President Vladimir Putin’s annual news conference December 20, 2018 (excerpts)
Anton Vernitsky: Mr President, as Soviet-era children, all of us feared a nuclear war very much. As you remember, various songs dealt with this issue. One of them had the following lyrics: “Sunny world: Yes, yes, yes; nuclear explosion: No, no, no.”
Vladimir Putin: Are you not afraid today?
Anton Vernitsky: Forty years have passed, and major media outlets on both sides of the ocean are beginning to publish a scenario for a nuclear exchange between Russia and the United States. The word “war” is sounding more and more often at household level, in kitchens.
Mr President, how can you calm down my little son who, just like me, also fears a nuclear war today? What words and actions can calm us all down?
Vladimir Putin: You know, I think you are right.
I just thought that all this, including the danger of such developments in the world, is now being hushed up and played down to some extent. It seems impossible or something that is not so important. At the same time, if, God forbid, something like this happens, it might destroy the whole of civilisation or perhaps the entire planet.
These issues are therefore serious, and it is a great pity that there is such a tendency to underestimate the problem, and that this tendency is probably becoming more pronounced. What are the current distinguishing features and dangers?
First, all of us are now witnessing the disintegration of the international system for arms control and for deterring the arms race. This process is taking place after the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty that, as I have already noted a thousand times, was the cornerstone in the sphere of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and deterring the arms race.
After that, we were forced to respond by developing new weapons systems that could breach these ABM systems. Now, we hear that Russia has gained an advantage. Yes, this is true. So far, the world has no such weapons systems. Leading powers will develop them, but, as yet they do not exist.
In this sense, there are certain advantages. But, speaking of the entire strategic balance, this is just an element of deterrence and for equalising parities. This is just the preservation of parity, and nothing more.
They are now about to take another step and withdraw from the INF Treaty. What will happen? It is very difficult to imagine how the situation will unfold. What if these missiles show up in Europe? What are we supposed to do then?
Of course, we will need to take some steps to ensure our safety. And they should not whine later that we are allegedly trying to gain certain advantages. We are not. We are simply trying to maintain the balance and ensure our security.
The same goes for the START III Treaty, which expires in 2021. There are no talks on this issue. Is it because no one is interested, or believes it is necessary? Fine, we can live with that.
We will ensure our security. We know how to do it. But in general, for humanity, this is very bad, because this takes us to a very dangerous line.
Finally, there is another circumstance I cannot ignore. There is a trend to lower the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons. There are plans to create low-impact nuclear charges, which translates to tactical rather than global use. Such ideas are coming from Western analysts who say it is okay to use such weapons. However, lowering the threshold can lead to a global nuclear disaster. This is one danger we are facing today.
The second is the use of non-nuclear ballistic missiles. True, our US partners seem to have dropped this idea, but it still exists. What does it mean?
Suppose, a ballistic missile is launched, nuclear or non-nuclear. The missile attack warning system identifies the launch and the launch site, and, seconds later, determines the flight path and the possible warhead landing area. This is all on the verge of a possible error. It is terrible, and we cannot take it that far. Nevertheless, such an idea of using non-nuclear ballistic missiles exists.
Suppose, a submarine fired a ballistic missile from the World Ocean, but who the hell knows if it is nuclear or not, go figure. This is very dangerous. All of that is being widely discussed, which is dangerous.
However, I believe humanity has enough common sense and enough of a sense of self-preservation not to take these things to the extreme.
Dmitry Peskov: Let us go to this sector. I see the Ukrainian flag in the second row.
Vladimir Putin: You attend all our news conferences, correct? You are from Ukraine?
Dmitry Peskov: Yes, he is our colleague from Ukraine.
Vladimir Putin: Right, my colleagues told me it was better not to let him speak, because he would cause a scandal. Are you going to cause a scandal now?
Please go ahead.
Yegor Sozayev-Guryev: Yegor Sozayev-Guryev, Izvestia. My question is about the incident in the Kerch Strait.
Vladimir Putin: But Izvestia is not from Ukraine, is it?
Yegor Sozayev-Guryev: Well, my question is about Ukraine.
Vladimir Putin: Well, go ahead.
Yegor Sozayev-Guryev: I have a question about the precedent in the Kerch Strait, I wonder about the future of the captured Ukrainian military. What will happen to them? Do you think this provocation was a success?
I cannot help asking about the citizens of Russia imprisoned in the United States. I mean Butina and Yaroshenko. How can Russia protect their rights? Perhaps, we should look at our Chinese partners? A Chinese citizen representing Huawei was detained in Canada. In response, they detained several Canadian citizens. Perhaps, we could learn from that experience?
Vladimir Putin: With regard to your first question, you said: “Do you think this provocation was a success?” First, let us state that it was a provocation, and you agree with that. This is already a good start.
Now, whether it was a success or not, I believe provocations are a bad thing whatever way you look at them. Provocations seek to aggravate things. Why do our Ukrainian partners need things to go that way? Clearly, they are in the middle of an election campaign right now, and they want to aggravate the situation in order to raise the ratings of one of the contenders, I mean the incumbent president and the current government. Well, this is bad, it is ultimately bad for the interests of the Ukrainian people and state. However, it is possible to move forward without any provocations and do so calmly, as before.
Whether it was a success or not, I mean in terms of improving popularity ratings, maybe it was, as Mr Poroshenko’s ratings seem to have increased a little and he has moved from the fifth position to the second or third, where the figure fluctuates around 12 percent. Ms Tymoshenko, I believe, has 20 percent or even more, whereas Zelinsky, Boyko and Poroshenko have around 12 percent each. In this sense, yes, he probably achieved the goal. At the expense of the country’s interests, I believe. This is a bad way to boost ratings.
With regard to the future of the Ukrainian servicemen, they were sent on this mission and some of them were expected to die in the process. I can see that the leadership is very upset by the fact that no one died. They expected some of them to die. Thank God, this did not happen. An investigation is underway. Once it is over, we will know what to do with them.
Still, I will ask you to give the microphone to our colleague from Ukraine.
Roman Tsymbalyuk: Thank you. There will be no scandal. There never was a scandal actually.
Vladimir Putin: Thank God.That already is good news.
Roman Tsymbalyuk: Mr President, I would like to ask you how much money you are spending on the occupied Donbass? Under your leadership, people there are living in poverty. Let us face it, they have become slaves to Russia. You are concerned about the threat of a nuclear war and at the same time, you are preparing for a war against NATO, and, in fact, you are shooting at Ukrainian citizens. It was you as the Supreme Commander-in-Chief who issued the order to open fire at seamen. My question is what are the terms of the exchange?
And a question about the elections, if I may. You say that you analyse the approval ratings.
Vladimir Putin: Just a second. Terms of exchange?
Roman Tsymbalyuk: The terms of exchange of Ukrainian political prisoners and Ukrainian servicemen. You do need your Russian citizens back, don’t you?
And about the elections, if I may. You constantly analyse the ratings and one gets the impression that…
Vladimir Putin: I do not analyse them, I look at them inasmuch as you print them.
Roman Tsymbalyuk: … in this way you are meddling in the electoral process like you did in the United States. Doesn’t it seem to you that a direct dialogue between the presidents of Ukraine and Russia will never take place until you change your job?
Vladimir Putin: Regarding the suffering of the people who live in Donbass. You are a Ukrainian citizen, aren’t you? And you consider the people who live on this territory to be the citizens of your country. Can you tell me who established the blockade between Donbass and the rest of Ukraine? Did Russia do it? The Ukrainian authorities did it: they imposed a total economic blockade of the territory they consider to be their own. They shoot at the people they consider to be their own citizens. People are killed there almost every day, peaceful civilians, by the way.
We do render humanitarian and other assistance and support to the people who live on that territory. But we do it only to prevent them from being finally crushed, devoured and torn to pieces, and we will continue doing it. Because attempts to solve these political issues by force – and we have seen this being done by the current Kiev authorities for several years – are doomed to failure. This has to be kept in mind.
Now concerning how to settle these relations and who will and will not remain in power. It is not about personalities, it is about the attitude towards people. We want to see peace and prosperity on the entire territory of Ukraine, including Donbass. We are interested in it because Ukraine remains one of our biggest trade and economic partners.
Trade between Ukraine and Russia, in spite of all the efforts of the current Kiev authorities, is growing, it has grown in the outgoing year, it has grown during the current year. Is it strange? No, it is not strange because these are natural ties. These natural ties will sooner or later make themselves felt. But as long as the Kiev corridors of power are peopled by Russophobes who do not understand the interests of their own people this abnormal situation will persist. Regardless of who is in power at the Kremlin.
We have attended to the issue of exchange all along. Mr Medvedchuk, on instructions from Poroshenko, by the way, has been constantly engaged in this. He came to Moscow just recently and raised the issue of the release of Ukrainian servicemen detained in the Kerch Strait, in the Black Sea to be more precise. Yes, Medvedchuk raised this issue. However, as I have said, these issues could only be tackled after the criminal case is closed. excerpt:https://thesaker.is/president-vladimir-putins-annual-news-conference-december-20-2018/
Just before Trump announced that American troops are to leave Syria “immediately”, many compatriots, friends and analysts were wondering what could be the next event that might change the course of future events in northern and eastern Syria. The first reaction to the news of Trump ordering his troops to leave Syria took many by surprise. That said, we have to wait and see if Trump does not wake up tomorrow changing his mind. The reason behind Trump’s decision to withdraw is not very important and as far as this article is concerned, it is irrelevant. If he wants to believe that he is leaving victoriously, that’s fine, for as long as he does leave. That said, the sudden resignation of Mattis clearly indicates that the former top gun does not see it with the same spectacles. Either way, the withdrawal, if it happens, may end up to be a long and protracted process that could take weeks, months and perhaps years, and the manner in which it happens opens the doors for many possibilities and contingencies.
Before Trump’s decision, there were two serious nagging and unresolved problems in Syria standing in the way of ending the war and the commencement of rebuilding the war-ravaged nation; and they were the ongoing presence of the terrorists in Idlib and the presence of American troops in the North East.
Idlib has been the sink hole of Syria, a place where all terrorists ended up. In any major battles, all the way from the battle of Al-Qusayr in 2013 to the most recent battle of Daraa in 2018, all of which ended up with terrorists defeat, negotiations ended up with militants leaving the areas in secure buses and settling in Idlib. No one really knows how many of them are there at the present moment because the overall figure includes those who were bunkered there from the beginning. The estimates run from as low as 10,000 to a high 100,000. The truth is that we don’t know. The figure could well be outside those estimates; but they have to be huge nonetheless.
Regardless of the number, they are the only terrorists left who answer to Erdogan and/or who can be manipulated by him. If they don’t, they either have to fight to death or leave. But given that all of their supply lines come from Turkey, they don’t have much of a choice but to kowtow to the Sultan. The Sultan is using his loyal “troops” as a trump card for two reasons; first of all to continue to have a de-facto military presence in government-controlled areas in Syria, and secondly and most importantly perhaps, is because he regards the terrorists as his Muslim brothers, and it is his “duty” to protect them.
This was why when Russia and Syria were making preparations to go inside Idlib and clean it up, he told them that he could achieve the same objective with negotiations and that they can leave Idlib for him to deal with. A few months later, Russia and Syria are still waiting for him to come true to his word.
So what is Erdogan exactly trying to do in northern Syria and why are Putin and Assad putting up with him?
Before Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria, it was clear that Putin understands Erdogan too well. He knows that Erdogan has an Achilles Heel, two of them in fact; one in each foot. In many previous articles, I have reiterated that Erdogan is incurably both an Islamist and a Turkish nationalist; even though the ideologies are in total contradiction with each other. And even though he is cunning, calculating and prepared to wait for the right moment to act, when it comes to either nationalism or religion, he regresses into a programmed robot that is simply unable to think and act rationally; and Putin has been trying to use this weakness of Erdogan to serve his own objectives.
Erdogan wants to protect Al-Nusra in Idlib, and this is why Putin convinced Assad to leave the Idlib carrot in the hands of Erdogan, not necessarily because he believes that Erdogan will indeed deal with it in the manner that he should, but simply to present to him that Russia regards him like a credible partner.
On the other hand, the simmering tension between Ankara and Washington over the Kurdish issue has been coming to a head for a long time. Ever since America pledged support to Syrian Kurds, Erdogan, in blunt terms, has been clearly saying to his American “allies” that they must choose between Turkey and the Kurds. He has been making serious threats that he will attack Manbij and clean it up from Kurdish militants even if American troops do not leave.
Erdogan’s nationalist Achilles heel has left him in serious discord with his biggest NATO ally.
Given that the nationalist aspect of Erdogan is prepared to risk falling out with NATO and even fighting American troops in Syria just to prevent the creation of an independent Kurdish state south of his border, he was putting himself in the position of the former Afghani Mujahideen who were fighting their own war, and at the same time, serving another purpose for another group. With this stance, Erdogan presented that he was prepared to fight with America at any level, even militarily; because to him, the Kurdish issue was a redline that he was not prepared to see crossed.
For a while, a fair while in fact, Russia and Syria stood back and watched how the American-Turkish impasse morphed. It seemed that any potential fight would not only serve to prevent the creation of an independent Kurdish state, but would also end up with American withdrawal from Syria, and thus serving the objectives of both Syria and Russia.
And even though in theory it is the role and duty of Syria and her army to liberate the North-East from American presence, this course of action did not only risk a major confrontation with NATO and possible widespread bombing all over the country, but this option will also risk a direct confrontation between America and Russia on Syrian soil.
This was the only reason why Russia and Syria seemed prepared to put the resolution of the Idlib dilemma on hold. This is the only rational reason as to why they did not coerce Erdogan to rush into any quick action there before the problem of American presence has been resolved.
Knowingly or inadvertently, the American withdrawal from Syria, if it happens, will take a huge bargaining chip away from the hand of Erdogan in as far as his relationship with Russia is concerned. Erdogan will no longer be able to say to Russia that if Russia wants him to deal with America’s presence, then Russia must accept the deal with Idlib too.
In short and simple terms, the American withdrawal, if it happens, will take the decision of what happens in Idlib out of Erdogan’s hands.
The above sounds good, good for Syria, but the final outcome of this will depend on a number of factors, the most important of which is who is going to replace the American troops and how soon.
If America leaves behind a mercenary army as some speculate, fighting it will be logistically easier in the sense that it will not open the door for direct confrontation with United States army.
Depending on the pattern of withdrawal, the void generated by the retreating American troops can either be filled by the legal national Syrian Arab Army or by an invading Turkish army. But this depends on the location as well as the time table of withdrawal. If America for example leaves Deir Ezzor now, which is in the east and a couple of hundred kilometers south of Turkey’s border, the void will automatically be filled by the Syrian Army. However, if America leaves a northerly position such as Manbij, Turkey will move in before the Syrian Army will have a chance to do so. And such a scenario can spell more problems for Syria.
The problem here is more of a humanitarian nature than territorial, because sooner or later, Turkey will have to leave Syria. That said, if Turkish troops control any Syrian land, even for a short time, they will most likely declare open season on Syrian Kurds, and given Turkish history in dealing with such situations, this can be brutal.
On the other hand, if Erdogan tries to inflict a Kurdish massacre, then his Idlib carrot will turn into a stick lashing his own hide. For years, he had managed to juggle his contradictions of being a nationalist and an Islamist, but he will finally have to choose between his two alter egos. His nationalist ambition of annihilating Kurdish resistance in Syria can endanger his Muslim brothers in Idlib. His split-personality dilemma is finally coming to a head.
Would the man who was prepared to fight America if America supported a Kurdish state be also prepared to fight Russia if Russia attacked his Islamist brothers in Idlib?
Ideally, the best scenario possible for Syria and Russia, a resolution that will uphold Syria’s sovereignty and integrity all the while avert any Kurdish bloodshed, is for Syria and Russia to immediately fill in any gap created by retreating American forces. Erdogan must be kept out of Syria, and once his hands cannot reach Syrian Kurds any longer, he will no longer be able to have any say in Idlib.
The Essential Saker II: Civilizational Choices and Geopolitics / The Russian challenge to the hegemony of the AngloZionist Empire