tv Future of Russia President Putin CSPAN April 4, 2018 9:05am-10:40am EDT
[inaudible conversations] >> good morning. it's my pleasure to welcome all of you, thank you for joining us for this event on putin's next act. i'd like to thank the foundation for their help in making this possible and on behalf of brookings and the center for united states and europe i'd like to welcome you all to this, i think, very timely conversation. we have a very distinguished panel join me today. i'm in the foreign policy program for the center for united states and europe in brookings. and to my far right, someone you probably recognize, mr. talbot, now a distinguished fellow in residence in brookings and president for brookings for many years and deputy secretary of state in the clinton administration and
many other distinguished, thanks for joining us. and to my right, professor angela stent, for the eurasian, russian and eastern studies at georgetown university. the doctor has spent time working at national intelligence council and office of planning and various other positions in the u.s. government as well and is one of the, i think, most prominent experts on russia and russian foreign policy today. thanks, angela, and then to my left, i have the chairman of a foundation and vice-chairman of the open russia foundation and i thank them for their help working on highlighting some of the issues that have been taking place in russia, especially in regards to the situation with local opposition
and before in 2015. thank you for joining us here today. last, but certainly not least the contributing righter for the atlantic. julia has written for a variety of publications and she is awe now working on a new book on russia and looking forward to that when it comes out i think needless to say we've had a tumultuous two weeks between russia and the united states. the mutual expulsion of diplomates, russian diplomates or spies, whatever you want to call them and tit-for-tat over russia and many of the
colleagues commented this is the lowest point in the post-cold war era and we're entering some sort of new phase for the cold war. it strikes me i've heard this many times. in 2014 after the russia illegal annexation, where could it possibly go from here, and we haven't hit bottom yet as we've seen now. i want to start with you, you spent with a significant amount of your career working on russia, in the 1990's, such a critical period. you've seen the development in the relationship so, how significant are the latest actions in the largest picture of u.s.-russia relations after the cold war. are we really in a new cold war or is there actually something potentially worse?
>> both. we are deep in what you might call cold war 2.0. and the end is not in sight, but what we can see now is really quite honest. i would say that the new cold war if we want to think of it that way, has some significant similarities and also significant differences between the first version of the cold war. like the first cold war, the dangerous zero-sum game that russia and west-- and the west are playing, and particularly on the russian side, brings back a lot that
we've -- many of us in this room remember very well. also, as the first cold war had an ideological dimension and a geopolitical dimension, so does this one. on the ideological front, russia is and has been for now, more than a decade, been reverting to an ought autocratic system of government and is also waging war by other means to weaken western democracies. on the geopolitical front russia is carving out beyond its own borders fears of what i would call not just influence
or interest, but spheres of domination, and russia is also trying with some success to rattle nato countries and building up a new generation of nuclear weapons. so, that already, i think, meets the definition of a new cold war. but the differences between cold war one and cold war two make the situation much more serious. this time around, unlike the last one, there is no process underway to mitigate the peril of a hot war. most concerning is the following: we're seeing on both sides,
particularly on the russian side, a ratcheting up of the arms race, but we are not seeing anything in the way of arms control and that extraordinarily important part of the old cold war has pretty much gone out of business. what we desperately need is to revive treaties, go into new areas, including the digital area and there's none of that going on. and the old treaties are wasting away. another difference that disadvantages the west is what's happening to the transatlantic institutions, transatlantic confidence, and
trust, all of these are in a rocky state to put it lightly. the causes are on both sides. had the european project is stalling and in several respects is going off course. and perhaps, even backwards. on this side of the atlantic, and particularly in our hometown here, there is a unique and troublesome aberration and that is that the united states administration has, as far as i can see, no coherent policy on how to deal with the russia that's breaking bad. and that has never been the case in the past. there have been-- there were policies that didn't work about you there were policies and there were strategies.
and this new situation goes straight to the president of the united states. despite all, he still claims to his affinity for putin and other authoritarian leaders. and that, in itself, disqualifies him as a champion and protector of western values and interests. on top of that, the investigation into a possible russian connection between -- with russia connection to his campaign casts a very dark shadow over his motives and it also ham strings his relations with congress, our allies, and with his own executive branch.
so, putin has a lot to crow about and far beyond the rigged election, which was originally going to be what we were going to talk about today. he is in a position that i think he's very smug about and it is particularly dangerous because he has gotten away with so much that he will probably try to get away with more. and the west, for our side, has a lot to think about, a lot to repair, and a lot to renovate. >> strobe, thank you for that broad view, but you paint quite a dark picture, i would say. is it in your view then that we're still in the middle of this downward spiral and that we haven't quite hit bottom, that things are still going
towards a more tense environment? >> we're now into prophesy and my record, particularly with the american side of our politics, i haven't been right at all. something, something out there is going to surprise us today, but i do think it's -- there's a two-sided aspect of the answer to your question. because-- and you've put it up for us at the beginning, alleinalina. there are incidents in life, in our personal lives, in our national lives, in our global lives, where you get into trouble and the sense is that
the situation is going to probably have to get worse before it can get better. there are a lot of alarm bells that are going off, but not everyone is fully awake. that said, and assuming that in the interim, however long it lasts, where the situation is either as bad as it is now or worse, as long as we don't blow the planet up, the political west, shaky as it is now, is still rooted in democracy. while putin, who seems to be on a roll, is basing his power on a retrograde system that's deeply flawed and basically, it's the same system that sailed russia as the u.s.s. r
during the last cold war. . so you mentioned the elections already, we'll talk about later in our conversation. it's quite shocking to me that we originally were conceptualizing having this conversation, was supposed to be a post-election analysis, discussion, on where putin might go next. but it seems that so many events have taken shape and since march 18th, that we can't avoid talking about them and it's not that long ago, but i think this is the reality that, even international affairs,not just on twitter, things are moving in a much more rapid, much more intensified pace and it's difficult to make sense of it, as if we're trying to think more strategically. and i do want to turn to you. some of the russian response to the expulsions that we're talking about recently was not
unexpected. we knew that they would respond in this tit-for-tat way, but on the other hand, you know, i'm curious to getting your sense of the point of view of the kremlin towards the west, specifically. there was this recent news that putin's aides told western media in a briefing in moscow that president trump in his congratulatory phone call actually suggested a summit that would take place between president putin and president trump here at the white house which, of course, caused consternation and confusion. but also assuming that's a strategic move by the kremlin to share that information, should we say. but, you know, given the unified western response and yet, given this dual track approach, it seems, where you
have this warm relationship or some affinity between putin and trump and yet a much more aggressive and a hawkish set of activities that have taken place towards now the west is responding to russia in aggression, and the west is a bit more unified. how is the kremlin, in your view, looking at this unified approach, seen as unified, and you recently said that you think that putin might be looking for an off ramp. what do you mean by that? >> okay. thank you for the question. i first want to go back and add something to strobe's excellent remarks that i think a part of this discussion. so one of the things that you obviously were very involved with in the 1990's as the chief russia policy person and the europeans was the idea if you promote russia's economic economic integration into the world, into the west, this would somehow have a moderating impact on its behavior. and so, what we have today is a
russia that is in fact globally integrated. the europeans are quite economically dependent on russia, as we know, for their gas and i mean, interdependence, but the european-russian economic relationship is really quite close. and russian money, as we know, is very present in great britain, which is one of the reasons why the british have really been very slow to take the kind of strong measures they could, for instance, off the poisoning, but it's also present in new york, and in the real estate markets and i think some of this is even coming out with some of this is coming out with the inquiries, and giving russia a presence different from the soviet cold war and it makes it more difficult to deal with issues that strobe talks about because there are a number of western businesses that are quite dependent, you know, on their relationship with russia and want to
continue this. so it makes it harder to respond. so, i think what vladimir putin sees is a united states, and we've heard about this, where we have a trump administration with at least two russia policies, actually three if you look at congress. i'll leave congress out for the moment. you have a president who still believes he can have a forward looking relationship with putin and said yesterday with the baltics, i think i can get along with the russia and president putin, why wouldn't you want to do that and the executive branch up until now has taken a tougher line not that different from the barack obama administration and shaw that with former secretary of state tillerson and former secretary mcmasters warning alarm bells about russia and i think were you there at the atlantic council and general mcmasters said that again. and obviously, general mattis,
as we know, has said tough things about russia. and so, the kremlin looks at this, and it realizes that there's still avenues and it can maybe exploit that. so, during the election campaign, you saw the anti--- the bellicose anti-western rhetoric from president putin, in his march state of the union speech and the missiles that could invade u.s. missile defenses and strike mar-a-lago and you have that sort of sabre rattling and now you see the other side of it. although president trump himself signaled that he had offered in a phone call in his congratulatory phone call to invite, to have a meeting with president putin. obviously it's the russians who decided they would take the initiative and put this down. so i don't think they don't like all of these expulsions, when you have so few diplomatic personnel, let's call them that, in another country, it hampers a lot of different works that you would like to
do, so, they would like to pursue this and they still see that president trump is someone who would like to be able to sit down with president putin. and i would just say that the same is sort of true for europe. now, you said there was unity. there was a unified response, but not all of the eu countries joined in the sanctions. we know that canada, austria, a number of central european countries, so there wasn't perfect unity there, but there was still solidarity with great britain. but, for instance, you have 0 a new german foreign minister. when he first came in, he was a little bit more critical of russia than his predecessor, but now he's said we have to find a better way of dealing with russia. we have to find an off ramp and chancellor merkel said that at the same time as they expelled the spy. you had president who is going to go to the economic forum and
he's going to sit on the platform with putin. and european and major countries would like to find-- nobody likes the high level of tension that strobe has described. i think what we'll probably see in the next few months is the anti-western rhetoric isn't going to subside. the total denial that they have anything to do with the poisoning is not going to change, but they will see if they can again exploit the differences in u.s. policy and, of course, we're still waiting now for the new secretary of state, mr. pompeo to be confirmed and mr. bolten take office. and i thought maybe if they took the initiative now, they wanted to get their bid in early. >> you're seeing anxiety in the kremlin about the personnel changes towards individuals like the new national security advisor, the nominated new secretary of state who are known to have much more hawkish views on russia.
so you think the kremlin is wanting to insert itself before these individuals have a chance to shape policy? >> i think it could be. i mean, certainly on record, public record, mr. pompeo and mr. bolten have said very tough things about russia. so they may want to at least -- this may be a way to try to soften everything before they come in. >> well, i do want to turn to the election that seems very far away, but were an important event in russia and i think an important event for geopolitical affairs. medina, you have worked very actively with russia society and russia political opposition. i think, it wasn't a surprise, obviously, that putin won, in quotation marks, reelection. he got 77% of the vote, 67-- over 67% turnout. it seems it was a great success for the kremlin, in at least its ability to organize a
national process and national election. i think the big question that many people continue to ask is to what extent is this seemingly broad support for putin, real? i put that in quotation marks. and do you think it actually shows that putin now has a career mandate to continue on this quite, say war mongering path with the west from the russian people? >> thank you for the question and thank you to brookings for hosting the panel discussion. it's great to be here. when we discuss russia today and discuss vladimir putin's system, things aren't always what they seem to be. the terminology, even the numbers. we keep talking about putin's upcoming fourth presidential term of course, in reality it's the fifth one unless we want to count seriously the so-called presidency of medvedev. and the other thing that's not quite what is seems the so-called election itself. you yourself twice put this
word in quotation marks. you're in the minority, astonishi astonishing. and they don't put in quotation marks, they talk about electionings, turnouts and results and astonishingly again, as we've seen in the last almost now two decades. most world leaders, including the president of this country once again picked up the phones and called mr. putin with congratulations. in reality the spectacle, the procedure that we had days ago has no more in common with a genuine democratic contest than the brightly colored ven near facades of the villages did with towns and settlements. i think surprisingly, the organization that summarized it bet for the corporation in europe, kind of the main watch dog for election monitoring in
europe, north america and central asia, diplomatic organizations are known for their cautiousness, but their report that came out the morning after the so-called presidential election in russia was actually scathing. the head of the mission, a seasoned german diplomate said, and i quote almost exactly from memory here, choice without competition is not real choice. and he said, he continued to say, where fundamental freedoms are restricted, and where the outcome is not endowed, elections almost lose their purpose. this is what he said and he was being diplomatic with the word "almost", but it's the fact that elections in russia have long ago lost the main purpose of elections which is to enable the citizens to choice and any change in the government. as we all know, the outcome was never in doubt. even the official figures were
strikingly similar those leaked out by the administration. and voting day in march, incidentally, it was changed by an amendment to the federal law to make sure it coincided with the annexation of crimea. and the administration of how elections work in today's russia, is set as a sure sign of a real democratic election is when you're certain about the procedures, but not certain about the outcome. and in russia, the model is opposite. the model is different and the outco outcome-- >> and some of the movements, foundations and civil society groups have conducted documentaries and noted the issue stuff that we've heard about for years, the people that depend on the state,
employment, pensions, teachers, doctors, depend on municipal employment, they're coerced not just to vote, but selfies that they voted for the correct candidate and ballot stuffing. and one of the 2011 protest was they allowed installation on web cameras and people could see violations. the problem is when we don't have a judicial system that can prosecutor there's no point. there's many instances of ballot stuffing and so what? they're just there for curiosity, but they were documented. and of course, in many regions, once again, we saw just plain old rewriting of final protocols to have whatever result they needed through. the prominent russian political analyst referred to these regions, the regions that show soviet style 90 plus percent election results for putin. i've not met a single person that believes how people--
even with coercion, how people came to vote. and the television coverage skewed for years, continues to be so. frankly, we don't need to talk about any of those violations and abuses because in the most important way, the so-called election was rigged long before the first polling place even opened and long before the first ballot cast. and i refer back to the oac statement. this is not real choice. there were two major opposition acquisition in russia planning to challenge vladimir putin in to 18. one was the former deputy prime minister, probably the most recognizable face of the democratic opposition, and the other was alexei, a corruption activist who spent the time across the country, the only candidate who conducted a real candidate. and neither was on the ballot. and boris because he was killed on the bridge in front of the kremlin and alexei was barred
from running for a trumped court conviction overturned by human rights. it's not difficult to win an election when your opponent is not on the ballot. and when people in the west, too often to my mind repeat the kremlin propaganda line, but vladimir putin is so highly popular among russian citizens. it's important to keep in mind that the so-called popularity was never actually tested in a free and fair election against genuine opponents and it won't ago days ago. >> i think we also forget that putin's 80-something percent approval ratings were not bad prior to 2014. and in fact, they had fallen still to enviable numbers i suppose by in i democratic politician, but they were in the high 50's and low 60's. it's not at that he's completely untouchable, but it's that the administration of the state is completely under
control of the kremlin. >> absolutely, and the obvious question here is, and has been for years, if you're really so popular, why are you so afraid to have a free election and afraid of competition. it doesn't just go for national elections. national elections have long been turned into a meaningless speckle as we've seen two sundays ago. it goes for all levels. just yesterday the fourth largest city in russia, stands on the border of europe and asia, the capital of the yurles. and they looked at the directly elected mayor that used to be in the norman russian cities not long ago are fast approaching extinction. last year there were eight regional capitals in russia, that still have direct elections and today it's to seven because they had their mayoral elections abolished and no explanation was offered, but none needed everybody knows the
reason. recent is that four years ago, a charismatic opposition candidate won the election in over putin's party, he's very outspoken. he says what he thinks, he criticized the kremlin military involvement in ukraine and in syria. he's supported novotny's call for the boycott of the so-called election and this is a directly elected mayor of the fourth largest city in russia and the kremlin is not happy about. since they didn't win over him, they decided let's not have a mayor and election. and it needs to be opposed more, if the regime is popular as it says it is, why is it afraid to let the russian people vote. >> i want to go back to what angela said. russia is much more integrated as far as the economy and that's a difference.
and strikes me that russia is politically isolated at the same time and increasingly so because of putin's foreign policy adventures, if you want to describe it as that. do you groo he agree to come extent. putinen in ukraine, the meddling in western elections is starting to backfire on a grand scale, meaning it's actually hampering the bigger strategic goal of making russia great again on the world stage or do you think that this kind of relationship where popular support continues to track with more and more foreign policy adventures for putin continues through the next six years at least? >> before i answer that, i wanted to touch on something that was said. what was it, a week ago, there was a fire in the siberian city
where, in a locked movie theater, 60-something people by official count burned to death and 46 i think were children and when putin, the very popular putin came in that night, the streets were cleared. he drove down a completely empty street. he did not meet with the people, and the governor of the region apologized to the people not to the people, but to the president, which you know, also tells us about who is accountable to whom and the popularity of the president. i think the russian socialologist has done some really interesting work on putin's popularity rating and about how few people actually respond to the surveys and of them, how many are
self-selecting, especially after the crimea and next sayings as the military and jingoistic media made people who did not agree with the official line more tacitern and answering the polling questions and people who did answer were very, very outgoing supporters of putin. so, those-- i find personally, like, well, the constant quoting of western media of putin's popularity rating to be very strange and irritating because they, you know, they're like, well, but our president has this approval rating and president putin has this approval rating as if they're comparing several things. about the adventurism, i think that we can certainly expect to see more, and i don't -- i think in some ways they're working and in some ways that
backfiring. it's a more complex picture and i think that one is often a response to the other. you know, syria was seen, i think, correctly as a response to the isolation in which putin found himself after crimean annexation and this was a kind of way to muscle himself back in from the cold of geopolitical isolation and sanctions. and this is what worries me about the incoming secretary of state and the incoming national security advisor, who are so obsessed with terrorism, especially mike pompeo with terrorism with the islamic world with radical islam, this presents putin a perfect opportunity to play the counterterrorism card, which he does to great effect with western politicians, without really-- without really providing much help in terms of counterterrorism. mind you, the foreign country
that provided the most important fighters to isis was russia, it wasn't saudi arabia, it wasn't tunisia, it wasn't france, it was russia, so, and a lot of the fighters have-- that came from the muslim north caucuses were sent to syria with the help of the ssb and the kremlin. so, you know, all under-- all while russia was talking about how, looking in syria we're fighting isis, we're your partners. we're the only ones defending western christiandom. i worry as angela, very astutely says, it presents yet another point for russia to exploit another point of disparity, policy disparity for russia to exploit. i think that, you know, for example, the poisoning of skripal, the former russian spy in london, i think is in many
ways a response to the election meddling, a cleanup operation. and i think that putin, i didn't think he expected this sort much response from the west and it really boxes him in, and paints him into a corner again, and as we've seen with putin, he doesn't like being, you know, nobody puts baby in a corner. he lashes out and he claws his way out of the corner and i feel a feeling that there's going to be another kind of spectacular egregious act that he initiates in, you know, in the coming year to get himself out of this corner. i think what's-- something for the west to keep in mind in looking at this is that with all of this, i think putin is still trying to renegotiate the terms of surrender in the cold war, and
you know, the mere expulsions on the russian side, the statements about how the west hasn't proven anything both in terms of the poisoning and the election meddling, i think, is putin trying to show that the west and especially america, is not in a position to punish russia because if you-- if you'red site punishing the superior side you're the parent or the senior partner or the parent in this relationship and i think that putin is trying to aggressively show that he's an equal, that russia is a peer and it's not a recalcitrant child that you punish. so, a lot of the talk, you know, it also paints the west into a corner because you can't let these things go unanswered, but when the talk is of punishing, it exacerbates the kind of-- the psychological motivations of the russians.
and if, you know, we've got into prophesy, a little earlier with strobe, i remember when i was in-- when i was still a correspondent in moscow, it was the eve of the-- it was 2011 and people were trying to figure out a medvedev going to stay for a second term, is putin going to come back? and i won many bottles of russian hennessey cognac because russians love cognac, i found it was easy to win predicting these scenarios. [laughter] >> unfortunately, dealing with russia, putin rewards you with, you know, like overtime, if you make the worst care scenario prediction. so, i'm going to venture a prophesy here and i think that things, like strobe said, are
going to get far worse before they get better. i worry that with the, for example, with the expulsions of american diplomates and western diplomates from russia, it's become a lot harder for russians to travel to the west, to travel to america. it's becoming nearly impossible to get an american visa and of course, these are the russians who are the most pro western, most pro-american. there is a lot of talk and worry that i'm seeing in russia about a kind of new iron curtain descending and this has been a fear since at least 2014 that it's going to be become harder and harder for russians to travel outside of russia, which is a big worry especially for the educated classes and i think that things are not going to get better between the u.s. and russia while putin is still in power, which means while putin is still alive. and he seems to be in quite good health. so, he likes to show. >> just a point, i agree with everything julia said with
exception of the last point. and we don't know. >> that he's healthy or that his-- >> no, no, no, that he's going to stay in power for as long as he's healthy. that's what i mean. >> oh. >> i certainly agree he wants to stay in power for as long as he's alive. that's actually another term, when we talk, in the announcement for the panel discussion, what are the next six years of putin going to look like. >> 12 years. >> two things could be wrong with it, one you just said he could be there as long as he's healthy and alive and there could be another possibility. i'm had historian by education, big political changes in our country can start quickly, suddenly and unexpectedly. i don't think that the minister when he talked about foreign policy and boasted about his smalling victorious war, i don't think he expected that one year later the country would be engaged in a nationwide political strike and
forced to grant citizens of parliament and civil political freedoms. i don't think that lenin when he gave the speech in zurich in switzerland in 1917 and told them that my generation will not live to see the decisive battles of this coming revolution, i don't think that he expect the revolution would begin six weeks after he said those words and i'm certainly old enough to remember not a lot of people at the beginning of all at 1991 could have predicted by the end of that month that the communist party of the soviet union would no longer exist and by the end of the year not the soviet union itself. a word of caution, i think so this in russia can begin to change unexpectedly. i certainly agree that mr. putin wants to be in power as long as he's alive and he won't be limited by the constitutional terms, we saw that. if it's up to every dictator to stay in power as long as they wanted then every would stay in power as long as they wanted and as my good friend boris
says in st. petersburg. likes to repeat the page, that 99% approval two weeks before. [laughter] >> took the words out of my mouth. and a regime is stable until they are not. i want to go back to you, angela, and strobe, to get your take on some of the ideas that julia and-- well, you said that russia's becoming more isolated. i think the problem is in the west we tend to think because we've tried to isolate russia that it's isolated and we saw that after the crimea a annexation and sanctions. and russia has a stronger relationship with china since annexation. there are tensions there and russia is the junior power and china is the rising power.
for both countries, it's a useful partnership, the chinese are increasing their economic relationship with russia. they both, the two leaders support items self. xi jinping is an example, and they don't question each other's domestic systems so there's china there. and then there's india, you know, and you know, another extremely populous country that has enjoyed pretty good relations with the soviet union and russia over time. and again, if you look at voting patterns in the united nations, you know, these are countries that didn't condemn russia for its annexation of crimea. and then you have what we just had mr. putin in turkey now, negotiating with the iranian leader and president erdogan. so there are a large number of countries, latin america and asian countries that view russia as an authoritarian
country that they are pursuing interesting that are legitimate and a lot of countries are willing to accept that. i think we fool ourselves if we think we can isolate russia. russia has other options, it's pursuing them. so i think that limits what we're able to do in terms of influencing it. i think this is a cautionary tale. and the only other thing is, i also believe that president putin would like to stay in office for the rest of the time that's allotted to him and that it would be quite easy for him to change the constitution to have the vote to make him leader for life as they did in kazakhstan, but i also agree with vladimir, one thing about russian history, it's predictable until it isn't. those old enough to work on this, and keep going on despite all of its economic weaknesses, we were long. >> and i think that-- coming to an end and--
>> which is a majority on this panel. >> i remember once the soviet collapsed there was a sort of mea culpa or russians say criticism or self-criticism sessions with academics why we didn't see this coming and finally a member said gorbachev didn't see it coming, why should you? >> and i want to go back to you, strobe, to respond to angela, and adina and-- julia-- and if we've had the national defense strategy identifying russia and china as global competitors in the united states. without a clear and coherent strategy that you were talking about, strobe, from the united states especially, that our ability to compete in the way that some of those national security establishment envisioned the u.s. being able to compete and be successful in
that competition, that our ability is actually limited, right? and our tools for limiting specifically russian power, and i'll talk about chinese power, are limitless. strobe. >> well, i think you're asking what would i hope to see and i would be surprised to see it soon. from the united states and its role, its past role of the gar garantor of the atlantic community. i think that this is a classic example of foreign policy issue that is-- has got to be fixed here in this town. also, with the way in which not just the government, but outfits like all of ours are
getting out into the country and i don't think that there is anything like the kind of knowledge and concern in had a lot of america because the news is so much focused on our own problems here. so, that's hugely important, and the other thing is, to go back to an atlantic, a transatlantic policy that picks up where truman started it and obama left it. i think-- and of course, the word russia didn't come up in what i just said. we've got to get our own camp back into being a real camp. could i just ask one question of julia. you said quite intriguingly,
maybe i'm overintrigued, maybe it's -- i kind of said, oh, that's interesting. you said that perhaps the poisoning of the skripal was a part of a cleanup operation. and by the way, i'm sure many of you here know that the russians at fairly high levels are saying that this was a provocation, that we, we, the cia, and mi-6, did this to these people. let's not-- put that aside. were you suggesting that skripal, i don't know that much about his background, could come forward as a witness for the investigation that is going on in this country?
>> i don't know, but i-- it seems like it's part of a larger kind of crackdown coming from the people who talk to the west, you know, we saw the partial admission of guilt of two cyber operatives, who had been the number one and number two ssb cyber operatives cracking down on anybody in russian intelligence who talks, who talks to the west. >> fair enough. about you there probably is going to be more to the story. >> oh, sure. >> because particularly if the patients survive. >> i think as we were talking before we came into this event that the skripal case, which strobe, you took my question from me, but the skripal case
also showed the clearly to the exit ent-- extent to which the kremlin tries to use the narrative to muddy our understanding what's been happening in that case. particularly, we're discussing now, there are some organizations that have been tracking the various potential explanations for what really happened with sergei and yulia skripal, the u.s. did it, the u.k. did it themselves as a provocation, the latest narrative and julia, that he was poisoned with buckwheat that his daughter brought to the u.k. when she came to visit. i mean, these are exactly the same kinds of tools and tax particulars we've seen unfold over and over and over again, whether it's a 17 shoot down or a poisoning in 2006, and i do
think it's quite effective in muddying the water. there's a lot of people that don't know what to think and that gives the russian strategy of plausible deniability a lot more leverage than it should. >> well, that answers the question that i was going to put forward and i think we're all kind of guessing, but your guesses are better than mine. it's a little bit the question that a lot of us were asking ourselves and each other when it became how-- how clear it was that the russian state was meddling in our election. did they think that they were going to keep that as a covert operation? or did they not really care? and the same question comes up with the poisoning. on one hand, i can imagine them saying, yeah, there will be
some fallout and we'll lie and confuse people, which they're doing. but it will also teach not just the defectors from russia or former spies, it will say, we can take care of ourselves and our interests anywhere in the world. >> yes, absolutely. i think it was very similar to-- or not dissimilar from the killing of the person a block or two away at dupont circle hotel. and you see the u.s. government and the russians following the same line, oh, he just got drunk and tied from blunt force trauma to the head, neck, legs and arms. i don't know how drunk you could get, but even though he was staying in a hotel room
paid by for by the doj. he was supposed to have a meeting with people at the doj the next day. i remember when it happened, i thought, wow, they don't even-- they're not even trying with a rare isotope here. they're just, i'm sorry, just beat the sh-- out of him. and when you try to cooperate. putin has been drawing this in his mind, there are two categories, there are two opponents he grudgingly respects. and it's a judo match, it's a sparring match and then there are traders whom he said after this is when the illegals came back in the summer of 2010 and putin warmly received them and in saying, where does the
motherland begin and he said traitors deserve to die in a ditch and will always be found dead in a ditch. and so, i think this is kind of a-- i think, you know, the russian government doesn't quite know what it wants to do with this. on one hand, it's clearly, we're sorting this out russian to russian and sure, it happened on u.k. soil, but get out of here, and this is like tony span no style hit, right? we're cleaning up our own stuff. ...
it's just talking out of both sides of the mouth and the same thing goes for the american election meddling. it shows their power and capacity and they want to admit to it but they can't because then sanctions are merited so they're stuck doing this dance of a naughty kid who's been caught with the broken vase in his hand or oj, with his book, if i did it. >> speaking of television, i'm not going to confess that i watch homeland but maybe some of you do. i really pity the show runner for that. they are trying to keep up, but the reality is just trumping them. [laughter] this gets back to something that michael who is a wonderful writer about russia has written about in his new book which you should all read called dress-up
for a riot which is came out a couple months ago. he talks about how contemporary russian literature is always in the realm, you have lesbian, vampires poisoning robots and it's always in the realm and he talks to a russian author about why this is the case, why there isn't more realist contemporary literature and he said literature, you're describing reality plus a little bit more and if you're describing russian reality you are immediately in the realm of lesbian vampire. so now we find ourselves in a similar situation where if you talk to american comedians or late-night host, they talk about situations they see coming out of the trump white house or the american political landscape where if they sought in the writer's room they would take him on, that would never happen. >> i do want to turn to the audience. we are running a little tight on
time. there should be some microphones coming around, please introduce yourself and keep your questions a question and not a comment. >> the gentleman on the right. >> thank you so much. it's a great program. i have a question for you. what is now the status of crim crimea. we've heard very little since the annexation of what's happened in terms of rest of vacation, particularly around the schools and whether people are being forced to change from russia to ukrainian in terms of the language, a whole host of issues of what is happening in crimea today.
others could join in also. thank you. >> thank you for the question. >> first well crimea has become one of the regions where they announced the results for putin that went into his overall result of 77%. what we know about what's happening in crimea is the level of oppression is that or even higher. this especially is directed against the leaders of the community. many of them have been forced to leave or physically arrested and kicked out or they are in prisons today. many of the prisoners in russia, although quite a few are from crimea, i actually want to draw attention to that.
the number of political prisoners in russia is comparable to what was and let's not forget about that. he wrote his lecture and named in that speech 126 prisoners of conscious and the soviet union. that was not an exhaustive list for these us just people he knew of himself. it's based on very restricted criteria established by resolution 1900 and what constitutes political prisoners. there are 146 political prisoners in russia. more than the soviet union in 1975. a lot of those are from crimea.
the brothers are now involved in the construction of this massive bridge that's being built between continental russia with crimea. these are just some of the things that are public attention and the fact that for the first time in almost a century we have now become a country with unrecognizable borders and i think that is a fact that needs to be not forgotten. [inaudible] one of the constant narratives is whatever the domestic or economic problems, at least he has restored greatness. they have risen from their knees
but i have a big problem with that narrative. in horrible '90s, russia was invited to join the leading industrial nations of the world. under him, he had major western powers imposed. to me that's not restoring greatness. for the first time in a century we had unrecognized borders. all those things cannot speak to restoring greatness. >> can i jump in on the crimea question? i was there a year ago to see what it looked like after the annexation, and what i saw was i couldn't use my credit card there. things had gotten quite expensive. tourism had dried up and there is a reason crimea was part of
the ukraine and that's because it was the only lamb that is physically connected to. ukraine didn't want to keep supplying them with water and electricity and food so things had gotten a bit tight. i'll tell you a story that really encapsulated it for me. i went to meet with the head and he had been leading the events of the russian spring in the spring of 2014. he was telling me about how finally he didn't have to speak this russian pigeon known as ukrainian and he could finally speak his own language and he was home and under vladimir putin he had found a great person to look up to and they were responsible to everyon eveg
horrible that happened. then i stayed, many were all small businessmen and one of them went in with a cane and he was beaten severely by a bureaucrat in the discussion changed from how great russia was and how they are finally home to about how moscow had basically come to crimea. bureaucrats were taking away their businesses. each and every person had a criminal case against them by a bureaucrat trying to seize his business and that's basically what you're describing.
they said we didn't know, we were watching ukrainian news. we didn't know that was going on in russia and that it would come here. they all deeply regretted these acts, deeply regretted joining russia and i said i'm sorry to break this to you, but it's kind of irreversible at this point, but if you had your druthers, what would you want. they thought about it for a while. one of them said if i could, i'd like crimea to go back to being in a thomas republic and maybe join israel. [laughter] i said you know israel is full of jews, you know that, right. >> yes, but they're not as bad as russian bureaucrats and it's a society of law.
[laughter] >> didn't the kremlin pull out all the stops to get the vote out in crimea. >> yes, and it was held on the anniversary of the annexation. >> it is economically, politically and it's far worse than in mainland russia. >> i have been dealing with foreign policy issues in the past. my question relates to the amount of support that the oligarchs give putin and is that important to his continued
existence as the leader of russia, and the second part is, of course there are many reports that oligarchs make huge investments in london and new york and may depend on shell companies at the u.s. presumably doesn't have adequate legislation, there are deals on the hill but they've never seem to move ahead which would require companies and river state purchases to reveal the true ownership of the buyer. how important would it be to use that legislation to get to the oligarchs and would this have some impact. >> thank you very much for the question. we keep coming back to the terminology and even the term oligarchs, to describe the current situation, back in the
'90s when we had oligarchs and that term was used to describe those people they tried to influence state decisions and government decisions, the people whom we refer to as oligarchs, that's a very different group of people. back in the '90s, obviously to say the very least i was not an ideal ideal political setup. they had made their fortunes not because they were close to the government. there were close to the government because they were rich. the people were oligarchs today are either from the kgb or his colleagues in st. petersburg, these are the people, this is the classic corruption scheme. they don't influence anything.
they just enrich themselves. i want to go back to something angela mentioned. certainly, if we want to use that term again the corruption aspect of this regime is integrated and that's the crucial difference between the regime today. there are many similarities. all government propaganda tools, we have no free and fair elections. for everything that they did back in the day, members of the bureau didn't keep their money in western banks.
didn't buy real estate in south of florida or london. they didn't send their kids to study in western schools and their wives and mistresses to live aboard. these people do. that is such a double standard because these are the people who deny the most basic and violate the most basic principles of the rule of law and russia. from that point of view it's enormous hypocrisy. in my opinion this constitutes enabling. if you welcome the people who perpetrate corruption on your soil and your banking system, then you are enabling it. for years western countries have been doing it. we are seeing a counter
movement. the most courageous countries in the european union are the countries that border russia. if you. [inaudible] you will not be allowed to come here and open visas and bank accounts. the point that you raised about shell companies and these people buy property here in the u.s. don't have to disclose who they are. another initiative on the hill to try to address that as well who hide behind these entities and i just think whatever way
you choose to do this under the processes of rule of law and judicial oversight, they have a built-in mechanism that anybody can go and challenge that in a u.s. court and produce evidence. i have to say not ethical person i've ever use this mechanism. using any legal and rule of law mechanism to counter that export of corruption is a crucial point and it's high time countries that pride themselves in the rule of law and respect for human rights, they must stop enabling the abusers in our country. >> can i just add one thing, the day before the russian election
they published a report saying just in south florida and trump properties russians had bought about a hundred million dollars worth of property, trump property in south florida. that doesn't count new york or other areas. that is just one family what they were able to uncover given the use of llc and law firm and then you have the trump children talking about how most of the gulf courses are financed by russia, a lot of financing comes from russia. when we talk about why they say we need to get tough on russia, this is why. in the new york times, all these empty condos and empty properties have been bought and
nobody lives there. some journalists actually did the tracking and tried to figure out from all these different layers and shell companies, who is the and beneficiary or owner. this is a way they launder their money and clean their money through real estate which then drives up prices. >> this also has to come from the citizen of these country, from london to new york, that it's not just these people are who abused these bag norms and parking their dirty money here, it's that they are forcing you out of the cities that are your cities that you can't live in anymore. i had friends who lived in kensington and they said most of
the windows were dark. nobody lived there except for them but at the same time they could only buy property two hours away from the center of london, and even at that at very high prices. some of this would be hard to get grassroots support for this. in america and the uk and france, there are real effects of these global corruption gam games. >> you want to chime in on this. >> they should look very carefully at the laws they have and they should change them and they should allow people to precious real estate which is used for money laundering. it's up to the u.s. and the british particularly because our legal system is different.
to your other question. after the annexation when we sanction some individuals, it was a mistake to think that would somehow change what he was doing. the way the system punches is a patronage system and all of these wealthy people and then it was highly unlikely that they would get together. we should have no illusions about that, but still, for our own good, we should clampdown on the ability of russians to infiltrate our system with their money and you have members of the russian cabinet who own homes and london and this is completely at odds with the nationalistic line that putin is pushing.
one of the tools that the u.s. has is going back to sanctions and that these are the tools we should use not broad economic sanctions actually hurt. when he just said out loud, it sounds really simple but was groundbreaking in that principle is that your responsibility is due. you don't punish an entire country for the actions of a small unelected crew sitting in the kremlin. you're exactly right for the general sanctions for propaganda purposes.
when you go after them prevent some corrupt crook from buying a mansion on miami beach, that is not seen as anti- russian. there is actually a poll by the nevada center in 2012, the same month it was signed into law and given all the caveats, even with all that the russian citizens agreed with this principle that the people who steal from russian citizens should not be allowed to go and enjoy nice western lifestyle. there's no way it can present those targeted personal sanctions as anti- russian. i'm not for sanctions on russia. i don't advocate sanctions on my own country but these are targeted individual sanctions. they called it the most pro- russian law ever passed. they hope to account those who
abuse the rights. the pro- russia nature of these laws. a lot of us have been ruled by the current regime they talk about russian people is dumb and fascist and unruly and crazy and you can't let them near or give them any decision power because they are wild animals and you want to stay away as far as possible. >> it also explains where putin visited the victims and it was
this very stylized production because putin doesn't want to get his hands dirty. let me take two more questions together. >> good morning. i'm a reporter from germany. one reason we are here is the meddling in the election. what to expect for midterms. would they be cautious,. [inaudible] >> thank you. let me take another question. my name is bill kersey. i have a?
economics. australia is roughly the same as russia's. how can putin establish his oligarchs before they go bankrupt. >> let me take the third question. >> , student across the street. couple years ago russia decided to get more involved in the middle east and the lead up was thought to be a problem in syria. that turned out not to be the case. my question is whether or not you think the results of this election will change the way.
[inaudible] we haven't talked about that yet. we have predictions for the midterm and how long can they continue on this negative path. >> thanks a lot for giving me a chance to be a prophet. i actually do think. >> remember worst-case scenario always wins. >> i'm going to make the other mistake which is the best case. i do think the string of elections we've had over the past couple months are sending a very strong message to the president and most importantly
to the members of the house who are representing red districts and trump territory and that phenomenon is being diluted because of all the craziness that comes out of this town. i think that could be a tipping point, both for the house of representatives and the senate in which case president trump will be in a very different position on what he can do and what he should not do. >> i think the? that is will the russian interference continue. we know that the russians are still interfering. we have all the social media and something bad happens every day. i get that russian trolls are
involved. that will continue. rather the more nefarious cyber interference that we've seen and also including, i think they will continue to try it. frankly i think we should go back to paper ballots in the old days and they couldn't do anything. let me just say that again, having spent a number of years were you sit down and look at the fundamentals, whether it's the phobia economy or russian economy and you say this can continue. this is a petro state, it hasn't diversified its economy, it has made her democratic and infrastructure problems and you've always said they can't go on like this and yet they do. you shouldn't underestimate historically their ability to muddle through and become less modernized.
if the united states does pull its troops out of syria, this is only to russia and iran's gate. i find it very curious in the administration that so concerned about uranian power that they would do this. there are other reasons for it. russia has taken over in the middle east is the major power because united states withdrew from that beginning with the obama administration. russia is the only country that talks to all in the middle east and is viewed by most countries in the region as an honest broker. so even though syria will still present problems for russia, what can they do with the reconstruction. the most dangerous thing was a month or two ago.
maybe if the u.s. withdraws there'll be a less likely annexation. >> just a follow-up with that, we have this constant debate and we can look at when he's actually done in the form policy domain and he's been very good or the kremlin's very good at identifying vacuums and power and gaps in our own society. where we have wedges and there is space in between, this is where they see an opportunity to step in. this pattern continues in all of these different areas to very quickly on the midterms, what's
going to happen, we've been focusing on the election but these campaigns. we experience it all the time. it was no surprise that the rest of america and the rest of the west has covered them. the most dangerous piece is there is report that came out by homeland security and the fbi that basically says there is russian links and nuclear water and electrical grids in the united states have not yet been activated. this presents a serious challenge because we haven't really spent the time to shore up those networks. to my mind this is a real threat coming forward. >> on the election interference,
the kremlin has been interfering for years. the first elections they interfered with were elections in russia. we know they been trying to do this in many post-soviet countries and western europe. there was a loan initiative a number of years ago and of course. [inaudible] when i talk of consequences. [inaudible] this is a very distant reality to public opinion in russia.
one is to protect fellow autocrats so don't underestimate the importance of that. this projects halfway around the world. i think syria is a very good case.how people sometimes refer to public opinion polls and how they're manipulated by the kremlin wants him to be. when military action was just beginning a few years ago there is a poll showing two thirds of russians were opposed and there was relentless massive propaganda campaign in support of this. finally, very quickly on the
economic point there was this excepted idea in the minds of many ellis that at the end of the day will be the economic begins. in the fridge beats the television that they will allow whatever the state propaganda is. that is accepted wisdom for a long time. i don't necessarily agree has to be that way. the largest mass protest to date against the regime of vladimir putin happened in 2011 and 2012 when the economy was booming during the quarter sanctions. most belong to relatively affluent community.
was about people feeling offended that their votes were being stolen in such a shameless fashion. it's not necessarily my view that the economy will determine this. let's not assume things are going to stay as they are today forever. russian history has a way of surprising us. >> joy, you have the last word. >> i agree with what all of you said. i don't have anything to add. >> on that note, please join me in thanking our panelists. [applause] [inaudible conversation]
[inaudible conversation] [inaudible conversation] later today, here on c-span2, a heritage foundation discussion on switzerland that break which requires budget surplus during economic expansions. that at noon eastern live on c-span2. >> c-span, where history unfolds daily. iny. 1979 c-span was created asa
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