Analysis & Opinions

A New Transatlantic Strategy on Russia

| Apr. 30, 2020

A discussion with Dr. Michael Carpenter, Managing Director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, Nicholas Burns, Faculty Chair of the Project on Europe, and Torrey Taussig, Research Director in the Project on Europe, on how the U.S. can work with European partners to develop a new approach toward Russia.


Nicholas Burns: Welcome. I'm Nick Burns, professor here at the Kennedy School. It's great to see so many people online with us this afternoon. It's a real pleasure to welcome Dr. Mike Carpenter of the Penn Biden Center here today. I'm going to have some very nice things to say about him in a moment, but let me just give you the order of battle.

Nicholas Burns: We're going to be talking about a new transatlantic strategy on Russia. So how does the United States, Canada, all of the European allies and NATO, and the EU, how do we approach this big problem of Russia's actions in the international system? That's our subject for today.

Nicholas Burns: Our guest is Dr. Mike carpenter who, as most of you know is Managing Director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement that's at the University of Pennsylvania. And he's a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlanta Council.

Nicholas Burns: Mike has a lot of experience in government. He was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Obama administration with responsibility for Russia and Ukraine, Eurasia, the Balkans, and conventional arms control.

Nicholas Burns: He also served in the White House as a foreign policy advisor to Vice President Joe Biden. And he served the National Security Council staff as a Director for Russia. He was, at the beginning of his career, a career foreign service officer which makes him, in my mind, that's the right place to start. I'm sorry, we lost Mike in the foreign service, but he's gone on to do pretty well in government.

Nicholas Burns: Mike is also an academic. He has a Masters and PhD from Berkeley. He has a BA in international relations from Stanford. He is widely published, and in fact, he has just written yesterday an op-ed in The Washington Post on how we should look at Putin's recent actions which we're going to get into in the Q&A.

Nicholas Burns: I did also want to welcome my friend, my colleague, Dr. Torrey Taussig. Torrey's a Senior Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School. Torrey is managing, lead author, lead thinker, lead conceptualizer or on our big project this year, which is to look at how we can revive a transatlantic relationship. This is going to be a report that the Harvard Kennedy School and the German Council on Foreign Relations (we're partners), we're going to release it after the U.S. election.

Nicholas Burns: Hopefully it's going to give the international community and folks in Washington, whether it's whether it's a Biden administration or whether it's a Trump two administration, as well as European governments, some insights and as to how we resurrect a relationship that's clearly in trouble and has been in trouble across the Atlantic. For a number of years now.

Nicholas Burns: Torrey has a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Torrey also spent a year in Germany as a Bosch fellow, and she's someone with a real understanding of power. She focused her PhD dissertation, in fact, on Russia and China and the exercise of power as authoritarian states.

Nicholas Burns: In addition to Torrey and Mike, I very much want to welcome a very close friend, former President of Estonia, Toomas Ilves. Toomas and I go way back to the time when I held the position that Mike held as Director…I was Director for Soviet affairs in the National Security Council staff 1990, 91, 92 and into 93.

Nicholas Burns: Toomas then, and I, were much younger than we are today. Toomas was the very new ambassador – the first ambassador of Estonia, of a revitalized Estonia, to the United States. He was a great partner as we worked together with our governments and with our leaders Lennart Meri in Tallinn and Bill Clinton in the White House to rid Estonia and Latvia of Soviet and Russian occupation troops.

Nicholas Burns: They didn't leave until August 31, 1994. Toomas had a great party at his house, the ambassador's house in Washington to celebrate the departure of the Russian troops who arrived in May 1940 his occupation forces and didn't leave until 94.

Nicholas Burns: And I'll never forget: he showed us a film of the Red Army going into Tallinn and into Estonia in May 1940. He played it on hyped-up speed in reverse, and it was one of the great memorable highlights of that time. Toomas went on, as you all know, to become Foreign Minister of Estonia, and he and I worked together when he was in that capacity. And then he was a courageous leader, I think, of a NATO Alliance and the West when he was President of Estonia. A very strong voice for human freedom. So I'm really happy he’s here.

Nicholas Burns: It looks like he's still in some beautiful warm place. That's just your wallpaper. I got it. I thought maybe you’re still in Palo Alto. Good to know.

Nicholas Burns: The other person I want to recognize, two other people, very quickly. I want to recognize Karl Kaiser. Karl has been such a great member of the Harvard community for so many years and a great member of the transatlantic alliance going back to the time when he worked for Chancellor Willy Brandt, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, when he headed the German Council on Foreign Relations.

Nicholas Burns: And welcome to Dr. and Professor Mary Elise Sarotte, Johns Hopkins University, who was chronicled the end of the Cold War.  And, Toomas, she's now chronicling whether or not the West was right to expand NATO. You and I have a very similar view on that, and we want Mary, we want to influence Mary's scholarship by telling her how brilliant a decision that was.

Nicholas Burns: So, welcome everybody. And we're going to have a good discussion. Order battle is that Torrey, and I are going to ask Mark…Mike, excuse me, some leading questions. Mike is such an expert on these issues. We're going to let him hold forth.

Nicholas Burns: And then we'll bring all you in. We’ll call on people. You all know Zoom protocol. Just when you want to speak after the initial discussion among Torrey, Mike, and I, just let me know with the blue raised hand. We’ll call on people in sequence. We’ll have a great conversation. Mike, welcome.

Michael Carpenter: Thank you, Nick. Great to be here.

Nicholas Burns: Great to have you with us. I know you're a busy person. Let's go to your article that you published, your op-ed in The Washington Post yesterday.  

Nicholas Burns: You've been a student and observer, and I know you've met him too, of Putin for a very long time. You talk in your op-ed about the mistakes he made, strategic and tactical, and not working more effectively with OPEC, and the Saudis on the oil crash of the last month.

Nicholas Burns: And you also talk about the fact that the Russian government was woefully deficient in recognizing coronavirus. Let me just pump that question to you, welcome you and have you start with that. Thanks, Mike.

Michael Carpenter: Great. Thanks. Well, the cliché about Putin, which I think is largely correct, is that he is an excellent tactician and a poor strategist. So, for example, with his invasion of Georgia and recognition of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.

Michael Carpenter: Tactically, he outmaneuvered the West, but strategically, was it really such a good idea to recognize Caucasian small nation states when you are an empire that controls many such republics, titular republics, in the North Caucasus?.

Michael Carpenter: Similarly, with Ukraine: tactically, his operation in Crimea was a success. His war in the Donbass has put Kiev over a barrel, but strategically, hasn't he lost the Ukrainian population? So what's interesting here though, in the last six weeks, maybe eight weeks, is you see him making some rather grave tactical errors which we don't usually see from Putin. So, in terms of the oil market crash, we see Putin backing off away from Saudi and treaties to cut production. I think in the mistaken hope that he could have taken out, wiped out, the U.S. shale oil industry.

Michael Carpenter: And this is a strange mistake for Putin to be making because usually, he has very good intelligence very good information on these sorts of things. And he should have known that the U.S. shale oil industry had consolidated significantly over the last four or 5, 6, 7 years and a lot of the independent producers that he would have wiped out in a single blow by creating an oil glut had actually been bought out by a lot of the big oil majors like Exxon and Chevron and so on. And so actually, they were going to be able to turn off production pretty easily and not take an immediate-term hit.

Michael Carpenter: So instead, he really cratered the Russian Economy with this ill-advised moved to try to create a glut. And then was kind of stuck because he didn't want to lose face with the Saudis who he had basically thrown under the bus. And it took Donald Trump essentially calling Putin or Putin calling Trump, and they had about four or five conversations at the start of this month where Trump essentially brokered a deal between Russia and Saudi to finally cut production. But the prices, as everyone knows, have the bottom is fallen out of the market and Russia is in a world of hurt.

Michael Carpenter: So that was mistake number one. Mistake number two: even worse. Mistake number two was his handling of the COVID pandemic. Because look, Russia has a 2600-mile border with China. There was no way they were going to keep this virus out of their country. Nor, frankly, could any state in the world really keep this virus out of their country, but particularly Russia in terms of tracking.

Michael Carpenter: And yet, you know, he did take some early actions. He closed the preponderance about I think 16 out of 21 border crossings with China already in January. On January 31. But then, you know, sort of this triumphalist rhetoric the propaganda machine in Russia was in full swing saying essentially “we're invincible.”

Michael Carpenter: I think a lot of people probably on this call know, you know, Russia sent aid very vocally, very visibly to the United States, to Italy, to a number of other hard-hit countries, and basically started projecting this aura of, you know, “we can survive this. We’re the great Russian power that we are on. And we're doing fine. And Putin was saying things like that for much of March.

Michael Carpenter: But meanwhile, reports were coming that, you know, there was no testing. There was a single lab and Novosibirsk that was doing all the testing for all of Russia's 11 time zones.

Michael Carpenter: And this hubris sort of got a little out of control. You know, they haven't held a very large-scale military exercise on Ukraine's borders in late March involving thousands of paratroopers long after NATO had said, you know, we're pulling the plug on various exercises in Europe.

Michael Carpenter: And so now you see the pandemic out of control. You see, you know, YouTube videos of ambulances lined up for miles and miles trying to deposit patients in overcrowded hospitals. You know, one ambulance driver quoted as saying he had to drive 140 kilometers to find an empty hospital bed. And that took about nine hours, by the way.

Michael Carpenter: And so, you know, this is now this image of, you know, invincible Putin has been shattered. And, you know, much like with Chernobyl, if you start out pretending you're strong and then, you know, reality catches up with you very quickly in this case, well, you know, it's a tactical miscalculation.

Michael Carpenter: It's not something that you can go back and say, you know, well, we were right, then we're wrong now. It’s kind of, you know, it's egg all over his face. And so, this is very uncharacteristic for Putin, but it's what you see in authoritarian states that have been sort of hunkered down and isolated and kind of lost their touch a little bit in terms of how they manage crises. So I think this is going to have huge implications for Putin's rule and for his legitimacy going forward.

Nicholas Burns: Thanks, Mike. Before I ask my final question. I'm going to turn it over to Torrey. I wanted to welcome because I'm now seeing people, everyone who's come in. I want to welcome Professor Alan Henrikson Professor Emeritus at Tufts at the Fletcher School who is someone I've always respected very much. And we share a hometown; Wellesley, Massachusetts, as well. So, Professor welcome. Welcome  to Jolyon Howorth, our Fellow and friend at Harvard who's here. A real expert on Europe. Welcome to Ambassador Alvaro Renedo from Spain, who's now joining us from Andalusia, has been with us as a Fellow for this year.

Nicholas Burns: Mike, my other question to you is: Putin had hoped to use the month of April and May to make as big move to become president for life and to re-engineer the Russian constitution to allow that to happen. He's at least had to delay that boat. You know, you talk in your Washington Post piece about his legitimacy and you just talked about two significant tactical mistakes he's made. Is there any reason to think that maybe Putin is sliding in the estimation of the oligarchs or the citizenry, or is that just wishful thinking from someone who believes that Putin is a malignant force in global politics?

Michael Carpenter: Well, it's a great question. We in the Russia watcher community are often guilty of thinking that Putin is making mistakes and that his legitimacy is about to go down the tubes when in fact, he has been the ultimate survivor. Now, two decades in power in Russia with all sorts of different episodes occurring from the Beslan tragedy. The murder of so many innocent schoolchildren in North Ossetia such a long time ago 2004.

Michael Carpenter: To the sinking of the Kursk submarine and Putin's very callous response to that. So, it's early days, but I think this is going to be the most profound test of Putin's legitimacy since coming to power. Particularly the COVID crisis and the economic repercussions of it. And I think, so far, he's shown that he's mishandling it.

Michael Carpenter: Now, there's a lot of world leaders that are mishandling the COVID crisis, so he's not alone. But the timing is particularly bad for Putin and because of what you just mentioned, Nick. Namely, that he had planned to hold a referendum on April 22 on these constitutional amendments to enable him to serve another two terms as president until 2036 when he turns 84 years old.

Michael Carpenter: Now this was already a risky move to have this referendum, because he had already gotten his completely pliant Parliament, the Duma, to rubber stamp the constitutional amendments. He didn't need to put this to a referendum, but he felt that it would make him more secure. And I think that's probably right had it passed. But already even in March, before you know the real brunt of the COVID pandemic began to bear down, and well, the oil market was already in crisis, but it was just beginning, you had the Levada Center, one of the more reputable Russian polling agencies, poll on the question of these constitutional amendments. And the supporters were at 48%, the opponents were 47, so you had a razor thin margin, just then.

Michael Carpenter: And you know, it's very hard to see unless he just emerges as, you know, the most competent sober leader in the months ahead, how he's going to be able to keep those numbers up and not have them slide, and perhaps slide rather precipitously. And so, I think Putin is really postured to do very poorly as a result of this crisis for a number of reasons. I'll just quickly list them.

Michael Carpenter: I think on the, just like President Trump in this country, Putin has delegated the response to the regional governors. Now, that may be a smart strategy in countries that are used to federalism and where officials can sort of take the appropriate response to tailor it to their situation, but in Russia, a centralized state, as it's become under Putin, this is a recipe for disaster.

Michael Carpenter: Not having a centralized approach and leaving it to the governors who already have suppressed information on the truth within their own Republics like in Komi, for example, where the virus is raging unchecked, and where there's been a vast effort to try to suppress any real information about what's happening.

Michael Carpenter: And then on the economic front, you know, Putin has over these last two decades accumulated 430 billion dollars in hard currency reserves, which gives him a sizable rainy day fund, but you know, his economic response thus far has been to declare essentially a public holiday where everyone gets paid. But as everyone who studies Russia knows, enforcement in Russia is always the key to any policy coming from the Kremlin and businesses are not hewing to the letter of this dictate. And they are finding all kinds of ways to let workers go, to get them off the rolls to, in some cases, reduce wages by as much as 80, 90%.

Michael Carpenter: And it doesn't seem like the Kremlin is really interested in supporting small and medium sized businesses and starting to draw down on this rainy-day fund. So, if this continues, we're in for, Russia rather, is in for a world of hurt on the economic, in terms of unemployment, in terms of falling wages, in terms of, bankruptcies, potentially mass bankruptcies. And, of course, in a Petro state with the price of oil so low, their revenues into their budget are going to be insufficient for this year, much less for future years.

Michael Carpenter: So, Putin has not, you know, this could be…it's very hard to say that this is the straw that breaks the camel's back, that this is going to be it for Putin. I'm not willing to go that far. But I think this is going to be the greatest test of his legitimacy that he's ever faced.

Nicholas Burns: Thank you, Mike. I was reading it remiss in not mentioning at the outset that we're on the record. Mike's on the record. All of us are on the record. If you care not to be on the record, then just don't ask your question, but we're going to record this and put it on our website. I wanted to mention that. Torrey.

Torrey Taussig: Thank you, Nick, and I should say, Mike, it's great to see you. I wish we can have this conversation in person. It's also wonderful to hear that Professor Alan Henrikson is joining this call. He is one of my favorite professors from the Fletcher School, so it is great to have you on with us, Professor Henrikson.

Torrey Taussig: Mike and Nick, you've given a great overview of the domestic situation in Russia right now, however dire that might be and Putin's mishandling of the crisis at home.

Torrey Taussig: Mike, I want to get your sense of how you see Putin handling this crisis abroad. There's been a lot of talk on how China is using the coronavirus pandemic to enhance its international influence, to take advantage of the crisis to make the West look kind of feckless and weak. We know from long term Russian influence operations that that that Putin has a very similar objective.

Torrey Taussig: Have you seen the Kremlin try to carry out disinformation campaigns, use the pandemic to its advantage to gain influence in Europe, in the US? Or has this propaganda machine been relatively quiet compared to what we've seen from Beijing?

Michael Carpenter: So thank you, Torrey. Great question. Two points. First, the Kremlin tried to use the fact that at least the visible spread of the virus was lagging in Russia as compared to Western Europe. As I said, to sort of project this aura of invincibility and heavily utilized its aid as propaganda, especially the aid that came to the United States that was accepted by President Trump. That was used by Putin in spades, to try to signal that “look Russia is strong. We're doing great. The West is in dire straits. And look, they're having to accept aid from us.”

 Michael Carpenter: And this really resonates with Russians many of whom, the older generation certainly remember the 1990s, where they felt like they were on their knees, and they had to beg the West for financial help. And so, having that those roles reversed was very powerful. But as I said at the outset, that propaganda narrative is now shattering, and there's no way to sustain it.

Michael Carpenter: So then there is the second piece to Putin's propaganda play or perhaps it's not a propaganda play, it's more of a diplomatic play. And that is: sanctions easy. So we have seen already that Putin is held a number of calls with West European leaders talking about how Russia may require aid in the future. He's had, as I mentioned, four or five calls with President Trump just in this month alone, which is most calls by far in that compressed of a time period.

Michael Carpenter: And if you look carefully at the Kremlin messaging, as I do, and you see, for example, a recent op-ed written by Kirill Dmitriev, who is the CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund on, so targeted American audience where he talks about this is the time to open up cooperation between Russia and the United States on COVID, on the global recession that's coming, on things like counterterrorism and Non Proliferation, and climate change.

Michael Carpenter: This shows me that the Dmitriev of is likely echoing the same talking points that Putin is deploying with Trump and their private conversation. So we don't know about because the White House is not reading them out. But we can infer that those are the sorts of messages that are being passed. “Now is the time for cooperation,” and this is a predicate to say, “look, we're being really hard hit by this pandemic. Now is the time to ease sanctions.”

Michael Carpenter: And we haven't seen that messaging really come to full force yet, but I think the, as I said, the predicate is being laid for that argument to be made in the coming weeks.

Torrey Taussig: And second question on Russia's international role coming out of this pandemic and I realized this question is going to ask you to do some predicting over fact-based analysis, but how do you see Russia’s intervention in Ukraine being affected perhaps Russia’s intervention and support of the Assad regime in Syria? These are two international powerplays Putin has tried to use to his domestic advantage at home, particularly at times when his own legitimacy has been challenged. Kind of stoking the Russian nationalist fervor. Do we see or do you see the pandemic affecting Russia's roles in either of these crises changing?

Michael Carpenter: I don't. I don't. And you know, I think this goes to Putin's leadership style. He sees backing away from a particular policy course that he's on as a sign of weakness. And although diminishing Russia’s aggression in Ukraine might actually be popular with the Russian people who, many of whom see the conflict in Ukraine is unnecessary and they see Ukrainians as their Slavic brothers sort of scratch their heads at why this has gone on so long.

Michael Carpenter: But it would show weakness with the siloviki, with a power players in the Kremlin inner circle. And furthermore, I don't think that Putin feels that the time has come for him to back away. I think he feels like he can sustain both interventions in Ukraine and Syria at relatively low cost. And he does have this rainy-day fund that he still presides over that he has not used to bail out his own economy so far.

Michael Carpenter: Maybe he'll change course on that aspect, but in Ukraine, the indicators are that he will continue. As I mentioned, there were the large-scale paratrooper exercises in late March to intimidate the Ukrainians. There are now brand new Cossack regiments being deployed on the Russian, Ukrainian border, which has not happened since 2014 just as the war was beginning. And in fact, they were a leading indicator of the fighting in the Donbass was having those Cossacks massing along the Russian- Ukrainian border.

Michael Carpenter: And then we see that there's some interesting data from Crimea showing 100-year drought that we haven't seen for a century taking shape in Crimea. And in fact, in all of eastern Ukraine and Crimea is very vulnerable to lack of water for its agriculture. Already that the tourist season there has been killed as a result the pandemic and the ongoing war.

Michael Carpenter: And so, you know, to my mind, it's quite possible that Putin could use this coming few months to potentially seize one of those canals that feeds water from Ukraine proper into the Crimean Peninsula.But I'm not predicting that's going to happen. I'm just saying that I don't see him on diminishing his military footprint in either Ukraine or Syria. In Syria, clearly he feels he succeeded. Perhaps he can draw down some of his resources, but I think the game plan of supporting Assad through until he has complete control over central and western Syria will continue.

Torrey Taussig: Great. Thank you, Mike. To shift the conversation away from the coronavirus pandemic, Russia's domestic situation and international situation…And I know Nick has a few questions on this as well. I'd like to talk a little bit about the future and your ideas on what a new transatlantic strategy toward Russia should look like. It's an important year to be having these conversations, to be thinking about new policies toward Russia. And a significant aspect of a new strategy will be looking at how to deter Russia's aggressive actions abroad, you've already talked about Ukraine and Syria. Another component of Russian aggression can be seen through its financial networks, it's kleptocratic, it's corrupt networks How should the US and Europe work together to clamp down on Russia's corrupt and maligned financial influence in the West?

Michael Carpenter: Well, that is a great question because Russia's financial and corrupt influences, perhaps the greatest weapon that Russia deploys against Western democracies to try to subvert and weaken them. And this is a vulnerability that we have, as Western societies, that we have really failed to address over the course of, well at least since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2014. And we see this malign influence everywhere.

Michael Carpenter: There was just a groundbreaking investigative report in the Netherlands, a week ago about how this small Dutch NGO called Forum for Democracy that popped up sort of overnight had as its sole goal, the undermining of a referendum on Ukraine's association agreement with the EU.

Michael Carpenter: And where it successfully campaigned against that association agreement and, consequently, the Dutch essentially were in a position to veto. The government then had to backtrack. Well, that little NGO ended up becoming a far-right political parties. Now the second largest party in the Netherlands. And this investigative report has discovered that it was receiving financing all along from the Kremlin.

Michael Carpenter: And so, I could go on and on about the examples of this covert financing, but it's an area that we have neglected, and it's a key piece in our what I call a hybrid deterrence strategy. We need to have deterrence, but not just have a conventional military nature which is its own thing. But we need to have deterrence against some of these active measures or malign influence operations that the Kremlin is able to undertake in our Western democracies. And certainly, the financial corruption piece is crucial.

Michael Carpenter: It involves creating more transparency. It involves things like empowering an EU wide anti money laundering regulator. It means supporting the brand new EU office of an EU prosecutor, the European Prosecutor General

Michael Carpenter: There's a lot of things we can do domestically here in the United States like strengthening the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, so that it's not just bribe takers but bribe givers whose activities criminalized. There's a lot of things to be doing in this space. And as we look to the next administration. Again, whether it's a Biden or a Trump administration, this should be a central pillar.

Michael Carpenter: I'm biased, I think it won't be a pillar for a Trump administration because it hasn't been for the last three years.

Michael Carpenter: But I think for a potential Biden administration, this has to be front and center: getting our European partners on board with, some of this can be done in NATO, but most of it's going to be done outside of NATO, frankly, getting them on board, getting ourselves on board, with a very robust, comprehensive, anti-corruption strategy. Because, you know, look at our campaign finance system we've got these massive conduits through which foreign, dark money can flow. Unless we work together. We'll never clean this up.

Torrey Taussig: Thanks, final question for me, and then I will turn it back over to Nick.

Torrey Taussig: It seems that another issue that should be front and center in a transatlantic strategy toward Russia is on arms control and strategic stability. Particularly given that we have the New Start expiring in early 2021 other arms control treaties are falling into disarray or the U.S. has already withdrawn from them (Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, INF treaty, Open Skies). This is an area where it seems that the West, the U.S. and Russia need to cooperate for the sake of international security and regional stability. How do the U.S. and Europe work together with Russia to strengthen arms control treaties that have really fallen into disarray over the last few years?

Michael Carpenter: Yeah, this is a crucial area where we've seen a lot of deterioration over the last few years. The Open Skies treaty, the U.S. is looking at withdrawing, of course. We've withdrawn from the INF Treaty, but because of Russia's cheating, of course, but that treaty no longer exists. ABM, so on and so forth. Vienna document which was always a voluntary confidence building measure to provide military transparency is being violated by the Russians left and right. So, it no longer provides that degree of confidence that we are able to look into to see what they're doing.

Michael Carpenter: And now, New Start the central element of our arms control framework and the one thing that prevents us from entering into a costly, and potentially very dangerous nuclear arms race is expiring in February of 2021 just three weeks after the inauguration.

Michael Carpenter: And so, we're in a very dangerous spot right now, and our European partners certainly do not appreciate the erosion of this arms control regime that we had built up over decades some of it bilaterally with the Russians, but in other cases involving them.

Michael Carpenter: For example, Open Skies. It's a treaty that, as a pentagon official, I was quite critical of the treaty, because I don't think it really provides the U.S. with all that much that we can achieve through our national technical means. But for our European allies, it is very important because they don't have those national technical means and having access to this imagery and this data on Russian and other countries’ build ups is very important. So what should we be doing?

Michael Carpenter: Well, first thing, to state the obvious, is we have to take the Russians up on their offer to extend New Start. This one does not require Senate approval. We can simply get this done in a matter of probably of months. It's not a very complicated negotiation to extend, and the provision in the existing Treaty is for a five-year extension. So that's number one thing I would do is immediately extend New Start which is working and which, you know, we have very intrusive verification measures in place to be able to monitor the Russian compliance with that treaty. So that is very important.

Michael Carpenter: But then, on the other aspects of security. We have so many domains which are completely unregulated. Where military conflict is increasingly likely. I'm talking about domains like cyber, space, undersea. And we have not really had any meaningful discussions with the Russians or with anyone else on how to either provide arms control or some rules of the road governing of military competition in these in these domains.

Michael Carpenter: And you know, you look at various…this is a very complex field. You have missile defense. You have non-strategic nuclear weapons. A range of other things that need to all be discussed together because they all impact one another. And so, this calls for a set of very serious strategic stability talks.

Michael Carpenter: I personally believe the next administration should do this at a very high level, you know, potentially having the Secretaries of State and Defense meeting with a Russian counterparts to discuss an agenda of strategic stability involving, of course, military experts at the table, and really getting into this and figuring out what can we do to reduce the risk of miscalculation. Because neither side really wants an expensive arms race. The Russians don't want it and we shouldn’t want it because it's really not in our interest in the long term.

Torrey Taussig: Thanks, Mike. Nick, over to you.

Nicholas Burns: Thank you so much, Mike. Thank you, Torrey. I think we should go to questions from our participants. In looking through the roster participants. I also wanted to welcome Ambassador Bill Courtney my longtime friend colleague in the American foreign service. He's a true Russia expert and Paul Kolbe, colleague now at the Harvard Kennedy Center. Paul directs our Intelligence Project at the Belfer for Center for Science and International Affairs.

Nicholas Burns: I wanted to go, Toomas, if you're still with us, to President Ilves first, and ask President Ilves if he wants to ask a question of Mike or wants to offer a comment on his long experience dealing with his Russian neighbor. Toomas?

Toomas Ilves: I only have things on the edges, though, I would say that the…despite all the problems coming out of, I mean within Russia, on the question of this information there, they have been extremely active in Europe. I don't know how much in the United States because I guess the in the US where I am right now people are not following that so much. But in certainly, first the attempt in Italy to gain plus points, but then afterwards, a lot of the disinformation being spread about COVID in Europe, both the anti-NATO as well as just within European countries.

Toomas Ilves: It sort of surprised me because I think it backfires and when it gets uncovered, it doesn't..It's another own goal. There was a piece. Two days ago, I think a good piece of disinformation efforts in Italy, for example, where on the one hand you have this positive approach, but then you go and get really nasty with people within Italy. And this is this is surprising. The other thing I also wanted to raise is the collapse of the orgy plan for May 9 and the attempt to build up Pobeda as a way to mute the last year’s sort of failed attempt excusing the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. I think their big plan was to Pobeda a big event which now it is not. And I think that’s big minus for Putin's attempt to build up his own prestige when his numbers have been declining. But other than that, I don't really have anything intelligent to say.

Nicholas Burns: Well, you have a lot of intelligent to say and to offer. I reserve the right to come back to you during the session, President Ilves..

Michael Carpenter: I just say one thing on that, Nick.

Nicholas Burns: Yeah.

Michael Carpenter: I think President Ilves spot is on there. And for those of you not following the Russian disinformation in Italy, let me just expand a little bit on that.

Michael Carpenter: So what Toomas is referring to is the provision of the aid which was sent to Italy was accompanied by a number of military officers who were “bacteriological experts” (that's in quotes) who were sent to assist with decontamination. One of the leading Italian investigative newspapers, La Stampa, discovered that a lot of those “experts” (in quotes) were in fact likely GRU officers who are conducting intelligence even as they were helping out with pandemic response. And in response to that, the Russian government threaten the newspaper’s editor. And it came across as really quite thuggish. And so, you know, they have miscalculated even on the propaganda front overseas, not just domestically, but overseas and have sort of put their foot in their mouth on a number of occasions now.

Nicholas Burns: Mike, I remember I at a very different time being with President Clinton in May 1995 at the 50th anniversary of the end of the war that was quite appropriate for him to be there at that time. We were really almost partners with the Russian Federation.  What would you have recommended to President Trump had he asked you? And given your background, he probably wouldn't have asked you, because you've been working so closely Vice President Biden. But what if he had asked two months ago, “Should I go to this victory celebration on May 9?” What would you have suggested?

Michael Carpenter: Absolutely not. You know, I think, we recently had a joint statement from the White House and from the Kremlin celebrating the spirit of the Elbe when American and Russian troops met in Germany, towards the end of World War Two. And it was this sort of celebration of camaraderie between the two nations in defeating Nazi Germany. I'm just very skeptical about these sorts of celebrations. I fully recognize the enormous sacrifices that so many just ordinary Russian…Soviet citizens of Ukraine in the Baltic States elsewhere were faced with during World War Two. But to celebrate an alliance with Stalin's Soviet Union. I mean, it's a clear ploy by the Kremlin to try to get us to partake in these sorts of events.

Michael Carpenter: So long as Russia has troops in eastern Ukraine that are every day firing on Ukrainian civilians and soldiers, I don't think we should be celebrating anything that involves either Putin or the Russian military. And so no, I certainly would not…if he listened to my advice, which I'm sure he would not, I would certainly not be advising any U.S. president to go to this celebration. I think it falls right into the Kremlin’s propaganda agenda.

Nicholas Burns: Thank you. I'm with you. I agree with you, especially in light of what Toomas mentioned this deplorable Russian attempt to rewrite the history of August 23rd, 1939. What really happened between the Soviets and the Nazis and what they did to colonize, to divide and plunder and occupy Eastern Europe, including the Baltic States afterwards.

Nicholas Burns: If you would like to speak, you just go into participants and you can press the blue hand button. I have Professor Mary Sarotte and then my very own teaching assistant Matt Keating. Mary Elise, great to see you. The background of Widener library. I believe that's what that wallpaper is is terrific.

Mary Sarotte: Thank you. Yes, I'm enjoying creative background. So here I am at Harvard.

Mary Sarotte: So thank you for this really interesting remarks, they actually dovetail really well with a call yesterday with the Council on Foreign Relations about transatlantic relations in Russia. Perhaps some of the other participants were on that call as well. And so, I'd like to ask you a question that came up with the Council call. It's basically about the difficult context of the May celebration of the end of World War Two.

Mary Sarotte: So Nick, you mentioned May 1995, of course, when Clinton went to see Yeltsin. And I agree that it was appropriate for Clinton to be there, but there were there were problems with his going, most notably Chechnya. In particular, in April 1995, Russian troops had massacred scores of Chechen civilians and burned the village of Samashki in what was really basically a war crime. And it happened just before Clinton went to Moscow, and so there was internal discussion: should Clinton still go, given what was happening in Chechnya? And now, of course, this year we're supposed to be the big 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two. And now of course we've got coven and we've got all of the bad blood between the US and Putin. That's cast…obviously over this is probably not going to happen because of COVID.

Mary Sarotte: And so, the question that came out with the Council on Foreign Relations event yesterday is what I'd like to put to Michael. And the question was, this seems to really be weakening Putin, his inept response to the COVID crisis. It's weakening his launch of these constitutional reforms that are meant to keep him in power for, you know, decades. One of the speakers on the Council call said Putin may need to give up some power in order to keep any of it. He may need to back down from his constitutional reforms as a result of all these fiascos and negative developments. I'm wondering what you think of that.

Michael Carpenter: Well, it's an interesting question. Let me, let me come at it from this vantage: I think the constitutional reforms that Putin proposed were not his plan A.

Michael Carpenter: His Plan A was likely the creation of the Union state between Russia and Belarus, and he had been pressing Belarusian President Lukashenko very hard over the last six months to try to agree to either a revived union state framework or a softer economic integration that would nevertheless allow Putin to take helm of some sort of economic entity between the two states. And Lukashenko just never signed off on that concept. He clearly knew that this was going to cut him out from the power structure. It was going to reduce Belarus' sovereignty beyond what has already been reduced as a result of Russian military influence and economic influence

Michael Carpenter: And so, Putin was left sort of holding the bag after a number of very high-profile discussions in Sochi that were heavily publicized where the leaders essentially walked away with nothing. And, you know, there were a number of other things that were floating around as possibilities for Putin to try to finesse this. I think his appointment of Mishustin as Prime Minister and abrupt a termination of Dmitry Medvedev was in part planned in order to allow Mishustin to potentially take over the presidency as someone who has no independent power base, who is completely dependent on Putin for his authority, and to allow for Putin to serve as the head of, well, it's been around for a long time, of this sort of revamped State Council.

Michael Carpenter: That was, that was Plan B. So Plan A was the Union State Plan B was Putin in charge of a State Council somewhat like President Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan and then transferring formal authority to Mishustin who is a technocrat with no independent power base. And ruling in that way. Then really Plan C came into focus in late 2019 as a constitutional referendum, where he said, “look, I'm just going to go for this.”

Michael Carpenter: And he was taking a very big chance because remember in the winter of 2011, 2012, that switch of jobs with Medvedev was extremely unpopular with the Russian people and drove hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of the big cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Michael Carpenter: But Putin knew that that was a risk with this constitutional change but decided to roll the dice anyway. And now, of course, with his mishandling of the COVID pandemic, he can't follow through, there's no way he can follow through, with the referendum. And so what he decides to do, I don't know.

Michael Carpenter: Whether removing himself from power along the State Council model and allowing someone else to sort of de jure be in power while he rules de facto that I think is certainly still on the table. I think the Union state is still on the table, and we need to watch what happens in Belarus very closely for the next 12 months. But I think the constitutional amendments simply won't fly. I think that is that is done.

Nicholas Burns: And Mary I just say before we go to the next question. A very brief response to your very good question about whether President Clinton was right to go in May 1995. I mean, I had just, as you remember, had been President Clinton Special Assistant for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia. I just gone to be State Department spokesperson, so I was in the cusp of those two jobs, but I remember what had happened.  

Nicholas Burns: We transformed the entire landscape of the relationship between Russia and the West. There was real peace, and there was a large measure of trust between Yeltsin in the European leadership and Yeltsin particularly with Bill Clinton. They had just left Estonia and Latvia, the Russian troops, the August prior to the May 95 celebrations. Russia was being proposed by the United States to be the eighth member of the G-7, the G-8.

Nicholas Burns: And Russia and the US, were working together in the United Nations in a way that we never had been since the creation of the UN in 1945. This is not to minimize the seriousness of what happened in Chechnya. And I think for a lot of people in the White House and State Department at the time, and Defense Department, Chechnya came into fuller view…we have a greater understanding of it, probably in subsequent years than we did in the first months of 95. So there's no question in my mind that President Clinton made the right decision to go to that particular celebration. So two students Matt Keating first and Nick Hanson. Matt?

Matthew Keating: Sure. Thank you so much, Dr. Carpenter for coming here today. I had a question on Arctic policy. Specifically, what you see as Russia's interests in its new 2035 basic guidelines for Arctic policy? And how you would assess the Trump administration's recent actions in regards to ensuring the Arctic as a peaceful region? I read that the Coast Guard was recently approved for about $650 million of polar cutter boats to patrol the Northwest Passage. And so, I was wondering what you see as America's key national interest in the regions? And for a future administration, what the transatlantic relationship, what NATO, what role the Arctic Council can play in ensuring that as Secretary Pompeo was says “the Arctic region doesn't become the next South China Sea”?

Michael Carpenter: Well, that is a great question and I think we could spend an hour or more, just on that. And certainly, I want to give some time for Torrey to weigh in on this topic as well. But let me just say this: The Russian state has been militarizing the Arctic for over a decade now, if not slightly longer. And Russia, of course, sees the Arctic as a potential source of enormous mineral wealth, but also as a key transportation quarter as the ice recedes.

Michael Carpenter: And so, Russia is poising itself through its military investments to be able to control transit through the various waterways in the Arctic that are adjacent to its territory. Now this is a very tricky policy conundrum for the United States. We are also an Arctic power. We also have an interest in freedom of navigation. We want to be able to ensure that our allies are not interfered with in the Arctic. But we don't want to rush to precipitously towards responding to Russian militarization with our own militarization, so we have to...

Michael Carpenter: This is a delicate balance that we have to play, and we have to play it together with our NATO allies and our Arctic allies like Sweden and Finland, who are not members of NATO. And so there is an Arctic Council, where we sit, where the Russians sit, where Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, Fins, sit as well…the Canadians. And it just requires a lot of investment in diplomacy.

Michael Carpenter: And so right now. For example, the United States is providing Greenland with $12 million in support to try to make an end run around Chinese investments. The Chinese are very interested in the Arctic as well, so that that's the other element to this story. It's not just Russian power, but it's potentially Chinese power in the Arctic as well.

Michael Carpenter: And so we've provided this $12 million to Greenland. But we, but the Trump administration did it bypassing the government in Copenhagen. And as you know Greenland is semi-autonomous, but it's but it's controlled by Denmark.

Michael Carpenter: And, you know, following this crazy stunt PR stunt of proposing that the US, you know, buy Greenland from Denmark. To go around the government and not fully consult with them in providing this support to Greenland. And by the way, we're also standing at the Consulate in Nuuk sometime this summer, is my understanding.

Michael Carpenter: So presumably that's been coordinated, but not being my point is not being fully on board with our allies is really hurting our ability to work carefully and strategically in the Arctic region, and do what's necessary to protect freedom of navigation, to protect our facilities, to have the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets on the ground that are necessary. But without triggering some sort of counter reaction from the Russians and without alienating our allies. But, you know, Torrey is a great expert on this, and I'd love to hear her thoughts too.

Nicholas Burns: I just wanted to say, Torrey, before you speak, I wanted to give Fran Ulmar an opportunity to come in after Torrey. Fran, Mike, you may know, is the chair of the US Arctic Research Commission. She's an Alaskan, former Lieutenant Governor of Alaska, former mayor of Juno, and she knows a lot about the Arctic. So, Torrey. Why don't you go first, and Fran. We'd love to hear from you.

Torrey Taussig: Great. Well, I will quickly cede the floor to Fran, I would love to hear what she has to say on this. But, Mike, I completely agree with you. I think this is an area where diminishing trust between the US and its allies could have strategic consequences that allow Russia and China to use the Arctic as more of a base for powerplays and competition. A relatively new Russia related question about the Arctic for me has been whether Russia will use it Arctic Sea bases as a launching point to monitor and potentially threaten undersea communications and internet cables. I think this is early on illustration of how we could see Russia use the Arctic for more maligned purposes, but with that, Fran, if you're on, and if you're on and would like to comment. It would be great to hear from you.

Frances Ulmer: So I will just say that I think both of you summarized quite nicely. What can be said in a short period of time. Except to say that I think there are still so many ways in which both the United States and the other members of the Arctic Council successfully work together through science collaboration and a whole host of other subsidiary entities. That it would be a mistake for the United States to lead with a punch and take on too many of not only our fellow countries in the Arctic, but also the observer nations.

Frances Ulmer: I think the desire by the media sometimes to pump up the problems in the Arctic really minimizes, unfortunately, the many reasons that the Arctic Council has remained strong since 1996 because there's actually more in common than there is in opposition. Now, admittedly, the buildup of military assets by Russia has precipitated an additional build up by the United States. I mean, if you look at the investment in Fairbanks, in our air power, for example, you see that there is a considerable not only awareness, but now, new commitment to try to at least be prepared in the airspace.

Frances Ulmer: The remaining lack of capacity by the United States in terms of the coastal areas, in terms of ice breakers, in terms of ports, still means that our presence there is limited and probably needs to be thought of, not just in a military or defense posture, but in a civil awareness of what the real needs are, in case of not only an oil spill or a tourism disaster or anything else. But anyway, I could go on and on. But thank you very much, Michael for your excellent presentation today.

Nicholas Burns: And Fran, thank you for being with us. We really appreciate it. You also appear to be in Widener library at least have really good wallpaper Widener library.

Nicholas Burns: Nick Hanson. And Nick is a student at Harvard Kennedy School and a real expert, former US military officer, real expert on East Asia, Nick.

Nicholas Hanson: Thank you professor and good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Dr. Carpenter, thank you for your time. I was curious if you could comment on what I think is one of the been the most unique dynamics of the past 10 years is the grown relationship or a bromance between Xi and Vladimir Putin. And if you could comment on how you think that relationship will change over the next few years, especially as President Putin has been weakened a bit domestically. And then have if there's any issues or any room that you envision for at least the Trump administration or future US administration to kind of widen what is least perceived from the outside as have a very tight relationship from this to two leaders?

Michael Carpenter: Thanks. Well, that is a great question. And that's another one that we could spend an hour or more on. So, let me give you my views, just in brief.

Michael Carpenter: There is a running commentary in the Russia and China watcher community about whether we have, we're at the floor or ceiling of Chinese-Russian cooperation, and I look at it like this: I think that's in some ways the wrong question to ask. I think over the long term, you will certainly find that there is more and more strategic competition between Russia and China. Just look at the demographics of the Russian Far East, as compared to the Chinese regions northern regions adjacent to Russia, and you see that there that there was a lot of grounds for Russian decisionmakers to fear growing Chinese influence and to try to mitigate that.

Michael Carpenter: There is also existing fear already that the Chinese are stealing Russian military intellectual property and applying it to develop their own systems, having purchased a token number of equipment from the Russians and so on and so on. And in terms of, you know, energy, there's this famous East Siberian pipeline deal where essentially the Chinese ate the Russians’ lunch. At current oil prices, that's nowhere near profitable, but even, you know, at $80 a barrel, that was not going to break even (that project for the Russians). More PR than anything else.

Michael Carpenter: So I think in the Kremlin, there are smart people. Sergei Ivanov is no longer there, but when he was a prominent advisor to Putin in the Kremlin (he's still he's still an advisor, but no longer in an official position). When Sergei Ivanov was there, I think Ivanov, and I say this simply because I had some dealings with him (there may be others too… Patrushev and some other close advisors). But he really understood the long-term strategic threat that China posed to Russia.

Michael Carpenter: But that's all in the long term, and look, Putin t is a guy who thinks in 2, 3, 4-year time increments. He doesn't really think about the long term. You know what happens after…Well, if his constitutional amendments are passed. You know what happens after 2030, 2034, 2036. So, my sense is that in the short term, there is a clear alignment of interests in defeating color revolutions, subverting Western democracy, strengthening digital authoritarianism in terms of surveillance technologies and so on, so forth. And an expanded horizon for cooperation on these things.  

Michael Carpenter: There can be a contingency that causes some sort of incident that that sours relations between China and Russia in the next five years, but I really see their relationship expanding and continuing to deepen over that time frame. I think eventually, in the longer term, by which I mean 10 years or more, there will be more friction in relationship, and but not anytime soon.

Nicholas Burns: Mike, thank you. I just, I certainly agree with you and your characterization of Sergei Ivanov. He as Defense Minister and as Chief of Staff to Putin, he was a mature, strategic voice around Putin, and it seems to be missing now. Toomas wants to come in and this point. Then we have Benjamin Schmitt, and Karl Kaiser. Toomas?

Toomas Ilves: Just a quick question because looking at the title of the talk, we haven't really talked about Europe, aside from being an object of disinformation. But I mean, there's a lot going on in Europe. I mean Macron came out with his, his kind of thing about “Forget Russia, let's make up with them and deal with China.” It met by complete but insulting silence from Germany. Clearly, the absence of any kind of consultation with allies in the so-called brain-dead NATO in Macron’s imagination did not really enthuse a lot of people.

Toomas Ilves: At the same time, there's been no reaction really from the United States at all on this turbulence regarding NATO, European relations with Russia…Just any thoughts, you might have, Mike, on this would be great.

Michael Carpenter: Yeah, thanks. President Ilves. I had originally planned to deliver a longer talk. I think we decided it was better to have a discussion than have me drone on on Zoom. Tthat's not a great recipe for success and keeping people engaged.

Michael Carpenter: My starting point for my longer talk which I have given before is that the transatlantic relationship is fraying and so many different areas. I mean, from climate to trade to democracy promotion to immigration to how you deal with Russia and China and Iran.

Michael Carpenter: Then with the next administration (unless it's a continuation of what we have now), we really have to get in the room together and talk strategically about what are our strategic goals, what are our medium range goals, and tactically, how do we go about achieving them. Because there's this huge divergence. Now, and you've mentioned, and within Europe, it's occurring to Macron and certainly wanting rapprochement with Putin

Michael Carpenter: The Italians and the Spaniards also seeing…and of course Viktor Orban in Hungary, seeing grounds for a rapprochement. And a lot of the countries that have dealt with Russian aggression in the East very reluctant to move forward in that direction. So, we really need to get together as a transatlantic community and sort of get on the same page and reestablish a strategic vision for what we want to achieve in Europe and what we want to do with regards to Russia, China, and other threats.

Michael Carpenter: My feeling is that there's sort of five core pillars that we need to talk to the Europeans about when it comes to Russia and we've commented a little bit about some of those. So I think we can probably rally most European countries around a common vision of how to enhance strategic stability that is not going to be a sellout of US interests but that will advance strategic stability in a significant and meaningful way.

Michael Carpenter: Second, we need to, I think, talk about this concept of hybrid deterrence, how you determine Russia, not just in conventional terms with you know companies potentially being deployed to the Baltic States, what we're doing in the Black Sea region, but also in terms of some of these subversive tactics.

Michael Carpenter: Third, I think we could probably coalesce, although it won't be easy, but we could probably coalesce around an agenda for enhanced resilience that reduces some of the vulnerabilities that we face to Russian, Chinese, and other outside influence. And that means things like tackling money laundering and things that we should be doing already in terms of transparency, but we're not.

Michael Carpenter: And there, there is as much room for action by the United States as by our European partners. And if we're smart about this, we can sort of push the Hungarys and the Turkeys to the side and say “you don't want to be a part of this club, fine, but we're going to create our own club where we do and anti-corruption in a meaningful way.”

Michael Carpenter: Forth, and this one is really tricky in terms of getting Europe in the US aligned. I think we have to have a much smarter cost imposition or leverage strategy with Russia focused primarily on Russia's interference in democracy both internally in West European countries and in Ukraine. And really focus all our leverage on that issue, but sharpen that leverage, crucially, and that's where getting the Italys in the Spains on boards and the Frances is going to be very tough, but I think we need to start that conversation.

Michael Carpenter: And then finally, I won't go into it in detail, but I think there's a far better way to reach out to the next generation of Russians than what we've been doing so far. And actually, your country, Estonia, has been doing a lot of very innovative programming in that regard. So is Latvia and Lithuania. I think the Balts are in the leadership in terms of how to engage with Russian civil society and next generation Russian leaders, and I think we really need to rethink that whole aspect of strategic communications.

Michael Carpenter: So those are my five pillars, but it's going to take a lot of just really tough diplomacy in the room with our European partners to get us all on the same page and acknowledge, hey, we've screwed up a lot of things too and we're willing to turn the page now and look at how we can have a proper strategy to make Europe whole, free, and at peace a realizable aim.

Nicholas Burns: Mike, thank you very much. Before we go to Benjamin Schmitt, Karl Kaiser and Amy Yee. JP Natkin informs us on the chat that the Russian Prime Minister has just been announced has tested positive for coronavirus, unfortunately. He's turned over his responsibilities to Belousov. That's just been announced in Moscow.

Nicholas Burns: Also on the chat, Alvaro, Ambassador Renedo, our friend, says that on Russian digital disruption in EU Member States, see a study by Dr. Javier Lusaka from Georgetown…George Washington University, excuse me. Solid methodology, very concerning findings of that study. So thank you all for that. Benjamin Schmitt?

Benjamin Schmitt: Thanks, Mike. It's great to see you today. I appreciate listening, and I agree with most almost everything you've argued here today, especially with respect to, you know, increasing transatlantic cooperation on anti-corruption actions to take on Russian overt and covert dark money. Because that started as a key vector of strategic corruption and elite capture over the past decade, in particular.

Benjamin Schmitt: And given that, for example, we've seen that Russia uses its energy infrastructure leverages as conduits of these trends, including in certain areas of Western Europe, as you pointed out, as well as broader dark money and maligned influence networks that have impacted both Washington and capitals across Europe. How do you think that we build on one of those pillars, you mentioned and untangle these networks that already exists to get the trends, you know, unified transatlantic action here?

Benjamin Schmitt: Do you think these existing networks will tie our hands on getting impactful action on anti-corruption, you know, combating strategic corruption? And what sort of platform, whether it be NATO or other diplomatic channels would be best us to address and unify us and European cooperation on this front?

Michael Carpenter: Yeah. Thanks, Ben, I know you've been doing a lot of thinking on this topic as well, especially on the energy side and you know a lot of this corruption and coercion that the Russians utilize in European countries is based fundamentally on the energy sector and the connections that they've established within that sector and sort of the patronage networks that flow from it.

Michael Carpenter: This is a, this is a tough one. I mean, this is going to take a lot of exposure. But it's going to have to be delicate because a lot of these patronage networks extend to the inner circles of power in many prominent European countries. I mean, look at the Savoini tapes that were revealed from, a prominent advisor to the Lega party in Italy meeting with Russian politicians in Moscow at the Metropole Hotel talking about using proceeds from energy sales to create a slush fund for the Lega party.

Michael Carpenter: You know, we just have an inkling. We just seeing the little tiny tip of the iceberg on how Russia utilizes corruption to create political influence in Europe, and I mentioned the Dutch case of Forum for Democracy. There's so many others. You know, we've seen how Russia has channeled money to a right-wing political party in Poland, which is a country where anti-Kremlin sentiment is pretty widespread, yet it happens there too.

Michael Carpenter: So exposure, however, is one of the key features of undoing these networks and revealing what is happening. I mean, look at what's happened in the wake of the Danske Bank scandal in Denmark where you had a country rated by Transparency International is one of the top most transparent countries in the world, and yet having this very nefarious, very extensive scheme, through which money was laundered from Russia through a correspondent bank in Estonia into European and American financial institutions. I think exposure has to be the first step.

Michael Carpenter: And then, you know, we just have to deal this with this in concert with our partners and allies in Europe. There's not one single playbook can be applied. I have long argued that the US needs to have an integrated task force that is chaired by someone at the NSC that looks at Russian malign influence. It can be the Senior Director for Russia and Europe, for example. It can be someone else. But, there has to be a sort of a whole of government approach that brings in the intelligence, as well as the law enforcement, and diplomatic agencies, to all speak with the same voice and communicate with their European counterparts on how to unravel these networks and take them down because this is such a huge lever for Russian influence.

Nicholas Burns: Thank you Mike. So we have 15 minutes left in this session, I want to ask Karl Kaiser and Amy Yee to both speak. I want to give Torrey a chance to come back in with her thoughts maybe to help us conclude. We also have for just a general discussion Tomas Norberg has sent a message on chat

asking, “What are the prospects for commencing confidence building measures aimed at conflict resolution in Ukraine?” So maybe, Mike, and in one of the next iterations, you might take on that question as well. But let's go to Karl Kaiser first.

Karl Kaiser: Michael, a comment and a question on the Ukraine again. You quoted Dmitriev and his appeal to the US to lower the sanctions. Apparently, Putin has made the same point, talking to Angela Merkel. And Angela Merkel in the past has been, as we all know, very crucial in holding together the European Union and maintaining the sanctions. Now, the European Union at the moment has enormous internal problems. And although Angela Merkel is anything by a lame duck these days, in fact, she's quite strong.

Karl Kaiser: I think it's going to be very difficult to maintain the unity on the sanctions, particularly given the deplorable state of relations with Washington for reasons that we know. My question is could you come back to your point that Putin wants to maintain his policy in the Ukraine? Isn't it also true that the cost of maintaining their presence increase constantly? It's not very popular in Russia. Under COVID conditions, it will be increasingly difficult to maintain it. Could you expand on that because that is very crucial for the future of that whole issue?

Michael Carpenter: Yeah, thank you. That is a great question, and I think that COVID is going to play out in a way in Russia, especially, but also in the Donbass, in a way that may change the dynamics slightly in terms of Russia's how it manages the conflict and whether it is willing to look for some sort of gradual diminishment of conflict and of tensions in the region.

Michael Carpenter: My conclusion still is, however, that Russia will keep the conflict going. I think Russia senses potentially a strategic opening with Zelensky in power. I think they've sensed that with particularly with his chief of staff Andre Yermak, they may have more influence than they've ever had in the Poroshenko administration. And I think that they sense that if Ukraine is on its heels as a result of, not just covert but the economic consequences of COVID, that Russia may be able to swoop in with some sort of an offer of a deal that will look much like the Cossack plan for Moldova back in 2003 whereby the Russian occupied parts of the Donbass become a sort of a quasi-statelette within then Ukraine with autonomy.

Michael Carpenter: That's what was proposed for the Transdniestria region of Moldova by Kozak who is now Putin's Chief Envoy on matters relating to Ukraine, so I think the Kremlin could make a play to put a peace proposal on the table. But if it's of that nature, it will fundamentally undermine Ukraine sovereignty, and I don't think it's a deal that's worth taking.

Michael Carpenter: I really don't see Putin giving up on his project of keeping influence over the government in Kiev. I think that's his chief geopolitical aim there. Look, Putin was able to spend $50 billion on the vanity project of the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. I think he's certainly going to be able to spend a lot more money on the Donbass.

Michael Carpenter: Now COVID, you know, a year from now, if we're still in a in a very dire COVID situation and there's not therapeutics, and there's not a vaccine, maybe this changes.  

Michael Carpenter: Maybe Putin gets desperate and decides that he needs to make a deal, but I just don't see that happening in the near term. I see him biting the bullet domestically in terms of the economic impact but maintaining that troop presence in eastern Ukraine. By the way, we just learned from Bellingcat this week that one of the key commanders of the Ukrainian separatists and the guy responsible for transferring all the Russian weapons into Ukraine for the separatists to use is an FSB Colonel General.

Michael Carpenter: Not surprising to anyone who follows Ukraine, but, showing just at what level they really control this conflict. So unfortunately, absent greater leverage from the US and Europe, which I don't see happening for all the reasons that you mentioned, I think the status quo is the likely scenario for the next year whereby you have prisoner exchanges periodically. There will be Normandy format meetings that take place where you know ceasefires are discussed…I've lost count of how many ceasefires have been declared, and then violated the same day that they're declared.  

Michael Carpenter: That type of diplomatic activity, I think, will continue, but I don't see any scope for a breakthrough unless Putin really feels that he's economically on the ropes. Absent that, you know, and I can't imagine on the other side, the Ukraine agreeing to, you know, to this sort of Transdniestria Kozak type proposal, that creates, that diminishes its sovereignty to such an extent that you know it's integration into your Atlantic institutions is forever in jeopardy.

Nicholas Burns: Thank you, Mike. We have a last question from Amy Yee and then Torrey, please ask you if you have any final comments and then, Mike, we’ll give you the last word.

Amy Yee: Thank you so much for this. This is very, very interesting. My question is about cyber-attacks and cyber war. And what do you think are some of the options for holding Russia accountable for acts of cyber war? We've seen how destructive, they can be, you know, and especially now in a pandemic, the implications, the risks are even higher. Let's say if you take out healthcare systems or food supply chains shipping, if you cut out electricity grids in the winter, things like that.

Amy Yee: Do you see any options for curbing these kinds of taxes holding Russia accountable? And I think there have been talks about establishing cyber norms for digital attacks. You know is that feasible at all?

Michael Carpenter: It's a great question. I'd love to get the thoughts of Toomas Ilves whose country was attacked in the largest cyber-attacks to date by Russia against another country it's come close with Ukraine in terms of targeting Ukraine's power grid. This is a very difficult issue. In the Obama administration, we spent a lot of time discussing cyber norms with the Russians, made some progress, but ultimately never had any kind of mechanism that was verifiable that would serve as a deterrent for either side, frankly.

Michael Carpenter: And so, this is tough. I think attributing as was done for example by special counsel Muller when he identified the specific GRU subunits that had hacked into US servers in 2016. I think that's important and that holding those individuals to account. But, you know, individual accountability is not going to lead to anything. There has to be much greater cost in position when there is an attributable cyber operation or attack.

Michael Carpenter: And that's tricky. I mean this quickly can lead to an escalatory spiral that nobody wants to be in where critical infrastructure is all of a sudden being held at risk and so on and so forth. It's an area that we need to continue discussing, but I think it's also one where we do have leverage, and we need to understand that, we need to communicate to Russia and other would be offensive cyber powers that anything they do in our country will be met with a very stiff response.

Michael Carpenter: And you know, I think you've seen some of that communication coming from the NSA over the course of the last year or two. Where there's already been indications that some of our cyber defense is in fact offensive in some ways. The line of course is very blurred between the two. But fundamentally, I think we just have to make it very clear that when there's an attributable cyber-attack against the United States, it will be met with the firmest of result by our leadership.

Nicholas Burns: Thank you, Mike very much. Toomas, I don't know if you want to have a last word on this subject of the 2007 denial of service attack on Estonia.

Toomas Ilves: I can say that, basically, I mean, nations have been loath to actually use same domain responses. You don't want to get into a cyber war by going it back in the same domain. But you have so many other options. I mean basically attribution can be fairly good, at which point you can just throw out a bunch of diplomats, you can do. I mean, if you have any anything left to sanction, you can do that. But I think that most Western countries are very wary of using cyber in response to cyber-attacks. That sort of in domain responses of people don't want to get into.

Nicholas Burns: Thank you. Toomas and thanks so much for being with us today. Torrey, a last word or last set of observations? Then, Mike, we’ll give you a final reflection.

Torrey Taussig: Well, first, Mike, I just want to thank you for taking the time to be with us today. I know you're incredibly busy and this has been a sweeping but also very in-depth discussion of a range of issues at hand. And we've all benefited from your expertise and your long experience on these issues. So thank you.

Torrey Taussig: I just wanted to close by bringing up an earlier point about the Russia-China relationship, but use this to illustrate a broader issue in the transatlantic relationship and transatlantic strategy. I agree with you, Mike, that this relationship between Russia and China is largely tactical. I don't see a strategic partnership blooming over the years to come. That doesn't mean we shouldn't be paying attention to joint military exercises between Russia and China and enhanced economic cooperation. Or Putin and Xi’s political relationship. But I agree it's largely tactical

Torrey Taussig: And there's been a lot of talk in the US have an acting some sort of Kissengerian triangular diplomacy to pull Russia away from China's orbit. And I think that's the wrong focus to have.  I think, first and foremost, the United States when dealing with big geopolitical challenges like Russia, like China, should be and all of the issues you brought up today. Should be first and foremost on strengthening our alliance with our European partners and strengthening partnerships between Western democracies. I'll just bring up one illustration from I think it was June 2018.

Torrey Taussig: On the one hand, you had Putin and Xi meeting ahead of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit in China. And President Xi brought Putin to a cooking class. He taught him how to make Chinese dumplings. He said that he was one of his closest and most intimate friends, and at the same time you had a really tense G-7 summit meeting where you had that now famous photo of Angela Merkel and Justin Trudeau and President Emmanuel Marcon and staring down on an obstinate President Trump. And these two illustrations kind of showed to me: Yes, you could have a closer relationship between Russia and China, and perhaps they're developing a more tactical relationship, but if we don't get our own house in order, if we don't get this alliance strengthened and under control, there's very little room to make progress on the range of issues that you've discussed today.

Torrey Taussig: So, Mike, thank you again. And I just think, I mean, you've, you've really illustrated why it's important that we focus first and foremost on strengthening this transatlantic relationship on anti-corruption, on military cooperation, on trust, to deal with issues like Russia and China.

Michael Carpenter: Thanks, Torrey, and thanks, Nick. And thanks to everyone also for joining this talk. I'm just going to end on an optimistic note, I think. Maybe for lack of a better reason, the only direction for US-European relations in the next few years is up because we really hit such a rock bottom over these last few years. And so, if you think about what we could possibly achieve in terms of…even just a short term trade deal on, for example, digital trade.

Michael Carpenter: What we could do in terms of climate cooperation, not just going back to Paris, which is vital. But building on it in a meaningful way. What we could do if we put our minds to it in terms of democracy promotion within Europe and more widely. And then in terms of dealing with the great powers (Russia, China, Iran).

Michael Carpenter: There's a lot we were in lockstep more or less. I mean, we had disagreements on some tactical issues, but we were more or less than lockstep on Iran. That's come completely undone. So I think there's a lot of scope for meaningful cooperation between the US and Europe. I think there's a yearning for that type of cooperation in various European capitals that I visited up until you know our more recent lock down here.

Michael Carpenter: And I sense that there's a lot of Americans, especially in my party who, you know, want to make good with this cooperation. So I'm very bullish actually on the transatlantic relationship as pertains to Russia, but also all these other issues.

Nicholas Burns: Mike, thank you for allowing us to end this meeting on a note of hope and optimism, you have an encyclopedic knowledge of the US-Russian relationship. Very impressive. I thought your strategic thoughts on how we need to engage protect and defend our interests if there is an opportunity to do that in the future and we applaud you for your public service as well. I'll try to return the favor by ending on a note of hope. I remember in February 2019 at the Munich Security Conference when Vice President Biden spoke to the audience, he embraced America's historic relationship with the European Union. He embraced America's historic relationship with NATO, and he said, “that America.” He said, “will be back.” And there was resounding applause I just like to say you'll appreciate this, Mike, may it be so in the future. So thank you, Mike, for being with us. Thanks, everybody, for being with us today. We can all unmute and thank Mike


For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:A New Transatlantic Strategy on Russia.” , April 30, 2020.


Nicholas Burns