From Republic.ru, Feb. 11, 2022, https://republic.ru/posts/103121. Excerpts:
Editors’ Note. – . . . Public statements about the catastrophe a war between Russia and Ukraine could cause have suddenly started to appear amid increasingly militaristic rhetoric. What’s surprising is that they are being made by retired siloviki [law-enforcement and security officers]. A statement made by Leonid Ivashov, the chairman of the All-Russian Officers Assembly (AROC), who spoke out against a war between Russia and Ukraine and demanded Putin’s resignation on behalf of officers, caused a particular sensation [see Vol. 74, No. 5, pp. 6‑10]. FSB [Federal Security Service] Gen. Yevgeny Savostyanov, Ret., who once worked with Putin in the presidential administration, came out in support of Ivashov on his Facebook page. He talked with Republic.ru about why he chose to speak out publicly about the AROC statement, whether he sees objective conditions for a war between Russia and Ukraine, what future awaits [Russia] if it actually does invade the neighboring state and why a sharp pivot by Russia to China would be dangerous.
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‘Any attempt to invade will lead to colossal destruction and losses for both sides.’
Question. – You supported Gen. Ivashov, who released a statement against war with Ukraine and demanded President Putin’s resignation. How dangerous is it now to make such statements and support them publicly?
Answer. – You know, I don’t really think about categories like how dangerous it is. Everything that is legal and in line with my beliefs is good. I didn’t see anything illegal in Ivashov’s calls. He was invoking Russia’s Constitution, and in the field of foreign policy, this was a fairly sound analysis.
Q. – The appearance of similar statements from people in the conservative camp – former military personnel, retired officers – What kind of trend is this? We haven’t seen anything like it in previous years. How dangerous a signal is this to the authorities?
A. – Ivashov’s appeal was the most surprising to me personally. He spoke the way members of the democratic opposition still speak: He provided coherent criticism of foreign policy, and analyzed the state of affairs inside the country and the danger of reckless military ventures. The main thing I see here is that what they used to say in certain circles is now understood in all circles. . . .
It’s possible that the military was trying to convey to the supreme commander in chief through retired personnel like Ivashov that the situation is not at all what officials are telling him it is. . . .
Q. – You wrote on your Facebook page that a peaceful position would resonate with society. But recently, the Levada Center (listed in the “foreign agents” registry) measured Vladimir Putin’s approval rating, which rose to a six-month high amid inflated prewar tension. Maybe this is exactly what society needs?
A. – That’s the way it always is. I observed the same thing in 1979, when our troops entered Afghanistan, and in 2008, when they entered Georgia [see Vol. 60, No. 31, pp. 1‑7] The nature of such phenomena is very simple: It’s like a drug.
So we have shown everyone that we can punch anyone we want in the face. That’s what belligerent and victorious moods are like. But they quickly move in the opposite direction as soon as major costs arise. . . .
Q. – How likely is an invasion, taking into account the rational and irrational factors?
A. – I personally put this likelihood at no more than 15%.
It has been 15 years since Putin’s speech in Munich [see Vol. 59, No. 7, pp. 1‑4]. I went back over it. And I thought: What a profoundly negative path we have taken in our foreign policy over these 15 years.
After all, the situation along our borders was totally safe at the time. . . .
If Ukraine suddenly joins NATO – and NATO accepts its obligations toward [Kiev] – then, of course, the strategic balance will shift if strike weapons, intermediate-range missiles and even shorter-range missiles with a flight time to Moscow of several minutes are deployed to Ukraine. But that is an entirely different topic. Then we have to discuss terms for limiting weapons in Europe and not deploying strike weapons in Ukraine. Then, of course, we will be asked to meet corresponding requirements. And I fully concede that this would be one of the most important topics for negotiations, where a common denominator could be found.
But to repeat: There is no reasonable scenario in which Europe would attack Russia.
But let’s pretend Ukraine joins NATO. We can assume that some hotheads will appear who decide to “feel out” Russia, to tickle its nerves and maybe even draw it into a direct confrontation with NATO, as Lavrov and Putin said. Is this possible to imagine? Should our territory be protected? It should be. So I view the concentration of Russian troops in that area not so much as preparation for an attack as preparation for future fortified areas along the border with Ukraine. If we can finally reach an agreement on the overall withdrawal of troops to 200-300 kilometers from the line of contact, then the troops will be redeployed. . . .
‘Russia is literally imprinting on China.’
. . . Russia is literally imprinting itself on China. That is, having radically worsened relations with the northern civilization, Russia is dooming itself to become an appendage of China.
We are seeing this happening now. Putin never ventures out of his residences, but he travels for talks with Xi Jinping to get his support and blessing for certain actions [see the second feature in this issue].
It is a strategic mistake to take a unilateral position that dooms us to lose the ability to maintain a balance. . . .
‘Putin’s motives have nothing to do with a paranoid search for enemies.’
Q. – . . . Do you share the opinion that when a chekist [security official – Trans.] is put in charge of a country, he will sooner or later start looking for internal and external enemies? And that therefore such decisions can be fatal.
A. – There’s no need to simplify it like that. After all, people can also be different. Some have hang-ups, others have seen life from different angles.
Putin’s motives for his behavior are completely different, and they have nothing to do with a paranoid search for enemies. By the way, I must say that he has not shown much zeal in this regard so far, and his repressive measures have been mainly targeted. But it has only been since the return of Navalny – “a foreign agent, a terrorist, an extremist and the enemy of humankind” – in January 2021 [see Vol. 73, No. 4, pp. 3‑6] that this large-scale crackdown started. Before that, he tried not to go too far. Yes, there were repressions, and while you can’t call them sporadic, you can’t call them large-scale, either. . . .
Q. – When, in your opinion, will the pendulum of history swing back in the opposite direction, from reaction to democracy?
A. – Over a very short period of time, within several years after Putin’s death. . . .
Q. – You said that the pendulum will swing back very quickly after Putin’s death. So you don’t think we should expect Putin to resign from the presidency in 2024?
A. – If you like fairy tales, you can think that way, but if you’re being realistic, then of course you can’t expect that.
Q. – And what do you think people who disagree with this state of affairs will do in those years?
A. – I don’t know. There are many things in life that can bring you personal happiness. But you can’t deceive yourself with illusions, because then you will be disappointed. . . .
The only case in which my forecast may be wrong and everything will accelerate is if Russia suffers a military defeat in the event it attacks Ukraine.
A failed war – and failure means great losses, prolonged hostilities or the transition of such hostilities to the aggressor’s territory (after all, no one can guarantee that the Ukrainians will not launch a counterattack against some Russian cities) – makes it much more probable that change will happen faster.
So this is why I have been saying that, from my viewpoint, the likelihood that Putin will decide to attack Ukraine is very small. He understands perfectly well that war is a powerful destabilizer for the country. . . .