November 8, 2016, Dr. Andre Gerolymatos, Professor of History at SFU

Andre GerolymatosDr. Andre Gerolymatos is a Professor of History, Chair of Hellenic Studies, and Director of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre for Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University. He received his M.A. in Classics in 1982 and his PhD in History in 1991 from McGill University and is a Concurrent Professor at History College of Nankai University, China. He has received numerous awards and fellowships including, most recently, the Hellenic Republic’s Order of the Phoenix in recognition of his contributions to Greek culture, the HRH Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee Medal acknowledging his important contributions in his service to Canada, the Simon Fraser University President’s Award for Service to the University through Public Affairs and Media Relations, and the BC Sugar Achievement Award (SFU) for activities that have brought international recognition to Simon Fraser University. He has published a numerous books including Castles Made of Sand: A Century of Anglo-American Espionage, Black Ops, and Intervention in the Middle East; Red Acropolis, Black Terror: The Greek Civil War and the Origins of Soviet-American Rivalry; The Balkan Wars: Conquest, Revolution and Retribution from the Ottoman Era to the Twentieth Century and has edited several volumes and written numerous refereed articles. He regularly contributes to The National Herald, The Globe and Mail, The Vancouver Sun and other newspapers on topics of national security, Greek, Balkan and Middle Eastern politics, and military affairs.


Notes on Dr Gerolymatos’s presentation

My talk this morning is about Putin and the Middle East or, more precisely, Russia and the Middle East and why are they interested. If you look at the slide I think he just voted for Trump, or he looks worried! And perhaps through this lecture it may be interesting to understand why he would want Trump as President of the United States.

There is an old saying, “all we know about the future is the past” and to understand Russia in any context, especially the Middle East, we have to go to the past and if you look at this map this is the Mongol Empire in the 13th century and if you notice, it has taken over most of Russia. And thus begins the Russian complex of encirclement and invasion. There’s an old an old Russian saying that goes, “after the Mongols took over these Russian territories there wasn’t a single eye to cry because the slaughter was so great” that they killed so many people.

There was a great deal of slaughter and it has been embedded in the Russian memory, the Russian culture and the Soviet culture later on. So from this point on the Russians began a very slow ascent from being a subjugated people to establishing their own empire beginning with Peter the Great in the 17th century and going on from that. This slide is the Ottoman Empire at the time that the Russians begin to establish their empire. Note the overlays, the areas that it covers.

The Russians and the Soviets after them are characterized by a political and social culture of absolutism. It begins with Peter the Great—this could be a separate lecture entirely—what comes out of his reign is the idea of the czar, the emperor, is not just a secular leader. He is also a religious leader that is empowered by God and by the Eastern Orthodox Church to rule the Russians and that his mission was to liberate all of the Eastern Orthodox subjugated by the Ottoman Empire.

And the Russians find the connection around 900 AD when a Russian prince marries the daughter of a Byzantine emperor and thus begins a very loose dynastic connection between Russia and the later Roman Empire. In fact Moscow is referred by Western, but also by a lot of Russian historians, as the third Rome. Rome, Constantinople and Moscow.

So they began with a mission, even though under Peter the Great Russia was not a great power, it has the focus that it must expand and continue to expand. This is the Soviet Union and you see how far they got. Peter the Great was the first emperor to expand the boundaries of Russia. Catherine the Great later in the 18th century continued that expansion and it’s here that the contact between the Russians and the Ottoman Empire becomes acute and leads to a series of wars and beyond the wars it leads to a history of Russian expulsion of Muslims in certain areas of what becomes Russia.

For example the Caucasus and the Crimea. This area was entirely Muslim. The north and south coast of the Black Sea were inhabited by Muslim populations as were the Caucasus regions. Over time beginning with Catherine these Muslims become refugees in the millions. So you see the refugee problem has been going on for a very long time. It’s nothing new. It’s new to us because the media just picked up on it but it’s been going on as far back as the 18th century.

So there’s a long history of entanglements of Muslims as well as Eastern Orthodox. So Catherine’s success makes Russia into a real empire. Acknowledged so by the other powers like Great Britain, France and Prussia (later to be Germany). And the question for them—especially beginning in the early 19th century—is, “the Russians are expanding, they have proclaimed themselves as the saviours of the Eastern Orthodox Christians, what happens next?”

Well if you go back a lot of the Eastern Orthodox Christians live in the Ottoman Empire; The Balkans, part of modern day Turkey (the west coast), certainly parts of North Africa, definitely Palestine and what is today Israel. The problem is for the British and the French is that if the Russians continue with this expansion what happens if the Ottoman Empire collapses? Wouldn’t Russia move into the vacuum? You think, “Well who cares?” Well, the British cared very much because on the road to the Eastern Orthodox, to liberate them, is also the road to India.

And then begins something called the Great Game which starts in 1830. The Great Game was and continues to be the competition for control of Central Asia. Especially India and Afghanistan. It’s the Russians and the British and there’s a lot of books, there’s a lot of books, there’s a lot of mythology about the British expansion to India and the clash with the Russians and their war over Afghanistan because Afghanistan holds the key to control of Central Asia. So the Great Game, which continues up until the collapse of the Romanovs in 1917, is picked up again after World War One between the Soviets and the British and eventually it carries on by the Americans and the Soviets and then with the Americans and the Russians it’s still going on.

Have you ever wondered why there’s a war in Afghanistan still? It’s a very important question; the Russians were there for 20 years, and the Americans look like they are going to be there for 20 years. You have to ask, “Where do the Afghan Taliban get their weapons?” Not from the Americans. From the Russians. It’s not something that is advertised a lot, but the bombs and the bullets and the Kalashnikovs all come from Russia in one form or another so the Great Game is still going on.

The British decided that the best way to prevent Russian expansion was to get the other powers of Europe to kind of gang up on Russia and that was to prevent them from crossing straits, the Dardanelles and the Bosporus. That little area between Greece and Turkey where ships for the Black Sea can go into the Mediterranean. That becomes the seesaw battle politically and militarily for the next century. Meanwhile Russia re-emerges again as a great empire in 1812 when the French invade Russia enhancing if you like further underpinning the sense of paranoia and encirclement. French armies under Napoleon enter Russia in June of 1812 and defeat the Russians in every battle and they lose to the weather ultimately. The Russians succeed splendidly. They defeat Napoleon. Not the British, not the Prussians it’s the Russians. But in so doing it instills in the minds of the West this notion of the Russian hordes coming into Europe. Russia is a big country with a huge population. In the 19th century one out of every seven Europeans was a Russian. That’s a lot of people. And so this big population and this huge army and this absolute monarchy that can command millions of forces instills a paranoia in the West and remains in the background in all the jostling for position over the Eastern Mediterranean and the straits aggravated by the Great Game in Afghanistan.

If you look all of the British storybooks, Kim Kipling or the stories that he wrote about Kim, it’s all about the British trying to stay in India and they are the good guy and everybody else it the bad guy. And that goes into the minds of young people.
The big clash comes in 1853 and the Crimean War, the most forgotten war I think in history. And if you consider the Crimean war is the first modern religious war. It’s not fought over the Crimean it just takes place in the Crimean. It takes place in Sevastopol by and large. The Crimean War is fought because the Russians want to control the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It’s a very important church to the Catholics, to the Eastern Orthodox, to the Armenians to the Copts and by controlling that church they control the hearts and minds of the Eastern Orthodox. That is what the war is fought about. It’s a religious war between the Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox and in this war the Protestants, the British, side with the Ottoman Empire against the Eastern Orthodox Russians.

It is a long war. It lasts for three years. If you look at the statistics they are incredible, 850,000 Russians died. A quarter of a million French, English and Italian troops died. Hundreds of thousands of Ottoman forces died. It’s forgotten because most of the literature on the Crimean War is in Russians. What’s in English only deals with one thing, two things really: Florence Nightingale and the Charge of the Light Brigade, the most foolish military tactic in history. But it’s been glorified, as has Florence Nightingale.

The Crimean War was the first modern war and that’s what created the need for Florence Nightingale and had anybody watched that war they would have seen what happened in the American Civil War just 14 years later. The impact of artillery, trenches, masses of infantry being cut down by modern weapon systems. The Russians lose and again it reinforces the control of the straits, which remain closed to war ships. This is based on the London Treaty of 1841 that said that the ancient rights of the Sultan are preserved which means that only Ottoman war ships or allies of the Ottoman Empire can cross the straits meaning that the Russians cannot. And the Russians have been trying to change that since 1841.

The Crimean War, World War One happens, right. And what happens in World War One? The Bolshevik Revolution. Why does it happen? Because of mass starvation in Russia. Why is there mass starvation in Russia? Because the Ottomans in 1914 joined the Central Powers and closed the straits. That means that Russian grain, remember that Russia is a fairly primitive country in 1917 and 1914 and 1916, and doesn’t have the capacity in its railroads to move grain. Grain was moved from the Crimea by sea to western Russia. Once that’s closed the Russians run out of food and this is what precipitates the Bolshevik Revolution.

The Bolsheviks win because the Romanov Dynasty has become corrupt. They take over and try Communism for a while. It doesn’t work. Before Lenin died he actually invited the Ford Motor Company to open up factories in Russia realizing that Communism is a wonderful thing in theory but not really practical.

However, when it comes to foreign policy they simply adapt the foreign policy of the Romanovs. Nothing changes especially after the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Russia proceeds to again try to gain control of the straits, also try to dominate modern-day Turkey as it becomes after World War One and also maintains an ongoing struggle in the Crimean Peninsula and the Caucasus with its Muslim population. They don’t like the Muslims; the Muslims don’t like them. They oppress them. The Cossacks abuse them.

It’s an ongoing struggle and then comes Stalin which makes it even worse. Stalin in many respects was another Russian czar. He redefined religious absolutism as Communism, as Marxism, as Stalinism if you like. And the Russians are used to having a strong leader at the helm and having an absolute faith as part of Russia, now the Soviet Union. And Stalin uses that. I assume that many of you think that during Stalin’s reign religion was abolished. It was not. All religions were abolished except the Eastern Orthodox Rite and they continued to flourish. A part of the Eastern Orthodox Church left in 1920 and went to New York and they took all of the money with them.

Stalin realized the power of the church. If you were going to be a real Communist and survive in the Soviet system you wouldn’t get baptized or go to a church but if you did, if you went to an Eastern Orthodox Church was okay. If you went to a Catholic Church it was not okay. All of the persecutions happened against the Catholics, the Protestants and any other creed.

The Germans in 1941 invaded the Soviet Union and in that war the Russians lose 27 million dead. Again, it’s an invasion. Again, it’s a mass slaughter and what really upsets them is that after the war when you look at World War Two movies do you ever see movies about Russia? Think about it. We make a big deal of D-Day because we landed 100,000 men—and it was a major feat, don’t misunderstand me—but consider the Russian front. The Russians entertained 12 million German troops. The Allies fought mostly second-rate German divisions because the Russians were pinning down the German army. During the war from 1941 to 1945 the Russians killed 150,000 Germans a month. In other words in three months they killed more Germans than all the armies of all the allies including the European Resistance combined.

Western Russia was devastated and more importantly the Muslims betrayed the Russians. The Chechens fought with the Wehrmacht, they fought with the German army and they helped the Germans get all the way to the Caucasus. Something Stalin didn’t forget. When the war comes to the end he simply takes the entire Chechen population and sends it to Siberia. Man, woman and children. All the Russians, and there were about a million Russians, Ukrainian, Chechen and a variety of peoples who end up as prisoners of war and then end up fighting for the German army. They surrendered to the Allies and then they were handed back to Russia who simply executed all of them.

So you can see the cataclysm that takes place in Russia. And the memory remains and the memory remains that it was Stalin who saved them. We see a different kind of Stalin but we don’t read Soviet propaganda. We don’t grow up with Soviet propaganda. To give you an idea of how popular Stalin was when he died two and a half thousand people died, they were trampled, during the funeral.

The Soviet Union enters the Cold War and here we have an interesting dynamic with respect to the Middle East. Look at the Middle East. Imagine the Middle East in 1949. The British Empire has receded and you have two kinds of leadership trying to dominate the region. One is young, secular Arabs and Muslims who see a socialist kind of Middle East, who are nationalists who want to bring about a secular revolution and get rid of the old system of kings and sultans. The other is a religious leadership who is trying really hard to come to terms with a post-colonial Middle East. What do they do? What kind of society do they want? What’s interesting is that the Soviets back the secularists. They back Nasser. They back the Ba’ath Party in Syria and Iraq.

The United States backs the religious establishment: Saudi Arabia, Iran. There’s a regular competition between the Americans and the Soviets over Iran. It’s the only place where the Americans supported the shah and then the Americans used religion to keep the shah in power. Yemen, Oman, Sudan even Algeria is sort of swinging back and forth between a religious and a non-religious establishment. Morocco. If you make a list of the American allies they are all ruled by monarchies and they are all ruled by religion.

Now the tragedy that happens in the Middle East is, as you know, is the secular leadership becomes incredibly corrupt and poverty rates that drives millions into the arms of the religious establishment. So imagine while Nasser, Anwar Sadat and their successors are living high of the hog, the Russian foreign office in Egypt was basically a corporation. It was the Muslim Brotherhood who provided soup lines and medical help and education to millions and millions of people in Egypt. Meanwhile the competition between the Soviet Union and the United States carries on. The Russians see their empire slipping and they see the Americans as growing in power and they lose control of events in Afghanistan.

And back to the Great Game. Why Afghanistan? Look at where Afghanistan is. It’s very close to the Arabian Sea. The Arabian Sea is very close to all these other waters and the Suez Canal and you think of how much petroleum was passing through those channels. So if you can control Afghanistan you can control Pakistan and you can control the Arabian Sea and if you can control the Arabian it means you get control of the Suez Canal.

The Russians don’t really to plan to invade Afghanistan in 1979. It’s the Afghan Communists that force their hands and they bring their troops in in 1979 and take over the country. When I was watching the invasion in 1979 there was a little story on CBS News—and it didn’t stay on very long—and it said that after they send in their special forces, the Russians, they will send in regular troops. And of course they brought in troops from nearby Soviet states like Turkmenistan, Tashkent etc.

And you know what happened then they got to Kabul? Imagine, young soldiers it’s their day off, what do you do in Kabul? Which was a pretty nice city in 1979. It hadn’t been destroyed. You go the bars, look for girls, go shopping? No. They all went to stores to buy Korans and the Soviets immediately transferred those troops out and brought in white Russian troops. So they knew there was something amiss happening already and for the next 10 years the Americans fought a proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan and 50,000 Russians died in the process and the Americans either indirectly or directly helped create Al Qaeda and a lot of the mess that’s going on today because like the Russians they mishandled the situation. They misunderstood what was at stake. They thought they were fighting the Soviets but in reality they were fighting other forces, a new wave of potent Islam that was coming to the forefront.

Because of the Afghan imbroglio, it drains the Soviet coffers and eventually brings about the end of the Soviet Union. Every historian loves going back in time and trying to change everything in the mind. The Soviet Empire collapses and what if the United States had stepped in in a positive way and prevented the economic chaos that reigned in Russia for almost a decade? They don’t. Instead they back Boris Yeltsin, an alcoholic and a drunk. And Russia falls apart. The former Soviet leadership, the heads of the KGB and various organs of state simply take over industries and they become multi billionaires. They become the Russian Mafia, the Russian Oligarchs today. The Russians lose everything and I mean everything: their pensions, their free education, their healthcare. Nothing is left. Despondency.

And then comes Putin, the perfect post-modern Soviet. A colonel in the former KGB, worked for Yeltsin in a low-key position but highly well-trained who has a firm understanding of the dynamics of the former Soviet Union and the new Russian Empire and knows exactly what the Russians want. They want strong leadership. They don’t want democracy so much. If they had a choice between having a healthcare system, free education, pensions and an autocrat they will take that over chaos and democracy, which is what happened during the post-Soviet system. Putin knows that and he plays on it.

I was telling my assistant Pauline in the car while we were driving down here, “do you remember when Paul McCartney went to the former Soviet Union and Putin was president and he gave a concert in Moscow?” And they weren’t expecting Putin to show up and he does show up no tie but wearing a suit. Very Soviet. And Paul McCartney sings “Back to the USSR” and when he’s singing the song the camera zooms in on Putin and you know what he does? Thumbs up. I think it was an unguarded moment because I think Putin wants to bring back a version of the Soviet Union at least a Soviet Empire that I call the Russian Empire. To do that he needs to have his battle fleet get out of the Black Sea and into the Mediterranean. So how do you do that?

You can’t change the Montreux Convention, the 1936 treaty which superseded the Treaty of London, basically saying that those Soviet ships or Russian warships can’t get out of the straits in times of war. So how do you do that? You simply find another base. And he does. There was a base built. A maintenance base, a maintenance facility the Soviets called it in Tartus, Syria and that has been expanded to some degree and is able to maintain mid-size Soviet or Russian warships. More importantly, the Americans console them by saying, “well you know we can do some light cruisers, some destroyers” but they forget about the submarines which is the primary focus of the base. To maintain Russian submarines in the region.

So this is why the Russians are interested in Syria. It’s their base. It’s their only outlet. They have Archangel but it’s frozen six months out of the year. You can get ships out with an ice breaker but imagine trying to get an aircraft carrier out of Archangel. So they are committed to Syria and they saw the Americans blink with President Obama. Remember the red lines we were not going to cross? Well, they crossed them and they saw an opportunity for themselves and they stepped into it. At least Putin did. This was not very smart. He goes in completely ruthless not caring about life, children, women, nothing. All he cares about is how to maintain Assad in power because that is the guy who will support the Russian presence in Syria. And having done considerable damage what does he say publicly? The Russian mission is over. By saying it’s over he declares a victory.

In the region, the Middle Eastern countries see a strong Russia with strong consistent leadership and a fumbling inconsistent United States. So this is a moment for the Russians to get back into the game, the Great Game both in Central Asia and the Middle East. A: because they want to keep their bases. B: because of petroleum, in this case they want to keep the price high not low because they want to export their petroleum but they want to keep radical Islam out. They haven’t forgotten what they did to the Muslims in the Caucasus and the degree of terrorism in Russia is a hundred fold in Europe, which is all you hear about it. So they have a vested interest in establishing a big footstep in the Middle East and an even bigger footstep in Central Asia and by so doing guarantee their economic interests in Siberia which is becoming a massive place for investment and expansion.

And this is their moment. America is weak. Whether you like President Obama or dislike him doesn’t matter. He has not done a good job in the Middle East. He has shown weakness. America has retreated. A lot of it was not his fault but, be that as it may, America was beaten in the Middle East and is being beaten in Afghanistan and the Russians can sit back smugly and smile and say, “We’re doing to you what you did to us.”

So Putin has another opportunity: the US election. In Hillary Clinton he sees a much stronger leader who is not particularly well disposed towards Russia. I’m not quite sure he understands Trump! I think he believes that Trump will somehow accede to Russian interest because Trump said nice things about Putin. Of course, how can a Soviet leader, and that’s what he is, understand that the United States of America is not run by a single man that there is a whole avenue of decision-making: the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the State Department, Congress. It’s impossible for any President to alter foreign policy by himself. He thinks that just like Russia he does what he wants and nobody can challenge him, well if they do they end up dead. Something Trump would like, but he can’t have it.

However, he believes that by cyber attacks, by meddling, by interfering he can support Trump. Or does he? Is he that stupid? I don’t think he is. I think what he’s doing is he’s sending a message to the United States saying, “You know what? We can if we want. We’re doing it with a fool like Trump today but imagine what we can do tomorrow. Our technology is better than your technology because we can penetrate you.” So why is he doing all that? Because he is indirectly negotiating with the next leadership of the United States in that America has to accept a role and a position for Russia in the Middle East.

And the Americans I think eventually will get the message and if you think about, it is tragic and it is all about numbers. Consider this, when the Syrian Civil War began how many people died? Four thousand. How many people have died today? Half a million. Had the Americans unequivocally backed Assad at the beginning of the Syrian Civil War 4,000 people would have died. Instead they didn’t and half a million died. ISIS came in and how many people have they killed in the Middle East? Nature abhors a vacuum and the Middle East abhors weakness.

So Putin in his way, and I don’t think the message is getting across because of the rhetoric coming out of the American media – and by the way, I’m not excusing him I’m trying to explain him and I’m not saying that this is right – he’s saying the time has come for Russia to be recognized again as a great power, which with China, is very strong militarily, and the time has come for Russia to get its foothold in the Middle East.

And there’s a way to end all this: change the Montreux Convention and allow Russian warships through the straits. And to that end he has a multi-layered policy. Putin has established good relations with his identical counterpart: President Erdo?an of Turkey. That’s why didn’t like each other at first, they were so much alike. But now they’ve reached a modus vivendi, they’ve reached an accommodation. Don’t be surprised that in a few years Russia and Turkey will have a military alliance that will guarantee access for Russian warships through the straits because the United States and the European Union and NATO will not be able to tolerate a Turkey that is so autocratic as it’s becoming whereas Putin would see it as a normal course of events.

We are witnessing a major seismic change in international relations. This will not just affect the Middle East, but will impact Asia, it will impact the world, it will impact Canada. It’s something that we can not avoid, we’re going to need very strong leadership to see us through this very dangerous period where people like Putin are not afraid to use military power to achieve their ends especially when they think that the other side is going to blink.

So Putin is here to stay. I’ll be surprised if there’s another Russian election. If there is, it’s going to be a very rigged one. Who knows, he might even make himself czar down the road! He will look better with a crown. He will look taller anyway.

We are facing a radical new situation somewhat what it was like before the Crimean War and we are going to have a lot of head-scratching as to what’s going to happen in the region.



Putin used the reasoning in Crimea that the people there were Russian speaking and there are other Russian speaking people in the Baltic states and in theory he could pander their concerns and annex part of the Baltic states and I suspect nobody will do much about it.


You’re right and nobody expected Putin to take the Crimea and 65 per cent of the population is Russian. They could have had a fair referendum that would have said 65 to 70 percent wanted to go with Russia. They had a rigged one that said 90 per cent. They are just not used to this democracy stuff.

Putin took it because he had to take it and because Crimea was given to Ukraine by Khrushchev who was also Ukrainian and it was a symbolic gift giving the Crimean Ukraine during the Soviet system. It didn’t make any difference.

We missed all that and we went on this big, big campaign because of Putin and Ukraine, Putin and the Crimea. These are all silly… I mean they are tragic for people on the ground but in terms of international relations they make no sense. War with the United States? War over Crimea? No. Over Ukraine? No.

Here’s the question: will they go to war over Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania? Will NATO really go into a full-scale war like the Wehrmacht in 1941 against the Red Army all over again? It’s a fool’s dream.

I went to a NATO conference last summer and everybody was talking about the Balkans for the NATO summit. Are they going to do this? Are they going to do that? Bottom line was, “well the only way to contain any future Russian aggression was to use nuclear weapons.”

Is that where we want to go? And that’s why the Russians are rebuilding their nuclear arsenal. So we’re entering into a new Cold War against nuclear weapons. So eventually he’s going to make a move. Either he’s going to incorporate them into Russia or they are going to become Russian satellites, a Russian sphere of influence.

[Question inaudible] [1:13:11]


It does. The Iranians are playing footsies. One day they are siding with the Americans the next they are siding with Russians. It’s a game of who is going to give them more. Very opportunistic.


In the September 2014 issue of Foreign Affairs a distinguished professor of political science was arguing the total opposite. He was arguing that Russia is not really interested in expanding they are simply reacting to NATO expansion so Crimea came just after the coup in Ukraine. What’s your comment on that? Are they simply concerned about legitimate security concerns of their own and that NATO is trying to expand?


NATO has expanded through a remarkable size and it has surrounded Russia. There are NATO bases in Greece, in Turkey, in Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia and Albania and the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic and Poland to a ridiculous extent.
There is a Russian reaction to it but I don’t think the Russians believe that NATO is going to invade Russia. I think that Russians use that as a wonderful excuse to begin their expansion and it’s easy to sell it to their people by pointing them out and saying, “look we’re surrounded so we have no choice but to expand, to take the offensive.”
How about the refugee flows out of the Middle East in the next few years?


It’s going to increase because we are going to have an ongoing war in Syria for a long time to come unless there’s an accommodation between the Russians and the Americans and that accommodation means allowing Assad to stay in power. Think of the political consequences for Hillary Clinton or any American President at this stage to say, “okay we’ll accept Assad to be a dictator. This bloodthirsty man with blood on his hands. Let’s allow another half a million people to die for our principals.”
Do you expect further economic deterioration in Russia and what would the impact be?


Yes I do because they spend like crazy on arms but they don’t care. It’s like when Stalin implemented his plan to collectivize all the farming in the Soviet Union. Two and a half million people died of starvation. It didn’t matter. The policy went through anyway.


Where does China fit in this scenario?


I think the Chinese have the smartest policy of all. They simply hide behind the Russians. The Russians are like a Trump: they make a lot of noise, people are really scared of them meanwhile the Chinese are moving very quietly. Look what’s happening in the South China Sea. They are building air bases and atolls. They are going to control the Straits of Malacca which four trillion dollars of trade passes through. So when it’s all over China will hold the economic and military [1:16:39].


How do you explain the ongoing cooperation between the West and Russia over scientific interests? Space interests? It seems to carry on despite everything.


It’s one of the little miracles of our age and I hope it continues and I hope [1:17:03] loses the rest. That’s a really small part of the relationship between Russia and the West.


If Putin was hit by a Mac truck is there someone to fill the void?


No. That’s the problem with dictatorships – they are as good as their current dictator. When he goes there is always a power struggle and you might end up with a Boris Yeltsin or another Putin. It’s hard to say.


Is there anybody in the wings? Any names that you could put?


No. Again, that’s the problem with dictatorships. Having a successor automatically establishes a challenge to your rule.

Democracy may have a lot of faults but you know it’s the only [1:17:49] that works.


You mention that we lost the Cold War but lost the peace. I think that’s what you said. Could you expand on that? Why did we lose? What about this triumphalism that we seem to embrace? What should have we done? Answer:

Embrace Russia. Not just the former Russian satellites like Poland and Hungary but embrace Russia. Help them get out of the economic conundrum they were facing.

Expand trade. Lend them money with no interest. The Americans basically went in there and tried to buy everything in sight. They tried to take over Russian petroleum, they tried to take over Russian gas. It was not a hand of friendship it was, “okay we’re here now it’s capitalism that has triumphed. Stand by and we’ll buy you out.” And that created the backlash. That created the climate for Putin to come to power.


Does Russia have any further interest in Cuba?Answer:

I don’t think so. They don’t have the naval reach for Cuba. At least not in our lifetime.


You have commented that we need strong leadership in the West if we’re going to deal with Putin. Can you comment on the leaders in the West and whether they have the strength?


They don’t. Think about it. Who do we have?


Do demographics and an aging Russian population have any effect on this?
Not for our lifetime. It might have an impact in the next century but nowhere in the next half century.


A lot of the so-called stands which are largely religiously against the Orthodox Church. Is there a place for them as a geographical withdrawal within or associated with the Russia of today?


No. The Russians aren’t going to let it and we don’t have the power to support them.



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