Staunton, Nikolay Leonov, a KGB lieutenant general who headed that organization’s analysis department from 1973 to 1991, says that he very much fears that Russia is at risk of losing not only Crimea, Kaliningrad and the Far East but even the Middle Volga as a result of ignorance, incautious actions and rapid demographic change.
In the course of a long interview in which he discusses the KGB’s role in the last two decades of Soviet power, the qualities of various Soviet leaders, and the failure of the country’s political leadership to take seriously the warnings his agency issued, Leonov also talks about the situation now (eadaily.com/ru/news/2019/03/29/nikolay-leonov-ya-opasayus-za-sudbu-kryma-kaliningrada-i-primorya).
He suggests that if anything the gulf between those who provide accurate information and analysis and those who make decisions may be even greater than it was at the end of Soviet times. As evidence of that he points to “the history with Crimea.” That action has produced a counter-reaction that should have been considered before the decision to annex the peninsula was taken.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and the situation now is very much worrisome. “What price are we paying The real situation that exists now in the world about Russia and also the domestic conditions in the country when the temperature is gradually rising are causing me to become increasingly concerned,” the former KGB analysis chief says.
Leonov says that he is even “concerned about the fate of certain of our territories.”
“Kaliningrad, for example” where “time is working against us. “The population there never went to the Soviet Union and already doesn’t remember it. The oblast is gradually being drawn into relations with the West.” It already has “special relations” with Poland, Lithuania, and so on. Western leaders can see this and are getting ideas.
“I am very much afraid as well for the territory of the Far East, the Primorsky kray. They are ever more being drawn into the orbit of China, Japan and South Korea. What ties them to Russia? The single Trans-Siberian railway? Rising prices for airline tickets are such that I don’t know who flies except on business,” Leonov continues.
Moreover, he says, “when people tell me that in Vladivostok there is almost not a single car of Russian manufacture, I am not surprised.” The region produces for Japan and buys from japan. “Russia for the people there is very far away … what will the situation in that region be in 10 to 15 years?”
Vladislav Surkov says that Russia can be held together by administrative means alone. But portions of the country are heading in different directions, and such “bindings” won’t be enough. A single explosion could trigger the falling of dominos in many places. “I very much fear such a scenario,” the KGB analyst says.
He suggests that he is also worried a bout Tatarstan and Bashkortostan. Not long ago, we experienced plans about the creation of a ‘Caucasus emirate.’ There have also been ideas about establishing a “Urals Republic,’ and the separation out of the south of Russia.” These challenges must be recognized and be countered by becoming the basis of policy.
People are kept together by “social and economic unity,” Leonov says. “But with us in Russia the structure is becoming rickety. Therefore, I have more concerns than optimism” about the future.” Demography is working against us as well, and “when I hear that Moscow soon will be the largest Muslim city in the world, I can hardly stand it.”
Given that people in power in Russia today experienced the end of the USSR, they should be aware of how quickly things can turn against the center, Leonov says. But it is clear that many decisions are being made without adequate information not only about Russia’s regions but also about Russia’s neighbors.
Trends there are also working against Moscow, but there seems to be “an information vacuum” in which decisions are being made without an adequate appreciation of realities.
Some of Leonov’s comments may be dismissed as no more than an example of a former senior official who not unreasonably believes he and his generation did a better job of things than the current one; but the fact that he made these (and other) comments shows both just how nervous some in Moscow are and how upset they are about the way the Putin regime is acting.
The former KGB analyst’s argument rests on the almost universally recognized principle that good analysis doesn’t guarantee good policy because that those who make policy can ignore it but that good policy in the absence of good information is almost always a random act – and not something that any leader or country can count on for long.