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Former Ambassador Explains What's Next For U.S. And Russia After Sanctions


An unexpected reaction this morning from Vladimir Putin - Russia's president announced that he will not retaliate against the U.S. for expelling 35 Russian operatives yesterday. President Obama kicked the diplomats out and issued economic sanctions against Russia for allegedly interfering in the U.S. presidential election. We're joined now by the former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. He joins us via Skype.

Ambassador, thanks for being with us.

MICHAEL MCFAUL: Sure. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: In a statement issued this morning, Russian President Putin said - and I'm quoting here. "We're not going to stoop to the level of irresponsible diplomacy. And we will take future steps to restore Russian-American relations."

So what's going on here? Is Putin trying to take the moral high ground?

MCFAUL: Well, he's just waiting for President-elect Trump. That's very obvious. He thinks - with good reason, by the way - that President-elect Trump wants to have better relations with Russia. And therefore, he's decided that it's not necessary and no reason to antagonize U.S.-Russian relations even further. And so he's just waiting for January 20.

MARTIN: Senator Amy Klobuchar, who's on a trip to Eastern Europe this week, told us on this program that there are already concerns among our European allies that Russia could engage in a similar cyberattack in their elections. Are these sanctions that the Obama administration has now slapped on Russia - are they likely to stop Russia from engaging in similar attacks?

MCFAUL: No. I don't think so. I think it's a good first step. It shows the seriousness of what they did in our elections. Most importantly, in my view, is that it attributes very directly to Russia this intervention in our presidential election. But will these level of sanctions stop them from trying to do similar things in other elections in other countries? I don't think so. I think it'll take a greater effort over time.

MARTIN: The Obama administration said the reason that they kicked out the Russian operatives was in response to the harassment of American diplomats in Russia. And presumably, they were just using this moment to take that action. As a former U.S. diplomat in Russia, what can you tell us about that harassment?

MCFAUL: Well, the level of harassment of our diplomats and the embassy I used to work in, I think, today is probably greater than any time in U.S.-Russian or U.S.-Soviet relations. It got bad when I was ambassador. From 2012 after, there were these demonstrations against the Russian regime.

Mr. Putin blamed us, blamed Obama and blamed me personally, by the way, for fomenting revolution against his government. It was a false claim. (Laughter) I want to underscore that we were not, in no way, seeking to overthrow Mr. Putin's government. But in retaliation, they took all kinds of actions against...

MARTIN: Can you give me some examples?

MCFAUL: Yeah. I mean, you know, petty things like slashing tires of diplomats, breaking into apartments and moving things around just to let people know that they are being followed. And I personally was followed, and my family was followed in a way to let it be known that we're being followed.

MARTIN: Just briefly, what's a Trump presidency going to mean for U.S.-Russian relations?

MCFAUL: I don't know. You know, I think - so far - President-elect Trump has confused ends and means in diplomacy. He has said many times, I want to get along with Russia. Wouldn't it be nice if we got along with Russia? But unfortunately, in my view, that is not a policy. That is not an objective. That's a means to some other ends. And so far, in terms of U.S. national security objectives or economic objectives, I don't know exactly what he wants to achieve with Mr. Putin. But we'll find out soon.

MARTIN: Former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, he's a professor of political science now at Stanford.

Thank you so much.

MCFAUL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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