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The Drivers of Russian Strategy in the Middle East

The Drivers of Russian Strategy in the Middle East
(Ilan Berman, July 12, 2017)

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About the speaker

Ilan Berman is Senior Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC. An expert on regional security in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Russian Federation, he has consulted for both the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Department of Defense, and provided assistance on foreign policy and national security issues to a range of governmental agencies and congressional offices. He has been called one of America’s “leading experts on the Middle East and Iran” by CNN.

Mr. Berman is a member of the Associated Faculty at Missouri State University’s Department of Defense and Strategic Studies. A frequent writer and commentator, he has written for the Wall Street JournalForeign Affairs, the New York TimesForeign Policy, the Washington Post and USA Today, among many other publications.

Mr. Berman is the editor of four books – Dismantling Tyranny: Transitioning Beyond Totalitarian Regimes (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), co-edited with J. Michael Waller Taking on Tehran: Strategies for Confronting the Islamic Republic (Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), and Iran’s Strategic Penetration of Latin America (Lexington Books, 2015), co-edited with Joseph Humire, and most recently, The Logic of Irregular War: Asymmetry and America’s Adversaries (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017) – and the author of four others: Tehran Rising: Iran’s Challenge to the United States (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), Winning the Long War: Retaking the Offensive Against Radical Islam (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), Implosion: The End of Russia and What It Means for America (Regnery Publishing, 2013), and Iran’s Deadly Ambition: The Islamic Republic’s Quest for Global Power (Encounter Books, 2015).

He has also spoken at Westminster on the subjects of Iran’s Global Ambition, The Future of the War on Terror – ISIS and After, and Russia in the Middle East.


Robert Reilly:

Our speaker, Ilan Berman, is the Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council, a great organization with which some of you may be acquainted. I’m very well acquainted with it since I had the privilege of being Ilan’s colleague on and off over the years when I’ve been a senior fellow there and we’re happy to have Herman Pirchner, who is the president of long standing of American Foreign Policy Council with us tonight, along with his lovely wife Liz.

Now, Ilan is an expert in a number of foreign policy and national security areas to include the Middle East, Central Asia, and certainly Russia. I think his first language was Ukrainian and Russian named Russian and Ukraine no it was Russian okay. Well, he goes to Ukraine a lot, so I got confused on that one.

He consults frequently for different parts of the government, including the agency to wit with which some of you worked, and the Department of Defense is a frequent presence on Capitol Hill where he is asked to testify.

He’s the author of a number of books infused me, Tehran Rising: Iran’s challenge to the United States, Winning the Long War, Retaking the Offensive against the Radical Islam, two of the books which are for sale outside, which I’m sure Ilan will be happy to sign for you after his talk, Implosion the End of Russia and What it Means for America. If you have any timing on that the under and, excuse me, most recently, Iran’s Deadly Ambition: The Islamic Republic’s Quest for Global Power. Ilan has edited a number of other books to which he’s contributed. He’s on the faculty of various places he’s a frequent presence and the Wall Street Journal op-ed pages and elsewhere without further ado join me in welcoming Ilan Berman, who’s speaking on “Russia, Islam, and the Middle East.”

Ilan Berman:

Thanks very much, Bob, and so since you brought it up, I have to talk about the title of my book, my 2013 book on Russia called, Implosion: The End of Russia and What it Means for America. I chalked that title up to an overzealous marketing department because the real thrust of the book is how Russia is changing, changing in terms of demographics, changing in terms of population, changing in terms of ideology, and my contention was that this may spell the end of Putin’s Russia, eventually. That’s a little bit of a different thing but as we know, certain marketers are not known for nuance and therefore what you have is what you get. But I promise you it holds up, mostly, I think, in the reading.

So, this is lovely. The last time I was here was a couple years ago when I regaled you all about the dangers of the Iranian nuclear deal and how it’s going to empower a resurgence of Iranian influence throughout the greater Middle East. I am delighted to see that I was totally wrong, that the deal was the greatest thing that the Obama administration accomplished. We have nothing to worry about. But it does sort of give you a little bit of a sense, sort of the area that I tried intellectually.

I work historically. Thanks to Herman and sort of the freedom I have at the American Foreign Policy Council, I have the ability to work in three areas. I work on Russia where I’m a native Russian speaker and where I’ve spent a fair amount of time. I work on the Middle East sort of broadly in Iran and I work on radical Islamism or transnational Islamism. These used to be separate items. These are now all one big item, right. in the sort of the Syria-Iraq space, so it actually makes my job both easier and much much harder.

So, Bob and I talked a couple months back about me sort of returning and coming to do a talk here at Westminster and the thing that I think really caught his fancy was this idea of how what’s happening within Russia itself is having a profound impact on the way Russia sees the world, why Russia wants to be involved in the Middle East. A lot of it is what you would expect, imperialism and this sort of this expansion impulse.

But a lot of it is driven by things that most Americans don’t see, this sort of ongoing demographic transformation, the rise of a radicalizing Muslim underclass in Russia. All of these have a profound impact on sort of how Russia sees the Middle East and how Russia is likely to behave in places like Syria, with countries like Iran, and sort of how that’s going to shape things.

So without further ado, let me let me start by talking about codes and ciphers because I know some of you worked on codes and ciphers in a past life. I would say that the most important code and cipher that we had during the Cold War was something known as the Long Telegram. In 1946, George Kennan, who was then a senior official at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, wrote a cable back to George Marshall, talking about from his vantage point in Moscow what he saw as the drivers of Soviet foreign policy, what makes the Soviets tick, what do they want, what do they care about, what are they likely to do when, what can we hold at risk in response, right? There is really no overstating the importance of the Long Telegram.

The following year in 1947, it was published in Foreign Affairs under the pseudonym Mr. X because Kennan was still a government employee, but it was public under the title of, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” that was the official title of the article, and every single graduate student of a sort of below a certain age and above a certain age has read this as part of their core curriculum because it really was the Rosetta Stone for understanding Soviet intentions. It was also the sort of – because knowledge is power – is also the formula to formative intellectual document that allowed the creation of national strategies like NSC 68 because you need to understand your enemy to know how to fight the most effectively.

The reason I bring up Kennan and I bring up the Long Telegram is because there is currently no contemporary analog. We talk a lot about Russia. We talk very little about what Russia wants and what are the things that are propelling it to behave in certain ways, so I’m not here to give you a lecture on the sources of Russian conduct but sort of in the short time that we have I wanted to talk about a few things that sort of, from my vantage point, from our institutional vantage point, we think are having a fairly profound impact on shaping Russian behaviors, the Russian behavior broadly throughout the world but also specifically towards the Middle East and sort of how it’s propelling Moscow’s engagements.

So the first driver I ever talked about would be this surface pervasive sense of Imperial nostalgia back in 2007 Vladimir Putin speaking at the Munich Security Conference described the demise of the USSR as the quote greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century now we may differ as to what the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century is my parents lived in the Soviet Union they would not turn the collapse of the Soviet Union according to supalen catastrophe of the 20th century but from Putin’s vantage point it was that it was the loss of status the loss of territory the loss of influence that accompanied the Soviet collapse and so it’s not surprising that since then his government under his control has made the reconstitution of a neo Soviet sphere a top priority politically in terms of foreign policy in terms of national security what does it look like well politically it looks like arrangements such as the Russia Belarus Union which the Russian hammered out in the late 1990s to create a sort of a condominium approach towards the country of dollars which used to be a republic of the USSR it looks like the very broadly described policy on protecting compatriots Slavs or ethnic Russian speakers that exist both on the territory of the former Soviet Union and even beyond even in the United States that the Russians have claimed some sort of strategic interest in in economic terms this looks like the creation of this construct that Putin has championed with limited success to be fair called the Eurasian Economic Union which he’s tried to bind the countries of the post-soviet space into an economic construct that’s different from the European Union and because you have to belong somewhere but it’s very hard to belong to multiple things at once so you would much rather tether these countries to Moscow than to Brussels in security terms this looks like the creation of the collective security treaty organization or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization or several other security blocks that all share the common feature of having Moscow or jointly Moscow and Beijing as being the driving forces behind behind what they do the result is what a friend of mine sort of sitting in Moscow with me a few years ago described I think in the best way that I’ve ever heard which is that this is a postmodern Empire it’s an empire of dependency not an actual territorial control unlike unless you’re in Ukraine the Russian tanks aren’t necessarily coming over the transit in Ukraine they are and in other places people fear that they will be soon but in many other places the Russian influence is felt in economics and politics in culture rather than in actual territorial control but it’s a political connection is a strategic connection and it’s vital nonetheless and the reason this is so pervasive and the reason this is so popular is that because it’s not a Putin project there is this concept for those of you that speak Russian of journalists the idea of Russia is a great power it’s really hard if not direct analog into English but it’s a pervasive sense of Russia and Russia’s destiny as a great state and that’s why there is support for imperial expansion across the Russian political spectrum right all from the Russian left to the progressive Russian left folks like Anatoly device right the architect of Russia’s shock therapy reform economic reforms in the 1990s all the way to Alexander Solzhenitsyn the great thinker and laureate who gave a speech on the floor of the Russian Duma of the lower house the Parliament in the mid 1990s which Herrmann’s written about extensively about talking about the need for a greater sort of reconstituting a greater Slavic state right so put bluntly the reason Putin is successful at what he does is that because the people support him right he sort of he’s hewing that path in a fairly broad and settled continuum of Russian strategic aspirations that both the left and the right to conserve aspire to the second driver of Russian policy both generally and in the Middle East is ideology I just as a ten second tangent I’m a firm believer in the fact that many societies have Canaries in the coal mine individuals who are larger than life and if you follow their careers you get a sense of the larger trajectory of of the country itself there is someone like that in Russia many people like that in Russia but but there is a political thinker an ideologue a philosopher although a little bit of a charitable term named Alexander Dugan who had the most important ideologue of empire that you’ve never heard of Alexander Dugan used to be a KGB archivist he rose to power became a consultant for the Kremlin for all the force ministries when Russia and this sort of was the case about 12 years ago and then he receded from you he went into academia as Russian normalize this position as Russia’s economy slowed down as Russia became a little bit more pragmatic Alexander Dugan is now back in his role as a consultant for Russian officials for for I don’t know for a fact that he’s a consultant for Putin but certainly for that circle of Russian leadership the things that he says the things that he writes and he writes a lot let me tell you as someone who has had the misfortune of having to read a lot of his stuff he writes a lot and and and not altogether lucidly by the way but but the ideas that he encapsulate that he captures it’s all about that it’s all about Russia’s destiny as a great power as a great nation and Russia’s destiny to be in conflict with the West so in his 927 page magnum opus which he published in 1997 called us mobile Ghia fighting the foundations of geopolitics he talks about the fact that Russia cannot exist cannot exist outside of its essence as an empire because of its geography because of its historical disposition because of its relations with its neighbors and also because of its essence because of its strategic culture as an empire Russia is destined to be in conflict with the West namely with the United States this is a pretty powerful message and it’s a message that resonates among people who say that the idea that Russia has receded as a global power and Russia is has been forced to assumed and diminish status it’s also one that it’s fed enormously by opportunism over the last eight years you’ve seen a fairly systematic retraction of American influence in the Middle East under President Obama Russia has consistent with the old Russian phrase that Scalia me at the Mussolini move is write a sacred space does not remain empty for long Russia has rushed to fill that back and what that looks like is arms sales to the Egyptian government it looks like military basing in Syria and a myriad other things that the Russians have done not so much because it’s part of a grand construct of Russian strategy but because they want to be there because we’re now and that’s I think part of a pretty large part of the equation because they think that they’re destined to be the third driver is I think very sort of natural to all of us here right we’re in Washington when he with House speaker Tip O’Neill famously said that all politics are local and I think it’s absolutely true and I think it’s true not only for offices true for Russia as well and so what you see is this sort of this dyad of internal drivers that are really propelling Russia into the Middle East in a pretty significant way the first is economics the Russian economy has sort of over the last couple of years has whether the one-two punch of Western sanctions imposed as a result of Ukraine and low oil prices which have really sort of wreaked havoc on their economy institutions like the World Bank or the IMF have now given them a I wouldn’t say a clean bill of health but a cleaner bill of health they said they’re slowly turning the corner but if you talk to any Russians any Russians that Russian officials Russians will understand the way the government works they and they will tell you that there are serious systemic problems structural problems in the Russian economy that are going to prevent real prosperity the consequences of this is that as Russia seeks to widen the pie the economic pie it naturally looks elsewhere it doesn’t look at sort of grassroots domestic process earning it looks at the rapacious acquisition of resources from abroad it looks at defense contracts that are hammered out with international rogues like Iran it looks at sort of all sorts of arrangements that reinforce that Imperial impulse that the Russians have anyway Carmen and I had the sort of the dubious privilege I think of being in a fairly senior meeting in Moscow a few years ago and I you know being young and stupid I had the temerity to tell a senior Russian officials and you know I think you guys are making a mistake in the Middle East because because you you have you know you have a pretty sizable Muslim minority and 98% of them are Sunni and you are pursuing an accidentally Shiite policy in the Middle East you’re supporting the run you’re supporting the ala boys in Syria for almost Heights in the Shia conception right this is this is not going to end well for you and I sort of got the nice pat on the back you know silly boy we are to quote the official controlling through investments right and that has been the traditional Russian way to think about pragmatically at the end of the day there’s a lot of things that Russian money can do and that sort of how they’ve thought about it and I can go to at least part of the way to are shaping why the Russians are so panicked about the rise of Islamism about sort of what they see is fundamentally rational actors that they can’t control through investments that it’s harder for them to serve to shape their behavior but the second trend sort of in the sort of ended basket of internal factors is demographics and demography is historically chronically underserved topic in grad school it’s much sexier to talk about the nuclear triad than it is to talk about fertility rates and things like that but demography is destined and you can’t escape your geography where your country is and it’s very hard to escape the cycle the pace of your population to change the pace of your population and so Russia is undergoing this very profound far-reaching population transform a Russia doesn’t have the worst fertility rate in the world right so so for those of you that don’t understand demographics the magic number for all demographers is 2.1 a woman during her fertile lifespan is supposed to have 2.1 children one to replace yourself one to replace your husband who can’t have any children and 0.14 on average for accidents earthquakes and what have you and there are countries in the world that are in particularly the Muslim world that are doing much better than 2.1 and there are countries are doing much worse Russia is not the worst Russia is about on a par with Europe at about 1.7 the country that holds the dubious distinction of being the worst in the world is Japan which is that 1.3 9 which is a long way of saying that the Japanese are rapidly going out of business rapidly going out of it but Russia is sort of on a negative decline in terms of its population and remember when sort of when we think about Russia this is an enormous landmass this is a country that expands 9 separate time zones and it has a population less than half the size of the United States right which is why you get sort of provinces and regions and Oh Blotz in the Far East where the population density is less than that of Wyoming less than 6 Russians per square kilometer and right so the question really becomes a strategic one how do you hold that territory if there’s no people and the answer is with a lot of difficulty um but Russia’s democracy demography may be bad and there’s all sorts of reasons for this right Russians Russians continue to have this pervasive culture of abortion Russia hasn’t really invested these sort of the post Cold War peace dividend on things like health care and the social safety net which is why sort of empirically the life expectancy of a Russian male today is only slightly higher than that of a male from North Korea yeah so so that’s so what would you separately have is a country with third world demographic trends but first world great power energy right and this has a profound impact for the health of the population as a whole but the population isn’t declining uniformly in fact there are segments of the Russian population that are doing comparatively much better Russia’s Muslims are doing comparatively much better why because they drink less they divorce less and they on average have more children right there’s all sorts of factors that feed into this but the aggregate result is that Russia’s Muslims who were 16 roughly 16% of the overall national population just a few years ago are on track to be 20% in the next few years and then sort of beyond that right it’s all speculative but there are trend lines that say that you know by the middle of the century every other Russian may be Muslim I think that’s a little bit severe but there are projections like that out there but they do get you into the mode of thinking about you know this wholesale transformation of the Russian state it’s becoming something different than what we’ve historically expected it to be but all this would be fine right all countries change America’s changingright where we’re relying more and more on immigration from Latin America and we all have our sort of opinions about that but like it could be a healthy thing right if you have a good integrationist policy but the Russians don’t and so what you’ve seen is even as Russia’s Muslims become a larger and larger cohort in the National polity they are increasingly systematically shut out of national politics because lemon Putin has built this sort of hierarchical rigid ultra nationalist identity that doesn’t really have a lot of room for Russia’s Muslims but you have to belong somewhere which is why even as Russia’s Muslim underclass has grown they’ve also radicalized because they’ve looked for different modes of identification including most conspicuously first Al-Qaida and other Islamist movements and now the Islamic state for the moment so the this I think sort of needs three things right the imperial nostalgia and the strategic culture and the demographics in the economics sets you up for thinking about sort of how Russia sees the Middle East and because I think it’s fair to say that Russia the middle does not a core area of strategic importance for the Russians they want to be there but it’s not indispensable for them to be right if you talk to Russians they will tell you that the territory of the former Soviet Union and slightly beyond are the areas that they consider their geopolitical backyards the Middle East is all the further afield but all of these drivers are propelling Russia further and further into the Middle East in a way that has profound implications for sort of for American policy and for whether or not we can cooperate with the Russians so I’ll just give you two examples the first is Syria right where where the Russians since September of 2015 have entrenched themselves and they don’t look like they’re going anywhere and there’s a lot of things that have been written about it but there’s actually very little that’s been written about why the Russians are there I would make the case that the Russians are there essentially for forwards first of all they’re there to secure a strategic foothold and because if Russia conceives of itself as a great power the sink wa nan of being a great power that you have to be able to project power globally Syria was and remains Russia’s principal outposts in the eastern Mediterranean personal into a military agreement made between the Soviet Union and Tocqueville ASSA also the father back in the early 1970s Russia’s Mediterranean flotilla has been baked out of the port city of Tardos since the mid-1970s and when Syria started to go as our British friends would say pear-shaped the Russians got really nervous about the idea that they would lose their foothold their existing military foothold in Tartus and that sort of shaped some at least some of their calculation about the necessity to going since then if you’ll notice what the Russians have done is not a national plan for reconquest of Syria it is a plan almost exclusively for the solidification of a long term military presence which is why the Russian naval base on syrup on the western seaboard of Syria has been sort of doubled up with a Russian air base in Latakia just north of the Alawite Enclave and they’re doing no-fly zones in an area that is roughly analogous not to the entirety of the country but to the area needed to protect the people that will let them remain in Syria over the long term and maintain the military presence right there’s something providing air cover for the Assad regime but as a result of their Syrian engagement they’ve managed to construct an open-ended naval presence and they’ve deployed their aircraft carrier of the Admiral Kuznetsov – these are men training they’re doing sort of long-range rotations their position if you’re a Russian military analyst is qualitatively better now militarily than it was before and that’s all they were going right the second reason is politically remember historically in terms of when the Russians made the strategic decision to go into Syria their situation in Ukraine which they thought was going to be a slam-dunk what’s not going so well right I mean you can make sort of argument develop sort of how they’re situated position is going now I think it’s far more modest in terms of gains and they expect it initially but there was at that time in September of 2015 there was an imperative to change the political conversation because Putin had sold the Russian population this bill of goods that we are going out we’re going to reconquer sort of historic land or historically ours we’re going to sort of you know put points on the board and if you get bogged down in Ukraine your games start looking meager indeed and you need to change the political conversation the third trend and this I think is the most profound one is that the best defense is a good offense so it is fantastic speech and if you have the time to look it up Larry Cohen gave this speech in April of this year in which he talked publicly for the first time about what his government thinks the size of the Slavic and Central Asian contingent in the Islamic states right so we all know up until then we all knew that there was a pretty healthy representation of Central Asians and Russians in Isis in Iraq and Syria but Putin’s comments were something of a revelation because what he said was that of the roughly 30,000 foreign fighters that have come from abroad to join the Islamic state in Iraq and Syria 9,000 of them were either from Russia or from the FSU right so 1/3 of the foreign fighter problem in the Islamic state is Russian right so if you were a Russian strategist you would much rather go there and kill them there then wait for them to come home and so that’s why you see Russian security services force ministries essentially facilitating the exodus of jihadis out of Russia I mean they’re clamping down there’s a you know abusing them but they’re also helping them leave because the idea is we want them to get as far away from Russia’s national borders as possible and then we want to go and fight them there so what does this tell you so first of all it tells you that from the Russian conception Syria is not only an aggressive Imperial policy it’s also a defensive policy they’ve much rather be in Syria than wait for these guys to come home the second is that Syria isn’t for the Russians Syria is an open-ended conflict the Russians can’t leave because if they leave those guys are going to return right so what they’re essentially doing is they’re building a firewall and the third is that in this broad construct the Russians really don’t care so much about personality they care about policies they don’t care so much about awesome they care about having a government in place that will secure their equities whether it’s their military basing or allowing them freedom of action that allows them to carry out their counterterrorism operations in a way that secured their homeland so so you know in other words long way of saying that compromise may be possible pulled in Syria depending on these things depending on what the White House sort of what levers the White House wants to bring to bear the less savory news I think is Iran the over the last half year you’ve seen a pretty healthy attempt by or sort of thought process by the new administration about the idea of flipping Russia on Iran right it had a lot to do with Syria it had a lot to do with how many things can we give the Russians so that they’ll help us contain Iran squeeze Iran sanction Iran anew and underlying all of these all of the speculation was this idea that the Russian Iranian strategic relationship was impermanent that it was fragile that you know the Russians could be bought off I would actually make the case that that’s extremely unlike and it’s more unlikely now than it was before for three reasons first of all Iran see Russia sees Iran as a force multiplier if you go back and look at the writing you go back and look at the writings of Alexander Dugan who I mentioned in his in his magnum opus some of the key I think you which by the way I swear to you with his old one sentence that’s what it felt like anywhere but in that long meandering sentence was a lot of conversation about how Russia as it reclaims it’s played as a great power right this is not an automatic process there are interim steps in which Russia needs alliances with countries like Germany with countries like Iran in order to have this sort of condominium that allows them to expand power in those regions right the the concept of a Russian Iranian strategic partnership is not alien to the Russian leadership they may have no love lost for Iran’s ayatollahs but they see them as a very useful tool and the more powerful that your Asianet vision is the more permanent the relationship becomes the second reason is that Iran is a source of revenue for Moscow right so there was a time when Iran was under international and US sanctions in which Iran was clearly the junior partner in that strategic partnership Iran was squeezed out of global markets Iran was in-app no position to dictate terms but over the last two years a whole bunch of things have changed Iran has received enormous economic windfall as a result of the 2015 JCPOA right equivalent to I was telling telling somebody earlier equivalent to the Marshall Plan right I sorta made this comment in congressional no no I you left but I made this comment in congressional testimony a couple of summers ago after the deal was signed and the the opposition witness yelled at me and said oh you don’t know what you’re talking about historically so I did this really strange thing and I actually looked it up and the Marshall Plan the European recovery program was launched in 1948 extended over four years and it allocated what would today would be one hundred thirty billion dollars to seventeen separate countries in Europe right so what you’re actually talking about is the JCPOA is not a Marshall Plan for a wrong it is many Marshall plans for a wrong because the scope of the windfall is so massive that it has transformative effects on the Russian economy I’ll be on the Iranian economy and also on the Russian economy by the way right that’s that’s where I was going on because as Iran has stabilized economically you now have the shoe on the other foot a Russia that’s sort of meandering in fiscal terms is in greater need of economic partners that are solvent that are strong and that want to buy Russian wares so when you see news about dozens of billions of dollars of new arms contracts that the Iranian signed with the Russians this is the reason the reason is if the Iranians have the money and the Russians really want their business but it also means that Iran increasingly for the Russians is an economic lifeline they are not a dispensable partner that they can just get rid of right the cost of doing that for them would be prodigiously so that sort of adds the permanence of the relationship as well and the third is that Iran is their guarantor of a long-term presence in Syria so for those of you that follow Iran you know that the Iranian leadership talks with alarming regularity about how the security of Syria is exactly the same as the security of the Islamic Republic of Iran but they really don’t differentiate they have deployed massive asymmetric assets in the form of the Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah into Syria to secure the Assad regime there is no sense of no sense of flagging resolve on the part of the Iranians on the part of the Russians I mean I think the sort of conventional wisdom is that they’re going to be there for a long time but I don’t know that I would better be there indefinitely because very important is getting a lot of grief is getting a lot of grief for Ukraine is getting a lot of grief for Syria in terms of moenay’s extended in terms of casualties that have been created as a result so it’s not inconceivable that you’ll begin to rethink it which means what it means that ultimately the Russians are going to need to sue the Iranians for long term access in Syria right the Russians will remain in Syria at the sufferance of whatever political constellation comes to power through the auspices of the Iranians okay so if the Russians want to stay in Syria there and I would contend that they do they probably don’t want to tick off the Iranians all too much and therefore it becomes really I think speculative to think about the idea that we could buy them off based upon the very thing that we can guarantee but the Iranians can and so what this all takes us to the large debate that sort of swirling around Washington which is easy possible to cooperate with the Russians and I would make the case that I think it’s entirely reasonable to talk about areas of tactical cooperation where moths gun and Washington can really sort of talk and work in a constructive way everything from space launch to resupply in Afghanistan to cyber security although the latest round of tweets have sort of no muddied that a little bit but there are maybe half a dozen or so air concrete areas tactically where you could actually sort of sit down with the Russians you could hammer out sort of liveable modus vivendi but that’s tactically and here I would say even on a tactical level the question really isn’t whether the Russians are going to cooperate on counterterrorism for example of course they are the Russians are definitely afraid of Isis they’re going to bomb Isis even if we’re not there the barometer I think for success on a tactical level is are the Russians willing to do things above and beyond what they would do if we weren’t there right that’s how you judge if they’re a sort of constructive tactical ally right everything beyond that is well frankly I think it misses the boat but on a larger strategic level Moscow and Washington have deeply divergent interests in the Middle East right they envision very different end States and Russia sees itself historically and as a result of the fact that while we’ve had a fairly significant generational changeover in our officials they have had a much less profound one and the prevailing view in Moscow is that Russia is still the historical balancer for the United States in various regions including in the Middle East and so it’s not surprised that Russia is structuring its posture in the Middle East to take advantage of places where we are not active and also to oppose those in places where we are right and so the bottom line here is that the president has asked in various ways sometimes in 140 characters sometimes anymore whether it’s possible to have a more specific relationship with the Russians and I think it’s clear that he would like one the reality though is that it takes two to tango and I don’t think the evidence is present that the Russian leadership beyond the tactical areas where we can cooperate really has undergone with strategic sea change where all the drivers that animate their push into the Middle East have sort of fallen away and we can come up with an arrangement in the Middle East that isn’t zero-sum. I’ll stop there.


This is the microphones and sit directly and I knew whoever much for your presentation see later on I think them in my home anyway has been behaving girl good time Sam and I’m amazed and his current speeches would seem to play than his perusing to decrease the faithful within this culture and other cultures and I’m in fact the greatest Jonathan Lee problem for advanced wings of the beats receptive on Thomas ERISA do there is no God originally I think that no atheist approach it was Mr. Abramoff son so that’s my apologies terribly short lecture and and this is really interesting because I think there there is going back to Soviet times with a very organic relationship that has existed between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian government’s before that the Soviet government in which the the church is a distinctly political enterprise and it’s one that’s been progressively co-opted under Putin but going back to the point that I made about it sort of the the sacred space never being empty you guys remember two and a half years ago when Vladimir Putin wrote that op-ed in the New York Times essentially styling himself at the defender of Western civilization right so there’s a Russian word for this it’s in either should foot spa in Russian and madeley’s right but that’s precisely what it was it was him trying to capture a narrative that the United States was not currently occupying I think that there he does have sort of legitimate sort of religious leanings within his own sphere of sort of frame of reference right as a retired or not so retired intelligence official but I do think that he thinks that this narrative especially now has an enormous resonance has enormous resonance when the u.s. appears to be disengaged from the Middle East writ large the u.s. appears to be disengaged from the plight of Christians in the Middle East there there are gains to be made by saying this whether or not he was authentic. He’s honest about it. That’s a different story. This whole expression between Putin and his Muslim Muslim my work and what’s going on in Syria and the dynamics along between so that’s I I’m glad you asked me an easy question that that’s actually really sort of evolved Cotton’s a lengthy conversation but sort of in the thirty seconds that I have the soakin arrow is the Kremlin appointed strongman Muslim strongman who was in charge of Chechnya right the historically restive Republic Khedira is there and he’s still there because he has proven himself to be a loyal soldier he is one that will despite his excesses and there are many the Kremlin can count on more or less to carry out its policies and the condominium that the Russians government has built with Russian non-muslim citizens over the last 20 years has essentially been we you’re going to trade away some of your rights and some of your human rights in exchange for us keeping the terrorist problem at bay and as a result and this is worth reasonably well so far but it’s increasingly a challenge as Russia’s Muslim underclass grows that it expands and given the fact that Russia is the world’s second largest importer of migrant labor most of it from Central Asia and most of those people are Muslim Russia is increasingly feeling the pressure and in the sort of in that frame of reference Russia needs loyalists of that type and Qadir has a very good loyalties enormously brutal he’s you know the latest scandal coming out of Chechnya is that they have created internment camps for homosexuals and – which could Europe has responded that’s impossible because there are no homosexuals in Chechnya right which gives you a little sense of sort of how he thinks how he thinks he’s to move around in the Russian political sphere but also what he thinks he’s allowed to do as a result of this relationship but not all Chechens share could euros views which is why you have this really interesting sort of dynamic where there’s a lot of Chechens disaffected with sort of Kremlin managed rule that if left Chechnya of left the North Caucasus have migrated to Syria in Iraq and are a fairly healthy part of the Russian part of the jihadis contingent there and these guys are I mean if you sort of listen to what they say listen to what we announce our but what they write they are planning to come home right and that tees up a pretty significant internal struggle both within Chechen itself locally and also on a national level about sort of the disposition of Chechens writ large question about confident and Muslim – can I get needed in white for they are include sex but because their concept is called religious and conservative are isolated a market especially could find in the end much part of the culture is not Islamic University of think of weeks they don’t know – fractional here in Washington and just one night before I lost a battle if I can draw a numeric ID that’s our enemy and we don’t have any health issues so I’m going to loosen both masters and I do you know it’s part of our regional economy my mother hasn’t come to speak like America just a gas as a sorry I mean so if people is contact this or culture and the business is it is no pain because normal people see in both events our device is a loosely Tofino a lot of people not known as high sconce more awkward at once and we know how much profit we claim to be budget they were you know the addition so they create a normal thing and if the is that good reason are built on by your deception then I said I look because most people believe that they are saved they think you are willing to give your life for the paper but early belief so how can you pass so I mean briefing my question is a second set is Islam in the dark Valley algorithm base of the devious our culture our foundation Alicia’s based on national because if it’s based on that ISM then Russia is our our enemy too so so I’m going to studiously avoid this question as much as I can for a very simple reason because I think it actually starts a much broader conversation that absolutely needs to be had and it’s a little bit sort of off of what I’m talking about what I would add where I think it’s germane is how Russia sees itself these are the Muslim world and whether or not it sees that there’s a conflict so here’s a little known I always like to I come bearing gifts I come bearing and sort of little known facts so the you guys don’t know what the OIC is right it’s the organization of the Islamic Conference cooperation it used to be known at the Organization of Islamic continents back in 2003 when it was still known as the organization based on the conference they had their annual meeting in Bali, Indonesia and Vladimir Putin petitioned to go and address the OIC plenary session kind of like the General Assembly and he delivered a speech in which he said that he understands that based upon prevailing demographic trends Russia’s future is muscle alright that’s a to think about that that was 14 years ago that’s a pretty profound statement that doesn’t mean that the Russians will go quietly I think any Russian military man will tell you that it will be the last slob standing that is carrying the nuclear football right nonetheless right the pull of demographics is a pretty powerful thing and so there’s a real question here that sort of that we need to think about when we think about the permanence of our partnership in counterterrorism with the Russians when you have a country that is heading in this direction demographically sooner or later there will reach a tipping point where it may not be possible to think about them in such certain terms about being immersed while ally in the war on terror and I would make the argument that based upon what the Russians are experiencing now they’re far they’re likely in the near future to become not a producer of security in this realm but a consumer of security because if you look at what’s happening in is Russia over the last six months it has you know a series of sporadic Harriston students Russian officials are very concerned that this is the start of something larger right because every war must end and for any hotties but a third of whom are from the post-Soviet space are going to try to make their way back how successful they are in returning remains to be seen but if they return in anything resembling the numbers that followed the Afghan jihad right into the early 1990s rushes in for a world of hurt you’re not going to see isolated incidents you’re going to see a much more systemic uptick in violence right Russia is going to turn inward can become enormously represses because it’s sort of heading in that direction anyone who’s coming – more so but over the long term we should be thinking about not only about whether it’s desirable or feasible to cooperate tactically with Russia in the war on terror I think you can make a very credible case that we should cooperate against Isis but beyond that what is Russia’s trajectory what does that actually mean for the permanence of the West and for the permanence of that partnership but what hold the checks and approaching nationally regionally we’ll go back to my little place describe unified in singular juice which were surveyed and source of HIVs control basically this is forgetting the participation we’re developing the track engineers in work which for region I depend on segmentation so parameter is that the number of those people they are Byzantine complicated people from our young people mustn’t origin in courses in custom indirect on the move so so I think that’s true historically I think things are beginning to change a little bit so I have to tell you I have to answer the story with the story right so my boss Herman partner is a very soft-spoken gentleman so sometimes I’m a little slow on the uptake and it takes me a little while to figure out what he wants so I had been threatening to write a book about Russian demographics for years and he wanted to sort of to get me to get off the stick and actually do it so he comes to me one day and he says you on you and I are going to do a field study in Russia in the middle of Russia in December in January I which point I realized that that I’ve got to do this once and only once and then I’m going to write the book and so that but but it was interesting because I remember as a result of that trip we are it is enormously cold and we’re standing in the one of the central streets of the of Kazan of sort of one of this or the historic sea of Russian tough on Islam and answer and you’re looking at the Islamic University of Qatar style Ryan’s witches so to back up a little bit Muslims historically in the Russian Empire settled in two places they said over the North Caucasus and they settled in what’s called the Volga region right right around the Volga River to the east of Moscow so we’re in Tatar song which is in the Volga region and we’re standing there we’re about to go into a meeting at the Islamic University of Tatarstan and we sit there we sit down with the rector and he looks across the street and he says those guns and he points to this mosque which had been built by the Turks a few years ago if those guys are different I said what are you doing about it not even he clearly meant that they’re Salafi right what are you good are you doing amazing we have no answer right and that’s a very interesting dynamic that’s happening within Russia itself traditionally the Russian state has successfully co-opted the Islamic narrative they found Imams and Muftis who essentially okay with the fair amount onna me as long as they don’t challenge the legitimacy of the Russian state right they’re not going to practice it as an insurgent religion but increasingly you see these external elements whether they’re Iranian or they’re Turkish or they’re Saudi that are entering into the sort of the Russian Islamic space in a way that the Russian authorities can’t really combat and a lot of that mobilization that takes place in the context of Russian Muslims stems from them so a really interesting vignette right so toddler son is the seed of traditional moderate Islam in Russia the black flags of ISIS appeared first not in the Caucasus they appear first in the Volga region why because this is the place where the ideology has sort of made greater in room because there are differences there are cultural differences right you have the sort of the legacy of the self-determination struggle but nonetheless this is a pretty fertile environment for alternative ideologies because as I said you have to belong somewhere and if the Chechens increasingly believe that they don’t belong in Chechnya because Chechnya is complying to the Kremlin and you don’t belong in Tatarstan because traditional Russian Islam is old and stale and kind of boring gotta belong somewhere and that’s that that goes at least part of the way towards explaining why groups like Islamic state groups like Al-Qaeda or solo virtually one of those starting form backed by five is that based on what you said I am trying to think anything to frustrate a truce or a ceasefire that would last and bring about some sort of a stagnant situation because of the fear that we’re blessing absolutely some of those guys are going to come home set a pallet III think to a point it is I think it’s conceivable to think of a political condominium that emerges right Assad must go right as we’ve said but maybe his the structure of his government remains and remains in a way that protects Russian equities and it alleviates some of the other elements and then what you’re going to see is them lobbying for expanded military overflight rights to make sure that you know they can continue their aerial campaign they’ve secured the political ground they want to make sure that these guys don’t come back and what I actually think is a fairly significant sort of future point of Russian attention is going to be securing the borders sort of you know making the Russian Federation as impermeable as possible it’s impossible to make it totally impermeable because Russia relies a lot on migrant labor right so you have sort of this dynamic in the in terms of economy that works against essentially just keeping these guys at arm’s length but nonetheless within that video you’re going to I think you’re going to see a much sterner approach to border security to intelligence sharing – you know leaning on the countries of the Caucasus in Central Asia to make sure that these guys remain a buffer zone so the foreign jihadists that Russia has exported are don’t become an employee by the Russian authorities in particular is reference in a line it’s a great question the poem speech was I found very refreshing refreshing because it comes on the heels of all this speculation right a lot of heat not a lot of light about what the president actually thinks about Russia well I think it’s clear up until now that we have an administration that would like to entertain the idea that it’s possible have a more Pacific relationship with Russia and I think he’s made that very clear in his personal statements the statements of his advisers but personnel is policy and so if you start looking at the people that he surrounded himself with general McMaster who literally wrote the Army’s playbook on confronting Russia and Eastern Europe literally look you can go get it on the Internet Fiona Hill at the National Security Council General Mattis a Defense Department what you’re looking at and most recently the the f24 the sort of special envoy for Ukraine what you gets are getting is a sense that there’s a corpus of people who are able and willing to play the bad cop to Trump’s good cop in the approach to Russia right so so I think Trump wants to be good cop as much as he can but he’s perfectly willing to stand up with people that can really have a countervailing strategy and I think that’s good news and I think it’s good news that he said all the right things about reassuring the lion solidarity about sort of you know creating the necessary firewall to protect the integrity of Eastern Europe because I can tell you that in a lot of these places the grand sweep of history is not so long and so they understand that their independence which was very hard-fought he’s very fragile and what they worried about in many places is a negative example of Ukraine not that Ukraine isn’t going well for the Ukrainians I think you know the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was here a couple of weeks ago and by all accounts right from my Ukrainian friends they the visit was on balance very positive but what countries that aren’t Ukraine are worried about is that if there is somehow a political settlement in Ukraine that leaves Russia in a better position that it was in September of 2014 then the lesson that’s learned by the Kremlin is that you should take a maximalist position in other parts of the former Soviet Union because then you can super peace and then you still end up with in a better place than you start right there’s this old Russian saying which I say in Harmon says all the time and if the appetite comes with the eating right and I think that’s very true when you think about Russia’s approach to former holdings that it believes that it should still hold so I in that context I found the speech enormously refreshing and heartening whether it’s matched by concrete action is a different story entirely and I think that chapter hasn’t been written yet yes we will we get out moves my ministration convinced his 40 acres grievous mission she mean you think it was just the crash mode she read the placement site authorities or could get a brownie missed by some universe so so I think it’s an interesting question and lay your I think much more versed in certain other politics than I am I confess I haven’t really kept current but I can tell you that when I was writing my book a few years ago and I was looking at sort of you know all these local publications what struck me as a really pronounced trend was that this reintegration this harmonization drive right to less an autonomy to bring these local officials with Imams sort of more into the fold was prevalent even then and I think you know the more the Russians are fearful of this external influx of jihadis to serve to come back in right and resettle in places where they used to live and also the natural impulse to create what Putin is called the power vertical right this sort of horizontal structure of power that leaches power away from the regions into the federal center into Moscow I think those things work hand in glove to suggest that you know if your equipment in you’re looking at Tatarstan where you’ve had some religiously based on rest you want to keep these guys you want to sort of keep a tighter hold on these guys and you would otherwise write autonomy be damned a lot of market or piracy I did ok I like that question about your overall conclusion which I thought was brilliantly our people well founded yes because they have pragmatic cooperating and specific areas this is the true ever since 1991 crack but every time it happens brings which every president and every person brought also and undertaken and it’s been a very heavily ideologically that aimed abroad change in relations without which most that Pacific War II without menaces how much more can you see for pragmatic corporation now this is the background or reading consultation without this broader visa even if it’s likely to the business that the immediate crack panic question for you broader Clinton that isn’t there a logic to this market I like recess with Communism God with both of our society rooted in Christian heritage I see that underneath you nevertheless the sanctum was its origin mostly wizard facing sinless rest from his long experience and many other things as soon whatever graphic challenges brought brought much worse than German Russian over here similar interest the third world responded with the cat native what isn’t there alliance of his body should be able to come through it really does set and hold something whether or not it really works is right what so I I think that’s a great question and I think there is as I said there is a basis for suspecting that you can absolutely do that on a tactical level right if you can sort of take the romance out of it identify things that you really sort of you can areas where you can cooperate with the Russians and also by the way as I said set benchmarks in which you can actually see that the Russians are helping right they’re not just bombing Isis they’re doing sort of constructive things but the larger source strategic reorientation unfortunately I think has been based around one of the reasons why I started with sort of trying to explain a little bit about how the Russians see the Middle East and how the Russian see the world is because we really don’t do that right we before Republicans we look into Vladimir Putin soul if we’re Democrats before Democrats we think the Russians are just like gosh and we should be able to do a deal right but the reality is they’re animated by very different considerations doesn’t mean they’re bad and it doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily diametrically opposed but I think you run into tremendous problems you can don’t acknowledge what makes them tick and you simply assume that the same things that make you tick are the things that make them tick because frankly that was the policy of the last eight years and you know we understand sir that we’ve moved backwards from the reset and and I’ll end with this because I know Bob’s going to give you the hook in a second okay March of 2009 Hillary Clinton went to our think is Vienna to do the reset with Cirque de level right the Russian Foreign Minister and as part so this was right when the you know the Staples Corporation had their easy button campaign as you guys remember right the red button easy risa so so she thought it would be a swell idea to have a reset button and so she did it and so she asked whoever you know twenty-pound brain linguistic brain State Department to come so salute to who did that hole all the clothes look full well yeah well that’s what that’s a separate conversation right my bad I like long story short she has a button that said so it there is no exact translation of reset in Russian there is something called pity Zagros Co which is essentially a reloading what’s a reloading of the operating system and that will be fine right if the button had said did you though the rules going to be great but the button said peed in Cuzco which means overload as in we are completely outmatched by the Russians and we don’t have a good idea of what to do have a button right and that I think it’s a very sort of apocryphal story as to how we completely misunderstood how our overtures were perceived in Moscow so I hope I’ve given you guys just a little bit of a taste about how how to think a little bit differently so thank you as the president the last oddly quickly when the context of what I just asked you open things willing to trade relief from economic sanctions for and would it involve anything in the Middle East how much does it hurt though it seems to be the principle not the only weapon for Less employees against Russia regarding actions and you rare anywhere else right so I think that’s a good question I actually have a causality problem with that question though because we Americans tend to I mean we’re sort of the big guy on the block and we assume that when we do something that is the causal reason for an effect to happen and so we impose sentence we assume with the Russian economy is laundering because of our sanctions that’s only partially true I think you know much you can make a fairly credible economic argument that a much more powerful centripetal force has been exerted by the low price of world oil right and the fact the Russian dependency on on oil and natural gas exports and things like that right it doesn’t mean that our sanctions are irrelevant but also the Russians have done all sorts of stupid things like they voluntarily imposed a ban an internal ban on food stuffs from the European area the things like that right because like you know I’m going to spite you by biting off my nose and you know it’s a great idea but nonetheless right I mean this is sort of a multi causal sort of problem and what I worry about sort of in that broad sweep is that the sanctions were imposed based upon a concrete response to a specific thing that the Russians did right Russian aggression in Ukraine Russian annexation of Crimea Russian ongoing destabilization in the dome box and if we disaggregate that if we start offering them sanctions relief in exchange for their cooperation in the Middle East the lesson might very well be that well you know if we sort of wait this out long enough the Americans like sort of lose focus and then we can do it in Ukraine right and that’s probably not a constructive way thank you that way I would be a terrible salesman if I didn’t say that this was spelled out much better in my book if you can fight over them. Thanks again.

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