Chuck Spinney: Deconstructing Russia & Avoiding False Narratives — Interview with Segei Ivanov, Chief of Staff to Vladimir Putin

06 Russia
Chuck Spinney
Chuck Spinney

Below is the abbreviated transcript of a wide-ranging interview with Segei Ivanov, chief of staff to Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Ivanov, a former KGB officer, is a long-time colleague of Mr. Putin dating back to Leningrad in the 1970s. The interview was conducted in Russian and translated by Kathrin Hille  for the Financial Times.  The summary analysis of this interview by the editors of the Financial Times can be found at this link.  (H/T to Patrick Foy for bringing the interview to my attention.)

This is a long complex interview but well worth the reader’s time.

I have highlighted the different subjects as they occur. Ivanov’s responses sometimes appear to be wandering off question but he seems to be constructing a web of linkages that return to the question.  Consequently many of the subjects loop back on each other. These subjects include —

  • The possibility of early presidential elections in Russia
  • The need for Russian institutional and economic reforms
  • Sanctions and why they don’t work and can be a double-edged sword
  • The question of Russia’s mineral resources being a blessing or curse
  • The effects of Russia’s vastly different geographic regions and climatic conditions on its domestic policies
  • The myth that Russia is pivoting east
  • Foreign direct investment in Russia, particularly in the agricultural sector, how it relates to population scarcity in the east,  and the need for special economic zones and differing investment rules, particularly regarding Chinese agricultural investment in the China-Russia border region
  • Relations with the US including
    • the breakdown in channels of constructive interaction
    • Ukraine, the implied issue of refugee flows, and compliance with Minsk Agreement
    • The US/NATO conduct in Iraq, Libya, and Syria and the issue of refugee flows
    • NATO expansion vis a vis EU expansion
  • The necessary conditions for a new Euro-Atlantic security architecture
  • The need for mutual understanding and reciprocal empathy in replacing false and conflicting narratives

I would say the last bullet resonates implicitly through out the entire interview. The result, in my opinion, is a comprehensive point of view that is worth trying to understand, even if you disagree with it.

Dismissing the viewpoint as mere propaganda by a former KGB agent (as do most of the letters to the editor of the Financial Times) may be comforting to lazy minds, but given the mess we have made of things in the Middle East since 9-11; our complicity in inciting the crisis in the Ukraine; the reckless expansion of NATO beginning with the Clinton Administration; perhaps, it is time to follow Sun Tzu’s advice and try to understand our (reluctant?) adversary’s point of view.

NATO expansion is a particularly bitter pill, because it  violated our promises to Soviet President Gorbachev for his agreement to German unification and the peaceful withdrawal of Soviet troops from Eastern Europe; and it occurred mainly for reasons of domestic politics, including the propping up of the Military – Industrial – Congressional Complex.  And Eastern Europe, it should also be remembered, is the invasion pathway used by Napoleon, the Kaiser, and Hitler to devastate European Russia three times in less than 150 years.

A dispassionate deconstruction of this interview is a good place to begin such an understanding.

Transcript: Interview with Sergei Ivanov [Abbreviated]

Financial Times, 21 June 2015