This Interview with Mr. Vladimir Yakunin, Founding President of the World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations”, was conducted in a press conference on the 10th of October 2015 in Rhodes, Greece. Questions were asked by journalists from different international media.
Q: You have mentioned that there were mistakes made in Iraq, Libya and Syria. Your opponents May say that Russia has made similar mistakes in Ukraine. Pres. Putin has admitted that Russian regular troops were involved at the earliest stages of change of government in Crimea and Russian volunteers -and maybe even regular troops - are involved in Eastern Ukraine. So how are your accusations against what the West is doing in Arab countries, different from what Russia is doing in Ukraine?
Firstly, If we stick to objective views, we cannot say that Western Europeans are responsible for everything which is going on for example in Northern Africa but we should not also ignore history.
2013 Americans disclosed CIA documents on how Patrice Lumumba was assassinated. That gives us a glimpse into how Affairs of other countries have been meddled with. We should look back further, not just five years or 10 years, to see the consequences of events and how they have changed the policy of certain states. Many of the problems of today are the consequences of the colonial rule of yesterday in Africa, India and other places. Russia was never a colonial power, European countries with colonial history should take responsibility for many of the problems we had today.
Secondly I would like to refer to The recent article written by the President, Council on Foreign Relations Mr. Richard Haass, where he describes how many of today's conflicts are the result of mistakes committed by the western countries in the past.
This is an organisation structured and created with the help of CIA, he must know what he's talking about and I completely agree with that.
Then you mentioned possible Russian mistakes. Nobody is immune. Nobody!
But history shows, that in most cases it is Russia, which has been the subject of invasion. From this point of view judging the crisis in Ukraine, if you want to know if Russian troops were in the territory of Crimea; of course they were. 30,000 Russian troops were in Crimea in accordance with agreement with Ukrainian Republic. So they did not invade it, they were stationed there. Did they play a stabilising role? I would say yes. You would probably say they were influencing the situation. Nevertheless there were only two casualties during the whole ordeal.
Look what happened in Libya, look what is going on in Syria, Look what is going on in Iraq. Of course any life is valuable; one killed is as bad as 1000 killed. But from military and statistical points of view this is an extremely important Factor. What kind of invasion was it if nobody was killed at all? So my answer is that we should reflect on the situation in Ukraine keeping in mind the historical precedence and the pretext, to understand it objectively.
Q: For many years in the WPF DoC there have been talks of the world not being unipolar. Now Syria proved to everybody that the older world order is completely in shambles. What would be your idea and the Dialogue of Civilisation’s idea on how to build a new world order? What kind of institutions do we need to avoid conflicts like the one in Syria and other countries?
I would need several hours to explain my views on this issue, but let me try to answer briefly.
We have to evoke the consciousness of the civil society. Ask any politician; they would tell you that we are the servants of the people, so the government should be under control of the civil society. This control occurs only in the election period or under special circumstances. In this context the younger generation is of utmost importance for the future development of any proper order, be it global, state or local community level. But the young population is ousted from this kind of involvement, except for some decorative events, such as Young leaders of G 20, etc. That is not control or natural involvement of the younger generation into the actual process and the political structure.
Next, the only instrument for resolving conflicts must be dialogue. Any kind of external intervention, whether humanitarian, military or other, is not the instrument to resolve conflicts. Of course it is not possible to have a dialogue with terrorists who are beheading hundreds of people, but the dialogue to prevent deterioration of the situation in conflicts is the stand of the WPF.
Last but not least we need to emphasize the necessity to restore the communication bridges between different societies. Not just between the governmental structures, because although they are negotiating, they are not in dialogue. Dialogue can exist only between members of civilizations.
Q: Since we are talking about action I would like to ask about Russia's initiative concerning Syria. Could it resolve the conflict?
In the course of my conversations with members of the World Public Forum already several ideas were introduced suggesting, that the leadership of the WPF would facilitate some sort of multilateral or bilateral meetings involving academics, business circles and political circles to discuss possible routes out of this mess. For governments and the statesmen it is very difficult to withdraw previous statements without losing face. Civil society doesn't have that problem, because we are not directly responsible for the political decisions, which have caused this mess. So we are considering this initiative and how it could be implemented.
Q: We are all aware that this year the refugee crisis has been escalating. Where did they would be possible solutions to this problem?
Displacement of people is not something new specific to Iraq and Syria. Today there are 59.5 million displaced people. Out of this around 15 million are considered to be refugees. But the attention of Europe was raised to this issue only when the refugees started knocking on their door. When it was far away from my home somewhere in Africa, I would say it's not nice but this is not my problem, but when it comes to my own backyard that is a different story.
Europe was not ready for the refugee invasion. As Alfred Gusenbauer mentioned in this forum; nobody should expect Europe to solve all the problems and disasters happening all around the world. We cannot possibly take in 59.5 million people. But we should find out where those trouble areas are and help people save their lives. One thing is obvious: World powers should concentrate their efforts to settle the question of terrorism and to provide people with a normal life. People who have lost everything, and have to start from the beginning. So that is where funding is needed; to restore houses, schools and hospitals, not to arm conflicting parties.
Q: Now Russia is doing an effective job in destroying Isis in Syria with good results. Why do you think the attacks of the US coalition, which have been happening for a longer time have not been as effective? Have they been serious in their efforts in destroying Isis or are they just keeping things in balance?
I'm not a military action analyst but taking into account that the bombardments of the so-called Isis by the US coalition which has been happening for quite a while has had so little effect, one can ask the question whether the Russians know better where to bomb? But I don't think so. I think the Americans have a very good knowledge of what is going on and where is what. Another question, which I have been asking is that with the surveillance capacities we have today, it is very easy to follow the finances of Isis. It is very easy for example to see where the oil from Iraq is going. So why is it that there are no sanctions or actions on that?
Q: You talk about the hedonism in the Western society, but the Russian political establishment where you belong, is also known for its lavish lifestyle; yachts, expensive watches, palaces, etc. Many people including yourself have been accused of that. Does Russia really in your opinion offer a moral alternative to the hedonistic Western lifestyle, which you criticize?
This is a very difficult and proper question. I don't think it is right to say that morality of one civilization should be prevailing the morality of others. That is not how the Russians interpret it. We don't claim to be different. We have lots of our own problems. One day journalists noticed my watch to be an expensive one, and said “Mr Yakunin is spending a lot of money on watches”. I confess I have two setbacks in my nature; I like technology, and I like ladies. I like the beauty of life. For me a beautiful car or instrument evokes the same emotions as a beautiful lady. I'm partially joking but talking seriously. When I came back from the United States I had only $100 but a few bags full of sneakers, boots and other stuff for kids which of course you have to throw away in one year as they grow up. Nothing for myself. I once told my wife, that the amount of money I need is just to be able to have grapes in wintertime in St Petersburg if I wanted to. I never was a part of the political elite, don't misinterpret that. You know I finished my civil service in 2002 when I started to work for the Russian Railways. I consider myself to be part of the civil society of Russia.
Russia has been following the same pattern of capitalism, as the west according to which if you have money and buy things with it, there is nothing wrong with that. I have never bought a luxury car, but I'm using my old S6, which I like. I have only one bank account in Russia, and spend my money on renovating our family house and home office.
Q: If the mission in Syria is successful do you think that Russia would be ready to do the same for Iraq?
I'm not in a position to answer this question and would not want to speculate. What I can say is that I recently met a respected member of Bahrain political, and financial establishment. He said listen Mr Yakunin, we in the Gulf would like Russia to return to this part of the world. Of course he didn’t mean physically but politically. This is the best answer I can give it to this question.