Vladislav Krasnov graduated from Moscow State University with a degree in history and anthropology. He has a Master’s degree in Slavic languages and a Ph.D. in Russian literature from the University of Washington. He taught at numerous institutions, including the University of Texas (Austin), Monterey Institute of International Studies, the Hoover Institution (Standard University), etc. He was formerly a visiting scholar at Sapporo University, Japan.
Krasnov is the author of Solzhenitsyn and Dostoevsky: A Study in the Polyphonic Novel (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1980), Soviet Defectors: The KGB Wanted List (Stanford: Hoover Institution, 1985), and Russia Beyond Communism: A Chronicle of National Rebirth (New York: Westview Press, 1991). He is the president of RAGA, Russia & America Goodwill Association. This is our first in a series of interviews. The second interview will be on Solzhenitsyn and his relation with Vladimir Putin.
Alexis: In a recent article published by RAGA, Chas Freeman, who served in the United States Foreign Service and the State and Defense Departments, argues that: “The United States needs to wean Israel off its welfare dependency and end the unconditional commitments that enable self-destructive behavior on the part of the Jewish state.” Do you agree with him?
Krasnov: Yes, I do. Ambassador Freeman’s illustrious and varied career in the State and Defense Departments, in the Pentagon, etc., made him a natural candidate in 2009 at the beginning of Barak Obama’s presidency to chair the National Intelligence Council, which merges intelligence from sixteen U.S. agencies into National Intelligence Estimates.
It was very unfortunate that his promotion was blocked by the Israeli lobby which could not stand his criticism of Israel. Thus, the country was deprived of the BEST INTELLIGENCE it needed to sail in the turbulent waters of global politics. This was bad for the US, the Middle East, Europe, and Russia.
The article you cited, “U.S. Policy and the Geopolitical Dynamics of the Middle East,” convinced me that it was bad for Israel too. Freeman delivered his speech before the Center for the National Interest last month. I found it so singularly important that I translated it to Russian and posted, along with the English original, on the site of Russia & America Good Will Association.
After all, RAGA’s mission is to promote, first, better relations between the US and Russia; then to strive for peaceful resolution of all global conflicts. People’s diplomacy is especially needed now when our diplomats abandon their vocation in favor of boastful bombasts often leading to actual bombing.
You noted Freeman’s main thrust: “The United States needs to wean Israel off its welfare dependency and end the unconditional commitments that enable self-destructive behavior on the part of the Jewish state.” As American citizens, we bear the tax burden for the armaments that the U.S. have supplied to Israel for generations.
Americans also suffer great losses on the battle fields of the Middle East and elsewhere in the “global war on terrorism” that the U.S. helped to precipitate. More than a million Iraqis have already lost their lives. Trillions upon trillions of dollars have been completely wasted. The net result is that we have not achieved greater security for either ourselves or the Israelis.
Alexis: Freeman moves on to say that US foreign policies are based on “ideological fantasies and politically convenient narratives rather than on inductive reasoning and reality-based analysis.” Do you agree?
Krasnov: I could not agree more. Currently the United States has replaced the USSR as the ideological iconoclast, except, instead of “class struggle” and “world revolution” to overthrow “capitalist exploitation”, the United States preaches “free-market economy”, “democracy”, and “Western standards of civility.”
This ideological obsession allows us to meddle in domestic affairs of any country whose government we dislike. We do it by guile when it works, like in Russia during the 1990s, by bombing as in Yugoslavia in 1999, by a full scale invasion like in Iraq in 2003, by hybrid warfare like in Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria, and by drone intimidation just about anywhere.
Indeed, US politicians have abandoned “reality-based analysis” and indulge themselves in “ideological fantasies and convenient narratives” to justify their actions. We know how badly such fantasies ended for the USSR.
Alexis: Explain how Israel has been an impediment to serious advancement in the Middle East and how the regime has brought one geopolitical disaster after another.
Krasnov: Unlike Freeman, who was the U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (1989-1992), I am not an expert on Israel or the Middle East, even though way back at the University of Moscow I took a course in Arabic and in 2014 visited Israel/Palestine.
Also, throughout my life I have been associated with a great number of Jews and Muslims in both Russia and the US. I have several Jewish friends who are as worried about the future of Israel as Ambassador Freeman.
Freeman fleshes out a number of strategic mistakes which Israel has made and for which the U.S. covers up, beginning with the extremely daring Zionist dream of placing a Jewish state in a culturally inhospitable neighborhood, a mistake which, I think, Israel’s founders shared with Western Empire builders who used to be eager to bear “the white man’s burden” of “civilizing” the “benighted” faraway countries but now are at loss about what to do with the disarray inside their countries. Israel may meet the fate of those empires unless it returns to realism.
To avert the disaster, Freeman suggests, Israel has to abandon its 1973 commitment, made after the Yom Kippur war, to maintain a “qualitative military edge over any and all potential adversaries in its region”. Freeman makes clear that the U.S. pays for this commitment as well:
“Confidence in Israel’s qualitative military edge is now the main source of moral hazard for the Jewish state. Its effect is to encourage Israel to favor short-term territorial gains over any effort to achieve long-term security through acceptance by neighboring states, the elimination of tensions with them, and the normalization of its relations with others in its region. U.S. policy inadvertently ensured that the so-called ‘peace process’ would always be stillborn.”
Without a permanent settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the rest of the Middle East is bound to stay in turmoil in the foreseeable future.
Alexis: Freeman writes, “Dealing with the Middle East as we prefer to imagine it rather than as it is doesn’t work. The United States needs to return to fact-based analysis and realism in its foreign policy.” How, then, should we deal with the Middle East?
Krasnov: One of the reasons I liked Freeman’s article was his appreciation of the way Russia and its president Vladimir Putin approach the Middle East. It has been a long while since an American strategist of his stature had a word of praise for Russia and her leader.
“Mr. Putin’s intervention in Syria in 2015 relied for its success on ingredients similar to those in the pre-Tora Bora U.S. intervention in Afghanistan,” says Freeman, mercifully allowing that the U.S. too is capable of realism in foreign policy. But what were the reasons for Putin’s success? Freeman explains:
“The Russians committed a modest ration of air power and special forces in support of a Syrian government that had amply demonstrated its survivability in the face of more than four years of Islamist efforts to take it down. The Russian campaign had clear political objectives, which it stuck to.”
It sounds simple but it did the job. In Freeman’s assessment: “The (Russian air) campaign reduced and partially contained the growing Islamist threat to Russian domestic tranquility, while affirming Russia’s importance as a partner in combating terrorism.”
Moreover: “Moscow also put its hands on the stopcock for the refugee flow from West Asia that threatens the survival of the European Union, underscoring Russia’s indispensable relevance to European affairs.”
Finally, “(Russia) demonstrated its renewed military prowess and reestablished itself as a major actor in Middle Eastern affairs”. Freeman seems to tease those who barred him from the National Intelligence Committee when he says: Russia showed it “could be counted upon to stand by protégés when they are at risk, drawing an invidious contrast with the American abandonment of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.”
Alexis: It is obvious that the Powers That Be would love to see Vladimir Putin’s head on a silver platter. They have already branded him “the new Hitler.” Dozens of books have already been written denouncing him as a madman. Jewish writer Masha Gessen of the New York Times has never missed her opportunity to attack Putin on really stupid grounds. What’s your assessment on him in Ukraine?
Krasnov: The main reason they hate him is his success. He has shown that Russia does not need to return to the belligerence of the Soviet Behemoth to assure the respect and wellbeing of the Russian people who are no longer trapped inside its borders, who read and watch what they like, travel around the globe and feel confident that their country can withstand any sanctions and is not afraid of NATO saber-rattling. Yes, it much prefers peace but is ready for the worst. Just read these impressions of a group of Americans who recently travelled to Russia with Sharon Tennison of the CCI.
As to Ukraine, I feel a lot for the Ukrainian people as I do respect their desire to have their own identity and statehood. But I also respect the will of millions of Ukrainians to want to live side by side with the Russian people. Among RAGA associates there are some of Ukrainian descent, and our attitude of Good Will remains the same. After all, in language, customs and religion the Russians and Ukrainians are not as different as the Scots, the Irish and the Brits.
So why do we not fan the flames of hatred in Northern Ireland against the UK? Why did U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland scheme with Ambassador Pyatt in Ukraine while “f-ng” downgrading our allies in the EU? Why did the U.S. support the coup d’état in Kiev in February 2014 which put the livelihood of millions of Russian-speaking Ukrainian citizens at risk? Why did we not teach the Kiev government such Western values as patience, dialogue and compromise? Why did we not propose such Western models of ethnic co-existence as Switzerland, Belgium, and Canada?
Once the governments of France, Germany, and Poland reneged, with our blessings, on the agreement of February 21, 2014 to settle the crisis with Viktor Yanukovich, the unraveling of law and order set in. Under the circumstances, the parts of Ukraine where Russian speakers predominated became restive, and the overwhelming pro-Russian majority of the Crimea orderly voted for cessation from Ukraine and re-joining Russia.
I think Putin acted prudently and decisively. If he did not, the Crimea would have plunged into a bloody civil war like the one we witnessed in the Donbass. The United States and the EU should be grateful to Putin for sparing them a quagmire worse than in the Donbass.
Alexis: What message do you think Russia is trying to send to America? Do they want peace or war? If peace, why have US officials been unwilling to work with the Russians?
Krasnov: It is foolish even to suggest that Russia wants war. At the recent St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on June 17, 2016, a few days after Freeman’s talk, Putin said:
“America is a great power – today probably the only superpower. We accept that. We want to and are ready to work with the United States.”
Putin seems to be ready even to bend over to accommodate the youthful exuberance (or hubris?) of the United States. If in the past Putin expressed his preference for multi-polarity to oppose U.S. quest for domination in the unipolar word, now he seems to be willing to give the United States the bragging rights as the biggest, strongest and most handsome kid on the block.
The problem is not just the failure of US diplomats to give Putin his dues. They missed entirely the emergence of a new Russia that is fundamentally different from the late USSR. Responding to those Russia watchers who are worried about the resumption of the old Cold War, I have argued in “The Folly of a New Cold War” that the problem is more serious because U.S. strategists don’t understand the realities of the new Russia.
If in the old Cold War, the USSR was indeed espousing a different value system based on militant atheism and persecution of religion, since 1991 Christianity is being reborn in Russia and religious freedom reaffirmed throughout the country. It is all the more ironic and potentially tragic that the West does not recognize that Russia could be an ally in the advancement of peace and civilized order in the world.
The one area where the two countries must work together is the Middle East. Freeman makes it clear that the problems cannot be solved unless Israel comes to the realization that its best chance for survival is not an unquestioned military domination, including a nuclear war blackmail, but accommodation with its neighbors, first of all, the Palestinians.
Both Russia and the United States have high stakes in the area. The USSR was a heavy contributor to the armament of the young Israeli state, and Stalin was one of the first to recognize it in the false hope to put its Zionist leaders under Communist control. The United States under Truman managed to swing Israel back under the U.S. patronage.
Currently, Russian Jews who immigrated to Israel during the 1990s constitute the most substantial block of voters. It seems that only a joint pressure of the US and Russia could move Israel’s political elite to abandon ideological or quasi-religious fantasies of right-wing Zionists in favor of fact-based analysis that clearly dictates a peaceful compromise.
 Chas Freeman, “U.S. Policy and the Geopolitical Dynamics of the Middle East,” Russia & America Goodwill Association, June 9, 2016.
 See for example Kerry Sheridan, “Iraq Death Toll Reaches 500,000 Since Start Of U.S.-Led Invasion, New Study Says,” Huffington Post, October 15, 2013.
 It was reported that “360,000 veterans may have brain injuries.” Gregg Zoroya, “360,000 veterans may have brain injuries,” USA Today, March 5, 2009.
 Ernesto Londono, “Study: Iraq, Afghan war costs to top $4 trillion,” Washington Post, March 28, 2013; Bob Dreyfuss, The $6 Trillion Wars,” The Nation, March 29, 2013; “Iraq War Cost U.S. More Than $2 Trillion, Could Grow to $6 Trillion, Says Watson Institute Study,” Huffington Post, May 14, 2013; Mark Thompson, “The $5 Trillion War on Terror,” Time, June 29, 2011; “Iraq war cost: $6 trillion. What else could have been done?,” LA Times, March 18, 2013.
 Freeman, “U.S. Policy and the Geopolitical Dynamics of the Middle East,” Russia & America Goodwill Association, June 9, 2016.
 Lincoln Mitchell, “Is Vladimir Putin a Wimp or a Russian Hitler?,” Observer, December 26, 2014; Philip Rucker, “Hillary Clinton says Putin’s actions are like ‘what Hitler did back in the ’30s’,” Washington Post, March 5, 2014; Paul Johnson, “Is Vladimir Putin Another Adolf Hitler?,” Forbes, May 5, 2014; Philip Rucker, “Hillary Clinton’s Putin-Hitler comments draw rebukes as she wades into Ukraine conflict,” Washington Post, March 5, 2014; Garry Kasparov, “Vladimir Putin and the Lessons of 1938,” Politico, March 16, 2014.
 For a recent example, see Masha Gessen, “The Soviet Union Is Gone. Why Do Lenin Statues Remain?,” NY Times, June 14, 2016.
 Agreement on settlement of political crisis in Ukraine, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agreement_on_settlement_of_political_crisis_in_Ukraine
 Viktor Yanukovych denounces ‘coup’ as he leaves Kiev http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/ukraine/10655398/Ukraine-crisis-Opposition-demands-Viktor-Yanukovych-resign.html