The United States, Russia, and Ukraine: Report from Moscow

Mar 10, 2015

Dmitri Trenin, director of Carnegie Endowment's Moscow Center, served in the Soviet and Russian military for two decades and understands both the Russian and U.S. points of view. He warns that U.S.-Russia relations are heading for a new version of the Cold War, and also discusses the Russian economy and its relations with China and other countries.

DAVID SPEEDIE: I'm David Speedie, director of the program on U.S. Global Engagement here at the Carnegie Council. It's a very special pleasure to welcome today someone who has been a good and trusted friend for two decades, I would think, Dmitri Trenin.

Let me just briefly say that Dmitri Trenin served in the Soviet and Russian armed forces for two decades, from 1972 to 1993. He then taught at the War Studies Department of the Military Institute from 1986 to 1993. He retired from the Russian army in 1993 and then held a post as a senior research fellow at the Institute of Europe in Moscow. In 1993, he was also a senior research fellow at the NATO Defense College in Rome. Then, of course, he joined the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he now directs the Carnegie Moscow Center.

So with Dmitri Trenin, we have truly a seasoned perspective, both from the point of view of military policy and intellectual analysis of the developments in Russia at the moment.

Dmitri, a warm welcome to the Carnegie Council.

DMITRI TRENIN: It's a great pleasure to be with you here at the Council.

DAVID SPEEDIE: We spoke a few months ago, Dmitri. At that time you said something that was very striking, and that is that we would look back on the period of 1992 to 2014, barely more than 20 years, as the inter-Cold War period. I would assume that not much has happened in the intervening weeks and months to change that analysis.

DMITRI TRENIN: Unfortunately, I think we have more evidence that this is what I thought it was and still think—a period between two confrontations between Moscow, on the one hand, and the United States, on the other hand. Of course, you cannot have the Cold War repeat itself, but the confrontation that one experiences today could be every bit as cold and potentially could even be more dangerous than the Cold War of the 1940s through the 1980s.

DAVID SPEEDIE: What has been lost at this moment in time, it seems to me, is the ability that has been at times halting and incomplete, but even, starting towards the end of the Cold War—the ability to find some kind of accommodation between the two sides, as it were. The Russian specialist Robert Legvold spoke recently of the loss of what he called "useful ambiguity in the relationship." Instead, we are kind of in what might be seen as the Cold War at its height, placing all blame for all that is wrong in the relationship on the other side, rather than recognizing shortcomings on both.

Is that pretty much on target?

DMITRI TRENIN: I think it's a fair analysis. I think what has changed is also the idea that I think both sides shared very much at the end of the Cold War that no one was perfect, that mistakes were made by both sides, that both sides, if you like, lost the benefit of a jointly fought and jointly gained victory in the Second World War, that they stumbled into the Cold War that they didn't need, and that they could only get out of that predicament through joint efforts, recognizing again one's own mistakes.

I think we now have a situation in which each side believes it has a monopoly on truth, a monopoly on what's right, and the other side is basically doing things all wrong. That is potentially, as I said, a dangerous situation.

DAVID SPEEDIE: We are not here, obviously, to assess blame. It would be wrong to fall into that trap of saying that one side is all in the wrong and the other is in the right. However, there are some commentators here who feel that there have been measures taken certainly in what you now call the inter-Cold War period that were designed, if not to humiliate Russia, at least to get the message across that the Cold War is over and we won. There are other serious thinkers, like Ambassador Jack Matlock, for example, who served under Ronald Reagan, who bridle and are indignant at that notion. He has written very eloquently as to the shortcomings of that view.

On the other hand, President Putin at one point proposed a new post-Cold War security architecture. I think "from Lisbon to Vladivostok" was the sort of catchphrase there. I think I'm right in saying that he, and indeed Yeltsin before him, even inquired about NATO membership for Russia and were fairly singularly rebuffed. Putin has been one of the most—one of the favorite things attributed to Putin is his description of the tragedy of the fall of the Soviet Union, but he also says that the Soviet Union can never be reconstructed.

What's going on in that whole blame-game scenario from the Russian point of view?

DMITRI TRENIN: I don't think one should focus very much on the apportionment of blame. Let's try to take the situation more or less objectively.

Russia, at the time of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, was intensely interested in being drawn into the Western community. There was a very clear, very broadly supported notion that Russia belonged in the West, that Russia was a European country coming home. President Yeltsin talked about NATO membership for Russia. His prime minister talked about EU membership for Russia. President Yeltsin also asked then-president George H.W. Bush for a bilateral U.S.-Russia military alliance.

So Russia was interested in two things—actually, in one thing: integrating itself into the Western system. It also was ready to accept U.S. primacy in that system, which was extraordinary, if you like, given Russia's attitude to its sovereignty, independence, and stuff like that.

But this was not really appreciated in the West, in the United States, for a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons are pretty serious. One was,"Well, we don't have to do that now, because we are not pressed into it." NATO did not come about as someone's intelligent design, but rather as a response to the perceived threat of a communist takeover in Western Europe and the aggressiveness or whatever of Stalin's Soviet Union. That was a response, rather than a policy that the United States had at the time of the end of the Cold War.

The situation was absolutely dissimilar at the end of the Cold War. The United States was not threatened by anyone. Russia's assistance was not needed in order to repel that threat.

Secondly, I think people realized, even though not everyone talked about it, that Russia may be weak today, Russia may accept U.S. primacy for the time being, but look 20 years down the road. Russia will be stronger. It will challenge, one way or another, U.S. leadership. If Russia is coming to the club, it will not be coming the way Germany and Japan were coming—overtly, obviously defeated powers, the U.S. occupation. Russia was going to position itself essentially as a co-leader alongside the United States. That was a clear threat to U.S leadership in NATO and other Western councils. People thought Russia within Western councils was not going to do much good to the United States. Potentially it could be a very disruptive force.

DAVID SPEEDIE: NATO, of course, is interesting in a number of ways. I remember in the early to mid-1990s, there was a whole self-analysis of NATO and its future. In fact, it may have been Senator Lugar who said, "Out of area or out of business." In other words, NATO had to—and, of course, with Afghanistan and elsewhere, to whatever extent one wants to say successfully, it has tried to reconfigure, to some extent.

I want to come back to the perception question a little bit, on both sides, in a minute, but clearly we ought to talk about Ukraine, because that's where the mutual angst comes into sharpest focus, currently what's going on in Ukraine. Let me just throw out a couple of thoughts.

First of all, in our last conversation, you talked about movements into Ukraine as a humanitarian intervention on Russia's part. Is that an opinion you still share?

DMITRI TRENIN: There are many elements to Russia's involvement in Ukraine. There is an element of humanitarian intervention. There is an element of geopolitical struggle. There is an element of all the civil war in which Russia is supporting one side within Ukraine. So there are many elements here.

"Humanitarian intervention"—I think is how this is presented to the Russian people. Russia is there because the Ukrainian military, through its indiscriminate use of force, is threatening the livelihoods and lives of so many people in Eastern Ukraine, and Russia has to support those people.

Again, this is only part of the story, but this is the part of the story that gets the most traction in the Russian media these days.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Of course, it gets no traction in the Western media. What happens in the West is that Poroshenko, as I remember when he was elected, pledged to engage the people of Donbass, of Eastern Ukraine. Of course, the engagement turned out to be military engagement.

Again, what we tend to read in the Western media is how Russia, for example, did not live up to the Minsk agreement from September of last year, will probably not live up to the Minsk agreement just concluded, the second round. Yet there are all sorts of ways in which Poroshenko and the Kiev regime have also not lived up to the Minsk agreements in terms of looking toward federal arrangements, humanitarian assistance, some degree of federal accommodation of various things that were in Minsk, and I think were taken out, but now ratified by the Rada or whatever have you. So again, we get the blame game coming into play.

In addition to just what's not reported in the Western media, obviously there are other things that seem to be relevant. There are what are called the "Iron Horse" armed cavalry units in the Baltics, the Western military units. There are U.S. warships and aircraft in the Black Sea supporting Georgia. Are these not just elements of controversial behavior on our part that stoke the fire even more?

DMITRI TRENIN: I think we are witnessing a return of a Cold War military standoff "lite." That is very sad, of course. But more than sad, this could lead to military miscalculation. This could lead to too close engagements, too much provocation that could amplify the moves of the other side. You have a dynamic which is not only unhelpful, but which is actually dangerous.

I will add to what you have just said. The Russian moves of increasing the number of flights by the Russian Air Force—sometimes those flights come close to Western aircraft, and Western aircraft come close to Russian bombers. People scramble to defend their airspace against an intruder. Sometimes that may lead to a collision. It may lead to an emergency situation. It's one thing to deal with that situation when the general environment is calm and sort of peaceful.

Of course, military people need to train, no question. They need to exercise, no question. But under the conditions of a quasi-permanent crisis in the relationship, accidents of that kind could lead to serious breaches of peace.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Again we are back to the future, back to the Cold War, in the sense that, yes, they have to train. But when relationships are better, shall we say, when there is dialogue, when there is back-channel, when people know what the other is doing, there is a way of sharing, "We're going to be doing this. We're going to be carrying out these exercises." In a time like this, the sharing of what you are doing in terms of military exercises may be lost. Is that true?

DMITRI TRENIN: I think it's true. I think it's very true. I think what you said is also very true—back to the future. We are revisiting some of the elements of a landscape that we thought was long gone. We thought that it all belonged in history. We see that history is haunting us. History is coming back. That is pretty depressing.

DAVID SPEEDIE: The other thing is, we are, after all, the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, and one of the ethical documents that we like to refer to with some frequency are Morgenthau's principles of realism. There are various excellent principles contained therein: avoiding the crusading spirit in foreign policy, being able to see things from the other side's point of view—not capitulating or automatically giving in, but understanding where the other side is coming from—and don't get yourself into a position from which there is no turning back.

These are all sort of ethical as well as strategic questions that I think we fail to take into account when it comes to Russia, and particularly the question of understanding the other point of view. I wrote something recently and really focused on this. That is, there is no country on the planet with which the United States has a relationship that compares to Russia's relationship—historical, cultural, ethnic, strategic—with Ukraine.

You said something in our last discussion that I really would like to repeat, because it was fascinating. You pointed to a situation 100 years ago in the civil war in Russia involving units in the eastern part of Ukraine that were on the side of the communists at that time. It was an interesting slice of history that shows how far this goes—well, it goes back further than 100 years. Can you just restate that?

DMITRI TRENIN: The civil war that followed the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 perhaps was fought most intensely in Ukraine. Ukraine had a whole range of groups who fought for power. Some of them were bona fide Ukrainian nationalists, let's say of a Western Ukrainian school. That's the hotbed of Ukrainian nationalism, in the former confines of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in Lemberg, which was then the name for what is now Lviv.

But Ukraine also had its fair share of communists, all sorts of socialists, and also all sorts of pretty anarchistic elements, some of them simply bandits. All this went for three years, more or less, the territory of Ukraine, with its various governments succeeding one another in places like Kiev, and sometimes people aligning not so much with somebody, but against somebody. There were some figures that really inspired awe in law-abiding citizens that remained, people like Symon Petliura, because of the clearly anti-Semitic element in his group.

DAVID SPEEDIE: And, of course, Lemberg was also a large Jewish population.

DMITRI TRENIN: Yes, but Lemberg in those days was outside of the Russian empire. It was given to Poland as a result of the First World War.

So it was a hodgepodge of different groups. It's interesting that in those days Ukraine had several competing governments. What's now Donbass was known in 1918-1919 as the Donetsk-Krivoy Rog People's Republic. The Donetsk People's Republic did exist. It's not a new name. It's very interesting. We are now discussing it as if it's just a recent phenomenon. It is a recent phenomenon, but it has some history behind it.

There was another republic in Lviv. It was called Western Ukrainian People's Republic. Before the area was attached to Poland, they used to have their own government—very briefly, of course.

There were some Russian generals, Ukrainian Hetmans, Bolsheviks, whoever, who ruled the various parts of Ukraine and vied for power. And, as I said, there was a very strong anarchistic element.

I'm saying all that because not all of that is history. If you think that Donetsk and Lugansk are simply proxies of the Kremlin, you will be deluding yourself. There is much more to it than just being Kremlin-friendly or "pro-Russian." There are many other things. I believe that history matters, and it matters a lot in Ukraine.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Exactly, and it's not just that that part of it is not new, is history, but in the current situation, clearly in Western Ukraine and in Kiev you have a fairly motley assembly of genuine reformers of some rather nasty forces. Some of them are represented in the post-Maidan government—Svoboda, which has been condemned by the European Union as racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic as recently as 2012. So there is this hodgepodge of characters, in what is now, as it was then, as you described, a profoundly divided country.

DMITRI TRENIN: Right. This situation, to some extent, continues. We're sitting here in March 2015. We don't know what will happen in Ukraine over the next 12 months, to what extent Ukraine will remain in one piece, what the combined result will be of heightening economic hardships, mounting social tensions, intensifying political infighting.

Even if you leave the war in the East to one side and focus on the rest of Ukraine, things are not going to be very easy. Things are not going to be very quiet. As Ukrainians address those very difficult and serious issues, quite a few of them may be led by this or that version of an ideology that seeks simple solutions to things.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Back just for a moment to the question of perceptions, a military presence in the Black Sea, the lack of recognition of the importance—clearly, some have written that Ukraine is far more important for Russia than it is for the West. That's seen in some of the indecisive attitude among some Europeans, for example, on the question of arming Ukraine. There is a fairly healthy debate going on in this country about whether we should be sending heavy arms to Ukraine.

Again, how is the Western perception seen in Russia? Clearly there are some notable exceptions to the average commentator in the mainstream press. John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt at Harvard wrote a piece last week. "Why Arming Kiev Is a Really, Really Bad Idea," was the fairly evocative title. I mentioned Jack Matlock before.

But there is also a fairly prevalent view that Russia should just get over all this sense of post-Cold War angst, NATO expansion, the bombing of Serbia, missile defense—"It's all over and done with; just get over with it."

My distinct sense is that it's not that easy for Russians to take up that point of view, particularly in the current situation with Ukraine. Again, my sense is that the condemnation of Russia on all sorts of fronts, from human rights to conduct in Ukraine, the sanctions, of course, and the threats—this is a sort of cocktail that only plays into the hands of anti-Western feeling.

DMITRI TRENIN: I think that it has already done that job. Anti-Western feeling has never been as strong in the post-Cold War years as it is now. I think that for a vast number of Russians, the United States has reemerged as the principal adversary, which is a very, very sad fact.

In some ways, this is a judgment that—let me put it this way. It would be wrong to ascribe everything to the Kremlin propaganda. A lot of pretty well-educated Russians, people with enough time and enough resources to study international relations themselves, have come to the conclusion that Russia is essentially seen as the country that lost the Cold War, the country that had to pay the price of defeat, the country that had basically no right to protect its geopolitical interests outside of its borders; that there were no limits to how far NATO expansion should go. Russia was not to be consulted on that issue. Russia was not to be consulted on the issue of the enlargement of the European Union.

Again, the sovereignty of all states between Russia and the West mattered a lot. But Russia's unease or suspicions or what have you with regard to the West coming closer and closer to its own borders was seen as essentially evidence that Russia has not been able to reform itself. If a country like Russia sees the United States and its allies as potentially an adversary, then there is something wrong with Russia. If the Russians militate against NATO enlargement, it means that they have some new imperialist designs themselves.

So you have that.

DAVID SPEEDIE: That's an odd sort of switching of roles, isn't it? One side is expanding to Russia's borders, but when Russia protests, they are the ones who are the new imperialists. There is a logical fallacy there somewhere.

DMITRI TRENIN: This whole argument is built on, I think, a very important statement, a very important foundation, and that statement runs like this: There can be no moral equivalence between Russia and the West. That, I think, is key to the new narrative. If there is no moral equivalence, it means that the West can do anything because whatever it does, it is either good or will be corrected by the West itself. Russia has absolutely no right, no moral right at all, to question anything, because it's still a country on probation. It used to be a country on probation. Now it's the criminal again. The old criminal has come back, the old convict.

That, I think, is key. It does not only pertain to Russia and the West; it pertains to Russia and anyone else—Russia and Ukraine. There can be no moral equivalence. Ukraine is always higher. Georgia is always higher. You name any country with which Russia may have a problem; it would stand on a higher moral ground in the eyes of the people who adopt that vision than Russia itself.

DAVID SPEEDIE: In the State of the Union address in January, President Obama was pretty much dismissive, both in terms of substance and time allotted to Russia. He said two things. The first was that basically Russia was chronically isolated from the rest of the world, and the second was that Russia was an economic basket case; Russia was in economic freefall. I can't remember the exact wording.

Just to take a look at these in order, it seems to me that—well, what's interesting is that about 30 years ago, I remember it being claimed that we were pushing China into the Soviet camp. Now it seems it's the other way around; we're pushing Russia into the China camp. It has always been argued that Russia-China together is not a logical partnership, but it was one that was being rendered inevitable or bound to happen.

Obviously you had the big oil deal a few months ago, the $400 billion oil deal, and then the joint naval exercises that were announced, I guess, last month or earlier in the year, where the Chinese official was quoted "resulted from concern with U.S. attempts to reinforce its military and political influence in the Asia-Pacific Region."

So not just China, but it seems that with Russia reaching out to Vietnam, to India, even to Japan—is Russia really so isolated at this point?

DMITRI TRENIN: Russia is not isolated, I don't think. I don't think it's possible to isolate a country of Russia's size internationally. Even in the West, it's not isolated. There are very clear problems in Russia's relations with Western countries, but I think, as the chancellor of Germany said many times, you cannot have security in Europe without Russia, or even against Russia, you cannot have security in Europe. When the going got tough in Ukraine, the chancellor of Germany and the president of France flew to Moscow to discuss things with Vladimir Putin.

Later this year, Vladimir Putin will be hosting two forums in the city of Ufa, which is just west of the Urals. One forum will be that of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that unites China, Russia, the countries of Central Asia, and to which two major countries are acceding this summer. One is India. The other one is Pakistan. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, with Russia in the chair, is moving to become the principal forum for continental Asia. It will have in the second half of this year all the major powers of continental Asia as members: China, India, Russia. We can add Pakistan. We can add a few other countries. Turkey and Iran are very interested in getting closer to that organization.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Hasn't Iran had an observer status at some point?

DMITRI TRENIN: Iran has an observer status. Iran has desired for a long time to join. There is a formal obstacle of UN sanctions imposed on Iran that prevents Iran from being accepted. But at some point, this thing may give and Iran may be welcomed as a member.

The other group that Putin will be feting in Ufa is BRICS, of course—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. That's the club of the non-Western emerging economies.

Russia is also reaching out to several U.S. friends and allies. Mr. Putin's visit to Japan is on. Just last month, a Japanese deputy foreign minister was in Moscow preparing ground for that trip. Russia is actively pursuing relations with South Korea, another U.S. ally, as well as North Korea. Russia has signed major economic deals with Turkey, another U.S. ally, which is an important economic partner to Russia, also a partner in energy trade. Egypt has seen its relationship with Russia improve over the last year or so. Iranian-Russian relations have rarely been so actively pursued by the two governments.

Apart from that, Russia has been trying to win new friends in places like Latin America, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere. Even within Europe, Mr. Putin has made a rare visit these days to Hungary to talk energy. He has received the president of Cyprus in Moscow, who basically offered Russia basing rights for the Russian navy on his island. Russia's relations with Israel are solid, and they have not been affected so far by the rapid and massive deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations.

So the picture is very different from Russia being a rogue state, in isolation, reeling in its own cage and unable to move anywhere. The situation is quite, quite different than that.

DAVID SPEEDIE: That's terrific. Thank you.

Briefly on the economy, the idea that Russia's economy is collapsing—it was reported not too long ago that Moody's, the respected evaluation-type firm, has said that Russia's reserves are enough to cover external debt, and the move to the floating currency will to some extent mitigate, obviously, the spiraling down of oil prices, the fluctuations in oil prices. Clearly oil is stabilizing a bit. It's not just Russia that is suffering from this.

Again, it would seem to me that it's Ukraine and the collapse of the hyrvnia that perhaps ought to be regarded as the economic basket case, not necessarily Russia at this point.

DMITRI TRENIN: Well, Russia and Ukraine are in very different economic situations. There's no question that Russia is facing the most severe economic test in 15 years right now. The kind of response that the Russian government will ultimately give to that crisis will determine the future of the Russian economy, and maybe more than just the future of the Russian economy in the years to come. So I wouldn't want to minimize the challenges that Russia is facing.

On the other hand, this crisis could be a salutary one, if properly used. If you want to reform your economy, diversify it, make it modern, oil at $100 is not your friend, not even oil at $80. If oil hits $60, $50, or $40, this is when you have no choice but to diversify, but to innovate and do other things. Whether Russia will do it or not will depend very much on the Russian government and on the Russian people.

What I'm saying is that the crisis for the first time is giving Russia an opportunity to wean off this overly big reliance on oil and gas and hydrocarbons more broadly.

I think, as a Russian, you feel that you have not done a great job with your economy when the economic situation was good. The Russian economy today is not what it can be. If you use the crisis to change the economy, to start producing more, to develop your own domestic market more, to develop your particularly medium- and small-size enterprises; if you manage to de‑monopolize your economy so that it's not totally controlled by a few monopolies here and there, then I think this crisis will go down in history as a good crisis for Russia.

I think people are prepared to suffer, but they will not suffer simply to please the fat cats. If they see that something good is coming out of the government's policies, then they would accept a temporary loss in living standards, and they will be compensated by a different kind of an economy and a different kind of a future for themselves and their children.

DAVID SPEEDIE: It's an excellent prescription, Dmitri. Is it going to be filled, especially when you talk about monopolies?

DMITRI TRENIN: I have a problem with that. Russia is ruled by the same people today as it has been ruled for the past 15 years. The people who missed the previous 15 years, in my view, should not necessarily be trusted to reform now.

But I'm keeping an open mind. Things are changing. People may change. People may be rotated out of power. Russia may find itself in a situation in which it will have run out of all bad options. When you have your back to the wall and all the bad options that you had exercised to try to buy yourself more time so that things remained the same, all these options have been exercised, then you have only the good options. But the good options always tend to be the hardest and the most difficult ones.

I don't know. As I said, I have no illusions about the people in power in Russia today, not the people who would be able to do—I think there is capacity for reform, no question. Russia has a body of very professional, very experienced people. I'm talking more about the political masters. The political masters have little interest, frankly, in reform, because it goes against the grain. It goes against their own interests often. We'll see.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Two final questions, one of which deals with in Russia itself. You have indicated that there are various sort of levels or, shall we say, different kinds of forces who are pulling strings or have the ear of the Kremlin and so on.

I think you know that we here at the Council for the last two years have been embarked on a major project that looks at the new Eurasianism in Russia and the way that has spread into some of the extreme right movements in Europe, basically across Europe as far as France, the Netherlands, and so on and so forth. It's a little complicated in a place like Greece, where there seems to be some dialogue with both the extreme right and the new leftist government, Syriza. It's clear they have a very complicated situation.

Can you say a little bit about this movement that clearly is "anti-Atlanticist," which, of course, means the UK and the U.S. basically? How connected is it in the corridors of power? To what extent do its chief proponents—and here, obviously, the name Aleksandr Dugin has come up with some frequency—what sort of role do these people play? How influential are they?

DMITRI TRENIN: I think that they have been able to rise from being marginal, underdogs, almost irrelevant in the 1990s, to being very much part of the mainstream, to being very close to President Putin and his entourage. The people who share those views—many people who share those views—form part of what is known as the Izborsk Club, which is named after a fortress on the Russian western border in the Baltics, a medieval fortress. I think these people have seen their theories vindicated by what happened in the last 25 years. They are having a ball today.

Again, this is more of an intellectual movement. It feeds into the general philosophical environment that informs the leadership of Russia. I wouldn't exaggerate the specific influence of individual members on the decision-making process. They may be among Mr. Putin's favorite intellectuals today, but Mr. Putin has remained, above all, a pragmatist.

Eurasianism also has a good answer, at least from the standpoint of Eurasianism itself, about the West. The West is not to be trusted. You need to stand up to the West. They will only respect force and they only respect strength. So you have to be strong, not only militarily, but also in economic and other ways.

I don't think they have a good answer to the rise of China, another great power that merits a lot of attention. Russia traditionally insists on being independent and sovereign. It doesn't matter sovereign toward whom, sovereign toward the most powerful nation of the time. Today it's the United States of America, so sovereignty vis-à-vis the United States is a top goal.

But in Eurasia, it is China that's rising. It's China that is becoming the hegemon of Eurasia. You mentioned Putin's ideas of "Lisbon to Vladivostok" as Greater Europe. The reality today is the emergence, in my view, of what I would call Greater Asia, from Shanghai to St. Petersburg, with China very much driving the process. Eurasianists are yet to give an answer to the China issue.

DAVID SPEEDIE: A big question.

DMITRI TRENIN: It is, and a serious one.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Finally, back to the Bob Legvold's "the loss of our useful ambiguity" and the finger-pointing and so on, and what that has meant. Clearly there are numerous missed opportunities in terms of global issues in which the United States and Russia really have to engage each other, everything from climate change to catastrophic terrorism—Russia, I think, has had more incidents of terrorist attack than any other country since the end of the Cold War—and, of course, very obviously, an issue that you think about a lot, the arms control, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and others that may be unraveling. Is there no back-channel communication at this point?

Look into your crystal ball and try to give us some hope.

DMITRI TRENIN: I think it's very sad that we don't have this back-channel. It's very sad that the only channel that seems to be working, at least visibly, is the one between Secretary Kerry and Minister Lavrov. The presidents talk over the phone, but very infrequently, and I don't think the conversation pleases either party.

I think that in order for the relationship to be stabilized—before it gets improved, I think we need to have it stabilized and have it follow some mutually agreed upon temporary rules. For that, I think we need some legwork and we need some brainwork. This can hardly be done by people who are formally on government's duty, either in Washington or in Moscow.

I think that, rather than that, trusted representatives of the two countries' political establishments need to be encouraged to engage in serious discussions of various issues, totally open-eyed, without any illusion whatsoever, but with a clear aim of establishing areas where U.S.-Russian interaction is actually feasible, where there is enough of common interest that would make the two countries cooperate in a bona fide fashion. It's important that the people who are leading that charge have easy access to their presidents.

I have some thoughts and ideas about who might fulfill that role. I know that a few attempts, early attempts, have already been made in that direction. Much of that, I think, will have to remain, for the time being at least, off the record, and people will not be giving many interviews. But unless we manage this mechanism, install it and manage it, we're going to have a relationship that will be subjected to surprises and that can be suddenly wrecked by a stray bullet. And then god help us.

DAVID SPEEDIE: I will resist the temptation to ask you for names of these constructive individuals, since, as you say, it has to be off the record.

Our guest has been Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Dmitri, thank you so much for your time, for your insights on so many elements of this very complex situation that prevails, and for your wisdom.

DMITRI TRENIN: David, it's a pleasure. Thank you so much.

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In March 2014, David Speedie posed eight questions on the Ukraine crisis. With an ongoing civil war in Ukraine some 15 months after the Maidan rebellion and ...

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