Russia's invasion of Ukraine: what next? | FT Live
See highlights of the FT subscriber discussion on the geopolitical and economic fallout of Putin's war, hosted by Gideon Rachman, the FT's chief foreign affairs commentator; Anne-Sylvaine Chassany, world news editor and Max Seddon, Moscow bureau chief
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Hello and welcome to this special event for FT subscribers on the war in Ukraine. I'm Gideon Rachman, the chief foreign affairs commentator of the Financial Times, and I'm joined by two of my esteemed FT colleagues. We're very happy to have the incredibly busy Max Seddon, our Moscow bureau chief, joining us from Moscow. Max, thanks so much for taking an hour out of your time to talk to everybody here.
And also from just across the corridor here in London, we're joined by Anne-Sylvaine Cassany, who's world news editor of the Financial Times. So at the fulcrum of everything that's coming into the bureaus right now, formerly our Paris bureau chief. Thanks also to you, Anne-Sylvaine.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the former Ukrainian prime minister who was billed to join us, who is in Kyiv, which is currently under invasion, does not look like he'll be able to join us for understandable reasons. So Max, let me start with you just with the latest news. I mean it seems to me there's sort of conflicting streams coming out at the moment. On the one hand, Russian tanks appearing on the outskirts of Kyiv with talk that Kyiv may fall, fighting continuing across the country.
On the other hand, you were just mentioning some talk of diplomatic initiatives, and of the Russians saying that maybe they will talk to the Ukrainians about neutrality. How do you see the situation now?
I wouldn't get too excited about the negotiations just yet, because it seems that the only ones that Russia is interested in having are the ones down a barrel of a gun, or many guns, to be more precise in this case. So earlier today, Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, he appealed to Putin to negotiate with him. And Ukraine's presidential administration said it was prepared to put the question of declaring neutrality on the table, the idea that Ukraine would give up its ambitions of joining Nato, which is one of the reasons that Russia has started this invasion, and become more like Finland or Austria or some country like that with neutrality legally enshrined.
And the Kremlin said today that they would - just a few minutes ago - that Russia was prepared to send a delegation to discuss this. But firstly, they said that they consider it to be-- the "demilitarisation and deNazification," quote unquote, of Ukraine to be an inseparable component of this neutrality, as they envision it. And this the demilitarisation and deNazification are Putin's stated goals in invading. So it's effectively surrender.
And secondly, they're proposing hosting these talks in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. And Minsk was, of course, the home of the failed Minsk peace process, which evaporated once Putin recognised the Donbas separatists in eastern Ukraine. But right now there have been something like 30,000 Russian troops in Belarus. They're using it as a base to attack Ukraine.
So it's... Belarus has, in many ways, effectively been occupied militarily by Russia. It's allowing itself to be used this way to attack Ukraine. So its status as a neutral arbiter is not something I think that the Ukrainians would agree to.
Yeah. I mean, the other thing that Zelensky said in the last 24 hours is essentially the Russians are out to kill him, to assassinate him. And I must say, when I was at the Munich Security Conference and a lot of the kind of western key policy makers were there - this was even before the invasion - they were saying that, A, they were sure that the Russians would invade... the Americans and the British were. And B, that the strategy would be to decapitate the Ukrainian government. So what's your reading of that view from Moscow?
I think it was... if I had any doubts about what Putin's plans were they were dispelled effectively on Monday night. When before he declared war, he recorded this address to the Russian people that was his recognition of the, we'll call them the DNR and the LNR, the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics in the Donbas.
But that was only really a small part of the speech. It was this hour-long rambling, angry, resentful rant, basically. It was 7,000 words, so even 2,000 words longer than the also rambling and angry historical essay he wrote about Russia and Ukraine last year. And the Kremlin confirmed that he wrote the whole thing himself.
And it was just full of this absolutely hateful language and barely veiled threats about what he was going to do the Ukraine. He seemed basically personally affronted by not just the actions of Zelensky's government, but much more than that. The existence of Ukraine in its current form seems to be something that he has since said was an existential threat to Russia.
So yesterday, his first comments after declaring war, he... although I shouldn't say that, because he hasn't declared war. What he's declared is a special operation in the Donbas. Well we can get to that a bit later, what those semantics mean, because they're important.
But he summoned the oligarchs around in the Kremlin for this bizarre meeting, where none of them could get within about 20 feet of him. And he told them that he was forced to "liberate" quote unquote Ukraine, because Ukraine's... he said if they hadn't done it, then the existence of the country would have been called into question. And he's talking about Russia, not Ukraine. So basically, what Putin was saying there, that either Ukraine exists in its current form, or Russia exists in its current form - it's either us or them, was his message.
Yeah. And Max, I mean, incidentally, I should say to people watching, if you're not following Max on Twitter, you really should, because he live-tweets things like the Putin speech. So it's really the most rapid and comprehensive way of following these events in Russia.
One more question for you, Max, before I bring in Anne-Sylvaine. I mean, as you said, that speech was extraordinary. The humiliation of his own oligarchs, and before that his own National Security Council in these televised meetings were extraordinary.
What do you make of, firstly, of the Russian system of government? Is this basically Putin deciding everything, now, and everyone else just having to jump? And what do we know of his state of mind? I mean, I remember when all this began, the two of us having a conversation, and you said to me look, this pandemic. He's been very, very isolated, talking to basically two guys who are hawks. Is this a different sort of Putin that's emerged?
I think it's different even than what I told you at the start of this. I think the extent to which, really, Putin has become the state, it's like maybe - I might be getting the French king wrong, but I think it's Louis XIV who said, l'etat c'est moi - I am the state. This is... Putin has basically melded himself with the Russian state, after 22 years.
And this is something that's natural, that happens in most autocracies. Once you get past somewhere between the eight and 12 year mark, that's usually where the degradation starts to seep in. And it was really intensified by the pandemic. Because even though in the rest of Russia, basically, no one has been bothering much to observe Covid rules for quite some time now - and Russia has one of the world's highest infection rates and death tolls per capita as a result - Putin has been on this kind of extreme lockdown that often seems to defy scientific logic, where officials have had to quarantine for two or three weeks to see him. I know people who have done this.
And one thing that happens... I was speaking to someone a couple of weeks ago who speaks to him sometimes, who has said I've started to do this less than I used to, because I don't... there is Kremlin Zoom. You don't have to wait to speak to him on Kremlin Zoom. You can get on the schedule.
He speaks most people that way. I don't want to sit in this hotel for two weeks. I've got other things to do with my life, and I'm not in the secret services, whereas the people in the secret services and the army, they objectively, like in any country, they have reasons why they need to discuss things with the president. They have to be as technologically secure as possible.
And I think the success of American signals intelligence in predicting this... it shows you why they have that level of paranoia. But the level of paranoia about Putin's health is just astonishing, and we still haven't really been given a proper explanation for why he does this. And it's produced these absolutely incredible images, where we've seen the big table, where Macron from France and Scholz from Germany, they have to sit about 20 feet away from him at these huge tables.
And then some other visitors, such as Lukashenko from Belarus, were given the small table, because they agreed to submit to all of Putin's coronavirus protocols. But what really astonished me was just last week. Sergei Shoigu, the defence minister, who is one of four people who Putin consulted when he decided to annex Crimea in 2014, he went to see Putin, and he wasn't allowed to get within 10 feet of him. Also at the other end of a comically large but different table in the Kremlin.
And then we had this Security Council session, which is really incredible, because it was believed that Putin was basically under the influence of Shoigu and these three other people, who are all people he knows from the Leningrad KGB in the 1970s. And they all, like him, started in counterintelligence, which is important because if you work in counterintelligence, your mindset is all about threat perception. And the danger is that you start seeing threats where they may not exist, because your job is to find them. And God forbid that you should miss them.
And if you look at some of the things that these people say in public - we're talking about Nikolai Patrushev, the Secretary of the Security Council, Sergey Naryshkin, the head of foreign intelligence, and Aleksander Bortnikov, the head of the FSB, which is the biggest security agency. They tell them a lot of, to be quite honest, pretty out there stuff. That amounts to the US is trying to destroy Russia, and... with everything from gay marriages to Alexei Navalny, the jailed anti-corruption activist. And you see Putin start to repeat this stuff.
One of the most astonishing things he said is that we know that the US doesn't think that Russia should be allowed to have all of its oil and gas wealth to itself. And the source for this turns out to be an ex-KGB guy, who found this out by, as he put it, reading the mind of Madeleine Albright, the secretary of state in the second Bill Clinton administration in the 90s, using his mind reading psychic powers. This guy said this on the record. I'm not making it up, you can Google it. And ...
So when you're that isolated, there's a risk that the tail starts wagging the dog. And Putin, the information that he has in front of him is very limited. And the more isolated he is the more difficult it is to get him to even really engage properly in anything. And the aides to Macron and to Scholz have said, since they came to see Putin recently, that it was basically just this history lecture for pretty much the entire time. And they couldn't get him to budge on anything.
And then whatever they agreed, particularly with Macron, the Kremlin did everything to publicly humiliate Macron afterwards and go back on it, as soon as they announced it. So I think that shows you how difficult this it is dealing with someone who is that isolated.
Yeah. No, I mean I was talking... I'll come to you, Anne-Sylvanie, on Macron in a second. But talking to our editor Roula Khalaf who has ... knows many Middle Eastern potentates. She said that they often develop a kind of health obsession, because they control everything in their society. But the one thing they may not be able to control is disease, the one threat they may not be able to control.
So they become obsessed with taking health precautions. It's apparently quite a common syndrome. And on the long rants that you mentioned, Max, I mean, I was talking to European diplomats who had been involved in these missions to Moscow, and one of them said that Macron, or was it Scholz I can't remember, felt that in a way, they were almost participating in a therapy session. There was no dialogue with Putin. He was just unloading on them. And that they were just sort of nodding and saying yeah yeah, that sounds really awful.
Oh, and that's the funny thing, is that that's how it is with even his own officials. Which is what we saw in this extraordinary Security Council session on Monday, which is normally never held in the room where they held it. And that was symbolic because it was the same room where Crimea was annexed.
But Crimea, even... we used to think that Putin at least had this Politburo with whom he consulted of four or five people. And... hello.
Oh, Max, the cat.
Yeah, there he is. Yeah. And instead, these very people who, us armchair criminologists, I absolutely put myself in that category. We've written so many times that Putin is under the sway of people like Patrushev and Naryshkin who tell him these bizarre things, and he seems to really believe them.
What he did was, he basically just grilled them one by one until they laid out all the options on the table, but in ways that were pretty clearly designed to tell him what he wanted to hear. And a lot of them look visibly uncomfortable about this. So Sergei Shoigu, the defence minister, that was the first time in a very long time I can remember seeing him not in uniform. He was wearing a suit. I think, and he didn't look very happy about having to advocate for the independence of the Donbas separatists.
And then you had Patruchev, who's probably the most hawkish guy. And if you talk to people who know him, they say yeah, he really does believe all this stuff. And there's a lot about it in our FT colleague Charles Glover's book about Eurasianism, Black Wind, White Snow, about the weird history books Patrushev reads. But he said, I think we should maybe use this for negotiations, to give the west and Ukraine some time to decide. And then Putin basically dismissed that.
But then you have this absolutely amazing exchange with Naryshkin who is... he's thought of as the most sophisticated and smartest of Putin's oldest confidants. He's the only one who lived in the west when he was in the KGB. So he basically publicly humiliated Naryshkin in front of everyone, to the point where Naryshkin forgot what they were supposed to be discussing.
And then just a few hours later, Putin comes back and, having said I haven't asked any of you about this before. I wanted your advice for making a decision. And even if you leave aside the fact you had 200,000 troops at the border, and we still don't know when he actually made a decision. And I think there's also probably, there was a lot of long term planning, but also a lot of short term opportunism that likely went into that.
But why would you even bother doing this, and making the show of having this ridiculous session, if then you're going to go, oh by the way, here's a 7,000 words I prepared earlier. And do you want to hear about Soviet nationality policy for 20 minutes? And I think that the reason they did this - to answer your question about the Putin system of governance and how it's changed - is that this wasn't him having some sort of debate, and him being first among equals, like even Mao in the Chinese Politburo. This was... there's a Russian expression called ... which is something like collective complicity. And it was very much as if they all knew that he'd made up his mind. And he wanted them..
It's mafia for, like, dipping your hand in the blood.
Yes. Basically, yeah. And, yeah, dip their hands in the blood. And... because you could see some of them look really uncomfortable about it. Even some of the most hawkish guys, Mikhail Mishustin, the prime minister, he tried to sneak away without saying where he stood on the issue one way or the other. And Putin made him get back out there.
We just heard that the EU is now thinking, actually, of targeting Putin and Lavrov. So that would be a one... would be like probably, largely symbolic. Like freezing assets owned by Putin is like, how do you pin down the assets owned by Putin? That he probably doesn't have any foreign assets, you know
You mean there's not a bank account saying V Putin, the Kremlin.
But nonetheless, I suppose... Max, I mean, do you think... obviously Putin was very angered. And I think, from a distance, seemed quite rattled by the Navalny video showing his enormous wealth, claiming he owned this palace by Sochi and so on. So would there be some sort of demonstration effect if the west were to announce, well, we think Putin, as I've heard from people, that he has $50bn, $100bn, salted away overseas. And we're freezing that. That presumably would be heard in Russia, and people might be quite interested by that, yeah?
I've heard this from American officials, myself, as well. And they said that the problem is that there's not necessarily an account in Switzerland saying, V Putin, $50bn Swiss francs. That's not how it works.
Our former colleague Catherine Belton has a good book. Putin's People, that goes into this, about systems of beneficial ownership. And also about how the money that is thought of as dark money from Russia that's in the west, it isn't necessarily there just for pure greed reasons. It's also there as an instrument of state policy, taking over from how it was used by the Communist party and the KGB in the Soviet times.
So it depends, firstly, what kind of intel they have that could be embarrassing. And they've said that they've kept... they do have some, and they've shied from disclosing it before. I think Biden actually said, right before he left office as vice-president in 2016, that he advocated for this. So they have a lot of embarrassing things about Putin and Obama wound up not publishing it, if I remember rightly. Something to that effect.
And the problem with it... if you look at, say, Navalny's palace video, which is a really astonishing work. And it has something like 125m views on YouTube, now. But firstly, you have to bear in mind that doesn't translate into real anger, necessarily. It's not that for every 2m views you get 2,000 people on the street, or something of that sort.
Not all those people even necessarily think that it's bad that Putin has it. It's a bit like the Trump effect, where people say about Trump that Trump is what, like, people who don't know any rich people think rich people live like Trump.
So let me come to a good triple-headed question from somebody in the audience. Or all questions, actually, I was intending to ask Max anyway. But I will sort of channel it through.
One says, what is Putin's endgame? It seems impossible that he could occupy Ukraine long-term. What's the FT's sense of Russian public opinion at the moment, because obviously there were these demonstrations yesterday. And what's the prospect of this blowing up internally for Putin?
Just to give Max a rest, let me give a quick reply. I mean, I don't... of what the people I'm speaking to in Munich heard about this question of what Putin's endgame is, and it seems impossible that he could occupy Ukraine a long term. I've heard, a lot is this sense - which I suppose relates to what you were saying, Max, about him possibly being out of touch. This was from Russians as well. Not at Munich, but...
That if he's made a big mistake, it is to underestimate Ukrainian nationalism. That he may have believed his own propaganda, that this is a kind of a Nazi regime, or that Ukrainians really are brothers in arms of the Russians, and that there won't be much resistance because Ukrainians really do want to be part of Russia, et cetera.
But much like Putin talks about Ukraine, I don't think it's coincidence that probably the most powerful statement by any international politician about everything that's happened this week was by the Kenyan ambassador to the United Nations. Because he saw, I think, through everything that Putin said, and situated it very firmly in this colonial dynamic.
And it's clear that Putin... I think he genuinely believes that Ukraine is completely under the thumb of America and run by Nazis... even though the president is Jewish. I think he really thinks that, to some extent. Or he's convinced himself of this.
And he wants to achieve something that isn't really possible, because Ukrainian society has changed, not just since the Soviet Union, but since 2014, and in really irrevocable ways. And the irony is that before 2014 Ukraine was split quite solidly between various divisions - the Russian native speakers versus Ukrainian native speakers, East versus west versus central Ukraine, town versus country, and so on.
And you didn't really have the civic modern identity of what it means to be Ukrainian, because this country had never been independent in the modern era before 1991, and never been within its current borders until 1944. You didn't have that really strong sense of civic identity across the country. One thing.. and Putin really united people around that.
One thing that I think is sometimes underappreciated is that the province in Ukraine that, in which the most soldiers died during the eight-year conflict in the Donbas, it's not Kyiv. It's not western Ukraine, which is heavily Ukrainian speaking. It wasn't all that was part of the Russian empire, even. It was Dnipropetrovsk, now Dnipro, in eastern Ukraine, right next to the Donbas. And it was Russian speaking soldiers fighting on the front lines against Russia.
And that's something that I think Russia... either they don't understand, or they don't want to understand it. Because the cognitive dissonance that they have, that's required for their messaging... even by the standards of spin in wars, and every country does ridiculous spin in wars... is really incredible. Because you're trying to sell everyone on the notion that Ukraine and Russia are one people.
We're brothers. We don't want to harm you, we're liberating you. But also at the same time you just ask the people whose houses are being bombed.
And the way that they're spinning this in Russia on TV is not that we are doing a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The heaviest fighting so far has been in Kharkiv, which is the biggest Russian speaking city. It's the one city in Ukraine that's the most similar to Russia, really. That there's fighting in the centre of Kyiv like there is going on as we speak. They're just selling it as this liberation operation in the Donbass, this much more limited, just a rerun of 2014 and 2015, only the Russian involvement is overt rather than covert.
And there's a sense that even just admitting the full scale of the conflict would be some kind of embarrassment. The Russian media censor said it would block media outlets that quoted anything that wasn't a Russian official source. And the Russian official sources are saying that the Ukrainians are surrendering en masse and Russia has not sustained a single casualty. And...
Wow. OK, We'll come back to this vital question of the Russian public opinion in a second. But I just want to come to Anne-Sylvaine on a point that was already being debated when I was in Munich, which kind of flows from what Max has just said, which is, OK, it looks pretty clear that however bravely the Ukrainians are fighting that they're going to lose the conventional war.
You then get to this question of an insurgency. And a lot of the western officials were saying that it is a moral obligation, but also in our strategic interests, to supply a Ukrainian insurgency with weapons. To turn this into an ongoing conflict. To drain Russia in the way that Russia was drained by the first Afghan war, the one they started in '79. And that does seem to me to be the way that western opinion is heading at the moment.
On the other hand, I did hear other people saying, hang on. That is a dangerous, dangerous policy. Firstly, it has an immoral element. You've turned this country into Syria. I see Max nodding. That you'll have a continuing war, more deaths on your conscience, flows of refugees.
Plus you have a risk that Russia won't accept this. As one western official said to me, so what happens when we send in a convoy of Stinger missiles for these insurgents, and the Russians bomb it. We're close to a full-on war at that point. So what is your sense of this debate about the insurgency? Is it taking place yet?
Yeah, I think it is. Part of the dilemma, I mean, from the get-go, I think you see a really real split between the British and an Anglo-American view and kind of a Franco-German view about how to handle the whole Russian problem. And that goes to the heart of that problem, as well. It's like, gee, Russia is a big noisy, problematic neighbour. It's not going to go away. It's still going to be there. And how do we contain the threats?
So you have different views. One view, shared by the the Brits and the Americans, but also the Poles and the Baltic states, who really are fretting about the fact that they could be encircled. They have Kaliningrad enclave, the Russian enclave, and now Belarus, which is quasi... you know, which is a satellite of Russia, now, with Russian troops.
And just as a reminder, there's a referendum on a constitutional change in Belarus, taking place now until Sunday, that will lead to the fact that Belarus is going to drop its neutrality and will potentially allow nuclear weapons to be stationed on its soils.
Max, let's get back to this vital question.
Which I didn't answer. Yeah, let me answer the actual question.
Yeah, so if we look Yes, so if you look at the sociology that's available, and the most recent thing actually came out yesterday, taken by the only independent pollster that we have here in Russia, the Levada Cener, which found that on one level, the Russian messaging on Ukraine generally works. Because remember, this is taken before the war actually, the invasion, started. But it said... the tension... 60 per cent of Russians said they were the west's fault, 16 per cent said they were Ukraine's fault, 3 per cent said that they were the Russians' fault.
But just as important in that poll is more than half of the respondents said that they weren't actually really following it or not following the Ukraine story at all. That's probably changed, now that there is a full-scale invasion. But what that shows you is that in 2014 the people were euphoric over Crimea. People were really gripped by what was happening in the Donbas. It served a lot of goals for Putin even though Russia never admitted its involvement.
And that magic dust of patriotism from Crimea has completely worn off, at this stage. And people were - even before what's happened to the Russian financial markets now, because of sanctions and the war - people were worried about pocketbook issues. They're worried about inflation, they're worried about the price of buckwheat and sugar, and mortgage rates, and things like that.
And you... on top of that, you have the issue that in Russia, it has become... it's basically illegal to protest, at this point. It's been happening that way for many years. Last year the protests against Navalny were put down so brutally Navalny was jailed, and his organisation was completely destroyed. Pretty much everyone who was even vaguely senior in it either fled the country or is in jail right now. And right now, they're putting Navalny on trial in prison. The trial is in the prison, where he is almost certain to get 15 more years. And there are still more charges pending against him after that.
So Ukrainians have a hard time understanding this because, going back to the colonial thing, if you are, there's a big difference between being the colonial master and the colonial subject. Ukrainians, through most of their history, they've been the colonial subject.
What that means is there's this real strong tradition of protest, of resistance, fighting back. The Ukrainian national anthem is a beautiful resistance song, and was one of the reasons why, it's very powerful and it's sung at protests or during the war, right now. And and so a lot of Ukrainians, as Zelensky keeps saying to Russians, you know Russians, only you can stop Putin. You need to come out and protest. That's the only thing that's going to help.
And he's been very critical of the west for not doing enough. So when you see... it's only been, at most, a couple of thousand people in about 40 cities yesterday who came out to protest. But that is something that takes a lot of courage. You can see this cat behind me, my friend who looks after him, sometimes, while I was away - he was arrested yesterday among many others. There, for their livelihoods, because they're cheesy pop singers.
Or you had a couple athletes.. you know sports is also totally controlled by the government. You had ... one of the stars of the Russian soccer team, and you had Evgenia Medvedeva, the former Olympic figure skater, who, it was kind of a double whammy for her, because she used to be an athlete, now she comments on figure skating on state television. So there's no way that she can make money.
All these singers... even if they were going to be completely banned from state TV, it's not like the Dixie Chicks 20 years ago when they were cancelled for opposing the Iraq war. Because they could at least do concerts. So if you see..
So these people are taking personal risks, Max. But...
Yeah. I mean, they're not saying let's rise up and overthrow Putin. And they weren't even naming Putin or blaming Russia for the war. But it's a sign that there are some cracks in the matrix. And there are some reports today that... one of the people who... one of the celebrities who posted no to the war was this guy, Ivan Urgant, who hosts the equivalent of the Stephen Colbert show or-... I'm not sure what it is in the UK... Graham Norton? Is Graham Norton still in the UK on TV?
I believe so.
Yeah. And there are some reports that his show has been cancelled, and they won't let them on the air after he said this. Because there's a fear that... his show goes on air live, and that could be very damaging to Russia if he said that live on air.
OK. Just a quick follow-up, and if you could give me a short answer, because I'd like to get to Anne-Sylvaine on the China question in a second. But what you say is fascinating, you know. But for those like Zelensky or even, dare I say me, who hope that this might actually be a threat to Putin, are they kidding themselves? Do you well a couple of questions. The questioner asked... what did they ask? They say how important is China's stance in this?
To elaborate on that, so everybody's really intrigued by that Xi-Putin meeting. There was a communique issued. Do you think... how much do we know about it? Do you think they came to some sort of understanding, are we guessing that Putin may have told him what he was going to do? And when it comes to the sanctions that we were talking about earlier, how much can China enable Russia to cushion the blow from the western sanctions?
I mean, I'd be curious to know what you think, Gideon, on that. Because we are seeing China very careful and treading a very fine line between its principle of territorial integrity. I mean, they don't want to make any comparison between Ukraine and Taiwan. Taiwan is part of China. It's not... Ukraine is a different kind of story. They don't want any comparison to their own issues or geopolitical issues over Taiwan.
They are... but that said, they don't want to criticise Putin. And it's quite interesting to see the readout today from Beijing. It's clear that they're laying the blame on the Americans, or the Americans, so they're buying into the narrative, into Putin's narrative, that the Americans are to blame, that Nato's expansion is to blame, et cetera. And that then Russia, in essence, was provoked.
Well I'll give a quick answer, and then and then we've only got a couple of minutes left, so I'll come back to Max. But my sense is that those people who say, oh the Chinese are a bit uncomfortable with this. It violates some of their views on sovereignty. I don't really buy it. I think that basically Russia and China have a joint interest in undermining American uni-polarity.
And to the extent that Russia... if Russia achieves a stunning success in Ukraine, that's good for China, because it makes America look weak. And if they get bogged down, that's even not so bad, because America then gets diverted towards Europe, and that has limited resources, and it may free up China's hand in East Asia, would be my guess. So I think there's quite a strong identity of interest between Russia and China.
But Max, let's... we've got a couple of minutes left, so come back to you. Just give us a sense of... sorry to ask you a personal question, but you know, you've made your career in Russia. You know the place. You've come, to some extent, to love of the place, I think. Speak the language, and so on.
Must be kind of a depressing moment for you, to see this happening to a country that has a lot going for it, in some respects. And do you do you think that western ties with Russia, that made your kind of life possible, are now going to be severed? We're back into a new cold war?
I think we're kind of beyond that. Also, I should also point out that I lived in Ukraine for a couple of years, and I and I covered pretty much all the active phase of the Maidan revolution, the Crimea, the war in the Donbas, the shooting down of the plane. So I have a lot of... just as many really sentimental feelings towards Ukraine.
I think if you look at the careers of people with my sort of similar educational background, like the former deputy secretary of state under Clinton, Strobe Talbott. His dream was to be a foreign correspondent in Russia. He was, in the Soviet Union, he was declared persona non grata.
And he built his career as this kind of Soviet biologist, specialising in arms control. And if you read his memoirs, which are absolutely fascinating, of his time as Clinton's - Russia Hands, that's the title of the book. Russia Hands - you get the sense of how excited he was just to be able to go to Russia freely after the fall of the Soviet Union, to speak to Russian people.
And you got the... at the end of the book, you get the first sign that he senses something might be going seriously wrong when he has his first meeting with Putin, and Putin starts casually dropping these references to these 19th century Russian poets that Strobe Talbott wrote his master's thesis about. Which is just a message to say, I've read your file. I know who you are.
And the question is, I think, something I've heard from a few people is, what if Russia becomes like Iran? I mean, could this be in... a situation like in the 80's, where people wear Putin T-shirts in America, much like... or in Europe... much like you have these Ayatollah T-shirts, when he was public enemy number one.
I was DM-ing the other day with... yesterday with someone who's a former American intelligence official, who said about Russia and Putin, it's amazing, you know, he thinks about history all the time. He doesn't realise that the most obvious comparison touchstone for what he's doing historically is Hitler.
And I think it's obviously very depressing to see, in the time that I've lived here, the dark turn that the country has taken. Even at the same time as you have this vibrant society that is often completely separated from that. But I think if you want to feel sorry for anyone, it's got to be Ukrainians, right now. You know, they're the ones being bombed. And literally the reason why we don't have a Ukrainian voice in this conversation is because Kyiv is under siege.
And there's a lot of intelligence, now, that Russia has lists of Ukrainians who will be punished or even executed once they occupy Ukraine. And do you think that Arseniy Yatsenyuk, he was a big... he was an important figure during the Maidan, and he was a, albeit unpopular, prime minister, in the first post-Maidan government. You would imagine that people like him are exactly the sort that, as Putin himself said, that Russia wants to punish. So...
OK, with that very chilling thought, but appropriate thought, thank you very much, Max. As you say, our thoughts really should be with what's happening in Kyiv now. And I know they all are. It's very hard not to be a bit haunted by that.
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