General Mikhailov (military strategist), 1993

transcription of tape recording of interview with General Mikhailov, May 1993
Interviewer — Metta Spencer

M. …that you are in charge of information for the general staff and that this covers surveillance and…..questions, is that correct?

GM. Verification…yes, in some way…it was not only verification it was just the analysis of our military balance, or better to say, just the ‘blue’ side, not the ‘red’ side…

M. What does the ‘blue’ and ‘red’ mean?

GM. The ‘red’ are our troops, and the ‘blue’ are troops of all other countries…except the Warsaw Pact.

M. The enemy!

GM. Now we see the US and NATO as enemies, but in former times it was also such countries in the south in the east that were not enemies but perhaps sometimes friendly……but, we had to count them if some incident would happen in any part of the world…would they be with us or would they be neutral or would they be against us. You see, if we take the period of the Iraqi conflict, of the conflict in the Persian Gulf, we also had to think about who would be with the UN, who would be against, who would be perhaps neutral, and all this just sabotaging the…

M. That is one of the things on my list, but I would like to come back to that after I’ve covered some of these other things. Let me start by asking a very general question which is that at one point it at least looked as if verification was the main obstacle to arms control agreements between the US and the SU, and then almost instantly this seems to have changed and in fact it became the Soviets who wanted more verification than the Americans…

GM. Excuse me I don’t just get the expression ‘verification’ — what do you mean by this terminology, what is verification? Is it the agreement to sign the treaty or what is it?

M. Its ways in which there are procedures for making sure that the agreements are kept, either by visiting the sites—

GM. Yes, this is what we call ‘national technical means’…we had them during the cold war, we have them all the time, so I think that there is nothing to bother about. But the delegations, the representatives, the inspectors, these began to work in ’87. I was at that time in the general staff and know how it went on, but then there was an American delegation that came to Minsk, it was unexpected for us but it was decided that we signed the treaty and this delegation was met and shown all they wanted. I think they had a good trip in our country and then it began, then we answered, and then every…..exercise that was on NATO side was examined by our representatives from Norway to Turkey, and it went…I’m not sure if just now there is some necessity…perhaps there is from the NATO point of view. You see then we were close to each other. And our first strategical……as we call it was the German Democratic Republic, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria and so on. And now these countries are neutral…our second echelon, that was the Baltic States, they are also so we have a double cushion that we …….now Russia and NATO. And this double, it makes a big gap let us say in this military, standing face to face. Afterward, the cold war finished, after that we don’t have such big exercises as we had at that time. Especially in Russia the military exercise for a division is already something that happens once during two years.

M. You mean it used to happen every year?

GM. Yes, and not only that, there was a corps and an army exercise… and so there were 20,000 — 25,000 personnel engaged in this exercise. Now it is less than 10,000…better to say less than 5,000, usually. And the inspection began 13,000 and more for the ground forces. Testing was signed in the treaty…there is an exception that sometimes you can ask for an inspection just to be sure that nothing happens. Nowadays, and especially now that we are talking about ‘open skies’ and so on , there is no reason and the openness of the transit for military representatives, foreign representatives of all kinds throughout the SU…that was a big achievement, let us say.

M. When you say the treaty requires it at 13,000 and above, do you mean the Stockholm Treaty?

GM. Yes, yes. ’86 I think it was.

M. So before ’86, I can’t remember when exactly it was, the usual explanation that was given as to why there were difficulties in reaching agreements between NATO and WPO was that the Soviets did not want to have on-site verification.

GM. I think the suspicion of espionage, the suspicion of seeing in every foreign representative…especially some military personnel coming to a…to our unity, some part of the SU, it was just the mood of the cold war. It was really a psychological question first. Because all the hierarchy from the Minister Ustinov, especially, not only to the officers but the soldiers, we were just elevated, you know, built up and we knew that nobody must know anything about the area, the numbers, the armaments, the exercises and so on. So it was from up to down that nobody must know anything about the Soviet armed forces. Only that what was presented in the papers and what is looked through by the highest step of our government.

M. But that changed almost instantly it seems to me.

GM. No it was a period and it was just a long time for every side and that usually wanted to have some advantage I think in this. You know, it was difficult for some of our military chiefs just to say ‘yes’ because our troops were on our territory, and not only troops, but our economical and industrial installations, military installations…not only air fields or bases for rockets and so on, but also nuclear installations and so on…that’s our territory. The territory of the main SU. We had the right to inspect only Europe, not the US.

M. You had then or you have now?

GM. Then and now too.

M. Really, is that right?

GM. We can inspect the US only in questions of the middle range missiles. That is not every place, but only the place they were manufactured..I think one or two plants..and then some arsenals where they were demolished just after the treaty was signed. So have the Americans too, but that is another treaty. It isn’t the treaty of Stockholm, it isn’t a treaty of inspecting the troops maneuvers, military exercises and so on. Here we could only inspect the troops from Norway to Turkey and the American troops too but only where they are in Europe, mainly West Germany.

M. I remember though that during the very early ’80s there was always a lot of publicity being giving by Americans about how it was the Soviets who were making it impossible to reach an agreement on nuclear arms matters, because they wouldn’t allow verification, in fact under Kennedy even there was a question of how many inspections per year that was to be done, etc. Always the opposition seemed to come from the Soviet side and then almost to my memory almost over night it was switched. Now I wonder a little about the process by Soviet doctrine was changed on this matter, for example, I talked to a man at the UN, William Epstein, who came to Moscow…he’s an older man who worked on arms control issues all is life and he said he gave talks here in which he proposed that the Soviets should say ‘sure, all the verification you want! As many as you want as long as we get to have the same number on your territory’ and he said that there was a lot of interest here in his proposal. But not everywhere, I mean some people said ‘no,no,no…that’s silly’ but some people were quite interested. Do you remember hearing any discussions of that kind..about changing the policy on verification?

GM. You see the policy on verification it changed with our views of the results of war. There was a time when we (us and the Americans) thought you can win a nuclear war, you can be conquerors in a nuclear war, or any world war and then it was in some way happened at the same time that we had the Chernobyl catastrophe. You see, only one atomic plant and only one of four reactors that are in this plant burst and we received such casualties, such disasters over a big area that only military people but also the political guidance understood that we can have some dozens of these Chernobels if there is not a nuclear but a simple conventional arms war. A single plane can come and destroy an atomic reactor near Leningrad and we would have the winds from west to east and this atomic station is some kilometers west from Leningrad. So all this radiation would come over let us say such a town as Leningrad, perhaps nearly the same near Moscow. So have to evacuate millions of people and it will be such a disaster that without using any nuclear weapons and if you use nuclear weapons then you will have not only no victory but no people to live in your country. And after that the ideology changed because the war was nonsense. It was one of the ideas that was in Gorbachov’s new thinking. It came, but it came very slowly to the heads of the military chiefs, but Chernobyl it made this process much quicker.

M. On that issue, one of the things that has always puzzled me was that after..I believe the nuclear winter theory came about ’83 or ’84, is that right?

GM. No, it came in ’85. ’84 was the Secretary General of the Party was Chernenko and he was against any new ideas that would interfere that what was orthodox and was appreciated by the chiefs that were before Andropov and so on.

M. In any case, we talk about double-think here, but also in North America there seemed to be some funny double-think. Because after that theory was put forward there was no one who could refute it but it was so much treated as if it were not true. As far as I could tell, military strategists pursued right along the same logic that they had pursued before, they did not swerve with regards to the observations of what would happen in the nuclear winter theory. It didn’t seem to make a bit of difference to the NATO military strategists. You are saying something that is a little different to me, you are saying, if I am hearing you correctly, that here, whether it was the nuclear winter or whether it was the Chernobyl thing, that opinion changed in such a way as to actually reverse a military strategy and that would have been in about ’85 or ’86.

GM. Yes, ’85,‘86…that was just the change of moods, let us say. You know, it was just the principle, I would say ideological change and that was one of the main bases of our defense doctrine that was accepted in ’87, May ’87 in Berlin, when we accepted the defense military doctrine of the Warsaw organization and the Soviet Union. It was the political part of military doctrine. Military doctrine was defensive from the beginning, but the defense was seen as the ability to fight after an aggression mostly on the territory of the enemy. After ’87 the doctrine is and just now it is also discussed but as I told you these two belts of neutral countries makes it different now, but then there were was that we would defend ourselves only on our own territory.

M. As of ’87?

GM. Yes, it was May ’87. That was just, you know, formal moment to change all this and it was nearly the same time as the Stockholm Treaty, the Stockholm Treaties were, I think, December ’86. The inspections began in summer ’87.

M. I am active in Pugwash. I used to know Anders Boserup, a Danish Pugwashite who was very active in promoting the……he promoted the idea of non-offensive defense, non-provocative defense and there were a number of other people, I think the Generals for Peace Organization, some of those people…

GM. I am a member of the Generals for Peace Organization in Russia now.

M. Good, I got to know more about that organization and I would like to know who was active in promoting these ideas and how you think that doctrine got to be successful. How did it come about that Gorbachev accepted that idea of defensive defense?

GM. You know, it was not only that he accepted, I have the impression that he was just pressing the military chiefs to pass over to this new thinking. There were four types of defense that were discussed. The first was react immediately on every aggression on the ground of the enemy. The second was just to stand firm and after the crash of the enemy’s assault only then go over to active defense…

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….the first was the most active, it was put aside and second was, which was like Kursk battle in the second world war in ’43, it was discussed also and also put aside, and then this third and fourth…..that was all this reasonable sufficiency…and that was just at the same time. I remember the…..(name ?10)…..who was very busy with this idea as chief as the general staff, a lot a talks about how, and the most passive was then agreed to take at that time because we see just the political guidance, the Gorbachev line, was that we have to go with our troops, withdraw our troops from Germany, Czechosovakia, Hungary, and we had just to defend ourselves with our own troops on our territory. Then, already, after Gorbachev, it came that we have to defend ourselves, I mean Russia, if hypothetically something happens on the territory of Russia that has now such a big, neutral territory between Russia and the western powers. But now you see there is not yet a military doctrine of Russia ready…we are just discussing some points. But the main idea is that there is no necessity to speak about some enemy, there is the necessity to keep above mainly three directions for putting in action the troops, namely, south, west and east. And each of these theatres of war has its specific and different grades of armament, of troops that are supposed to be just on the field of battle. There is not now just talk about ‘enemies’ but there is talk about specific troops that can be put to action on these three different theatre of war.

M. I understand that there is a reconsideration going on about the whole notion of defensive defense, i.e., fighting on one’s own territory, that the Russian doctrine isn’t in place and that these questions which were settled 3 or 4 years ago are now open again. Is that correct?

GM. You see, just the idea that we have to fight on our own territory, it has and I think it must have a lot of weak points. And these weak points, they are very sensitive, especially when something happens that disturbs just the….of the populations of the peoples, you know, a lot of the questions were, for example, why are we speaking about friendly conditions between us and the US when there is a submarine standing near Murmansk just in our territorial waters.

M. An American submarine is there?

GM. There was one. Two months ago. Our submarine went out of the bay and it crashed under with the American one. And it was in our territorial water. There was an office in the US and it was asked why and so on… such things are very sensitive and are delicate matters now. So if there is a plane coming through our…if it is just an inspection of open sky space, yes, from both sides, but when comes unexpected…

M. These are real questions, I mean…I live in Canada and Canadians, I’m not much of a nationalist, but Canadians are annoyed quite often because the Americans act as if they own Canadian waters, so even good friends have these disputes.

About this thing of defensive defense, you have mentioned (name..?..81) , yesterday I interviewed Mr. Arbatov and he told me about a big fight that he had with (name … ?…82) that was about three aircraft carriers and I would have to say as I understand defensive defense, it doesn’t require the ability to project power around the world. So what explanation would have been offered for the building of these aircraft carriers?

GM. The explanations are very clear and every real military man who is in charge of our fleet understands that, but it is very difficult to understand them for people who are not busy in this…so I have a different point of view about this and why. We have begun to build a big fleet, is it correct or not, that is another question, but we began to build a big fleet with cruisers with rocket ships, I don’t take the submarines, the submarines that is another question, but just the surface ships and these ships were not only in the region of our military bases, but they went to the region of Vietnam, for example, they were in the Indian ocean, they were in the Mediterranean, they were in the north, not exactly in our territorial waters but in the neutral waters and then it came out and every military who takes a pencil and counts the places where our ships were, he can see that if we have no aircraft carrier support, they are very vulnerable, they can be destroyed by a small group of planes that come from American or any other air carrier. We had not a single air carrier and we built our air carriers not to carry bombers or not to carry some other planes that are expected to strike on some target, but only fighters, fighters that will just protect the fleet that comes out into the outer sea, to the ocean. That was the idea. Now perhaps they are of no use because we have no possibilities to send our fleet, let us say, in the Atlantic ocean, in strong forces or to the Pacific or to the Indian ocean and so on, we just reduce it, we put it nearer to our borders. And that is one of the questions between Ukraine and Russia…we say that it is nonsense for Ukraine to have the Black Sea fleet because it will be impossible for Ukraine just to have this fleet in the Mediterranean and in the Atlantic as it is now. And to change ships between the Black Sea and the Murmansk Sea.

M. I would like to see a policy of defensive defense or non-provocative defense, but I’d like to see it not just here but everywhere and I don’t think the US has ever any intention whatever of agreeing to such a thing because they want to intervene, they want to be able to go to Panama, Grenada or wherever they want at any moment…I wish that everybody would accept the policy of defensive defense and of non-intervention abroad then there wouldn’t be any need for projecting power. In any case, it just seemed to me that if you say that your doctrine is defensive defense then it is inconsistent to also acquire the weapons for projecting power to the south pacific or some place, that it didn’t seem to me to be consistent somehow.

GM. You see, that’s also a…there is a special way in this defensive defense. Defensive defense is for conventional armed forces and for these three, for us Russia, main theatres of war. But there is another thing that can be just solved in one moment. It is the parity of atomic weapons, of missiles, intercontinental missiles and airborne missiles…this question is separate because that is a special question of international security. What do we have now, there is no Warsaw Treaty Organization now. If the world was stable after that or not. We don’t have this confrontation, we don’t have this cold war, but we have a lot of conflicts, regional of nationalism and so on, that wouldn’t be possible under the Warsaw Treaty Organization being in full strength.

M. Not only that, but defensive defense policy is totally irrelevant or even a disadvantage for controlling internal fights, the best example I guess is Yugoslavia which had a structure which was pretty close to defensive structure and its also ideal for fighting within Yugoslavia. They created exactly the kind of forces they need to kill each other. So it didn’t solve that problem.

GM. In some ways, I think the western powers could just think about northern Ireland, but it is so small in the scale of Yugoslavia, a small conflict, but that is a conflict which is religious, which is nationalist in some way and so on. And in Yugoslavia, that is also religious and national and all what you want and our Georgia and Moldavia, that is the same. But just you know the scale is different. Today it is Moldavia and tomorrow it can be another…that is the difficulty. I think that when we just separated, divorced let us say, in our SU, when Russia and the other republics talked about their sovereignty, it was completely done, there was no thought about some measures, some restrictions, some sanctions that would follow for such processes as this. We already had the Karabakh crisis, but we thought let them solve this problem themselves. They can’t do it. Now Turkey wants to help NATO about perhaps sending troops…the European community, the Helsinki and now the UN now also send some delegates and not just our states, because we have no mechanism just to stop this and I think that if there were really strict rules, international, under our country about economic, political, transport and so on, then perhaps such a conflict could be much quicker brought to an end.

M. Tell me what you think about the open skies agreement. Because I was in Canada active in discussing that and it seemed to me that when those talks broke off there was a legitimate complaint from the Soviet side that it was unfair, especially for eastern European countries such as Czechoslovakia that didn’t have proper equipment for surveillance, they didn’t have these high-tech things. I haven’t heard further about how the thing was resolved…I’ve lost touch with that issue, but when it broke off it seemed to me that the complaint was legitimate, that this would have created a great advantage for the US and NATO surveillance as compared with, I don’t know about your surveillance, but I know that the equipment of Hungary and Czech., had nothing…

GM. As far as I know, I don’t think that I know all the details because I was already here not on the general staff when all these questions were already discussed and then there was an agreement. As far as I know it is principally an agreement that we agreed to have this open sky verification but there are some questions, perhaps a lot of them that are few let us say financial, material, technical and so on that must be… July, August in the meeting now in Helsinki and then perhaps in Indiana (?277).

M. So it is not complete?

GM. It is a principle decision, but not with the dealing with practical inspection. But the principle has such a revolution meaning for the thinking of people because we were against this open sky during Khrushchev, you know, 1955 I think, in Geneva…..I think that nowadays it is perhaps only on some deep fields that can be better seen from a plane than from a satellite.

M: Tell me about the Gulf War and military..the opinions and feelings of the military here with regard to that war.

GM. It has a lot of specifics. In some way it was not a war of two sides, it was just…this is my personal point of view…it was an exercise to prove a lot of new armament that had the US in a situation that was favorable for them because they had nearly six months to bring these troops to the region of war, they had a lot to organize, to plan and they had new bombs, new aircraft, new ships, new tanks that were not in battle before, so they could have a look how it worked in those circumstances, those specific circumstances. There was really no opposite action adequate to the allied forces. The Americans could bomb during nearly 40 days, but there were some rockets, scud long-range Iraqi weapons, but they are very old and not effective enough, but it showed that the American air-land battle, the American new precise weapons, the technical side of the armed forces have now a very high rating and it made us to think about these things more precisely and, for example, now to have a very tight look upon our aircraft, upon our precise weapons and so on.

M. I was thinking actually about the political impact of that here. I opposed that war and I am a full-time peace activist, that is the main thing I do with my life.

The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books