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tv   Great Decisions in Foreign Policy  PBS  April 26, 2018 12:00am-12:31am PDT

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(tanks rumbles) - [george bush] a new breeze is blowing. (mournful music) (civilian unrest) in a world refreshed by freedom, seems reborn. (civilian unrest) for in man's heart, if not in fact, the day of the dictator is over. (suspenseful music) (explosion) - [narrator] the collapse of the soviet union in 1991 sent shock waves around the globe, heralding what many hoped would be new and more peaceful world order. but the post-communist chaos of the 1990s
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made some russians yearn for the stability of decades gone by. paving the way for a new type of authoritarianism under the leadership of russian president vladimir putin. to his detractors, putin is an autocrat, crushing any threat to his power or that of his cronies, while renewing soviet-style expansionism. to his supporters, putin represents russia's redemption as a global superpower and an alternative to the liberal democracy espoused by the west. russia's foreign policy, next on great decisions. (theme music) - [narrator 2] great decisions is produced by the foreign policy association, in association with thomson reuters. funding for great decisions is provided by price waterhouse coopers llp.
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(mournful russian music) (applause) the world changed in 1991 when the soviet flag was lowered for the last time over the kremlin. in its place was raised the flag of russia and what many hoped would symbolize a new era of freedom and western-style democracy. - by the fall of 1991, russia was moving towards independence in agreement with other soviet republics. the soviet union was about to be dismantled. - [polyakova] people including myself who lived in the soviet union at the time didn't see it coming. people were ready for a change. they wanted western values.
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they wanted democracy. (epic russian music) - [yelchenko] there was a lot of hope that the new russia which also became an independent state, like every other former republic, would change. that they would become a country with normalcy, with the human rights and democracy. - [kara-murza] a new era began. an era when we had genuine freedom of the media in russia. when elections actually mattered and when the outcome of the elections was determined by how people voted. (epic russian music) - [narrator] russian president boris yeltsin faced the task of implementing an array of political and economic reforms. the seeds of which had been planted by the soviet union's last premier, mikhail gorbachev. - [sachs] almost everybody was facing
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extreme uncertainty and alarm at a collapsed economy, empty shelves, high inflation and tremendous political turmoil. - then under the advice and guidance of western economists, western business leaders and western politicians russian started to implement what has been known as shock therapy reform. (mournful music) - [news reader] a chicken costs nearly two weeks' pay. only those with hard currency are assured of getting something. - [narrator] tens of thousands of state-owned enterprises had to be privatized, reshaping the entire russian economy. - [buchanan] it was seen as really something like the period of the 1870s, 80s and 90s in the united states with robber barons doing exceedingly well, and the people not doing well, and their standard of living falling. - [polyakova] each state enterprise was assigned
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a certain number of vouchers and then people can buy them up. those who had the connections, who had some money already, not your average russian citizen, were able to buy mass amounts of these vouchers. - i think the greatest tragedy is the selling off of russia to the oligarchs and the partnership with the united states was what has become called shock therapy, which was presided over by someone i now admire, jeffrey sachs. - [sachs] it's so much slower than any of the other high inflation countries has gone through. this has been an excruciating process. i didn't myself design or work on the russian privatization. i was on the financial side, but i watched with growing alarm at what was actually happening in privatization. many in washington thought that at least those assets would go to supporters of yeltsin and thereby help to stabilize yeltsin's government.
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- [narrator] policymakers in washington welcomed the chance to find common ground with russia. a country they had countered strategically throughout the soviet-era with nato, an anti-communist military alliance of north american and european nations. - [polyakova] in the 1990s, there was this general view that russia should be and could be integrated into western institutions. so not just western economic institutions, liberal market economies, the globalized marketplace, but also western security institutions. - i was actually in the room when boris yeltsin asked manfred werner, then secretary general of nato to allow russia to join nato. and that was vetoed. i think that was a huge mistake. one of the greatest mistakes probably of the 20th century. and we now reap what we sow. (ominous music)
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- we will continue to support nato airstrikes until the serbs agree to the conditions laid out by the u.n. - [narrator] the aspirations of integrating russia into western institutions would be quickly tested in the balkans. the u.s. and its nato allies organized airstrikes outside of the u.n. security council, knowing that russia would veto them, pushing moscow to the sidelines. - [lynch] a post-communist russia let by boris yeltsin committed to liberal democracy thought that russia's international interests basically were the same as those of the united states, and of the democratic world in general. very quickly they discovered that there were strict limits to that premise. and we saw that in the balkans, in bosnia and in kosovo, throughout the 1990s. (ominous music)
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- [yelchenko] when the kosovo crisis was on the agenda, russia step by step started to come back to their own understanding of the place which russia should have in the world. - it was rocky, frankly, because one of the reasons that we went to nato was it was very clear that the russians were going to veto any mandate that was coming through the security council. - [williams] there was a lot of concern and aggravation in the kremlin over what they saw as revisionist behavior by nato intervening in russia's backyard. using the idea of crimes against humanity as a pretext to redraw the map of the world in this region to the detriment of russian allies. (suspenseful music) - [narrator] at home the appeal of democracy was wearing thin for many russians who witnessed a rise in organized crime, poverty,
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food shortages, homelessness, and corruption. - [lynch] something close to hyper-inflation hit the russian economy. the result being an increase in seventy-something-odd times of prices. most russians life-savings were wiped out. radical insecurity and inequality was introduced into russian society. - i will never forget a focus group that we did outside of moscow where this man stood up and said 'i'm so embarrassed, we used to be a superpower and now we're bangladesh with missiles.' - [narrator] rising through the ranks of the bureaucracy was a former kgb agent, vladimir putin. - [buchanan] yeltsin inevitably led to putin because he was perceived, i think, as basically a puppet of the americans, of someone who was guided and steered by the americans. - [lynch] putin was appointed prime minister by yeltsin in early august of '99,
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when it was clear a second stage of the russian-chechen war was breaking out. (somber music) - people felt by 2000 that they weren't getting a return on democracy. they weren't getting a return on the things that they had given up. and putin came in with a message that he was gonna reanimate russia's proper place. a place of greatness on the world stage. - [narrator] vladimir putin took the reins of an unstable russian economy. putin partially re-nationalized the oil sector. he also went on the attack, arresting some of russia's wealthy oligarchs. (hopeful music) - he sent a very clear message to the russian business community. that it was best to stay out of politics all together.
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- [brzezinski] he did it because he wanted to demonstrate he was asserting control. he was imposing justice on those that had unfairly benefited from the chaos or the freedom of the reforms of the previous decades. - [vanden heuvel] there remains rampant corruption, but pensions were paid, factories were reopened. the country was revived. the fact that his poll ratings are so high is not simply manipulation of state television. (balalaika music) - [narrator] the russian economy grew from near bankruptcy in the early 2000s to one of the fastest growing economies in the world. - putin caught the wave of rising energy prices which started to go up, up, up and that gave yet another boost to this oil-based russian economy. - he also pursued other policies such as re-instituting private ownership of land
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and establishing stock, currency and bond markets. all of those things were good for the russian economy. (balalaika music) - [smes] make no mistake. they don't just do better, they live dramatically better. and last two or three years they were a disappointment, but still living standards cannot be compared to what most russians had to suffer through in the 1990s. (protest shouts) - [narrator] putin appeals to russia's nationalists and social conservatives, who came to see him as returning russia to its former glory. - [hayden] putin won his first term as president. with oil running 110, 113 dollars a barrel. putin'social conact with the russian peoe was 'i may be an autocrat, but don't worry, you're gonna be rich.' now putin comes back into office and oil's trucking along about 40 dollars a barrel.
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so now putin's new social contract is 'i may be autocratic but don't worry, you're gonna be proud.' (epic russian music) - this new russian middle class was not going to be supportive of putin indefinitely. so when putin came back to power, i think he had to look for a new base of support. and so you do start to get a new kind of more nationalist rhetoric from him. - [smes] he began showing that russia could stand tall once again. at russia can be counted, that they are prepared to use military force, like georgia in 2008 to protect russian economic interests. (protest boos) arrator] the cost to putin's style of governance came in civil liberties.
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opposition figures and journalists have been arrested. human rights groups and non-governmental organizations have been cast as 'foreign agents' and heavily restricted. yet putin's popularity persists. - he's abridged the freedom of press. he's abridged the freedom of speech. he throws people in jail for saying negative things about him. he's running an 18th century authoritarian dictatorship. he's isolated russia from the rest of the world. if you think about russia these days, it doesn't have a single ally. - [brzezinski] most all of the tvs are state-controlled, and that's the main means of information flow. there really isn't much quote unquote 'alternative perspectives' flowing around russia. (shouts in russian) - [de mesquita] one possibility is that in fact he is popular.
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another possibility is that he's not popular but people don't dare to say so, because they see that he arrests politicians. he arrests reporters. he arrests and sometimes seems to kill people who oppose him. (martial music) - [narrator] many fear that putin is attempting to undermine liberal democracy by spreading authoritarianism beyond russia's borders. (martial music) - his main objective in terms of foreign policy is actually expanding the cynicism around the globe,
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because it mostly benefits russian interests. - taking down democratic institutions, belittling democracies in the united states, in europe and elsewhere, helps putin in the story that he wants to tell, which is there is really no such thing as democracy. you have autocrats and hypocrites. that's all there is. - [narrator] perhaps nowhere has russia been more aggressive than in former soviet republics. (hype russian music) - [gfoeller] russians view them as countrymen. they don't really believe in the dissolution of the soviet union. certainly... (laughs) ethnic balks in the baltic states don't see it that way. (ominous music) - [narrator] in 2008, war broke out between russia
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and georgia. that five day war foreshadowed russia's annexation of crimea in 2014. - [nikolayenko] putin decided to take action and stop georgia's close cooperation with nato and the european union. so they decided to advance and create turmoil in the former soviet republic. - the west was basically looking at its shoes as he conducted this invasion, and he mistakenly assumed that he could do the same thing in eastern ukraine. and there he was surprised by ukrainian resistance. - [narrator] in another proxy war, russian troops and syria are defending president bashar al-assad. (explosion) - we had over the decades thousands of jihadists from the broader middle east including syria fighting in chechnya against russia. so for russia, the outcome of the syrian civil war
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is as much about russia's internal security, as it is about the country's external security. (bells toll) (speculative music) - [narrator] policymakers disagree on whether to approach putin's russia with engagement or confrontation. - [polyakova] the american people, i think are rightfully quite confused about 'is putin a good guy?' 'is russia really that bad?' 'why should we care?' it's 'cause our political leaders have never clearly articulated what our stance is towards russia. - [w. bush] i found him to be very straight-forward and trustworthy. i was able to get a sense of his soul. - we want to reset our relationship as... - [male voice] let's do it together. - so we will do it together, okay? (both laugh)
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- russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors. not out of strength, but out of weakness. - we look forward to a lot of very positive things happening for russia, for the united states and for everybody concerned. and it's an honor to be with you, thank you. thank you very much. - thanks. - the disagreement is predominately between the president and the congress. i think on a bipartisan basis, members recognize russia is not our friend. talking nice to putin is gonna change that. there maybe small areas where we have a mutual interest strong enough to work together but largely our interests diverge. (rockets fire) - mistrust of russia is well-founded in many areas. that said, i don't think we should just say that this will always be the case. - y'know sadly there isn't enough of a disagreement.
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it's as if we sleepwalk into a new cold war without the debate that this country demands and deserves. - the yays are 98, the nays are 2 and the bill as amended is past. (suspenseful music) - [narrator] putin faces domestic pressure. with a troubled economy, he shores up support at home by playing great power politics with the u.n. - [schiff] sanctions i think can be very effective. the russians fear nothing more than a collapse or degradation of the russian economy leading to mass protests which could lead to putin's ouster. - he's reliant on the continued support of a number of the oligarchs. a number of the multi-billionaires. - [polyakova] russia is not a democracy with any meaning of that word today. but they still have elections and putin still cares about having a good show at the elections.
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- what he has to be worried about is his cronies. and what he has to worry about in particular is the price of oil. if the price is low, the masses lives will become so miserable that the prospect of uprising is greater. - [narrator] some argue that preventing more countries from joining nato would contain russia without antagonizing the country. - the move of nato into central and eastern europe, right up to the borders of russia, right into russia's front porch, was a historic mistake. and if we are in a second cold war, that's what started it. - i think its important to remember that there was a verbal promise, made by george h.w. bush, secretary of state baker to gorbachev after the fall of the wall, that nato would not expand one inch eastward. - i worked on russia between 1990 and 95 at the white house as an advisor to both president h.w. bush and president clinton.
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i was ambassador to nato. we never made a commitment that we would not expand nato into eastern europe. we made a commitment that we would not station nuclear weapons on the territory of the former warsaw pact states. and we have kept that commitment. - [brzezinski] to say that we should freeze nato enlargement, would be another way to reward putin. to legitimize his polices. your basic meaning there would be a line of division. you will have countries who are not allowed to pursue their national interests because of russian dominion. - we urge russia to cease its destabilizing activities in ukraine and elsewhere. - [narrator] using sanctions on russia, some argue, would further integrate russia into the global economy. - our european friends understand that the more that we actually do economic business with russia that the more likely we are to have peaceful interactions
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that will make things better rather than make things worse. and they will not see that as a sign of weakness. - i think it's nonsense. honestly i don't see how removing sanctions, which would have the effect of acquiescing russia's invasion of its neighbor, which would acquiesce in the russian interference in our election. which would ratify their failure to comply with the immense accords in ukraine, which would reward their continued deception in terms of their involvement in our election. - i think that this is the biggest problem, is that the only way to adequately resolve tensions right now is to basically confirm that putin's worldview is correct. - [gfoeller] there are others who say russia has much more in common with us than saudi arabia. and saudi arabia is certainly authoritarian. and i worked there so i can say that. so why are we friends with saudi arabia but not with russia? (piano music)
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- [narrator] putin's aggression has been used to justify the u.s. and nato taking a more confrontational stance towards russia. - it was a part of pushing back against russian belligerence and malevolence. when they do increase our military presence in some of our nato allies to make sure that they understand we're not gonna let them roll in the way they did to ukraine. - so long as we pursue a policy that is squeezed within this context of force versus force, all you are doing is increasing the pressure on this issue. not creating and doing something to try and find some way around it. but to do that, the americans and their nato allies will have to rethink their fundamental policy decision that was taken at the very outset of the post-cold war period, which was to build a post-cold war security order for europe, nato. with russia on the outside.
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- [narrator] for putin, friction with the west maybe be helpful to maintain domestic support. washington must find a way to negotiate that dynamic without fueling ever greater hostilities. (hopeful music) - [narrator 2] great decisions is america's largest discussion program on global affairs. discussion groups meet in community centers, libraries, places of worship and homes across the country to discuss global issues with their community. participants read the eight topic briefing book, meet to discuss each topic and complete a ballot, which shares their views with congress. to start or join a discussion group in your community, visit or call 1800 477 5836. great decisions is produced by the foreign policy association in association with thomson reuters.
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funding for great decisions is provided by price waterhouse coopers llp. - [narrator] next time on great decisions: china is the second largest economy in the world, and it's expected to replace the u.s. as the top economy in less than a decade. their ambitious plans could make china the epicenter of global trade. washington must find new ways to adjust to china's global expansion. china, the new silk road. next time on great decisions. (theme music)
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