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The Putin Files: David Hoffman

The Putin Files: David Hoffman

MICHAEL KIRK – When do you know it’s the
Russians spying around the DNC [Democratic National Committee] hack and around the [Clinton
campaign chair John] Podesta hack? DAVID E. HOFFMAN – I think we know in the
summer 2016. But what we know traces—but we don’t really
know who or where. There are little fingerprints and traces. The report that CrowdStrike did looking into
those DNC servers found software patterns that match patterns of malware they’d seen
elsewhere. It’s sort of a puzzle; it’s a detective
game, trying to say, “Well, this matches that,” or, “This thing has some Cyrillic
letters in it. Where did it come from? Which IP address?” But there’s some assumptions in this kind
of work, like all detective work. MICHAEL KIRK – Once it seems to be clear that
it might be Russia, what are you saying to yourself about the likelihood of it being
something initiated by Vladimir Putin? DAVID E. HOFFMAN – Putin spent his entire
career in an institution that used deception and subversion as tools of the state, and
he spent 17 years studying those methods before he came into the political arena and left
that behind. But he didn’t leave behind those lessons. I think a lot of what we’ve seen about Putin
in real warfare in Chechnya and Ukraine and information warfare and in cyberwarfare, in
almost every form, Putin knows that he is the head of a state that’s weak. By his own statements, he took over a state
that was nearly broken. If you think about where he’s coming from
to try and assert strength, it isn’t possible to compete with huge, rich countries in the
world. He doesn’t have the resources, so he’s got
to think about ways to leverage his weakness. He’s got to think about ways to appear to
be stronger using asymmetric methods, and cyber is one of those asymmetric methods. It is something that does not require massive
resources of a state. In many ways, the expertise can be private
hackers. I think a lot of what I thought about when
this first started to crest was that this is the perfect asymmetric weapon, information. MICHAEL KIRK – So you’ve given us the entrée. It’s the end of the Soviet Union. It’s—the Wall is down; he’s in Dresden. Who is that man? DAVID E. HOFFMAN – This time period, 1989,
1990, to understand it, you really have to understand the enormous empire that was cracking
up all around him. This empire was artifice. It was a lot of things that in the Russian
imperial history had been conquered and added on and then solidified. The Soviet Union was really an enormous agglomeration
of nationalities, some of which were breaking off of the Warsaw Pact, of captive nations
in Eastern Europe that were restive. When this whole thing, the bonds of it start
to loosen largely because of the efforts of Mikhail Gorbachev, and Gorbachev starts a
revolution from above, he essentially encourages people to see him as a moment in which the
totalitarian system is ending and he’s giving people freedoms, maybe not complete freedom,
but Gorbachev is an essential player here, even in Germany. In 1989, when Gorbachev came to East Germany,
where Vladimir Putin was in Dresden, Gorbachev came, and he walked a sort of standard party
parade. It was a big day, and the crowds were out,
and the Communist Youth League kids were in the stands. Gorbachev is parading with the leader of Eastern
Europe, and as he passes the stands, the young kids say, “Mikhail Sergeyevich, help us.” Gorbachev is essentially unleashing the bonds,
and if you give people a little bit of freedom, they take it. And people were taking more and more freedom. First of all, in the Eastern European countries,
they were all basically told, the leaders were told, part of the Warsaw Pact, were all
told: “Go your own way. You guys are on your own. Moscow is not coming this time. There won’t be another Soviet invasion like
the Prague Spring.” You have to understand—this is critically
important—that the Prague Spring in 1968, the Soviet invasion, was a thing that left
a deep impression on Gorbachev, because about a year afterward, after the Soviet tanks had
rolled in, Gorbachev was sent as a young party official to Prague as part of a goodwill mission. He went to a factory there, and instead of
seeing a lot of smiling Czech workers, or even a Potemkin village of workers, the workers
in this factory turned their backs on the visiting Soviet delegation, on Mikhail Gorbachev. And when he saw that, he realized there was
no way the Soviet Union could hold this whole thing together, that the use of force was
futile. Taking that lesson into 1989, Gorbachev was
a force for a lot of the places, including in Germany, in East Germany, for people to
begin to taste and smell and think about freedom. It didn’t only sit in Moscow where, of course,
the center of Gorbachev’s reforms were unfolding; it flooded the entire empire. So Vladimir Putin is a junior officer in the
KGB in Dresden, which Dresden’s big claim to fame was that it had the one sort of high-tech
factory in the Eastern bloc. Robotron was in Dresden, and it was not really
nearly as high-tech as the factories in the West, but they made some integrated circuits
and some computers and so on. But Dresden wasn’t even really the center
of anything, and it was a backwater assignment. He was one of a couple of KGB officers in
a small rezidentura in Dresden, and probably what his activities were every day, day to
day there, was not very exciting. This is not James Bond. This is administrative work. If a professor from East Germany was maybe
making a trip into the West, you had to brief him and tell him what to look for, especially
if somebody was traveling and going near a NATO base or a place of interest, what to
look for, what kinds of things to bring back. Somebody needed maybe a phony driver’s license
or a disguise. But it was still administrative work. And this little office that Putin worked in
in this sort of backwater place was right by the bigger headquarters of the East German
secret police, the Stasi. He could even see from his little window that
the Stasi guys in their own place and time lived bigger and better than he did. I think that this was, certainly for a guy
like Putin, who had always wanted to work in the KGB and was accepted and trained as
an officer and then sent aboard, it probably was not stimulating every day to have to run
these minor agents and do all this administrative work in a kind of dreary East German backwater. The KGB’s mission was to protect this great
empire, this great party state that Putin worked for. Certainly in his lifetime, he had been trained
and come to believe that the Soviet Union was a superpower, a global power, a respected
power around the world. There was a Cold War confrontation. For whatever you can say about the Soviet
Union, it was half of that confrontation, and it was a very, very big, powerful country
that had enormous impact on that second half of that century. And by 1989 and 1990, Putin sees that this
thing that had always seemed to be glued together well, seemed to be impervious, that had gone
from generation to generation of change in the top party officials, seemed to be a rock,
it was starting to crumble before his eyes. And this crumbling was not something that
he was part of. It was happening, starting, with that guy
Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow who was loosening the reins, who was telling people: “You
can vote. We can have some democracy. We can have some socialism and democracy.” Gorbachev was letting this happen. And by the way, in Moscow and in the Soviet
Union, this was a life-changing event for the people who lived through it. For the adults and even young people who were
part of those glasnost and perestroika years, this was something that was completely different
in their entire lives, and in many, many ways was just a revolution beyond expectations
that, for example, the press which had been so stilted in communist times suddenly becomes
partially free and in some cases almost completely free. And people would line up to read newspapers. They had never paid them much attention before. Similarly, people began to discover that long-held
dark secrets of their history, that the state had never let out, were suddenly coming out,
including the truth about the Stalin-Hitler pact of World War II, which had been kept
a secret for many, many years until Gorbachev’s time inside the Soviet Union. So for many people, this was a time of great
excitement and enablement and experimentation with democracy. Probably the peak of this, the zenith of it,
came when Gorbachev permitted limited free elections for the new parliament, the Congress
of People’s Deputies. This was a moment in which people were not
voting in some kind of pro forma election where every party member raised their hand
yes, but where people actually had choices and where they actually chose who they thought
would be the best candidates. When this parliament then convened with Andrei
Sakharov, the great physicist and human rights advocate and dissident elected to the parliament,
the entire country stopped for a day. People stopped working. They stood in front of their televisions mesmerized
by this limited freedom that was on display. MICHAEL KIRK – But our guy Putin sitting in
Dresden misses it all. DAVID E. HOFFMAN – Vladimir Putin missed this. Vladimir Putin missed this wave of excitement. He missed this life-transformation—years
[of it]—the years that this happened he was in East Germany, and he was watching it
from afar. He was not part of it. He didn’t really believe in it; he didn’t
subscribe to these ideas. And it all happened far away until it finally
reached him when the Wall came down. The year after the Wall came down, he returned
in 1990 to a Soviet Union that was spinning apart. That winter of 1990 was probably the worst. The shortages were horrible; there were really
bad bread shortages. Even, I recall, one of those winters, a huge
convoy of coal train cars froze, just froze, and they couldn’t get the coal to the heating
plants. Everything seemed to be going wrong in that
winter. Of course Gorbachev at that time had forsaken
some of his earlier hopes for democracy and was trying to tack back to authoritarianism. It wasn’t working. Everything was in a sort of suspended state
of great uncertainty. And the Soviet Union that Vladimir Putin came
back to in 1990 was no more within a year. MICHAEL KIRK – … We heard there were 800,000
KGB officers at the end of the Soviet Union. Let’s take it back. As a little boy, the way the story goes, at
16 he walks in and tries to volunteer into the KGB. Take me on that young-man trajectory and how
the preparation to be a KGB officer might yield the Vladimir Putin who becomes president. DAVID E. HOFFMAN – Putin was only—I don’t
want to say only child. He had a brother who died before he was born. Putin came from a sort of hardscrabble and
hard-luck story. His father had been a wounded war veteran. Once the war was over, they lived in what
we would think of as poverty, although for them it probably was a cut above. And, you know, his courtyard was his world. People remember him as a very scrappy, sort
of a slight young kid, smaller than you would expect, but definitely somebody who would
fight you no matter how big you were. Putin was a product of this period after World
War II of rebuilding in the Soviet Union when people actually had very, very little. They had come out of the war, especially [St.]
Petersburg, just devastated. I think for Putin, this sort of courtyard,
hardscrabble life was formative. He writes in his own memoirs, and he says
over and over again in times of duress, that one of his great life lessons is never show
weakness because the weak are always defeated. The KGB as an organization that he aspired
to, for him it was probably a good career step. People aspired to join the party or the KGB
because, you have to remember, there wasn’t much else. For somebody that wanted some kind of interesting
career, there were not a lot of opportunities in business in the Soviet Union, because private
profit and entrepreneurship were prohibited. This was a paternalistic state that provided,
supposedly, everything cradle to grave. Opportunities for creativity were limited,
and I think that Putin somehow had in his mind that he would earn respect by this career
choice; that he liked the idea, basically, of being a cop, whether it was the KGB or
something like that. It was appealing to him because of his scrappy
nature. The KGB was many, many things in the Soviet
Union. It was both a foreign intelligence-gathering
organization that carried out the active measures abroad to try and influence overseas affairs. But also it was the secret police. It was the organization that protected the
great party state, the Communist Party and the government that it oversaw. It had a lot of power inside the Soviet Union,
and it was seriously feared by people. I think that the fear of the Great Terror
of the late 1930s, the sacrifices of World War II, the thaw of the Khrushchev years,
all those phases had passed by the time Vladimir Putin—and by the time Putin enters the KGB,
it’s really on the cusp of this period in the whole country, this period known as stagnation. The Brezhnev years were coming, and this was
a period where people were sort of tired of the great upheavals. Brezhnev’s calling card in this period was
he would bring “stability of the cadres.” In other words, he wasn’t going to be firing
and executing and mixing it all up, everything. But everything got to be so stable that it
started to stagnate. The Soviet economic system started to go into
a long, slow decline. Because of the demands of the Cold War, the
demands of the budget for Cold War weaponry and militarization were huge. Some people think that in this time period,
40 percent of Soviet Union GDP went basically to military goods and things involved in the
Cold War. The country really couldn’t provide much
for consumers. And frankly, they didn’t think much about
providing items for consumers. But consumers were somewhat aware of what
was happening in the world, so there was always this tension of could you get a television
for your family? Where would you get the television? Did the Soviet system make them? Yes, in limited numbers. Could you get a car? A car was a dear thing to have in your family,
and many, many people longed for consumer goods that the Soviet system didn’t provide. There was not a sense of crass consumerism
because socialism had sort of pushed that out. Little kids are taught from the very beginning
that profit was evil and wrong, and this was going to be an egalitarian utopia. But by the ’70s, it’s no longer really
a utopia, and the KGB also, although feared, it’s not the same KGB, or its predecessor,
the NKVD, in the 1930s. I think for Putin in some ways this is a good
career choice and may make him feel good. He’s trained by the KGB in all their long
history of things. And I’ll give you an example. We think it very natural to go to a photocopier
and copy a document. But the Soviet party state, the Communist
Party, was deathly afraid of photocopiers. Why? Because they controlled information. There were literal censors in this system. The news was censored, literature. There was lots of different ways that information
was controlled. Even in a factory, a normal factory making
widgets or ball bearings or pipes or something, of course, there might be one Xerox machine. But the Xerox machines were usually kept under
lock and key because the Soviet system did not want people to have the power to share
information. Information in the Soviet system was controlled
by the state, and that’s what the KGB was partly involved in. Some of these factories, in all of these factories,
there would be a KGB officer or somebody reporting to the KGB. It was called the regime, and the regime would
always be able to blow the whistle on somebody if they were passing around information that
wasn’t authorized by the state. To me, the image of the locked-up Xerox machine
as a threat to the state has always been very powerful. That’s the kind of thing that the KGB was
involved in. How do we keep control of information? And the KGB’s job was enforcing it. They chased dissidents. They pursued Sakharov mercilessly and also
[Aleksandr] Solzhenitsyn, you know. We now have the transcripts of these wiretaps
they put in, Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn, to try and listen to what they were doing. Why was the KGB afraid of these guys? They were afraid because Solzhenitsyn was
writing novels exposing the Gulag, exposing the prison camps of an earlier period, and
they didn’t want that. And Sakharov was arguing for a different kind
of a Soviet Union, that it face its problems more openly, and they didn’t want that. So the KGB was an instrument of control. Putin tells a story. When he was just in the KGB before he was
sent to Dresden, he says, “I had to do a couple of cases here and there,” and he
talks some about things he did. And he tells the story about how some dissidents
were going to come, and they were going to make a small little demonstration at some
monument in Leningrad, and KGB got wind of it. So what did the KGB do? They hired a little band. They put on the band uniforms themselves. They got their own wreaths, and they went,
and they had their own little tribute at this statue before the dissidents got there. They blocked them. And they didn’t even reveal that they were
KGB. They just impersonated some people, and they
completely forced the dissidents out of their space. That was a typical sort of small little trick
of how the KGB operated, which was deception and subversion and protection and control
of the Soviet state, were the things that Putin learned about, even if the state was
tottering and beginning to stagnate and it was not the Great Terror. The mass repressions of Stalin were a memory. MICHAEL KIRK – He, by all accounts, does not
rise through the ranks as a superstar by any stretch of the imagination. As you described his life in Dresden, it’s
pretty mundane as a young KGB officer. … DAVID E. HOFFMAN – Yeah, the reality of life
in the KGB for Vladimir Putin was actually mundane. He believed in the mission, but the work wasn’t
all that exciting all the time. I think that the state that he was trying
to defend and the events around him, especially at the end, really came crashing down. He was never more than a lieutenant colonel
in 17 years in the service. MICHAEL KIRK – The stories of the stoking
of the furnace with the papers to save KGB information from KGB headquarters from a mob,
the walking out, calling Moscow, Moscow was silent: Those stories sound a little bit like
something that was invented later. Does it ring true to you? DAVID E. HOFFMAN – I don’t know about the
truth of these stories, but I think that what does ring true is the idea of this KGB officer
on sort of the edge of the empire in a small backwater, in an outpost, feeling overwhelmed
that the great state that he admired, the mission that had been really his life’s
ambition, was falling apart, and he felt helpless about it. He was not involved in the great changes that
had come about, and he didn’t even understand them; he was far removed from them. And I think that there was a great sense on
his part of just absolute helplessness there. MICHAEL KIRK – … You used a word to describe—when
we had a meeting a week ago, you used a word to describe what happens to those 800,000
KGB people. DAVID E. HOFFMAN – When he gets back, right. MICHAEL KIRK – Yeah. And the word you used was “shipwrecked.” … DAVID E. HOFFMAN – When the Soviet Union collapses
in 1991, and Putin is back in Leningrad, and he’s trying to find his way, but the whole
structure of the KGB really begins to crack up—now, there was a foreign intelligence
collection part that was hived off or separated into a new thing. And actually, Boris Yeltsin broke the KGB
up into nine different organizations at one point. Border guards were given their own thing. Also, some of the domestic law enforcement
functions were also given into new, different agencies. But the truth is that their very top guys
in the KGB got good jobs with these new oligarchs who were rising in the 1990s. A few of the top KGB guys just simply moved
into the oligarchy capitalism and got good jobs, but a lot of the people that had worked
in the KGB at Putin’s level were shipwrecked. They didn’t know what to do in this new society. The revolution that had taken place in Gorbachev’s
time and the collapse of the Soviet Union, which for so many people was like a breath
of fresh air, for them it was suffocating, because the values that they had stood for,
the whole ideal of the Soviet Union, of this utopia, had collapsed in utter disappointment
for most people. They were seen as sort of leftovers from an
earlier time. It was hard for them to find a place in a
new society. It was hard for them to find something to
believe in. It was hard for them to see these values of
entrepreneurship and capitalism and business springing up all around them when this had
always, in their training, been something that was shunned. Remember, the Soviet socialism was a place
where entrepreneurship and business was prohibited. The state ran everything. I think for KGB officers in this environment,
it was a very forbidding time. And I think part of it was mindset: Where
do they fit in? What kind of work do they do? Part of it was very practical. What would they actually do with themselves,
some of them in the middle of their career? You think about Putin. He’s basically in the middle of his career. How does he start over if his skill set is,
you know, running low-level agents in Dresden? MICHAEL KIRK – So what does he actually do? And in the doing of it, he and lots of people
like him, are they carrying a hope that the thing they don’t understand and don’t really
believe in will eventually collapse on its own weight? Do they have a view of the Russian people
as needing strong authority, having had it all for thousands of years? … DAVID E. HOFFMAN – You know, for a guy in
Putin’s shoes in this period of time, it must have been terribly disorienting. But I also think that he had a real streak
of pragmatism and realism. There wasn’t much use spending your days putting
your toes in the lake and wondering what had happened to the great Soviet Union. It was time to get out there and find a place
in this new society. It was a real thing that was happening around
him. There wasn’t any denying it, and I don’t think
Putin had any illusions at that time that gee, if he just waited a year, the Soviet
Union would come back. It wasn’t coming back. Putin then essentially tried to look around
to find some particular piece of driftwood he could grab onto to keep afloat in this
new society that was turbulent and uncertain. There’s a period in the late Gorbachev years
when cities, especially Moscow and St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod, were also cauldrons for
the new democracy and where leaders of cities grew up as powerful voices like Gorbachev
for the values of freedom and liberty and free enterprise. In Moscow, there was really kind of a salt-and-pepper-haired
professor named Gavriil Popov, who was a champion of the new democrats. And in Nizhny Novgorod, there was this young
physics professor named Boris Nemtsov who got a lot of attention and became to lead
the city. And in St. Petersburg, there was Anatoly Sobchak,
who was in that early period—and I remember meeting him once when I was covering Secretary
of State [James] Baker, and we visited [St.] Petersburg. These people were leaders by dint of their
inspiring speeches, by their voice, by the way they could articulate what freedom would
be like. But all of these young, new democrats in the
cities had a big, big problem and a big flaw, many of them, and that is they didn’t know
how to run anything. Many of them had been professors or something
like that, but they had never run anything. And in Moscow, of course, the man who rescues
Popov is Yury Luzhkov, who was a factory director and knew how to run things. I think in Petersburg, I think when Putin
was looking for something to do, helping Sobchak, who he knew and had studied with, helping
him run that city at a time when Sobchak was giving the speeches was something he could
do. Putin was a guy in that environment with a
rambunctious—with a raucous city council and with Sobchak, who was the sort of voice
but didn’t really know how to run the city. Putin filled the gap of trying to get some
things done. What do I mean by getting things done? One of the biggest problems of these cities
in this really tumultuous period, the bonds that had sort of held the Soviet Union together
broke, so there was a real problem of getting food to the cities. The food was in the countryside. There was no longer a command economy. There was no longer just pick up the phone
and order the food to be brought; you had to get the food. And this was an acute problem in St. Petersburg,
was food. People were hungry. Putin got deeply involved in a deal in which
resources, raw materials, metals and other things that were in the St. Petersburg port
were traded with 19 companies, and it was a very complex scheme. But the essence of it was that the raw materials
would be traded for food and that the money involved in selling these raw materials would
be used to buy the food, and the food would come to St. Petersburg and help the people. Well, the raw materials disappeared, the money
came in and disappeared, and the food never arrived. This scandal has been talked about a lot;
it’s not a new thing. But this whole machination of dealing with
overseas companies, of money going into mysterious bank accounts, of a deal that was supposed
to bring some benefit that didn’t come through was Putin’s first experience with this wild
capitalism of the new Russia. I think that this experience must have left
him with the impression that some of the capitalism—it must have left him with this impression, that
capitalism was a really bizarre and wild place, maybe more arbitrary and maybe actually more
manipulable than a lot of people understood in Soviet times. In other words, this was not a capitalism
of rules; this was not the kind of—let me think of a way to say this. This was a capitalism of deals, of machinations
of power, and of enrichment. That food deal in St. Petersburg is still
a big mystery, but we know that Putin was at the center of trying to deal with foreign
banks and foreign companies, and he did have some exposure to this wild capitalism of the
new Russia in that period. Sobchak didn’t last as a politician, and by
1996, he lost a bid for re-election [as mayor of St. Petersburg]. Putin remained loyal to him up to the very
end, but he also had to think of himself, and he was looking for a job, and he essentially
started to look to Moscow. And he was brought to Moscow not because he
had any public persona. This was a guy who had never run for public
office. He was shy as can be, but he was known as
a guy who was kind of a bureaucrat who could get something done, you know? He had done that for Sobchak. He had at least tried to get some things done. He was brought into some minor positions in
the Kremlin in a department in the Kremlin that had dealt with things like the motor
pool and renovations of the Kremlin buildings and so on. Putin, step by step, worked his way up, a
little bit because he was faceless. The thing about Putin in this time that I
think is true is people sort of wrote upon him what they wanted. He was such a man without a face that people
could say: “Oh, he’s a former KGB guy, and he also manages to get things done. Let’s give this job to him.” After having done a couple of these jobs,
he was named head of the FSB. The FSB was the successor agency at home inside
the country to the KGB. There was another agency that took care of
things abroad, and there was still some other different broken bits of the KGB. But the FSB became sort of the central successor. Putin was head of the FSB for about a year. But at this time, again in Yeltsin’s presidency,
you have to understand something about Yeltsin and Yeltsin’s presidency. Boris Yeltsin decided to break totalitarianism,
to crush what was left of communism with a simple idea, which is maximum freedom first. Yeltsin never got around to the important
rule of law that comes with a modern, healthy democracy. He did the first part. By bringing out maximum freedom first, what
do I mean? I mean that he essentially enabled people
to do almost anything, and people did a lot of wild things in those times, in the economy,
but if there were disputes, if two businessmen got into a dispute because they had started
a business in this environment of freedom, there weren’t really courts they could rely
on to resolve the dispute. There was violence. Violence was a way to resolve disputes because
the rule-of-law system and the courts didn’t function very well. All through this period, Yeltsin sort of pushed
forward this idea of maximum freedom first. As a philosophy, the idea was being that eventually
when you free people to do these things, to make these choices, they’ll want rules,
and they’ll come around and they’ll create rules. But it’s Yeltsin’s great failure that
in this period, the rule of law never took hold. He really didn’t pay it enough attention,
because Yeltsin was a guy who tore things down. It was dramatic flourish, and people cheered. But he was not a guy who understood how to
build things up. The point at which Putin becomes director
of the FSB, this point in the 1990s, we’re in a period of maximum freedom freefall. The country essentially is experimenting on
every street corner with all kinds of new ideas, including super wealth. The oligarchs are beginning to rise as a power
in the country, a group of five or six of them becoming billionaires in the country
and running things. So this whole idea that we think of as a rule-of-law
society, where you have an SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission] and where you have
markets that are regulated, was just beginning to dawn in Russia. Again, Putin becomes in charge of this agency,
the Federal Security Service, but at a time when the whole idea of the rule of law hasn’t
really been established. There are oligarchs and there are little baby
oligarchs, and there are all kinds of people in business who are far more powerful than
the state. And this really bugs Putin, again, because
he was a product of a big, unitary state that seemed powerful, the Soviet Union. When he sees this, it’s often described
as chaos in Yeltsin’s time. But I think “chaos” is a word that even
Putin himself has applied to it. But I lived there, and in that period of time,
I think it’s much better to think of [it] as completely unbridled freedom, and for a
people that had been in the prison of totalitarianism for 70 years, completely unbridled freedom
was an experience. It wasn’t entirely bad. And Yeltsin never, never closed down a newspaper
in his time. He believed in freedom like he breathed the
air. But Yeltsin also just could not understand
that you had to have rules. And for Putin, who comes in and is put in
charge of a law enforcement agency at a time when nobody understands the rules, it must
have been very, very bewildering. … So, after the collapse of the Russian economy
in 1998, Boris Yeltsin had a problem, which was he’d gone through several prime ministers,
appointing them, firing them, and the point came in 1999 when he needed a new prime minister. I think Vladimir Putin was chosen because,
again, looking at Putin at the time, the people around Yeltsin sort of imprinted upon him
what they liked to see, which is he gets things done; he’ll be loyal; he has connections
to the security services, but he also believes in the new system. Frankly, I don’t think they thought it through
very much. The presidency in Russia was a super presidency,
OK? The president of Russia had a lot of power
and a completely separate structure to run things, the presidential administration. The prime minister was the head of the government
that implemented things and head of the ministries. But when they named Putin prime minister,
it just seemed like another faceless person in a string of prime ministers, and it sort
of suggested that Yeltsin didn’t really get, after almost nine years in power, have any
idea about how to build a modern state. He was just reveling in freedom. I think there’s a thing about Yeltsin you
just have to understand at this time, which is that his entire persona was that of a bear,
and a bear who would hibernate and then at the last minute, starving, desperate, maybe
on the edge of survival, a bear that would come out with a huge great surge of energy
and recover. Yeltsin had always gone through these great
hibernations and then surges. Now, we now know that some of the hibernation
was because he drank a lot, like almost all men did in his country. But he also had a very serious heart problem,
and he had heart surgery in 1996. But the critical thing about his character,
the important thing, is that he operated this way. His life was sort of to hibernate and to surge. And there were periods, especially in 1999,
after that ruble crash in Russia after the 1998 crisis, there was a period of terrible
vacuum and volatility, and Yeltsin wasn’t really running the country. It seemed to me at the time that the oligarchs
were actually running the country behind the scenes. So Putin was picked in this vacuum, in this
environment when rule of law hadn’t been brought about, when Yeltsin’s long experiment
in freedom first seemed to be producing a society in which essentially a bunch of rich
oligarchs were working behind the scenes. Yeltsin also sometimes would rally, and he
was trying to, but [when] he picked Putin in August of 1999, I think maybe there was
a hope that Putin would be like him. But I don’t think that at that time he actually
picked Putin to be his successor. He was just picking another prime minister. But events then came along to change the course
of history really quickly. In September, just a month after Putin became
prime minister, there were a series of horrible bombings of apartment buildings in the middle
of Moscow. You can’t imagine what a terrible moment this
was for people in Moscow. This was their 9/11. This was a time when these big, tall, seven-story
apartment buildings built in the 1950s out of stone and brick just blew up all in the
middle of the night. People were killed in the middle of the night
when the apartment blew up. It happened in Moscow; it happened in two
other cities over a period of two weeks or so, and more than 300 people died, and 1,000
people were injured. And nobody knew where this was coming from. It created a great sense of anxiety and panic. Who would be next? Where would be next? Why was this happening? Of course, at the time, Putin blamed this
on the Chechen rebels. The Chechen war, there had been a war fought
in the ’90s when Chechnya wanted to secede, and it had been fought to a draw, only to
a cease-fire. The rebellion had continued in Chechnya in
a sort of low-grade way, and Putin said that these apartment buildings had been blown up
and vowed to suppress this. He vowed to suppress this rebellion in Chechnya
once and for all. He launched a military operation against Chechnya
unlike anything Russia had seen in a long time. It was a very, very brutal and fast military
operation to try and roll through Chechnya and crush the rebellion. One of the things that happened is that the
nature of what was going on in Chechnya was such that there were new forces. The Chechen rebels themselves had morphed
a little bit, and just before this happened, rebels in Chechnya had broken out from the
Chechen Republic into Dagestan. Dagestan is a neighboring republic that was
multiethnic. There were more than 30 nationalities. It’s an amazing quilt, a crazy quilt of
nationalities. But this was very alarming in Moscow, because
if the rebels were going to move into essentially another big area of Russia and stir foment
and trouble, Putin believed at the time, and said: “We face a problem of the Russian
state holding together. If this goes on, Russia could become Yugoslavia.” And that image of a Yugoslav-style breakup
was on his mind as he launched that offensive and as those apartment houses were blowing
up, that if we don’t stop this now, Russia could break up like Yugoslavia. It was that close. He felt, and at least he felt, at least, that
the Russian state was at risk, and the only way to save it was a show of strength. Remember his own statements [that] to show
weakness is to invite defeat, so this military offensive that he launched—and now he’s
still prime minister, and Yeltsin is still the president—this military offensive in
the autumn of 1999 mesmerized Russian society, galvanized the people. The Russian people at this point had been
beaten down, not by the chaos but just by the upheaval of the freedom revolution of
Yeltsin. I mean, they were just so free and so surprising
all the time in the ’90s, I think people were exhausted. People were exhausted from change. Many Russians, to try and stay afloat, were
working three jobs. People were trying to save, then there’d
be a crash, and their currency would be devalued. People were enjoying the idea of the ’90s
that you could go abroad. Russians went abroad for vacations in droves. Huge 747s flew out of Moscow’s airports
full of school kids. Their parents had never been given the right
to go on a holiday to Paris or to London. But seeing the rest of the wider world in
the 1990s opened a lot of people’s eyes. And then they came home. They came home to this country that Yeltsin
was running like a sandbox of tantrums all the time. It was a place of just wild freedom, and I
think they were tired. When Putin launches this military offensive,
he became really an overnight sensation. Russians watched him on TV, and they said:
“You know what? This guy, he’s a cougar. He is tough and fast and svelte.” They loved it. And you have to see from the feelings they
had toward Yeltsin of, especially in his long periods of hibernation, from the feeling of
drift and the feeling of uncertainty that the freedom had brought, Putin provided the
salve of some kind of strength and stability that was extremely appealing. Putin’s popularity rocketed like nothing
I had ever seen in the 1990s. He was not one of the whole flanks of politicians
who might have risen to the top to be Yeltsin’s successor. There were plenty of them, and they had all
been tried and tested in the ’90s, and none of them achieved this kind of sudden and very,
very evident, televised charisma that Putin showed by going after—he said of those Chechens,
he said, “We’ll rub them out in the outhouse.” People loved it because that’s how they felt. You know, they knew people that had died and
those apartment buildings collapsed at 3:00 in the morning. They were mad and angry. He capitalized on that; he exploited it. It became more clear in the late autumn that,
I think to Yeltsin, that he wasn’t going to make it to the next presidential election,
which was the following year in March. So Yeltsin and the people around him, which
included some of the oligarchs and his daughter Tatyana, began to essentially look for a successor,
a handpicked successor. This was an incredibly important moment for
Russia, because the way Russian democracy was set up and the way the constitution was
written was there was supposed to be an election, and people were going to vote for a parliament
in December, and they were going to vote in the following spring for a president. But Yeltsin himself, the great champion of
democracy, essentially began to look for a handpicked successor. I think that this is an incredibly important
moment for the future of the country, because had he left it to democratic choice, we don’t
really know who might have come out on top. It’s quite possible at that time—Putin was
far more popular than anybody else; it’s quite possible it would have come out the
same way, but it also was Yeltsin’s desire. I think he was in a period of great hibernation. I mean, I think he was in just one of those
periods where he couldn’t see the future and he decided to retire, to announce to the country
he was going to leave at New Year’s. In the weeks and months before that, somebody
had to be found to kind of be his handpicked successor, because he’d have to name an
acting president. And that was the mantle of the future. Putin, having done so well, Putin having galvanized
the society and having rocketed to the top, seemed to be the obvious choice. This was not an easy choice. I think that in the back of Yeltsin’s mind,
he had to answer for himself the question, will this guy continue the things I care about,
at least in a big way? Maybe he looked at the blank screen, he looked
at Putin and said yes. Maybe he didn’t know. Maybe the oligarchs looked at Putin, and what
they saw in him was a puppet, somebody they could manipulate, … and maybe the Yeltsin
family looked at Putin and thought, here’s a guy who won’t hurt us, because every outgoing
Russian leader worries that he’s going to be prosecuted or maybe worse. I think there was a certainly a desire to
find somebody that would leave Yeltsin and the family alone, and again, Putin fit the
bill. Putin was told by Yeltsin of this. Yeltsin said, “I’m going to give you this,”
and Putin said, “No, I’m not ready.” Yeltsin said: “Look, I wasn’t ready either. This is just the way it is. You have to do it.” I think it’s very telling, what Putin said
when he said, “I’m not ready,” because really, Putin only three or four years sooner
had been a nobody who came into Moscow looking for a job, and he had certainly now been working
at the highest levels. He had been head of the FSB. He also was on the Russian Security Council. Then he was prime minister. But I think that this is a moment where the
Putin that is coming to power has never, ever faced an election in his life. Democracy, which was really the coin of the
realm for Yeltsin’s Russia, it didn’t mean anything to him. He had never participated in it in any way. He never had to ask a voter, ever, for a vote. And he actually didn’t like electioneering
and democracy. He hadn’t come from that world. He’d come from the world of control, from
a party state that had a monopoly on power. The Soviet Communist Party had no competition. It’s an important thing to remember in the
future. On Dec. 29, 1999, Putin had published and
issued a manifesto. It’s sometimes called the “Millennium Manifesto,”
because if you remember that week, we were all worried about the millennium, the Y2K
bug. And this “Millennium Manifesto” is a really
interesting document. I think it’s worth just mentioning for a
second because this question of who is Mr. Putin was unanswered. Sure, the Russian people saw this cougar,
you know, this guy who was cracking down on Chechnya and showing strength and popularity. But what did he really care about? What were his values? They didn’t really know. … This long essay reflects, I think, again,
Putin’s sense of telling people what they want to hear. He addresses in this essay the need to rebuild
the Russian state, and he addresses some of the things that we’re going to see later that
he feels Russia’s weak. We missed the boat in the world economy; we’ve
got to get going. But there’s also a part of this thing that
is very modern. If you remember that Russia at this time,
its biggest, biggest problem is that it was a backward country. What was inherited from the Soviet Union were
old, tired factories that weren’t working, desperate need in all the country for modernization. And for modernization, you need capital. And for capital, Russia didn’t have any. It needed foreign capitalists to invest; it
needed foreign investors desperately. The whole ’90s was an effort to see if you
could free markets and bring that investment, because there were things to be done. Putin strikes a tone in this manifesto that
persuades a lot of people that he’s a modernizer. He believes in a strong state, but also that
he believes in this market experiment that’s been going on almost, at that point, for a
decade. I think the very, very interesting thing about
this is that many Westerners studied this and concluded that Putin was going to be basically
a younger, stronger Yeltsin, and they were wrong. MICHAEL KIRK – So, it’s New Year’s Eve. Set the scene. Be as graphic as you can about the surroundings
and the circumstances where Yeltsin names Putin. DAVID E. HOFFMAN – Yeltsin’s decision took
the country by surprise, and me. I had actually started to work on a book about
the oligarchs, and I cleared my desk the day before New Year’s Eve and said: “I’m not
to be bothered. I’m going to be working on this book project. Don’t even bother me.” And somebody knocks on the door and says,
“There are rumors Yeltsin’s resigning tonight.” So all during that afternoon, the wires, Interfax
and TASS were going crazy because the rumor’s starting to spill out in the afternoon before
the announcement. Then it was confirmed Yeltsin would go on
television that night. … Boris Yeltsin goes on television to make a
speech that is terribly, deeply melancholy because the great bear, the surging hero,
the guy who’d stood on the tank, confesses to Russians that he wasn’t able to accomplish
all he wanted to. And boy, do they know it, because they know
from all these years of struggle with democracy and free markets that you can’t eat democracy,
and the disenchantment with a lot of what Yeltsin stood for is palatable in the Russian
people. For all of his great strengths in doing these
things and really burying communism, and for all of the fact that he stood for freedom
to the end and never tried to impose censorship again, by the time Yeltsin says, “I failed,”
people all agreed with him. … The thing about Putin, who was named his successor,
is that he had the promise, the vigor, the youth. It was a question of comparing these two. Yeltsin was old and spent and tired, and Putin
was active and vibrant and virile and pursuing real policies of strength. There seemed to be at least some hope for
another phase. MICHAEL KIRK – When Putin gets it, how quickly,
David, do you know we’re not in Kansas anymore? DAVID E. HOFFMAN – Putin’s manifesto, which
had caused a lot of people to chew it over and think what does this guy stand for, was
a placeholder for a while. I myself as a correspondent for The Washington
Post and many other newspaper correspondents and television correspondents and foreign
investors were puzzling over who is Mr. Putin. It was a very common question in the first
period. And Putin began to act rather quickly. One of the first things he did was to take
control of television. One of the first things he did was to take
control of television, because more than 90 percent of Russians got all their news from
television. But in Yeltsin’s time, the big television
stations had fallen into the hands of the oligarchs who were improving them in some
ways. NTV television was very independent and certainly
had a big following among people that had hopes for democracy in Russia. And Channel One, which was the biggest television
station, spanning all the time zones of Russia, which reached the most people, was in the
hands of Boris Berezovsky, one of the most ambitious of the Yeltsin oligarchs and the
one personally closest to the Yeltsin family. Putin faced down Berezovsky very soon in that
first year and basically said, “I want Channel One.” And you know, that’s all he had to say. He got it. With [NTV founder Vladimir] Gusinsky, it was
a little more difficult. He pressured him. At one point, he threw him in a horrible prison
for a little while to sit and think and then forced him also to give up his television
station to a subsidiary of Gazprom, the huge state natural gas monopoly. By taking over this means of communication,
Putin began to immediately shape what he wanted to tell people about the Russia that he would
have and about the kind of things he wanted to do. He also was the star, and people, even in
other television and other people in the media, got the idea that Vladimir Putin cared a lot
about what was said in the public-political space, in the information space, which is
television and newspapers and so on. People began to get the message that he was
going to act and that he cared about control of the media. At the time, some of the newspapers were still
quite independent, but taking television was a moment. It was followed very soon after that by a
campaign against the oligarchs, and Putin’s message to these oligarchs, who had become
powerful in Yeltsin’s time and [during] Yeltsin’s flowering of freedom, Putin’s
message was: “Look, we’re going to have new terms. The terms are I’m going to run the state,
not you. If you want to cooperate with me, if you want
to follow my rules, you can stay here and make some money. But if you don’t, I can’t live with it. I can’t tolerate it.” This bargain, which was hammered out in secret,
I’ve never actually seen it if it was written down, but it was a tacit bargain. Gusinsky and Berezovsky both left the country. [Oil company Yukos head] Mikhail Khodorkovsky
thought he could work with Putin for a while, and he stayed inside, and some of the others
did, too. This increasingly was a focus of Putin because
the oligarchs had held the power, and he wanted to consolidate the power. He wanted to get the power of the state back
in his own hands. In the manifesto. At the time he even became prime minister,
back when he worried about Yugoslavia, Putin’s thinking, how do I rebuild the Russian state? I have to tell you that this may sound odd
to people, that Putin is wondering, how do I make a big, powerful country? People might be thinking, well, isn’t he worried
about health care or education or things like that? But remember the environment here. The Soviet Union, this giant thing, just collapsed
overnight. And communism, which was deeply, deeply ingrained
in minds of people for decades, was replaced by some ideals of freedom and of democracy
and markets that weren’t even very well explained or understood by people. So when the ’90s become this cauldron where
people struggle with this, for Putin, the number one issue that he has to deal with
is the fact that the Russian state might become a Yugoslavia and break up and the whole idea
of it might disappear. So he’s thinking often about how to reassert
control. Another thing he begins to do is to rebuild
the security services and particularly the FSB, again, thinking that a strong state needs
a strong security service. But this is not the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was the state with an ideology,
with a point of view about the world and about socialism. Putin is trying to build a strong state in
a kind of wild version of capitalism. He actually understood that Yeltsin had failed
to build a rule of law, and Putin very quickly early in his term brought in some important
legislation, laws to update the way corporations functioned, laws to govern the sale of land. He started to work on this, and at one point
he said he wanted to impose diktatura zakon, the “dictatorship of law.” I asked myself, which part of that phrase
does he really understand? In a rule-of-law state, there is no dictatorship. But this is how he thought about it. He said, “I want to liquidate the oligarchs
as a class,” but by 2003, he internally began to liquidate the oligarchs that existed
from Yeltsin’s time and replaced them with his own pals. MICHAEL KIRK – Also in this time, George W.
Bush is elected president of the United States. His feeling as he goes to that first meeting
with George W. Bush, his feeling about America in those early days of his presidency, those
first couple of years? DAVID E. HOFFMAN – Just let me finish one
thought, though. In that first Putin term, which runs to 2004,
at which time he’s trying to rebuild the state, he is faced with some real gut punches
that he didn’t expect that made it harder. Twice there were Chechen terrorist attacks:
in 2004 in a theater in—I mean, in 2002 in a theater in Moscow, and in 2004 in [a
school in] Beslan. These two attacks were particularly vicious. Hundreds of people died, and many Russians
sort of began to wonder, do we still have that Putin that showed such great strength
in 1999 and early 2000? I think for Putin, these terrorist attacks
also slowed down the process. For Putin, these terrorist attacks were something
he had to face and confront. It was a really difficult time, and he answered
the challenge of this by essentially beginning to impose more authoritarianism and rolling
back Boris Yeltsin’s democracy. After the Beslan attack in 2004, he switched
the election of governors to make them appointed by him. The rules of election to the parliament were
fiddled with and manipulated. So you see in this period, even by 2004, after
that particular attack, that Putin is rolling back the maximum freedom that Yeltsin had
created. I think Putin wanted some breathing room with
the United States at the beginning, and he thought up some idea that he would pitch to
the new president in the United States, George Bush, for a compromise of some kind on missile
defense. It was kind of an elaborate idea of a compromise,
and he presented it once to Bush. Then a little bit later, Bush, absolutely
unilaterally and without telling Putin, simply abrogated the missile defense treaty, the
ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty, which dated from 1972. This was kind of a rude shock for Putin because
in his mind, at least, maybe he could be seen as an equal. The Soviet Union was always an equal to the
United States in the Cold War. Maybe he felt that even if Russia was weak,
if he showed some flexibility and compromise, he could have a kind of a period of detente
again, or at least respect, that the United States would deal with him. When Bush abrogated the treaty, especially
in the way that he did, I think Putin was at least internally shocked and a little bit
set back and beginning to wonder. This also was followed by the Iraq War, which
also shocked him. The use of raw military force to overthrow
somebody quickly without—it was just something—Putin is beginning to get shocks from the United
States rather than cooperation. MICHAEL KIRK – Right. … For the United States to step generally
in the sphere of the Middle East, generally in the sphere of Russia, knock off a leader,
a despot, whatever, certainly might have started or rung some bells in a leader who felt he
was potentially similarly vulnerable. DAVID E. HOFFMAN – Think about where Putin’s
sitting, right? To him, he’s had two major terrorist attacks
in 2002 and 2004 from Chechen rebels. Meanwhile in Georgia, in 2003, there’s a color
revolution, the Rose Revolution, that throws out Eduard Shevardnadze, and a new guy, [Mikheil]
Saakashvili, rises up on the shoulders of people [in] protest. In 2004, in nearby Ukraine, which he sees
as really part of a smaller Russia, a country that’s been very, very close to Russia for
centuries, there’s another color revolution, the Orange Revolution, and again, popular
unrest throws somebody out. Then he’s also seeing the United States
acting as a hyperpower, acting in his view, if you’re watching it from his point of view,
without listening to him and certainly without giving him the kind of respect that he thinks
Russia should get. Now, it is also true that in this time, Putin
didn’t have a lot of cards to play with. This was no longer the Cold War between two
huge blocs. In fact, NATO had already been expanded some
and was going to expand more—another shock to Putin in this time period. I think all the period that Putin is governing
in the first two terms, there is a mixture of his effort to sort of control things at
home and keep the kettle lid on, and coping with these shocks from abroad, both the near
abroad and the far abroad; that these were the kind of shocks that he has to question,
“Are they going to come for me?” These are moments where he’s going to wonder,
“What is happening in the world when such things can be done so arbitrarily and suddenly?” Nothing in his preparation for politics, nothing
in his 17 years of the KGB, prepares him to understand that when people head to the streets
in protest that they have a legitimate claim. People power scares him terribly, and he doesn’t
see any legitimacy in it. He thinks that legitimacy is the kind of power
that he knew from the Soviet times, which was from the top, from a party, from a party
state. You know, I think that this is a kind of thing
where Putin himself understood the importance to maintain kind of a patina of democracy. But he also wanted to create a state where
there would be no competition to him. This you see from the beginning and certainly
through the 2000s. He wanted to create a state where he would
be the unchallenged leader. That meant he did not want to have competition
in elections. Competition is the oxygen of democracy, and
he was gradually sucking it out. After Beslan, taking it away and certainly
after Beslan, there is a speech that he gave where he talked about his fear that the outside
world was trying to break up Russia some more. He says, “Somebody out there”—he doesn’t
name—“would like to tear off a juicy bit of pie from Russia,” and you see this deep-seated
fear and paranoia that maybe outside powers are coming for Russia, too. MICHAEL KIRK – But wait a minute. We’ve had a parade of ambassadors walk in
here and say, “We wanted to work with him. We offered him this; we offered that; we did
this. … We were there for him. We wanted to help them.” Clean that up for me, will you? DAVID E. HOFFMAN – I’ve puzzled about this
a lot. It’s puzzling. The first thing is that Putin already understood,
I think, that NATO expansion was a fait accompli, at least the first round, and that the old
Warsaw Pact and the Soviet bloc itself was never going to—but there was the issue of
what was once part of the Soviet Union. This is much more near and dear to him. The near abroad—and especially I think the
Central Asia part of it was of less concern, and the Baltics, of course were already gone. But Ukraine and Georgia were touchstones of
this, because both of them had been important parts of the Soviet Union, and people forget
now, but Georgia in the post-Soviet years was a mess. Parts of the country were hived off in small
little wars, and Russians themselves maintained bases in Georgia through part of the 1990s,
just open military bases. So there was a lot of confusion about what
this Georgia would be. And Shevardnadze was, even though sort of
a hero of the Gorbachev era, by this period, Shevardnadze was seen as old and tired, and
that’s what the Rose Revolution was about. It was about a new order. But for Putin, that was something of his immediate
concern. This was not something he had given up on,
the idea that Russia would have a sphere of influence that incorporated some parts of
the former Soviet Union. MICHAEL KIRK – And they become hot buttons
for him. I mean, “You touched that. You’re in my neighborhood.” DAVID E. HOFFMAN – They become hot buttons
for him, and this is someplace where the West was actively involved. There is no question. I think to even put it in a larger way, there
was no question that in democracy promotion and in talking with the near abroad, the West,
Europe and the United States were extremely active, and this activity should be seen for
what it was, because many, many times in the West, people thought after so many years of
totalitarianism, after the Soviet collapse that we paid for in blood and treasure over
the long four decades of the Cold War, we ought to essentially help these lands become
part of the global economy that’s now globalizing rapidly, that is becoming democratic rapidly. Let’s give them the knowhow. Billions of dollars were spent by the United
States and other countries, the Europeans in particular, to go to these places, to show
how democracy markets worked, how the free press worked. A lot of this training about democracy was
viewed with suspicion by Putin, because he thought maybe it was a cover for some kind
of subversion. It wasn’t. He had a complete misunderstanding and misconception. But this isn’t the only thing that was going
on. You know, we spent billions of dollars trying
to help Russia in these years cope with the legacy of the Soviet nuclear weapons program. This is a country that had fissile material,
uranium and plutonium laying in warehouses across 11 time zones. We built for $300 million a Fort Knox in the
middle of Russia that stands there today to put some of that stuff away and lock it up
safely. Thank you very much. It was always going to be very, very difficult
for Russia, a weak state, to accept the hand of a rich United States after the Cold War. There’s no question that there was an asymmetry
here in feelings. We felt we sort of came out on top, and we’d
like to help you. And Russians felt: “We are weak; we are
down on our heels; we’re on our backs. And yet we want to feel strong. If you’re offering us a hand of help with
democracy and you’re offering us how to build capital markets and you’re building warehouses
to store our nuclear weapons, then what are we? Is this charity? Are we children? You know, we want to be grown up with you.” I met Russian scientists who were very grateful
that George Soros had provided them very tiny subsistence grants for buying food in the
early years, but they ultimately said to me: “You know, we’re very grateful that you
want to do projects with us, but we want to do science. We would like respect.” It wasn’t only Putin. A lot of people in the country, they had trouble
accepting the extended hand of the United States. I think many Americans extended the hand with
good basic ideals but without understanding that it might be humiliating; it might be
hard. Putin himself could not understand that all
this activity, both NATO expansion, democracy promotion, everything going on around him,
wasn’t intended to overthrow him. It wasn’t intended to tear Russia to pieces. MICHAEL KIRK – But if you’re canny like Putin
obviously is, and kind of street-smart, you know the outside enemy is valuable to you
as you promise security, growth, respect to a population that feels just as you’ve described
them. DAVID E. HOFFMAN – But here’s the thing. Putin was delivering on growth, and he was
delivering on the economic promise in his first two terms. MICHAEL KIRK – Because of the oil? DAVID E. HOFFMAN – Oil prices went up and
up and up. Real wages went up 400 percent. The oil price went up 10 times over a decade. So in many ways at home, Putin was delivering
the economic part of that promise. To some people, that felt like stability compared
to the wild freedom of the Yeltsin years. And Putin created a promise. Putin created a kind of tacit pact with his
people. It went like this: “I will provide prosperity. You see it all around you. Wages are rising; everybody’s going to work
now. You will stay out of politics. You will not vote for people that will compete
with me. There will not be any competition to me.” This was a tacit understanding. And there’s another part of it. He said, “I will stay out of your personal
lives.” And this was a very important part of the
Soviet KGB repression. MICHAEL KIRK – And now, this is where I want
to go next, is— DAVID E. HOFFMAN – Is Munich? MICHAEL KIRK – Munich, exactly. So that’s where we go. So he’s got it kind of calmed down at home
now. It’s taken him seven years to do it, but
he’s got it, more or less, thanks to oil and lots of other things. What is the meaning of him stepping up on
that stage? First, why does he go? It’s rare that a leader goes, but why does
he go, and what is that about? DAVID E. HOFFMAN – I don’t know why he went. But if you read the Munich speech, it was
shocking to everybody. The speech in Munich was a cry, and I think
there are signs of this percolating in the 2000s, maybe signs that were missed. After Beslan, when he gave that speech worrying
about parts of Russia being torn off, there is a way in which Putin exploits and takes
advantage of the disenchantment by Russians about the West, about democracy. He plays on it. And this is a speech that really says to the
United States, “You are messing up as the world’s superpower.” … It’s a very, very pained complaint about
the actions of what he sees as a global superpower. He wants to create a world in which there
will be multiple powers, multiple poles of power, multiple centers in which Russia will
be one of them. It’s not at the time, but the Iraq War and
certainly the things that Putin had been seeing going on in the former Soviet Union and the
outlying republics, the color revolutions, had just caused him so much anxiety that it
boiled over in this speech that was very vaguely sort of paranoia. You know, it was worry about the fact that
this Goliath was tromping around the globe. It was way over the top. It didn’t track at all with the reality of
that period. The United States actually had suffered a
lot of difficulties in Iraq, and it was still a period when the war was very intense. But in this, you see Putin’s deep-seated
fear of the United States and his feeling that the United States is a global hyperpower
that can do anything it wants. That’s what he most despises. MICHAEL KIRK – It feels also to me … like
the period you’ve described up to this moment, and now talking to the ambassadors and the
State Department people and others who know, they say it’s almost like a declaration
of war, overstating it. But the next period, many of the things that
he does—changing his military, strengthening certain parts of it, the Estonia moment, the
next go-around with the color revolutions—all of it is like in a way he’s practicing for
this asymmetrical different kind of war. … DAVID E. HOFFMAN – This Putin is becoming
a very, very deeply suspicious and angry guy that’s thinking about asymmetric measures
he can use to carry out some of that pent-up feeling. And the cyberattack on Estonia, the short,
brief war with Georgia, the Munich speech, all come together, and he’s testing. Also with the oil revenues, starting to build
and investing and starting to think about what we need as a new military if we’re going
to continue to exert ourselves and if we’re going to continue to try and push back. MICHAEL KIRK – Great. And into that world walks Barack Hussein Obama
and Hillary Rodham Clinton with a reset in mind. Do they have any idea, in the first place,
what he’s doing? Do they have a real sense, do you think, these
ambassadors and others who have been watching it all, of just how pernicious things could
get and what he’s really thinking about? DAVID E. HOFFMAN – You know, I don’t know
for sure. But I think that by 2008, when Bush leaves
office, he and Putin have exhausted the relationship. Putin’s fed up with him. He felt like Bush didn’t listen to him. And frankly, Bush sort of saw Putin as a nuisance
by that time. The entire history of our relations with Russia
have been these cycles of distrust, cycles of mistrust and misperception. It happens throughout the Cold War. I think to some extent, the people who came
in with Obama thought some of this isn’t really necessary. We have things we want to do with Russia,
and if we can just get to some of the things we need to do, maybe we can engage them. Obama was very committed to reducing nuclear
weapons. Obama was very committed to trying to reduce
nuclear weapons, and he felt like that was an important piece of business he could do
with Putin. So the Obama people came in, and the idea
of the reset was let’s see if there are a few places where we can engage. I think that they felt confident in their
own abilities to do that, that maybe what had gone wrong was just that Bush and Putin
had exhausted each other in mistrust and they could start over to find some places where
they could get a deal. Putin was leaving office. Putin decided not to break the Russian constitution,
and he turned it over to this younger guy, a guy who seemed more progressive, Dmitry
Medvedev. And Medvedev gave off a vibe of really getting
the modernization thing, so Obama’s calculations that maybe we can do some business with Russia
were fueled by the hope that Medvedev would be a partner. Now, there was a lot of uncertainty about
whether Medvedev and Putin were in a tandem. I mean, were these guys riding the same bicycle,
or were they actually riding separate bicycles? Was it possible that Putin would fade and
Medvedev would be a guy that the United States could do a lot of business with? I think that people forget that nuclear arms
treaty that was negotiated in that time successfully with Russia and with Medvedev and [was] signed. There were things that could be done. But the Medvedev illusion was something that
was hard for a lot of people to see, that he was actually the front man for Putin. I think there was a lot of debate in that
time, including in the Intelligence Community and in the White House, about who was really
pulling the strings. The hope was that it was Medvedev, and the
fear was that it was Putin. MICHAEL KIRK – And into this world of uncertainty,
things begin to happen in the world: Arab Spring; another ruler thrown under the bus,
or falls out; Libya. DAVID E. HOFFMAN – Also there’s one other
thing. Obama’s trying to work this, and the nuclear
arms agreement is a high priority, and he gets it done, and Medvedev’s there. Medvedev also is again showing signs of being
the not-Putin. He begins to make some changes to the hard-edged
things that Putin had done. Medvedev comes to Palo Alto. He goes to Silicon Valley. He talks about high tech; he plays with an
iPad; he wears jeans. There was also a very quiet Obama imperative,
which is that we were winding down in Afghanistan, and the United States had a desperate need
for a way to get all the gear and stuff out of Afghanistan and couldn’t take it through
Pakistan. They negotiated with Russia a rail line called
the Northern Distribution Network, which was a vital way, which Russia proved for many
years. It was kept very quiet, but huge trains rolled
through the Russian countryside to help us get out of Afghanistan. You know, it wasn’t the kind of thing that
at the time people boasted about, but Obama felt if we can just laser-like choose a few
things we want to get done, and if we deal with this guy, Medvedev, who seems pretty
normal, things are going to be OK. MICHAEL KIRK – Of course it wasn’t going
to last. DAVID E. HOFFMAN – That’s 2010. MICHAEL KIRK – Yeah, ’10 and ’11. DAVID E. HOFFMAN – So what happens in 2011
is that the ancient regime in the Middle East is overthrown. I mean, from Tahrir Square to when the Arab
Spring breaks out echoes across the world and especially in Russia, because, again,
Putin has already seen color revolutions within the former Soviet Union; he’s seen the power
of these massive crowds. He missed the entire period like this in the
Soviet Union when Gorbachev was loosening the reins. For him, this was an existential kind of a
moment. And somebody like Hosni Mubarak [of Egypt]
who was overthrown at the first start of that, was not too much different than Vladimir Putin
in the sense of a soft authoritarianism, a very, very complex society where the leader
is trying to keep the lid on everything. I think that particularly for Putin, what
happened in Egypt was something that really went right to his heart. And I think Russians spend a lot of time traveling
to Egypt, and certainly what happened in Iraq—then to see it spread like this, I think Putin
must always be asking himself: “Where does it end? And what is the legitimacy of these people?” He has no understanding that democracy and
people—that people sort of exerting their own will in the rule of a country is important. … So the Arab Spring in the first half of
2011 unsettles him, and also Medvedev’s term is ending. In late 2011, they’ve got to decide, really,
will Medvedev run for president again? He could have another term, or will Putin
return? And of course this is a guessing game that
preoccupied Moscow for that period of middle of 2011. There was a lot of open speculation in the
press. People were weighing up each camp, each side. It almost sort of felt normal, but there was
a great deal of uncertainty. People really—no one had an inside bead
about how this was going to unfold. So there was a very, very big meeting of the
United Russia Party. This party is the party that Putin created. It’s a party that’s filled with bureaucrats. Everybody who’s gotten a good job in the
Putin years is part of this party. And they have an enormous rally. It’s in a sports stadium, Luzhniki Stadium,
the biggest stadium in Moscow, and there’s a sort of gentle breeze rolling across, and
people are basically holding their breath as this moment nears when the announcement
is made. Medvedev, looking rather tired and a strangely
not very perky Medvedev, basically announces that Putin is going to return to the presidency,
that they’re going to swap jobs, and Medvedev will go back to being prime minister. Of course this is greeted with the requisite
sort of clapping and so on from their people, because these are the people they’ve brought,
but I think at that moment, there was a complete lack of realization by Putin about what was
going to happen next. MICHAEL KIRK – Are people watching it on TV
and bars and stuff? DAVID E. HOFFMAN – David Hoffman was live
on Ekho Moskvy Radio at that very moment when the guy who’s the founder of Ekho Moskvy
was interviewing me. Then he saw the announcement, and he goes
like this and pushed me off to the side and said, “I’ve got to go live,” And he starts
his commentary. … I mean, people thought it was just going to
be another boring United Russia convention, and this thing riveted everybody, but in a
way that Putin and Medvedev didn’t understand. The reaction to this was quiet at first, but
a lot of people, especially millennials and the Moscow, the urban elite, the people that
had done very well in Putin’s time—this is 2011. You know, there’s been 11 years of this. There was a few speed bumps with the recession
and so on, but still people have done well. There was a feeling that they were cheated. People began to ask themselves in the kitchen:
“This is a democracy. Aren’t we supposed to decide?” There was a way in which the job trade sort
of irritated people, and it got worse, because both Putin and Medvedev said shortly thereafter,
“Here’s how it came down.” And one of them, I forgot which one of them,
said, “Yeah, we just were talking last night, and we decided.” And the other said, “We’ve been planning
it this way for years.” The fact that they couldn’t even get their
story straight on having cheated the electorate began to really piss people off. Coming shortly after this in December was
a parliamentary election. In the parliamentary election, at this point,
the voter monitoring had really zoomed ahead in Russia. First of all, there was a group called GOLOS,
which was beneficiary of grants from the United States, which was involved with essentially
making sure that elections were free and fair. This is the kind of thing the United States
did everywhere, grants to help these election-monitoring groups because we felt free and fair elections
are part of our value set. We had no reluctance to push this idea of
free and fair elections everywhere. But it also turned out that there’s huge change
in the way people monitored elections because of the digital revolution. Smartphones had created a device that could
capture anything happening in public spaces and share it almost instantly. Moscow and Russia has become very wired. It’s very easy to share photographs. What happened in that period, in the run-up
to the parliamentary election, was that people had set out to start monitoring elections,
and certainly as the election happened on that day discovered that there was an enormous
amount of fraud. One of the most obvious frauds was using this
thing called a carousel in which basically voters are driven in a school bus from voting
place to voting place to stuff the ballot box over and over again. This was caught by people holding their smartphones. This video began to circulate. The idea that they cheated again, that they
cheated us, that they not only decided who’s going to run the country but that they’re
stuffing the ballot boxes, set off a conflagration. It was a match that changed the world. It hit the floor, and by the next day, demonstrations
began. The first demonstration was thought up by
a couple of guys who were really angry about this, young people who had come to Moscow
looking for better fortune. And they were sitting around thinking, how
are we going to express this? And they said, “We’ve got to do something;
we’ve got to protest.” So, opening their MacBook Pros on kitchen
counter they had bought from Ikea in Moscow, they went on to Facebook, and they put up
an RSVP button for a demonstration. And this kind of thing, that RSVP button,
gave rise to one of the biggest protests, and then another one, and finally, the huge
protest in Bolotnaya right outside the walls of the Kremlin in December. This really shook Putin to his roots. People were standing out there. The really best of his years, people that
had prospered, people that had come into Moscow for good jobs, the urban elite, and they’re
holding signs that say “Russia without Putin.” … JIM GILMORE – Sochi. Talk a little bit about what it represented
for Putin and the fact that lurking in the background was Ukraine. DAVID E. HOFFMAN – Sochi was a huge triumph
for Putin. There had been a lot of tension around the
Winter Games because they were held in a part of Russia in the south, near restive republics
like Chechnya. There was a great deal of worry that there
might be a terrorist attack. The games came off, and they were peaceful. Also, for Putin, it was a huge demonstration
that Russia was a normal country. He had all the world’s leaders there. Everything happened like it should in Olympic
Games. It was a real moment of triumph for Putin. Before Sochi, the president of Ukraine, [Viktor]
Yanukovych, was planning to sign an agreement with the European Union, an association agreement. This would give Ukraine access to huge markets
in Europe, fresh foreign investment, and it would essentially bring Ukraine toward Europe. But Putin did not want to see this happen. He met with Yanukovych in November. They had a secret meeting at the airport. A short while later, Yanukovych put the European
agreement on ice. A few weeks after that, Putin dangled a real
big aid package for Ukraine, $15 billion, a big cut in natural gas prices, which was
really important for Ukraine. Putin was holding out the idea that Yanukovych
could join this Eurasian Economic Union that was a real goal of Putin, that he had talked
about often, the idea that these Eurasian countries, former Soviet Republics, would
all bond together. This switch that Yanukovych made, putting
the Europeans on ice and considering this offer of a big aid package from Russia, really
enraged the Ukrainian street, and really, only a short while after Yanukovych indicated
that he might sign that deal, might approve that deal, that protests began. The first Sunday afterward, 100,000 people
were out in the streets of Kiev, and soon protests got bigger and bigger. By the time that the Olympics were nearing
an end in February, huge demonstrations were taking place in Ukraine against this move
to make a deal with Russia and not with Europe. I think this speaks first of all to the fact
that a lot of people in Ukraine saw their future with Europe and not with Russia. But it hadn’t really been a burning issue
until this choice had been made between European agreement, access to these huge European markets
and foreign investment, and the Russia offer of an aid package. And Yanukovych was a friend of the Kremlin. He was a pro-Russian leader of pro-Russian
groups. He had been a provincial leader in Donetsk,
the part of Ukraine with a big Russian-speaking population. He considered himself an ally of Putin and
the Kremlin. And as these demonstrations grew in the streets
of Ukraine, in Independence Square, the Maidan movement was born in reaction to this switch
he wanted to make, and as these demonstrations grew, he couldn’t manage them. There was violence. Finally, when Yanukovych fled his country,
he just up and left amid all of this violence. He abandoned Ukraine. So Putin, right after Sochi, right as the
games were concluding, suddenly has a crisis on his hands. He’s just come off such a sweet triumph
of the Olympics, and now he’s looking just beyond the horizon, and there is a boiling
cauldron in Ukraine. His guy, who was the president of Ukraine,
has fled, and it looks like Ukraine might be lost to him. That would be a terrible, terrible setback
for Putin, because he believed that Ukraine was part of a sphere of influence that was
rightly Russia’s. … For Putin, this thing is a real threat
on several levels, OK? On the big level, Putin still is bitter about
the enlargement of NATO in the 1990s. He is still bitter about the idea that Ukraine
is having a dalliance with Europe, with the European Union. So, on a large level, conceptual level, this
is taking an apple right out of his mouth. But it’s also very, very tactical and very
specific. After his ally Yanukovych flees the country,
a new leadership takes charge in Ukraine, and they’re very pro-European. They don’t want to make the deal with Putin. They don’t want the $15 billion aid package. They want to make that agreement with the
European Union, the association agreement that was set aside. Putin sees a possibility that Ukraine may
suddenly be led by forces that are going the other way, that he could lose control of Ukraine,
and that would mean losing a piece of his sphere of influence, a sphere that the President
Medvedev, a few years earlier, had described as part of Russia’s particular interest. I think that Putin felt that this part of
the former Soviet Union was being pulled away from him, and that was a real threat. JIM GILMORE – So Crimea. How do we get to the attack on Crimea, and
why? DAVID E. HOFFMAN – In the middle of this crisis,
I think Putin had very, very little time to make decisions about how to respond to what
had happened in the Maidan movement, the huge demonstrations, the loss of a pro-Russian
president of Ukraine. And I think that in the moment, when he had
to decide what to do, Crimea looked like a quick way that he could reassert some authority
over Ukraine. Crimea had once been part of Russia. It was moved to Ukraine in Soviet times. There was a big Russian-speaking population
there, a big naval base there, and I think that what Putin thought was, if we can just
grab Crimea, maybe we’ll shock some of those people; maybe we’ll set some chills go running
through the backbone of the people in Ukraine and show them that we haven’t given up. So he organized an effort to seize Crimea
from Ukraine using soldiers without markings on their uniforms, the so-called little green
men. It happened very swiftly. And these special operations forces moved
in with—there was no bloodshed—and essentially seized Crimea from Ukraine at the time of
all this chaos. Of course this was very, very popular inside
of Russia. Again, Putin was reacting to a crisis that
threatened him, a crisis that threatened Russia in Ukraine, with losing a really important
part of their sphere of influence. So essentially, it was a counterpoint, a brief
one. JIM GILMORE – Essentially was what? And explain what you mean. DAVID E. HOFFMAN – It was a brief way, tactically,
to change the dynamics of the crisis, because by seizing Crimea, there was a real surge
of popular support inside of Russia. And Putin, instead of looking like a loser
who was losing Ukraine, would look like a winner who had just brought Crimea, historically
part of Russia, back to the fold. … One of the really notable things about the
seizure and annexation of Crimea was that the Russian media staged a really fierce propaganda
campaign to reinforce how this was a great triumph for Russia. This kind of propaganda, using television,
social media, not only had a big impact inside of Russia, but also showed how Putin could
begin to blend various methods of unmarked special operations forces and social media
and television broadcasts to create this new thing, this hybrid warfare. JIM GILMORE – Great. The [Victoria] Nuland phone hack, and using
it, and using her, and how Putin manipulates that or why he uses that tactic, instead of
just, as in the past, gathering intelligence. Now they were leaking the intelligence as
well. DAVID E. HOFFMAN – … In the thick of this
crisis, the assistant secretary of state for Europe, Victoria Nuland, had a telephone conversation
with the American ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt. Pyatt was apparently using a normal cell phone. It wasn’t encrypted, so the conversation
was recorded, and in the conversation Nuland expressed real frustration with Europe over
the whole crisis with—she curses the European Union. … That certainly reflected the deep frustrations
that she felt. But the other thing that happened in the phone
call is that she and the ambassador had a discussion about who would be best to serve
in this new government in Ukraine. They had a discussion about specific ministries
and who should be in what ministry. So when the phone call was monitored or taped
or surveilled by somebody, and we don’t know who, it was incendiary, because obviously,
when Putin saw that the Americans were having this discussion about who should be what minister
in Ukraine, it may well have confirmed to him his deep-seated paranoia that the Americans
were actually behind the whole revolt in the Maidan, that the whole thing was a Western
plot, that it was another color revolution that was really being manipulated behind the
scenes by the Americans. So the phone call, which had been recorded
surreptitiously, was suddenly appearing twice on YouTube. It was just uploaded there. Not too many people saw it for the first few
days, and then a certain blogger put it up, and it just went viral. It just took off like wildfire. People started downloading it, listening,
discussing it. This was a way, without any fingerprints,
for Putin to sort of weaponize the information he had gotten from this wiretap. Somebody, we don’t know who, without any
fingerprints, uploaded this information—uploaded this phone call to YouTube, and suddenly it
went viral. Millions and millions of people heard this
phone conversation. Then the Russian media began to carry this
everywhere, saying: “You see? It’s proof the Maidan movement, it’s not
an independence movement. It’s the Americans. They’re running the show behind the scenes. This is the Americans behind the scenes, causing
the whole thing to happen.” It was an example of weaponizing information. JIM GILMORE – Talk a little bit about the
way Putin lies about the little green men in Crimea, how he is able to accomplish his
goals and then hide the facts, and why would he do that. DAVID E. HOFFMAN – The Crimea operation was
very swift. And the special forces that were sent in,
the soldiers without insignia, allowed Russia to sort of say, “Who, me?” The soldiers were sent in without insignia,
silently, to take control, to seize control of this territory; were able to do so by creating
confusion. People didn’t know at first glance who they
were. What did they represent? What power was taking over? And this, of course, was deceptive and subversive
and allowed Russia to get away with this for a while, before anyone could object. By the time it was discovered who was really
behind it, which was not many days later, Crimea had already been seized. This was the use of deception in order to
accomplish a military goal, and it’s another example of what is being called hybrid warfare,
which is to use all the things at your disposal, both real military force and information warfare,
to accomplish your goals. … JIM GILMORE – … The fact that the world
was being lied to about what was actually taking place, how did it stymie Obama in a
way in acting? DAVID E. HOFFMAN – If it was murky about who
were these little green men, it would be lot harder to protest. It would be a lot harder to stage a swift
response. It would certainly make it much more difficult
for the West to put their arms around the nature of the problem. It would make it much more difficult for the
West to react quickly. It would make it a lot harder for the White
House and for the West to react quickly if it was murky who was carrying out the invasion. JIM GILMORE – And that’s—for Obama, he’s
sort of in a quandary of how to act? DAVID E. HOFFMAN – You know, Jim, I just don’t
know the answer to this question. I just—I mean, it’s just not something
that I’m up on. JIM GILMORE – So the taking of Crimea without
being stopped by the West, without the West sort of raising the red flags in some way,
how did that embolden Putin? DAVID E. HOFFMAN – I think what the taking
of Crimea did was to lead to the very next stage, OK. First of all, when Crimea was taken, the Maidan
movement didn’t stop. The movement in Ukraine, the demonstrations
and the movement toward Europe was not arrested. It was not stopped all of a sudden. Putin still had a very big problem, which
is that, by taking Ukraine, he’d even pissed off the Ukrainians even more. The movement toward Europe was accelerating,
so he had to do something else. I think Putin then reached into a toolbox
that had been used elsewhere, and that toolbox partially was reflected in the Crimea operation,
which was to try and create a military conflict or ethnic or civil conflict, and create just
enough of it to cause everybody to gasp and to stop and to freeze. I think that Putin created a war in southeastern
Ukraine in two provinces by stirring it up, by importing fighters, by essentially challenging
Ukraine militarily, and he did that in order to undermine what he saw happening in the
capital, the movement toward Europe. He did it to sort of challenge Ukraine’s
sovereignty, and for a while, even to threaten it, because he also massed regular forces
on the border with Ukraine, massing them inside Russia, on the border with Ukraine. He sent irregular fighters in to start an
insurrection in Ukraine. You know, this tactic of using these irregular
fighters and separatists had been done elsewhere to create frozen conflicts in which Putin
had tried to accomplish goals, and frankly, it had even been done before his time. But if you look at Transnistria and South
Ossetia, and Abkhazia, each of these conflicts was similar, frozen conflict, unresolved,
but a way for Russia to continue to have a little bit of influence. I think that what we saw in Ukraine was, Putin
seized Crimea, but the crisis continued, so he decided to roll the dice on an even bigger
intervention, this time to start a war in southeastern Ukraine. This war, again, at first, people said—Putin
said this war was being started by indigenous separatists, by people who were there, who
wanted to be free of this new Ukraine. He talked about—Russia created this narrative
that the revolt in the Maidan was actually being fueled by the West or by, you know,
crazy Ukrainian nationalists or by fascists. They created a whole story about it. But in fact, this was the revolt of people
who, on the street, who wanted an association, wanted to be part of Europe. Putin, in starting this war in Ukraine, didn’t
fess up to what he was doing. He used deception. He used subversion again and didn’t admit,
at first, that these people who were shooting their way into Ukraine were actually being
paid for and instigated by him. … JIM GILMORE – … What is hybrid war? DAVID E. HOFFMAN – In 2013, the chief of the
Russian military’s general staff, Gen. [Valery] Gerasimov, wrote an article sort of looking
ahead and what would future war look like, and he described what he called a hybrid war. It was really actually a look ahead at what
the Russian military thought the West would do in a future war and how to get prepared. But it was very revealing, because it also
showed what Russia’s thinking was, about how future wars would be conducted. Hybrid war in this context was a big, broad
category. It meant, first of all, that there might not
be a declaration of war, that hostilities in war might happen without a declaration. It might be that there would be no longer
red and blue forces on a battlefield. There might not be such clear distinctions;
that there might be a mixture of military and civilian and irregular forces all blended
up. Most importantly, it also suggested that the
future of war would be a place not only where people are actually shooting and bombing,
what’s called kinetic warfare, but also there would be information warfare, cyberwarfare,
non-kinetic. Or there would be information warfare and
cyberwarfare, and these would complement and mix in with the regular kinetic warfare so
that this future of warfare might be the kind of time when there actually wouldn’t be
a hard start to a war, and there wouldn’t be a finish; when there would be not necessarily
a clearly defined troops and forces; when there would be confusion on the battlefield. The idea, really, of hybrid war was to create
this confusion, and to create as much confusion as you needed to win the war. There was a lot of talk in Russia about the
idea of a chaos button that you could press or that you could turn that would manipulate
the kind of disruption and chaos that you’d get on the battlefield. This whole idea that future warfare would
involve marshaling all these different forces, and that then you could control how much,
whether it was disinformation one day or an attack by irregulars another day, that then
you would use, for example, media to try and create confusion about what would happen on
the battlefield, that was also part of hybrid war. So all the clear distinctions that we’ve known
in the past about warfare were to be blurred, and [we had reached] a time in which the digital
revolution and the Internet and social media had created huge new opportunities for this
kind of warfare. … JIM GILMORE – In Washington, there’s a debate
over what to do, about whether we should be sending weaponry. … Talk a little bit about the debate in
Washington and where Obama ends up. DAVID E. HOFFMAN – What Putin did in southeastern
Ukraine was to ignite a war, to set off an insurrection, where it had previously been
rather calm. I think that this caught Washington off guard,
because this kind of thing hadn’t happened in decades. This was really an effort to redraw the borders
of post-World War II Europe in a forceful way. It took a while for Obama and for the administration,
for the United States, to come to grips with what Putin was doing. He had done it in a few other places earlier
inside the former Soviet Union. But first of all, you just can’t underestimate
how this was a shock to Washington. Of course the first reaction of a lot of people
was that Putin only understands the use of force, that Putin only understands strength,
and in order to push back, it would be essential for the United States and for the West to
supply arms to Ukraine. There was a certain logic here, because Putin
is, by his own record, is the kind of guy who only responds to force. He certainly doesn’t respond a lot to jawboning. And during this time, Secretary of State Kerry
talked about whether Putin could be talked into taking the “off ramp” in Ukraine. Well, there was no “off ramp” that Putin
was going to take in Ukraine. The idea of arming Ukraine, of really providing
things like anti-tank weapons, lethal weapons for Ukraine, would be essentially [to] meet
fire with fire and hopefully stop Putin in his tracks. But the flipside of this, which I think was
not only heard in Washington but also among people elsewhere, is that there was a real
danger that if the United States escalated this, that Putin would escalate, too, and
that it would just essentially lead immediately to a full-fledged war in Ukraine, and would
that be the right thing for Ukraine? What would that do to Ukraine? How would that help Ukraine realize its aspirations
to be part of Europe? And was it really worth it? And since this was a part of the former Soviet
Union, did we really want to be at war with Russia on territory of the former Soviet Union? Was that in American national interest? Was that worthy of blood and treasure? You know, there’s definitely kind of a post-Iraq
syndrome in Washington. There is a lot more caution about the use
of force these days, I think, and definitely President Obama felt that caution and was
very, very conservative in his use of force. I think he looked at this and felt that arming
Ukraine in this battle with Russia would probably simply lead to a wider war that he wanted
to avoid. … JIM GILMORE – The hacking of the DNC, the
eventual hacking of Podesta as of March, then the weaponization of it by leaking it—talk
a little bit about the early days and the importance of why we misunderstood what was
going on and what Russia was doing. DAVID E. HOFFMAN – First of all, let’s talk
about the Podesta emails. John Podesta was Hillary Clinton’s campaign
chairman, and his Gmail account was hacked in March of 2016 as the campaign was getting
underway. A lot of information was downloaded by the
hackers, and they held onto it. They didn’t begin to release it until October,
until Oct. 7. Then they began to dribble it out on WikiLeaks
almost every day for the rest of the campaign. This information in Podesta’s Gmail account
included confidential discussions about the campaign. It also included a discussion about some of
Hillary Clinton’s speeches to Wall Street that had been controversial. I think the daily dribble of this was basically
sabotage. This was a way to embarrass the campaign and
to keep this idea that something was fishy about Hillary and emails in the headlines
almost every day. This was a real active measure. This was an effort not just by a foreign power
to hack and collect information and get some espionage, because the United States does
that also, but to weaponize that information, to use the information in a political context,
to try and get it resolved. Just like had been done in Ukraine, this information
was weaponized by leaking it through WikiLeaks, and I think it had an effect, because it created
doubt; it created suspicion. In many, many ways, this kind of hybrid warfare
is designed to cast doubt on people, to create suspicions about what they might be up to,
not to answer the questions, just to raise the questions. So this was a serious active-measures campaign
that goes beyond just normal espionage and intelligence collection. … JIM GILMORE – So the effect of it on Hillary
Clinton’s campaign early on then was what? It certainly had an effect at the DNC, at
the convention. DAVID E. HOFFMAN – Yeah, it had a big effect
at the convention. The head of the DNC [Debbie Wasserman Schultz]
was forced to resign. This kind of suspicion and doubt that came
out from the emails was exactly what hybrid warfare was all about. It was really about disruption. And the disruption continued because Hillary
Clinton had to fight back against the idea that something was amiss in her use of a private
email server when she had been secretary of state. That controversy over email, just the word
“email” and “Hillary Clinton,” you know, could hurt her campaign, and this kept
it alive. It kept it alive in a way that I think was
again sort of a political sabotage. It wasn’t simply a question of somebody
leaking something in the public interest, but it was leaked with an intent to disrupt
and destroy. A great part of this was an effort by Russia
to begin to hurt Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, to begin to make it difficult for her to get
elected president, to throw hurdles in her way, and this is what classic active measures
are about. … JIM GILMORE – Sum up the motivations of Putin. DAVID E. HOFFMAN – Yeah. Putin’s motivations work in several levels,
OK. In a very deep, visceral level, he believes
that the popular protests that we’ve seen throughout the former Soviet Union in the
last 15 to 16 years were all manipulated, that they were cynically manipulated by the
West. He believes that the CIA was behind them,
that the people who were protesting on the streets, from the Rose Revolution, the Orange
Revolution, that all of these were just setups and that the Americans were behind it. So he especially is angry about the 2011 protests
in Moscow, which went right to the heart of his rule, which seemed to him to be very,
very threatening, and he blamed Hillary Clinton for orchestrating that. He was wrong. They were genuine protests. But in his mind, they were manipulated; they
were organized by the West. I think that Putin’s next motivation is
that he wanted to make sure Hillary Clinton, who had organized these protests he thought,
did not get elected president of the United States. He also wanted to show, I think, in a kind
of bravado way, that democracy wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, that democracy could
be messy and chaotic, because Putin had been arguing for a long time that he didn’t want
to be lectured anymore by Americans or Westerners about democracy and the virtues of the democratic
world. He has said that he felt Russia had its own
culture, its own civilization, and he deeply resented these lectures. He deeply resented even such benign activities
as democracy promotion. He saw it as part of a conspiracy, a plot
to undermine him and other leaders. I think that Putin was also motivated by a
desire to say to many people, “You see, democracy ain’t so great either,” because
he didn’t believe in democracy, not for a minute. … So what Putin did is, he grabbed that chaos
button, that chaos button that was part of hybrid warfare, and he just cranked it a few
more notches to turn up the chaos in the United States, to turn up the level of distrust,
of suspicion and of bewilderment and disorienting developments in the United States election. It was a classic use of active measures in
a hybrid warfare operation against the United States. I think Putin was also deeply personally bitter
about the Panama Papers. The Panama Papers was the revelation from
the records of a law firm in Panama of a huge amount of offshore accounts by powerful people
around the world, not only in Russia, but the disclosures included a hefty dose of fresh
information about Putin’s pals, his cronies in Russia. There was an enormous amount of new information
about the billions and billions of dollars they were moving in offshore accounts. I think this really, really hurt Putin, because
to him, again, it didn’t seem like a group of journalists would published the Panama
Papers, which they did, but instead, he was deeply paranoid and suspicious that this was
the American CIA, that this was the United States and the West manipulating things, just
like those protests. This was a strike right at his heart. This was a strike right at his circle of cronies. … Talk a little bit about Trump’s statements,
how he was using the leaks to help his election campaign. DAVID E. HOFFMAN – On Oct. 7, the Intelligence
Community announced that they saw Russia’s hand behind this hacking. That should have been really big headlines
in the United States. It wasn’t, because that’s also the day
that the Access—what was it? JIM GILMORE – Access Hollywood. DAVID E. HOFFMAN – Yeah. That was also the day that the Access Hollywood
tape came out, and also the day that the Podesta emails started to leak. But the thing is that the intelligence assessment
should have been huge headlines and should have overtaken the news cycle for a long time. It was big news. But it sank in the rest of the shouting of
the campaign. And Trump and his campaign seemed unperturbed
by it. He didn’t raise it. He tried to essentially call upon Russia to
do more, and at one moment he says, “Hey, Russia, are you listening, you know, about
Hillary’s emails from when she was secretary of state?” So for him, I think he felt that the issue
of Hillary’s vulnerability to anything having to do with emails was something he could exploit. In many ways, Trump’s interest in the campaign
of exploiting this, that damaged Hillary Clinton’s campaign, was exactly what Putin was after:
to exploit it, to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign, to raise questions that couldn’t
be answered, to undermine her legitimacy. … JIM GILMORE – How he reacted toward Putin,
what do we know about that, or what can we say about that? DAVID E. HOFFMAN – Putin, for a long time,
has felt that Russia needed to stand up from its knees and be heard, even if it was weakened
after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In fact, Putin has kind of a long-term campaign,
you might say, to make Russia great again. He’s a nationalist. He’s aggressive. He believes in using all kinds of weapons,
oftentimes asymmetrical weapons, to attack people that are bigger and stronger than he
is. You know, in many ways Trump has a similar
worldview, a view that’s zero-sum—if I lose, you win, and if I win, you lose—and
a view that is very, very much centered around Trump’s personality. Putin also has built a world centered around
his personality. He’s built a kind of personal authoritarianism
in Russia. Putin has all but mowed down the free press
and civil society in Russia. He has really pushed aside democracy. And Trump does not have strong feelings about
democratic norms in the United States. Of course, he’s bound in a bigger system
that is a vibrant democracy, but Trump’s personal feelings about democratic norms are
very, very ambivalent. Then, in his inaugural address, Trump said,
“I as president am not going to tell other countries how to behave; we’re not going
to impose our values on you.” And he has said this repeatedly. Well, this is music to Putin’s ears. The fact that the United States will no longer
lecture him about democracy, that’s exactly what he’s been asking for for many, many
years. But for Trump to say this, for Trump not to
talk about democracy and human rights to countries that violate it, is breaking with decades
of practice and policy in the United States. I think that Putin saw an American president
coming along who would acknowledge him as 10 feet tall, who wouldn’t lecture him on
democracy and human rights, who would be a tough nationalist, and who didn’t care much
about democratic norms. In all of these things, they share a common
view. JIM GILMORE – You talked a little bit already
about the Oct. 7 release of the DNI [Director of National Intelligence] report. Let’s finish that up and also combine it
with where we’re going next anyway, which is this question is, yes, they released it. Yes, they were overtaken by other news stories,
including the Access Hollywood tapes. But did there seem to be any grand strategy
to really get this message out? How does that define what was being done in
the White House, the reluctance to move forward with this? DAVID E. HOFFMAN – If you look back, the Oct.
7 statement was very, very clear. Intelligence Community said, “We are confident
that Russia has been stealing this information and that they’ve been using it against us.” There wasn’t any equivocation in this statement. But the way it came out, it was then just
put out and dropped, and I think this should have been a major news story for quite a while. Instead, it was overtaken almost immediately
by other events, and I think part of the reason here is the Obama White House didn’t push
it. I think in their internal deliberations, they
were thinking, if we make a big issue of this, will we be accused of trying to put our finger
on the scale of the election? Will we be accused of trying to influence
the outcome of the election? You have to remember, at the time, Donald
Trump was warning his supporters, “The election might be rigged,” and I think people inside
the Obama White House were relatively confident that Hillary Clinton was going to win. They didn’t want to do anything that would
seem like President Obama was going to interfere in the outcome of the election, so when this
information came out, they didn’t publicize it widely. They did not pursue it like they should have. … JIM GILMORE – … Talk a little bit more about
the tools that he [Putin] was using, and specifically the use of venues like RT. DAVID E. HOFFMAN – This is a multipronged
attack. And one of those avenues, of course, is the
use of classic broadcast, television broadcast—RT, a Russian state-owned broadcaster; Sputnik,
a Russian state-owned news service broadcast—and [they] pushed out fake news, things that were
made up or partially made up. A lot of times these kinds of efforts involved
things that are only half true, but create doubt and suspicion. That’s part of the goal. Also, the digital revolution opened up a whole
’nother avenue. This way, in social media and the use of bots
and trolls, enormous amounts of small pings could be created to people, and the recipients
of these wouldn’t often know that they were generated by Russia or that some kind of conspiracy
or suspicion or doubt that had surfaced in their newsfeed that day was created by Russia. It allowed a lot of this kind of hybrid warfare
to be carried out without fingerprints. And of course, a third way was clandestine
cyber conflict. Cyber conflict could be used, was used in
Ukraine to close down an electricity grid. It could be used also to get into computers,
to download information like John Podesta’s emails, to then release them and again create
suspicion and to undermine the legitimacy. All these different channels were working
simultaneously. JIM GILMORE – Just to clarify, the use of,
for instance, RT and Sputnik, what are the fingerprints that one can derive about the
government’s control over these avenues? DAVID E. HOFFMAN – I don’t know what you
mean. JIM GILMORE – When RT or Sputnik is putting
out this word, how do we know that the government is supportive of it, behind it? DAVID E. HOFFMAN – Well, we know that the
Russian government owns the RT and Sputnik. They are state-run and state-owned, and they
reflect the views of Russia. They’re actually not seen by that many people. But in the world of hybrid warfare and disinformation,
all you need to do is float something that’s incorrect or wrong, and then other people
will seize on it, and dissemination happens at light speed, and oftentimes, without any
fingerprints. JIM GILMORE – Election Day. What is the reaction in Moscow to the election
of Donald Trump? DAVID E. HOFFMAN – I think the reaction in
Moscow of Putin and his elites was elation, because first of all, they had a real dislike
of Hillary Clinton, and they were worried that Hillary Clinton was going to be elected
and would be very, very difficult. So by Hillary’s defeat, they first of all
felt euphoric. I think that the fact that Donald Trump was
elected was kind of a consolation prize. He seemed to have parallel views with Putin,
and I think they hoped that the first fruits of that might be relaxing the sanctions that
had been put on, the economic sanctions, for the insurrection in Ukraine and for the activities
in Ukraine and Crimea. I’m sure that the very first reaction that
Putin had was, his operation had succeeded. It’s not really known to us whether he intended
to defeat Hillary or to elect Trump. But on the night that he learned that he had
done both, he was probably very, very happy with the outcome. … JIM GILMORE – … So from day one, this Russian
story has been dogging Trump’s heels. Talk a little bit about the frustrations that
he’s shown with it and the effect on his agenda. DAVID E. HOFFMAN – Let me try it this way. From the beginning, I think that Putin hoped
that Trump would be able to deliver a different kind of reaction to Russia: that Trump would
be able to deliver a lifting of sanctions over Ukraine; that Trump wouldn’t lecture
Russia about democracy and human rights; that Trump would make a place for Putin at the
big boys’ table. That’s what Putin wanted, a place at the
table. He wanted, even though Russia has an economy
about the size of Italy, Putin wanted that chair that had been held by the Soviet Union,
a great superpower. And he wanted Trump to treat him that way. I think Trump was inclined to do those things,
but what happened was a terrible backlash. What happened is, then, information about
what Russia had done continued to accumulate, as it continued to be evident that Russia
had carried out these active measures against American democracy. The American body politic, American voters,
people began to get very, very unhappy with it. They certainly saw these headlines day after
day about what Russia tried to do. I think Congress saw them also. And people grew really, really pissed off
about what Putin had done in America. Even though Putin may have felt, right after
the election, that he accomplished his goals of damaging Hillary’s campaign, what he
generated was a really tough backlash. The whole operation, in some ways, backfired,
because soon, the political mood in the United States shifted against Russia. It started to do that, especially in the spring,
as more and more information came out about these active measures that Russia had taken,
the American people did not react very kindly to it; Congress didn’t react very kindly
to it. This left Trump in a tough spot, because if
he wanted to have a better relationship with Russia, it was going to be a lot harder now
that the whole operation had backfired. The American people were unhappy about their
election being meddled with and interfered with by Russia. I think that for Putin, this is part of the
accounting of this whole episode that is still unfolding, which is, was it really a success? In some ways, he could maybe say he contributed
to Hillary Clinton’s defeat, maybe. There were other factors. But he now has on his hands a really angry
backlash in the United States. Congress has just voted again to lock down
the sanctions by overwhelming majorities, so Putin has got a situation that seems to
be much worse for him than when he started out using his clever hybrid warfare techniques,
his active measures, meddling in the American election. It all seems to have actually backfired against
him. … JIM GILMORE – The whole question of collusion,
just from 20,000 feet, the many issues of the cases that have been ID’d so far about
potential collusion, from [then-National Security Adviser Michael] Flynn to the June meeting,
whatever, what’s your take on it? Is this a situation of the Trump administration
being willing or unwilling dupes? DAVID E. HOFFMAN – I don’t think we know
whether the active measures that Putin sent toward our election to try and influence it
were guided with help from inside the Trump campaign or if they were simply unwitting
receivers of help. I think that, in the middle of a presidential
campaign, where everything is very tense and tight, it’s possible that the Trump people
just felt the wind at their back and didn’t really know. It’s also possible that they were in close
coordination. We don’t know really the truth of this. I think the focus on the word “collusion”
is unfortunate, because what really happened here, we know, is that Russia undertook, through
multiple channels, active measures to try and influence American political campaign
and election to change the course of our history. The important thing is the offense, the attack
against the United States. The question about how it was received and
by whom, we don’t have enough facts yet to answer that question. … JIM GILMORE – … How do you see, in the end,
what this was all about for Putin? DAVID E. HOFFMAN – If you look back at the
whole of Putin’s career, and all those years spent in the KGB and now as president, you
see a common thread, which is his deep suspicion that events are orchestrated and manipulated
by dark forces. He certainly has believed, for many, many
years, as the KGB did through its history, that the United States was secretly trying
to undermine, orchestrate, manipulate and subvert events. I think that carrying that into the presidency,
Putin saw all the color revolutions, the Rose Revolution and the Orange Revolution, as another
example of the United States trying to steer things its way, and he was deeply suspicious
of that. Also, he resented deeply the idea that there
was one system and one set of values, democracy and rule of law, that should dominate the
world. He felt that his system and his ideas of a
personalized authoritarianism could also be a major power and that he could build Russia
into a world power on that basis, and he could push back against democracy and all the lectures
that he so much disliked. I think what we saw all the way through, certainly
in the Munich speech in 2007 through the Crimea speech in 2014, in his reaction to all the
color revolutions, right up through the MH-17 [Malaysia Airlines Flight 17] disinformation
campaign, and then the reaction to the Panama Papers, and the reaction to the protests in
Moscow—remember, in those protests, right outside the Kremlin walls, people are holding
up placards and chanting, “Russia without Putin.” I think Putin felt like he had to strike back
at whoever was behind that, and he didn’t believe the Russians on the street were genuinely
in protest. He believed that Hillary Clinton was. This entire active-measures campaign was revenge
for what he thought and what he suspected was the orchestration by the United States
of some kind of deep, behind-the-scenes movement to change the nature of democracy, to support
democracy when he was against it. I think Putin feared deep down that somehow
if the United States could promote regime change in Iraq, if the United States could
intervene in Kosovo in 1999, if the United States was teaching democracy promotion through
all these former Soviet republics, that some day the United States would come for him. He was deeply afraid of the idea of regime
change and believed that the United States was cynically using it in the—and it was
dressing up its ideals as democratic and rule of law, but was just every bit as cynical
and vicious as he was. I think Putin undertook the active measures
against the United States, partially because Hillary Clinton represented such a threat,
but also, the American system represented such a threat. The American system and its promotion all
over the world of rule of law and democracy threatened him because he didn’t have those
things, and he didn’t want them. … JIM GILMORE – And long term, what do you think
the long-term effects of these actions that Putin took in America was going to be? DAVID E. HOFFMAN – Putin has managed a country
that’s got an economy the size of Italy and has a lot of problems of its own. But he’s managed to insert himself into
the United States’ political discussion in a big, big way, in a way, actually, that
it hadn’t been for many, many years. The active measures he took against the United
States are now part of a huge river of anger running through American politics. And you know, in a certain way, Putin has
strutted back onto the stage, shoulders back, saying, “Russia is here.” But he’s also created a terrible backlash,
and I don’t think we know yet where that’s going to lead and whether or not, in the end,
he’s going to look at this as a success or a failure.

48 comments on “The Putin Files: David Hoffman

  1. Love this raw interview. David gives snippets that was not in the film, that gives totally new point of view of Putin and somewhat deeper and clearer picture of the time after USSR collapse! Thanks

  2. Americans hate being bitten by anyone…in anything.. and because Putin has outsmarted them in Ukraine, Syria and now in thier own election by backing trump…the MSM is digging all these possible explanations ….i think setting up the american public for something ..god knows what….

  3. I still haven't seen what the direct evidence is that Russia hacked the election. Nothing I have heard goes beyond supposition.

  4. Thank you David Hoffman. I have always found it hard to understand how someone as tactically astute as Putin can be so strategically inept. The answer is he doesn't understand how the world works. And that is perhaps not so strange considering his upbringing, education and experiences.


  6. Putin really really must hate the russian people, he is sabotaging them and future generations for not loving him.

  7. 01:56:00 "…idea that something was amiss in her use of a private e mail sever…". Why do they still refuse the illegality of Hillary's actions?

  8. "Hellow comrades, I am David Hoffman journalist from impartial Washington Post, I will now speak dispassionately about 2016 "election" in way that may 'displease Clintons."

  9. They weren't tired of freedom ffs. Working 3 jobs to stay afloat isn't "freedom" it's capitalism. Unbridled, unregulated capitalism. Putin did put a hold on the power of the oligarchs but only to take it back to the state.

  10. Thanks yet again for the interview.My entire understanding of any kind of Russian behaviour founders on the assumption they experience power the way we do,and I'm Canadian which is a socialistic society comfortable in a corporate capitalist culture.If I'm hearing Mr. Hoffman right they do not have any of these restraints.My question is not so much what happens with Putin but what happens after him?

  11. listen to this guy talk alot of propoganda!! makes me sick how they feed this shit to people !!!! prpoganda !!! the election ' hack ' was killery clintons doing ! thats proven. the novichok was bullshit proven U S again, this must be cia owned, they dont seem to remember russia lost over 27 million people winning ww2, this fuckwit doesnt even know his history!! shit talker!!

  12. he's spot on …you can't get any more precise than this…Gorbachev was the real CIA prop-up

  13. If you don't watch the entire thing 1:10:00 is the absolute gist of the lecture. In a nutshell…
    Putin like many Russians didnt accept defeat, didnt accept the helping hand. He helped himself up with the support of his security services and created a populist wave after Yeltsin stepped down. He owes some of his success to Yeltsin's implementation of capitalist theory and oil price rises. But at heart hes little more than a KGB-FSB man. That's what makes him so unlike the general public.

  14. All of these interviews are so arrogant putting down Putin''s beginnings but don't respect how he pulled down many billionaires and intellectuals. They're total arrogance of him is why he took down our elections and made them a party to his will!

  15. This man is highly highly informed. A great interview. I have followed Ukraine and Russia for years, and he is dead on

  16. He talks like a US government official not a journalist. A simple example: "Promote regime change in Iraq" instead of "invade". This is how consent is manufactured.

  17. I could listen to somebody like this for weeks. I LOVE a person who knows history, the stories are the best. I love it.

  18. Hillary's Russian spies told her that Putin did it. And since the spies were working for both Hillary and Putin at the same time their information is trustworthy, and folks should believe Hillary that the Russians did it

  19. 100% certain sign that the video you are watching is the truth: Triggered Trump trolls, Russians and Nazis swarm the comments.

  20. You guys just don't get it. You're overthinking everything. It's not about Trump and it's not just about Hillary. It was about getting the established elite out, didn't matter who it was who got elected, it just mattered that it wasn't Hillary because the Clinton's and the likes have been ruling Washington for too long and people wanted them gone, it could've been Kid Rock for all they cared, Hillary just had to go so that things could change and the government could become more transparent. They don't mind Trump because he's now telling them stuff politicians would never tell them. It's all this simple, go figure. All democrats had to do was to put up someone unknown for the election and that person would of won over madman Trump because you'd have to be a reta*d not to win someone who contradicts himself in every sentence and can't remember how to count to 10. Hillary is the stuck up old bureaucrat while Trump is someone they see as the man of the people who'll tell them how government works and what the problems are straight on without bull. His ways might be primitive but the future is in between those two, but also might be without politicians at all, once AI is developed there will be no need for politicians whatsoever because politics is nothing but economy and meddling in human rights.

  21. Obama laughed off Putin and let him grow for 8 years. But HRC lost the election because she was the worst candidate in history and was seen by Bernie supporters as having ripped him off, and because she ignored campaigning in the rust belt/Midwest. Trump knew how to punch her back and Bernie did not.

  22. Russia is a bureaucratic autocracy. Things will have to change with his passing or internal upheaval before then.

  23. So the National election is hacked and the FBI never sees the server, or even ssks, then the Democrats destroy the servers, then they accuse Trump and initiate a hoax investigation with the Media as an accomplice, "Frontline,Fake News"

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