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  • [bright chiming]

  • [reflexive music]

  • This is the problem of despotism.

  • This is why despotism is, or even just authoritarianism

  • is all powerful and brittle at the same time.

  • It's because it creates the circumstances

  • of its own undermining,

  • the information gets worse,

  • the sick of fans get greater in number,

  • the corrective mechanisms become fewer

  • and the mistakes become much wider

  • and much more consequential. 13

  • We've been hearing from voices, 14

  • both from the past and the present, 15

  • telling us that the reason for what has happened 16

  • is, as George Kennan said,

  • the great blunder of eastward expansion of NATO,

  • a modern, realistic story like John Mearsheimer tells us

  • that a great deal of the blame

  • for what we're witnessing now

  • must go to the United States,

  • that he calls it the great strategic blunder

  • of the postwar era.

  • I thought we'd begin by your analysis of that argument.

  • What we have today in Russia is not some kind of surprise,

  • it's not some kind of deviation

  • from a historical pattern.

  • Way before NATO existed in the 19th century,

  • Russia looked like this.

  • It had an autocrat, it had repression, it had militarism,

  • it had suspicion of foreigners in the west.

  • This is a Russia we know

  • and it's not a Russia that arrived yesterday

  • or arrived in the 1990s.

  • It's not a response to actions of the west.

  • There are internal processes in Russia

  • that account for where we are today.

  • George Kennan was unbelievably important scholar,

  • practitioner person in our country and culture.

  • The greatest Russia expert who ever lived.

  • But I just don't think blaming the west

  • is the right analysis for where we are today.

  • When you talk about the internal dynamics of Russia,

  • historically, it reminds me of a piece that you wrote

  • and it was published in Foreign Affairs six years ago,

  • and it began like this,

  • "For half a millennium, Russian foreign policy

  • has been characterized by soaring ambitions

  • that have exceeded the country's capabilities,

  • beginning with the reign of Yvonne the terrible

  • in the 16th century,

  • Russia managed to expand

  • at an average rate of 50 square miles per day

  • for hundreds of years,

  • eventually covering one sixth of the Earth's land mass.

  • And then say these high water marks aside,

  • Russia has almost always been

  • a relatively weak, great power."

  • So if you could expand on that

  • and talk about how the internal dynamics of Russia

  • have gone on to describe it,

  • both historically and in the present day on Putin,

  • that would be, I think, very helpful.

  • One of the arguments I made in my Stalin book

  • was that being the dictator,

  • being in charge of Russian power in the world

  • in those circumstances in that time period,

  • made Stalin who he was and not the other way around.

  • And so with Russia what you've got

  • is a remarkable civilization.

  • You know it, you know it in the arts,

  • in music, in literature, in dance, in film,

  • in every sphere in science,

  • it's just a deep, profound, remarkable place,

  • a whole civilization, more than just a country.

  • At the same time it feels

  • that it has a special place in the world,

  • it's a country with a special mission in the world.

  • It's Eastern, Orthodox, not Western,

  • and it wants to stand out as a great power.

  • Its problem has always been not that sense of self,

  • not that sense of identity,

  • but the fact that its capabilities

  • never match those aspirations.

  • And so it's in a struggle to live up

  • to this aspiration that it has for itself, which it can't

  • because the west has always been more powerful.

  • Russia is a great power, but not the great power,

  • except for those few moments in history

  • that you just enumerated.

  • And so in trying to match the west,

  • or at least manage the differential

  • between Russia and the west, they resort to coercion,

  • they use a very heavy state-centric approach

  • to try to beat the country forward and upwards

  • in order militarily and economically,

  • as I said to either match the west or compete with the west.

  • So Putin is what he is,

  • and no one has to tell you who Putin is,

  • you've been on this for a very long time.

  • At the same time, he's ruling in Russia,

  • and he's got these circumstances, almost a syndrome,

  • where geopolitics is trying to make up

  • for a power differential that it can't make up for.

  • Well, let's describe Putin and Putinism.

  • What kind of regime is it?

  • It's not exactly the same as Stalinism,

  • it's not certainly not the same as Xi Jinping

  • or the regime in Iran.

  • What are its special characteristics

  • and why would those special characteristics

  • lead it to want to invade?

  • Or why would Putin want to invade Ukraine?

  • Which seems at least from this distance singularly stupid.

  • So of course this isn't the same regime of Stalin,

  • it's not the same regime as the czars either.

  • Of course there's been tremendous change,

  • urbanization, higher are levels of education,

  • the world outside has been transformed.

  • So that's the shock, actually,

  • the shock is that so much has changed,

  • and yet we're seeing this pattern

  • that they can't really escape from,

  • where you have an autocrat

  • or even now a despot, who's in power,

  • making decisions completely by himself.

  • Does he get input from others?

  • Perhaps we don't know what the inside looks like.

  • Does he pay attention?

  • We don't know.

  • Do they bring him information he doesn't want to hear?

  • That seems unlikely.

  • Does he think he knows better than a everybody else?

  • That seems highly likely.

  • Does he believe his own propaganda

  • or his own conspiratorial view of the world?

  • That also seems likely.

  • These are surmises.

  • So he believed, it seems,

  • that Ukraine was not a real country.

  • He believed that the Ukrainian people

  • were not a real people,

  • that they were one people with the Russians.

  • He believed that the Ukrainian government was a pushover.

  • He believed what he was likely told

  • or wanted to believe about his own military,

  • that it had been modernized

  • to the point where it could organize

  • not a military invasion, but a lightning coup.

  • to take Kiev in 1, 2, 4, 5 days,

  • and either install a puppet government or force,

  • because he captured the current government and president

  • to sign some paperwork.

  • The courage of the Ukrainian people

  • and the bravery and smarts of the Ukrainian government

  • and its president Zelensky,

  • galvanized the west to remember who it was.

  • What is the west? How to define what the west is?

  • The west is a series of institutions and values.

  • The west is not a geographical place.

  • Russia is European, but not Western.

  • Japan is Western, but not European.

  • Western means rule of law, democracy, private property,

  • open markets, respect for the individual, diversity,

  • pluralism of opinion,

  • and all the other freedoms that we enjoy,

  • which we sometimes take for granted,

  • we sometimes forget where they came from,

  • but that's what the west is.

  • And that west, which we expanded in the nineties,

  • and in my view properly, through the expansion of the EU

  • and the expansion of NATO,