Question: Well, in the run-up to the big Victory Day celebrations, the 70th year of course, the first question is how are those preparations progressing, bearing in mind, of course, the economic issues at the moment in Russia and epic cost-cutting that's obviously having to happen as well. Is it going to affect the Victory Day celebrations?
Sergei Ivanov: Well, the V-Day celebrations are well underway. I'm the chairman of the organizing committee, so I may just assure you that everything is fine. There are thousands of events, I can't name them all – it will take maybe one day to name them all. But basically, you mentioned not a very bright economic situation in Russia, and that is true, but we deliberately decided not to make any cuts for the preparations. The total budget is 28.5 billion roubles, it's a huge sum, but I would like to stress one very important point: this money is mainly allocated not for the festivities itself, it’s allocated for the veterans. To be exact, 12.5 billion roubles are for housing for the veterans. We have still in Russia 2.5 million veterans, so it's for their housing. And the next sum, 12.3 billion rubles, is allocated for social benefits for the veterans. So the minor part of the whole budget is allocated for different events. There will be thousands of them, as I have already mentioned.
Question: What about the highlights? What highlights are planned for this year? Because of course it is such a big event this year, it being the 70th year. What can the public look forward to?
Sergei Ivanov: Well, I remember when I was Minister of Defence ten years ago it was also a big occasion, 60 years at the time. And this year it will be even bigger. There will be military parades in 150 cities, and not only Russian cities, but abroad. I mean Russian troops will take part in military parades in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan; Minsk, Belarus; Yerevan, Armenia; and Tskhinval in South Ossetia, which is an independent state, as far as we're concerned. There will be five separate naval parades in Russian ports and five airshows. But the pinnacle will be in Moscow, of course.
Question: Can you let us into any secrets or anything that the public can in particular look forward to? Any snapshots?
Sergei Ivanov: Not all, but maybe some. Well, of course the parade in Moscow will be the pinnacle. It will start at 10 o’clock on the 9th of May, because in Russia we celebrate it on May 9. The number of troops… more than 15,000 troops. There will be a modern parade and a sort of a retrospective parade. I mean…
Question: So there’ll be a historical side to it as well?
Sergei Ivanov: I mean some soldiers will wear the uniforms which were part of the Soviet army 70 years ago. There will be special insignia. I think in Britain you call it ‘trooping the colors.’ It will be something like that. And of course there will be old tanks, the famous T-34, some other trucks, military trucks which were used 70 years ago. So that will be the historical part of the parade.
Question: But also modern technology as well …
Sergei Ivanov: Yes. As for the modern technology, there will be on display for the first time state-of-the-art, brand new weapons systems like, for example, the intercontinental ballistic missile called Yars. There will be armoured personnel carriers, high-precision artillery systems – they will be shown for the first time. There will also be the famous Sukhoi Su-30 and Sukhoi Su-35. They are also state-of-the-art, very modern.
Question: What about foreign dignitaries there to see it? What do you think about the number of foreign dignitaries this year who’ve said they’d come along? Are you pleased with that number or do you wish that maybe more people could be there, especially dignitaries from Europe maybe?
Sergei Ivanov: First of all, it’s Russian celebrations. The V-Day is very important for Russian people. They are proud of it. They want to stress that the Soviet Union was the main party which managed to conquer Nazism, to defeat Nazism. That’s why we are happy and ready to see foreign dignitaries. But still, for Russians, most important – it’s our, if you want it, internal celebrations. It’s an internal holiday, internal day of remembrance.
But if you ask about the participation of foreign countries – of course the present international situation is such that we don’t have very warm relations with some West European or North American countries. The number of foreign leaders will be smaller than it was, for example, ten years ago. I remember ten years ago President Bush attended, many other leaders, including the British Prime Minister… But it’s not very important for us. This time it will be twenty-six state leaders – it is already confirmed, that’s an official number – plus several heads of international organizations, like the UN, for example: we are expecting Ban Ki-moon to attend. They will come from most of the CIS countries, many Asian countries, BRICS countries, by the way, and some European leaders: from the Czech Republic, from Slovakia, from the Balkan states, the president of Cyprus. And the chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel will come on May 10, one day after the parade.
Question: As time goes on, this event is a huge event, and especially so this year in Russia – the way it’s observed, people of all ages are really involved in it. In Western Europe, it’s much less so, it has to be said. And equally, Russia’s portrayal of it is sometimes displayed differently in other countries in the West, especially as time goes on as well, it sort of whittles down. Do you think that – it’s known as the Great Victory, 70 years of the Great Victory in Russia – but do you think the way other states and countries maybe embellished their role in it over the years is wrong? And do you think it’s portraying Russia in the wrong way? Do you think Russia should do more to say: no, these were the facts, this is how it was, and it should be remembered and respected as it was?
Sergei Ivanov: I agree with you. I think we can’t change or revise history. There are a huge number of documents, historical proof that the Soviet Union played a crucial role in winning this most dreadful war in world history. And now, you are right, I am also concerned that politicians in some countries, particularly in Western Europe, in the United States, purposely try to rewrite history, to twist history, to put, for example, Communism and Nazism on one level. And this is not true. It’s simply not true. And our veterans and most of the Russian public simply would never buy it, would never agree with that. The more it goes, the more purposely, I think, Western countries want to use this not very moral method to isolate Russia, to put to oblivion millions of Russians, as well as British, American victims of the Anglo-Saxon world who gave their lives to defeat Hitler.
Question: Would it be going too far to say that some countries use the terrible events of the Great War as a form of propaganda?
Sergei Ivanov: Yes, I think it’s propaganda. We are often accused of propaganda, I know, by the Western media, but in this case it’s obviously Western propaganda.
Question: In the run-up to the Victory Day celebration there is a worry that in some countries in Eastern Europe particularly, but also Greece, Germany, Britain as well, to some extent, there is a growing neo-Nazi movement. How big a danger do you think that is? Is it a danger to Russia? And if so, what could Russia do about it? Can it do anything about it?
Sergei Ivanov: Obviously it’s a danger, definitely it’s a danger.
Question: Is it overblown, do you think?
Sergei Ivanov: Well, it’s different in different countries. Let’s put it this way. In Baltic states, in Ukraine now you can see openly Nazi marches. With torches, with Nazi symbols, they are open. And we are very much concerned that local governments do nothing to prevent it. There is also some rise of neo-Nazism in European countries, which you have already mentioned. And I have to be objective, there is some neo-Nazi movement – it’s not very popular, but it exists – in Russia. And we are very strict in both legal forms of fighting it, and also moral forms. Because if the bulk of Russians knew what Nazism was, what an inhuman ideology it was, it’s like a medical shot, if I may put it that way, to prevent the Nazi ideas or Nazi ideology from spreading. So it’s very important from the point of view of true history and from the point of view of everyone knowing what happened 70 years ago.
Question: Why do you think some people have so easily forgotten what happened in a relatively short space of time – within a generation or generation and a half now? Is there anything that Russia can do to spread the message that those things that happened in the war were absolutely terrible?
Sergei Ivanov: Partly because the young generation is not interested in history, partly because society as a whole doesn’t pay much attention to those facts and events. For example, I read some recent public polls in European countries. Around 60 percent of the people, ordinary people, they think that the basic role in fighting Nazism, I mean the military effort, was delivered by the United States and Britain. Ten years ago, it was not 60–70 percent, but 40 percent. And around 60 percent were saying it was the Soviet Union. So in 10 years the picture changed drastically. It’s a pity, and it’s a shame, if I may add.
Question: Talking about things that maybe could be improved, you’re talking about relations between Russia and Europe, Russia and America right now, but of course Russia is Europe’s geographical partner, if nothing else. Europe’s facing a lot of problems right now, still, with the economy, and we’re all facing problems from terrorism. Is there anything that Russia can do to help Europe combat these problems that are common problems for Russia as well? Is that day going to come any time again soon, are we going to see greater cooperation soon?
Sergei Ivanov: Well, I’ll start with a point concerning V-day and World War II. The UN was organized after the war, and it’s still the main international organ responsible for security. And the UN as such was devised to prevent repeating something like Nazism and world wars generally. Since then, a lot of water has passed under the bridge, but the new challenges and new threats like terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional conflicts – they are still on the agenda. And Russia is definitely an active part of trying to solve those problems, but solving together with the United States, with Western Europe. And we would never change our principal approach to those problems. We will continue, if the other partner wants to join efforts, to work together.
Question: And do you think it moves that way any time soon?
Sergei Ivanov: Iran is a good example, quite recently, the Lausanne agreement about the Iranian nuclear programme is a huge breakthrough, in my view. As for the Middle East, you must remember what happened in Libya, for example. There was no UN resolution allowing to bomb Libya. And now, we face hypocritical efforts to stop illegal immigration from the coast of Libya to Italy, for example. What was the principle cause, which started this illegal immigration? The bombing of Libya. Now, European countries face the results of their own policy.
Question: It’s causing a revolt in Italy.
Sergei Ivanov: It’s dreadful of course, dreadful to see those TV pictures of hundreds of people drowned, but the principle reason of this illegal immigration was because Libya was bombed, and Gaddafi was killed. Because when Gaddafi was alive there was no illegal immigration.
Question: And, finally, if you have a message for the Russian public and those watching us around the world, what would it be on this 70th anniversary?
Sergei Ivanov: Well, first of all, I would congratulate all Russians, all former Soviet citizens who are still alive, and our allies in the US, in the UK and other countries like Australia and New Zealand, who fought Nazi Germany and I would wish that people would never forget what happened in reality.