Member of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.

Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs magazine since its foundation in 2002. Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy of Russia since 2012. Director for Research at the Valdai International Discussion Club. Research Professor at the National Research University Higher School of Economics.


A nuclear strike on Ukrainian territory will not stop anyone, an attack on European territory will not be considered critical, but an attack on the territory of the United States is another matter. About why it is important to return the feeling of fear to geopolitics, Fyodor Lukyanov spoke for the International Review program with Dmitry Trenin , research professor at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, leading researcher at IMEMO. E.M.Primakova. We publish the full version of the conversation.

– To draw “red lines” in such a way that it would be impossible not to notice them, let alone ignore them, is a special art. We have entered into a major international military-political crisis, probably forgetting the safety instructions a bit. How to remember?

- The safety equipment that has existed so far was not intended for periods of crisis. It is for periods of more or less calm, when you just needed to ensure that the other side correctly read your signals. Deconfliction in Syria, for example, is an example of such things. Now we are in a territory where there is basically no safety equipment, because we are in a territory of danger. And here the "red lines" that were drawn by the Russian side, the Americans, let's say, are not very respected. Moreover, as I understand it, their own line is aimed at constantly shifting them, at constantly testing them.

In general - in the American rule book on which the world is based, our "red line" is not considered. Therefore, the only thing that can stop the United States in this situation is fear - its own fear of the next step. That's it, there's nothing else.

– Fear, apparently, or not, or it is skillfully hidden, because in recent months, American colleagues have said repeatedly and informally: “We thought you really could, so to speak, create a threat, but in fact it’s a bluff solid. So why should we limit ourselves?” The other day, literally Ben Hodges, a well-known military leader in the past, said that they are ready to destroy the Black Sea Fleet in the event of the use of nuclear weapons. And what needs to be done and is it possible to do something so that the “red lines” return or somehow show through?

“I don't think there's much that can be done to bring them back. I will return to the idea of ​​fear again, because nothing else can, if we speak seriously, be able to deter our adversary. I think that the American strategy of inflicting a strategic defeat on Russia is based on the belief that Russia will not use nuclear weapons: either it will be afraid, or it will consider that the destruction of civilization is still too high a price for maintaining its positions.

And here, in my opinion, lies a potential fatal miscalculation for all of humanity, because Putin’s phrase from 2018 that “ we don’t need a world without Russia ” somehow stuck with me. And I always remember her. But I don't think it's taken that seriously by many people in the United States, for example.

– The whole experience of watching Vladimir Putin should convince you that he almost never says a word just like that. But apparently not convinced.

– There is probably too much temptation here to use the current situation in Ukraine to, if you like, solve the “Russian problem”. Just as the “German problem” disappeared from the European landscape as a result of the Second World War, so the “Russian problem” may disappear from the Western horizon. Why not?

And here, in my opinion, our colleagues have bitten the bit and are moving forward towards a collision.

- Now a new situation will obviously be created in the event of a favorable outcome for the organizers of the referendums, the border will be officially changed. Our officials always talk about the use of nuclear weapons - read the Doctrine. If one reads the Doctrine from the new frontiers, what does this mean?

– I think the territory of the Russian Federation has been under attack for a long time. Yes, Ukrainian strikes, but at the suggestion of the Americans and NATO, with the help of weapons that were provided by the United States and NATO countries. In this sense, the Kherson region will not differ in any way from the Republic of Crimea, from the Belgorod region, Kursk and, possibly, other regions of Russia where Ukrainian missiles can fly.

Our Doctrine says that nuclear weapons can be used if there is a threat to the existence of the state. Not "some projectile will fly into Russian territory", but "a threat to the existence of the state." It is the duty of the Supreme Commander to evaluate and decide whether any action of the enemy poses a threat to the existence of the state.

But I will say more. In my opinion, many people in the United States and in Europe (to a much lesser extent in Europe) probably view a nuclear exchange in the European theater of war, that is, not only Ukraine, but more generally, as something not catastrophic in principle. And the main thing here, in my opinion, is to turn nuclear weapons into an effective element of deterrence in the specific Ukrainian situation in order to convince the United States that a strike will follow on US territory.

Because a strike on the territory of Ukraine, in general, will not stop anyone, a strike on the territory of Europe will not be considered as critically important, as critically dangerous. A strike on the territory of the United States is another matter.

I say again, over the past few decades after the end of the Cold War, there was an opinion that what constituted the biggest fear during the Cold War period (an exchange of a massive nuclear strike between the nuclear superpowers - the USSR and the USA) is already history, no one will return to this will not. And nuclear weapons are again reduced to the level of maximum use in the theater of operations.

There is a problem here, when the Russian president seeks to deter the enemy by direct or indirect references to nuclear weapons, the enemy interprets this, at least in public, as a threat to use nuclear weapons. Moreover, this threat falls into the Western concept of warfare, when the failure at the front during the war with the use of only conventional weapons is compensated by the use of nuclear weapons. They attribute this line of behavior to us - while it is quite possible that the strike will follow not in a specific theater of operations, but at a certain distance from it.

- It is logical: if we draw analogies with the Caribbean crisis (which, in my opinion, is completely incorrect now - a different situation) and try to return that method of escalation to solve the problem, then there should be a direct threat of two nuclear powers, and not such an indirect one as in us.

- Of course.

- From everything that we are discussing, it follows that this is a funnel from which there is no way out yet. Is there a way out of this spiral?

– I think that we have a unique case in many respects. To be honest, I can't think of another situation that even remotely resembles the current Ukrainian crisis. Indeed, the funnel is drawing in not only us, but also the Americans. And we're heading for a head-on collision.

For us, this is an existential question, because we are talking not only about the fate of Ukraine, but (which is much more important for us) about the fate of Russia, and in the most fundamental sense of the word. For the United States, it's more of a matter of political prestige, a matter of leadership, a matter of position in the world system.

- Leadership is still so global, big.

– Yes, but even if we allow the success of Russia in Ukraine and the failure of the American strategy of defeating Russia, this will not be fatal for the position of the United States in the world. In that part of the world where they dominate, they have no rivals. On the contrary, I would say that the potential defeat of the United States in Ukraine could lead to even greater rallying of those countries that President Putin calls satellites around the United States. I just can't imagine anything else.

- Then the last question is subjective. If we ignore the understandable vehemence with which we all comment on the situation, that “how the figures were crushed”, “yes, look who now rules us” (by us - I mean the world), “people have lost their sense of reality.” It is clear that there is some excitement here. But seriously speaking, has anything really changed in the perception of political leaders, which previously added confidence in understanding the border. And what did it change? Is it just that there hasn't been a big war for a long time ?

“I think the feeling of fear has disappeared. Generally speaking, the world is based on fear, nothing else.

So if fear disappears, the world is in danger.

And in the West (first of all, in the United States, but also in Europe), fear has disappeared, otherwise the Europeans would have reacted differently to the shelling of the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant. I think that the lack of fear and - in the European case, I would add - the lack of responsibility for one's security (because it is completely and completely transferred to the United States of America) create this situation.

There was a book, very famous, dedicated to the centenary of the First World War, The Sleepwalkers [1] - "Walking towards disaster with their eyes closed." I have the impression that now, at least in Europe, we see people who have closed their eyes and are walking in the direction of a cliff, in the direction of an abyss. And it's really very dangerous. So bring back the fear!

Does Biden know about the cliff?

– It’s hard for me to talk about Biden as a person. If we talk about the collective Biden, that is, about the White House, I think they believe that they ... You know, as they said about Clinton - the smartest , not exactly the smartest, but head and shoulders above everyone, thinks better than anyone. Here they have the impression that they think better than anyone in the world, a head, two, three, and so on above others, and Russia is no match for them.

By the way, about the “red lines”, with which we started this conversation. They were possible in relations between more or less equal quantities. And when there is a superpower on the one hand, and the remnants of the former superpower on the other, from the point of view of the United States, there can be no question of any, even nominal, equality.


[1] Clark C. The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914. Harper Perennial; Reprint edition , 2014.