“They don’t conceal it, that sanctions are aimed at creating social and economic conditions for carrying out regime change in Russia,” Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said, speaking at the State Duma hearing. Yet, pulling off a color revolution in Russia – is that a viable scenario?
Says Giullietto Chiesa, independent political analyst, based in Italy:
I don’t know if it is a realistic scenario, but it is clear that the assessment is realistic. That means that in Moscow it is now clear that the attack is straight against President Putin. And even if it is not clearly written, it is possible to read this kind of suggestions in the NY Times, in the Washington Post, in many newspapers and in many analyses which are published in the US. It means that it is a current idea that Russia should begin a fight to make a regime change. That means – there is a ‘dictatorship’ in Russia, Mr. Putin ‘is not representing the Russian people’ and Washington believes that they have the right to produce a regime change in Russia.
Well, in fact, not only in Russia, as we know, but they have already made just that in different situations, like in Libya, like Iraq, like Afghanistan. They did not always succeed in that, but, in any case, that is the idea – that the US has the right to produce a regime change in other countries. For Russia, it is evidently a very big task, because Russia is not Libya and it is not Iraq, it is evident. That means it will be a very difficult task for Washington, but it is another idea of the international system of rules. Now Washington believes that there is only one rule – the rule of Washington.
It is very interesting to look at how the relations between Russia and the US were developing over the years. And, by the way, I remember that Mr. Putin during his first term as the President was the first person to extend his support to President Bush after 9\11. So, what actually changed in the mindset of the American policy makers?
Giullietto Chiesa: I believe that the change has happened a long time ago. I remember very well an interview that Mr. Putin gave in 2004, that means three years after the episode that you were remembering now. In the interview of 2004 Putin was very-very upset and he arrived to this conclusion, I’ll quote his almost exactly – “we believed that it was possible to discuss with Washington on the basis of mutual respect. Now I understand that they don’t want the discussions or partners, they want vassals. They don’t want any discussions, they want to dictate”.
I believe it was a turning point when Putin began to understand that the leadership in the US was not at all disposed to have a real partnership with Russia. And this happened when Putin began to realize that the national interest of Russia has been violated or there was an attempt to violate the balance of power not only through the extension of NATO, but also with the new missile system that the US was trying to put in place in Poland or in Romania and so on. There was a change when Russia, I mean when Putin personally understood that they were not disposed to have a real fair discussion.
Everybody remember then when Mr. Obama openly said that he believed that Russia could only be a regional power, not a world player. In this sense, that was a prevailing idea in Washington – Russia has lost its place in the world. That is a change, I believe, and ten years ago it was clear that the situation was already changing, and Putin realized that. At the end we see that Washington reacted. They don’t want to have this kind of partner, they simply want, and I believe that Putin was right, to dominate. And this is impossible in the today’s situation. That means that there is a real problem of perception and I believe that it will have serious consequences.
Talking about the consequences, you mentioned countries like Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, as the examples of the regime change attempts. Like you said, Russia is not Libya. And if the Americans used their military capacities on those countries, what kind of strategy are they going to use on Russia?
Giullietto Chiesa: They believe that there is a large part of the Russian public which wants to be Westerners. The idea is that everybody in Russia wants to be European or American. This is an idea descending from the other idea which has also been proclaimed by Obama, but not only by Obama, that the US has a particular position, an exclusive position in the world. They have the right to export democracy the way they believe it is right. They feel themselves the masters of the universe.
And this is a clear misconception, I believe, that it should be evident that if they don’t understand that regarding Russia, which from many points of view is very similar to the West, which is a European country, you can imagine how they can consider China or other countries in Asia. That means that if in Washington this idea that their values are the universal values all over the world continues to prevail, it will be very dangerous, because they will be convinced that they can impose them on everybody.
You said very clearly and you are right that the US is very strong from the military point of view, but I believe that it is not sufficient. If you believe that you will live in peace, the military strength is not sufficient to change the way of life and the ideas, and the traditions, and the history of different people.
But if they believe that the major part of Russians are dreaming of changing their way of life for the Western, then the recent polls have shown that 74% of Russians are not exactly the US fans.
Giullietto Chiesa: Everybody will reasonably doubt about this strange idea, but we have a proof. For instance, not only 74% supporting Putin in this situation, and probably even more, but we have the proof and this is Crimea. When the Russian people in Crimea and in Ukraine, as we see, were put into the situation to decide where to go, in Crimea they overwhelmingly decided to come back to their country, to Russia. That is more or less 1 million people escaping from the fighting Donbas and escaping not to the West, but to Russia. That means that there is a huge amount of people who care and want to maintain their own history, their own language, their own tradition and so on.
And this is a wrong perception. I believe that in the US there is a wrong perception not only of Russia, but of the rest of the world. And it is a question of knowledge. First of all — of knowledge. It is not the question of the leadership only. I believe that these kinds of feelings are largely defused in the American public opinion. I remember when I read a wonderful book of Michael Moore “Stupid White Men”, I was astonished to read this number – that only 7% of the American people have the passport to go abroad. That means that 93% of Americans never goes in a tourist trip outside of the US, which is a huge number to show the level of understanding of the world.
I believe that in Russia a part of people that would like to go abroad, to have a vacation, to see Europe is much larger. In any case, there is a good will from the side of the Russians to go outside, to watch, to confront themselves with the rest of the world. Why the Americans are living to a certain extent separately from the rest of the world and they don’t know what the rest of the world is? And that means that they have a very dangerous perception of their isolation in the today’s world of 7 billion people.
I absolutely agree that they seem to be increasingly out of touch with the rest of the world. But tell me, Mr. Chiesa, do you think that we need to brace ourselves for a Maidan here in Moscow?
Giullietto Chiesa: I believe that today it is not real. I underline the word “today”, because if the economic situation will become worse, well, probably. In Washington they believe that they can create a so desperate economic standard of life and situation for a larger part of the Russian population, that this can produce some kind of revolt or Maidan, as you like. But I don’t believe that it is working with the Russians.
Giullietto Chiesa: This can be done with other kinds people. Not all the people are the same, they have different traditions, different history, different space, different perception of the time. I believe that the history of Russia is showing us that the Russians are very patient people. These are the people able to suffer very much. And it has been demonstrated in the terrible WW II which in Russia is not casually named the Great Patriotic War. In Italy, for instance, in Europe, not so many people are able to name a war this way. And “patriotic” means that they were defending themselves. And when the Russians are defending themselves, they become very different from the other people.
Recently I again read “War and Peace” by Lev Tolstoy. And I remember very well what he says about that. It was not Kutuzov who defeated the Napoleon Bonaparte, it was the Russian people. And he won in a very strange way, retiring from the attack of the Napoleon forces which were better organized and overwhelming. But they won at the end. And the same happened with Hitler.
I don’t believe that the idea to compel the Russians to imitate the Ukrainian Maidan will succeed. I don’t see that possibility. I believe that it will be a very-very dangerous possibility, because this way the war will be not the way it was in the WW II or the Napoleon war. No, this time it would be much bigger, much dramatic, terrible. That means you’d better don’t try this kind of experiment.