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tv   NATO Russia after the Cold War  CSPAN  August 5, 2022 7:27pm-8:23pm EDT

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going to war in korea to see all my friends killed. and i feel guilty about it. i feel i could have or should have done something more. but i tried to go back and help. and where and what to do and they had to go back and they restrained me. and i felt guilty about it. and another time i felt when i held a guy until he died. he said mom and dad i will be all right. and i love them. he died. i didn't know who he was. i didn't go back to see him. and then we were taken out again in the southwest to a new position by our captain in the regiment. then we were chased off the
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hill and then when it fell is when i lefthello, everybody. welcome to the washington times for this special episode of history as it happens a podcast for people who want to think about current events historically. i'm martin de caro and our guest today catholic university historian. michael kimmage. welcome michael. thank you for having me. good to have you here. you are a member of the state department's policy planning staff 2014 to 2016. your portfolio was russia and ukraine. so you bring a lot of expertise to the subject. we're going to talk about today. you are an expert on us russia relations, and that is the road to war in eastern europe. how did we get to this point where europe is seeing its first major land war since world war two the possible exception of the breakup of yugoslavia a civil war. so let's begin with something. i usually stay away with stay
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away from rather my day-to-day podcast and that is what's happening on the ground. we want the podcast to survive forever not become dated, but i am curious as to what you think about why russia's invasion? has gone so poorly at least from a russian perspective not achieving any major objectives yet. well, i think there are a couple of factors it begins i think with a ambition that was unrealizable from the beginning in this ambition was to dominate entirely the country of ukraine to knock out its government. to put in a puppet really to take control in some way. maybe not over all of ukrainian territory. but over most of it now, it's a country. that's roughly the size of texas a population a bit less than 40 million people and the russians came in with a with an army of 200,000 soldiers. so it just wasn't proportional from the beginning and there was great overconfidence on the russian side about the ukrainians falling apart or joining up with the with the russians and that's i think the the primary reason the hubris we
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hear from our western perspective the idea that ukrainians wanted to revolt from these imaginary nazis that had taken over the country and putin's view obviously as you just said the ukrainians not rally to the russian flag, but also, logistically lack of air supremacy just from a tactical strategic standpoint this professional army. i think it's surprised a lot of people without poorly. it is performed. well, of course, there are two ways of looking at the same issue here on the one hand. ukrainians have performed wave above expectations that many in the us in ukraine and russia had for the ukrainian military. so part of it is the success of the ukrainian military they have high morale. they've really been training and improving their military since 2014 and they have the assistance of quite a few very powerful countries, including the united states. so that's clearly a major factor, but beyond an unrealizable concept that that either putin or his generals develop for this war you see lots of corruption within the
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russian military and you know, you just see a sense of confusion, i think on the part of russian soldiers as to what it is that they're fighting for so that's a recipe for for not succeeding echoes of the soviet invasion of afghanistan when truly crutes were drawn to the theater of war with no clue they were going or why they were there true of course we're speaking here in late springtime heading into the summer so that can change as we know russia's still very powerful military could potentially blast its way to something called victory. that's what sir max hastings the great military historian thought could happen when he joined me on the podcast a few weeks ago. but in the meantime enormous amount of destruction in suffering and a massive refugee problem, that could destabilize that part of europe. that's for sure. i mean you have millions upon millions of internally displaced people within ukraine people who have moved from the east to the west or from battle zones to parts that aren't under immediate fire and then of course you have i believe it's around five million refugees in poland and and elsewhere so the
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scale of this in humanitarian terms cannot be exaggerated. it's an utter catastrophe for the people of ukraine poland's population jumped 10 something percent in a short period of time. it's just because of refugees amazing. okay, so let's talk a little history. shall we do you remember what you were doing besides opening presents? on christmas day 1991 christmas day 1991. i don't really remember but i do recall sort of as a historian at the flag was coming down the soviet flag was coming down and something new was being born. it wasn't just the russian federation but 15 new countries a new map of europe and i do recall also, you know having been about 18 years old at the time the great feeling of optimism, maybe not all russians felt it but certainly in the us we felt it and across much of europe. there was a sense of a real new beginning you're reading my mind. it was gonna ask you about that moment of optimism. i'm talking about the day christmas day 1991 president bush gave a televised address now, i was 16 years old. i was not paying attention to
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international politics or what really was going on in the news. i do remember reagan. i was a child of the 80s. i watched all those cold war movies rambo and red dawn which is still a very good movie by the way. it was the last time you watch red dawn that's childhood early adolescence. yeah. it's not forget firefox also, okay. president bush on tv basically says and i encourage everyone listening to seek this speech out. it's on youtube. we won they lost. freedom and liberty prevailed this is a he said this is a victory for our values. i wasn't just that the soviet union collapsed from within this was a victory for western values in a sense. we defeated them. but we know that bush was also a pragmatist he understood because he was aware of european history. he was a pilot in world war two that whatever the triumphalist feeling of that speech or those remarks on tv. he was aware of the potential dangers and challenges to come i bring all of this up because as
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you reflect as a scholar on the past 30 years and that moment of optimism which of your assumptions about the way history would develop after the cold war have turned out not to be the way you expected. i don't know what assumptions i had really at at that time apart from that general mood of optimism that the walls were coming down the berlin wall and others the borders were opening up. there was a sense that a lot could be achieved through cooperation. and i think if you look back over the last 30 years, that's not wrong a lot was achieved through cooperation. we really did we collectively built a new europe where east and west were much more integrated much more trade commerce exchange of ideas. it's not as if all of the optimism was misplaced. a lot of it really was better than it was during the cold war. i think that the remaining question of the outstanding question in 1991, and it's only grown in stature over time is where does russia fit in all of this? and i think that the assumption then and this is much more
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questionable in retrospect was that russia would join the club in some form or fashion? it would be a partner it would take on a market economy. it would become a democracy. maybe russians wouldn't become exactly like us but they would speak the same language and as not as if that didn't happen at all lots of ways in which we can discuss those trends, but that's clearly not putin's russia and we are back in a kind of confrontation that's in a way more acute than anything. we experience during the cold war. i don't think it's an exaggeration to say that the state of us russia relations is at its worst point. probably since the early cold war days the cuban missile crisis, maybe ronald reagan's first term before the day taunt when that was a very cold period of the cold war we said two things there. i mean we should focus on some of the successes right in eastern europe the former block those countries despite some backsliding and hungary in poland. they are still democracies. they're working towards becoming integrated market economies. would you agree very much. so i think that for these
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countries the progress that we might have hoped for after 1991 is is very real. it was really achieved and it wasn't just market economies and democracy. it was their national independence and that's a story for people across eastern and central europe and that's a story that will take us to ukraine. but of course ukraine is you can't put it in the category of of prosperous prosperous successful countries and at the moment because it's a somewhat different story, but that's where they wish to go. that's right. ukraine is always held special place in this. equation another part of that optimism was that maybe the era of block politics block strategy would come to an end. we have another dividing line in europe again, ukraine happens to be on the wrong side of it. although i mean for all intents and purposes they they're getting article 5 protection in a way we can get back to the present moment in a little bit but i mean was that an unrealistic expectation that the era of block politics would go
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away. well, i would urge as much precision as possible. so there was a hope for a new world for this broad cooperation that russia china the united states would all be integrated into some kind of collective system goes back to woodrow wilson and dreams of of world cooperation and world order that was very much there, but it's not as if nato was dismantled after 1991 and in fact nato was expanded across much of europe in part and it varies from country to country but in part as a hedge against russia's return so at the same time if there was a hope for a world without blocks and without conflict and without tension, you know that hope was qualified to a degree by the expectation that this might return and that was one of the reasons why nato is still kept in in existence. did the cold war really end? some people say not really what's your view on that? i mean it did end it did end but there were continuities into the new era. i think the cold war ended certainly for for a time and one of the ways in which it's still
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over is that the cold war was not just a battle of countries and not just a battle of armies and a matter of nuclear weapons. the cold war was the battle of ideas and whatever the current crisis is or the current competition is it's much more of a standard kind of classic geopolitical competition between the united states and russia or between the west and russia, it's not i think at the moment so much of a battle of ideas. so in that sense the cold war was was different and perhaps when it concluded in 1991 it concluded for good in its terms. some historians have argued that what we're witnessing right now are the wars of soviet succession that the collapse of the soviet union was not an event. it was a process still playing out to this day, obviously because when empires collapse, it's a bloody protracted process the war in chechnya and the early 90s renewed again as yeltsin was leaving the stage and putin was coming on georgia in 2008 when george w bush was president and now of course ukraine i shouldn't say now
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ukraine you ukraine since 2014 you were in the state department one crimea. oh, no you came in a little bit after the annexation of crimea. i cannot blame that on you but to my point what what's your view as a historian on that idea that we're witnessing the wars of soviet succession. i think that's an excellent way. i think of the current crisis in the current tensions one of the things that the cold war did interestingly was to keep things in check at the same time that there was a lot of tension conflict during the cold war in a way europe got frozen. maybe that's one of the ways in which it was cold when the soviet union collapses europe unfreezes. we might think of that as a good thing in terms of countries getting their independence and you know sort of national movements of rediscovery baltic republics poland many other countries. that was unbalance of very very good thing but by becoming unfrozen you have a very open question of what the borders are what the security structures are. nato is one answer to that. it's been coherent for the nato member states, but you have a
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lot of countries that are not in nato and you have belarus to the north of ukraine and you have also moldova to the south where there's a russian military presence in part of the country and belarusa sort of been absorbed recently into russia. at least at least militarily and ukraine is is a war zone so gradually sort of year by year exactly as you suggest there was a war in georgia in 2008. it hasn't been a peaceful process. and in fact, it's been getting more bloody and more violent year by year this process of figuring out where does russia end and where does europe begin if those are the right terms? yeah. there's been a lot of debate to say the least about the nato issue to what extent can we blame nato expansion for russian aggression john meersheimer the scholar basically says the united states is responsible for the war in ukraine by pushing nato expansion we can get to him in a little bit but to your point about those wars they convinced countries in eastern europe that they needed to be in
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nato, especially the chechnya in the 1990s 1990s. he do great that that's a very important point that the way in which russia boris yeltsin's russia in the 1990s, of course before putin comes to power the way in which it managed some of its internal problems, especially the whole issue of chechnya, which is politically a part of russia, but it was a threatened to be a separatist territory and it was suppressed very brutally. i think that a lot of countries in central and eastern europe looked at that and said, well this makes the whole issue of joining nato all the more important. so yes, boriskelson's russia did quite a bit to advance the urgency of expanding the nato alliance so much focus on putin the 1990s are very important decade in this story on the road to war but you know when it comes to the nato question and whether nato should pack up its bags and go home because the warsaw pact had disolved or should expand slowly and selectively or basically put the pedal to the metal as what happened in 08 with george bush
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and the bucharest conference. will follow it after that all those questions. they weren't decided in 1989 before we were talking before the collapse of the soviet union now. but that was a key moment in this the so-called not one inch promise that is playing a part in today's drama because putin does say the west promised. they would not expand nato one inch past its current border. well, that was just a discussion. that was a conversation between james baker and and soviet officials. i think actually was gorbachev himself. we know that president george h w bush and his cabinet ultimately decided that not only would a unified germany remain part of nato, but that nato would have the freedom to potentially expand in the future. what are your thoughts on her that chapter because as i said, it's looming large right now the so called not one inch that's for sure. well the open door policy of nato which goes directly against the notion of not expanding it one inch is in fact built into the nato charter of 1949.
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so structurally nato has had this element of it sweden in finland are probably going to enter the alliance this summer on the basis of this of this policy the open door policy, and that's not 89 shift that's an old policy. that's that's been woven into okay woven into nato. i think that it's perfectly legitimate to talk about the historical record and to go over those discussions and see what was said and what people felt and what they thought about it. that's a legitimate historical conversation the idea that anything that james baker would have said in private is binding or is sort of obligating the us or germany to do anything. i think it's just off the mark. that's that's russian storytelling and a part of their narrative and in the end is really just a propaganda narrative on the russian part. i don't think it plays any meaningful role in policy and you know not to engage in a kind of schoolyard response to your question. but who is it for the russians at the moment to ask about you know promises that have been broken and and and and and you know, sort of treaties and such
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that have been violated we could go down along list of russian violations over the last 20-25 years of special under under putin. so it's a good historical conversation to have you want to have good accurate data. i see no policy consequence of what was discussed in 1989 that would change the nature of the open door, you know sort of discussion at the open door policy of nato well in the final settlement the treaty i guess which was the treaty that kind of ended the occupation of germany after world war two allowed for nato expansion with some conditions. now, of course, it didn't take long for that treaty to be interpreted differently to turn on which side of the new dividing line you were on but i mean, it's my interpretation as just a reader of these issues and mary elise sarati has written a great book about it actually have that book here. i'm gonna reference it at some point that the russians are getting the story wrong and that doesn't mean that there were issues with nato expansion that nato expansion was not threat to russia from their perspective, but this idea that it should never have expanded is is not
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it's a red herring. it's not it's not worth. it's not worth too much. do you remember serious consideration? yeah. do you remember the last country be accepted into nato? at in the last couple of years. yeah. i don't know if it's north macedonia. yes. i do this sometimes to my guess. i like to put them on the spot, which is not fair. not a walking encyclopedia. north macedonia and 2020 montenegro tiny country in 2017, albania and croatia former members of yugoslavia 2009, you know at one point in this debate really going back to the early post cold war years early 1990s the notion that these tiny countries should be part of nato was as a non-starter, wasn't it? it'd be too much too much territory to defend. what's the interest of giving article 5 protection to countries like this one. it might be difficult to actually protect them in thinking behind nato expansion or some people prefer to use the term nato enlargement. although i'm not quite sure what the difference is between
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between those between those two words, but i think one of the premises was that it could help consolidate countries as democracies. so by bringing them into nato there is in the nato charter also a commitment to democracy. so there's a democratization agenda that's connected to the enlargement of nato. but there's also the sense that and you know, this has been imperfect but the sense that nato helps to resolve regional security problems, so instead of having let's say a germany, that would be a nato in a bolt a set of three baltic republics that are not a part of nato if you put them all in nato it, you know, sort of unifies it connects them and it makes it very unlikely that there would be any sort of tension or conflict going back to the late 40s. this was really a question of germany and france at one of the great things that nato did is to bring germany and france into the same alliance. and of course the uk and these countries that for so many years had gone to war with each other and you know seen each other as aggressors and enemies. we're suddenly partners and allies in an alliance and that's done a lot of great things for europe. and so i think there's a sense with some of these smaller
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countries that you can get a similar dynamic and well the baltic states wanted to join me. absolutely. i've been living under domination they were annexed by stalin during world war two. absolutely. yeah, so in their view, they weren't necessarily thinking about germany a revention of germany margaret. thatcher was in the late 1980s. she was concerned about a unified germany because of world war two, but they were they were concerned about an aggressive soviet union hundred percent. but ukraine falls into a to a different category. maybe i'll get to ukraine and nato now i want to talk to you about what condition us russia relations were in as the yeltsin and clinton administration's got underway because they were in pretty good shape. there were still some leftover trust in communication and some hope for cooperation in the 1990s. so we'll well it's up to you want do we want to talk about ukraine and nato early 90s or us russia relations, or why don't we start with you my interviews go build it up to ukraine and i think the 1990s is the high
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point of the us russian relationship you have the highest number of meetings between russia and american presidents clinton. what the moscow a bunch of times? yeah. there was a lot of respect shown on both sides. i think even friendship you could see between the bill and barras as they were referred to in the 1990s. you wouldn't want to romanticize it, you know in terms of nato. yeltsin was not pleased to see nato growing larger within europe that was an issue already. then there were lots of disagreements about former yugoslavia and had to manage that of that crisis and there was i think already then a kind of implicit tension that the us was economically more powerful and military more powerful than the russian federation. and at the same time, you know yeltsin knew that but he didn't want to be treated as the junior partner. so you get this tension there. that's that's not fully resolved, but it's not a catastrophic tension in the 1990s by no means the two leaders got along really well. yeltsin even called clinton directly once for help in securing a alone from i guess the world bank that's brittany
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of it because it had been rejected and he was able to get clinton to get that loan through but as far as you know, russia's place in the world you you alluded to this earlier in our conversation here clinton himself said about the importance of needing russia. he said without a stable functioning russia. i think he said something like the rest of the world will know sorrow and we look at what's happening today. russia has become a pariah in the eyes of the west the view from the global south is a little bit different. i mean, i think it's still obtains though. we do need russia as part of the international community now, of course that is incumbent upon rush it to not invade other countries. right, but going back to the 1990s clinton certainly understood this but russia was in such bad shape. the transition to a market economy and a democracy if you will was not it didn't it never really happened. and that affected the relationship the country was was certainly struggling in the 1990s. you have a major economic crisis in the later part of the 1990s
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that really unwinds a lot of the sense of excitement and enthusiasm about the new world. there is in russia to this day still a bit of resentment about the kind of advice that the us gave. about shock therapy about economics, but you know, i think what one has the kind of advice that the u. s. gave about -- >> shock therapy. >> about economics. but i think one also has to factor in, not that you want to read back too much from the present moment, but when you see putin, when you see his war in ukraine, when you see putin's popularity such as it is at the present moment, you also have to factor in that russia sees itself as having a privileged position in eastern and central europe. that's never easy to define, as the countries on russia's periphery use the term near abroad. where they feel it's also the sphere of influence. you can also think a quasi-imperial terms about that. i don't think that's forgotten in the 1990s, i don't think it's irrelevant to boris yeltsin's career, just that they didn't have the capacity to act on those aspirations but
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they wear their. >> they felt humiliated as a fallen empire. >> that is certainly an important part of it. there is a sense that this part of europe is a buffer zone between russia and the outside world. and there is just a habit of imperial thinking. >> deep historical roots there. >> deepest oracle routes, going back hundreds of years. that is destined, i wouldn't want to overemphasize the sense of destiny and all of this. but that is destined to conflict with the american view of europe. the small, states the big states are autonomy, as they have the freedom to choose, they're not supposed to be under anybody's domination. >> euro hole and free. >> if they want to be a part of american institutions like, nato so be it, it's a choice, it's not something a russia's able to veto. russia, i should, say not just, putin takes a different view of it. that's already there in the 1990s but it's under the surface. >> that is an intractable aspect of this conflict. these two world because that will never be squared with one another. and you're right, all
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russian leaders, gorbachev, yeltsin, before putin, felt, and military intellectuals, military figures, government figures. the moment where they had some political parties, russian of all stripes felt the sense of humiliation. and also the sense that the united states were piling on and taking advantage of russia in the way some of these negotiations went about the, for one, expansion of nato. wouldn't you say?, i think that's true. from an american point of view, that was known. that made a certain amount of sense. the united states was uncontested superpower in the 1990s. i don't think it's felt the need to bend over backwards to privilege to honor russian concerns. it did not make a lot of intuitive sense in the 1990s. that was interpreted by many russians, not all, but many as a kind of arrogance. the seeds are laid in the 1990s
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for the conflicts that we see playing out before us. i think there are many ways in which we could've turned, maybe not come to the outcome we had before our eyes now. the 1990s are a pet vehicle that cage that number of the big problems we have at the moment can be traced back to those years. >> nothing is inevitable. there is always options or side roads to take. about my point just now about all russians in positions of power. i do this on my podcast. i will take out a book and read a few sentences. this is mary louise sororities book, not one inch. about ukraine and what to do about ukraine's interest in nato after the fall of the soviet union. but before ukraine has declared its independence at the end of 1991. if ukraine decided in that referendum become put fully independent, and at once commence a painful economic and political divorce from its fellow slaves. and also become a greater nuclear power than either britain or france. ukraine's choices would clearly have such far reaching effects
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from moscow, ambassador strauss advise washington the most revolutionary event of 1991 for russia may not be the collapse of communism, but the loss of something russians have all political stripes think is part of their own body politic. near to the heart at that. ukraine. i would like you to pick it up from there. >> i mean, ukraine has -- the baltic states joining nato may have wrangled the soviet union. it is different than ukraine joining nato. >> the war colors, all of this in the darkest possible terms at the prompt present moment, that's as it should be. the war is the most important invent of our moment and will be for a long time. the war speaks a high degree of russian chauvinism and imperialism. the sense you can go into another country and take its territory. >> no excuse. >> through coercion and bloodshed, behind that, it is
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not a benign history. is not necessarily a war like history. it's a kind of sensibility among many russians that there is a kind of shared civilizational bond between the two countries. religion and russia, language, culture, architecture flows from medieval ukrainian, kyiv history, russian history is built upon that. that is a matter of harmony and -- a lot of people vacations in crimea and ukraine. they had positive social asians there. the language issue is important. that there are even today a few russians speakers in ukraine. there's a proximity of language. that takes us to this notion, very controversial and upsetting of putin's, that they are one people people. it might seem like the friendly notion. it's a notion at which he's promised the need for war. that
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resonates with attitudes in russia that see this as, yes, exactly as a court indicates. ukraine is an agreement part of russia. it makes ukraine very different, as you're indicating, from poland or the baltic states. or georgia or other countries. it ignores >> ukraine's desires -- you know, history is moving on, right, wrong, indifferent. the russians cannot get their way anymore. if in fact ukraine is to be a sovereign, independent nation, to choose its own path. it wanted to, well, maybe i should ask you, one of the attitudes in ukraine at this point about joining nato? how strongly where the ukrainians pushing this idea? at the same time, the west wanted them to remove their, safely removed, all the nuclear warheads. >> i don't think that in the 1990s there is a big push in ukraine to join nato. i think the problems were pretty immediate. people are wrestling with questions of poverty. and economic development. and state building after the collapse of the soviet union. those are the
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most pressing concerns. i don't think there is too much of a worry of a war with russia or anywhere else. i don't think security concerns were paramount in the 1990s. even according to polling data, there wasn't even a majority of ukrainians who supported the notion of nato membership. what you do get overtime, i development i think after the 1990s, a much stronger sense of ukraine as a part of europe. this also speaks to the collapse of borders and walls that young people start to travel more. ukraine, of course, has a border with slovakia, hungary, poland. >> western ukraine, historically -- >> has many ties to austria and other parts of europe. >> ukraine start to see itself as europe. doesn't have to be zero sum. it doesn't have to be europe or russia. you start to see that inclination. that takes us in a way to 2013. and the president of ukraine then, victor yarmulke which, is about
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to sign an agreement with the european union. he was pressured not to do it at the last minute in november of 2013. that sparked protest. it brings us a little bit to the contemporary moment. that is not about nato, that is about europe. >> with so much focus on nato, we forget that was a trade pact with the eu. putin would not allow it. try to offer some loans as compensation. i mean, that trade pact might have cost russia's economy significantly. >> they eventually signed, i think, in 2015 they signed it back. i don't think it had very serious repercussions. yes, it was an insult to russian prestigious that russia was trying to build its own structures. it was a footnote. it was a detail. it was a huge russian blender to make such a mountain of that regulatory and institutional law will. >> to say the least, 1999, why does yeltsin choose putin? >> well, yeltsin -- >> it's a key point in history. >> it, is it is, no one could see the significance at the
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time. putin was unknown outside of russia. he had been a kgb officer, i think most of us know, and east germany. he came back for a while, worked as a taxi driver, said he worked as a taxi driver. and then got into saint petersburg mayoral politics. was given the job of head of the fsb, at the intelligence services in the late 1990s. certainly is a very capable manager. a ph. d. in law. has self discipline and intelligence. that was attractive to yeltsin. there are many people that had those active boots, what yeltsin felt, he needed somebody who had come into power and not prosecute his family. yeltsin has its own issues with corruption. more to the point, his family members had been on the take. so, if they had ended up in jail, i think yeltsin would have been devastated. he chose some of that would be loyal to yeltsin as putin was. no one was prosecuted from yeltsin's family. he got that you loyalty, he also got a lot of other
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things in the bargain. you're right, it's a huge turning point. >> scholars disagree about the extent to which that was the driving, the driver, behind yeltsin's decision. the so-called family. really, -- ded he's a democrat lowercase d. right? he said he's a democrat and i recently watched as i do for so many of my podcasts i'm digging in the archives watching old news conferences and events. i watched vladimir putin's 2000. you could call it an inaugural address. it was i mean, he did win the election that year there was an election in russia. i think he won 53% of the popular vote. so he's in the former zarist palace where the where the zar is used to sit on the throne and he's giving an inaugural address and he's not talking about autocracy or who would but he does he is talking about promoting democracy. he wasn't a thorough going authoritarian some scholars have said one. he takes over. so what happens i think the best way to think of putin when he
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begins is not as a democrat, although he did work for a liberal political figure in saint petersburg, except jack the mayor of saint petersburg. i think the way to think of putin in year 2000 is as a modernizer. that was the promise he sort of made to the russian people and for a while it it worked the modern builder right modernizer in the sense that you'll create a system that works a powerful state, you know an economy that's comprehensible. and so he did engage in confrontation with various oligarchs, of course a lot of the modernization has driven by oil money, so it's not as if putin did something magical to make the country prosperous. he just sort of benefited from those from those revenues, but i think he presented himself and was understood by the public as younger new generation efficient competent, you know, not somebody who had a drinking problem like yeltsin, so that's not somebody who had these personal weaknesses, but it was in the name of modernization. i think democracy would be a bit of a misnomer. i agree. i'm not trying to make him out to be the next coming of thomas jefferson over here, but no
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because you have the apartment bombings never explained but possibly at putin's instigation and very very tough dealings, which chechnya is part of his political promise. so that's there at the beginning but he did seek he did try to restore a sense of state authority after what happened in the 1990s. absolutely, and he also wanted speaking of resets clinton. yeltsin then it's interesting how the leadership coincided, you know, george hw bush and gorbachev kind of leave the scene kind of at the same time clinton yeltsin come on together kind of leave together. george w bush and putin come on together and george w bush certainly sought a reset with russia. he was very chummy with putin. we all remember the fishing trip, and that was later in the process. they're very first joint news conference george w bush was at the podium putin was standing next to him. he said russia is not the enemy of the united states. the cold war is over, right, but putin didn't get what he wanted from bush and some historians have argued.
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this is a big reason why he became he becomes more and more authoritarian and autocratic. i wouldn't put the us at the center of the story and that way. i think that putin became autocratic for internal. okay reasons, it speaks to his personality his sense of power. the vision that he has for for russia eventually he latches on to a very, you know, sort of conservative in the sense of reactionary autocratic vision ultra rationalist. yes of russia's past and of russia's future, and i don't think that that's a function of anything george w bush did or anything at the us did although the us has always the the foil to to putin's russia. i think more to the point when it comes to where those two figures diverge was the iraq war. so putin warned against it. he thought it was a bad idea. he may have been on to something with that. he felt like he wasn't listened to he felt like the us was, you know becoming disruptive and going down the wrong path and i think that that really crushes the relationship between george w bush and putin, but i wouldn't use that to explain putin's autocratic term. i think that comes from within i think it's a good point and
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wasn't just putin he tried this talk bush out of invading iraq for sure rock and others. yes, fisher and many others. yeah and because the us did what it wanted the russians did take from that that when we're going to do what we wanted to do we want as well that doesn't excuse it crucial to the russian narrative that the us broke the rule. so who was the us to impose the rules and and over time putin maybe he's always been this way. he's taken on in terms of foreign policy and ukraine's place and all this because we are here to discuss how we got this war in ukraine. an ultra nationalist often fantastical version of history about ukraine, but this whole time ukraine's place in the new europe is never fully resolved. it remains an irritant to russia and i think pouring, you know pouring gasoline on that fire george w bush at the bucharest conference in 2008. well first in 2007 putin's at the munich security conference, and he lays down a line, right,
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georgia and ukraine are not going to join nato. 2008, georgia w bush goes up to the book after the bucharest conference, which was a nato meeting and says we want ukraine and georgia to join nato that seems like a really important turning point here. that's very true. i think that if you take a step back what's really at issue is not the expansion of nato, especially the expansion of nato as it was up until 2004 into the baltic republics poland jack republic hungry. i mean, it's true that the russians didn't like it, but they lived with it and it was not the end of the world. there's not much they could do to stop it. no money. not much they could do and not much that they did do to to stop it. so, you know, that's not the crux of the matter and you know, i think even those issues with the with the bucharest summit unfortunate wording. i think most people would agree that it's regrettable that that w bush put it in those terms, but i think it's not even that. that's the heart of the story. i think the heart of the story. is that for the west and for the
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us in particular is the most important. country and all of this they could never really decide where ukraine fit and it's dangerous in some respects to leave a country happy and having yes half hours first of both worlds, right? so there was enough there in in the us posture to provoke russia up to a point and the us never withdrew that offer even though i think at some point everyone kind of understood ukraine was not still in effect, but it's of course. it's a statement. so the us did enough to anger russia when it came to a ukraine policy, but it didn't do enough to protect ukraine, so it should have made it more coherent choice in 2008. maybe wasn't even about nato membership. i think that was always difficult because nato requires as we know now from turkey, which is causing some problems with sweden and finland nato to enter for a new country to enter you have to have unanimous vote that may have been different difficult for ukraine, but you could have built up a more robust security relationship starting in 2008 and just made it a matter of security assistance and military cooperation, so that could have been another solution in the past, but when you look back in
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retrospect, we have to be critical neither that nor that policy. well, you know the idea also was that no, no country gets a veto right over. you know, russia does not deserve it for sure. but he also have to you know, look at things the world as it is instead of the world that you want and i understand that us policymakers and that 2008 bucharest conference. maybe weren't thinking that way they basically said sorry this is gonna happen. but i mean this was an irritant, but you know, i'll give you i'll give you a different point of view about that from stephen kotkin sure the great scholar. i know that he's you're an admirer of his great admire before i talk about -- it. have you read his stalin volumes? yes, of course. yes. they take a long time to get through but they're brilliant books volume one and volume two, and i can't wait for volume three probably going to be about 1500 pages always got to get the whole world war two and the early cold war, right? okay, not to digress. okay, so steven cotkin gave an
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interview. i've cite my sources here given interview to the new yorker he was asked about john meersheimer. i referenced him earlier his argument that the us is responsible for the war by pushing nato on ukraine, george cannon the great george kennan has made the same argument or close to the same argument. cotkin says i respectfully disagree the problem with their argument is that it assumes that had nato not expanded. russia would be sorry. russia wouldn't be the same or very likely close to what it is today. kotkin says what we have today in russia is not some kind of surprise. it's not some kind of deviation from a historical pattern way before nato existed in the 19th century. russia looked like this. it had an autocrat. it had repression. it had militarism. it has suspicional foreigners and the west this is a russia that we know said konkin. it's not a russia that arrived yesterday or in the 1990s. it's not a response to the actions of the west they are internal processes in russia that account for where we are today. sounds like you agree with that
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based on what you saying? yes. i think it's a very it's a very fair point. i mean george canon in 1997 and interview with tom friedman. said that the expansion of nato was going to lead in a negative direction. i don't think he could have foreseen the the war of 2022. of course we can go back and talk about 2014 and 2015. i do next we'll get to that. i think it's you know, and this is to be a little bit more pointed than then the great steve kotkin in terms of that analysis. to blame nato expansion for the in russian invasion of february 2022 is really ludicrous the nature of the invasion the motivations, you know at best joining. nato is a very distant prospect in 2022 if it's even if it was even a real prospect before the war, maybe it will become a prospect because of the war but before the war it wasn't a real prospect so to put nato in any causal sense at the beginning of that story is just it's just off the mark. nato expansion may or may not have been a good idea, but you're arguing and cannot be blamed for that. i mean there is a there is an argument to be made for that
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based on putin himself his view of history and as mr. kotkin explained and others have explained it goes back to this kind of ultra-nationalist he doesn't want to bring back the soviet union he wants to bring back greater russia and sometimes aging autograph autocrats can become unhinged or unmored from reality. i don't think putin's insane and we got to be careful about trying to cycle analyze somebody but we know that he's changed a lot recently. he's isolated. he sits at that 20 foot you imagine doing this podcast with me 20 feet away from me shouted. he meets everybody like that. he who knows if he's getting good advice, so i don't know if you have anything to offer there before we talk about your experience in the state department and you crane, but any final points about putin and his worldview at this time in his life. well, it's one of the big debates with putin. i think that historians will be debating this for a long time. to come what has changed and maybe not that much. maybe he's just shown his true colors in the last couple of months. and what we saw before was a
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sort of hidden or moderate version of putin. i'm a little bit more inclined to say that putin himself seems to have changed and one way. that seems really significant to me is that he's much more of a risk taker at the moment, and i thought he was before obviously putin could be aggressive. it was a shrewd operator if you have any questions about putin's willingness to use brutal tax extend civilians. you need only go back to the syrian war of 2015 or to the wars and chechnya where much of what's happening in ukraine was was anticipated by the actions of the russian military. so that's not a boundary that he's crossed recently. he crossed that boundary long ago, but the kind of risk that he's taken with his own economy on the battlefields of ukraine. it's a war he could lose and that's an enormous risk for russia to take because if they lose the war putin himself will not survive politically so he's gambled everything on this and i never thought he was quite the gambler that he seems to be so that now raises a whole host of issues about the potential use of tactical nuclear weapons. how long the war might last how far he's willing to go to save
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face and where are the diplomats almost all wars end in a negotiated settlement total victory is a myth. we think of world war two that was an anomaly conquest the conquest of the axis powers the occupations of their countries, we wrote their constant new constitutions for them in the case of japan. i don't think we're gonna see total total victory in ukraine, but only fo rather predict the future one last point about putin as you were saying, you know was he always like like this or is he changed? in the west he was underestimated. i think i think obama underestimated him trump's relationship with putin has been the subject of a lot of debate. anthony beaver the great military historian believes at the west however defined did underestimate him despite the fact that there were wars in chechnya war in georgia the annexation of crimea that he really is kind of this type of well, if not a gangster simply interested in accumulating his own wealth an ultra-nationalist who felt humiliated by the collapse of the soviet union, but i think there was a sense of
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often a sense in the us and the west of putin a sort of a loser. yeah. there's that phrase that obama had like the kid who kind of slouches in the back of the classroom and you know, sort of aloof and and surely and and all of that. yeah. he said, i'm sorry interrupt but obama basically said russia is just a regional power, right? he may have been right about that, but the russians don't want to hear that well, and and and what does that even mean to say a countries a regional power is everybody knows russia has nuclear weapons, and i think it's to confuse a lot. it's to confuse two things to say is the country capable of a very effective modernization and obviously putin's russia is not he came in as a modernizer, but he didn't succeed in modernizing the country china has gone way beyond russia in terms if it's economy and china will be one of the dominant countries at the 21st century. i doubt that russia will be for the long. but you can be a country that doesn't modernize and you can still create enormous problems not just for your neighbors, but for the whole international system, which is what putin has done in the last couple of months. so his capacity to do harm
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should never have been underestimated his you know, aloofness or you know in a some ways mediocrity as a leader. i think that there's a degree of truth to that but that may be beside the point because he can just he can wreak havoc he's proving that rush is also just too big and too important in a country with too many natural resources for sure as we speak here today read a headline how finland is going to start cutting off gas imports, and we're putting the west is putting the pressure sanctions wise on russia at some point. there has to be renewal of some type of functioning relationship. that's my editorializing. i want to ask you one or two to wrap up a couple of questions about your experience as a member of the state department. you are already a professional scholar and expert on us russia relations. you work for the state department in 2014 to 2016. you became a member as i said the policy planning department. your portfolio was russia and ukraine. this is a key moment, you know today ukrainians even those who may have been sympathetic to russia today. you ukrainians. are you not united sure against
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russian domination? but in 2014 even after the annexation we still had parts of ukraine that were still maybe tilting more towards the east. how would you characterize ukrainian's feelings that that important moment after the annexation? with a large part of the country wanting to pull away from russia and join the west so to speak it was certainly more complicated than what you describe at the at the present moment. it's a large country more clarifies things, right? it's a large country regionally and has its own regional differences and there were parts of the country that inclined more economically and culturally toward russia and more toward the west. i think more importantly than that though. i mean, that's true from any country's that they have different, you know, the united states has different regional affiliations, but more important than that. i think there wasn't a strong belief in government. that's what the revolution was about in 2014 was creating a new kind of government and that was only a partial success up until well maybe even until the
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present moment hasn't fully succeeded that project of reform but in a way that i could not corruption right in a way that i could not have anticipated when i was at the state department. there was one great success of american policy in those years, but it was very subtle and it took a long time to play out. and this was her contribution in the united states made to democracy and ukraine. however, we would define this because in 2019 you have an election in ukraine and petro putter shenko the sort of oligarch president who had been there since 2014 not democrat really? well, maybe. you know a man with his flaws, but you know, he operated within the democratic system. i'd say he's voted out of office and you get this younger figure. who's the first post-soviet leader of an islavic state of belarus, russia or ukraine is the first one to be of a younger generation a different mentality a different connection to his people he's not the world's greatest president between 2019 and 2022. i mean his popularity rating was very low in the war began, but lo and behold you get a war and this is somebody who can deal
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with his own population. so i think that that election in 2019 was absolutely pivotal and whatever the us did to help create the conditions that and it did do something that was an extraordinary investment in ukraine's future had put a schenko or somebody like that a kind of oligarch, but in power when the war began, i think some of that ukrainian skepticism about the state might have been stronger and the war might have been different more difficult to prosecute so there, you know, i'm happy to speak about the things that we did wrong or to speak critically. i think there was one really kind of remarkable area of success. that was only visible over the long term. that's an amazing point. yeah, i tend to focus on what goes that's right was a reporter right suppose. well, thank you for correcting my comment about parish. the predecessor to zalensky so final question. i mean at this time by the way, i've noticed you haven't been drinking here fully new. this wasn't one. that's a joke. it's not happy hour yet. um, no final question. i'm concerned about this war and it's ripples. we're gonna feeling be feeling the effects for potentially decades. you know, we're we tend to in
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this country. enjoy the when i say we who am i talking about the political elites in this country? the biome administration is very proud of the unification of nato the sense of purpose. they raise all detra again, but on the ground in eastern europe, we're seeing a catastrophe unfold and we know that wars they don't end they migrate to other places. they migrate to our minds they migrate to legacies of rancor and ethnic hatred maybe there won't be ethnic hatred in this case as as there was an early 20th century here. but what are your final thoughts on what could happen from this point on? so let me make two points by way of conclusion in terms of your very important question. i think that what the biden administration must do is to explain to the american people how important regional european stability is the united states fought two wars in the 20th century because stability got out of hand in europe those were different wars different situations. it's not equivalent, but we really as a country need to be invested in regional stability european stability. i don't have the perfect recipe for how we achieve stability in terms of the current war.
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but you know, it's okay, it's johnson. it's it's it's very very important and i think biden needs to communicate that you know, he's got the thing tanks of dc on his side. he needs to communicate that to the to the general public or else we're going to be in in real trouble with the with the policy and that takes me to the second point which is that the war is going to exactly as you suggest have some very long-term costs for the people of ukraine, undoubtedly first and foremost for the people of ukraine. we spoke earlier about refugees and displaced people and the death of civilians which is which is which is heartbreaking and ongoing of course have higher wheat and commodity prices that are becoming important as a result of the war that could result in in hunger and starvation by the end of this of this calendar year, and of course inflation because of ruptures to the global economy and you know higher commodity prices oil prices gas prices etc is going to be an issue that already affects us, but it's going to affect us more because of the war so there's not probably that much that washington can do about those big global problems apart from
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try to manage them effectively. i don't think we can get rid of them because we can't get rid of the war overnight, but for people to be aware that that's on the horizon and at the same time to see what the core us interests are in. ancient and that the us has to stay engaged and has to stay, you know, sort of on target with this and if we can sort of keep these two points in some kind of harmony will be we'll be okay. you know my i promise we'd be wrapping about is a lot one final comment. i mean the united states has become the de facto guarantor of ukraines independence to be sure. it's costing tens of billions of taxpayer dollars when we have our own problems to deal with here without any debate in congress. no real debate sure. i'm not saying stop supporting ukraine. i'm not saying support ukraine for as long as the war last whatever the right policy is. there's no debate in our country and this leads to mission creep. we've been down this we've seen this movie before i don't ever think there's a us troops on the ground in ukraine, but the longer the war lasts the worst the potential outcomes at least in my view. well, you know, i don't have a
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good counter to that. i think that the biden administration sees a chance for a significant degree of military. accomplishment if not victory over the summer that true proven true. it may be proven false. but i think that's one reason why there's such a rapid investment at the present moment, but i agree over time you have to set priorities at times you have to set limits congress and the diplomats, you know, sort of come to a sense of what the of what a desirable end state would be i don't think we're there yet, but it's also heartening to me to see this degree of support for for ukraine at the present moment given the stakes of what's happening on the battlefield, but down the road those priorities and limits have to be very clearly articulated for the for the policies to succeed. what you know, how does this end, you know to pull a vietnam era question back to how does it end week the weeking of the weakening of russia? that's kind of a fuzzy goal, but you know, i understand. it's easy for me to just sit here and fire the questions away at you and at the leaders of our country, it's so it's much more
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difficult to answer the questions. we want to thank michael kimmage historian catholic university for stopping by history as it happens, and i hope you all enjoyed this interesting discussion about what's going on today. remember everything happening today comes from somewhere and that is the goal the aim of history as it h


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