Insight into the Russian popular mentality has always been difficult for outsiders. Churchill’s famous comment that “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” still exerts considerable influence over people daring to try to fathom what could be going on inside the minds of ordinary people in a country that appears to have achieved a significant amount culturally, scientifically and otherwise over the centuries, but which is overall still a fairly brutal and ghastly place.
Likewise, with the war in Ukraine, Russian public attitudes are difficult to believe. During the run-up to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, huge antiwar demonstrations appeared in many Western capitals. Even in the United States, whose population is traditionally docile concerning its government’s foreign military interventions, anti-Iraq war demonstrations in Washington were the largest since the war in Vietnam. In Russia, public attitudes toward the war in Ukraine appear very supportive of President Putin’s “Novorossia” project to carve away large swathes of Ukrainian territory and attach them to a greater Russian imperial space. Only tiny handfuls of antiwar demonstrators have been seen in Moscow, and this does not appear to be the product of mass popular fear of the consequences of protests. Among ordinary Russians, militant ethno-national and religious jingoisim is the order of the day.
But Russian émigrés often have a uniquely useful perspective, and back in late November 2014, the Soviet defector known as Viktor Suvorov (a former officer of Soviet military intelligence) gave an interview to a Lithuanian news website (on the occasion of the signing of his latest book) concerning the mentality of both the Russian leadership and people. Suvorov is half Russian, half Ukrainian by birth, and defected to the United Kingdom in 1978. Those of us who studied the Soviet Union in the 1980s remember Suvorov for the books he published during that decade – including Inside the Soviet Army and Inside Soviet Military Intelligence. Here he speaks candidly about the Russian regime’s thoughts and actions in the context of the conflict in Ukraine…
27 November 2014 ~ Alexander Otroshchenkov
In Warsaw, the famous writer, historian and publicist Viktor Suvorov (Vladimir Rezun) has presented his new book, “The Alphabet of Suvorov,” written especially for the Polish reader. After the presentation, the former Soviet spy gave an interview to Delfi.
Delfi: Vladimir Bogdanovich, events in Ukraine have shown that the plan to invade and capture individual territories was developed long before the Maidan – most likely, many years before. The question is whether Putin has a similar plan with regard to Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Belarus?
Viktor Suvorov: Of course, it is better to ask this directly of Putin, and not a little man who wrote some books. But if you look at the situation through his eyes, we understand that, apparently, he has no other choice. There are certain internal problems. In order to solve them, he needs to leave and put clever people at the wheel to steer the country. Isn’t that true? But he doesn’t want to. He has said that in 2018, he is going to run for a new term. Somehow, he calls this a second term. So, there are internal problems, but there is no solution to the internal problems. So he is trying to find an external solution to internal problems.
Delfi: The situation with regard to the capture of the Lithuanian fishing vessel and the abduction of the Estonian officer, does this not give rise to the drawing of parallels with what happened at the turn of the Thirties and Forties, before the Red Army entered the Baltic countries?
Suvorov: Yes and no. Yes, because the same old KGB-Mafia reigns. It’s that way. But on the other hand, it’s already rotten – rotten and completely corrupt – from head to toe, organization and country. From the point of view of their psychology, this works as well, but the nature of power has already changed. They are very, very afraid of force. They are thieves. Thieves understand only force and nothing else. I will give you an interesting example. When World War II ended, Stalin demanded from America and Great Britain the extradition of those who had fought against the Communists. And they gave them up!
America had an atomic bomb. We didn’t have one. They had a heavy-duty fleet and strategic aviation. And most importantly, they had an army – whole and not crippled. And there was something to eat. We were totally destroyed, with nothing to eat, the country on the brink of disaster. Yet the Americans gave them up. And the British handed them over. But there was one country that did not give them up, and this country was Liechtenstein. There were either 15 or 20 people there. Our KGB crooks came and said: give ‘em up. Lichtenstein says: we won’t give them to you. And our guys right away said: “Well, you won’t give, and you don’t give. And there’s no court to sue you in… ”
Delfi: You said that Putin has nowhere to go, that he will attack. Are Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Latvia and Estonia ready?
Suvorov: This question should be directed to statesmen. I, unfortunately, am not a statesman. But you have to ask these guys: where the fuck are you looking? You’re next in line!
Delfi: Could there be, in principle, ethnic conflict in one of these countries?
Suvorov: My mom is Russian, and my father is Ukrainian. My wife Tatiana has the same situation. It’s never been a problem. The question has never even come up between us: are you Russian or Ukrainian? Who cares? But now I want to say that I am a Ukrainian, my wife is a Ukrainian, my children are Ukrainians. I even want my British neighbors to be Ukrainians as well. And even if I was a pure Russian, today I’d have become a Ukrainian, together with my cats.
Question from the audience: They say that in Soviet times there was a definite division between the GRU [military intelligence – Ed.] and KGB [state security service – Ed.]. Figuratively speaking, the KGB – they were the dogs of the regime, and the GRU were the wolves.
Suvorov: You use superb language. There has always been a big difference between the GRU and KGB. And the difference was the fact that, by and large, the GRU’s hands were not stained with the blood of its people. This is not because we are such good people, but because the GRU is intelligence against external enemies. The KGB is a criminal organization, which destroyed Russians, and Poles, and Ukrainians, and Belarusians, and Germans, and Lithuanians, and Estonians. On whomever the contract was put out, they were eliminated. So you’re right. There are dogs, and there are wolves. Another thing is that today, the wolves are not very healthy wolves either. Intelligence is an organ of the state. And if the whole state is rotting, it cannot be a flourishing organ. And if corruption is everywhere from top to bottom, of course, both the GRU and the FSB are rotten.
Delfi: We can all see what Putin is doing. How do you think he evaluates himself? How does he see himself? What role does he think his successors will ascribe to him?
Suvorov: Oh, I don’t know… But look: he went to Australia. A year ago, all the world leaders were kissing him. And now only a koala bear kisses him. Nobody else is kissing him, you know? The guy had clearly gotten drunk on kudos. He won’t play any role, and what he’s doing at the moment – it’s just to save his ass. And the saving of his ass is just to stay in power. I don’t know how to speak diplomatically, but after all he played everything real cool. The same with the oligarchs. A billion would be enough for me, and for you too… But there are other calculations there. There are ten billion, and a year ago there were thirty. How can they go on living with this? And they are all very well-to-do. Before, they traveled abroad, and now, if they go abroad at any time, they’ll take it in the ass… Even if they don’t take it in the ass, will something be messing around with them from the bottom? It will mess around!
Delfi: Well, we talked about Putin’s opponents. Let’s talk about his friends. Here’s Lukashenko: trying to maneuver, play on contradictions, even portray himself as a peacemaker, but if you look at his actual steps, he is a loyal ally of Putin. Belarus supported the Russian aggression at the UN, and Russian bases are located on the territory of Belarus. Militarily, the integration of Belarus and Russia is almost complete. What happens in the event of a large-scale war between Russia and Ukraine?
Suvorov: Of course, you’d best pose this question to Lukashenko yourself. And of course, most likely, he will not tell the truth. But he could be next in line. Here’s the thing. And the people of Belarus understand this, and Lukashenko understands that the people understand… In general, I do not presume to make a prediction.
Delfi: Forced to go to school in the Soviet Union, we – and especially you – were taught that Hitler attacked an absolutely peaceful country where people were engaged in creative work, just like all the world, and even the military airfields at the borders were peacefully sleeping. But if we look at what in fact happened, we see an absolutely militarized country where millions of people were in the army, tens of millions were in paramilitary organizations, girls didn’t want to meet guys with no GTO [‘Prepared for Labor and Defense’ – Ed.] insignia, and cinema and songs were appropriately oriented. Say, if today Putin strangles rebellious Ukraine, will the next generation of people again tell myths about peaceful Russia, which was attacked by treacherous Ukraine and “Gayrope” [a conjunction of the words ‘gay’ and ‘Europe’ used by Russians to denote contempt for the gay rights culture in Europe – Ed.]?
Suvorov: It’s already happening. There is nothing to add or subtract. And I’m very ashamed for my people, who believe in that stuff. I never thought, never believed that the stultification could be so deep… I just didn’t believe it! But when I talk to people whom I very recently respected, I feel a little uneasy about what’s going on. Devil knows what!
But about the suffocation of Ukraine… he didn’t strangle Ukraine for one very good reason. The reason is that the people of Ukraine woke up. That’s important. After all, how was it before? Sitting there was any old provisional Yanukovych-gokovich. In making decisions, he’s thinking: what will Putin think? What will the oligarchs think? Now, whoever is elected president of Ukraine, even the latest villain, he will think – will be forced to think – about what the people will think. He will be afraid of the people. And this is called democracy. Therefore no one will conquer Ukraine.
But as for the mythologizing of events, it is ongoing, it works, and in this generation, probably, it will be incurable. In Ukraine, one girl wrote the poem, “We will never be brothers.” It is very painful to admit, but for the next two or three hundred years, I’m a skeptic, a cynic and a pessimist. For the next two or three hundred years, the people of Ukraine will not forget this infamy. After all, what happened? The people of Ukraine threw out the thieves, drove out the thieves. Guys, you have thieves sitting in power – look at them, and why do you rock our boat? But some kind of livestock is being driven, recruited, fighting, killing … No, we will never be brothers, that’s for sure.