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Mr. Piontkovsky, in your opinion, was the decision on the annexation of Crimea spontaneous, or, probably, everything was prepared in advance?
I do not agree with the opinion that this operation has been arranged for a long time. However, such an opportunity might exist. In fact, Putin does not need the additional increment of the territories – I mean Crimea and some part of Donbas. He wants to obtain control over the whole territory of Ukraine. In November 2013, Putin used threats and bribery to make Yanukovych refuse to sign the Association Agreement with Europe, and, in fact, he calmed down. There were no demands for the annexation of Crimea, moreover, he gave $ 3 billion. Yanukovych stayed on his place, the association was not signed - Putin's control over Ukraine was guaranteed. Therefore, annexation was a reaction to the well-known events: to the Maidan, to the revolution. People often forget about one detail, which was vividly described in Girkin’s (Russian army artillery veteran who played a key role in the Russian occupation of Crimea, and later the War in Donbass as an organizer of the Donetsk People's Republic's militant groups – Ed.)memoirs: when he forced with weapons the Crimean deputies to attend parliamentary meetings, they have changed the adopted resolution for three or four times. The first resolution was completely “innocent,” which preordained holding a referendum on changing the Constitution of Crimea (on its relationship with Kyiv). The words about annexation were supported from the third attempt. That is, Putin was testing the ground in order to know how far he could go in this direction. His goals with regard to Ukraine are more serious than just increment of some area; he wants to gain control over the whole country.
Do you think Ukraine was supposed to protect Crimea?
It is difficult for me to judge about purely military circumstances, I mean, if Ukrainian leadership was sure that all the servicemen, held in Crimea, would carry out the order. And, in addition, we should not forget about the unequivocal pressure of the West, which convinced that under no circumstances should Ukraine conduct the armed resistance.
Why did the West behave this way?
The West is very reluctant to respond to such situations. And how did the West respond to the annexation of the Sudetenland? Everything repeats. Nothing changes. Despite this obvious betrayal, simple ignoring of the Budapest memorandum, in which the great states guaranteed Ukraine its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, the West is gradually gathering.
Do you believe that Putin would not leave Ukraine alone until his last breath?
Never. He would never ever leave it alone. Just look how he changes his strategy. When the idea of the "Russian world and Novorossia" collapsed, he chose rather insidious tactics; it is about the so-called Minsk agreements. He does not want to annex the seized territory of "Lugandonia" (pejorative term for Luhansk People’s Republic, which combines the name of the Luhansk city and a curse world for “condom” – Ed.), he wants to push it inside Ukraine like a cancer tumor. He wants all these Givis, Zakharchenkos (the leading figures of the self-proclaimed republics) to become state figures in Ukraine, members of the Rada, and this is how they would block the development of Ukraine. And for three years he was trying to do it. And again it seemed to him that he was close to success, because in 2015, French and German delegations constantly forced Ukrainian leadership to change the Constitution, to introduce federalization. These Western allies quite stubbornly pressed on Ukraine to change the law and the Constitution and to take this cancerous tumor as part of Ukraine's political body. But gradually they realized what this was Putin's plan, and weakened their pressure. Now Putin realized that he would not succeed in this tactic, and he moved to a new stage, institutionalization this “Lugandonia:” I mean Russian ruble and Russian passports.
Will Ukraine stand against it?
Yes, it will stand. But my view is biased. I am not just Ukraine’s supporter, I consider myself a person who is fighting on the side of Ukraine. I want a man who hates Ukraine and wants to destroy it, so-called Russian writer Zakhar Prilepin, to answer this question. Sometimes his writer’s talent a takes him up above the riot police, and he says interesting things. In 2013, when he, together with Putin and the entire imperial party of Russia, was preparing to march on Kyiv said: "How nice it would be if Ukraine returned back in a year or two – raw, barefoot, discouraged, with freezer burnt, rabid from what happened to her ". And this is what he wrote three years later: "The Ukrainians felt that they did not just want to, but finally they are able to defeat the notorious older brother, to stop him from ever becoming a big brother and perhaps even speed up the collapse of this power, a thousand years appropriating their fame, statehood and culture. The Ukrainians feel like ancient Greeks, they often behave almost the same way Russians behaved at the terrible moment of their history. Their bets are not just high, they are absolute. Patriotic rise in Ukraine is stronger than our for some 10 points, 1,000 decibels and 2000 watts." That is how I answer your question.
Will the US continue to support Ukraine?
Yes, more and more of it. And we must thank Mr. Trump for this victory.
Regarding the latest US sanctions against Russia, you said that "all of Russia's political leadership is declared a criminal group." What do the recent US sanctions against Russia mean?
There is a fairly large amount of purely economic sanctions that tighten those restrictions that were adopted earlier: the possibility of financing and access to new technologies. But most important was a sensational section on personal sanctions, the so-called "section 241". It obliges US financial intelligence to publish within 180 days all data on the American assets of people close to Putin, of those related to him, involved in the Russian political leadership, as well as their relatives, accountants, etc. But intelligence already knowns everything. The disclosure of these assets means the automatic application of the current legislation on combating the laundering of funds obtained by criminal means and their freezing, denial of visas to holders of these accounts and their relatives.
What would Russia face in the near future?
The possibilities of the Putin’s regime are exhausted. The criminal scheme, which we talked about, could not exist without a certain tacit cooperation with the West and with the US. First, the money was invested in the American economy, and secondly, the West is not ready to aggravate relations. But now Putin has went far beyond the line not only with Ukraine, but also with the US - with his obvious interference in the electoral process and with an attempt to put a controllable man at the head of the US.
Are there many FSB agents among the most Russian opposition?
It is unavoidable. This is generally a great tradition of the entire Russian revolutionary movement, which begins from the 19th century. Stalin was an agent of the secret police, Lenin was an agent of the German General Staff, the brightest tribune of the Bolsheviks, a friend of Lenin, Malinovsky was an agent of the secret police (historians are convinced that Malinovsky was an agent, but Lenin and Stalin were not – Ed.). I do not want to point a finger at anyone, but I think that in Ukraine it works in the same way.
Do you like Alexei Navalny, is he interesting to you?
I like what he is doing now in his fight against Putin. I have very serious ideological differences with him, and I said that I would disclose them the day after Putin's removal from power. Navalny is often accused of having serious supporters and patrons in power. I am far from terrorizing him for this, and I consider this to be his positive factor as a serious political force. Supporters are those people (most likely in the security forces), who are clearly dissatisfied with Putin. And, the situation is aggravated recently. Recently, he moved on to a harsh and ruthless criticism of Putin. This encourages me, as these allies also go to the stage of a more determined struggle with Putin.
Does modern Russia personally depend on today's Chechnya and Ramzan Kadyrov?
Putin is very dependent on him, because all his legitimization of power from 1999 to 2000 is based on the fact that he defeated terrorism in Chechnya and protected us from terrorists who blew up our homes. If Kadyrov protests against Putin, this will mean that Putin has lost the Chechen war.
Can you assume that Putin will not be elected in March?
This elections will not take place. A palace coup would mean the absence of these elections. Elections are taking place now, and we do not know the result. Because not 140 million Russians vote, but 140 top gentlemen whose assets are blocked now in the US.
Is Trump an agent of Putin's influence?
Objectively - yes. During the two years of his presidential campaign, this man has been scolding everyone – from his closest US allies to his closest partners in the political class. But any unkind or disrespectful word did he say about Putin. In addition, Trump and Tillerson in January-February desperately tried to remove American sanctions.
Is Kurt Volker today the main person for Ukraine?
Yes. And its wording are more pro-Ukrainian and anti-Kremlin than the official formulations of the Ukrainian leadership.