EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Moscow Rules: What Drives Russia to Confront the West
DATE: 1pm-2pm, 20th May 2019
VENUE: The Henry Jackson Society, Millbank Tower, 21-24 Millbank, Westminster, London SW1P 4QP
SPEAKER: Ambassador Baiba Braze (Ambassador of the Republic of Latvia to the United Kingdom), Keir Giles (Senior Consulting Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Programme, Chatham House and Author of ‘Moscow Rules: What Drives Russia to Confront the West’’, Edward Lucas (Senior Vice-President, Centre for European Foreign Policy Analysis)
EVENT CHAIR: Dr. Andrew Foxall
Dr. Andrew Foxall: Good afternoon everybody and welcome to the Henry Jackson Society. My name is Andrew Foxall and I run the Russia and Eurasia programme here. I’m delighted that we have with us today three – distinguished, I think would be the right word – speakers, immediately on my right is Ambassador Baiba Braze, the Latvian Ambassador to the UK, followed to her right by Keir Giles of Chatham House fame and finally Edward Lucas, formerly of the Economist, now of The Times and Centre for European Foreign Policy Analysis in Washington, D.C.. The title for today’s talk is Moscow Rules: What Drives Russia to Confront the West and it is, of course, the title of Keir’s new book, copies of which are available outside for your purchase and he is very happy to sign them for you, as well. The order of proceedings is going to be such… Baiba, if I may, will give a few words of introduction. We’ll then move to Keir, who will speak about the book, about his book, its thesis and its argument. Edward will then speak and then finally we’ll come back to Baiba for some closing remarks and we’ll then open up the discussion for Q&A. By way of introduction, Baiba is the Latvian Ambassador for the UK, formerly she served at the United Nations and was also the Ambassador to the Netherlands. Keir is Senior Consulting Fellow for the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House and also leads the Conflict Studies Research Centre and Edward, as I say, wears various institutional hats. Without too much further ado, I’ll pass over to Baiba, if I may, to kick things off.
Ambassador Baiba Braze: Wonderful, thank you. Can you hear me well? Ok, perfect. Let me start by thanking Henry Jackson Society of inviting me to be in such wonderful company of distinguished experts. I want to say that I’m not particularly a Russia expert so I’m not going to speak and it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment on Russia in detail. Also, for the confidence issues. I will speak and I will give my introduction on how the West sees its near neighbourhood: Russia. I will start by praising both Keir Giles’ recent book that he has written. Please read it. It’s really very, very good. It’s well written but also in terms of substance, what we found and I have my deputy here who is a Russia expert and we felt that it was really excellent. And I will praise Edward Lucas’ work throughout his life, also working with the Baltic forces… and he has been telling all those willing to listen that the current complication in the relationship with Russia had to expected and shouldn’t have come as a surprise to any of us so let me start by saying what is the approach of us in the West. The community of democratic nations. Of course, our primal interest is to maintain the international stability and the international system and Russia as part of it, meaning the rule of law internationally system, the system as we have built it, if we look at it back from the 14 points of Woodrow Wilson or after the Second World War, it’s something that we generally, in the Baltic States, but also in the West believe serves the interest of our countries, of our societies and economies and citizens the best. It finds avenues of dispute solving, it finds avenues of not resorting to bilateral deals above the other countries’ interests or above other countries’ (inaudible) and when we look back at European history, it’s quite clear that the ascendants of authoritarian regimes in the past has brought enormous catastrophes for the whole continent and the globe. To prevent something like that is the ultimate interest of the West and we see that Russia should be part of it. As we all well know, no Russia not necessarily follows these rules as we do in the Baltics, or the Dutch or the Brits do and sees itself as a great power and uses this sort of selective approach to the international commitments and furthermore Russia in the recent years has violated some of the most basic international laws and might be viewed as the only country which poses a threat to the stability of this international system because of its invasion of Ukraine, Georgia undermining by actions, certain other basic democratic rights, be it countries rights to choose their own alliances and rights to decide your own elections and so on and so forth. So to return Russia and correct behaviour, we in the West have adopted certain sets of actions, through political actions, be it as a UN calling for Ukrainian territorial integrity, restrictive measures by the EU, restrictive measures by the US, legal action in the ICJ and in the European Court of Justice and so on and so forth. They are meant to correct this challenge and return Russia to observance of international norms and also to sort of lessen the malign influence internationally. There are lots of things still to be done, and I speak all of the countries and also of the UK, be cleaning up the financial systems, money laundering, so on, so forth, so there is quite a lot still to be done. The other avenue of work that we in the West have done is guaranteeing the defence and security of your Atlantic allies, meaning those countries that are both within the NATO and the closest allies as you know have quite seriously turned to both national measures but also collective measures within NATO. So nationally, in Latvia, we have established the system of comprehensive defence which exists in de fecto. Now it has also been formulated as a concept which involves several domains nationally. In NATO you know that there is deterrence measures and presence in the Baltic States and in other allies on Russian border. There are cyber capabilities. Many, many practical measures that have been done but there is also the mindset currently that (inaudible) you can cause it a challenge for NATO, the threat to the international system is there. In the same time, of course as a rational neighbouring state to Russia, Latvia, but also we can see other countries have always maintained the sort of rational dialogue. So we have never broken off our engagement with Russia fully. We are one of the neighbouring countries that has a fully agreed and demarcated border with Russia so it’s in existence, it’s there. There is limited cooperation between the law enforcement agencies and border guards, there is cultural cooperation, we have an intercommunal commission, we have Latvians in Russia and Russians in Latvia, so there is an engagement. We have always been very careful with our businesses, telling them openly, yes you can work in Russia as far as international law and current regime of the restrictive measures allows and that is OK, but always beware what it means, don’t put all the eggs in one basket, think ahead, limit the exposure and realise the risks, including to own physical security, risks from weak institutions in Russia meaning that the court system will not necessarily or law enforcement agencies will not necessarily be on your side in a case of dispute. As we have seen recently, that applies to some of the biggest and well known companies and business people. So to have the situation with people if they choose to do business in Russia, they clearly know the risks, they clearly know what it means and also recognise geopolitical risks so from the outset we have been against the Nordstream Second Pipeline, we were not keen on the first one either and again we can discuss it separately but this is something where we clearly see which is presented as economic project is not an economic project, it’s a political project and very often with the state companies. The last, fifth point, on the West approach where Russia is one of the players is support to the democratic countries globally but in particular to Eastern neighbourhood, wider Eastern neighbourhood, including Southern-Eastern Europe, in their aspirations to become closer associated to the EU, NATO and the others, supporting them in their actions and there Ukraine is a different subject, which I’m sure will come up later in discussions and on Russia’s future I’m sure Ed and Keir will tell you about how viable Project 2024 is, with Russia becoming top five economies in its ambitions it has launced and with becoming the most advanced digital economies and bringing poverty down to half and you know there are many other very commendable points that President Putin has announced that Russia will achieve by 2024. For now, my introduction is done and I will be ready to listen to the real experts here.
Dr. Andrew Foxall: Thank you. Keir, please.
Keir Giles: Thank you and thanks everybody for coming along in such numbers. It’s always reassuring when you see such a good turnout that comes along, and to Edward and to the Ambassador. But also in between Andrew’s asked me to summarise some of the key things from the book, which he seems to like. Very reassuring. I can’t do all that in the 5-7 minutes I’ve been given but I am going to take some of the ideas about dealing with Russia that you just heard from the Ambassador and distil them into an abstract. My key plea in this book is to take stock of certain basic features of how Russia sees itself and its relationship with the world, which if we bear them in mind in our relationship with Russia might help avoiding expensive mistakes and receiving unpleasant surprises because Russia has been around and a fact of life for sufficiently long and it has had sufficiently consistent methods of dealing with internal and external challenges that we should be out of the business of getting Russia wrong by this stage. I said I would be in the abstract so if I was to boil down to one error which is specifically repeatedly made in addressing ourselves to Russia and dealing with it, I would say it is a repeated excess of optimism, which leads us into a whole series of policy errors again and again, specifically about the nature of the relationship with Russia, where it may be going, where it came from in the first place. These errors I list as follows: that a state of confrontation with Russia is only temporary, that things must necessarily get better, rather than worse, well the whole span of Russian history argues that, actually, that is not likely to be the case because we are in an unusually relaxed period both in Russia’s internal structure and how it deals with its neighbours. And that the default state is good relations between countries that works for Western Europe in a post-nationalist environment. It is not a default state when dealing with Russia. Russia will never be entirely at peace, either with its neighbours or with its partners and adversaries further afield. And the optimistic notion that Russia will not seek to harm us without a reason, which is not borne out by many of the current campaigns of subversion and destabilisation that we have seen directed against the West as a whole. There are many different excuses that you can find if you look hard enough for Russia’s behaviour towards its partners and its neighbours and its former allies. But there are no excuses for some of the activities that we see undertaken at the moment. For example, what reason is there for Russia to support and act on an anti-vac movement across the world with all the damaging effects on healthcare that we see resulting. Another result of optimism is the assumption that the liberal opposition in Russia is an attractive prospect and a realistic prospect that might actually be a route of serious political change in Russia. This does not stand up to any serious form of analysis and finally an argument that we hear repeated again and again obviously on the basis of evidence-free analysis purely on the basis of optimism is that the Putin regime is doomed and that President Putin cannot possible last out his tenure. In the book I give examples from year after year where this prediction has been made consistently and yet when it fails to come true those who make it look for other reasons why it might in fact be justified but it never in fact comes to pass. The government in Russia and the whole administrative structure is far more resilient and robust than many of its detractors would like to think. But that leads us to another question that has mercifully faded away in policy discussions over the last couple of years but used to be a classic. It was do we have a Russia problem or a Putin problem? And I argue as firmly as I can in the book that No, it is in fact Russia that we are dealing with, not Russia as embodied in one man, President Putin is not inventing all of the security concerns he expresses and all of the ways in which he directs Russia to deal with them. Instead, he is enacting the long standing Russian views of how it needs to deal with the world around it and indeed with its own internal system but optimism is pernicious and dangerous and it leads to repeated policy mistakes. In particular, the search for resets and the search for cooperation despite multiple instances in the past where resets have not improved the situation but in fact have made it worse. And despite a quest for areas in which the West and Russia cooperate, that goes back over decades but has never in fact been satisfied because even when you do hear the dog whistle terms that instantly get a reaction, this must be something we can cooperate on… For example, counter-terrorism. On close examination, it always turns out that both the end state that Russia desires and the means that Russia would embrace to get there are entirely incompatible not only with Western policy objectives but also with the morals and values that we hold. We do, consistently, get the argument coming back to us that, well, Russia is acting defensively, it is responding only to external stimuli and all of the aggressive and hostile actions that it undertakes overseas are in fact provoked by other actions which are interacting with it. Again, without going into great detail about the book, here I try to examine that threat of Russia in detail and try to trace back some of the current actions to any instance of provocative actions that may have come from abroad and I arrive at the conclusion, fairly robustly I believe, that no Russia does not need an excuse to engage in aggressive and expansionist behaviour, it is instead a default setting for the Russian state. And of course the question always comes back well what exactly is it we can do about it? How can we improve a relationship with Russia if there are so many objective factors which means it is not going to be a pleasant and comfortable relationship? The first point I argue besides abandoning optimism where it is entirely unjustified is recognising the nature of the relationship and recognising the way in which Russia sees the outside world and the West in particular, understanding that there is a basic incompatibility not only with morals and values but also of geostrategic interests is a far more robust basis for an ongoing stable, less crisis-prone relationship than pretending that we can in fact have a strategic partnership with Russia. Let’s not forget this is a strategic pretence that lasted far into Russia’s current phases of whipping up hostility against the West, persuading its population that it was already in a state of conflict. Now one of the few areas where I disagree with Edward. I do not believe that we are in state of a new cold war at the moment but I do agree that there are many features in common with late stages of the cold war. For example, the growing ideological difference (inaudible), the growing isolation of Russia’s population from ideas and opinions and news from outside, seen as harmful by the regime. But I think the situation is far more complex and dangerous than what most people think of when they have in mind the Cold War. What I do suggest though is a return to the mental attitudes of the late Cold War when it was clearly understood that here are two geopolitical systems fundamentally opposed to each other and yet had reached an understanding and a modus vivendi based on recognition of those differences. If we accept that there is, in fact, no prospect of a partnership with Russia in the same way we would understand in a post-Nationalist Western European environment this is a far more stable and safe place to be. Thank you.
Dr. Andrew Foxall: Thank you. Edward.
Edward Lucas: Thank you very much for the introduction and I have one other hat. I’m trying to urgently raise money to stop St Andrews Church in Moscow falling down and if anyone wants to help please let me know. The city of Moscow has offered millions of dollars to stop this building falling down but we have to raise 10% of it and I’m heavily involved in that. This is the Anglican church in Moscow. So I think I obviously agree pretty much with everything that Keir said and I’ve been crossing points out that I was going to make because he’s already made them. I think it’s worth just looking, I think that the question here is about the essentialism versus the political agency and to what extent Russia under any conceivable regime is going to be difficult to deal with and how far the particular path it took since 1991 has aggravated or intensified the difficulties. And I see two elements here, one is the failure to confront the history of empire and that I think is the most profound misunderstanding and difference of opinion about 1991. Do you see that as a catastrophe? As a massive geopolitical set back or do you see it as a liberation? I guess everybody around Russia sees it as a liberation. There was a time in 1991 that people inside Russia saw 1991 as a liberation too. (inaudible) I think the other one, Keir’s absolutely right on this, is the massive mismatch in expectations many so-called liberal Russians believed intuitively and instinctively and unthinkingly that the west was now going to help them that Russia would be welcomed immediately and warmly into the family of the nations, vast amounts of Western money would be forthcoming and everything was going to be lovely and that didn’t happen and that was matched by an expectation in the West which Keir has already referred to that Russia was now a democratic country and was going to be a friend, certainly a partner, any bumps in the road were just a little difficulty that could be surmounted. Not only because Baiba is here but particularly because Baiba’s here, I also just want to underline that we were warped back in the early 90s that our framework, the one that Keir has so beautifully demolished in this book, was wrong, we were warned by Estonians, Lithuanians, by Latvians, by Poles, Ukrainians, and indeed by Russians, by Czechs and many others and we didn’t take those warnings seriously. They came to Brussels, Berlin and to London and they were patronised and belittled as well as being ignored and that’s bad enough but what is particularly annoying is the price for our ignorance was paid by other people. It was paid by Georgians, it’s been particularly paid by Ukrainians so there is a very high price for our complacency and I think we have to approach our Russia policy in a spirit of humility about what we have got wrong. I think it’s also important to recognise, and Keir hasn’t mentioned this, so I will, that this is not a confrontation of means, it’s a confrontation of willpower. One of my favourite statistics is that if you put the combined defence budgets of the Nordic Baltic Polish alliance, those countries alone spend more on defence than Russia and Russia with its defence budget has to have a space programme, it has to have a strategic nuclear programme, it has to run a blue water Navy and it has to worry about China. The NBP9 have to worry only about one thing, it’s not Germany, it’s Russia. This is fundamentally a problem of willpower and coordination rather than a problem of means and it’s important to bear that in mind. We don’t have the excuse which we do with China which I’ll get onto in a moment that we’re dealing with an extremely strong adversary, we’re dealing with an ingenious, strong willed adversary, that’s willing to accept economic pain, make quick decisions and take pain of failure, make experiments and so on. We can’t excuse ourselves that we’re being outgunned. I think we are waking up on the Russia front and I increasingly feel that it’s hard to surprise people with descriptions of the problem we face. We understand belatedly there’s an energy problem, we understand belatedly there’s a military problem, we understand belatedly there’s an information problem, we understand belatedly there’s a subversion problem, we understand there’s an assassination problem. There may be some more things coming up the drive towards us but on the whole the outlines of the problem are clear, that is not the case with China where there’s still we are with China now where we were with Russia in about 2003 with people saying well it all looks quite unpleasant but they are a big trading partner and it’s not my problem to worry about it. What can we do about it? Well I think the fundamental Russian approach is divide and rule, it’s divide between countries, it’s divide within countries, exploiting differences whether it’s their linguistics, social, ethnic, demographic, political, economic, any kind of difference, that’s the Russian approach, try and make it worse and attack the other side’s willpower and decision making capabilities so the answer to that is to build unity and there are few things that the Russian regime really doesn’t understand. These are solidarity, integrity and trust. And it really baffled Vladimir Putin when Angela Merkel at the Samara summit in 2007 went up to him and said stop screwing around with Poland, she said it to him in Russian, and the Russians had bogus, sanitary reasons for penalising specifically Polish meat exports which is a complete breach of their agreements with the EU and everything else. And I’m paraphrasing this, she was a bit ruder, if you screw with Poland, you screw with the EU, and if you screw with the EU, you screw with Germany, so don’t do it. And he couldn’t understand, it doesn’t compute because for him the Germans are serious people and for him the Poles are not serious people so why are serious people defending unserious people but he got the message in the end. So solidarity very important. Integrity – the Russians assume that everyone can be bought and unfortunately some of our behaviour, not least of all Mrs Merkel’s predecessor, suggests that there’s some truth in that theory so we show that there’s individuals and institutions who can’t be bought and do their job properly showing integrity, that’s very difficult for the Russians to understand. And then there’s trust – Russia attacks trust, we need to see trust as a national security issue, we need to measure trust, we need to protect it, when we see trust declining, we need to do something about it we need to boost trust, trust is the great element in our resilience, we can talk about deterrence as well that’s a whole another subject, but RUSI is working on that and I commend Rusi’s modern deterrence programme and thanks very much to the Latvian embassy for its sponsorship of Rusi. Something else, I see this tremendous Russia expertise in the room, so I think we might want to go to a discussion quite soon. I would just finish on one note that Keir has this wonderful thing in his book about keeping them at arms length and I think that’s absolutely right but arms length with very clear focus and Im now at the age where arms length is the exact place I can see things and when they get tooo close I can’t but we should absolutely not drop, and one of the scandalous things we’ve done is demolish our Russia machine capacity over the last 30 years and all sorts of people, I’m not talking about you Keir, but people who are really good Russia experts were booted out to early retirement in the nighties and noughties because they were not with the programme. We need to have very sharp focus at university elsewhere, we need to give them good jobs and stable career tracks and really cultivate a tremendous Russian expertise which we had in the memory of some people in this room. And then perhaps we’ll be able to interpret things like the remarkable, very encouraging developments in (inaudible) that although what comes after Putin may be worse it might also be a bit better and I love it when I see Russians demonstrating against the corrupt, incompetent, horrible people who run the country at the moment.
Dr. Andrew Foxall: Thank you Edward. Would you like to respond?
Ambassador Baiba Braze: Again, these are free people, they can say whatever they want, I can only say read the book, and read Ed’s book on the New Cold War and read the other book so you know actually what the debate between the two so the very similar and mutually compatible concepts are. What we have to recognise is that nothing much is going to change as Keir said but also because of the (inaudible) within Russia there is no potential unrest and not necessarily that is something very bad. Edward’s we remember very well 1917 where it spilled over and in a way it created the statehood for the Baltic nations but on the other hand it created again quite a lot of negativity within Russia itself. The budget, the state functioning in Russia is going to (inaudible) as it is, GDP is going to grow lower than other developed countries, so below 2% but that will just supply enough income in the budget to sustain military and security programme and also the budget planning for the 40$ per barrel as the planning went for the Russian budget is much higher in terms of income so that applies and replenishes the reserve fund and the strategic fund so in that respect we can’t expect that something really huge is going to change in Russia and again I think the unanimous view from this panel is that this is the new normal and that this is how it’s going to be. It’s about us in the west really to recognise, adjust, think and sort of plan more strategically and act tactically in terms of what we want to achieve and think about ourselves in the first place.
Dr. Andrew Foxall: Thank you Baiba. We now have about 25 minutes or so for Q&A. A lot of hands have gone up already.
Ambassador Baiba Braze: Is there any woman asking a question too?
Dr. Andrew Foxall: So when you ask a question please just introduce yourself and say if you represent a particular organisation and we’ll start here and then we’ll move round. Like what Baiba said if there are any women who would like to ask a question do raise your hands. Euan first.
Audience member: Thank you very much. Euan Grant. I’m a former law enforcement intelligence analyst whose worked on every Baltic state border with Russia and Belarus, including the Latvian border in Latgarl province. I did notice how it was significantly harder for Estonia and Latvia compared with the degree of cooperation that Lithuania has with Belarus I’ve also got a book here which supposedly is fiction but in view of what I heard last week it makes me wonder. My question for all of you, based on the Ambassador’s introduction, describing Edward Lucas’ message for those who are willing to listen. We know there are many people who should be listening who are not. Are there any pleasant surprises about people who are listening and continuing to listen or perhaps more importantly weren’t listening until recently and post-Skripal, shall we say, and other events, are now listening and doing something about it?
Audience member: Just a very simple question, quick question, you haven’t really explained, and I’m absolutely not a Russia expert, but you seem to be suggesting that Russia is fundamentally unreachable. It’s reachable up to a point but only up to a point and there is a point beyond which we cannot fathom or (inaudible) meaningful understand. What is stopping us going that extra distance?
Audience member: John Dobson, I’m a former Moscow attache diplomat. Kier you use the expression excessive optimism. There are quite a few people who might use the expression excessive fear and excessive fear leads onto excessive antagonism and excessive antagonism leads onto no solution and no solution leads to Russia forming alliances with China, which creates an even bigger problem for us. I mean, is there not an argument not along those lines to consider?
Keir Giles: Yep, certainly. Euan asked if we had any pleasant surprises in terms of are there arguments we no longer have to make. I think yes there is a change in the mood music.. we no longer need to point out quite so, it’s not quite such an uphill struggle to explain why Russia is a problem, (inaudible), the conversations we still have are what to do about it and this where the triump of optimism is such a problem because the assumption is you can find avenues of cooperation, you can work with Russia as you would with a Western European country, you can have a reset which will make everything alright even if it doesn’t actually address the very basic contradictions, in terms of how Russia and the West see the countries in between where Russia takes it as a basic assumption that their sovereignty should be limited in order to push perceived threats to Russia further away whereas the Western community of nations thinks that these should be sovereign independent countries which have a right to determine their own security policy. Those two ideas have clear blue water between them so pretending that there is cooperation possible on them is not actually possible so yes we’ve got part of the way towards recognising the problem with Russia but in terms of the ongoing conversations about how to deal with it we still see depressing responses coming back from government departments it has to be said and from the research that they commission . for example, ill refer you to the joint report between RUSI and the Russian International Affairs Council that came out just a few weeks ago, arguing for precisely the kind of cooperative approach to Russia that has failed so spectacularly in the past and an absolutely extraordinary document for RUSI to produce in particular given the current status of their employees vis a vis Russia
Edward Lucas: I think the most unhelpful thing that Churchill ever said was that Russia was wrapped in mystery, wrapped in enigma and I think the Russia, is, it’s not hard to understand Russia, it may be unpleasant because of where you end up when you’ve done the work but it’s almost like people say the Chinese are inscrutable and it’s kind of an orientalist thing which is a lazy excuse for not doing the work but when you ask questions you find that Russia has interests, particularly the Russian regime has interests and those interests are incompatible with our interests, so we have some choices, we can ignore the fact and have wishful thinking, we can concede and do deals with them and have half, you know you have Estonia and we’ll have Latvia, we’ve tried that in the past, didn’t work very well for the people concerned, it didn’t work very well for us or we can say to them look we are much bigger and richer than you are, the West is a billion people and a 40 trillion GDP and Russia is 1.3 trillion GDP so we are seven times bigger than you in population terms and 14 times bigger than you in economic terms so please don’t get in the way because you’ll get hurt, which is broadly what we do with NATO expansion and it worked very well but then we stopped doing that and it worked less well. I think that the pleasant surprises, lots, NATO is now in the business of territorial defence, we have enhanced our presence in the Baltic states that was purely the result of good hard work by Vladimir Putin who repeatedly woke us up that it became impossible for NATO to pretend that there wasn’t a military problem, we had an enormous threat, military exercises on the Baltic border, so even NATO had to accept there was problem, that’s fierce, in energy, 3rd energy package, attack on Gasprom by the (inaudible) commission, big investments in energy resilience, that would’ve been inconceivable fifteen years ago, it would get laughed at when I said there was a problem gas dependency, dirty money, we have all sorts of things, there are pleasant surprises, there just aren’t enough of them, so I think that is that
Keir Giles: Let me go to Peter’s question which I think was in two parts. It was can we not understand Russia and can we not reach Russia, which I think are two separate questions. Well I agree absolutely we can understand Russia and I’ve done my best to – I mean this book could have been about so think and still not got to some of the basic roots of Russian behaviour, some basic concepts of how their world works but as a potted summary I’d suggest this does point out some of the ways that yes we can get to what are some of the main drivers of Russian policy particularly when it comes to confronting the west, as for whether you can reach Russia, well certainly you can and again the Churchill phrase, the key is Russian national interest. Do not expect that there is going to be a way in which you can reach an accommodation or understanding with Russia that does not serve the direct interests of the country or in particular its leadership elite. Cooperation or compromise or (inaudible) for its own sake is not a concept which is even comprehended in Russia.
Audience member: Are you saying it’s not possible to transcend their fear of invasion? To put it crudely, but there’s still fear that’s someone’s going to invade them and whatever they do… are you saying that’s the driver?
Keir Giles: It’s one of the main factors and there are plenty of other entirely misplaced fears lie at (inaudible) behaviour. Can you displace the fear of invasion? No, it is still a fear in Moscow that the West seeks to destabilise, to carry out regime change, to dismember Russia, despite the fact that an even more unstable and unpredictable Russia is the last thing that anyone wants. Even throughout the 90s when the biggest fear and biggest concern was Russia was a country which would descend into chaos and its chaos would spread across the borders. There was a perception within Russia that yes the West is going to attack. But that attitude which is carried forward from Russia’s previous historical experience where occasionally they have actually been right that their friends turn on them and invade them is now carried forward into a century where it is an entirely inappropriate and misplaced view but the same thing of course happens across the board in so many other aspects of Russia’s threat perception. For instance, the current plans to cut Russia off from the global internet with many different motivations for them not just removing the access to information for Russian citizens are entirely compatible with a history of a country which from time to time has banned the import and possession of foreign books because information that comes from abroad has always been a threat to the national security of Russia so there are many different very deep seated psychological traumas that lead to the current attitude to the West and no some of them I think you cannot shift. Now John created a logical train which I tried to follow and I got lost at the part where you said fear and I wasn’t sure whether you meant fear of what Russia might do or fear of responding to what Russia might do , either is probably misplaced but could you walk us through slowly that chain where you get to the wrong decision at the end
Audience member: Well put yourself in the position of the Russians as I try to do sometimes I have a lot of friends there, having lived there at the same time as you actually, NATO said they wouldn’t come to our borders, they did, ok, and there’s Ukraine, there’s Georgia, which I know very well, on the border, all likely to be unstable places and you are surrounded, ok you’ve made friends with China now, what im saying to you is, there is I believe, in the West’s point of view, there is unnecessary fear going on, there are problems of course but fear is a very dangerous thing and it causes you to do other silly things I believe.
Keir Giles: Well this is a nice extension of the point that I believe we were just making, Let’s look at some of the fundamental misconceptions that are driving Russian attitudes to the West at the moment, not just on a political and on a leadership level but actually things that are repeated by ordinary people because they have been told them so often by the leadership and NATO said it wouldn’t come to Russia’s borders, is a disputed point, it never said it would not enlarge to incorporate the new countries of Eastern Europe, was there a commitment that new NATO forces might be stationed in Eastern Europe, it depends who you believe, there’s evidence on both sides, including, for example, for Mikhail Gorbachev, who ought really to know, since he was conducting the negotiations, has given evidence on both sides, it’s not as clear cut as that, Ukraine and Georgia, well they are not NATO members, lets remember, is Russia surrounded, absolutely not as anyone who glances at a map will know instantly and yet it is a point that you get repeated to you so often because it forms part of the decision making framework which has been inculcated within Russia so in order to deal with all of these fundamental constructs which leads to this attitude that the West needs to be constructed you need first of all to demolish a vast swathe of mythology which is firmly embedded in the consciousness of Russia and its leaders
Edward Lucas: Can I just add on the NATO thing, it was the Soviet Union, it was the Soviet Union, we now don’t have the Soviet Union anymore, when NATO expanded it didn’t just wake up one morning and say tell you what let’s bring in random countries, it was a long process in which Russia was intimately involved in both phases of NATO expansion – Russia was at the table and we went out of our way to make it palatable for Russia, we had the NATO Russia council, Russia signed up to that it’s not like we rang that through against Russian objections, I actually asked Putin myself in 2002, I said (inaudible), He had some very bland answer, at no point did he say we will start having enormous exercises on our border and threaten (inaudible), this is a classic example (inaudible), I don’t know who’s talking about optimism here
Keir Giles: Let’s take that period in history because it illustrates so neatly my driving point that optimism sustained for far longer than it should have been is a major problem in understanding Russia, Putin’s Munich speech In 2007 is habitually presented as a turning point in attitudes to the West, the only thing that surprises people either in Russia at the time was that everyone else was surprised because this was just an expression of the mounting frustration that Russia had been trying to convey to the West for some time, now let’s not forget that NATO was still proclaiming a strategic partnership with Russia after the armed conflict with Georgia in 2011, let’s not forget that this was a NATO headline. These things are based on an entirely misplaced understanding of what Russia (inaudible) also based on not paying attention to what Russia is actually saying, whether we like it or not, whether we believe it or not, it is the decision making framework that Russia is operating in. Therefore, we need to take account of it. And optimism is something that is leading us astray.
Ambassador Baiba Braze: If I may just say a few words on the fear versus optimism and on also whether (inaudible) are listening after Salisbury. We in the Baltic states have been very rational. I mean, people thought we were russaphobes, when we look back at our messaging, it’s not about saying there is a fear or something else, but being constant in the messaging with Russians, they deserve open straightforward messaging as with any other country as in terms of what your intentions are and what you actually are saying so there will be no double meaning and that is how we try to build our relationship with Russia and as I said, on one hand, we do maintain a certain amount of dialogue, and on other hand (inaudible) the invasion in Ukraine or Georgia undermining or cyber attacks is unacceptable and we will always be very constant in our action be it in the EU or NATO or other international institutions on what has to be done. So I think that consistency from everywhere would actually benefit to maintain a constant Western relationship with Russia as with a number of other countries, the post Salisbury listening capacity in our capitals. I think we have to look at it together with the Miller report which shows the other side of the picture, so the sort of overt consequences from Salisbury were quite clear, it showed that there is frontline states everywhere, there is new frontline which is everywhere, and the Miller report has shown the same thing, and the capacity for the actions, using both legitimate and illegitimate means have to be taken seriously, in that respect, again on the antagonism, I don’t think we in the West are led by being antagonistic to Russia or by being negative ti Russia, I agree that we have to be realist, which points to giving up unnecessary optimism but clearly understanding your interests that are there that again from Russia on one hand is EU’s biggest energy supplier from other hand the EU is still by far the biggest market for Russia that you know economics or politics, it all just helps and clearly sets minimum bases for not having these type of ups and downs and expectations on both sides that lead to disappointment and on Ukraine, I think that that is biggest failure of Russian foreign policy and I’m not afraid to go on the record even though that’s my private view it’s not in any foreign policy documents but from a country that was one of Russia’s closest partners it has now turned to purely foreign policy issue for Russia and defence policy and the way Ukraine sees Russia has completely changed, the nation building exercise, we have to look at Ukraine and see and commend what they have achieved after 2014 and look at it in the long term, there’s going to be a generation and another generation before we can really evaluate what Ukraine has achieved
Dr. Andrew Foxall: I might just add that one of the most productive ways that I find to respond to this accusation that NATO enlarged or expanded to Russia’s borders since 1991 is of course to point out that Norway was a founding member of NATO, shares a border with Russia and shared a border with the Soviet Union and therefore NATO has shared a border with Russia and the Soviet Union since 1949 both a land and a maritime border.
Audience member: My name’s Patricia Evans. I was just going to ask the panel if they would comment on in the event of there being a Corbyn government elected in this country if you foresee any change in the nature of the relationship with the UK and Russia specifically or whether the same antagonisms and fears will prevail?
Audience member: Foreign Policy Centre. I’d be interested in your views about sanctions and whether sanctions are hurting or are likely to change Russia’s approach. I think one could perhaps say that on the one hand the best evidence that they are hurting is the fact of the effort Moscow puts into campaigning (inaudible). I would be very interested in your thoughts and comments on that.
Audience member: John Berryman. Birkbeck, University of London. I think with all three presentations it’s clear that Russia has never been, is not and will never be likely to become a liberal democracy on the Western model. However, I think there are a couple of areas where it seemed to me the panel were exercising a rather benign interpretation of the policy pursuit of the West. They have given insufficient credence to quite legitimate perceptions that might be felt in Moscow. It is important to understand how an adversary or a partner thinks at all times. There is a suggestion that Georgia and Ukraine paid the price… So my question is, apart from NATO enlargement, which is not something which cannot be undertaken, I’ll simply offer the observation that apart from NATO which is assumed to be benign, there is the question of missile defence which many people see as indefensible that America in particular still wishes to pursue.
Dr. Andrew Foxall: So three admirably brief questions and hopefully given the time our panellists’ responses will be similarly brief. Just to say as well, I’m aware that we actually haven’t heard from any Russians in the audience, if indeed there are so if there are any Russians or anybody else from the region who would like to ask a question I’ll come back for one round of questions once we’ve heard the responses.
Keir Giles: Well keeping it super brief in case people do need to dash off on the dot at 2. John, thank you very much for another confirming example of Russian preconceptions that are based on behaviours from previous centuries and are actually entirely inappropriate today. So yes it is entirely correct that Russia has suffered the experience of regime change that was funded and facilitated from abroad in 1917 when Germany decided the best way to take Russia out of the war was to change the government but then how appropriate is it now to bring it forward a century and apply it to what is happening today? The parallels are simply not there but again it’s a preconception that is driving Russia’s responses to stimuli in an entirely inappropriate manner. Craig yes I agree with you that the best indication that the sanctions really are hurting is the stridency with which they’re saying they aren’t. The actual nuts and bolts and the figures I will defer to two colleagues from Chatham House (inaudible) Nigel Gould-Davis and Richard Connolly, both have written about the effect of sanctions on the Russian economy and both of them say yes this is actually an effective measure. If Corbyn arrives I think we can reasonably presume that there will be a slackening in the attention that Russia pays to this country because this country will correspondingly be less of a problem for Russia because all of the ways in which this country withstands Russian hostile (inaudible) will be eroded and undermined.
Ambassador Baiba Braze: I cannot possibly comment what would happen if there was a change of the leading party but the only comment is that we work with all parties including with the labour party (inaudible) and the labour party view on NATO is somewhat different from the (inaudible) of its current leader so on restrictive measures they are working, we have suffered negative effects ourselves, the point of the measures is not to hurt Russia per say but to correct the behaviour, that’s why the targeted measures, individual measures, they are for exactly the violations that are taking place and there is another packet being prepared currently which are not necessarily directly meant for Russia so called (inaudible) restrictive measures for human rights violations so we hope to see them this Fall. They are in the process. And on West’s policy. I think I will revert back to my earlier point that Russia like any other country deserves to be heard from us in a frank and honest way without us building some type of glass palaces in rhetorics, or expectations but rationally maintaining the relationship and working where it’s possible and again releasing for ourselves where our sort of security and other issues are in the West
Edward Lucas: On Corbyn, I think the question would be the future of the strategic nuclear deterrence and second Britain’s participation in the (inaudible) presence in Estonia and thirdly the British role on sanctions. On all those three I think there’s a lot of institutional weight behind them and certainly talking to the Labour front bench which I do regularly I don’t detect any appetite for a sharp change. It may well be that the Corbyn government, given all the suspicions about the die-hard Stalinists that surround him in his office might be quite keen to dispel any impression that they were going to be soft on Russia so perhaps false optimism there and on sanctions, it is worth remembering that it is the longest period in Russian history ever of continuous economic growth, political stability and more or less personal freedom. I mean, say what you want about this regime, for many Russians, just the fact that today’s a little bit better than yesterday and tomorrow’s going to be a little bit better than today is a very major deal and the Putin regime can afford, in a way, to extremely corrupt, incompetent (inaudible) huge opportunities for making things a lot better
Dr. Andrew Foxall: Thank you. One final question.
Audience member: John Curtis, I’ve got no particular organisation, I just wanted one particular question. Supposing Israel and Iran blow each other, come to big blows, what would be your take on how that would impact the West and how would it impact Russia and their relationship together.
Ambassador Baiba Braze: If it was for me, I’m really not good at speculating. Sorry.
Keir Giles: I think we might have to save that for over a stiff drink later because that is a very long question.
Edward Lucas: I mean it would send the oil price shooting up and that would be good for Russia.