Toward a Europe Whole and Free
Keynote Conversation: The Eastern Edge of a Europe Whole and Free
Moderator: Edward Luce, Washington Columnist and Commentator, The Financial Times
Speaker: Zbigniew Brzezinski, Counselor and Trustee, CSIS; Former National Security Adviser
Federal News Service
EDWARD LUCE: Can you hear me? Yes. Thank you.
Well, it’s my great pleasure and privilege to have Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski here. I don’t think he needs any introduction. And if I may, I’ll call you Zbig from now on, just to save time.
I’ll just say one or two things about Zbig. I’ve just read the first two – remarkably, the first two biographies ever to be written on him. There are dozens on Henry Kissinger, but only two, one of which is in Polish, just recently translated into English, on Dr. Brzezinski. And I believe – and I think these two books make the case – that he is one of the most important national security advisers of U.S. – modern U.S. history. And so this is very belated.
Zbig, I’ll, if I may, start not with the title of our talk, which is “The Eastern Edge of a Europe Whole and Free” – we will get into that in a minute, but some – a slightly broader question. At the beginning of the Crimea-Ukraine crisis, John Kerry described President Putin’s actions as that – those of a 19th century player in a 21st century world. Now that supposes that we are living in a sort of postmodern/post-ultranationalist world in which there are different rules of engagement and in which great power politics is a thing of that past.
My question to you is, is Putin an aberration in an otherwise postmodern world, or are we in fact seeing a return to great power politics in today’s world, in which Putin is just the most predatory example?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I sort of wonder why he omitted – I mean John Kerry – why he omitted the 20th century, which seems to me to be in some ways relevant also here.
In any case, obviously, international conduct doesn’t change totally, even after two world wars. And there are certain residual issues that have not been resolved; there are new issues created, for example, by decolonization and the rise of the Far East; and there is the fact that the dissolution of the Soviet Union occurred peacefully, nonviolently, but also in some ways suddenly. So there are bound to be resentments and some aspiration to undo it
What strikes me, however, is how crudely Putin is going about it, because he not only announced in his famous statement that the greatest calamity of the 20th century was the dissolution of the Soviet Union – a century which, after all, experienced a number of rather important developments which were extraordinarily painful to the human condition – but he’s clearly dedicated to the task of recreating it under a somewhat different name and is prepared, increasingly, it is evident, to use some form of compulsion – and we don’t know how far it will go, but it’s going pretty far already – to make it happen.
MR. LUCE: Just to go back to the broader part of that question, though, President Obama is, I think, today ending his trip to – four-nation trip to Asia, strengthening, shoring up the rebalancing to Asia, the pivot to Asia, whatever you call it, amongst China’s neighbors. And of course he’s all the time – even whilst he was away, his administration is issuing new sanctions on Russia.
So we have what looks like, to sort of quote George Kennan, a double containment strategy here, with Russia in the Near East, China in the Far East. Is this an accurate description of what the Obama administration is doing? And if so, is this the right course for the United States to be pursuing?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, it’s partially accurate. We’re not dealing right now with Soviet expansion as in a new form. We’re dealing with the threat of altering the post-Cold War arrangements by force, which has implications not only for the nature of the internal arrangements that Putin wants to recreate – and these could be threatening to the world and certainly could be coercive – but we are also dealing with the possibility that the next dynamic effect of such an accomplishment will be much intensified pressure on certain very vulnerable NATO countries. So you know, there are analogies, but they’re not entirely identities.
As far as the Far East is concerned, that in some respects to me is a more complicated issue, because there’s no doubt that China is the most important power, and there’s no doubt that its immediate neighbors are fearful. It is very evident that almost every one of China’s neighbors fears China and has some bone to pick with China, and vice versa, incidentally.
But on the other hand, China is not challenging us. It realizes that it needs a good, lengthy period of accommodation of the United States to achieve its so-called – quote-unquote – peaceful growth, and therefore it is not pressing us into actions that can have unintended effects.
So I’m a little bit uneasy about the way we have defined our policy towards China in recent months. I think the term “pivot” was not so good. “Balancing” was then substituted, but “balancing” pertains mostly to force.
And I am wondering why we have to now slide into individual security arrangements with particular countries, the intent of which can only be against the Chinese. I would rather be much more cautious about that aspect of it. I think the Chinese, for example, insofar as the Philippines are concerned or insofar as Japan is concerned, are beginning to assimilate the important lesson that they shouldn’t force the pace of history, and to now draw military lines explicitly I just think is a little hasty. I would have given the Filipinos a little bit of more of a pause after they kicked us out on – slightly over a decade ago. So why all of a sudden give them a security treaty with the most powerful state in the world? There could have been some understanding, some statement about the importance of controversial issues being negotiated and not being resolved by force and that this is of concern to the United States. And the Chinese by and large know how to read, and I think they would have understood such a message.
MR. LUCE: So I mean, they are reading this as containment. Do you think they’re correct, at least –
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, they’re reading it as anti-Chinese containment with a dose of implicit hostility in it, at least on the part of one of the two signatories, right? So I think – I don’t see what our purpose is. What are we accomplishing? It – are we next going to have a treaty with someone else along the same lines? Conceivably Vietnam, which would be only too happy to have such a treaty, or Burma or, worse still, India?
MR. LUCE: Worst still –
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Worst still, well, because if we make a security treaty with India, the implication of which is clearly directed at China, we’re making a very big choice, for which, if I was a Chinese statesman, there would only be one response: a similar security treaty with someone else, directed at us.
MR. LUCE: I mean, I think de facto that treaty is already there, but let’s not get into India.
If you were to make the opposite argument, it’s that the United States has defense treaties with the Philippines, with South Korea, with Japan; it doesn’t have a defense treaty with the Ukraine. So arguably it ought to be being more robust in East Asia than with Ukraine. How would you respond to that perspective?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, first of all, there was no question of a security treaty with Ukraine in recent years and certainly not now. I think the situation is very different. I think in the case of Ukraine we’re dealing with an effort by an adjoining power to destabilize Ukraine internally for the purpose of subordinating it externally. That is the central objective.
Now how it’s going to be sought, we do not know. I suspect that Putin’s reaction to Ukraine was a product in many respects not of a strategic calculation but of personal rage after discovering that the West was outbidding the East in the courtship of Ukraine, already in a mood of irritation because he was isolated and perhaps humiliated by his lonely sojourn in Sochi at an event that he sponsored in his own honor. And he decided to really lash out at the Ukrainians by going into Crimea in a manner clearly designed to use force if necessary but to avoid as much as possible the use of force and retaining the capability for deniability – masks and these mafia-type uniforms.
And it worked like a dream, and 20,000 Ukrainian military present there – not a single one of them fired on his own initiative.
Now as some of you may infer from my name, I come from European origin, and when I think of my home – my parents’ homeland, actually – I can’t imagine 20,000 Polish troops; foreigners come in, try to take power, and nobody shoots. (Chuckling.) Hell, they would have been in one big fight instantly.
Now that tells you something. That tells you something. And I think it told Putin something: that this may be much more a pushover than he had anticipated. So he’s now trying to destabilize it, not use force directly but making that option credible and then seeing not only how the Ukrainians react but, now that the stakes are much bigger, how we will react and how the Europeans will react.
And this is why I think we have to be very clear in indicating to the Russians what the stakes are, what the implications are, what the possible costs are and act accordingly, in such a way that our alliance holds together and acts as an alliance.
MR. LUCE: You referenced your homeland, that – the land in which you were born, Poland. You’ve been famously described as having a window on the Vistula, that you’ve had something different to almost every other national security adviser or secretary of state, in that you’ve got that perspective on Russia and had that perspective on the Soviet Union.
In your view, is this – is what Russia is doing now specific to the president it has? Is this very much personal? As Secretary Kerry recently described it, is this about Putin, or is this a larger Russian desire to rewrite the post-Cold War boundaries and restore Russia’s imperial boundaries?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: I think there’s no doubt that the initiative comes from the top down in a system which is very personalized and really dominated by one man, who has an obsession, which he has articulated – you know, I referred to it already – the greatest calamity of the 20th century, the fall of the Soviet Union.
So the initiative comes from the top down. But in Russian society, I think we now see a significant bifurcation, which is a short-range threat, long-range promise, namely, between a kind of lower middle-class xenophobic nationalistic mass of kind of frustrated people who resent the fact that they are no longer living in the world’s competitive one or two world powers. And they love what he’s doing, and you could see the emotion, the feeling, the elation when he announced that he has done it, not a shot was fired, so to speak, and he’s incorporating Crimea into Russia, and everybody yells and screams, Russiya, Russiya, Russiya (sp).
But then there’s the second Russia of the new middle class, the middle class that’s somewhat younger, that’s increasingly cosmopolitan, that travels to the West, that sends its children to the West to study; perhaps more importantly, that caches away its funds in the West and sees Russia, eventually, as part of Europe.
I think the great historical challenge is to make sure that the latter Russia has an option to prevail, and I personally think it will in time, but in time, depending on how long Putin stays in power and how successful he is in the meantime. If he’s successful in the meantime, one-sidedly, then he will recreate by force something he calls the Eurasian union. That is to say the newly independent states that used to be part of the Soviet Union would be part of the Eurasian union.
What is interesting, however, is how few of them want to be in it. We have obviously the evidence of Ukraine not wanting to be in it, but consider the following. In the vote at the U.N. condemnatory of Soviet behavior – Russian behavior, two countries from that lot supported Russia, Belarus and Armenia. Kazakhstan, squeezed but rich, between China and Russia; Uzbekistan, the repository of Central Asian national identity, very strong; and all the cluster of smaller ones – they all abstained. And Nazarbayev, the head of Kazakhstan, a very skilful political leader, has already suggested that the Eurasian union be actually called the Eurasian economic union. Well, that’s a very subtle but important difference.
So I think that’s what’s at stake here. And if he succeeds in creating it, we will have on our hands for a while a very assertive, dynamic, hostile, drunk with success leadership, and that perhaps is becoming a little bit unpredictable, personally. I mean, the fact of the matter is, if you have a personal dictatorship, the personality of the dictator ceases to be irrelevant, becomes centrally relevant.
You look carefully at Putin’s background, at his personal history, at his personal experiences, at his aspirations, at his narcissistic manifestations and so forth. You have reason to wonder whether such a person is capable of weighing pros and cons carefully, assessing things prudently and acting responsibly, or is he increasingly so self-confident, so imbued with this unique mission that he’s ready to place some very important things, including the well-being of his own society, at risk?
MR. LUCE: So you’re – and this is very interesting, and people used to say during the height of Stalin that he was ultimately a rational actor. Churchill believed that. You’re saying that you’re not sure whether Putin is a rational actor?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Stalin and Hitler were very different. Hitler fits what I was describing. I’m not describing Putin yet. I’m not his psychiatrist and don’t have sufficient access to make personal judgments about him. I’m simply articulating a possibility.
Stalin was very different. Stalin was calculating, cold, but very rational and assertively prudent, assertive but prudent.
Here you’re dealing with something that’s much more volatile and even in personal behavior.
MR. LUCE: So you mentioned that since he’s annexed Crimea and started to try to destabilize eastern Ukraine, his approval ratings have gone up and up and up. This is very popular in Russia. Growth this year, even before the sanctions, the additional sanctions that were announced yesterday, in Russia has gone down to 0.5 percent. So pretty much it’s not going to grow in 2014, and if these sanctions continue to tighten, which presumably they will, we might see negative growth. Can his popularity survive a Russian economic contraction, which presumably is what will happen?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: I should think not. In any case, I don’t see any other alternative for us. We’re not going to go to war, although I do favor – in addition to something we have not talked about, namely making a negotiating effort with Russia to deal with the sort of geopolitical problem that Ukraine poses for them and for us, I do think that we should be at the same time more open to help the Ukrainians defend themselves if they’re attacked, because they’ll only defend themselves if they’re attacked if they think we’ll help them. So there is a kind of duality here.
I’m not in favor of (Russian/rushing ?) forces into Ukraine or engaging in immediate massive shipments of weapons, but I certainly do think that if we are to deter the Russians from moving in, we have to convince the Russians that will be costly and prolonged. It’ll only be costly and prolonged if the Ukrainians fight. The Ukrainians will only fight if they think they will eventually get some help from the West, particularly the kind of weaponry that would be necessary to wage a successful defense. They’re not going to beat the Russians out in the open field, where thousands of tanks move in. They’ll only beat theme one way: prolonged urban resistance, prolonged urban resistance. Then the war becomes costly. Then its economic costs escalate dramatically for the Russians, and then the war become futile politically. But to be able to defend a city, you have to have handheld anti-tank weaponry, you have to have handheld rockets, you have to have some organization to make it difficult, but city fighting is the most difficult and most costly kind of fighting for any partner engaged in a war, unless that partner is prepared to use weapons of total destruction, which obviously don’t come into play here.
MR. LUCE: How would you assess in the last two months how the Obama administration has handled the response to Putin’s predatory behavior? And we’ll get into Europe and, you know, whether he’s leading from behind or leading from the front in terms of America’s European partners in a minute, but just broadly, your assessment of whether the Obama administration –
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, in a way I have to sort of blend both of your questions together, the one that you haven’t posed yet with what you did pose. Namely, considering the kind of alliance we have – I’m not saying allies – considering the kind of alliance we have, I think probably about as well as is possible under present circumstances. Europeans are always, by necessity, by historical experience, more reticent. We are also more powerful. We have the capacity to project power outwards rapidly. They do not. They should, but they do not.
Well, those are realities, and therefore he has to tread carefully. He has to generate some degree of conviction in the West that this is a joint responsibility. He has to convince the Russians that we are serious. And last but not least, he has to convince the American public that this is important.
And here I would be more explicitly critical. Otherwise, I defend him. I think he has moved intelligently and he has tried to convince the Russians that this could be a very counterproductive game. Where I do fault him is for not explicitly, calmly, but in a broad perspective addressing the American people on this issue. Notice he hasn’t made a single major statement to the American people on what potentially could be a very major international crisis. And yet he needs the support of the American people. Some other statesmen, prominent Americans, but not presidents, have made a lot of comments, with some of which I agree, with some of which I think maybe is a little excessive. But the president hasn’t laid out to the American people in a comprehensive statement what is really at stake here – why we have this problem, why it is in our common interest to work it out, including with the Russians, if possible. And I can comment on that separately.
But if it doesn’t work out, why we have an obligation to help the Ukrainians and why we cannot tolerate an international system in which countries are invaded by thugs and destabilized from abroad, and why this is a common responsibility not just for us but for our allies and for other friends, like the Chinese, who should not draw wrong conclusions from this and whose stake in stability is at least as great as ours.
MR. LUCE: So in other words, the success – one way of putting what you’ve just said, the success of the pivot to Asia will be in precisely how Obama administration responds in Ukraine. That’ll be where the lines are set on whether (precedents ?) are absorbed.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, it’s the most pressing issue, and I’m sure the Russians hope the Chinese will give them some form of indirect support. I think the Chinese are going to be careful, but we don’t want to encourage them to lean in favor of the Russians. And that requires, on their part, a recognition of the fact that the president, American and Europe together are taking a responsible stance.
MR. LUCE: Should President Obama go at the pace of the Europeans or should he move out ahead of them? Should he take unilateral steps?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: I think he has to be ahead, but it’s like, you know, in a military combat, a combat, you say, follow me. But if you’re a good officer, you go first. And you expect others to follow, and they’re trained to follow, and then an ethic develops in which you do follow. Some European countries are prepared to be with us from day one. Others, less so. Others, somewhat rather not. But I think we can generate that momentum, and making the case why this is the most important challenge to the international system since the end of the Cold War is something that should be articulated to the American people.
MR. LUCE: An Oval Office address?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Some fashion. You can find some – yes, can be the Oval Office, it could be Arlington Cemetery, it could be some other special occasion.
MR. LUCE: Would the Europeans follow? And feel free to make disparaging remarks about my country if you like. There are clearly vested interests that are not just in Germany and in the energy sector and elsewhere –
MR. BRZEZINSKI: You’re referring, of course, to the Las Vegas of global corruption otherwise known as The City, right?
MR. LUCE: The City of London, indeed. (Laughter.) So – I know you have views on that; I don’t necessarily disagree with them. Don’t feel inhibited by my accent from expressing them. But there’s also, of course, German – heavy German business interests in Russia, French, less so Polish. Leading from the front – if the Obama administration was to be more aggressive and unilateral in tightening economic sanctions on Russia and arming the Ukrainians more aggressively, would you be confident the Europeans would then fall into line?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: You know, I sort of expect the Europeans to follow and I think the Germans would be increasingly taking the lead in that respect. Maybe not to the same degree as the Poles, for example, or, curiously enough, the Swedes. But I think Europeans ultimately know how to calculate their national interest.
I was at a dinner recently with a prominent German politician and a representative of Siemens was there. And after I made some of my views known, which I hope they’re considered to be reasonably moderate even if tough-minded. And the Siemens representative clearly disagreed and said, no, this is terrible, and we have just been in Moscow and, you know, we have major interests in our relationship with Russia and so forth.
And sitting next to me was Bob Zoellick. And I didn’t say anything to that response, and Zoellick ripped into this guy and said to him: What you have said is very interesting. What percentage of your global sales involves your deal with Russia? He said: Two percent. Then Zoellick says: And what percentage of your deals – dealings with us? He says, 20 percent. And then there was silence in the room. And of course everybody got the message. You better learn how to calculate what your interests are. (Laughter.)
It was well done; I was impressed. I didn’t feel I had to intervene. I just – (laughter) – rubbed my hands.
MR. LUCE: Let me just pin you down on the military side of things. I think schedules have been changing today, but the panel that was to have immediately followed us included Senator McCain, Senators Corker, Menendez. And there’s been a lot of people on the Hill, led by McCain but others as well, who’ve been arguing for a far more aggressive arming of Ukraine policy. Right now, we’ve got fairly minimal stuff. There are 600 American paratroopers training in the Baltic states and other NATO members. Do you think that’s enough? And if it isn’t enough, what kind of military assistance do you think would be merited at this moment?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, first of all, I don’t entirely agree with everything they say. I happen to have a close relative connected with this institution who agrees more with them than with me on this issue. But I do favor military assistance, as I said earlier, to the Ukrainians themselves. I’ll be willing to say to them, if you are willing, if you are determined, if you will resist, you’re not going to be alone. And I’m prepared to say that because I know they do resist.
It’s going to be like the Spanish Civil War. There’ll be international pressures on different countries in different ways for different reasons to support one side or the other. So (we’ll ?) end up doing it, but badly. So we might as well tell it to them in advance and do it. And that is to say, think now what kind of resistance are you capable of mounting at this stage since your armed forces have basically been compromised – they’re inefficient, they’re disorganized, they don’t seem to be motivated by strong will.
But there are other ways of fighting foreign aggression, and particularly a foreign aggression which is designed to establish a political fait accompli, which means taking the big cities. That’s not so difficult. Now, if we do that, then we accomplish a major purpose because we also convey to the Russians that war may not be productive, and we should be conveying at the same time that there are other options that we could jointly consider.
So I find the debate in the United States as helpful in gradually changing the tone, signaling some potential risks without we necessarily already at the very beginning threatening the Russians with war.
MR. LUCE: How – if things go well and the administration follows your advice or the advice of others and we get a ratcheting down of Putin’s designs on eastern Ukraine, what will an ultimate settlement look like? Henry Kissinger, your immediate predecessor, described it as a buffer state. It’s a border country. It should neither be part of the East nor of the West.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, not a buffer state, because buffer state is a very bad analogy. I was at – (inaudible) – a few months ago and I formulated there an approach which has had some resonance, including in your newspaper. Namely, that we sort of take Finland as the rough model of what may be attainable: a country which fulfills its internal aspiration to be generally a part of Europe with democratic self-expression and definition, a country which is not a member of NATO but is fully open to participate in Europe as it best can. That’s the west end.
On the eastern end, a country which has a normal relationship with Russia, diplomatic and commercial, one in which the Russians participate in normal, constructive trade – or maybe even special trade arrangements with the Ukraine given the fact that much of Ukraine’s industry located in the east is important to Russia but essential to Ukrainian economic survival – and therefore a country which has a kind of dual status in which we differentiate between its economic interests and its cultural aspirations.
No membership in NATO. I would be prepared to say that explicitly. And that’s not a betrayal of Ukraine because in fact, the majority of Ukrainians don’t express a desire to be in NATO. But in the EU, eventually, yes, absolutely. Why not? But at the same time I would say to the Russians, you probably know that, that to get into the EU, you have to pass 32 different examinations, prolonged processes. Right? And the Turks have been doing that since they have been told that they can be in the EU. When were they told they can be in the EU? In the 1960s, 50 years ago. So don’t worry about them becoming immediately some sort of an instrumentality of the West.
And this way, you have some of the cake, we have some of the cake, and we both can eat our portions. And Ukraine is stabilized. It is not member of some sort of artificial entity called the Eurasian Union, which is nothing else but Russian imperial arrangement. Retains its authenticity but in a setting like Finland, which gives both sides, the West and the East, the sense that this is a stable arrangement not threatening to either.
MR. LUCE: So a loosely federated democracy with –
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, I wouldn’t say loosely federated.
MR. LUCE: – protections for Russian minorities, for the ethnic Russians.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Look – yeah, but don’t push that too far because that is part of the instrument for destabilizing Ukraine, this language business. You know, what language do the Swiss speak? German and French. But they’re certain their Swiss national identity. What language do the Canadians speak? French and American. And I’m saying American deliberately. (Laughter.) Or Belgians.
I don’t believe in some sort of deliberate federal arrangement for Ukraine in which the east is somehow or other quasi-confederated and separate because that becomes then a hunting ground for the Russians. The Russians have to accept that Ukraine is what it is, a bilingual nation-state with a modern history which developed only in the course of the last 100 years.
But then did Italian nationalism develop? Roughly the time of Napoleonic invasion. Nationalism in Europe is a fairly new development as you move from the west to the east. But it’s authentic. And now, as I said earlier, Putin has accomplished the unprecedented. A country which was not anti-Russian is now increasingly in its majority intensely anti-Russian. So it’s in Russia’s interest to stabilize this situation.
MR. LUCE: I’m going to move to questions in a second, but I can’t resist asking you a question unrelated to what we’ve been talking about but related to Secretary Kerry, who’s speaking here at lunch. He’s recently been kind of withdrawing his remarks on Israel. He’s been making Stakhanovite efforts, as you know, on the Arab-Israeli situation without bearing fruit, and he warned the other day that an Israel without a two-state solution will be moving towards something resembling apartheid. He’s walked back the use of that specific word. Was he wrong to have described that as the trend?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, maybe he should ask Ehud Barak for advice on this subject. Ehud Barak, as all of you know, is a former prime minister of Israel, a defense minister, a very successful, brave fighter for Israel. He publicly said some time ago that if there is no peace, Israel is threatened by becoming possibly an apartheid state. Barak can say it. Why can’t Kerry say it?
MR. LUCE: Presumably because he’s the American secretary of state.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: No, presumably because he’s afraid there’ll be a public reaction from interested parties.
MR. LUCE: Which there – which there has been.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: I think anybody has a right to say that, and Barak authenticates that statement. (Now just to say ?) Israeli patriot himself says that’s a real danger; why should everybody else have a seal – lips sealed on the subject? I’m happy to say it right here. I think if there is no peace, Israel faces the prospect of becoming an apartheid state. And I’m quoting Ehud Barak; I’m not quoting Kerry. He didn’t invent the phrase.
MR. LUCE: Fair enough.
I need some indication – because I turned my iPhone off; I need some indication what the time left is from one of the –
MR. : 11:35.
MR. LUCE: Huh?
MR. : 11:35.
MR. LUCE: So how much time have we got for audience questions?
MR. : (Off mic) – minutes.
MR. LUCE: OK. Well, in that case, we should go. The gentleman in the second row. And we have mics, I presume. Please identify yourself, et cetera.
Q: Thank you very much. Batu Kutelia, McCain Institute. I’m from Georgia.
So you mentioned that there is two Russia. Well, I don’t think that it’s the case with Russia, and it could be misleading. And this Crimea event show that after taking over Crimea, Putin’s rating in Russia skyrocketed. It’s more than 70 percent. So – but let’s admit that it’s true and we have two Russia, and both of them, directly or indirectly, are benefiting from the – Putin’s aggressive policy, my aggression would be, who should be targets of the sanctions, which Russia, sanctions imposed by the West and the United States?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: You know, I have not engaged in sort of careful analysis of targeting sanctions. But I would say as a matter of distinctive reaction that the objective ought to be fairly generalized; that is to say, the country as a whole should feel that the policies its leaders are pursuing is damaging to its interest and to their interests particularly. So I wouldn’t try to define the sanctions once they become comprehensive in some sort of one-sided fashion.
At an early stage, probably some symbolic aspects are useful, targeting the top leadership, just communicating to the public that the leaders are paying a price initially. Subtle hints that perhaps the top leader himself is surprisingly wealthy probably is politically useful diversionary act, not aggressive formally but potentially rather disturbing to a society which probably doesn’t even have an inkling of how much private wealth the leader in fact might be having. So I think so far, I don’t have too much of a problem with it.
MR. LUCE: (To bar ?) British prep schools to Russian student? No, we might get back onto that one.
Next question, please. There’s somebody at the back. Please identify yourself.
Q: Hi. I happened to be in Finland last week, and I asked them about your remarks, and they were quite offended by them. And the – they – the Finns that I spoke to would often say that, well, we’re in the EU, which I don’t think would be a possibility for Ukraine. I don’t think the Russians would accept that. So is this – is this really an accurate forecast for Ukraine?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, first of all, I didn’t say that the Ukrainians would not be in the EU. I would say it would take a long time for them to be in the EU.
The real issue is NATO. And I would be prepared to say that Ukraine would not be in NATO under some arrangement in which there were (simultaneous ?) accommodation with the Russians.
I have had letters from Finns who expressed, as you correctly say, some annoyance with the analogy. And they all point out to me that Finland is not Ukraine, and Ukraine is not Finland. And I’m prepared to concede the point while adding to it that I’m somewhat aware of the fact that Ukraine is not Finland and that Finland is not Ukraine. (Laughter.) So what? I think a lot of the Finnish reaction is a kind of a peculiar self-pride in having an existing unique status and not wanting to have anyone else partake in even an approximate form its equivalent.
MR. LUCE: The lady about – with – in the green top.
Q: Thank you. Trudy Rubin from the Philadelphia Inquirer. Dr. Brzezinski, you said that the president, Obama, should try to unify the allies.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Should what?
Q: But in the short term –
MR. LUCE: Unify the allies.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Unify them.
Q: In the short term, it seems that Mr. Putin is aiming at either getting elections postponed or – in Ukraine or making them impossible and therefore calling them illegitimate. So in the short term, is it necessary to do more upfront? And if the – in order to deter him from this and make it possible for elections to go ahead? And if he needs to do more upfront, should he be getting ahead of the allies in order to make the costs clearer to Putin in the short term and to the Russian people?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, I don’t want to be understood as not being in favor of being more assertive. I am. I think he had started off appropriately – I’m talking about Obama. But time is short. And I think we have to escalate the sanctions and make them more extensive and thereby also somewhat more compulsive on our allies, because after all, in a situation like this when people become more aware of the importance of what’s at stake, solidarity becomes a kind of more compelling reality. So I’m in favor of doing more. I think the president started fine, low-key, intensifying it, but I have also said that he ought to give a major speech to the American people, and I agree with the implicit message of your question.
MR. LUCE: In the – the gentleman in the fourth row back.
Q: I guess that’s me. Hi, Zbig. Doug Zakeim (ph), student of his a million years ago.
The Swedes have increased their defense budget. You mentioned the Swedes, and they’ve actually announced they’ve going to get cruise missiles that are not intended for Finland. Do you think that as part of what you’re recommending, ramping up pressure on the Russians, we ought to find a way to get around the Budget Control Act and increase the defense budget right now?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: You know, I won’t answer you adequately because I have not studied the budget, and I don’t know how the budgetary provisions would affect in the short run our defense capabilities. I would guess simply that the momentum of previous commitments is such that whatever we need right now to do, what may be necessary, is in force and available for X number of years ahead of time. But after a while, there’ll be a curve down, and we have to start thinking about that. But I think the crisis right now is so much upon us that I don’t think that will impinge on the outcome of that crisis very much.
MR. LUCE: Yes, the lady eight rows back. There’s a mic that’s coming.
Q: Hi. Joanna Kaminska from the European Parliament. I have a question on the EU’s policy towards its neighbors because quite often you can hear now that EU policy towards the eastern neighbors or south neighbors actually fails, taking into account whatever is going on in the neighborhood in terms of creating this circle of prosperity, security in the neighborhood.
My question to you would be, do you think it actually really fails? So you said that this – Putin’s actions actually are response to this EU soft power in the neighborhood. Actually, he started to react because he felt threatened by the EU. It doesn’t actually mean that EU policy in the neighborhood works. So I would be interested in your question – in your answer.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: I didn’t understand the question. Did you?
MR. LUCE: Could you short – sort of maybe a more direct question.
Q: Yeah. The question would be, how would you asses EU neighborhood policy towards its eastern neighbors?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Whose neighborhood?
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: EU.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Are you talking about the Eastern initiative? Is that what you’re talking about?
Q: Yes, also Eastern Partnership, yes.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, I think it’s an appropriate consideration by the countries concerned about the future stability of the region, yeah. I think it was an exercise of responsible commitment in the hope also of impressing the other members of the European Union that the union word means union. It doesn’t mean some sort of loose confederation; it means union. And union means shared responsibility and a shared fate.
MR. LUCE: We’ve been given another 10 minutes, so there’s plenty of time for three or four more questions.
Yes. Gentleman standing.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: I’m Jonas Rolett from the Open Society Foundations. I wonder if you could say a little bit about Moldova, a smaller, weaker, maybe more divided than Ukraine right next door, Russian troops in Transnistria, and in particular what you think U.S. and European policy should be.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: I would say on the whole, at least for the time being, pretty much what it is because what happens in Ukraine will ultimately determine what happens in Moldova, maybe even elsewhere as well. So I think Ukraine in a way has become a real test of the ability of the West, the European Union and NATO to have a cooperative, stable relationship with Russia or not.
And that in turn depends on the choices that Mr. Putin makes. I have no way of judging what is the weight of opinion among the people to whom he at least looks for reactions and comments when he makes decisions. I’m afraid that right now, perhaps it is overly dominated by Putin’s own personal emotional condition of outrage, gratification, sense of historical fulfillment, things which were very evident in his performance, particularly with his March 18th speech.
So in a sense, the relationship with Russia as a whole today depends very much on how the Ukrainian drama is played out. This is what makes it so historically important. And this is why it’s so essential that it’d be calm, firm and double-edged: on the other hand, quite clearly responsibly committed to taking a tough stance, if it comes to push; but at the same time a willingness maybe quietly and not openly to discuss with Russia some sort of arrangement for Ukraine which takes into account the unique status and the unique nature of Ukrainian statehood, irrespective of whether that is popular with some Finnish politicians or not, because it’s good arrangement, it’s sensible, and it depends very much also on something that the Finns demonstrated, namely, that they are dedicated to self-defense, and that is what made others more inclined to support them. And this is why the delicate issue of how the Ukrainians react, how we encourage them subtly to be stalwart but not provocative, and how we credibly convince Putin and his associates that we are very serious about this but we are also willing to be cooperative is the challenge.
And that in turn requires strong support not only within the alliance but strong support within America. And I daresay that right now a significant larger number of Americans are interested in the outcome of the basketball championships than of the Ukrainian issue. And I’m not joking. It’s not – it’s a serious matter. But I think it’s a fact. And I think the president at some point now, if this is to be really a serious issue to be resolved in a very responsible, serious fashion, has to start telling the American people what is at stake here because it really is not only just the relationship between Russia and Ukraine; it is the stability of the system, particularly the system that prevails in Europe, of the alliances, of the commitments, of mutual responsibility, of the ability to work together in the future and essentially and most important of all the ability to stand together.
MR. LUCE: Can I just quickly tease you out on one point you made earlier? How soon – at what point should we go after Putin’s alleged massive personal fortune and make that explicit? At what stage is that very direct?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Oh, I – you know, I haven’t thought about it tactically because that’s a tactical question. But in any case, my instinct would be not to single it out, but not to be protective of it as a secret. I mean, we have no obligation to keep it a secret if it’s in fact evidentiary that he is in fact beneficiary of secret arrangements that make him personally wealthy. But I wouldn’t single it out. I think – after all, since we’re dealing with him, we shouldn’t overdo it. But I certainly would not hide it from the Russian people. I don’t think that overwhelming number of Russians would be so terribly proud of the fact, if it is the case, that he’s stashing money abroad. I would think they would react probably the most – the way that most Americans would react if they discovered that a president is secretly terribly wealthy and has most of its – his money in Cyprus. I mean, how would Americans react to that? I don’t think they would endorse it. So, you know, I don’t think it’s a critical issue, but I certainly wouldn’t erase it, but I wouldn’t pursue it as a central tool.
MR. LUCE: The lady in the second row, and then I think there’ll be time for one more question after that.
Q: Julie Finley. I’m sort of interested in hearing what both of you think the relationship that Putin and Sergei Lavrov have. Thank you.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: With each other?
Q: Well, in the sense of, does Lavrov exercise any influence? We have some – observations have been made here recently that in our own government, there is sort of maybe a divergence of views on how to proceed on certain things between our executive and our State Department. I’m wondering if that – if you think that exists there.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: I know Lavrov. He’s a very skillful diplomat of Armenian origin. And he’s very articulate. But he’s a professional. I don’t think he is a confidante of the Russian president. I think he does not have as closely forged a relationship as the one that has developed between President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry. I think the two have a genuinely close relationship in the sense of being very much on track. And obviously, one is in charge, but the one in charge listens closely to the one that’s working with him and representing him abroad. I don’t think Lavrov has that status. I think some of the other people that work more closely with Putin that originate from the secret police apparatus have a much closer sort of operational relationship with him. But admittedly, not that much is known about it.
MR. LUCE: Do you think President Obama would benefit from having stronger national security advisers? (Laughter.)
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, I’m tempted to say, of course every president benefits from having a stronger security adviser. But “stronger” is the wrong word, actually. I think Kerry has a broad view of the international system, and I think the president’s advisers have to have that because he doesn’t have time to spend in developing it in a comprehensive way.
What I like about Kerry is that he decided to focus on the seriously challenging strategic issues that we confront. His predecessor was extremely capable and able and played a very important role, very important role, but was much more focused on the longer-range problems of our common humanity, whether it is starvation, depopulation, climate, gender issues, human rights issues, and she devoted herself to it with enormous commitment, but she wasn’t touching the strategic issues. He’s plunged right into it. It’s very dangerous. It may turn out badly for him. But I think it was the right thing to do because if they’re not resolved or at least contained, we’ll pay a price. So I admire him for doing it. I admire the president for choosing him in that respect. And I assume he’ll stand by him when push comes to shove, as is the case now, not only on the Ukrainian issue, but as it is, on the Middle East, for example.
MR. LUCE: The Middle East. Mmm hmm.
Q: Dr. Brzezinski, increasing sanctions on Russia –
MR. LUCE: Could you state your name?
Q: Odar Aberdeen (ph). Nice to see you.
MR. LUCE: I know who you are, but – yeah.
Q: If you add more sanctions, can the Russians respond by undermining Obama’s policy on Iran? And how important the Iran policy of Obama to – (inaudible)?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, of course, they’ll weigh all options, and undermining his policy on Iran could be one of them.
However, their policy on Iran, to the extent that it is currently at least partially complementary to ours, is not based on charity but is based on self-interest. And I think the Russians realize that if there isn’t some – if there is some sort of an explosion in that part of the world, it probably will affect in some fashion their own interests because what is striking about that part of the world is that the era of European-type states which emerged in that part of the world in the course of the last century is now being subordinated to a new trend in which intensely motivated popular movements ethnically, nationalistically and religiously are becoming more important. And if violence erupts in that part of the world, it’s like to be of the latter character.
And that will quickly slip into or sweep into Russia. Let’s not forget the fact that for all of its pretense of being a nation-state wanting to create a Eurasian union, out of the 145 million Russians – excuse me, out of the 145 million Russian citizens – about 25 million are not Russians, and of the 25 million who are not Russians, more than half are Muslims, territorially located and with a low-key guerilla warfare already going on in Dagestan and areas adjoining. And that could easily spread. That could easily spread. So I think the Russians do have a kind of residual stake in common with us in there not being an explosion.
But the explosion could come either from the Russians, or it could come, for example, if the Israelis are not happy with the arrangements that are contrived with Iran, they could also exercise their right to take the initiative. So there are all sorts of dangers here. And I think that in a way enhances the interests of the major powers in the Iranian issue remaining stable, not being permitted in one way or another to erupt.
MR. LUCE: I’m afraid our time has run out. So please join me in thanking Dr. Brzezinski for a brilliant (expose ?). (Applause.)