Civil War of 1861-1865, the bloodiest conflict in American history. None of this was Russia’s fault.
Yet, America thinks it has the right to dictate rules to the world and decide the destiny of humanity. But here is a natural question: can this right belong to a country that failed to save over half a million people from this disease?
Question: The official number of coronavirus-related deaths is five times lower in Russia at about 100,000. However, according to Rosstat, the overall excess mortality rate is also 500,000 compared to the year before the pandemic. Doesn’t this mean that the situation with the coronavirus in Russia is as bad as in the United States?
Nikolai Patrushev: We have official statistics about coronavirus related deaths, and there is no reason to distrust them. Indeed, we were not prepared for the events to turn out as they did and so rapidly, but we managed the situation. Unlike the United States, which is being selfish, we are helping others. Today, we are in a position to contain the spread of the virus across the planet and save thousands, if not millions of lives thanks to the vaccines developed by Russian scientists, among other things. Vaccinating Russians is our top priority, but we have an increasing capability and willingness to share the vaccines with anyone regardless of their political course or role in the international arena. Russia has never engaged in political games at the expense of human lives or health. We have always looked at humanity as one global community that cannot be divided by ethnicity, race or religious belief. Let the West decide on whether Black Lives Matter or white lives matter. For our country, the only correct slogan is All Lives Matter. Our vaccines prove this.
Question: The World Health Organisation (WHO) mission found no traces of an artificial origin of the virus. Nevertheless, the hypothesis that China knowingly started the pandemic remains widespread.
Nikolai Patrushev: Please note the fact that the number of US-controlled biological laboratories is growing by leaps and bounds around the world. Strangely, they are built near Russian and Chinese borders. They assure us that these are research centres where the Americans help local researchers develop new medications to combat dangerous diseases. Truth be told, the authorities of the countries where these sites are located have no idea what is happening behind their walls.
Certainly, we, and our Chinese partners, have questions in this regard. We are being told that peaceful sanitary and epidemiological stations are operating near our borders, but for some reason they seem more reminiscent of Fort Detrick in Maryland where the Americans have been working on military biology research for decades. Importantly, outbreaks of diseases that are not typical of these regions are being recorded in neighbouring areas.
Question: Are you saying that the Americans are developing biological warfare agents there?
Nikolai Patrushev: We have good reasons to believe that this is exactly the case.
Question: And what do the Russian authorities plan to do about it?
Nikolai Patrushev: We will work with our partners, primarily, the ones in the post-Soviet space. We will conclude agreements with them on cooperation in biosecurity.
Please note that the Americans have issues with chemical weapons as well. At the OPCW headquarters in The Hague, not a day goes by without the Americans and their allies coming up with yet another chapter for their anti-Russia chemical dossier.
Question: Yes, they accuse Russia of developing and using chemical weapons, including against Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia, as well as Alexey Navalny.
Nikolai Patrushev: There’s no evidence or argument whatsoever to back it up, only speculation that doesn’t hold water, which brings to mind the old question: who are the judges? Under OPCW regulations, Russia has destroyed its stock of chemical weapons, and did so in record time. What about the United States? Initially, it had fewer chemical weapons than Russia, by about a third, but we no longer have them, whereas they still stock them in their warehouses. They are destroying them, but unwillingly, and they extended the deadline until 2023. The OPCW is not very concerned about this, and is not asking Washington unwanted questions.
But when chemical incidents occurred in Syria, conclusions were drawn instantly, and were based on information provided by the notorious White Helmets. This organisation worked so “well” that it sometimes released its reports even before the actual incidents took place. True, the dates and places of the incidents were different, but the conclusions were carbon copies: Bashar al-Assad and Russia invariably stood behind them. We now know what kind of money under the guise of donations went to the White Helmets for staging those provocations.
Question: Not long before the outbreak of the pandemic, Russia called on the West to temporarily lift the sanctions it had imposed on Syria, Venezuela and other countries in a difficult humanitarian situation. However, this initiative got a lukewarm response. How would you explain this?
Nikolai Patrushev: This can be ascribed to the geopolitical strategy that is being implemented by the United States and their allies, who have been ravaging the whole world and advancing their hegemony as the only acceptable international order. As General Charles de Gaulle said at one time with irony: form two deep and follow America, or else.
Human rights, the supremacy of law, the free market and respect for sovereignty – these are the values that people in the West are shouting about from every street corner. But the much lauded Western liberalism is intended for a chosen few. As for the countries that are not democratic in the eyes of the US and Europe, the attitude to them is absolutely different. The US and Europe can do anything they deem fit. This can be imposing sanctions on the slightest pretext, foisting onerous loans, blackmail, appropriating assets or brazen interference in internal affairs… To say nothing of the hunt for nationals of sovereign countries unleashed by American courts. This flies in the face of legality, as these are some gangster methods that have nothing to do whatsoever with international law.
If an individual or a group of countries had the bad luck of getting in the way of Western elites, one can be sure that no international treaties on immunity or advanced laws on the security of [private] property or bank secrecy will do anything to help them. What happened to the Libyan assets after the murder of Muammar Gaddafi? Where have Venezuela’s reserves vanished after the attempt to topple Nicolas Maduro? The West seems to have got used to making a living by, among other things, ruining other countries. The colonial regimes have long since been overthrown, as they are, but the habitual practices are still there. The Americans have probably forgotten about their colonial past when the British plundered their country…
Question: The United States doesn’t always respect its allies’ interests either. At least this is how it was during the Trump administration. Biden has promised to change this and has already taken the first steps towards this.
One of the terms used in the game of cards called Russian Preference is “American aid,” when a player formally receives aid in the form of bullet points, which actually places the recipient in a losing position. God forbid that any country should receive such aid.
Nikolai Patrushev: This did not begin during Trump’s presidency but way back under Woodrow Wilson. You may remember that at the end of WWI President Wilson sent troops to Europe to help Britain and France. How long did it take not just the defeated Germans but also Britain and France to repay that aid? Germany’s debts were only written off when Hitler announced his plans to march east.
And how did Washington behave towards its allies during WWII? At the beginning of our conversation we mentioned Churchill. Here is one more of his remarks, this time about the Americans. When Washington forced him to exchange a dozen British military bases for 50 US Navy destroyers that had been headed for the scrapyard, Churchill exclaimed that the British had thought the Americans would only skin them, but it turned out they wanted to pick their bones as well. This is Atlantic solidarity for you.
Question: But it was a long time ago, and now the Americans have a different type of relationship with their allies, even though it had been sorely tested under Trump.
Nikolai Patrushev: The type is the same. It is no secret that joining NATO amounts to losing state sovereignty, especially in the case of small countries. Some of our European partners have admitted on the quiet that they are aware of the hopelessness of the anti-Russia policy being forced on them, but there is nothing they can do because all decisions are being made in Washington and Brussels.
It is said that NATO must contain Russia. Let’s take a look at what it is actually containing. One would think that war-mongering would be suspended for the duration of the crisis so that we address more important challenges. Nothing of the kind: NATO continued to increase spending, calls have been made again for going up to 2 percent, and as a result the bloc’s combined budget is 24 times larger than Russia’s military spending.
Question: These are absolute figures. The real difference in terms of military capability is not that big.
Nikolai Patrushev: You can’t argue with absolute figures. The question is who is containing whom? Are Washington and Brussels containing Russia, or is their goal to contain the development of Germany, France, Italy and other European countries?
Overall, NATO can hardly be described as a military-political bloc any longer. Back during feudalism, vassals were required to provide their troops to the lord at short notice. Today they are obliged to buy weapons from the patron regardless of their finances, or else their loyalty is questioned. This is something to remember for all countries aspiring to join NATO and those taking part in programmes such as Partnership for Peace. The goal of these initiatives is to prevent sovereign players from walking tall and pursuing a pragmatic policy focused on their own development.
Question: Since we are talking about Europe, I would like to ask you about the recent visit by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to Moscow. He was heavily criticised for falling into a Russian trap and failing in his mission. Soon after that, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia was ready to sever relations with Europe. Is this scenario for real?
Nikolai Patrushev: I agree with Sergey Lavrov. We will not knock on closed doors, but we are ready for cooperation.
It is important that we cooperate with Europe. But being together with Europe at all costs is not the big idea of Russian foreign policy. Nevertheless, our doors stay open, because we know that there is the current situation, which Western politicians are guided by, but there are also historical ties between Russians and Europeans, which took centuries to develop. It would be unwise to sever these ties only because the situation has changed. We are ready to sit down to negotiations with our European partners when major regional issues need to be discussed. We are ready for cooperation in a wide range of areas in the economy, science, culture and technology. This is especially important now, at the height of the pandemic. Europe needs assistance now, and many European countries have asked us for our vaccine so that they save the lives of their citizens. If they need our assistance, we are ready to provide it.
Question: Do you think cooperation with the United States and the EU will come back to normal eventually?
Nikolai Patrushev: Each country decides on its national priorities and builds it policy in the world arena the way it sees fit. I don’t think anyone is interested in dialogue for the sake of dialogue, not to mention for the sake of exchanging mutual grievances.
Yet, we believe that in the current difficult international situation a scenario for normalising relations would be the best option. It would not just meet the interests of Moscow and Washington. This would be better for all of humanity. Let me emphasise the point with which we started our conversation. The world has many problems that cannot be resolved in principle without normal cooperation between the leading global players: Russia, the United States, the EU, China and India.
We have long left the era when it was enough to have a strong army and navy for global leadership.
In the modern world, the countries that win in the long term are those that promote and implement a positive agenda aimed at pooling the efforts of humanity for universal progress and prosperity rather than at creating dividing lines. Russia offers such an agenda and is ready for its joint implementation.