Who Lost Russia?

TIME: 13:00 – 14:00, 27th March 2017

VENUE: Henry Jackson Society, 26th Floor, Millbank Tower
21-24 Millbank, London, SW1P 4QP


Peter Conradi
Author, Who Lost Russia?
Foreign Editor, The Sunday Times

Andrew: Good afternoon everybody, welcome to the Henry Jackson Society, my name is Doctor Andrew Foxall, I’m the director of the Russia Studies Centre here and I’m delighted that we have with us today Peter Conradi, who will be speaking about his book “Who lost Russia: how the world entered a new cold war”. Peter is I’m sure known to many of you, he’s an author, a journalist and currently the foreign editor of the Sunday times. He was previously that paper’s Moscow correspondent for 6 or 7 years?

Peter: 6 years.

Andrew: 6 years. This is his most recent book. He previously wrote the king’s speech, which gave rise to the Oscar-winning film. He is based here In London now, as I say currently working at the Sunday times. Peter will speak for 20-25 minutes or so, after which we’ll have plenty of time for Q & A. So without any further ado, Peter, Thank you.

Peter: Right, ok well thanks very much indeed for, for coming along. So I went to work in…in Moscow in summer 1998 as a, as young correspondent, actually for the Reuters news agency initially, very young correspondent I should say. My wife and I arrived in the city after a road trip across Europe through the Ukraine that took us perilously close to the Chernobyl nuclear plant, which had exploded two years earlier. Our shiny new Volvo e state car was completely full of supplies so much so that when we opened the back doors everything would begin to cascade out because my colleagues had warned me that we wouldn’t be able to buy anything in the shops, and they were right. When we arrived, the shops completely empty. I worked in a, for Reuters as I said, in a , situated in a kind of a compound, a foreigners compound, where a policeman was in a little cubicle on the door, checked everyone coming in and out, ourselves, us included. We had kind of interpreters aids, who hired by an organisation called “Oopdeca” (???) which was the organisation that looked after foreigners. We assumed they all worked for the KGB as well. They knew that we knew that they all worked for the KGB, and everyone, everyone was happy really.

We used to go out around the city in our Volvo. Everyone knew who we were, because I had a “k” on it for Корреспондент (Korrespondent/Correspondent) zero zero one for Britain. When we used to get home in the evening to our home, we would sometimes find the drawer that we kept our documents in had been left open, nothing taken, just left open. Sometimes the phone would ring as well. There would never be anyone there, but it was just a sort of a sign that “you know, we know you’re home now”. I was working my Russian at the time, I used to have a Russian teacher, a lovely lady called Nina who would come along every morning and teach me Russian and teach me grammar and after a time I noticed that her questions were more and more intended to licit details of my life, what I had been doing, particularly interested in my Russian friends. It’s remarkable what you can get into a grammar question. So that….for us it was obviously an extraordinary place. It was a very… It was a very very different place clearly from the west in, in, in so many different ways: the whole political system was different, the whole economic system was different. Just the way everything worked seemed to be upside down. But thanks to Michail Gorbatchov, who had come to power two years earlier, it was changing fast.

I was there 6-7 years and was sort of privileged to have a front row seat as this whole political economic social system that had been built up and developed since the Bolsheviks had ceased power in 1917 was essentially unravelling. I think that was the word for it in 1988. It was unravelling in front of my eyes and something new, wild and untested was emerging in its place.  It was a strange feeling, one of I suppose of freedom, exhilaration but also a kind of foreboding mingled with a fear of… traditional Russian fear of chaos. And I left the country for good in 1995. Its future path seemed uncertain, yet there seemed to be still some cause for optimism.

The events in 2014, the uprising in Maidan, the seizure of Crimea, the invasion of Eastern Ukraine and so on that inspired me to write this book. I was back in London by then as foreign editor of the Sunday times. I looked at what my colleagues where saying, what a lot of other people were writing, maybe sort of portrayed as if this was, you know a bolt from the blue, this was something completely unexpected, whereas I think to anyone who knew Russia who knew… looked at it in the intervening period, it was anything but a bolt out of the blue. It was I think the  failure of both sides, the west and Russia to establish a new relationship that would turn the two former cold war foes into partners. These warning signs of things going wrong had been very very clear for years and had been ignored, and this book was an attempt to look at the, those warning signs, in a sense to chart what had been happening between 1991 and the present, and I called it “Who lost Russia”. I’m not the first person to have used that word or that phrase but it seemed apposite and is obviously an echo of the debate in America, of the “who lost China” debate after Mao defeating the nationalists.

So, just a sort of to, to to whiz through 25 years very quickly: the starting point is obviously 1992, January 1992, or February 92, George W. Bush is, sorry H. W. Bush, the elder Bush’s state of the nation address, in which, he says, to quote him “the biggest thing that has happened in the world in my life, in our lives is this. By the grace of God, America won the cold war”. So there was this real spirit of, of triumphalism around, obviously Bush had a, had a second term to win, or he hoped he was going to win a second term and he was very much keen to play on his foreign policy achievements and the break up, the sort of the defeat of the Soviet Union. The defeat of communism was very much part of his election platform. Things obviously looked very different from the other side. I remember Russia in you know the, the turbulence at that time, of early 1992 with the price reforms that had come in. The small number of people doing very well out of the turbulence, the large number of people doing very very badly indeed. It was sort of an extraordinary period.

I think from the, for the Bush as we know didn’t win re-election – was replaced by Clinton – and if one looks at the 1990s, it was a period Western-Russian relations was very much dominated by this personal relationship between Boris, Bill and Boris essentially. Some wonderful sort of anecdotes that have, that have come out basically in memoirs, certainly on the American side. I, I particularly enjoyed the first encounter at the Vancouver summit. The, the two delegations set off on a boat ride around Vancouver Island. Yeltsin apparently downed three scotches within a few minutes of leaving the dock, a dinner followed up with four glasses of wine and barely a bite to eat. His speech became increasingly slurred. Warren Christopher, the secretary of state, passed one of his colleagues a note which read “no food, bad sign, boat ride was liquid”. Clinton told them all to relax, pointing out that he’d grown up with an alcoholic step-father, and as he put it “at least Yeltsin’s not mean drunk”. And so it, I mean, and so it, so it, so it continued. In public, Yeltsin would rail against America, would demand more money, would try and assert his own position, assert Russia’s position. In private he would essentially roll over because he didn’t really have any cards to play. The Russian economy was still in turmoil, you know rebuilding years, and years, decades of central planning was no easy task. The political system, Yeltsin was locked in a battle with parliament, which had exploded into violence on the streets in 1993. And in this context America essentially pressed its advantage over Russia. This was something that the, the foe that it had fought certainly since the Second World War was now on it’s, on its back.

So what do we get, we got the expansion of NATO, bringing the first three countries, Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary. We got Kosovo at the end of the 1990s and also I think, more importantly, kind of a failure to give much thought to what role Russia should play in this new international system. I think that’s the fundamental failure we’re going to come back to later is that, no what, did they want Russia to be? It was longer a cold war foe, but was it an ally? Was it a partner, was it a junior partner? I mean if one looks at the, the breakup of the whole Soviet…the whole soviet bloc in its broader sense, countries like the Czech republic, countries like Hungary, Poland and so on…it was relatively easy to see a future for them. Perhaps easy to see a future for some of the former soviet republics as such. Russia itself, no one really I think had given serious thought to what role it should play. Now, as long as Russia was, was weak, in a sense this didn’t matter, the west could get away with that failure. But, by the late 1990s, I think the mood was soured also by the economic crisis in 1998, there was a growing feeling of grievance, a growing feeling of humiliation – the extent to which the leader, and the country became rolled into one –, Yeltsin’s antics which caused such, such amusement to western newspapers were perceived by many in Russia as quite humiliating. All essentially was needed was a new leader who would come along and exploit these feelings.

That man obviously was Vladimir Putin. I think it’s, I think it’s difficult to…who was, who was shoehorned into, into the presidency by Yeltsin who surprised everyone by suddenly announcing in his new year’s speech in 1991, sorry 1999, that he was stepping down, he wasn’t allowing the elections to go ahead as planned that, that following June, but he was bringing them forward and installing Putin as his acting, acting president, with obviously the huge advantages that incumbency would bring. I think it’s, it’s difficult to realize now at a time when Putin is sort of portrayed as, as the devil incarnate I think by…in, in the media quite how many hopes were invested in him at the time. I mean I was completely struck going back looking at, at, at Blair, the enthusiasm with which Tony Blair –that’s no recommendation – but the enthusiasm with which Tony Blair embraced him was extraordinary. I mean there was a feeling that Blair was uncomfortable with Yeltsin – you know he found that on a personal level he found these sort of bear hugs and this sort of bonhomie a little but off-putting. He was also felt that, you know, being in power relatively soon, early, you know not having been in power very long himself, he felt that that that Yeltsin was much better entrenched with everyone else. He saw Putin, he was keen to get in with him, so therefore he actually made an extraordinary visit to St. Petersburg, even before the election in March. You know he became part of Putin’s election campaign, because I think he saw in him perhaps a fellow spirit, there was kind of the shadows of of of… Margaret Thatcher having spotted Gorbachev the year before he came to power.

Blair liked him a lot, Berlusconi liked him an enormous amount, they built up sort of this extraordinary personal relationship, a number of mutual visits, family visits. One of my favourite lines that came out of one of Berlusconi’s many trials was some evidence when referring to a Palazzo of his in Rome, where they were talking about Il Letto di Putin – “Putin’s bed”. Essentially this was Berlusconi saying to one of his female guests, “I’ll meet you at Putin’s bed”. Quite what Putin had been up to we don’t know. And then most importantly, George W. Bush, the famous, or their first meeting at Ljubljana, their first summit when Bush was somewhat taken off balance by the question from the audience, which was “do you trust him?” I’ m sure you’re all familiar with the quote when Putin…Bush replied “I looked the man in the eye, I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy, I was able to get a sense of his soul”. His words, that were to haunt Bush, I think for the rest of his presidency, of almost as much as the mission accomplished sign on the American war ship was after Iraq.

So was, you know, was Putin playing Bush? Was he playing the west? Was this sort of part of some kind of plot to convince us he was, he was someone that he wasn’t? I don’t know I mean, I was….I was struck as part of the research for this book I went to see Alexander Voloshin, who was the chief of staff for Yeltsin in the latter years and for Putin in the early years and I think my impression from talking to him is that…that Putin was to some extent making it up as he went along. That he, that he, that came to power perhaps thinking there could be a new relationship with the west and you know we saw over 9/11, Putin was the first…much has been made of the fact that Putin was the first to commiserate with Bush after the attack. There was sort of flexibility as far as…sort of…Putin put pressure on the Central Asian governments to allow Americans access to Afghanistan and so on. It appeared to be there was a…there was a kind of a reaching out but there was also I think an expectation on the Russian side that there would be some quid pro quo in return, which there wasn’t. Bush was very happy to take what the Russians offered him but not really happy to give anything in return. So we had Bush proceeding obviously with the Iraq war, leading to the ousting of a Russian ally.

I mean from Russia’s point of view even more a concern was the colour revolutions, Bush’s whole freedom agenda, so we had in Georgia, followed by in Ukraine, followed by in Kirgizstan. You know one can argue the extent to which this was driven by the West or merely facilitated…whatever…but certainly from a Russian point of view, it seemed threatening. The West’s attitude, also America’s attitude in particular under Bush also appeared hypocritical. They were particularly taken by a visit in 2006, where Dick Cheney went first to Lithuania, where he was quite understandably criticising Russia over human rights, democracy and so on, and then went straight from there to Kazakhstan, stood alongside Nursultan Nazarbayev, not one of the world’s greatest democrats and praised the achievements of Kazakhstan. So, we can see a kind of growing disillusion, I think, on…on the part of Putin, and most importantly, this was coupled with growing economic force in Russia, growing economic power. Russia’s weakness, so at the end of the 1980s had been a great extent economic, not just the collapse, of the…the falling apart of the old command central….command economy, also the weakness of the oil price. I mean, oil at the end of the 1980s was about $20 dollars a barrel. I think a lot of people argue that had oil been a lot higher then, the Soviet Union might as well have struggled on. Again, Putin was much more fortunate, he came to power, oil was up about $30 dollars a barrel, by June 2008, it had peaked at a 140. You think it is huge for a country which is hugely dependent on raw material exports and energy exports, you think of the huge influence that that had. Later this greater assertiveness, expression of which came in his now, again, landmark speech in Munich in 2007 when he essentially attacked America, set out a new role for Russia, accusing the United States of overstepping its borders in all spheres and exploding itself on all other states. And we saw sort of the first real downward crash in relations I think over the conflict in Georgia in 2008, which led to the death of 1500 people.

[……….19.15-19.17] of rattling through this but the…but the arrival of Barrack Obama, the move and… Putin’s move a few months earlier to Prime minister in a sort of manoeuvre to keep himself in power but not in office did seem to open the way to a new relationship, so called reset, which was embodied I suppose in plastic, in a little button that Hillary Clinton presented Lavrov with in the intercontinental hotel, with “reset” wrongly translated into Russian on it. We had Medvedev’s visit to Silicon Valley, Medvedev came….came to Washington in of the… in one of the sort of great bits of show that come at summits. Went out for a burger with Obama, one for video if you ever watch it…as the kind of the look of the people in the burger joint when the two of them arrive. The reset of course proved short-lived. Just as a decade earlier we’d had the colour revolutions, now we had the Arab spring, which again appeared to fuel paranoia on Putin’s part, which came to a head, or was it…exacerbated by the protests that started in late 2011 and continued into 2012 when Putin announced, perhaps not to anyone’s much surprise that, much as he liked being prime minister, he was going to come back as president for another term. And with it came. And with it, you know, came accusations of American involvement, particularly a suggestion that Hillary Clinton had been trying to ferment the unrest. This I think sort of coincided also this, this…this term since 2012 is coincided by…with a search by Putin for a new form of legitimacy. I think if, if, if his legitimacy. I think if his legitimacy in the early 2000s was based largely on growing prosperity, that kind of that never had a Russian version of “you never had it so good”. By 2012, I think we could go back to steal another slogan, more of a “Making Russia great again”, coupled with a…sort of an emphasis on traditional values, on Russian Orthodoxy, on the power of Russia and so on. Then we had, obviously Maidan, the seizure of Crimea, war in Eastern Ukraine. Again, you know that’s so much to go into…as the details of those events. But essentially I think if one steps back from it, the problem fundamentally was and attempt to make Ukraine chose between West and East. And this is a country which…which since independence has swung…in which a pendulum has swung between westward looking and eastward looking and this…the crunch came and we all saw the consequences of it. Putin then, in a sense built on this. Sanctions…sanctions were imposed but rather than being cowed he built on this and took an increasingly assertive line. First of all the most dramatically in Syria as we’ve seen sort of reinserting Russia back into the Middle East and also more recently interestingly in getting involved in Libya, with support for, for colonel Haftar, sort of the strongman there and also it seems or it has been suggested in Afghanistan too, again establishing bizarrely links with the Taliban.

So finally, along came Donald Trump, which caused me some excitement as I was just putting…going to press with the book at that time and assured the publishers that Hillary was going to win, and that there was no need…that we should just wait to push the button until after November the 8th. So I had a, I had a busy time rewriting….rewriting the epilogue, and I’m pleased to say Donald is in} as of the first months of his, of his rule. I mean, what, what…what can you say I mean never before had an incoming American leader been so forthright in his praise of a Russian leader. I mean we’d had, we’d had Romney and McCain before him who had tried stuff out to each other in a sort of cold war styled rhetoric. But here, from you know, early in the campaign, Trump was showering praise on Putin. It was a sort of a bizarre long distance bromance I suppose one can call it. You know, in July 2015, trump said “I think I’d get along very well with Vladimir Putin”. Quite why is not clear. He claimed during campaigning that Putin had been equally supporting of him. He said he’d called me brilliant. Now the word that Putin used had been “Yanki”(???), which the Russian speak as my understanding means more colourful or flamboyant, not bright…intelligent bright, a point that Putin himself made. And you know, it was, it was, it was…this praise was so effusive, it was difficult to, to realize that the two men had never actually met….still haven’t actually met, and you know to further rattle Europe, trump coupled all of this…praise with Putin, with the sideswipe at NATO, which he repeatedly called obsolete during the campaign, so here we have Putin in power, you know, where exactly are we going?

Mike Flynn, one of the most enthusiastic pro-Russians in his entourage has come and gone – rather more quickly than anyone would have expected. There’s been some signs that the…the administration is trying to distance itself from some other people. There is a gentleman called Carter Page, who was sort of involved in the campaign, also very very pro-Russian, who has been…was dismissed by Sean Spicer in a press conference last week as being a hanger-on. The rhetoric on NATO has, has, has changed, I mean it seems to me that that Trump is not going to abolish NATO, he is not going to pull out of NATO, this is just all part of a kind of strategy of encouraging NATO members to pay a greater share on defence. The same time, every, every day is bringing new revelations about an extent of Russian involvement in the campaign. You know what…in a sense what, what did Russia want? I still we, we still don’t know quite know. I mean the….did they, did they want Trump to win? Did they want to just undermine Hillary? I mean my feeling is perhaps that they never expected, they never thought it possible that Trump would win and they just wanted to weaken Hillary, they were counting on having Hillary there and they were counting on…on just challenging the legitimacy of, of the whole thing.

We don’t know, but that’s the situation that we’re in, I’m sure more will come out as the various enquiries going on in Washington do their work. The question is, you know, what is the administration’s new policy on Russia? What is the new policy going to be? I think it’s difficult to avoid the impression that they don’t actually have one…yet. I mean one of their most…alarming things about this new administrations is the extent to which all the number of posts in the administration that are still not filled, you know they have to…Trump is going to get thousands of people in there and they’ve obviously done the top levels, but they haven’t gone a long way down, particularly on, on Russia policy. I met by chance an American gentleman who was hoping to get a job in the administration last week and he…he sort of was showing me the scheme of all these posts that remain to be filled, and it was, it was, it was absolutely extraordinary. But I think to conclude what is clear is that we are…the relations under Obama with Putin reached a dead end. You know we can’t continue like…like this with sort of a snarling Russia which is excluded from the mainstream…where….which is clearly not being cowed by sanctions…at least not yet, it will take a long time for them to act.

You know we need to find some way of breaking out of it. Now some people might take heart from the demonstrations that we saw on Sunday, extraordinary, extraordinary events…sort of a harking back to 2011-2012, not just in Moscow but in cities…cities across Russia, led by Navalny, who himself was in…was in court I think this morning…in equally sort of characteristically defined motive. You know, maybe wishful thinkers see this as being the sign of a beginning of some kind of popular upheaval that might oust Putin. I, I, I wouldn’t hold my breath. He put them down in 2011-12, I’m sure he can do the same thing again. But you know, even if, even if it were…what would…you know what would happen? Would…would a president Navalny pull out of Crimea? Well no, not necessarily. I mean in fact in the latest interview I saw with him in December, December 2016, he said that they would, having previously said “no way we’re leaving”, this latest interview suggested they would have a referendum. But then you know, a fair referendum, but if it were a fair referendum the people…the people of Crimea were to vote to stay with Ukraine, sorry to stay with Russia. You know, would he, would he reduce Russia’s role in Syria or in the Middle East….or just of asserting itself more broadly? I don’t think necessarily, I think the problem is that this is increasingly I think become seen as a Putin problem that the West has got.

But what we really have is a Russia problem. A Russia problem that is going to remain whoever replaces Putin when he finally goes. I will just conclude by quoting from Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security advisor, who in 1994 despaired at America’s failure to quote “come up with a well-considered and historically relevant successor to the grand strategy of the Cold War years”. And I will contend more than 20 years later, he’s still as right as he was then.

Andrew:  Thank you, you’ve given us much…you’ve covered an awful lot of ground there and given much food for thought. I should say that copies of Peter’s book are available for sale outside and he suggested he’s perfectly happy to, to sign them, if, if I not insist that he signs every copy that sold. I’ll take the opportunity to open the floor up for questions and answers in just a moment, but if I may I’ll take the opportunity to, to ask the first question. You, you sort of gave I think rightly, a…a sort of an overview of the quite personal relationships that Putin had endured with western statesmen. You noted Blair, of course Berlusconi, Bush…one could throw Gerard Schroder into the mix given his position with North stream and interactions with, with Gazprom.

I wonder the extent to which those personal relationships were, were key in the early years at least in part in forming that perhaps westernising tendency in foreign policy, but as Putin has been let’s say less receptive to the West in its ideas, has slowly met fewer and fewer western leaders, certainly over recent years, that has itself sort of pushed the more aggressive foreign policy that he’s following.

Peter: It’s, it’s an interesting point. I mean, so, you’re suggesting that the very fact of meeting these people would have influenced him?

Andrew: Possibly

Peter: I think…I think the impression I got, and again I sort of draw on the interview I did with Voloshin. He said there was this certainly….there seem to be this almost willingness or, or determination on Putin’s part to learn at the beginning, I think he…you know, he came, he came to office with, with no experience of foreign affairs. I mean, ok in St. Petersburg he was involved in, you know, some contact with foreign…foreign kind of organisations or whatever, but on a more commercial level. I mean he had no experience whatsoever of geopolitics. I mean I was struck…I think Voloshin mentioned to me that he…that….I think it was a French foreign minister who, who came….visited and they…Voloshin was struck by just how much time Putin spent with him. You know, something that…you know President and foreign minister you wouldn’t spend all that time, but it was you know, I think there probably was a…there, there was a desire to learn, there was a desire to bond, on….on a human kind of level. But I just, I just think it was ultimately, as he, as he got into the job, as he got more confident, I think just this sense of…I think, I think, I think it all boils downs to desire for respect, and I think it was sort of, you know a personal desire for respect and I think a desire for respect for his country. Feeling that, you know, his whole life perhaps had been…I don’t know…. let’s say if one looks, if one looks at Putin…one of his biographies of Putin, he’s not someone, you know there’s an awful lot of kind of cod psychologies done about him, he’s not someone who, from early life appears to have been a natural leader, he doesn’t seem to have been you know…had he gone to one of these annoying interviews when they ask you “how have you excelled over your peer-group at different stages in your career?”. He probably wouldn’t have done…

Andrew: No

Peter: But he’s had the last laugh obviously. And I just feel that, you look at his life, it appears to be a kind of a, kind of a desire for, desire for respect and you know transposing that to…to, to a national level, the feeling that the Russia that he’d inherited was, was, was on its knees, needed to be rebuilt and you know, I haven’t…I haven’t touched at all on the sort of the growing assertiveness at home, the growing consolidation of power, clampdown on the media and on the oligarchs and so on. It all, it all went hand in hand and I, you know, even if he’d, you know he kept, he kept meeting Berlusconi, you know he kept meeting Western leaders, but I think the ultimate reality…I think there was something inevitable about what happened I think.

Andrew: Ok, Ok thank you. Gentleman in the front row.

Question 1: There are two gentlemen in the front row actually. You examine the American…kind of a…view of Russia which seems to quite ambivalent, you…I don’t think you mentioned the British stand amongst…attitude to Russia which I think we have to raise 100% hostile now and….Boris Johnson at one point a good while ago was absolutely quite complementary about Putin, but he seems to have done a bad face on now. I mean one of the ways Russia is attacked is by attacking RT, which was called Russia Today TV….I would take RT standing for “reality TV”. Now it’s classified as Russian propaganda yes?

Peter: classified by whom?

Question 1: You here people that raise [inaudible…34.58-59] all these stockholders will say that…it’s Russian propaganda…you know…don’t listen to it. Now, if you actually examine the sort of people that RT gives airtime to, you find it’s quite a lot of high ranking Americans, if I could give you a few examples

Peter: this doesn’t sound like a question

Andrew: Do you have a question at all?

Question 1: let me see now, what is the question…no, I’m making the proposition that what we’re being told is a big lie.

Peter: that’s a very broad statement

Question 1: if you allow me to sort of just read out the people they give air time to…

Andrew: if you…I take you’re point….if you could think of a question, and then perhaps we’ll come back to you after we’ve taken a few other questions…

Question 1: Let’s put it this way then…

Andrew: this is a question?

Question 1: if, if RT is Russian propaganda, why do they give lot of airtime to people like John Loftus, U.S. prosecutor and army intelligence operator, Thomas Johnson, professor at Meritus University of California, consultant for the C.I.A, Paul Crane Roberts, former U.S…..and so it goes on….

Andrew: ok, forgive me for interrupting….and the question seems to be…why, if RT is a propaganda mouth piece for the Kremlin, which a lot of people, myself included, would argue, why do individuals with seeming credibility appear on the show? The channel rather.

Peter: Gosh…in a sense you should ask them….you know, every, every news organisation I’m speaking here wearing a journalistic hat rather, rather than an office hat…you know…no one can claim objectivity…you know, you know…as I’m foreign editing the Sunday Times I’m doing so, you know…I’m a necessarily a prisoner of my background, of my attitudes of my sort of, my world view or whatever. So to, I mean, you know, if you start calling some station’s propaganda other things not propaganda, you know, this is…this is a very very long discussion. I, I …. I would say that, I would say that RT is part of a concerted effort by Russia to get its point of view across, it feels, it’s tried all sort of methods in order to…to to, to do so, it tried in for example in the mid-2000s, it had a policy of employing a lot of Western consultancies, paying a lot of money to PR companies. There’s a guy called Rosborough?????….goodness that first name again…

Andrew: Angus

Peter: Angus Rosborough who wrote a very interesting book about he was working for Ketchum, the PR agency in Moscow and how…all these attempts to basically buy a  better image for Russia founded…because as he put it…the mis….a Russian misunderstanding of how the western media worked. They thought that basically the government told proprietors and the proprietors ordered the journalists what to write, rather than people actually using their own brain and judging things as they saw them. Look, you know RT has a point of view, I think its viewing figures are a little bit inflated. People appear only often because they’re paid quite a lot of money to do so. The appearance fees are I think quite generous. But, you know, fair enough, people want to watch them, you know watch it, fine.

Andrew: gentleman on the front row

Question 2: you mentioned the EU, surely the EU played a part in alienating Russia by pushing, pushing, pushing Ukraine? and also pushing with regard to Georgia, when Georgia was talking about maybe joining the NATO so that was….surely the EU is as culpable as the Americans or almost…of having lost Russia.

Peter: I, I think the, the yes, the two processes – EU expansion and NATO expansion – obviously went hand in hand and had sort of separate, separate elements to them. I think, I think one of the crucial moments if you think of, of the…of the Maidan and the events that, that preceded was essentially Ukraine was put in a situation by…by the EU where it had to choose between throwing in its lot with the EU or throwing its lot with Russia and obviously we had Yanukovych – the president – kind of hesitating, we had the crowds on the street essentially arguing for throwing the lot with the west. The Americans were prepared, sorry the Russians were prepared to offer more money, and with fewer strings attached. He swung over to them, and we all saw, you know, we saw the very very dramatic and bloody consequences of that. Now I think that….you can look at…you can say there was real failure by the EU, you know to appreciate, you know almost a lack of…of appreciation of of of of the sensitivities regarding Ukraine, that you know, some formula should have been found, and I think it’s an argument that Henry Kissinger makes interestingly, is that some formula should have been found and should be found in the future to make Ukraine a kind of bridge between Russia and…and the EU, between Russia and NATO and so on. The kind of force…you have got a country which itself is…is…has kind of seesawed backwards and forwards over the years. And to try to sort of force it into one camp is inevitably going to be divisive and that you know…look we survived during the…during the cold war with Finland and Austria outside NATO, you know free to run their own affairs but again, as a sort of bridge. You know, why couldn’t one have done the same thing for Ukraine? Whether one can do that now, you know given all the bad feeling that’s been generated. But I think it’s one of the final point on all…] you know on the expansion of NATO, on the expansion of the EU. Often one talks about Russian feelings being hurt, how would the Russians see this and one talks also about you know, the Americans driving this or different European…western European countries driving it at a certain point. Yes but what about the point of view of Hungarians? Of Estonians? Of Czechs? Of Latvians? Of Lithuanians? You know they have rights as well. You know their rights to sort of self-determination deciding what kind of system they’re in, you know, are no less than those of the Russians and no less than those of the French or the Germans. So you know, and certainly the first wave of NATO enlargement I think was very much driven by realization by these countries that…that Russia was weak, they’d had 40 years of domination by the Soviet Union and this was actually a chance to get away from it.

Andrew: thank you. Jon

Question 3: thank you very much. How significant in Putin’s view and behaviour, and in western response to it, is the fact…this is quite a serious question, might sound a joke…is the fact that he is very small? Should we adopt a policy of having at least 50% interlocutors with Russia to be small people? And very quickly what are your views on the Russian influence, or not perhaps, in the Mediterranean? Because it does seem to me following the comments about a very close relationship with Berlusconi, that the situation in Spain, certainly Italy, with Russian business and political…really ex-political and security perhaps, having perceived the attention it perhaps might have done, and particularly in the context of the reports about interference in Montenegro, which again I think, I think there’s still an awful lot there to be attacked.

Peter: well I suppose that the answer to your first question is, is it’s a shame Sarkozy dropped out of the electoral battle, he would obviously be able to talk to Putin eye to eye. I don’t know, being 6 foot myself, I find it difficult to put myself into Putin’s shoes. How tall is he though?

Andrew: 5 foot 7’ I think.

Peter: yeah. I mean I don’t know. I think it’s, it’s, it’s….I’m I’m I’m not a psychologist I don’t know. As I said I think there is a sort of a…the “non-alpha male” growing up syndrome maybe had something to do with it how know. I think what is going on, on a more serious note, what’s going on, what’s going on in Montenegro, Serbia, the Balkans in general is all…is all very interesting indeed. Very very murky. I mean my newspaper has written extensively about it, as have more recently, the…the…the Telegraph. I don’t know if it was a…if it was a…if it was a real coup attempt or…or not, or it was kind of sort of certainly flamed up by the government in order to discredit the opposition. But I think that…what is interesting is the… sort of the different, the different attitudes across, across different countries in…in Europe. I mean until…as the gentleman in the front row pointed out, you know, Britain has been very very hardline towards Russia. You know public opinion here and the media here seem to be quite, quite…you know…quite tough on Russia. A very very different attitudes in Italy particularly public opinion is much much more pro-Russian. I mean, if you look at, if you look at France, of the three leading candidates, Fillon, le Pen and Macron, you know le Pen obviously we saw last week in meeting Putin, Fillon has extraordinary kind of personal ties with Putin going back, you know, to the time when they were both Prime Minister. And it’s only, it’s only Macron who is on this sort of Atlanticist side.

I think there’s a you know, a different, there’s a different dynamic playing out…playing out in each country, again in Germany where you’ve had the SPD, trying to sort of distance itself from…not by just being in government, from, from Merkel’s policies towards Russia. It’s a very kind of complex situation across Europe, with our…with our attitude, I would be intrigued to see what if anything Boris Yeltsin achieves…Boris Johnson! Boris Yeltsin will be achieving nothing whatsoever!….what Boris Johnson achieves during his, during his trip. And I think you know more broadly we’re at a kind of a…we seem to be in a kind of a pause I think, that you know, we’ve had, you know, Trump has arrived, there’s been all this talk and, and you know there is no…there is no kind of action, there is no real change, no sign of any new policy. You know maybe as I, as I just mentioned because they haven’t got anyone in Washington who’s actually working on developing a new policy. The…the expected summit between Trump and Putin, it’s not very clear, there have been some suggestions in might happen in July. There might…The Slovenians have wanted a sort of re-run of the…of the 2000 summit with Bush, which would give the…Trump the opportunity to visit the in laws while he’s there. I don’t know if this is really going to happen at all but what we do know is Tillerson, is going to go to Moscow next month, and I think that will be, that will be interesting but I think it could take, you know, a good few months before we see, you know, a coherent policy toward Russia coming out of Washington if indeed, you know one can use coherent on the Trump administration’s [inaudible…47.02-47.03].

Andrew: James

Question 3: I’m having some trouble with the…with the question…what you seem to imply…I haven’t read it yet…just judging through your presentation…there seem to be…but actually [inaudible…47.22-47.23] the West. That’s what I read into your presentation that through expansion and triumphalism or worse than actually that’s sort of how Russia slipped through our fingers? Correct me if I misinterpreted you. [Inaudible 47.37-47.39] that is, that is what I saw…but I can’t help thinking, especially judging the difficulties I have without interpretation about what you said just a couple of minutes ago, Hungarians and Estonians feel different, so [inaudible 47.53-48.01]. You know as a journalist and you know, someone who’s not a diplomat you can see there’s a difference and actually I over-reject the idea that there was triumphalism in the 1990s, I   mean in fact if you look at, if you look at [inaudible 48.11-48.15], it actually comes out very different to that. In fact the west did it’s very best to help Russia in the 1990s, yes there was some bad advice by the communists in the 1990s I get it but [inaudible 48.22-48.25] if that’s what you mean, but by and large, I think the West genuinely tried to help what was in a very difficult…Russia was in a very difficult position. So I’m therefore having trouble with your central thesis as I took it that the West lost Russia on that basis. I think the west did its very best [inaudible 48.22…48.26]. Very briefly, the idea when you say you know one you argue about the extent that the west was involved in colour revolutions I don’t see how you can, you can’t argue that, because it wasn’t. The colour revolutions were all caused sort of…by internal problems. Ukraine, you say Ukraine wanted to be…should have been a bridge, that’s not what Ukraine wants, that’s not what the vast majority of Ukrainians want, to be a bridge. So it’s hard for me without wishing to sound to triumphalist, to see how, how, how we lost Russia…so that’s the area, I hope [inaudible49.16-49.18].

Peter: Yes, Gosh, it was a difficult…having posed myself the question in title it was…it was a difficult question to answer and I was, as I was coming towards the end of the book I was actually almost regretting the title to be honest because it…it…it is an impossible question, I suppose what one could say is that the situation…the situation had been set up…there was something inevitable, I think there was something inevitable about what had happened and I think that, one, one, one can argue about the extent of good will, I think I think I think there was good will. A lot of people on the individual level who were, from the western adviser and whatever who were profiteering but then by the same time there were an awful lot of Russians who were profiteering. Yes I think there was good will, I think the fundamental problem was this inability to…as I, as I, as I said during the talk, to work out what should the relationship be, what kind of relationship, what kind of role would Russia play in…in the new system. You know I mean did we think they were going to be like just a bigger…slightly bigger version of Poland? You know the…I think it’s…I don’t know what the answer is to what…what….what role Russia should play in the, in the new system because I think just by virtue of its size, you know of its geographical size, its history, you know its military forces and so on, you know, it was not going to sort of meekly, sort of trot along as a subordinate member of the Western camp. Then by the same token, what’s the alternative to that? Do you make it a…an equal partner? Do you say…do you say all right, we are going to go back to a system where every problem in the world has to be resolved by an American president and the Russian president sitting down together? I mean, but, but why? What gives, what gives Russia the right these days to be the co-determinant of the world’s fate? You know, why not, why not China? You know, certainly on an economic grounds, China should be doing it as well. So I mean, I mean the attempt to compress the content of the book into a 20 minute talk has led to some degree of simplification. No I mean, you know, I mean, ultimately the reason I put it in the book, you know the…the…one can look at mistakes, I think mistakes that were made in the 1990s and as I put it yet Putin himself bears much of the responsibility for his country’s isolation, his fear of western plots, his desire for respect, which in Russian eyes so often translates into a desire to be feared. And I think that’s…that’s…that’s the problem. There was all this kind of…in the 1990s people wrote interestingly about, about you know sort of a contrasting 1920s Germany and 1990s Russia and sort of Weimar Russia and all these kind of arguments and so on. I mean it didn’t, it wasn’t inevitable that 1920s Germany should lead to 1930s Germany and so by the same token it wasn’t inevitable that 1990s Russia would turn into 2000s Russia. I’m not comparing Putin and Hitler but you…you see what I mean and you know, there is no one simple answer. I think it’s a, it’s a, it’s a…there is this…I think there’s just fundamental Russia problem that hasn’t been resolved and I for one don’t see how it is going to be resolved.

Andrew: Ok there are still quite a few questions in the audience so we’ll take you first then you Julian, and then I’ll come to you and then I’ll try to fit you through as well.

Question 4: I have two questions, first regarding the lack of consideration of what could be a strategic position, strategic role for Russia. Don’t you think that more than looking at the enlargement of NATO which was inevitable because it’s true as it has been said that the will of Polish, Hungarian people had to be taken into account? There was a different moment when, I think particularly when, the anti-missile shield was cast and the Russians proposed to be part of a partnership, to be partners, and NATO said “No, this is not for you” and then they asked “but then the anti-shield is against us?” “No it’s against Rogue states, but again you cannot be part of it”. I think at that moment there was lacking a strategic vision of what could be the place for Russia. And my second question regards the…why you think in this country the anti-Russian feelings shine so well with collective psychology? I think it was mentioned, Spain, Italy, and intervening countries being lenient. I think Italy was one of the few countries seizing considerable assets of one of Putin’s cronies. I have no news of anything of the kind happened here, and there is a lot of Russian money here, but never being molested, yet there is a lot of rhetoric, public rhetoric and why? Is the great nostalgia of the Great Game? Of the glorious years of James Bond who is in Cold war? Why does it work so well at rhetorical level?

Peter: Can I ask you, are you from Italy or?

Question 4: I am yes

Peter: so is my wife so I understand Italian very well. No I mean I think your first point was a point rather than a question and, and I agree with you. That was a…that was an error, because you can’t have it two ways, it’s either…it’s you know…the thing is, you can’t maintain the pretence that this isn’t directed against Russia if you don’t invite them to join. Yes the…the British point of view is…is….is interesting isn’t it because we are absolutely, we are absolutely out one a limb when it comes to kind of Russia bashing. I think the…the Litvinenko murder I think was, was certainly…played you know…did an awful lot of damage to Russia’s….to Russia’s reputation. I mean…for the book I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr Lugovoy, the killer, taking tee with him in his restaurant. I’m still here. A few belated symptoms perhaps, I don’t know. He’s an, he’s and extraordinary character as a sort of diversion. I don’t know maybe it’s the…maybe it’s the nature of the media here…I don’t know the end to which the government is being…is being driven by the media. There is a kind of a…you know there wasn’t there particularly in the early 2000s with…with Blair as I said sort of all these meetings with Blair and Putin. I don’t know why. As you said, there is, there is sort a fundamental hypocrisy that underlines the British attitude which is just this huge amount of money that is pumped into the British economy by all the Russians that are here. I don’t know, I don’t know why it is, I don’t know if it’s….I…one of the sort of the nationalist Russians who I, who I met when I was out there. I’ve forgotten his name, the head of the…of the…what’s his name…the head of Russia Today…

Andrew: Dimitri Kasiliov (?)

Peter: Dimitri Kasiliov yes and one can call him some cheap propagandist and he sort of  was an interesting character who went from being sort of a democrat or pro,pro,pro-western and you know, into one of the most rabid anti, anti-Western people and his argument was Britain’s always been Russia’s enemy, you took part in the assassination of…your ambassador was involved in the assassination of one of the Czars and you’ve continued since then in the previous 300 years, I mean I don’t…it’s a bit farfetched. But I think the British attitude it will be interesting to see if it will change under, under, under Boris Johnson and May but again, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Andrew: Julian

Question 5: you spoke of Putin’s growing disillusion with the West in recent years and how in the 1990s after the breakup of the Soviet Union there was a sort of a policy vacuum that we failed to fill. But don’t you think it’s very difficult for governments in the West who obviously are meant to be democratic to interact and form a reasonable policy with Russia, because it’s…it’s sort of electoral suicide right, for any prime minister, or would-be aspiring President if you try to let’s say appease or allow Putin to operate independently in that part of the world. Is it not very difficult for the West to sort of have a policy therefore that doesn’t smack of appeasement?

Peter: yes I mean, I, I,I think it does, yes I mean, it wasn’t necessarily in the, you know, necessarily in the 1990s such a problem…

Question 5: what could they have done…what policy could you have that would keep him, sort of so he wouldn’t be disillusioned?

Peter: well what could we, what could we have done differently…I suppose…

Question 5: or do now?

Peter: yes I think that the…what you do know is, is…is like sort of the old joke about giving directions and ending up with “I wouldn’t be starting from this point”. I think I, I think I…you know in the 1990s, there are, there are arguments that more should have been done economically. You know I’m sceptical about that because I’m not sure if more money…

Question 5: {inaudible 59.21….} new institutions for you to deal with [inaudible 59.23-59.24] that’s the problem.

Peter: precisely, I mean you know, some people go, you know again I think….I think lots of these problems just get back to fundamentally you know…you go back even further and you say…the basic problem is that there was never any clear break in Russia between Soviet Russia and post independent Russia. It was sort of a unique problem that the country….that the country faced and you had the sort of the…the former satellites or the former Soviet republics, you know for the satellites it was relatively easy, they could sort of say this is a system that was imposed on us from the outside…they could gradually…you know some did it with greater speed than others. You know you could have some kind of restitutions of wrongs done in the past, you could have different, you know, opening up of the archives, you could have, you know, this sort of denunciation of the old system or an attempt to make a break and move on which they sort of did at different speeds and sort of different effectiveness. I think the problem is in, in Russia that you…that, that wasn’t done. I mean, it’s….it’s…you know, how was the old regime sort of shaded into the…shaded into the new regime. You know…if you’d had a, if you’d say to the …you know, you’d say right well no one who was a communist party functionary can actually be involved in the new Russia well you know then Yeltsin would never be there, he was one of the biggest  functionaries himself so, you know, little things for example like, well not little things, quite fundamental things like for example, at the time that the soviet union broke up, there were no new elections for parliament, you know, they kind of inherited one which had been elected at a slightly earlier stage in the…kind of the democratization process and so on. You had no real attempt to…to come to term with with with what had happened in the past. You know clearly there were no, there was no, there were no trials really, there was no kind of national reconciliation, there was nothing, it just sort of shaded into…. the new, the new regime and I think that again allowed people elsewhere to feel that you know, there hadn’t been a complete break…that they were still up to their old ways and it was still to some extent the old people there.

Andrew: I realize there are still 3 questions left. Ok perhaps we could take them all together then so there’s a gentleman here, gentleman here, and then gentlemen there, please.

Question 6: my name is Howard Taylor, apparently from your description, almost everybody had a hand in losing Russia, so who won Russia? The KGB? The oligarchs?

Andrew: next question please

Question 7: I wonder if absolute of strategy, picking up your reference about Kissinger would do to a perception in the West that great power politics was a thing of the past and we have the end of history, we have the question about what the local people want, all of that disregards the historical fact Russia having been a great state and once it recovered from its [inaudible 1.02.44-1.02-48] will have to become a great state again. And there didn’t seem to be any institutional effort to accommodate that. I wonder if you can comment on that.

Andrew: ok, and very finally

Question 8: is it fair to say that part of the problem with Russia is the…they never really had a…much of an economy, I think their economy is smaller than italy’s, and there only real means to exert power on the international stage is by having a powerful military.

Andrew: OK, so 3 questions, who won Russia, perhaps speak a little about the great power status and great power mentality and then the…Russia exercising its power through its military rather than through its economy.

Peter: Yes, I’ll do them back to front. Yes I think you’re, you’re absolutely right and that’s one of the…the economic problem…Russia’s economic problem is one of the great failings I think the…I think I’ve seen statistically that the Russian economy now is 1/16th  the size of the American economy, you know just shows the sort of, the relative economic might. But you know the problem is now that they haven’t…they, they remained far too dependent on…on natural resources, on, on energy. Maybe I mean one of, maybe one of the side effects, sort of beneficial for Russia point of view, sort of side effects of sanctions will be boosting the domestic production. I mean, there are some bizarre stories that we certainly reported in my paper of them sort of, you know, trying to sort of make kind of prosciutto in Russia or to make sort of other kind of western delicacies that are kind of …you know they, they, they, they…the agricultural sector is being boosted whereas other sectors are being boosted, there have been, you know, attempts, there were certainly attempts under Medvedev to turn Russia into a kind of more a high tech place through the so called Skolkovo complex, and that’s part of the…you know that’s why  Medvedev went off to Silicon valley, he was sort talking to the about cooperation and so on. Subsequently, there were complaints in…complaints of various reports that came out in the states that this was just essentially a form of industrial espionage. I mean if I were a young entrepreneurial Russian that came up with a good business idea, I’m not sure how long I would stay around in Russia to develop it. I might actually head for, head for America or I might head for here and so on. So I think that is, that is the fundamental, the fundamental problem. If you don’t have economic power, what are you left with? You’re left with military power and you’re also increasingly, which is increasingly now turning into kind of hybrid warfare, you know, kind of hacking, hacking power and so on. But these are kind of quite negative powers rather than positive, kind of softer power I think.

On the second question, which was…

Andrew: Great power.

Peter: Great power. No I think that, I mean that, I think that it was implicit what I said, there is this what, how do you fit, how do you fit Russia in? how do you give it…you know what kind of…you know some arguments will say yes you should have got rid of NATO completely. There were some people around arguing that, not just the Russians that were arguing it, it was some people in the West who were arguing it, set up a whole new security system in Europe in the 1990s based on the ICE or whatever but you would have then fundamentally had given Russia a dominant role in it and you know I don’t know what the answer to the question is. I think the problem is just that Russia is too big, and that’s not an argument for dismembering Russia, it’s just sort of a statement of the fact. You know it’s the same way that if you…you, you know the problem when, when it looked like Turkey might be on the path of joining the EU, which it isn’t at the moment. Again the problem with Turkey, Turkey’s…there such a lot of people, and that you, you…you admit a big country into something and it immediately, it immediately tilts the whole thing, you know that’s why it’s easy to bring in Slovenia and Slovakia and you know, although we’re seeing now, just within the EU with Poland and Hungary, that…that this whole kind of policy is perhaps beginning to unravel. You know, they’re not the sort of the, perhaps on the path, it’s not as if everyone is you know, Fukuyama style on a path to being like us as it were. Finally I’ve left the “who won Russia” to the end, as being the most difficult of the three, maybe someone should right a, write a book with that title…I don’t know, Putin did I suppose? Who are the winners? I mean it was a…the question was posed in such way as why, it should be more accurately why was Russia lost to us? Rather than who lost Russia. I’m not sure there is necessarily an opposite…an opposite to it.

Andrew: ok thank you…

Peter: for that vague note!

Andrew: thank you, yes a suitable note to end, to end the talk I think with the question. Thank you very much for your thoughts, for what I think was an engaging discussion and also some quite, some quite interesting questions in the…in the Q & A. As I say copies of the book are available outside, they’re for sale. Peter has very kindly said that he’ll sign copies if people purchase them. Otherwise, just leaves me to say thank you again Peter, it’s been a pleasure to have you with us today, thank you.


Lost your password?

Not a member? Please click here