Yu Koizumi × Atsuko Higashino Two Specialists Discuss “When President Putin Opens ″Chegeto | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Yu Koizumi × Atsuko Higashino Two Specialists Discuss “When President Putin Opens ″Chegeto

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More than a year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the future remains completely unclear.
The U.S. and Europe have begun supplying major weapons, and Russia has deployed nuclear weapons in Belarus

About a year and a month after the invasion by Russia, rather than ending the war, it has spread, and the U.S. and European countries have decided to supply mainstay tanks and fighter aircraft.

Meanwhile, Russia agreed to deploy tactical nuclear weapons (a short-range nuclear force used as an extension of conventional weapons) in Belarus. Is there an end to this war? What are the situations in which President Putin (70) will flip the nuclear switch? Two of the most knowledgeable people on the situation in the two countries talked it over.

If China intervenes, the U.S. will have no choice but to act. The possibility of war spreading throughout the world cannot be denied.

Yu Koizumi: “ I spent a few days with Dr. Higashino in Georgia in 2001, and we talked about many things. I remember thinking that Dr. Higashino was strong because he was not afraid to go all out with people from overseas. Even when he gets tangled up on the Internet, he fights everything head-on. It’s very Russian.”

Atsuko Higashino: “ The opposite, the opposite. There was a pro-Russian person on that trip to Georgia, and I remember that Koizumi-sensei debated him so hard that he somehow borrowed 500 euros from him.

Koizumi “ I haven’t returned the money yet. …… (smiles)”

Higashino “ Now, about the main topic, the Russian invasion, I think it was impossible to prevent this war in advance. Once a nuclear superpower decided to invade with its overwhelming military power, there was nothing Ukraine could do through its diplomatic efforts. However, it was not impossible to predict. Putin’s approach was the same in Chechnya and Crimea, so if the EU had taken tougher measures, we might not have ended up in a full-scale war like this.”

Koizumi: “ Indeed, we can say that this war started with the annexation of Crimea in ’14. Ukraine is a large country with people of various origins, so it was not necessarily monolithic. People in the west were overtly condescending to the residents of the east. However, when Russia invaded the east, Ukraine mobilized to fight to defend Crimea. This was the beginning of a new identity as ‘Ukrainians.

Higashino: “ Since the annexation of Crimea, I think the Ukrainian people were prepared for war. That is why they received military support from NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). Russia was optimistic that they would be able to hold the major cities in about eight days and overrun the entire country by the summer, but that didn’t work out, and they have lost sight of where to drop the ball.

Koizumi: “ For Putin, President Zelensky, 45, was a toothless young man from the start. He was a former comedian who sang and danced on New Year’s Eve programs like the ‘Kohaku Uta Gassen’ broadcast in Russian-speaking countries. He was also the president of an entertainment agency called “Kubartal 95,” and after he came to power, he began to bring people from his agency into the center of the government. It is like the president of Yoshimoto Kogyo becoming prime minister and his comedians becoming bureaucrats. More to the point, Zelensky was not good at Ukrainian until he became president. Ukrainians are Slavic like Russians, and Ukrainian speakers are about 70% of the population. Almost all of them can speak Russian. Given these circumstances, Putin may have thought that ‘it is natural for Ukraine to return to Russia.

Higashino: “ More than a year has passed since the start of the invasion of Ukraine, and the longer it goes on, the less interest the world will have in it. This is what we should fear more than anything else. This war started with Russia’s invasion, and the word “dropout point” is too harsh for Ukraine. Russia has no choice but to withdraw. As long as that cannot be expected, I am pessimistic about the end of the war.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (65) paid a surprise visit to Zelensky. Coincidentally, the timing of the visit was close to the Xi/Putin meeting.

A stronghold that Russia absolutely wants to protect.

Koizumi: “ Some people say that if Putin dies, this war will end. But will that really happen?”

Higashino: “ I also have my doubts on that point.

Koizumi : “ For example, if he dies of illness, Prime Minister Mishustin (57) will take over as president. But perhaps no one knows his name as the former head of the Federal Tax Administration. I don’t think he would be able to exercise the same level of power as Vladimir Putin. In the end, a former KGB person will take power and the ″Putin system″ will continue.”

Higashino: “ Do you see things changing if he is assassinated?”

Koizumi: “ There is a difference depending on whether the military or the FSB (Federal Security Service of Russia) takes over afterwards, but in any case, the hard-line stance will continue. What Russia fears the most is a civil war; during the Smuta (Great Rebellion) in the 17th century, the urban population was reduced to one-third, Poland was allowed to invade, and the country was in a mess. Because of this history, I think that when Russians are insecure, they seek a strong leadership, even if it is repressive.”

Higashino: “ There is a debate about whether China will intervene, but I think it will continue to maintain its delicious position. If left unchecked, Russia’s position will simply decline.”

Koizumi: “ There is no merit in China sticking its neck out. In February of this year, President Xi Jinping (69) issued a “Twelve-point Position Paper,” which in a sense stated that China would maintain the status quo and remain quiet. Xi, like Putin, has no intention of meeting with Zelensky.

Higashino: “ Meanwhile, the risk of a Russian invasion of the Republic of Moldova, which is located southwest of Ukraine, has been pointed out, but I think this possibility is also low. Now that we are fighting on a full scale against Ukraine, we do not have the extra strength to be involved in Moldova. If we invade, we will lose the cause of what was the basis of this war, “the unification of the Slavic peoples.

Koizumi: “ I don’t think there will be an invasion of Moldova either. However, there is an area in Moldova called the “Republic of Primorskiy Dniestr,” which is occupied by pro-Russian forces. This could be used to threaten Ukraine. However, since there are only two battalions of Russian troops here as well, an invasion is impossible. Incidentally, Mr. Higashino, what are your thoughts on the use of nuclear weapons by Russia?”

Higashino : “ I think that the road to the use of nuclear weapons is a long one. There should be no clear plan for the use of nuclear weapons to change the war situation in eastern Ukraine. If they ever use them, it will be when Crimea is recaptured. This is because Crimea is perceived as the “mainland” for Russia.

Koizumi: “ Certainly, there is a possibility that Putin will push the nuclear button based on developments in Crimea. If Crimea is taken, Putin may not be able to face his people.”

Higashino: “ When I asked the Ukrainians, they thought that ‘the risk of nuclear weapons being used is not high,’ but they were still aware that if they smelled the retaking of Crimea, they would not know.

Koizumi: “ Putin always carries a bag-type command system called ‘Cheget’ with him so that he can use nuclear weapons immediately. The strategy of first use of nuclear weapons to deter the U.S. by launching one or two “strategic nuclear weapons” (long-range nuclear forces to destroy the capital and major bases) has been in place since the mid-1990s. The possibility of using “tactical nuclear weapons,” which are scheduled to be deployed in Belarus, cannot be ruled out. However, there is no need to keep tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, so I think there is a strong aspect of threat.

Higashino: “ What Russia is aiming for in this war is to weaken all of Ukraine and make it a vassal state. The worst-case scenario is that the world will give up and say, ‘Ukraine cannot be saved.

Koizumi: “ That’s right. The Ukrainian problem has become an entity that everyone is fed up with, and yet the violence continues ……. Eventually, the international community will cut it off, saying that we have no choice but to leave it to Russia. I think we have to keep speaking out to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Cheget carried by an officer. Inside the black briefcase is a system that sends orders to launch nuclear missiles.
The Crimean Bridge, which was temporarily crippled by an explosion in October ’22. Both countries deny any involvement, but it is one of Russia’s key supply routes for sending military supplies to the Crimean Peninsula.
The “Challenger 2” tanks that the U.K. is providing to Ukraine have been the subject of controversy because they contain depleted uranium ammunition.

Yu Koizumi / Born in Chiba Prefecture in 1982. In 1919, he won the Suntory Prize for Arts and Letters for his book “The Geopolitics of ‘Imperial’ Russia. In current position since 2010.
Atsuko HIGASHINO/ ’71, specializes in EU and Russian foreign policy, and has served as vice president of the Ukraine Research Association. In current position since 2010.

From the April 14, 2023 issue of FRIDAY

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