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tv   Amanpour on PBS  PBS  May 8, 2018 12:00am-12:30am PDT

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welcome to amanpour on pbs. tonight, churchill once called russia a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. that is just as true today as it was then, perhaps even more so. former u.s. ambassador michael mcfaul was there as washington and moscow hit the rocks. we get his insider take on putin and where it all went wrong. good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. it may not be the cold war all over again, but a new kind of
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ideological war is afoot. this time, instead of communism versus capitalism, it's autocracy versus democracy. it's playing out all over the globe with authoritarian governments gaining power in places like poland and you hungary and the philippines and turkey. russia and the west are the main pillars in the struggle. michael mcfaulad a ringside seat to all the action. he was the architect of the reset policy. by the time he got to russia as ambassador, that idea was all going up in smoke. mcfaul's new book about being in the room where it happened often with putin is just out. it's called "from cold war to hot peace." he joins me now from stanford university in california for his first in-depth television interview. welcome to the program.
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>> thanks for having me. >> hot peace, describe what you mean by that. i ask you because others are saying perhaps we're on the brink of some kind of hot war. >> well, i don't think we're on the brink of a hot war. thankfully, both vladimir putin and president trump want to avoid that. i think what we saw in syria showed real deescalation and trying to avoid that. but as you just said in your introduction, it is a very confrontational moment. i call it the hot peace to echo there are almost almost elemed war. they are more sinister than the cold war. during the last decades of the cold war, we didn't have annexation. when putin invaded crimea. we have new weapons, cyber weapons that we didn't have in the cold war. even the way that we talk about
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international norms i think have changed fundamentally. vladimir putin seems more ready to defy the west and our international norms, more so than the late cold war leaders in the soviet union. >> you write your mission to russia should have been a crowning acheefshmecrown ing crowning achievement of my career. was not. what went wrong in your mission there? >> as a kid as stanford here, during the cold war, i was worried about confrontation between the soviet union and the united states. i took my first trip abroad to leningrad. grew up in montana. never been abroad. two years after coming to california for school, i went there because i wanted to improve relations. i had a theory, perhaps somewhat idealistic, if we could understand each other, we could
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reduce tension. for 30 years, i was involved in that project. going to moscow in january 2012, the president asked me to continue that project. the reset project. that's why he sent me to moscow in the first place. when i got there, things had changed radically from the time that we first began dealing with russia in 2009 in the obama administration. two big things had changed. one, vladimir putin was running for president again. and planned to return to the kremlin. he was not interested in a cooperative relationship with the united states. that became very clear to me in the early months of my time as ambassador. two, and almost as important, at the time that i landed in moscow, literally just weeks before i landed in moscow, there were massive demonstrations in russia, protesting a falsified parliamentary election in december 2011. it grew from 50 to 500 and eventually hundreds of thousands of people protesting against the
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putin regime. the last time that had happened in that country was 1991, the year the soviet union collapsed. so putin needed an argument against these protesters. he chose the united states, obama and me to say that we were fomenting revolution against him as a way to mobilize his electoral base and to marginalize the democratic forces. >> you say in your book that one of the major issues for him around 2011 was the arab spring. >> yes. >> all these regimes collapse in the face of similar internal demonstrations. you are mentioning in russia. was he afraid -- forget the united states. was he afraid that that was going to happen to him in russia? >> yes, he was. i'm glad you mention that. people forget that 2011 was a very volatile time where lots of
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strong men, autocratic leaders throughout the middle east were being challenged by big demonstrations. first in tunisia and egypt and libya and syria. the same year, that's the year that you had the massive demonstrations inside russia against vladimir putin and his regime. his initial reaction by the way to the people was he was upset with them. he believed that he had made them rich. that he had brought russia off its knees. this middle class, they called it the creative class inside russia, was of his making, he thought. his second reaction was fear. again, the last time that had happened in his country was 1991, the year the soviet union had collapsed. an event that he called the greatest tragedy of the 20th century. he was not going to allow it to happen again. that's why he decided to crack down on those protesters and to use us as part of the propaganda
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to say that they were puppets of the west and literally puppets of me. they used to run videos of me allegedly handing out somebo ii the opposition. i was sent by obama to overthrow the regime. >> let me go back to another thing you have written. when you went to russia in 1991 after the fall of the soviet union and to try to help them in their move towards democracy -- don't forget, i remember because i was there, russians were very upset with americans because they thought that you had driven them to this shock therapy. the incredibly difficult economic belt tightening they had to do. they haveev it. it was one of the wofrst experiences of their memory. about that time you met putin in st. petersburg. he was, in your words an undistinguished bureaucrat. if you asked me to list 5,000
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russians that might be the next president, he would not have made the list. reflect on what your initial view of him was given you spent a lot of time in the room with him as ambassador. why did he not make the list? did he ever measure up to making the list in your view? >> first of all to remind you and your viewers, i was there meeting with him in 1991 before the collapse of the soviet union. his boss, the maryor of st. petersburg wanted to collaborate with americans to deepen democracy inside st. petersburg and the soviet union as a whole. in that period, people often forget, people wanted to interact with americans because we thought we had a common purpose to build democracy. even after the collapse of the soviet union when i returned and worked for an american ngo dedicated to building democracy, we were welcomed guests of the
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regime. we were not overthrowing the regime. we were trying to help them. you are right that shock therapy, the economic piece, happened at the same time and really undermined support for democracy. that happened throughout the entire post-communist world. that's nothing special to russia. it did frame in a negative way the way that many russians thought about democracy. as a result of that, throughout the '90s and in particular august 1998, when there was another financial collapse, russia was hit hard, that's when yeltsin decided he needed a new leader. that's when he chose from obscurity vladimir putin. he became his prime minister
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first. and then was his anointed president. at the time, 1998, by the way, there was another heir apparent. he was a charismatic leader, former governor. first deputy prime minister. had been elected many times before. yeltsin made clear he wanted him to be the next president of russia. that financial collapse meant that that government had to resign. that's when putin came into the void. that's how he became president. >> i just want to ask you -- again, it's really important to try to figure out where this all went wrong. we all remember that in -- after 9/11, putin stood firm with the rest, stood firm with the united states, allowed the united states, president bush to use former soviet territories to stage military into afghanistan. something then went wrong. is it accurate to say he felt betrayed by president bush when he went to war in iraq and further betrayed by president
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obama when he went to action in libya and in putin's view took it way too far to regime change? >> yes. in fact, vladimir putin described in detail how he felt betrayed by the bush administration when we first met with him in july 2009. we spent three hours at a breakfast. the first hour of that breakfast was putin explaining to the new president, president obama, all the mistakes that the bush administration had made. at the top of his list was iraq. they had an exchange about that. he said, look, you americans, you don't understand the middle east. you use your covert and overt change to overthrow regimes you don't like. by the way, there's empirical data to support that hypothesis that putin was explaining that day. obama pushed back. he said,ou are right. by the way, that really surprised putin. you are right, you are the
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americans, what do you mean i'm right? he said, i was against that war from the beginning. i'm not going to do that. we're not going to be in the business of regime change. at the end of that conversation, i heard putin as they were walking out to the car, he is like, maybe this guy is different. maybe obama is different. maybe we have entered a new era. fast forward to 2011. how to respond to what we thought was the verge of genocide in libya. what's interesting about that is that the president supported our military intervention. i was in the room when he gave us the green light. he abstained on the u.n. security council resolution that allowed intervention in libya. that has never happened in the history of the u.n. security council with respect to the soviet union or russia. putin thought he made a mistake. he said it live on television
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two days later that his own president had made a mistake. i think that was the moment when putin decided, all right, this young guy, he has been hoodwinked by the americans. he doesn't understand their true intentions. obama actually is no different than george w. bush. he said he wasn't going do regime change and here he is now. that i think was the beginning of the end of the reset. >> now where are we? now we're more than the beginning of the end. we're at the end of the beginning or the end of the end. it's truly -- >> yes. >> a terrible, terrible area right now. potentially, president putin might have thought he could engage with president trump. instead, we're in this massive investigation as to whether he had any influence on the u.s. election. hillary clinton believes the russians sabotaged her election. where does it go from here? >> you are absolutely right that
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president putin and his government wanted donald trump to win the election. here's no doubt in my mind that in the margins they did things to try to help him win that election. whether or not it had a direct independent causal influence as we would say in political science on the outcome of the election, that's difficult to figure out given there were so many other variables involved in president trump's victory. did they try do it? there's no doubt because candidate trump said some very kremlin friendly things. he said he would lift sanctions. he would look into recognizing cry mimea as part of russia. he beat up on nato. he never said a word about democracy or human rights in russia or for that matter anywhere else in the world. candidate clinton had the exact opposite view on all those issues. it's pretty rational from my point of view that putin would prefer trump.
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they are disappointed in what president trump has delivered so far. bied alarge ty ed and large the administration continued a lot of the policies of the obama administration. at times, even become more confrontational. for instance, sending lethal weapons to ukraine, something the obama administration didn't do. the way i read putin and the way i read the russian news, they're still holding out the possibility that the good czar trump will overcome the bad -- the czar was good, the princes were bad. they talk about it that way. they talk about trump having the right instincts on russia but the deep state having the wrong instin instincts. they keep open the possibility that trump will prevail and get the relationship back in a new direction. >> let's play a piece of an interview that was done on nbc
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where president putin denied any interference in the election. >> translator: there has never been any interference in the domestic political processes in the united states, not in the past, not now. you mentioned a number of names, some individuals. you are telling me they are russian. maybe they are actually working for some kind of american company. perhaps one of them used to work for one of the candidates. i have to idea. these are not my problems. >> i play that. we have discussed this issue. but i play it because i want to now play a bit of an interview i did with item thee sny timothy about president putin's current war strategy, his current campaign which is about, as you mentioned, cyber and hacking, but is really about truth and
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lies. this is what he told me. >> the tactic, the way you convey this, is that you get into the minds of your adversaries, whether european or u play on them and try to ial convince people the only thing going on in the world are the momentarily psychological enmities. >> what do you make of all of that? it looks russia is involved in a completely new, different campaign from what might have been a hot war. >> i think they are. i think they have been for years by the way. most of the world just noticed recently. i know this because i personally experienced it. when i was ambassador, i had videos put out that said i was fomenting revolution and handing money out. i had them splice my head and paste it on somebody that made it look like i was allegedly campaigning for an opposition leader.
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the worst of it -- the absolute worst when i remember back in 2012, they put out a video suggesting that i was a pedophile. i say that to you right now because it's jarring. it's shocking. even saying it, it then kind of supports the notion, maybe there's some truth to that. how do you deal with that kind of disinformation? we were struggling at the embassy, how do you respond to that? the other thing that's true about the 21st century with the way the internet -- the world is so interconnected, it's very difficult to get rid of that. if you go and search my name on the russian search engine, 4 million hits will come up with pedophile and mcfaul. that was on a daily basis, almost daily basis, that disinformation campaign against me, the president where they compared the president to the leader of isis and said, you may think they are separate, but if you look more closely at their
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ideology, barack hussein obama actually has the same world view as the isis leader. they're not trying to win the argument. i think that's the most important thing that people have to understand. this is not like the cold war when the communists and the soviet leadership was trying to present an alternative progressive idea in opposition to capitalism or democracy. they're just trying to say there's no truth anywhere. that is what they're doing. regrettably, i don't think we in the west have figured out a right way to respond to this worldwide disinformation campaign. >> did you all think if you pushed putin too far, you know, there could be some kind of nuclear response or something? i ask you this because obviously part of president obama's legacy is the failure in syria. abandoning the field in syria to russia, to president putin and to iran. at the end of his administration he said something in a closing press conference describing
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russia as, quote, a military superpower prepared to do whatever it takes to keep itssi really actually kind of worried about pushing putin too far? >> yes. both in syria and ukraine. in my book, the longest chapter is actually about syria. it's called chasing russians, failing syrians. i think we made several mistakes there. i write about it candidly. our theory was always if we could get the russians to cooperate with us, we could help to pressure the regime. they would pressure the regime and mr. assad. we would pressure the opposition. we would get some kind of political transition. i always thought that was a mistake to think putin would do that. you just quoted the president. i think eventually he came around as well, because he was not going to in any way, shape or form undermine his partner or his clients in syria, mr. assad.
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we were constrained, because the president, in my view, rightly, president obama did not want to start world war iii, a shooting war with the russians in syria or in ukraine. >> did you really think that is what was going to happen? did you really think that? i'm asking whether you were intimidated by the master, that is vladimir putin? >> i personally did not think that. because i personally think that when you stand up to vladimir putin, he backs off. i think what we did in 2014, for instance, after putin had invaded eastern ukraine, by putting in massive sanctions, by fortifying ukraine and by str strengthening nato, he backed off. that was a successful deterrent. we should have done it earlier, after crimea. it demonstrates he can be deterred. were others fearful of that?
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others were fearful about the unintended consequences. right? through an accident, one of our airplanes kills russian soldiers in syria and then there's an escalation and a tit for tat that spins out of control. myself was not worried about it. others were. as a result, we had a constrained policy in syria. that continues today. the trumped administration is doing the same thing, fighting isis but not wanting to fight russia or inadvertently fight russia or its allies in syria, including hezbollah and the iranians. >> what would you say is the way now to deal with russia? how do you stand up or stand alongside or try to rectify a relationship? is it actually salvageable? >> we have to go back to containment. push back on the most outrageous behavior of vladimir putin externally.
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and combine that with looking for moments of opportunity to engage when our interests overlap. that's what we did during the cold war. i think we have to return as a basic strategy to that with respect to russia. at least as long as vladimir putin is in power. i think vice-presideladimir put in power for a long time. >> you talk about him. you talk about the missed opportunities. give me a sense of what he was like when you were in the room with him. i guess, were you naive? there's been some criticism that your administration, you yourself are like a love sick teenager trying to court this broodi brutish authoritarian. were you naive? what was he like to deal with? >> first, remember, that the guy that was in the room for the first four years of the obama administration was not putin. they are different people. he didn't join the kgb. he went to law school.
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he looks to the west. in terms of world view, he was much closer to barack obama than vladimir putin was. during that period, we got a lot of big things done. we eliminated 30% of the nuclear weapons allowed in the world between the united states and russia in 2010. we got the most comprehensive set of sanctions on iran ever in 2010 working with him. we got a new supply route to afghanistan opened up through russia, flying american soldiers through russia the first time since world war ii, that allowed us to not be dependent on pakistan, as we were at the time we joined the government. over 90% of our supplies in 2009 wept through pakistan. that allowed us to bring the war against terrorists inside pakistan, includesing mo icludin we killed osama bin laden. when vladimir putin came back, there was no disagreement in the
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white house. i was still at the white house. things were going to get difficult. i had written for years about putin and his autocratic ways. decades before i joined the white house. i don't think anybody would accuse me of being naive about vladimir putin. in fact, he so doesn't like my views about him that he has banned me from traveling to russia. i'm the first ambassador since george kinnon to not be allowed to travel to russia. you have to deal with who is in place. you don't get to choose their leaders. we tried. we tried to engage with mr. putin. when things went south, we then put together a new strategy, a much more confrontational strategy, including sanctions against many of his senior officials. that had never happened before. we did that in tragedy. we didn't do it in delight. the cold war is back. isn't this great? no. we were all disappointed with it. at the end, it takes two to
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tango. we lost a cooperative partner in 2012 in russia. we had to pivot our strategy as well. >> it's gfascinating. thank you for this account. from your book, michael mcfaul, thanks for joining us. in us again tomorrow night.
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♪ katty: you're watching "beyond 100 days." christian: the foreign secretary makes the case for not ditching the iran nuclear deal, on the grounds that there was no good alternative. katty: that may not be enough for president trump area the latest european to make the case to an increasingly skeptical white house. >> we think you can be tougher on your front, address the concerns of the president and not throw the baby out with the bathwater. katty: this woman is tapped to be the next director of the cia. except, on friday, shed


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