Michael Romancov: “Of course Russian citizens are responsible”
Russia has obviously been trying for several years to undermine the Czech Republic in different ways, through disinformation, hacking, etc. Before the current situation, to what extent did members of the Czech defense community or the foreign affairs community view Russia as an enemy of the country?
“In my opinion, the picture today is absolutely clear. Even President Miloš Zeman and ex-President Václav Klaus cannot excuse what Russia is doing.
“And I’m pretty sure our security community has been convinced for long enough that Russia is definitely not a friendly country.
“There may have been individuals, let’s say, experts or perhaps officers within our military who may have had doubts.
“Even President Miloš Zeman and ex-President Václav Klaus cannot excuse what Russia is doing.”
“But I think at least since 2014 everyone with a brain in their head was pretty sure that Russia is a great power that is looking for some form of revenge and that Russia’s intentions are also directed against us. .”
President Zeman has been an ally of President Putin for many years. Now his officials are saying things as if he feels abandoned or deceived by him. What do you think of his new position?
“Frankly speaking, I don’t understand his position.
“While I fundamentally disliked everything he did and said about Russia, or the international scene in general, over the past two years, it was nevertheless to some extent consistent.
“Now he has turned 180 degrees in a very short time and is waving the flag of Ukraine, he is waving the flag of democracy, so to speak.
“So today is a Miloš Zeman that I cannot trust.”
If we accept that for a long time he was, shall we say, echoing a lot of Russian positions, why do you think he was doing this? I often wondered what his motivation was.
“Frankly, there may be several.
“I have one that is speculative, but nonetheless I will share it with you and the public.
“In my opinion, our two presidents, I mean Zeman and Klaus, were unable to deal with Václav Havel.
“Václav Havel was treated extremely friendly – and not just friendly: he was treated like a great personality – in the West, in the United States and also in all important European countries.
“And once they both realized that they couldn’t be treated as great personalities by, say, American presidents…
“Let me remind you that Miloš Zeman was really looking forward to going to the White House.
“You may remember that he sent a letter to Donald Trump immediately after Trump was elected, in which Miloš Zeman called himself a ‘Czech Trump’ and announced, or [spokesman] Mr. Ovčáček announced that he was invited to the White House even though he was not.
“So he was really desperate to go to the White House, to be treated like a big personality. And he completely failed.
“Václav Klaus, if I’m not mistaken, was once in the White House for about 20 minutes, and he was one of a long line of other guest figures that day.
“You cannot compare this to the status of Václav Havel.
“It’s a big difference between the former Soviet Union and today’s Russia: unhappy people aren’t locked up.”
“And because both Klaus and Zeman were born and raised in the Cold War era, my speculative answer is that they realized: If we can’t make a breakthrough in Washington, let’s try to do it in Moscow.
“Basically, they reacted very similarly to many so-called third world politicians in the 1970s or 1980s.
” And it worked. They were received in the Kremlin, they were basically given this world celebrity status.
Regarding the Czech public, I have seen many comments that the Russian invasion of Ukraine reminded many people here of the Soviet invasion in 1968. But is the reality more complex? It seems to me that there is an element in Czech society that has a positive view of Russia.
“Yes. There is certainly such a segment.
“But they were shocked, basically like everyone else, by the way the Russian president decided to use force in an absolutely open way.
“Nevertheless, they were shocked by different aspects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine than the majority of the Czech population.
“I have to state publicly that this was a shock to me too, and that I have no sympathy for Putin.
“But I really hoped that Putin was concentrating his troops not because he wanted a war, but rather because he wanted to create stronger pressure against Ukraine and the West.
“But all these lovers of Russia, or rather Putin – because I think we still have to try to differentiate between Russia as a desperate country that has been under the control of Putin and his regime for 22 years and Putin’s regime – were shocked.
“Because they really appreciated what happened in the last, say, five days before the invasion, when the Americans released the information that the invasion of Ukraine could happen at any time. time or at any time.
“And they asked every morning, OK, so another 24 hours have passed and when is the invasion going to happen?
“Then, all of a sudden, it was real.”
You point out that the Russians have already had Putin’s regime for 22 years. One thing that concerns me a lot is to what extent, if at all, should we hold Russia accountable for what is happening, and to what extent should Putin? Can we say that the Russians are complicit in a certain way, if we also say that Putin has almost total control of the country?
“First, there was development. Putin’s regime 22 years ago was different from what it is today.
” It is quite logical.
“Nevertheless, of course, Russian citizens are responsible, because they have basically tried many times to challenge Putin – and so far they have failed every time.
“The vast majority, millions if not tens of millions of Russians, are still passive and ignorant.”
“Just to remind the public, there were real big protests in 2011, 2012 and 2013 when Putin switched positions with Medvedev and became Russian president again.
“There were tens of thousands of protesters in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other major cities in Russia.
“Let’s say that 10 years ago Russia was very different from what it is today.
“Nevertheless, they failed. There was no support for the protesters, because let’s call it opposition, or maybe even liberal opposition, especially in the country.
“Many of them have decided to leave Russia.
“They settled in Europe, Canada, the United States, Australia and elsewhere.
“We have to take into account that, according to some estimates, the Russian diaspora is currently possibly as large as 35 million, which is quite a large number, especially on a European scale.
“A large part simply decided to leave Russia because they were disappointed with the way the Russian public space and political system had developed.
“They were simply allowed to leave Russia.
“That’s a big difference between the former Soviet Union and today’s Russia: that the international or political border is open, so all those, let’s say, desperate and unhappy people are not locked up in Russia – they have been allowed to leave.
“Ironically, this helped stabilize Putin’s position in Russia.
“There are still thousands of extremely brave people protesting and they are not just risking their well-being.
“Again, most likely, our audience is being told that recently some very tough new legal instruments have been passed by the regime and you can be sentenced to up to 15 years, if I’m not mistaken, if you publicly oppose what the government and the press, which is under the control of the government, says about the war in Ukraine.
“So they are extremely brave. But again, this is still a very small part of Russian society.
“The vast majority, millions if not tens of millions of Russians, are still passive and ignorant.
“There is a combination of total ignorance and passivity.”
Putin is now 69 years old. I keep reading that he has become more isolated in recent years. Obviously, it’s difficult to answer this question, but what do you think is his state of mind? What I would like to know and I guess a lot of people would like to know is: do you think it is possible that he has really lost touch with reality and that he can take actions that are not not just horrible but irrational and could endanger millions of people?
“In my opinion, the worst possible outcome of Covid is precisely what happened to Putin.
“Because he almost completely isolated himself from other important members of the Russian political elite for almost two years.
“He has stated on many, many occasions that he likes to read historical novels etc., so he probably spent a significant amount of his isolated time doing physical exercise – because he is still in very good health. form, I would say – but also probably read historical novels.
“And unfortunately, he is an individual who also has the potential to try to change the course of history.
“Most likely he has lost touch with reality to some extent.
“And most likely, he’s really the one who really believes that there are Nazis in Ukraine and they are threatening the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine, and everything they produce publicly.”
We are only two weeks away from all of this. But for you, looking ahead to today, what is the most likely way this will play out? How will this end?
“Yes, I would like to know.
“But it’s really a very difficult question, so again I’m going to speculate.
“In my opinion, the Russian regime is unfortunately very strong.
“As recently as 2016, the so-called Russian Guard was founded by Putin.
“This Russian national guard has more than 350,000 men.
“We will witness the use of brutal force by the Russian regime against its own population.”
“They are very well equipped, they are very well paid and they have been trained to deal with mass riots.
“My prediction is that even though passivity and ignorance prevail in Russian society, we are nevertheless about to see large mass protests.
“And we will see the Russian regime use brute force against its own people.
“If we consider what Assad may have faced, and he’s still in power, I think Putin is definitely stronger than Assad.
“So, unfortunately, I can imagine that Russia, even though it is different from Syria, will turn into something like this.
“Besides, there is a nuclear arsenal, so Putin’s regime will not only be a problem for Russia’s own people but also for us.”