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Had I been speaking six months it would be all about Russia. How Russia failed to move closer to the west for various historical reasons. Speaking today, after Brexit, after Donald Trump’s victory, it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that… the story of the past twenty-five years that I have been writing, about a Russia separate from the West…it’s now a story of much broader significance in which the West is looking increasingly like Russia. It hardly needs any, sort of, great commentary about the weaknesses of his system but it has become a symbol of strongman, of populism, of nationalism. The date which was supposed to be this historic date, it needs a great deal of work to assess exactly what happened in 1991. Was it that uprising of people against authoritarian people? Was it a national movement by the independence movements within the Soviet Republics? I would say there are very few examples carry through that argument. Was it the (inaudible) of the empire perhaps? Something that one of the genuinely great Russian writers Alexander Solzhenitsyn referred to in his letters to the leaders of the Soviet Union in 1973. You go back and you read that letter and it’s all about we’re tired, the Soviet Union is tired, for God’s sake give up on this ridiculous idea of Marxism and put Russia first. And the only thing that save us going forward is Russia. Some of his arguments sound very relevant today. Be it on a different level. A few months after he wrote that famous letter, that argued for replacing Marxist-Leninism with nationalism, he got a reply from no less a great man than Andrey Sakharaov, a great Russian humanist, physicist, the nobel prize winner for peace, who argued that his argument was very dangerous, that indeed nationalism and Russian Orthodoxy would be far more dangerous and destructive to the world than Marxism and Leninism. And the only thing that could bring Russia and the West together would be universal human values. I find we are very much in the middle of this debate today. Russia, from before 1917, Russia has been a sort of an experimental laboratory for experimental ideas. Perhaps at that time it was the first example of globalisation, the idea that a global socialist order would be established. Movements against nationalism which ultimately lost under Stalin’s regime. But today Russia is again perhaps has become an experimental lab for everything we (inaudible) in the West. There has been this attitude in the West of Russia as a smaller brother, that they are finally getting their act together, they’re moving towards us. As I said I feel we are increasingly moving towards them. The period that followed the 1991 revolution, which was a revolution, the time proceeding the revolution there was a predominant idea that Russia was going to become a part of the west, with cosmopolitan elites ruling the country with incredible contempt and arrogance which ended them in the situation which we’re in in 1999 where theey’re only option to stay in power was this pseudo-populist, not a real hard strong man but someone they can control but populist nevertheless, a man who first argued about a far greater role for the state, Vladimir Putin. Who I would argue survived, not only survived, but prospered in all the subsequent 18 years not through entirely authoritarian means. Not through mass repression. He has been in power for 18 years because he responded to the same demands and the mood wtihthin Russia that are now increasingly evident in America and this country. So my argument today would be that 1991 and the 25 mark of the end of the USSR far from being the end of history, is very much the part of history, not just the present, as George Orwell said, “He who controls the past controls the future and he who controls the future controsl the present”. So we need to look at 1991 in a completely different, I think, perspective. In the perspective of what’s been happening in the West and what are the trends, rather than just saying what can Russia learn from the West but what the liberal democracy can learn from the things happening in Russia for the past 25 years.
Other speaker: Thank you very much for that, intriguing thought, that somehow what’s happening in Trumpland or in Italy or Brexitland may have some parallels in what’s happened in the past 25 years in Russia. Our next guest is Vladimir Pushkov, doctorate of political science, visiting fellow at St Anthony’s Oxford. Serves council to the constitutional court of the Russian federation and the Duma and to the Muscovy’s mayor. Written a wide variety of books and scholarly articles on Russian matters. One of them is ‘Constitutional Crisis in Russia and How to Resolve it’.
Pushkov: we’ve tended to get Russia wrong, or misinterpret Russia in many ways over the last 25 years, and the obvious evidence is, the almost persistent sense of surprise; it doesn’t seem to matter what the Russians do, we are surprised. Whether it’s the Russo-Georgia war, whether it’s the energy disputes in 2006, and then again in 2009. Whether it’s the annexation of Crimea, or the deployment of forces in Syria. The core points beneath this are that, our own thinking tends to be wishful about Russia. Although it’s, on one hand it’s wishful, there is a great deal, a lack of attention in the wider community to Russia. What the book does is try to explain some of this, it offers an attempt to point the way of being less surprised at least, less often. First point, about some of the features of the debate about Russia. I’ve spent, and I see some Russians in the audience, so my experience and knowledge pales in comparison, but I’ve spent about 15 years working on Russia, and the two things that I have noticed particularly, are the cyclical nature of our understanding of Russia, how we keep going round and round the same themes, where it’s a new Cold War, whether Putin is going, whether there is going to be transition in Russia, whether there’s a reset in relations with the West. These are all themes that we, those of you who have watched Russia for many years will recognise. We have cyclical understandings of the Russian leadership; who is good for us and who is not, and we have cyclical understandings of the Russian economy; about whether it’s so often close to collapse or indeed, very sustainable. And as I say, this leads us to this second part, surprise. I’ve given you some examples. What this means is that policy tends to be quite reactive. It’s always responding to the moment of the debate. So when, for instance, we see the aircraft carrier coming through the channel, there’s a degree of, (Gasps) The Russians have got an aircraft carrier coming through the channel! Yes, that’s true, but this was announced in December last year. There is absolutely nothing surprising about this, in fact it is a relatively regular occurrence, for the Russians to try and deploy their aircraft carrier. The small examples like this end up meaning that we are A) cyclical and B) reactive to what happens in Moscow, and what the Russian policy is. The reasons for this, I think are threefold: first, as some of you will be aware, there is an argument about the death of Russia studies; the decline in resources, the decline in the number of people that are dedicated to observing Russia, and that’s true, frankly. Particularly in government, that’s certainly true. There is a serious reduction in comparative numbers to when the Cold War was on. This has also meant that there has been a lack of institutional memory, again in governments, and when I talk about government I mean not just the U.K., I mean also the U.S. but NATO and the European Union also. The lack of institutional memory about what’s happened in the relationship with the Russians. About what has worked, what hasn’t worked in relations. And third, there has been a separation of expertise from government.
So, in fact, there is still some expertise left in universities, in the public domain, in some think-tanks, but this has generally become separated from strategic level policy making. Mostly, because since the end of the Cold War, Russia has not been a priority. We’ve had the gulf war first, of course, but then we’ve had a variety of involvements in the Middle East, Afghanistan, of course, Iraq – name your question: climate change, international terrorism, the rise of China, all of these have tended to push Russia out of the spotlight. So we’ve had a separation of communities, whereby the strategic community in the U.K. and U.S. and NATO has lost touch with what remains of a Russia expertise, i.e. those who speak Russian, read Russian, and know where Russia is on the map – this is an important point which we will come back to. Second, there is a remarkably persistent sense of ‘the end of history’. You’ll all remember Mr. Fukuyama’s argument from the early 1990’s that history had come to an end. Very few people actually read it, although they do like to quote it, because you do like to say that this hasn’t happened in Russia and China yet. This ‘end of history’ argument has tended to focus our attention in a couple of ways. First, it has tended to narrow the set of questions that we’ve asked about Russia. Narrowed the scope of analysis too, to civil society and democracy, eminently sensible subject for debate. But it emphasises the lack of understanding of how the Russian state works, of who is who. The Russian economic situation – I can name very few specialists on the Russian economy. And I can name even fewer specialists, who really actually know what they are talking about with regards to the military, and even still on the Russian security and intelligence services. And when I say very few, I mean I can count them on one hand. And yet we constantly talk about the KGB and FSB and so on. So, there’s this certain trajectory about Russia – Russia’s moving towards democracy, towards, or indeed, away from democracy. Russia would re-join the West, the western family of nations and become an international partner on the world stage. A lot of this has continued regardless of the evidence that might argue against that, and in many ways I think this reflects a strong sense of mirror imaging, that we’ve tended to see the Russians, and the Russian leadership as essentially a Euro-Atlantic state. We’ve tended to mirror image; so with Georgia, with Crimea, people were briefing ‘watch out for this, something’s coming, we have the evidence, and the evidence is in here.’ And the answer to that from senior levels in government, ‘no, no, no; they wouldn’t do that because we wouldn’t.’ The Russians will not go to war because we wouldn’t. So there’s been a strong sense of ‘the end of history’ and this ethnocentrism I would argue. And third, there is a sense of unlearnt lessons. Unlearnt lessons from the end of the Cold War, of how we understood the Soviet Union. I won’t go into this in any great depth, but the point is we are making many of the same mistakes in understanding Russia today, as many people did under Soviet studies did at the time. Whether that’s the use of analogies, the constant set of analogies that tends to blur the understanding of what is happening today, or whether that’s a specific focus on one or two individuals. As a result of all this we have three main problems. First, we end up talking about us, and not Russia. I speak quite often at NATO and in the U.S. and in the U.K. and when there’s a … at the start there’s a, we are talking about Russia, but there’s a map of NATO up there. So what’s wrong with this map? Well, we are talking about Russia – Russia is suddenly an eastern appendage of NATO, the centre of the map is NATO. You’re actually talking about NATO – us. Second, we have a lot of what I would call ‘discourse mongering’, what do I mean by that, an awful lot of scope for people to speculate about Russia, people who as I say, can hardly draw Russia on a map and certainly can’t find the Volga, but feel free to discuss the intricacies of Russian decision making. Certainly without the benefit or Russian language or Russian political culture. There is any excellent quote from Alena Ledenova’s book, where she quotes a Russian official who says, ‘I walk along the bookshelves, and people are speaking with great certainty about things that they cannot possibly know about. So what happens is, Is that a professor or a propagandist on either side will pick this up and launder in a degree of imprecision in the discussion, then professor so and so said this, and it gets taken in to discussion and used. And third therefore, what we end up dealing with, is a Russia that frankly, is increasingly abstract. We are not dealing with Russia, we’re dealing with an abstract idea of Russia. Putin’s Russia or Putin rebuilding the Soviet Union or some abstract notions about how Russia functions. And then when we are hit with actually what the Russians do, we are surprised. Well of course we are, because we’ve got a very limited connection of what’s going on actually in Russia. And I often end up in disagreements with Russian colleagues of mine, whether they are fellows at Chatham house or when I go to Moscow, and the point is not that we disagree on something, it’s whether you recognise the Russia that I’m writing about. Because so often friends of mine look at British and American and Euro-Atlantic descriptions of Russia and I have no idea what Russia you’re talking about.
So this abstract notion, the ‘abstractisation’ of Russia is one of the aspects that I try to explore in the first section of the book. The second argument is really a – the second and third arguments I should really say, are a provision of a degree of background information and nuance; trying to picture together a longer and broader view of Russia. The second one I’ll go for is this sense of Russia’s relationship with the Euro-Atlantic community. Now some of you who have followed Russia for a while might remember the strong discussion in the 1990s and early 2000s of whether Russia is a part of Europe or apart from Europe, and the attempt to build a strategic partnership, so lots and lots of mechanisms, as you will remember, were forged in the mid to late 1990s and indeed in the early 2000s. NATO – Russia council, admission to the G8, EU – Russia relations, the Permanent Partnership Council, Council of Europe, and so on and so on. This discussion of whether Russia was involved in the security of the European Union in the 1990s and 2000s particularly, the answer is yes – there are no two ways around that, they had a seat at every table. And please don’t forget that the cooperation that was established, not just the niceties, not just the political stuff that can change quickly but the huge business relationships that were set up. And even in some areas where you really wouldn’t have expected a big turnaround, in particularly military and security terms. Let me give you three examples. Does anyone here remember Russia’s contribution and partnership with I4 in the Balkans? Russian servicemen serving alongside NATO? U.K. – U.S.? Very, very productive. Well worth looking in to. Flawed? Yes, sure, but very interesting. Does anyone remember perhaps, here’s something more specific to a U.K. audience, does anyone remember when the U.K. led a NATO team across Russia to Kamchatka to raise a Russian submersible and save Russian lives? Back in the early 2000s? Does anyone remember that apart of this gentleman over here? Vaguely? So, more than a decade ago, real cooperation that ended up in the saving of Russian lives. Ok, a small number of lives, you might argue, but actually the result was the Mr. Putin flew to London, was invited to COBRA, a whole raft of deals were set up and a partnership between the U.K. and Russia came out of something tangible. I think often forgotten. And the other point was, increasing cooperation in counter terrorism, so increasing cooperation between intelligence and security services. For me, we must remember this, because that happened about a decade ago.
Since then, however, it’s clear to say that we’ve had a constant sense of frustrations and disappointments and disagreements. I’d say though, that there is a refrain that relations deteriorated from after 2012, after Mr. Putin returned to the Kremlin. I think that’s a mistake. I think it is well before that – understanding the nature of problems with Russia relies on this. Now if some of you here were to mention Kosovo, that’s fine, we can handle that, I wouldn’t disagree with you, but I would point you to the period of 2002 – 2004, because from that era we had international relations, we had U.S. withdrawal, unilateral withdrawal from the ABM treaty, the U.S. invasion of Iraq and NATO enlargement, you had the colour revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, you had the last liberal parties being ejected from parliament, you had the assault beginning on YUKOS, and imprisonment of Mikhail Borisovitch, you had also, of course, Chechnya – the ongoing conflict in Chechnya. But, important points being, (Inaudible) and Beslan. You also had the important points of disagreement, not just over how they were handled, but over extradition of Chechens from the U.K. So from about 2002 to 2004, you have a systemic set of disagreements, at every single level – governance, foreign policy, you name it. This accelerated then from 2006 to 2009, really deepening this trend of systemic dissonance, obviously the murders of Litvinenko and Politkovskaya, which I heard discussed just this morning, in a different session. You had Russian withdrawal or suspension from the conventional forces Europe treaty, recommencement of strategic aviation, and as you’ll all remember, because we keep hearing it every year, the new Cold War has started. We’re going back to a new Cold War. Of course we then had the Russo-Georgia war, and the energy crises, so this really began to entrench the dissonance. So please remember, as I argue in the book, we haven’t been disagreeing since 2012, it’s not notably worse. This systemic dissonance began in 2004. And has been deteriorating since then. This isn’t a crisis, this is a paroxysm.
We have a very serious problem regarding relations with Russia. The problems run deep not just because of disagreements but actually, because we live on different worlds. We live in different worlds. Planets I should say. We have different histories, different languages, we draw different conclusions from the same body of evidence and increasingly, we’ve been drawing different conclusions from different bodies of evidence. So when our representatives meet, there’s hardly any connection. Just to reflect on a couple of other points before I turn briefly to the domestic situation. Remind us that we have common interests with the Russians. We do. We have lots of common interests with the Russians. Unfortunately they are not shared interests. And I emphasize this distinction, because, the problem of international terrorism is common to us, the problem in Syria is common to us, but we disagree over the causes, we disagree over the approach that might be taken, and we disagree over the desirable end state. There isn’t really a question, as people have argued for the last two to three years, ‘oh we’ll disagree with him in Ukraine but we’ll agree with him in Syria.’ No you won’t, you really won’t. So indeed, Ukraine and Syria over the last couple of years have compounded this sense of systemic dissonance and alas, I would argue that the scope for real partnership is limited; each time there has been a reset, the scope for partnership has actually narrowed. The agenda has narrowed. So when people talk about the engagement and dialogue, I urge you to think very, very carefully before that happens. Because there are many icebergs in the water as well. Litvinenko being the most obvious one for a U.K. audience. Third, briefly I’ll turn towards domestic politics, possibly the most brief, because I have about five minutes or so or I’ll wind up. In the book I use the election and protests of 2011 and 2012 as a focal point. I do that because it had such an impact in our understanding of Russia, such a key moment, that even since then, people have constantly referred to it. As I said I was at a session this morning, where not just Litvinenko and Politkovskaya were discussed, but so where the ramifications of the protests of 2011 and 2012. I use the book to work back a bit and to work forward a bit to explore this idea of Russian transition and how we understand it, and to argue that this sense that Russian transition towards democracy has become increasingly automatic. The hostilities in Mr. Putin have become all encompassing, and thoroughly repetitive. So we’ve had this transition of Russia, towards democracy or back, since the early 2000s, but, repeated every six months, ‘maybe Putin’s going, maybe Putin’ going. It becomes repetitive.
What’s interesting to me, is that the intricacies of Russian politics have become almost entirely overlooked, with a number of honourable exceptions to that. So the reset, that Mr. (Inaudible) after the elections last year was very interesting, but I think that the timing is very important here, because effort went into this before the elections. The Russian leadership had observed the decline in support in United Russia, well before the protests, well before their low turnout, well before the low support in the elections in December. And so they set a whole set of movements and create liberal parties, for instance, ‘liberal’ in inverted commas, like Pravoye Delo to use federal locomotives to beat up support. All these measures that they implemented failed. Pravoye Delo, well the leader of Pravoye Delo was fired from both ends, both by the party and by the leadership. The federal locomotives, none of them succeeded apart from (Inaudible) and Volodin in beating up support but its more interesting to me than that, it’s the establishment of organisations such as the Agency of Strategic Initiatives and the Popular Front, the all-Russian popular front, these are in May 2012, 2011 sorry. This, for me, is the kind of thing we have to be looking at, In order to try and understand Russian politics, because the evidence coming out now is about why that is important. It’s a movement that stretches across the country, it has 80 members as members of parliament now. This was set up specifically for a reason, and only in those circumstances can we talk about the reset since 2011, the number of alterations that they made since 2011. The number of alterations they’ve made since 2011, was over 4000. Over 4000, and again there’s a small number of admirable exceptions, I hear hardly anyone here talk about them. There are two that I think are most important, others may argue otherwise but first, I think the reintroduction of the next electoral system, where Russian observers were saying 2011 that if United Russia had a mixed electoral system in 2011, they would have won with a constitutional majority. What happens? They introduce the mixed electoral system – oh, they won quite heavily. The second also is the introduction of primaries for United Russia. The introduction of new people, the bringing in of new people. A lot of this for me is not happens now, not what we see here, but what is done in the longer term context, so United Russia wins a big majority in this election, but it’s obvious from the way they’re moving in 2011, 2012, 2013, that this is set up and that the opportunities for this is set up. United Russia wins big, but there are many, many new members in United Russia, who are first time parliamentarians. So there’s a reinvigoration of the system going on here, and the final point about internal politics is this: we react to it so often, that on a day to day basis (gasps) ‘a firing of Sergei Borisovich Ivanov, it’s a purge!’ No it isn’t. It’s a rotation, one that has been going on since 2011, 2012, even before. What is true, is that there is an increased number of firings at the level of minister. What is true also, is that the young are being recruited either from the popular front or through party youth organisations like, Molodaya gvardiya, and so on. And promoted quickly. And therefore, our attention should not necessarily be all on Mr. Putin and Putin’s Russia, it should be on others. My favourite example until recently was Mr. Rudnev, Maxim Rudnev. Born in 1987, some of you obviously know who I am talking about, born in 1987, was involved in United Russia mobilization in the protests/counter-protests, and was appointed to the head of the executive committee of United Russia. Promotion like this. But otherwise we should be looking people like Mr. Volodin, we should be looking at others in the system who are in their 40s and early 50s by now, all of these people are visible – if you bother to pay attention first. And then they’re appointed, and we go ‘oh why didn’t we know?’ Because we’re not looking.
So, conclusions. Obviously I’ve tried to be a little bit provocative, and that’s the whole point of the book. But I think we should have three points in mind: first, one of the reasons we misunderstand Russia is timings; our chronologies differ very much. Whether on its foreign policy or domestic policy or political matters, our chronologies are entirely out of kilter, putting our histories out of kilter, and our relationship out of kilter. Second, we have overindulged in automatic approaches to Russia. Automatic thinking. Whether its cliché or abstract, we really need to reinvigorate our thinking. It’s deeply entrenched, and really, ladies and gentlemen, we continue to view along these lines, we will continue to get it wrong, continue to be surprised, and our relationships will deteriorate further. And finally, I think we are now in a new era of Russia studies. The last 15 to 20 years has really been about democratization in Russia, yeah sure, worthy undoubtedly, but now we are in a competitive relationships with Russia, there is no doubt about that, whether we like it or not. In order to understand this we have to put Russia at the centre of the map, to understand the view from Moscow, and to have a grasp of Russian history, we need to broaden our specializations, to increase the number of people who do military and economic and security, so it’s not just civil society and democracy. But we also need to have a little look at the lessons we might learn from looking back over the last 30 years. To say, how can we look at this more effectively? More accurately? Are there other questions that we might be able to pose of Russia to illuminate our understanding of it. So, for me, 2014 – 2016 has been a paroxysm in many ways, but it should serve as one to reinvigorate our understanding of Russia. We do need Russian specialists, but we need actually different questions. So, regardless of the resources that are thrown at understanding Russia, in Whitehall or in the U.S., until you change questions, you will not come to a better conclusion. And on that note I will thank you for your generosity in allowing me to speak just over, and I shall look forward to taking questions and answers, thank you.
Dr Andrew Foxall: Thank you Andrew, we now have 25 – 30 minutes for questions, and if you do have a question, please just raise your hand, and I would simply ask that you introduce yourself and any organisation that you represent. I would also ask that, at least initially we keep to questions rather than comments. What I’ll do while you’re perhaps thinking about questions if I may, I’ll pose one myself, which is that: you spoke about what you call the ‘abstractisation’ of Russia, and many of the issues that we deal with, in terms of how we think about Russia, we think about in the abstract. I wonder if, and you alluded to this, but I wonder if you could say a little more about it, if what we also do, is think about Russia in a highly personalised sense. Many discussions of Russia, it seems to me, are actually interpolated of Vladimir Putin and President Putin, and it seems to me that over recent years, certainly since 2014, people have perhaps not been trying to interpret Russia, but interpret Putin himself.
Dr Andrew Monaghan: I think that’s spot on. I will give two examples of the ‘abstractisation’ of Russia – it’s a terrible word but I haven’t been able to come up with a better one yet, abstraction of Russia. One is this sense of the Russian political environment being divided into siloviki and liberals. So there’s Putin, and there’s siloviki and there’s liberals. And the liberals are like us, and the siloviki are KGB hardliners. I don’t think it really is helpful. Another example would be the use of analogies. This relates to the answer to you before I come on to it. There is this sense that Mr. Putin is comparable to Mr. Stalin or to Mr. Hitler. So you have a misdiagnosis of the problem. This idea that Putin, like Hitler, has a masterplan for the conquest of Europe, so it Georgia, Crimea, eastern Ukraine. Then Moldova, the Baltic states and so on. I think this misdiagnoses the nature of the problem, and it leads us into a sense of deterring a war of expansion, so to speak. The problem is it’s not a war of expansion, it’s a war by competition, because it’s our policies that disagree. Our policies that come into disagreement.
This abstraction of Russia has severe ramifications, but you’re absolutely right to talk about this personalised sense of Russia about Putin’s Russia. There are so many examples that I want to mention of why this is odd to say the least. Some of you may remember that not long ago there was a … the results of a pentagon examination of Mr. Putin were released, and he was said to have Asperger’s, which was said to describe and explain why he was such a control freak. None of the people who conducted this, let’s call it, experiment, report, whatever, had any connection with Russia, understood any Russian language, any Russian political culture nor had the met Mr. Putin, nor had they had any access to scans or anything else like that, just this idea that Putin himself, has Asperger’s. This attempt to diagnose him with a problem, is a very serious statement on our understanding of Russia, and Putin. Similarly, that he is irrational or he’s a gambler, he lies, all of these things are very prominent features in the discussion about Putin. Again, many of these people have not met Mr. Putin, or are unable to talk to Mr. Putin, certainly not in his own language. But the sense that underpins it, is that if he lies, if he’s crazy or if he’s irrational, then we don’t need to argue with him. We don’t need to listen to him and we don’t need to argue with him. And I think that’s serious mistake, I think he’s very rational, we may not like him, we may not agree with him, but he’s a very rational and indeed, quite a cautious man in many ways. So this sense of a personalised Russia I think, is very pervasive. What it does do, of course, is misunderstand how Russia functions. The whole idea of vertical power, which I’m not a great fan of is based on this idea of, well, there have to be other people in Russia to make it function, and indeed that Russian political culture, and again, I will venture this view, even with several people that I see in the audience knowing more about it than I do, but Russian political culture being based on networks and kruglovaya poruka, so you don’t have just one man dominating, that way you misunderstand the entire nature of how Russia works, whether people get fired or promoted or hired. That means we misunderstood for a decade whether Mr. Putin would fire Mr. Medvedev because they were in competition. No, they’ve been working together since the late 1980s, they’re like this. So we get caught into this cycle as a result of thus abstraction of Putin’s Russia, and it’s so deep and pervasive that we could go on for hours about how we got this wrong, but I won’t. Hopefully there are many other questions.
Dr Andrew Foxall: The gentlemen in red, please.
Guest: (Inaudible) I don’t know a lot about Russia, except for the sources you’ve already mentioned, and you have published. A distinction I would like to ask you about, because you haven’t mentioned it, in my view, with the Russia watching that I have done, Russia is a nationalist culture and the West, until Brexit and the new President-Elect has been a globalist culture, I mean, there are other ways of stating that division, is this a major reason for misunderstanding?
Dr Andrew Monaghan: Well, I think that’s an excellent question, sometimes I wish that professional Russianists would pose as good questions as so called laymen, actually over the last few years. It provokes me into two responses. The first is that it is that Russia is often describes as a nationalist culture, but the primary domestic political leaning is leftist. The Levada polls which I think, are as good as any indication of these things suggest that there’s 60% roughly, who have socialist leanings, of whom 20% are communist, and the rest of whom are sort of social democratic, so if you were one of the senior Russian political figures your concern would not be so much about nationalism, as managing social protest. I didn’t mention it because I didn’t have time, but I have it here briefly in my notes, that there is no political opposition, there is social problems and social opposition. Many social protests, whether it’s about …the biggest one being the monetisation protest in 2005, but the more recent ones being the trucker protest, the farmer’s protests, the healthcare protests, so its social conditions that are their main concern. And that’s why, alongside the re-equipment of the armed forces, I choose my words carefully: the re-equipment of the Russian armed forces, the only other part of the budget that is seriously protected is socio-economic. And that is equally why, for those of you like me who are Russia nerds, and find this kind of thing interesting, why Mr. Kudrin has not been appointed Prime Minister, because in 2005, he urged the monetisation reforms on Mr. Putin, and it led to a big social explosion of protest. So what their main concern is social. Second, you’ll like to point to a distinction between Russian culture and a Euro-Atlantic culture that is reflected in the European Union and NATO, and some of its member-states. I prefer, to think in this of terms of, since we’re in the Henry Jackson Society, I hope I can refer to it in these terms, the debate between Whig and Tory, in terms of history. One is very progressive, optimistic, one is very forward looking. The other is small ‘c’ and large ‘C’ conservative. That’s the difference I would tend to say, that’s the one I would point at. So that when you hear Obama, or indeed, any other Western official say, ‘the Russians are on the wrong side of history,’ the Russians laugh and say ‘you don’t know anything about history.’ And then present a version, let’s call it, of Tory history, which looks I agree, like a distinction between nationalism, and globalism. I think I would say, it’s Whig versus Tory.
Dr Andrew Foxall: The lady here please.
Guest: I was wondering, following on from that question, and I know it’s very topical and slightly silly, but I was wondering whether you think that Trump and Putin will actually get on better, and will get somewhere? Whether you think that (Inaudible) because they do in some sense, understand each other.
Dr Andrew Monaghan: I think it’s an important question, not just because people are asking, but because Trump is going to be the president of the United States, and Putin is president of Russia. I’m afraid I’m not so optimistic about this. A lot of the Russian media have been saying we don’t want Trump, and will anybody else? There’s a slight fixation on ‘the Russians wanted Trump’. I very much agree that the Russians don’t like Hilary Clinton, for all of what she has stood for over the last, many years. But, I think that informed Russian friends and colleagues of mine have said, ‘well, look, we at least know what we’re going to get with a Clinton Presidency, we know who many of the people in the team are going to be, and we know what we’re going to have to deal with.’ The devil that you know. So, first of all, I would be cautious about the idea that the Russian leadership is happy to see a Trump presidency. They will get on with it, and deal with it anyway, but I don’t think that they are sort of cheering and champagne popping and so on. Second, I’m not sure that Mr. Trump necessarily, alone, can change anything, because many people in Washington, and many people in Moscow simply don’t like each other. The disagreements are so profound, and are so deep that, I don’t think that one man, in the immediate term, let’s say for the next 6 months shall we, rather than getting ahead another 4 years, I don’t think that at the moment I would see any optimism that one man could arrive at the top, with all his other things on incidentally, with domestic relations, all sorts of political questions to be taken care of in the U.S., will turn around and say ‘Russia is my number one priority, I’m going to fix it and this is what we’re going to give to the Russians.’ If anything, I think that Moscow would reply with an ‘ok, let’s hope that the Trump presidency corrects the previous mistakes of an Obama administration, that’s the best to go for.’ A little bit more stability in the relationship? Perhaps, but it’s difficult to see what the Americans themselves can gain out of a relationship with Russia at the moment directly, and it’s difficult to see how, many other people around Mr. Trump really want to support a relationship with the Russians, but that may change in six months’ time, like everybody else, I don’t know what’s going to happen with a Trump presidency, but my optimism towards a new U.S. – Russia relationship is extremely guarded.
Dr Andrew Foxall: The gentleman here please.
Guest: Hello, my name’s Vin, I’m from Sputnik News, the two questions that were asked so far, were questions I wanted ask separately a well, I think, to go along with the gentleman’s point about nationalistic Russia, I think that far-right spokespeople and leaders being ‘Putinists’ and being quoted as fans of Putin, that hasn’t helped in terms of having an anti-Russian stance in the general public (Inaudible). I have a general question about the media side, what would you say to the accusations of disinformation through media, which is something that affects myself as well, what would be your take on that, why do you think this accusation is being made at the Russian media?
Dr Andrew Monaghan: Right, first of all this idea of ‘fans of Mr. Putin’, look in some sense, Andrew is better qualified to answer that than I am, since he’s written a paper on, more on Russian influence on political parties in Europe. But I would say this, there has been a lot of discussion about Mr. Putin by some people who are critical of the current establishments here. And for me, it’s an abstract Putin. In terms of Putin being seen as decisive, as forceful, he gets stuff done, he makes decisions. They’re not saying so much, ‘I like Putin’, so much as criticising people here, whether its Obama or whoever else, this is often an internal political tool, they’re taking something from outside the debate to beat the internal candidate. Now, some of them may sincerely like Mr. Putin, and some of them may not. But I would be wary about how much they are actually fans of Mr. Putin, I don’t want to tread too far, because I am aware that I am sitting on a table with someone who has done a lot more work on it than me. Look, in as far as the media disinformation is concerned, one of things I try and get at in the book is that, I think there are far fewer people in government, in think-tanks and in media, who know enough about Russia and Russian political life to be able to distinguish fact from fancy. People who don’t know about military aspects, let me take one example, who simply can’t identify the difference between a tornado and a torpedo, who are talking about Russian military as though it was, to the manor born. So I think that there is great deal of rubbish, not just in the media, I’m not criticising the media because there are so very good journalists, there’s an awful lot of people talking about things that they simply don’t know about. I’m not an expert on cyber and information war, you’ll never see me writing about cyber-war except in a short paragraph in there to say that the Russians disagree in their definitions to us. So I’m more focused on our own ability to distinguish signal from noise, I am not really focused on information wars and information campaigns, because that’s not really what I do, if you want to do that, ask my colleague Kier Giles, he works on information warfare, but I’ll leave my answer at that for the time being.
Dr Andrew Foxall: The gentleman here please.
Guest: Do you think that the current situation was more or less inevitable in what was achieved by how the West dealt with Russia, in going forward, and looking ahead, do you see the opportunity for material change or again, do you think that things are more or less on tracks that can’t be altered Western behaviour?
Dr Andrew Monaghan: A good set of questions there, that I think that until I wrote this book I would have seen as a minefield, at the moment it’s very difficult to answer that set of question without treading on a set of mines that then set off in people’s minds who then go ‘oh you’re anti Putin’, or ‘oh you’re a Putin apologist’. But I’ll go ahead anyway, because I’m not a Marxist I don’t like the word inevitable. Was it inevitable? No, not really, but managing a relationship between Moscow and Brussels and Washington and London, through the 1990s and the early 2000s was always going to be fabulously difficult. Particularly since, as I say, we were dealing with the Gulf War, we were dealing with the Balkans, we were dealing with climate change, and we were actually dealing with anything but, the Russians. We were dealing with the slowing Japanese economy, the quickening Chinese economy, take your pick. So, it would have been difficult anyway because I’m sure no one in this room, if you had been asked in 1992, would have said, ‘yes, Montenegro and the Baltic states will all be part of NATO’. I’m quite sure that no one here would have said that. So, looking ahead and predicting what was going to happen, I think, it would have been a fabulous feat of statesmanship to have created a relationship that was as warm as people hoped it would be. Within that, because I think a lot of people tried, and because people adopted a very optimistic approach, there was a wide open approach to a strategic partnership with many areas of cooperation that I think weren’t sufficiently thought through. So you have a NATO – Russia agenda on 88 points of cooperation that, more than a decade later, less than half had even been thought about. So you have this building sense of frustration and disappointment, and if you’re going to ask by 2006, when I pointed to 2002 – 2004 bit, could it have been saved there? Possibly, but disagreements were already well in train, I think. Then that rolling set of accelerations from 2006 – 2009, I’ve not even begun to list half of the disagreements. At the same time do I think that the West was to blame? No, I don’t think so, great efforts were made, within that narrow confine, as I say NATO – Russia relations, NATO – Russia council, EU – Russia relations, the Russians had many seats at the table, and I think both parties carry a fair amount of blame for the failure to see that through. I would just like to point out, that while I do not blame the West, or the Euro-Atlantic community for that matter, I think it is wrong to look at the Russians in terms of, ‘the Russians are operating in a strategic vacuum’. I’m not a wild supporter of NATO enlargement, I must admit, I think we need to digest enlargement before we go further. But while we should maintain our own policies as far as they’re logical and rational and supported and deliberate, we should be aware that our own policies have consequences. And that there might be some people on this planet that disagree with them. And in fact, quite a lot of people disagree with them. One of the pleasures of working for NATO was that I got to organise visits for senior officers to go to various different countries outside the alliance, because they go to Washington and they go to Brussels and they go ‘yes its problematic here, but it is fine’. But they go to Moscow, or for that matter, Cairo or, take your pick, they’d be told, ‘no, you’re wrong, we disagree with you and this, this and this’. And the shock and the surprise was tangible. So, for me, this is why we’re getting into this stage of policy competition.
Can it be altered by Western behaviour? Yes but I would say three things are necessary. First, we do need to understand that our policies do have consequences that may be disagreed with. Including by Russia. Second, we need to understand what those policies might in fact be. At the moment we’re dithering between deterrents or dialogue, and actually doing neither. A senior Russian officer that I spoke to about the measure that are being put in to place, are they deterrent? ‘No, they are neither a deterrent nor a provocation they are just an irritation’. Which I think is a fabulous quote for what we are doing. And in Washington, in London, in Brussels, I hear the same conversation about Russia going round and around like air conditioning. That’s not the way it can be done. So, and my third point is to think about actually where we want to go with Russia. I have no heard a British official, or an American official, or a NATO official, or an EU official say, ‘this is where we want to be with Russia by 2020’. This gives us a trajectory that we can work towards, we recognise this won’t work, we recognise that might work, so as a result we are always being buffeted by the opposition of events. Because we’re not working towards anything. So what are the three things; acknowledge that we have a role in this, acknowledge actually we might want to think it through a little bit better and understand the impact of our policies a little more, and third work through where we might want to be. That will not lead to an improvement in the relationship, I think, notably. We’re not going to become friends or strategic partners, but I might actually help prevent a further deterioration. I really think we’re stuck with a competitive relationship for the next few years, regardless of whether Mr. Putin is president, or hands on the bat, and regardless, as this lady quite rightly asks, whether Mr. Trump is president or if there’s a new British prime minister in 5 years’ time, we’ll still disagree on all these things, alas.
Guest: you were talking about the fact that, we always interpret Russia in a Western perspective and sometimes our thought processes are based on Western conceptualisations of Russia, instead of focusing on identity and culture and domestic policy, my question is that, it has always been said that in, for example, during the first mandate of Putin, for example, Putin was able to gain popular support because of economic growth. In fact, many people say that if Putin wants to stay in power (inaudible) he really needs to secure 80% of the votes to sustain power, he can really on agencies but really he needs popular support. My question is, how is foreign policy related to domestic policy?
Dr Andrew Monaghan: It’s a very good question, and probably one that I will not answer entirely to your satisfaction but I promise to try. It’s a lot less connected than we think it is, I think. Yes there are certainly connections – Putin presenting himself to a domestic audience as an international statesman. I think there is that. And I think that there are certain concerns for instance, that what might be used as a colour revolution or as a regime change might be launched in Russia. Concerns amongst the Russian leadership that are well stated, often, repeatedly and in some depth that the U.S. or its allies might try and create some kind of colour revolution. There’s a bit of connection going both ways. The Russian response? The Russian leadership’s response is to implement a series of policies to prevent a colour revolution. I’ll just mention one, purely because we’re in the Henry Jackson Society, and because I’ve not really critiqued Russian democratic questions. Some of you will be aware that in April this year, a National Guard was created. It’s a very well-funded organisation, a very large organisation that took on many of the duties of the interior troops. Now, one of the overriding principles and reasons for the creation of this National Guard, was explicitly stated, is to prevent civil disobedience, i.e. Maidan. Again, since I’m here and because the Houses of Parliament are there, and because we’ve got the police outside with truncheons and nothing else. This National Guard is equipped with armour, assault weapons and flamethrowers. They conducted an exercise with airborne assault forces in Volgograd – again to deal with extremism, counter-terrorism and civil disobedience. I think the Russian leadership has set itself up to protect itself against colour revolution. Now Russians here might say well, there are other measures, yes indeed, there are other measures, and there have been supportive, positive, measures also. But I do point out this link between the exercises: ZASLON 2015 and the National Guard exercises this year. They see foreign questions as a potential imposition into domestic. However, I please want to emphasize this final point: I often hear, people say, ‘well, Putin might lose popularity quickly and he might go for a short victorious war to sustain domestic popularity at home’. In my view, that’s nuts for two reasons. Because firstly, the Russian leadership understands very well, what going to war means. There is no such thing as a short victorious war. Particularly not with an alliance like NATO. Whichever way you get involved with these – don’t forget, they have the problem with Chechnya that is not a short victorious war. Crimea is something slightly different. Second, what it tends to do, is not think through the complexities of the Russian state going to war, and simply say, ‘well, it’s not a question of foreign policy disagreement. It’s a question of authoritarianism at home, that’s why the Russian leadership would go to war with us.’ No. Its policy disagreement, in fact it’s really 90% Clausewitz. So, be very careful with this, sort of blending, because there is a connection between foreign and domestic policy, but one thing does not lead intimately into another, like, ‘well as an authoritarian, he must have a short victorious war to maintain domestic politics.’ No, that’s why he uses socio-economic measures at home to sustain support. That’s why the socio-economic agenda is so important to him.
Dr Andrew Foxall: And, very finally, the gentleman please.
Guest: (Inaudible), is Russia now, an investment opportunity? And the unanimous view was absolutely not. Because you can’t invest, without coming across some form of corruption, that’s intolerable from a western point of view. I wonder if I could ask you to comment on that matter.
Dr Andrew Monaghan: It doesn’t surprise me that now is not considered to be an investment opportunity moment. I think there are a number of reasons for that. There’s property legislation, all the usual problems of doing business in Russia, there’s the existence of sanctions – a variety of reasons for not investing in Russia. But I’m not sure that a terribly satisfactory answer is that ‘there is corruption in Russia.’ As far as I understand people are trying to invest in – well, let’s leave them abstract because that’s where I started, but there are a number of states in which people are trying to do business that are deeply, deeply corrupt. So I agree that there are some companies that’s simply cannot do business because of their own internal approach to corruption. But corruption has been a part of Russian business since – well let’s just say throughout the post-soviet era. And people were very happy to do business with them, and there are a number of large companies that still want to do business with Russia, in that corrupt environment. Now, what am I not saying, allow me to be explicit. I’m not saying, that everything’s ok in Russia and that we should just accept the corruption. That’s not what I’m saying. Second, I’m not saying that people should just invest in Russia regardless. But I am saying that corruption is a small reason why it’s deeply problematic to invest in Russia. And actually, one of the reasons why it’s more likely to be problematic to invest in Russia is building up partnerships with a Russian company, or with a Russian partnership that prevent you from being done over and all your property taken away from you. So, yes, corruption. Is it a reason for not investing in Russia? Ok. Is it the number one reason or the number two reason or possible even the number three reason? Not in my personal view.
Now I wanted to, if I may, roll on to that and say look, I’ve not talked about things, and I’ve deliberately not talked about things that tend to dominate the discussion about Russia here. Whether Russia is or isn’t a democracy. Whether Russia is or isn’t corrupt. These kinds of issues. Whether Russia is authoritarian. Vertical power and so on. I’ve deliberately tried to acknowledge these exist but then say, ‘our attention needs to be wider.’ We’ve debated these for 20 years, and if we don’t have a clear picture on that now, we may need to rethink how we approach it. So, it’s not that I think none of these things matter, it’s that I think they do matter, but I horizons have to be more broad. Now, there is a long discussion to be had about corruption in Russia and why it’s so central – it is. There’s a long discussion to be had about why democracy is so flawed in Russia – it is. But that’s not what I’m getting at with the book, and I hope I’ve been sufficiently provocative in my presentation, in my Q&A that you’ll be inspired to go out and spend a tenner and have a look through the book itself, where I have elaborated on these arguments more thoroughly. And please do drop me a line, the whole point is to engage with a slightly wider audience, so if you disagree, good. I think it’s important to try and provoke discussion these days about Russia. So, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attention, it’s been a pleasure and an honour to speak to you and thank you very much.