Starr Forum: The Trump-Putin Phenomenon

ELIZABETH WOOD: I am professor of Russian history. I teach Russian history courses, and I direct Russian Studies Program in the MIT-Russia Program. My co-organizer is Carol Saivetz, who is a senior research associate at the Security Studies Program. And the real maker and shaker for this program is Michelle English, formerly Michelle Nhuch who got this all organized for the Starr Forum.

So welcome to the Trump-Putin Phenomenon with our amazing speakers, Julia Ioffe and Garry Kasparov. I'm going to make a couple of very quick announcements before we turn to our speakers, which is the most important thing. We've got a couple of interesting events coming up in CIS that were up on the screen before. We have a sign up sheet outside. If you want more Russia related events, or more international studies events, do sign up for our mailing lists.

Center for International Studies, the Security Studies Program, and the MIT-Russia Program are co-organizing this, and all three have very interesting speaker series. Quick announcement, on September 28, Irina Prokhorova, the editor in chief of the new literary observer, and a renowned cultural historian will be speaking on Russian society at the turning point, new strategies in the struggle for democratic values. That talk will be at 5:00 p.m. on September 28th in E40, 496.

On October 25, Vladimir Kara-Murza, a very famous Russian dissident, an opposition politician, who has been much suffering under the Russian regime, will be showing his film, Nemtsov, about Boris Nemtsov, who was not opposition politician initially, but eventually ended up being, of course, very critical of the regime. And who was murdered by whoever he was murdered by. That has not been solved. On October 25, we'll show the film of Nemtsov and Dr. Kara-Murza will be here to answer questions himself. Another exciting event.

And on November 13, Mikhail Zygar, who is a very well-known journalist, the founder of the independent TV station Dozhd. We'll talk about his new book The Empire Must Die, which is about the pre-revolutionary period. But I am certain he will talk about the current Russian events as well. So look forward to those events. We will have each of the speakers speak for 20 minutes, then we will have mics. We really insist that you keep your questions as questions, not comments. This is a wonderful audience. It's a big audience. Keep them to questions, OK?

Let me say quick words. Julia Ioffe was born in Russia but raised in the United States. She's covered national security and foreign policy issues for the Atlantic, The New Republic, The New Yorker, Foreign Policy, Columbia Journalism Review, Politico, Washington Post, and actually many others. She was a history major-- how many history majors do we have-- at Princeton. And she's been fearlessly taking on and analyzing a wide range of complicated and controversial issues.

Garry Kasparov almost needs no introduction, Russian chess grandmaster, former world chess champion, chairman of the Human Rights Foundation, writer, political activist. He's been involved in political parties, including founding several of them, Democratic Party of Russia in 1990, Russia's Choice in 1993, and in 2005, after he retired from chess, the United Civil Front, he's been very involved in, working to preserve electoral democracy in Russia.

In 2006, he and others, formed together to create a coalition called Other Russia, Drugaya Rossiya, another opposition coalition. And in 2008, he successfully tried to run for President of Russia, but of course, his candidacy was sidelined. His books, Winter Is Coming, and Deep Thinking, he will sign, and will be sold at the event, outside after this event.

So, without further ado, let me turn it over to Julie Ioffe, and let's give them a big welcome.



JULIA IOFFE: I'll go stand. I'll awkwardly like slide my chair around. All right. Thank you all for coming out. Thank you for having me. It's weird to be the first speaker, because I'm going to give you a slightly more-- probably an argument that you're not used to hearing. The American press, maybe not as much the American public, has been consumed with Russiagate, questions of collusion between the Russian government and the Trump administration, Russian cyber attacks, et cetera.

And it's reached such a fever pitch that I want to just cut through the noise a little bit, and talk to you about what actually happened, and didn't happen, and how we should look at this. So let's start with the report that came out on January 6, 2017 when the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a document-- it was a declassified report-- two weeks before Trump took the oath of office, and the conclusions that were pulled from the CIA, the NSA, the FBI were stunning.

I quote, "We assess that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US Presidential Election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability, and potential presidency. We further assess that Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments," end quote.

In case it's not clear, this is an extraordinary series of statements. First of all, they're saying that a foreign power, a longtime adversary, Russia, interfered in our elections, and not just that, they did so with the goal of helping one candidate over the other. And what's also remarkable about this is that the often fractious, territorial tribes inside the intelligence community were unanimous in these conclusions, and reached them with high confidence.

And when the report came out it confirmed what a lot of us journalists and a lot people in the Democratic Party had been suspecting, and sometimes screaming about for at least six months. All those Twitter bots, and false news reports floating around Facebook, the hack of the Democratic National Committee in the spring of 2016, WikiLeaks' perfectly timed email dumps, now it was clear that it was all part of a coordinated covert influence operation run by America's greatest adversary, Vladimir Putin.

They were not wrong. The Russian government did do all those things. But the DNI report raised as many questions as it answered. How did the Russians get so good so fast? Did they have help from people inside the Trump campaign, or in the Republican Party? Were the Russian actions actually enough to change the outcome of the 2016 election? Did they in fact elect our president? And how did the intelligence agencies know what they know?

And so the great Washington scandal machine cranked up in earnest. Committees, hearings, special prosecutors, leaks, searing hot breaking news, and an endless parade of talking heads on our television screens opining about Trump, and Putin, and Hillary Clinton, and a cast of obscure Russian characters. If you're having a hard time keeping up, or seeing straight you're not alone. In fact, I am too. In fact, I wonder often if this is what 2002 felt like when Washington was abuzz with news about Saddam Hussein, and weapons of mass destruction, and Iraq, and potential invasion.

Because after a decade and a half of studying Russia, after a decade of living there and going back there for reporting trips, the narrative that I'm seeing in the American media just does not square with what I know, and it does not square with my instincts. The narrative we are now presented with goes something like this.

Vladimir Putin, a cunning villain, and strategic mastermind, driven by a personal hatred of Hillary Clinton, decided to defeat her in the 2016 presidential election, and to elect his friend and vassal, Donald J Trump.


Trump that is his vassal, because Putin has kompromat on Trump-- this is a trendy new word now, kompromat-- and you know, anything from girls in a Moscow hotel room, business loans, some kind of tape. So the narrative goes, Trump owes Putin big, which is why he's so damn nice to Putin. Can't say that word about him. Praises him whenever he gets the chance. And what about all those Slavic wives he's collected over the years? Coincidence? I don't--

Anyway, so Putin, who is detail-oriented, and excels at complex long term strategic planning, lined all this up, and maybe even convinced Trump to run against that old horrible hag. Then Putin, in close coordination with Trump, his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his son, Donald Trump Jr., carefully orchestrated a well-organized, and finely tuned disinformation, and cyber warfare campaign to elect Trump so that he could lift sanctions.

It's a very simplistic, black and white narrative, and it just does not square with what I know of Russia, or with my reporting. So if you've noticed, most of this narrative is driven by journalists and pundits, present company excluded, who have little knowledge of Russia, and how it works. As a result, the picture we get is garbled by misinterpretation. For example, earlier this week, Axios, a Washington media company, put out a report that a Russian political figure, and pro-Putin hock, Vyacheslav Nikonov, went on TV, and admitted that Russia elected Trump, which is how historically covert influence campaigns are revealed on TV.

Then there was the matter a couple of weeks ago, when the New York Times and the Washington Post broke a series of stories saying that Donald Trump and his men on the ground in Moscow, including his personal lawyer and Michael Cohen, were negotiating a real estate deal, or trying to negotiate a real estate deal in Moscow in the fall of 2015. And Michael Cohen wasn't getting anywhere-- the Trump Organization wasn't getting anywhere-- so what he did was he e-mailed Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman, and asked for help on this real estate deal.

And people in Washington went absolutely insane. And they said, this is the most high level contact between the Trump Organization and the Kremlin. This is proof positive. We just blew the roof off the White House. To any of us who have been in Moscow, this is absurd. This would be like emailing Sarah Huckabee Sanders when you're trying to get to Ivanka. Moreover, Michael Cohen e-mailed Peskov at, essentially, He found the email on the website.

Characterizing him as Putin's right-hand man, as some kind of high level contact, it's just-- it's madness. Anyway. Much of the story is also not coming out of Moscow, if you notice, that ship does not leak. And foreign correspondents there are sick and tired of the story, would rather get onto what they think are more interesting things. So everything's coming from here. The leaks from the various congressional committees, from certain family members' lawyers, from our security services, and there's nothing to balance out the picture from the Russian side.

So today I want to adjust the narrative a little bit, and ditch the black and white color scheme, and get into the shades of gray a little bit. I'm not going to make that joke. So, let's start with what Putin wanted to accomplish. Personally, I think that he wanted to bloody Hillary Clinton's nose. So, Putin is a former KGB guy, and like all former KGB guys, and current FSB guys, they are all conspiracy theorists par excellence.

They really believed that the establishment had it tied up-- sewn up for Hillary Clinton, that her victory was guaranteed, much like his victory is guaranteed at home. And so, he was just going to bloody her nose a little bit. He did not expect Donald Trump to win. And it certainly made America look foolish. It made the democracy look less than democratic, especially when you get the leaks of the DNC e-mails about Bernie Sanders, et cetera.

And in part, that's for domestic consumption, because ever since the end of the Cold-- or the end of the Cold War of the 90s, when people in the Soviet Union and in the Soviet orbit, in Eastern Europe, were looking West, they wanted to be like the West. They wanted jeans. They wanted cars. They wanted McDonald's. They wanted Michael Jackson. And they wanted democracy, but it turned out democracy was really hard.

If you make it look impossible, unattainable, dirty, that it's not really democratic. That there's corruption everywhere. And if everybody's the same, and everyone's equally bad, then why don't you play for your own team? Don't look toward the West. Look toward the Kremlin. Let's talk about what Russia actually did. They conducted a successful wide ranging multi-pronged covert influence campaign that included disinformation, cyber attacks, and well-timed leaks.

But what's important to remember, and everybody who saw the intelligence in real time and afterwards, will tell you that this was a campaign that was highly opportunistic and improvised. It was, as one former Obama advisor told me, throwing spaghetti at the wall. They improvised as they went along. They didn't have this all written out ahead of time. And that gets to this idea that Putin is as grandmaster of strategy, that he's in any way a strategic thinker. Putin knows where he wants to go. He has the 30,000 foot idea, which is basically make Russia great again, and--


Make America respect Russia, which he usually does by just demanding that we respect Russia. And then he has the first couple of steps planned out. Everything in between, kind of figures it out as he goes along. That makes him really good at outmaneuvering the US. It makes him really deft, and the flexibility gives him power, but it also means that he's not very good at anticipating the consequences of those steps, and blowback.

So, for example, as I told you, the Russians believed that Clinton would get elected. And even then it's, OK you bloodied Hillary Clinton's nose. You believe she's going to become president. You didn't hide your tracks very well. And you kind of didn't hide your tracks on purpose. You wanted the Americans to know that you were able to do this, right? What the hell do you think is going to happen when Hillary Clinton becomes president? There's going to be hell to pay, right? OK, they lucked out. She didn't become president.

Russians were super happy. They're popping champagne all over Moscow. They're having inauguration watching parties right by the Kremlin. But then Trump can't lift sanctions. He can't give you back your spying compounds. He can't restore your diplomatic staff that Obama cut and took away in December 2016. And now the narrative in Russia is, his hands are tied. His hands are tied by this vehemently anti-Russian foreign policy national security establishment.

The Russians right now are really unhappy with how this turned out. Just when you think about-- when you hear people talking about how amazing Putin is at just planning everything. They're so pissed right now.


Trump as a Manchurian Candidate-- I-- this makes me crazy. Putin did not create Trump. We all know this. Trump was created by America. Trump is a very American phenomenon. And the ideology that he presented to the American people in 2016, one of isolationism, xenophobia, racism, capitalism on steroids, it was not this kind of populism. It's as American as apple pie. He was tapping into political traditions that are at least 100 years old. And as one former NSA director told me, "Covert actions don't create divisions on the ground. Covert actions exploit them." Which is what happened here.

Just try to think of when you look at this whole crazy political conflagration that 2016 created, think of Russia as the bellows, rather than the logs, or the fire itself. They're the ones fanning the flames. I think what also bothers me about this narrative is it obscures our role in 2016. The Russians actually did not vote.

60 some million people cast their ballots for Donald Trump, despite a dozen women accusing him of sexual assault, despite the racist, misogynistic, Islamophobic, xenophobic comments he made, despite his racist white supremacist followers, and his failure to denounce them, despite being the progenitor of the birther controversy, despite his constant lying including about his success in business, despite not releasing his tax returns-- I'm not going to take up 20 minutes with this-- but the Russians didn't create that.

And the Russians didn't make millions of Americans, tens of millions of Americans say, yeah well, he's still better than her, despite all of that. And one thing the Russians certainly did not create is the racist backlash to the first African-American president. They didn't create the ginned up Benghazi scandal, or 30 years of negative coverage of Hillary Clinton. They didn't make Hillary Clinton have that stupid email server. They didn't make Comey open his mouth. They didn't create any of this.

And by focusing on Russia exclusively as an answer to what happened in 2016, we are not looking in the mirror, and asking how we're responsible for this, because mostly we're responsible for this. And we're also not talking about a system like the Electoral College, where 70,000 votes are more important than 3 million votes, and that actually makes us very vulnerable. It makes the system much easier to manipulate. If you can keep 300 people home in one part of Wisconsin, it doesn't matter-- right-- how many people come out and vote in the cities. That makes it, again, much more vulnerable. I also think that the way the media is reporting this is extremely harmful. Every new development is reported like it just blew the case wide open, and Trump is going to be gone in a matter of days, it's not going to happen. We're stuck with this guy for the next 3 and 1/2 years, and we have to deal with it. When we report on this so hysterically, people burn out. They stop paying attention. I mean, I can't really read the news anymore, and if I can't and I work in the news, I can't imagine how all of you guys feel.

And also it provides the Trump administration cover for-- like a noisy cover for doing some really harmful long lasting things, dismantling the EPA, packing the courts with radical, but very young judges, who will be with us for decades to come, rolling back regulations, changing DOJ sentencing guidelines, et cetera, et cetera. The other thing is, watch out for speculation in the press on Russiagate. There is a lot we don't know, and there's a lot of facts we don't have. There's a lot of theories. There's a lot of speculation, but there is a lot of things we don't know.

Here's some questions I'm personally asking, and trying to dig into. Was Trump a laundromat for dirty Russian money in New York? If so, how did that work? How much money went through his buildings? And are there corruption charges to be made? How did the Russian government, which used to barely understand the American political system, gets so good at micro-targeting? How did they know what to do with the trove of information they found when they stumbled into the DCCC servers? This is the Democratic Committee to elect Democrats to the House of Representatives.

How did they know which purple districts in Florida, for example, to target and to keep Democrats from flipping them to blue? Did they have help from the Trump campaign, somebody in the Republican Party, like a local political operative, or did they just do their homework? Did Trump obstruct the investigation? And the most important question, is did the Russians do such a good job that they changed the outcome of the election? That question ultimately is impossible to answer. Thank you.


GARRY KASPAROV: Good afternoon. Thank you very much for inviting me here. Elizabeth just mentioned two books that are available here, first is Winter Is Coming. It's not about Game of Thrones.


It's the subtitle, tells you everything. It's, Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped. That was released in 2015. And the last one this year release, Deep Thinking. It's quite ironic that while I was on the book tour promoting Winter Is Coming, everybody wanted to talk about IBM, Deep Blue, and artificial intelligence. Now earlier is the book on artificial intelligence, and I'm here at MIT to talk about Putin.


For many years, starting from 2005 to earlier, it's myself, my colleagues, including great Boris Nemtsov, we kept warning the world that Vladimir Putin was our problem, but eventually it would be everybody's problem. Just because we read some history books, and we knew how it worked with dictatorships-- they start with making friends, so increasing their power. And they end up, all of them, by creating enemies, because they need enemies to justify the endless stay in power.

And I remember that in May 2015, I was a guest on the Bill Maher show in LA. And I tried to raise the awareness about Putin's threat to this country, and to the free world. And Bill was very dismissive. He kept telling me that, ah it's none of our concern. And he ended up saying, wake me up when he takes over Poland. I was jumped from my chair saying, about 80 years ago the similar attitude led to the greatest disaster in human history.

Of course, after elections 2016, Bill has changed his views, blaming Putin for everything, including stealing elections. And I couldn't help but teasing him, putting on my Twitter that it seemed that Putin decided to skip over Poland, and went straight to Wisconsin.


I'm addicted to numbers, and just looked at some numbers, and found out that yesterday Vladimir Putin has passed Brezhnev's records, 6,602 days in power. By the way, of course, I counted the four years where his puppet was sitting in the chair, but it's quite amazing. So in the 21st century we have someone who is in power for 18 years, and is going to stay there indefinitely. So the bad news, we don't know how long he will stay.

The good news, he also doesn't know. And as I said he knows instinctively-- I don't think he's too smart, and he read many books, but instinctively as someone who is in power for so long, he knows that right now there's only one way for him to prove him being worthy of power. It's to demonstrate that Russia is a besieged fortress. And he's a white knight defending Mother Russia against all evil.

Russian television for years is filled with America bashing. My mother, she turned 80. So she was born under Stalin. She still lives in Moscow. And she heard and saw everything, all sorts of Soviet propaganda. And she keeps telling me that it was never so bad, and so depressing, because at least Soviet propaganda tried to sell you, fake vision, but still bright future. Somewhere in the distant future, the communist brotherhood will all be good to each other.

Putin's propaganda is different. It's more like cult of death.


It's all about hatred. It's all about wars. It's about conflict. And there's no bright future. He doesn't care about it. So that's why he needs enemies. And he's, by the way, quite good in creating them, because he knows it is important. And now I don't disagree with what I heard from Julia, because she's aiming at some of the stories that are being inflated by the press.

But I think it's important to look actually at certain facts or certain omissions on Russian TV. It's not just some Putin's cronies boasting that they elected Trump. But something just for you to chew on, is that while Russian TV is set 24/7-- is filled with anti-American propaganda. I never heard a single negative word about Donald Trump. Blaming deep state, CIA, NSA, you name it, not a single negative word about Donald Trump.

Maybe a coincidence, but just another one for us to understand that there were big expectations, maybe still some expectations. Though understand that Putin was quite disappointed, because the result of this election was not what he expected. I agree that I think Putin didn't have great expectations for Trump's victory. Probably they were looking for an argument against-- weaken Hillary Clinton administration. Blaming them for rigged elections.

And by the way, it's quite amazing when you follow Trump's campaign, you can always see the connection between what he said, and what was eventually invented by Kremlin boss, and Kremlin propaganda. So rigged elections was the sort of the biggest tag in the last couple of months. But he won, and then there were other opportunities that Putin wanted to exploit. I agree, Putin hasn't invented Trump. KGB doesn't invent their agents. They just look for them. They look for weak spots.

And if you look for KGB playbook, or just any playbook of intelligence service, what are the top priorities for looking for a potential weak spot? Women, gambling, money, I think this candidate fit all three.


Now again, I don't know whether it's true or not, all these reports and we'll definitely find out more. I think the Kremlin-gate will not go away. But again, it's important to actually see certain connections and obviously Trump was an ideal candidate that could be a counterpart in completing the grand bargain.

Which was Putin's dream, because he just realized that it's not enough just to control everything in Russia. It's not enough to just influence the so-called near abroad, neighboring countries. After his invasion of Ukraine, which I have to say I predicted after his invasion of the Republic of Georgia in 2008, not because I had a magic crystal in front of me, but because I looked at the map. Putin realized that he would need something-- some kind of bargaining chips to negotiate with the free world. So he went to Syria. That was a big hope that he could actually bring Americans down to the negotiating table, that could offset his actions in Ukraine. And of course, he's stepped up his attacks about democracies. He did it in the neighboring countries, and then he moved beyond the perimeter of the former Soviet Union. His interference in American election was not just an isolated accident. He has been trying to do it all over the place. You just look at almost every election, every referendum in Europe, and you can definitely find out that Putin had an interest, and he was not shy of trying to exercise his influence.

And yet, just a long streak of successes when you look at Brexit, and the referendum in Holland in 2016 about affiliation of European Union was Ukraine, elections in Bulgaria, in Moldova, referendum in Italy. So there's a pretty good record, and Putin realized that while Russia today is a pale shadow economically, militarily of the Soviet Union. He controls enough money, probably more than any other individual in the history of human race-- so to buy favors, and to run what they call hybrid wars to weaken the opponents.

He's pretty good in clandestine operations, because let's not forget he's not a military dictator. He's a KGB guy. And he plays his game. I actually agree with Julia's words about Putin not being a good chess player, because I'm sick and tired of hearing, oh Putin play chess, and Obama play checkers. I feel that I have to defend the integrity of my game.


And the reason, on a serious note, the reason why dictators don't play chess is quite simple, chess is the 100% transparent game. You can see all the resources that your opponent can use against you, though you don't know that his or her intentions, but it's open. Dictators hate transparency. They don't want to operate in this environment.

So that's why I always think that Putin like a poker player, because in poker, you can win having a weak hand. If you're ready to bluff, and raise the stakes, and if you're just a good reader of opponent's mind-- and let's give him credit, he's a good KGB agent-- and you know that opponent if you raise the stakes too high opponent will fold his or her cards.

So Putin keeps playing this political casino, and so far at a certain point, he thought that he was doing it quite well. And also, the chess analogy just doesn't work, because chances are just two to a game. And here we come to a very important point about the nature of Putin's dictatorship. It's not an ideological dictatorship. It's a one man dictatorship, which is the most unstable, and dangerous form of governance, because it depends of the image of one man. And then they possess the body image of one man.

When we look back to the Soviet Union, and Brezhnev, Khrushchev, and Gorbachev, it was collective leadership, like in China today. I'm not saying anything nice about this form of government, but if you have a bunch of Mafiosos sitting in one room, they try to negotiate. It's not good, but you can expect them to be balanced, because they always look for some kind of compromise. One man dictatorship, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, it's all about one man, and Putin knows that he must look strong. Let me emphasize, look strong.

And how he can look strong? Economy is crippled. The oil will never go back to $100 a barrel. So we will be running out of funds eventually, and he has to create some kind of environment where he can thrive. What is this? Chaos. And he's quite good in creating that. And he must defy the strongest opponents to look strong, himself. What is the strongest power in the world? The United States. So that's why defying US presidents, whether it was Obama, or just now Trump administration, it's a very important element of Putin's game.

And we just sometimes underestimate this is the PR game which Putin plays. And again, I have to give him credit for using this. And most of these things are for domestic consumption. You remember when Putin's all of a sudden decided to go to General Assembly of United Nations in New York in 2015? I remember that this was just a couple of days, or just a day after the announcement, I got a call from Wall Street Journal to ask me to write an editorial about Putin's visit. I said, OK fine, I can do tomorrow. Said, but no, no, no, but he's coming few days later. But I know the outcome, yes.

Why should I wait? It's not about Putin's speech. It's about the way he will present himself. And the most important moment-- that there was not him speaking at the assembly. He didn't care about it. It was a meeting with Obama, do you remember that? The moment when they met, and Obama tried to reach out, and Putin just took a few moments, just as some kind of hesitance and then he managed to shake his hand. I bet you he spent hours in front of the mirror practicing that, because it was very important-- a very important element of propaganda in Moscow.

What is shown to the ordinary Russians? United Nations in New York, Putin had no choice but to go to the belly of the beast to meet Obama, and he didn't want to shake his hand, but he did. Next day, Russia place bomb, American battle position Syria. That tells you everything. This is the story. Putin is very good in controlling this narrative. Maybe it's his team, it doesn't matter, but he understands the power of this presentation. That's how it works in Russia today. If you can follow Russian talk shows, they talk about everything. Actually it's probably opposite to America. Here we can hardly find news about the rest of the world. In Russia you can hardly find news about Russia.


It's about everything. It's about Ukraine, Baltic Group, [INAUDIBLE] states, Syria, America, not about Russia. Because there's nothing to say about it. And Putin keeps pushing this narratives. Now going back to Trump election is that I have been writing about Trump's danger from the very beginning of his campaign. I couldn't agree with Julia more that it's an American phenomenon. So again, Putin just utilized this opportunity that was given to him.

And I think now again when we look at all these stories-- so I think I was correct saying at one point that Trump inner circle had more Russian connections than Aeroflot.


But again, the good news is that Trump looks like an autocrat. He talks autocrat. He walks like autocrat. He wish being Vladimir Putin. But he cannot act like autocrat, Because unlike Russia, America's democracy is quite resilient. But what I found out here is that the many things that were taken for granted that just based on some sort of a code of honor. Because it never happened before so we assume it's not going to happen now. As the two terms of presidency, just follow the Washington's tradition. And after FDR they came up with an amendment.

So Trump actually capitalized on all these little cracks in the system. Everybody believes their taxes. So what? Show me the piece of paper. I'm not violating the law. That's, by the way, classical trick of every would be dictator. So they always look for an opportunity, just not to violate the law instantly, and always just try to capitalize just by building brick by brick their own rule that could eventually overturn the rule of law. Putin was good at that, and luckily Trump tried, but I think it failed. We'll, again, we'll find out more about his clandestine connections, and his inner circle being engaged with their counterparts in Russia.

But what's important is that we really could see that his power is limited. And I was quite pleased to see that US Congress limited his ability to interfere with foreign policy, especially in Russia, by passing the bill almost unanimously on Russian sanctions. I think I tweeted next day saying, it's not magnificent seven, saying that seven people just were against it, so three in the house two in the Senate, one in the White House, and one in Kremlin.


And regarding Putin, he will keep pushing, looking for these weak spots. And speaking about, by the way, the Russian word kompromat, that now just made its way to English language. Yes I thought I'd state-- we can look at the linguistic contribution of different Russian leaders into foreign languages, Khrushchev, Sputnik, Gorbachev, Perestroika, Putin, kompromat.


Yeah, and as I said, it's a mafia rule. That's why I always encourage people to read Mario Puzo's Godfather, because it tells you more about Putin's Russia than any other professional research. And Putin recognizes that as long as he looks strong, nobody will challenge him. Again, it's psychological. So even if we look back to Nazi Germany, the size of attempt on Hitler was made after D-Day, after the invasion, the opening of the second front, when the generals realized the war was over.

We haven't reached this point, and Putin is quite agile to make sure that he always creates new opportunities. I believe that the current crisis with North Korea is man-made crisis. Because I wouldn't believe for a second that a wretched country with no economy, and almost no signs, in less than two years could walk from very primitive nuclear technology to the H-bomb, and a missile that could reach the United States. Again, create more problems, create chaos, and Putin is pretty good. He always looks at the map for an opportunity.

And again, compromised or not, it's going back to Trump. In this case, I think we should assume the worst. It will be safer. You know just again-- of course, people say, you're Russian, you're full of conspiracy. Yes, I am. Yes.


As I said in my book, in Deep Thinking, yes I'm a sore loser. Yeah, just you better confess your sins. Just people used to trust you-- that is I understand my shortcomings, but in this case there's so much at stake that I would rather assume the worst. And again, there's so many elements in this picture that while I don't have any information outside of the public domain, where I could read it, and just collect it as you do, they're certain things that tell me that the story's just-- it's a long way down the bottom, to the bottom of the well, where we'll find the truth.

And for instance, let's take this infamous call of Michael Flynn to Russian Ambassador on December 29, after Obama announced his decision to seize properties and also to send off certified Russian spies disguised as diplomats. Typically, during the Cold War, the response of the other side was simple and straightforward, the same, mirror. And by the way, nobody would say anything, because that was a practice for decades. And Lavrov-- let's just follow this just almost by hour. Lavrov said Russia would do that.

Then all of a sudden, Vladimir Putin has overruled Lavrov, saying no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, why don't we do that. So let's invite the kids of these diplomats to Christmas tree party in the Kremlin.


So what's happened? Again, dictator cannot afford to look weak. That's a sign of weakness not to respond. And by the way, after recent events, I mean Russia just-- Putin was not shy to send off 750. OK, many of them were actually Russians working there, but he could reduce American diplomatic presence in Russia to bare bones. Again, the problem was not of reducing American presence there. I think the problem was that he got a call from Washington, Russian Ambassador, informing him about conversation with Michael Flynn.

Now, I don't know if Donald Trump knew about Michael Flynn calling Ambassador Kislyak. It doesn't matter. What is important is they trusted that Michael Flynn could speak on behalf of Donald Trump, promising that they would go back and just restore Russian diplomatic presence. And it could undermine their efforts to improve relations. So, it means to me, and there's only one explanation, they have been working with Michael Flynn. They trusted him. And they believed that Trump would follow Flynn's recommendations. There's no other explanation. Again, we were lucky. It was recorded, and it ended up with Flynn just being fired in disgrace.

And the grand bargain that has been-- I believe, that has been prepared-- I think Putin had dream of doing in Yalta. I imagine it's how it is to sell to Donald Trump. In Yalta, Putin will be like Stalin, you'll be like FDR, grand bargain, dividing the world. Who cares about all these, Estonia, Latvia, Bulgaria. We're here big guys, making big deals. We decide the future of the world. Can you sell it Trump? Something tells me you can. And now just finishing my remarks, I think I could end up actually praising Donald Trump for winning election.

Because for many years I heard here in this country, and in Europe, it's not our problem. It's your problem Russia, Korea, China. It's not a big deal. It's not going to happen here. Are you sure? Are you sure that democracy, and freedom is not one generation away from extinction? Are you sure that you are not living in the threat of a would-be dictator stealing power, and just imposing his rule? Again, American democracy proves to be resilient. But, it's very important to remember that nothing is carved in stone. And what Trump victory did for this country and for the world, it was a wake up call.

It's very important. People are getting engaged. And by the way, the good news from the other side of Atlantic, it basically destroyed European alt-right. Well, just a look at the results of the elections after Trump's victory. They all went down hill. Those that were on the rise, almost, you know, celebrating their imminent victory, like Marine Le Pen in France. You can't find them anymore. And by the way French election was another interesting story, because Putin had smart bets. They were are the four leading candidates, Macron, Fillon, Le Pen, and Melenchon, Putin was bidding on three. You know, just three, so this is a best bet.

Far left radical Melenchon, Fillon, who was just in his pocket, as Sarkozy. So and, of course, Marine Le Pen, overly supported. And they lost! My reaction was that it seems Putin run out of his Trump cards.



Yeah. And just to give another proof of importance of participation of the public, of our active engagement in politics, just another look at another European country, Holland. I just mentioned in 2016 in March there was a referendum. That was imposed obviously by an outside force, because who cares in Holland about affiliation agreement with Ukraine. But in European Union, you need consensus. So that's why there was one country where there was a powerful political force, Geert Wilders, another alt right movement, that all of a sudden decided to push the referendum idea. They won. 62% of the voters voted against it.

It ended up that the government decided to ratify it anyway, but still it was a big victory. And of course it was trumpeted by Putin as the will of Europeans just to go against to impose affiliation with Ukraine. Next year, everybody expected Geert Wilders to win the elections. OK, in Holland, there are many political parties. So he couldn't win outright majority, but everybody thought he would be it would be leading party. Mm-hmm. He was the-- I think there was a fourth or the fifth with meager 14%. What was the difference? Simple. In 2016, 32% of Dutch voters voted came to the polling stations. In 2017, 81%.

So that's the big lesson, and that's why I still have hope in representative democracy. And I believe that no matter how intricate is a conspiracy created by KGB-- so we still should win.


CAROL SAIVETZ: Yeah, whatever, I don't know. So when Elizabeth and I were trying to structure our conversation we decided that each of us would throw out one question to our speakers, and then we would open up the conversation to the audience. And there are mics in both aisles so please-- and make sure you ask a question, and don't give a speech. So the two of you don't really disagree. I think there's a tremendous amount of overlap, but it brings me really to two questions.

The first is, so what is Vladimir Putin doing now? Donald Trump was elected. Maybe that's good. Maybe that's bad. But the backlash against what we know about Russian interference has certainly made it harder to craft that grand bargain, as one of you referred to it. So that's, where do you see Russian policy towards the United States going in the next year or so.

The second question, that it raises with me is, where are Putin's vulnerabilities? There's been some speculation among some Russian language pundits et cetera, to say, well Putin's really not as strong. And the system's really not as strong as everybody seems to think it is. Where are his vulnerabilities? So I'd throw that out to both of you.

JULIA IOFFE: I think Putin's main vulnerability is that he's mortal. And he's going to die at some point. And as Garry pointed out that is the main-- when you built a highly personalized micromanaged system, your mortality is your main vulnerability. This is the core of the instability of the Russian regime. I think it is a regime that is both fundamentally strong, and fundamentally weak. It is weak because everything-- how do I describe-- it's a very inefficient way to govern when you have a guy at the top giving a signal.

And then you have this bloated bureaucracy between him, and that signal trickling down each step, and at each step people try to interpret what's going on, what he wanted, how do we over fulfill our assignment. So my favorite example of this was when he was running for president in 2012, and in the midst of massive pro-democracy protests, and there was a fear inside the Kremlin that Putin would be forced into a runoff. But you can't look weak. A national leader doesn't have to go to a second round, he wins out right.

So that was the signal given, Putin has to win outright. Deliver 51%, 52%, make it look legit, and we can all move on. So the signal was given, and trickled down the bureaucratic pyramid, and on election night it sped up 64%. And Putin receiving the results standing on Red Square cried, because the people overcame the State Department, CIA sponsored-- a legend-- this is what Russian state media claimed. This wasn't actually true-- overcame that this fifth column rising up to defeat him, and deliver this spectacular result.

He is a pretty informationally isolated president. It is a system where people at the top drink their own Kool-Aid which makes them very vulnerable. At the same time, they control the levers of power, and the incentive structure. And so you still have a court system, a police system that is deeply loyal, because they get fed by the system. And he still has a monopoly on violence and is trying to show that all the time.

But I think-- I was just in Moscow in the spring, and the worry wasn't-- so Russia has presidential elections coming up in 2018, and it's a foregone conclusion to everybody that Putin is going to-- right now he's being coy, and he's like, I don't know if I'm going to run. And everybody knows he's going to run, he's going to win, and he's going to get another six year term, which is up in 2024 at that point he'll be in his 70s. Now 60% of Russian men don't live past 60. He's turning 65 in October. And as I mentioned, he's mortal.

And so there's a lot of speculation, and nervousness in the system in Russia right now about what happens in 2024. Do we do something with the Constitution so that he can come back for another six year term, but he's going to die anyway. And what if he dies? Who takes over? And can he even have an exit strategy? Can he can he have a successor he can trust who will guarantee his safety, and all of his ill gotten gains? He tried that with Dmitry Medvedev in 2008.

In Putin's mind he failed. He allowed the invasion of Libya, and the horrible execution of Gaddafi. This was a video-- I don't know, the video went all over the world, and Putin was obsessed with it. He couldn't stop watching it, because I think he personally related to Gaddafi's fate, and is afraid of that. So he moved Medvedev aside, and came back. So if you feel that you can't hand the system over to anybody. You can't trust anybody. After that, he started filling gubernatorial slots with his former cooks and bodyguards. That's a problem. That's not a stable system. And that's a very long winded answer.

GARRY KASPAROV: Yeah. I couldn't agree more. We're all mortal, including dictators. The difference is they could be mortal all of a sudden, and Putin knows that. And I don't think that 2024 is a big problem for Putin, or for others in Russia. They understand that things happen earlier, because it's a big mistake to look at potential change in Russia based on the so-called electoral calendar. It's just a day for Putin to reappoint himself. Things will happen all of a sudden, because the elite will lose faith in Putin.

Now what is Putin's strengths? Simple. He was a protector of their interests. He allowed them to steal in Russia, and to park their money elsewhere, not in China, not in Iran, not in Venezuela. But in Cote d'Azur, in Mumbai, in Spain, in Italy, and in this country. By the way, I'll be I'll be very curious to find out how much money was laundered through certain real estate empires. Because we know from-- again-- from old books that real estate was always a most perfect way of laundering money, not only for Putin, just for any other dictators and thugs around the world.

And that's why Putin has been fighting, and the entire Russian machine, KGB, foreign office fought Magnitsky law. The law actually aimed at-- some people say, oh just second they will search here Russian bureaucrats. Putin knows it doesn't matter. The mafia boss, the capo di tutti capi must offer protection to every thug in his gang, to every hitman. Because this is the way it works, full loyalty in exchange for full protection. If he's not there to protect their interests abroad, why they should be loyal to him there.

And I think that is if Congress actually will push this-- the full implementation of new sanctions, that Trump unwillingly signed, which involves a full disclosure of these assets, and I believe America Intelligence had pretty good idea, where this money is being poured. Was in next 180 days, this is the biggest issue, because as long as the Russian oligarch-- some of them are just stuck in Russia, because they couldn't get a visa, but their families, their wives, the children can run their empires from outside, inconvenience.

Nobody's challenging brutal dictator out of inconvenience. But if their multi-billion fortunes are in danger, we should see if they will be still loyal to Putin or to their money. So there are many ways to make Putin not just look weak, but actually to demonstrate this weakness that will be apparent.

JULIA IOFFE: That's another point, by the way, another example-- Garry's completely right-- of how the system is weak. When all of your elites, when none of their wives, or their children live, or grow up, or go to school, or get treated by local doctors, when they all live abroad-- and when I was in Russia in the spring, I talked to a high ranking member of Putin's party and all he could talk about was how horrible life was in Paris. That's a problem.


Like even in the Soviet Union, the elites lived in the Soviet Union.

GARRY KASPAROV: Or in Eastern Bloc, you know they go to the resorts, Eastern Bloc.

JULIA IOFFE: Right, but they lived at home.

GARRY KASPAROV: Yes, yes, yes.

JULIA IOFFE: They were tied to the fate of the country in a way that Putin's elite is not.


JULIA IOFFE: They've already jumped ship.

GARRY KASPAROV: So, that's why my guess is that Putin will continue playing these geopolitical poker by raising the stakes. A North Korean nuclear crisis is a typical example. He would like to find anyway to divert the attention of Americans and Europeans and while creating crisis to present himself as a peacemaker. So given nuclear technology with one hand, and waving the olive branch with another one.

So that's the game. It's a simple game. You say, oh it's primitive. Yes, but it did work. It did work for him, and he thinks that this is the best game that he can play. And unfortunately when you look at the world map, there's too many places where he can continue this game by creating more problems, and inflating the old conflicts that were somehow pacified.

JULIA IOFFE: But I think that's the key, that it's not that complicated. You know, the Russians have this self-serving saying that you can't understand Russia with your mind. You can only feel it. It's crap. Of course you can understand it. It's pretty simple. It's pretty primitive. And by over intellectualizing it, and over analyzing it, and seeing all these things that aren't there, we trip over our own feet. When, in fact, it's pretty easy. Putin creates conflicts, and problems so that we can go to him to solve them. He doesn't care about North Korea, or Iran, or Syria. He just wants us to talk to him as an equal.


JULIA IOFFE: That's it.

GARRY KASPAROV: Absolutely, because that makes him look strong.

ELIZABETH WOOD: Let me also ask a quick question. Both of you have talked about the PR game, the ways in which Putin makes things look, and I'm curious what you think about his relationship to other dictators, the ways that certain machismo that he uses is also now being used by Erdogan, by other leaders. It seems to be there's kind of a plague of let me show-- and my favorite current Putin quote, I'm curious whether you have a comment on, is when he said of Trump, he's not my bride, and likewise I am neither his bride nor his bridegroom--


And if you think about it that this is the classic Russian way of saying, in fact I am his groom, and he is the bride. It's the belittling of the opponent. But I'm curious about that machismo, and the way it has shown up-- it's shown up in different variations in Berlusconi, in the Bulgarian Premier, and polish leaders, and Erdogan I think in some ways. So I'm just curious if you have a comment on that certain style of dictatorship.

JULIA IOFFE: Yeah. It's very-- it's kind of the adolescent dream of masculinity. And in that I don't think you need a pee pee tape to explain why Trump is so drawn to Putin. I think it's the same reason that Putin likes Mike Tyson and Steven Seagal. It's kind of an adolescent understanding of what a man is, and what masculine strength looks like. And Putin has, I think, a very similar goal. And as Garry said, he would love to run America the way that Putin runs Russia.

GARRY KASPAROV: Yeah, I think it's not just about spreading the un-free world. So by the way, when you look at the last, I think, 10 or 11 years the reports of Freedom House-- it's the number of people living in the free world has been steadily declining. It's amazing. 25 years of the end of the Cold War we just--

JULIA IOFFE: We reproduce more slowly also.

GARRY KASPAROV: But I'm talking about-- it's about some countries, like Turkey. 15 years ago many of us was expected Turkey eventually to become member of European Union. Now it's much closer to Russia. It's amazing. Who could have imagined that a native country would be buying Russian technology, military technology. I think for Putin, every dictator it's another bargaining chip. I think his relations with Assad, it was a clear demonstration. Did he care about Russia military base? Yes-- or Naval base. Did he care about military contract? Yes. But the most important thing was that Obama said Assad must go. Putin said, ah-ah.

JULIA IOFFE: Right, that's right.

GARRY KASPAROV: One is Obama, one is Assad. It's again-- it's a projection of strengths. And Putin is a great master of doing this, and Syria was a clear example, message to everybody. That's why I think Kim Jong-un now is so arrogant, because Putin already proved, you stick with me, I'll not let you down.

JULIA IOFFE: And I don't think-- it's about that, but it's also, I think, about a response to American democracy promotion, and policy of regime. Putin to some extent is fighting the last war, that his war with George W Bush, and democracy promotion, regime change-- Assad was also about drawing a line in the sand. And equating himself with Assad saying you cannot say which leader stays and which leader goes, the people decide, i.e. the dictator decides if he stays or go. And when Putin talks about national sovereignty, he means that it is the inalienable right of the dictator to do whatever he wants with his people, his subjects, inside his own borders.

And he will send planes, and tanks, and commandos to defend every dictator's right to do that, because he wants to defend his own right to do that. The reason he was obsessed with the way Gaddafi died is he fears that he could die that way. The reason he watched Saddam Hussein's execution on repeat was he was afraid that he would be put on trial, and executed the same way. So it's personal to him.


GARRY KASPAROV: Yes, it is personal to him. But, I think we also should remember that all of his decisions, sending troops, giving orders to sort of cross borders, and carpet bombed innocent civilians, they have to be put in action by generals, and by the officers. And while Putin-- you may call him a kamikaze, because he has no where to go. Political death for him means physical death, he knows that. So he will stay in Kremlin. He's stuck there till the end of his life. But I'm not sure that many of his generals or colonels or majors-- they have the same-- the same attitude.

I'm not sure it's a good example. But remember that is the state-- so what happened when Erdogan decided to shoot Russian plane. How many times did Russia violate Turkish airspace afterwards? Zero. It's good for Putin to shout, but then you have to give an order for somebody to do it, and to risk their own lives. And it seems to me that will be very little appetite in Russian Navy, or in Russian Army just to take this chance.

So why did Putin stop his invasion of Ukraine? Not because he has changed his mind. He, by the way, that was a moment then when he had to cut his losses. Because after an exaction of Crimea, that went smoothly, which I believe it was due to the fact that he has been preparing for a long time. So he promised to take over 10-- 10 Ukrainian regions--


All way from Lugansk to Odessa. He ended up with half of the two regions. Why he decided to cut his losses, because he just realized that he made a blunder by expecting Russian speaking Ukrainians to embrace his invasion troops. To the country-- the majority-- I would say with overwhelming majority of Russian speaking Ukrainians, ethnic Russians joined the Ukrainian army to defend against the invasion. And Putin realized that the cost-- the body backs that will be sent back to Russia is too high.

And again he's a KGB dictator. He always looks for maximum effect to be achieved with minimal sacrifices. So he is quite good at measuring what he can invest in human lives, and money to achieve his results. And he stopped, wisely, recognizing that the war was not as popular as he thought. And it will be too costly.

JULIA IOFFE: And he didn't expect the Ukrainian Army to fight as well as they did. He thought he would just sweep right on through to Odessa. And he didn't expect it to be as bloody as it was. The other reason about the other dictators, he doesn't necessarily need Orban in Hungary, or Erdogan, he did really great with Schroeder when he was in Germany, and Berlusconi in Italy.


JULIA IOFFE: With Sarkozy. With Berlusconi, who taught him all about the wonders of plastic surgery


I'm not kidding. And this is why Putin also saw potential in Trump. He does well with people who are like him, who are absolutely cynical, un-ideological and are willing to bargain. And I think that all of these leaders share that trait.


ELIZABETH WOOD: OK, let's open it up for the floor. Why don't we start with this gentleman here.

AUDIENCE: Question for Ms. Ioffe, do you think the US has ever interfered in domestic Russian, or even Soviet politics? Mr. Kasparov, do you think the US should interfere going forwards given the threat of Putin?

JULIA IOFFE: I think that's a-- thank you for a question. It's a very good one. From the Russian perspective, they're just giving as good as they've gotten from the Americans. So from the Russian perspective, things like the National Endowment for Democracy, George Soros' Open Society, all these NGOs, like Golos that count ballots to make sure there is no voter fraud. That this is America influencing Russian domestic politics, which is why one of the first things that the Kremlin did after Putin came back to the presidency in 2012, was cut off the flow of American government, and European government funds to these NGOs, because they see them as interfering in Russian elections.


JULIA IOFFE: I'm just giving-- I'm not saying that was actually how. I'm giving you the Russian--

GARRY KASPAROV: You said three times, you said Russian. And I strongly disagree. Kremlin.


GARRY KASPAROV: I'm also Russian, and we didn't believe America was interfering. I didn't know about America, CIA, NSA, you name it trying to actually foster our movement. We walked on the Moscow streets, and sent people to the streets. There were peaceful rallies, by the way, not a glimpse of violence, not a single broken window. So the all the violence came from the riot police. And it was our domestic movement.

And, of course, in Putin's eyes any kind of support of human rights organizations, or others like Golos, that was interference. With By the way, they had nothing to do with our movement. When you look at the political movement, it was not connected to these human rights organizations. So that's why all we did there was based on the local support that we could get.

And to the contrary, by the way, I can tell you that one of the reasons that we couldn't rally enough people in 2006, 2007, because Putin played this brilliant game. Garry Kasparov, Boris Nemtsov, you name it, many of us said Putin was already on the way of dictatorship. Really. And then all Russians could see a TV picture, Putin presiding over G8, with Bush 43, with I think it was still Blair, Merkel already, Chirac-- so how can you trust these guys who are just crying in a desert that Putin could be dictator, when he was chairing the meeting of the leading Democratic nations.

So Putin knew how to play this game. So as long as it fit his agenda, he was very friendly with Americans, with Europeans, and as Julia pointed out, he was never shy of buying favors. And I think the infiltration of Russian influence through these kind of clandestine operations was never as powerful, even at the probably height of the years of [INAUDIBLE]


ELIZABETH WOOD: So we're getting lots of questions. Let's take two on this side, and then I'll take two on that side. Keep them short.

AUDIENCE: I was going to ask another question, but I think I'll follow up on that one. The United States is not just interfered in Russia. It's been interfering in the inner affairs of countries around the world for decades, going back at least to the overthrow of the democratic government of Mosaddegh in Iran, the next year, Arbenz in Guatemala, multiple attempts to assassinate Castro--


AUDIENCE: Assassination by--

CAROL SAIVETZ: What's the question? We got a lot of people.

AUDIENCE: Yeah, you're right we can go on all night about the United States interference in other countries' affairs. So what's the real problem here? Is it that one country interferes-- allegedly interferes in another country's elections, or inner domestic affairs, or is it the one country interferes in American domestic electoral affairs?

JULIA IOFFE: So it sounds like the premise of your question, though, is that electoral interference in another country's elections is a bad thing, right?

AUDIENCE: No, my premise is my question is double standards, hypocrisy, and can one nation that's always interfering in another country's-- interferes, criticize, when they themselves are interfered with allegedly, I will stress allegedly. In other words, what goes around comes around, doesn't it?

CAROL SAIVETZ: OK, next question on this side please. Because we're going to do two a time.


GARRY KASPAROV: Is it left unanswered?

ELIZABETH WOOD: No, no. You guys have time to answer both his question and the next one, because we won't hear all the questions. That's the idea anyway.

AUDIENCE: OK, so working under the premise that Putin is a domestic and global problem. I find that waiting for Putin's death is an unsatisfying solution, and I find that prying away the oligarchs is an insufficient solution. So how does the civil society in Russia, and the Russian people-- how do they move forward in the presence and absence of Putin?

ELIZABETH WOOD: OK, so if you could both questions if you want.

GARRY KASPAROV: You know first of all I strongly reject, denounce any moral equivalence between the free world and communist dictatorships.


It's appalling to hear the statements of people grew up in the free world, and they don't know what IS KGB, or maybe know from the books. One of the reasons I never criticized American invasion of Iraq, which I think was a mistake-- but I believe, for me, it was impossible since it toppled a dictator. As someone who grew up in the Soviet Union, in the communist dictatorship, I couldn't criticize any action that led to the end of dictatorship.

Though understanding that many bad things could happen afterwards, but still there's always choice of awfulness or evil. And talking about this America interference in other countries in the world, is looking over the big debate. But let me tell you one thing, when you look at the political map 40 years ago-- just look again, have a hard look, and you find out that every so-called right wing dictatorship, whether it's Chile, Colombia, Spain, Portugal, Taiwan, South Korea has been peacefully-- South Africa-- transformed into market economy and democracy.

Not a single communist dictatorship has been peacefully transformed in a market economy and democracy. People are still suffering there. So that's why I think it's just the whole idea of just, oh we can compare Putin's actions, or Saddam Hussein's actions with actions of US presidents, for me, it's preposterous.


CAROL SAIVETZ: You wanna say anything?

JULIA IOFFE: (LAUGHS) I'll answer the other question. I think that this is-- you've hit on a very big problem. Russian civil society is kind of on the run, and pushed under ground. And that's not a good thing, because it is hard for it to gather strength. And it's also-- radicalizes the civil society. You saw that, for example, in Russia leading up to-- in the years between 1905 and 1917, when a more peaceful moderate revolution failed, and the state reacted with more, and more harsh draconian measures. Both sides, both the people in power, and the people out of power in the streets, became radicalized, and you get 1917.

The other issue is the issue of so-called collective Putin. In the US we fall into the trap of thinking that if we decapitate these regimes that the next day they will all become democracies. Democracy is really hard work. It takes generations of education, and vigilance, and civic activism. And if for generations, you have been at the point of a gun or a bayonet, have been taught to be passive, and to not question authority, and to not stick your neck out, and to not risk things. It's going to be hard, even if the guy at the top is removed, or his inner circle is removed.

You still have 143 million people who have been conditioned for generations to be undemocratic. So just removing these guys, and waiting for Putin to die, you're right, is not the solution. I keep it coming back to something that one of Putin's advisers once said to me. And this is what happens when you, I think or what could happen when you're waiting just to pry the elite off of Putin, or to splinter them. He said, look, when the system falls-- he, by the way, helped Putin get elected his first time in 2000. He said when this system falls, it's going to fall in one day. But the system that replaces it will be exactly the same. And that's the danger.

GARRY KASPAROV: Just make a comment as this-- I'm not sure that we should by theory of genetic determination. Those nations--

JULIA IOFFE: It's not genetic. It's educational and societal.

GARRY KASPAROV: Educational, maybe. Maybe. But we have other examples of the 20th century that tell you it's not that complete. I agree there's a danger. I believe unless Russia goes through the process of reconciliation with it's past. Unless we go through our own Nuremberg, condemning the crimes of communism, and banning KGB, and having the proper illustration. So nothing will happen. So it's very important to do what's happened in similar situations in other countries. Of course, the magnitude is much bigger, because as I-- or maybe it's not doable.

But I just mentioned, let's look at the Korean green peninsula. It's the same nation. In 1953, they were divided after the end of the war. And they were just the same people brothers and sisters, the same GDP. The only difference was that one was controlled by communists, another one was under American patronage. Now you have two Koreas that are just far apart. They're just like two different solar systems. One is just the biggest Gulag in the world, another one is probably most efficient market economy, and very strong democracy, where presidents being impeached, and the head of the largest corporation imprisoned.

And it's the same people. So I think it's just, again, it takes time, but it's not the end of the world. So and I believe that Russia had more democratic traditions than could undone Korea in 1953. And while a lot of Russians will live, by the way, outside of Russia-- now when I think there's a chance. There's a fair chance. There's no guarantee that we can just go back to [INAUDIBLE] civilizations

JULIA IOFFE: I'm not saying there's zero chance. But I think to follow your analogy with Korea, I keep looking at North Korea and thinking, OK, let's say we take out Kim Jong-un. And get rid of this regime. It's going to be an unbelievable task to rehabilitate these people that have lived under this regime for generations. And you look at Eastern Europe and it was a foreign occupation in Eastern Europe. They had Soviet power for much less time than the Russians, and they're still much, much better than the Russians. They're doing much better, but they're still dealing with these ghosts, and these problems that they learn--


JULIA IOFFE: I'm not saying it's predetermined, but it's a problem.


JULIA IOFFE: You agree that it's a problem.

GARRY KASPAROV: It is a problem, but you have 20 people just living in the largest communist country in the world. So yes, there are problems of integrating in normal life. But it's not a reason to say you shouldn't do that.

JULIA IOFFE: I didn't say it was a reason.

GARRY KASPAROV: Sooner you remove Kim Jung-un out of power, better the chances that you can save millions of these lives That otherwise will be sacrificed for these paranoid dreams.

JULIA IOFFE: I'm not saying you should or shouldn't, I'm just outlining the array of problems. I'm a journalist. I'm not a policy person.



GARRY KASPAROV: I'm a human being.

CAROL SAIVETZ: Two questions from this side, please.

AUDIENCE: So piggybacking off of this question of what is to be done, I think a lot of observers of the American election, and specifically the Democratic primary, observed that in the US we seem to have a lack of a unified left, or even a lack of a unified opposition. And then that was especially visible during the general election. So over the last 10 years, we've seen Navalny, we've seen Yabloko, we've seen the Progress Party in Russia, we've seen your presidential campaign, and it doesn't seem like we're that far removed from what the situation was 10 years ago in Russia in terms of who's in power.

So what I'm curious about is whether you see a future for a unified Russian left, or at least the unified Russian opposition, and whether or not you think that's even relevant to standing against Putin.

CAROL SAIVETZ: Next question.


CAROL SAIVETZ: We should do two at a time because we have--

AUDIENCE: Hi, I have a different type of question. So Ms. Ioffe mentioned that we should view American election result as a combination of several factors, which includes influence of Russia, and also the role of American people. So my question is like-- I'm very curious to know what's your take on the role of social media, which has presumably acted as a catalyst in spreading misinformation, and also from now on how should people take social media, and what's the role of-- how should people deal with social media and misinformation that goes around?

GARRY KASPAROV: I think it's asking the same question about-- time and again-- about what opposition Russia can do. It ignores the fact that Russia is the one man dictatorship that openly embraces fascist ideology. Anything that happens in Russia is on Kremlin's control. If any opposition action takes place, it's because Kremlin believes that it's probably-- serves its purpose for some reasons. So there's no way that you can go back to 2007, 2008, or even 2011, 2012 when we had massive rallies in the streets. It's over.

They destroyed it completely, and they control it. So the only way for things to change in Russia, as was in the Soviet Union, is for regime to be weak. And we're talking about a geopolitical disaster, which doesn't mean it's end of war. So I remember that the-- in my opinion, one of the most important events that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union was the Soviet loss of the war in Afghanistan. Just remember, in February in 1989, the Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan. By the way, it was not a stampede as Americans from Saigon. The war technically was not lost, because the Soviets could keep Najibullah regime, the pro-Soviet regime for another three years there. I think 2 1/2 years.

So again, technically speaking, you know they left Afghanistan with honors. But psychologically to watch Soviet troops crossing the border going back had a huge effect in Eastern Europe, in the Baltic, then republics, and across the Soviet Union. And by then the year-- that year 1989, the Eastern Europe was gone. In less than three years, the Soviet Union was gone. Again, it's all about people believing that empire, the dictatorship is weak. And as long as it looks strong, nothing will happen.

But if they realize that regime is no longer as strong as it used to be, they'll fill the streets. The reason people are not there, because they're afraid. It was, oh you know there were only 5,000 people marching in Moscow. Look, here in New York or in Paris, you have million people, yes. But here police protects you. That's a difference. And I was always amazed to see thousands of people rallying in Moscow streets, knowing that they could be beaten. They could be arrested, and even worse. But now, you cannot blame them for not doing that, because--

JULIA IOFFE: But, they are doing it. They are doing it.

GARRY KASPAROV: No, no, no, no. Again, it's nothing that can compare to 2011. So that maybe a few thousand here and there are still insist-- it's quite heroic efforts, but they are too minor, and Kremlin totally controls the situation in Moscow, and elsewhere.

JULIA IOFFE: I would argue they're more widespread though. And in 2011, it was just Moscow and St. Petersburg. Now they're in over 90 cities in Russia. They're still small. They're under-- they're very vulnerable, et cetera.

GARRY KASPAROV: Because they have generation. And that bring us back to next question about social medias. Unlike China, Putin doesn't boast firewalls, but the Russian Criminal Court has a new article almost every day. Punishing people for even re-posting some what Kremlin believes anti-government rants, or even--


GARRY KASPAROV: Well, yes. Even pictures. So and the role of social media, as I say, it's there, so it's a most powerful tool. And it's quite an irony that Putin, and other regimes-- dictators in the world-- they know how to utilize the tools embedded in the free world to undermine the very foundation of democracy. What an irony.

JULIA IOFFE: Yeah, I-- oh, go ahead.

CAROL SAIVETZ: Two questions on this side, please.

AUDIENCE: In Russia there's a part to the Right of United Russia, and their ultra-nationalist like Aleksandr Dugin, the fascist guy, who wrote Foundations of Geopolitics. So do you view these people who-- they want to expand the Russian empire, take over Latvia and so on, as the sort of irrelevant fringe or are they people who were behind Putin animating his policies. So should we basically ignore the ultra-nationalist Russian right, or should we pay attention to them, and what is their connection to this entire situation?

CAROL SAIVETZ: Next question. Trying to accommodate as many people as possible. We're at the end of our time. So--

AUDIENCE: Just a quick-- I think it's hard to ascertain the validity of polls or elections out of Russia, and I'm just curious is Putin truly that popular with the average Russian? Whether or not it's because he's strong, and promotes a strong Russia, but is he truly-- have a significant portion, over 50% of the population? And second part, which might sound like a little bit of a joke, but I think it speaks to the context of Putin's objectiveness. Do you think Putin truly believes that he is capable of scoring five goals against international caliber hockey players?


Do you think he really believes that? You know that was him.

JULIA IOFFE: No, he doesn't. I've heard people have seen him. When he invited then-secretary Kerry to play hockey against him. He then made jokes that people let him score goals. About his popularity in the polls, that's a very good question. And the polls, in short, are not accurate. Russian pollsters complain of very low answer rates on polls, and that it's a self-select accrues.

So, if you don't agree, you're going to not want to stick your neck out, and talk to people you don't know about how you don't like Putin. And if you do agree, if you like him you're happy to share your opinion. So that skews things. Also because there's been no alternatives to Putin for so long, he's popular just because he lacks alternatives. So it's, a kind of, very passive popularity. After the Crimean bump, which was a very active popularity.

As for the young man who asked about the right wing, I think we do. Great question. I think we do need to pay attention to it. Putin is not an ideological guy. He will use whatever ideology he needs to further his goals. He has a utilitarian approach to ideology. So for a while Dugin was in favor, during the invasion of Ukraine, for example, during this kind of amping up of Russian nationalism and jingoism at home.

He has since been sidelined. He has been fired from several, jobs, and is kind of back on the margins again. So if it serves his goals, he'll use it. And as soon as he feels it doesn't serve his goals, he'll find a new ideology.

GARRY KASPAROV: Yes, you're right. He's been fired, because he was not radical enough.


I remember we had this debate 10 years ago. It was some of the other liberals in Russia saying, oh Putin was our only hope to prevent Russian fascism. My argument was, and many from all sides was, Putin would end up as embracing this ideology, because that would happen with every dictator. And yes, just the simple, straightforward use of Dugin, not enough. When you look at the current situation with Russia, it's those people are that much worse. The worst kind of reactionary that comes from the Orthodox Church. People who are actually burning cinemas, because they showed the movie about Tsar Nicholas. By the way, shows-- produced by a very pro-Putin producer.


GARRY KASPAROV: Somebody who signed a letter to supporting annexation of Crimea. The state paid for this movie. But again, it's what's happening within the regime. It's like a negative genetic selection. It just, if it goes down the ladder. So, and Dugin is not radical enough. That's again, that's happening in every regime. So that's why, again, I wouldn't say that Dugin is a problem. The problem is Putin. The problem is the regime will use whatever is available. And at the end of day, it will use the worst that it can find, because by trying to keep this anti-American, anti-western, anti-liberal hysteria, they have to look for-- they have to go just to the very bottom, searching for the bottom.

ELIZABETH WOOD: So, 6:30, what should we do? We should end?


GARRY KASPAROV: By the way, about Putin's popularity, if you have one restaurant in town, sorry, one dish. It's popular by definition, especially if every other restaurant being open is burned to the ground.


CAROL SAIVETZ: So I apologize to the people who did not get a chance to ask their questions. I think we all have to thank our speakers today. Thank you all for coming.


JULIA IOFFE: Good job.

Photos courtesy of Shay Culligan