(KL) – Olivier Védrine knows what he is talking about, when it comes down to the situation in Russia and Central Europe. Professor, journalist and speaker at the European Commission within the expert network “Team Europe” (2007-2014), he was editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of the “Revue Défense Nationale” (2010-2014) edited in Paris by the Military University. In early 2014, he stopped this edition to protest against the Russian annexation of the Crimea. Acting as a counselor for Ukrainian questions with Henri Malosse, President of the European Committee for economy and social questions (2013-2015) in Brussels, he also excelled as a TV presenter – in more than 150 broadcasts on the national Ukrainian channels with an own political format, he supported both Ukraine and the European Union. As a member of the Russian opposition, he today works as editor-in-chief of the “Russian Monitor”, an online newspaper of the Russian opposition counting every month more than 500,000 unique readers. The International University of Kiev has awarded him with an honorary academic title as Professor h.c and Patriarch Philaret has distinguished him with the Order of Saint Vladimir, a high distinction seldom awarded to foreigners. He was and is active in universities and institutions in the following countries: France, Ukraine, Russia, Germany, Poland, Canada, Taiwan, Italy, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Belgium, Great Britain, Romania, Netherlands, Georgia and Portugal. Interview with his high level expert about the increasing tensions in the East of Europe.
Olivier Védrine, the tensions in Central Europe are increasing. Washington recommends already that “Moscow should not commit another mistake“, while Russia recommends cynically to the Europeans to negotiate with Lukashenko who is currently submitting his country officially to the orders of the Kremlin. At the same time, Russia is concentrating more and more troops along the Russian-Ukrainian border – how concrete is the danger of a new Russian intervention in this region?
Olivier Védrine: I strongly recommend to watch what is happening in Belarus. Last week, during a video conference, Russia and Belarus have agreed to create a “state union”, which shows the ultimate goal of Putin, to create a sort of “USSR 2.0”. Putin’s interest in Ukraine is obvious – on one hand, he increases the pressure on Ukraine to destabilize the country from within, while concentrating more and more troops along the Russian-Ukrainian border. As soon as this “state union” between Russia and Belarus becomes official, is it evident that Ukraine is surrounded by Russian troops and this will further increase the pressure.
It is common knowledge that Vladimir Putin is currently himself under a certain pressure. On one hand, the opposition keeps being present in spite of all oppressions, on the other hand, Russia suffers currently more from the pandemic than ever before. Is Putin trying to “divert” from these problems by creating a threat to all of Central Europe?
OV: Three times yes… back in 2014, during the Maidan Revolution, parts of the Russian population felt some sympathy for Ukraine, but then again, they were afraid of Putin. When we were on the Maidan (Olivier Védrine was the only French speaker addressing some 300,000 Ukrainian citizens on the Square of Independence! editor’s note), we had hoped that there might be a European future for Ukraine. Putin had understood this evolution and had launched immediately the entire Russian propaganda machine. Then, there was the annexation of the Crimea, which increased his popularity in Russia and people in Russia started to forget about Maidan.
The western world seems to take this threat very seriously. Last week, the French secretaries for external affairs and defense met with their Russian colleagues in Paris. Can the western world play a role in this conflict which today represents a real danger, not only for Ukraine, but also for Poland and the Baltic states?
OV: Europe MUST play a role in this situation! But – is Europe brave enough to do so? Putin is currently testing the West to see how far he can go. The western world must show some strength now. The military budget of Russia is ten times inferior to the USA and the Russian PIB corresponds to Spain. But the western world is not united and Putin applies the same strategy than the Nazis back in the 30s. The Russian president only conducts bilateral talks and tries to split the western world and the various players.
At the annexation of the Crimea, the western world did not intervene. What could be the role of the NATO in this situation?
OV: This is problematic, since Ukraine is no NATO member. So, there won’t be any intervention from this side. However, the question is how Poland and the Baltic states will react in case of a Russian military intervention in Ukraine and these countries are members of both the European Union and the NATO. In any case, in case of a new aggression of Ukraine, Russia would cross a red line and force a major crisis on the entire region.
You are an eminent expert for Russia and the entire region. Tell us, what are the options for the weeks to come? Do we have to expect a new Russian military intervention, conducted by Moscow and its satellites such as Belarus?
OV: As long as Lukashenko and Putin are commanding, everything can happen. Both are heirs of the Soviet Union and don’t care if their actions are legal or not. These two represent a real danger and not only for this region.
Lukashenko threatens Europe to cut the Russian gas transiting Belarus, while organizing a migrant wave through his country towards the European Union. How should the EU react to these permanent provocations?
OV: I have my own view on this situation. It is unlikely that Lukashenko cuts the Russian gas being transported via a pipeline through his country and which is run by Gazprom. This would cause problems with Russia which pursues a different strategy in this matter. Already in October, Russia had reduced the gas transport through the Yamal pipeline by 77 %, to raise the prices and to promote the new pipeline “Nord Stream 2”. Nothing is happening by chance, everything is done to manipulate the European market. Add to this the pressure raised by the migrant movements and the military pressure on Ukraine, and you see the entire picture. Add also a permanent victimization of Russia by the internal and external propaganda and Putin‘s strategy becomes clear. But don’t forget one thing: Nothing happens in this region without the consent of Putin.
Olivier Védrine, thank you very much for this interview!