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'New Cold War' Examines Russia's Threat to U.S.


Joining us from London is Edward Lucas, a reporter and former Moscow bureau chief for The Economist. He's written a new book about Russia and its relations with the United States. It's called "The New Cold War."

Welcome to the program.

Mr. EDWARD LUCAS (Reporter, Former Moscow Bureau Chief, The Economist; Author, "The New Cold War"): Hi. Good morning.

HANSEN: "New Cold War" is a provocative title. Do you mean that the old cold war between the United States and the former Soviet Union was the first one and now there's another one between the United States and Russia?

Mr. LUCAS: Well, it certainly is provocative and I want to provoke and I want to wake people up because I think we've been too complacent about what's going on in Russia. But I'm not saying that the old cold war is coming back again. That was a global confrontation, it was military and it was ideological. And this one's different. Russia's too weak now to be a global threat of the kind that the Soviet Union posed.

And it's not ideological in the same sense either. Communism was a very distinct, almost messianic, ideology. And that's not the case now. Russia is a capitalist country, and what I argue is a rather perverted form of capitalism, and at least nominally, a democratic one. Although as we've seen with the election, it's not going about it in a way that the rest of the world might count as true democratic contests.

HANSEN: So what is the new cold war like?

Mr. LUCAS: The new cold war is, first of all, it's much more in Europe than globally. It's a fight over Europe's backyard; who controls the political and economic future of the former captive nations. The countries of Eastern Europe that won their freedom back in 1989 to '91, and now under threat from Russia, not from invasion but from being bought. Not from tanks but from banks.

It's also a struggle for the soul of Russia because we must not let their secret police people in the Kremlin write Russia's history as a story of just authoritarianism and (unintelligible) say that's what's Russia's all about. And thirdly, it's a struggle for our values. Do we want to regain the moral authority that we had at the end of the last cold war, which helped us win it? Or do we really think that only money matters?

HANSEN: You talked about Russia no longer being a military power. If that's the case, then what other means do they use to enforce their ideas?

Mr. LUCAS: It's a mixture of cash, gas and propaganda and bluff. Bluff works if we're afraid of a confrontation with Russia when Russia threatens a confrontation, we can't split the difference and back down, and that's worked pretty well.

Gas works well because every European country so far that has been presented with a bilateral gas deal from the Kremlin has taken it. And that's blown a wide hole in European energy security. It's about cash because you can buy politicians, institutions, sometimes even thr whole countries with the billions and billions of dollars that the ex-KGB people in the Kremlin have at their disposal.

And it's about propaganda, because Russia's quite successfully managed to persuade some Europeans, that America's a greater threat to world peace than Russia is. So it divides Europe and also it divides Europe from America, which is, of course, the great ghost of the Kremlin in the cold war and one that they've come in a way closer now to achieving.

HANSEN: So what is to be done?

Mr. LUCAS: I think we have to engage Russia more. The United States hasn't done quite the right thing, in some respect, by not talking to the Russians on things like strategic nuclear weapons and on space, which are the two things where Russia really is a great power. It doesn't make America safer.

If Russia has such a small number of nuclear weapons compared to America, that it goes to what nuclear strategists call launch on warning, that it actually increases the danger of an accidental nuclear war. So that's that. And America is the dominant space power. It actually has a lot to lose from anarchy in space. So I think on those things we should engage with the Russians.

HANSEN: You also advise building oil and natural gas pipelines that circumvent Russia.

Mr. LUCAS: Absolutely, and this is the European end. 'Cause at the moment all the east-west gas pipelines cross Russia and are controlled by the Kremlin. So we can't go to central Asia or the Caspian and say, we'd like to buy some of your gas. It's cheaper or more reliable or whatever. The gas-prong tail is wagging the European dog and that's got to change.

HANSEN: Now, I just have to say something that was - that appeared in a review of your book in the Wall Street Journal. The reviewer suggests that by talking about this threat and bringing it to light that you have performed a public service. But the last line of his review is - and referring to you - he'd better watch out.

Mr. LUCAS: Yes, I read that with interest and so did my family. But I think we have to be really tough on this. I was around in the last cold war and I was behind the iron curtain when we won it. It left a deep impression on me. And I don't want to go back to those days.

HANSEN: Edward Lucas is a reporter and former Moscow bureau chief for "The Economist. His new book is called "The New Cold War." He joined us from London. Thank you so much.

Mr. LUCAS: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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