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Aybars: Mr. Tabach, thanks for joining us today. Before jumping into our questions and starting the discussion, maybe you can briefly introduce yourself for our readers?
Gary Tabach: I’m a retired U.S. navy captain. I’ve served the United States navy for almost 30 years. I was born in Russia. My parents immigrated to U.S. when I was young. I joined the U.S. navy. I had the pleasure of being the first Soviet born to be commissioned officer in the U.S. navy. I’ve also had to be the first deputy commander of the antiterrorist center at Turkey. So, I served in Turkey as a NATO officer for 2 years in Ankara.
Aybars: Can we track back the roots of problems that we can see under the Biden administration to the long-lasting corruption of Democrats?
Gary Tabach: It seems to me, yes, it’s more of a corrupted party. And I don’t think it’s because bad people are joining the party. I think it’s because of what it stands for. It stands more for social justice, for social work, more government involved in people’s lives. Most people don’t understand the difference, the fundamental difference between Democratic Party and Republican Party. We’re not pure democracy in the U.S. We’re a federation of constitutional democracy. In short, we are 50 different political countries combined under one big country. And we have central government, and we have in each state a government. So republican idea, this is in short of course, this is simplified but, the Republican party wants the states to have more power, more regional power. So, the states decide on local law and the central government, the Washington concentrates more on foreign affairs and more on the military, border control and things like that, federal issues. But states regulate what kind of schools they want, what kind of medical care they need and social laws they need so it’s more of a local. Because it’s more centralized in Democratic Party, so it becomes more bureaucratic. So, everything has to go through Washington, Washington issues orders. It becomes more of a socialist state, where the government is involved in everything. So, you have more of bureaucracy and more of issues like this, so it becomes more corrupt. It’s just the fact of life, every time you have socialism and every time you share, every time you have distribution of things in the things government is in charge with there is more corruption than let’s say than if a church or a mosque or a synagogue distributes or if it’s just community services that’s just involved with cause you know the people and you can control it better. So, yes, I think way more corruption. And it appears to be that every time there’s a scandal of corruption or somebody gets caught it’s probably two to one a democratic representative. So yes, I believe there is more corruption with the Democrats especially with today’s administration. Because they have been in politics all their lives; it’s the same administration that was under Clinton’s, it’s the same administration that was under Obama, and now it’s under the same people. So, they tend to be corrupt, the absolute power corrupts you. President Biden has never done anything but politics, he’s been in politics he’s been a senator since he was 25-year-old. So, of course we see the corruption schemes, his family is very, very rich even though he comes from a humble background. So is Obama who has come from a humble background who is very rich. Pelosi is very rich, a lot of the guys that tend to come from a humble background and often in politics now very, very rich people. Where in the republican side it’s to the contrary. A lot of rich people join the republican party. Trump for example supposedly lost a billion dollars when he was the president. President Jefferson was broke when he was the president. So, we have people who come into presidency and leave rich people and we have people who come to presidency and lose money become poor.
Aybars: Is it possible to argue that the Obama years inflicted massive and unrecoverable damage on the Turkish – American relations?
Gary Tabach: We were very old friends with Turkey. We were very old partners with Turkey. I think that these politicians will find a common goal U.S. and Turkey will remain strategic partners and business partners. With Erdogan coming to power, things started to change. And with Obama come into power things did not help that. So, they became, with Putin being in Russia it’s kind of created a very difficult situation with this triangle. And with Iran sharing a border with Turkey, is also becomes a problem. So, it’s a very difficult situation but where you have leaders, strong hand kind of leaders like Putin like Erdogan; and you have a weak leader like Obama or like Biden of course they tend to take advantage of them. And we always shared a common ground that was established by Kemal Atatürk, and we tend to think that’s what Turkey’s destiny is, what Kemal Atatürk prescribed. So, when Erdogan comes in with a more religious tendence starts to drive on the religious perspective, trying to unite the Muslim world around them we tend not to like them because we think it becomes a problem. And again, it’s also we shared that with Kemal Atatürk that that would create a problem. So of course, it didn’t help when in your history Kemal Atatürk prescribed, he knew Islam will start affecting Turkey but instead the country should stay as a secular state. Many people that wanted freedom and wanted to stay a secular democratic state were very disappointed by Obama and his government. So, a lot of people who were prodemocratic in U.S. and in Turkey were disappointed in the Obama Biden administrations in the sense that they did not support bringing turkey to a secular state. Actually, I was in Turkey, partially I guess it is a problem with today’s world that’s leaning to left because the way Atatürk created the system is supposed to work and that way turkey would always stay the same secular modern state and not go into traditional Islamic ideology, at the same time the country needs to be a Muslim country. That’s why he gave so much power to the military. We used to say, “Each country has its own military but only in turkey military has its own country”. But when turkey wanted to join EU, EU says that’s not good because military has too much power in the government and say so it’s not democratic. It’s one of the excuses for Turkey to not join the EU. So, a lot of power was taken by those who promised that to take Turkey into EU and it was one of the reasons for taking the power away from the military. So, they took the power away from the military and take over when country turns towards a traditionalist Islamist ideology.
Aybars: Do you believe Zelensky exceeded all the expectations of the American administration by putting up such an outstanding resistance against Russian aggression?
Gary Tabach: I agree. I think that because there was so much trouble between the head of the CIA, Mr. Burns, and our adviser on national security, Mr. Solomon, and the secretary of state department, Mr. Blinken, travelling to Russia, talking to Russian counterparts talking to Putin before the war I think they knew that. They knew that this was going to happen, they were preparing for it. I think they were convinced that Ukraine will fall in 72 hours. That’s why we took out our embassy out, that’s why we said we will not be involved anywhere militarily, although it’s a surprise for me because we never say that we never take that option out of the table. That’s why we have aircraft carrier groups, why we have marine corps, you know, we always can get involved somewhere. So, we took out our embassy out of Kiev. President Biden said if it’s a major incursion it’s a one thing if it’s a minor incursion it’s a different thing. We lifted the sanctions on Russia, Russian stream pipeline, and all it was kind of an invitation for Putin to come into Ukraine. So, they made a deal, Biden announced there was a war but didn’t do anything about it, didn’t put sanctions on Russia, they didn’t provide weapons to Ukraine. Then our intelligence, our military said the war will last 72 hours so Biden offered Zelensky to get an asylum in U.S. He didn’t want it. He said, I think it will go into history what he said, “I don’t need a taxi – I need weapons”. And it was a miscalculation that they would fall. That President Zelensky was not taken seriously because he was a comedian, he is not a real politician, and that Russian speaking Ukraine will be happy that the Russians came in. But it all played out differently. Ukrainians resisted; they pushed the Russians back. They couldn’t take it in 72 hours 96 hours in one week in two weeks in one month. They’ve killed a lot of people, they’ve killed a lot of civilians, children. They’ve destroyed a lot of infrastructure. And yet they have accomplished absolutely nothing. They themselves suffered great losses. And that’s when Europe started to provide Ukraine with weapons and of course the Russian speaking community does not want Russia – they showed that they are looking forward to being Ukrainians, they don’t want to be under Putin. They want to live in a free country. So, I think there was a big miscalculation by our intelligence forces, by Russians, by administration of Biden and by Putin. But what I can understand is that it can happen with Russian because they are lying but I’m very surprised it happened with we, U.S. And I think the biggest part in the beginning of the war which lead Ukraine to sustain, was able to repel Russian attack was of course first of all the weapons that were leased by President Biden. The Javelins, antitank weapons, and the pivotal role was played by Turkey with the Bayraktar UAV’s that were killing Russian tanks and doing intelligence reconnaissance missions. So, I think that once of course then Turkey closed Bosporus and Dardanelles, the Russian ships could not enter. Turkey played a very major role in how Ukraine was able to sustain Russian attack.
Aybars: Do you think Ukraine will eventually have to take a different track in its foreign policy due to the frequently expressed disappointment of the Zelensky administration from the ineffective moves of Western allies?
Gary Tabach: I don’t think it’s only Ukraine. I think all of us really need to evaluate the value of the UN, the value of the security council that Russians are on. I mean if we are going to meet the Russians in the Security Council after this there is no point in having a UN. And as the President Trump was actually bringing attention to this saying it’s a worthless organization that is not accomplishing anything and actually its mostly preoccupied with Israel and Palestinians. Palestinians are blaming Israel for everything that is wrong in this world and no one else. And he actually worked to fix the problems and now these issues are back. And we see the attacks on Israel occurred by the terrorists firing missiles on them. And Russians start to act out and Iran starts to act out, North Korea too… So that’s all because of the weak leadership in U.S. We must evaluate the UN. Then we have to reevaluate NATO. Now again President Trump was the one that brought attention that NATO is not functioning well and why should U.S. has to pay the entire bill while everybody else pays partially or not paying or not participating in it. And now we see that when NATO went to war because of the when U.S. into Afghanistan and Iraq, Ukraine was with us. But when Ukraine gets hit back they were not part of NATO. So, we are not going to do anything about it. So, we are going to have to reevaluate NATO and what function NATO plays in it. And clearly like Turkey is one of the leading countries that saying we don’t care what NATO tells us, we are going to do it ourselves its beneficial to us. And of course, we are going to have to evaluate the EU is it a functional organization? Does Turkey really need to join the EU? What has that accomplished? It has never done anything except its another bureaucracy and maybe it’s a good idea that Britain left EU. This way they could function on their own, Boris Johnson can make his own decisions and help Ukraine. Because in a sense today the power is taken from U.S. towards Britain. And Boris Johnson visited Ukraine, he is the one that has given heavy weapons, lethal weapons in some kind of a significant amount rather than just talk in presentation and say yes and being political like president Biden. Yeah, he called Putin “killer” but went back with him into missile agreements with him and lifted sanctions off him. He calls Putin a war criminal but continues to buy oil from Putin. Now it calls it a genocide but it’s not providing Ukraine with heavy weapons and not signing the bills that our senate voted on. Still sitting on it. So, saying it is one thing and doing is another.
Aybars: Can we argue that new regional powers, such as Turkey and Poland, will have an opportunity to fill this power vacuum by building stronger bilateral ties with Ukraine?
Gary Tabach: Absolutely. Turkey is a regional power. There is no question about it. That Turkey today is playing a major regional power role, and you can say about Erdogan whatever you want but he has the skills and is definitely helping Ukraine. On the other hand, he is playing a neutral role breaking like negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. He is a tough guy. Turkey shot a Russian airplane the after allegedly entering into Turkish airspace only for 40 seconds, and Putin was threatening that he was going to do this and that to Turkey. Putin and Russia recognize tough guys and respects those guys. And Erdogan definitely plays a tough guy who you have to consider. Turkey always played a major role just because the way it is located. Again, close Dardanelles and Bosporus and you are done all the shipping’s done. Turkey is part of NATO it’s a major country it has the second largest army in the world after U.S.’s military. Military is well armed, modern. The officers are educated. It’s going to play a major role and I hope, before Erdogan, Turkey enjoyed a really good relationship with Israel and eventually I think it will grow back. Because democratic countries tend to draw close to each other. Therefore, I think Turkey probably will be somewhat of a nucleus for the new democracies to itself what’s going to be called a new Europe. Definitely Turkey plays a major role for helping Ukraine. And I hope Turkey will continue to supply weapons to Ukraine.
Aybars: Can we suggest that the steps taken by the Biden administration were based on an expectation of a swift Russian victory and were aiming to utilize this political opportunity to destroy any chance Trump would have in the 2024 elections?
Gary Tabach: Absolutely. That was their plan I think originally, he was going to broker peace and bring the war to the end and satisfy Ukraine, and that way you get a Nobel Price for Peace. I guess now they are trying to shift their political view and trying to back up Ukraine for real and so when Ukraine wins, they can say look we helped Ukraine and it was able to win and beat the Russians. But originally, I think they were planning for Ukraine to fall in 72 hours and the government to change and say okay we brokered peace and we stopped the war. But it didn’t go according to plans so of course they going to be use against, even though Trump is not a president anymore and we don’t know if he’s going to run or not? But there is still all over the news “Trump, said this that and that…”. They are still afraid of Trump. Of course, President Trump has a huge following in that states, he’s definitely not somebody that is easy to forget. And of course, half of the U.S. think the elections were not fair. It was Trump who won in reality, not Biden. So, there is a lot of this going on. I’m not saying that the elections were rigged but unfair. What I’m saying is that elections in Russia are rigged they are unfair I think if you have only one candidate on TV, like Putin saying he is the savior of the world, he creates stability, life is better under him, he loves you he is the son of the people he is the father of the people… You have all these channels constantly saying that eventually most of the people will vote for him. Like most of the people voted for Stalin. They did not know anything better. So, in North Korea people vote for Kim Jong-un because that’s all they know. In democratic societies it’s not supposed to be like that. But during our elections that’s what we heard from, every channel every radio station to every celebrity to every politician from heads of states, from other heads of states around the world Trump was bad Biden was good. No matter what you said Trump works for Putin and Biden was anti-Putin. But now we see a different picture and hopefully we’ve learned our lesson. So that’s why we don’t think it was fair and most of the Americans are now watching it very closely in November, the Senate and House of Representatives election, House of Congress.
Aybars: What do you think about the influence of different think-tank institutions on the policy decisions of the Biden administration, especially in the Ukrainian context? Can we suggest that they are the ultimate masterminds behind the decisions that jeopardize the entire region?
Gary Tabach: I’m not sure who does what because sometimes white house influences think-tanks or the think-tanks influence the White House. Definitely most of the think-tanks lean to the left, intellectuals who read write thesis and give others to read their thesis and others give them their thesis and they start to believe in what they’ve written. And they are all tend to lean into the left. There aren’t that many think-tanks that are leaning to the right. Yeah, they are definitely influencing the opinion and of course it then goes to CNN and the New York Times. And the media is also very left. But to remind you the Russian Revolution of 1917 that brought Bolsheviks to power was not created by peasants and soldiers. It was created by intellectuals. Lenin was a journalist and a lawyer; Trotsky was also a journalist. And so on and so on. They were not simple people, instead, they were highly educated intellectuals. And the ones that caused the riots in the streets also were not peasants, it was university students. As today we see the Antifa in U.S. its mostly university students and professors.
Aybars: Do you expect a new political alliance between Eastern European countries to be born after the Russo-Ukrainian war? If that’s the case, can it challenge the power and hegemony of NATO as a pillar of the Western alliance?
Gary Tabach: Well, first of all, we have to do is to disarm Russia and take nuclear weapons away from Russia. Start treating Russia as if it’s not part of the world community for behaving like that. Otherwise, they are going to ignite wars constantly. Now they are threatening Moldova, and Finland because it wants to be part of NATO. Otherwise, Russia is going to use nuclear weapons and we are going to give in and definitely they are going to ask for some parts of Turkey which they claim to be Russian historically. Historically Russia and Turkey have been fighting wars for centuries. And hopefully Turkey will play a big role saying Russia has to be part of the civilized society, but it cannot be as long as it’s armed with offensive weapons or nuclear weapons. So, one thing we have to decide that and then build a relationship ourselves and build coalitions among ourselves. And again, is Russia going to remain being in the security council in UN? How is EU going to react? One thing also I know is that we have to rebuild Ukraine. Because Ukrainian cities are devastated. There are some cities that are completely in ruin. There are over 10 million refugees. Many of them went to Turkey some of them had investments in Turkey in Antalya and Alanya…We all love to go there and enjoy beautiful seashore and travel around Turkey. So many of them are staying there. Many Chechens are also staying in Turkey because they are being forced out by Russians and being victims of genocide. So hopefully Turkey will play a major role and say Russia needs to be dissolved in a way Russia is today. It must be some kind of a different Russia it cannot be.
Aybars: What can we expect from a post-war Russian Federation? Do you think the long-term consequences of this war will play a key role in changing Russian politics? If you think so, can these changes lead toward democracy or totalitarianism?
Gary Tabach: The reason you are asking me this question is because you were never part of a society where there are slaves, serfs where they served. Unfortunately, Russia is still a serfdom. It’s still a slave society. Where people have no rights where things don’t belong to them. They think they may belong to them, but it can ne taken away by the government. without applying any kind of law. I mean I remember one Russian guy wanted to buy some land in Turkey a piece of land, and build a house out there a hotel. He was asking kept asking the son that before he bought it who did the land belong to, and it was the son’s father. Who did it belong before the father and well it belong to the grandfather. He couldn’t understand that in Turkey or in any part of the world a piece of land could have belong to people for centuries to the people that live on them. Nobody ever took it away from them nobody ever denied them their right. Even in U.S. after the Revolution most of our lands belonged to the British citizens, it remained, we never took it from the people, citizens – the people. We never took it away from them we never nationalize them. In Russia anytime they can nationalize things. Today it’s yours tomorrow it’s the state’s. The government official decides if it belongs to the state or not. It’s going to be very difficult to change that kind of mentality. They don’t understand it, this guy cant understand this land never belong to the state it belonged to the family of this Turkish guy but yes, that’s how it is. So, it is going to be very difficult to change that mentality and I think the only thing we can do the world will unite, the civilized world will unite against Russia, and we’ll force Russia to change its government. Hopefully into a government there will be a new one, more civilized. Hopefully they will give up their weapons and invest their money into people into medicine to agriculture and school and hospitals rather than the war machine because that is all they do. They never came up with anything but the war machine. The only way I see it could happen if Russia would fall apart if Russia will break up into several countries, several states instead of this one huge bear. I don’t know what will happen.
Aybars: If Trump wins in 2024 and returns to the White House, how can he help Eastern European countries, including Ukraine, against a possible further escalation of Russian aggression towards them?
Gary Tabach: I don’t know but I think he will continue what he was trying to do, accomplish last time. He would accomplish fair trade with China build relationship with Europe. If it’s NATO or some other organization that needs to protect Europe at their own expense not that U.S. has to pay for everything, and probably will just continue what he was doing before. He was actually working. Definitely Iran, making sure Iran is nuclear free. Cause it’s a huge threat to Turkey now it wants to become nuclear maybe behave like Russia or maybe worse. So, I think he will continue as he did, I hope so, but I don’t know if he is going to run and I’m not sure if he is going to win. I’m not a very good predicter. I don’t see the future. I can only draw the future from the past, what happened in the past. And I know in the past, it was kind of a peaceful, and wars were stopping including Syria and Kurdish people were kind of cool and Turks were not attacking them, and they weren’t attacking the Turks, and Israel and Iran were kind of separated. There was peace made in between Israel and Arab countries with Abraham Accords. There were no more wars starting. We left Syria in a peaceful manner, and they didn’t suffer as they thought, and he was planning to do the same in Afghanistan. Hopefully this will continue and there will be less wars and less sufferings.
Aybars: Thank you very much Mr. Tabach for sharing your valuable ideas. Would you like to add some last words before finishing the interview?
Gary Tabach: Thank you very much as well. I hope to come and visit Turkey soon. Hopefully I will contribute to Transatlantic Policy Quarterly more in future.
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