Wednesday, March 19, 2008


This Guest Interview by Bill Steigerwald, columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Mother Russia Is a Bear — An Interview with Edward Lucas

By Bill Steigerwald

Look out for Mother Russia. The nation that emerged from the ruins of communism is not as dangerous to the world or as nasty to its own people as the old Soviet Union. But a new book by Edward Lucas, former Moscow bureau chief of The Economist, warns that Vladimir Putin and the ex-KGB thugs running oil-rich Russia have stifled the freedom of their citizens and turned their country into a menacing bully. I recently talked to Lucas in London by phone about his book “The New Cold War: Putin’s Russia and the Threat to the West.”

=Q: When you say “the Kremlin is menacing the West” in the title of your United Kingdom edition, who and what do you mean by Kremlin?

=A: When I say “Kremlin,” I mean the ex-KGB people who run Russia. They took piece-by-piece in the 1990s, when the attempt to liquidate the old KGB failed. Mr. Putin came back as prime minister in 1999, when the Yeltsin regime was on its last legs, and then as president in 2000, and that’s really the first time in Russian history that the secret police have actually run the country. That’s had several bad, I would say even deplorable, effects.

Q: Such as?

A: First of all, it’s authoritarianism. We’ve seen the hollowing out and crippling and in some cases the destruction of all the institutions that bring the rule of law and political freedom. The media that really matters, i.e., television, is very closely controlled by the Kremlin. The legislative branch is turned into just a mere sounding board for the executive branch, whereas in the Yeltsin years it was rambunctious and independent if quite corrupt. Although Russians live a great deal better than they used to, because living standards have shot up and life is a lot more stable and predictable, it’s also a lot less free.

Q: What do the Russian people themselves have to fear the most from the Kremlin?

A: The worst legacy of the Putin years is that it stopped Russia from being where it belongs, which is in what one might call “The Greater West.” They’ve darkened Russia’s image abroad so that the country is seen as a corrupt, sinister bully in many eyes. They’ve also failed to create the sort of institutions that you need to have a really modern economy

Q: What do Putin and his gang want? To re-establish the old Soviet Union, exert economic influence over all of Europe, be a superpower again?

A: They certainly don’t want to re-establish the old Soviet Union because they were there when it collapsed and they know it didn’t work. So instead of going for the 100 percent control, which is what the Soviet Union attempted, they are going for 80 percent control. So as long as you control the television, you don’t need to worry about the newspapers, would be one example. They control the commanding heights of the economy but they have no desire to control small business, which was of course illegal in the Soviet Union.

They don’t want to re-conquer Eastern Europe by military means because they know that doesn’t work. But it’s much more effective to use a mixture of energy blackmail and cash. As far as the West is concerned, they want to “finlandize” us — rather as Finland became a kind of neutral, rather impotent country during the Cold War, they want the kind of moral findlandization of the West, where they buy their way into our institutions so that we are no longer able to resist them.

Q: Pat Buchanan and others here would say the West has ticked off Russia by doing things like letting Eastern European countries into NATO. Does Russia have a legitimate reason to be annoyed at us?

A: We have to distinguish between things that Russia is truly and justifiably annoyed about and things which are more manufactured hysterics. Now in terms of threats to Russia’s security, China is far bigger than anything NATO even could do, let alone does. So I think I would discount Russian complaints about that, particularly as it’s the Russian opposition to NATO expansion that’s fueled this. I think where Russia does have a point is on strategic nuclear weapons in space. Russia is still the second power after the United States and this administration has been rather cavalier, to put it mildly, in its treatment of Russia on that. We tore up the ABM treaty and didn’t launch proper talks on a new big treaty on nuclear weapons. It would be in America’s interest to have deep cuts on both sides and rough parity, because dominance in nuclear weapons doesn’t make you safer, it just makes the other guy twitchier and therefore potentially more risky.

Q: What do you think the U.S. or the West should do to show Putin we won’t let him get away with some of this stuff?

A: The most important thing is that we need to regain the moral high ground. We had at the end of the last Cold War great moral authority. Our system not only worked but it was freer and fairer and kinder and more attractive than the Soviet system, which had hit bankruptcy in every way. I think we have lost a lot of that.

Q: What are the consequences if we don’t get on a better footing with Russia?

A: The old Cold War risked nuclear obliteration or the triumph of communist rule internationally, and we’re not facing those. But we are facing the loss of our allies in Eastern Europe, for a start, because Russia is pushing back hard there. We face the end of the Atlantic Alliance, with Europe and America going off in different directions. We face, I think most gravely, this kind of moral findlandization, where Russia by paying the right lobbyists and the right law firms in America or by putting money in the right political parties and paying the right politicians in Europe, pretty much gets what it wants and we lose the self-confidence that we used to have that we live in a free and law-governed society.


Unknown said...


You should have called your book "The New Cold Peace." Then you wouldn't have to constantly explain to people that that actually no there isn't a new cold war and that's not what you were implying when you called your book The New Cold War.

Confused? We all are with the title. So talk to your publisher and get them to line-out the word War and replace it with a cute handwritten Peace above for the paperback edition.

BTW, try to break McKinnon's record of 3 months before bringing out the paperback edition. You can do it!

Edward Lucas said...

Hi Timothy.

I didn't want to call it New Cold Peace partly because Janusz Bugajski's excellent book has already used that title.

No plans for pb edition as hardback is selling nicely (fourth reprint in UK)