Starr Forum: From Cold War to Hot Peace

Starr Forum: From Cold War to Hot Peace


ELIZABETH WOOD: All right– I am miked– hello and welcome
to Ambassador Michael McFaul’s talk from Cold War to Hot Peace. I’m Elizabeth Wood, and I’m
the co-organizer of this series with Carol Saivetz. It’s part of the Focus
on Russia series, and today, it’s part
of the Starr Forum. Thanks to Michelle
English and Laura Kerwin who have done an amazing
job of organizing the details for this. I want to mention that there
are sign-up sheets in back for the Starr Forum if you want
to be on their mailing list. Let me know if you’d also
like to be on the MIT Russian mailing list. I also want to briefly
mention that there will be another talk next week. Ilya Kukulin, who is a literary
scholar, a cultural historian, is giving a talk on “Rap
in Russia Today, Performing Sincerity, Staging Revolt,”
and it’s going to be fabulous. Rap is really becoming
a political force– a social force. Laura has fliers for it– for other things– yes– and there’s a couple of
more Starr Forum events. There’s the
MIT-Harvard Conference on Uyghur Human Rights, which
is April 20, here at MIT, in the Stata Center. And the next Starr Forum– AUDIENCE: What’s
the [INAUDIBLE]?? ELIZABETH WOOD: The– hold on. OK, Thursday, April 11,
there’s a Starr Forum on “Night Watch, a discussion
about nuclear warfare,” should also be fantastic,
with Vipin Narang, who is our own MIT Professor,
and Alexander Maggio, who is producer of the CBS
drama, Madam Secretary. So that should be
very, very interesting on the whole nuclear issue. One housekeeping announcement,
we will have a Q and A afterwards, and since we
are quite a large audience, we would like you to ask
one question, if you can, not a whole speech. It’s our chance to hear
from Ambassador McFaul, so try not to be too long,
and books will be for sale after the talk, along
with a book-signing, so feel free to do that. Any other announcements
I’ve forgotten? OK, so Professor McFaul was
actually born and raised in Montana. He’s got his BA from Stanford
in international relations and Slavic languages, his
PhD from Oxford in 1991. For five years, he served
in the Obama administration, first as Special Assistant
to the President and Senior Director for Russian
and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security
Council at the White House from 2009 to 2012– very important
years as the US was trying to go for the reset– then as Ambassador to
the Russian Federation from 2012 to 2014
under Vladimir Putin, and that’s what I think we
will hear a lot about today. He is professor of political
science at Stanford, the director of their– I’m not going to get it right– never mind– big center. It’s one of those days. He has also authored
a number of books, besides From Cold
War to Hot Peace, including Advancing
Democracy Abroad, Why We Should and How We Can,
co-authored a book, Transitions to Democracy, A Comparative
Perspective, and the third one, Power and Purpose, US Policy
Toward Russia After the Cold War, also co-authored, and then
finally, Russia’s Unfinished Revolution, Political Change
From Gorbachev to Putin. So without further
ado, please join me in welcoming Ambassador McFaul. MICHAEL MCFAUL: OK,
thanks for inviting me, it’s great to be here. I want to jump into the
argument of the book, but I want to start
with some history and to remind you of where we
were before with the Russians. This is a mixed crowd, I
see some very young people– that’s great– I see some people
who lived through the Cold War. At Stanford– at
Stanford, I usually have to explain what
the Cold War was before getting into the heart of
the discussion of the book. I’m assuming at
MIT, everybody knows what the Cold War was
and can remember it, and you’ve learned about
it because you’re MIT, you’re not Stanford. But I just want you– for
those that lived through it, I want you to remember for a
moment now how scary it was. It was for me, as a kid
growing up in Montana. I was frightened– this is
the late ’70s, early ’80s, Ronald Reagan was just
elected president. There was a build-up
of tension, and it felt like we were on the verge
of blowing up the planet. Some of you may
remember, by the way, there was this movie on ABC– I can’t remember
what it was called, but I know, like 100
million people watched it– which was about a Cold War
and what would happen– not a Cold War– an actual nuclear war, and
what would have happened if we attacked each other. And it just remembered it was
a really, really scary time, and that’s why I got involved
and interested– first, as a high school kid,
and later, at Stanford– in thinking about
US-then-Soviet relations. In fact, as a 17-year-old kid,
fall quarter of my freshman year, I registered in first-year
Russian and POLISCI35, [INAUDIBLE] taught
by Steve Krasner how nations deal
with each other, and back then, I had a
kind of simple theory. I had this idea that if we could
just get to know these Soviets and understand them
and engage with them, we would reduce tensions
between our two countries. That was kind of my
working hypothesis, if you will when I
showed up at Stanford, and I eventually decided I had
to test that hypothesis myself. And at the end of my sophomore
year, I went off to– by the way, the first
time I’d ever been abroad, I didn’t go to London
or Paris or Florence– a lot of Stanford kids go to
Florence–I went to Leningrad, USSR, to kind of test this
hypothesis to see if engagement and getting to know these
people could reduce tensions. By the way, you mentioned
I grew up in Montana– Bozeman, Montana. That is the Bozeman
International Airport– “International” because we
flew to Calgary back then– and I just want you to
think, for those of you who remember this period in our
history, of that phone call to my mother when
I said hey Mom, I want to go study at, the
president called it back then, the evil empire. My mother, of course,
thought that California was a communist country,
so imagine, you know, her hippie son is now going
off to the Soviet Union, but bless her heart,
she supported me ever since through these times. I want you to remember
that because then I want you to remember
another piece of history. Some, I hope, most of you have
lived through it, some of you have only read about it, but
it was the end of the Cold War. It was a pretty exciting
time, at least for me. It felt like
tensions were waning. These two gentlemen
had something to do with it, that’s
Gorbachev on the left, Reagan, on the right. These hundreds of
thousands of people also had something
to do with it. They are oftentimes
forgotten in this drama, and if you look really, really
closely, you can see me. I’m there. I’m going to come
back to that later. But it was a euphoric time. It felt like we were all
moving in the same direction. Russia was joining the west,
they were embracing markets, they were embracing
democracy, and it felt like the end of the 21st
century, and, as my colleague, Frank Fukuyama, wrote at the
time– my Stanford colleague– the end of history. It felt like we were all
moving in that same direction. For me, personally, I
just want to confess, I thought it was a
great, glorious moment in the history of the world,
for Russians and Americans, by the way. I hate it when people phrase
this as “we won the Cold War.” No, Russians were part
of winning the Cold War. It was these people that
took down communism, that broke up the Soviet empire. We were marginal players
in it, and at the time, it felt like it was a
win-win for everybody. All right,
fast-forward to today– obviously, we’re in a
totally different place today in US-Russian relations. Dmitry Medvedev,
the prime minister of Russia a couple of years
ago, compared it to 1962– obviously, that’s the year
of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Our president– of
course, on Twitter– said it’s worse– oh,
I went too fast, sorry, there it is– worse
now than the Cold War, and you know, we can
debate whether it’s worse or not I deliberately use
this phrase, “hot peace,” to echo that it might be kind
of like the confrontation in the Cold War but to also
suggest that it’s different. Let’s just take a few examples,
kind of compare and contrast, this makes for a great final
exam question, by the way, in your course on
Russian foreign policy– compare and contrast the
Cold War and the Hot Peace. So a couple– so good
news, we are no longer in a quantitative nuclear
arms race with the Russians. That may change now that we
pulled out of the INF Treaty, but so far, we’ve been moving
in the opposite direction, from 40,000 or 50,000
weapons at the peak– to today we’re capped at 1,550. By the way, you
can still blow up the world with 1,500
nuclear weapons, but we’re at least moving
in the right direction. But the bad news, in
our Hot Peace era, is I think we’re in
a qualitative arms race, both on the
offensive nuclear side and on the missile
defense side, which may be more destabilizing
than that earlier period. Good news, the
ideological struggle between capitalism and
communism is over, at least, it’s over where I live. I know in Berkeley, they’re
still fighting about it, maybe here in Cambridge, there’s
a few of you who are still engaged in that debate, and
I know the president wants us to go back to some
fight between capitalists and socialists, but it’s
over, and that’s good news. That part of the
Cold War is done. The bad news is that there’s
a new ideological struggle, at least, Putin
believes there is. He’s been fighting
it for years now. He defines it, in his
terms, as a struggle between the decadent, liberal
West, the multilateral West that also impinges upon
sovereignty, versus what he calls conservative,
nationalist, traditional Christian values. He believes strongly in this. He’s invested heavily in
propagating these ideas for many, many years,
and lately, he’s had some real successes
in winning over ideological allies, not between
states, but within states. So Viktor Orban in Hungary,
Salvini in Italy, and some would even argue, people
around President Trump are now part of
Putin’s side in terms of this ideological struggle. Better or worse than the
Cold War, you tell me. Last one– the means
by which the Cold War versus the Hot Peace
that’s being fought are different, in a good
news-bad news kind of way. So the good news
is that we are not fighting proxy wars with the
Russians around the world where millions of people die. The Cold War was not cold. The Cold War was hot. Lots of people died,
including lots of Americans. Thankfully, that is over. The bad news in
our current era is there are some new methods
that are pretty disturbing. Annexation– we thought
annexation ended with World War II, it’s back when the Russians
annexed Crimea in 2014. Sanctions– today,
the United States has more Russians on
their sanctions list than at any time in Cold
War history or any history. You add up all hundreds– 200 years of history,
there are more people today on their sanctions list
than before and vice versa, by the way. The Russians have more Americans
on their sanctions list than at any time
during the Cold War. I know, I’m one of them. I can’t go to Russia right
now because of this new way of confrontation. And then, you know, just
other things like 2016, our presidential election. Yes, the Soviets
from time to time tried to influence the domestic
affairs of the United States during the Cold War. That’s true, but never did
they have such a multi-pronged, comprehensive, and I would say,
rather successful intervention and violation of our
sovereignty in 2016. That’s something new that didn’t
happen during the Cold War. So you know, maybe in questions
we can debate whether it’s worse or not, I think most
people would agree that things are pretty bad,
and most certainly a lot worse than they were
at the end of the Cold War. So what I want to do
in the next 20 minutes is just explain that– what happened, how did we go
from the photo on the left to the photo on the right? If you don’t remember
anything else I said, just think of this photo, what
happened between these two moments in history. By the way, I was at the
meeting on the right. That’s in Los Cabos,
Mexico, in 2012, and the meeting was a lot worse
than that photo, a lot worse. So I just want to, kind of,
walk through three big arguments about how to explain this. Bits and pieces of
each of them are true, but you’re going to
see I’m going to land on the third one as being. I think, the real
driving explanation. All right, first explanation– this is, kind of, an IR101– actually, we call it PS2
at Stanford these days. This argument basically
looks at the rise of power, of different actors in
the international system, says that basically
what you’ve seen, not just for the last
few years, but what you’ve seen for
hundreds of years, and maybe thousands of
years is that the nature of international
politics is driven by power and the balance of
power between the great– not necessarily
states, I go back to to the different
kinds of entities in the international system. And so what you’re seeing
in this map, obviously, this is 1,000 years of European
history, and what do you see? You see some states,
some entities, getting more powerful, their
neighbors, less powerful, and borders are changing. And so applying that to Russia– Russia was weak, they
were on their knees, they had no power in 1991. Russia, today, is back, has
all kinds of new capabilities, and they’re just
acting like, you know, your run-of-the-mill
great power. Whether it’s good or
bad is not the question, they’re just acting like all
great powers have ever behaved for hundreds, and maybe
thousands of years, and I want to be clear– part of this
explanation is true. Power matters in terms of
international relations. Anybody here from Moldova,
before I insult Moldova? OK good, that’s
usually a safe country. You know, I love Moldova. It’s a great place,
I’ve been there, we went there once with the
Vice President Biden in 2011, he had 50,000 people come out
on the streets to watch him. That doesn’t happen too
often for the vice president. We had a fantastic time
there, but you’re not interested in me talking
about US-Moldovan relations. We’re not interested in
Moldova, generally speaking, in terms of what’s happening in
Europe because Moldova doesn’t have the power, the
capacity, to annex the territory of its
neighbors, or support up– prop up dictators
in the Middle East, or violate our sovereignty
during the 2016 elections. It’s a power match, and most
certainly, Russia’s rise in power was part of the story. I have two problems, though,
with just focusing on that. One– I can think of
some countries that have risen in power that
haven’t challenged our allies or haven’t threatened
the United States. Japan and Germany are two
obvious examples, Poland’s way more powerful today than
they were 30 years ago, so obviously, something else
has to be part of the story, it’s not just the rise and
fall of power that matters. Even China– if we talk
about it in questions– this notion that
we are inevitably going to go to war with
China because they’re rising in power, I think
there’s a lot of drama to come before that happens. But the second one’s
more important to me. Russia’s had a lot of
power for a long time, why was it in 2014 that Putin
decided to go into Crimea and to lock into
this confrontation that we have been in ever since? It’s especially bizarre to
me because when I showed up as ambassador, January 2012,
his number-one foreign policy priority was the creation of
something called the Eurasia Economic Union. By the time I got there to
Moscow, Belarus and Kazakhstan had joined, and
his focus back then was to get Ukraine to
join this economic union. It’s, kind of, a counterweight
to the European Union, trying to bring together
all the former states that had emerged after the
collapse of the Soviet Union, and Ukraine was the key
to making this thing go. Here’s why– let me
ask one more question, listen to the question closely. Tell me, have you ever bought
something made in Russia here in the United States? Nobody? Oh, come on, somebody’s
bought something. What did you buy, sir? AUDIENCE: Me? MICHAEL MCFAUL: Yeah. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] MICHAEL MCFAUL: An icon, wow! I’ve never heard
that answer before. I hope it was legal. AUDIENCE: It’s illegal. MICHAEL MCFAUL: OK,
all right, icon. All right, that’s a unique
thing that Russians produce, they’re not the only
country, but that’s good. OK, what did you buy, sir? AUDIENCE: Stained
glass dreamcatcher. MICHAEL MCFAUL: What? AUDIENCE: Stained
glass dreamcatcher. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] MICHAEL MCFAUL: Wow, are you– AUDIENCE: It even
came in one piece. MICHAEL MCFAUL: That is ama– I’ve never heard–
that is another one. Cambridge is a little different
from the rest of America, just so you know. OK, interesting. OK, I’ve never heard
of that before. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] MICHAEL MCFAUL:
Can you repeat it? The stained glass– AUDIENCE: Stained
glass dreamcatcher. MICHAEL MCFAUL: –dreamcatcher. I don’t even know what
a dreamcatcher is. [INTERPOSING VOICES] AUDIENCE: American
Indian dreamcatcher, but they made it in Russia,
and they made it out of stained glass. MICHAEL MCFAUL: OK, there
you go, I stand corrected. Americans are buying
all kinds of things made in Russia, at least here. Yeah, what did you buy, man? AUDIENCE: Food in a
Russian grocery store. MICHAEL MCFAUL: Food in
a Russian grocery store, OK, most Americans
don’t do that. Where did you buy it? Where is it, in Brookline? AUDIENCE: In Brookline. MICHAEL MCFAUL: OK, all
right– see, I guessed. All right, all right– so Russian food, you can buy
Russian food in some places, you can’t where I live,
but you can in Brookline. OK, so Russian food,
anything else, sir? Yeah. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] MICHAEL MCFAUL: A motorcycle. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] MICHAEL MCFAUL: Wow,
OK, I’m learning all kinds of new things. I’ve never heard of that before. OK, last one, sir,
what did you buy? AUDIENCE: Cigarettes. MICHAEL MCFAUL:
Cigarettes– wow, this is a really unique crowd. OK, all right, what
I was going to say, but now I have
been proven wrong, is that most Americans don’t
buy goods made in Russia. In Cambridge, they do,
but everywhere else in the country, most people
don’t buy goods made in Russia, nor do they, in
Europe, by the way. But there is one country,
at least back in 2012, that bought a lot of goods
made in Russia, it was Ukraine. 40 million, 45 million,
depending on how you count, that’s why it was so
important to get them to join this economic union. And yet, Putin then invaded
Ukraine in 2014, guaranteeing, I think, for a long, long
time that they’re not going to join this economic
union, his number-one objective before 2014. So that suggests to me there’s
something more to this story. We have to add to the story to
understand that [INAUDIBLE].. All right, second explanation,
it’s all our fault, this is all driven
by US-foreign policy. This is a story that you’ll
find most popular in Russia, this is a story that
Putin would tell you, but a lot of other people
might tell you this too. And here’s the basic idea– Russia was weak, we
took advantage of them. We lectured them about
markets and democracy. We then expanded NATO. We then bombed Serbia,
we invaded Iraq, we supported color revolutions
in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004, and finally, Putin
just said enough is enough, I’ve got to push back on
this American imperialism. And I want to be clear– all of these events happened,
and all of these events exacerbated tensions in
US-Russian relations. I write about it in
detail in the book. There’s things Russia did that
also exacerbated tensions, but we’re going to
leave that out for now. And, you know, that
is true, we saw tensions around
all these things, and yet, after all
these things, there was another period
of cooperation or, at least, that’s how
it felt to me, working in the government at the time. We came into government
in January 2009, and later it became
known as a reset, but we did an inter-agency
policy review of how to deal with the Russians. By the way, we
told the president, and the president-elect
before that, about all these tensions, that
slide before that I showed you, and he said, well yeah,
but that was the past, can’t we get over it? Can’t we work on things that are
good for us and good for them? And eventually, that got
codified as our policy, pretty simple. We’re not going to
cooperate on everything, and we never aspired to do that. By the way, we never aspired to
improve relations with Russia, that was never our goal. It was something
much more modest, just cooperate on
issues where we think it’s in our
national security interest and our
economic interest, and the assumption is
Russia and, at this time, President Medvedev will
only do that with us if he thinks it’s in their interest. Phrase that the president used
to use a lot, win-win outcomes. And so that was the
nature of our approach towards Russia in
these first four years of the Obama administration. By the way, this is
the first phone call that he made to
President Medvedev, it’s his sixth day on the job,
it’s my fifth day on the job. He looks really
young, doesn’t he? So do– actually, we both do. There was a lot of– you know, it was a
transition period, so we had a lot of Bush
administration officials still around, and as I walked out,
one of them grabbed my arm and said, you’re not
supposed to touch the desk. So I don’t know if that’s
true, but if you’re in to brief the president,
don’t touch the desk. And I’ll go through
this pretty quickly because I want to
get to questions, but I just want to remind you
that several years ago, not ancient history, we
were producing things that I think were good
for the United States, and I think they were
also good for Russia. This is the day that we
signed the new START treaty, this is in in Prague,
fantastic day, reducing by 30% the number of nuclear
weapons allowed by the Russians
and the Americans. And let me just say,
parenthetically, it’s really hard to do anything
in the government. Most days, you have a problem
set, you wake up, you work it, you go home, you
get back, you still have the same problem set. 90% of the time you’re
fighting with other people in the government to
try to do something, and then you finally
get consensus on it, and then you engage with the
outside world, and most days, you don’t do anything, at
least, that was my experience. I sat across the hall,
at the White House, from the gentleman in charge of
the Middle East peace process. Imagine what their months
and years felt like, so to do anything
is a major thing. This felt like a really big
thing that we did in 2010, and by the way, we also got
it ratified in the Senate. We got 72 votes in the
Senate, that’s pretty hard to do these days as well. That’s us celebrating
the ratification of the START treaty,
the only time I ever drank in the Oval Office. In the end, another outcome,
not as well-known, or maybe the START treaty is
not that well-known, but this was a project
I worked on pretty hard for three, four years. When we came into
government in 2009, 95%, I think, of our
supplies to our soldiers in Afghanistan went
through Pakistan, and we had a new approach
to fighting terrorism. We wanted to expand the area
where we’re going to fight, and in particular,
we had an idea that we were going to go after
terrorists, from time to time, inside Pakistan,
but we couldn’t do that if we were
completely dependent on the Pakistani
government to supply our soldiers in Afghanistan. So we developed this new thing,
the Northern Distribution Network– airplanes, buses, trains,
all kinds of different ways to go through Russia,
and through Central Asia, to supply our troops. And by the time I left the White
House, over 50% of our supplies were going through the northern
route, not the southern route. And I believe– I’m nervous to say it in a
place like MIT, but I believe– correct me if I’m
wrong in questions– that this was the first
time since World War II that American
soldiers were flying through Russian airspace. Pretty remarkable
thing– I remember when those flights first started. And in 2011, just to remind you,
it was really important to us to have that route
because we killed Osama bin Laden in
Pakistan, and we could do that because of NDN. We couldn’t have done that
without Russian cooperation. Iran– we put in place,
with the Russians, the most comprehensive
multilateral sanctions against Iran ever, which
was the predicate to getting in place the Iran nuclear
deal several years later, which I think most
certainly advanced American national
security interests. I think it’s a mistake that
the president pulled out of that deal. And then the last one
here, I just want to– I want to mention what I call–
it’s not exactly a non-event because there was
an event, but it got really close to being
a really scary event, and then it didn’t happen. In my experience in
government, a lot of that work is just preventing bad
things from happening, and without question, the
scariest several weeks of my time working
at the White House was when there was a
revolution– color revolution, a coup, whatever you
want to call it– out in Kyrgyzstan, in 2010. The president of Kiev was
overthrown, he showed– he fled to Belarus,
100 people died, 300,000 ethnic Uzbeks
left Kyrgyzstan, and it felt like we were on
the verge of a genocidal war, and maybe, even an interstate
war between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. And you may say,
well, why do I care? Well, we cared a lot at
the time because back then, the second-most important
air base after Bagram, was in Kyrgyzstan
at Manas Air Base. All of our soldiers,
95% of our soldiers on their way to
Afghanistan use that base before deploying
into Afghanistan. But you didn’t read
about it that way because it didn’t
get to that point. Because back then, because of
this cooperative relationship we had with Medvedev,
we diffused this crisis, working both sides, and
working with the Kazakhs, so that it didn’t blow
up in our face in the way that subsequently other
revolutions did I’m going to get to in a minute. All right, we also had a
pretty good story on economics. I’ll just skip this
slide because, to you, this doesn’t matter much, to
me, every one of those squares represents thousands
of hours of my life to try to get all
those things done, but the trajectory was
in the right direction. Trade was up, investment
was up, we got the Russians into the WTO, and there was
momentum on the economics side of the story as well. And then finally,
societal attitudes were very positive back then. The majority of Russians had
a positive view of the United States at the peak of the
reset, and the same thing with Americans, at
the peak of the reset. Not the way that we each
think of each other now. So for me, you can’t
blame these factors from the past for our
current era of confrontation when, in between these events
and our current events, we had this period of, I think,
rather extensive cooperation. That doesn’t make sense to me. That’s not a logical
argument to me. That’s a C-minus in my class
in terms of a causal argument. So there’s got to
be something else we have to add to this
story, and that gets me to this third factor
I want to talk about, which is Russian
domestic politics. In here, I want to focus on
two different things that happened after the reset– one, Putin comes back
as president, and two, demonstrations in Russia. So let me walk through
those, and then we’ll get to questions. September 24, 2011,
Vladimir Putin loudly– you can see him
here, screaming– announces that’s he’s going
to run for president again at the United Russia
Party conference and that he and Medvedev
are going to switch jobs. Two or three days later,
after this, I was in– it was not about Russia
now that I think about it, I think it was probably
about the Arab Spring. We’re in, talking with the
president about something else, and at the end of the meeting,
he, kind of, grabbed my arm and pulled me back
into his office, and he asked me, well, what
do you think of this, Mike? And I initially gave him the
party line, the intelligence community line, the– I don’t know what people
here were talking about, but remember back then,
everybody said, you know, Putin’s the big dog,
he’s the prime minister, he’s really making
all the decisions. Medvedev is just a puppet,
he doesn’t really matter, so if they’re going
to change jobs, we should just expect
continuity, right? What’s the big deal? There’s no change, and that’s
what I told the president, you know, you’ve got a personal
relationship with Medvedev, better than Putin, but you
know, we should expect, we should just keep on going
the way we had been going. And he looked at me– and
he loves this phrase– and he said, come on, man, you
don’t believe that, do you? And I said, no, Mr. President,
I don’t believe that. I’ve known Putin
for a long time. I met him first in
the spring of 1991. I wouldn’t say we’re
Facebook friends, but– although given what goes on
Facebook, who knows, all right. That Natasha who’s
trolling me every night, that’s actually Putin. But over the next
couple of years, as we engaged with them
it turned out– at least, in my view– that he actually had a
very different world view than Medvedev, despite
the fact that they have been partners for a long time. I talked about win-win– when Medvedev signed the new
START treaty in Prague in 2010, he gave his remarks, and at the
end of his remarks, in English, he said, this is a win-win for
the United States and Russia, and he did that,
smiling at Obama because he had heard
that phrase so many times from President Obama. Putin’s not a win-win guy. Putin’s a zero-sum guy. This plus-two for America
is minus-two for Russia and vice versa. Second thing, Putin didn’t
go to Stanford or MIT to learn about
international relations. He was trained in the KGB. Those were formative years for
him in terms of his world view. Now if we had time, I
could talk about how it’s changed and evolved, at
least the way I’ve traced it, but most certainly,
we were always the enemy in terms of the
way that he saw the world. And you know, over time,
we got to learn about that, but this third one’s
the most important one. Putin’s got a theory about
American foreign policy. He believes that we use
overt and covert power to overthrow regimes that we
don’t like, and guess what? There’s a lot of empirical data
to support that hypothesis. In fact, we debated
it with him one day. This is the first meeting
we had with Putin. He’s prime minister
at this time. Just parenthetically,
there’s been discussions about Trump and
Putin and their summits– just note here, one, we
have several advisors there, we’re not doing a one-on-one. So you’ll notice there’s
a note-taker– that’s me– highly advise that
for future meetings, good to have some
people in the room who know something about Russia. Sorry for that– back to Putin. Well, the other thing you should
know about Putin is he’s– he comes very prepared
for these meetings. He has an objective
in the meeting, he’s not just showing
up to have happy talk, and in this meeting,
he started it. It was about a 55-minute
soliloquy, by the way, it went on forever– President Obama’s a
very patient man– explaining all the
stupid mistakes of the Bush administration. Just went on and on, he had
a long list he had prepared, and they got to Iraq, and he
explained to the president what a disaster this
was, what a mess you made of the Middle East. And President Obama said,
you’re right, I agree. And Putin, kind of,
is like, hold on now, I’m playing the Russians
here, you’re the America side. You know, he’d never
heard an American say that, think about it. And Obama said, well, you know,
you probably don’t know this, but I was against that
war a long time ago, long before it was popular
to be against the war, and in many ways, I think that’s
why I’m president because I think that war was a mistake. And that was an
interesting turning point in the conversation. As we walked out to the
cars, I got the sense that maybe Putin was
thinking, well, maybe this guy is different, maybe we’re
going to have a different kind of dynamic with him. By the way, I want to say– I forgot to say it– Putin never criticized
President Bush personally, he actually really
likes President Bush. He has a theory about the deep
state, the CIA, the Pentagon, Dick Cheney, you know that– and he still has
that, kind of, theory. That’s the way he
thinks our system works, and so he was not talking
about President Bush, but here, I think he’s like,
well, maybe this guy will be different. But fast-forward, 18 months
later, and regime changes started. It’s called the
Arab Spring, or it used to be called
the Arab Spring, first in Egypt then
Libya, then Syria. And I want to go back to
this one in particular. First, I want to
underscore, to make– I want to make sure we’re
all on the same page here. We did not spark any
of these revolutions– we, the United States, we,
the Obama administration, we were reacting to what
these people on the ground were doing. The hardest decision–
and in Egypt, actually, we got very involved later–
the hardest decision though, came up with Libya because as
events were unfolding there, our intelligence
analysis was that Gaddafi was going to wipe out the
entire city of Benghazi, and after, if we
did not intervene, there would be this
genocidal slaughter. And we debated it pretty hard,
but at the end of the day, we came to a decision that we
were going to try to stop that. But Obama believes
in international law, he believes in the
UN Security Council, and he was not going
to go ahead with this unless we could get the Russians
and Chinese to go along. And miraculously– I was
shocked when it happened, but I was there, I
was in the Kremlin– Vice President Biden was
meeting with Medvedev right around this
time of this decision, and Medvedev said, you
guys are right about this, we’re going to abstain
on this resolution. First time in history,
and probably ever, thinking forward, that
Russia or the Soviet Union had acquiesced or agreed to the
use of force inside a country, especially for a
humanitarian intervention. And at the time, I want
to emphasize we thought, oh my goodness, this
is a new world order, Russia and America are
cooperating in really difficult, a case like Libya. Two days later, however,
Putin spoke publicly and said Medvedev had
made a big mistake, first time he’d ever
criticized him publicly, and I think that
was the beginning of the end for Medvedev. Most certainly, for Putin,
this was confirming his theory about American foreign policy. Libya, for him, made Obama
look just like George W. Bush and all the rest of them. And then, that gets
to the second factor in domestic politics. You have Putin now coming
into power, and then in the same year– I want to emphasize– the
same year as the Arab Spring, you have mass mobilization
on the streets of Moscow. In December, there is a
parliamentary election, falsified within
the normal ways. We looked at it and analyzed
it, no big deal, 5%, 7%– for Russia, that’s normal. We didn’t expect
anything from it, but these people had a
different view than us, smart– smart analysts,
back in Washington. They used their smartphones
to document the falsification, they spun it around on
[INAUDIBLE] and Twitter and Facebook, and first, 500,
then 5,000, and eventually 200,000 people came out
on the streets of Moscow, and other big cities, to
protest this falsified vote, and when they did
that, they start with, we need free and fair elections. Well, you get 200,000
people together, and they, kind of, work
themselves up into a lather, and by the end, they
were yelling [RUSSIAN],, Russia without Putin. In other words, they were
yelling for a regime change. And remember the
last time you had 200,000 people on the
streets of Moscow, there was regime change. Pretty– that had not
happened in 20 years. So Putin reacted
to– first, he– I was going to say,
eventually, he reacts with us. His initial reaction
to those people was he was pissed at them, he
was upset, he, in his view, had made them rich. Some of his own former
government people, by the way, were participating– Kudrin showed up,
if you know who he is, the finance minister. Putin was pissed at them–
how dare you betray me, I made Russia great, and now
you want to overthrow me. But the second
reaction was fear. He was genuinely– I don’t think
it was just instrumentally, he was genuinely worried about
this mobilization against him. Remember he’s running for
president at this time, the elections are in March,
and so he needed a new argument to mobilize his electorate and
to marginalize the opposition. And that’s when he pivoted hard
against us, against America, against the Obama
administration, and– as I show up right
in the heat of this– against me as a new US
ambassador, to say that we– just like we did
all over the world, now we were targeting
Russia, we were trying to overthrow
the regime in Russia. And like I said,
this is exactly when I showed up as US ambassador. In fact, it was even
the night before– it was the night before
I even had showed up for my first day of work, then
they put out their first hit piece on me. It was an 18-minute
piece on me– the message was
basically that McFaul had been sent by
Obama to mobilize the opposition against Putin. And he was coming– you mentioned in
one of my books, Russia’s Unfinished Revolution,
he quoted that book, and he said, McFaul
has been sent by Obama to finish the revolution that he
didn’t do the last time around. And so I became the poster child
of this kind of argumentation, and when I say “poster
child,” I mean, literally, the poster child. This is a calendar they put
out, in English and Russian, with a bunch of
opposition leaders for every month of the day. Here’s another one, just
to give you a feel about– I’ve been dealing
with disinformation for a long time, fake news– this is a poster on
the right, it says, the political circus is
coming to town again. This is May 6, 2012, there was
a big demonstration that day, and there I am, listed with
other opposition figures, as the artistic
director of that circus. Here, I hope you can see that’s
photo-shopped because I am not doing that, but they
are portraying me as campaigning for
Alexei Navalny when he was running for mayor,
the opposition figure. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] – [SPEAKING RUSSIAN] MICHAEL MCFAUL: And
then here, I just want you to get a
feel for the way they talked about me and other– [INTERPOSING VOICES] – [SPEAKING RUSSIAN] MICHAEL MCFAUL: So I’m
not going to presume everybody speaks
Russian here, but what they’re explaining is– I was sent to Russia, I
failed as a revolutionary, and now I’m being pulled back. And they’re showing you these
are the fascists who are taking instructions from me. You saw some of the
other opposition figures, that’s Mr. Navalny,
and these are all of my– you know, these
are all my agents. That’s [INAUDIBLE]
Garry Kasparov. All right, all right, that
was my life for two years. And then this next one, I
don’t want you to laugh. I’m going to just warn you. This one’s funny, that’s why I
like it, McFaul’s [INAUDIBLE],, but this one wasn’t so funny. I won’t play this video. This was three weeks into
my time as US ambassador. There’s a particular–
what’s the right word– use of this pedophile thing
in the Russian propaganda, it’s happened to other
politicians there, and I was part of it. I mean, what do
you do with that? Like, how do you
respond to that? You get on Twitter and
say, I’m not a pedophile, and somebody said, prove it. You know, it’s kind
of a loser situation, but this was the moment,
this is 2012 when it just felt like we’re not going
to be able to cooperate with this regime, they’ve moved
in a very different direction. And just to make clear,
it’s not just about me. Here’s another piece
that was done about Obama around the same time. This is Kiselyov’s show–
if you know his show– watched by millions,
and what he says here, you might not think that Obama
and ISIS have much in common, but if you look more
closely, actually they have the same world view. Barack Hussein Obama and
Abu Bakr al-baghdadi, and then he goes through and
explains why Obama has embraced the same ideology, so that’s– you know, we’re done. I mean, what can you
do in that situation? The last straw was Ukraine,
similar story, by the way, if you notice– mass mobilization, people
out on the streets, just like we saw in
those other stories. This time 100
people were killed. We– I want to emphasize again– we were trying to
diffuse this standoff. Vice President Biden
was our negotiator, and February 21st
actually, we thought we had a deal between President
Yanukovych and the protesters. I was in Sochi at the time, I
remember, from the Olympics, and we were celebrating, you
know, we dodged a bullet here. 10 hours later, Yanukovych
shows up in Russia, for reasons I still
don’t understand why he fled so
quickly, but Putin had an explanation
for it, and he explained to his
people and the world that here it is again, the
CIA, American deep state, overthrowing a regime
they don’t like, and that’s when he
decided to strike back, first taking Crimea,
and when that was easy, going into eastern Ukraine,
and then two years later, going on the offensive
against us in 2016. All right, good news-bad
news [INAUDIBLE].. So the good news, if
you accept my story or if you accept my
explanation for these events, is we are not compelled
by history or culture or the balance of power in
the international system to be in a confrontational
relationship with Russia forevermore. My story is more one
of contingencies, one of leadership change,
forks in the road that could have gone in
different directions, that’s the good news. The bad news is that Putin
is in place, just re-elected last year, he has now, I
think, rather fixed views, he’s an old man now, he
has fixed views about us, and he works out to
three hours a day. He’s not going anywhere
for a long, long time. So I think as long
as he’s around, we’re going to be in this
confrontational mode, and I think,
therefore tragically, there’s a pretty straightforward
strategy that we need to adopt. You know this is like right
out of the Ronald Reagan era, by the way– mostly containment, then
cooperate when we can. I would like us to pay
less attention to Russians, in general. I think we spend way too much
time thinking about them, but I don’t think
there’s another strategy that we should do in terms
of our interests today. And I want to emphasize
I say this tragically not because I am eager to
go back to this conflict. In my reading of the
Trump administration, I think almost everybody
agrees with this strategy. I know quite a few
of those people, I think almost everybody
agrees, except one guy. There’s just one guy
that doesn’t agree, and he happens to be the
President of the United States. This is a Russia poster that was
put out during the elections– that’s Le Pen in the middle– and that, to me, that’s
the wild card in terms of what happens in US-Russian
relations, especially when we get beyond Mueller, and
especially if President Trump is re-elected. But to go further
into depth on that, you know what you got to do. You got to buy the book. Thank you so much. [APPLAUSE] ELIZABETH WOOD: Thank you, Mike. CAROL SAIVETZ: Thank you. MICHAEL MCFAUL:
I’m in the middle? CAROL SAIVETZ:
You’re in the middle. MICHAEL MCFAUL: OK. CAROL SAIVETZ: How’s that? MICHAEL MCFAUL: Great. CAROL SAIVETZ: OK. So what’s going to happen now
is that Elizabeth and I are each going to ask a
question, and then we’re going to open it
up to the floor. There are mikes at the
end of both of the aisles, please stand in line,
please introduce yourself, and then, as Elizabeth said,
please do not give a speech, but please just ask a question. We have about a half
hour for Q and A. So I wanted to push you
a little bit on the idea that it wasn’t about– at
least some of the animosity isn’t about NATO expansion. MICHAEL MCFAUL: Yep. CAROL SAIVETZ: So
if it’s all Putin– and I tend to agree that a
lot of it is within him– absent NATO expansion,
do you think that we would be
in the same place that we are today, given that
Vladimir Putin is president of Russia and likely even to
last beyond 2024, if we had stopped even with East European
states, and not with the Baltic states, with the
first [INAUDIBLE],, do you think we would be in
exactly the same position? MICHAEL MCFAUL: Yes,
and let me explain. CAROL SAIVETZ: Please. MICHAEL MCFAUL: So
the reason is, is that take what happened in Ukraine. That happened independent
of NATO expansion, they’re not NATO on the
borders, [INAUDIBLE] and that drama would have
taken place irrespective of NATO expansion. And the response
to us in response to the mobilization
against him, I think, would have taken place
irrespective of NATO expansion. It was about Russian
domestic politics. But I want to go a little
bit further because this is somewhat controversial. The NATO question was
over in the first years of the Obama administration– over. I was there for five years– I was in every single meeting
with Putin and Medvedev, I was on every single
phone call with those two guys with President Obama, I
can’t recall a single time when NATO expansion ever came up. And the reason–
this is the part I get, I’m a little bit
uncomfortable about, especially with, like videos of me
to bring up– the reason, for better or for ill,
but the reason at the time was after Georgia
in 2008, the idea that we were going to do
any kind of expansion, there was no appetite
for it in Brussels. There was no appetite
for it in Washington, and even in the two countries,
Georgia still wanted to join, but there was no appetite
for it in Ukraine. That’s the dirty little
secret that Putin wants you to forget today
because after Crimea, and after Ukraine, that’s
when he amps up all this NATO expansion is
this horrible thing. And you don’t have to believe
me, go and look at the speech that President Medvedev gave
at the NATO summit in Lisbon, I was there with him,
and he proclaims, you know, this is an era
of cooperation between NATO and Russia now that we’ve gotten
the parameters of where this is going to end, have been set. And you may laugh
now at that meeting– I was at that meeting– we were trying to
figure out a way to cooperate with them, NATO
and Russia, on missile defense. That’s how, you know, either
outlandish or stupid or naive we were, but that was
the level of cooperation that we were at then. And by the way, RT that
will now remind you– Russia Today that will remind
you of just how evil NATO expansion is, RT– because I went back and
researched this for my book– RT was talking about what
an incredible achievement it was for Russia that they
were now cooperating with NATO around
the Lisbon summit, so I think it only gets
revived after we’re in this period of confrontation
as an additional reason for confrontation. And I remember it well
because our critics on the right of the
Obama administration, they were saying,
look at these guys, they are not putting any
energy into expanding NATO, we’re not engaging
with Saakashvili. I think the first
meeting that Saakashvili had with Obama was actually at
the NATO summit, by that time, he’d already had five or
six meetings with Medvedev, and that happens to be true. ELIZABETH WOOD: So I’m going
to ask a completely different question. Some of my colleagues
are here who are in research in the
sciences and worked with Russia around the MIT Skoltech
agreement and other things, and at the same time, MIT’s
in the middle of a big debate about Saudi Arabia. There are faculty who are
saying we should stay engaged, and faculty who say we
should, as a university, we should separate. You’re at Stanford, you’re a
professor of political science, I’m curious what your thoughts
are when regimes are doing manifestly bad things,
and yet, there’s potential good to come
[INAUDIBLE] of your diagram. This is not a question we
usually ask each other, but I would love to
hear the containment isolation [INAUDIBLE] what do
you think an MIT or a Stanford should be doing? Where should we be engaging? Do we have a political goal? What do you think about this? MICHAEL MCFAUL: Two tough
questions right away. CAROL SAIVETZ: Welcome to MIT. MICHAEL MCFAUL: Yeah, thanks– it’s a great question. So I was very involved
in Skoltech at MIT. I was a huge champion in
your early negotiations, first at the White House,
and then as ambassador. My kids still wear Skoltech
sweatshirts and t-shirts, by the way. And I’m hesitating
because, in general, I agree and support
non-governmental engagements in education and in
the private sector, and I think even during
these times of confrontation, we should continue them. The particular
instance of Skoltech is a little more complicated. Medvedev supported that, Putin
doesn’t, he’s not giving them the proper support, and they’re
in trouble, I would say, but generally speaking, you
know, science is universal. We’re having this debate
about China at Stanford. This is a big debate we were
having right now about China, and I would still support
that kind of activity with all the caveats
that you have to have– lines between dual-use
technology, and most certainly, you don’t want to subsidize
activities that are belligerent– but I wouldn’t want to
cut off Russian society from American society. CAROL SAIVETZ: All right, so
please line up at the mikes. ELIZABETH WOOD: Let’s
open it up for questions. CAROL SAIVETZ: Please, go ahead. AUDIENCE: Yes, hi,
Dan [INAUDIBLE].. Question, do you think
that Russia’s reaction to resist Ukraine from
getting close to the EU, in particular to protect its
naval base in Sevastopol, was something that
was unique to Putin or that it was
reflective of a deeper Russian national interest
that other Russian leaders [INAUDIBLE] CAROL SAIVETZ: A great question. MICHAEL MCFAUL: Yeah,
so to remind everybody– I don’t if everybody
heard the question, it’s a great question– to remind everybody, Putin won
that initial battle with us. I was a master at the time. Yanukovych didn’t
sign up with the EU. He signed up with them. I remember I met– I shouldn’t mention
his name, I don’t want to get him trolled– a very
senior Russian official, who I met with at the
time, said, we’re going to win this,
no matter what, Mike, and we’re going
to spend whatever we have to spend to win this. And I said, OK, we’ll see. And then I saw him two months
later, and he said we did, but it cost us $15 billion– that was the price
tag– but we won, and I congratulated him, that’s
what you do in diplomacy. The problem was there were
these kooky Ukrainians that didn’t agree with that. This guy– Mustafa
Nayyem is his name– who said, this is awful,
what is our government doing? And he went on Facebook,
and he said, you know, if we get to 10,000 people that
like my Facebook page here, then we’ll show up
on Maidan, and that’s exactly what happened. And you know, one of the
lessons I have from my time in government is you’re
trying to do your strategizing vis-a-vis other states– other governments, and
you got to remember there are other players
who are out there that have their own agendas, that
don’t care about your reset, whether they’re
Russian demonstrators or Ukrainian demonstrators,
and we did not control that. So that’s the first thing. The second thing thing,
I would say our argument to the Russians at the time– and these are the talking
points [INAUDIBLE] that I was delivering– was we did not see why it was– that countries cannot join many
different kinds of free trade agreements and economic and
bilateral trade agreements in multiple ways. So we do, our country
does, Russia does. As long as they’re
compatible, why can’t they be in your union
and this accession agreement? That was our talking
points, and at the time, I think the Canadians,
if I’m not mistaken, were negotiating a free
trade agreement with Russia. It fell apart, but that was one
of our talking points there, and NAFTA was [INAUDIBLE]
knock yourselves out, if you can get an agreement
with them, as long as what you do together
does not violate, in any way, what we
have with them in NAFTA. And I still believe
that, by the way. I think to make it
zero-sum was wrong, and, you know, in
the minutia, there are some things
that are difficult, but I think they could
have been worked that way. I also think, I want
to say, that was– I did not understand
what the rush was to force Yanukovych
to sign an accession agreement at the time. We were– you know, one of
the things that ambassador– embassies do is we do
reporting, we do analysis, and it was our
assessment that this was a really hard decision. Russians were putting a lot
of pressure on Yanukovych, it was right before the
presidential election, and our assessment was,
what’s the big deal? Let this go, for
now, return to it after the presidential
election for Yanukovych, and I think that was a
mistake, in retrospect. All negotiations– the one
thing I know about diplomacy, if you fail today,
you can always start the negotiation tomorrow. That’s kind of what diplomats
do, and I think that was a– for reasons I don’t
quite understand, to put an artificial deadline
to that accession agreement was a mistake. By the way, Turkey signed
theirs in ’62 or ’63, they still haven’t
joined the EU, so I think there was way
too much kind of pressure put on the Ukrainians that
had we let that happen, down the road, it might have
been handled a better way. CAROL SAIVETZ: Please. AUDIENCE: Hello, I’m
a local high student, and I was wondering,
do you think Putin was determined
to run for re-election, and fundamentally shift the
US-Russian relationship, after the US has said
not to back Gaddafi? And on a related note,
there is previous decision, from previous US
administration, to give Gaddafi certain assurances in
exchange for giving up their nuclear program had been
considered more, in retrospect? MICHAEL MCFAUL: Well,
on the second question, we did discuss this when
I was in the government. It was really– I mean, literally, whether
our assessment was right– and others have debated
this, subsequently– we thought we were going
to watch a couple hundred thousand people be slaughtered,
and President Obama wasn’t prepared to
watch that happen. So no matter what
you did earlier, that decision made
at a different time was one that we were
going to try to work out. And I agree, I was on the
side that agreed with that. On your second
question about Gaddafi, I do think it was
part of the equation. I do think– you
know, we’ve never known whether Putin was
always going to come back after the four-year
term of Medvedev or not, we spent a lot of time
trying to figure that out. I can tell you, for
sure, that Medvedev thought he had a shot at
running for a second term. He had to win one vote,
Putin’s vote, that’s the only vote he
had to win, and he had a strategy for winning it,
and it was partly about us. It was about this good
cop-bad cop thing. He was like, look– back to the question
about NATO– like, look, Vladimir, look
what I did, I got us off of our confrontation with
the Americans over Georgia, I got them to sign up
for a new START treaty, I got them to get
us into the WTO. Well, I just explained
it from our side, but if you’re Medvedev, looking
at these things that he did, that was his argument to Putin
why this was a good setup. And I do think that Libya
was when Putin decided, he’s drinking too much
of this reset kool-aid, he doesn’t understand
these Americans. Whether he had always planned
to come back, I don’t know, but I think that was a pretty– in fact, you know,
I’ve heard people say that was pretty
good motive there in terms of him coming back. CAROL SAIVETZ: [INAUDIBLE] AUDIENCE: My name’s
Ed [INAUDIBLE].. You’ve always been a very strong
advocate for civil society. Going back to 2001, you wrote
a really interesting article in Foreign Affairs,
where you basically talked about how
[INAUDIBLE] support for civil society, which
also by definition tends to be the opposition to Putin. And so I’m curious– number 1, how do
you balance that? How do you think the US
should balance support for civil society. MICHAEL MCFAUL: Yes. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] strong,
authoritative [INAUDIBLE].. And number 2, do you think
that’s it [INAUDIBLE] intention to fail [INAUDIBLE] MICHAEL MCFAUL: Right– so it’s
a really tough foreign policy issue, I think. We debated it, at
length, in 2009. We eventually came up
with this strategy. We called it
dual-track engagement where we were going to engage
with governments and society. Russia was the lead case, but
it eventually became policy– policy written down for
other parts of the world. It was practiced in
very different ways in different countries. And let me go back,
I want to remind you that there was a period
earlier when practicing dual-track engagement
with Russia meant you were doing something
that the government approved of, so when I went, I was
part of this back in 1992, I opened the office
of a group called NDI, the National
Democratic Institute. We were invited there by the
Russian government, that’s a part that– by the way, that’s what
I meant, Vladimir Putin, he was cooperating with us. That’s a part that the regime
today wants you to forget, but back then, we were all
in this cooperative phase, on both fronts. You know what I would
say over time, we– 2009, I showed you
the photo of Obama with Putin, and on that
same trip, on that same day actually, he met with
Putin that morning, and then he went and gave a
speech at the New Economics School, so students,
civil society. Then he went to a civil
society parallel summit with NGO leaders, then he went
to a business summit, again, non-governmental people, and he
ended his day with a roundtable with opposition figures. And most Americans
and most Russians don’t even remember or know
that because back then, it was not controversial because
Medvedev was not against this. He was not– this
was not considered to be antagonistic to what he
was doing back in 2009, 2010. He, himself, thought of
himself as a moderate on the political side,
on the economic side. He was very
conservative, you know, and he was very
constrained with Putin, but his own self-identity,
I can tell you from dozens of
meetings with him, he thought he was meeting this
political realization period, so for him it was no big deal. Fast-forward to 2012, things
had changed radically. So in-between 2009 and
[INAUDIBLE]—- by the way, it was the policy of all
US government officials. You know, Secretary
Clinton would go to Moscow, I would travel with her, we
would meet with civil society– Biden– that was– Bill Burns, you
know, he would come– that was what we did, government
meetings, civil society meetings. With me, two things
you got to remember. First of all, when Obama
asked me to become ambassador, it was at the peak
of the reset, it was at the height
of cooperation. I’m a professor, you know,
we have this two-year rule, after two years,
you’ve got to go back. I’d been there for two years. It was time to go home. My family was ready to
get out of Washington. They were ready to see
me a little bit more from time to time. So I went to tell my boss,
Tom Donilon, that, hey, it’s been a great ride, but we
got to go home, and he’s like, you can’t leave
now, you know, we’re at the height of
cooperational change in the world, what
do you mean, Mike? And then he called me back a
couple of hours later and said, hey, I talked to the boss,
the boss says you can’t go. Then I went home and
talked to my family, and they had a different view,
and it was through that process that another one
of my colleagues came up with this idea. Why don’t we get you a
more family-friendly job, where you can still
work on Russia, and still be part of
the team, and that’s how I became Ambassador. By the way, being Ambassador
was a more family-friendly job than working at the NSC, a
lot more family-friendly. That was like in February– that conversation
started in February 2011, March 2011, by the time
I got there, because of our democratic process– I had holds on me
not for anything I did it was all about Obama– by the time I got there,
that moment had faded. So Medvedev is on his way
out, he was a lame duck, the process had started,
and that was just by fate, and you’re absolutely right,
because of those things I had written– I’m not quite sure which
article you’re talking about, but you don’t get to hit a
Delete button on everything you’ve published before. It would have been useful. And by the way, facts
don’t matter, the most– one of the biggest
hit jobs that they did was a piece that I had written
for the Journal of Democracy that basically said I
advocated for Putin what we did to Milosevic, but
to make that argument they had to take out one
word, it’s called “not,” and they just ran
that all the time. And when you’re not constrained
by facts, it didn’t matter, but to your point, it
definitely was construed– there was fodder both in my
public writings and in my– people I had known. The guy running
the campaign, one of the senior guys for
the campaign for Putin, and when I showed
up, he said to me– he’s somebody– Surkov is
his name if you know Russia. And I was running a bilateral
roundtable on civil society with Surkov at the
time, and I saw him when I showed up in
Moscow, and he said, Mike, don’t take any
of this personal, but you are manna from
heaven showing up right now for the campaign,
and we’re going to say some nasty
things about you. I didn’t– he was not– I hope he wasn’t responsible
for the pedophile thing. He said, but don’t
take it personally, I mean, you know how politics
are, it’s going to get nasty. And it was because they
could use this stuff from my background, for sure. CAROL SAIVETZ: Please. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE],,
thank you for your speech. And I have a
question [INAUDIBLE] diplomacy is not just
[INAUDIBLE] but can be [INAUDIBLE]. So my question is like, I think
people skills [INAUDIBLE]—- for the next generation. [INAUDIBLE] MICHAEL MCFAUL: Could
you get a little closer to the microphone. Thanks. AUDIENCE: OK, I think
people skills matters a lot for the next generation. So as such experience as
a famous diplomat, What is your suggest or advice
for students like us, sitting here, like what is the
most important characteristic or skill we need to have
to organize a diverse group to accomplish a task? My question’s simple. PRESENTER: Thank you. MICHAEL MCFAUL: Your
question’s not simple, your question’s a hard one,
but it’s an important one. Diplomacy’s changing because
of technology pretty rapidly. There’s this
ambassadorial hallway that I had to walk
by every time I would go to my office, every
single ambassador that had been in Russia. It starts with
John Quincy Adams. He was our first
ambassador to Russia, and I became curious
as you about– because I would see
these guys every day, I read some stuff on it, you
would read about diplomacy, and remember back
then, diplomats, ambassadors played a very direct
role in foreign policy issues. So you would get a cable– that’s the word that was used– we still call them
cables, by the way, even though they’re emails now. You get a cable comes
to you from Washington, and it has your talking points– it’s called a démarche– and then you take your démarche
over to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in my case, and you
read out the talking points, and for me, I was dealing a
lot with Syria, for instance, so I had a lot of
démarches about Syria, and I would negotiate with their
senior guy in the Middle East, Mikhail Bogdanov was his name. That’s the
old-fashioned diplomacy, but during this period,
especially in the Kerry department, by the way, because
of cell phones and technology, Secretary Kerry, he could
just call up Sergey– he was on a first-name
basis with him, Lavrov– and just call him and
talk to him directly. And that happened not just
at the highest levels, but in the era where we had
these growing functional offices in the
government, everybody who had a functional job
to do back in Washington wanted to deal directly with
their counterpart in Russia, and not have that mediated
by the embassy and diplomats like me. So if you were
doing arms control, for instance, Rose Gottemoeller
was our chief negotiator at the time, she
wanted to deal directly with Sergei Ryabkov, the
deputy foreign minister. She didn’t want us to
do the negotiating, so I think, with time and given
how fast information moves, the old-fashioned role for
diplomacy is diminishing. The other part that’s
diminishing, by the way, is the reporting part
of what I talked about. In the old days, 100
years ago, these cables you would write to explain
what was happening in Russia or the Soviet Union was this
really vital information that the government had. Today, there’s just a ton–
there’s a flood of information out there that foreign
policymakers back in Washington can get, and by the way, there’s
a lot of towns and people reporting on events in Russia
that are, in many ways, more plugged in than
second-year diplomats, in their broken Russian,
talking about a meeting they had with a government official. So diminishes that role, and
therefore, that’s a long way to say, the point you’re
making, I think in the future, is going to be more and
more important with that for diplomacy, the public
diplomacy, the people diplomacy part of the job. For Secretary Clinton,
remember she was my new boss as I had moved from the White
House to the State Department, she took this very seriously. I remember I went in to see
her right before going out to Moscow. She said two things to me, she
said, one, you got to be tough, don’t let these guys
push you around– because she had this view that
we over at the White House, we were all a bunch of
weak-kneed, Russia lovers, and she was tougher– and two, she said what you said. She said, I want you engaged
with society and think of your job as projecting
what we are trying to do– not just démarches to the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs– but to explain what our policy
and our values and our people to Russia. She writes about it
in her book that she thought this was a really
important thing that she wanted to bring to diplomacy. One other thing she said
to me that day, she said, I want you to get on Twitter. I had never seen a
tweet before that day. I literally– I
live in the valley, and I had never seen a tweet. I then was introduced to her
social media advisor, who gave me a couple of tips, and
I had some tutorials with them, but that was part of her idea
of how we should engage directly with society. And then, back to
the question earlier, sometimes that got me
in trouble because Putin thought we were being too
public in our engagement. Over time, they tried to
actually restrict my ability to engage with Russians. I eventually became banned
from speaking at universities, by the way. And when that happened,
there’s this place called MGIMO, which is a
very famous place there, and they invited me– students
were inviting me all the time, right, then we would
get up the system, and then finally, it
would get blocked. And after about
a year of trying, we just decided, OK,
rather than go to MGIMO, we’ll just invite 700
students to my house, my house was big enough that we
could have 700 students there, and that’s what we did. So they were trying
to be constraining, but I think on balance, with the
proper parameters, because we did make some mistakes, I
most certainly made mistakes in that kind of
people-to-people engagement, but I think for diplomats,
it’s their future. If they don’t do that, the
other parts of their jobs are diminishing,
and it’s going to be hard to justify the
giant embassies that we have in Moscow. CAROL SAIVETZ: I think,
in the interest of time, we’re going to do two questions,
so these next two people here, and then we’ll move
to the other side. MICHAEL MCFAUL: OK,
I’ll be brief too. AUDIENCE: Good to see you, Mike. I’m glad you’ve chosen Cambridge
to continue your year-long book roll-out tour. I had a question,
about the book, I assume you finished
it about a year ago, if your publisher gave
you an opportunity to add a little post-logue
of four or five pages about how things
have developed so quickly in the last
year, that’s kind of the context of my question. I don’t want to push you. I agree with your three points. I agree with the role of Putin. And that historical
development is [INAUDIBLE] but I want to kind of push you
toward the first one in terms of the nature of the
international system. Now that you’re not
putting out fires– world politics you’ve had
three or four years to– professorial hat,
your geek hat on, if you’ve had an
opportunity, maybe, look at some deeper
structural things about the international
system, and how that operates. [INAUDIBLE] here with his new
analysis, [INAUDIBLE] analysis. And speaking of MGIMO, I had a
conversation with a professor there, and they’re very much
into this [INAUDIBLE] analysis and the title of her book. CAROL SAIVETZ: Can you– [INTERPOSING VOICES] –five minutes for
a lot of questions. MICHAEL MCFAUL: I
got it, I got it, OK AUDIENCE: So– MICHAEL MCFAUL: OK. CAROL SAIVETZ: OK, next
question, and then, we’ll try to do two at a time. MICHAEL MCFAUL: OK. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] I’m a
visiting researcher at Harvard. I would like to challenge the
notion that Medvedev brought about cooperation
and [INAUDIBLE],, also that Putin and our [INAUDIBLE]
and so on, Medvedev’s presidency and let’s also
day that he didn’t change his mind because he was already
old when cooperation happened. So he didn’t change his mind
about cooperation and he was in power, does
that explanation of Medvedev bringing about
change still make sense? MICHAEL MCFAUL: Great, so
both your questions are about leaders versus
structures, and I want to be clear, black
and white answers are– I’m not– –are not
right in my view, it’s a mix of these things. I want to answer yours and then
come back to the counterfactual that I want to run with had
somebody else been elected president, but they’re related. So in the Medvedev years–I
don’t want to exaggerate, he was a highly constrained
guy when he was president. We heard it all the time
in meetings with him, you know, I would
love to do that, but I got this guy, this prime
minister guy, I can’t do it. We used to use the same
thing with Congress– we would love to do
that, but we could never get the Congress to pass it. That happened, but
there were moments that, when he leaned in, that it was
clear that he was leaning in, and he knew he was leaning in. So let me give you
a few examples. I already mentioned that was
clear as day, in fact, let me– oh, I’m looking at the
clock, I got to be quick– so I won’t tell you
the anecdote, but– well, I’ll tell
you the anecdote. You guys can cut
me off if you want. So we’re going into this
meeting in the Kremlin with the vice president, and
the normal setup is like, two or three on each
side, and they said to us, we just want to have
a one-on-one meeting between Medvedev and Biden. And Tony Blinken, his national
security advisor at the time, he did not want this, and
rightfully so, you know, we can’t have this, and he
grabbed my arm and said, Mike, no matter what, you just
walk in with Biden, and just, you got to be there because
we can’t– you know, the vice president was not
the point person on Russia, Obama was. So I did this, I literally had
to fight my way into the room, and the vice president,
kind of, held arms with me. It was a little bit
awkward, but I walked in, and luckily, there
was one chair there, kind of 200 feet from
where they were sitting, and I sat there, very
awkwardly, and then later, to create symmetry, [INAUDIBLE],,
the national security advisor, came and sat. The reason was is they didn’t
want Lavrov in that meeting. Lavrov was chilling as– he was waiting outside for the
more expanded because Medvedev was there to tell us that he was
going to go along with Libya, so that’s one example. On sanctions on Iran– remember, sanctions
on Iran back in 2010 was very– you
know, $30 billion, that was the number they used. They said we’re going
to lose all this money, it’s really painful for us,
it’s not painful for you, and yet he went along. And on that day, he
had canceled the S-300 contract, a $2 billion
contract, Putin then signed it. He said all the way
through, there’s no way we can cancel
this, it can’t be part of the resolution in
the UN, and as a gift to Obama, he canceled it that day. There’s no doubt in my mind that
that was him being [INAUDIBLE].. And then on WTO in
the summer of 2009, very famous speech,
Putin said, the Americans have stalled too much, we’re
going to go our own way. Six months later, Medvedev
said that was a mistake, and we want to engage,
provided we want to be serious. So in the margins,
not anything great. Back to this bigger, harder– I mean, they’re
related, this question about leaders versus not. To me, and I write
about in the book, the counterfactual that
I tease myself with– first of all, I want
you to remind yourself that there’s been a lot of
variation in confrontation and cooperation over
the last 30 years, so something’s got
to explain that. The Gorbachev period is
not like this period, and the Yeltsin period
is not like this period, the Medvedev period was way more
cooperative than this period, so remember that, but
imagine for a moment the accident of history
that made Putin president. It was a complete
accident of history. The heir-apparent, back in
1999, was a guy– well, 1998, let me back up– was a guy named Boris Nemtsov. He was the heir-apparent,
he was chosen, he was Yeltsin’s
favorite, he brought him back from Nizhny Novgorod to
be First Deputy Prime Minister, and he was being
preparing himself to be the president, to run
for president in 2000, that was the aim. By the way, this guy, he
was assassinated in 2015, he was an amazing man– charismatic, smart,
engaging, won re-election in Nizhny Novgorod, that’s
like middle of Russia, in the middle of an economic
recession, when nobody else was winning elections at that
time, he won re-election, and he was Jewish, by the way. So really, I think,
you know, he was in– the propaganda against him was
atrocious about how marginal, and he was not Russian,
and all that, but remember, he had won multiple
elections, including national to be in
the parliament, at a time when it was really
hard to win elections. He joins the government,
and then a few months later, there’s the 1998
economic-financial crisis in the world–
started, by the way, in South Korea or Thailand, it
didn’t even start in Russia– and as a result of that event,
that government resigns. So nothing to do with choices,
nothing to do with Putin– had to resign, and Yeltsin
couldn’t get anybody through to be the new prime
minister, and that’s when he picked Putin,
and that’s when he decided that he
was going to, then, be the next president of Russia. So I just think about had
the election been before ’98, or had there not been
a financial crisis, and had Nemtsov been elected
president at the time, I just can’t imagine
that we would have had the same confrontation
that we have today. CAROL SAIVETZ: OK,
it’s after 6:00, and there are five people
still at the mikes. Let’s do quick– [INTERPOSING VOICES] CAROL SAIVETZ:
–we want everybody to ask their question, and then
Mike will answer [INAUDIBLE] AUDIENCE: Good evening, sir,
thank you for speaking with us. In context of your perspective
on the deterioration of Russian relations
with the US and the West, I’m curious to know your
perspective on cooperation in the Arctic,
which has actually expanded in the
past decade, and how that fits into your
perspective that there is less cooperation in some
aspects of Russian [INAUDIBLE] Thank you. MICHAEL MCFAUL: OK. CAROL SAIVETZ: OK, over here. [INAUDIBLE] AUDIENCE: I am one of the
generations who remembers the [INAUDIBLE] et cetera. At the time, I remember
my friends and me, we all thought it was obvious
that [INAUDIBLE] have Russia on our side helping that war. Why was the government so
stupid not to [INAUDIBLE] which was so obvious
to most of my friends? MICHAEL MCFAUL: Which time
are you talking about, sir? AUDIENCE: At the
time of Gorbachev. MICHAEL MCFAUL: Oh, OK–OK. AUDIENCE: At that
time, you, yourself, said you didn’t
put much thought. And to me it seems so stupid. Why were we so stupid? MICHAEL MCFAUL: Yeah, OK. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] AUDIENCE: My question is
this, what real threat, other than a total
nuclear war, what threats does Russia show today? The Soviet Union had an ideology
which would appeal beyond them. Putin’s ideology is
Orthodox Christianity and Russian
nationalism, which has appealed to Orthodox Russians. Other than that, the gang being
back together again as he’s tried, what threat
does he actually– does he actually show to us? CAROL SAIVETZ: Please. AUDIENCE: My idea’s about the
point you made on one or two slides about Putin’s
motivation could be also the idea of a
degeneration in the Western Hemisphere, and I
want to know, do you think that’s a strong factor? And if so, is this
more because he wants to use it as a
mean of [INAUDIBLE] like the idea as an enemy? Or do you actually
think he’s really worried about the [INAUDIBLE]
over Russia or whatever? CAROL SAIVETZ: Last question. AUDIENCE: A lot of
influence, such as hacking, comes from state or
company-sponsored hackers, or nations, how do
we think about– how do we think of
our relationships with Russia and
other countries as it pertains to
cybersecurity as we are undermined on the background? MICHAEL MCFAUL: Say the
last part again, how do we– AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] it’s kind
of invisible, like you don’t– it’s like hacking every day. MICHAEL MCFAUL: OK, how
do we protect ourselves from cyber hackers, right? AUDIENCE: No, how we think
about relationships in terms of [INAUDIBLE] MICHAEL MCFAUL: Yeah, OK– all right, I’ll be quick. You’ve been very patient today,
so thank you all for staying. On Arctic, possibilities
for cooperation are great, in terms of
transportation routes, as well, but possibilities for conflict,
militarily, are also great. I’m nervous about what’s
going to happen in the Arctic especially because we have
different definitions of who controls what in
terms of borders. On 1991, did we do enough? I can’t find who
asked what questions. I don’t think we did. I think that was a big
missed opportunity. I agree with that. As to why, I think, there
is a couple of reasons. One, we didn’t see the– there wasn’t a
threat to the East. If you compare it to
the end of World War II, Russia’s [INAUDIBLE]
back in 1991, ’92 is that we
didn’t think it was in our strategic interest to
have them in our side, and to [INAUDIBLE] about a
threat towards China. I mean, think about had
it happened today, we– as worried about
China as we are, maybe we would have
leaned in further. That was part of it,
and you remember, there were politics too. There was this kind of
country bumpkin governor– I shouldn’t have said that, I
forgot there’s cameras on me– he was running for
president in 1992, and his argument was
it’s the economy, stupid. His name is Bill
Clinton, and that year, because of the election,
that was a pivotal year. We were not engaged, and by
the time he came to office, he aspired to do it, but
already, the government had already fallen,
[INAUDIBLE] was gone, and so I do think we missed a
pretty big opportunity there. The Russia threat, you
know, it’s a good question– why do we really care? I think annexation’s a
pretty serious threat, well beyond just what
happened to Crimea. If I were writing
the 10 commandments for international
behavior, you know, thou shall not use nuclear
weapons that would probably be the number one,
that thou shall not annex the territory
of thy neighbor would probably be up there
pretty high because if we allow it to happen, then I think it
opens up a pretty big Pandora’s box. There are a lot of territorial
disputes out there, and therefore, I think
of it as a threat. I also think just
more in smaller terms than what Putin did in Syria. We could have handled that
in a very different way without his strategy, and a lot
of people would not have died. And the crisis that happened
there could have been avoided. You’re not going to let me
get into the answer to that, but the longest
chapter in my book is on Syria, so I do
think that was a mistake. And I do think on
the [INAUDIBLE],, I’ll combine this with
the last question– Russia has tremendous
capacity in the cyber world, as we saw in 2016, most
certainly the most important thing, the most impactful
thing they did was theft. They stole data from the
DNC and from John Podesta, and they published
it in a way that impacted the preferences
of American voters. That’s pretty outrageous. That’s a violation
of our sovereignty, and to answer the question,
have we done enough about it, my answer is no. We actually started,
in the period of cooperation I was talking
about earlier, we had– you know, this is
not a new problem. I want to be clear. We’re seeing them– we were
seeing them in all kinds of places– and really scary places, by
the way– on our systems. I presume they would
see us on their systems, and we had an idea that
we should have some rules of the road here
so that we don’t have an inadvertent
crisis that blows up Wall Street or something
even more cataclysmic. So we started these meetings
at a very high level– John Brennan was the
head of our delegation– to say let’s write down some
basic rules of the road here of things we would not
do, and those broke down after when we moved into
this period of confrontation. A lot of things I know
are still classified, but I would just say I’m scared
to death of what could happen in terms of their capacity. They’re not the only
actor, but they’re one of the most
powerful ones, and I think we have a long ways
to go before either– at least, we have to
increase our resilience. We’ve done next to nothing
since 2016 in that regard, and eventually we have to have,
I don’t know if it’s a treaty, but there’s some kind of
agreement about the way that we use these technologies
because right now, I think we’re in a very
vulnerable place. And then finally, rally the
people were instrumental– whoever asked that question. We used to debate this all
the time in the government, you know, does Putin– remember he was running
for re-election, his numbers were not very
good back in 2011, 2012, and he needed a new enemy. He needed somebody to
rally, and by the way, the invasion of Ukraine, that’s
when his numbers went way up. Was it instrumental or was it
something he really believed? I used to be in the first camp. I used to think it was
very instrumental, in part because I know– and I’ve known some of
these people for 30 years, by the way– I know the people that run
these propaganda efforts, and they’re all cynical. Campaign people tend to
be cynical, I’ve noticed– I shouldn’t generalize– in
my limited experience with campaign people, a lot of them
are– not all of them are, that’s probably not– I would like to
withdraw that comment. I used to work with a
guy named Dave Axelrod. Dave Axelrod’s not cynical,
but these guys were, and they’re like, don’t take it
personally, it’s just business. In fact, I write an anecdote– I end my book with this– the same guy that did this
hit job against me the day before I reported to work– Misha Leontiev was his name– I saw him down in Sochi. We were at the bar
with our delegation, it was the last night
of our delegation, and so they want to eat
caviar and drink vodka. Janet Napolitano was the head
of our delegation, by the way, she’s a bigger– never mind– we had a
good time with Janet, let’s just leave it at that. At this moment, the waitress
comes over to me and says, somebody wants to buy
you free champagne, and our whole table cheered
loudly, oh, isn’t this great, the Russians love us. And I said, can I just find out
who’s buying us this champagne, and I finally figured it
out through the waitress, it was this guy,
Leontiev, the guy that had written this
hit piece against me. And I said, we can’t, we
can’t, we can’t take that, take it back. He came over about a half hour
later, and he was pretty drunk. He’s like, Michael, how
come you refuse my gift? And I was like, Misha,
what do you mean, we can’t take this
from you, you’ve made my life miserable
for the last two years. He says, it’s just
a business, come on, we’ve been friends
for 30 years, right? It’s all good now,
and you know, there’s just a lot of people
like him in that system. Putin’s not one of them. Here’s where I came down,
I used to think that, I don’t think that anymore. I think Putin’s
way more paranoid than most people think. I think he assigns power to
organizations like the CIA that are inordinate. I think he assigns powers
to me that are crazy, the things that he worries about
me doing when I was Ambassador, even still today. They just ran a 45-minute
documentary on me, just last week, talking about
all the incredible things I’m doing for Palo Alto to try
to undermine the Putin regime. So I think it most
certainly is instrumental, and he needs an enemy to make
excuses for the things he’s not doing domestically,
but I also think he’s a rather paranoid
guy, and that mix, I think, makes it pretty difficult
for us to deal with it. Thank you all.

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