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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

“We are still thinking the old way, thinking that Russia is the successor to the USSR”

“We were all amazed at the magnitude of this war. It seemed absolutely irrational in every way, regardless of your knowledge of Russia,” says Fiona Hill, former Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security, US National Security Council (2017-2019), specializing in Russia and the United States. ; member of the National Intelligence Council (2006-2009).

Hill holds an MA in Sovietology and a PhD in History from Harvard University, as well as an MA in Russian and Modern History from Scotland’s University of St. Andrews. She knows the USSR and Russia well: in 1987, she was there as part of a student exchange, then she did an internship at NBC News and witnessed the signing of the medium-range missile treaty by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. Fiona Hill is the author of several books on Russia, including Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin.

Today, Fiona Hill is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. On February 7, 2023, she spoke at the Brookings Institution on a panel discussion on the upcoming anniversary of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine: “The Russian-Ukrainian War: Year Two. Strategic Consequences” (The Russian-Ukrainian War: Second Year and Strategic Consequences).

Analyzing how American politicians view the Russian war on Ukraine today, Fiona Hill is compelled to declare, “We are still stuck in Cold War thinking. Some cite the words of George Kennan (George Kennan – American diplomat and Soviet scientist, American Ambassador to the USSR under President Harry Truman) that Russia will never support Ukrainian independence. But they were pronounced in 1948, and at the time of Putin’s massive invasion, Ukraine had already been an independent state for more than 30 years. We still think the old way, thinking that Russia is the legal successor to the Soviet Union.

From this delirium, according to Fiona Hill, stems the approach that the Kremlin, for its part, tries to impose on the West: an approach based on the sharing of “spheres of influence” in Europe and in the world. . It was born in 1943-1945, when the United States was perceived by the Soviets as the second occupying power in Europe: “This is how Russia describes the state of the world today”, notes Fiona Hill, ” by continuing to consider European history within the framework of the struggle between the United States and Russia. Such an approach unwittingly prevents some politicians from “looking at Ukraine from a different point of view – as an independent European country”.

Fiona Hill positively assessed the actions of the White House administration in relation to the Ukrainian war: “The one thing I think President Biden absolutely does not want to do is sit at the negotiating table with Putin and dividing Europe: that is irrelevant. the question. Putin has repeatedly signaled what he wants: a new Yalta, a new Potsdam, a new division of Europe. And many still push us in this direction, saying that it is necessary to recognize the sphere of influence of Russia, the sphere of its security. But it’s not 1945 anymore, is it? »

“The United States, together with the United Kingdom and other allies, promised that they would do something similar in this regard in 1994,” says Fiona Hill, referring to the Budapest memorandum, which Russia has long ignored commitments. “That’s part of our problem today: it goes back to the early days of the collapse of the Soviet Union.” In the 1990s, there was a popular view in the West that it made sense to concentrate the USSR’s military power, especially its nuclear arsenal, in a single country in the disintegrated Soviet Union – it would facilitate self -saying responsible exercise control and monitoring. The rest of the countries will receive security guarantees from this side (Russia). This was the meaning of the Budapest memorandum, which the Kremlin prefers not to mention. The reverse of the policy of concentrating the Soviet heritage in the same “responsible” hands has been the gradual formation of a new threat to European security, constituted in Russia on the basis of the Soviet heritage and the nostalgia of the old borders.

“The civil war in the former Yugoslavia – that is, the war for Soviet heritage and in many ways – against Russian influence and rollback – was one of the attempts to out of this pattern,” says Hill, and compares modern Ukraine with Finland in the late 1930s, then independent for more than twenty years, that country tried to repel the invasion of the Soviet Union, which sought to return to the old imperial borders.

Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine “was boiled in the juice of revanchism, with an eye on Russian history, with a reflection on legacy and the future, on the return of everyone Slavic to her bosom”, reconstructs Fiona Hill. “Putin looked at the United States at one point – you remember how he wanted to meet Joe Biden in Geneva in mid-2021 to try to see if we would fight for Ukraine. And they assured him: no, we won’t.

However, “after the Geneva meeting, it became clear to Putin that Biden would not go to the new Yalta either,” Fiona Hill continues. “Putin tried to figure out how much pressure he could exert on Ukraine, to take control of it, and made the fateful decision to invade. He didn’t expect what happened next. He thought that we were all going to capitulate, that no one would defend Ukraine, because he got the signal in his own way.

Justifying the war, the Kremlin’s propaganda speaks of “a kind of use of the right to return territory”, recalls the expert. So part of the problem, Hill argues, is that some in the West “still unconsciously recognize Russia as the successor state to the Soviet Union.” However, the situation has long since changed and “we should think about how to institutionalize this change”.

Asked by the host whether the war in Ukraine can end as long as Vladimir Putin remains in power in Russia, Fiona Hill observes that the end of the war will look less like an event than a process: too many different components have been set in motion. “After the end of the Second World War, then after the end of the Cold War, all of Europe and the whole world hoped that there would never again be annexations of foreign territories, violent changes of borders. .. But today we really need to rethink the structures and institutions that should emerge at the end of the war and help humanity move forward.

“This war was a system-changing event,” Fiona Hill continues, explaining, “The failure of the classic containment policy became apparent, all the peacekeeping mechanisms we had after World War II world and after the cold war did not work”. . They must therefore be rethought and rebuilt. Just before the war, former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul published an article on “Helsinki 2.0″ and Finland, now joining NATO, offered to host the summit again. You have to think about it.”

“We pay a lot of attention to the battlefield and try to turn the tide there. But we also need to complement this with diplomatic efforts,” stresses Fiona Hill, speaking not of “peace for the territories” negotiations, but of the construction of new international institutions that can lead the world community into the future on the path Peace.

“The Russia of the future will also be completely different,” says the expert. It will not be a country primarily linked to Europe in the general trend of the 1990s. But at the same time, “whatever Putin and his entourage say, most Russians do not aspire to Shanghai at all”, quips Fiona Hill.

“The exodus of a million Russians is devastating the country, although Putin still has the resources to throw them into the furnace of war. But you have to wonder what Russia will look like in ten years. The exodus of young people, the most productive part of the workforce – “Russia’s equivalent of Silicon Valley” – is devastating Russia’s future, according to Fiona Hill. “In the short and medium term, this helped Vladimir Putin to consolidate his power”: the “potential opponents to the regime” left. “Once again, he was able to let off steam. It can be compared to what happened in the USSR in the 1920s after the Russian Revolution,” Hill recalled of the “philosophical ship” of Russian history.

Putin has “militarized Russian society – certainly more than ever, even more than at the end of the Soviet period. Russia becomes a completely different country. The Russia that most Russians thought they would live in and the one that they will live in five to ten years from now, if it continues like this, are very different countries,” Hill concludes, adding: “It is a sobering thought. to the Russians. .”

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