tv RAND Discussion on U.S.- Russia Relations CSPAN October 25, 2018 8:36am-9:45am EDT
>> well, i would agree that it's certainly difficult to imagine an operation this sensitive would have been undertaken without some degree of top level sanction. that seems improbable to me. however, the russian system is not a well-oiled machine where, you know, putin pushes a button and suddenly the entire thing snaps into motion and does exactly what he had in mind. it operates in a more byzantine fashion with bureaucracies that are relatively siloed in competition with each other to inundate and improvise and impress their bosses, so in
terms of what concrete tactics played out is probably some mix of this top down and bottom up element. one thing that is important to note here is that it was relatively -- i mean, we talk about how the sensitivity it probably meeting political sanction, but it was cheap. we're talking about, based on these indictments, a couple dozen people operating over the course of, you know, at most a couple of years with relatively low budgets, particularly by american standards. and the effect which, you know, is difficult to measure, they achieved is another thing, but if it's so easy and cheap in this information age to strike back at your adversary to a certain extent, it's -- this kind of thing was sort of -- given that russia was prepared to take more assertive steps in light of the preparation steps,
this was sort of an easy step to take. it didn't require the kind of -- it didn't require a huge amount of resources. >> so, yeah, cheap in terms of the initial cost. you both described a situation where there was a mindset where they're almost not thinking about consequences or the second step or something like that. especially given how sensitive they are about our procedures in their politics, could they not have imagined it would have the explosive result that it had? >> it's hard for any of us to imagine that, i think. it would have been different had the election result been different, of course. but taking a step back, what we do know on press reporting is that in the summer of 2017, you know, they came at an official level to the u.s. and basically
offered a truce on the experience. so this is a russian tactic where first is a punch back in the face, and then they say let's stop doing this now and have an agreement we'll no longer be punching each other in the face. >> because that strategy works so well with other countries in the world, right? >> that demonstrated a degree of thrill tone deafness about what happened and the inability of circumstances to bargain with the state that had just interfered on the principles of interference. as much as that might make sense in a sort of abstract policy sense divorced from any political reality. policy does not exist in a political vacuum. >> well, let's talk just for a couple minutes about how we get out of this mess, and then we'll open it up to questions. we've put a whole series of rounds of sanctions on russia now. so, dara, have we -- is russia feeling adequately punished and
as if they are prepared to change their behavior as a result of that? >> sanctions are hurting them. they are having an impact. they've had an impact on the ruble, their economy, procurement moving forward to the next decade. they've made some revisions downward as a result. i think of the sanctions, the most effective ones are the new deter sanctions. these are the ones that will be triggered within 30 days of the midterm elections if it is determined that russia was interfering. that is what triggers them. that one is very specific. it's a very specific red line, if you do this, the consequence is this. we've put that out there.
we have to follow through on it if interference happens and we feel reasonable that it did occur ask we do nothing, then we've made it so much worse. we have to be prepared to follow through. >> so then we follow through on another round of sanctions which leaves us where? >> right. i think the nuclear option is sanctioning the sovereign debt, and i think that's a very significant step. >> one more thought, then i'll come to you, sam. do you have any sense that people have an idea what's at the end of this road? we keep putting sanctions to the point of what happens? >> if our goal is to sanction russia until they give back crimea, i don't see that happening. i don't see it happening. >> so i take it from your answer, you have a sense there is not a clear end game? >> no. >> sam? >> well, i think -- i'm going to mangle the quote, but thomas shelling wrote something along the lines of coercion divorced
from a diplomatic process just ends up resulting in states just harming one another for the sake of harming one another, and i think that's where we are right now. there is no parallel track where we are delivering clear messages about what would be necessary for russia to do in a realistic sense in order for the sanctions to be relieved. and sanctions are only as effective as the prospect of rolling them back is real. and now that so many of them have been codified in law, the counter-legendary sanctions act, which was signed into law in 2016, has tied the executive branch hands to a certain extent and thus made it very difficult to deliver credible messages about what it would take to -- for russia to do, in terms of changing its behavior for these sanctions to be rolled back. so we're now in a position where because of the muddiness of the message, the russians have concluded that there is nothing they could do that would allow for sanctions relief.
and so better to just not pay attention, that the americans are going to do this no matter what we do. >> which is a dangerous situation, right, because we'll keep punishing and they'll keep ignoring and then it can go to something -- let me follow up just to get to the final question of what do we do. what should be the medium term goal? if we say that we agree maybe we don't have a very clear end game right now, we can't think 20 years ahead and imagine a wonderfully reformed relationship. but over the next two to five years, what should we be aiming for in this relationship and what would be one or two steps
you would recommend to begin moving us in that direction? dara, do you want to start? >> so i would recommend that the few areas that we actually do have a common vision on, focusing on those first. we are in a very dangerous period in our relationship. i think we need some wins at this point. i think negotiating new start, that is very important, it's coming up soon. that's something to focus on. that's a potential win. counterterrorism, something we're both very much in alignment on, that is something to focus on. just as -- again, these are human beings. when president trump called president putin and let him know about the terrorist attack in st. petersburg and they were able to avert it, little things -- that's not a little thing but the personal touch involved, i think, can go a long way in making this process a little bit more pleasant for both sides. >> it seems like the political will that's required, because you both have described a situation where the momentum on
both sides, there is such a calcification in anti-russia right now, and on the russian side, if you come and talk to me about start, we say, okay, fine, but we have to resolve other issues where you're just hitting me over the head every day. is there a presumption that things are dangerous that if we started going down the path you're talking about, we would be able to accomplish some things, or do you think we would run into quicksand very quickly? >> i think the russians can compartmentalize. there can be a lot of problems in the relationship but they're able to focus on the parts that work and they can put the rest aside. i don't think we're as good at that. i'm trying to be very polite. >> you are being very polite. we're awful at that. >> but syria, i think, is an example of where we aren't in alignment with the russians but we talk to them almost every day because we have to. we have to deconflict things. so it is possible. we're not going to solve this whole relationship, but we should start with a win
somewhere. >> so, sam, medium term objective or what we should be pushing for and a couple of actions. >> i would say our objective should be stability in u.s.-russia relations and that we shouldn't aim any higher than that because at this point we have -- we don't have stability and that's potentially dangerous not just for the two countries but for the rest of the world. and so under that rubrik, you can imagine different tracks, be it a prolonged start when it comes to extension in 2021 or salvaging control treaties that are on life support or having a more regular exchange in terms of meetings, even, and taking this kind of deconfliction mechanism that has worked in syria and see if that can be done in, say, the baltic and the black seas. avoidance and having some degree of confidence that we're not, you know, one step away from things devolving into direct conflict would be an important -- i think that should
be our objective. you know, we do have signs that the russians are potentially, for the reasons dara mentioned, more open than we are. they have already proposed extending new start for the five years that that's allowed. and, you know, the policies of this work differently in russia because of what we mentioned earlier about their desire to be acknowledged about the great power of an equal, that whenever business is done in the u.s.-russia context, this sort of affirms that yearning, which is -- and that's, you know, even polling indicates that average russians like the idea of restoration of great power status. so, you know, that kind of dynamic, i think, makes it easier politically for the russian government to potentially engage, even if they don't like a lot of the things that we're doing, including, as they see it, trying to overthrow their government, which is pretty serious, of course. but that does raise the question
about whether the politics are as forgiving on this side. i think we have yet to see that. of course, it should be noted that the politics on this side are largely a function of russia's own actions so they have themselves to blame to a significant extent that it has become so politically toxic to -- for the u.s.-russia relationship to even exist in any form. >> and in a bipartisan way that maybe hasn't been true in a long time. we'll turn to questions but that's obviously one of the great risks right now, that we're talking a dilemma that the political dynamics certainly on our side and some degree on both are not going to let us get out of it without tiny baby steps. great insight. i'm going to open it up to questions.
sir in the back. >> thank you. what are the eu's stakes? what's going on here? and how can they be helpful and in some ways are they being hurtful? >> well, so u.s.-russia relations -- the economic relationship between the eu and russia is far, far more significant than ours with russia, and, of course, they're our neighbors in a way that only alaskans are. and, you know, therefore this -- the broader west relationship with russia is sort of a more palpable thing for a lot of eu countries. so generally speaking, that has been somewhat of a force for moderation in the broader
western position in the context of collective decision-making bodies like nato and the eu. if we dial back a couple years, there was a very united us-eu front on russian policy coming from the ukraine crisis, and even going back to the soviet period where there was coordination on sanctions and the eu was taking much more of an economic hit and policy on how to deal with the ukraine crisis and so on. now because of broader tensions with the u.s.-russia relationship, the sort of the foundations of that unity are to a certain extent eroding and particularly on sanctions where the piece of legislation i mentioned actually targets european companies for doing business with russia, particularly in the context of a particular pipeline project that germany -- or german companies are spearheading. but also in terms of sanctions, we're now on the opposite sides of iran sanctions as well. so when acting together, i think the u.s. and eu can have a greater impact.
the challenge is now this potential coordination is happening in a much more complex u.s.-eu relationship that has developed in the last couple of years. >> so dara, on that same question, the last couple years it seems like despite those differences, europe has been infuriated by election meddling and things like that. would you say the eu is more aligned with u.s. policy or not so much? >> i think we're seeing lots of populist trends popping up in europe, and where a few years ago i would have said the trans-atlantic relationship is strong, we have a common vision, i don't feel that way anymore. i think when russia sees that crop up, it's an opportunity for
them. >> okay. questions? sir. >> thank you. i have things i worry about in terms of the u.s.-russia relationship. the russian economy is in trouble. putin will look to outside reasons why that trouble exists and sanctions are a perfect excuse. my great fear is that as the russian economy tanks, both his expansionist desires and anti-u.s. rhetoric will increase. i think we're playing into that hand completely. does that compute with you guys? >> i guess the good news is you don't have to be so worried about the russian economy tanking. if you look at consensus
estimates of the imf, the world bank, the ebrd, russia's economy is essentially set to stagnate, more or less, and experience 1 to 2% growth rates for the foreseeable future, but that's not a collapse. however, the political dynamics, of course, you're exactly right. the sanctions were a political gift in a lot of ways in that they allowed for, you know, pointing to an external reason for an economic downturn that was as much caused by internal problems as it was by sanctions, particularly the sort of secular slowdown in russian economy like reforms, dependence on hydrocarbon exports and so on. that having been said, going forward what's interesting --
this might just be a blip, but there was some suggestion that over the summer the degree of anti-western sentiment among the russian population was sort of waning, and putin's popularity has also taken a bit of a hit from recent pension reform, raising the pension age, the retirement age. so domestically things might be a little more dynamic than they were in the period immediately following the annexation of crimea when there was a real
national consensus and you had 85%-plus support for putin. that is now, you know, in the 60s which would be the envy of most leaders globally. but nonetheless different from where it was in the 2014, 2015 and even 2016 period. i'm not saying there's been imminent less chance of unrest, but it's a little less dynamic than it has been in recent years. >> just to follow up on that, dara, from time to time you read accounts of wellsprings of anti-putin sentiment in russian society. how seriously should we take that? is this a regime likely to be in any kind of trouble even if the so if you look forward to what
we know about their federal budget for the next three years, the defense budget is stagnating and they're actually pumping more money into domestic programs. because for a while, for the last decade at least, the military is the one that's benefitted, even in times of scarcity. now they are flipping it on its head. it's a serious problem for them. >> to the theme of the question, is that a situation that should start to worry us if things got worse, is that a situation in which putin does the classic sort of nationalist outburst and tries to rally public support by picking a fight with the west somehow? >> well, it's hard to make the
case from my perspective that any of the big external acts of aggression or just military interventions beyond russia's borders that have occurred in the last decade or so were a result of the sort of wag the dog kind of dynamic that each of them resulted from concrete situations in particular theaters that russia felt the need to respond to in the way it did. so we haven't seen that kind of thing yet. you know, generally speaking, on questions of war and peace, those domestic considerations directly i think have not played in the way we would potentially be worried about them happening in terms of instability causing some sort of international explosion. all cards are off the table if things get really bad, of course. although it is true that there is this increased focus on domestic security and crowd control and so on, the way russia conceives of what
internal instability looks like, often involves a degree of external instigation. they may not see the line between a popular uprising and, you know, u.s. efforts to undermine their government as very significant. and, therefore, i think there's a potential risk in that context, too. >> okay. ma'am? >> can you talk about the confluence between energy in the market and policy? so russia caught europe's attention and ukraine's attention by play ing with threats of natural gas and withholding exports. so there are new natural gas sources in the mediterranean. the u.s. has increased our supply.
and whether europe has weaned itself in a way that allows that to have less influence? >> you want to start with that one? >> sure. so i don't follow this issue closely. but i don't think that they've actually weaned too much of their dependence so far. russia's trying to essentially diversify its portfolio by engaging more with china and riding out some of this politically motivated economic sanction activity and lesson the impact on their economy. russia is actually fiscally conservative. when oil prices are high, they're stocking as much of that away as they can into their national savings fund. they don't actually do a lot of deficit spending, borrowing from abroad. so in terms of me getting lost with my answer to this question, which is happening right now, but they're actually replenishing their savings fund at a significant rate right now which i think moderates their behavior. >> do you want to add anything? >> sure. so e.u. imports of russian natural gas peaked as high as they ever were last year. so we're not seeing a relative
decline of russian natural gas imports into europe. and it also bears noting that piped russian gas is 30% cheaper than l&g liquid natural gas, which is the kind the u.s. would be exporting. all that having been said, the good news is the e.u. has gotten its act together on its internal market which was ultimately the answer to the russia supply problem. that is by creating an integrated e.u.-wide energy market, russia's ability to manipulate prices vis-a-vis one particular country basically goes away. that's what we've been seeing happen, including with the diversification of imports. russia is incorporating the spot price into its contracts for pipe gas. i would say in this context, though, that what we're seeing broadly speaking in this arena -- and this connects to the question about u.s. sanctions on european countries is that with the completion of the pipeline, which may fall under sanctions, which would be the pipeline to germany under the baltic sea, is that russia's long-term project of building
pipelines around ukraine will largely be complete. you know, russia's been embarked upon a multibillion dollar endeavor to cut out ukraine as a transit country. this ultimately will in one sense make europe more energy secure, because ukraine will no longer be able to hold the e.u. hostage in the context of their price disputes with russia, which have been the sources of the previous two cut offs. but it will deny ukraine of transit fees. upon a multibillion dollar endeavor to cut out ukraine as a transit country. this ultimately will in one sense make europe more energy secure, because ukraine will no longer be able to hold the e.u. hostage in the context of their price disputes with russia, which have been the sources of the previous two cut offs.
but it will deny ukraine of transit fees. there is a new dynamic that will be emerging in the next few years. >> interesting. sir? >> i would love to jump in on that question. i was the guy in ukraine to get us all the gas. i have a question i think we should get to. we haven't really talked about china. but china, if you will, probably the most clever adult in the room of the potential great powers today. are they going to be cooperative or just keep loving the fight
between russia and the u.s.? it seems like we're talking about it like it's just one-on-one. i'm not sure it is. >> yeah. the question is is do you sense any strategy from china's standpoint to strategize about u.s./russia relations. have you thought about that? >> well, you know, i think that inevitably both russia and china -- there is an extent to which their respective relations with the u.s. affects their -- particularly russia's eagerness to engage with china. and that they are united in opposition to u.s. goals on a number of levels. that sort of brings them closer. i think the position that we now find ourselves in is that their relations with each other a significantly better than our relations with either of them.
i think is what kissinger said we should not be doing about 40 years ago. you know, there have been significant developments in relations. >> so up until recently it seemed like china was more willing to sit on the sidelines and yet the united states and russia duke out their problems while they continue to be active in other regions very quietly. however i think there's a few new irritants in the relationship. new technology going into japan. i think it's driving them closer together. as a case in point, russia and china just had their first post soviet large military exercise together. china sent over several thousands of people to participate in an exercise in siberia. a few days after that, we sanctioned china for purchasing fixed wing aircraft. i don't know and i can't tell if that was a deliberate timing or if it was complete accidental
timing. i don't know which one is better or worse. it won't matter because they'll interpret it as a deliberate attempt to get in the way. so i think increasingly we're going to see them in alignment. there's very specific things now in the relationship that they can operate together on. >> is there a natural limit to that closeness? >> i think so. particularly when you talk about arm sales. i mean the russians are angry at the chinese for how similar their designs are to russian aircraft. which is ironic. because russian aircraft are very similar to some of ours. but there are some irritants there. there is a bit of competition in the arms market, and china is emerging and encroaching into
the bands that russia is in. the united states is at the peak, we have the best stuff, it's most expensive. not everyone can afford it. the russians offer an alternative that's pretty good and it's a lot less expensive. as china starts to compete in that realm, that's going to be a problem i think. we're not there yet. but it's coming. >> okay. ma'am? >> i just was wondering what are some of the lessons that we can learn from the cold war period that we could implement today? >> funny that you asked. we've been thinking about that. >> you may be in a better position to answer that than us. >> oh, boy. so just a little context, mike and i are working on something that's relevant to that question. trying to remember because we had a number of case studies,
including the cold war. well, one thing that strikes me from the -- well, i guess there's a broader dynamic in the cold war that came through a fruition which is that at times when the potential for direct conflict got to be too real and/or when, you know, one of the sides basically indicated that there needed to be some sort of mechanism for developing a set of rules around a particularly dangerous issue, we often succeeded in doing that. a lot of that happened. this is in the strategic nuclear realm. and perhaps one lesson to take away from that is that when finding at least a sense of rules of the road to be able to minimize the potential for direct conflict, even between committed adversaries. >> i'm going to play bad cop. sam and i talked about it today. in addition to crisis
instability and improving that, there is also from the cold war sort of a vicious back story of spy warfare that goes on in the shadows. i think one side is doing that today. and it's not us. i think there is -- what is done diplomatically and politically and what goes on between security services. if one keeps pushing and receives no pushback it keeps pushing. i don't want to recommend that. i think we need to be more realistic about what's happening. >> an interesting aspect of the cold war is one of the arguments is that we try to have a better relationship and we needed to
return -- the original goal is transformation. at least as expressed in some of the original u.s. containment policies. we'll hold the line until we change the nature of their regime. that's what russia is afraid of. i'm not sure we change it today. is there any echo of that same -- or do we have to not get into that same mindset of thinking transformationally about the goal of all of that? the goal of the covert stuff was to weaken their system so it changed. it's dangerous to think that way because it's feeding their threat perceptions.
>> i'm so pessimistic right now about the opportunity for a transformational change in our relationship. >> yeah, you have to think of something else in the next ten minutes. we can't leave them with a pessimistic message. not transformational, but in the sent of regime change. implicitly or explicitly, some regime change was part of the strategy. a very different system than there is today. but yet a regime whose essence it's difficult to imagine living in a stable way well. to make that parallel from the cold war, should we have a sense of, absolutely, we're upholding
values. just as the critics suggested, we should not make peace with this kind of a regime, we'll manage the tensions. but we should be moving towards a world in which russia is being governed in a different way. should that be the message of the u.s. government? >> our ability to affect that kind of an outcome -- looking historically, it exaggerated our role in the context of the cold war. the soviet union changed itself largely in the context of parastroika and gorbachev. we have to think about how we can affect that outcome. we haven't put a lot of effort into democracy assistance and civil society support and all the things that reflect our values in russia in the post soviet period. look where we are today. if we had the silver bullet i think we've been hiding it pretty well. >> we're very good at that. >> i don't know that we know how to affect the kind of change you're talking about. i would question the premise that the essence of this regime
makes it impossible for us to have stability going back to what i said earlier. i'm not sure the essence of the regime has changed fundamentally since 2014. and in the pre-2014 era we had a different kind of relationship. so, you know, again, that was -- we're not going to be able to go back to that period at this point given what's happened in the interim. it does suggest that it at least is in theory, politics aside. you know, it would be lovely if there were a more warm and cuddly russian regime for us to have -- to interact with. we don't get to choose our partners, particularly not in this world. i think we're going to be seen with authoritarian powers. and which they didn't feature the same fault lines along
national internal republican boundaries as the soviet union's did. they're likely to be more durable. and, you know, if another miracle occurs, then we end up in a situation where it's a very different kind of government we're dealing with, that would be great. i think we have to plan for the status quo obtaining for the foreseeable future. >> okay. i think we have time for one more question. ma'am, on the end? >> i would like to know how much
is the lack of a united front between the administration and its diplomatic efforts and washington with its unforgiving politics like you've said and its inflexible sanctions legislation hurting the future of u.s./russia relations? >> do you want to start? >> several years ago i thought about there's a new generation coming up. on the russian side and on our side, national security professionals and government officials, who maybe have a dim intellectual memory of the soviet union or no memory of the soviet union and it would be an opportunity for both sides to reset. i think we have both drifted into past dependencies here. i'm worried we're going to lose an entire generation. i don't see how we can really comprehensively move forward with russia while they attacked our election.
i mean, if there's no admission of that, i mean, how do we move forward from there? in terms of how they view us, i think they feel equally as -- i don't want to say hopeless, but pretty much. who is in control here? who is driving the policies at the state department? is it the senate? is it the nsc? the white house? they don't know who they should be engaging with for answers. i think what they're doing -- and this is where it gets dangerous -- is they're all coming back and trying to piece it together in their own inner agency process. that's the dangerous part i think. >> sam? >> as far as the future is concerned, we have the history of -- i point to the role of legislated foreign policy and congress being intimately involved in a relationship like this. you can look back to the jackson amendment which was a set of sanctions on the soviet union that were imposed in 1973.
they were on the books for 38 years. we not only had this piece of legislation that was signed into law in august of 2017, but there are now being contemplated further legislated sanctions. in terms of the future, one of my worries is that we are locking ourselves in by creating a legal framework that tends to be sticky in the context of u.s. politics. it's much easier to pass sanctions than it is to repeal it. that could be constraining and potentially creating long-term problems for the future. >> yeah. well, in a second i'll turn it over to andy. obviously, we haven't solved these issues tonight. if nothing else, to approach these things, we need this kind of tremendously informed expertise of the sort of folks we have here at rand. please join me in thinking our panelists. andy, over to you. >> darra, sam, mike, thanks for a terrific and informative session. thanks as well to our audience
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