#17 - JRL 8383 - JRL Home
PRESS CONFERENCE WITH NIKOLAI ZLOBIN, DIRECTOR OF RUSSIAN AND ASIAN PROGRAMS OF THE CENTER FOR DEFENSE INFORMATION
[INDEPENDENT PRESS CENTER, 14:13, SEPTEMBER 23, 2004]
SOURCE: FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE (http://www.fednews.ru/)
Moderator: Dear colleagues, good day and welcome to the Independent Press Center. And I am delighted to welcome Nikolai Vasilyevich Zlobin, director of the Russian and Asian Programs of the Center for Defense Information of the United States. He lives in Washington although he is Russian and he speaks Russian. The topic of the press conference is "The US and Russia after Beslan and on the Eve of the US Presidential Election".
Zlobin: Thank you. Thank you all for coming. I will make a short introduction and try to enumerate point by point the fundamental things and then I am sure we will go into questions and answers and I'll try to answer them to the best of my ability.
I will start with the most fundamental things that have not changed after Beslan, namely, that Russian-American relations continue to remain, in my view, very hollow, very decorative. And most importantly in all these years we have failed to lay any solid foundations for these relations and the agenda of Russian-American relations continues to be highly traditional, very hollow. If you look at the agenda of any negotiations between, say, Putin and Bush, you will notice that it is reminiscent of what was discussed by Nixon and Brezhnev, for example, in their time.
The three main areas are international security, non- proliferation of nuclear weapons and a possible energy dialogue. The whole agenda has been revolving around these three issues for a quarter of a century. And I must say that neither the collapse of communism, the Soviet Union, the Eastern Bloc nor the changes in world politics have brought any change to the agenda of Russian- American relations. I believe that this is the main problem that faces our countries strategically.
I must say that the Beslan tragedy has made a very powerful impression on the American establishment and the American public, as you surely know. I can think of very few instances of such a powerful and emotional coverage that was given to the Beslan tragedy. In my opinion, which is not exactly shared in Russia, and I am talking about the American media, the media have done a good job of covering the events.
And they covered not only the hostages part, but wrote a series of articles and reportage on the state of Russian security services, the state of the Russian special forces, medical care and how children were distributed between hospitals. A lot of materials covered the families of the victims. In short, I think that the Americans got a fairly accurate picture of what was taking place and how the situation in Russia developed at all levels, from the district hospital to the corridors of power. And I think this can be regarded as a successful example of media coverage.
The second thing I wanted to say. Everybody has noted that for the first time President Bush was sharply critical of the actions of President Putin. In the context when there is no strong foundation for relations, when the relations are empty and strategically unclear, the relations between the two presidents unexpectedly came to provide the main substance of these relations. Everybody is watching how the two men communicate with each other.
And in this context the fact that the President has made critical remarks is a serious sign. It means that President Bush has joined the overwhelming majority of the American establishment which has for some time now regarded Russia and the Kremlin policy rather critically and skeptically.
As you know, the White House and President Bush personally were the biggest restraining factors of this criticism. And the level in the State Department, in the Senate and in the media and in the foreign policy community and the expert community was much higher. But this obstruction on the part of the White House was difficult to overcome. And it has to be admitted that Russia's critics have now successfully overcome that barrier. President Bush has joined the chorus of critical voices and, knowing his political style, he spoke in very tough language. And in many ways the criticism was connected not so much with a change of President Bush's position as with the change of campaign strategy.
On the issue of Russia and the attitude to reforms and political processes in Russia, President Bush had been isolated to a large extent from much of his own establishment, from much of his own Republican elite, from much of the expert community. He acted as a loner or a member of a very small group of people who shared his point of view. I think it proved to be a fairly dangerous position and he returned to the fold of those critics who are highly skeptical of what is taking place in Russia.
The third point that I will mention briefly and there is a link there with my first point: one has the impression that the relations between the United States and Russia increasingly are relations over third countries, not about Russia and the US, but about something else. In this connection, the main substance of these relations is the relations over third countries. I think that in the next few years the relations will increasingly focus not on bilateral relations but on some place else. It may be Ukraine or Georgia or Moldavia, it may be Central Asia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan. One can mention some other regions where we need to coordinate our interests.
And this brings us to the problem that everybody knows well. Coordinating the interests is a difficult process because there is no geopolitical mechanism for agreeing the interests between the two nuclear powers, Russia and the United States. And I think we will witness what will hopefully be soft conflicts in third countries, in the regions where there is no coordination of interests and no mechanism for such coordination.
Fourthly, I think it has to be recognized that cooperation in the fight against terrorism as it was projected only recently, has not got off the ground for a variety of reasons. Today, Russia is obviously a weak link in the general front of the fight against terror and this cannot but worry the West and Washington. The thinking is obvious. No one wants to see Russia as a perpetually weak link. That weak link must be dramatically strengthened.
So, attention to what Russia is going to do in order to strengthen its capacity and guarantee security not only to its own citizens, but also the security of the borders of -- call it European or American -- civilization, I think in that sense the argument that this is our internal affair advanced by the Russian Foreign Minister is unacceptable to the other countries that are members of the counter-terrorist coalition. So, the fact that Russia is committed to strengthening its section of the front, so to speak, is not, according to Washington, an internal business of Russia. Nobody wants to be reached via Russia. And I think a more serious coordination of political positions is needed.
What has been proposed has been perceived by many as an open attempt to take advantage of this horrible terrorist act in order to advance internal political goals. One has the impression that some fake targets have been put up and many in Washington have serious doubts that it has anything to do with the fight against terrorism as understood in the West.
I think in the wake of the events in Beslan the Washington establishment is increasingly worried about how accurately the Russian authorities know what is happening in their own country, how much they are in control of the situation, and how adequately they assess information. This prompts a number of questions to politicians and experts in the West. The key question is a traditional question, but today it takes on added urgency and that is the chances of terrorists gaining access to Russian nuclear facilities or staging a terrorist act at some nuclear facility in Russia, for example a nuclear power plant.
The assurances of Russian politicians to the effect that this is impossible do not reassure the West. Witness the events in Beslan and what a surprise it was. And not only Beslan, but the whole series of recent terrorist acts.
Washington takes much more seriously today the possibility of a large-scale ethnic conflict in the Caucasus. It is not about Chechnya or not even the status of Chechnya. The issue of the legitimacy of power in the Caucasus is very acute and whether legitimacy will be increased or diminished by the reforms proposed. A government that is less legitimate, and this is the view held by Washington and indeed it is just a normal view, will be less effective in fighting terrorism.
And another thing that has been given thought only recently is that if Chechnya and the North Caucasus are turning into a zone of international terrorism, and by the way, there is a body of opinion in Washington which is not shared universally but is gathering momentum, that Northern Caucasus may become a much more serious front in the fight against international terrorism than Afghanistan and Iraq today. The problems there are much more serious and potentially much more difficult to bring under control.
Of late there has been growing anxiety in the political establishment and among experts that if today Russia is targeted by terrorist, where is the guarantee that tomorrow its territory will not be used as a bridgehead for striking on other countries. If there are terrorist camps in Chechnya and in the North Caucasus, if there are zones that the government does not control and facilities for training terrorists, some American politicians think it is only a matter of time.
This again proves that what Russia is doing to fight terrorism is not its internal business. If Russia is part of the international front to fight terrorism a more serious view is needed of the set of measures that have to be worked out to prevent a repeat of Beslan.
The next point goes without saying. The image of Russia has been tarnished by what happened. In general, I must say that during the past year the image of Russian has been losing luster steadily and quickly. This is not just about the YUKOS case. It has to do with a lot of other less important episodes but the sheer number of these episodes is growing and the political elite in Washington and ordinary Americans are taking a dimmer view of Russia and, even more so, of power in Russia. Faith in its potential is diminishing, there is growing skepticism, growing criticism of on the one hand the monopoly of power, and on the other hand failure to address obvious tasks such as corruption in the country -- the whole world seems to have resigned to the idea that Russia will never cope with corruption -- but all this has a highly negative impact on Russia's image.
And I don't mention human rights and what is happening in Russia in terms of pressure on the mass media. But on the whole, I should say that the American political establishment takes an overall pessimistic view of the state of affairs in Russia and it sees the direction in which Russia is developing as the wrong direction. This is the overall opinion in the United States and it is fairly widespread and it is not challenged.
Another thing that Beslan has demonstrated is the lack not only of a developed civil society in Russia, but even the elements of civil society that exist in Russia have no links with civil society in America which has made impossible many things, ranging from humanitarian relief and ending with political support for certain initiatives that have been proposed in this connection.
So, we have said in the past that these relations have been monopolized by a small group of politicians as a result of which a relationship could not be built up between Russian society and American society, and this was highlighted by Beslan. Relations at the level of non-governmental organizations, at the level of the mass media and at the individual level, at the level of humanitarian organizations were practically not in evidence.
The Western press and Western analysis of Russia increasingly bristle with words such as "rollback", "mini stagnation", problems of the legitimacy of government. And the Americans who think that American democracy is a liberal democracy, are very worried that the liberal part of Russian democracy has practically been brought to naught while the formal institutions remain. There is less and less personal freedom and freedom of information. A democracy which does not say where power should be concentrated but a liberal democracy which is concerned with how much power these institutions should have -- this is to be determined by society and this is something that is virtually non-existent in Russia today.
So, I won't be far wrong if I say that more and more there is talk in the political establishment in Washington, intensified by Beslan, that expectations from Putin should be replaced by expectations of what will be after Putin. Yes, we will lose a few more years, yes, hopefully Russia will embark on the right road of development in 2006-2008 if there is a normal mechanism of transfer of power and elections, or perhaps later.
But more and more the talk is not about what can be accomplished in this coming period, but about what may happen after. I think that, I would describe the main political course of the US establishment as I see it at the moment, it will be an indifferent and benevolent wait-and-see stance. And this will be the case for a relatively long period.
With account of this, I think, it is obvious that the election, no matter how serious the US presidential election is for the fate of the world, they will no bring about fundamental changes to Russian-US relations. By inertia, the processes that are underway now will stay here. One or two fundamental changes will happen anyway. I will mention them, but they will not necessarily occur immediately after the election.
The first one, as you know, the Bush administration and neoconservatives whose foreign political doctrine the president has been more or less successfully or unsuccessfully realizing proceed from the understanding that, overdoing it, America needs no strategic allies in principle, that America can cope with its problems itself and allies are required for dealing with tactical tasks.
For the Bush administration, Russia is a tactical ally today. Yes, they can cooperate with Russia on many issues, but in the long run it is very likely that Russia may drop out of this coalition.
If Kerry comes to power, who adheres to different positions, to opposite positions -- even if, I repeat, it will be impossible to bring about such changes right away -- perhaps you know that his position is that the greatness of America and its leading role in the world could only be based on the availability of a big number of reliable strategic allies. From this point of view, I think that a Kerry administration would be less interested in tactical cooperation with Russia, but it would be substantially more interested in turning Russia into a strategic ally, than the Bush administration.
Perhaps I will oversimplify it -- from the point of view of Russia, it is easier with Bush, but with Kerry it would be more useful, yet harder.
It is now obvious that the Kremlin favors the "easier with Bush" position. In my opinion, this is very unreasonable. I was present at that meeting with President Putin on Novo-Ogarevo, and when he voiced his opinion about President Bush and praised him, I think that having been conveyed to the US establishment, it did not sound the way it should sound, especially six weeks before the presidential election.
I think that many have regarded this as an attempt to influence the outcome of the election, which any segment of the US establishment regards very negatively. And I think that many of those who used to be neutral or somewhat positive about what has been happening in Russia began thinking more about the mode of politics in this country.
The second change which, in my opinion, will happen -- actually, this is already happening, in fact -- is the refusal to make all sorts of political or economic promises to Russia. You may recall that the Clinton administration, one of the cornerstones of its policy regarding Russia was that Russia, even if fails to meet standards and criteria of this or that organization, such as the G- 7, may be allowed to join it in the hope that it will gradually -- this would be an incentive for Russia to politically and then, hopefully, economically to catch up with those standards. And Russia was allowed to join the G-7 group.
While assessing the results of that move, this sort of policy, many in Washington are convinced that this was a mistake, that Russia has not grown to comply with those standards -- on the contrary, it has rather move back. Second, it was a great surprise for the champions of this policy in the US that Russia has perceived its membership in the G-8 as legitimate, the way Russia now exists, and this surprises everyone. And, third, Russia's membership has somewhat lowered the status of G-7 or G-8.
So it is very unlikely that we will continue to see further advances of that kind. I don't think that the issue of ejecting Russia from the G-8 will be put on the agenda today, even though there are such trends and this issue will be in the air somewhere at a Congress level. But I don't think that it is possible today to deal with issues the way it was it was done not long ago, in the Clinton administration, when they agreed to do something while realizing that Russia does not meet standards of this or that organization and in the hope that it would grow to those standards later. You may recall that there was even talk that Russia may join NATO or join WTO without delay.
I think that this change is already happening and we should be realists in this sense. This will partially have its effect on dealing with many Russian and European problems, because as we all know quite well, Russia's progress in Europe was to a great measure due to support Russia received from overseas, to Washington's pressure on its European allies.
So I think that this indifferent and benevolent wait-and-see stance will be the main tactic for the near future. Second, I think that no matter who wins the election, the Americans will try to begin work from scratch with Russia's future elite, create some elements, structures or feelings, Western ideology in Russia -- in their opinion, it has virtually ceased to exist in Russia. Pro- Western forces in Russia have no serious foundation, and this presents a problem.
I think that Americans will be very much interested, no matter who wins the election, in attempts to promote the development of civil society in Russia. Certainly, they will raise the issue, any president, of the corruption level in law enforcement agencies, in security agencies, because it has already turned out that this is not only Russia's internal problem. This issue is too important for the international community to ignore it.
The second or rather third direction of activities. After the election, no matter who wins, work with Russia will continue on problems around Russia -- on Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Central Asia, Azerbaijan and so on and so forth. I think that this will be very serious and, in may respects, conflict work. I think that the Americans will continue to support democratic structures existing in Russia, even if they do not work, such as the Duma, the Federation Council, in the hope that one day those entities will get a real meaning.
Naturally, they will continue to work with the Russian government, its leadership on traditional issues such as terrorism, international security, nuclear non-proliferation. I think that the most the US leadership can get from the point of view of international cooperation it will try to get. But on the while, I think it will be a wait-and-see policy, at least in the short run. They will wait for a new political cycle in Russia. Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you, Nikolai Vasilyevich, for your very interesting comments.
Q: Nikolai Vasilyevich, you said cooperation between Russia and the United States in combating terrorism has failed. What in particular have they failed to accomplish? Does that mean that the United States expected Russian to move its troops into Iraq? Or that Russia has been unable to put things in order in the North Caucasus, Chechnya in particular? Access for international forces to that area? What did you mean?
Zlobin: I think that there have been few accomplishments and the level of cooperation has been to low. Yes, the United States certainly expected more from Russia, more support on Iraq. By the way, one has to admit that on the whole they started getting political support. Some veiled but positive remarks have been coming from the Kremlin to the effect that something is being done in Iraq, that there is progress and that one can understand President Bush and the US administration. Yes, we understand what they are doing there and we see that in many ways they achieving their goals.
But on the other hand, I think it is obvious that Russia today is unprepared politically or morally to contribute to the military part of the operation, to contribute to the law-enforcement part of the operation and in this connection Russia's participation, in my opinion, will be limited to medical, humanitarian and general support. Of course, it is up to Russia itself but it is probably not enough in terms of what the United States potentially expected from this country.
As for the Caucasus, a situation has arisen there in which Russia has assumed the sole responsibility for establishing strategic stability in the post-Soviet space. And for players from NATO, America or even the CIS or UN peacekeepers to get there they had to secure Russia's consent. One can argue whether or not this is normal that Russia has monopolized this issue. But the fact remains that after many, many years of Russian monopoly in the Caucasus many are asking whether Russia has coped with its task? Is the Caucasus more stable or less stable as a result of Russia's monopoly presence there?
Many are inclined to think -- but again, this can be the subject of debate -- but many in Washington feel that Russia wants to stabilize this or that region, including the Caucasus, only on its own terms. If Russian terms are not met, destabilization will continue. They feel that Russia is trying to get mileage out of contradictions in the Caucasus, that Russia is capitalizing on the rifts that exist there and does not allow players in its own weight category.
It is one thing to dispute with Georgia, but it is another thing if there are NATO troops or the troops of the United States or even the CIS countries. The argument that cannot be dismissed is that Russia has no guarantees that by coming there the allied troops will not leave after the situation is stabilized, as happened in Central Asia. If you remember, the Americans first came there for a period of two years, two years have passed and there is no talk about the troops being withdrawn.
I think Russia has some understandable reasons for being mistrustful and understandable reasons connected with instances of the other side not keeping its promises. But the other side, the main argument that is heard in Washington today, is that we should see how Russia is coping with this situation and if the Caucasus is a more serious problem now than it was ten years ago, then obviously Russia is not doing a very good job. So, let us see how we can cooperate.
Which brings me back to where I started, that the monopoly on cooperation, the go-ahead for cooperation must come from Moscow. So far, Moscow has not given any permission to such cooperation. Although President Putin has repeatedly and quite rightly said in my view that we are confronted with international terrorism there, Moscow refuses to internationalize the problem. I think this is one of the contradictions and one of the main causes why cooperation is not getting off the ground. There are good separatists and there are bad separatists.
Q: Many Russian political analysts would object to you and argue, as regards the first part about Iraq, that the success of the US administration and the US forces in Iraq is by no means obvious and it seems to make little sense to support what does not inspire optimism.
Zlobin: Yes, my personal view is that of course the war in Iraq was a mistake. But if we speak about real politics, we should proceed from the realities. We are not talking about how things could have happened and how the players should have acted. But today there is a concrete problem: if Russia can help, and if Russia and American can cooperate in solving that problem then they must cooperate.
There is a political reality in Iraq. When success becomes obvious, then it will probably be too late to jump on the band wagon of cooperation. I am not saying that there will be success, perhaps, things will get worse, but the problem is that today it is a common problem no matter who has created it. History has no subjunctive mood. Yes, it can be said that the Bush administration made a serious political mistake, a political miscalculation and it had not been stopped. But the fact is there. There is war in Iraq and it is close enough to Russia to affect it.
So, I think that the political passivity of Russia based on the argument that we had told you so, I think this is just political infancy, I should say.
Q: What do you propose?
Moderator: Wait a minute, IRNA Agency, please.
Q: IRNA Agency. You have said that President Bush has joined the majority of the Americans to become critical of Putin. And this is my question. Here in the Russian Federation most Duma deputies and other politicians think that America is an empire of evil and of lies; the CIA is event accused of bring about the collapse of the USSR and now they say that America wants to bring about the collapse of Russia. In your opinion, don't you think that President Putin also has the right to share the opinion of the majority of people who are very anti-American in Russia at present? And you personally as a citizen of this country, do you think that America always says the truth or is it an empire of lies?
Zlobin: I think that America, like any normal country is pursuing a selfish policy. In principle, any country should pursue a policy in its own interests without infringing on the interests of other countries if it can. America quite openly is pursuing a selfish policy and is defending itself and is promoting its interests to the extent that it has the potential to do so.
The difference, in my view, between the assessments given in the Washington establishment or by the public opinion in America with regard to Russia is prompted by realities more than by myths. In my view, what I found during this visit to Russia is that a lot of what is being said about America by Russians and by the Russian media is based not so much on real facts as on mythology and of course the origins of that mythology and who is spreading these myths could form the subject of a separate discussion.
I think the difference is great. If the Kremlin is encouraging such mythology, it should not join the majority of the population because it is already there in its very midst. I think there is a paranoia of distrust on both sides to this day, a very strong paranoia. We have failed to overcome it. Going back to what I said, we paid too much attention in the past to political issues and our societies have not drawn closer to each other. I think that mistrust and paranoia in our relationship exist on both sides and it is a very serious problem.
I wouldn't say that public opinion in America is anti-Russian, far from it. But I do say that public opinion in America, and its establishment are critical of what is happening in Russian political life today. I think this point must be stressed, that mood appeared fairly recently, in the last six months or a year when questions began to accumulate, followed by criticism of what was taking place in Russia.
If you know, previously President Putin had fairly strong support in the American establishment and many experts thought, especially after September 11, that at last Russia's foreign policy would become far more acceptable to America. But it did not happen. I think this is the main difference, if that answers your question.
Q: Just a clarification. You have said that Washington is already thinking about Russia after Putin. Could it be seen as a new conspiracy against Russia?
Zlobin: No, I don't think it is a conspiracy. In general, I always welcome it when people think about what will happen in the longer perspective than the next election. Because if you think from one election to another, you are likely to make many political and strategic mistakes that will then be difficult to rectify. In this connection I think that the show of strategic thinking in Washington which has far from always shown its ability to think strategically, believe me, should be hailed.
In my opinion, the American political elite has made too many mistakes in Russia, in particular, for that reason that it gave preference to some tactical situations in Russia, on particular people, particular groups, particular political parties. In this connection, I think that if we advance to a new qualitative level and start thinking more seriously about what will happen, for example, between our countries in a quarter of a century, I think we will only benefit in intellectual terms.
Q: Could you please say a few words about the Center for Defense Information you represent. Is it a state organization, a think tank?
Zlobin: The Center for Defense Information is an American research center dealing with international security issues, security in a very broad sense -- from military security to demographic, economic, information and other security. It deals with such issues as control of military budgets, military reform, weapons trade and lots of other things, all those more or less related to global security.
The organization is based in Washington. It has offices in several countries, including in Moscow, Brussels, Beijing and other. But it is a nongovernmental organization. Moreover, it is fixed in our rules and we have strictly adhered to that -- we refuse to take any financial subsidies, charity or gifts from two types of contributors -- any states and the military industrial complex.
In principle, it was established in the 1970s by a group of generals against Vietnam war, well known in the United States at the time. The history of the Center for Defense Information is well known. It has turned into a strong irritant for Washington. Once the Center published Washington's -- sorry, the Pentagon's so-called black budget and many other things. It has turned into a powerful international research center, a political center dealing with all sorts of security issues.
Q: Let us go back to Iraq. You said America is displeased with the way we have provided support for current moves in Iraq. What would Americans want to get from us now that they have clearly taken a bath there. Some zealots have started moving out of there.
Zlobin: I have not said that the Americans are displeased with that. I think that it was a question about cooperation and I said that in Iraq we could collaborate more successfully there. I will give you one simple example which for some reason -- I have always said that and as a person who knows Russia, this part of Russia, I have always pitied that Russia has failed to realize its potential. Russia has always had what is called "soft power", including in the Middle East, in Asia, in Central Asia, and it has always acted, if not a stabilizing force, as a civilizing force. Russia's influence in this respect has always been great -- in Soviet times and before.
During the past years, I think Russia has decided against promoting this direction of activities. In this respect, I think the Americans certainly would not object to Russia's growing influence in Iraq and any other regions of the world where Russia has traditionally had more influence that America can ever dream to get. In the Caucasus, in the former Soviet republics in Central Asia and other, where a substantial share of the elite still speaks Russian, where many read Russian magazines and newspapers, and many other things.
Take the history of the British Empire, the way its might emerged and the way it has been maintained since through the use of the English language or British political culture. The same could be said about the United States or other former empires.
I think that Russia has broken or nearly broken its ability to influence the world this way. But personally I am deeply convinced that this Russian influence would be very positive for everyone. Many Americans just don't know anything about that. They just don't realize the scale of Russia's potential of that kind.
Second, I think that this would greatly improve Russia's international reputation. A lot. But unfortunately the thinking of many Russian foreign political figures only deals with a particular number of missiles, tanks and is limited to making addresses from all sorts of militarized rostra, rather than promoting this inconspicuous, yet very beneficial for Russia direction of activities. For instance, those opportunities have been totally missed in Iraq. And not only in Iraq.
Obviously, it is quite possible to regain them, and that would not be too costly. Blood is not involved in the price. It is not necessary to build missiles and send in troops for that. If one uses creative approaches, it is quite possible to find a lot Russia could do, while not ceding its political principles, to help settle the situation, including in Iraq.
Q: Nikolai Vasilyevich, two questions, one very concrete, and the other one is a general one as a follow-up to the one we heard. First, are there channels in Russian-US relations which have been used for permanent political and other consultations? Or is that usual diplomatic routine? Second, you've just spoken about Russia's opportunities. I will make a U-turn and speak about US opportunities. Has the American establishment been considering strategies for cooperation in the spheres you mentioned, where Americans, rather than helping them combat terrorism by deploying troops in various countries, would provide assistance by liberal, human rights and other opportunities, which Russia has clearly undersupplied there during the past years? Is there any symmetry of that sort, even if in trends?
Zlobin: Yes, answering your second question, the willingness to understand what America could do does exist. Attempts that have been made so far proved unsuccessful. On the one hand, American culture is everywhere and American influence is felt everywhere. English is an international language, and the dollar is the reserve currency of the world. But on the other hand, from the point of view of proliferation of their ideas, ideals, political culture, way of life, the Americans have lost. Actually, American political culture was to a great measure created on the basis of isolationism, and Americans once made a big mistake, in my opinion, when they decided that they are so good that the whole world will follow them anyway. Follow out of their own will. "Just look how well we've arranged all that. Why don't you follow suit?"
And they unwillingly built a wall of ignorance and a wall of contempt, partially, of other political cultures and different political regimes. I can see today that a weak attempt has been made today to review this process. Frankly, I have not seen any complex idea so far about how the Americans could really change the world for the better by using their liberal and other ideals, human rights, freedoms, limitation of the state's authority, control of authorities and the like. I think that --
Q: What about the Democrats?
Zlobin: You know the Democrats will do that to a lesser extent than they traditionally used to do after what happened under the Bush administration. Neoconservatives, if you take a look at their program more seriously. In fact, they are hypertrophied Democrats. I have described them for myself as imperialist Democrats. They are not conservatives, not traditional American conservatives.
In this sense, the presidential election this year is such a tangle, because platforms of both candidates have so much intermingled that it is hard to understand which of them is a Democrat and which one is a Republican. In this sense, I think that the ideas of proliferating global democracy, liberal values, freedoms, ideals of America will discontinue for a certain period, because the idiosyncrasy caused by the Bush administration's foreign policy will certainly remain in place around the globe for some time.
Moderator: What about channels?
Zlobin: There are channels, naturally there are military channels, they are still very important as missiles are still often targeted against each other. Breakdowns do occur, so it necessary to react promptly. As for political dialog, I think the opportunities for political dialogue have of course diminished. Such opportunities exist at the highest level, but at the medium level, at the level of teams, such possibilities have dramatically diminished, and not because people don't understand why it is necessary. I think that on the whole it is not very clear what to discuss. The concrete subjects that can be discussed. And many such dialogues and many such exchanges that I attended were, not to put too fine a point on it, a waste of time.
Unfortunately, I repeat where I began, there is no serious, positive and realistic agenda. I think this is partly due to -- and I wonder if I could dwell on this question in a little more detail.
Moderator: Of course.
Zlobin: It is connected not simply with Russian-American problems but with the fact that in the international community we proved to be intellectually unprepared for the ongoing changes. We treated very lightly the end of the Cold War, the disintegration of the USSR, the disintegration of the Eastern Bloc, the demise of world communism, and September 11, 2001. And intellectually, I think, we still think in the categories of 20th and even 19th century. And we are not ready to become aware of what is happening in the world, by what laws it is governed and what contradictions should be resolved first. This is true not only of Washington and Moscow or Europe. No capital in the world today has an idea of what is happening. We are intellectual bankrupts in terms of what is happening in the world today.
How to build a new world order? How to reform international law? How to reform international organizations in the new conditions so that they meet the new requirements rather than being the result of the Second World War which ended 60 years ago. We are unprepared in that way. And if we are intellectually unprepared, our politicians are doomed to improvising. An improvised foreign policy is in my view the main problem because politicians willy-nilly, have to do something. They can't afford to do nothing. But because they do it all on the spur of the moment and there is no serious intellectual base and no real insight into what will happen after you do something, very many mistakes are made.
I think that in Iraq, for example, there was no evil intent on the part of the Bush administration but the ad libbing, the need to respond and to do something so as not to be accused of not doing anything, I think Putin's reaction to Beslan was partly connected with this. And the lack of a strategy of how to behave in the current situation -- because nobody understands which way the world is moving, how to solve the problem of allies and what economic and political globalization is all about and what an independent state really means -- today nobody knows it because the state today as we know has no control over many things in politics, finance and ideology, areas that traditionally were controlled by the state in the past. At least in developed countries of the world.
The enemy that we face is not formalized in any way. It has no army that has to be defeated; it has no territory that can be occupied; it has no economy to impose sanctions on; it has no capital that could be seized and over which a flag could be hoisted; it has no president who could be caught and forced to sit down and sign a capitulation like in 1945 -- none of this exists.
And we have everything geared to this kind of actions. It should work in all countries and you can't just switch it off. The old mentality, the old mechanisms, the old ideological thinking about how the world is developing are still prevailing today and politicians, even if they are trying to divest themselves of the old mentality are acting entirely by improvisation at their own peril. And in that sense we are all losing out.
So, lack of an agenda in Russian-American relations is partly due to the fact that nobody can sit down and say what exactly we must do; what should happen and what our relations should be 25 years from now, for example, what role Russia and America will play 25 years from now or Europe or Japan or China. Nobody has a clear idea. I think that the problem is far more serious than simply bilateral relations.
Q: I would like you to compare the media situation in the US and Russia. Obviously, there has been a crack down on media freedom in this country. And it is evident that Russian television is like Soviet television. One channel is still fighting what I think is a losing battle.
There has been a lot of criticism of the US administration which after September 11 also was very selective about what information to publish and of course you live there and you know how terrorist acts and the political life of the country are covered. Can you draw parallels and indicate the extent to which the American media are denied freedom compared with the Russian media? What is the fundamental difference?
Zlobin: Well, of course, as you understand the difference is great. To begin with, the trend in the Russian media is quite obvious recently and the trend is very negative.
The room for normal debate is diminishing, the room for independent opinion has become very small. And what is particularly worrying and what needs to be noted is that the right to obtain information is curtailed.
American journalists, as you know, are fairly well protected by the Freedom of Information Act which makes it obligatory for government bodies of any level to provide journalists with information more or less quickly, otherwise they may be in big trouble.
And in my view the main problem of Russian politics and of the Russian media community is that journalists find authentic information more and more difficult to come by. Let us leave aside the propaganda part of Russian television or the Russian press, but increasingly when I look at what is published here by apparently knowledgeable journalists, who know what is happening in the country, these articles are increasingly based on versions and hunches.
In American journalism it is not the done thing to publish versions and hunches. Certainly there is much less of it there than here. And this is a very worrisome trend because you can say anything, but do you have proof of what you say, this is a very important determinant of press freedom. In order to come forward and say that all this is a lie, that everybody is corrupt and so on, you have to get documents to prove it.
And if readers are exposed to versions and guess work of journalists who have no documents to prove what they right, naturally they cease to trust the press. And the result is exactly of the kind that the authorities need: the press becomes toothless: you can publish what you like, they don't believe you anyway. This has not happened in America.
Q: Is there self-censorship?
Zlobin: Yes, of course, there is self-censorship. It varies from one publication to another but I think this self-censorship -- and by the way, I taught American journalism in America for many years and have even written a book about it which has just been published -- I think self-censorship to a large extent is connected with the ethical standards as they are understood by American journalists rather than with politics. The moral criteria, I think, are a much more serious obstacle to the publication or discussion of certain issues, rather than political criteria.
Yes, there have been attempts by the President and the administration, and fairly successful ones, to sift off or limit or influence information. But it is very difficult to influence the American journalist. It is usually counterproductive.
As regards the events of September 11, and I want to stress it again because it seems to me particularly important for Russia after Beslan, that the information, the independent work of the September 11 commission, the objectivity of its findings, were insured in many ways by the fact that many of the families of the victims were involved in its work. They had no one to cover up because they had lost what was dearest to them and they want to find out who is responsible. They cannot be stopped.
So, all attempts in America failed because there was created a very serious mechanism for involving the victims, I mean the families of the victims who died on September 11. The public opinion began to shape up in a certain way, and the administration suffered a defeat and failed to impose restrictions on the objectivity of the commission and coverage.
What worries me about the Russian commission is that so far I haven't seen such an approach there. But I would advise it to try to engage the people who have nothing else to lose and who are interested more than anyone else in finding the truth, draw them into the work of the commission, and then I think people will trust it much more.
Q: My question is about the (inaudible)... Russian officials have said lately that Russia has a right to deliver preemptive strikes. Our newspaper and people in Japan compare this with Bush's preemptive strikes in Iraq. As far as I remember your institute was critical of the Bush administration and its attack on Iraq. What do experts and politicians in America think about Russia's statements?
Zlobin: As to the institute, our policy is that we do not have our own opinion. I mean the institute does not have a single position on this or other issues. In this sense we are free, and every expert who works at the institute or a politician can express his own views. But in general I can say that our attitude is very negative. You can see that if you visit our web site. General Zinnie (sp.) has addressed this issue most seriously, and look at what he says about the preemptive strikes and the war in Iraq. It's all on our web site. Our attitude is extremely negative and we consider it an extremely dangerous political decision.
And I think you are right when you compare what Russia says, particularly through General Baluyevsky, with Bush's strikes. I think that by doing that Bush did not invent anything new. As a historian I can tell you that Bush is basically repeating Brezhnev's doctrine. So I think that Russians would be the last people to be surprised by that because they know all this all too well.
By using this doctrine and the idea of preemptive strikes in the modern world Bush risks and has taken the risk, I think unjustifiably, of opening the Pandora box. I think all this talk in Russia about its right to deliver preemptive strikes will be taken by any American administration extremely negatively. And if, God forbid, such strikes are delivered on the Pankisi Gorge for example, and I wouldn't really want to be a bad prophet here, it will be a catastrophe for Russian-American relations and for Russia's image.
I don't think Russia should repeat other countries' mistakes. But I want to stress once again that all this talk is very bad for Russia's image. And if this happens, it will cause a very negative reaction in the American political establishment irrespective of who is in the White House.
Q: I think this statement reflects a bad influence of Bush's strategy on Russia.
Zlobin: It certainly does. And it's not just a bad influence. It is bad influence of course. But I also think that this is an element of some panic because we do not understand what other ways are there to fight this phenomenon.
Q: And these are double standards, aren't they?
Zlobin: I think this is an attempt to solve the problem by using simpler methods than it actually requires: if we strike, we will solve it. This is exactly what I meant. I think this takes us back to the 19th and 20th centuries. I think that many people continue to think in traditional stereotypes, and their mentality does not match the nature of modern threats. So I think that such strikes will be senseless. But it is very meaningful for those who developed all these strategies based on such strikes.
Q: Can you say a few words about yourself. How long have you been in America, and what was your position here in Russia?
Zlobin: It's not a secret. By the way we met at Moscow University. I remember you. I worked at Moscow University. I have been living in America for 15 years. I used to be a research fellow at the Smithsonian Institute, then I worked at different universities and eventually got involved in American politics, and I have been working for the last three years as Director of Russian and Eurasian Programs of the US Center for Defense Information. While in Russia I worked at Moscow University. I graduated from its history department and postgraduate course.
Moderator: Thank you very much, for this very interesting briefing. I think all journalists appreciated it. Thank you.
Zlobin: Thank you.