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The Putin Files: Peter Baker

The Putin Files: Peter Baker


MICHAEL KIRK – Let’s start with the man
in Dresden. The Wall has come down. He’s far away from Russia, not exactly getting
to perform his dream job. He’s not James Bond; he’s not a spy. He’s something else. Who is that Vladimir Putin in Dresden? PETER BAKER – Vladimir Putin in Dresden is
actually a midlevel bureaucrat as much as anything else. I think we like to romanticize the idea of
him as this swashbuckling spy, and he probably likes to romanticize that, too. But, in fact, he was in a second-tier post
and a second-tier job at a middling career rank. [He’s] out of the country when all these big
changes are happening back home. He’s left feeling adrift. He’s not part of the movement that Gorbachev
has put in place back in the Soviet Union. He’s not witnessing some of the changes up
close. Instead, he’s seeing the unraveling of the
empire at its furthest frontier, and it’s very disconcerting to him. MICHAEL KIRK – We’ve all heard the stories. I’m not sure whether he invented the stories
or whether they actually happened, him stoking the furnace with documents and breaking it
from the heat or standing out and stopping a mob from taking over KGB headquarters. How much of that is real, and how much of
it is myth? PETER BAKER – It’s a great question. I think in some ways, it doesn’t even matter
how real it is, because the myth itself informs our understanding of his view. It informs how he sees the world, and whether
it happened precisely the way he described it or not, whether as part of his narrative
that he created for the purposes of coming to power or to justify the things he would
later do, it doesn’t really matter. It matters that he has presented this version
of reality to the world because it tells you something about his psychology; it tells you
something about his history; it tells you something about the way he sees the events
that we saw in the West in very different terms. MICHAEL KIRK – Tell us what he wants us to
know. PETER BAKER – I think what he wants us to
know is—I come back to the quote that he said once that was really so revealing, that
the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century. That’s how he saw it. We didn’t see it that way. In the United States, in the West, in Eastern
Europe, certainly, the collapse of the Soviet Empire was a cause for joy. It was the end of the Cold War. It meant hundreds of millions of people had
been liberated either because their countries were now independent, really, of the Soviet
orbit or because people in Russia and the republics themselves now suddenly had a new
chance at freedom. That’s not the way he saw it. He saw it as a collapse of empire; he saw
it as a failure of will. He saw it as a plot by the West to undermine
and defeat the Russian Empire, in effect. It was a loss of greatness that seared him,
this derjobnost, this notion that Russia is this powerful historically important player
in the world suddenly cut down at its knees by a perfidious West that was taking advantage
of its moment of weakness. They did not see this as a moment of triumph. MICHAEL KIRK – Who was the little boy Vladimir
Putin? What is the early formation? Is there a moment or two that you’ve discovered
that is revealing about him? PETER BAKER – Well, what’s interesting is
when he comes to power, he gives this series of interviews. I’m sure you’ve read them. They’ve become collected in the [book] First
Person, and he tells stories about his own upbringing that no American politician would
tell, right, because they are sort of raw, and they are at moments very human—again,
if you credit them for being real. But this notion of a young Vladimir Putin,
small, slight, not very strong, living in a pretty dingy part of St. Petersburg where
rats were in the hallways and bullies were in the streets, it’s a very memorable idea
of his origin. Again, myth and reality tend to merge, but
it does tell you something about this powerful need on his part to prove himself. He’s not a big guy, but he wants to be seen
as a big guy, and that was true as a small child in the streets, where he would take
on the biggest kid he could find and hit him in order to try to demonstrate his manhood,
if you will. It’s true today on the geopolitical stage. He takes on the biggest kid on the block,
and he punches him in the nose and sees if he can get away with it. That’s the United States. MICHAEL KIRK – Again, the myth is he tries
to sign up for the KGB when he’s 16. In fact, he signs up when he’s 23. What does the KGB give young Vladimir Putin? What does it deliver for him in that society
at that time? PETER BAKER – Well, we see in the West the
KGB as an ominous, dark force. We see it as the evil character in every Hollywood
movie. In Russia, at that time, many if not most
Russians saw the KGB as an institution of excellence, actually. It was seen as, in a way, as the Harvard of
the Soviet Union. You got into the KGB because you were the
best. They romanticized it. It was a false image, of course, but one that
was propagated by Soviet propaganda, one of which was this serial The Sword and the Shield,
which Putin as a young man recalled watching, which tells the story of this Russian agent
in Germany during World War II. It romanticizes the idea of the KGB as the
defender of Russian national identity, and he buys into it, and that’s what he wants
to do at some point in his life. It is important to understand his identity
that way. What exactly he did in the KGB is still a
matter of some debate, and we’ve never had a good, full forensic analysis of everything
he did. But just the idea of it is so important to
understand his thinking. MICHAEL KIRK – We talked to somebody who said
his dad was in the KGB and nobody ever really talked about it, but they did have a telephone
forever in their apartment. Did you ever hear this? PETER BAKER – You know, there’s always been—again,
I’ve never spent a lot of time excavating that. But you have to understand his grandfather
was a cook for Lenin, Stalin. I mean, it’s not like they didn’t have connections
growing up. So part of the narrative of the young boy
in the streets belies the connections that his family did have at some point. But I don’t know a lot of the history. We know his father was a stern, harsh figure,
and he was often seen as an important influence in young Putin’s life—unforgiving, unloving,
not particularly encouraging, and obviously some of that plays into who Vladimir Putin
grows up to become. … MICHAEL KIRK – OK, so our man returns to a
very different Russia than he left. He’s in Leningrad or St. Petersburg. How much matters about what he does working
for [Mayor Anatoly] Sobchak? Why is it in any way interesting or important,
if at all? PETER BAKER – Anatoly Sobchak, of course,
was the promise for the future. He was the new Russia, we hoped, we thought;
a reformist, a believer in new system, the mayor of St. Petersburg who was going to help
bring Russia into a new era. The idea that he would have as a deputy mayor,
his number two guy, this man Vladimir Putin, I think a lot of people assume that he must
share some of those convictions. I think that was clearly a misunderstanding. Putin was definitely in Sobchak’s inner
circle, but he did not see the world in the same way. I think we might also be misjudging Sobchak
and how much of a Westernizer and reformer he really was. But out of that comes this notion of Putin
as a loyalist, which figures later into his ascension into power. Sobchak comes under fire; he’s facing investigations,
and it’s Putin who gets him out of the country. It’s Putin who spirits him to, I think it’s
France. It’s that loyalty that later impresses Boris
Yeltsin and, importantly, people around Boris Yeltsin who worry about what comes next. When Yeltsin steps down, will the person who
succeeds him stay loyal to him, or will he face some sort of retaliatory investigation
or prosecution or what have you? So it’s that fierce devotion to Sobchak
even if their own philosophical identities might be different that becomes critical to
Putin’s rise. … MICHAEL KIRK – The [Bill] Clinton-[Boris]
Yeltsin relationship and the power of what Clinton and America wanted and what we were
doing to Russia in the ’90s, that would eventually set the stage for many things Vladimir
Putin as president doesn’t like. Set me up for that. PETER BAKER – Well, This is so critical to
understand Putin today—to understand the ’90s, understand what happened after the
end of the Soviet Union. There was this moment of obviously great optimism
in Washington on the idea that we were now going to be friends with Russia; we were going
to be partners. They were going to be part of our team, in
effect, and no one encapsulated that better than Bill Clinton, who thought he could forge
a personal relationship with Boris Yeltsin that would extend to their national interests
as well. There’s no question they had a pretty close
personal tie. If you talk to Bill Clinton even today, he
speaks about Yeltsin with great fondness and nostalgia. They were both sort of pudgy kids who were
larger than life, and they had a sort of real gregarious kind of political persona, and
they bonded in a very real way. But that only disguised the real issues that
were going on, which was that the United States and Russia still had very different national
interests in the world, and that manifested itself through things like NATO expansion,
through the war in Yugoslavia and so on. And it masked the fact that Yeltsin at home
was not the Lincoln of his country as Clinton wanted to see him. He was a much more complicated figure. He basically almost singlehandedly broke up
the Soviet Union, arguably, and he did in fact, therefore, bring a new openness and
freedom to Russia that it had never really experienced. But it was a very flawed democracy. It was a democracy that was seen by Russians
as chaotic, as corrupt, as very deeply flawed, one where friends of the president or connected
oligarchs were able to fleece the state of these massive, lucrative assets while everyday
Russians suddenly lost the social safety net that they had been used to; in some cases
lost their life savings through the economic changes that were happening around them. Politics were played out literally at gunpoint
when tanks were fired at the [Russian] White House during a fight between Yeltsin and the
parliament, and there was mafia-style hits in the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg. So this was democracy as Russians experienced
it. And, of course, they would look at that with
a great deal of jaundice. What happens under Yeltsin is that the promise
of 1991 becomes the reality of 1999, and it’s messy; it’s ugly; it’s a turnoff to many
Russians. So when we arrive there at the end of 2000,
and you ask Russians, “Well, what does democracy mean to you?,” it means dislocation; it
means chaos; it means corruption. It did not mean a shining city on the hill. So this period of Yeltsin and Clinton, as
we look back on it today as kind of a moment of great harmony between our countries, really
sets the stage for somebody like Vladimir Putin. … MICHAEL KIRK – Yeltsin had just had it. He’d lost the people; he felt he’d failed. And on that New Year’s Eve, what did he
say when he went on television? PETER BAKER – Well, Yeltsin by that point
was a broken figure. The country was not in great shape. More importantly, his image with the country
was not in great shape. He was drinking too much; he was physically
weak. And he recognized that his time had run out. To his credit, he has arguably done something
that almost no other Russian leader had done in history, which is to voluntarily give up
power. That’s an extraordinary thing. Gorbachev did, but really had no choice by
the time he surrenders at the end of 1991. Yeltsin for the first time gives up power
and sets up at least a semi-democratic process to replace him. In that process, though, he needs to protect
himself. There’s not a lot of history of former Russian
leaders living nice lives, and, given the sort of “anything goes” kind of nature of
Russian society at that time, he wanted guarantees that he—especially his family—would be
protected. That’s where Putin comes in. Putin is this functionary. He’s a nobody; he’s a bland figure. Nobody would say that he had any kind of political
constituency outside of a very small orbit. But the Yeltsin clan, his daughter and the
people around him, decide that this is someone who can be trusted to take power. They’re not looking for a democrat; they’re
not looking for somebody to really consolidate the advances that Yeltsin really had been
responsible for. They’re looking for somebody who would protect
him and them. So you have this situation where Yeltsin,
the first real democrat, small “d,” of Russia, turns over power to somebody who is
diametrically opposite him in almost every way. MICHAEL KIRK – Does he know that, or is his
hope a strategy at this moment? PETER BAKER – He clearly doesn’t fully grasp
that, because otherwise he would understand that his own legacy is in jeopardy by this
decision he’s making. I think he saw Putin as a pragmatic figure
who would probably make some compromises that Yeltsin wouldn’t make but would not radically
change the course that he had set the country on. It was a fundamental misjudgment, obviously. You could argue, basically—some people would
argue that Putin’s first months and maybe even years in office showed some promise of
that. I think that was a misjudgment even then. I’m not one of those people who believes that
Putin suddenly changed; he was this and then became that. I think he was who he is today from the beginning. There are stages where he becomes more so
or less so, and he tacks this way or that way. But who he is today was fundamentally clear
even at the time, if you chose to go and look at what he was doing and saying. MICHAEL KIRK – But he is a little bit of a
wolf in sheep’s clothing at that exact moment anyway. Even Clinton—Strobe [Talbott] told us the
story yesterday of Clinton. They visited Yeltsin a little while later,
and Clinton says to him: “You keep an eye on this guy. He’s not what he seems to be.” PETER BAKER – Exactly. Clinton is put off by Putin partly because
Putin figures Clinton’s on the way out. Remember, he takes power at the end of 1999,
beginning of 2000. Clinton’s only got a year left in power. Putin doesn’t have much time for him. This is not what Clinton was used to when
it came to Russia. He was used to having his way; he was used
to having somebody he could relate to. Putin was a cold fish, and Clinton didn’t
respond well to him. He did, in his own memoir, express optimism
that Putin would be a solid leader, a tough leader but somebody who would mostly do the
right thing, and that was a misjudgment. But I think he saw some of what was to come
and recognized that Putin was not another Boris Yeltsin. MICHAEL KIRK – For those Kremlin watchers
like yourself and others, when did it start, or what were the first signs that Vladimir
Putin was not Boris Yeltsin? PETER BAKER – I think it actually came before
he became president, even. If you look back even in the very short time
he’s prime minister under Yeltsin, he launches the Second Chechen War on pretty sketchy justification
and uses this very bloody, very harsh military operation to vault himself to power. So you could argue even before he becomes
president, basically he’s begun to show his stripes. Very soon afterward, though, from the very
beginning, he heads down this road of consolidation of power. He goes after two oligarchs that he perceived
to be threats to him, Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky. When we arrive in early 2000, end of 2000,
early 2001, he’s in the midst of this broad campaign against Gusinsky’s media outfit,
NTV, and the associated organizations with it because he needs to control power. He comes to power on the strength of controlled
television, and he understands, therefore, it’s going to be a threat to him to have television
in anybody else’s hands while he’s in power. The first thing he does is he goes after the
independent, or at least independent-minded, media organizations in Russia. I think even from the beginning, you could
see the way he really saw the world and the way he was going to proceed. MICHAEL KIRK – When he takes down the television
and replaces it, there are some shows, I gather, that really get under his skin, [like] Kukly
(Dolls). PETER BAKER – Kukly was his bête noire. He hated Kukly. Kukly was this very funny satirical show on
NTV that used puppets to represent public figures in Russia. It really isn’t any different than what most
Americans would recognize in our own late-night comedy. It satirized and ridiculed people in power,
and it satirized and ridiculed Vladimir Putin. He didn’t like that. He didn’t believe in that kind of thing, and
it really got under his skin, and I think that is one of the motivators for him for
going after NTV. … MICHAEL KIRK – … Take me to what you can
understand or what you perceive as [George W.] Bush and his White House’s perspective
on what they needed from Putin, who Putin was, and where they thought they could go
with Russia, if they cared about Russia very much at all at that time. PETER BAKER – Bush saw the big geopolitical
threat of his administration being China, so to him, Russia was important in a sense
that we needed to be friends with them. If we were going to worry about China, we
needed to be friends with Russia. It’s an old dynamic in American foreign policy. When he meets Putin for the first time in
June of 2001 in Slovenia, he’s very open to the idea of a new friendship. This, of course, is where he makes his famous
comment about looking into Vladimir Putin’s soul. … MICHAEL KIRK -As he [Putin] approaches the
United States and the new president of the United States [George W. Bush], what is he
hoping for, and what does he do to prepare to interact with the president of the United
States? PETER BAKER – Well, he’s playing a weak
hand at this point. Putin is playing a weak hand. The country is 10 years into its new experiment
and has an economy basically the size of Portugal and no hope, it seems, to restore itself. It’s laden with international debt; it has
done nothing to diversify its economy. Oil prices have not begun to shoot up as they
would later and that’s the fundamental basis of their economic program. Little structural change has been made in
things like property rights and a judicial code and the labor code. All these things are still under works. So he’s playing a weak hand, and he sees
the United States as the dominant player on the international stage, and he doesn’t like
it. He wants to be treated as an equal the way
the Soviet Union was during the Cold War. There’s this resentment, there’s this grievance
that’s sort of eating away at him, and it’s fundamental to his tenure, this sense of grievance. So what does he do? He studies George W. Bush. He spends time thinking about who this guy
is, what motivates him, what works him. This is the old KGB officer whose job it is
to basically turn people toward his interests, and he plays it that way. So when they sit down in Slovenia, he’s
well-briefed. In fact, he makes some comment about Bush
playing rugby or something like that in the old days, and Bush says, “You’re very well-briefed.” I mean, Bush recognized it as a fellow politician
when somebody’s been prepared for a meeting. But Bush then says something to Putin about
the story he had read or been told by his advisers about Putin’s cross, the cross his
mother had given him and how one time the dacha burned down, and the one thing that
was saved from the burning building was this cross that Putin’s mother had given him. Putin instantly recognizes this as his lever
in, and he tells the story with some relish and connects with Bush, who’s a very religious
Christian on this level. Now, whether Putin himself is Christian or
religious is, I think, up to debate, but he recognized as a political actor that it was
a way to make a connection to a guy for whom this would be very important. Mind you, he wasn’t wearing the cross that
he was talking about with him at that time; he didn’t have it with him. He later brings it to a different summit later
on in Genoa later in the year to show Bush. “Hey, remember that cross? Here it is.” But he didn’t have it with him at the time. It wasn’t so important to him that he kept
it with him at that moment. But he recognized the opportunity to bond
with Bush on a level that would work. And that’s when President Bush comes out afterward
and tells the press that he’s found somebody he can do business with; he’s looked into
his soul and vouches, in effect, for Putin in a way that would later come back to haunt
him. … MICHAEL KIRK – The way they tell the story,
9/11 happens, and he’s the first phone call—at least he gets to Condi Rice in making an offer
that—he knows it’s Afghanistan. I guess he figures out that’s where we’re
going to go and he makes an offer so that what? Why would he do that? PETER BAKER – Well, this is a period where
there’s a genuine moment of Russian-American rapprochement or closeness. There’s a debate even today as to whether
or not it could have led to something more had it been handled differently. Did we blow it? But basically after 9/11, Vladimir Putin seizes
an opportunity to join up with the West in what he sees as a great battle against Islamic
extremism around the world. He’s connecting it to Chechnya. He is seeing 9/11 and the World Trade Center
and Al Qaeda in the lens of his war against Chechen rebels in the southern part of Russia. Now, the difference, of course, is that the
Chechen war did not start as an Islamic jihad. It started off as a nationalist aspiration,
a territory that didn’t want to be controlled by Moscow. It only became infused by religious extremism
later when the Islamic radical world decided to adopt it as a cause celebre. But Putin wanted to link these two things. Bush is wary about that. He basically saw that as a different kettle
of fish, that what Al Qaeda had done to the United States and the threat that it posed
to Europe and its allies was different than what was happening in Chechnya, and he was
wary of getting too deep with Putin into that rat hole. In fact, there was a proposal at the time
that the United States would actually help Russia fight the war in Chechnya, and Bush
and a lot of people around him said that’s not going to happen; that’s not what we’re
going to do. But there is a moment where Putin is cooperative. He basically opens up Central Asia to American
troops to begin the war in Afghanistan. That’s not a small thing. The idea that American troops could be located
not on Russian territory but on territory that Russia considered to be part of its orbit,
the former Central Asian republics of the Soviet Union is a big deal, and it’s a deal
that Putin doesn’t find unanimity within his own circle about, either. His own security hawks were advising him against
this, and they were aghast that Putin would agree to this American presence on their own
southern flank. It goes against everything they had believed
about their own security. But, you know, Russia had been in Afghanistan. Russia knew the threat that the Taliban faced,
and it had no interest in fighting the Taliban itself, so if America wanted to go into Afghanistan
to fight the Taliban for it, that in Putin’s mind was in Russia’s interests, too. So there was this moment where interests converged
a little bit, and it was a moment of interesting promise. I was in Moscow on 9/11, and I’ll never forget
how much the Russian people really reached out to us as Americans in empathy and sympathy
and solidarity. Outside the American Embassy the next day
was this sea of flowers and crosses and icons and candles, and there were signs, and they
said things that said, “We were together at Elbe, and we’ll be together again.” It was really a moment. I was stopped in the street by Russians who
didn’t know me but obviously figured out I was American, and they pulled out pictures
of the World Trade Center and said: “I visited there. I was there. We are with you on this.” It was mind-blowing. So there was a sense that maybe Russian-American
relations would be different after this. MICHAEL KIRK – And then we pull out of the
ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty; Iraq—one thing after another in lots of ways. It results in what Steve Hadley, I think,
said, [that] we in Europe just threw Russia into the toilet or something. PETER BAKER – Well, he says that later, though. He says that in 2008 after the Georgia war,
just to be fair. But what happens is there is this implicit
expectation by Putin of a trade-off. “I’m going to help you on your war on terror. I’m allowing you into Central Asia. I’m going to allow you to train troops in
Georgia, by the way. And in return, I expect something. I expect a better trade deal. I expect you to get rid of Jackson-Vanik,”
which is this old Cold War-era trade law that just really vexed the Russians, even though
it didn’t have much tangible effect. He expected to be consulted as a partner,
as a full partner, and he didn’t get what he thought he deserved in return for his cooperation
on the war on terror. He was very disappointed and very upset about
this. I don’t think the ABM Treaty was the big thing,
but I do think the Iraq War at that point begins to consolidate this idea that we’re
on the opposite sides again. He saw the Iraq War as America’s effort to
control the Middle East, to assert itself and at Russia’s expense. He works to undercut European support for
the Iraq War. He goes to Germany and Paris and talks with
[Chancellor Gerhard] Schröder and [President Jacques] Chirac at this time and thinks he
can basically carve off America’s traditional allies using the Iraq War. That’s sort of the end of the period of
harmony and the beginning of a new period of estrangement. MICHAEL KIRK – … Somewhere in there, in
the ‘04s and the ‘05s, he’s, I guess, that paranoia which will live and vibrantly
drive everything he does, is at least under way? PETER BAKER – … Most Americans won’t remember
it, but in the end of 2003, in the tiny former Soviet republic of Georgia, there comes this
revolution against the entrenched leadership led by a dynamic, young, new, pro-Western
30-something-year-old opposition leader named Mikheil Saakashvili. This becomes known as the Rose Revolution
because he comes into parliament bearing a rose. To Putin, this is the height of CIA plot. This is American instigation. And, you know, it’s not hard to see how
he comes to that conclusion. There are American NGOs there that are trying
to teach Georgians and other former Soviet republics how to practice democracy and how
to exhibit opposition to a government if they feel that way. They didn’t create the Rose Revolution, but
they certainly helped the opposition leaders figure out how to conduct it, in effect. I was there. I remember that night in the streets, and
the Georgians were just parading down the streets and honking their horns and flying
their flags, and they had succeeded in taking over their country to restore it to a democracy
and to bring it into the West. It was exhilarating for them, and it was exhilarating,
by the way, for a lot of American policymakers in George Bush’s administration. But it was a threat to Vladimir Putin, and
he saw that there on his southern flank as an American effort to undercut him. And if it could happen there, it could happen
in Moscow. MICHAEL KIRK – Take me to the Munich speech. Seems like a really important declaration
of something, especially if you—well, take me there. PETER BAKER – Every year there’s a security
conference in Munich. It’s a gathering point for important defense
and intelligence and political figures from around the world, and here shows up Vladimir
Putin to give a speech. In his speech, he compares the United States
to the Third Reich, and it’s a real lightning blow to Washington. It’s Vladimir Putin’s declaration of independence. “I am through with your monopolization of
the international stage. You can’t just sit there and play God, telling
the rest of the world what to do in Iraq, on these color revolutions,” on everything
as he saw it, in Washington’s agenda. It comes against the backdrop of NATO expansion
further into the eastern parts of Europe. The idea that perhaps even Ukraine and Georgia
might be on a track to join, that’s unthinkable to Vladimir Putin. The Munich speech is really kind of a wakeup
call for the West. This guy is not one of us; he doesn’t want
to be one of us, and there’s a real break here to contemplate. MICHAEL KIRK – It is followed two months later
by the attack on Estonia. PETER BAKER – Yeah, the cyberattack. MICHAEL KIRK – Yeah, maybe a first early kind
of—but fairly sophisticated attack on the most cyber-connected country in that part
of the world. What’s he trying to do? PETER BAKER – I think in hindsight, we probably
should look back on Estonia as a more critical moment than we might have seen it at the time,
because it was in fact a harbinger of what was to come. You had a resurgent Russia that was determined
to assert itself on the international stage and willing to use different means to do it,
not just simply military means, of which it still had considerable resources, but was
not the giant it once was. Instead it goes after Estonia in the modern
sense. It uses Estonia’s own strength, its own
wiredness against it. It’s a way of, somewhat surreptitiously,
although everybody understood what was happening, making a point to the world: “We’re still
here, and this is our part of the world, and you’d better show us the respect we deserve.” … MICHAEL KIRK – By the end of the Bush administration,
who is Putin, and what does the White House think of him and how they’ve handled it? PETER BAKER – Bush grows progressively disillusioned
with Putin over time. The early optimism fades by the end of the
first term. He watches as Putin is throwing Mikhail Khodorkovsky,
the oil baron, into prison. He watches as Putin is more aggressive in
the former Soviet space. And he talks about this privately with people
like Tony Blair and other foreign leaders. He says to them things like: “You know,
I think we’ve lost Putin. I think he’s no longer a democrat; he’s
a czar.” And he gets into these fights with Putin behind
the scenes in their various summit meetings about the nature of democracy, and Putin is
having none of it. He doesn’t want to be lectured. He says things to Bush like, “How can you
lecture me about a free press when you fired that reporter?” And Bush is scratching his head, “Well,
what are you talking about?” Finally he realizes that Putin is referring
to Dan Rather, who gets pushed out of CBS after the fake report or the untrue report
about Bush’s military records. Putin is convinced that Bush is the one that
fired him, because that’s what would happen in Russia, and Bush has to explain to him:
“You’d better not say that out in public because people will laugh at you. I don’t fire reporters. You know, I don’t like some of them, but
I don’t get to fire them.” But Putin won’t believe that. So Bush tells Blair, and he tells some of
these other leaders, he says, “It’s like arguing with an eighth grader who doesn’t
have the facts,” and he’s frustrated with Putin. And Putin—I’m sure somebody’s told you
this story, but this is one of my favorite stories. Bush tells a story about the dog, right? Putin meets his dog, a little Scottish terrier,
Barney, and says to him, “What, that’s a dog?” And then a year later when Bush goes to visit
Putin in Russia, he brings him out to the dacha and says, “Would you like to meet
my dog?,” and Bush says, “Sure.” Then comes barreling out this sort of [dog]
Bush describes as this big, massive hellhound. Thump, thump, thump. You have this image, from Bush’s telling anyway,
of Cerberus, dripping from the fangs or whatever. And Putin says to him, “This is my dog,
bigger, stronger, faster than Barney.” It’s his moment of macho “My dog’s tougher
than your dog” one-upmanship. Bush gets that, you know. I mean, Bush is a competitive guy. He understands what Putin is about is, “I’m
a big dude, and you’d better respect me.” By the end, he hasn’t given up on Putin. He never fully gives up on him, but he’s
very disenchanted. He’s very upset about it. They have this clash in Beijing after the
Georgia war begins. He goes to him and says, “What are you doing? Why are you—” They’re both there in Beijing for the Olympics,
and Bush gets word that Russian troops are now entering Georgia. He’s sitting just a few [meters] away from
Putin, and he goes up to Putin, and he basically says, “What’s going on here?” And he says: “Well, it’s all Saakashvili. I warned you about Saakashvili. He’s a bad guy. I warned you he was hot-blooded.” So he’s blaming Georgia’s leader. And Putin says, “Well, I’m hot-blooded,
too.” And Bush says, “No, Vladimir, you’re cold-blooded.” It’s this sort of like this break. There’s nothing left to be said at this point. … Q: OK, Bush rides off into the sunset, and
the change candidate comes in as president of the United States with a Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton, and it’s right at the right time for a change in the Russian government. And they decide to call—somehow, somebody,
starts to call it the “reset.” Tell me the story of why the reset and the
reset button and the change and the new view that Obama and Clinton bring to it. PETER BAKER – You should make sure to ask
[Michael] McFaul about the origin of the reset, and particularly the button. But Barack Obama comes to power at this moment
of great tension between the United States and Russia. The Georgia war happened during the campaign. The two sides are basically not speaking at
this point. They’ve torn up a civilian nuclear cooperation
agreement. There’s this very bad blood. And as a new president coming to power, Obama
makes a decision that it’s worth it to try to start again; let’s put all this behind
us and reset the relationship. The term that he uses on television, that
Biden uses in a speech in Europe, and it becomes the term that basically defines a policy,
a “reset,” a reboot, in effect. Let’s turn the computer off and start it again
and see if we can’t get this better. He has a thought that he’ll be able to work
with Putin’s designated successor. Dmitry Medvedev, a longtime lieutenant to
Putin, had come to the presidency while Putin became prime minister. Everybody understood that Putin was still
really running things, that he was still the real puppet master. But there was a thought in the White House
that perhaps Obama can bond with Medvedev and work with him to build him up as a prominent
world leader and that that would, in fact, elevate a younger, more progressively minded
figure on the Russian stage, and it wouldn’t all be Putin. Medvedev was closer to Obama’s age. Like Obama, he was a lawyer. He was seemingly less entrenched in the old
ways than Putin. It was a gamble. It was a gamble that they could make it work,
and it was a gamble that underestimated how important Putin really was still to the system. And it overestimated their ability to influence
Russia’s internal dynamics. MICHAEL KIRK – And Putin sitting there as
prime minister really creating a fiction here, really still running it? Any back-and-forth politics between he and
Medvedev? PETER BAKER – Putin as prime minister is,
in theory, in charge of the economy, in charge of domestic affairs, while Medvedev as president
is more the international figure. To some extent, Putin gives Medvedev some
rope. He allows Medvedev to mainly handle some of
these global issues and these relationships with other countries while Putin sits back
in the prime minister’s office working on the country. But it is a short rope. I mean, Medvedev is not free to do everything
he wants, and Medvedev makes mistakes from Putin’s point of view. … MICHAEL KIRK – Let’s just back up for a minute
and start [with] Arab Spring, OK? Arab Spring comes on, the democracy movements. The very thing that we’ve already said to
each other Putin fears more than anything is the “spontaneous ejection of a despot.” [It’s] all starting to feel a little personal
to him as it gets closer and closer to move across the region, and the Obama White House,
at least in the beginning, seems to encourage and embrace the idea of these very things. And I’m sure Putin’s sitting there says, “I
wonder what role the United States is playing in all of this.” PETER BAKER – Well, that’s exactly right. Basically Obama sees the Arab Spring, the
sort of rolling revolutions, as a repeat of 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and
he wants to be on the right side of history. Vladimir Putin looks at what’s happening in
the Arab world, and he sees it as Dresden all over again. He sees it as the American meddling in other
countries’ affairs to the detriment of Mother Russia. In his mind, the Arab Spring is a symbol of
what could happen in Russia if he allows it to. So when Medvedev basically goes along with
Obama on Libya, that’s where Putin comes to the end of the line. Obama reluctantly agrees to a military campaign
in Libya to protect civilians against Muammar el-Qaddafi, who threatens to wipe them out
like cockroaches. Obama’s not that interested, frankly, in getting
involved militarily in Libya, but he’s persuaded to by Hillary Clinton and some other advisers
who say: “Look, this is important. We can’t stand by while some great slaughter
happens.” Medvedev is persuaded to abstain at the United
Nations Security Council and therefore to allow this to happen. It’s under the justification of protecting
civilians, but later on it ends up becoming, to Putin anyway, regime change, because the
same rebels who are protected by the NATO air forces end up toppling Qaddafi’s government
and eventually catching him and executing him in a very brutal way. So Putin blames Medvedev for letting this
happen, and any chances Medvedev had of continuing as president after one term, if there really
had been a chance of that, clearly were over at that point. MICHAEL KIRK – And how does Putin—there’s
a story of a great gathering at a stadium or something where people are waiting to see
will Medvedev stay or go. … PETER BAKER – Well, there had been the suspense,
and it may have been manufactured, but there was a suspense about whether or not Putin
would come back after one term. He only switched the prime ministership for
one term in order to satisfy the constitution, which, in theory, says you can’t have more
than two consecutive terms. He didn’t really want to give up power. But there were people who thought, well, maybe
he’ll use this as a way of riding off into the sunset, and he won’t actually push Medvedev
out. So there’s this party conference, the United
Russia Party, that has been a creation of Putin and his people from the beginning, and
they’re gathered in this hall and waiting for the word from the great one. And Medvedev looks distraught. He’s been told he’s out, basically, and
he has to come out and basically announce his own execution and say, in fact, it’s
better off for Russia if he were to step down and to return Vladimir Putin to the presidency. He goes along with it, because what choice
does he have? But it’s the mark of who really is in charge
of Russia that is played out in this very orchestrated and very almost Soviet kind of
way. MICHAEL KIRK – And the people hit the streets. PETER BAKER – And the people hit the streets. And to Putin, this again is proof of American
perfidy. This is the CIA stirring things up, trying
to finally have that color revolution he’s always feared in the streets of Moscow. Never mind that tens of thousands, hundreds
of thousands of Russians may have genuinely disagreed with his coming back to power, that
they may have genuinely wanted to take the country in a different way. It can’t possibly be that Russians are opposed
to him. It has to be the CIA; it has to be Obama;
it has to be Hillary Clinton. He specifically singles out Hillary Clinton,
then secretary of state, for encouraging and, in his mind, mobilizing this opposition to
him, and— MICHAEL KIRK – Why? PETER BAKER – Well, she had said something
publicly—I’ve forgotten exactly what she said—but she said something publicly basically
embracing the aspirations of everyday Russians to express themselves or something relatively
benign but typically American. But to him, that was proof that she was out
there, actually the puppet master pulling the strings. How much he really believed that, how much
of that was convenience for him to do what he would then do, is open to debate, I suppose. But there’s no question that he and Hillary
Clinton didn’t get along. He doesn’t think much of strong women leaders,
I think, to begin with. She definitely didn’t think much of him. She went along with the reset, but she was
one of the voices inside the Obama administration who were pretty skeptical of it from the beginning. She saw Putin as this kind of thuggish figure
who she would mock him for sitting in meetings with his legs spread wide and trying to dominate
the conversation, and she had seen men like that her whole life. So she didn’t think much of him, and it was
mutual. So for him, Hillary Clinton was a convenient
person to hold up as the enemy who was creating this trouble for him. It couldn’t possibly be his own people didn’t
want him; it had to be the result of the Americans. MICHAEL KIRK – When he wins re-election, and
we’ve had people say a really much firmer, much stronger, much more authoritarian Vladimir
Putin takes office in 2012. PETER BAKER – Yeah, I think that’s true, but
I think it’s of a piece. It’s not like suddenly he became authoritarian. It’s that he is in a stronger position,
and in a stronger position he decided to keep moving down the path he had been moving on
from the beginning. His economy was in better shape thanks to
oil over the past decade. You know, they cast off all the old Soviet
debt. They had gotten rid of a lot of the shackles
that they had felt on the international stage, and he was ready at this point to reassert
Russia as a global player in a way that he couldn’t do in his first term when he was
consumed with simply trying to consolidate his own power and to lift the Russian economy
up. MICHAEL KIRK – And in 2012, this longstanding
feeling of inferiority to the United States of America is ameliorated somewhat? Or how’s he feeling about that struggle? PETER BAKER – Well, I think he feels by that
point that Russia is strong enough to prove itself again, that it’s shown that it was
a big world player. He had this idea: They were going to host
the Olympics; he was going to be the maestro on the stage, dozens of world leaders coming
to him while he was showcasing Sochi, his resort city in the south. And he was ready. He was ready in his mind to take a more active
role on the world stage, feeling that he had basically shown at home that he was the person
in charge. … MICHAEL KIRK – If you don’t mind, step back
into another period [September 2004], mostly because I’m interested in what it tells us
about him, as Americans learning about him at that moment. PETER BAKER – Well, in September of 2004,
school opens all across Russia, and in a town called Beslan in the south, a group of mainly
Chechen rebels seizes the local school, and for the next three days they hold it hostage
while Vladimir Putin is left in Moscow to figure out what to do. Now, there’s been more terrorism in Russia
over the previous three or four years than anywhere in the world with the exception of
9/11. Most Americans don’t recognize that, but
he had been fighting a war on terror of his own for years, bloody, terrible incidents
in subways and hospitals and a theater in Moscow. So when the school seizure happens, it captivates
the world, and it brings home the horrific consequences of what had been happening in
Russia these previous years. All these schoolchildren are basically held
at gunpoint in an auditorium, in a gymnasium, as the government in Moscow tries to figure
out what to do. I’ll never forget being down there and watching
the terrible climax of this crisis, when the Russian troops basically fire on the school,
and parents are rushing in to the gymnasium to try to rescue their kids, and it’s just
bedlam. One hundred eighty children die, 300-and-some
total people. As a reporter who’s been to Iraq and Afghanistan
and Chechnya, it’s the worst thing I ever saw. And it traumatized a nation, as you can imagine—schoolchildren
held hostage, killed by a bloody battle between their government and terrorists. Why couldn’t they have solved it? Why couldn’t they have had a peaceful outcome? How did this happen? … MICHAEL KIRK – Is there a sort of behind-closed-doors
fight about what to do before the assault, and is Putin—? PETER BAKER – They sent a negotiator who had
worked with Chechens in the past; they didn’t get anywhere. I mean, there was no deal, and Putin didn’t
want to make a deal. You know, he’s a tough guy, stand up to
terrorists. It was a standoff to no end, you know. And these parents are just surrounding the
school for days trying to figure out what’s happening, trying to get any information they
could. And a tiny little town, everybody had a kid
in that school or knew somebody who had a kid in that school. It was just the most horrifying thing you
can imagine. And out of this tragedy Vladimir Putin sees
opportunity. He says the reason this happened is because
we showed weakness. We showed weakness, and he was not going to
allow that to happen again. He was not going to show weakness. He was going to show strength. And out of this, he decides to eliminate the
election of all governors across Russia, all 89 regions and provinces of Russia. Their governors will now be appointed by Vladimir
Putin and confirmed by local legislatures. Why? I mean, why does the governor of Irkutsk out
in Siberia need to be appointed by the president to fight terrorism in the Caucuses? He never explains. But it’s an opportunity for him to assert
more power, to assert more control. And Russians more or less go along with it. One of the newspapers that publicized contrary
information about this episode were punished. I remember there was a big debate about how
many hostages were being held inside the school, and the government basically kept trying to
downplay or even lie about how many were actually in there. At one point, you know, people would hold
up signs behind television news cameras to get out the real information that there were
like 1,200 people in that gymnasium or whatever, because the state-owned television wasn’t
telling the truth. It’s an opportunity for Putin, again, to
crack down: to crack down on the media; to crack down on independent voices; to crack
down on democracy. And it’s not the first time in history that
an autocratic leader has used a terrible event like terrorism to increase power, but this
is a classic example of it. MICHAEL KIRK – From the American perspective,
what did the Bush people think when they—about Putin? What did they learn about Putin from that
event? PETER BAKER – Well, I think by that point
they were pretty cynical about him to begin with. They saw him more and more for what he was. Beslan was the latest in a string of episodes
where Putin had basically demonstrated that he didn’t much care for Western ideas of economic
or political freedom; that for them, I think it just sort of reinforced this increasing
concern on their part that Putin was drifting toward authoritarianism and away from the
Yeltsin legacy he had inherited. … MICHAEL KIRK – … Tell us a little bit about
why he was so willing to spend $51 billion, or whatever it was, to do [the Sochi Winter
Olympics] and what had been going on the month prior to that starting in late November down
in Kiev. PETER BAKER – Well, the contrast between the
Olympics and what happened in Ukraine is just stunning, right, because for Putin, hosting
the Olympics is the crescendo of his campaign to revive Russian greatness; to show the world
that Russia was a first-rate power, that Russia was capable of hosting an Olympics, and that
it was to be respected and admired around the world. He was going to have leaders from all corners
of the globe descend on Sochi under his hospitality to watch the Olympics. And it was a big moment. He was willing to spend anything to make that
happen. Sochi was a pretty down-and-out resort town
before he started pouring tens of billions of dollars into it. But, you know, in typical Russian fashion,
people took their cut, and a lot of people got rich off of it. But it did transform Sochi into a very unlikely
setting, by the way, for these Olympics into a venue that more or less worked. There was a lot of skepticism in the weeks
leading up to it that the Russians could pull it off. But they did, and it was a pretty reasonable
show. And there was Putin grinning and prideful
and having accomplished what he wanted to accomplish. But at the very same moment of his triumph
is seeded this conflict that’s about to start that would completely unravel everything he
had just done. To the extent that he wanted to be the big
player in the world, at that very moment there was a clash starting—not really starting,
but climaxing in Ukraine that would undercut all $50 billion, basically, of free PR. Not free PR— It would basically undercut all $50 billion
of PR in effect he had just bought. For months, Ukraine had been talking with
the European Union about a trade agreement that would basically further its economic
ties with the West. This is a threat from Putin’s point of view. This is more of the same as far as he’s
concerned of the West trying to infiltrate his territory, and his mission is to stop
this, and he basically counteroffers to the government of Ukraine: He’ll give them $25
billion worth of credit if they give up the EU agreement. And they agree because it’s a pro-Russian
government in there to begin with, and Russia is—Putin is basically putting his foot down. “No, you can’t do this. You’re too central to who we are. It’s one thing to let the Balts go away; they
were never very Russian to begin with. Ukraine is at the heart of Russia’s identity. It’s the heart of Russia’s history. The idea that it’s going to drift off to
Europe while we just sit there?” Unthinkable to Putin. MICHAEL KIRK – The phone call from Ambassador
Nuland, or from Victoria Nuland, to the American ambassador in Ukraine, it is intercepted. Can you remember the meaning and the effect
of this? PETER BAKER – Yeah. You have her telling the story? MICHAEL KIRK – Yes. PETER BAKER – What’s interesting about that,
of course, is every American knows that these conversations are being intercepted. Russians are pretty good at that, and they
recognize when they’re outside of their secure environment that they’re likely to be overheard. What’s different about this is for Russia
to put it out there, for them to leak this conversation so that the world could hear. That was a little bit of a different thing
for the Americans, and that, I think, woke them up a little bit to what Russia saw in
this: The consequences were big; that they were going to play hard, and they were going
to play on multiple levels, and they were going to do what they could to undercut the
United States and Europe with at least the Russian sympathetic Ukrainian population. MICHAEL KIRK – You mean the playing back of
it out loud, I mean, it’s espionage. It’s espionage, but it’s when you reveal
the espionage— PETER BAKER – It’s when you reveal it, right. That’s not usual. I mean, they tape Americans all the time,
and Americans tape them all the time. It’s putting it out there. And that was a real shot across the bow. I think Toria Nuland took it that way; she
understood it that way. MICHAEL KIRK – It’s a new day in some way. PETER BAKER – It’s a new day, and we’re going
to play on multiple levels, you know? We’re going to use all kinds of different
tools to counter you. … MICHAEL KIRK – … The word from the people
on the ground from the United States, State Department and other places, are saying: “We’ve
got to do something about this. We’ve got to arm these people.” And a debate rages. It goes all the way up to the president of
the United States. To the extent that you know very much about
it, tell me what you know and what the sides of the debate are and what the result of the
argument is. PETER BAKER – Obama responds to Ukraine by
imposing sanctions and by working closely with the Europeans to keep a unified front. They kick Russia out of the G-8. They suspend military cooperation with the
Russian military. They suspend a bunch of different interactions. And they begin to penalize Russian businesses
and Russian individuals that they blame for being part of this. But what they will not do is send arms to
the Ukrainians, and there are people inside his administration who want to do that. People like Toria Nuland, people like others
who have been more hawkish inside the administration wanted to at least consider the idea of sending
arms to the Ukrainians that would go beyond even the defensive equipment that Obama eventually
did approve. And Obama didn’t want to do that. That wasn’t his playbook. He’s very wary, as president, of getting
the United States more involved in military ventures overseas. That’s a consequence, from his point of
view, of what happened with Bush and what he saw as happening in Libya, which to him
didn’t work out well. So his view is that sending arms to Ukrainians
isn’t going to be enough to change the dynamics on the battlefield; that the Russians are
always going to have stronger position in eastern Ukraine than the Americans will, and
therefore it would only be provocative and potentially blow the situation up even worse
than it already was. Now, the people, the advocates inside the
administration said: “You have to help these people. These people deserve to be able to defend
themselves. How can you not support a friend who’s being
attacked by an outside power? Don’t they have the right to defend themselves,
and shouldn’t we do something about that?” But Obama wouldn’t be moved. He was very strong on that. To him, the most important priority was keeping
tight with the Europeans. There couldn’t be any daylight between the
United States and Europe. While the United States could have imposed
tougher sanctions or sent arms, he didn’t want to get so far out in front of the Europeans
that anybody could exploit that difference. So in effect, it was always going to be a
kind of common denominator policy. How far were the Germans willing to go? How far were the French willing to go? That’s how far we’ll go. MICHAEL KIRK – Some of the people we talked
to say: “Yeah, but you’ve got—what are you going to do about Putin? He’s getting pretty big for his britches. Here, we really do have bully actions. Don’t you have to send a message to a guy
like that, that this is the line in the sand?” PETER BAKER – Certainly there are a lot of
people in Washington who think that you need to punch a Putin in the nose in order to get
his attention; that he’s a person who only understands strength; that he perceives weakness
on the part of the United States; that he perceives weakness on the part of President
Obama, and he’s going to continue to take advantage of that and push that as far as
he can. I think there’s no question that Putin took
his measure of Obama and decided Obama was not strong, that Obama was weak. That may not be fair, and it may not be true,
but I do think that’s what Putin saw, and that influenced his actions. That told him that he could do what he did
in eastern Ukraine. Now, I would say that you can make the argument
that while the West did not roll back the Crimea annexation, the West perhaps did succeed
in preventing Putin from going further in eastern Ukraine than he might have wanted
to go. I think Putin was surprised by the fact that
he did not actually meet with more success in eastern Ukraine than he thought he would;
that in fact he really only had enough support among the local population to take a relatively
small amount of the territory, not all of eastern Ukraine as he might have hoped for. He became blocked, in effect, from going further
but unwilling to retreat. And now he created this sort of frozen conflict
where it just kind of remains at a standstill, and he has a small slice of eastern Ukraine. And he’s done it without feeling—without
being punished, in his view. The sanctions became a mark of a badge of
honor in his way. He turned that to his advantage domestically
to say, “See, the West is out to get us.” But on the other hand, he did run up to a
limit. There was a limit to how far he could or would
go. MICHAEL KIRK – There are some people who say
this is the moment where Putin can lean back and say: “Well, I have their full attention
or almost full attention. I’m at least, if it’s not a bipolar or tripolar
world, or whatever it is, here I am. Lot of people know about Russia now that didn’t
know or think—give a hoot for Russia 17 years ago or 16 years ago. Here I am.” PETER BAKER – I think that’s what Obama’s
playing to when he says while on a trip to Europe, “Well, Russia’s just a regional
power.” He’s actually— MICHAEL KIRK – Tell me that story. Take me there for that. PETER BAKER – In the very beginning of, well
not the very—as Russia is intervening in Ukraine, President Obama goes to Europe and
meets with other European leaders. He’s asked at a press conference about what’s
going on Ukraine, and he kind of dismisses it. He kind of says—he’s not dismissing the
Russia intervention, but he’s dismissing Russia as a power. He said, “Well, it’s a regional power.” And boy, that’s just intended to drive Putin
crazy, right? It’s dismissive; it’s humiliating in some
ways to Putin, the idea that they’re just a regional power; they’re a small player
on the world stage, and Obama represents the United States. MICHAEL KIRK – It’s like his JV comment on
ISIS, right? PETER BAKER – Well, it’s interesting. So is it a miscalculation by Obama, an underestimation
of what Putin really represents, or is it an attempt to control him? Is it an attempt to apply the shiv a little
bit? But it certainly doesn’t go over well in the
Kremlin, and it’s certainly the kind of thing that Putin would get aggravated by. MICHAEL KIRK – And remember. PETER BAKER – And remember. NOTE chapter The Reset and Arab Spring: Putin
as Prime Minister // 2008-2011 MICHAEL KIRK – We had somebody, and he said
that every meeting with Putin always starts with 25 to 45 minutes of grievances. You never get a chance to get a word in, right? PETER BAKER – Exactly. Well, that was the first meeting they had,
by the way, in 2009. So in July 2009, Obama goes to Moscow, and
it’s part of the reset. They come up with some things, by the way,
that are important. There were some successes of the reset. It’s easy to forget that now. They got a nuclear arms treaty. They got the right to transit American troops
through Russian air space to Afghanistan to our bases north of Afghanistan. That’s not a small thing. They did get Russia into the WTO [World Trade
Organization], which was an attempt to bring it more into the international set of rules. So there were moments early on where the reset
did provide some successes. But this meeting in July 2009, I think, harbingers
what’s to come. President Obama makes his visit about meeting
with Medvedev because he’s the president. We’re going to talk president to president. But of course he has to also meet with Putin,
who’s the prime minister at the time. They sit down for the first time as leader
to leader to meet, and Obama makes some kind of comment to the effect of “I know you
have some concerns about the way the United States has behaved in the past,” or something
like that. And it sets Putin off. He heads off to the races, 45, 60 minutes
of complaining and grievance, and you did this, and you did that. That tells Obama everything he needs to know
about Putin. MICHAEL KIRK – And what is that? PETER BAKER – That this is somebody who is,
in his mind, locked in the past, who is nursing resentment and who is going to never be a
full partner of the United States. So Obama tries to marginalize him within Russia. It doesn’t succeed, but he understands that
Putin is never going to be a friend. MICHAEL KIRK – It’s 2016, 2015 really, into
’16. Perhaps revenge gets initiated in some small
way with [Fancy] Bear and Cozy Bear and hacking the DNC. The FBI is the first to pick it up. What is Putin doing then, do you think? Is Putin even doing it? PETER BAKER – It’s hard to imagine this is
happening without Putin knowing about it and authorizing it. I think they’re trying to stir the pot, you
know. It’s not new, but what’s new about it is
the extent of it and the means through which they’re able to use to do it. The Russians have always wanted to keep the
West off balance. This is a way of doing it in a more sophisticated,
21st-century way. We’re going to hack into your systems; we’re
going to find out your secrets; we’re going to expose them to the world. I think he’s doing it to keep the United
States off balance. I don’t think he actually necessarily thinks
he’s going to actually change the outcome of the election, but keeping the U.S. off
balance is a pretty good goal, from his point of view anyway. MICHAEL KIRK – And you get into the DNC, and
this satisfies a certain anti-Hillary motivational imperative, too. PETER BAKER – Yeah, there’s no question he’s
looking at revenge at Hillary Clinton. There’s no question that he sees Hillary Clinton
as an adversary, as somebody who if got in office would be a problem for him. And he wanted to get her back. It’s not that he believed that she actually
did have something to do with the protests in Moscow against him from a few years earlier;
this is his opportunity to take a little bit of payback. MICHAEL KIRK – … Why, from what you can
tell us, has the White House not fully engaged and bringing this either to the attention
of the American people or fighting back? PETER BAKER – Well, there are a couple of
things going on in the White House at that time. First of all, Barack Obama is leery of looking
like he’s trying to influence the election by complaining about the Russians too loudly. He thinks the election’s actually going
his way anyway, right? Hillary Clinton seems to be ahead. She seems likely to win over this guy, Donald
Trump. You know, why should they mess up things when
things are heading in the right direction? … There’s also this concern at the White
House at the time that the Russians had something bigger in mind; that it wasn’t just about
harvesting some emails and putting them out there and embarrassing candidates, but [that]
they actually had something in mind on Election Day itself; that they would try to influence
the machines, the voting process itself. They were focused on working with the states
to prevent that. That was at the top of their head. And publicizing it. They did publicize it to some extent. They would tell you they did. But they obviously didn’t make it a big issue
at the time. It didn’t take retaliatory steps until after
the election. And there was a big debate about that. There were people inside the administration,
[Secretary of State] John Kerry and others, who were pushing to say let’s get out there
and make this a bigger issue. This is an attack on our democracy. And Obama’s cautious side prevailed. He was wary of something that would be provocative
and that in his mind might boomerang. MICHAEL KIRK – And Donald Trump’s response
in the first moments when the word is out: “Hey, it seems to be Russia hacking our
election”? PETER BAKER – Right. His response is to invite them to do it more. He says, “Hey, Russia, if you’re listening,
maybe you can find those missing Hillary Clinton emails.” He doesn’t see this as a fundamental attack
by an adversary. He sees this as just part of the circus of
American democracy, a part of the circus of an election process, and he’s playing to
the circus. What his motivations are is still really the
biggest mystery, I think, of this whole affair. What he’s really thinking, how much of it
is thought through, how much of it is just gut instinct at any particular moment, it’s
hard to say. But his comments about Putin, his comments
about Russia from the beginning, are so drastically different than the bipartisan consensus in
Washington that it has invited skepticism. It has invited suspicion about what he was
thinking and why he was saying things like that. MICHAEL KIRK – From what you can tell, what
does he think of Putin? What does he say about Putin? PETER BAKER – Well, he seemed to admire Putin
as a strong figure. He even said during the campaign that Putin’s
a stronger leader than President Obama. Now, part of that’s a way of digging at Obama,
but that’s an extraordinary thing to say even against a president of another party, to hold
up a strongman, authoritarian leader of Russia as a role model over the American leader. He seems to respect Putin as a figure of—that
he sees being like him, you know, who doesn’t take guff from anybody, who is a dominant
figure, who is everything that Obama’s not. There seemed to be an affinity there. He says at various points: “Well, I don’t
know him. I don’t really have a sense of him.” They actually have met more than he had let
on or whatever. But largely, he seems to be taking on at least
the public image of Putin as one that he finds admirable. MICHAEL KIRK – And Putin’s thoughts about
Trump at that moment? Does he really think he can win? PETER BAKER – It would be easy to overestimate
Russia’s understanding of our political system, because they often have very, very distorted
view of things. But it’s hard to imagine that many people
in Moscow thought that Donald Trump was going to win since nobody else did, right? They read the same things that we read, and
they see the same polls and the same pundits. But it may not have mattered if he actually
won. Again, I think part of the goal was really
disruption, just sort of “We’re screwing with you,” rather than actually necessarily
dictating an outcome. But you can argue it didn’t work for them,
because certainly the way things have played out has not worked to Russia’s benefit. It’s become such a big issue that their
goal of getting sanctions lifted, their goal of undercutting American and European opposition
to what they’re doing in Ukraine, it’s been sabotaged to some extent by this very investigation. It’s politically impossible for Trump at
this point to lift sanctions against Russia, even if he thought it was the right thing
to do. MICHAEL KIRK – Just sort of telling the story,
Trump wins. Suddenly all of his guys, [Gen. Michael] Flynn,
even [Jared] Kushner, all through that period are having connections. Are they different than [what] happened to
any other White House? … PETER BAKER – Well, look, talking to Russia’s
ambassador is not by itself anything scandalous. That’s what ambassadors do, and we even have
a program to send ambassadors to the political conventions during election years so that
they can understand our process and so forth. What makes it odd and what’s raised so many
suspicions is the fact that there were so many of these contacts with so many different
folks around President Trump and that they were not always disclosed. You know, it wasn’t that the attorney general,
[Jeff] Sessions, met with Ambassador [Sergey] when put that was the problem; it was the
fact that he didn’t disclose it that became such an issue. What was said during these conversations is
obviously important, too. I think you saw the Obama people at the end
of their time growing increasingly alarmed at some of these contacts, not just because
they were happening, but because there was a feeling that perhaps there was deal making
going on before Trump even got into office. … MICHAEL KIRK – … It’s post-election, time
for transition, time for Kerry to talk to [Rex] Tillerson, time for the people in the
crash teams to talk to [the incoming members of the administration] and say, “Here’s
where the stove is hot,” and “Here’s where…”—and pass off all the institutional knowledge. To a person, they sit in here, from [Ambassador]
Toria [Nuland] to [John Kerry’s Chief of Staff Jon] Finer, say nobody ever came; nobody
ever talked to us; nobody wanted to know anything about this. What does that say in the general, and in
the specific, about Russia and Putin? PETER BAKER – Every new administration comes
in thinking they’re hot stuff and they don’t need to talk to the old administration because
they know better. They wouldn’t have been elected if they
weren’t so smart. But there did seem to be a sort of willful
desire on the part of this administration not to talk to the Obama people about the
very subject that was at the heart of this big controversy, which is Russia. Secretary of State Kerry did not get called
by Rex Tillerson. He didn’t talk—none of the national security
people had significant conversations with their counterparts about this as far as we
can tell. And it raises the question about why. Wouldn’t you at least want to understand
what the old people had experienced before deciding what your policy was going to be
coming in? It suggests the new administration, a, didn’t
have much respect for the old one, and b, pretty much had in mind what it was going
to do anyway and didn’t see the need for contrary advice. MICHAEL KIRK – Does it tell us anything about
how they want to approach Russia and Putin? PETER BAKER – There’s no question that President
Trump came in intending to restore relations with President Putin and Russia. There’s no question that he wanted from the
very beginning to throw out a lot of the old baggage and start over again, in effect. It’s not that different than what President
Clinton and President Bush and President Obama wanted to do, except that the context is so
different and that President Trump’s desire to do it is so maximal that he’s willing
to overlook so many things that his predecessors wouldn’t have overlooked, even in their
desire to improve relations. For instance, when Bill O’Reilly asks President
Trump, “Well, isn’t Putin a killer?,” and Trump defends him and says, you know,
“Not only is Putin OK, but hey, we’ve got nothing to talk about, too; we’re killers,
too,” that’s so far beyond what previous presidents would ever have said, even desiring
to create a new relationship with Russia. That’s why people are suspicious. Why would you go out of your way to defend
Vladimir Putin in such an expansive way, rather than say something like, “Well, look, we
don’t agree on some things, but it’s important for us to get along”? That would be the more traditional way a president,
even a new president, would take to this kind of situation. Instead, Trump was embracing him; he was praising
him; he was defending him against critics. And that’s just got Republicans and Democrats
both scratching their heads trying to figure out why. MICHAEL KIRK – Then President Obama throws
out 35 Russian bureaucrats and closes down a couple of locations where apparently spying
and other things were taking place. Michael Flynn picks up a phone and says what? What does he say to the Russian ambassador? PETER BAKER – Well, he’s talking with Sergey
Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, and they talk about sanctions. By his own account, they talk about throwing
out the diplomats and these diplomatic properties. Now, he later says, “Well, I wasn’t talking
about sanctions; I was talking about these expulsions.” OK, that’s a distinction that most people
didn’t draw. But the fact that he didn’t disclose that
that came up in the conversation right at the same time that the Obama administration
was taking the action, that led to a lot of suspicion and concern, because what was he
doing at that point interacting with the Russians at the same time the existing administration
was penalizing it? It seemed designed to undercut it. It seemed designed to signal to the Russians
that, “Don’t worry; we’re going to be in office in a few weeks; everything will
be OK.” In fact, Vladimir Putin chooses not to retaliate
for the expelled Russian diplomats or the closing down of these properties a day or
two later, which surprises everybody. That’s almost unheard of, clearly in his mind
an expression of confidence that the next administration will make things better. … MICHAEL KIRK – This is the summary question. We’ve built this character, Vladimir Putin. What does he want? Why did he do this? PETER BAKER – I think it comes back to where
we started, you know. He picked the biggest kid on the block; he
punched him in the nose to show that he can. And I think that he continues to want to punch
us. I think he wants to show again Russian greatness. He wants to show again Russian importance. And you know what? In some ways, he’s succeeded. He is, in fact, a player on the world stage. He hasn’t succeeded in the sense that Russia
is genuinely a strong, prosperous member of the international community, which is what
everybody had hoped for at the end of the Cold War, but he has succeeded in the sense
that nobody can ignore him. And if you ask people around the world to
name five world leaders, they’ll all know Trump’s name, and they’ll all know Putin’s
name. I think that he’s shown that you can’t basically
ignore Vladimir Putin. … JIM GILMORE – Let’s talk a little bit about
Ukraine. Why was it so important? What did it mean to Putin to lose Ukraine? … PETER BAKER – Ukraine is part of Russia, as
far as Putin is concerned. It’s in fact inimitable to the Russian identity
of itself as a great empire. The idea that Ukraine was a separate country
is always anathema to nationalists like Putin, so the idea that it would be part of the West
was just too far removed. It’s one thing for the Baltics to go that
way. They hated that, but they were never genuinely
part of Russia as it saw itself. Ukraine is part and parcel of the Russian
identity, in their view. They never considered it a legitimately separate
country to begin with. JIM GILMORE – … When he took Crimea, … when
there was little response to that, did it embolden him? Did it allow him to move into Donbas and to
move into other parts of Ukraine? PETER BAKER – I do think once he had Crimea
so easily in his hands, it did embolden him. It did suggest to him that he could, in fact,
snatch whole sections of eastern Ukraine. It was always the fear, Ukrainians of the
west, that the country could be split apart. The Russian influence in the eastern part
of Ukraine has been strong traditionally. [There are] more Russian speakers there than
any other part of the country. There was the idea, I think, in the Kremlin,
that of course eastern Ukraine would want to be part of Russia, or at least under Russia’s
umbrella. I think he ran into much more resistance than
he expected. It actually turned out to be a gamble that
was wrong, because in fact, when the Russians went into eastern Ukraine, they encountered
a much different resistance than they had expected. If you look at the map today, the part of
eastern Ukraine that they do exercise influence over, that did, in fact, go over to Russia
in a sense, is much smaller than I think most people would have expected at that time. JIM GILMORE – The tactics used when he goes
into eastern Ukraine, he uses some of the same tactics. Maybe you can clear this up for us. Is the use of “little green men” in eastern
Ukraine correct, or is that actually incorrect? PETER BAKER – It’s a phrase really thought
of more for Crimea. In eastern Ukraine, what they do is they set
up a proxy army, in effect, of Russians or Russian speakers who are doing the fighting
for them. Russian soldiers are there, some of them on
leave or on vacation as they say, but it’s not the same sort of special commando kind
of operation that they pull off in Crimea. JIM GILMORE – … What was the reaction of
the White House to what was going on? How were they, to some extent, stymied by
the tactics used by Putin? PETER BAKER – Tell me where you’re talking
about exactly. JIM GILMORE – We’re talking about during
Crimea, the time of Crimea, what is taking place in Crimea. PETER BAKER – The White House is basically
flummoxed. They had the first territorial land grab in
Europe since World War II by a big power. I think it stunned them. It left them off guard. I think that while it had always been on everybody’s
list of terrible things that could happen, it really wasn’t something they had imagined
really would. They were left trying to figure out what could
they do. Obviously, there was not going to be a military
intervention. This is not a situation where the United States
was going to fly in the 82nd Airborne, but it couldn’t stand quietly while a sovereign
country was almost essentially invaded by its neighbor. Obama turned to Europe and said: “OK, this
is your neighborhood. What are we going to do about this?” That was the crux of his strategy going forward,
is it had to be locked arm in arm with Europe every step of the way. He wasn’t going to get further in front
of them, and he didn’t want them to get further in front of him. JIM GILMORE – But here’s Putin, the leader
of Russia, is basically lying to him, and he knows he’s lying to him. But how does one deal with that? PETER BAKER – I think he’s gotten used to
the idea that Putin is not a truth teller. He’s gotten used to the idea that Putin’s
version of reality is not the same that anybody in the West would have. So it’s not a surprise that Putin is lying,
but it does make it more complicated, obviously, because you have to therefore establish on
the ground facts that everybody else might understand, but Russia, in its disinformation,
is trying to deny. There becomes this game of showing satellite
photos and trying to reveal some of the intelligence that the American agencies had without disclosing
sources and methods that might be compromising, because the world is going to doubt American
assertions if they’re not backed up. That is part of the challenge for Obama going
in, is how to simply establish the facts on the ground. We don’t have an embassy in Crimea. We don’t have American presence in Crimea
of a substantial sort. There isn’t a battery of television cameras
pointed at men with uniforms that say Russia on it. The success of the Russian operation was to
at least give a plausible deniability that lasts only a couple weeks, frankly, but enough
for them to take control and to establish new facts on the ground, and then to basically
say to the rest of the world, “Fine, deal with it.” JIM GILMORE – The March 18 speech by Putin— PETER BAKER – It’s the annexation speech? MICHAEL KIRK – Yeah, and how he basically
goes after the West. What does it show in Putin at that point? Very emboldened by the situation? What message do we take from that? PETER BAKER – … It shows an emboldened Putin,
but it also shows an aggrieved Putin. This is Putin at his most resentful, playing
into his longstanding sense that the West has taken Russia for a ride, that the West
has exploited Russian weakness, and they weren’t going to stand for it anymore. He goes through this long litany of complaints
and examples where he thinks the West has done Russia wrong, and this is payback. We’re not putting up with it anymore. This is Russia standing up for itself. You can’t push us around anymore. JIM GILMORE – One last thing about Ukraine
is the MH17 [Malaysia Airlines] flight. Just describe the tactics used, the use of
fake news, how it worked, and how it uses the tactics that he’s been honing for quite
a while—denial, fake news— … and how it in some ways foreshadows what is to come
in the United States. PETER BAKER – … The shoot-down of the plane
showed how Russia plays the game on a global level. They sow doubt. They sow disinformation in the broader information
stream so that there’s just enough for people to hang onto who don’t want to believe the
West. He offers other explanations that may seem
fanciful and far-fetched, ludicrous, really, to anybody in Washington or London or Berlin,
but it’s just enough for people who don’t support the governments in those countries
to say: “Well, maybe Russia is really being unfairly accused here. Maybe it’s really something else.” It’s full of conspiracy, and it’s full
of paranoia. It’s full of Hollywood-level nonsensical
narratives. “Aha, the Ukrainians are shooting down their
own people in order to frame us.” The real question is, how much does Putin
understand that this is nonsense? How much does he believe it? There’s always been this question on the part
of American policymakers and presidents who have dealt with Putin how much he really understands
that the stuff he spews is not related to facts and how much he actually is buying it
himself. In Russia, there are enough conspiracies,
there are enough shadowy explanations for strange events, that he sees things through
that lens. It is possible he sees, Putin, dark shadows
everywhere, because that’s the world he lives in, and he assumes that the rest of
the world lives there and practices the same way he and his people do. JIM GILMORE – Of course he’s a KGB guy as
well. PETER BAKER – He’s a KGB guy, and he sees
everything through that lens. Everything is part of somebody’s agenda,
somebody’s subterranean operation, somebody’s three-part bank shot to make us look bad. Sometimes you actually think he believes it. JIM GILMORE – … So how does this foreshadow
what’s to come? We would never expect this kind of tactic
being used against us. But lo and behold… PETER BAKER – This is something that they
fine-tuned in Ukraine and then take it on the road when the United States has its election
in 2016. It uses all the tools at the Kremlin’s disposal:
the state-sponsored television that it beams into the West, the proxy groups, the Web trolls
and Twitter trolls, the cutouts and surrogates. They use all these tools in order to sow dissension,
to sow disruption, to sow doubt in the American election system. It’s not clear that Russians initially thought
they were going to necessarily change the outcome, But what they wanted to do, at the
very least, was disrupt our democracy. JIM GILMORE – So the election hack, let’s
do the elections. … How much of this was an intelligence failure? How much of it was a disbelief that the Russians
would be doing this or that maybe it was some espionage, but everybody does that? Just tell us—define those early days leading
up to the DNC. What was going on? PETER BAKER – That’s a good question. Clearly, in the early days and months, when
American intelligence agencies are beginning to pick up on clues and signs, there is not
the sense of urgency or the sense of alarm that would later come to flavor this particular
issue. I think that they didn’t know 100 percent
what they were dealing with. They didn’t have a full explanation early
on of the extent of what Russia was trying to do, the purpose of what Russia was doing. And, you know, there’s a lot going on at this
time, in terms of both the government and in terms of the campaign. You’re a campaign official, and you’re worried
about a million things. Do you have enough money to put on television
ads in Michigan, and what’s happening with your opponent in Florida, and so forth. Clearly, people did not take this seriously
enough early on, didn’t have either enough information or didn’t have enough cognizance
of the extent of what Russia was trying to do. JIM GILMORE – But eventually it becomes clear
that what Putin is doing here is weaponizing the information that’s already been hacked. … PETER BAKER – Russians have been spying on
Americans and American political figures for decades, and vice versa. What they decided to do here was weaponize
the information to make it part of the campaign, not just simply a monitoring effort by the
Russians, but a concerted and willful effort to impact Americans’ view of their own system,
to throw off the politicians, and to confuse and alienate the voters. That’s different. That’s different than what we’ve seen
in the past. JIM GILMORE – … The reaction that Trump
had toward Putin throughout the campaign was supportive, was talking about how strong a
leader he is, and never deriding him, it seems, in any way. How strange was that? What were the motivations behind it? And [tell me about] how it leads, to some
extent, to the fact that people considered that there must be some conspiracy going on,
because it just seems so unnatural for an American leader to be acting this way. PETER BAKER – It was mystifying to listen
to Donald Trump talk about Vladimir Putin. It wasn’t just that he was saying that America
needs better relations with Russia. That’s something that many politicians might
agree with. He was personally invested in the idea of
Putin as a friend. He said, “Maybe he’ll be my BFF. Maybe—,” and praising him to the point
where he would even defend Putin against anybody who said any negative things about him. When interviewers would say he was a killer,
it was Trump leaping to his defense, saying: “Well, we all do that. Isn’t that pretty normal for international
leaders?” No American politician in modern times—no
major American politician hoping to win the White House, anyway—would embrace a person
like Vladimir Putin so aggressively and so unreservedly. Even George W. Bush wanted to see into his
soul and wanted to make friends with Vladimir Putin, but he was pretty realistic about who
Putin was. He publicly said that “We have concerns
and complaints about Russia, what Russia is doing, and this is not something we approve
of” the entire time. Barack Obama has the reset. He wanted to start a new relationship with
Russia, but he didn’t go out there and praise Putin in some fulsome way. That’s why people were confused. They didn’t understand why would somebody
running for a major political office in America choose to embrace somebody like Vladimir Putin,
and not only choose to embrace it, but see it as a political winner? The American system is automatically set up
to reward politicians for being tough on Russia, not for being soft on Russia. He was flying against every precept of normal
campaigning. No matter how many times people tried to invite
him to offer more measured appraisal of Putin, he declined. He stepped away from it. That’s what caused people to wonder. People were scratching their heads. Maybe there’s something behind this. Maybe this is not just a guy having a judgment
about another leader, but there’s something we don’t understand. JIM GILMORE – … What’s your take, overall,
about the collusion question? Is this a case of the willingness among the
campaign folks to play ball with the Russians? Is this more of the Russians using the Trump
folks as unwilling dupes, but willing to go a certain distance down this road? PETER BAKER – That’s the mystery, right,
is that the innocent explanation is that the Trump people were naive and didn’t understand
what they were doing. They were being either duped by the Russians
or they just didn’t understand what was proper and what was normal or how it might
look to the American public. Remember, of course, the president and the
people around him were not very experienced in national politics or international affairs. The explanation on the part of their defenders
today is: “Well, they were just doing what they thought was OK. They didn’t realize that this might cause
the big stink that it later became.” The more nefarious explanation, of course,
is what Robert Mueller and the congressional committees are looking at. Is there something there? Is there some sort of cooperation? Is there some sort of a clandestine alliance? Are there financial ties? Why would a president of the United States
or a person who wants to be president of the United States seem so wrapped up in working
tightly with an adversary, a country that we have been sanctioning and isolating for
the last several years? JIM GILMORE – … [Real estate developer]
Felix Sater’s attempt to get the Trump Tower [in Moscow] job done, the fact that it is
now obvious that this was happening during the campaign, that a letter of intent was
signed by Donald Trump while he was running for the presidency, why is that story important? Why is it relevant? What does it say? PETER BAKER – The story about the effort to
put a Trump Tower in Moscow is important, in large part because President Trump has
done so much to try to say, “I have nothing to do with business in Russia.” His wording is sometimes careful, and it sometimes
allows for the idea that this might have happened. In other words, he hasn’t 100 percent ruled
out that he sought to do business there. Every interview, every press conference, he
has addressed this, he has tried to give the idea that “I had nothing to do with Moscow. I had nothing to do with business in Russia,
and anybody who’s trying to suggest otherwise is politically motivated.” Well, we now learn that, in fact, a person
representing him was dealing with the Russians, was at least trying to have a big business
project there, as he’s running for president of the United States, something he did not
disclose, something he did not say, “Yeah, I tried to do it, but it didn’t work out.” That would be one thing. He didn’t say that. He didn’t volunteer that. When you learn about these things after the
fact, given all the smoke and given all the suspicion, it only adds to that concern. Why didn’t he tell us about it if in fact
it didn’t mean anything? If in fact it’s not relevant, why was he
hiding it? JIM GILMORE – The June 9 meeting at Trump
Tower with [Jared] Kushner and Don[ald Trump] Jr. [Paul] Manafort, what does that show? And with the Russians, what does that show? Some people will look at it now and say there
was a willingness to accept the help. What is the definition of “collusion”
here? This one seemed pretty suspect. PETER BAKER – The emails are very clear. There’s nothing ambiguous about this. The emails say, “We would like to come in
to give you incriminating information about your opponent, provided by the Russian government,
which is supporting Mr. Trump’s campaign.” It’s there in black and white. That may not be what was discussed at the
meeting. We don’t know. They have denied it. But that was what was setup as the meeting. That was the predicate for the meeting. That was the understanding that Donald Jr.
had when he accepted this meeting, which was that he was going to get, on behalf of his
father, information provided by the Russians, as part of a Russian government effort to
help Donald Trump become president. JIM GILMORE – So what’s the problem? Everybody does that. All campaigns do that. PETER BAKER – Well, they say everybody does
that, but, in fact, I can’t think of anybody who’s done that, not with an adversarial
foreign government. It’s one thing to say, “OK, a Democrat
is going to walk into my office and tell me something negative about a Democrat.” That’s an American-and-American thing. This is a foreign government that we are at
odds with, that we have sanctioned repeatedly in the last several years, purporting to come
in and offer information to tilt an election campaign. It’s not something everybody does, and it’s
not something that happens every day. … JIM GILMORE – And the fact that Manafort and
Kushner were in that meeting? PETER BAKER – The fact that Manafort and Kushner
are in that meeting means it’s not just the son. Manafort is the campaign chairman; Kushner
is a de facto campaign manager. They may not have thought the meeting was
worth very much. We don’t know for a fact that they read
to the end of the emails. But it’s pretty extraordinary to take a
meeting at that level, at the very moment that their candidate is wrapping up the Republican
nomination and preparing for a general election campaign, to take any meeting with a stranger
without knowing what it was about, without having some sense of what you’re going to
get from it. Jared Kushner may be new at politics, and
Donald Trump Jr. may be new at politics. Paul Manafort is not new at politics. He’s been doing this for 40 years. He understands both American politics and
what the Russians and the Ukrainians were up to. For him to take a meeting with a Russian with
this understanding can’t be marked up to naivete. That’s somebody who’s been involved in
politics at a high level since the ’70s. JIM GILMORE – But Trump says he knew nothing
of it. PETER BAKER – Trump says he knew nothing about
it. But what’s interesting is I asked him about
this during an interview. We did an interview with Trump in July of
this year, after the emails came out. I asked him about this three times. I said, “This email says that the meeting
was set up as part of an effort by the Russian government to help you.” “Well, I didn’t know about the meeting,”
he says.” “OK, you didn’t know about it then. You know about it now. You’ve read that email now. What does that say to you? What does that tell you about what Russia
was up to? Does that cause you any concern?” “Well, I didn’t need any negative information
from the Russians,” he said. His answer was basically: “I already had
more than enough negative information about Hillary Clinton. They couldn’t tell me anything that I wasn’t
saying about her already. Maybe if they had told me that she had shot
somebody in the back, that would have helped me. But otherwise I didn’t need their help,”
which of course doesn’t really answer the question, which is, “Does it disturb you
that the Russians were avowedly trying to help your campaign, and that your campaign
would take a meeting with somebody advertising that as its purpose?” He didn’t answer that. JIM GILMORE – What does it say about him that
that doesn’t seem to matter? PETER BAKER – For him, all of these questions
about Russia are an attack on his legitimacy. If we ask questions about what Russia was
up to during last year’s election, it’s a way of saying, in his mind, that he shouldn’t
have won—didn’t win outright, and it’s questioning his legitimacy as president. You can ask questions about the Russia interference
in last year’s election without presuming that it would actually change the outcome
or that it has anything to do with whether Donald Trump should have been or was correctly
elected president. You could be concerned about Russia interference
and our democracy simply because that’s something by itself, regardless of the outcome,
that should concern us. That’s what we hear a lot from many Republicans
as well as Democrats. But for Trump, it’s an attack. It’s an attack on his legitimacy. He doesn’t entertain questions about it
because he sees it as trumped-up, if you will, Democratic whining about an election they
shouldn’t have lost. JIM GILMORE – Another event, the Dec. 1, 2016,
meeting. Kushner, Flynn meet with Kislyak at Trump
Tower. There’s discussion about working with them
on foreign affairs and Syria and such and a Russian back channel. They want to set up a back-channel way to
discuss with the Russians these foreign affair issues while they’re in transition, without
the NSA, without the Americans listening in. Why is this a disturbing story? What does it say? What does it mean? Why did it get them in trouble? Why didn’t they understand? PETER BAKER – It’s not especially surprising
that a new team coming in would talk to foreign ambassadors. That’s what ambassadors do. What’s surprising about it is this idea of
a back channel. Back channels are not new. But this idea that we’re having a back channel
that we are trying to specifically set up to avoid American agencies knowing what we’re
doing, that’s what sounded off alarm bells for many people in Washington. What Jared Kushner was talking about doing
was actually coming to the Russian Embassy and using their equipment to talk to Moscow. That’s pretty unheard of. A back channel is not unheard of, but using
the Russian equipment to avoid detection by American agencies speaks to, at the very least,
their own sense of suspicion and paranoia, perhaps, about being monitored, about being
under surveillance, and suggests, of course, that there are things that they want to talk
about that they don’t want anybody else to talk about. Diplomacy is full of secrets and full of clandestine
conversations. But these guys are not yet president of the
United States; they’re not yet in office. Usually these things wait until you get into
office. Usually there is a process under which this
happens that does not seem intended to shut out agencies of the American government. … JIM GILMORE – The signals being sent to Putin
and the Kremlin by all these things— PETER BAKER – Well— JIM GILMORE – —and how it can be used in
their benefit, or how the Americans can possibly be more easily manipulated? I mean, how do you think the Russians or how
do you think Putin is viewing this? PETER BAKER – I think Putin is looking at
a new group of people coming in who aren’t very experienced, who aren’t very seasoned,
who he might be able to take advantage of. Putin is a master manipulator, and he’s
a master at trying to take advantage of opportunities in front of him. Here he finds a group of people who haven’t
been on the world stage before and who seem willing to play ball as he defines the rules. This looks like a win for him. This looks like a bonanza for him. Maybe he can get out from under these sanctions. Maybe he can split Europe and the United States
away from each other, drive a wedge among the Western allies and get out from under
this quasi-blockade, in effect, that the Western world has set up. JIM GILMORE – The last one of the collusion
questions is, Kushner later meets with [Sergey] Gorkov, the head of the Russian bank, and
they talk about, supposedly, U.S. sanctions. … What’s your take on that meeting? Why is it relevant? Or isn’t it relevant? What does it say again about the way this
White House or to-be White House is doing business? PETER BAKER – I think meeting with this banker
is so much more interesting and important than meeting with the ambassador. The ambassador is paid to meet with American
officials, even people who are on the way in. But the banker like this is under sanctions. It’s illegal for Americans to do business
with this bank, somebody [who] is designated by the Treasury Department as an agent of
the Russian government and subject to penalty under law for doing business with. To then have a meeting with somebody like
this, with no obvious purpose, raises a lot of red flags. What was that about? Why was this happening? What’s going on here? At the very least, it seems unusual and raises
questions. At the worst, it suggests some sort of deal
making about sanctions after they take office. In fact, when President Trump takes office,
there is an initial flurry about whether to go ahead and lift some of these sanctions
that President Obama had imposed on Russia. In fact, there is talk day in and day out
in the first few days that they’re going to happen any day now. It’s basically stopped by Congress, which
says, “Whoa, wait a second.” Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader
of the Senate, says, “If they lift sanctions, I’m going to let a bill go to the floor that
will impose sanctions legislatively over the president’s objections.” That stops the White House, at least temporarily. JIM GILMORE – What’s the attitude of the Russians
toward the fact that when Trump wins, they basically have this guy who’s basically
talking about them wanting to get rid of sanctions? … Number one, what is that view? And number two is, how does that segue, when
they start understanding that here is a president who is basically handcuffed because of the
blowback from all these stories hitting, the reality of what Russia did during the election,
and that Congress is very paranoid that this president might in fact give away the house
here, and in fact comes down so hard on the sanctions? PETER BAKER – You could argue that Putin overplayed
his hand here. If the goal was to get an American administration
that was friendlier to the Kremlin, that was willing to work with Russia on issues around
the world, or let up the pressure on Ukraine to take off the sanctions, then it’s been
a complete and abject failure, because the exact opposite has happened. The political environment in Washington is
so toxic right now toward Russia, is so poisoned by this investigation, that even Trump himself,
President Trump himself, said, “I’m not going to be able to get anything done with
Russia because everybody will see it as a political payout of some sort.” It had the opposite effect of what Putin presumably
wanted. Not only are sanctions not being lifted, they’ve
now been put into law by Congress, over the objection of the president of the United States,
with veto-proof majorities. Those sanctions aren’t coming off any time
soon now. It’s almost impossible for this president
to strike up a friendlier relationship, even if it makes sense on policy level, because
it will be seen in the context of this investigation. Now you have this tit-for-tat retaliation. The Russians ordered the United States to
get rid of 750 members of the staff in Russia; the United States responded by ordering the
closure of the consulate in San Francisco and a commensurate reduction of staff here. It’s now become even worse than it was before
the election. JIM GILMORE – So the stance toward Russia
now by this Trump administration is what? PETER BAKER – … It’s still a very confused
policy, because the administration took what other administrations might have done in terms
of responding to the Russian diplomatic expulsion by saying: “Fine. We will meet your action with our action. We closed the consulate in San Francisco;
we closed three other diplomatic annexes.” But you didn’t hear President Trump talk
about that. President Trump didn’t come out and say,
“The Russians have done us wrong by taking these actions, and I’m going to respond in
kind.” Instead, the only time he’s commented on
this was, he was asked during his vacation in Bedminster, N.J., about the Russian expulsions. He said: “I’m glad they did it, because
then we don’t have to have as many staff there. We’re cutting our payroll and saving us
money.” He can’t bring himself to say a single critical
word about President Putin. Again, this is what raises alarms and questions. Why is it that he can’t simply say what every
other American politician would say, which is that this is a provocative act by the Russians
and we don’t approve of it? … JIM GILMORE – Let’s finish up a couple things
on the Obama White House. Obama goes to Putin, who again rejects any
involvement in the election whatsoever. And again—so he’s met with these denials. How does that affect him? … And the bigger question is, why does it
seem that the White House, the Obama White House, was so reluctant to make a move before
the election? Even after the election, it took two months
before these toothless sanctions came out on Dec. 29. PETER BAKER – I think leading up to the election,
there’s a big debate inside the Obama administration: What kind of actions should they take? How public should they be about raising the
alarm? At least through a series of sort of half
measures and half reactions. There was a statement put out on Oct. 7 by
the leaders of the Intelligence Community saying, “We think the Russians are trying
to interfere.” It gets not buried, but it gets overwhelmed
by the news later in the day of the Access Hollywood tape coming out about President
Trump, or then-candidate Trump and his approach to women. Inside the administration there are people
who want to be more aggressive, who want to be more outspoken about what Russia is doing. Then there’s the essential caution of President
Obama. A couple of reasons. One, his candidate is winning. Hillary Clinton is ahead in the polls. Why do something to mess up that? The fear is that, if they go out there and
say, “The Russians are trying to tilt the election,” that Donald Trump, as a candidate,
would say, “Aha, they’re trying to rig the election for Hillary Clinton,” because remember,
he’s already started to talk about this idea that the election might be rigged, so
the Obama people don’t want to play into that argument. The other thing is, they’re worried, at this
point, about Russian hacking of election equipment. They’re worried about the 50 states having
their voter machines screwed around with. They’re focused on working with the states
to make sure that doesn’t happen. The other thing is, they can’t get any buy-in
from congressional Republicans. They go to Mitch McConnell. They go to the Hill, and they say, “Let’s
come out together with a statement of concern.” The Republicans don’t want anything to do
with this. Obama backs off rather than actually saying,
“Fine, we’ll do it ourselves.” There are a lot of people around President
Obama who think that was a mistake, who think that they should have been more assertive
and that they lost an opportunity to alert the country to what was happening. JIM GILMORE – There are suppositions and more
and more news coming out about the election hacking into the states and that it seems
to be more important than maybe the press understood. In China, when Obama talks to Putin, the thing
that he’s focused on is hacking into the electoral process, the actual vote tallies
and such. … PETER BAKER – We don’t have any evidence
that I’m aware of publicly right now that they succeeded at invading these state computers
with any impact, but that was clearly a big concern at the time. The Obama administration was trying to work
with the 50 states on that. What they got was some pushback. The states are very protective of their own
sovereignty, of their own control over election equipment. They didn’t want the Feds coming in and
telling them what to do and seeming to take control. Remember, again, Donald Trump was talking
about a rigged election. That would play into that. So it was a sensitive issue, a politically
dynamic issue, but one that was a big, big concern at the time, and maybe something that
will continue to turn up new information that we don’t know about. Obviously, hacking emails can have an impact,
but a much bigger, much bigger worry is if they can actually mess around with voter registration
rolls and change the very basis on which we have our elections. JIM GILMORE – One last thing on this and then
we’ll move forward into the end stuff. The eventual sanctions in Hawaii: The president
comes out, and he defines the sanctions that are being brought. A lot of people look back at this point and
sort of say, basically, pretty toothless. … PETER BAKER – President Obama is on the way
out. He’s only got a few weeks left in office. He knows that anything he does can be reversed
the second he’s gone. He’s trying to find what he thinks is the
right response. One is to say, “Look, we know what you did,
and we’re not going to sit by without taking action about it.” The flipside is, if he goes too far, in the
view of some, he might then provoke a reaction by President-elect Trump. So he chooses a moderate, measured response
in closing these two diplomatic facilities and kicking out 35 diplomats. It’s meant to send a message. It’s not meant to hurt Russia; it’s meant
to send a message: “We know what you did. We’re not going to put up with it.” What he hopes is that President-elect Trump
will stand by that and agree to it. In fact, Vladimir Putin doesn’t retaliate,
because he assumed President-elect Trump is going to reverse it the next day. So [Obama] actually doesn’t get the support
from his successor that he had hoped for, and he isn’t leaving office without having
really done something significant about this, to the regret and the chagrin of many of the
people around him. JIM GILMORE – A missed opportunity. PETER BAKER – A missed opportunity, and the
last opportunity, they felt, to really stand up to the Russians and say: “We caught you. Don’t do this. You can’t do this without facing a punishment
of some sort.” The punishment wasn’t, in the view of some,
commensurate to the crime. JIM GILMORE – … The DNI report comes out
on Jan. 6 or Jan. 5. On Jan. 6, the intelligence leaders [John]
Brennan and [James] Comey and [James] Clapper go to Trump Tower. They brief the incoming president about what
goes on. He then has a press conference a few days
later, where he reluctantly admits that the Russians were possibly, probably involved,
but then backtracks on that in later days, in many situations. … PETER BAKER – Up until this point, President
Trump, or President-elect Trump, has been saying, “We don’t know if the Russians
did it.” He’s been throwing doubt on the intelligence. He’s been deflecting attention. Maybe it was a 400-pound guy in a basement
or the Chinese or who knows? Intelligence guys come in. The agency directors come in. They present their evidence to him. They say, “This is why we think, unanimously,
that the Russians did this.” There is no dissent about this within the
Intelligence Community. Not every intelligence agency looked at it,
but those who looked at it all agree, this is an open-and-shut case. At that point, the president-elect can’t come
out and then directly refute the people who have just told him this, so he says, grudgingly:
“It looks like Russia did it. I accept that that’s what happened.” But he doesn’t stick to it. It’s just not a conclusion that will actually
shape his thinking, because pretty soon afterward, he gets back to his: “Well, they probably
did it. Maybe they didn’t do it. Somebody else could have done it. Remember, these are the guys who got the Iraq
intelligence wrong on the weapons of mass destruction,” etc., casting doubt, clouding
the issue, and never fully accepting what is the conclusion of the intelligence agency. By not accepting that conclusion, he doesn’t
accept the need to do something about it. If we don’t really know for a fact that
Russia did it, then he doesn’t have to respond. That leads to a policy in which Russia doesn’t
pay another price by this president for what it did last year. JIM GILMORE – … The Russian story will not
go away. It frustrates Trump tremendously. Talk a little bit about the fact that it would
never go away, how it affected Trump, and how it affected his agenda, how important
it has been. PETER BAKER – This is a story that won’t go
away. It eats away at Trump. He watches TV; he sees it in the paper; he
hears people talk about it; and it just gnaws at him. He’ll bring it up himself in circumstances
where he doesn’t have to, because it sticks in his craw. It is an attack on his legitimacy, as he sees
it. It is an excuse by Democrats for the fact
that they lost. And everything in his mind is an attack on
him. So he attacks back. That’s his nature. If he feels attacked, he attacks back. Of course he then, in some ways, makes it
worse by a, keeping the issue in front of the public and on days it might not have ever
been discussed; and b, escalating it and alienating people who are actually investigating what’s
going on. Cardinal rule of thumb in Washington: If you’re
under investigation, you don’t tick off the people who are investigating you. You don’t question their motives unless
you’re planning to go on all-out war, like the Clintons did during the impeachment. President Trump, it just consumes him. This is something he just can’t stop talking
about, stop thinking about. Every morning he brings it up; he talks about
it with aides. He brings it up in interviews, even when he’s
not asked about it at times. It feels manifestly unfair to him. It feels like a concerted effort by the people
of Washington to reject his presidency, to hobble him from day one. He’s bristling and responding in kind. JIM GILMORE – And how does it lead to Comey’s
firing? … PETER BAKER – … This is the thing. His frustration makes the situation worse
for him. He thinks James Comey, the FBI director, should
have his back. He thinks Jeff Sessions, the attorney general,
should have his back. When they don’t, when they act in correspondence
to their view of the duties of their jobs, he lashes out. He says: “Jim Comey should have told the
public that I the president am not under investigation. Why won’t he do that? He must not be doing that because he’s against
me. He’s out of here. I’m firing him.” Well, that only adds to his trouble, because
now suddenly there’s this question of whether that act by itself constitutes obstruction
of justice. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t, but that
issue didn’t even exist before he fired James Comey. Now it does. … He does the same thing with Jeff Sessions. He comes out publicly and says, “Jeff Sessions
should not have recused himself from managing this investigation,” meaning he wanted his
attorney general to protect him from this investigation. Jeff Sessions, understanding that he had a
conflict of interest, had recused himself and said: “I can’t be the person to monitor
this. It’s not politically correct. I should have somebody who’s not part of
President Trump’s political circle manage this.” That’s the way things work in Washington. That’s not the way President Trump sees
things working. By attacking Jeff Sessions, he then alienates
the Senate Republicans, who are his [Sessions’] old colleagues. They stand up to him and say, “No, you cannot
fire the attorney general, because if you fire him, we’re not going to confirm a successor.” They basically put an end to that. But his frustration is mounting, and it’s
adding to his problems rather than making them go away. JIM GILMORE – And take us to the day after,
May 10. He fires Comey. The meeting at the White House. Take us to that moment. PETER BAKER – … You couldn’t script this
to be any stranger. The day after he fires the FBI director, who’s
leading an investigation into Russian meddling in the election, who does the president meet
with? He meets with the Russian ambassador, who’s
been part of this investigation in the first place, and the foreign minister. We know, now, from reporting by our paper
and others, that they talked about this. They talked about firing the FBI director. President Trump told the Russians that firing
James Comey would take some of the pressure off and make it easier for them to have a
relationship. As if that weren’t strange enough, the same
day he ends up meeting with Henry Kissinger in his office, which just seems to reinforce
the whole Nixon comparisons that are already happening, because he’s now fired the FBI
director. As a matter of optics, if nothing else, it
only feeds the fury; it feeds the fire; it feeds the suspicions. Rather than making his problems go away, he
compounds them. JIM GILMORE – And a misunderstanding by the
president that, in fact, that this would take the pressure off. PETER BAKER – It’s hard to know whether
he really believed this, but he said he thought Democrats would be happy that he had fired
James Comey because they were so mad at the FBI director for his handling of the investigation
into Hillary Clinton’s emails from the previous year. It’s true. The Democrats did not like James Comey. They thought he mishandled that investigation. They didn’t like the way he had performed
the year before. But that didn’t mean that they were willing
to have the President of the United States fire him at the same time he was leading an
investigation into the Russian interference, and then openly admit that the Russian investigation
was on his mind when he decided to fire him. JIM GILMORE – That moment when [Foreign Minister
Sergey] Lavrov was walking into the meeting and the press asked him about the firing was
odd. [What’s] your perspective on that? PETER BAKER – Lavrov is a quirky fellow. He plays with the reporters: “Oh, I didn’t
know that…” It’s—he’s teasing. You know, he’s having fun. He’s at the same time stoking the fire a
little bit. It’s not to Trump’s benefit, but they’re
enjoying the discomfort in the American system. They’re enjoying the fact that the Americans
are at each other’s throat over this issue, and he’s having fun with it. … JIM GILMORE – … In the end, what does Putin
get out of all this? PETER BAKER – If you think that Putin had
two goals here, he succeeded in one and failed in the other. The first is to create dissension, to create
doubt, to disrupt the American democratic system, to make people wonder whether it really
worked to have people at each other’s throats. In that he succeeded. But if the second goal was to put an administration
in power in Washington that would lift the sanctions, that would stand by Russia rather
than against Russia, that would ease the pressure that they had been feeling economically, internationally,
diplomatically, then they failed; then Putin failed, because, in fact, it’s had the opposite
effect. It’s now toxic in Washington. It’s impossible for any political figure
in Washington to genuinely change the relationship with Russia for the better at the moment,
because it would be seen in the context of this investigation. On the one hand, disruption, yes. On the other hand, a new relationship, no. JIM GILMORE – … How has it increased his
power and his ability to control things back in Russia? PETER BAKER – It’s put Russia back on the
world stage. It’s made Russia a player. You cannot ignore Russia. That’s the thing that Putin hates the most. You can’t just disregard what Russia thinks. Well, what are we doing here? We’re talking about Russia. We’re talking about Russia a lot. That to him is a win. It also allows him domestically to point to
outside enemies. If the economy isn’t doing well, it’s not
because President Putin has done something wrong policy-wise; it’s because: “the
rest of the world is out to get us. The rest of the world is lined up against
us in an anti-Russian alliance. We have to stand together as Russians.” That, heading into the next election for President
Putin, is a pretty important dynamic. Now, he’s not likely to lose any election
under any circumstance. But he really does want to have the support
of the Russian people. Ginning up anti-American fervor, anti-Western
fervor, is part of that. JIM GILMORE – He fears those folks out on
the street. I mean, elections might not matter, but those
people in the streets could bring him down as they brought down dictator—tyrant after
tyrant. PETER BAKER – He hates people in the streets,
absolutely. He looks around him, and he sees these color
revolutions in Ukraine, in Georgia, in Kyrgyzstan, in Serbia. He sees elections in which longtime entrenched
leaders were taken down by popular demonstrations, fomented in his view, by the Americans. He does not look at the Russian intervention
in last year’s election as an opening gun. He looks at it as a retaliation for what we,
the Americans, have done in his backyard, and even in Moscow, in his view, over the
years. We interfered in his country; he’ll interfere
in ours. That’s the way he sees these things. So for him, this battle with the West, this
battle with the United States is part and parcel of his appeal to his own public. JIM GILMORE – All politics is domestic politics. PETER BAKER – All politics is domestic politics,
yeah. JIM GILMORE – And in a way, for him, how important
is that aspect of all this? PETER BAKER – It’s important to remember,
always, that, while he’s not a democratic leader in the traditional sense, he does want
to keep control of a country where anything can happen. When he took over, Russia felt like it was
falling apart. To him, it felt like there was chaos; there
was lack of order. What he has spent these last 17 years trying
to do is re-establish order, re-establish control, re-establish a system that marches
to his tune. And last thing he wants to see is that fall
apart. JIM GILMORE – Great. And we’re heading— PETER BAKER – I mean, the risk for any Russian
leader—you have very few examples in Russia’s history of leaders who leave office voluntarily
and have a good life afterward. So he has to think about the rest of his life. The people around him are worried about what
they have. If for some reason they were ever to lose
power, the threat, the damage, the danger to them is very tangible, very real. Keeping control in Russia is imperative.


Reader Comments

  1. I have the advantage of not knowing much about Putin until i began hearing speeches at the UN and recent speeches at international meets. Putin knows fully how treacherous the west is. US never keeps its promises and never obeys the laws. This is enough for me to see where he will go next.

  2. So who will punish the US for the crimes committed in Iraq? This guy talking is fundamentally dishonest and that is the problem with America; the inability to truly examine its own brutal actions. Deep down he is a MAGA sympathiser. I have also noticed people are now using the word ‘optics’ considerably as a replacement to or to dumb down the reality which is ‘corruption’.

  3. the sound on all these putin files is bad I can not hear the guy who is asking the question
    did anyone else have the same problem ?

  4. Peter Baker on 17:04:  Bill Clinton was not used to someone like Putin. Bill Clinton was used to having his way….

    How telling about what happened when Yeltsin was president, and what the US did during that period.  Peter Baker is such a hack, probably a product of the McCarthy era.

  5. PUTIN'S MISSION TO BRING ABOUT HIS RUSSIA DEEP FROM UNDER THE RUBBLE CAUSED BY THE FAILED IDEOLOGY CONTINUES TO BE ENHANCED BY TRUMP AGAINST HIS OWN COUNTRY AND ITS INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY. THE LAWS THAT PROHIBITS US PRESIDENTS FROM POTENTIAL CRIMINAL INDICTMENT HAS TO BE REMOVED FROM THE BOOKS TO PREVENT OTHERS LIKE TRUMP IN UNDERMINING OUR VALUES, OUR CONSTITUTION AND THE TYPE OF DEMOCRACY AS WE KNOW IN HIS EFFORT TO SAVE HIS OWN ASS BASED ON WHATEVER MATERIAL THAT PUTIN HAS ON HIM THAT MAY BRING DOWN HIS ADMINISTRATION THOUGH MORE TO PROMOTE RUSSIA.

  6. Which video tells us about how Hillary hired all the Russian spies, to interfere with our election, through Fusion GPS?.. And certainly, regarding this commentator, certainly not everybody was happy about how patrimony of Russian people got stolen by handful of "oligarchs." Indeed it was probably greatest theft in human history. And naturally everyone should jump for joy every time one of thieves got their justice, as long as it was legal, given gravity of their crimes. Bottom line is commentator is Clinton-licker. Since obviously thieves should not get to keep money, as Hillary and McCain argued and argued on and on, for their patrons

  7. Just another guys opinion about Putin, I get people in this country led by Hillary Clinton now have a bad opinion of Russia and Putin. Well I have watched the man speak many times and you can tell he puts Russia first. He's brought the standard of living up, and made Russia a world force again. I say good for him. He annexed Crimea to become part of Russia again. Crimea voted overwhelmingly to be part of Russia. I bet if we could get some western MSM over there they would find out they weren't coerced to do it and are happier now than before the annexation. MSM doesn't do it though because they don't want people to know that. How about the Ukraine they have become a third world country since America helped them overthrow the government. Nope no MSM there either. I think if America ever had a president like Putin he would be ranked as one of the best ever. It's a pity people have to watch second hand propaganda pieces like this when they can just as easily watch the man on You tube and judge for themselves.

  8. A bunch of horseshit. Dressing the facts to go along with US proved intervention and expansion using NGOs, and justifying the criminal actions of their trained "freedom fighters", blaming the Russians of the death of children, this is why 95% of the Russian people don't believe the US

  9. Peter Baker: You start the interview with your first response a trite dismissal of Putin as a "mediocre 2nd tier bureaucrat". This is just as foolish as dismissing Trump as an ignorant bufoon. Both of these men are brilliant in equally sick ways, and both are equally dangerous to the world. I'm not interested in anything else you have to say.

  10. I wonder how many tRump worshippers have ever seen a news show like this one. I wonder how many "rock robbed republicans ' would voluntarily watch something like this? This is a very well done, very impartial, and obviously fact checked, and factual video, supported by first person observations by someone who was there, and who has observed russia in an objective way.
    And if they did watch, would they dismiss it out of hand as "fake news" – my fear, is that as well done and informative as it is, you are informing the informed, and preaching to the choir.

    That said, my compliments to PBS, for producing, once again, an absolutely excellent piece of reporting, and disseminating information in an engaging way. Thank You.

  11. It's disingenuous to suggest that the US has never engaged in any subversive activity in Russia or the rest of the world. The US has done enough political and economic interference to trump (no pun intended) every other global power. It's also naive to believe that Putin is acting out only out of resentment and bitterness.

  12. Russians can not help,gravitating toward dictatorial, autocratic rule. They ultimately have no trust in the people or representative government. I am in St. Petersburg now, and for the average Russian autocratic rule is stability. And that’s all they want. The opposition wants something very different.

  13. Funny now Dresden is now the heart of German nationalist activism and support today. Many of those same people who were demonstrating in 1989 are Demonstrating today with signs calling for “Putin save us from Merkel”! Ultimate irony lol

  14. 84 thumbs down have been given to this excellent, very well informed presentation… I can't believe these are Americans… Russian trolls at work?

  15. Imagine When Trump got into the White House, and Putin finally realizes that Trump can't fire the media. This must have really confused him.

  16. Trump is a Gangster, and he respects Putin, because Putin is the most successful gangster in the world. He wants to be just like him.

  17. USA puts its nose in places where it has no business at all. Under the name of patrotism, they think they are the most advanced breed of human kind 😂 Well, China is no1 and Russia is close, this attitude will change in the following decade

  18. ALL YOU BASTARDS WHO DOWNVOTED THIS EXCELLENT AND INFORMATIVE VIDEO ARE PAID RUSSIAN TROLLS. @YOUTUBE NEEDS TO CAREFULLY EXAMINE POST/LIKE/COMMENT PATTERNS OF ALL THOSE WHO DISLIKED THIS EXPOSÉ SERIES ON PUTIN.

  19. None of the accusations are illegal. But we found plenty of collusion corruption and money laundering by the democrats and media for Hillarys campaign.

  20. We live in the United States of the Kremlin under Trump. Vlad Vlad is calling all the shots and he couldn't be more satisfied with what he has accomplished.
    The question is , can we, as a republic, survive until we rid ourselves of this treasonous, criminal, orange menace to our nation.

  21. If there were any doubt, it is now known what Trump was up to in inviting Russia to publish emails. His sidekick Roger the Dodger may flip despite his protestations. Prior knowledge no longer in doubt.

  22. Having others dissect and disseminate a narrative is what this conversation is about and the paradox of the diatribe is lost somewhere.

  23. Plot twist- Little does this guy know that in Jan 2019 Russian sanctions have been lifted by Trump. So According to his two goals of Putin, he has succeeded in both

  24. The first 5 minutes of this interview makes me realize that Trump is definitely Putin's puppet. Everything going on now in USA is revenge for the fall of USSR. There's too much coincidence in the recent chain of events to say that there isn't. USA has lost almost all potential allies and friends thanks to Trump (and V. Putin)… We're isolated, confused and at war (civil and international) (cold and maybe hot). Now we have Venezuela aka "Cuban missile crisis 2.0".

  25. Putin will get everything he wants from Trump, but by 2022 it will be clear that wanting and having are two different things. Putin's reactionary non strategic ambitions will be his undoing.

  26. When Putin's pick for SOS Tillerson couldn't get sanctions lifted the bloom was off the rose. The whole reason for backing Trump was a bust. Now come the consequences.

  27. Propaganda ! That’s the key to Putin’s power and trump – they manipulate the truth to gain followers but it’s all lies !!

  28. No one owns Trump you idiots. Stop going into conspiracy theories every single presidency. If you think the Russians influenced the elections then you believe that Russia made a half a million people vote for Donald Trump. Vladmir Putin is not an amazing person, but Russia isn't going to get better by treating them like we have been North Korea. Negative reinforcement doesn't work every single time.

  29. Oh, Wow, You see Trumps tactics being played out patterned after Putin’s. Republicans are you listening. You’re playing with Fire here.

  30. I've come realize that this is the only way to keep up on all of what went on. All the contributors to the 'Putin Files' have kept the setup and moving pieces in mind. Trying to read timelines and outlines doesn't stick as much for me. Thank you 'Frontline', as soon as I can PBS will be getting a check. MM

  31. I don't know why Peter Baker doesn't consider the fact that Trump is actually not a politician, or hasn't been before presidential campaign. Thats why mainstream media who like to control hates him, because Trump doesn't follow the rules of a politician who actions are dictated by popularity and votes. Trump thinks outside the box and trusts his experiences in business rather than winning a popularity contest.

  32. Ksenobite you’re the one that doesn’t understand anything that’s outside your brainwashing by Fox News and Rush Limbaugh

  33. more propaganda… russia spent 100k on disinformation in 2016 some for Trump some against, some for HRC some against. Trump spent 800 million and HRC spent 1.2 billion in the same election. If you believe the Russians got trump elected with 100k they are either the greatest media manipulators of all time or what the Russians did , didn't matter.
    the reason the U.S. gives the russians the time of day is because it spends money for the military industrial complex and it makes for good political theater. Otherwise the russians are a ridiculously small players on the world stage.

  34. Sneeze saw Russian goals are to undermine democracy in the west, so far they’re succeeding. Don’t kid yourself Putin isn’t going anywhere. Get educated

  35. Cynthia hill, don’t kid yourself. Russia has a agenda to destroy democracy in the west and they are succeeding. I’m 80 and I don’t give a rat ass for me. When you live in a dictatorship without the freedom you once enjoyed, I won’t be here.

  36. If you want to find out about Russian collusion google the meeting that the president had with Putin in Helsinki. After the meeting the press asked Putin interfered with the election election. In his response he said Hillary Clinton received four hundred million from Russian business men for her campaign. That money was never declared to the finance committee. The press scrambled to put the focus on the president being too chummy with Putin.

  37. What now sheep? Your all wrong. You've always been wrong so destroy your pary even further and pick the next lie fake news shit to pander to all the other sheep. Thanks for the laughs! !

  38. Yeltsin screwed Gorbachev and then got his comeuppance. Gorbachev was the father of Russian freedom. Yeltsin's greed led to the country's downfall.

  39. Dumbo Bush thought talking to Putin was like arguing with an 8th grader. Dumbo may just be the dumbest US president in HISTORY

  40. This is why Putin wants revenge on the USA and trump is a sign of weakness to Putin to take advantage of this makes trump a national security threat or risk the trade war and China's view of trump's military presence in the China sea is a threat to them another national security threat or risk of trump the relationship between trump Kushner and Saudi Arabia in the want to sell of nuclear program material and weapons sells another national security threat or risk the destroying of the Iran nuclear deal is another national security threat or risk trump trying to make a deal with north Korea is dealing with an evil regime another national security threat or risk all these are reason for trump being a threat to America and a dangerous destructive national security liability that must be stopped he's burnt bridges with all our allies and the United nations a security risk

  41. This is so NOT biased. BUSH WAS A HUGE CHRISTIAN, CAN'T TELL IF PUTIN REALLY WAS! What a pain and what a waste of two hours of my life. I hope for your company's bankruptcy

  42. He is seeking revenge, and he getting it. Dumpster is has his asset, he owes Putin trillions. He is right now threatening the US! right now! You don't have to physco analyze him you need to get your shit together.

  43. End the electoral college system that gave us Putin's puppets Trump and Pence. Elect future Presidents by direct popular vote.

  44. Lenin exiled the intelligentsia in 1922 known as the Janus Year . Andrew
    Sinyavsky writes " A reversal in the Soviet Union, the cooks began to
    run the state ,while abroad in exile, the intellectuals became the cooks.
    Perhaps Lenin mocked this guy declaring " The principles of
    Marxism are so inevitable that a cook could govern the nation "
    A prophecy fullfilled with Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin ….

  45. Why have interviews with different Washington insiders on this subject? They are all reading from the same script.

  46. 25:00: Baker tries to separate the Islamic fundamentalist problem Russia was having in Chechnia from that of the US based on the fact that Chechnia was opposed to Russian occupation. But Osama bin Laden was well known to despise the American presence in Arab countries. So the US and Russia did, in fact, face very similar situations.

  47. Baker's first comment is extremely off the mark in its underestimation of the importance of Dresden, which was arguably the major cultural center of East Germany. It's true that Dresden is very different than Berlin, but it is by no means inconsequential, and Putin would have had a lot to do in the capital of Saxony, a city where a marvelous court heritage had just been brutally destroyed in World War II, leaving a ground zero of trauma and intrigue. By the late 1980s the city had already recovered some of its former cultural magnificence (Baker seems inclined to judge Dresden by Wall Street-type, economically reductivist standards, which misleads an uneducated New York-based readership). The Zwinger had reopened already in the early 1960s, and the reconstructed Semper Oper was finally finished in 1985. Today Germany remains probably Russia's most important relationship, and beyond that, Putin would have gained real sophistication about European culture in Dresden — which counts for more than the American bourgeoisie will ever understand.

  48. Before anything bad saying about Putin they have to cut the video.. nice job. Let him say what he is trying to say. Don’t force him.

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