"Russia resembles a dying elephant" – Alexander Pokrovsky
Photo is taken from personal files of A. Pokrovsky
Before reconstructing Cam Ranh naval base, we should build anything inside Russia and start with shaping of Russian consciousness, political housecleaning, and concern for people. Otherwise, the dying elephant (as the Chinese call Russia) would yell the last cry. That is perception of writer and ex-submariner Alexander Pokrovsky.
- Alexander Mikhailovich, Russian leaders and naval commanders repeatedly declared that the country returns to oceans. Could you comment Russia's intentions to resume operation of Cam Ranh maintenance center?
- Some time ago we broke everything in Cam Ranh. I'm not talking only of maintenance base for Russian Navy. To break means receding from political positions, retreating, going away for ever, leaving and betraying agents of exterior intelligence and GRU. As a matter of fact, that happened not only to Cam Ranh but all over the world, especially in Germany and other Warsaw Pact countries. We had lost many positions and retreated even from where we were not asked to. We did the unexpected thing – we betrayed people who served the USSR and then Russia with good faith and fidelity. For instance, entire network of our agents was disclosed in Afghanistan. Should I tell that all those people were immediately killed? Listen, it's like madness, an attack of specific disease. Our intelligence service all around Latin America ceased to exist almost at once. We turned them up. How do you like it? I have always and everywhere stood up for people. I believe that only people determine a work and how it will be done. Either they work for modest money and great idea or they work for big bucks without any principles, always ready to flop over to those who pay more. How one can arrange anything without idea and people sure that their employer won't turn them up or dump or sale off? No matter, in Cam Ranh or elsewhere. Take note, that's not simple maintenance base but a part of our life there. That is like an implantation of us with our values (if we still have some) into a foreign country; that is policy, diplomacy, influence, cooperation. How you can cooperate without awareness of the situation? It is provided by intelligence. Not with the view to ruin and conquer the country which hosted our military base, but to understand better, avoid mistakes and reduce expenses after all.
Knowledge helps to save money. In this particular case, money for maintenance.
Today we have no allies. Even in Soviet times they could be counted on one hand, but we have lost them. We behaved like young traitors who thought for some reason that time would excuse them. Time does not forgive anything. Who would believe us now? Nobody. Sure, it's possible to blab off that "Russian Navy command proposes to resume functioning of maintenance support base in the port of Cam Ranh (Vietnam). Navy command has developed documents justifying the necessity to reconstruct the basing site to provide logistic support for Russian warships deployed in Asian-Pacific region. Once the political decision is made, Navy will recover the base's operation within three years".
That's right. It's quite possible to do something in three years, but people's confidence cannot be restored as easy. Many generations pass before the confidence is reached, but it can be lost in a flash. It's not the money-issue. Everyone will take money with pleasure and then betray us. Just in the same way we betrayed them.
- So, do you think we should return to Cuba?
- Everything I said about Cam Ranh is topical for Cuba. You went away, retreated, turned up faithful agents and now need "political decision"? How come – finger snap or swing of magic wand?
Russia was, is, and will be loosing faithful people. And our term "political will" is still related to anything but people. There's a lack of unity in Russia. Is it possible to organize something outside the country having no unity inside? If you name your party "United Russia", it means there's no unity. If you name it "Fair Russia", it would also mean there's no fairness. Know why? People do not think of what they have. Free man is simply free and he doesn't say "I'm free!" It's like air. You don't notice while there's a plenty of it. I can't understand how one could build anything abroad without unity inside? For what purpose? Waste of money? As for me, we should build up somewhat within the country and only after that conquer the world again. The world is smart and knows for sure how Russia feels inside.
- You think Russia feels nohow?
- I think that if internal security troops surpass or even comparable in strength with armed forces, it comes obvious where the enemy is expected from. And that is clear for everyone in the world. Nobody's fool.
- What you'd start with to consolidate the country?
- First of all, I'd build up ideology. Otherwise, what's the point of all these things?
The ideology seems to be already built – all for a human, bright future, modernization, innovations, development, status of leading country and deuce knows what else. But that are only words. We need real steps and deeds. And what deeds are we talking about while even the term "Russian" is not defined. Everything comes from this idea, from culture. I've already told about that. Before communist revolution, Russian used to mean monarchy, Orthodoxy, and nation. Now it means hell knows what. In this issue one should use formulation given by Vladimir Dal, author of defining dictionary. As for him – and I absolutely agree – Russian is a person who speaks, thinks in Russian language and does not separate himself from Russia (i.e. loves Russia). And it's time to stop all these speculations on national ground as they are offensive for Russian people. The nation thinking in Russian, i.e. having Russian mind must be declared Russian (and American people must be also declared American even though with second nationality, for example "ethnic Indian"). So, Russian must be considered Russian and other things should be optional – ethnic Tatar, ethnic Chechen etc. Everyone who thinks in another language must have appropriate nationality – Tatar or Chechen and so forth. And Russian culture must absorb cultures of all ethnoses living in Russia, develop them and consider them as part of Russian culture. That is the way it was in the Russian Empire. Our country had achieved that idea through wars and spilled blood. But unfortunately, this ideology is useless when a country is sunken into corruption. In fact, corruption is loss of honor while nothing exists without honor. Again, we're getting back to culture. That's a closed circle.
The state must be headed by an honest man, open and not afraid of opposition and that his Swiss accounts, yachts and Cote d'-Azur villas would be disclosed someday. That is not a post for criminals. If we only talk of corruption but not counter it, the state won't remain. What state can exist without statecrafts? You may regard Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili differently, but he did win corruption. And that's not his own statistics – there's plenty of international institutions for that.
He made traffic policemen not to take bribes. Ministers are available in Georgia; I myself interviewed two of them – minister of education and minister for cultural affairs. They gave me an interview without reservation. No matter whether I liked it or not, but they did answer my questions. Our ministers hide their heads. They can neither give an interview nor be in charge of their words. Is that a social transparency? Although Saakashvili doesn't like it, Georgian opposition fearlessly exists. They arrange protest meetings; mass media can freely publish compromising information and one or another minister can be removed. I don't know whether it is bad or good, but they have it. We don't. Let me ask how to reform the country? Who will reform it? Who will fight corruption? Yesterday's bribetaker? We're in a dead end. There's no way out. We won't preserve the country. The Chinese say "Russia is a dying elephant". Have any objections? I don't.
- But there's some progress though. For instance, Bulava has successfully passed another test.
- It did. Long horse-mill track results in a powder sack. Five out of twelve launches "were found successful". Billions were invested. You think it is success? Let it be so.
About 10 per cent of Soviet Navy has survived, and this portion becomes smaller year by year. And any substitution "needs modifying". Lada class subs have being updated for many years. Sure, in several years we'll get a good sub, but anyway there will be only 25 centimeters over diesels, so one will need to dock the sub and cut the hull to repair engines. Is it a progress? Okay, that's a silent sub, but what about overhaul? Looks like we build expendable subs and never repair them. Of course, there are some changes in defense ministry. Hopefully, for the better. Answering the question what struck him most at the new post, defense minister Serdiukov answered "Scale of thievery in the ministry". See, even the hard-boiled person was surprised. Has he reformed our armed forces? Has he exterminated thievery? What about the rest areas? Is it our best progress?
- Now Russia enters upon Arctic explorations. Do you think it is really necessary?
- What made us do this? Depths? Shelf? Mineral resources? Oil? Gas? National dignity? Take your choice. It turns out that oil and gas. By the way, we do it like following – just go and plant a flag on the bottom. And in the same moment we're within an inch of armed conflict. I heard the speech of Canadian prime minister. That sounded like nothing but threats to unleash a war. You may have the greatest respect for Mr. Chilingarov, but when he says "that's Russian territory" I always want to reply "first catch your hare".
Such words may be very costly. First we must prove that the shelf is ours, and it seems to be very hard now. Everyone has heard about "Russian territories". Any groundless statement in this area turns into loose talk. Such talks cost much.
We will have to reach concord in Arctic. Agreement with Norway displayed how we can come to terms. I think we had lost that game. Probably, someone thinks differently. Everything is because of weakness. If you don't have normal economy, you won't have neither internal policy nor foreign one. And vice versa: no policy – no economy. Those are like communicating vessels. No economy – no army and navy. No army and navy – no policy. Communicating vessels again.
In one word, we get back to corruption and the fact that Russia is a dying elephant.
- We cannot avoid the question about Avrora – the crew disbandment, civilian employees and so. Does Russian Navy lose its No. 1 ship?
- It does. Avrora was handed over to Naval Museum. Now she exists as a museum showpiece, but no longer as a Russian Navy's warship. The point is that cruiser Avrora is a symbol. It symbolizes continuity of generations which is the core of any navy.
In navy every little thing means and symbolizes something. Example, naval flag. Indeed, hoisting and lowering of the flag is ritual. Rendezvous of ships at sea and in harbor is ritual as well.
Avrora is also a symbol, a ritual. The cruiser must have military crew and naval ensign; she must remain the Russian Navy's No. 1 ship. Otherwise, a great layer of naval history is dropped out – the Soviet Navy. We can speak about October upheaval or the Great October Revolution for a long time. We can abuse that period left and right, but the fact that in 1917 Russian Imperial Navy ceased to exist and Soviet Navy was established and began to grow strong cannot be denied.
It is unjustly to knock a piece out of the national navy's history.
Avrora becomes not only a museum showpiece; suddenly, she turns into a dummy. You may say that the cruiser has been a dummy for a long time and that this vessel barely resembles a warship. Anybody's guess. But all those defects were prettified by the military crew, naval flag and service. And when they disbanded the crew, everyone spotted a dummy ship. That's a lack of ritual.
Indeed, Avrora's collapse as a symbol has started not today but long ago. One could arrange a party or shoot a skin movie on board. A church can also be turned into a ken, but it'd be better to take away roods first.
As a matter of fact, decommission of Avrora is a removal of roods. Everybody's welcome to the party now. Avrora is no longer a ritual.
There are not too many rituals in the Navy, although all of them are important and valuable. I repeat once again that without rituals naval flag turns into simple sackcloth, a rag. But take note, this rag has never been lowered in front of enemy, sailors died to keep it unseized. Died for rag? No. They gave lives for fidelity to rituals and traditions. There's no allegiance at all without fidelity to traditions. Especially in the Navy, where environment is complicated, pressing, and frightening. A human is insignificant here. He's negligible in comparison with ship's hull and all mechanisms. Only spirit helps to rise and become equal to a mighty warship. Ritual exists for triumph of spirit. It makes a human on a level with a warship. Without eminence of spirit the flag is just a rag, and nobody will die for it.
Nonetheless, Russian sailors many times laid down lives for their national flag.
Navy's history cannot have gaps. It's impossible to touch a blank space. You may harp on the national idea, but it by no means appears in a vacuum.
Each time we have to start from scratch. However, navy can not exist if there's a blank space instead of memory and traditions.