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Stanford Professor - Former US Amb. to Russia
Hello everyone! I just joined Parlio and I'm happy to be doing this Q&A with the rest of the community.

I'm a Political Science Professor at Stanford, prior to that I was the former US Ambassador to Russia, Special Assistant to President Obama, and the Senior Director for the Russian and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council. I am also the Director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford.

Looking forward to a thoughtful conversation!
This Q&A took place between 8/14/15 and 8/21/15. Unanswered questions have been hidden
19 questions
Was the democratically elected president of Ukraine Victor Yanukovich (the goodness of his election was confirmed by the US back in 2010) impeached according to the procedure established by the Ukrainian constitution as of Feb 2014 - or was he just deposed in "extra-legal" manner by unconstitutional simple vote by the Ukrainian parliament in violation of the legal procedure of impeaching the president of Ukraine as defined by the Ukrainian constitution at the moment?
Stanford Professor - Former US Amb. to Russia
Yanukovich left Ukraine. He himself left the office in an "extra-legal" manner. Sometimes in history, including our own, constitutions don't spell out what is to be done in every instance. For instance, I don't think there is a clause in the Ukrainian constitution that starts with the clause, "In the event that the elected president decide to leave the country for good, then..." The procedures taken after he left were imperfect, but probably the best that could be done given the circumstances.
Product Guy / Fellow @ Harvard Ash Center
Michael, welcome to Parlio! Looking forward to your contributions!

The International community's reaction to the Syrian crises is extremely disappointing. If you were the President of the United States, what are the actions you'd take to end the sufferings of the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees? What would you do differently to put a quicker end to the ongoing civil war in the country?
Stanford Professor - Former US Amb. to Russia
Wow Wael, that is a really hard question. I don't pretend to have a good answer. I do believe we (the Obama administration, since I was still in government at the time) , the West, and the world made some serious mistakes that contributed to this tragic situation, although of course, most blame must remain with Assad and his allies. I could go into those past mistakes, but you asked about the future.

Obviously, we should supply greater humanitarian relief to those suffering. These efforts remain grossly underfunded.

Second, we should try again to pressure the regime to enter into a negotiation about a political transition. We failed at this effort -- Geneva I and II -- when I was in government, but circumstances have now changed.

As part of that strategy, we should make greater effort to engage with element of the Assad regime who could become more serious about a transition in return of protecting tier property rights, staying our of jail, etc. Lots of transitions have such "birth defects" as Terry Karl famously called them when writing about Latin American in the 1980s/ But honestly, I am not optimistic.
What advice would you give to students who want to go into the foreign service and diplomacy?
Stanford Professor - Former US Amb. to Russia
Just do it! The 5 years I spent in government -- 3 at the White House and 2 in Moscow -- were truly exhilarating. I love the Farm (and looking forward to Stanford football starting up again!) but also miss being in government. I came out of the State Department more impressed with the calibre of people there and appreciated of their career paths. If I had to do it all over again at your stage in life, I might have taken the foreign service exam and gone directly into diplomacy!
Corporate Lawyer; Libertarian; Enneagram 8; ETSJ
Do you believe that it is the US's strategy to attempt to isolate Putin and Russia and deny Russia a sphere of influence? If not, what do you see as the reasons for the US involvement in the affairs of Ukraine?

Do you see any powerful people/forces in the US government advocating for better relations/less tension with Russia?
Stanford Professor - Former US Amb. to Russia
I agree with Obama that sphere of influences may have been a useful concept for earlier centuries, but makes no sense in the 21st. That was are reasoning behind the Reset. We sought to cooperate with Russia to achieve win-win outcomes, and define issues in zero-sum terms. It work for a while, but then Putin came back to power, and he sees the world in zero-sum terms, especially with us. No one I know in the USG wants or advocates for conflict with Russia. But it takes two to tango. For more on my views on this topic see my latest article in the Washington Quarterly.
Mr McFaul,

As a Swede, I am very curious to know: What do you believe are Russian ambitions in the Baltic Sea Region?

Thank you!
Stanford Professor - Former US Amb. to Russia
They are big. We should be very focused on their activities there. For too long, not enough people in the region, including your country, believed that Russia could be a threat again. Follow Bildt on Twitter to learn more.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman leader of Chechnya, has made statements that indicate he is willing to challenge the Russia government's authority in Chechnya (regarding the murderers of Nemtsov). Do you believe he is totally under Putin's control? Also, do you see him taking a more national role in the future?
Stanford Professor - Former US Amb. to Russia
He is not totally under the control of Putin, or to be more precise, he is not totally under the control of the Russian federal government. Putin decided to give Kadyrov a lot of independence in return for Kadyrov's pledge to restore law and order there. That tradeoff may have looked smart a while ago, but has come back to haunt the Kremlin. The various theories flying around Moscow about Nemtsov's murder suggests more divisions among the ruling elite than is often assumed in Western accounts.
Human Rights Foundation and Oslo Freedom Forum
Hello Michael - in your opinion, who are the most effective civil society groups working inside Russia today? I'm including independent media, human rights groups, and anti-corruption organizations. What groups are doing amazing work and how can the outside world best acknowledge and support them?
Stanford Professor - Former US Amb. to Russia
Alex, I shouldn't answer your question, as the very act of me naming them might cause them trouble back home! What I will say is that there are thousands of incredibly talented, courageous leaders in all of these areas you mentioned. They may be less visible now than they were a few years ago, but they have not gone away. They are still fighting for a more democratic future for their country. I remain deeply impressed with their efforts.
PhD candidate at George Mason University
As a former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, how do you look at outgoing top general Oderino's statement two days ago that Russia not ISIS is the most dangerous threat to the U.S. ?
Stanford Professor - Former US Amb. to Russia
I haven't read his statement, only press accounts of it, so I need to be "diplomatic"! In terms of capacity, of course Russia remains the country most capable of doing serious damage to the United States. They can still blow us up overnight. Russia also has more conventional capacity than is often assumed. Americans like to talk about Russia as a declining power. I think that is an incorrect assumption. However, in terms of intent, I believe there are limits to what Putin will do. He will not attack a NATO ally. He will not attack us. ISIS might. My biggest worry is us all stumbling into a conflict. Russia's current aggressive behavior in Europe makes that more likely.
Professor McFaul, thank you for the opportunity to ask questions. What do you see as the future of U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation, particularly with respect safeguards and non-proliferation initiatives, given the cooling of relations over the last 18 months? Are there any other areas where the U.S. and Russia can foster a closer working relationship, such as terrorism or violent extremism?
Stanford Professor - Former US Amb. to Russia
On nonpro, I tragically don't see any big breakthroughs coming. Putin didn't even come to the Nuclear Security Summit. On terrorism, there are more opportunities, but only if done quietly.
How can the US productively counter increasing Russian aggression in Europe, and what role will Russia play on the world stage moving forward? Is there the potential for the instigation of another world war?
Stanford Professor - Former US Amb. to Russia
On instigating a war, I worry for instance about a bar fight between ethnic Russians and ethnic Estonians in Narva, after which some hotheaded "volunteers" from Russia decide to come toe the aid of their Russian comrades in Estonia. Maybe it's just 5-6 men with guns. Maybe they genuinely will be "volunteers." How does NATO respond? That's my nightmare scenario. On U.S. strategy, check out these articles: Stoner / McFaul Washington Quarterly:
or Confronting Putin’s Russia:
North Korean defector; Author of "The Girl with Seven Names"
Russia seems to have strengthened ties with North Korea during the Kim Jong-un era. What does each country need most from the other? And what would it take for the proposed Russian gas pipeline through North Korea to be approved by the North Korean leadership?
Stanford Professor - Former US Amb. to Russia
I'm sure you are more expert on this subject than I am. What do you think? On the pipeline, I think that will not happen for a long long time, if ever, not because of North Korean, but because of South Koreans. It's too expensive and too risky.
When defending the President's inability to deter Putin's aggression in Ukraine, you cite a number of historical examples where American presidents failed to deter Russian aggression on its periphery, most recently Georgia. But considering that Russia occupied parts of Georgia for a total of twelve days, isn't this an unfair comparison?

While you were Ambassador, our government pursued rapprochement with Russia. The President even mocked Governor Romney for calling Russia a geopolitical foe. In retrospect, it seems like it was Obama who had bad judgement, even if Romney's statement was a little hyperbolic. We had a "reset," we canceled long range missile defense in Czech Republic and Poland, you and President Obama talked about "a new relationship with Russia." Clearly, that has not materialized. In retrospect, do you believe that these concessions were worth it?
Stanford Professor - Former US Amb. to Russia
Glad you are reading my articles! Again, read the piece blow for a longer answer. On Russia soldiers in Georgia, they are still there! They didn't leave in 12 days. (Like most of the rest of the world, I consider Abkhazia and South Ossetia part of Georgia). We did not "cancel" missile defense in Europe. That's just not true. We made missile defense much stronger . Look up what EPAA has been doing. Bush planned to put in 10 GBIs. EPAA plan to deploy hundreds of SM3s. Russians are very upset. On Reset, we tried to work with Russia on issues of mutual interest, and go some big things done -- START, NDN, Iran sanctions, WTO. Putin came in and ended it. So we too pivoted away from reset. But read more here:

Stoner / McFaul Washington Quarterly Piece:
Director, Defense & Intelligence Project, Belfer Center
Should the U.S. base its relationship with Russia on deterrence or cooperation?
Stanford Professor - Former US Amb. to Russia
both: selective containment, selective engagement. Read more here: : or here: Confronting Putin’s Russia:
Founder, 10 TRAITS Leadership Institute; UN Virtual Mentor
Catherine the Great ruled Russia for 34 years. In conversations with Voltaire in 1771, she stated: "The nation's glory is my own, that is my principle." What are the trends and *unseen* forces shaping business, education and politics today that might foster the future rise of a woman as president of Russia?
Stanford Professor - Former US Amb. to Russia
Wow! I don't know. As ambassador, though, I met many talented, smart, strong women who could easily do that job. I'm serious, dozens.
In what ways do you see cities changing or influencing foreign policy in the coming years?
Stanford Professor - Former US Amb. to Russia
Will be big drivers: Ivo Daalder is the guy to read on this subject.
In a world which had elected to eliminate nuclear weapons, which country would be the last (or most grudging) to give nuclear weapons up? And why?
Stanford Professor - Former US Amb. to Russia
Hard question. Russia or US. I was just rereading Obama's Prague speech in the spring of 2009. Check it out. So hopeful.
Senior Lecturer at Bush School of Texas A&M University
How would you assess Angela Merkl's efforts in handling the crisis in Ukraine?
Stanford Professor - Former US Amb. to Russia
The best we have.
What are the greatest risks for Russia and the world in case of a sudden death of Putin? Knowing that Medvedev could pull a 'Maduro' for a while...
Stanford Professor - Former US Amb. to Russia
I don't want to speculate about that. A colleague of mine once did and it got him into HUGE trouble back in Russia!
Economist, Peterson Institute for International Economics
I heard from classmates and even professors at university that "it is no longer necessary to study foreign languages." The justification is typically something like: "we now have superior translation technologies." How would you make the case for learning new languages today?
Stanford Professor - Former US Amb. to Russia
When I am asked, what were the tools I learned in school that were most useful to me in government, my answer is (1) knowing Russian, and (2) knowing history. I cannot overestimate how empowering it was for me to speak Russian, both while working at WH and Moscow.