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Putin Dialogue at SPIEF on the Danger of Nuclear War

June 10—The following is a preliminary, unofficial translation of a lengthy dialogue on June 7 between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Sergey Karaganov, the moderator at the plenary session of the St. Petersburg International Forum (SPIEF). As of this writing, the Kremlin site had not yet published the official translation of this segment on their website. The full transcription is on the Russian page, and the video on the English page includes an English voiceover. 

S. Karaganov: Thank you.

Let’s move on to more political issues. You keep talking about your desire to hold negotiations on ending the conflict with the West in Ukraine. Of course, this desire to have negotiations is commendable and positive.

But with whom are we to negotiate? Our Western partners have double-crossed us many times and violate all the agreements we reach with them. The Kiev regime is morally illegitimate, politically illegitimate and even legally illegitimate from the point of view even of the failed state that exists there.

And how can we negotiate with them at all, without first defeating them, without obtaining a complete surrender, and without, so to speak, putting a nuclear pistol to [the heads of] our Western adversaries so that they don’t make any moves? Because, in principle, after all, no agreements are going to be honored until there is a defeat. These are illegitimate and unreliable partners.

How can we deal with this?

V. Putin: Well, yes, but as Joseph Vissarionovich [Stalin] said, “I have no other writers”; he said this about the Union of Writers of the USSR at one time, when Beria made his latest visit to snitch on them. He said: “I have no other writers.” Well, these are the partners there are. What are we supposed to do now, go to war with all of them or something?

Of course, we should seek such agreements and conditions as would be in our interests and would be as reliable as possible. You are right that it is very difficult to negotiate with these people; they deceive at every step. They say one thing and do another. That is sad, but all armed conflicts end with some kind of peace agreement. However, as one of the former leaders of a rather important European country said to me, all these agreements can be based either upon military defeat or upon victory. We, of course, are striving for and will achieve victory.

[Section on the illegitimacy of Zelenskyy as President omitted.]

S. Karaganov: Vladimir Vladimirovich, of course, the maxim that all wars end in negotiations is a false maxim, of course; it is being imposed on us. Most wars end with the defeat and surrender of the enemy. That is the only way to end this war.

I will move on to the next question, which is that defeat and surrender of the enemy in the current circumstances, when America benefits from this war, and they will continue it by driving Ukrainians to the slaughter and killing them, and now they are going to drive Europeans to the slaughter as well—it will not be possible to end this war in the near future without accelerated movement up the ladder of nuclear escalation. That’s the first point.

Second. The plates under the world system have parted. Objectively, a very great number of conflicts are going to arise. There used to be a nuclear safety-catch, but now it has seriously weakened—the fear of nuclear weapons. Do we realize that we have a huge responsibility not only to win this war—and for that we need to be much tougher in going up the escalation ladder and be ready to use them—but also to put that nuclear safety-catch back into the international system to prevent movement towards a huge wave of conflicts. After all, who but us will do it? Who but you will do it?

You have a huge responsibility. And if we are going to crawl so slowly up this ladder, although we are certainly moving, I am afraid that we are kind of shirking this responsibility. Although I understand the gravity of the moral choice.

*V. Putin:** Regarding nuclear escalation: we never started this rhetoric. I don’t remember the name of that lady, the former British Prime Minister [Liz Truss], who, when asked—this was when she was becoming Prime Minister—said that she was ready to press the nuclear button.

We never talked like that. That’s where it all started. We simply responded that one should take this more seriously, and immediately people started saying we were rattling nuclear weapons. We are not rattling them. That’s the first point.

The second point concerns what use is, what non-use is, and in what case to use them. We have a nuclear doctrine, and everything is written there. Just yesterday I was talking to the heads of the news agencies and told them about it. Everything is written there: use is possible in an exceptional case—in the case of a threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country, in exceptional cases.

I do not believe that such a case has come; there is no such need. But this doctrine is a living instrument, and we are closely watching what is happening in the world and around us, and we do not rule out making some changes to this doctrine.

At present this is also related to nuclear weapons testing. At a certain time we not only signed it [the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty] but also ratified it. The Americans signed it but did not ratify it, so under today’s conditions we have withdrawn our ratification. But, if necessary, we will conduct tests. For now, there is no such need, because our information capabilities, computer capabilities, allow us to do it [simulated nuclear weapons tests] all, as it is today.

Now as far as speed is concerned, as far as results are concerned. You said I have a great responsibility. Yes, indeed. Is it possible to increase the speed of solving the tasks we face? We can, but that is directly proportional to losses. And, understanding my responsibility, I still proceed from what the General Staff and the Ministry of Defense suggest. Speed is important, but it is even more important to take care of the lives and health of our guys who are fighting on the front.

Combat work is proceeding. Since the beginning of this year alone, I think 47 settlements have been liberated—880 square kilometers. We are gradually pushing the enemy out of the Donbass and other adjacent territories. The General Staff and the Ministry of Defense have plans to implement and achieve all our goals; we are acting according to this plan. I am sure that all these plans will be realized.

S. Karaganov: Nevertheless, we understand perfectly well that accelerating movement up the ladder of nuclear escalation can save a great number of lives, because it can educate our adversaries, who have taken advantage of the fact that we, among other things, have such a soft doctrine.

I have no doubt that it will be changed, and I hope it will be changed soon, and you will have the formal right to respond, if you so choose, with a nuclear strike to any strikes on our territory. That absolutely should be the sovereign right of our leader. I hope that such a statement will appear in our doctrine, and that it will cool down our adversaries a little bit, and it will also, sooner or later, mean fewer losses among our soldiers.

Of course, it is probably too early now to go for nuclear escalation, but it is necessary to move towards it in order to cool down our adversaries. They have gone mad, especially the Europeans. For the third time, practically, in a hundred years they are going for war. The Americans are a good deal more cautious; they have fed the Ukrainians, they are pushing them, but they are much more cautious themselves. But the Europeans are going for war.

I’m a hunter, I know how animals behave. If you are attacked by a pack of wild dogs or hyenas and you have a stick, you can beat them, try to drive them away, and there is a chance that you will drive them away. But most likely they will rip your pants and then, if you get tired, chew you up. If you can nail a couple, they will scatter, I guarantee it.

President Mnangagwa knows what hyenas are like. Do you agree with me, Mr. President, that this is the way to disperse hyenas?

E. Mnangagwa (as translated): Yes, you know, there are many hyenas in Zimbabwe. But they are all kept in national parks so that they don’t bother us. We don’t have any problems with them and they breed quickly. If someone wants a hyena, we can give it to you.

V. Putin: We have enough of our own.

S. Karaganov: In Europe.

Again, I repeat this question—I will take it to the end. If we do not go more resolutely up the ladder of escalation, will we not draw the ire of the Almighty? After all, the Almighty showed us the way once, when He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with a rain of fire for wantonness and debauchery. And after that mankind remembered it for many years and behaved properly, but now it has forgotten about Sodom and Gomorrah.

So, maybe we should remember this rain and try again to bring humanity to its senses, or that part of humanity that has lost faith in God and lost its reason?

V. Putin: Without me, maybe? You’re going to make it hot in here! They [the audience] are already scared.

Although, of course, there’s something to think about: You are talking about the Europeans right now; all kinds of logic are possible. If, God forbid, it comes to some kind of strikes, everyone should realize that Russia has a missile attack warning system. The United States has one. Nowhere else in the world is there a system of that type. We have one. Europe does not have a developed system; they are more or less defenseless in this sense. That’s the first thing.

The second is the power of the strikes. Our tactical nuclear weapons are three times more powerful, four times, than the bombs used by the Americans against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, three or four times more powerful. We have many times more of them in terms of numbers, and on the European continent, and even if the Americans bring their own from the United States, we still have many times more.

If it comes [to that], God forbid, which would be highly undesirable, and I cross myself, then—you said “reduce casualties”—they could increase to infinity. That’s the first thing.

And the second. Of course, the Europeans themselves will have to think: if those with whom we [the Russian Federation] exchange such strikes are not going to exist, will the Americans get involved in this exchange of strikes, already at the level of strategic weapons, or not? I very much doubt it, and the Europeans should also think about that, for sure.

But still, my premise is that it will never come to that, and we do not have such a need, because our Armed Forces are not just gaining experience and increasing their efficiency; our defense-industrial complex is demonstrating its effective work. I have already said many times, and I can repeat it: we have increased the production of ammunition more than 20-fold, we exceed the enemy’s capabilities in terms of aviation equipment many times over, we are significantly ahead of them in terms of armored vehicles, and so on and so forth. We don’t even need to think about this topic.

Please, and I would also once again ask everyone, do not mention such things in vain.

S. Karaganov: You behave so responsibly and speak so responsibly, but we are dealing with partners who are completely irresponsible and have lost their minds.

V. Putin: This is a scary man. [Points at Karaganov.]

S. Karaganov: No, it’s just that I… You know, most of us have looked at these partners from the outside, but I grew up in that system, it so happened to me in my life. I have known them from a young age and I assure you that I have grounds for saying what I say.

Although I understand perfectly and support your hesitation, because it is a terrible choice, and one that should only be made as a last resort. But if they know you are not ready to make that choice, they will endlessly try to fight and bleed us.

And at the same time they are fighting not only against us—they are fighting against our friends in the world majority, because we are the military-strategic root, the linchpin of this world majority. If they turn us around, they’re going to start suppressing them again. I don’t know if Mr. Presidents [Arce and Mnangagwa] agree with this.

V. Putin: Allow me to make one remark.

My decisions, and those of my colleagues with whom I work in this area, are not linked to any hesitation; there is no hesitation and there can be none. All our decisions must be based on analysis—real, objective analysis of the situation. That is what we are doing.

S. Karaganov: The day before yesterday, you spoke to the heads of the news agencies and said something extremely interesting about the fact that we are ready and able to supply our long-range weapons to countries that are enemies of our enemies. That made me very happy, because it’s long overdue. What, we will supply both high-precision and hypersonic? Naturally, with our own technicians? This could really improve the situation in the world. For example, aircraft carriers, which are a pointless tool now, under the current circumstances, will vanish from the world arena, and people will stop spending huge sums of money on them.

So what are we going to deliver? When and how? Of course, I realize that we should not do this ourselves, or at least we should say that we are not doing it.

V. Putin: As for aircraft carriers. You said that they are pointless. No. They are pointless only in a global conflict in a strategic sense. But from the standpoint of solving geopolitical problems, as a tool of geopolitics, in order to bring them closer to the territories against which the Americans, French or British want to fight and force something, they make sense. True, given that Russia and China have modern hypersonic weapons, of course, they lose some of their meaning. You are calling not to spend money on this. Let them spend it. Why did you say this out loud? Let them spend it.

S. Karaganov: In this regard, I address our Chinese and Indian friends. They are spending extra money.

V. Putin: And I said that maybe there are geopolitical considerations. It’s like a non-strategic weapon. Only as a strategic weapon, has it lost its meaning, but in general, maybe. And let other countries spend. Why not?

Now, about us supplying weapons. We are not supplying weapons, not yet. But we reserve the right to do so to those states or even to some legal entities that are experiencing certain pressure, including of a military nature, from those countries that are supplying weapons to Ukraine and calling for them to be used against us, against our Russian territory. If they supply weapons to the war zone and call for them to be used against our territory, why do we not have the right to do the same, to respond in a mirror-like manner?

I am not ready to say that we will do it tomorrow, either. Because in any case, any such supply involves a whole range of circumstances that will affect certain regions of the world in one way or another, and we must, of course, think about this.

S. Karaganov: Let’s maybe conclude this military part, which is not pleasant at all. Now, in order to attack—if we are not going to go up the escalation ladder very quickly in the near future, which I insist upon, because it’s absolutely not necessarily… I think we can sober them up along the way [Russian transcript not very clear; K. changes formulation midstream]—then we need, perhaps, to go for a mobilization, some kind of at least partial mobilization. Do you think that we can defeat the enemy without a mobilization, or will we still need to mobilize?

V. Putin: If we follow the recommendations we have heard from you, if we want to do this as quickly as possible, then the current contingent is not enough for us. But we are taking, as I said, a different tactic: we are pushing the enemy out of the territories that should be brought under our control. In that sense, we have no need to mobilize. We are not planning on it.

We had a mobilization, we drafted 300,000 people. But last year, without any mobilization, our men, our patriotic-minded men voluntarily came to the military registration office and signed contracts with the Armed Forces. There were over 300,000 of them. (Applause.) Since the beginning of this year, more than 160,000 people have come to the military enlistment offices and signed contracts. Every day we have more than a thousand people coming to the military enlistment offices, voluntarily.

You know, when we see what the Russian character is, what the character of a Russian citizen is, understand it and build on it, we don’t need any atomic weapons for the final victory. (Applause.)

To this I can only add that we see this forced mobilization in Ukraine. Certainly, I have no doubt, the conscription age will be lowered there. We know reliably from Ukrainian sources that the Americans have made lowering the conscription level by age a condition for continued support by—to 23-25, to 20, 18, maybe straight to 18. This is not our business; let them then replace the current leadership of Ukraine. I have already talked about this.

But what’s important to us? It’s that somewhere they’re conscripting 30, 50, I think it was 70,000 the month before last. It will go down. What does that tell us? It says that what they’re gaining and will continue to gain will only go to make up for the losses. There will be a small increase, as they call it. We can count in different ways, I won’t even name the figures now, although we understand them.

But in this situation, when our people are coming voluntarily and go to the front to defend their homeland, a mobilization is out of the question.

S. Karaganov: Vladimir Vladimirovich, of course I understand your arguments, but I know the history of our country well. I remember about 1916, when we were winning, but the people were tired. So we will still need to hurry up at some point. We snatched defeat from the hands of victory back then, in 1917.

Now, thank God, because of the fact that we started, maybe even belatedly, this operation, there is an explosive rise in the spirit of the people, and it is quite obvious that the economy has finally begun to work, because only in such conditions can we work. The traitorous elements and the fifth column of compradors have been driven out, or they scattered on their own, our Western adversaries are eliminating our own. That is all wonderful. Nonetheless it cannot be expected to go on for long, so I don’t think you should write off my and my comrades’ arguments, which we send to you on a regular basis.

V. Putin: We are not writing off anything, we take everything into account. Thank you for these recommendations.

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