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.
Browse content similar to 17/03/2018. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
Hello and a very warm
welcome to Dateline London.
I'm Carrie Gracie.
This week we devote our
attention to Russia.
Russia abroad - after what the UK
and its allies called the first
offensive use of a nerve agent
in Europe since
the Second World War.
And Russia at home -
as a presidential election
is expected to deliver
Vladimir Putin another six years
in the Kremlin.
My guests this week: the former
Observer writer now political
commentator Adam Raphael.
Jef McAllister, the American
broadcaster, formerly the Head
of Time Magazine's London Bureau.
Italian journalist and film
maker Annalisa Piras,
and Russian political commentator,
and former Kremlin advisor,
Welcome to you all.
Let's start by discussing how the
government British is handling the
events of the last few days, how do
you think Theresa May is doing?
think she's doing pretty well, she
was Home Secretary and this is an
area she is familiar. It is almost
pro forma what she has been doing,
slung out a few Russian spies, you
sound tough. She carried the House
of Commons with her, I think she's
done her political credibility quite
a lot of good and on the other hand
the opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn
has not done well. Did not get the
mood of the house or the nation. She
has come out well, but the question
is can she then deliver on what she
is saying she will be tough...
will come back to that in a moment
but first let's get everyone's take?
Well I don't agree with Adam simply
because the gravity of what happened
in my mind and in the mind of a lot
of observers should have warranted a
much tougher response. Expelling 23
spies or diplomats is not on the
same level of response to what looks
like a deliberate attempt to
humiliate Britain before the Russian
When you say deliberate
attempt that suggests you believe
the British government events that
this was ordered by the Russian
state and possibly by the president
Well, Britain, France,
Germany and the United States have
issued a joint statement saying they
believe Russia is behind this
attack, chemical attack, on British
soil. If that is the case then
expelling 23 diplomats does not look
to me as an adequate response.
US has its own issues with Russia at
the moment, but as you observe
events in London how do you think
Theresa May has handled it, how is
Jeremy Corbyn handle that?
if this is the last of it from
Theresa May it is not enough in
political terms, in global political
terms. If there are going to be
interesting uses of chemical agents
in Russia by British agents or other
kinds of complex sanctions perhaps
on a Russian oligarch money or cyber
attacks or other kinds of things
which might be in the same league or
doing something more serious then I
think OK, let's see. It takes a
while but those things in place and
she cannot do it all in the first
day. It's a traditional retaliation
to expel diplomats. I think it is
fine enough for oil, she's not a
particularly strong Prime Minister.
Slightly stronger looking but I
think Jeremy Corbyn got it wrong and
it's bad for him. It's almost a
disqualification for a Prime
Minister, potential Prime Minister
to be that soft on someone who is
attacking you. I think this will
come back to haunt him.
suppose you are one step further
back which is questioning the
conviction of the British government
that the Russian state is behind
First of all I think Theresa
May allowed herself to be dragged
into this anti-Russian stands by the
media because the media started its
attack practically at once. She did
not allow to give enough time for
investigation to come up with some
solid evidence. Highly likely was
the phrase about Russian
involvement, that does not sound
convincing. I think our problem is
that she is being basically put in
an impossible position. There is
nothing much she can do to Russia.
If she attacks the oligarchs and the
money the Russians will applaud the
stop they don't like the oligarchs,
they don't like the money being kept
in London so that's not working.
Whatever happens, whatever she says
Russian gas will continue to heat
British homes. Big companies will
make billions in Russia, BP, Shell.
Nothing will change in this sense.
So does she really have anything she
can throw at Vladimir Putin? I think
the hype created before her
statement people thought she was
going to say something and she
didn't and she couldn't. That's the
problem I think Theresa May has.
think that is a fair point, one of
the points of two previous British
ambassadors is that you never get
into a pressing match with the skunk
and the fact is we are involved with
Careful of the language.
options open to Britain, the really
tough options would be really
difficult for this country to do, so
you have to go through these things,
you have to try and get your allies
behind you. We need without
international corporation there is
absolutely no way we can take the
really tough actions that would stop
Russia in its tracks. I personally
would favour trying to get Fifa and
get Britain out of the World Cup but
you could not really do that without
international corporation because
Britain alone withdrawing would not
be enough. We have got to show Putin
and his thugs what the West means
about this and to do that you need a
coherent response, I am sceptical of
that would come.
Obviously Nato have
said the UK got US, France and
Germany bank that joint statement a
couple of days back and Nato said
that Russia is underestimating the
resolve of our lives and their
support for the UK, you disagree?
Warm words are one thing. Actual
actions, taking physical actions
against the Russian state and its
interests are quite another. For
instance huge amounts of Russian
debt are washed through the British
London financial markets. We would
never dare do anything about it
because it would be so damaging to
the economy which is why I sadly
agree on the single point alone with
Alexander that actually we are
getting a lot of words but
THEY TALK OVER EACH
You use the language Putin and
his thugs, this is bad manners. You
are a journalist and you should not
talk like a street thug yourself so
please forget this terminology.
Terminology aside do you disagree?
Also I think the British media, the
language is unacceptable. Putin the
thug and so on. It is unacceptable.
In Russia no newspaper would dear
Cole Theresa May this word because
there is a certain level of
communication and you don't step
The Russian media said it
was a good thing to kill a traitor
so that's also a difference.
are no words used, nobody in Russia
is gloating that people were
attacked and nearly dead or what
ever happened to them, this is a
very false assumption that Russians
are cheering, chemical attack
happened in Britain.
I want to come
back to Russian response in the
second but let's stick with the
Allies, you were saying Theresa May
should have done more, been
stronger, Adam is setting out the
limitations on that, what do you
think the British government could
and should have done?
a lot of reports are kind of
examining is how Britain could
really hit Russians where it hurts.
Money. There is a lot of Russian
money, a lot of Russian investment
in London. It would be a good
Adam says they would not be
because it's too essential to the
Yes but then there
are moments in which, take Brexit,
in which the national interest and
the economy have come after other
considerations. The moment there is
I would have to say
some people would disagree and that
economic prospects under Brexit will
be fine but go on.
What I just
wanted to point out was if Britain
is under attack, a nerve agent used
in British streets, is that more
important are less important than
More for the UK
to do but what about the Allies,
that was mother point Adam was
making, everyone in Europe needs to
step up and support, everyone needs
to step up and rally the wagons?
There are views in the continent
that actually what happened in
Salisbury is the continuation of a
strategy from Russia in dividing
Britain from its allies. The
reactions have been very lukewarm
and this is for two reasons. One
that Putin is on the rise in Europe,
there is a lot of sympathy
especially in the new insurgent
political forces in Italy but not
only, in Greece, Austria and other
countries, a lot of sympathy for
what Putin stands for.
It's a combination of
the outcome of years in which Putin
has been supporting also financially
certain new political forces in
Europe. In Italy the Northern
league. The 5-star movement. In
France Marine Le Pen. They have been
supported by Russian money. They
have also been supported in other
ways. So that is coming to fruition
when these political forces are
coming closer to power. But there is
also a problem with European
independence on Russian trade and
energy. There is little appetite in
Europe for more sanctions but also
in Germany, not only in those
countries I mentioned.
Coming to the
US position on this, these are
circumstances in which normally you
would expect a US president to weigh
in with a firmly ensconced Secretary
of State and get all their ducks in
a row and be firmly showing
leadership on the European continent
In the same way that I
think the rise of Putin in Europe is
the result of a long-term and
intelligent strategy of finding
divisions and expanding them, Putin
has done extremely well in his
political choices in the United
States. I don't say he's the only
reason Donald Trump is president but
he certainly contributed, he tried
to contribute through the hacking of
the e-mails, all of the Internet
research agency subversion that
Robert Miller has very carefully
detailed. This is not made up, this
is not a story. This is not
necessarily just to get Trump
elected but I think that was a
jackpot, it was good to cause
division and discord and he's got
it. A president who is so
embarrassed at the thought that he
is going to be accused of having
been gotten to the presidency
through Putin's interventions that
he denies Putin has anything to do
with anything. He is continually
downplaying evidence of Putin's
malign activities both in the United
States and abroad and he said a
little but this week he is sticking
by his ally in this funny Trump way
where he veers around and find
somebody to support week to week.
But the long-term application of
power which is what you need when
you run a complex alliance is
absence and it's having its effects
because the Allies cannot turn to
the United States. It means against
the notion that I am strong and I'm
going to win and do fine and make
life tough for you you cannot stop
it there is no war of ideas coming
back from Washington or the West
except that we are better in the
long run and we will win. It
actually, I am concerned.
you are shaking your head.
I do not
agree with this. It is signalling
that the CIA and other agencies are
incompetent fools. The CIA has a
budget of 44 billion per year which
is more than, roughly the same as
Russia. All you people forget one
thing, West were listening and
hacking into Russia, the NSA
scandal, the Brits as well. To say
Russia is running rings around all
these huge intelligence services is
such rubbish. You have to understand
how the system works. These
intelligence agencies in the West
have been interfering in Russia for
so long that we have seen them pull
off a coup in two years, in Ukraine
in 2014. That was financed and
organised by the West. The
legitimate government fell. So the
Russians slept through it and did
not do anything.
Ukraine, Crimea, is it annexation,
reunification, that's a whole big
topic we don't have time for.
talking about the intelligent
services and the package that poor
Germans, poor Brits, poor Americans
are watching them all... Excuse me,
let me finish my point. The Russians
run rings around them.
You do not
think it is true?
It is impossible
because the same services in the
West are doing exactly the same
Is there any part of these
arguments that you recognise and
resonate with you about the
effectiveness of either the rise of
Putin in Europe or...
It is all made
up because the war is going on
between two sides and the Western
intelligence agencies are
interviewing now as we speak into
the Russian lection trying to tip...
That must be terrifying for Mr Putin
with his 80% chance...
explaining to you things don't work
You made your point very
well but when we are talking born
the trouble is and why you think we
are being unfair to poor Russia is
that Russia has form in this area.
Georgi Markov was assassinated by
Bulgarian financed by the KGB. We
had Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 and
we have now had this... Outrageous
attack in Salisbury...
Let's not go
with history, it is not in your
favour... You invaded Iraq and
killed a million people... Libya you
Alexander! You have
said it. History is over, we are
going to talk about the future which
is a Russian election. You mentioned
it, let's go to it, one thing we
know about all of this is that
Putin's Russia is not going away,
Russia heads to the polls to choose
a president and although there are a
handful of other candidates, no one
expects them to get many votes
against Putin. So Alexander, first I
would like to ask you on this
election is the timing a coincident,
nerve agent attack on an otherwise
sleepy streets of a cathedral city
and provincial England, and a
Russian election upcoming?
damages Putin's and Russia's image.
And with the World Cup coming up, it
would be suicide for anyone in
Moscow to think it would benefit us.
Putin does not have a problem
because he is popular. His opponents
are not strong. So why would he
suddenly think I need to get more
votes for myself? It doesn't work
You think it's no
coincidence but it is a troublemaker
trying to undermine the President
Putin before his re-election?
Let's take that
around the table, coincidence or
I don't think it is a
coincidence, it's possible it is a
botched operation, there's lots of
things, we cannot be sure how this
happened. I think it's likely
however that because there was the
call for a ball caught...
opposition leader who is barred from
Yes, there is
sensitivity about the results of the
election, turnout matters,
speculation that playing the West is
against us card which is very
powerful for Putin and has been for
a long time and has deep historical
roots in Russian attitudes towards
the world, the belief that Nato is
encircling, to do it any public way
and in a way which divides Britain
from Europe and makes Britain look
weak, this seems to me to be like a
trifecta of success for him.
from undermining Putin it underlines
that it is with his agenda.
right, I am strong and I am winning.
All of this, there has always been a
winning card to say the rest of the
world is attacking us and failing so
whoever did it, they did it to help
Putin's re-election and make him
So you think it takes more
people to the ballot and takes more
people to make their cross in his
It strengthens the idea that
Russia is at war with the West and
the West is trying to take advantage
of it, no doubt about that.
nice to agree with Alexander for a
change, I think the timing of this
was bizarre, it would not help Putin
and the question is to what extent
was this activity within his
control. I don't know. I think
Russia is a fairly chaotic place. I
think these agents are around. I
think there are a lot of people who
might want to take vengeance. Again,
the same with the Alexander
Litvinenko ace, I know I have to go
back on form, it really is unclear
who in Russia is masterminding it.
It could be Putin but I agree with
Alexander it is not in his interest
at this time just before an election
to stir this sort of thing up. And
the other really interesting thing,
if you want to kill someone there
are many ways, this is not just
killing, this is a public
demonstration of how Russian
traitors will be dealt with.
on to the rest of the election,
Alexander, many other issues in play
for Russia, the economy is in a mess
you would agree, what is this
election actually about?
I think it
is about national security because
Russians are very worried that for
example in the Ukraine for the first
time ever Nato troops are present.
Nato troops are on the Russian
border. This has never been
happening before, ever. So they are
now a direct threat to Russia.
Ukraine, with the loss of Ukraine
from under Russian influence it's a
terrifying disaster for the country
because of eight, nine million
Russians there and so on. Civil War
on your border which can erupt into
a bigger war. This is national
security. I would say President
Putin at the moment is a national
security can do that because
everything else is secondary now.
They have to protect themselves from
Nato which is moving in, there is a
very aggressive policy of the West
generally against Russia in Asia.
China is very worried as well so
they are operating with this.
that national security argument
trumping the stagnant economy, is it
convenient or is it an accurate
description of events?
I think that
is the card that Putin likes to
play, national security.
because the Russian public are up
It works, 30% of Russians
thought it was a great power in the
year 2000, 70% think it is a great
power now. Cry very successful.
they are potent political tour is
not just in Russia but in America in
some respects as well.
You can see
the Trump base, it's the appeal to
animal instincts, the idea that
things are going badly but we are
showing we can be tough and we will
be great again, somehow. There are
serious economic issues but I don't
think anyone is talking about them
and the Russian system has no answer
to them because it's this very funny
state capitalism system with circles
of influence and oligarchy. There is
some kind of capitalism but the
state institutions are weak, there
will not be any reforms which can
make much difference. I think there
is good enough, oil prices are good
enough, people need to look
appalling. It is all people who
think things are really bad, and one
change, young people are more
concerned, Moscow very different, a
lot of desire for change but I think
in the country people are willing to
stick with it, it is a start as
I want to asked to
think about what do you imagine
President Putin wants to do with yet
another term in office, another six
years, what is his plan as far as
you can guess?
You have to accept
that if you elect a KGB agent to
become your president he is heavily
influenced by his past. He is deeply
suspicious of the West, he bitterly
resents the break-up of the Russian
Soviet Union and is feeding I think
quite naturally, I think genuinely,
on these feelings that Russia is a
great country, it's not being
treated as a equal in the world
economy. The problem about that is
he goes about it in absolutely the
wrong way. This sort of act that he
performed in Salisbury or his
henchmen or his colleagues or
whoever, it just betrays the
thuggishness of Russian society.
That is the word Alexander wanted to
It is the word I want to use...
We have been there and we disagree.
I don't understand, let's avoid this
language... You say to provoke me
and I should share it here quietly?
You made your point, you did not sit
there quietly. What you think the is
His agenda is clear, in
the past 18 years he has been in
power. He wants to restore the
greatness of the former Soviet
empire, the former Russian influence
in the world and he's winning. His
idea, they call it political
technology, is proving the winning
idea because it's winning on all the
kind of theatres in which he has
pushed and pushed and he keeps
pushing. Nobody seems able really to
do anything about it. So I think
that is what he wants to do,
especially in the former satellite
countries of the Soviet Union. He
wants to restore a firm grip.
Alexander, what do you think that
will mean for people outside Russia,
Putin's agenda. It seems there is a
degree of unanimity about what that
agenda is, what do you think it will
mean for people outside Russia?
First of all I find it absolutely
and believable that Russia is
supposedly fixing a grip on its
neighbours when it lost influence in
every neighbouring country, every
neighbouring country had lost to the
Alexander, we have got
literally less than two minutes so I
just wanted to say what you think
another six years of Putin will mean
for people outside Russia?
it will be a tough six years for
Russia, it will be very tough for
Putin to deal with the West. The
West is irresponsible. What they are
doing is pushing the world to
conflict. I find it absolutely
Do you worry about the risk
Yes but I don't think
it's because of the West are looking
for it. The West cannot figure out
what it's looking for right now. You
can make everything look like
encirclement, if Ukrainians in a
Democratic vote wanted to join the
European Union I don't think Mr
Putin would think it's a great idea
and we would have a war.
So if you
had to sum up in one word the coming
six years of Putin and the impact on
the rest of Europe, what would you
If he is able to continue along
the path that he has which has been
very subtle, clever and crafty, I
think the West's fundamental
institutions are at risk in so far
even the American presidency has
We need to
take it seriously and reform the
world security situations. The fact
that China and Russia now in the UN
Security Council and they don't seem
to be forces for the...
We have to
leave it there. Thank you all so
much for joining us, great
That's it for Dateline
London for this week -
we're back next week
at the same time.
You can of course comment on the
programme on Twitter @BBCCarrie.