Tensions Between the U.S. and Russia
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MARGARET WARNER: The disputed presidential election in Ukraine, now headed for a rerun, has created new strains in the U.S.-Russia relationship. The election itself at times looked like a tug of war between Washington and the Kremlin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled twice to Ukraine to campaign for Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich. Moscow also funneled a reported $200 million to Yanukovich’s campaign.
Washington, meanwhile, tacitly supported opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko. While not sending Yushchenko money directly, U.S. taxpayer-funded institutes helped train pro-democracy forces in Ukraine. On Election Day, U.S. and European monitors scrutinized the balloting then leveled accusations of fraud.
Even before the results were official, Putin congratulated Yanukovich on his apparent victory. But as crowds of protesters massed in Kiev’s Independence Square, the Bush White House called on Ukrainian authorities to investigate the allegations of fraud.
And when the Ukrainian election commission declared Yanukovich the winner, Secretary of State Colin Powell issued a tough warning.
COLIN POWELL: We cannot accept this result as legitimate because it does not meet international standards and because there has not been an investigation of the numerous and credible reports of fraud and abuse.
If the Ukrainian government does not act immediately and responsibly, there will be consequences for our relationship, for Ukraine’s hopes for euro-Atlantic integration, and for individuals responsible for perpetrating fraud.
MARGARET WARNER: Later that week, as European Union officials flew to Ukraine to help mediate a solution, Putin objected to what he described as western meddling.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN (Translated): Our position is that only the people of any country, and this includes Ukraine in the full sense, can decide their fate. One can play the role of a mediator, but one must not meddle and apply pressure.
MARGARET WARNER: On Dec. 3, the Ukrainian Supreme Court found fraud and ordered a new runoff election. Ukraine simply adds to other tensions in the U.S.-Russia relationship.
Despite greater Washington- Moscow cooperation on terrorism after 9/11, Russia opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. And last week, Putin waded into the controversy over the timing of the Jan. 30 Iraqi elections.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN (Translated): I honestly say that I cannot imagine how elections can be organized under a full occupation of the country by foreign troops.
MARGARET WARNER: Washington is also troubled by what it sees as the Russian leader’s authoritarian moves at home. Putin has jailed a potential political rival, oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and started liquidating his company, Yukos. Putin has cracked down on independent media in Russia, all but nationalizing broadcast television. And after the terrorist school siege in Beslan last summer, Putin decided to appoint Russia’s regional governors, rather than have them elected.
But Russia has complaints too, most particularly the expansion of NATO into former communist states close to its border, and the post-9/11 stationing of U.S. troops in former Soviet republics in central Asia. The personal relationship between the two presidents certainly seems to have cooled since their first meeting in June 2001, when President Bush issued this appraisal.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. And we had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul, a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.
MARGARET WARNER: By contrast, U.S. officials say a private lunch between the two men at a summit in Chile last month was dominated by a frank airing of Mr. Bush’s concerns.
MARGARET WARNER: And for more on what the Ukraine tensions say about the relationship between the U.S. and Russia, we get two views.
Michael McFaul is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and an associate professor at Stanford University.
And Edward Lozansky is president of the American University in Moscow, and founder and president of Russia House, a consulting firm based in Washington. He was born in Ukraine, educated in Moscow, and is now an American citizen. Welcome to you both.
Michael McFaul, let’s start with Ukraine. Explain to us why the situation in Ukraine aroused such strong feelings in both Washington and Moscow.
MICHAEL McFAUL: Well, in Washington because it was a democratic breakthrough. You had on the streets of Ukraine after a obviously falsified election hundreds of thousands of people mobilized to say, we’re not going to take this laying down.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, as your piece just reported, then gave a very forceful statement, first time ever that I know of that such a statement has been made about this part of the world, and then you got a democratic result, at least I think it will be a democratic result when the elections happen on Dec. 26. That’s why the United States was so excited.
For Russia, and Mr. Putin in particular, because there are lots of Russian points of view, but for him, he saw this through the prism of spheres of influence, East versus West. He supported Mr. Yanukovich very openly and blatantly. And he sees this as a loss for Russia. I disagree with him, but that’s the way I think he frames the issue.
MARGARET WARNER: Explain more, Mr. Lozansky, for us why did Putin have so much in invested in Yanukovich? Why did he care so much?
EDWARD LOZANSKY: Well, I think obviously he made a big mistake. Part of his mistake was, think whether it was the media frenzy or statements by many western politicians, including American politicians, that there is a choice. If Ukraine votes for Yanukovich it’s going to European Union, to NATO just to democracy. If it’s not Yanukovich, then it’s Russia, gulag, KGB, all that stuff.
It was very simplistic approach. I think it played into his hands, and at some point Putin believed it himself and he made this terrible mistake by getting involved in this campaign. He shouldn’t have done it. I think — but I put blame on both sides.
MARGARET WARNER: Why is Ukraine so important to Russia?
EDWARD LOZANSKY: Well, Ukraine is historically and geographically, any way you want to say, is part of Russian history. It’s 300 years together. Probably more than 300 like 330, 340. Many Ukrainians live in Russia. Many Russians live in Ukraine, a lot of intermarriage. So those two countries are inseparable.
And I’m pretty sure it doesn’t really matter whether Yanukovich wins or Yushchenko win, Ukraine and Russia would stay together. And message from the United States should be that really it’s not a fight between East and West, between gulag and democracy. Whoever wins it will be good for Russia, Ukraine-Russian relations, and for a broader picture of U.S.-Russian relations.
MARGARET WARNER: Michael McFaul, the Russians did claim, I mean, the Americans claimed that Russia had pumped all this money and really tried to help Yanukovich win. But the Russians say that America and the West did much the same. Is that true?
MICHAEL McFAUL: Yes and no. Was there meddling in the internal affairs of Ukraine, I think he used a phrase like that, the answer is yes. There are western-funded organizations on the ground in Ukraine that were working with NGO’s, civil society actors in Ukraine.
Now, they didn’t give money directly to Yushchenko, at least not to my knowledge. They didn’t fund his campaign, but they did support electoral observers. They did support exit polls. They did support obviously the monitors that went in. And they did support independent media. So in that sense, he’s right.
Now, I look at that and say, are you against supporting free and fair elections Mr. Putin? Is that something you would want to ascribe to? Obviously we know now that one of the central election commission officials said that a million votes were fraudulent.
So we know that now there was falsified stuff. I look at that assistance and say that’s assistance for democracy. It’s not necessarily American, by the way; it’s also European. The polls were very important in this.
And Para, the student group that organized this all, if you go to their Web site and you read their plea to the outside world, it says, citizens to the free world. It doesn’t have Americans or Poles. It says, if you’re a citizen of the free world you’re on our side.
MARGARET WARNER: There were commentators here, Mr. Lozansky, who actually saw this in kind of Cold War terms, this that this was a replay in some way of the Cold War battles for influence. Do you think that’s accurate? Does that reflect your view, or do you think that reflects the Russian view at all?
EDWARD LOZANSKY: Well, it turned out this way, It shouldn’t be this way from the beginning. If message from Bush — President Bush and the American media, in America foreign policy is not the only prerogative of the White House, NGO’s and Congress and the State Department and many other agencies play some role.
The message to Russia, to Putin should be, listen, we also want you to be part of this. It’s not just we want Ukraine and you just go away to Asia to some old ways. We want also you to be part of this.
This message was not very clear or didn’t exist at all. Contrary to what Michael says, the money didn’t go to Yushchenko, yes, money didn’t go to Yushchenko’s account, but all those groups that Michael is talking about, they all support Yushchenko. It is obvious one-sided support of this candidate.
MARGARET WARNER: So are we going to look back ten years or five years from now at this Ukraine situation as a significant event in the evolution of the U.S.-Russia relationship?
MICHAEL McFAUL: Well it depends on what President Bush thinks. My assessment of the Bush administration as they reconstruct themselves is that there is a real debate about Russia today.
I know many people in the administration that shares Mr. Lozansky’s view, most certainly my view, that Russia should be integrated and part of the West, but if you want to be part of the West, then you can’t shut down national television, you can’t harass NGO’s. You can’t seize property of companies like Yukos. That’s not western practices.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. But for nearly four years, a lot of this has been going on there.
MICHAEL McFAUL: Right.
MARGARET WARNER: But other elections that have been certainly tainted -
MICHAEL McFAUL: Absolutely.
MARGARET WARNER: Belarus and others –hasn’t been much said publicly by the Bush White House. I don’t want to go back and re-discuss Ukraine, but is it significant that now members of this administration were talking publicly about their unhappiness, their displeasure, their criticism?
MICHAEL McFAUL: Yes, I think it is.
MARGARET WARNER: Why do you think it is happening now?
MICHAEL McFAUL: Well, the deal before, as your clip showed from their first meeting, the deal going into that meeting in Slovenia in 2001 is that I, President Bush, am going to reach out to President Putin and I’m going to do things that are in American national interests and I’m not going to be concerned with Chechnya and all these things. I’m going to do what’s in our national interest.
Back then he was focused on national missile defense. And he got what he wanted. And that’s called good diplomacy. I give him credit for that. After Sept. 11, it then became we’re going to fight a global war on terrorism together. And he got support from Mr. Putin to help fight the war in Afghanistan. I think the Russians deserve a whole lot more credit for that war, by the way, than we tend to give them in the West.
But after that, I look at the record and I say, what exactly are we getting from this relationship, closing our eyes to this democratic rollback, what are we getting in return? Non-proliferation? I don’t see any big payoffs.
War on terrorism – no — Putin is actually exacerbating the conflict in Chechnya; 100,000 people have died there; he’s inciting fanaticism, he’s not quelling it, and finally, President Bush time in and time out, every single foreign policy speech he gives today, he invokes his mission as promoting liberty. Now, if he’s serious about that; President Putin is not an ally in that cause.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now, give us the same analysis of perhaps how President Putin sees what’s happened the last four years. Is he similarly disappointed that it hasn’t panned out to have the same advantage for Russia as he thought?
EDWARD LOZANSKY: George Bush is absolutely right, that he’s first of all primarily interested in the interests of the United States. For Putin, primary interest is interest of Russia. So what I think — attitudes in Russia, and I go there all the time, is that we keep giving Americans what they want.
They wanted missile defense, fine, expansion of NATO, excellent, Afghanistan, yes, but what we get in return? Not too much. And so Putin is under terrible pressure from his circle saying, listen, you give one thing after another to the United States, and there is not much to show in return.
MARGARET WARNER: What was missing? What didn’t they get? Give me an example.
EDWARD LOZANSKY: Well, apparently nothing because most important was the economy. Do we get any investment from the United States? Nothing. Now, oil, Caspian oil, the United States is doing everything possible to reroute this Caspian oil to bypass Russia. Of course, it’s contrary to Russian interests.
So, I would like to see more forthcoming from the United States, not only… it’s not a one-way street. We should help Putin because he is, whatever people talk about, KGB, dictator, et cetera, he’s still probably more liberal than, one observer said, 95 percent of Russian people.
He gets tremendous support. He has overwhelming support from his people. You have to help him a little bit. Help means giving also in exchange for his support.
MARGARET WARNER: Very briefly, to the two of you, starting with you Michael McFaul, this used to be the most important relationship America had. How important really, how much does it matter if the U.S. and Russia aren’t seeing eye to eye right now?
EDWARD LOZANSKY: Today I don’t think it matters because we have our interests. It’s called three things– Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. Russia has its own national interests that it can find its own place in the world today it doesn’t need western assistance. But what I worry about is what comes after Putin, because if you have the return of a full-blown dictatorship after him, and I think he’s sowing the seeds for that today, then we’re back to the real Cold War.
EDWARD LOZANSKY: We’re trying to undermine Putin, then if we undermine him, we get much worse because in the wings we have this national fascist forces. Then you’ll have real trouble. Instead of undermining Putin, you have to support him.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Edward Lozansky, Michael McFaul, thank you both.