While NATO tickles the Kremlin’s nerves by launching military drills on Russia’s doorstep, and the Kremlin, for its part, is preparing for the World War 2 victory celebrations on May 9, the world is talking about the possibilities of full-blown war.

NATO’s war games will include thousands of troops and are taking place in Estonia, Lithuania (both the Baltic states) and Norway. The operation, which is codenamed Dynamic Mongoose, involves forces from the United States, Britain, Germany, Latvia, Poland and Sweden.

Russia President Putin

Russia, in turn, is not happy with such moves. And why would it be? The West is once again trying to downplay Moscow’s superiority.

Max Fisher, the foreign editor at Vox, has recently traveled to Moscow to get to know Russia’s stance on NATO, nuclear war, the US, Ukraine, and many other relevant and widely discussed things.

Fisher conducted an interview with Russia’s most influential foreign policy expert, Fyodor Lukyanov, who is also the editor of the journal ‘Russia in Global Affairs’ and chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.

After the interview, Max Fisher wrote: “Our conversation left me deeply concerned about the Russian-Western rivalry in Europe,” hinting at all the dangers and possibilities of a full-blown military resolution of the one-year-old conflict.

So, what was it exactly that left Fisher so concerned about the current Russian-Western relations that have been intoxicating the air with its war-like feeling?

When asked about Russia’s actions aimed at destabilization and weakening of Western states, Lukyanov expressed his opinion that “The European Union is in very big trouble, and all the splits there are embedded. They’re not created by Putin,” adding that major structural problems exist within the EU and “would be strange to expect that Russia would not try to use this. That, to me, is very legitimate.”

Russia is influencing the US by pressuring the EU

Therefore, according to Lukyanov, the Kremlin has little understanding of how the United States works and so the Russia’s leadership is seeking ways to influence the US by putting pressure on the EU, which has “destructive elements” within its 28 members. “To stimulate those destructive elements that are already there anyway — of course,” Lukyanov told Fisher.

Lukyanov said that it is “very badly” perceived by Russia that Sweden and Finland could be integrated into NATO.

“What’s happening now in Northern Europe and the Baltics is a very unfortunate and dangerous development,” he said, arguing that Russia is not interested in annexing the Baltic states or testing NATO’s Article V, which means that all member-states would come to the aid of an attacked ally.

Lukyanov said that the Baltics have become in the epicenter of the conflict “for understandable reasons,” adding that the three Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are “especially concerned, if not terrified, by what happens.”

However, the Baltics do not trust NATO anymore, according to the chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy. And the only way NATO can reassure them in its ability to help in case of emergency is carrying out military activities in the region.

“Russia reacts to that because Russia perceives it as a hostile approach to the Russian border. And it’s a vicious circle,” he said.

“Praise God, we have a nuclear arsenal, and that makes us untouchable”

When asked about the possibility of “dangerous misunderstandings,” Lukyanov argues that the big conflict “might happen,” saying that “one step, another step, and reciprocity can become very dangerous.”

Fyodor Lukyanov states that “Russia feels very vulnerable, although maybe a little bit less since the improvement of conventional forces.” And according to him, it is widely believed that the only guarantee for Russian security, sovereignty and existence is the nuclear deterrent.

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To prove the point, he expressed a “conventional wisdom” about the inevitability of the Americans changing Russia’s regime of an Iraqi or Libyan style if it wasn’t a nuclear superpower.

“The Americans are so unhappy with the Russian regime, they would do it anyway. Praise God, we have a nuclear arsenal, and that makes us untouchable.”

When asked about Putin’s recent statements on nuclear deterrence that hinted at Russia’s potential use of its nuclear weapons, Lukyanov believes that “it’s in the Russian security doctrine, the preemptive use of nuclear arms in the case of conventional aggression [against Russia].”

Russia: If somebody undermines us, we’ll need to defend ourselves by military means

Lukyanov also believes that an unwanted conventional conflict between Russia and NATO could be “very dangerous” because of the perception of weakness. “Russia is looking at the military superiority of the United States, and it feels unsafe.”

Then, he reminded of one of the famous statements from a Russian TV anchor that said Russia could turn the United States into radioactive ashes. “This was perceived, of course, as something completely unacceptable, and it was. But it was treated here [in Russia] as nothing new.”

When asked about the possibility of an all-out war, Lukyanov said that five years ago nobody thought it was something imaginable. But today, according to him, “massive military help to Ukraine from the United States” could “start as a proxy war, and then…” And at this point, Lukyanov trailed off, not finishing his thought.

“It’s not a scenario that is explicitly discussed. But the atmosphere is a feeling that war is not something that’s impossible anymore,” he added.

The interview was concluded with Lukyanov saying that “in general” he doesn’t think Russian people “are in the mood of launching a war.”

“Rather, the perception is that somebody would try to undermine Russia as a country that opposes the United States, and then we will need to defend ourselves by military means.”