Сергей Караганов

A Controlled Burn or Go to Rack and Ruin

Sergei Karaganov explains the purpose of the nuclear threat to the West The scholar believes that the Third World War cannot be avoided without climbing the “escalation ladder”. Interviewed by Vitaly Tseplyaev

On July 11-12, Lithuania will host an annual NATO summit.

AiF asked Sergei Karaganov, Honorary Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, Academic Supervisor of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs at the Higher School of Economics, whether Ukraine can be granted membership in the alliance and whether Russia should threaten the West with nuclear weapons.

A Leap Up the Escalation Ladder

– What do you expect from the Vilnius summit?

– I certainly expect nothing good from the summit of this criminal organization. But I think that there can be no Ukraine’s admission to NATO in the current situation. I think they will natter for a while, talk trash about Russia and at most agree to give more weapons to Kiev. But the tougher we talk about our possible response, the less chance it will get weapons close to strategic ones, such as long-range missiles.

– Russia began its special military operation largely in order to prevent Ukraine’s admission to NATO. But Finland has already joined the alliance, and Sweden is on the way. Is this not considered a big danger for our country?

– I’d say this is a huge danger for the Finns and Swedes themselves. If, God forbid, a big war begins, these countries will become top and primary targets for Russian strikes.

– There are suppositions that after the summit NATO may deploy a “limited contingent” of its troops to Ukraine. Is this possible?

NATO soldiers, especially Poles, are already fighting in Ukraine as mercenaries. I think the alliance will not send any troops there under its own flag. But they can threaten to send in troops from individual countries under their flags, for example, Polish. In this case, our Western “friends” will take a huge leap up the escalation ladder as their troops will be directly fighting ours in the territory that we consider our own. This will give us even a formal right, envisaged by our overly modest nuclear doctrine, to deliver a nuclear first strike on the countries participating in the aggression.

How to Put Out the Fire of War

– Your recent article proposing such a preemptive nuclear strike “on targets in Europe” has made quite a splash. Do you really think that you can put out the growing fire by pouring gasoline into it?

– First of all, this fire has been growing for about 15 years, and sooner or later the West’s political, moral and other degradation amidst other global changes will almost inevitably lead to World War III. But my article was not about putting out the fire with gasoline or kerosene. The point is that we can stop the impending fire by arranging firebreaks on its way or, as a last resort, by igniting a controlled burn. (Firemen use controlled burns to prevent uncontrolled wildfires from overwhelming a forest landscape – S. K.). Then the fire of war will not be able to engulf the whole of humanity.

Secondly, what I proposed is still an extreme measure. It doesn’t make me happy even to think about it either. But I am trying to wake up a sense of self-preservation in people, primarily in the West, so that they and we stop hiding our heads in the sand and assess the situation soberly. I hope that just by making such a threat, without using nuclear weapons, but moving up the ladder of deterrence and escalation, we will be able to bring Western elites, who are going out of their mind because of their recent defeats, to their senses, and that they will consequently stop their aggressive policies, roll back, and start dealing with their own problems at last.

– I don’t know if the lives of your loved ones are dear to you, but I would definitely not want my children to turn into radioactive ash. What makes you so sure that after our strike on Poland, the United States, Great Britain, and France will not retaliate against Russia? After all, Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty requires this quite explicitly.

– Once again: I’m not calling for a nuclear Armageddon. My idea is to encourage humankind and pacifists like you to abandon what I call “strategic parasitism.” You have become used to peace and forget that pacifists live only because soldiers fight and die for them. Complacence will push us farther towards World War III.

– In other words, you consider the addiction to peace as harmful as the addiction to smoking or drinking?

– In a situation where some forces in the world are desperately fighting to maintain their positions and inciting conflicts everywhere, this addiction can indeed be harmful because it turns people into a herd that these forces lead to the slaughter.

Now about a retaliatory strike against Russia. I know the actual U.S. nuclear strategy well enough and I am sure that they will not use nuclear weapons to protect Europe. Read Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. It says nothing about the U.S. or any other country in the bloc automatically retaliating in defense of a NATO member that has been attacked. Nothing! Moreover, when I studied the history of NATO and its creation, I read documents and know that American senators fought hard to make sure that Article 5 did not provide for any automatic guarantees, and they succeeded. But a myth was created that many of us believed in during the Cold War. It’s a myth and a pure bluff. And what does Article 5 actually say? It only says that in the event of an attack on a member country, other countries “will assist” it. What kind of assistance they will provide―military, economic, or humanitarian―will be decided within the framework of bureaucratic procedures. And they may not necessarily decide in favor of a collective armed response, especially a nuclear one.

– Still, I have this nagging feeling that you are “jumping the gun.” President Putin and our other top officials have repeatedly stated that Russia will not be the first to use nuclear weapons. According to the official doctrine, it can do so only if such weapons are used against Russia, or if conventional aggression against it threatens the existence of the state. Do you see such a threat today?

– Firstly, by believing in some outdated postulates, I think we have thoughtlessly and even irresponsibly raised the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons. You can take this as my criticism of the official doctrine. Secondly, at this point, I do not expect the country’s leadership to make immediate changes to the official position. My purpose was to initiate a discussion and bring it into the open so that this fact alone would strengthen our nuclear deterrence. And I have succeeded: nuclear weapons have once again come out of that dusty corner where they were pushed away, not without the Americans’ help. It was not by chance that they called for the reduction or even complete elimination of nuclear arsenals. In this case nothing would have deterred them from committing aggression and using conventional weapons because until recently almost no one could compete with the United States in this regard due to its economic power. In fact, this is exactly what is happening now: counting on its economic superiority, the United States wants to exhaust Russia in Ukraine and prolong the conflict as long as possible. So by pledging not to use nuclear weapons almost under any circumstances, we are playing into the hands of our adversaries, apparently not even being aware of that.

– What do you think about the idea of using tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine as some commentators have been nudging for the second consecutive year, even though many military experts say that this will not change the situation on the ground?

– Firstly, almost under no circumstances should Russia use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, ever. This is a provocative topic, apparently invented in Washington. People living in Ukraine are our people, even though deceived by nationalist propaganda. Are we going to strike at our own people? The fact that some of our pundits repeat this American mantra only shows how many fools are there in our elite.

– The other day, The Financial Times wrote that in March, China’s President Xi Jinping allegedly warned Russia against using nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Has Xi also come under the influence of Western myths?

– I’m sure this FT publication is a complete fake. True, China opposes the use of nuclear weapons, and it has its own reasons for that. But even if Xi Jinping raised this issue at a meeting with Vladimir Putin, no one could have known about it, especially in the West, because it was a one-on-one conversation.

Shifting the Center of Gravity

– You have said many times that the development of Siberia is the main task for Russia, and that the Western vector should- lose priority for many years to come. However, as it turns out, all resources are being diverted precisely to the Western track. Does this hinder our “turn to the East”?

– The turn to the East is underway. While some 15 years ago almost two-thirds of our trade was with Europe, now the situation has changed dramatically and our trade turnover with the East and the South is growing exponentially. But this is not enough. There is nothing good in store for us in the West, and the country needs to shift the “center of gravity” and make an internal turn to the Urals and Siberia― the source of our wealth, power and, to a large extent, statehood―and even set up a third capital of Russia there… This is why I am really worried that the operation in Ukraine (in fact, a clash with the West) distracts us from this most important strategic task. The faster we bring this operation to a victorious end, the better.

– Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Xi Jinping, African leaders―many have tried to mediate between Russia and Ukraine. Are peace efforts completely useless or is it not the time yet?

– Peacemaking efforts are useful, for example, for exploring possibilities for the surrender of our opponents and ultimately reducing human losses. But leaving any state entity on the territory of present-day Ukraine, pumped up with weapons and pursuing a Russophobic policy, would be inadmissible in the long and even medium term. So we will talk, but the goal remains the same―eliminating Nazism and militarism in Ukraine and putting an end to their support from the West.