VLADIMIR BUKOVSKY ON RADIO LIBERTY,
Original interviews in Russian:
Interview on March 16, 2018:
My impression is that the Kremlin is doing this deliberately. This is what was called "brinkmanship" during the cold war. For some reason the Kremlin has decided to raise the stakes. It looks like they are hoping to break down the sanction regime and the tendency to deepen the sanctions. They have decided to go for broke, to bring the world to the brink of a war, to make everyone quake in their boots, to make the public put pressure on their governments over here and somehow force everyone to de-escalate the current tense situation.
It is difficult to imagine a situation that would be worse than the one we are facing now. You ask if this incident will put a strain on Russia's relationship with England. This relationship can't possibly be under a greater strain! This relationship is at a breaking point. I think that the British government will sever its diplomatic relations with Russia. What else do you expect? The meaning of what is happening right now is very serious -- it is a chemical attack on a NATO member state. This is precisely "casus belli" (an act provoking or justifying war -- translator). They will obviously not declare a war, this is out of question, but one is expecting a reaction from all NATO member states. Their response will be multifaceted. And Britain will not be the only country which will respond.
The second issue which becomes immediately apparent as slightly unusual is this: a person who has already been exchanged got murdered. So the West now loses interest in such exchanges: "If we do another such exchange, the people may get murdered." What sort of exchange is that? So in a way they disrupt certain mechanisms which have been long established in the world.
The response, of course, will be joint and the response will be high-pressure. If Putin wants to find himself on a brink of a war, he will find himself on a brink of a war. He is doing this for reasons of domestic policy, I assume, in order to unite the country, to make everyone rely on him in desperation, the way one relies on a savior and a protector. This is his reasoning, I suppose. I don't see what any other types of reasoning there could be. But he will get more than he bargains for. The problem is that the Kremlin never understood the West. They have this notion that they can get away with anything. As in, "What can they do to retaliate? Nothing." This is what Hitler thought when he attacked Poland and what he got was the world war. I am not saying that a world war will begin now because of this, but some sharp complications may take place. And today's Russia will not be able to withstand this tittering on the edge of a war for much longer, given all the sanctions and all other problems.
When suggested that Skripals' poisoning was conceived by a unknown group within Russia in order to harm a political opponent, Bukovsky responds:
I used to know the Soviet system well. Naturally, I am not familiar with the current Russian system as I don't visit Russia. But the tradition remains the same. It is a very bureaucratic system. And actions such as murder abroad -- especially a clearly demonstrative one -- are unlikely to be undertaken by officials without sanctions received from the top. Are you trying to tell me that Mr. Putin does not control his security services? I don't believe that. If he didn't control them, they would have devoured him a long time ago. And if these are autonomous actions of some groups within the security services, then why don't we see any punitive measures? Mr. Putin would have been very concerned with such developments and would have cracked down on security services. Otherwise, how does he sleep safely? No, I don't believe this.
Russia is a centralized, bureaucratic state. Of course, there is corruption there, there are many other things there. But nevertheless the foundation remains. For such kind of actions one needs a sanction from the top. In what way this sanction has been given and by whom, I cannot assert, but it comes from somewhere at the top. Such things are not done in any other way. Especially given that there were two incidents. The Glushkov story insistently provokes the West to react in a hostile, conflict-oriented way. This cannot happen without the upper echelons of power being involved.
Bukovsky discussing Skripals’ poisoning on Radio Liberty, March 19, 2018:
Responding to a theory that the United States could be behind Skripals' poisoning:
The sophisticated, complex calculations assumed here require unbelievable finesse. I, however, know that these organizations are incapable of finesse. They act rather primitively. I listen to current and past debates, and the same thing continues years on end: terrorist attacks, murders... Let us conduct an experiment. I am prepared to make the following bet: If two cruise missiles were to be launched at Lubyanka (the FSB headquarters -- translator), then the level of terrorism worldwide would drop by approximately 80 percent.
When asked what Putin has to gain from Skripals' poisoning:
It depends on how you define Putin's goals. If you assume (against common sense) that he wishes to live in peace with the entire world and to improve international relations, then, of course, such action appears completely illogical. But objective evidence that we have shows a different picture. His aim is to raise the bets, to increase tension, to bring the world to the brink of war in the hope to break the resolve of his Western opponents who will then begin to withdraw their sanctions. In my opinion this is the aim of the Putin government.
The murder of Glushkov, which happened immediately after this, right in the middle of this scandal, fits quite logically into this assumption and the murder to Skripal. This is a deliberate intensifying of the situation. He, as the folk saying goes, is deliberately asking for trouble, knowing that no one will declare a war on him, knowing that it is impossible to make his position any worse, that it is impossible to devise any additional sanctions. This is why he goes further and further, bringing the situation to the point of absurdity, to the point of where a person in the street becomes frightened. And, as we know, Russian immigrants started writing to the police asking for protection. Although it is quite clear to everyone that the English police cannot protect them. It is a deliberate action -- a deliberate intensifying and scaremongering which Putin's leadership is counting on.
Replying to a question as to whether the murder of Glushkov is related to the poisoning of Skripal:
I think so. A political murder abroad is a kind of decision that is taken at the top. By the same people. The same people made a decision regarding the murder of Skripal as the people who decided on the murder of Glushkov. The operations, however, were different. One operation carried on since the times of Berezovsky and the other one rolled up just now.
But let me respond to the previous speaker who argued that Russia doesn't benefit from this. If Russia doesn't benefit from this, then why is Putin coming out with aggressive statements threatening nuclear war on the entire world? If they wanted peace, good relations and so forth, would they come out threatening nuclear war? They would not. This means that Russia is interested in raising the stakes, in raising tensions. Therefore, any related murders, suspicions, and campaigns come in handy.
Commenting on expulsion of diplomats and on how the events will continue to develop:
It is difficult to predict how events will develop. The more evidence we have, the more agreements are reached in the European Union and particularly among the NATO member states, the more united the response will be. One can imagine that all NATO states will expel a certain number of Russian diplomats. Of course, this is a soft approach. Economic sanctions will get tougher too.
In reality, the sanctions have gone so far that one can't add much more. One can only increase the degree of sanctions, but something entirely new would be very difficult to devise. There is also SWIFT (the enabling network for financial institutions -- translator) which Russia can be banned from. But I think the West will reserve this as the last measure because beyond that there is nothing but war.
But I would like to make a general commentary. People are inclined to consider detailed subtleties and to attribute some exceedingly sophisticated schemes regarding the inner workings of the Russian establishment and so forth. I, however, look at these matters from the point of view of my own experience. I know hundreds of people of Putin's type and I know them quite well. It is the West's problem that it perceives them as some sort of very clever or very sophisticated people. I, nonetheless, know that this is a widely spread personality type in Russia. It is a type of a labor camp governor. His caliber doesn't go beyond that. And his actions are very predictable. And within this pattern all his actions in regard to blackmail and bluffing are clear. He, in a labor camp language, is a "showboating patrolman". He shows off -- this is his favorite pursuit. I used to come across these types for many years, so it doesn't surprise me.
On whether an amnesty should be expected in Russia:
No, there won't be one. On the contrary, the regime will tighten the screws and will raise the stakes. This tendency has been continuing for many years already. They do not have a single reason to try to reverse it. Unless international leaders at the very top level will come to an agreement on some serious issues. Right now Putin is prepared to do anything to break away from the sanctions. If he is offered to provide amnesty or to loosen his grip in exchange for removal of the sanctions, then he may accede. But no one will offer this to him.
Answering a question in relation to Mikhail Khodorkovsky's release before the Olympic Games in Sochi:
This was done for one single person. This was connected to a larger power landscape. Very serious negotiations went on regarding Khodorkovsky. This decision was taken in regard to one single person, but it wasn't a typical decision or a template. After this they continued to lock people up.
Responding to whether Russia is a police state:
Yes. They will continue suppressing. The last soft spots will be identified and quashed. Take, for example, the issue of free travel. Free travel will come under increasing control. And inevitably we return to the Soviet model. This is the template in people's minds which everything gravitates toward. They will not rest until they resurrect the "great and powerful" Soviet Union. The same "great and powerful" Soviet Union which collapsed due to quite logical reasons. Not because someone got betrayed or because Gorbachev "worked for CIA", as they now say. All this nonsense needs to dissipate. Collapse of the Soviet model is inevitable. But if Putin wants to restore it, he is begging for another downfall.
Translated from Russian by Alissa Ordabai-Hatton.