PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, and we are live on Facebook and YouTube and TheRealNews.com and now joining us is Larry Wilkerson. Larry was the former chief of staff for U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. He’s currently an adjunct professor of government at the College of William and Mary and a regular contributor to The Real News. Thanks for joining us again, Larry.
LARRY WILKERSON: Good to be here, Paul.
PAUL JAY: Some questions from viewers here. Mr. Wilkerson, do you think Europe is going to break with the United States over the attempt to isolate Russia?
LARRY WILKERSON: I think Putin is doing a real fine job here in terms of Russian interests. He’s getting Erdogan to the point where I think Erdogan’s going to probably break out of NATO. I’m not totally sure that’s going to happen, but it’s looking ominous. That would be the largest, most capable land force in NATO outside the U.S., leaving. That would be, in my mind, the beginning of the unraveling of NATO.
He’s also making significant progress in a little place called Mitrovica, the northern province of Kosovo, where UN and U.S. forces in small numbers are. He’s infiltrating the northern part of that province, Mitrovica, which is the northern part of Kosovo. We’ve all forgotten about Kosovo since Bill Clinton bombed it for 180 or so days and Milosevic went to the International Criminal Court, and died in the process, but it’s still there, and the Serbs still very much want it back. As Putin is wont to do, and he’s crafty at this, he’s moving his pawns, and he’s moving his knights, and he’s moving his bishops on multiple chessboards. One of the things he’s doing in Kosovo is threatening to take it back over for the Serbs and the Albanians.
We’re talking about all manner of things going on right now. I wonder if they’re even on the agenda of the National Security Council.
PAUL JAY: What does Putin and Russia get out of this? I would have thought that Putin’s primary objective should actually be to try to ease the tensions with the U.S. in order to get the embargo lifted and get these big energy plays going on that Tillerson, Exxon, and others want to do. Why poke the American eye here?
LARRY WILKERSON: Two reasons, I think. One, he discovered this early on and he’s maximized it, it is what Russians want. Not every one of them, but a majority of them, and so he’s staying very high in the polls, and he’s staying very politically successful with the Russian electorate because of what he’s doing. That’s probably his primary reason.
His secondary reason is he’s having fun. I mean that. I think he’s actually having fun poking his fingers in the eyes of the superpower, and doing it where he can do it and when he can do it, and not risking anything really on his own behalf. He can pull back almost anywhere where he is if he has to. The only place where he’s really exerted himself in a way that sort of exposed some flanks was Syria, and yet even there, he had Damascus on his side, he had Tehran on his side, and I think ultimately he had Turkey on his side. He’s about to strip Turkey away from NATO. He’s already seen the United Kingdom stripped away from the Union. I’d be chalking up my blackboard. I’d be going, “That’s another one. That’s another one. That’s another one.”
You say, “Why is he doing this?” None of this threatens a global conflagration. What it does is threaten the hegemony of the United States, and particularly where it makes Russia vulnerable. He’s doing it the same place the Soviets did it, on the plains of Europe. That’s where I’d be doing it if I were he. I wouldn’t be in Vladivostok. I wouldn’t be looking for the Japanese or the northern territories or whatever. Maybe I would eventually, but those things are probably unmanageable, undoable. Besides, the Chinese are taking over the far east of Russia, if you’ve looked lately.
He’s got European Russia. He’s got NATO as his enemy. All the exercises the Russian military has conducted since 2012, 2013, 2014, the scenario they conduct those exercises is an invasion by NATO. That’s what Putin uses to mobilize, raise the morale of, conduct the training of, and write the doctrine of his armed forces, a NATO invasion. We say, “NATO’s not going to invade Russia.” That’s not what Putin and his generals think, and if you were in their shoes, you probably would guard against it, too. That’s what their doctrine, their exercises, and everything reflects. You’ve got to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and I think too, as I’ve said, you’ve got to understand how shrewd Putin is.
PAUL JAY: Yeah. It’s not so different than the American shoes. He’s got his own military-industrial complex.
LARRY WILKERSON: Yes.
PAUL JAY: They make enormous amounts of money, not just producing weapons for Russia but selling them abroad. There’s enormous competition with the West.
LARRY WILKERSON: Oil and arms. That’s Russia’s economy.
PAUL JAY: Let’s not forget the wealth that has flowed up to a tiny handful of Russian oligarchs. It’s pretty good to have an external enemy you can focus on and not have focus on how much wealth your friends have made. Very much like the United States.
LARRY WILKERSON: Yeah. If Putin has a problem that I imagine is on his agenda almost weekly if daily, it’s the flight of capital out of Russia into better investments because a lot of those oligarchs don’t necessarily trust the situation to endure.