Pyotr Tolstoy, the vice-speaker of the Duma (parliament) of the Russian Federation, gives his view on Western sanctions, NATO expansion on Montenegro, Syria, the French presidential elections and other pressing issues. He criticizes the American strike on a Syrian air base and hints that it will not happen again, since Russia will not allow it to happen. He also points out that the election in France is not free if all established media vocally supports one of the candidates.
What was the real effect of the sanctions introduced by the EU and US against Russia? Is there any hope that they will be lifted owing to the positive tendencies in the West since Trump has become president and the ratings of the Moscow-friendly political parties in Europe have gone up?
– Well, I think that the sanctions were introduced by people who had no idea about the mentality of the Russian people: contrary to expectations, our citizens closed ranks withstanding the sanctions pressure. It would have been mindless to expect an early lifting of sanctions, as the controversies between Russia and the West are of a fundamental character. This is not a quarrel caused by petty troubles; it is about the possibility for Russia to carry out its own policy in the international arena. This independence that many generations of our fathers and grandfathers had won in combat – we are not going to “exchange it for sausage”. Thus, the idea of sanctions pressure will remain in our lifetime, and I do not know how much patience and time the people, who introduced them against us, have got.
After Trump’s victory, hope emerged for the normalization of the situation in Syria, as in his election campaign he condemned the interventionist policy of official Washington. Nevertheless, as we can see, recently a cruise missile attack was launched against a Syrian Air Force base that buried all such hopes, it seems. What is Moscow’s attitude to this American strike, and what are the prospects for further developments in Syria? Is there still a chance to reach a compromise?
– The prospects are the following: we have always been against such kind of strikes, and we have always been against the idea of some Western countries that they can carry out strikes on other states in the absence of a UN Security Council resolution, without sanctions, going rogue – and we are still against such moves. We are witnessing now exactly the same thing we witnessed in Yugoslavia 18 years ago.
First of all, I hope that such strikes will never take place again, because Syrian defence will be consolidated now, and the Syrian Army will be equipped with the newest air-defence systems. Secondly, the West and the USA should return to the system of international law they are totally ignoring in their treatment of Syria as well as in the context of Ukraine, as they used to ignore it when dealing with Yugoslavia. In accordance with international law it is inadmissible for a president of one country to decide to strike on another country and to do so.
As far as the stabilization of the situation in Syria is concerned, in my opinion, the key issue is to maintain the preservation of the state in this territory, in order for it not to deteriorate into the post-strikes situations in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq. We must not let such things happen again. “The triumph of democracy” in these countries, that our colleagues from Europe and the US tried to induce, is visible. The state is practically non-existent; civil war is raging and the slaughter of everyone by everyone. Such is the outcome of Western intervention into other countries’ affairs. This is our stance. Russia has always been defending this principle, and will go on insisting on it.
The supply of the air-defence systems to Syria may cause incidents that could escalate tensions. Is there a risk that the West will reject any dialogue with Russia, the way it acted towards Yugoslavia 18 years ago, and the new Cold War will start, or, do you think that, as some observers say, it has already started in 2014?
– It is quite possible, depending on what you call “the Cold War”… However, in any case, the divisions are fundamental, and the absence of trust does not facilitate their bridging. We, on our part, are open to dialogue. It was not us who introduced the sanctions, and it was not us, who came out with all those wacky accusations regarding Ukraine, Syria, etc. Thus, we are not the ones, who have to drop them. We are waiting for it to dawn on our Western colleagues.
Political analysts and sociologists predict that Emmanuel Macron will become the President of France, that is, one of the representatives of the West. It is obvious that all Western mainstream media and the elites champion him. What are the prospects for the Russian-French relations in case of his victory? France also is a member of the “Normandy Four”…
– First of all, the French are to make their choice. Unfortunately, it is not a free choice, because now, after Le Pen had made it to the second round, the demonization campaign [against her] has started, which makes the freedom of choice dubious. When all the media of the country work against one of the candidates, it is quite telling. Will such a construct of political technology regarding a candidate allow the expression of the independent political will of France in the international arena? We shall see… The previous two presidents proved to be unable.
As a former journalist, you must have noticed recent trends in the Western media, such as an open hate campaign against Trump in the USA, demonization of AfD in Germany and Front National in France, etc. Can we speak about the end of the high standards of classical journalism in the West, which everyone, even in Russia, seemed to look up to? What has happened to the once respectable media in the course of the last 20 years?
– It is a complicated issue. It seems to me that the belief in the universal character of values makes a part of the Western journalism not objective. The information is doctored to match them [the values]. We live in the age of swift circulation of information, and that is why its credibility can always be challenged. I do not know whether we are witnessing the end of the old journalism and the beginning of something new, but I know that people speaking the truth will in the long run, in history, win.
For several hundred years, until recently, Montenegro has been a friend of Russia, and now it is joining NATO and even accusing Moscow of a coup attempt. What will be the reaction of Russia to the final membership of Montenegro in NATO – what will change? Will there be a symmetrical response?
– We see this decision as an unfriendly one towards Russia. I suppose that, firstly, the influx of tourists from Russia will diminish, the trade between the two countries will dwindle. Most probably, the character of relations will change; nothing else can be expected. Unfortunately, the decision that the leadership of the country made, together with the lie about the Russian link to the alleged assassination attempts, will not lead to any good outcome for Montenegro.
As far as the country’s NATO membership is concerned – we will take all the necessary steps in order for neighboring Serbia to feel safe.
Western media are now discussing the new Russian law, the so called “Yarovaya package”, and recently one more draft law, a similar one, was adopted. Both packages concern the sphere of the internet, and Western media and human rights organizations (e.g., HRW) view them as a limitation of freedoms and violation of fundamental human rights, in spite of the presence of similar acts in Western law. What has been achieved with the help of these laws?
– I support the idea [expressed by the draft law]. The sense of the law is saving of a certain volume of data in order for the counter-terrorism bodies to be able to conduct investigation promptly. Human lives are more important for us than the freedom of internet use – firstly, and secondly – all Western accusations, beginning with the ridiculous claims that Russia had hacked the headquarters of Hillary Clinton, and ending with the claims that we control all the “wise houses” in America and in Europe, are the same, meaning, they are all equally ungrounded, so to say.
Inasmuch as no facts proving such accusations had been put on the table, we are sick and tired of listening to this talky talk.
In Donbass many people think that the Minsk Agreement had exhausted its resources, and the recent escalation proves it. Official Kiev sabotages the implementation of a series of the Agreement clauses, particularly those concerning the autonomy of Donbass. Is there any alternative to this peace accord, and what in general can be done in the existing, practically dead-end situation?
– It seems to me that the main achievement of the Minsk Agreement is the cessation of active warfare and artillery and air force strikes. What is important is that people do not die in such numbers as before. And further normalization of the situation depends on… Until official Kiev understands that it has got a long and complicated process of federalization of the country ahead of it, until they establish direct contacts with the leadership of the independent Republics – no further settlement is possible whatsoever. I can only tell you that Russia will not withdraw its support of the people, who had chosen independence and the Russian language in Donbass – both in Donetsk and Lugansk. We will help them as long as we can.
Interview: Sergey Belous