Interview with the journalist, former correspondent in Russia, very critical of the Western position in Ukraine.
By Andreu Barnils for Vila Web
Journalist Rafael Poch (1956) is one of the best informed people on Russia, where he was a correspondent for La Vanguardia (1988-2002). He has written three books, the latest of which is entitled: “Understanding Putin’s Russia. From Humiliation to Resettlement” (Aikal).
After decades travelling the world as a correspondent (Russia, China, France), Mr Poch now lives in Girona, and writes interesting, read and commented articles. The latest, published in Contexto, deal with the conflict in Ukraine, and provide a very critical view of the Western bloc, which he holds mainly responsible for what might happen.
-In the Ukraine crisis, you are critical of the West. Why?
-Because in Ukraine, the West is to blame. To blame for the most dangerous global geopolitical situation since the Cold War. The main culprit. When we talk about the West, we are talking about the sum of the United States and NATO, which is more than 50% of global military spending. These people have been militarily surrounding their two great adversaries, China and Russia, for many years. Both are nuclear powers. This encirclement is presented to us as a defence. And when the others react and step up with military mobilisations, it is presented to us as a threat, when it turns out that Russia has 3% of military spending, and China 13%. Both the geography and the figures are conclusive. This rounding up is sheer madness. It is nonsense.
-Because there are three nuclear powers.
-When you talk about rounding up, where do you think of?
-In the case of China, from the Indian Ocean islands in Afghanistan, through Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, Japan and South Korea. The whole of China is militarily encircled. And since 2012, with Obama’s “pivot to Asia” policy, it has been aided by the US naval air power with B-52 strategic bombing raids on the Diego Garcia islands off the coast of China. In the Russian case, since the mid-1990s, there have been five waves of NATO eastward enlargement. At first, they affected countries in the East, and more recently they have affected ex-Soviet republics. Since 2008, Ukraine and Georgia have been targeted.
-His phrase: “We should read the Russian documents, which propose a pact. Very reasonable documents to read”. For those who have not read them, what do they say?
To return and give life to the INF agreement, on medium-range nuclear forces, which was signed in 1987 under Gorbachev and which the Americans unilaterally abandoned in 2019 under Donald Trump. This agreement put an end to the famous Euro-Missile crisis in Europe. The Americans withdrew because they wanted to have a free hand to deploy tactical nuclear missiles, especially in Asia. The documents also propose that all nuclear weapons should be removed from European territory; that there should be no exercises with nuclear scenarios; that Georgia and Ukraine should not be integrated into NATO; that European security should take into account the interests of all, including the Russians, and not against each other. These are all ideas that go back a long way. The Russians have been proposing them since the 1990s and they have never been heeded. And they have never been listened to. Why? Because they were too weak. This time, Russia is not so weak. And it has put 100,000 troops on the border. It is a very big bargaining chip. Now they are being listened to. The rule is confirmed that the world does not respect the weak. And a negotiation has begun that we will see where it leads, and it is a risk.
-And in this negotiation, is NATO enlargement ruled out, as the Russians want?
-No. The response to the Russian document (which the Russians asked for in writing and the Americans said, OK, but keep it secret), according to the Russian foreign minister, seems to be on secondary issues. According to leaks, it would be about the anti-missile missile agreement that was signed many years ago, and from which the Americans had unilaterally withdrawn. And there could also be negotiations on medium-range nuclear forces, but without restoring the INF. It is interesting what Putin has said: “If there is no sufficient and convincing response, Russia will adopt technomilitary measures”. And with this ambiguity (what does he mean?) Putin has placed more expectation on the whole thing.
-Technomilitary measures. What could they be?
-Everyone talks about the danger of an invasion of Ukraine, but it’s a very wide range. I’ve been thinking about it. At first it seemed silly, but what would happen if they sent Russian submarines to the Caribbean? Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela. Or, as one Russian general suggested, surgical missile strikes on specific military infrastructures, as the Americans do, to demonstrate their capabilities? And this would be without putting any tanks, or any soldiers, on Ukrainian territory. There are many scenarios. Now the Duma, which is a transmission belt of the Kremlin, without any autonomy, has approved a petition to arm the Donbass rebels with modern weapons. They are preparing for things like this. The situation is extremely dangerous.
-His quote: “Leave Russia alone. That is how you will weaken it further”.
Russia has a political system that doesn’t even come close to the low-intensity democracies that we have in the Western world. And I am aware that I am talking about a mixed bag: Norway has a satisfactory democracy; France, more than Spain; Spain, more than Morocco. A mixed bag. But Russia does not even reach this level. Without being what the USSR was, it is a very harsh system. With fake elections, with a fake parliament, where it is almost impossible to change the government by voting. The same people always win (here too, but here we have alternating parties). In Russia, media concentration is even more brutal than here. The judiciary is a joke. All this works, and it is stable, despite the demonstrations. But it is clear that in the world of the 21st century this is not sustainable in the medium or long term. Societies, and Russia in particular, look to the European mirror and to low-intensity democracies like ours. And the autocratic Russian regime is incapable of offering it, all this, and when it opens its hand, it sinks. Therefore, time.
-He is critical of American imperialism. Joan B.Culla recalls Russian imperialism in an article. This imperialism exists before Putin. That Russia wants to expand into Europe is characteristic of the 17th, 18th and 19th century. Some people are scared.
-This man is right. But Russia’s ambitions for domination are limited in some, not even all, republics of the former USSR. The Russian leadership, heavily dominated by the secret services, starting with Putin, is convinced that the Western aim is the dismemberment of Russia into four or five republics. This is not as paranoid as it seems, because it has indeed been one of the plans of US strategists. We remember Bigniew Brzezinsk’s 1997 book “The Great World Checkerboard”. It was read with great interest in Moscow, and it said that Russia would have to dismember into four or five republics; Far East, Siberia, Europe, Caucasus. And many things that happened during the 1990s, which have not reached us here because we are not informed, are linked to this thesis.
-The aid that the Chechen guerrillas received under the table; the national policy of the radios and media that publish in Russia (there is a network of media that speak all the languages of Russia for separatist purposes). This obsession of Putin and company with dismemberment is important to understand. I think Putin, now that he is a big man, will one day have to quit. And he would want to leave with this strategic issue resolved. That Russia will reach a stable strategic and geopolitical balance with its neighbours. That it is not a threat to them. Are the aims of Russian dominance over its neighbours certain? There is no doubt about it. They are. Are Russia’s neighbours afraid of Russia? Yes, they are. They are. Just look at history: the history of Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic States, western Ukraine. But what about the history of Russia? It is the history of a country that has been invaded twice since 1812, where military forces have reached as far as Moscow, the last time with 27 million deaths as the price. Going back to the Paris conference of 1990, we need to shape European security that takes into account our interests as well as Russia’s. Both.
-In this regard, you have written that Ukraine and other eastern countries could be neutral countries. Outside the Eastern bloc and NATO. And this would give security to Europeans and Russians. Why NATO expansion in these countries might be useful for the Americans, but not for the Europeans, not for the Russians?
-Yes, it’s as simple as that. NATO’s presence is the key, because dominating Europe is very important in the global dynamic. And American decision-makers have expressed this in countless documents. It is absurd for NATO to justify its existence and presence in Europe on the basis of conflicts that are caused by the very existence of NATO and its enlargement. Americans like Kissinger, Ambassador Matlock and others advocated the Finlandisation of Ukraine: neither in one bloc nor the other, with sovereignty intact. Like Finland.
-What about the Ukrainians? Can’t we let them choose?
-Very well said. What about the Ukrainians? This was the EU’s great crime in 2013. The Ukrainians, so what. A year before the Maidan uprising, the EU proposed a trade association pact with the EU in Ukraine. But it wanted exclusivity. If Ukraine signed it, it had to say no to Russia’s proposed Eurasian union. Russia and Ukraine responded: given that our population is half-Russian, that more than half of our trade is with Russia, we propose a three-way agreement, Ukraine, EU and Russia. The EU’s response was: “Either with us or nothing”. And the Ukrainian government said, we would like that, but nothing. And from here, the Maidan revolt began, which was a mixture of popular revolt and Western coup d’état. And the radical pro-Western Ukrainian nationalism, so different from the Eastern one, took the centre of the country and dominated everything. With a lot of repression. Except for the two rebel regions, helped by Russia underground, which took up arms, it won. But there were many places that didn’t like it, and this is a chronicle that no one has made. I attended in Odessa, in March 2014, a month after Kiev, demonstrations of tens of thousands of citizens against the Maidan. This protest movement in Odessa was capped off with a massacre of fifty people in the House of Trade Unions on 2 May 2014. A beastly thing, which has not been talked about here in the slightest. There were others in Kharkov, Mariupol. And in Kiev itself, the massacre of a hundred demonstrators, which according to the most convincing studies was carried out by pro-Western shooters, was decisive in the change of regime. Be careful with this whole story, there is a lot of black plots.
-A quote from you these days: “The military have more sense than journalists”.
-It is the fruit of my personal experience. The military have more sense than journalists. It happened to me in France, where I observed it clearly. Gaullism, French sovereignism, was much more present in military circles than among journalists. The military are less influenced by propaganda and play more with the objective data they have on the table. In contrast, the universe of media and think tank experts is totally colonised by marked interests. If you look at the most important American and European think tanks, you see that they are financed by the arms industry, by NATO. Just on Monday, I had to participate in a radio debate and I realised that the other man who was speaking was the director of an English think tank, funded by: the State Department, NATO, the Lithuanian Foreign Office, the British Ministry of Defence and the British army. And they have the nerve to present themselves as an independent think tank. Bloody hell. And this also happens at home. CIDOB’s president is Javier Solana, former NATO secretary. And until recently, Narcís Serra, former Minister of Defence. Who pays all these people? What independence do they have? The same as the Russian strategists. It is no different.
-What role has China played in the conflict in Ukraine?
-Prudence. A lot of prudence. It has not recognised the Russian annexation of Crimea. This week, Beijing’s foreign ministry spokesman has, at most, gone so far as to say that the West would have to take Russia’s security concerns into account. He went no further.
-Reading your articles, you seem frightened, and that scares me. Can it end like the rosary of the dawn?
-Of course! We are talking about military blocs. It is incredibly fragile. Now we have the AZOV battalion, in front of the Donbass. And these are pure neo-Nazis. Their emblem is the emblem of the Reich division. To what extent they are controlled by Kiev, to what extent they can get out of control. This side is full of CIA people, and the other side is full of Soviet military intelligence people, the GRU. This can get out of hand. Now imagine a drone, of unknown origin, bombing a western Ukrainian village, or the Russophile Ukraine, with ninety dead. Very dark episodes, where you never know who ends up doing it. We are here.
-Anything else to add?
-One last point: these days everyone is saying that the Russians have 100,000 troops. But a report has arrived from the OSCE special observers’ mission in Ukraine saying that the Ukrainian army has 150,000 troops deployed on the front line in the rebel regions of Donbass. And no one is saying this. The battle of information is terrible. And another thing: from 1991 to 2014, the Americans have given 4 billion dollars in military assistance to Ukraine. And from 2014 to now, 2 billion more. Britain, two million pounds. The Turks have given drones. Ukraine may not be in NATO, but its military involvement is a fact. All this is very dangerous. And even though I know I am in the minority, I believe that in Ukraine the responsibility for everything is Western. I was already saying it in the 1990s, when NATO was expanding eastwards with that joy, and Solana was going to Moscow with that smile: no, it’s not against Russia. No, it is not against Russia. Let’s be serious.