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Ukraine can’t count on NATO for protection vs the “Russian world”, ex-NATO rep in Russia Capt Gary Tabach

Gary Tabach in Apostrophe TV Studio. Photo: Dariya Davydenko/Apostrophe
Ukraine can’t count on NATO for protection vs the “Russian world”, ex-NATO rep in Russia Capt Gary Tabach
Article by: Ekaterina Shumylo
Translated by: Christine Chraibi
Russians believe that Ukrainians are always wrong, so one should not expect the Russian Federation to acknowledge the elections in Ukraine as democratic, nor will the Kremlin be satisfied with any president elected by the Ukrainian people. This opinion was expressed in an interview with Gary Tabach, retired captain of the US Navy, ex-representative of NATO in Russia.

– In your opinion, were the Ukrainian authorities right in not allowing Ukrainian citizens residing in Russia to vote in the upcoming elections?

– I don’t know; I’m neither a politician nor a diplomat. I believe that either you’re a citizen of your country, or you’re not, and it’s absolutely irrelevant where you live. If you’re a citizen of a country, then you have the right to vote, and your place of residence shouldn’t be so important. I believe that the whole diaspora should go out and vote. When I was watching the elections in Russia, there were long queues standing before the consulates. I was shocked. Where did all these people come from? This just shows how efficiently the Kremlin operates. But, not everyone turned out to vote for Putin; many people opposed him. It doesn’t matter who you vote for; it’s the voter turnout that’s important.

– Let’s say that Russia doesn’t like the new president or the new parliament in Ukraine. Will they again say that the government is illegitimate, and will they refuse to negotiate?

– I believe that any president elected by the Ukrainian people won’t suit Russia, because Russians think that Ukrainians are always wrong. It’s the same with the upcoming elections… they’ll say that Ukrainians have chosen a fascist. Regarding the legitimacy of the Ukrainian president, what difference does it make to you what Russia thinks or says? Russia believes that Ukraine is an illegitimate state.

– The expert community believes that Russia has its own candidates, which the Kremlin would like to see as president.

– If Ukrainians choose a pro-Russian candidate, then they’ll be responsible for their choice and there’s no need to blame someone else. Personally, I don’t see how you can be an ambitious pro-Russian politician in this country. The people will rise up again, the country might split apart and civil war might begin.

Ukraine is a democratic country, and no one can predict who’ll be the next president. Of course, Ukrainians aren’t used to such power struggles, so the political scene seems pretty messy and lawless to them. But, just look at what’s happening in our congress… In the US Congress, the politicians blame and accuse each other all day; they fight and swear; in Israel – it’s a real circus! Such is the cost of democracy.

– Can Russia destabilize the situation in Ukraine during the elections? 

– Of course, Russia’s doing it right now. This is one of the biggest problems for Ukraine today; it can create a lot of confusion.

– And what can it be? Some kind of revolution, protests and rallies, terrorist attacks?

– Yes, of course, anything may happen: protests, discrimination against the Russian-speaking population, as in the Baltic States, terrorist attacks. I was in Odesa on May 2, 2014 and saw how it all happened; I saw how they organized everything. But over time, the Kremlin will lose this initiative. The more time passes, the more democratic institutions are introduced in Ukraine, and the worse it becomes in Russia – both economically and politically, then the more chance Ukraine has to become part of the civilized world. There’s still a lot of work to be done.

– Do you think Putin has some kind of plan for Donbas, the Azov Sea, or is he just an opportunist?

– No, Putin is a KGB man, and he can draw up another plan every evening, but he’ll never act without a plan. This is obvious when we look at how the Kremlin organizes events, how they move and act in a coherent manner. I mean to say that Crimea and Donbas were not spontaneous decisions. They did shoot down a civilian plane spontaneously, their own plane with their own missile in Syria, but that happened because there is no professionalism and nothing’s being controlled. There’s no solid military structure, no real discipline. Of course, there is discipline and order in Putin’s mind.

– Russia doesn’t need Donbas as a region now, but it’s a frozen situation…

– Russia doesn’t need Crimea either…

– But, Moscow says Crimea is a part of Russia and invests a lot of money there, but it’s different in Donbas. How do you see the future of Donbas?

– I really don’t know what’s going on in Putin’s head, but I can definitely say that it’s far from normal. He’s been in power for such a long time, and we know that power infects people’s brains. Governments and heads of state should change; they can stay from five to ten years, but no more. This is a big problem in the United States. For example, some congressmen remain in office for 40 years! Such politicians are completely estranged from the people and reality. Putin’s been in power so long that he probably lives in some kind of parallel world.

I don’t know what will happen in Donbas. I know that it will probably become a bleeding wound, like Transnistria and Abkhazia. The moment Putin doesn’t like something, he’ll start pulling strings, shelling and shooting will begin, and he’ll be in the limelight again.

– So, Putin’s goal is to keep Ukraine under his wing?

– No, that’s what he wanted initially. Now, he wants to stop Ukraine from joining NATO.

– Why have relations between Russia and Belarus deteriorated so much?

– Russia’s relations have deteriorated with everyone… After all, you can’t be friends with a crocodile, and one crocodile can’t be friends with another crocodile, because they’ll end up devouring one another.

But, it’s not only about Belarus. Kazakhstan doesn’t feel very comfortable either, and it’s a very big and rich country; Russia doesn’t want to lose its influence in this country. There’s also an important Russian-speaking population, and they’re worried too. Kazakhstan is shifting to the Latin alphabet; they’re trying to move away from Russia, and that’s a big blow to the Kremlin. Everybody’s trying to distance themselves from Russia somehow. At the end of the Second World War, everyone wanted to move as far away as possible from Hitler. It’s the same now. Putin’s no longer perceived as a normal individual; he’s dangerous, because he has the nuclear bomb, and it’s impossible to predict what he intends to do.

Putin once said: “If there’s no Russia, then what use is this world?!” And, he also said: “I am Russia!”… so, when he’s gone, what use will this world be?

– Is Belarus ready to stand up to Russian aggression? Or will Lukashenko find some diplomatic way to calm the situation down?

– Lukashenko is very clever, and has long relationship with Putin and Russia. I think that Belarus is just one big partisan unit; but, there are a few traitors in that country.

I don’t quite understand the cultural nuances between these two countries. You know, until 2014, for me, Ukrainians and Russians were absolutely the same. But, when I began following the Maidan, I realized that I was wrong. Ukrainians protest and rebel; they’re dissatisfied and this dissatisfaction continues today. That’s good… In fact, it’s a good thing not to be always satisfied with your government. I saw that you, Ukrainians, rose up in protest and stood your ground; the people were angry, and I can say that your Cossack blood, you might say, really exists.

There are no such things happening in Russia. There have never been any important riots. The Decembrists tried once, and Russian textbooks now say they shouldn’t have. I realized that Russians are quite different; they have other values. As for Belarusians, let’s wait and see, but they’re much more dependent on Russia. The Baltic countries are also afraid, but they’re in a different situation.

– Don’t you think that the Baltic countries are at risk?

– Of course. They’re in NATO, but if Russia takes over their smallest republic – Estonia – and there are many Russian-speaking people living there, and Moscow will set out to defend this “Russian world”, I doubt that NATO will go to war with Russia because of Estonia.

– NATO looks cowardly. So, should Ukraine seek to join NATO?

– That’s a good question, and I can’t give you an answer. In the game of politics and diplomacy, it’s the trump card that diplomats and politicians will use for their personal advancement. When it comes to war, however, I don’t think you can count on NATO.

Captain Gary (Yuri) Tabach was born in Moscow, USSR and lived there until 1976 when his family immigrated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Upon graduation from Temple University School of Pharmacy in 1985, he was commissioned an Ensign in the US Navy. At the end of his career, Captain Tabach served as Chief of Staff for the NATO Military Liaison Mission in Moscow, Russia. There he acted as the liaison between NATO’s Military Committee and the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation. He retired from the Navy in 2011.
Translated by: Christine Chraibi
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