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tv   Key Capitol Hill Hearings  CSPAN  October 26, 2015 10:45am-12:01pm EDT

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>> next a look at russia and u.s. military operations in syria. "new york times" reporter stephen the iris talks about vladimir putin's leadership style and philosophy driving russia as part of the assault regime and how the obama administration's approach to combating isis has dealt with the added presence of russian forces. the women's foreign-policy guru posted to the discussion. good evening everyone. thank you all for joining us for a special beyond the headlines event obama and putin battlefield syria. karen deyoung national security correspondent and associate editor for the "washington post." steven lee myers, who is washington correspondent for
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"the new york times" covering national security issues and spent a lot of time in russia and also baghdad bureau chief and most significantly for tonight the new book the news are the riots and drain of vladimir putin. i am patricia ellis president of president of the women's foreign-policy group and we promote women's leadership and voices on pressing international issues of the day. and this is certainly a timely one. so on behalf of our board here tonight, elizabeth miller, diana, teresa, we are so pleased that you could be here with us tonight for this very timely event. i also want to extend a warm welcome to our diplomatic colleagues who are here we are
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pleased you could join us, and a very warm welcome to the colleagues from nyu washington, d.c. we appreciate your warm hospitality. it's great to partner with you and to be back here again in this beautiful space. it is now my great pleasure to introduce our moderator for this evening elizabeth miller. elizabeth. [applause] thank you for coming out tonight and to my two colleagues by
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competitor i was just editing adults between the three of us we have 76 years of experience that's rather daunting. i'm going to briefly introduce. care and as you can see the national secured a correspondent and associate editor of the "washington post." she's covered latin america she was in london, covered the white house, foreign-policy foreign-policy, the intelligence community, the assistant managing editor of and for an editor. caryn and i karen and i used to go on trips together recovering the george h. w. bush white house. she was very daunting and she knew everything. she was in the center until the middle of the night and anyway she's fantastic. she's also good company.
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steve, i just learned is the photographer 26 years seven of them in russia is an expert on putin and the war in chechnya and the revolution in ukraine and the winter olympics in sochi committee annexation of crimea and. the dear chief in baghdad at the time covered the wind down of the war in iraq and covered the national security issues in the washington bureau. and i'm very honored to be one of those editors and also as pat of the new czar i believe that it's available here correct. they are very readable.
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[inaudible] i'm sorry, i just do what i am told. is that better i will try to speak up. we have to fix the microphone. >> i'm sorry about that. >> does that make any difference
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whatsoever? >> i'm happy except i'm plugged in. >> how is that? no different. do you mind just holding it? there's a little confusion. >> for the chance to be here to talk with you it's incredibly timely i think it always is but who could envision a few weeks
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ago that we would be sitting here talking about an intervention which is quite extraordinary. it is a much simpler but complicated equation that putin is making right now and it has to do with a lot of factors that ultimately the very simple explanation is that russia is doing this the pure code that we in the united states and europe and the west being the phrase that we would retire at some point but it's back with a vengeance now and i think for a long time we saw what was happening in russia after the collapse of the soviet union as a positive thing for the world into period that we could cooperate and engage with a new
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russia the new republic out of the former soviet union and in fact inside russia it was seen as a period is great chaos the decay of the great soviet empire whether or not you like it or not is beside the point and people like putin saw what was happening as a disaster, and it was a lot of russians because some people made the transition easier than others and became a fabulously wealthy oligarchs. but in the end most experienced the transition to democracy as being something close to catastrophe which is what putin once called it famously. in the period after putin came to power, he sought i think the primary motivational ways for him was to restore russia to some sort of greatness came to the soviet union. some people think he's trying to re-create the soviet union.
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i don't think that's it. i think that he's trying to get russia up author needs and there is a period where i think that he saw the path to doing that as being in cooperation with the west with the united states in particular certainly with europe , "-close-double-quote relationships with germany and other partners in europe. if you came to where he was in power, there is much more collaborative cooperative leaders i think and what happened in his mind is that i was never reciprocated and that the united states especially its nato allies continue to press their security interests he felt at the cost of his own and russia would intervene as forcefully as they have but he's telegraphed the punch if you will at least since 2003 when he
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opposed the war in iraq he saw the united states again in particular singled out the united states more than its allies that he saw them as the united states exercising a power abroad, a force abroad in a way that he saw as destabilizing outside of the context which if you think about it all they had was their un veto for a long time. and i think that feeling in the united states was pushing an agenda as an exercising or asserting power over abroad that happened before putin came to power so it's not something unique to him but certainly with iraq and significantly the orange revolution as it was called in 2004 in ukraine where
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he saw the u.s. singled out as supporting the mass protest on the street overthrowing what he considered to be a legitimate government in ukraine. i am not agreeing with it but it's very much how he sees it and if you rewind to all of the events that happened since then particularly since the era spring he solidly thought to be peaceful uprisings in the aging dictatorships but just needed the much as we did the collapse of the soviet union he saw something close to terror the mob on the street being able to a central usurp power and putin at his heart he leaves in power and the central authority of the state as being the only thing that can stop chaos, that can
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stop bloodshed. and the period when he had stepped down into this isn't appreciated at the time, dmitry medvedev are very close to putin in a lot of ways and inseparable with most policies. but not as striking or paranoid as a figure to be honest. he was persuaded by the united states, joe biden in particular of the need to intervene in libya with what began as a peaceful uprising and became quite violent and eventually led to the intervention of the government towards the protesters and benghazi area. they didn't endorse the united nations both but instructed to russia's representative to abstain and putin was infuriated
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as being a resolute and allowing essentially yet another march of western forces overthrowing legitimate governments and we saw what happened in egypt and the chaos that followed and the restoration now under the general. even today the the chief of staff gave an interview and talked about thank god they have restored order again. they see this as a fundamentally different problem going on in the world and i think that in the case in this area it was a red line for putin and the soviet union and then rush out that followed russia that followed has had a long-standing relationship and they have a base as everyone knows in close
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ties. and for a long time in this period of chaos after the collapse of the soviet union except related overtime because russia was weak and putin now back in power have to modernize the military significantly just the last few years and noticed beyond the people that watch this closely realized he was now at risk of another western effort to topple the government. this was because the obama administration don't seem to know how to address the conflict right now. even the protests agreed to the
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elections as they came back to power he saw this as part of the same plot. the power of the military and because of the uncertain response from the west to what is happening he's been known to forcefully intervene and stop what he sees as discontinued march of overthrowing government and moving closer and closer has basically done it as russia can. i just wanted to set the scene last summer how the obama administration saw it at the time when they saw them on the ropes losing territory and the
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opposition getting stronger they were distracted with the fight against the islamic state and thought that basically the fight against assad was succeeding and they believed in the time one could call this wishful thinking in retrospect that russia saw things happening and was more amenable to starting some kind of political negotiations that would result in leaving a power. this wasn't the first time they appeared in this position. we are now in the fifth year just a little more than one year with the islamic state holding large portions but at various times, certainly various times in 2011 at the beginning and in the summer of 2012 and other
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points as they've gone up and down the administration managed to come dance itself daynes itself sometimes with reasoning that actually assad was on the brink of falling and that therefore this pressure was on them to intervene in some way was listening and then certainly how they saw the situation last summer and that is a message that obama was very receptive to. ..
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trying very hard to get some kind of political negotiations organized, and repeating that assad could not be part of the solution was as far as he wanted to go. in about mid-august they started to get word from partners and friends in the region that the russians had asked for new overflights rights for some large cargo planes, some fighter jets. this was as they sought, in retrospect how they say they saw it, a sort of expansion but not
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a worrying expansion of would've gone on for the past several years. the russians had a base, naval base. had some aircraft stationed. they were constantly sending supplies. they didn't see it as troubling but the asked our allies to deny these rights. they particularly asked greece and bulgaria, greece didn't have to make a decision because the request went away after a while. bulgaria after specific request to deny the overflights rights to deny them. but the administration in late august specific as to the russians, what are you up to, what are you doing? they said, according again to the administration, we are fortifying our interests there. we are just as scared of the islamic state as a you are. we think something needs to be done. the administration in response to this adopted a sort of watch and wait. again i think wishful thinking
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posture your putin gave two speeches, one in early september and another in mid-september, and especially the second one, he stated specifically once he wanted to do. he wanted to form a new coalition that would fight against the islamic state. but he felt that it had to include the syrian armed forces because they were the only ones capable of defeating on the ground, to be the ground force to defeat the islamic state. there was some rationale in this even to the united states eyes. it's almost a mirror image of the policy the obama administration has had in iraq, which is due bolster the local forces and to use a lot of airstrikes to to get the bad guys and then go in and occupied
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territory that you force the bad guys to vacate. of course, the administration didn't see the wisdom of doing that with series in military, and especially -- serious military. especially with assad in charge. but they decide as result of this but it was worth talking to putin. you remember that the united states had suspended all military contact with russia following the annexation of crimea and for the actions in eastern ukraine. there hadn't been any high level contacts at all. it was a big meeting upcoming on ukraine, and so they decided that because of that and because of the syrian situation it was worth having a meeting with putin at the u.n. general assembly in, late september or early october?
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early october, yeah. so i think the assumption was always about perhaps the russians at some point which is an airstrikes. they were at this point bring in a lot of aircraft, and they were repaving a lot of runaways comic standing the airport that they were using along the mediterranean coast. it was bernard to continually say to ourselves that they weren't actually going to use these airplanes for something. but again with the assumption was that it most likely we're going to use them against the islamic state because that's what the russians have sent. they have been meeting in new york. it did not go very well. putin and obama each laid out their vision. putin saying let's go in this together, but it has to be with assad and with the syrian army. and obama saying no, you're welcome to join our coalition if you like, but assad has to go
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and his military has to become part of negotiations for a transition in syria that will not include assad. of course, putin came in early in the morning. it was a monday, electricity talk to him that afternoon. didn't even spend the night. the attacks start up with even before he got back to moscow. it quickly became apparent what he intended to do was to bomb the so-called moderate opposition and this conglomeration of his opposition forces in the civil war in syria, which is primarily being fought in western syria while isis is primarily in eastern syria and the north. the administration said we still want to talk to the russians. we are going to be confliction talks. did not make any sharp or bellicose statements.
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but a week later obama in talks with his national security advisers agreed to suffer proposals that have been on the table for some time. one was to directly arm courage and air forces in eastern syria who were fighting against islamic state. and the other was to greatly expand u.s. airstrikes north of aleppo in the northwest corner of the syria along the turkish border where the islamic state was coming from the east and assad's forces were coming from the south basically. most of the city was being held by opposition forces. the airdrops happened to the fighters in the east. a drop 50 tons of ammunition and supplies last week. the expanded flights have not started yet, but like so many
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things in syria, events on the ground have started to outpace what's happening in washington, and the speed of which decisions are being made. now you see even this week the iranian forces pouring into northwestern syria along with hezbollah, basically taking over the fighting on the ground in that area from the ceiling military while the russians bombed the area moving on aleppo, syria second largest city. islamic state also moving on a level from the east. and i think a lot of worry among american friends and allies in the region that nobody seems to be doing anything about this. if aleppo falls i think there's pretty broad agreement that the number of refugees will increase, not incrementally, the
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of the word, exponentially, and this will be an even bigger problem i think for europe. the americans say that they are studying other alternatives. the turks of course are still pushing for a no-fly zone and the russians don't seem to be paying any attention to what the americans have to say about it. >> okay. on that bright note, let me ask both of you the same question, which is a couple of weeks ago, several weeks ago obama basically said that putin was going to get into a quagmire and just a sickly, sort of implied that this would be another afghanistan for him if he is bogged down there for 10 years. is there any indication of that at this point? that's my first question. second question would be just about there seems to be some consensus that be some consensus if the they get short-term miliy gains, especially with their new military it's on display. you agree with that? what do you think about obama's
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remarks? >> is this working now? okay. sorry. i think it's too soon to start talking about a quagmire or not. the important thing to understand also is that russia's intervention is still at this point fairly limited. what's striking about it is how much of an impact he's been able to have with a force that's really one-tenth of the size of the coalition raid against the islamic state i think that kosovo to what karen was saying, is that there is more of a clarity to the strategy that putin is employing right now, and that he knows exactly what the immediate goal is. wishes to shore up assad's -- which is to shore up assad's forces. by doing that the russians blur the distinction of what opposition groups there are. they have said this.
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sometimes you just have to listen to what they say. everybody takes up a weapon against a trend government is a terrorist and they're going to kill them. so there's something about what they're doing that makes it i think a clear, at least short-term strategy that has i think begun to change at least the battlefield. it's not to say that he has won anything yet. it's still hard to know what the in game is and i think that's we get to the question of afghanistan. they poured 100,000 troops into afghanistan and were there for eight or nine years. they haven't done that. putin has ruled out boots on the ground. he wants to exert what he can on the impact again with an air force adenosine to modernize in the last few years and is more effective.
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though still blunder in our strikes, which is another important factor i think. he's not that concerned about the civilian casualties that might also suffer in addition to these distinctions between the various rebel factions. the quagmire i think, it's far too soon to say that because a lease right now it's a very decisive turn on the ground in syria. >> i think that's true. it's all a question of time. what i think the administration is talking about when they say putin, you'll be sorry, is that what is essentially doing is taking sides in what has become a very sectarian war in a very large country in the middle east. and he's taking sides against the sunnis. the expectation is that if the sunnis who are fighting against assad are driven out of that
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part, and if assad forces with iran and with the russians end up fighting the islamic state, in other words, if they are the only two sides better left there, it doesn't bode very well for what the sunni population is going to think of russia, and that eventually russia will suffer for this. one of the assumptions is that what they're trying to do is to carve out a sort of lump state of the syria in the western part of the country that can be where assad can have a little kingdom into populated kind of string of cities in western syria, and the russians can have a coast, which is what they want, and have their basis of there. i think the assumption by the administration, and it is probably a correct one, is that
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the russians are letting themselves in for a whole lot of trouble eventually. the problem is, as steve said, is that right now tactically the russian strategy seems to be working and that establishes facts on the ground that can change the long-term situation in ways that i think the americans haven't figured out how to deal with yet. >> on that topic, obama just abandon his attorney program after his famous number of, ma you know, training for firefighters who actually fight. what do you think of the strategy now? seems to be a containment strategy that will get obama to the end of his term. so what happens with the next president obama is just contain it and pass it on? >> i think it could be automatic even long before that. you haven't yes the train and equip program got nowhere,
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largely because the fighters who were recruited were asked to pledge that they would fight against the islamic state and that they were not going to fight against assad. is a guys are fighting for their own families, for the own countries. they see assad as the enemy. i think that it became very hard to find enough people who could survive this months long vetting process. what to do not usually sort of jettisoned the vetting process altogether and said we really like these kurds were on the border, who have managed to push islamic state back your they have some air forces, not huge, but he never of them from eastern syria who never had much to do with syria anyone who are willing to fight against the islamic state -- to do with assad. they said we will that them and make sure they are okay and asked him some questions and we will take it from them that their fighters are all good
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guys. so they have dropped a lot of ammunition and a lot of weapons. this, of course, just enormous irritates the turks who feel like the kurds are all of a part, they consider the kurdish organization that we are now helping to be a terrorist organization, along with kurds who are in iraq. at the same time you've got our other allies in the region, the saudis, the qataris, the uae who are sort of throwing up their hands and saying look, we've been following your lead, united states, and you told us not to on these other people. i mean, they have done it under the table but they haven't done it as an official policy, and perhaps we need to start rethinking this. i think administration has lots of decisions to make. make. >> what are the chances, both of
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you, but a collision in the air between the u.s. and a russian aircraft or a cruise missile? they were working towards a very general our weekday confliction strategy but it hasn't happened yet. how dangerous is this right now? >> i think it's always dangerous when ever there is military operations going on, and with such a confounding array of both targets and forces involved on both sides. it's interesting that one of the first things that they did in terms of reaching out to the military was to deconflict come to make sure that there was some kind of protocols. i'm not sure they quite hammered those out at this point, but i have a friend who worked for longtime, a diplomatic friend who worked for a long time in russia and she put it to me, this is sometime ago before this conflict, that we have decades of experience of avoiding a hot war with the russians.
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i think that is going to carry through know. i don't have a sense that this administration or any of our nato allies, and we've seen and encourage passionate and encourage over into turkey. i don't see anybody wants to go toe to toe with the russians now even in a limited way. i think there will be a lot of effort made to make sure that doesn't happen. it's an enormous risk. >> i think that star and becomes more of a risk as the two forces get closer together in this area north of a level. but again i think administration -- north of a level. the administration has to do is kind of defining principle in this which is what is fascist in the interest of the united states? it is the islamic state. that is who we are fighting against. we will help as much as we can,
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the other people who are fighting, the civil war, bought a don't think that they feel like that's a justifiable national circuit interest. but the question will come up in the north where you have the islamiislamic state moving clos, farther to the west it is, in fact, they're going to try to push them back, exactly the air russians are operating, where they started operating, as this campaign starts to take the city. >> what is putin's relationship like with assad? >> i've been delving into that although there. the last time i know then that was in 2005. it's been a long time, and medvedev went to damascus in 2010 and had a very cordial meeting before the events of the arab spring. there's clearly a lot of coordination going on on the military levels, which is where putin likes to operate anyway.
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it's what his closest allies are on the intelligence level. there's been a lot of information and odyssey a long-standing resupply mission and tren training has been goinn from the very beginning, even before in terms of cooperating with the syrian government. personally somebody once described to me the relationship is transactional more than personal they see, russia sees its interests there in the region. and again as i said in the beginning they see the importance of checking the americans and the west and, you know, toppling yet another government and unleashing this chaos. i wanted to add one thing about the sectarian thing. in russia there are, the estimates vary because they haven't been a census in the wild with with this question but there somewhere between 14-20%
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of russians are muslim. the vast majority of them are sunni. and so the russians, i don't think, view this as a sectarian conflict or a lease of their role in it as sliding in a sectarian way. which could be the fatal flaw in this strategy given how much the sectarian conflict is born overnight in the middle east. in their mind, and put has addressed this, that he doesn't want to see a conflict. he thinks there needs to be a resolution of the sectarian tension in the region. he is intervening now so much on behalf of one sector or another but again the legitimate government in his mind whether you like it or not is the assad government and that's where russia is going to intervene. >> for both of you, what is, what have we learned about the state of the russian military in the last two or three weeks,
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looking at all the cruise missiles going over there and coordination with the ground on airstrikes and so forth? either one. >> i think it's easy to overstate it. the russian military is a shadow of what extent eight military is in the nato allies, and combined they don't come close that all to the power of nato. after the war in georgia at in 2008, which was a smashing victory for the russians in that they drove out the georgian forces, they routed them all the way back to the capital. if they had wanted to -- that war was a disaster for the russian military. they lost seven planes, for in the first day, to the georgian air defenses mind you, let alone nato air defenses. but nontheless, they took away the lesson from that war and put them to use. a lot of attention is paid to
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the big ticket items, visually aircraft, the new cruise missiles, then you just said that are now flying there. but, in fact, there's been a kind of quiet revolution in russian military affairs in the way they structure and organize their forces. it doesn't make them the red army again, but nonetheless they showed a tremendous amount of improvement. some of the technological advances they've made, i'm told, have leapfrogged our advances because we haven't paid as much attention, for example, to the cruise missiles and some of the air defenses. there's talk of a no flight zone now i think is moved. they have a ship parked off syria right now that will stop any no-fly zone funding established. >> how do you establish a no-fly zone? everyone is calling for this. >> my question is how would they
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stop, short of shooting down -- >> that's how they plan on stopping at. >> that would be the challenge. >> it goes back to the question of do we, building, or in the city and want to go to war with russia? we can do a show of hands. i don't think that there's an appetite for that. not to intervene forcefully in syria. i think it would be a catastrophe. no one wants that i think. the notion of some out forcefully stopping the russians in their intervention, that's what that means. that's what it would've taken to stop the annexation of crimea and it was not an appetite for anyone to do that. that some people now in nato the question whether we have appetite to defend our own nato allies and the baltic states, for example. there's a lot of wariness espoused in the baltic states about our commitment to them. i think that's why we are in a
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difficult phase with russia by debt. putin has reasserted russia's role again as a force to be reckoned with. >> just back to the administration and deliberations with the white house. you touched on this to get to tell us again what is the administration's best scenario over the next year for what it's doing now getting arms to the kurds, airstrikes -- >> that they hope will make progress against the islamic state and that they can push the parties in syria into some kind of negotiation. but that's been their search for a number of years spill what do you think the chances are of a settlement before obama are beginning of talks before obama leads? >> i think less favorable than they have been in a long time. you have the opposition group, the political opposition put out a statement about 10 days ago
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saying no way, we will never talk to assad, we will never agree to anything that includes them. you have the americans and europeans saying, well, we are not saying he has to go immediately, although basically that sort of said that from the start. everyone refers to the geneva agreement which is an agreement that the russians signed, and the iranians, in the summer of 2012, sai that said that all ofe players in syria would get together to form a transitional government, and that government will then decide on elections. it doesn't mention bush or assad -- bashar al-assad it says are going in the transitional government has to be mutually agree to by all sides and the assumption was always that meant i wouldn't include assad because
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the guys on our side would never agree to that. now that the opposition feels that they been sort of betrayed by the west, i think that they are probably less likely to participate in negotiations. good question i think though is if some kind of stability can be found in syria without assad's immediate departure, is that something that's going to be suitable for the west? or the europeans now that they've had this huge influx of refugees, are they just hoping for peace in syria so that people will go home, or is anyone going to stick to their guns, so to speak? i think we don't know the answer to that yet.
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>> let me ask you one last question. i just wanted you to talk about putin and his fear of the mob. i thought it was so fascinating for the book and the story in the times about how you go back to dresden in 1991 when the office was being rated. tell the audience about that because i thought that was so revealing about putin's mentality and is fear of chaos. >> it was in 89 actually right after the berlin wall fell. putin was a kgb officer in dresden in east germany. again there was this euphoria that the division of germany was coming down. and putin was in this little outpost interest in which i went to visit, and he describes the scene of the night a few weeks after the wall came down where, when the protesters interest in
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basically -- in dresden, basically surround and overran the headquarters on the river there a few hundred yards from where putin had worked for five years with the east germans and the soviet military. at the end of the '80s. he describes, and others who were there, describe the scene of people. he described it as deranged, like wild eyed people. he saw it as a mob taking over the stasi building are, in fact, it was a fairly peaceful protest. it was a fairly euphoric. even among council may not the stasi but the chief of the department of their in dresden basically threw up his hands and opened the gates realizing he couldn't stop history as it were.
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people within milling through the stasi headquarters there which had a notorious prison in it. they were going to the files and everything and put was watching all this from a few hundred feet away and was in the kgb villa. a number of the protesters, and i talked with couple of people who were there, moved up the street to where the kgb office was. was there. his boss, he was essentially a deputy. his boss was somewhere out in 10. he couldn't reach them. he tried to call the military base nearby to ask the reinforcements because he was terrified. there were several thousand people at the stasi thing and if he doesn't have come up to his villa. there was a description that he recalls of the officer at the base thing that he couldn't help, because he had called and asked for instructions from moscow. but moscow is silent.
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this infuriated putin and he felt abandoned by it. guess you are these people outside, again, he thinks of them as this crazed mass, this horde of people. again, overthrowing the legitimate government, which he had enormous amount of sympathy for. and this notion of mob rule is terrifying to him and it comes up again and again throughout his career. they came up when the soviet union fell. and then onto the '90s as he rose to power. and then as you saw in ukraine and so forth. he had no instructions. a lot of legends grew out of this night that he had confronted these people at the top of the stairs waving a pistol. there is one version he had an ak-47. no shortlist, but it was very much the kind of heroic putin as it was told.
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in fact, one of the guys who was there described to me how putin came out. it was december at night and he blocked. he just basically said, this is a protected diplomatic facility and we have orders to protect it. we will open fire if he seized the building. that kind of mood of the crowd was such that they really did want to pick a fight with the soviet union at that point the they had sort of achieved their goals of getting into the stasi headquarters, and they went away, so putin essentially single-handedly as it often dreamed intelligence agents do, you know, stood down the mob. you see this again throughout, even today, this notion of the chaos, when people are let loose. it infects good idea about democracy, about elections. and it's a fear of the uprising.
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it courses through his entire political career. >> questions? >> it was a very small protest and just the other day there was a protest in moscow against russia's involvement in syria. and i'm wondering if you could just talk about what it meant and what it means. doesn't have any significance? and to karen, and maybe to both of you come in terms of the prospects for political settlement. secretary kerry in the next few days is going to be speaking with the turks, saudi arabia, even russia and jordan. and so in some way could perhaps this escalation and bombing lead
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to more talks and lead to more political settlement? >> the protest i think speaks for itself in its size. it was not very big. that said, there is an antiwar sentiment i think in russia. i haven't been there since the strikes began. i was there last in july, but you do hear people questioning the strategy the same way that we are tonight, wondering what is the in game. i've heard some people that i was talking to the other day about the economic pain that rush is going to right now. its economy is in terrible shape because of the changes and low oil prices. so people questioning can russia for this? can they afford to lobby $500,000 missile at syria? what is really the fight?
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some of the same questions you here here as well, what is russia's fascist could interest? i think that has very little influence on what putin does. last year there was a much larger protest against the war in ukraine. they had 50,000 people out on the street. but even a number that big is a fairly marginal one i think in terms of influencing policymaking. they largely ignore that. gets ignored on tv. maybe make some of the opposition feel better i feel like they're at least registering their disapproval. but it's not that important. on your second question, to jump ahead, the thing that strikes me is that everybody seems to agree on two things come the islamic state is really bad, and only a political solution is possible.
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putin has said it himself. he knows he can't bomb his way out of this situation. he can't keep maintaining power by using 36 -- i think at some point, and i can imagine a scenario but it seems a long way off, that there has to be a negotiated end, as the were in the conflict in the balkans. ultimately, as there will have to be in iraq come in afghanistan. all wars come to an end to some kind of negotiation or that's the obama administration policy. that's putin's policy. the question is how do you find the process that allows that to happen. i really don't see it on the horizon but i think eventually it will come to that. >> i completely agree with that. but i think the americans say that the russians are still giving them signals that they are not wedded to assad and i
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think that's probably true. i think if they can find someone to serve the same purpose that would allow negotiations to go forward that ultimately that's probably the way out, although we've seen in the past couple of weeks a lot of senior syrian military officers getting killed, just all of a sudden. and there's one theory that this is assad and his backers getting rid of people who could play that role in order to protect his own position but i'm not dodging for that interpretation but that is what some people think. i think you are right, eventually that is what has to happen. i think that it is certainly much farther away than the administration thought it was going to be last summer. and was have an undergrad i think needs to play itself out. but i don't know again what happened to the opposition in that scenario.
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they have not managed through all these years to really organize themselves cohesively into a political body that could sit across the table from anyone, or convince the world, let alone assad, that they were capable of joining together to present a united political front completely separate from the military situation. >> how credible is the strategic link between putin's pressure in syria and the flow of refugees into europe such that the europeans cry, raise the white
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flag and at the antigenic we will end the sanctions so long as putin reduces the pressure on aleppo and, therefore, reduces the flow of refugees? >> i haven't heard that. it is entirely possible that i've missed something, but as far as i can see for now, at least in the public statements, the europeans are hanging pretty tough. and if anything putin has increased the pressure on aleppo. i think things are moving very quickly there. you are drawing a link between syria and ukraine, yeah, and -- >> the sanctions. >> right. i haven't seen that. >> i think that's very much what putin would like to see happen. i'm not so sure that that's a grand bargain that is in anyone's interest to pursue right now. there is a notion in russia that
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i think is completely misguided, that the world eventually will accept the annexation of crimea. and i just don't think that's going to happen soon. eventually perhaps maybe we will have to deal with him again on the iran nuclear talks, we did on the settlement, but i think a lease in this government is going to be a desire to make sure that the sanctions imposed because of the annexation remain in place. let alone the shootdown of the malaysian airliner. he's not out of the woods yet but i think that in his mind he sees those as punitive measures that eventually he will wait out. whether that's part of some negotiated solution, you know, we will see. >> back to syria, on the first, how far can the kurds go?
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the further away -- [inaudible] do you expect the kurds to move? what kind of agreement or arrangement do you see between assad and the kurds? what is the best scenario for the kurds in the future of the syria, and with whom will they have to work? have expressed some reluctance to work with the coalition because they continue -- [inaudible] so with whom can the kurds work in this scenario? >> could you all state your name, please? [inaudible] >> thank you.
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>> you know, the americans believe that part of the deal for helping the kurds was that they would not move west of the euphrates river. the official american position is that they're not helping the kurds, they are helping the arabs i think they're all pretty much mixed together. as you said there are reports of kurdish pockets fighting around a level. the turks believe there are many, many, many of them and feel that this is a betrayal in some ways. i don't know if the realm of that is but certainly the kurds how their own objectives and have their own goals in terms of what they're fighting for. in syria are now the americans believe that because they have been really the only effective fighting force against the islamic state in syria that they've been able to find, and because they have struck a deal with their leadership and
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believe that for the moment they can trust them, that's the direction they're going in. idea and it's made the turks very unhappy. i don't know what the kurdish long-term objectives are in syria. certainly the americans have tried to downplay any link with the pkk, with other groups that are actively fighting in turkey and against the turks, but i think that those links are there. it's a sort of tactical alliance right now with the americans over the long term it works to anybody's advantage, i don't know. but as long as nobody wants to put troops on the ground to fight against the islamic state in syria, it is sort of viewed as a good option let alone the only option that's available at
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the moment. but i agree with you. it does pose about the difficult questions for the future. >> one of the things that i was struck by when i spend a lot of time in iraq is, it seems particularly relevant now, is whether or not anybody has an appetite to reopen the issue of borders and partition. there is an enormous desire for independence among kurds in iraq certainly, essentially they already have a sort of de facto autonomy. you wonder whether or not, and i for this in russian speculation analysis of whether or not it's time that we look at partitioning both iraq and syria as part of a longer-term solution. i don't hear that being taken very seriously in terms of
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policy right now because i think of windows that's opening a pandora's box. but it may be ultimately a kind of solution. i don't think would be opposed by the a lot of kurds. >> yes, up here. >> this is sort of a follow-up on what you were saying, steven. what does it take to prop up assad? is it the enclave for a strong? what is putin's short-term objective? what does that actually mean? and secondly, what is the calculus -- the non-islamic state opposition has more of a threat to assad man than isis? and i guess finally, your last
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question, have we seen -- [inaudible] >> i think the russian calculation is that the people who are on the front line fighting the ceiling government or the people where you have to start bombing. those for the most part are not the islamic state fighters, as karen pointed out, or any other part of the country. they are intervening against the immediate threat to the government, at least government control a lot of years. again with the airstrikes, being as deliberate as they are and as blunt as they are, not making a lot of discrimination about civilian casualties either, unfortunately, i think they can have quite a lot of impact. we are only three weeks in, but
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it seems to have cleared the way for some advances by government forces backed up by the iranians, hezbollah and so forth. it does seem to be having an effect whether or not it leads to reopening decisions made when the ottoman empire came undone, that's something that's kind of pie-in-the-sky speculation. could you envision an international agreement where you would go to the u.n. and redraw borders. [inaudible] >> well, i think de facto is what -- i think that's what's already happening in large areas. certainly i think that's what you see with kurdistan in northern iraq, it's that kind of an atomic but even there no one has been willing to say let's talk about independence. maybe, i think was obama who said the 19th century power politics are over, when borders
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were drawn like this by force. putin recruit the board of ukraine by force. -- redo. right now no one is prepared to do that. i think it will sanction it but you wonder whether not that notion which we thought we'd moved beyond is now back at least to this in a discussion. >> i think i would agree with that, i wasn't trying to do tactically on the ground now is to regain control of the road between aleppo on the coast, to open the lines of conditions and transport among the largest cities in the west, and that putin who said this publicly, you know, the only force back into the islamic state is that syrian military on the ground with help from a broad
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coalition. in order for the soviet military to turn its attention to the islamic state it's got to get rid of these pesky opposition people first, and that that's what they're trying to do now. i think they believe, you can correct me but i think what putin's strategy is, is that once we get rid of these people, the fact that everybody agrees that the islamic state is bad, they really will not be any other option. we will all have to join together to get rid of them. and meanwhile, we will preserve our equities in the region. >> i am at george mason. it's a school for conflict analysis and resolution. prior to that i was the director of the program at harvard law school so that a lot of years thinking about negotiation
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processes. and i'm interested in your view, steven, the title of the book is about the metaphor of this hour, right? and i wondered, could you tell us about how he understands a way in which governments change. i mean, what's his view on how that works? the fact that 1917 or something didn't happen, i don't know how he incorporates them into his own worldview. because it would be possible to otherwise have a conversation with him i can imagine about the creation of a process for the transformation over there. you know, a political transformation that would make sense to them. but i do know what kind of political transformation would make sense to them. they can simply the maintenance of a given government is not a strategy for political transformation or political
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change. so i can see the status quo is something he would like what i would wonder, what is his third about how political transformation would or should happen? >> you know, it's interesting that only recently, that is in the last few years, i've begun to the argument that what happened in 1917 was a foreign invasion that corrupted russia, the great imperial russia, was tainted by a bunch of foreigners, plotted in the west, marxist, leninism was some kind of form and function that came into russia from abroad. putin is not i don't think a great thinker in the sense that you are thinking about these kinds of issues. i think is much more instinctive. i think certainly his background, not just as a kgb
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officer, but as a proud soviet boy, i think that come he grew up in a kind of heyday of soviet power, when they put a man in space and it was a period of rebuilding after the war and so forth. not, you know, it wasn't in his, i think in the end he is a very conservative person. again he doesn't like a prop change. he sees things being evolutionary. i mean, himself, i don't think it's going to restore the soviet union, but he is looking for a kind of creation of a stable local model for russia, which draws on a lot of things, but instinctually almost. he is well read. is red russian philosophers and so forth. and this kind of picking and choosing from each of them the elements of a state ideology that really is about him. it's about him as the leader of
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a new russia. which is not quite the empire, it's not the soviet union. it has no real ideology behind it, other than the continuation of his own power. and the central idea of the state being a stabilizing force that holds society together. rush as i very multiethnic, multi-confessional society and they need something to hold it together. for a lot of years it was the empire of sars and then it was the communist ideology for seven decades. since then they've been very much searching for that. i'm not sure that that again is a model that you talk about or that he thinks so much about how that applies to a country like syria, except that in each of the cases the pattern is clear. pcs when people take to the street that chaos follows.
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i think he sees the elections as being dangerously destabilizing. even his own experience, the first election when he worked for the deputy mayor, or he was a deputy mayor, worked for the mayor of st. petersburg, who is one of the great democrats that emerged, and was an ally of yeltsin. this is a guy who worked with during his early years. in 1996 he faced reelection, and he was a huge personality. like yeltsin i think in a lot of ways. he thought that just by sheer force of his charisma would cruise to reelection. in fact, another deputy on a love of food challenge him in the election and putin was infuriated by this. he thought it was an act of
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betrayal. he called him a judas. it seemed that he couldn't conceive of the idea that the people could get rid of this man he quite a dork. he was almost a father figure to him. he lost that election fair and square. it was a real vibrant election and with the campaign, american style, you know, ads and so forth. to putin it was a disaster to look at what happens when you let the people decide. >> i think to your specific question, the russians have said very clearly they believe in the geneva process. they believe they should be transitional government formed of all the players, followed by an election. they don't think that assad should be barred from that process, however. they think that if there's an election he should run, or someone who they feel equally confident will protect their
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interests there. what they say is what's the problem? we all agree on what has to be done. we are here. we, assad can the government, ready to talk. who is on your side? who are you speaking for? >> let me just one, one last question? no one has a question? they are, okay. >> i don't understand this idea that all wars are entered through negotiation. that's not what ended world war ii. it's not what end of the civil war. it's not even what ended vietnam. we thought we had the paris peace accords, and two years later north vietnam invades south vietnam and congress it. so that's the first point. second point is i can't see what the negotiated outcome would be. what do you negotiate with the
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islamic state? they are the enemy. these people are so extreme. could anybody outline what a negotiated solution would look like? >> i think they are not part of this process. they are separate. negotiations would be between assad and discovered, or assad's government and the opponents of his government. the islamic state is something completely separate. that i think is part of the russian point. they are saying we all agree that we have to fight against them come as you said earlier. we all agree they are bad guys. let's get this civil war finished so we can all go fight against them. ..
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but i agree the islamic state isn't something you negotiate with. but i don't think that you can defeat the islamic extremism by a military power alone. in the end there has to be a political process not so much in peace talks with isolating the extremists elements such that they don't have support in parts of the society. you only have the people willing to vote themselves up for ideological reasons but the


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