17/03/2018 Dateline London


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17/03/2018

Foreign correspondents currently posted to London look at events in the UK through outsiders' eyes, and at how the issues of the week are being tackled around the world.


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LineFromTo

Hello and a very warm

welcome to Dateline London.

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I'm Carrie Gracie.

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This week we devote our

attention to Russia.

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Russia abroad - after what the UK

and its allies called the first

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offensive use of a nerve agent

in Europe since

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the Second World War.

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And Russia at home -

as a presidential election

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is expected to deliver

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Vladimir Putin another six years

in the Kremlin.

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My guests this week: the former

Observer writer now political

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commentator Adam Raphael.

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Jef McAllister, the American

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broadcaster, formerly the Head

of Time Magazine's London Bureau.

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Italian journalist and film

maker Annalisa Piras,

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and Russian political commentator,

and former Kremlin advisor,

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Alexander Nekrassov.

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Welcome to you all.

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Let's start by discussing how the

government British is handling the

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events of the last few days, how do

you think Theresa May is doing?

I

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think she's doing pretty well, she

was Home Secretary and this is an

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area she is familiar. It is almost

pro forma what she has been doing,

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slung out a few Russian spies, you

sound tough. She carried the House

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of Commons with her, I think she's

done her political credibility quite

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a lot of good and on the other hand

the opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn

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has not done well. Did not get the

mood of the house or the nation. She

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has come out well, but the question

is can she then deliver on what she

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is saying she will be tough...

We

will come back to that in a moment

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but first let's get everyone's take?

Well I don't agree with Adam simply

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because the gravity of what happened

in my mind and in the mind of a lot

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of observers should have warranted a

much tougher response. Expelling 23

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spies or diplomats is not on the

same level of response to what looks

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like a deliberate attempt to

humiliate Britain before the Russian

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elections.

When you say deliberate

attempt that suggests you believe

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the British government events that

this was ordered by the Russian

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state and possibly by the president

himself?

Well, Britain, France,

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Germany and the United States have

issued a joint statement saying they

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believe Russia is behind this

attack, chemical attack, on British

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soil. If that is the case then

expelling 23 diplomats does not look

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to me as an adequate response.

The

US has its own issues with Russia at

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the moment, but as you observe

events in London how do you think

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Theresa May has handled it, how is

Jeremy Corbyn handle that?

I think

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if this is the last of it from

Theresa May it is not enough in

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political terms, in global political

terms. If there are going to be

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interesting uses of chemical agents

in Russia by British agents or other

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kinds of complex sanctions perhaps

on a Russian oligarch money or cyber

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attacks or other kinds of things

which might be in the same league or

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doing something more serious then I

think OK, let's see. It takes a

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while but those things in place and

she cannot do it all in the first

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day. It's a traditional retaliation

to expel diplomats. I think it is

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fine enough for oil, she's not a

particularly strong Prime Minister.

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Slightly stronger looking but I

think Jeremy Corbyn got it wrong and

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it's bad for him. It's almost a

disqualification for a Prime

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Minister, potential Prime Minister

to be that soft on someone who is

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attacking you. I think this will

come back to haunt him.

Alexander I

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suppose you are one step further

back which is questioning the

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conviction of the British government

that the Russian state is behind

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this?

First of all I think Theresa

May allowed herself to be dragged

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into this anti-Russian stands by the

media because the media started its

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attack practically at once. She did

not allow to give enough time for

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investigation to come up with some

solid evidence. Highly likely was

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the phrase about Russian

involvement, that does not sound

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convincing. I think our problem is

that she is being basically put in

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an impossible position. There is

nothing much she can do to Russia.

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If she attacks the oligarchs and the

money the Russians will applaud the

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stop they don't like the oligarchs,

they don't like the money being kept

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in London so that's not working.

Whatever happens, whatever she says

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Russian gas will continue to heat

British homes. Big companies will

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make billions in Russia, BP, Shell.

Nothing will change in this sense.

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So does she really have anything she

can throw at Vladimir Putin? I think

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the hype created before her

statement people thought she was

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going to say something and she

didn't and she couldn't. That's the

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problem I think Theresa May has.

I

think that is a fair point, one of

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the points of two previous British

ambassadors is that you never get

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into a pressing match with the skunk

and the fact is we are involved with

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a...

Careful of the language.

The

options open to Britain, the really

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tough options would be really

difficult for this country to do, so

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you have to go through these things,

you have to try and get your allies

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behind you. We need without

international corporation there is

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absolutely no way we can take the

really tough actions that would stop

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Russia in its tracks. I personally

would favour trying to get Fifa and

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get Britain out of the World Cup but

you could not really do that without

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international corporation because

Britain alone withdrawing would not

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be enough. We have got to show Putin

and his thugs what the West means

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about this and to do that you need a

coherent response, I am sceptical of

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that would come.

Obviously Nato have

said the UK got US, France and

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Germany bank that joint statement a

couple of days back and Nato said

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that Russia is underestimating the

resolve of our lives and their

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support for the UK, you disagree?

Warm words are one thing. Actual

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actions, taking physical actions

against the Russian state and its

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interests are quite another. For

instance huge amounts of Russian

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debt are washed through the British

London financial markets. We would

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never dare do anything about it

because it would be so damaging to

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the economy which is why I sadly

agree on the single point alone with

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Alexander that actually we are

getting a lot of words but

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unfortunately...

THEY TALK OVER EACH

OTHER

You use the language Putin and

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his thugs, this is bad manners. You

are a journalist and you should not

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talk like a street thug yourself so

please forget this terminology.

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Terminology aside do you disagree?

Also I think the British media, the

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language is unacceptable. Putin the

thug and so on. It is unacceptable.

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In Russia no newspaper would dear

Cole Theresa May this word because

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there is a certain level of

communication and you don't step

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over it.

The Russian media said it

was a good thing to kill a traitor

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so that's also a difference.

There

are no words used, nobody in Russia

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is gloating that people were

attacked and nearly dead or what

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ever happened to them, this is a

very false assumption that Russians

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are cheering, chemical attack

happened in Britain.

I want to come

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back to Russian response in the

second but let's stick with the

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Allies, you were saying Theresa May

should have done more, been

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stronger, Adam is setting out the

limitations on that, what do you

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think the British government could

and should have done?

Something that

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a lot of reports are kind of

examining is how Britain could

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really hit Russians where it hurts.

Money. There is a lot of Russian

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money, a lot of Russian investment

in London. It would be a good

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thing...

Adam says they would not be

because it's too essential to the

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British economy.

Yes but then there

are moments in which, take Brexit,

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in which the national interest and

the economy have come after other

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considerations. The moment there is

an attack...

I would have to say

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some people would disagree and that

economic prospects under Brexit will

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be fine but go on.

What I just

wanted to point out was if Britain

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is under attack, a nerve agent used

in British streets, is that more

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important are less important than

economic interest?

More for the UK

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to do but what about the Allies,

that was mother point Adam was

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making, everyone in Europe needs to

step up and support, everyone needs

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to step up and rally the wagons?

There are views in the continent

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that actually what happened in

Salisbury is the continuation of a

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strategy from Russia in dividing

Britain from its allies. The

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reactions have been very lukewarm

and this is for two reasons. One

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that Putin is on the rise in Europe,

there is a lot of sympathy

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especially in the new insurgent

political forces in Italy but not

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only, in Greece, Austria and other

countries, a lot of sympathy for

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what Putin stands for.

Explain that

momentarily?

It's a combination of

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the outcome of years in which Putin

has been supporting also financially

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certain new political forces in

Europe. In Italy the Northern

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league. The 5-star movement. In

France Marine Le Pen. They have been

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supported by Russian money. They

have also been supported in other

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ways. So that is coming to fruition

when these political forces are

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coming closer to power. But there is

also a problem with European

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independence on Russian trade and

energy. There is little appetite in

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Europe for more sanctions but also

in Germany, not only in those

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countries I mentioned.

Coming to the

US position on this, these are

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circumstances in which normally you

would expect a US president to weigh

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in with a firmly ensconced Secretary

of State and get all their ducks in

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a row and be firmly showing

leadership on the European continent

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through Nato.

In the same way that I

think the rise of Putin in Europe is

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the result of a long-term and

intelligent strategy of finding

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divisions and expanding them, Putin

has done extremely well in his

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political choices in the United

States. I don't say he's the only

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reason Donald Trump is president but

he certainly contributed, he tried

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to contribute through the hacking of

the e-mails, all of the Internet

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research agency subversion that

Robert Miller has very carefully

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detailed. This is not made up, this

is not a story. This is not

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necessarily just to get Trump

elected but I think that was a

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jackpot, it was good to cause

division and discord and he's got

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it. A president who is so

embarrassed at the thought that he

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is going to be accused of having

been gotten to the presidency

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through Putin's interventions that

he denies Putin has anything to do

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with anything. He is continually

downplaying evidence of Putin's

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malign activities both in the United

States and abroad and he said a

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little but this week he is sticking

by his ally in this funny Trump way

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where he veers around and find

somebody to support week to week.

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But the long-term application of

power which is what you need when

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you run a complex alliance is

absence and it's having its effects

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because the Allies cannot turn to

the United States. It means against

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the notion that I am strong and I'm

going to win and do fine and make

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life tough for you you cannot stop

it there is no war of ideas coming

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back from Washington or the West

except that we are better in the

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long run and we will win. It

actually, I am concerned.

Alexander

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you are shaking your head.

I do not

agree with this. It is signalling

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that the CIA and other agencies are

incompetent fools. The CIA has a

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budget of 44 billion per year which

is more than, roughly the same as

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Russia. All you people forget one

thing, West were listening and

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hacking into Russia, the NSA

scandal, the Brits as well. To say

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Russia is running rings around all

these huge intelligence services is

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such rubbish. You have to understand

how the system works. These

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intelligence agencies in the West

have been interfering in Russia for

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so long that we have seen them pull

off a coup in two years, in Ukraine

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in 2014. That was financed and

organised by the West. The

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legitimate government fell. So the

Russians slept through it and did

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not do anything.

So, obviously,

Ukraine, Crimea, is it annexation,

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reunification, that's a whole big

topic we don't have time for.

I am

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talking about the intelligent

services and the package that poor

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Germans, poor Brits, poor Americans

are watching them all... Excuse me,

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let me finish my point. The Russians

run rings around them.

You do not

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think it is true?

It is impossible

because the same services in the

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West are doing exactly the same

thing.

Is there any part of these

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arguments that you recognise and

resonate with you about the

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effectiveness of either the rise of

Putin in Europe or...

It is all made

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up because the war is going on

between two sides and the Western

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intelligence agencies are

interviewing now as we speak into

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the Russian lection trying to tip...

That must be terrifying for Mr Putin

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with his 80% chance...

I'm just

explaining to you things don't work

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like that.

You made your point very

well but when we are talking born

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the trouble is and why you think we

are being unfair to poor Russia is

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that Russia has form in this area.

Georgi Markov was assassinated by

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Bulgarian financed by the KGB. We

had Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 and

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we have now had this... Outrageous

attack in Salisbury...

Let's not go

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with history, it is not in your

favour... You invaded Iraq and

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killed a million people... Libya you

destroyed...

Alexander! You have

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said it. History is over, we are

going to talk about the future which

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is a Russian election. You mentioned

it, let's go to it, one thing we

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know about all of this is that

Putin's Russia is not going away,

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Russia heads to the polls to choose

a president and although there are a

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handful of other candidates, no one

expects them to get many votes

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against Putin. So Alexander, first I

would like to ask you on this

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election is the timing a coincident,

nerve agent attack on an otherwise

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sleepy streets of a cathedral city

and provincial England, and a

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Russian election upcoming?

It

damages Putin's and Russia's image.

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And with the World Cup coming up, it

would be suicide for anyone in

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Moscow to think it would benefit us.

Putin does not have a problem

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because he is popular. His opponents

are not strong. So why would he

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suddenly think I need to get more

votes for myself? It doesn't work

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like this.

You think it's no

coincidence but it is a troublemaker

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trying to undermine the President

Putin before his re-election?

It

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undermines Russia.

Let's take that

around the table, coincidence or

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not?

I don't think it is a

coincidence, it's possible it is a

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botched operation, there's lots of

things, we cannot be sure how this

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happened. I think it's likely

however that because there was the

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call for a ball caught...

The

opposition leader who is barred from

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standing...

Yes, there is

sensitivity about the results of the

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election, turnout matters,

speculation that playing the West is

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against us card which is very

powerful for Putin and has been for

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a long time and has deep historical

roots in Russian attitudes towards

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the world, the belief that Nato is

encircling, to do it any public way

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and in a way which divides Britain

from Europe and makes Britain look

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weak, this seems to me to be like a

trifecta of success for him.

So far

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from undermining Putin it underlines

that it is with his agenda.

That's

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right, I am strong and I am winning.

All of this, there has always been a

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winning card to say the rest of the

world is attacking us and failing so

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whoever did it, they did it to help

Putin's re-election and make him

0:18:220:18:27

strong.

So you think it takes more

people to the ballot and takes more

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people to make their cross in his

box?

It strengthens the idea that

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Russia is at war with the West and

the West is trying to take advantage

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of it, no doubt about that.

It is

nice to agree with Alexander for a

0:18:400:18:46

change, I think the timing of this

was bizarre, it would not help Putin

0:18:460:18:50

and the question is to what extent

was this activity within his

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control. I don't know. I think

Russia is a fairly chaotic place. I

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think these agents are around. I

think there are a lot of people who

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might want to take vengeance. Again,

the same with the Alexander

0:19:030:19:09

Litvinenko ace, I know I have to go

back on form, it really is unclear

0:19:090:19:14

who in Russia is masterminding it.

It could be Putin but I agree with

0:19:140:19:18

Alexander it is not in his interest

at this time just before an election

0:19:180:19:21

to stir this sort of thing up. And

the other really interesting thing,

0:19:210:19:26

if you want to kill someone there

are many ways, this is not just

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killing, this is a public

demonstration of how Russian

0:19:310:19:33

traitors will be dealt with.

Moving

on to the rest of the election,

0:19:330:19:40

Alexander, many other issues in play

for Russia, the economy is in a mess

0:19:400:19:45

you would agree, what is this

election actually about?

I think it

0:19:450:19:49

is about national security because

Russians are very worried that for

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example in the Ukraine for the first

time ever Nato troops are present.

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Nato troops are on the Russian

border. This has never been

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happening before, ever. So they are

now a direct threat to Russia.

0:20:040:20:09

Ukraine, with the loss of Ukraine

from under Russian influence it's a

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terrifying disaster for the country

because of eight, nine million

0:20:140:20:18

Russians there and so on. Civil War

on your border which can erupt into

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a bigger war. This is national

security. I would say President

0:20:230:20:28

Putin at the moment is a national

security can do that because

0:20:280:20:32

everything else is secondary now.

They have to protect themselves from

0:20:320:20:36

Nato which is moving in, there is a

very aggressive policy of the West

0:20:360:20:40

generally against Russia in Asia.

China is very worried as well so

0:20:400:20:46

they are operating with this.

Is

that national security argument

0:20:460:20:52

trumping the stagnant economy, is it

convenient or is it an accurate

0:20:520:20:57

description of events?

I think that

is the card that Putin likes to

0:20:570:21:04

play, national security.

Is that

because the Russian public are up

0:21:040:21:07

for it?

It works, 30% of Russians

thought it was a great power in the

0:21:070:21:15

year 2000, 70% think it is a great

power now. Cry very successful.

The

0:21:150:21:20

annexation or

0:21:200:21:24

they are potent political tour is

not just in Russia but in America in

0:21:270:21:31

some respects as well.

You can see

the Trump base, it's the appeal to

0:21:310:21:37

animal instincts, the idea that

things are going badly but we are

0:21:370:21:40

showing we can be tough and we will

be great again, somehow. There are

0:21:400:21:45

serious economic issues but I don't

think anyone is talking about them

0:21:450:21:48

and the Russian system has no answer

to them because it's this very funny

0:21:480:21:55

state capitalism system with circles

of influence and oligarchy. There is

0:21:550:21:59

some kind of capitalism but the

state institutions are weak, there

0:21:590:22:05

will not be any reforms which can

make much difference. I think there

0:22:050:22:09

is good enough, oil prices are good

enough, people need to look

0:22:090:22:13

appalling. It is all people who

think things are really bad, and one

0:22:130:22:18

change, young people are more

concerned, Moscow very different, a

0:22:180:22:21

lot of desire for change but I think

in the country people are willing to

0:22:210:22:24

stick with it, it is a start as

court election.

I want to asked to

0:22:240:22:31

think about what do you imagine

President Putin wants to do with yet

0:22:310:22:35

another term in office, another six

years, what is his plan as far as

0:22:350:22:41

you can guess?

You have to accept

that if you elect a KGB agent to

0:22:410:22:45

become your president he is heavily

influenced by his past. He is deeply

0:22:450:22:51

suspicious of the West, he bitterly

resents the break-up of the Russian

0:22:510:22:58

Soviet Union and is feeding I think

quite naturally, I think genuinely,

0:22:580:23:05

on these feelings that Russia is a

great country, it's not being

0:23:050:23:08

treated as a equal in the world

economy. The problem about that is

0:23:080:23:14

he goes about it in absolutely the

wrong way. This sort of act that he

0:23:140:23:20

performed in Salisbury or his

henchmen or his colleagues or

0:23:200:23:23

whoever, it just betrays the

thuggishness of Russian society.

0:23:230:23:30

That is the word Alexander wanted to

ban.

It is the word I want to use...

0:23:300:23:36

We have been there and we disagree.

I don't understand, let's avoid this

0:23:360:23:43

language... You say to provoke me

and I should share it here quietly?

0:23:430:23:48

You made your point, you did not sit

there quietly. What you think the is

0:23:480:23:55

for Putin?

His agenda is clear, in

the past 18 years he has been in

0:23:550:24:00

power. He wants to restore the

greatness of the former Soviet

0:24:000:24:05

empire, the former Russian influence

in the world and he's winning. His

0:24:050:24:12

idea, they call it political

technology, is proving the winning

0:24:120:24:18

idea because it's winning on all the

kind of theatres in which he has

0:24:180:24:22

pushed and pushed and he keeps

pushing. Nobody seems able really to

0:24:220:24:27

do anything about it. So I think

that is what he wants to do,

0:24:270:24:33

especially in the former satellite

countries of the Soviet Union. He

0:24:330:24:37

wants to restore a firm grip.

Alexander, what do you think that

0:24:370:24:45

will mean for people outside Russia,

Putin's agenda. It seems there is a

0:24:450:24:52

degree of unanimity about what that

agenda is, what do you think it will

0:24:520:24:55

mean for people outside Russia?

First of all I find it absolutely

0:24:550:25:00

and believable that Russia is

supposedly fixing a grip on its

0:25:000:25:05

neighbours when it lost influence in

every neighbouring country, every

0:25:050:25:09

neighbouring country had lost to the

influence of.

Alexander, we have got

0:25:090:25:14

literally less than two minutes so I

just wanted to say what you think

0:25:140:25:18

another six years of Putin will mean

for people outside Russia?

I think

0:25:180:25:22

it will be a tough six years for

Russia, it will be very tough for

0:25:220:25:26

Putin to deal with the West. The

West is irresponsible. What they are

0:25:260:25:30

doing is pushing the world to

conflict. I find it absolutely

0:25:300:25:34

amazing.

Do you worry about the risk

of conflict?

Yes but I don't think

0:25:340:25:40

it's because of the West are looking

for it. The West cannot figure out

0:25:400:25:44

what it's looking for right now. You

can make everything look like

0:25:440:25:50

encirclement, if Ukrainians in a

Democratic vote wanted to join the

0:25:500:25:54

European Union I don't think Mr

Putin would think it's a great idea

0:25:540:25:57

and we would have a war.

So if you

had to sum up in one word the coming

0:25:570:26:01

six years of Putin and the impact on

the rest of Europe, what would you

0:26:010:26:06

say?

If he is able to continue along

the path that he has which has been

0:26:060:26:11

very subtle, clever and crafty, I

think the West's fundamental

0:26:110:26:17

institutions are at risk in so far

even the American presidency has

0:26:170:26:21

been subverted.

One word?

We need to

take it seriously and reform the

0:26:210:26:30

world security situations. The fact

that China and Russia now in the UN

0:26:300:26:35

Security Council and they don't seem

to be forces for the...

We have to

0:26:350:26:39

leave it there. Thank you all so

much for joining us, great

0:26:390:26:42

discussion.

0:26:420:26:44

That's it for Dateline

London for this week -

0:26:440:26:47

we're back next week

at the same time.

0:26:470:26:49

You can of course comment on the

programme on Twitter @BBCCarrie.

0:26:490:26:51

Goodbye.

0:26:510:26:53