Edward Lucas is a senior editor at The Economist. Lucas has had a distinguished, 30+ year career covering Russian and Eastern European affairs. His most recent title, The Snowden Operation: Inside the West’s Greatest Intelligence Disaster, is available on Kindle. His 2008 book, The New Cold War, is being republished next month in a revised and updated edition.
Breitbart News sat down with Lucas for an interview after his article in The Daily Mail, “I hope I’m wrong but historians may look back and say this was the start of World War III.“
Breitbart News: Your article generated massive interest in the international media, including here at Breitbart. Why do you think that was the case?
Edward Lucas: There is a taboo about accepting how serious this situation is. We think NATO and the EU are invulnerable. In fact they are just Putin’s next targets. Ever since 1991, people have not wanted to believe that Russia is a problem. When the Soviet Union fell, two kinds of wishful thinking ensued: Russia was going to be weak, and Russia was going to be nice. And it is not nice. Militarily, Russia has made a lot of progress since the war in Georgia in 2008. Putin has a broad strategic goal of reversing what he sees as the unfair post-1991 settlement. But tactically, he is opportunistic; if he sees weakness, he will exploit it. He sees the gap between the West’s words and deeds and is exploiting it ruthlessly.
Breitbart News: What did you learn about the Kremlin’s attitude towards the West during your career covering international affairs?
Edward Lucas: I have spent most of my life covering Eastern Europe and Russia. These problems are not new. They predate Putin, though they have intensified under his rule. Russia has gotten richer and stronger, and also more undemocratic and anti-western. When Russia was flat on its back after the Soviet collapse and desperate for money, it could not afford to be anti-western. Now it can. The high oil price has given Russia the chance to play a far more active and aggressive role.
Breitbart News: Are you more fearful of a policy of timidity or excessive aggression to counteract Russian encroachment?
Edward Lucas: Timidity will be disastrous. If you are timid now, you’re faced with a choice with surrender or war in the future. History shows us when the West is tough, Putin backs down. I don’t advocate excessive aggression because it is not aggression to defend your allies.
Breitbart News: If much of Eastern Ukraine falls into Russia’s hands, what comes next?
Edward Lucas: Southern Ukraine. Novorossiya is the key phrase, meaning “New Russia.” It refers to a swathe of territory stretching from Eastern Ukraine along the whole Littoral to Transdniestria. Putin is using this term quite casually right now, and we should find that very scary. We should worry about Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Georgia as possible future targets, but chiefly the Baltic States because they are members of the EU and NATO. If Putin believes it’s time to regain Russian lands, the Baltics are a prime target. But he also will seize on any weakness that will allow him to destroy the credibility of these two important international bodies. His big aim is to create a world in which alliances don’t matter and everyone does bilateral deals. This will allow him to play divide and rule in Europe. It will also be a very serious setback for the United States.
Breitbart News: If you could sit down with President Obama, what would be the most important advice you’d give him in dealing with this issue?
Edward Lucas: Stand by your allies, particularly Poland and the Baltic states. If America is going to have allies, then those alliances have to mean something. America needs more allies now, especially as it is losing its role as the global hegemon. Impose sanctions. The allies were there for you when you needed them. Now they need you. If you don’t show up, that is the end of NATO and the end of America as a country worth trusting. Moreover, the West should adopt a wide range of visa sanctions and asset freezes. We should go after big Russian companies so they can’t use the western financial system or the western capital markets.
Breitbart News: Former U.S. President George W. Bush once proclaimed, “I looked the man (Putin) in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul.” What’s your sense of his soul?
Edward Lucas: Three letters, K G & B. Vladimir Putin is a proud former KGB officer. The history of the KGB is a very bloodsoaked one. This is like a former Gestapo or SS officer running Germany. The KGB was the sword and shield of the Communisty Party, but now the “Chekists” are actually running Russia, in a hybrid regime with business cronies and organized crime. The result is a dangerous combination of ruthlessness, xenophobia, and chauvinism.
Breitbart News: How important a role has the Russian FSB (former KGB) intelligence services played during the ongoing conflict? Is there anything that can be done to neutralize Russia’s covert influence?
Edward Lucas: This comes straight out of the Soviet playbook which we saw in eastern Europe after 1945. We need a new way of war-fighting, and we are only dimly beginning to realise it.
Breitbart News: What can be done to sift through the massive amount of propaganda disbursed throughout the region and present a clearer picture of the conflict? Is one side more guilty than the other on the propaganda front?
Edward Lucas: We need to start information warfare again, both defense and offense, on a scale greater than we managed in the Cold War. We need to do a better job combating soviet dezinformatsiya (disinformation). In addition, we need to do a better job telling our story and breaking through to the Russian people inside of Russia.
Breitbart News: Has the western media presented quality coverage over the situation in Ukraine?
Edward Lucas: Its not too bad, but it misses the bigger picture. This is not about Ukraine. This is about Russia’s attempt to challenge the system that has kept us safe, free, and prosperous for more than 25 years. The international community has established through multiple treaties that it is not acceptable to change borders through force. This is an approach Putin is challenging 100% head-on. I find it troubling that the West has accepted Crimea’s annexation. We are sending a message to Putin that we are not serious.