Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 3

Lebed warns the West that Russia will be back

An Interview with Gen. Lebed on Russia’s Role in the World

Reproduced below is the third installment of an interview with Gen. Aleksandr Lebed, the commander of the 14th Russian Armyin Moldova’s Transdniestr region, and an outspoken military figure who, many in Russia believe, has a future in politics.

Prism: In your opinion, when will the rebirth of Russiabegin?

Lebed: When we begin to respect ourselves. Yes, today Russiahas been seriously weakened. We have committed a mass of stupidities, Our society is sick, but we are a power! I propose collectingall the advisors and sometime politicians and sending them awayto live by their wits. Tsar Aleksandr III said that "Russiadoes not have any friends." Only the short-sighted can hope for the help of others. As is well known, free cheese is available only in a mousetrap. No one will get us out of our current dilemmas except ourselves. This is the simple truth.

Prism: But you would agree that, if one considers thepresent state of the economy, the financial system, and the armyof Russia, the West has every reason to think that it can dictate its conditions to Russia?

Lebed: I have no doubt that there are smart people whoknow how to predict the course of developments. History testifiesthat it is senseless to threaten Russia; it is better, saferand more profitable to be its friend. If the country survived1918 when we were caught in the ring of a war, then today, whenwe have strategic nuclear arms, Russia can defend itself evenmore successfully. If the West tries to provoke us, one of the "ultras" could come to power. And then what? Havingcome to power, such a man will begin to search for allies andwill find them, for example Iraq.

Prism: You are against relations with Iraq?

Lebed: I am for good political relations with all countries. However, these must be constructed in such a way that they donot violate the existing balance of political and, even more, military forces. The world must not constantly teeter on the edge of global or even local wars, either of which under contemporaryconditions can entail catastrophic consequences. At the sametime, it seems to me that the epoch of dictatorial regimes iscoming to an end. And this process will take place more quickly,the closer and more effectively Russia develops its ties withdemocratic countries.

Speaking openly, I do not like the efforts of the US at times to play the role of a world gendarme. Who gave it that right? It we want stability in the world, the vector of military-politicalforce must pass from the west to the east and back again. Inthat event, countries will understand that they must behave,but it will not be necessary for the US, Russia or Germany topunish them.

Prism: The American ambbassador to the UN, Mrs. Albright,said in Kishinev that the chief goal of her visit was the withdrawalof the 14th Army. …

Lebed: Let me tell you exactly what she said: "Thewithdrawal of the Russian 14th Army from the banks of the Dnestrrepresents one of the chief problems for the US." For me,this was yet another indication of how openly and unceremoniouslyothers will deal with us in our weakness, and of just how farwe have fallen. Even under Gorbachev, we ceased respecting outselves.We have forgotten who we are and what our history is. But I am categorically against any Western lady, no matter what her station,deciding for the Russian state where it can keep its army. Noone has the right to dictate rules to Russia!

Prism: Russia has known difficult times but has alwaysrisen to its feet. What is unique about her current situation?

Lebed: The loss of the moral-religious, national, and state-legal consciousness. What remains holy for us? What are we preparedto tolerate? With customary submissiveness, the people are degenerating into poverty and filth, getting drunk and stealing. Another unique featue is that there is a complete lack of understandingof where the world is heading. Walls are falling, borders areopening. An entire ideological system died with the USSR. Whetherit was good or bad is not the question here. What is importantis that that ideology defined the activity of millions of people.Today, the spiritual-meaning space has become disorganized. Peoplehave fallen into a difficult moral-psychological state–one withoutmeaning, without faith, without will.

The human personality here is under attack. In many people, national character is diminishing and there is a complete lackof religious and state-legal consciousness. Once again, historical memory is being taken away from people. Society is atomized. Individuals are again the victims of a barbaric experiment: the forcible transition from "socialism" to "capitalism" I put these terms in quotations marks because both the firstand the second had, and have, hyperbolic forms with us.

Today conditions are especially difficult for Russians. Before 1917, they were the preservers of traditions which called forth the anger of the bolsheviks. After 1985, they continuedto hope on the basis of the promises of the pseudoreformer thieves. Therefore we need today a Goal, which will inspire and unify society and give it meaning. We need people who are ready to accept this challenge and respond in a worthy fashion to it.

Prism: What do you see as the present and future missionof Russia?

Lebed: Russia is moving away from messianism and even rejecting it. Russian must no longer sacrifice itself, and demand the sacrifices of others. Russia must concentrate on itself. At the same time, however, it does not have a right to reject its historicmission. "Moscow is the third Rome, a fourth there will not be." In this formula, our ancestors saw something morethan the transfer of the center of Orthodoxy to Moscow. Theysaw in it a high calling for Russia, which was situated at thepoint of contact of two worlds. Russia is a bridge between Westand East. It is not simply a place d’armes of cultural contacts.Rather it has had the unique capacity to combine the two. Inthis lies Russia’s uniqueness and exceptional quality. Thereforeit should not seek to follow foreign models of organization.

Russia is a buffer between extremes which coexist. Without it, these worlds in conflict will clash more directly. … Our power must not and will not come into conflict with the Muslim world or with the Catholic world. There are two ways of stopping an enemy: hitting him in the chest with a weapon or embracing him. Russia has the ability to do the former. But, still better, it has shown throughout its history something else: the common Russian home was started long before the common European home.Russia, and it alone, is able to organize anew this spiritual space. … The peoples of the former USSR already understand that until recently they lived in a great country and now survive in petty states without any hope of help or love from a prince beyond the ocean. Precisely together with Russia will they occupya worthy place in the world.

Prism: You are predicting neoimperialism?

Lebed: No. Russia will assemble other peoples around itself in such a way as to not undercut the independence of each part,but rather to guarantee firm and adaptable ties among them andbetween each and the center. If you were to compare Russia witha bridge, then it should be a pontoon one. Under the pressureof an external force, each of the parts may be overloaded butit remains floating thanks to the others. Such a bridge can withstand enormous loads. the wind and storms will not destroy it if itis carefully attached to both shores.

Russia is obligated to concern itself with the affairs onthe territory of the former USSR; otherwise it would not makeitself secure. … It was not our observation that states are constructed over centuries and borders are drawn with blood.Of course it is possible to think only about one’s own enrichmentand to spit on one’s neighbors. However, one must understandthat conflicts arise and intensify particularly among the poor.On the earth there is one class of people who are even more selfishthan the rich: the poor. The poor and even more the increasinglypoor neighbor is dangerous; the wealth of the strong enrageshim. Could not Crimea become a zone of conflict precisely forthis reason?

Historic destiny is not a burden of the past which onecan easily throw off. It is even not a condition of life, butrather life itself.

The interview was conducted for Prism by Aleksandr Zhilin,chief military correspondent for Moskovskie novosti.