Interview with Kremlin Watch Program: ‘It doesn’t seem Donald Trump has a Russia policy’
These are torrid times in international affairs. Twenty-seven years since the fall of the Soviet Union and 17 years since the 9/11 attacks, the idea of unipolar world has also started taking a backseat. Both the Barack Obama and Donald Trump administrations of the United States have shown interest in a selective retreat over some key issues in global politics and it has created a vacuum for powers like Russia and others to step in and assert their influence.
Oneindia had a conversation with Jakub Janda, executive director of the Kremlin Watch Program (KWP), and Veronika Víchová, KWP's coordinator and analyst, on issues related to Russia and the West and their current politics and also how a new Cold War, which is more about the information warfare than military, is taking shape.
Kremlin Watch is a strategic program of the European Values Think-Tank, which keeps a tab on Russia's actions vis-à-vis the democracies of the West.
The European Values Think-Tank is a non-governmental policy institute which works towards defending liberal democracy.
Here are a few excerpts from the interview:
Oneindia: How much important the USA's withdrawal from multilateralism in world affairs make Russia as an international player? Have the Obama and Trump administrations allowed Moscow to grow in stature politically even if it continues to have economic concerns?
Jakub Janda (JJ): The democratic systems in Central and Eastern Europe are not as developed as in the Western Europe and the politicians and citizens are much more vulnerable to the hostile intentions of our Eastern neighbour. However, that is not an excuse for European leaders to legitimise the Kremlin´s regime.
The European governments should be able to invest more in their own security and the leaders of Central Europe should recognise that collaboration with the Kremlin is against the strategic interests of their countries.
Veronika Víchová (VV): The Obama administration certainly created space in Central and Eastern Europe which has been used by the Kremlin to spread its hostile influence. The unpredictability of the Trump administration further worsens the situation, in which many countries from the region look for another safeguard in the East.
Oneindia: Are there any indicators that Vladimir Putin's fourth term as the Russian president would see a change in the Kremlin's foreign policy towards better (pro-conciliation) or worse (pro-aggression)?
VV: The behaviour and the aggression of the Kremlin in Europe has been becoming more and more bold for several years now; there is no reason to believe that the same trend is not going to continue in the following months and years. The western countries are doing little to deter or punish the Russian Federation for its hostilities which is very empowering for President Putin.
Oneindia: What's your take on Trump's Russia policy? Is there a method in his madness?
VV: It does not really seem that Donald Trump has an actual Russia policy. He has advisors who are aware of the threat the Russian Federation presents, but he does not always listen to their suggestions and acts (or tweets) impulsively.
However, the United States is one of the biggest supporters and sponsors of initiatives and activities targeting Russia's hostile subversion in Europe whilst European governments are often avoiding such support because they fear of political backlash or worsening of economic relations with Russia.
Oneindia: Was Russia really behind the Skripals' poisoning or was it an allegation by the West especially Britain which is trying to tackle a lot of Brexit problems at the moment?
VV: There is no reason to believe that the allegations by the British authorities are false, especially since they provided evidence and identified the culprits of the attempted murder. Generally, the Russian Federation is the only country which in recent years conducted similar operations or encouraged them on European soil, for example the murder of Alexander Litvinenko.
Oneindia: Is Russia ready for a post-Putin time? Is there much chance of the country's politics opening up in the near future, keeping in mind the protests that we saw in 2011-12 and also in 2018?
JJ: Russian citizens, especially the civil society, are certainly beginning to express their discontent a little louder. However, it questionable if anyone from the opposition will actually be able to take over after the end of Vladimir Putin´s term.
The current Russian president is surrounded by former KGB agents and oligarchs and they will not give up their power lightly. We should be prepared for the possibility that the post-Putin Russian leadership will seek the same goals and the situation might potentially get even worse for Europe.
Oneindia: Is a global Cold War really possible today between Russia and the West or we will see at the most regional rivalries as in Ukraine and Syria that will at times threaten to turn hot?
VV: In a way, we already are in a Cold War 2.0 with Russia. However, it is not based on military conflict, but on information warfare. The Kremlin and its proxies are not that secretive about using information and influence as a weaponised tool, and so far it has been working for the Russian regime fairly well. It is much cheaper and more effective than expanding the conventional conflict.
Oneindia: On the Syria tussle, are Assad's allies in Russia and Iran making him stronger or is there a shortfall in the West's policies to see him defeated?
JJ: Putin's strategy in Syria resulted in the Russian Federation being accepted by many leaders and politicians as an actor which is impossible to exclude when talking about solving the conflicts in the Middle East.
Even though the Russian Federation supports Assad's regime which uses chemical weapons on its own citizens, there are still policy-makers calling for more cooperation with Russia on countering terrorism.
VV: It all comes down to what we consider a red line that Russia cannot cross, after which we will not consider this regime our ally. Right now the red line seems to be far away for many Europeans, even though the Kremlin has been undermining western democracies without scruples for many years now.