Does the common border between Russia and Baltic countries really pose a threat to their national security? The question was often referred to Editor-in-Chief of the National Defense magazine and Director of the World Arms Trade Analysis Center Igor Korotchenko who has recently participated in a workshop of the international Latvian Format A3 media club. Some of the questions he had to answer were pointblank.
When will Russia deploy its troops on the border with Baltic countries?
There is no necessity in it as we regard a military conflict with NATO as extremely unlikely in at least 15- 20 years. Today there is a different configuration of threats. They mostly come from the south. It is because the United States and NATO failed to accomplish the tasks which they set before the invasion in Afghanistan. Modern security forces of Afghanistan are incapable. The government is actually controlling only Kabul. Various warlords charge NATO forces for save passage of convoys. This extortion developed into a business – we shall shoot if you do not pay.
Today the presence of NATO in Afghanistan is beneficial for all, including Russia, because the threat does not expand beyond its borders. We believe that after the Americans and NATO forces withdraw the government of Hamid Karzai will be toppled and the Taliban will again seize Kabul. A question will arise where they will advance from there? We forecast that Islamic extremism will expand to former Soviet republics in Central Asia. That will trigger large-scale destabilization in a number of countries. Without counteraction the threat may become real also for Russia. Therefore, the Central military district is being strengthened as it is in charge of repelling threats from Afghanistan.
Still many Baltic politicians claim that Russia poses a major threat to them. Is it smoke without fire?
The image of an outside enemy consolidates a nation and makes it easier for politicians to brainwash the public. It is prestigious to engage in politics: there is good money, a possibility to travel the world at state expense, appear on TV, and when possible dive hand into state coffers. Therefore politicians want to engage in politics all their life. The image of an outside enemy helps manipulate the moods of the voters and achieve the desired result in elections.
However the Latvian defense minister several times expressed concern over Russian-Belarussian military exercises close to our borders. Do you mean there was no reason for it?
There is the Latvian embassy and military attache who has to inform his defense ministry about the aims and tasks of the Russian military planning. If the minister is concerned it means the work of the Latvian military attache in Russia is bad. It means he cannot communicate proper information that will dispel the concern of the minister. On the other hand, I understand that it is important for the defense minister to always express concern about threats in order to secure an acceptable budget in Latvian conditions. Another explanation is a recurrence of past mentality and the absence of a broad perception of the world. We describe claims that Latvia can become a victim of aggression from Russia as political paranoia.
But many Latvian residents are still scared by their history… How do you believe it is possible to agree dividends from an enemy image with mutually beneficial and good-neighborly relations?
As for history, I can also say that we can advance claims to Latvia for activities of Latvian secret police. As you know, the organization created by Felix Dzerzhinsky had a disproportionately high share of senior Latvian officials who also participated in mass non-judicial executions of Russian officers on the territory of Soviet Russia. Should we issue a historic invoice for Latvia to pay? Russia does not do that because it is absolutely counterproductive. Who will benefit from it? It will only cause anger and deterioration of relations.
We describe claims that Latvia can become a victim of aggression from Russia as political paranoia.
I cited the example to show that it is possible to get any skeleton from the closet if necessary. We are interested in good relationship with Latvia. Our foreign policy aims at resolving security problems not through an arms race, but by political agreements which guarantee us from military force majeure on the western avenue.
The main thing which I want to say is that it is necessary to get rid of the occupation in the minds. The heads of many politicians are occupied by the Russian military threat. Honestly speaking, we laugh at the paranoid fears. We do not understand the logic. If you analyze the composition of the military grouping in the west of Russia you will see that it is purely defensive. It is not an invasion army. Secondly, I believe we have to help politicians establish contacts with non-governmental experts. Together with my colleagues I am planning to set up a non-governmental structure shortly – the institute of national security problems which will analyze military-political activities in all regions of the world. We are open for contacts with Latvian experts to jointly assess the threats. We call on politicians to change something in our existing bilateral relationship. I repeat – Russia is very interested in good-neighborly relations and Latvia can enjoy major economic benefits from partnership with Russia. Favorable political conditions shall be created for that.
The technical might of the armed forces has increased. But did the strength of guarantees against the might increase the same way? The question is actually about the possibility of a nuclear war.
I believe the threat of a nuclear war is minimal today because the nuclear powers are aware of. . .
Definitely, they are. I can say that legal (I am not speaking about India, Pakistan, Israel) members of the nuclear club – Russia, France, the UK, China, and the United States – are very responsible in planning the use of nuclear weapons. The fear of guaranteed mutual extermination in case of an exchange of massive nuclear strikes makes their use in modern warfare practically impossible. Today nuclear weapons are a political weapon, a peacekeeper. Nuclear weapons are a political surety and a non-aggression guarantee. But I have to recall that Russian military doctrine says: if Russia becomes a victim of large-scale aggression with the use of conventional armed forces which threaten the very existence of Russia as a state it will have the right to a preventive nuclear strike against the aggressor. Thus, we are sending a message: if you launch a conventional war against us we can retaliate in a different way.
But you recently wrote yourself that existing and potential military threats will considerably increase by 2030.
They will increase mostly because of global uncertainty.
How would you rate modern threats in general? By the level of danger.
I believe Islamic terrorism is the main threat for Russia. Another equal threat is internal instability mostly in North Caucasus. The problem there is not military, there is a self-reproducing terrorist environment which is dangerous.
It is necessary to get rid of the occupation in the minds. The heads of many politicians are occupied by the Russian military threat.
Then there is uncontrolled proliferation of mass destruction weapons and missile technologies. In the third place there is considerable supremacy of NATO military capabilities over us. The fourth potential threat is China from the point of view of military planning which it can carry out in future, not now. Today China’s interests are in Southeast Asia. There is also uncertain situation in a number of regions in the world. Small conflicts can provoke a big war. Cyber wars are another threat. There are examples of cyber threats related to an impact of one country on another. The United States and Israel launched a virus which switched Iranian centrifuges into an off-design regime and they actually broke down. The same weapon can be used against a nuclear power plant and trigger a large-scale environmental catastrophe. Consultations are necessary among civilized countries to drop the threat.
I nevertheless believe that as long as there are states wars will remain a means to resolve irreconcilable contradictions between the states. There are new wars in store, wars for resources and new colonial wars. Actually France launched a military operation in Mali to secure free access to African uranium on which French nuclear power-engineering relies. It is an example of a new colonial war. I believe it will become a reality more and more as all economies need resources today. Look how China actively enters Africa and Southeast Asia. It goes where it is allowed to come and the Americans naturally do not like it.
We have also to bear in mind that an army can win a war against a regular army of another country, but it cannot act as regulator of policing and anti-insurgency functions. The Americans routed the government forces of Saddam Hussein and won a military victory in Iraq. But they failed to regulate the situation in Iraq. It is still a pot of various terrorist groups. In this respect nonmilitary conflict settlement forms are becoming important.
What does the notion of “international terrorism” mean?
It is a myth and a bluff used by the Americans to free their hands for military operations. In reality the United States failed to achieve a single aim either in Afghanistan or in Lebanon or with Al-Qaeda.
What is the European Union in military context?
Nothing, except for declarations. No viable armed forces have been created in the European Union. The economic situation in the EU does not promote them. Europe prefers to fight somewhere if the United States bears the main burden.
Why should Europe put the carriage before the horse? The main threats for the EU today are economy and migration control. Look what is happening. Shariah patrols are in the streets of London. Mujahedin in Switzerland call from minarets. In certain conditions that can result in internal destabilization and unrest like in Paris. The accumulation of a critical mass which does not accept European values but has a residence permit is very dangerous. Terrorist cells can emerge. It is clear that wars are impossible between European countries. On the contrary, there is integration. Balkan wars were US aggression against sovereign Yugoslavia which ended in its disintegration. At present the threat of a conflict in Europe is next to nothing. Therefore, geopolitics move to the front stage.
Who are Russian allies today?
As Alexander III said, Russian strategic allies are its army and navy. There is a coalition of interests but it is still inefficient. In the military sphere the closest relations are maintained with Belarus. But I repeat that Belarussian army will not fight for the Russian army. We can support each other but the Russian army can rely only on itself. There is nothing like the Warsaw Treaty today. Russia is strategically alone. It has to repel existing threats by military but mostly political means. It is the task of the Russian diplomacy to decrease the risks of military conflicts. We cannot afford an arms race and we do not want confrontation as they all hit our economy. I repeat there is no Russian threat for Baltic countries. We are interested in good-neighborly and peaceful relations. We absolutely do not need any tension on our western borders.
What is the current breakdown in world arms trade?
The United States is in the lead and Russia is second. But our performance improves every year. Last year we sold arms worth 15 billion dollars although we lost some important markets.
Can the arms flows indicate where conflicts are coming?
No, they are not related. A growing number of countries want to have an army as a guarantee. The main arms race is developing today in Southeast Asia or broadly speaking in Asia and the Pacific Rim. China began to convert its economic might into military strength and project its force on oceanic theater of warfare. China said it will build aircraft- carrying fleet. It means it has an expansion plan. Other countries are concerned with it and begin to re-arm themselves, from Australia to Singapore. It is a very conflict-fraught region. Firstly, there are disputed islands and, secondly, there is shelf where hydrocarbon production is possible.
You were born in Riga. Is Latvia an alien country for you today?
Riga is my native place and Latvia is my motherland. As they joked in a TV show I am a third-generation occupant. My grandfather was an officer in the Baltic military district and graduated from the Alksnis military school. I am also an officer. It so happened that I wasn’t here for the last fifteen years. I came now and am very glad. There are good recollections and warm feelings. I love Latvia.
for Amber Bridge