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Duration: 59:09



Kal Raustiala 0:05

Good morning, everyone. I'm Kal Raustiala director of the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations. And it's my pleasure to invite you back to another or welcome you back to another one of our Zoom sessions that we're doing this year. Today, I have the great pleasure of having as our guest, Dr. Fiona Hill. I'm going to introduce Dr. Hill in a moment. But before I do that, let me just lay down our ground rules of procedure. And also just let those of you know, who are interested in our in our series of talks that our next talk will be on October 26, which is a Monday, we've traditionally done these on a Tuesday this fall, we'll be in Monday with my colleague from the law school at UCLA E. Tendayi Achiume, who is currently the UN Special Rapporteur on racism and xenophobia. So that'll be the 26th. So today, in a moment, I'm gonna introduce Dr. Hill. She and I will have a brief conversation, as we often do, and then I will open it up to questions from all of you. So please send your questions in using the q&a feature and I will pull from that usually long list of questions and we'll run for about one hour. So our special guest some of you know, Fiona Hill from her recent testimony, but she has a long career both in the US government and think tanks and in academia. She's currently a senior fellow at the Center on the US and Europe in the Foreign Policy Program at Brookings in Washington, DC. And she's worked in and around the US government for many years, though, as you'll discover in a moment, she's not, well, I don't know if she is American now, she may be American. Now she is? She is. But she was not born in the United States. She'll reveal that through her lovely accent. She worked as a senior director for European and Russian Affairs on the National Security Council and previously as a national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the National Intelligence Council. She's written several books, articles, a book on Putin. She's a sort of Putin expert, and generally an expert on Russia and Asia, which will be our topic for today. So, Fiona, welcome.

Fiona Hill 2:14

Thanks so much, Kal. It's really great to be here.

Kal Raustiala 2:17

Well, I'm really glad to have you and I know everyone's interested to talk about a number of different things. And so what I want to do is both talk about some current events with you and also some things that we may see in the future: some things to fear or or hope for. But I thought maybe what I would start with is something that's in the news right now and of interest to a lot of people in the Los Angeles Community, which is what's going on in Nagorno-Karabakh and the role of Russia in that and also the significance for Russia and the West in that emerging conflict. As some of you listening and watching may know, there's been conflict in this kind of Armenian enclave. There's been protests here in LA about that. We have a very large Armenian community here in Los Angeles. So I thought maybe we could just begin with that and if you wanted to offer some thoughts on what you think is happening, and is there a greater significance for how we should think about Russian interest in the region and more generally?

Fiona Hill 3:22

No, thanks very much for that, Kal. In fact, I was out in Los Angeles several years ago, to take part in a meeting with Armenian diaspora groups out in Pasadena, in fact, to discuss Nagorno Karabakh with another regional expert and had a really fascinating set of meetings with members of the Armenian diaspora in California, many of whom come from very different backgrounds. I mean, most of us, first of all, should remember that the historic territories of Armenia were much greater than modern Armenia, which was really the kind of a small province of a much larger territory. And part of the Armenian heritage was taken over by Russia and absorbed into the Russian Empire after various struggles with the Ottoman and Persian empires. So Armenians were all over Anatolia, that was kind of like the sort of center of the Armenian Heartland, and what's modern day Turkey, into Iran, Syria and all over the Middle East. And, you know, the Armenian diaspora in Los Angeles really reflects that. There's also as I learned, and I'd forgotten about that until I actually met with some members of the Diaspora, an Armenian diaspora extending up into the Balkans because it's where the Ottoman Empire had extended and Armenians, often in a follow the migration tracks as well as now, thanks to, you know, the horrors of the genocide. In 1915 large Armenian diaspora groups in the United Kingdom law originally hailed from France, other parts of Europe and of course, in the United States, as well as Lebanon and other countries. So Armenia is an international issue. It's not just a forgotten country, sandwiched in between Russia and Turkey in the Caucusus. And the current conflict over Nagorno Karabakh also has very deep roots. The most recent outbreak of conflict really dates back to the fall of the Soviet Union. And in the late 1980s, when Mikhail Gorbachev had a number of ethnic Armenian advisors in his group, and they were pressuring him to consider the feature of Nagorno Karabakh, as you said, it's an enclave within Azerbaijan, which was another republic of the Soviet Union then became an independent state. And the demography there was changing. You know, this is like in many conflicts, a majority group suddenly starts to find itself as a minority group or potentially as a minority group or losing that majority. And due to birth rates and the other community in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenians, you know, were kind of facing the prospect that they would no longer be the dominant group in, you know, several decades ahead, and there was pressure to have Nagorno Karabakh recognized as part of Armenia. Now, that's just a long background to basically saying that what should have been, you know, political discussions got out of hand, and all of the upheaval that surrounded the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union. And with the breakup of the Soviet Union, we saw a lot of fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as the communities within Nagorno Karabakh itself, the Azeri and Armenian communities. The complicating factor there is not just Armenians and Azeris lived in that region You also have the Yazidis, who we've also seen in Syria, and also Kurds , many were Armenian-speaking some spoke Azeri, and some spoke Georgian, another of the republics. So this is a very complicated story here. And in 1994, after the fighting in Nagorno Karabakh the first time, there was a ceasefire that was brokered between Russia and Turkey, because Turkey, as Ottoman Empire receded in a part of the territory in 1920, we're 100 years on from, you know, earlier conflicts there. Now, what we're seeing is a potential spat between Russia and Turkey over this, we've seen that already playing out in Syria, while there's still a large Armenian community, as well as a large Kurdish community that Turkey perceives as a security threat. We've seen Russia and Turkey, at times come very close to confrontation in Syria, including at a time when the Turks shot down a Russian plane. So I'm telling all of this to the audience, many of whom know all this very well -- and there's obviously a lot more detail and nuance to this -- to get across that this is a really complex situation. And in the past, the United States has played a very important role in helping to manage this conflict, we haven't done very well on resolution. But basically, for the last 26 years, we've managed to keep the lid on an outbreak of conflict until now. And really, things have got out of control, I would say, partly because of a vacuum. The United States has stepped back and not done very much. We've always been constrained by the fact that we do have a very large Armenian diaspora, which is very important in our politics, as well as in our culture and our communities. But we've also, you know, developed a pretty good relationship with Azerbaijan, particularly through energy development in the 1990s. And, you know, we've had a hard time, you know, trying to figure out how to balance all of these interests and to try to find a way forward. We've also had to work with the Russians and the French who have a large Armenian diaspora in a group to manage this and we've just failed to find a solution. And as we've seen, frustrations have mounted in the region. There's also Iran in here as a factor. And up until now, the Iranians haven't really made much comment. But Iran has very close relations with Armenia. There's Armenians in the northern part of Iran, and also with Azerbaijan, because the largest part of the population in northern Iran are actually ethnic Azaris. So I think many of the members of the Diaspora community in Los Angeles area also come from Iran, as well as other parts of the Middle East. So I can imagine that you have people listening to this too, this is particularly painful. It brings in a lot of very bad memories, of course, from more than 100 years ago with the genocide in 1915. But also of all these previous outbreaks of violence, including in Syria, where we saw, you know, kind of a replay, you know, several years ago in the Syrian Civil War of attacks, and also by the rise of Islamic terrorism on Armenian, Yazidi, Kurdish in other communities in the territory. So this is fiendishly complex and we're not doing a very good job right now of getting ahead of this outbreak of conflict.

Kal Raustiala 9:49

And what is Russia's interest in this? I mean, first of all, thank you for a wonderful overview of it. Does Russia have an interest in a resolution or in a sense, does Russia have an interest in fomenting more chaos, more conflict? It seems oftentimes Russia seems to revel in that. So I'm curious about this particular case. And then more generally, in the region, you mentioned Syria and other other conflicts, some of which are obviously much larger, long lasting. Does Russia tend to have a kind of preference for chaos? And do we see that playing out in these different instances

Fiona Hill 10:24

Russia takes advantage of chaos, because it wants to insert itself into situations to try to become the arbiter of the outcome or to prevent an outcome. So in the case of I mean, in Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia, are very tightly joined together still through a military defense agreement. Russia has a base in Armenia. Russia also provides the border guards for Armenia's borders because of course, Armenia has contentious relations, not just with Azerbaijan, but also with Turkey, and is essentially landlocked and cut off apart from the border with neighboring Georgia. It doesn't have a direct border with Russia, for example. And, you know, Russia has also got a whole host of economic treaties with Armenia as well and has often messed about in Armenian politics. Russia has also been supplying Armenia with weapons, but at the same time, Russia has also been trying to, you know, kind of maintain a stasis in its relations with Azerbaijan. And so Russia has been basically paying both sides off against each other. In 2010, it looked like the Russians were actually serious about trying to find a breakthrough, in Nagorno Karabakh on their own terms, but they, you know, hit the same wall everybody else has, it's just incredibly difficult to reconcile what are really maximalist claims on both sides. You know, the Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh want to have a say, obviously, in what their future is, this isn't just a dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Armenian forces occupied large parts of territory that were not previously disputed in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan wants them back. Armenia has Nagorno Karabakh as part of its tourist maps, as if, you know, I mean, as if Nagorno Karabakh was fully part of Armenia. There's all kinds of things going on here that are difficult to resolve. I think the Russians prefer managed chaos, because they would have to force a compromise, both sides would be angry with them, it's much better to play them off against each other. The problem comes where now when the conflicts got out of control, it's no longer managed chaos, and in fact, has become potentially unmanageable. And now Turkey is in on the act. And as I said, we'll have to see whether Iran is a factor here too. The United States was a kind of stabilizing factor in you know, everybody being able to play the United States off against everyone else as well. And we had a vested interest, obviously, in trying to stabilize this, we would have loved to find a resolution. But we honestly didn't have the wherewithal to bring that because there are too many different factors on the table here. And I think it is very similar in the Middle East. In Syria, Russia took advantage of the chaos of the Civil War, and the rise of ISIS and all the, you know, the terrorists that took hold in Syria, as well as in Iraq, and Russia intervened in the Syrian Civil War, to prop up Assad, but also to try to play this arbiter role. And now Russia has got itself a bit stuck in Syria as well. It's not bogged down, It's not an incredible, expensive operation. It's not like the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, but it's also complex for Russia, because they haven't been able to do what they wanted to do, which was put Assad back in power and get everybody else to pay for the reconstruction of Syria and to stabilize everything. And in fact, they've almost got into confrontations with Turkey at different points as well. And the US is not playing a very major role there either. And, again, you know, what everybody likes to kind of complain about the United States and has an issue when the United States isn't there. They have the responsibilities right? Russia is now in the uncomfortable position that we've been in. This is like, okay, you know, how do we get out of this? How do we manage this? And how do we bring everyone along? So that's it to take advantage of chaos, when you're actually managing it, you're supposed to get a resolution, then you find that it's much more difficult.

Kal Raustiala 14:07

So thinking about, I guess Europe and kind of the general relationship between Russia and kind of bordering countries or, or traditional Russian satellite countries, in some cases, I'm curious about what you think the US should be doing. So you mentioned sort of a power vacuum in this particular context, we're just speaking of. But it's a more general problem, of course of the US pulling back and being radically involved. But thinking about the rise of so many illiberal regimes throughout the world, but particularly, let's say in Hungary and other places, where the US and Europe generally have have maybe a values-based or other interest in seeing those countries return to their recent more liberal stances. But at the same time, if we push them too hard, maybe we're going to send them closer to Russia, which continues to have a strong interest in what goes on in Eastern Europe. So this seems like a very thorny problem that I'm sure you've dealt with extensively in your time in government. What do you think we should be doing now about that? What can we do or what should we do to make sure countries like Hungary don't drift even further into...?

Fiona Hill 15:15

Oh, look, I mean, I'll be honest that, you know, the reason that the United States was able to lead in that region, and to really kind of set the tone for the things that you've described after the end of the Cold War is because we were seen as a beacon of values, of human rights, we were a great supporter. And people saw a lot to admire in our own system. I have to say, and it's with great pain that I say that, that's not the case right now. I mean, many of the people listening today might have seen the recent Pew poll several weeks ago that showed just how much our international standing has fallen. And look, it's not just because of the last four years, those have been particularly painful, and have contributed, you know, whether the kind of the nature of our parties on infighting and the personal style of the President ...It was happening before. I mean, it was happening over successive administrations, and a lot of it dates back to 2003 in the decision to go into Iraq. There was a huge upside up-swelling of goodwill towards the United States after 9/11 when we suffered the catastrophic terrorist attack. I think, you know, people were not thrilled that we went into Afghanistan, but they understood why that was necessary, of course, and many of our NATO and other European allies supported that move and fought alongside us in Afghanistan to try to stabilize the situation. 20 years on, you know, practically, we're still trying to get ourselves out of that. It's not quite 20 years, of course, but I mean, next year will be the 20th anniversary of 9/11. But with Iraq, you know, we really, I think, lost a lot of our goodwill there. You might remember, there were a million people on the streets of London, after the decision to go into Iraq was announced. So there's been a steady decline and erosion of the people's faith that the United States always knows when to do the right thing. And so what do we need to do to turn this around now and to, you know, be able to prevail upon the Hungary or other countries that are backsliding? We need to show that we can get our own democratic house in order. And I do think that the biggest test is for all of us participating today, which is to get out the vote, you know, to show that we can have a massive turnout and that we can restore faith in democratic electoral systems. Because in all these countries where we're seeing backsliding, that's the thing being attacked. And it makes it very difficult when our own president is, you know, talking about rigged systems or you know, risks, you know, to the ballot, and we're all fighting among each other, among ourselves and with each other, about a whole range of issues. The United States has shown time and time again, over all these decades, the 20th and into this century, that we have the ability to work things out, to get our act together, and to overcome, you know, these difficulties. We overcame the catastrophe of the Civil War, in the 19th century and the 20th century, you know, we've had so many problems, but you know, we've shown the world that we're capable of moving forward on civil rights and on universal suffrage, and we need to see to remember that I, you know, we intervene to help Europe out in World War One and World War Two. We don't always have to intervene militarily, but we have to set an example. So I think that the biggest message that we could send, not just to the miscreants, but also to our allies, is that we're capable of doing this again. So this is actually a pretty consequential moment that we're in now a month before a presidential election. And we all have a part to play in that.

Kal Raustiala 18:48

I'm just curious, I don't know if you saw the piece in today's New York Times that Peter Beinart wrote, I don't know if it's today's technically times, but it's up on the Times website, talking about the problems with our democracy, and invoking the history of, particularly Black Americans looking to the UN and other international bodies to kind of weigh in on the problems with American democracy. And so in light of everything that you just said, and in light of your experience with so many countries that are fragile democracies, or maybe barely democracies, and given the importance of what you just said, how would you characterize this moment for the US as a democracy? Do you think that we can right the ship in the way that you just described? We are facing an unprecedented election with as many commentators have pointed out if these if these events and statements not just coming from Trump but elsewhere, the problems with the Postal Service, etc... If this was happening in any other country, the headlines would suggest, you know, a drift towards chaos. And maybe that is, in fact what's going on, but I'm just curious how you see it, given your long history looking outward.

Fiona Hill 19:59

Well, it really, yes, this is a reckoning for all of our institutions. I mean, it's obvious that the person on top matters a great deal. But as I said before the 330 million of us, we've all got agency, and in part of the strength of the US is it's a federal system. And, you know, I'm speaking to you in California, which, if it was an independent state would be one of the largest and most prosperous in the world, and you've been a trendsetter in California, you've got an incredible vibrant and incredibly diverse population there. And often at the state level, you know, things can also be resolved and examples can be set. Obviously, you're in the midst of a horrible crisis being on the frontlines of climate change. And, you know, one thing that, you know, see, though, is how people are rallying to respond to that. We need to have the kind of metaphor of the volunteer firefighters who are literally putting themselves on the line to extinguish the fires in California. And that actually gives me hope, because I know that there, look, we saw what happened in 911, real firefighters and civilians pulling together. This is what we need right now for our democracy. And a lot of people like myself who've served in the administration are speaking out, you know, I wish more would speak out, you know, some of us spoke out earlier, you know, others are coming to the fore, basically saying, you know, to everyone there, we have agency, there's we the people in the US Constitution, you know, we can do something about this. Now, if we don't show that we can, we don't get out and vote in November, then yes, absolutely. I, you know, I really do think that there's a major problem here. And I think, you know, I don't blame, you know, African Americans for appealing to a higher power in terms of United Nations. You know, actually, in the United Kingdom, not so long ago, there was a United Nations report on entrenched poverty. I grew up very poor in the north of England. And it was like being a refugee in your own country. And, you know, the government wasn't recognizing, you know, the fact that, you know, decades of neglect had led to, you know, intolerable levels of poverty. And after, you know, 10 years of austerity programs in the United Kingdom, a recent UN rapporteur's report shows that there was, you know, basically unacceptable levels of entrenched poverty, the kind of thing you should not expect in an OECD advanced country. The United States has the same. So we have to at least have the courage, and, you know, to recognize when we've done things wrong, and to try to fix them. And I do think that we have that ability, we have institutions. I mean, okay, they've been under assault over the last several years. But we also have an incredible experience and reputation, and practical evidence of philanthropy, and of societal groups stepping up, again, using the volunteer firefighter metaphor. I've been really heartened by taking part in discussions like this, just seeing how many organizations at the grassroots, at the state and local government level, are getting involved. So we can push change, you know, by organizing and mobilizing at the state and local government level, as long as we have a more permissive federal system that's not undermining us and, you know, trying to stop this from happening. So I think, again, getting back to the other question, we can really set an example here, but we have to have the moral courage to step up and be able to tackle it. And we do have serious issues with race, we have serious issues with climate change. We have serious issues with poverty, we're going to have to tackle all of those and all the other things that are on the agenda.

Kal Raustiala 23:25

Agreed. I think Bill Clinton was the one who often said, “There's nothing wrong with America that what's right with America can't fix.” And that kind of optimism is sort of what we need at this moment. So let me pivot back to Russia specifically, and the US Russia relationship and ask you about the balance... So going back to the Cold War, that you and I and probably any other viewers and listeners experienced personally, but now seems like ancient history. But at that time, we had a, you know, a constant struggle between deterrence on the one hand and detente on the other and we would sort of pivot back and forth at various times. I'm curious, what you see is the right balance today, between deterrence and detente with regard to Russia. So what should... you could answer it with regard to the US or the West generally... how should we strike that balance?

Fiona Hill 24:19

Well, first of all, we need to ask ourselves, do we really want to be in what could become a destructive confrontation with Russia from here to eternity? And, you know, harkening back to the Cold War, in the 1980s, you know, I started studying Russian against the backdrop of the War Scare, when, you know, this was the whole period of Star Wars and Ronald Reagan's ascent to the presidency and, sort of, California. And the, the, you know, so called euro missile crisis or the SS 20 Pershing missile crisis, when the United States was wanting to station intermediate nuclear missiles in the United Kingdom and you know, the European countries, and then the Soviet Union was, you know, doing the same in Eastern Europe. And, you know, we now know because all these documents have been declassified, that those of us who were growing up in that era weren't completely nuts to be practicing our duck and cover under our school desks and, you know, worry, where we'd be when the nuclear siren went off, because we were on the brink of a confrontation. The Soviets were looking, you know, kind of, for every sign of a first strike, they believed we were going to strike them. There was a whole series of military maneuvers that were going on. Now, fortunately, Reagan was able to engage Mikhail Gorbachev when he came along, you know, in the mid 1980s, into a whole series of arms control discussions that led to the INF Treaty, and, you know, kind of the end, ultimately, of the Cold War. But, you know, this kind of really leads to a question about where we are now, because those mechanisms and treaties that have held that relationship together and have managed it have become out of sync. We saw, you know, what Russia was trying to do in 2016, in trying to interfere in our elections. The Russians persist in seeing us as a threat, we won't get away from that, because they look at any capability and capacity to hurt them, and threaten them in some way, including through cyber attacks, not just nuclear attacks. And they want to minimize and eliminate, if possible, that threat. We all know that in life, it's impossible to eliminate threats, there'll always be that threat perception. So we need to, you know, be realistic. We know that, you know, Russia doesn't see us as a friend and still sees us as a geopolitical competitor, and at times sees us as a major threat, and will try to push back against us. So we need to have deterrence. We need to have a tough response to when you know, Russia does something like interfere in our elections, or poison people, which there seems to do on a propensity of these kind of brazen assassination attempts, including in small English towns and things that may or may not have been done here in the United States. But we also need to see if we can get back to that atmosphere that, you know, you're referring to, towards the end of the Cold War of detente, when it was really kind of managed stability. We professionalized and stabilized the relationship. And we managed to head off the most destructive aspects of confrontation. So you know, it's not really realistic to think that, you know, like, in the 90s, when the Cold War ended, we're all going to be great friends, and we're all going to be part of the same, you know, strategic partnerships. But we need to try to see if we can stabilize, we need to start with pushing back on what the Russians have done of late, these new techniques or old techniques of propaganda mixed with cyber techniques that they've used to attack us in 2016 and other actions, but then we have to try to find ways of sitting down with them on arms control, and finding other mechanisms to stabilize a relationship. So we can get back to at least an atmosphere of mutual restraint, where we're not at each other all the time. And then we can focus on some of the things like pandemics or fires. I mean, Siberia has been burning as well. And you might remember there was a point when the Russians offered to send, you know, there's a long history in California, of some firefighting equipment and planes over from Russia. And you know, we kind of busted that offers, you know, not being particularly practical. But if we could get into a mode where we could help each other out in extremis, that would be an achievement. So pandemics, climate change are issues that we need to tackle together, we need to find a way of prizing up in a small door where we can cooperate on existential threats to both of us.

Kal Raustiala 28:32

It makes me think of in the 70s, when the Helsinki Accords and talks were taking place that was part of the impetus was to find things, I mean, maybe not existential crises, but find things that we could cooperate on, so that we can build cooperation for other things. I'm just saying, you mentioned in passing, which, of course, I completely agree with that the 90s were a different time vis-a-vis the US and Russia and you said well, we can't recapture that. So why not? What would you identify as the chief reasons why we had a moment of closeness, or at least some degree of it was a different thing, after the end of the Cold War between Russia and the West. and that's gone... Is it because of the expansion of NATO? What are the reasons that you think it's never coming back?

Fiona Hill 29:17

I think it was kind of there was a sense of sort of euphoria that led to misplaced expectations of what was possible. You know, I think that, you know, certainly, I was working on this at the time on the Soviet side, and the Gorbachev, I mean, there was an effort to kind of bring the Soviet Union into, you know, Western mechanisms. And, you know, kind of Gorbachev and others were pretty convinced that Western leaders at the time had promised there'd be no expansion of NATO that, you know, Russia, the Soviet Union would be an equal partner. And when they meant equal, they thought equal to the United States, having a special relationship and you know, the Soviet Union wouldn't end up being locked out like France or Germany or the UK or Poland or anything like this, that there would be kind of special provisions for the Soviet Union. And even To the club's, the Soviet Union with Russia, a successor state for a couple of years, it was a sort of feeling that, you know, Russia would be, you know, treated as sort of as a special partner in NATO, the NATO Russia council would mean that Russia would have a veto, it would be like in the United Nations when, you know, Russia was part of the big boys club. And, you know, we didn't see that we just thought all Russia would just be one of the many. And so immediately, you know, we kind of lost, you know, that sort of feeling of possibility. And then we ended up in recrimination resentment. So I think, you know, we got...

Kal Raustiala 30:35

Was that a mistake on the part of the West?

Fiona Hill 30:36

Well, I think that I think it was misplaced expectations on both sides. And then we didn't really know how to talk to each other quite well, we didn't have the structures, there was a lot of assumptions made on both sides that, you know, proved to be... We had a lot of hubris, you know, we thought we'd won the Cold War, when really, you know, kind of basically, the Soviet Union fell apart because of its own internal contradictions. It wasn't just because of overextension, you know, in arms control. But we, you know, we told ourselves in our say that what happened, and they had a kind of a narrative about what happened, which, you know, frankly, is very similar to some of our own domestic narratives. The Soviet collapse was that like the Confederacy after the Civil War, the, you know, Soviet collapse. People think it was a lost cause, or things could have been differently, and that they were being mistreated. Some of the, you know, similar problems that we have in US politics today, and the politics of grievance emerged. And we didn't address that head on. And, you know, a lot of projections were made that were false. But, you know, we weren't, I think we're all so preoccupied with our own issues and our own interpretations of what had happened, we wanted the peace dividend, you know, we thought that we were, you know, kind of, you know, the masters of a new universe, the, you know, the end of history, remember all of the things that were written at that point. And we didn't really perceive that actually, we probably needed to do some rethinking and start from scratch, not thinking that all of our systems would prevail. So I think, you know,by now, we've got a reckoning, you know, 30 years on. It's not just, you know, where we are with Russia, but where we are ourselves, because there's a lot of problems within the United States that we just glossed over. And, you know, we fail to deal with. I mean, race, is an issue that has plagued us for decades, you know, because after reconstruction, when that failed, and the Voter Rights Act, and you know, after all of, you know, the civil rights movements, you know, kind of run out of steam, we just pat ourselves on the back and think you know, that was all fine, and it really wasn't. So, I mean, this was really what this, the Russians were telling us, you need perestroika as well. But we just, you know, kind of brushed that off.

Kal Raustiala 32:45

And you're a Putin expert, you've written a book about Putin, and you know about Putin at many levels, you studied him for a long time. In light of the history that you just recounted, you know, one of the things that people often point to about Putin is that, you know, he witnessed this collapse and maybe defeat depending on how you want to characterize it of the Soviet Union, and, you know, wants to bring back and maybe arguably has brought back some of Russia's power/swagger/status. And so I'm curious, and I know you wrote recently, I think it was in Politico with several others, you talked about, kind of the US Russia relationship. And I know, you've noted that Putin has... in some ways we can understand him in traditional Russian nationalist terms, that he's coming from a strategic stance that is rooted in sort of some traditional things. And it made me think about Kennan writing early on in the cold war and in the long telegram and sources of Soviet conduct. And Kennan spoke about the ways that we could understand the Soviet Union, also, in some traditional ways. And so I'm just curious, is there sort of a through line that Russia has constantly exhibited, even with different forms of government and different leaders? Is there a lot of commonality or do we see something really different today in the way Russia behaves?

Fiona Hill 34:07

No, there is a lot of commonality among Kennan's Long Telegram is just as fresh, you know, now as it was back in the 1940s. And it's really a remarkable document. But, you know, it really reflects that remarkable continuity in many respects. I mean, Russia, is one of the world's oldest states. Even as an empire, it has survived when others have long gone. And the Russian Federation today is still the largest country in landmass in the world. And it still consists of regions that were kind of acquired during Imperial expansion. That kind of dates back centuries. So this is kind of a remarkable country. And, you know, again, you know, Russia had outposts in California, Fort Ross, and you know, all the way down California different points.We're only an Arctic power because Russia sold us Alaska, you know. We have to remember the vast influence that Russia had at different points, and that is kind of also rooted in a mentality of being this big geographical fact of life as well as as a major player in multiple regions, that shapes a lot of Russia's mindsets. Now, where Russia is different now than it was before is it's really its level of integration with the rest of the world, notwithstanding the fact that, you know, the Russia outposts. And you know, the earlier times in California and Alaska wasn't that Russia was kind of out there on the international stage in a way that it is today or it's people weren't, you know, you had Russian emigres, but they tended to not kind of maintain their links with the old country. I mean, America also has a very large Russian diaspora, but you just don't really think about it. Because unlike the Armenian diaspora, we're talking about there's not a kind of communal bond, it's different waves of emigration that come out of the Russian Empire, and obviously, peoples of different ethnicities and in a different cultures, because it's, again, it's a multicultural Empire. But what we do see now is much more, you know, kind of Russians, Russian students, Russian business people, Russian money, not just Russian operatives, you know, running around all over the place, Russian culture, not just a high culture. But Hollywood's you know, has had a lot of Russian directors coming over. One of my particular favorites was Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer made by a Russian director who hailed from Central Asia. You know, again, a totally interesting phenomenon that we've not really had before. So this actually does raise questions for the future, lots of continuity, like all countries have. But will that factor of kind of gradual engagement, since the end of the Cold War really lead to something over the longer term? We can't think that Vladamir Putin is forever, some, you know, kind of cultural patterns are very persistent, geopolitical outlooks tend to persist. But there is also, I think, a lot of opportunity for Russia to be over time, a different country. And we shouldn't write off the possibility that at some point in the future, we could have the kind of relationship with Russia, that, you know, I personally Wish you know, we've had all along. It doesn't have to be like this.

Kal Raustiala 37:14

Great, great. I think that's a terrific point to pivot to the many questions that have come in through the q&a feature. And for those of you listening and watching, please continue to send in questions, but I'll be honest, there's quite a few and there's some good ones. So let me let me start off with those if that's okay. So first one is related to some current events. So the question is, what role and interests does Russia have related to yesterday's development in Kyrgyzstan, vote rigging, storming of the Parliament, invalidation of election results, etc. Do you care to comment on that?

Fiona Hill 37:49

Well, I mean, Russia probably had nothing to do with anything that was going on in the Kyrgyz parliamentary elections. And I think we should kind of remind people unfortunately for several decades now, Kyrgyzstan has repeatedly had contested elections, presidential and parliamentary and also some horrible you know, basically, interethnic riots and pogroms in Osh in Kyrgyzstan, between I think Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. Kyrgyzstan was particularly hard hit by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the country was, you know, left as one of the poorest of those that emerged out of the Soviet Union. It's had a really hard time finding its political center, because Krygyz did not have a history of independent statehood previously. They were parts of those nomadic peoples with a few, you know, settled populations that were just incorporated into this inexorable expansion of the Russian Empire at various points. So, you know, what's happening in Kyrgyzstan has happened before. I was there at a time when there were previous upheavals like this. The question is really, you know, should the Russians say anything about it? Because, you know, now we've got a similar contested election going on in Belarus, which is much more pertinent to what's happening in Russia, because in that case, it wasn't just the manipulation of a parliamentary election. It's in an effort by President Lukashenko of Belarus, who's already been in power for about 26 years to stay in power even longer. And that's what Putin has been trying to do with Amendments of the Constitution: potentially stay in power till 2036. You know, by which time he would have been president for 36 years and the longest, you know, serving Russian president, you know, exceeding Stalin and, you know, some of the czars and, you know, I mean that that kind of development in Belarus, where you get a grassroots protest against Lukashenko staying and staying and staying and staying some more, you know, has caused some real heartburn in Moscow. So there'll be a lot of concern about what's happening in Kyrgyzstan, and questions about who steps into all of that. And again, we the United States, kind of missing in action, because we would have, you know, probably stepped in there. In previous disputes over elections in Kyrgyzstan, the United States, along with Russia, Uzbekistan and some other regional players actually helped to affect an interim government. You know, I just. And with Nagorno Karabakh raging, where we started off, there just seems to be a little bit too much on the agenda here. And, you know, the kind of question is who would step in and who would, you know, assist. The European Union, you know, might play a role, they've had special envoys there before. The normal play would be Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE, is also a potential. But that organization, we've also tended not pay much attention to it. Although we have a reasonably good ambassador, who's a former governor of a US state. But the Russians have defunded the OSCE that was set up to help with things like this. And we've had a kind of a crisis about all of the senior officials as we've got kind of interim leaders. So we've kind of challenged institutions as well. So unfortunately, you know, we're seeing that the absence of US leadership, not necessarily US military intervention, but the absence of consistent coherent US leadership is contributing to all kinds of problems internationally. And Kyrgyzstan is part of that picture.

Kal Raustiala 41:24

Great. Okay, so next question. Has the combination of Brexit and US partisanship made it more difficult for NATO's influence and example setting? So maybe relevant to what you just said? But more generally, how do those two fit together?

Fiona Hill 41:41

Absolutely. I mean, it just means that we're so preoccupied with our own affairs that we can't project ourselves, I mean, just exactly as I was talking about before. I mean, Brexit has, you know, since 2016, dragged the United Kingdom down and down and down to further spirals, you know, kind of as Boris Johnson was, you know, recently elected as prime minister, or as the conservatives were elected into office, and he was Prime Minister with the idea of getting Brexit done. And nobody knows what that means. And it's just similarly here in the United States that we no longer know what our party's own fighting is about. And, you know, in polls, we see that the majority of Americans still think we have a lot more in common than all these disputes over individual issues. So we tend to focus in on tactical issues.The Supreme Court Justice, obviously, is a pretty major issue, but it's still a tactical dispute. And it also masks, you know, the fact that Americans still, you know, see a lot in common, still believe in the future of the United States.And Britain too, you know, people have become divided of this old issue of Brexit, because nobody, you know, kind of knows what it's about, and have lost sight of, you know, what it is that also kind of brings Britain together. So we need to address that before we can really move on and get our institutions like NATO back up and running again. I think both the UK and the United States will have to recommit to NATO in the future. We'll have to think about how NATO operates in a world that's no longer the Cold War, which, you know, we haven't really, you know, tackled in a meaningful way. We've upgraded in our thinking about it from here to there, but not sat down in a, you know, serious fashion and looked at all the individual elements that, you know, we have to deal with. How do you deal with the pandemic, you know, from a NATO perspective? What about, you know, the rise of China, immigration and migration and all the refugee flows, you know, through the Mediterranean have been a vexing problem, because it's not really a NATO area. So, you know, how does NATO you know, doesn't have to do it wholesale, but how did they come up with solutions for some of these, you know, kind of near term current problems? Climate change, for example, is one of the security risks from that.

Kal Raustiala 43:49

Great. So, next question relates to Putin. What can you tell us, in addition to your congressional testimony about Trump's “intense attachment to Putin”? How would you explain that?

Fiona Hill 44:03

Well, look, I think that, you know, Putin has become an iconic figure. Putin spends a an awful lot of time at image cultivation. He's the ultimate strongman. You know, I mean, we don't really have a lot of other (probably thankfully) world leaders, you know, kind of running around on horseback or doing the butterfly across some Siberian, you know, rivers. I mean, he's got the ultimate, or has had the ultimate macho image. It's a very macho image. Now of late, Putin has been very interestingly, out of the picture beyond the television screens because he's being very careful to avoid catching COVID. And, you know, he has not been out and about, since he had a very unfortunate near brush with the possibility of infection when he visited a major hospital very early on in the pandemic. Shook the hand of the doctor before donning a hazmat suit and the doctor later tested positive. Since then Putin has kind of retreated. And I saw seen in charge, you know, zoom calls like we are now, but it's a bit difficult to project that. But the overall image of Putin, I think, is what is the fascination. I mean, we've seen our own president, you know, kind of showing right now that he's not going to be defeated by COVID. Putin's not going to catch it in the first instance. And he's kind of showing a different kind of message, though. And he's been very focused on the science and, you know, kind of delegating authority and everything. But it's that image of the strong man, the macho leader, and, frankly, the biggest figure, along with President Xi on the world stage that I think has been part of that attraction. It's not, it's not about Russia, per se. It's about the image of Putin.

Kal Raustiala 45:52

Interesting. Yeah. It is fascinating that Putin has taken such a kind of rational approach to COVID. And, and it does, I mean, you know, so much more than I do. But it does seem like, certainly, based on what you just said, and everything I've read, he's actually handled it, taking it seriously. And if there was one thing I wish Trump would learn from him, it would be that. But unfortunately, Trump seems to have taken all the other lessons are not that one.

Fiona Hill 46:13

There's a lot of other things that Putin does, by the way, is that he doesn't play on divisions within the country, because he knows that that's what brought down the Soviet Union. So he may go off after in a really brazen and horrible fashion someone like Alexei Navalny, because you know, Alexei Navalny is dangerous, and to him as a kind of a threat, because he actually also appears a Russian nationalist verse, but he's also not emblematic of all the different groups that Putin needs to have a support. So what Putin does in this carefully crafted and very choreographed image of himself is he also appeals to all kinds of different constituencies, in Russia, you know. Yes, he's seen with bikers, and you know, kind of what we would see as kind of right wing quasi white supremacists, but he's also seen with rabbis, and muftis in their heads of the Muslim community, he reaches out to them, he has an incredibly diverse group of people, you know, in his entourages and backgrounds. He pays great respect to different constituencies, both ethnic and religious, inside of Russia, and he tries to head off any kind of prospect of interest in ethnic violence, because he knows how dangerous it is and how much you could rip the country apart. So Putin's actually very rational. When he appears irrational and he does the, you know, kind of wild man, you know, dangerous threat Brexit, Richard Nixon be careful I've got my finger on the button routine that is calculated, it's deliberate.

Kal Raustiala 47:42

Great, fantastic. So there are many, many questions about the... I'll just pick one because it kind of gets to the core, which is how do you view the American Russia, and Chinese triangle? And so all of the questions that address this in one way or another kind of asked some version of how did these three mega powers fit together? What should the US be doing vis-a-vis China, vis-a-vis Russia. Should we you know, we, this is not a new triangle. This goes back for decades. But it has a different valence today, given how powerful China really is, economically, obviously, politically, diplomatically you can take that any any direction you like.

Fiona Hill 48:27

Well, it also has a different balance, because the nature of the Russian Chinese relationship, which I think is you know, where you are heading, you know, with this as well. because if we think during the Cold War, you know, the Soviet Union and China weren't all that close. And in fact, they'd come to blows over the demarcation of their border, out in the Russian Far East, in the 60s and 70s. And there was a lot of tension in the Gorbachev period, because Gorbachev was pushing forward with perestroika, at a time when China was obviously grappling with Tiananmen Square and similar upwellings of popular pressures. And you might remember, you know, Gorbachev made a visit to China, you know, around that same time, and the Chinese were making it very clear that they didn't want anything to do with perestroika and that they were going to clamp down, which is, of course, what we saw. And the Chinese, of course, felt very much vindicated when you have the collapse of the Soviet Union, and they kept it together. Now, you know, today, Putin has been very careful in the cultivation of his relationship with China. I mean, it started off with Boris Yeltsin being quite nervous, about, you know, weak Russia in the 1990s. And so having these open wounds of border disputes with China, Central Asian countries in the same place, like Kazakhstan have these enormous borders with China. And so there was a move to quickly resolve all of the border disputes, and then to try to create a kind of strategic friendship partnership-like arrangement, you know, very loose and not well defined with China to try to stabilize that. Now Russia has really spent a lot of time on China and trying to improve that relationship as we've seen the rise of China economically. But there's a great deal of anxiety in the background. And I'm sure even more so when we saw clashes between China and India on their disputed border in the Himalayas, that, you know, Oh, hang on. What if you know, later on China decides to go back to this area in the Russian Far East, that was once China's, you know, back into the 19th century, and didn't really want this again? You know, we've we've resolved all of this, but the Russians themselves with Crimea, and so that was resolved with Ukraine, and then certain circumstances change and they'd likeCrimea back, you know. So it's not beyond the realm of possibility that something similar could happen down the line if China feels powerful and suspects, you know, Russia of weakness and of inattentiveness in the Russian Far East. So you see Russia really trying to get closer to China. And we've contributed towards that, because of sanctions and, you know, all of our responses to what Russia did in 2016 and before that, and the annexation of Crimea, all the stuff that they've done in Ukraine, you know, and really this downward spiral in our relationship. And of course, we've, you know, been confronting China, and the territorial disputes in the Indo-Pacific region, and also China with its predatory economic practices, and when we've taken out steps against both with sanctions, it's kind of pulled them together. I don't think China sees you know, Russia as a long term, you know, massive, you know, global strategic partner, but I think that they also really greatly benefit from that relationship between the UN, you know, kind of, it's kind of like a two guys blocking together, you know, US efforts, pushing back on, you know, kind of all the kinds of things the US wants to do in, you know, various regions where they've got kind of shared interests. But they're also, you know, brushing up against each other in uncomfortable ways everywhere from the Antarctic, to the Arctic, to Africa. And, you know, it's not always that easy. And the Chinese definitely see Russia as subservient in some regards. And I say that deliberately as a kind of a second player, a little brother, which is not how the Soviet Union saw itself with China back in the past. So um, you know, it's difficult now, it's kind of a strange triangle. We're on the outs with both China and Russia, you know, they're kind of playing with each other. And, you know, Russia at one point was trying to play at the seams between the United States and China and offer to be a bridge. They've done that with the Japanese and the Koreans as well, at times South Korean. “Oh you know, we can help you with your difficult relationship with China.” But, you know, if you're throwing in your lots with China, you know, then the kind of question is, how far will Russia go? Would Russia back China on Taiwan, for example? Would Russia back China up if it took more aggressive actions, you know, against Japan in a dispute or South Korea? And that's not entirely clear. It's easy when they've got us to play off against. But when it comes to sort of third party issues, you know, it's not clear at all how that might play out. But I think we have to be mindful of how it's changed. And how we also have to tread very carefully, and thinking about how we manage that relationship, including nuclear weapons where, you know, we want to have an arms control agreement for the future that brings in China, but it's going to be very hard to sequence that. And Russia doesn't want to look like it's pitted against China, in the Asia Pacific region, where China's intermediate nuclear weapons are as much of a threat to Russia as they are to the United States.

Kal Raustiala 53:32

Great, great. So several questions about the election. We touched on that briefly in our discussion before. And you know, I guess I would distill some of this down as what's the difference in 2020 versus what we saw in 2016? What kinds of interference do you think is happening now from Russia or do you anticipate in the coming weeks?

Fiona Hill 53:59

Well, we're seeing, you know, some of the same stuff that we did before. If you look at reports from Facebook, and others of Twitter, and, you know, the kind of use of fake personas. There's been reports of fake media outlets, in a duping American journalists who were in a stringers who were looking for, you know, a kind of a medium to work with into writing for them. Some of the ransomware attacks, I mean, obviously, there's concern that that might be you know, the Russians. We've done a lot since 2016, to tell people that strengthen our critical infrastructure. All of us are more aware now of phishing attempts and hacking and the need for three factor identification, authentication, and being very careful about you know, when you click on your mother's puppy video that she sent might not be a mother. You know, kind of, we all have to I think, you know, realize we play a part in this I think everybody has since 2016. Facebook, Twitter and others have done quite a lot now to self regulate and set up task forces to figure out what's happening. I think they could do a lot more. But the biggest problem remains our own polarization. And our own domestic actors talking down our system and spreading their own disinformation. So that is something that, you know, we have to tackle ourselves. And that's kind of, you know, part of the problem in going into 2020. In the postal office, the Postal Service and, you know, our own government defunding it, you know, these are threats, but they're coming from domestic actors.

Kal Raustiala 55:30

And do you view those domestic threats, like, let's say, the post office itself, the problems it's faced, as larger than the ones we see emanating from abroad, whether from Russia or elsewhere?

Fiona Hill 55:41

We have to remember that most of these influence operations take what's already there, you know... they can't work if we don't have problems, because they use our problems against us. It's kind of like leveraging our own vulnerabilities and weaknesses. So the countries that fare best, you know, albeit small countries, you know, countries like Finland, that, you know, their eyes are wide open. And this is a, you know, a country with a pretty tight, social compact, and contract, you know, that their institutions are pretty strong. You know, the Australians are under attack from the Chinese, and they kind of pulled together to push this back and had a national debate about it. You know, they were experiencing the same kind of things that we have with Russia, from China, and how to tackle it. You know, it's a smaller population, but a big country, and, you know, they face many of the same problems. You know, there are other countries in Europe that have, you know, tried to tackle this. So, we have to better get our own act together, recognize that many of the vulnerabilities of our own...making dirty money, you know, that kind of corruption. We have to self regulate, we have to put into practice our own anti money laundering laws, because, you know, the Russians take advantage of cutouts where they can, you know, pay proxies to do various things as well, to clean up our act, you know, get rid of corrupt politicians. There are a whole host of legislative efforts going through Congress at the moment that try to tackle this. I mean, some of our own states in the US are major international centers for money laundering. We could, you know, kind of be tackling that. It's not just the Seychelles and Cayman Islands that everybody thinks about, it's here in the US as well.

Kal Raustiala 57:24

Great. Okay, so I think we have time for one more question and I'll pose one that came in about Crimea. So is there a way… the question characterizes it as the Crimea impasse, is there a way to address that? Or what should the US be doing about Crimea?

Fiona Hill 57:42

Well, this is definitely an impasse. I mean, what we should be doing is not forgetting that it's there. You know, when we had the same situation with the Baltic states, or the way near Latvia and Estonia, after they were annexed, you know, during World War Two, and, you know, took all the way, you know, until the end of the Cold War for them to regain their independence. So, you know, it's not to say that there couldn't be a shift here. So, you know, we don't just ignore it and pretend it's not there. But it is definitively an impasse. Because just like with the Baltic states, you know, the Russians have incorporated Crimea into the Russian Federation, in a de facto sense. You know, they're kind of creating infrastructural realities on the ground, like the big, you know, bridge over the Kerch Strait also led to a standoff with the Ukrainians recently. And, you know, they're trying to kind of find more and more ways of knitting Crimea into Russia, and pulling it away from Ukraine. So we just have to be very cognizant of that fact.

Kal Raustiala 58:44

Great. Well, thank you so much, Fiona, for coming on and meeting and talking with all of us remotely from your undisclosed location somewhere in the DC are. We really appreciate it. We hope we can bring you back to UCLA at some point.

Fiona Hill 58:58

No, thanks so much. It's great to be there, it'd be nice to be there in person and thank you to everyone for having me. I really appreciate it.

Kal Raustiala 59:05

Absolutely. Take care. Thanks, everyone.

Fiona Hill 59:07

Okay Kal, bye.

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