Putin’s Grand Delusion

Putin’s Grand Delusion

The Future of Russia and Global Democracy
April 28, 2024
Season 12
Featuring:
Fiona Hill
Senior Fellow, Brooking Institution; former Senior Director, U.S. National Security Council

Is Russia a growing threat to the world order, a federation in decline, or both? Can Russia’s social media aggression topple America’s democracy? What is going on in Putin’s mind?

Moderated by: Michael O'Hanlon

As this is written, Russia’s war against Ukraine is into its 16th month, with no end in sight. By March 2023, at least 500,000 Russians, and perhaps more than 1 million, had fled their country since the war began, in what the Washington Post describes as “a tidal wave on scale with emigration following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991” (Russians abandon wartime Russia in historic exodus). Within Russia, discontent and anti-war sentiment is visibly rising, despite Vladimir Putin’s laws providing for long prison terms for anyone convicted of spreading “false news” about Russia’s military operation in Ukraine. In June, one of Putin’s long-standing supporters, Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the mercenary Wagner Group, attempted an armed rebellion, threatening to march his troops all the way to Moscow.

Meanwhile, the Putin regime continues to wage information warfare, both at home and abroad, using social media both as a shield and as a sword. “The Kremlin has long seen the internet as both a threat to regime security and a weapon to be used against Russia’s enemies” (No Water’s Edge: Russia’s Information War and Regime Security). To protect Russia’s view of itself, and maintain the trust of and control over its own citizens, the Kremlin spreads misinformation that portrays the West as an adversary perpetually trying to destroy Russia territorial integrity, political sovereignty and national identity. In the offensive mode, the Kremlin spreads misinformation in western countries in an effort to undermine the legitimacy of their governments and sow distrust and division among its citizens.

Is Russia a growing threat to the world order, a federation in decline, or both? Can Russia’s social media aggression topple America’s democracy? What is going on in Putin’s head?

For over two decades, Fiona Hill has been a scholar of Russia, and of Vladimir Putin. She has served both Republican and Democrat administrations as their Russia and Eurasia expert, where she “made a specialty of issuing warnings about the Russian leader that have gone unheeded by American presidents,” according to Robert Draper of the NY Times (This was Trump pulling a Putin). In 2015, she co-authored with Clifford Gaddy Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin, in which they asserted that:

some observers [of Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine and subsequent annexation of Crimea] have several, potentially very dangerous, misconceptions about Putin. These fall into the category of underestimating him in a couple of important respects, and then overestimating him—or failing to understand his limitations—in others. First many in the West underestimated Putin’s willingness to fight, for as long and as hard (and as dirty) as he needs to, to achieve his goals. Vladimir Putin will use all methods available, and he will be ruthless. Second, Western observers misread his skill as a strategist. Putin is not, as some have said, a mere tactician. He thinks strategically, and he has great advantages over Western leaders in his ability to translate that thinking into action. What we often fail to appreciate, however, is how dangerously little Putin understands about us—our motives, our mentality, and, also, our values. Only by trying to appreciate how Putin sees us can we see the logic in his actions—the logic he follows—and therefore get some idea of what he wants, where he might be headed, in Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe and Eurasia.

Dr. Hill will be joined by her Brookings Institution colleague, and Canandaigua native, Dr. Michael O’Hanlon in an exploration of the current (April 2024) state of Russian aggression and what a future Russian Federation might look like. We’ll discuss how Putin’s background as the grandson of Lenin’s and Stalin’s personal cook, and as a KGB officer, helped to form his view of Russia and its role in the world. We’ll consider the successes and failures of Western tactics to control, contain, and defeat Russia’s actions.

Moderated by: Michael O'Hanlon

As this is written, Russia’s war against Ukraine is into its 16th month, with no end in sight. By March 2023, at least 500,000 Russians, and perhaps more than 1 million, had fled their country since the war began, in what the Washington Post describes as “a tidal wave on scale with emigration following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991” (Russians abandon wartime Russia in historic exodus). Within Russia, discontent and anti-war sentiment is visibly rising, despite Vladimir Putin’s laws providing for long prison terms for anyone convicted of spreading “false news” about Russia’s military operation in Ukraine. In June, one of Putin’s long-standing supporters, Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the mercenary Wagner Group, attempted an armed rebellion, threatening to march his troops all the way to Moscow.

Meanwhile, the Putin regime continues to wage information warfare, both at home and abroad, using social media both as a shield and as a sword. “The Kremlin has long seen the internet as both a threat to regime security and a weapon to be used against Russia’s enemies” (No Water’s Edge: Russia’s Information War and Regime Security). To protect Russia’s view of itself, and maintain the trust of and control over its own citizens, the Kremlin spreads misinformation that portrays the West as an adversary perpetually trying to destroy Russia territorial integrity, political sovereignty and national identity. In the offensive mode, the Kremlin spreads misinformation in western countries in an effort to undermine the legitimacy of their governments and sow distrust and division among its citizens.

Is Russia a growing threat to the world order, a federation in decline, or both? Can Russia’s social media aggression topple America’s democracy? What is going on in Putin’s head?

For over two decades, Fiona Hill has been a scholar of Russia, and of Vladimir Putin. She has served both Republican and Democrat administrations as their Russia and Eurasia expert, where she “made a specialty of issuing warnings about the Russian leader that have gone unheeded by American presidents,” according to Robert Draper of the NY Times (This was Trump pulling a Putin). In 2015, she co-authored with Clifford Gaddy Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin, in which they asserted that:

some observers [of Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine and subsequent annexation of Crimea] have several, potentially very dangerous, misconceptions about Putin. These fall into the category of underestimating him in a couple of important respects, and then overestimating him—or failing to understand his limitations—in others. First many in the West underestimated Putin’s willingness to fight, for as long and as hard (and as dirty) as he needs to, to achieve his goals. Vladimir Putin will use all methods available, and he will be ruthless. Second, Western observers misread his skill as a strategist. Putin is not, as some have said, a mere tactician. He thinks strategically, and he has great advantages over Western leaders in his ability to translate that thinking into action. What we often fail to appreciate, however, is how dangerously little Putin understands about us—our motives, our mentality, and, also, our values. Only by trying to appreciate how Putin sees us can we see the logic in his actions—the logic he follows—and therefore get some idea of what he wants, where he might be headed, in Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe and Eurasia.

Dr. Hill will be joined by her Brookings Institution colleague, and Canandaigua native, Dr. Michael O’Hanlon in an exploration of the current (April 2024) state of Russian aggression and what a future Russian Federation might look like. We’ll discuss how Putin’s background as the grandson of Lenin’s and Stalin’s personal cook, and as a KGB officer, helped to form his view of Russia and its role in the world. We’ll consider the successes and failures of Western tactics to control, contain, and defeat Russia’s actions.

About Fiona Hill:

Fiona Hill is a distinguished senior fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe within the Foreign Policy program at Brookings. She also holds the prestigious position of chancellor at Durham University, U.K. Additionally, Hill is a Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin.

During her esteemed career, Hill has held significant roles, including deputy assistant to the president and senior director for European and Russian affairs on the U.S. National Security Council from 2017 to 2019, as well as national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the National Intelligence Council from 2006 to 2009. Hill gained further prominence through her testimonies before Congress during the 2019 impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. She is an accomplished author, having written There Is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century and co-authored Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin with Clifford Gaddy.

Prior to joining Brookings, Hill was director of strategic planning at the Eurasia Foundation in Washington, D.C. From 1991 to 1999, she held a number of positions directing technical assistance and research projects at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, including associate director of the Strengthening Democratic Institutions Project, director of the Project on Ethnic Conflict in the Former Soviet Union, and coordinator of the Trilateral Study on Japanese-Russian-U.S. Relations.

Hill has researched and published extensively on issues related to Russia, the Caucasus, Central Asia, regional conflicts, energy, and strategic issues. Her first book with Clifford Gaddy, The Siberian Curse: How Communist Planners Left Russia Out in the Cold, was published by Brookings Institution Press in December 2003, and her monograph, “Energy Empire: Oil, Gas and Russia’s Revival,” was published by the London Foreign Policy Centre in 2004.

Hill holds a master’s in Soviet studies and a doctorate in history from Harvard University where she was a Frank Knox Fellow. She also holds a master’s in Russian and modern history from St. Andrews University in Scotland, and has pursued studies at Moscow’s Maurice Thorez Institute of Foreign Languages. Hill’s Reith Lecture on “Freedom of Fear” for the BBC was broadcast in December 2022 to an audience of over 200 million people worldwide. That same month, Hill was awarded the Insignia of Knight First Class of the Order of the Lion of Finland.

To learn more about Fiona Hill:

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