ELIZABETH WOOD: All right-- I am mic'd-- 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--
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?
MICHAEL MCFAUL: Yeah.
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.
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.
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.
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.
MICHAEL MCFAUL: A motorcycle.
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?
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.
- [SPEAKING RUSSIAN]
MICHAEL MCFAUL: And then here, I just want you to get a feel for the way they talked about me and other--
- [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.
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 mics.
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.
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--
--five minutes for a lot of questions.
MICHAEL MCFAUL: I got it, I got it, OK
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 mics. Let's do quick--
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: 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.