Russia will not allow NATO troops to be on its southern border

Host: President Obama speaking there — in Tallinn (Estonia) – has finishes just a few minutes ago. I’m joined now on the line from Moscow by Vladimir Pozner — a veteran Russian television anchor. He has been watching President Obama’s speech. What did you make of it?

Pozner: Well, he’s a good speaker. We know that from way back. Frankly I believe he is alluding to a possible threat to the Baltics from Russia. He is just a […] really not very respectable – it’s a political ploy I’m someone who is not supportive of mister Putin’s policies. I’m speaking of myself. I would nevertheless say that there is absolutely no Russian threat to the Baltic countries. And this playing about, you know, we bring in more to just to make sure that Thailand, and Riga, and Vilnius – probably names that he’s not very familiar with – will be safe. It’s just planning to people’s fears and prejudices. And I don’t think that’s a very good way to go. But that’s what politicians do. And it’s not only Obama.

So, you know, I listen to it somewhat unhappily because I was expecting maybe something more, how should I say, a more positive in the way of breaking through. What’s happening now is that we’re getting more and more into this Cold War mentality. And it’s going to be very hard to go back to anything else in all this talk about whether there is a path. It’s not quite clear what that path is. And it looks like it’s a path that only one country is supposed to take, which is of course Russia. All the other countries – the West and of course especially the United States – are always on the right path judging from what President Obama said. And so it’s not a two-way street really. So it’s kind of […] It’s more of the same thing.

Host: It would be hard for him to move away from the narrative and the rhetoric that he has pursued to date, which is the one that’s held by all of the West, which is that Russia is firmly supporting and in fact intervening in Ukraine, which they see as an act of aggression. You could argue, couldn’t you, that more than anyone it it’s President Putin who is setting the agenda for this NATO meeting that’s taking place.

Pozner: I would say that probably President Putin is the most active leader nowadays. What’s going on in Ukrainian is, in my opinion, a tragedy. But I don’t think it’s right to say or believe that what’s going on in the Southeast is something that mister Putin’s doing, or that the Russians are doing. Clearly there’s a part the Ukrainian population that lives in that area of Ukraine that does not like what Kiev is doing. Now, as I see it, it would want to break away, which is too bad because there was a time when they were speaking of being a federal part of Ukrainian. Now they’re talking about statehood. And while it’s true that morally Russia is supporting them — there’s no doubt about that — and that there may be Russian – I would … I’m almost sure that there are the Russian volunteers fighting on the side of the rebels in the Southeastern Ukraine, and someone said there may be a thousand – so OK so there is a thousand, the Ukrainian military group down nearly 50,000. So what is one thousand volunteers from Russia?

Host: Many argue that it’s not just one thousand volunteers. Many argue that it’s regular Russian soldiers who don’t wear Russian insignia.

Pozner: Whether it’s even 1000 regular soldiers – one thousand soldiers against 50,000 soldiers is meaningless. There is no Russian military presence in a serious way, because if it were, believe me, they would be over. The Russian military is so much stronger than the Ukrainian, that if there really was that of participation, the Ukrainian forces would be wiped out, they’d be on the run. And I do believe because this talk about stopping the hostilities — that has come from Ukrainian side and from Mr. Poroshenko — in a certain sense means that he understands that they’re losing the fight, that the rebels — yes perhaps aided by a thousand Russian soldiers, perhaps – are moving ahead. They are moving towards a city called Mariopol. They may be moving for the city called Odessa. And Ukrainian army cannot stop them. And that’s why, if you will, mister Proshenko is a yelling uncle.

And it’s their own fault. I mean this could have been stopped long ago. This idea of bringing NATO closer to Russia’s borders. which is in direct contradiction to what Secretary of State James Baker promised mister Gorbachev many years ago, that NATO would not move one inch eastward, should the two Germanys be united. And when the Soviet Union disappeared, and NATO started moving eastward not by inches but by miles and miles, and the Russian said: «Hey wait a minute, we had an agreement». They were told by the United States: «No you don’t have an agreement, because it was in agreement with the Soviet Union. You’re not the Soviet Union, you’re Russia, so it’s just too bad».

Russia sees NATO as a threat. Not as an organization that is there for the defense. The most Russian, let’s put it this way, and certainly Putin see NATO as a threat a military threat to Russia. And I have to tell you one thing — this is my … well everything I say is my personal opinion … but I feel very strongly about this – that Russia will not allow NATO troops to be on its southern border. That is to come into Ukraine and be on its southern border. And you can say: «Well that’s not legal. If they want to have NATO troops, they should be able to have them». The answer to that is, well, Cuba wanted Russian missiles, and the United States said: «No way». And there were no missiles. Russia will not allow it, because it sees it as a threat to its own existence.

Host: OK, you’ve said that you were … you suggested the disappointment in President Obama’s speech. I wonder what you think or how you think the West needs to change its perspective on the situation?

Pozner: First of all, I don’t quite understand why when President Obama makes a speech, immediately it’s the West. I know a lot of people in the West don’t agree at all with President Obama. There’s a lot of grumbling in the West about the American sanctions. The West, that is to say Europe, is pretty much forced to dance to the American tune. And that has been going on for a long time. We must be honest about this. America’s the 800-pound gorilla, and they call it, and everyone says: «Yes sir». It pretty much does it.

So for talking about Obama, that’s fine. I think that there could have been much more of, if you will, an effort to find a way out. Instead, on the one hand, there is a threat: «Watch out, we will protect. NATO is out here. Watch it. Watch the sanctions». And on the other hand: «You’re wrong and we are right. We’re the good guys. You’re the bad guys». We’ve heard this time and time and time again. Russia is always the bad guy, as far as the West is concerned. Only Gorbachev was a good guy, and for a wary short period. Everyone else is a bad guy.

So this is pretty much the way the Russians see the way they treated. And they all say: «Well, to hell with them. They’re not going to give us a break anyway». And this speech is no indication of, you know, attempting to improve relations. It’s like saying to a child: «Well if you behave, we will give you some candy. If you don’t, we’re going to put you in the corner».

Host: We will have to leave it there. Vladimir Pozner — a veteran Russian TV anchor. Thanks for joining us on Newshour.