Not long ago Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu spoke about the potential emergence of new military threats. He said that there are hotbeds of tension near our borders.
Valdaiclub.com interview with Fyodor Lukyanov, Chairman of the Russian council on foreign and defence policy, Editor–in–Chief of Russia in Global Affairs magazine, member of the Valdai Discussion Club.
What are the major external threats facing Russia, in your view?
A defense minister must always be on the lookout for new threats, so one would expect Mr. Shoigu to say such a thing. Vigilance is paramount. Obviously, he is right in saying that hotbeds of tension exist near Russia’s borders. Our border is so long and we are located on so many geopolitical fault lines that some events are bound to take place near our border. However, for the most part, they do not pose a direct threat to Russia but rather risks related to growing instability and its potential to spread to our territory. Russia is not a target of hostile action. In fact, there is virtually no such threat, probably for the first time in our long history. But Russia may be affected by negative developments that follow their own logic and are not directly related to Russia.
The risks we face are primarily rooted in our internal development and the possibility of falling behind global leaders both in the West and the East. In other words, these are not risks that call for military action. Reliable and reasonably sufficient defenses are indispensable but inadequate for ensuring security in a broad sense.
What could be the consequences of deteriorating relations with the West, particularly the United States, especially given the recent grievances on both sides, such as the case of Magnitsky or Dima Yakovlev?
The deterioration in relations with the United States over these cases is leading to mutual alienation. I don’t think there is a risk of direct conflict. There are no new geopolitical contradictions which could cause it. There is a rift over many issues, but this is normal for relations between two major non-allied powers with diverging interests. This is nothing out of the ordinary. But there is mutual irritation and a failure to understand each other’s actions, which are probably rooted in domestic concerns. In the next few months or maybe years, Russian-American cooperation will be limited to pure diplomacy and the resolution of specific international issues (Syria, Iran and Afghanistan). There will be no serious mutual interest and bilateral relations are bound to stagnate.
Are there any threats emanating from Russia’s Asian neighbors, especially ex-Soviet states?
Many Central Asian countries are on the verge of internal political changes. Their political systems do not have built-in succession mechanisms, so this process will be accompanied by nervousness and instability. If they fail to make a smooth transition to a new life, there could be instability, with repercussions in Russia as well. Afghanistan is a special case, as it has been a source of instability for decades. The risks are high, but I believe it is an exaggeration to think that catastrophe awaits Afghanistan after 2014.
Do you think the issue of terrorism in Russia has moved to the background, or is there still a high risk of external terrorist threats?
Terrorist threats are an element of the modern world and global politics. We will never be able to feel completely safe anymore. The terrorist threat was probably less acute and less extensive than many judged in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Terrorism is not a thing in itself but a political tool of radicals, and it may be used in Russia as well. The potential sources of terrorist threats are domestic but they may be stoked from outside the country. In this context, the Arab Spring and changes in the political systems of the Middle East could aggravate the situation.
Political analysts disagree over whether China is a peaceful country, but many are warning the world about the threat it poses. Do you think there are serious reasons for concern?
The main threat to Russia in this respect is that it may fall behind China. As for military threats, China is hardly a source, especially considering Russia’s nuclear capabilities. Unlike many analysts, I don’t think China is interested in expansion, Nevertheless, its rise is instilling fear in the region. Its neighbors may seek stronger deterrence, resulting in a counter response from China and general escalation of tensions. Russia should by no means find itself in the center of this confrontation or take sides.