Lieutenant General Reshetnikov of the Russian Institute of Strategic Research gives a wide-ranging interview on threats Russia faces from the West, to militant Islamic groups, to the conflict in Ukraine
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
The last year has been the year when Russia’s spy chiefs came out of the shadows.
Last year we published extracts of an interview given by Nikolai Patrushev, who is the ultimate head of the entire intelligence apparatus. (See Top Spymaster Explains How Russian Intelligence Sees the U.S., Russia Insider, 6th November 2014)
A few weeks ago Colonel General Igor Sergun, the Head of the Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GRU) of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces, gave a brief interview in which he publicly linked the U.S. to jihadi terrorism.
Now it is the turn of Lieutenant General Leonid Reshetnikov, Director of the Russian Institute of Strategic Research (RISR), the Russian government’s chief centre for foreign policy analysis.
That Russia possesses a centre that undertakes foreign policy analysis for the Russian government and that this is connected to the country’s chief foreign intelligence agency, the SVR, will come as a surprise to no one.
Both the U.S. and Britain have such centres. In the U.S. it is the RAND Corporation. In Britain it is the Royal Institute of International Affairs (“Chatham House”).
The RISR appears to have analogous functions. However its very existence has been kept secret until recently. The result is that we know very little about it, though it appears it was set up as recently as 1992 and employs a staff of 200 analysts.
Interestingly the person in the Russian power structure to whom Reshetnikov reports turns out to be Sergei Ivanov, Putin’s Chief of Staff, who also has a background as an intelligence analyst, and whose background and role in Russian politics we have discussed recently (see Putin's Chief of Staff Is a Man to Watch, Russia Insider, 19th May 2015)
What the precise trigger was that persuaded Reshetnikov to come out into the open we do not know. However a good guess is that it was an article published in January 2015 by the neocon Jamestown Foundation. This alleged that the RISR had been pushing for a Russian invasion of Ukraine even before the Maidan coup, and was now calling for Russia to engineer the overthrow of Belarus President Lukashenko.
In his interview Reshetnikov does not specifically refer to the Jamestown Foundation article.
However he indirectly refutes it by making it clear he opposes a Russian military intervention in southeastern Ukraine to help the militias there.
He says the RISR before the Maidan coup was calling for the setting up of pro-Russian NGOs to counter the spread of Russophobic sentiments in Ukraine.
This is a classic “soft power” approach, openly copied from U.S. practice, quite different from an invasion.
While Reshetnikov does not specifically refer to the allegation about the RISR seeking the overthrow Lukashenko, he pointedly says that unlike the CIA, Russia’s intelligence agencies are classic intelligence agencies that do not engage in subversion or extra-judicial killings.
This again looks like an indirect way of refuting the Jamestown Foundation article by saying that Russia’s intelligence agencies do not engage in the sort of activities that involve the overthrow of governments.
It is Reshetnikov’s comments about Ukraine that are however the most interesting part of his interview.
Reshetnikov makes it quite clear that he considers the Maidan coup a geopolitical play by the U.S., which is targeted at Russia.
He believes there is no possibility of the two People’s Republics being reintegrated peacefully into Ukraine. The federalisation proposal, at least in the form in which it was envisaged in Spring 2014, is now unachievable. Even a confederal solution such as is currently proposed can only be temporary because the people of the two People’s Republics “no longer want to be Ukrainians”.
Reshetnikov makes the same point Russia Insider has repeatedly made: Kiev adamantly opposes a federal solution and is only interested in a unitary state, which is its only way of achieving its ideological objectives.
Reshetnikov says this is also the objective of the hardliners in Washington. He speaks luridly of U.S. military bases directed at Russia in places like Lugansk and Kharkov if the Washington hardliners achieve their goals.
Since Kiev and the Washington hardliners are still committed to a unitary solution, Reshetnikov (like us) expects the war to resume this summer.
Perhaps Reshetnikov’s most interesting comment is his prediction about the future of Ukraine.
He predicts a rise of resistance to the current government across the whole country --- far beyond the Donbass --- and of the country’s eventual disintegration or semi-disintegration.
A former intelligence official once told me that it takes at least a year for resistance to organise against an occupier or an authoritarian government. The surprise was that resistance developed in eastern Ukraine so quickly.
Reports coming out of Ukraine may bear that out and may also confirm the truth of what Reshetnikov says.
There are reports of growing resistance activity in places like Odessa and Kharkov. Information is however sketchy and the level of resistance for the moment seems low.
Reshetnikov however has access to data from Russian intelligence, which is extremely well-informed about the situation in Ukraine. His prediction therefore should not be discounted.
Reshetnikov also has much else of interest to say concerning topics other than Ukraine.
He gives a very alarming description of the U.S.’s methods of maintaining its grip on Western Europe -- including the assassination of dissident politicians, though he cites no examples. He makes it clear that he has no expectations of Western Europe breaking away from the U.S. any time soon.
He also shares the common Russian view of the U.S. as the prime sponsor of militant jihadist terrorism.
He is also obviously very concerned about the growth of militant jihadism in the northern Caucasus and Central Asia.
However he takes an optimistic view of Russia’s future, expecting the country to have finally emerged from its post-Soviet transition within the next five to six years. He predicts its new identity will borrow from the best of Russia’s tsarist and Soviet past.
He sees Russia as on the right side of history, forming part of the growing international resistance to the Western attempts to impose a unipolar system centred on the U.S.
The impression he gives is of a country under serious assault but parrying the blows, becoming stronger and more self-confident, able to look after itself and trusting in its friends.
This translation of Lieutenant General Reshetnikov’s interview was first published by Colonel Cassad on his blog:
You had a serious "roof" — the SVR (Russia's chief intelligence agency - AM). Why would they suddenly declassify you?
Indeed, we were a closed institute of the foreign intelligence, which mostly specialized in analyzing the available information on the far and near abroad. That is, on the information that is not only needed by the intelligence service, but also by the structures that determine the country's foreign policy. Oddly enough, there were no similar analytical centers in the Russian president's administration. Even though there were plenty of "institutions" in which there is only the director, the secretary and the wife of the director who works as an analyst. The PA lacked serious specialists and so the intelligence service had to share.
Today our founder is the president of Russia, and all governmental requests for research are signed by the head of the administration Sergey Ivanov.
How much demand is out there for your analytics? For we are a paper country: everyone writes, writes a lot — but does that influence the final result?
Sometimes we see the actions that echo our analytical papers. Sometimes it is impressive when you put up certain ideas and they become a trend in the Russian public opinion. It is clear that many directions are ripe for being pursued.
Something similar is done in the USA by the analytical center Stratfor and the strategic research center RAND Corporation. Which of you is “cooler"?
When, after the transition to the PA in the April of 2009 we made the new statute of the institute, as a suggestion we were told to use their example. Back then I thought "if you'll finance us like Stratfor or the RAND Corporation are financed, then we'll beat all of these foreign analytical companies." Because the Russian analysts are the strongest in the world. Even more so the regional specialists, who have more "fresh", uncontaminated brains. I can speak about this confidently, in the end I have 33 years of experience of the analytical work. First in the First main directorate of the KGB USSR and then the Foreign Intelligence Service.
It is well-known that RAND Corporation developed the plan of the ATO in the south-east of the country for Ukraine. Did your institute give information about Ukraine, in particular — about Crimea?
Of course. In principle, just two institute were engaged on Ukraine: RISR and the Institute of CIS countries of Konstantin Zatulin. From the very beginning of our work we wrote analytical papers on the growth of anti-Russian sentiment in Ukraine and on the strengthening of pro-Russian sentiment in Crimea. We analyzed the actions of the Ukrainian authorities. But we didn't give the alarmist data — everything is lost, rather, we increased the attention to the growing problem.
We proposed to significantly intensify the work of pro-Russian non-governmental organizations (NGO), intensify, as they now say, the pressure of "soft power" policy.
With an ambassador like Zurabov we don't even need any enemies!
The work of any embassy and of any ambassador is subject to a number of limitations. One step to the side — and there is a scandal. Plus, there is a huge problem with professional personnel in the country. And not just in the field of diplomacy. Somehow we exhausted the stocks — very few strong people with a strong pivot remain in the government service.
It is hard to overestimate the role of NGOs. Color-coded revolutions are a clear example, which are warmed up primarily by the American non-governmental organizations. This happened in Ukraine as well. Unfortunately, effectively no attention was devoted to creating and supporting such organizations that would act in our interests. And if they would work, then they could replace ten embassies and ten ambassadors, even very smart ones. Now the situation started to change, following a direct order from the president. Hopefully, the subordinates won't wash out this development.
How do you think the events in Novorossia will develop in the spring and summer? Will there be a new military campaign?
Unfortunately, the probability is very high. Just a year ago the idea of federalizing Ukraine was workable. But now Kiev needs only war. Only a unitary state. For several reasons. The main is that the country is now led by ideologically anti-Russian people, who are not simply subordinated to Washington, but actually are bought and paid for by those forces who are hiding behind the U.S. government.
And what does this notorious "world government" need?
It is easier to say what they don't need: they don't need a federal Ukraine, such a territory will be hard to control. It will be impossible to deploy their military bases, a new ABM echelon there. And there are such plans. From Lugansk and Kharkov tactical cruise missiles can reach behind the Urals, where our main nuclear deterrence forces are located. And they can hit silo-based and road-mobile ballistic missiles on the ascent trajectory with a 100% probability. Currently this area is not reachable by them neither from Poland nor from Turkey nor from the South-East Asia. This is the main goal. So the U.S. will fight for Donbass to the last Ukrainian.
So this is not about the shale gas depots that were found on this territory?
Their main strategic goal is a unitary Ukraine under their full control for fighting Russia. And the shale gas or arable lands — this is just a pleasant bonus. Collateral gain. Plus a serious strike on our MIC due to the cutting of the links between the MIC of Ukraine and Russia. This is already accomplished.
We were outplayed: "son of a bitch" Yanukovich had to be evacuated with the help of Spetsnaz and Washington placed its own "sons of bitches"?
From the strategic-military point of view, of course we were outplayed. Russia got "compensation" – Crimea. There is "compensation" — the resistance by the residents of the south-east of Ukraine. But the enemy already got huge territory, which was a part of the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire.
What are we going to see in Ukraine this year?
The process of semi-disintegration or even utter disintegration. Many are still silent in the face of the genuine nazism. But people who understand the Ukraine and Russia are strongly connected didn't say their last word yet. Not in Odessa, not in Kharkov, not in Zaporozhye, and not in Chernigov. This silence is not eternal. And the lid of this cauldron will be inevitably blown away.
And how will the relations between Novorossia and the rest of Ukraine develop?
There is a low-probability scenario of Transnistria. But I don't believe in it — the territory of the DPR and the LPR is much bigger, millions of people were already sucked into this war. For now Russia still can convince the militia leaders to engage in a temporary respite and truce. But exactly that — temporary. There is no speaking about the return of Novorossia into Ukraine any longer. The people of the south-east don't want to be Ukrainians.
So if our country ended up isolated globally due to the reunification with Crimea, why don't we go all-in in the south-east? How much hypocrisy can there be?
I think that it is too early to go all-in just yet. We underestimate the degree of awareness of our president, who knows that there are certain processes in Europe that are not clearly visible to outside observers. These processes give hope that we will be able to protect our interests using different methods and means.
In the flow of information associated with Ukraine we forget about the explosive growth of the religious extremism in the Central Asia...
This is an extremely dangerous trend for our country. The situation in Tadzhikistan is very difficult. The situation in Kyrgyzstan is unstable. But Turkmenistan may become the direction of the first strike, just like "AN" wrote. Somehow, we forget about it a little, because Ashkhabad stands somewhat alone. But this "mansion" may fall first. Will they have enough strength to beat off? Or will we intervene into a country that keeps quite long distance away from us? So, this direction is hard.
And not only due to the "Islamic State" militants seeping into the region. According to the latest data, the USA and NATO are not going to leave Afghanistan and are going to maintain their bases there. From the military point of view, five or ten thousand soldiers who remain there may be deployed into a 50-100-strong group within a month.
This is a part of the overall plan of surrounding and pressuring Russia, which is implemented by the hands of the USA with the goal of deposing president Vladimir Putin and breaking the country. A typical layman may, of course, not believe this, but people with access to a large volume of information know this very well.
Which borders will the split go through?
First they plan to simply cut off that which is "easy". It doesn't matter what will fall off: Kaliningrad, the North Caucasus, or the Far East. This will serve as a detonator of the process that may intensify. This is not a propaganda phantom — it is a real idea. Such pressure from the west (Ukraine), and the south (Central Asia) will only grow. The are trying to seep through the western gates, but they'll also probe the southern ones.
What is the most dangerous strategic direction for us?
The southern direction is very dangerous. But for now the buffer states — the former central asian Soviet republics still function. And in the west the war is already at the border. Effectively, on our territory.
Currently, it is not the bloodbath of Ukrainians and Russians there, but rather a war of global systems. Some think that they "are Europe", others — that they are Russia. Because our country is not just a territory. It is a separate, huge civilization, which brought its own view of the global order to the whole world. Primarily, of course, this is the Russian Empire as an example of the East-Orthodox civilization. The Bolsheviks destroyed it, but they put up a new civilizational idea. A third is now very close. And we'll see it within 5–6 years.
What will it be?
I think that it will be a decent symbiosis of the previous ones. And our "sworn colleagues" perfectly understand this. That is why the attack from all sides started.
That is, the joint Russian-American fight against terror, in particular, against ISIS – is a fiction?
Of course. America creates terrorists, feeds them, trains them, and then gives an order to the whole pack: "catch". Perhaps, they can shoot one "rabid dog" in the whole pack, but the other dogs will be set even more actively.
Leonid Petrovich, you think that the USA and the American presidents are just an instrument. Who do you think determine their policy?
There are communities of people who are effectively unknown to the public, which not only determine the American presidents but also determine the rules of the whole "big game". In particular, these are the transnational financial corporations. But not only them.
Currently there is an ongoing process of reformatting the financial and the economical system of the world. Clearly, there is an attempt to rethink the whole structure of capitalism without rejecting it. The foreign policy is subject to rapid change. The U.S. suddenly effectively abandoned Israel – their main ally in the Middle East for the sake of improving the relations with Iran. Is it because now Tehran is more valuable and more important than Tel-Aviv? Because it is among the countries around Russia. These covert forces set the goal of liquidating our country as a serious player on the global stage. Because Russia is a civilizational alternative to the whole united west.
Moreover, there is an explosive growth of anti-American sentiment in the world. Hungary, where the conservative right-wing forces are in power, and Greece's left-wingers — diametrically opposed forces — effectively united and "bucked" against the U.S. dictate in Europe. There are also those who may "buck" in Italy, Austria, in France, and so on. If Russia will now stand its ground, then the processes that are not beneficial to the forces who seek to claim the global domination will start in Europe. And these forces perfectly understand this.
Some European leaders already lament that the USA effectively forced sanctions on them. Europe may break out of the "friendly" American embrace?
Never. America holds her on several chains: the Federal Reserve printing press, the threat of color-coded revolutions and of the physical elimination of unwanted politicians.
Are you exaggerating about the physical elimination part?
Not at all. The Central Intelligence Agency of the USA is not even an intelligence service based on the level of the tasks set before it. The PGU KGB or the SVR of the RF are classical intelligence services: information gathering and reporting to the leadership of the country. In the CIA these traditional features of an intelligence service are at the end of the list of its problems. The main goals are: elimination, which included physical elimination, of the politicians and the organization of coups.
And they do this in real time.
After the loss of the "Kursk" submarine, the CIA director George Tenet visited us. I was asked to meet him in the airport. Tenet was slow to exit the airplane, but the apparel was open so I could peek inside his "Hercules". This was a flying headquarters, the operational computer center, which was full of equipment and communications systems that can track and model the situation in the whole world. The accompanying delegation — twenty people. As for us — we flew and fly regular flights, in 2-5 person teams. You can feel the difference, so to say.
By the way, about the intelligence. Once again there is talk of the idea of restoring the united Russian intelligence service by uniting the SVR and the FSB. What do you think about this?
I'm very negative. If we combine the two special services — the foreign intelligence and the counter-intelligence, then we'll create one source of information for the highest leadership of the country out of two. Then, the person who sits at this "origin of information" becomes a monopolist. And he can manipulate it for achieving some goal. In the USSR KGB such informational manipulations were obvious even to the captain Reshetnikov. For a president, a czar, a prime-minister — no matter how you call the highest official — it is advantageous to have several independent intelligence sources. Otherwise he becomes a hostage of a specific leader of the structure of the structure itself. This is very dangerous.
The authors of this idea think that we will become stronger after this union. Instead, we will create threats for ourselves.
And now lets go from the global conspiracy theories to our local affairs. How can you tell between an official who doesn't know what he's doing and an agent of influence who knows what he's doing?
There are not as many agents of influence of a serious level in the world as many think. Passing or not passing serious strategic decisions against the interests of one's own country is typically initiated by, so to speak, ideological agents. These are those among our officials who ended up occupying a high-rank domestic position, but whose soul is in the West. There's no need to enlist or order them. For these people everything that's done "there" is the highest achievement of the civilization. And what's here — the "unwashed" Russia. They don't associated the future of their children, whom they send abroad, with the country. And this is a more serious indicator than the accounts in foreign banks. Such "comrades" sincerely don't like Russia, the "development" of which they supervise.
You just drew a portrait of some of our ministers very precisely. How are we going to make it through 2015 with them?
This year, with them or without them, will be difficult. Most likely, the next year won't be easier either. But after that new Russia will be confidently on the march.
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
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