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tv   Dateline London  BBC News  March 18, 2018 11:30am-12:01pm GMT

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hello and a very warm welcome to dateline london. i'm carrie gracie. this week we devote our attention to russia. russia abroad — after what the uk and its allies called the first offensive use of a nerve agent in europe since the second world war. and russia at home — as a presidential election is expected to deliver vladimir putin another six years in the kremlin. my guests this week: the former observer writer now political commentator adam raphael. jef mcallister, the american broadcaster, formerly the head of time magazine's london bureau. italian journalist and film maker annalisa piras, and russian political commentator, and former kremlin advisor, alexander nekrassov. welcome to you all. let's start by discussing how the british government is handling the events of the last few days, how do you think theresa may is doing? i think she's doing pretty well, she was home secretary and this is an area she is familiar with. it is almost proforma, what she has been doing. sling out a few russian spies, you sound tough. she carried the house
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of commons with her, i think she's done her political credibility quite a lot of good. and on the other hand the opposition leader, jeremy corbyn has not done well. did not get the mood of the house or the nation. she has come out well, but the question is can she then deliver on what she is saying? she will be tough... we will come back to that in a moment but first let's get everyone‘s take? well, i don't agree with adam simply because the gravity of what happened, in my mind and in the mind ofa lot of observers, should have warranted a much tougher response. expelling 23 spies or diplomats is not on the same level of response to what looks like a deliberate attempt to humiliate britain before the russian elections. when you say deliberate attempt, that suggests you believe the british government version
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of events that this was ordered by the russian state and possibly by the president himself? well, britain, france, germany and the united states have issued a joint statement saying they believe russia is behind this attack, chemical attack, on british soil. if that is the case then expelling 23 diplomats does not look to me as an adequate response. jef, the us has its own issues with russia at the moment, but as you observe events in london how do you think theresa may has handled it? how hasjeremy corbyn handled it? i think if this is the last of it from theresa may it is not enough in political terms, in global political terms. if there are going to be interesting uses of chemical agents in russia by british agents or other kinds of complex sanctions, perhaps on russian oligarch money, or cyber attacks, or other kinds of things which might be in the same league,
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or doing something more serious then i think ok, let's see. it takes a while to put those things in place and she cannot do it all in the first day. it's a traditional retaliation to expel diplomats. i think it is fine enough for now, she's not a particularly strong prime minister. slightly stronger looking, but i thinkjeremy corbyn got it wrong and it's bad for him. it's almost a disqualification for a prime minister, potential prime minister to be that soft on someone who is attacking you. i think this will come back to haunt him. alexander, i suppose you are one step further back, which is questioning the conviction of the british government that the russian state is behind this? first of all i think theresa may allowed herself to be dragged into this anti—russian stance by the media, because the media started its attack practically at once. she did not allow to give enough time for investigation to come up
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with some solid evidence. "highly likely" was the phrase about russian involvement, that does not sound convincing. i think her problem is that she is being basically put in an impossible position. there is nothing much she can do to russia. if she attacks the oligarchs and the money the russians will applaud. they don't like the oligarchs, they don't like the money being kept in london, so that's not working. whatever happens, whatever she says, russian gas will continue to heat british homes. big british companies will make billions in russia, bp, shell. nothing will change in this sense. so does she really have anything she can throw at vladimir putin? i think the hype created before her statement, people thought she was going to say something and she didn't — and she couldn't. that's the problem i think theresa may has. i think that is a fair point, one of the points of two previous
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british ambassadors is that you never get into a kissing match with a skunk and the fact is we are involved with a... careful of the language. the options open to britain, the really tough options would be really difficult for this country to do. so you have to go through these things, you have to try and get your allies behind you. we need... without international cooporation there is absolutely no way we can take the really tough actions that would stop russia in its tracks. i personally would favour trying to get fifa and get britain out of the world cup, but you could not really do that without international cooperation because britain alone withdrawing would not be enough. we have got to show putin and his thugs what the west means about this and to do that you need a coherent response,
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i am sceptical if that would come. obviously nato have said... the uk got the us, france and germany in thatjoint statement a couple of days back, and nato said that russia is underestimating the resolve of allies and their support for the uk — you disagree? warm words are one thing. actual actions, taking physical actions against the russian state and its interests are quite another. for instance huge amounts of russian debt are washed through the british, london financial markets. we would never dare do anything about it because it would be so damaging to the british economy which is why i sadly agree, on this single point alone, with alexander that actually we are getting a lot of words but unfortunately... they talk over each other. you use the language "putin and his thugs", this is bad manners. you are a journalist and you should not talk
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like a street thug yourself, so please forget this terminology. terminology aside, do you disagree? also i think the british media, the language is unacceptable. putin the thug and so on. it is unacceptable. in russia no newspaper would dare call theresa may this word, because there is a certain level of communication and you don't step over it. the russian media said it was a good thing to kill a traitor, so that's also a big difference. there are no words used, nobody in russia is gloating that people were attacked and nearly dead or whatever happened to them, this is a very false assumption that russians are cheering a chemical attack happened in britain. i want to come back to the russian response in a second but let's stick with the allies, you were saying theresa may should have done more, been stronger. adam is setting out the limitations on that.
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what do you think the british government could and should have done? something that a lot of reports are kind of examining is how britain could really hit russians where it hurts. so, money. there is a lot of russian money, a lot of russian investment in london. it would be a good thing... adam says they would not dare because it's too essential to the british economy. yes, but then there are moments in which — take brexit, in which the national interest and the economy have come after other considerations. the moment there is an attack... i would have to say some people would disagree and that economic prospects under brexit will be fine, but go on. what ijust wanted to point out was if britain is under attack, a nerve agent used on british streets, is that more important or less important than economic interest? 0k, more for the uk to do, but what about the allies? that was the other point adam
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was making, everyone in europe needs to step up and support, everyone needs to step up and rally the wagons? there are views on the continent that actually what happened in salisbury is the continuation of a strategy from russia in dividing britain from its allies. the reactions have been very lukewarm, and this is for two reasons. one, that putin is on the rise in europe. there is a lot of sympathy, especially in the new insurgent political forces in italy but not only, in greece, austria and other countries, a lot of sympathy for what putin stands for. euro—putinism.
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explain that momentarily? it's a combination of the outcome of years in which putin has been supporting also financially certain new political forces in europe. in italy, the northern league. the 5—star movement. in france, marine le pen. they have been supported by russian money. they have also been supported in other ways. so that is coming to fruition when these political forces are coming closer to power. but there is also a problem with european dependence on russian trade and energy. there is little appetite in europe for more sanctions, but also in germany, not only in those countries i mentioned. coming to the us position on this, these are circumstances in which normally you would expect a us president to weigh in with a firmly ensconced secretary of state and get all their ducks in a row and be firmly showing leadership on the european continent through nato. in the same way that i think the euro—putinism
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is the result of a long—term and intelligent strategy of finding divisions and expanding them, putin has done extremely well in his political choices in the united states. i don't say he's the only reason donald trump is president but he certainly contributed, he tried to contribute through the hacking of the e—mails, all of the internet research agency subversion that robert mueller has very carefully detailed. this is not made up, this is not a story. this is not necessarilyjust to get trump elected, but i think that was a jackpot, it was to cause division and discord and he's got it. he has a president who is so embarrassed at the thought that he is going to be accused of having gotten to the presidency through putin's interventions that he denies putin has anything to do with anything. he is continually downplaying evidence of putin's malign activities both in the united states and abroad. and he said a little bit this week,
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he is sticking by his ally in this funny trump way where he veers around and finds somebody to support week to week. but the long—term application of power, which is what you need when you run a complex alliance, is absent now, and it's having its effects. because the allies cannot turn to the united states. it means against putinism, the notion that i am strong and i'm going to win and do fine and make life tough for you, you cannot stop it becvause there is no war of ideas coming back from washington or the west, except that we are better in the long run and we will win. it actually — i am concerned. alexander, you are shaking your head. i do not agree with this. jef is signalling that the cia and other agencies are incompetent fools. and cannot counter. that's correct!
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the cia has a budget of 44 billion per year which is more than, or roughly the same as russia. all you people forget one thing, the west was listening and hacking into russia, the nsa scandal, the brits as well. to say russia is running rings around all these huge intelligence services is such rubbish. you have to understand how the system works. these intelligence agencies in the west have been interfering in russia for so long that we have seen them pull off a coup in kiev, in ukraine in 2014. that was financed and organised by the west. the legitimate government fell. so the russians slept through it and did not do anything. so, obviously, ukraine, crimea, is it annexation, reunification, that's a whole big topic we don't have time for. i am talking about the intelligence services and jef implying these poor germans, poor brits, poor americans are
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watching in awe... excuse me, let me finish my point. you say the russians run rings around them. you do not think it is true? it is impossible, because the same services in the west are doing exactly the same thing. is there any part of these arguments that you recognise and resonate with you about the effectiveness of either the rise of putin in europe or... it is all made up because the war is going on between two sides and the western intelligence agencies are intervening now as we speak into the russian election, trying to tip... that must be terrifying for mr putin with his 80% chance... i'm just explaining to you things don't work like that. you made your point very well but when we are talking about form, the trouble is and why you think we are being unfair to poor russia, it's that russia has form in this area. georgi markov was assassinated by a bulgarian, financed by the kgb. in 1978.
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we had alexander litvinenko in 2006 and we have now had this... outrageous attack in salisbury... let's not go into history, it is not in your favour... you invaded iraq and killed a million people... in libya, you destroyed a million people... alexander! you have said it. history is over, we are going to talk about the future, which is a russian election. you mentioned it, let's go to it, one thing we know about all of this is that putin's russia is not going away, russia heads to the polls to choose a president and although there are a handful of other candidates, no one expects them to get many votes against putin. so alexander, first i would like to ask you on this election, is the timing a coincidence, a nerve agent attack on the otherwise sleepy streets of a cathedral city in provincial england, and a russian
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election upcoming? absolutely no, coincidence. it damages putin's and russia's image. and with the world cup coming up, it would be suicide for anyone in moscow to think it would benefit us. putin does not have a problem because he is popular. his opponents are not strong. so why would he suddenly think, i need to get more votes for myself? it doesn't work like this. you think it's no coincidence but it is a troublemaker trying to undermine president putin before his re—election? it undermines russia. let's take that around the table, jef, coincidence or not? i don't think it is a coincidence, it's possible it is a botched operation, there's lots of things, we cannot be sure how this happened. i think it's likely however that because there was the call for a boycott... the opposition leader
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who is barred from standing... yes, there is sensitivity about the results of the election, turnout matters, speculation that playing the "the west is against us" card, which is very powerful for putin and has been for a long time and has deep historical roots in russian attitudes towards the world, the belief that nato is encircling, to do it in a public way and in a way which divides britain from europe and makes britain look weak, this seems to me to be like a trifecta of success for him. so, far from undermining putin, it underlines that it fits with his agenda? that's right, "i am strong and i am winning". annalisa. all of this, there has always been a winning card to say the rest of the world is attacking us and failing. so whoever did it, they did it to help putin's re—election and make him strong. so you think it takes more people
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to the ballot and takes more people to make their cross in putin's box? it strengthens the idea that russia is at war with the west and the west is trying to take advantage of it, no doubt about that. adam. it is nice to agree with alexander for a change, i think the timing of this was bizarre, it would not help putin and the question is to what extent was this activity within his control? i don't know. i think russia is a fairly chaotic place. i think these agents are around. i think there are a lot of people who might want to take vengeance. again, the same with the litvinenko case, i know i have to go back on form, it really is unclear who in russia is masterminding it. it could well be putin but i agree with alexander — it is not in his interest at this time, just before an election, to stir this sort of thing up. and the other really interesting thing, if you want to kill someone there are many ways of killing,
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this is notjust killing, this is a public demonstration of how russian traitors will be dealt with. moving on to the rest of the election, alexander, many other issues in play for russia, the economy is in a mess, you would agree. what is this election actually about? i think it is about national security. because russians are very worried that, for example, in the ukraine for the first time ever nato troops are present. nato troops are present on the russian border. this has never been happening before, ever. so they are now a direct threat to russia. ukraine, with the loss of ukraine from under russian influence, it's a terrifying disaster for the country because of eight, nine million russians there and so on. civil war on your border, which can erupt into a bigger war. this is national security. i would say president putin at the moment is a national security
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candidate, because everything else is secondary now. they have to protect themselves from nato, which is moving in, there is a very aggressive policy of the west generally against russia in asia. china is very worried as well, so they are cooperating with this. jef, is that national security argument trumping the stagnant economy, is it convenient? or is it an accurate description of events? i think that is the card that putin likes to play, national security. is that because the russian public are up for it? it works. 30% of russians thought it was a great power in the year 2000. 70% think it is a great power now. crimea was very successful. the annexation, or reunification as some see it. nationalism, the sense of encirclement.
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they are potent political tools, notjust in russia but in america in some respects as well. you can see the trump base, it's the appeal to animal instincts. the idea that things are going badly, but we are showing we can be tough and we will be great again, somehow. there are serious economic issues, but i don't think anyone is talking about them and the russian system has no answer to them, because it's this very funny state capitalism system with circles of influence and oligarchy. there is some kind of capitalism but the state institutions are weak, there will not be any reforms which can make much difference. i think there is good enough, oil prices are good enough, look at the polling. it is old people who think things
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are really bad, and want change. young people are more concerned. moscow is very different, a lot of desire for change. but i think in the country people are willing to stick with it, it is a status quo election. i want to ask you to think about what do you imagine president putin wants to do with yet another term in office? another six years, what is his plan as far as you can guess? you have to accept that if you elect a kgb agent to become your president he is heavily influenced by his past. he is deeply suspicious of the west, he bitterly resents the break—up of the russian soviet union, and is feeding, i think quite naturally, i think genuinely, on these feelings that russia is a great country, it's not being treated as a fair equal in the world economy. the problem is he goes about it in absolutely the wrong way. this sort of act that he performed in salisbury or his henchmen or his colleagues or whoever, itjust betrays the thuggishness of russian society.
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that is the word alexander wanted to ban. it is the word i use... we have been there and we disagree. i don't understand why he repeats, let's avoid this language... you say it to provoke me and i should sit here quietly? you made your point, you did not sit there quietly. what you think the aim is for putin? his agenda is clear, in the past 18 years he has been in power. he wants to restore the greatness of the former soviet empire, the former russian influence in the world, and he's winning. his idea, they call it political technology, is proving the winning idea because it's winning on all the kind of theatres in which he has pushed and pushed and he keeps pushing. nobody seems able really to do anything about it. so i think that is what he wants to do, especially in the former
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satellite countries of the soviet union. he wants to restore a firm grip. alexander, what do you think that will mean for people outside russia, putin's agenda? it seems there is a degree of unanimity about what that agenda is, what do you think it will mean for people outside russia? first of all i find it absolutely unbelievable that russia is supposedly fixing a grip on its neighbours when it lost influence in every neighbouring country, every neighbouring country has lost the influence of... alexander, we have got literally less than two minutes, so i just want you to say what you think another six years of putin will mean for people outside russia? i think it will be a very tough six years for russia, it will be very tough for putin to deal with the west. the west is absolutely
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irresponsible. what they are doing is pushing the world to conflict. i find it absolutely amazing. jef, do you worry about the risk of conflict? yes, but i don't think it's because of the west is looking for it. the west cannot figure out what it's looking for right now. you can make everything look like encirclement, if ukrainians in a democratic vote wanted tojoin the european union, i don't think mr putin would think it's a great idea and we would have a war. so if you had to sum up in one word the coming six years of putin power and the impact on the rest of europe, what would you say? if he is able to continue along the path that he has, which has been very subtle, clever and crafty, i think the west's fundamental institutions are at risk, in so far as even the american presidency has been subverted. annalisa, one word? we need to take it seriously and reform the world security situations.
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the fact that china and russia now in the un security council and they don't seem to be forces for the respective... we have to leave it there. thank you all so much forjoining us, great discussion. that's it for dateline london for this week — we're back next week at the same time. you can of course comment on the programme on twitter @bbccarrie. goodbye. treacherous conditions out and about. the snow is coming thick and fast across parts of wales, south and west england in particular, where there are still amber warnings in force throughout the rest of today. but there will be snow
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showers elsewhere as well. those snow showers are blowing around in this strong, near gale force wind, making it feel really bitter, and really significantly reducing visibility. so lots of hazards, it's dangerous if you are out and about on the roads today. a slightly brighter picture for the north west of scotla nd brighter picture for the north west of scotland and north west northern ireland, but still bitterly cold. some of the worst of the snow will continue to fall, moving west across devon and cornwall, across much of wales we have seen heavy snowfalls through the day. more snowfall to come on that strong easterly wind blowing it around. we have already had 10-15 blowing it around. we have already had 10—15 centimetres in places. snow showers continuing in northern parts of england, fewer than yesterday, and also across east anglia and the south—east, fewer. could be snow showers around antrim and county down, but in the north west of scotland, still some coming through in the central lowlands. the good covering in glasgow overnight. tracing the snow, very slow easing westward, so it will continue to
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pile up another five or ten centimetres widely, but double that in places, especially on the hills. temperatures are nothing to write home about, similar to yesterday. maybe slightly less wind in the north. adding on the wind elsewhere, and it's another very bitter day with a penetrating frost to come through the night, because we will keep the strong winds across southern areas. as we will see, it will take a long time to lose the snow whether in south—western areas and that we still have the wind, another cold and frosty night, could be some mischievous in the north. tightly packed isoba rs, be some mischievous in the north. tightly packed isobars, the strength of the wind. we slowly lose that on monday. high—pressure orientate itself across the north, so it allows a northerly wind as opposed to the easterly. we still have easterly in some areas, but fewer showers to britain with and the return to work on monday, it will be very icy where we have had a lot of snow. it's bound to be the case. but we could see that melting tomorrow afternoon in the sunshine but it
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will again freeze overnight and we will again freeze overnight and we will have to wait until the middle of the week onwards when the temperatures will be recovering. goodbye. this is bbc news. the headlines at midday. another cold snap leaves motorists facing treacherous driving conditions. forecasters predict temperatures will feel as low as minus ten today. borisjohnson dismisses russian claims that the nerve agent used to target the former russian spy in salisbury could have come from the porton down research laboratory. this is not the response of a country that readily believes itself to be innocent. this is not the response of a country that wants to engage in getting to the bottom of the matter. a man is arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after a car was driven into a nightclub in gravesend, in kent. a number of people were injured.
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