The critical step for the US and Europe in responding to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarianism and aggression is to reinforce institutions such as the European Union and NATO, historian and journalist Anne Applebaum told policy specialists and journalists at the Atlantic Council. 

Applebaum discussed the crisis surrounding Putin’s seizure for Russia of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine, and the resonance of recent events to those she chronicled last year in her book, Iron Curtain, about the Soviet seizure of power in Europe following World War II. 

A transcript of the event is below

Welcome and Moderator:
Fred Kempe,
President and CEO,
Atlantic Council

Anne Applebaum,
Journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning Author

Transcript by
Federal News Service
Washington, D.C.

FREDERICK KEMPE: Welcome, everybody. I think we’ll get started. We’re starting a few minutes late, so we’ll go a full hour. I want to let you all know – and you know, as well – what a huge pleasure it is for me to host Anne Applebaum at the Atlantic Council. One of my favorite authors, historians, commentators, writer of cookbooks, and I’m just delighted that we can talk a little bit about her latest book and then some connection to the current events, not just in Ukraine, but regarding Putin’s Russia, Putinism and how we should understand that.

So first of all, as a book author myself, here’s the book –

ANNE APPLEBAUM: (Laughs.) Thank you, Fred.

MR. KEMPE: It is meticulously researched. It’s incredibly well-written, like everything Anne does. It’s a must-read, but even more than that, it’s a must-buy. So – (laughter) – get – (laughs) –

MS. APPLEBAUM: (Laughs.) Buy it for your friends. Your cousins.

MR. KEMPE: Exactly. All your gift-giving needs.

I’m really proud to say that we will be, as a gift of Random House, be giving out the book at our Distinguished Leadership Awards dinner on April 30th, so that’ll be about 700, 800 copies that Random House has donated to us. And we chose that book. They gave us a list of all the books they publish in a couple of years and we chose the book because it fits so nicely together with what we’ll do in the run-up to that Distinguished Leadership Awards dinner, and that’s a conference on Europe, whole and free with about, Damon, a dozen ministers from the new states, the new members of NATO and the European Union. It’s the 15th anniversary of NATO enlargement, 10th anniversary of the Big Bang, NATO and the EU enlargements. The dinner that night will be honoring Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, European Commission President Barroso. We’ll be marking these anniversaries. We’ll also be giving a distinguished humanitarian leadership award to Ruslana, so one of the great humanitarian activists, singers, Euro song contest winner who has been singing the Ukrainian national anthem on the Maidan on many evenings, most evenings. So it’s going to be a great evening and it’s going to be all the better for Anne’s book that we’ll be – we’ll be giving out there.

“The Iron Curtain” has won a lot of awards, including the – (inaudible) – Prize for Historic Literature, the Arthur Ross Silver Medal, Council on Foreign Relations. Anne’s working, currently, writing for The Washington Post and Slate and she’s directing transitions forum at the Legatum Institute in London. Her writing has won several other awards, including the one that all journalists and writers really yearn for, which is the Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for her book “Gulag: A History.” Also the author of “Between East and West: Across Borderlands of Europe.”

Let me just say very briefly before we turn to opening question and then discussion that part of the reason it’s so wonderful to have Anne here talking about the issues she’s talking about is that the Atlantic Council has really been heavily focusing on the situation in the Ukraine and all its various aspects and working very hard to facilitate substantive policy discussions. We’ve hosted the prime ministers of Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia here. We’ve had a Google hangout with the national security adviser of Ukraine, and so on. And we are trying to create some light around this situation and trying to understand that, and that is part of that. Because of that, if you’re going to tweet today’s event, other than including Anne Applebaum’s @AnneApplebaum, we’re doing #ACUkraine for this event. So thank you for tweeting us often, and we already have some tweet questions for you, Anne.

So let me then just say one last thing is we are also organizing the Wroclaw Global Forum, June 5th and 6th in Wroclaw in western Poland. And there we’re going to be highlighting very much the situation in Ukraine and how trans-Atlantic partners can advance global democracy, prosperity and security dealing with not only democracy issues and the issues of the region but also security issues and economy issues, energy issues. And we’ll be presenting the people of Euromaidan with a freedom award this year with key representatives from the people of Euromaidan, as well as some other awards.

So let’s get started. And I’m going to ask you one of the questions I always liked to be asked when I was in a – in a book Q-and-A because it allowed me to say just, really, almost anything I wanted about the book. And so I really would like to know, with limited time we all have, this was a six-year project. What prompted you to take it on and what did you learn? What did you find most surprising or important of what you learned through this process?

MS. APPLEBAUM: Thank you, Fred, and first of all, it’s of course delightful to be back here. This is my home town. I work for the newspaper across the street. I’ve been – I’ve known Fred for, I think – we were trying to remember – I think two and a half decades or something like that, and so I feel very much at home here and thank you for inviting me.

You know, the book was in some ways a – my delayed response to 1989. So I was a young journalist; I covered the collapse of communism in 1989 in Poland but I also traveled quite a bit in the former Soviet Union at that period; among other places, Ukraine. Also the Baltic states, Belorus. And you know, at the time it seemed to us very obvious that the system had collapsed, you know? Of course it was corrupt, it was silly, it was – it didn’t work, it was a disaster, it was – you know, it was, you know, chaotic, it made no sense, people didn’t believe in it. And you know, at the time, I didn’t really question that, you know, of course it had collapsed; it never made any sense to begin with. With some years’ hindsight, I began to ask myself, you know, if it was so stupid and corrupt, why was it that people believed in it in the first place and how did it come to be put together?

So in a way, this was my retrospective – you know, it’s maybe the first stage in my attempt to understand 1989, but it was an attempt to understand, what was it that was created by the – by the communists? Why did they win? You know, why did they appear to win? Because they certainly, in the period that I describe in this book, communism was triumphant. They – the Red Army marched into very disparate, very separate, different kinds of states in Central Europe. I very deliberately chose countries with different political histories to focus on. I focus on Poland, Hungary and East Germany. Now, Germany was post-Nazi; Poland had been an ally; Hungary was somewhere in between.

MR. KEMPE: And all of them, at that point, had had closer relationships with the West than they had with the East, as well.

MS. APPLEBAUM: They all had close relations with the West. They had all belonged to different empires. They spoke different languages. And then, of course, if you start including, you know, Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia – you know, these are very disparate countries. They had no connection to one another before.

So what was it that had happened in 1945? You know, when the Red Army came, what did they do? Because if you had looked at all of these countries in about the year 1950, five years later, it would have looked to you – and it did indeed look to people at the time – like communism was an outstanding success. You know, you would have seen the same kinds of language, the same kinds of May Day parades, the same political institutions had been set up. So what was it – and it was in a – in a – in really what was, in retrospect, a very fast period of time. So what happened, what were the techniques that they used, and why did they succeed? And we can talk a little bit more about that.

I mean, the other inspiration for the book was – so, since 1989, one of the main things I’ve written about as a journalist is what we now loosely call democratization, or liberalization, or the creation of capitalism or privatization. So I spent 20 years reporting on the unraveling of these countries, you know, how – the unraveling of that system; sorry. And again, in the course of trying to understand democratization, first in Eastern Europe, then later on in, you know, in the Arab world and other parts of the world, I began to understand that in order to understand how it worked and why it worked or why it more often didn’t work, one needed to have a better grasp of what was the system and what were the levers that made the system work. And the purpose of this book was to, in some way, begin to explain that.

So, what is totalitarianism? What was it? How was it created? What were the most important institutions?

What did I learn? Yes. (Laughs.)

MR. KEMPE: Yes. Exactly. And that gets to what you were saying is the techniques – is it the techniques? – what did you learn? I mean, if you look at this, you say in your prologue, history sometimes looks inevitable in retrospect, but in – but from the perspective of 1945, no one could have guessed the direction in which all this went.

If you reverse engineer this, what did you think were the most important aspects of what made these countries submit to this form of leadership that ultimately didn’t hold, but at that time, as you said – and we’re looking at ’44 to ’56 – it did.

MS. APPLEBAUM: It held for a long time. It held for a long time.

I mean, the book is – you know, it’s that thick, and that’s what the book is about, so I won’t – I won’t go into great detail about every aspect of what was done. But the main point is that when the Soviet Union arrived in the region, the Red Army and the Soviet officials on the ground had a very clear idea of what they wanted to do and how they were going to get there. They didn’t necessarily have a sort of 10-point plan in the way an American would, but they knew what were the institutions that they – that were most necessary to take control. So they had experience of their own revolution; they had had the experience of the Sovietization of Central Asia, of the Caucasus. They had then had the very important experience of 1939, when they occupied eastern Poland and the Baltic states.

And they had a very clear sense of what were the – what were the key institutions in societies to control. And again, I’ll just very briefly list them now. One of them was – one of – the first thing they did everywhere and in some cases before they arrived was create the secret police. And they created a police force using, very often, criminal gangs or local thugs and sometimes with a few ideologues, and they created police forces and when – as soon as they arrived anywhere, they brought – in the case of Poland, they started creating the secret – what would be the Polish secret police in 1939. They begin early, so during the war, they’re training what would be the Polish secret police. They bring them into the country with them when they come in 1944, when they enter the country.

So they create a secret police force and they also begin to identify not who are their enemies, but who are their future enemies, you know? So they look through – who would be the potential enemies of a Soviet system? And some of them are obvious – you know, capitalists; you know, former politicians; former policemen. You know, but they’re also – so when they get to Poland, who are they most interested in? They’re interested in the people who’ve been fighting the Germans. So who are the first victims of communism in Poland? They are the anti-Nazi resistance movement. And this sounds very paradoxical to many audiences, particularly European audiences who aren’t used to thinking of the Soviet Union – you know, who would be the first people they would attack? It would be the forces who are fighting Hitler. But that is what they did. And if you think about it, of course, it’s logical because if you’re brave enough to form a partisan gang and live in the woods and fight the Nazis, then you’re going to be brave enough to fight the Soviet Union as well.

And so this was – and this was very – choices like this and decisions like that were made all across the region at that time. So it was very careful targeting and it was often of the people who would be carriers of the national identity or the national elite. You know, they tried to figure out who would be the elite, and sometimes they guessed correctly, sometimes not. Who were the potential future elite and how could they arrest them, intimidate them, deport them and sometimes murder them?

And that was done – that was done immediately and it was done in every single country. I mean – so they – and they did that within weeks or months of arriving. And this was – this was a very – you know, this was very important, so they – that was right away.

They were obsessed with the radio. Not so much newspapers and magazines and – (there were ?) sort of intellectual journals at that time were sometimes allowed to go on writing more or less freely for a little while. But mass media, the sort of – the thing that the peasants and the workers would listen to, and these are the people whom they expected to support them, they controlled that right away. And immediately that was – again, in every country – was under the control of either the Soviet Union directly or communists – local communists loyal to the Soviet Union right away.

So one of the first things they did, you know, in occupied Berlin, when they came into Berlin they occupied what had been the Nazi main radio station. They protected it; they prevented it from being destroyed. And within – I think it’s 10 days – of the capitulation, they have, you know, German communists who have been trained in Moscow who are already broadcasting out of the Berlin radio. They were very – they were very clear about mass media and the need to control that right away.

The third thing was a piece of it that came as something of a surprise to me when I – you know, because when I started doing the book I looked at timings. You know, when did they do what? What were the things – and some of the things you think they would do right away, like nationalize industry, they actually didn’t get to until later on. One of the things they do almost immediately – again, within a year, a year and a half – is make sure there are no independent youth movements. So they get interested in civil society, in things like you wouldn’t expect them to care about, like soccer clubs and chess clubs. And they establish rules about who can register and who’s allowed to legally exist. And again, this is something they do surprisingly early.

So from the beginning, they’re interested not just in politics and not just in economics, but also in any other alternative form of authority in the society. And of course they’re interested in the – but interestingly, in the beginning, not so much the church, although they got to the church a little but a few years later – but church youth groups, church movements, charities – church charities. These were organizations that were under pressure right from the beginning. So it was an understanding of, and a surprisingly sophisticated understanding of what is civil society and how it works in the West and how – this is what we need to control, because these are – these are possible alternate sources.

Later on, there’s a more familiar story that, you know – you know, we’ve known for a long time. They – you know, using different tactics, they eliminate other political parties, they nationalize various, you know, industry and so on. But the first things they do in the very beginning – and the first half of the book is devoted to this – are, you know, the secret police, the identification of potential enemies, mass media and civil society.

MR. KEMPE: So in my initial notes to introduce you, I said it’s a must read for anybody who doesn’t want to repeat the lessons of the past. And then I took that out because I said, well, let me see if Anne agrees with that, because Putin is not Stalin. You know, 2014 is not 1944. President Obama said, you know, this is not a global ideology and it’s not the Warsaw Pact. So what is it? And maybe you can help us connect the dots a little bit from your book to what you’re watching now. And in your own head, what does Crimea have to do – and what do Georgia and Ukraine have to do – with Budapest, Poland and the GDR of that period?

MS. APPLEBAUM: So, you know, so first of all – yes, actually, I agree with President Obama. This is not a new Cold War. Russia does not have a global ideology that appeals to people – not yet, actually. But there are echoes from the past.

I was in Kiev about three weeks ago. And while I was there I was, through – a Ukrainian journalist introduced me to two people who were refugees from Crimea, because there are several thousand refugees from Crimea now in different parts of Ukraine. And I spoke to them about, why had they left? They were very ordinary, middle-aged, sort of Soviet-looking people, actually – Russian-speakers. And they – I think he had worked at some kind of military research institute or geologic – it was – it was some rather boring-sounding institution in Crimea that, you know, couldn’t possibly be taken for a source of dissidence.

So why did they leave? And I asked them. And they described to me something that gave me chills. They said, well, were at home. We had supported the Maidan. We traveled to Kiev to protest for a few days. We feel ourselves to be Ukrainian patriots – although they were – they were Russian-speakers – and, you know, we – and one evening a few nights ago somebody knocked on our door.

And they opened the door and there were a group of thugs with, you know, armbands that said, you know, Russian something on them – Russian Bloc – Russkiy Bloc or something, on their – on their – just obviously a gathered-together group – who began interrogating them. You know: Who are you? Why were you at the Maidan? Do you support Ukrainian fascism? You know, an interrogation, intimidation, and threatening.

And they got scared. And they decided, it’s better if we leave. And the echo for me was – this was – this was the technique that was used in 1945. You know, when they didn’t have fully-fledged police forces they used local thugs or whoever it was. They went from house to house. They intimidated people who might have some connection to the opposition, and they told them they were not wanted. Now, we haven’t seen the – you know, there hasn’t been the bloodshed that there was in 1945. But some of the thinking and some of the techniques that have been used during the occupation of Crimea made me feel like I was, you know – I was replaying some of the past. I mean, the elimination of all opposition media, the centralization – the intimidation of Greek Catholic priests – there were some who’ve been picked up off the street and interrogated, and one was beaten up – the intimidation of Crimean leaders. You know, other groups and other alternate sources of authority in the society are being intimidated.

I mean, it’s still very early days, and Crimea is a tiny place and in many ways very unusual. And it’s not a place that has a very clear identity, unlike, say, you know, Poland or Hungary did in 1944. But the thinking of how do we occupy something and what does it mean to take control, and how do – where are the levers of control in a given society, I mean, I think that’s a blueprint from the past. You know, so – you know, so I – you know, you definitely see this is something they’ve done before. And they remember how to do it.

MR. KEMPE: Well, let’s dig into that a little bit further. In the prologue, I found your sort of history of totalitarianism – the tautology and where it came from and the language and Machiavellian – excuse me, Mussolinian – et cetera – was fascinating. But Putin doesn’t strike me as totalitarian, but I don’t know what he is. And so, with your – with your historian’s hat on, draw the line there. You know, Russians travel freely. They’re buying up real estate.

MS. APPLEBAUM: In some ways they’re freer than they’ve ever been.

MR. KEMPE: Absolutely. So what is Putinism?

MS. APPLEBAUM: Well, interestingly, Putinism has, in some ways – so it has another – there’s another lineage of Putinism. There’s another – let me – let me trace it – another connection for you to my book and to my – not to my book, but to my time period.

Putin became a KGB officer in the ’80s, when the head of the KGB was Yuri Andropov. And he has since, many – he’s built a statue to Andropov in Petersburg. He dedicated a plaque to him in Lubyanka. He’s made clear his allegiance to Andropov, who was briefly then general secretary of the Soviet Union.

Who was Andropov? Andropov was the ambassador to Budapest in 1956. And Andropov had a very clear theory about how you prevent 1956 from ever happening again. And it’s a – it’s not a system – it’s not about total control, but it’s about elimination of small groups, environmental organizations – it’s, again, this focus on civil society that the Red Army had in Eastern Europe, and the focus on, you know, keeping the main narrative under control, but also eliminating potential democrats wherever you can.

Putin has, you know – of course, not only was he taught under the Andropov system, he himself was in Dresden in 1989 and he saw, again, what happened, you know, when you let these groups rise up and demonstrate. What happens? Well, as in 1956, they turn into a mob and before you know it they’re stringing up secret policemen, which is what happened in 1956. Not in ’89, actually, although it’s amazing that it didn’t. But they did – they did all get kicked out of their houses and so on.

And Putinism, actually – I mean, the thing is, is it’s now evolving. I mean, until now, it was a very sophisticated system whereby, you know – whereby, you know, Putin hasn’t ever tried to impose full totalitarianism; in other words, making people march in stupid parades or mouth slogans or, you know, or pay lip service to an ideology that people don’t believe in. He’s actually stated – he’s been very non-ideological up until the last two or three years. You know, so the first phase of Putinism was much more original and interesting. It was more – it was, you know, I’m legitimate because I am – it did have its own narrative of history – I am legitimate because I have brought – I’m going to make Russia great again after the disaster of the 1990s.

It did have its own theory of the media. He did – as he came to power, he slowly eliminated independent television in Russia. They, again, as in – as in 1945, they allowed some small groups and some – you know, Novaya Gazeta and some newspapers to exist, but the main television narrative was controlled. It allowed some opposition, some conversation on the side. And, I mean, it was almost as if the rule in Russia was, you know, you can say anything you want, you can do anything you want, as long as not too many people are listening. So you can have a very small opposition newspaper. You can organize a very small meeting. You know, when the numbers get big, then we – then we stop it.

This, I think, has now –

MR. KEMPE: So that’s the reason why Vedomosti is OK, but television is different – Vedomosti the newspaper.

MS. APPLEBAUM: That’s right. Yeah, television is definitely different from newspapers, because newspapers have a much smaller readership.

More recently, it seems like the system is changing. I mean, in a way, what we’ve seen in the last few weeks is a – is a much more intense, much more – much more ideological, you know, version of Putinism than we’ve seen before. I mean, the new narrative about Russian nationalism, you know, the need to protect Russian natives – you know, Russian-speakers – around the former USSR, this rebuilding of Russian empire – this is a new – this is actually – he wasn’t doing that 10 years ago. This may be – I mean, I have – we can talk about why that change has happened. But, you know, until now it’s been about controlling the main narrative, controlling the main levers of the economy, you know, allowing plenty of things to happen around the sides, allowing Russians to travel, but just keeping control of the things that really matter.

MR. KEMPE: And why has the change happened?

MS. APPLEBAUM: I think the change has happened for a couple of reasons. One was I think he was very spooked by the mass demonstrations in Moscow two years ago, not because they necessarily were going to lead to a national movement, but because, I think, once again they triggered this memory of, you know, 1956, 1989. You know, and then of course, you know, they’re very similar to what happened in – you know, Ukraine – that what happened on the Maidan is exactly what he fears will happen in Russia.

I think he was spooked by that. I think he was aware that there’s a, you know, new middle class in Russia that is less – you know, is less – I mean, you know, the opposition also changed in Russia, and it became much more focused on corruption and anti-corruption, and that’s a – the opposition that’s about anti-corruption is much more dangerous for him because he’s far more vulnerable there.

And I think, also, the slowing down of the Russian economy has undermined some of his legitimacy. You know, he – his argument until now has been in essence, you know, support me; I don’t give you full democracy, you know, but I’m making – but the country’s getting richer and your wages are rising. If that begins to change, if he – if the economy slows down, if there’s more middle class unrest, then I think he’s in danger. And I think he’s now shifted the – he’s begun to shift the narrative. He’s intensified it. The space for free and open media that did exist up until now is being shut down. I mean, you know, Russian newspapers and websites have been closing in Russia, even in recent days. And I think the –you know, there’s more of a focus on creating a narrative that’s to do with national rhetoric – I mean, sorry, national – you know, national greatness, the reassertion of Russian empire, and so on.

MR. KEMPE: Let me ask one more question and then – and then turn to the audience, and I’ll put in a couple of Twitter questions as well. The role of the West now – you provocatively wrote, in a recent, I believe it was, column, that this is a wake-up call. Western institutions have enabled the existence of a corrupt Russian regime that is destabilizing Europe. It’s time to make them stop.

Explain that a little bit more, and how – make them stop.

MS. APPLEBAUM: Well, so, you know, what is Putin’s main foreign policy goal? You know, it’s to keep himself and his – and the people around him safe, and essentially to make the world safe for corrupt Russian money. That’s the – you know, that’s what they want. That’s their foreign policy. And what is the biggest obstacle to that foreign policy? Well, the biggest obstacle is – well, really, it’s the European Union, but also NATO. So Putin is able to, you know – is easily able to pick off European countries one by one, and to some extent has been successful doing that: create a separate relationship with Germany, a separate relationship with Italy, a separate relationship with Austria.

What he’s not able to do is fight the whole EU. You know, if the EU decides in the next year or so to, you know, launch an antitrust lawsuit against Gazprom – which is a possibility which, of course, he knows about – Russia will have difficulty fighting that. By the same token, you know, he has no, you know, I mean, you know, he certainly has no – there’s no challenge presented to him by Latvia or Lithuania or even, you know, Italy or France, but NATO, to him, presents, I mean, I think an imaginary challenge, but it’s a challenge nevertheless.

So his interest now – I mean, one of the – seems to me one of the other motives, you know – aside from the desire, the need to discredit Maidan and discredit the revolution in Ukraine – one of the other motives for the occupation of Crimea was a deliberate decision to defy and undermine the sort of – the post-Cold War order, the EU, NATO, all the rules.

You know, we keep saying, how could he do this? He’s wrecking the post-Cold War order. He’s ruining the rules that we’ve created. I think that is the point. The point is to show that these rules don’t work anymore. You know, they’re fictitious. You aren’t – you know, nobody’s safe. You know, these rules about borders that we all thought were so were – you know, all those questions were decided 20 years ago – or not 20 years ago, 50 years ago, that it’s all, you know – that this isn’t – the desire to undermine this order, to undermine the institutions of Europe and the institutions of the West.

What, therefore, should be our response? Well, one of our responses needs to be the strengthening of our institutions, the strengthening of – by which I don’t mean some kind of massive remilitarization or Cold War rhetoric, but rethinking, you know, what is NATO? What is it for? You know, it’s a defensive alliance. It’s designed – it’s designed to reassure the nations who are members of it and prevent invasion. You know, therefore, we need to think again about where our – where NATO troops are located. We need to think again about NATO strategy. We need to think about what NATO should be exercising given what Russia is exercising – they are – they constantly exercise the invasion of Poland and invasion of the Baltic states – you know, just to keep people on their toes. You know, we need to – we need to rethink what that is.

I mean, the – there – I think there is a real danger to the coherence of the European Union that I don’t know that European leaders themselves are yet aware of. Russia funds far-right parties in Europe, some of which are going to do very well in the next European elections. Many of these far-right leaders – Marine Le Pen, for example, in France; leader of Jobbik in Hungary; actually the leader of UKIP in Britain, the anti-European party, are all open admirers of Putin and Putin –

MR. KEMPE: And have been publicly supporting him, yeah.

MS. APPLEBAUM: And have been publicly supporting him.

So the – there is an attempt to encourage – both encourage the far right and through the propaganda that comes out of Russia Today and other Russian organizations also to encourage the left and the sort of left-wing critique of the West as well.

I mean, and I think this is a moment for the West to refocus on, you know, restrengthening NATO, remembering what Europe is, but also things like rethinking the way – energy security in Europe, rethinking what – you know, shouldn’t the U.S. be – start thinking harder about gas exports to Europe, don’t we need to be building LNG terminals faster, and also to think about – and this is – this is really a European question as well – to think about the role of Russian money in Western financial institutions, where is it, what does it do, who is it supporting, which politicians has it bought, you know, which football clubs has it bought, you know.

But there is a – there is a – there is a need to, you know – because Russia – Russia is thinking strategically about how it can use its money and its influence to undermine the institutions of the West. We don’t think along those lines at all. But, you know, in the way that, you know, when China makes a big investment in the United States, people at least talk about it and are aware of it, you know, what is – you know, what does it mean when the Chinese government in – makes – buys something in the United States, should we be concerned, I think we need to start thinking about Russian money in the same way. You know, Gazprom is not a private company. It is a company – it’s got a weird status. It’s linked partly to the state, and partly it’s owned by people who have double jobs, you know, both in the Putin administration and at Gazprom. And it operates as an arm of Russian foreign policy. And we need to think – understand that that’s what it does and have an appropriate reaction to it.

So, you know, again, it’s – I don’t – I don’t see a need for – you know, I would agree, again, with the president, you know, it’s not a new Cold War. But we need to understand strategically what is it that Russia is trying to do, and we need to have an appropriate response to it.

MR. KEMPE: Right. And let me just raise two Twitter questions before I go to the audience. Helmar Dumbs of the Austrian newspaper Die Presse asks on Twitter, why did – why did Putin swallow Crimea? Wouldn’t have been more useful for him to keep it in limbo as a frozen conflict? And then Tobias Bund, the – Wolfgang Ischinger at Munich Security Conference, he’s the policy adviser to Munich Security Conference, asks, are we observing the emergence of a new cordon sanitaire in what is left of Ukraine? So those two questions to start with.

MS. APPLEBAUM: I mean, you know, I – sadly, I can’t speak for Putin, and I can’t explain why – (laughter) – what he did and – he’s – since he’s not answering that many questions right now. I – you know, I don’t know. I mean, I expected him to create – use Crimea as a frozen conflict. I mean, that’s what I thought he was going to do and therefore use it as a, you know, pawn that would prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and would constantly cause problems for the Ukrainian government and so on. I mean, my guess is, and this is just a guess, is that it’s to do with the point I just made, which is about making a point about, you know, all these rules about moving borders in European that you all think are so important and are so untouchable, guess what, they don’t work anymore; you know, we can just defy them. And that would be my guess.

MR. KEMPE: And the – and the second question, observing the emergence of a new cordon sanitaire? And I guess that really gets the question of how do you think this is going to play out, too.

MS. APPLEBAUM: I mean, I hope much more for Ukraine than that. I don’t want Ukraine to be a cordon sanitaire. I want it to be its own country.

And a lot – you know, a lot of the answers – much depends – you know, we all sit here – it’s very easy in Washington or – you know, to talk as if, you know, this is all a great power game and U.S. and – a lot depends on what the Ukrainians do in the next few months and in the next year, and, you know, do they create finally a strong state that works on behalf of its citizens and isn’t – you know, isn’t designed to syphon money – syphon money off for a, you know, very corrupt elite. And it is my hope that that is what Ukraine will become.

And I – you know, I don’t actually – you know, that’s much more important even than whether or not, you know, Ukraine is ever in NATO. What matters is that Ukraine becomes a – becomes a stable society. And I think it has that chance now. It has – you know, there is a – there is a sort of significant number of people in Kiev now and outside of Kiev who, you know, are real patriots, who want the country to become a stable, you know, normal country.

You know, the question is whether Putin will let that happen. You know, it’s – you know, so I hear all kinds of rumors, and yes, there is supposed to be maps floating around in Moscow showing – you know, with new borders showing that – independent republic of eastern Ukraine. You know, it’s clear that there is an attempt to destabilize eastern Ukraine that’s been going on for some weeks. I – (inaudible) – over the last few weeks there have been moments when I was fairly sure there was about to be an invasion. I mean, I’m not the only one who thought that. There has been this military buildup on the border. They haven’t done it yet, and I don’t know now whether their intention is to invade or to intimidate or to eventually break off pieces of Ukraine in some other way.

One of the most disturbing things that’s happened in recent weeks – recent days, really – is this conversation between our secretary of state, Kerry, and the Russian foreign minister, Lavrov, which has been a conversation about the constitution of Ukraine and this idea – you know, Lavrov has proposed some kind of new constitution which should be more federal, which presumably means that bits of it could be broken off and should – you know, I don’t – you know, I don’t exactly what – and what – a number of things are disturbing about it. One is this idea – you know, maybe this is the Russian plan, that we’re not going to invade, we’re going to try and get it be negotiation – the really disturbing thing is it acts as if Ukraine is an American client state, which it’s not. It acts as if Kerry – it seems to be, you know, as if – as if Ukraine could be delivered by Kerry. I mean, even if Lavrov and Kerry were able to come up with something, you know, why should the Ukrainians do what Kerry tells them to do? I mean, there’s no – there’s absolutely no – there is very – you know, there – you know, there is no direct relationship at all. You know, it’s all very well to engage in diplomacy for a while and to try and prevent the Russians from invading, and I assume that’s what the – you know, the administration thinks that it’s doing. But there is a – there is a, you know, disturbing precedent being set that somehow, the future of Ukraine can be decided in some great power decision, and we’ve all seen what happens in Europe before when that happens.

MR. KEMPE: Absolutely. Thank you, Anne.

Questions from the audience. Please, in the back. Right here. And if you can identify yourself, and I – you know who you’re going to be asking the question.

Q: Yusuf Babanly, Azerbaijan State Telegraph Agency. You have of course written extensively on the Soviet Union and the satellites. So today, in 2014, who among the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union would you identify as satellites of Moscow, and who among them are independent decision-makers? Thank you.

MS. APPLEBAUM: I mean, I don’t – I don’t want to go there, actually. I mean, I don’t want to use the expression “satellite states,” and I don’t want to acknowledge that there is such a thing. I mean, it’s clear that there is more Russian influence in some of Russia’s neighbors than others, although there are some peculiar things happening in some places we thought were Russian states that maybe are now more oriented to China, particularly in Central Asia. You know, there are – you know, there are odd circumstances like, you know, Belarus is clearly an independent state. We don’t really know what the relationship of the leadership of Belarus is to Russia. Sometimes they seem to do what Putin wants, and sometimes they don’t.

MR. KEMPE: The statements that Lukashenko’s been making in Belarus about some sort of cooperation with the current regime in Ukraine has been quite interesting.

MS. APPLEBAUM: Yeah, I mean, I don’t think “satellite states” is the right expression. I mean, these aren’t – there are – you know, this isn’t a system as you had in the – during the Cold War where there was, you know, the Soviet Union, and then there were these literally identicate (ph) states which had exactly the same political system as Moscow, which were in fact directly beholden to Moscow. I don’t think we have that exact circumstance anywhere in the region. I mean, clearly, there are states which feel that at least in some areas, they are not able to act or speak independently, that depend on Russia for either military protection or, you know, oil and gas relationships. And it’s clear that Russia would like to extend that influence further. But I think it’s tricky to talk about satellites. I don’t think that’s the right word.

MR. KEMPE: Please, Ambassador.

Q: Thank you very much. Ambassador of Georgia.

MS. APPLEBAUM: I’ve just been to Tbilisi.

Q: Oh, very good.

My question is, in terms of Cold War, the Soviet Union was seen as an adversary.

MS. APPLEBAUM: The Soviet Union was –

Q: Was seen and dealt with as an adversary.

In the ’90s, after the collapse of Soviet Union, Russia was very much different from Soviet Union, very weak. And it was dealt with as a partner, but weak partner. When Putin came to power, Russia got stronger, but still it was dealt with as a partner.

And what I’m asking is that the – maybe not the very similar but somehow identical events happened back in Georgia back in 2008. But then Russia got away with what it did in Georgia. And it’s my understanding, because Russia’s perception of partner was not changed then, and that’s why the business as usual was brought back in few months – I mean, everything was brought back, those sanctions, temporary sanctions, decisions against Russia’s actions.

So now my question is whether those recent events in, around and – Crimea and over Ukraine have changed perception of Russia from partner to something, either adversary or whatever, so that the new relationship with Russia, long term, first and foremost, will be or should be different, and Russia should be dealt with appropriately.

MR. KEMPE: Very good question.

MS. APPLEBAUM: Yeah. It’s – I mean, it’s something I’ve written about. Yes, I think you – I think what this event has done is – and this to me is a kind of tragedy, I should underline – is that it’s changed the narrative. You know, we’ve had a narrative about Russia since 1991 that Russia is a kind of flawed democracy, you know, that eventually, Russia will be like us. And, you know, I’m as guilty of this as anybody else. I mean, I worked with a, you know, Russian – sort of Russian civil society organization that tried to do training of Russian journalists and politicians in the 1990s.

And we – one of the reasons why Russia is in all these Western clubs, why is Russia in the G-8 and not China – you know, China is a more natural – China is our real economic partner, not Russia – it’s because there was a desire in the ’90s, and it continued through the Bush administration – you know, there was a sort of feeling that if we just kind of hugged the Russians hard enough and keep them close enough, they’ll eventually be like us. You know, they are a – they are a nation – you know, they’re somehow Europeans. You know, they’re the country of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, they have all these wonderful people who – you know, this spectacular intellectual culture, which, by the way, they still have. And if only we can – you know, if we can just bring them in, and sooner or later, they’ll become one of us.

The invasion of Georgia was treated, for a variety of reasons that we can discuss later, as somehow an exception. It was to do with the time and place and the who was the leader of Georgia at that time. And it wasn’t – it wasn’t perceived as a real challenge to this narrative. I think actually the – I mean, the one thing that’s changed – maybe it’s going to be the only thing that’s changed – the one thing that the occupation of Crimea has done – and the annexation of Crimea, I should say – has been to – is – has really challenged this narrative. You can’t really say anymore that Russia is a country that, if we can just find the right way to speak to them and we can create the right kind of dialogue and we can press the reset button and we can look deep into their eyes or something, then eventually, they’ll come on our side. And this is, by the way, absolutely bipartisan; Republicans, Democrats have been – have been – have made this assumption about Russia since the ’90s. You know, it seems to me this is now changed.

I mean, I don’t think that makes Russia our global adversary, you know, and I would like to also avoid that kind of language. But I think it means, you know, to underline what I said before, it means that we need to think a little bit differently and more strategically about Russia’s role in the West, what role – its role in Eastern Europe, what Russian money does, what Russian companies do. You know, this is not a country that wants to become part of our club or wants to become like us or is trying to become like us, and, you know, if only we can find the right language, they’ll be like us.

And I think – and it’s – and, you know, I would sort of almost expect this room to – you know, I don’t live in Washington at the moment. I would expect people here can maybe give me a better idea of whether this is the case. But – I mean, I think, certainly in Europe, and I’m guessing it will happen here too, this narrative is now over. You know, we don’t think Russia is going to be a Western country anymore, at least not in this – under this administration.

MR. KEMPE: And you keep saying “Russia.” Can one speak that globally about it, or is ti the Kremlin and is it Putin? And you know the debate on that. And so there – you said in one of your comments, the West spent 20 years trying to make Russia a Western country – bad idea. Is it? Or is it still a good idea, but it just can’t be done at this moment?

MS. APPLEBAUM: I mean, you know, so I’m an optimist, and, you know, I would all go with that, that it just can’t be done at this moment. It can’t be done at this moment under this leadership but also under this economic system. You know, it can’t be done with a country that – you know, this is not that – you know, the economic system that holds in Russia is not what we would call entrepreneurial capitalism. It’s a form of oligarchic capitalism. It’s – you know, partly this is to do with oil wealth and partly, it’s to do with the way the country was organized, but small, you know, powers concentrated in the hands of very small group of people. There is no genuine democracy, but also, there is no genuine grassroots capitalism either. And so no, this is – right now this is not the form of a country that easily integrates with or – you know, into the West.

I – you know, I’m a, you know, great believer in the – you know, the power of countries to change. And countries do change. And, you know, I’m – I’ve lived in Poland for 20 years, and it is a country that has changed very much since when I – since the first time I went there. And, you know, we can all look around the world and point to countries that have had – gone through very dramatic revolutions. I mean, look at Chile, look at Spain – I mean, there are many – there are many good examples of countries that have made dramatic changes, and I – and I don’t see any reason why Russia can’t change too. At this moment, under this leadership, in this current economic system, under the current political system, it’s hard to see, and it’s very important that we have no illusions about it.

MR. KEMPE: Thank you. Please.

Q: Ed Burger, the Eurasian Medical Education Program in Russia. You really answered my question, and that – but I would pose it in a different way. And that is, look, considering what our posture should be, looking back at history in behalf of that, might we have done things differently that might have changed our relationship to the country? And –

MR. KEMPE: And you know this debate, which you’ve written about as well, which is, how much are we to blame for where Russia is today?

MS. APPLEBAUM: I mean, my view is we’ve had minimal influence in what’s happened inside Russia since 1991. And so often our – you know, and this has been true since the’90s – our conversation about Russia has often been more about ourselves. We’ve had very little influence. We’ve had very little often understanding what was going on. I mean, in the 1990s, when we were talking about democracy, that was the period when these vast fortunes were being amassed that were fundamentally undemocratic. We didn’t have any influence over that. We didn’t – we weren’t even entirely aware, except as a kind of distance, about what the significance of it was. I don’t think our economic advice was ever followed in Russia. You know, maybe that’s just as well. But I don’t think our political was ever followed. I don’t think we had a lot of influence over events there. And maybe that’s as it should be, I mean.

But, you know, the West often has – we have this very self-centered way of talking about ourself, what did we do, what should we have done. I mean, I don’t know that any – that much of what we’ve done has mattered that much. I mean, you can post facto go back and cherry-pick this or that event or that – this or that eventuality, but very often at the time they wouldn’t have seemed – they wouldn’t have seemed so important. I mean, even NATO expansion was not, you know, didn’t cause a great objection or outrage or outcry in Russia at the time. Now we go back and imagine this – but, you know, this was – this was – you know, NATO was not then, is not now an offensive threat to Russia. It’s only the Russians who’ve decided to, you know, treat NATO as a threat. I mean, there is a – there is no – you know, so anyway, so the answer is it would take – it would be a longer conversation – we could do nuances – but I don’t think we’ve had that much influence over what’s happened in Russia.

MR. KEMPE: Thank you. Please – right here. I’m trying to get to people as I see them, so please forgive me if I don’t get to you right away.

MS. APPLEBAUM: People in the front will get better – (laughter) –

MR. KEMPE: That’s why there’s an incentive to sit in the front. (Laughs.)

Q: Hi – Batu Kutelia, McCain Institute. I am from Georgia as well. Today was the news that the Russian patriarch was planning to visit Latvia, and the Latvian authorities refused this visit. So my question is, how do you see the role and the function of the Russian Orthodox Church in Putin’s tactics?

MS. APPLEBAUM: This is actually a question for Georgians. It’s a very interesting question for you. So we haven’t really mentioned this yet, but a piece of what Putin is doing – and actually, I don’t think it’s the most important piece, but it ties together some of the other things that he’s doing – he is – he now has this rhetoric, which is, you know, for lack of a better description, sort of religious conservative, anti-homosexual, anti – not just anti-gay marriage but somehow, you know, he’s created a narrative about Russia being, you know, the country that will support traditional values.

He doesn’t actually use the expression “family values,” but it’s more of a negative attack against, you know, the decadence and, you know, the licentiousness coming from Western Europe. Living, myself, in Western Europe, I don’t see it, but that’s – it’s not actually that much fun, so – (laughter) – no, but clearly, he – you know, he has begun to – I mean, there are greater experts on this subject than me, but he has begun to use the church as a spokesman for this line of argument.

So among the other things that he uses to – in his attempt to discredit the West is, the West is licentious, it’s not religious, it’s not conservative, it’s not traditional anymore. And the Russian – some members of the Russian church have been part of this – have been – have been used as part of this argument. So – you know, so I am not surprised that the Latvian authorities would see a visit from the Russian patriarch as, you know – they would see him as an arm of Russian propaganda, because he has allowed himself to be used that way. I mean, that doesn’t mean that all believers in Russia are somehow part of the propaganda thing, but it’s true that some of the Russian church hierarchy has played that role.

MR. KEMPE: Thank you. The gentleman right here. Sorry, with the glasses. Thank you.

Q: Great. Ken Monahan with Bloomberg, and I had a question for you about sanctions. And you talked about how Russia’s foreign policy aim was to protect Russian money and the oligarchs and the rest of it. So how effective can sanctions be – either the current sanctions that have been put forward by the Obama administration in Europe – how effective can they be in the short term, and then, what else could be on the sanctions front to kind of hit hard on those points for Putin?

MR. KEMPE: Let me also put a sanctions question on top of that one, which I think is a really good question. Are we seeing a new sort of use of sanctions? Because as I look at this – sanctions are very often put in to punish, but this almost seems to be a replacement for military deterrence, that it’s now economic deterrence. So – and then, this gets to your question is – are they effective? But it’s also used in a different way.

MS. APPLEBAUM: So this – the round of sanctions that we have seen in the last month made a lot of people feel better, including some of my friends in London who have been writing about some of the people who were sanctioned – some of the various oligarchs. They were very cheered up by the sanctions.

I – you know, as a – as a tool of policy, I think they’re not important and not significant, and obviously, they didn’t work, and they’re not going to work in the long term. It seems to me that – you know, one of the – one of the reasons why I think people got interested in these kinds of sanctions is because they had been effective in other places. You know, when – in countries like North Korea, when you can name, you know, the six people who matter in the country and put sanctions on them, then you can – then you can maybe have some influence.

What this – what this could be – I mean, there is a way – there are economic sanctions that could be useful, but they would have to be much more serious and they would have to be much more carefully thought through, and they would have to be much more long-term. So the kinds of sanctions that were laid on Iran, cutting Russian banks out of the SWIFT international banking system or, you know, putting – you know – and that’s a very – that’s actually a very drastic step that would be – you know, but it – I know that it’s been discussed.

MR. KEMPE: And there’s sort of two questions here. One of them is what impacts from a Russian economic downturn in a larger way, and at what point do people around Putin say, what you’re doing isn’t good for business, right?

MS. APPLEBAUM: Yeah, so I think the argument for sanctions in Russia has – there have been – this argument about sanctions has gone on for a long time, actually. This is – this is just the latest version of it. You know, the Magnitsky Act, and there have been other ways in which sanctions have been applied.

You know, the argument has been that if we, you know, restrict the power of Russian businessmen, then somehow, you know, they’ll get angry at Putin, and they’ll put pressure on him and tell him to stop, you know. You know, maybe that was an effective thing to do seven years ago. It seems now that we are past that moment. Putin himself has – began warning people around him some years ago to take their money out of the West; it looks like they’ve done it – at least, some of them have done it – and he – you know, he has – he has made it clear that he personally and the people around him personally are not impervious to that kind of sanction.

I mean, sanctions that would be – have a broader impact over the whole economy are different. I mean – for example, banking sanctions, or an oil embargo, or some of the other things that have been discussed, and I don’t know whether they’ll be – whether they’ll be used, because those are quite drastic.

But, you know, the short answer is no. I don’t – I don’t think these – although, as I say, they kind of cheered people up for a few days, I don’t think they were or can be very effective. There needs to be – this is why I said – and I didn’t talk about economic sanctions when we first started – there just needs to be longer strategic thinking about NATO, about oil and gas in Europe and about finances, but in a broader way. I’m not, sort of, that interested in – I’m not really interested in punishing businesses or – you know, I’m interested in understanding, what’s the influence of Russian money on particular countries, on particular political systems?

MR. KEMPE: And what an interesting way to think of it.

So we’re down to the last five minutes, and I’m just going to have to take two questions – one here, and then one behind. So I just see two hands up, so I’ll take those two, and then we’ll go back to Anne for final answers.

Q: Hi. My name is Laura (sp), and I’m a student at Georgetown University. So there are countries like Sudan and Zimbabwe and North Korea that are very much anti-American, so they voted against the U.N. resolution for Ukrainian –

MS. APPLEBAUM: The recognition of the annexation of Crimea.

Q: Thank you – sorry – last week, but then there are countries like Armenia who are supposedly U.S. allies, and they also voted against the resolution. Do you – what do you make of that? Do you have an opinion about it?

MR. KEMPE: Let me pick up the last one, too, and we’ll take two at a time. Sorry about that.


Q: Thank you. Jeff Goldstein from the Open Society Foundations. Ukraine is on the verge of what looks to be a very serious recession. We saw in the ’90s in Russia how the enthusiasm of the defense of the (White House ?) turned into a real loathing of democracy as the economy collapsed. Even in Central Europe, and in countries like Poland, the former communists were back in power within three to five years because of economic hard times. What should we and the Ukrainians do different this time? Because you’ve said that there is a lot of enthusiasm now in Ukraine, but that’s a very fragile thing. So thoughts on the way to move forward this time.

MS. APPLEBAUM: I mean, look, you – so I’ll answer that question first. You know, Ukraine is a country that, even if there hadn’t been the annexation of Crimea, and even if the Russians weren’t interested at all in Ukraine, Ukraine would still be a very large country on the brink of financial collapse, and it would still be on the front pages of the newspapers, and we would still be arguing how to help it. I mean, so that’s almost a fully separate – fully separate question.

I mean – you know, I don’t have a solution or a program for Ukraine that doesn’t involve some hardship over the next few years. I mean, if they do nothing, there will be hardship. If they do deep reforms, there will be hardship. We can pump lots of money into it, but I think there will still be hardship. I mean, the – there is a – you know, this is country which has been brought to the real brink of collapse by a profoundly corrupt, you know, venal elite. And I think there is almost no avoiding it.

I mean, in a way, the best thing that the Ukrainians could do would be to start explaining now what’s wrong with the country and why and what has to be done to fix it. I mean, I don’t see a kind of easy – you know, easy and simple solution, you know, that somehow avoids all economic pain.

I mean, any country – anybody – there are many people in this room who are from countries that have undergone very profound economic changes, and there’s sort of almost – there’s almost no way to do it that doesn’t avoid at least people being – at least some disjunction of people – you know, people lose their jobs, people have to retrain, they have to rethink who they are.

You know, and my experience of Eastern Europe was – it was almost that that process of having to – you know, suddenly, everything you did your whole life, you know, isn’t worth anything, and you have to change your job and find a new way to live and find a new way to earn money – and, you know, that process is – for individuals, can be so profoundly shattering and difficult that even when it comes out well in the end or when things are getting better, you know, it can – it can be very traumatic.

So I think the main thing is to – I mean, I hate this expression “managing expectations,” because it’s what politicians use, but, you know, there needs to be open conversation with Ukraine about the real state of the economy so that people understand it. I mean, among other things, the Russians are raising gas prices – that was news today – and that, by itself, is going to – is going to be difficult for people.

On the questions of, you know, Armenia being on that list – I mean, you know, look, Armenia is under an enormous amount of pressure from Russia, and I – that would be my explanation for it. I mean, it was a very interesting list of people – countries, actually. It was almost – you know, it was like a little group of rogue states, which was – it was actually – it was a smaller group than I would have expected. I was surprised by the absence of Central Asia, and I’m guessing – well, I don’t know. It may have been the influence of China, but I don’t know.

MR. KEMPE: Yeah. It was also very interesting – in the initial vote in the Security Council, the abstention of the Chinese.

MS. APPLEBAUM: The Chinese have this – you know, they don’t like to get into scrapes, you know? They don’t like countries that make a fuss, and, you know, they seem to be staying on the side, yeah.

MR. KEMPE: So we will end this conversation where we began it, which is, this is just a terrific book.

MS. APPLEBAUM: (Laughs.)

MR. KEMPE: And it really is an incredible contribution to our understanding of this period, which, I just think anybody who brings us more understanding of what happened before is going to help us kind of navigate the present, which you did in this conversation extremely well.

So thank Anne Applebaum for – along with me –



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