Note: in late November I was interviewed by the Russian website Geofor. Here is the English language translation of this interview.
GEOFOR: Mr. Raevsky, no sooner have the American warships left the Black Sea than the British went in there. Apparently, “unscheduled exercises” of NATO ships and Ukrainian watercraft are about to commence, again. Again, near the maritime borders of the Russian Federation. Moreover, a couple of American military boats were delivered to Odessa (although, politely speaking, not quite new). As a military analyst with experience in intelligence, how do you assess the degree of threats from this incessant demonstration of force in terms of the possibility of provoking a military conflict with far-reaching consequences?
Andrei Raevsky: From a military point of view, I assess the degree of direct threat from these forces as zero. Firstly, any ship that enters the waters of the Black Sea can be instantly destroyed by a number of Russian coastal defense systems and/or the Russian Aerospace Forces. So, the degree of threat from them is zero. Secondly, they are equipped with rather outdated Tomahawk missiles. They have a relatively low flight speed, and they do not pose a great threat to Russian air defense systems.
On the other hand, there is an indirect threat from these NATO ships. And very serious. They are nudging Ukrainians in the same way as in 2008 they nudged Saakashvili in Georgia. They give Kiev a mistaken feeling being under an umbrella, under the protection of the US Navy or, say, NATO bomber planes, which is a complete deception and delusion, but this is the real danger.
GEOFOR: Does Russia have the ability to protect itself if it comes to launching Tomahawks? And how is this perceived in Pentagon and NATO headquarters? In the same context: what, in your opinion, is behind the decision of the Russian president to reject the Ministry of Defense’s offer to hold its unscheduled exercises on the Black Sea simultaneously with the United States and NATO? How will it be perceived in the Washington military-political establishment – as confidence in the capabilities of the Russian military to respond adequately to provocative actions or, as a desire not to take a potentially dangerous situation to the extreme?
Andrei Raevsky: Yes, of course, Russia can defend itself. As I just said, these are relatively slow and outdated cruise missiles, which do not pose a great danger to the multi-layered integrated air defense of the Crimea and the South of Russia and the entire Southern Military District of the Russian Federation. You can remember what the US missile strike on Syria was like, where most of them [Tomahawks] were shot down not by the Russian contingent in Syria – this is very important to emphasize – but by the Syrians with their relatively simpler air defense system.
Thus. I don’t think that all these Tomahawks threaten Russia very much.
I will also add that if the United States and NATO wanted to hit Russia with Tomahawks, it would be better for them to get out of the Black Sea and go to the Mediterranean Sea and move away to the maximum distance – just so as not to be instantly sunk.
Putin’s decision not to conduct simultaneous maneuvers in the Black Sea, in my opinion, is absolutely reasonable.
In Washington, this is likely to make an impression, in a certain sense, of a staged scene: Shoigu says: “I am ready”, and Putin takes such a peacemaking, pacifying step. This is what in the West is called “Good cop – bad cop.” In fact, they are, of course, united in terms of developing principles and strategies for protecting Russia from possible aggression.
GEOFOR: And now a little more about Ukraine and the situation around it. Russian analysts find many analogies in the situation in Ukraine now and the one that was in Georgia on the eve of August 2008. How would you characterize the factors (internal and external) that could lead to Kiev deciding on an open armed conflict? And what will this lead Ukraine and Europe as a whole to? Who, in the end, may be the beneficiary?
Andrei Raevsky: Yes, the situation is very similar to that. And I would even say that the situation Zelensky is in, is worse than the one Saakashvili was in.
I’m afraid that his rating is such that he really has nothing to lose. The question of whether Kiev will decide on an open armed conflict implies that Kiev has an opportunity to solve something. I doubt it very much. Without getting the “go-ahead” from the “Washington Regional Party Committee” Kiev will not move. Thus, if Kiev moves, it will be, at least, in the presence of a “tacit” – not even consent – order, when the West gives the command “Attack!”. Few people in the West care that Kiev will then “get its ass kicked.”
But the most important thing in this context is to remember that the goal is not to “liberate ORDLO from Muscovites” (Note: “ORLDO” is the current official Ukie legal term for the LDNR) or “restore democracy and territorial integrity of Ukraine” and so on. The goal is to force Russia to openly invade Ukraine and start a war: so that it cannot be denied, in order to totally sink energy projects between Russia and the EU and make the EU completely dependent, first of all, on American shale gas and other energy carriers. And to achieve these goals, Ukraine does not need any victory at all – it’s enough to just say: “Here, these evil Putin’s “green men” have seized even more territory! Oh, how bad they are!”
We can say that from a military point of view, Russia will win very quickly. But from a political point of view, it will be a victory for the United States.
GEOFOR: Do you consider it possible that, with NATO’s symbolic support in the Black Sea, as well as the presence of various American, British and other instructors on land, Kiev will decide on a military provocation not in the Donbas, but in the Black Sea? After all, it is known that everyone is waiting for the Ukrainian military offensive in the east of the country, and why, for example, Zelensky not follow the path of his predecessor Poroshenko, who sent boats to break through the Kerch Strait, and, creating a conflict situation, disrupted the already agreed meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin? Moreover, the second meeting of the Russian and American presidents this year is now being prepared…
Andrei Raevsky: Yes, such a provocation in the Black Sea is very likely. It is enough to recall their provocation when Ukrainian boats tried to pass into the Kerch Strait. And it was without any presence of Americans. Of course, this is possible. I think this is not only possible, but it will definitely happen.
And if there really are plans to arrange a meeting between Biden and Putin, then Ukrainians have very little time left. In December, Americans convene their “Democracy Forum”, then there are holidays…
If there is this meeting – and we don’t know if there will be one – there could be a lot of things that could undermine it. For supporters of the war – both in the United States and in Ukraine – this is a very important moment that cannot be missed.
GEOFOR: And in conclusion. If it is likely that the ongoing Russian-American consultations (the arrival of the Deputy Secretary of State and the director of the CIA in Moscow, for example) and the dialogue between the two leaders, which, hopefully, will take place, will lead to at least some stabilization, both around the Ukrainian problem and in bilateral relations. What problems in this regard could you highlight?
Andrei Raevsky: These consultations are very important, and this is a very desirable development of the situation because American officials of this level have not come to Moscow twice to present some kind of ultimatum.
To present an ultimatum, you can simply use a consul.
To do this, there is absolutely no need to send the highest representatives of the American authorities to Moscow.
The conversations that took place – whatever they were – were to the point. And they were serious. As long as both sides are talking, at least they are not shooting. And this is very desirable.
And we can only hope that such consultations will continue in the future.
Of course, the Americans are the most dangerous enemy for Russia. This needs to be understood.
This is not a get-together with a “vodka-herring” menu to just shoot the breeze. Neither is this a friendly meeting.
But this is a direct dialogue of those who can really make decisions in a difficult situation and influence the situation.
And in this regard, it is very important.
Therefore, there is no need to fall into the mistake that Americans very often fall into when they say: “We don’t talk to such and such.” We don’t talk to terrorists, we don’t talk to states and “regimes” that we don’t recognize. This is a very big mistake.
You need to talk to everyone, often including the fiercest enemies.