Defence 24 (Poland): the oil and gas crisis against the backdrop of a pandemic is for Russia a headache, not a heart attack

An interview with Edward Lucas (Edward Lucas) is a British journalist, writer, expert on security issues and themes of East-Central Europe.

Defence 24: what do you think, can Russia wait for the collapse because of economic problems, triggered by the pandemic coronavirus?

Edward Lucas: People talk about the collapse of Russia in 1991. Eventually they may be right, but right now I would refrain from dramatic predictions. The Putin regime has faced serious economic problems, but it is stable. In the past he was able to cope with many difficult challenges. Of course, low oil prices affect the Russian budget, the problems appeared at the project “Northern stream — 2”, and the course of the pandemic Putin stands for negative factor. We can say that Russia has a headache, but that’s not a heart attack.

Whether it’s a “headache” to let such countries as Belarus out of Russia’s orbit influences?

— I think Belarus has currently a much wider field for maneuver than before. Extremely noteworthy is the fact that the oil she now supplies from the West. Putin has a problem: increasing the pressure on Minsk, which the Belarusian opposition, his policies proved to be counterproductive. Of course, at the same time there is the risk that, faced with difficulties in the country, he will arrange for some foreign adventure in the spirit of Georgian, Syrian, or Ukrainian. It should always be considered, however, I think the likelihood that he would turn to such actions now, small. Do you think Putin has enough to do at home, if something unexpected occurs, and then in the second half of the year.

— Can Putin to turn to aggression to distract attention from the problems of their own country?

— He has done this in the past, however, there are many different forms of aggression. If you look at the Russian media, you will see that they are now paying much attention to the fate of Soviet war monuments in Prague. Prague mayor who made the decision to dismantle the monument to Marshal Konev, they have dubbed the international symbol of hate. It is now in Russia, the loud theme, Czech Republic there was an example of a country that has repaid with ingratitude for Soviet liberation. Such actions do not require from the Kremlin high costs: it is enough to say unpleasant things about some Czech politicians. As a means of distraction, this tactic works well, but much excitement causes no. The exception is the mayor of Prague, he is under police guard.

— Can China take advantage of Russia’s weakness and turn it into its resource base?

— Russia’s transition in the period of the pandemic on the Chinese positions was a very important event. In my opinion, it is of great importance, because we see how the Russian propaganda machine occupies a position similar to the Chinese, accuses America and advocating in the international arena China. I think we have seen the formation of a joint Russian-Chinese anti-Western and anti-American front. I don’t know whether this is a long term strategy, in fact, Russians are very afraid of the Chinese.

— You talk about propaganda, and whether individual countries to create fake news on the topic of coronavirus and use them for their own purposes?

— I prefer to use the expression “fake news” with caution, I don’t think it’s something helps. I believe that we are dealing with information shares, the protruding part of the wider operations of hostile States. Russia, China, Iran are the three most important countries in this list. To focus exclusively on informational topics, in my opinion, wrong, though Russia and China since the beginning of the pandemic unfolded its activity mainly in this area. They applied diplomatic tactics in the who and other international organizations used the delivery of humanitarian assistance, exaggerating their importance; spread anti-Western propaganda, saying that the European Union, NATO or the USA can not cope with the situation; promoted conspiracy theories, sowed panic. However, you should look at it as one element of a broader strategy.

— Can Russia and China to use the pandemic to weaken NATO or the EU?

— This, of course, is already happening. We witnessed a demonstration of Chinese capabilities in Serbia, when the President Vucic said that the EU does nothing, and the only other Belgrade left Beijing. China has shown how his program for strengthening influences in the Western part of the Balkan Peninsula. For us, this should be a warning, a Wake-up call. We have seen large-scale operation of China and Russia in Italy. There are many events, a pandemic has opened up new opportunities both to Beijing and to Moscow.

— Some experts say that the Kremlin could exploit the situation and try to achieve the lifting of the European sanctions.

— The Russians will certainly take advantage of every opportunity to promote the idea of mitigation. They want to combine this with economic aid in postpandemic period and say, “If you want to implement international mechanisms of economic support, we will lift the sanctions”. I, however, doubt that this path leading anywhere. That under the pressure of Russia restrictive measures will be canceled, say, starting in 2014. Europe should be grateful to Chancellor Angela Merkel and the German government for the fact that they strictly adhere to in this area adopted rate, despite pressure from Hungary and Italy or the differences within Germany itself.

The era of Merkel maybe in 2021 to come to an end.

Very interesting what will happen in Germany, if there will be a new government. The centre of gravity in Europe to shift, the probability of this is small, but it exists. We still don’t know who will be the successor to Merkel.

— What with the presidential election in the US? Can the Democrats win to lead to a new “reset” in U.S.-Russian relations?

— Anyone who wants to go back to this step, be mindful of the disappointing history of “reboots.” Even the President trump could not translate the relationship between the US and Russia in a friendly format. Official American bodies do not gravitate to reboot. I think if Biden wins, we will see the return, rather, to politics in the style of Clinton, which was to Moscow, rather rigid than that of politics in the style of Obama’s prior contacts with the Kremlin, a number of errors.