Vladimir Putin pulls no punches in an interview with Corriere della Sera [Below are a few quotes from Vladimir Putin from this interview]:
What are the roots of the Ukrainian crisis? Its cause seems to be completely disproportionate to what has become an utter tragedy today claiming many lives in southeast Ukraine. What sparked the crisis? Former President Viktor Yanukovych said that he needed to think about signing Ukraine’s Association Agreement with the EU, possibly make some changes and hold consultations with Russia, its major trade and economic partner. In this connection or under this pretext riots broke out in Kiev. They were actively supported both by our European and American partners. Then a coup d’état followed – a totally anti-constitutional act. The new authorities announced that they were going to sign the Association Agreement but would delay its implementation until January 1, 2016. The question is: what was the coup d’état for? Why did they need to escalate the situation to a civil war? The result is exactly the same.
What is more, at the end of 2013 we were ready to give Ukraine $15 billion as a state loan supported by a further $5 billion via commercial banks; plus we already gave it $3 billion during the year and promised to cut gas prices by half if they paid regularly. We were not at all against Ukraine signing an Association Agreement with the European Union. But, of course, we wanted to participate in the final decisions, meaning that Ukraine was then and is still now, today, a member of the CIS free trade area, and we have mutual obligations as its members.
How is it possible to completely ignore this, to treat it with utter disrespect? I simply cannot understand that. The result that we have – a coup d’état, a civil war, hundreds of lives lost, devastated economy and social sphere, a four-year $17.5 billion loan promised to Ukraine by the IMF and complete disintegration of economic ties with Russia. But Russian and Ukrainian economies are very deeply interconnected.
We have a market for Ukraine, but many ties have been severed unilaterally by the Ukrainian side. For example, all engines for our combat helicopters came from Ukraine. Now deliveries have stopped. We have already built one plant in St Petersburg and another plant will be completed this year, but the production of these engines in Ukraine will be shut down because Italy, France or Germany don’t need and will never need such engines. It is impossible for Ukraine to divert its production in any way; it will need billions in investment to do this.
I don’t understand why this was done. I have asked many of my colleagues, including in Europe and America, about it.
What does the actual potential show? US military spending is higher than that of all countries in the world taken together. The aggregate military spending of NATO countries is 10 times, note – 10 times higher than that of the Russian Federation. Russia has virtually no bases abroad. We have the remnants of our armed forces (since Soviet times) in Tajikistan, on the border with Afghanistan, which is an area where the terrorist threat is particularly high. The same role is played by our airbase in Kyrgyzstan; it is also aimed at addressing the terrorist threat and was set up at the request of the Kyrgyz authorities after a terrorist attack perpetrated by terrorists from Afghanistan on Kyrgyzstan.
We have kept since Soviet times a military unit at a base in Armenia. It plays a certain stabilising role in the region, but it is not targeted against anyone. We have dismantled our bases in various regions of the world, including Cuba, Vietnam, and so on. This means that our policy in this respect is not global, offensive or aggressive.
I invite you to publish the world map in your newspaper and to mark all the US military bases on it. You will see the difference.
Sometimes I am asked about our airplanes flying somewhere far, over the Atlantic Ocean. Patrolling by strategic airplanes in remote regions was carried out only by the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War. In the early 1990s, we, the new, modern Russia, stopped these flights, but our American friends continued to fly along our borders. Why? Some years ago, we resumed these flights. And you want to say that we have been aggressive?
American submarines are on permanent alert off the Norwegian coast; they are equipped with missiles that can reach Moscow in 17 minutes. But we dismantled all of our bases in Cuba a long time ago, even the non-strategic ones. And you would call us aggressive?
You yourself have mentioned NATO’s expansion to the east. As for us, we are not expanding anywhere; it is NATO infrastructure, including military infrastructure, that is moving towards our borders. Is this a manifestation of our aggression?
Finally, the United States unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which was to a large extent the cornerstone of the entire international security system. Anti-missile systems, bases and radars are located in the European territory or in the sea, e.g. in the Mediterranean Sea, and in Alaska. We have said many times that this undermines international security. Do you think this is a display of our aggression as well?
Everything we do is just a response to the threats emerging against us. Besides, what we do is limited in scope and scale, which are, however, sufficient to ensure Russia’s security. Or did someone expect Russia to disarm unilaterally?
I have proposed to our American partners not to withdraw from the treaty unilaterally, but to create an ABM system together, the three of us: Russia, the United States and Europe. But this proposal was declined. We said at the time: “Well, this is an expensive system, its efficiency is not proven, but to ensure the strategic balance we will develop our strategic offensive potential, we will develop systems of overpowering anti-ballistic defence. And I have to say that we have made significant strides in this area.
As for some countries’ concerns about Russia’s possible aggressive actions, I think that only an insane person and only in a dream can imagine that Russia would suddenly attack NATO. I think some countries are simply taking advantage of people’s fears with regard to Russia. They just want to play the role of front-line countries that should receive some supplementary military, economic, financial or some other aid. Therefore, it is pointless to support this idea; it is absolutely groundless. But some may be interested in fostering such fears. I can only make a conjecture.
For example, the Americans do not want Russia’s rapprochement with Europe. I am not asserting this, it is just a hypothesis. Let’s suppose that the United States would like to maintain its leadership in the Atlantic community. It needs an external threat, an external enemy to ensure this leadership. Iran is clearly not enough – this threat is not very scary or big enough. Who can be frightening? And then suddenly this crisis unfolds in Ukraine. Russia is forced to respond. Perhaps, it was engineered on purpose, I don’t know. But it was not our doing.