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Kim Campbell is a former Prime Minister of Canada and former Minister of National Defence in the Canadian government, and has served as the Canadian consul to Los Angeles. Having pursued doctoral studies in Soviet Government at the London School of Economics, and in her role as founding chair of the Ukrainian economic reform NGO, the Foundation for Effective Governance, Campbell is known for her deep understanding of the Russian political scene. She is an Honorary Fellow at the Center for Public Leadership at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
Donald Trump's links to Putin aren't just disturbing Americans, they're alarming the international community. Former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell, an expert on Russian and Eastern European politics, spoke at length to the National Observer's Sandy Garossino, outlining the very serious potential threat Trump's candidacy poses to international stability and security.
She begins with a deep-dive into Vladimir Putin's character, background, and motivations.
Putin's strategic goal is to keep himself in power and destabilize other countries
Do you find the evidence of Russian hacking into the DNC credible, and if so, what are Putin’s strategic objectives?
I do find the evidence credible, and the people who have traced the various hacking identities are pretty credible. I don’t find that difficult at all.
Given the evidence and what we can piece together, Putin’s strategic goal is to keep himself in power and destabilize those countries whose example threatens his legitimacy.
But I think you have to step back a bit. First of all, it's important to look at the creation of Vladimir Putin. Putin is a former KGB officer. That is his whole training, his whole formation. His superiors didn't promote him above lieutenant colonel in the KGB because they actually thought he was too reckless. So we’re looking at a man whose career was in the KGB, much of which was spent in East Germany.
He has said that the end of the Soviet Union was one of the greatest geo-political disasters in the world, so he would likely feel a sense of injured personal pride and loss about the demise of the Soviet Union.
In looking at his trajectory, he has never been too fastidious about ethics, and in the early days of the post-Soviet era he worked for the mayor of St Petersburg where he began his career as a kleptocrat, and made use of his offices to aggrandize himself.
So he gets himself into a position where he becomes the president of Russia. When Yeltsin decided to appoint him as his successor, it was thought by his circle that Putin would be compliant. In particular, they were concerned that Yeltsin not be succeeded by someone who would throw them all in jail.
But people didn’t know what to make of him. In 2004 he talked a big game about democracy, but people should have wondered—where would he have learned that? It’s not in his DNA—he’s never been part of anything that had democratic values.
He continues to accumulate his large fortune, which he does very cleverly by using surrogates.
Now, Putin has several themes in his thinking.
Much of what he’s doing in creating enemies and then responding to them is in the traditional playbook of the authoritarian ruler. How do you get people to support you? Tell them of these terrible things are going to happen and present yourself as the saviour.
If that sounds familiar to recent campaigns south of the border, so be it. “I’m going to save you” And then everybody’s happy because they have this great leader. So he has to do things to provoke animosity.
Putin’s interest is to do whatever he needs to do to maintain his control of Russia. The real problem for Putin was democracies on his border. He’s got people who want democracy in Russia, and it appears that he kills them, or oppresses them. Boris Nemtsov is an example, but there are others there. The journalists and so on. So he doesn’t want thriving democratic societies on his border.
He needs to destabilize them so he doesn’t have to deal with that challenge to his own authority. That’s why the situation with Ukraine was so threatening. If Ukraine becomes a functioning democracy and orients itself towards Europe through negotiation of a trade agreement, what happens when the Russians say they want some of those protections?
The European Union has been an enormously positive and powerful force for democratization of the countries of the former Warsaw Pact and former Soviet Union that are now its members. Ukraine wasn’t going to be a member, but it was going to have to adopt certain policies. And judging from his actions, that’s what Putin doesn’t want.
It also seems as if he's trying to cultivate an ideology of what’s described as illiberal democracy—a notion that you have elections but you don’t have democratic freedoms.
Trump is a bull in a china shop, while Putin terrifies the Baltics and Ukraine
The former Soviet states in the Baltics watching what Putin is doing in Ukraine are terrified. It’s not surprising that these countries all wanted to join NATO.
If you look at Ukraine, there is a very important precedent of changing international boundaries by force. When I was at the G7 when I was prime minister, this was an issue for the Balkans, and a major concern.
That’s why what Putin did in Ukraine was so disruptive to the international order.
Because it was a fait accompli, he just moved his military in and did it, the result is that going to war over that is not productive. That’s why you have sanctions. You get the Russians and squeeze their little proverbials to make it very uncomfortable. But what’s interesting is how unhappy people are there, because things are much worse under Russian rule.
These issues have deep histories, and very current resonance and sensitivities.
Donald Trump is a bull in a china shop, and that’s probably a slander against the bull.
He wants to be important. He doesn’t want to do the job of being president, he wants to be president. However much Americans are mesmerized and horrified, people around the world are even more so, because what America does affects the world.
Organizations rely on American leadership. The consequences of its actions are very real.
We're getting into Manchurian Candidate territory here
What questions should the media ask about Donald Trump's relationship with Russia?
You get the change of the Republican Party platform gutting GOP support for Ukraine, you get Trump’s comments out of the blue about NATO, you get his comments about Putin being a great leader, and about Putin not having gone into Ukraine.
Where does that come from? Who is getting him to think that way? The comment on NATO in particular is Putin’s bête noire.
For a presidential candidate to say that—who is influencing him? We’re getting into Manchurian Candidate territory here.
When Anne Applebaum writes about this stuff, she's pretty savvy about it. Now in the era of cyber-warfare, people like Putin have tactics and techniques and tools that his KGB predecessors didn’t have. The disinformatzia which was very key, is now a lot cheaper and easier to do, and more widespread.
First of all he has his media network, RT, which tries to pass as being like BBC World or whatever, but it’s totally a propaganda outfit.
He supports Marine Le Pen in France, and these other right-wing racist parties. I would also say that hostility to non-whites is a very deeply-rooted Russian value in their politics.
The racial theme really resonates with Putin, and of course it resonates with what Trump is doing. So there are some ways in which Putin not only wants to destabilize but also sees Donald Trump as articulating the values that he is trying to promote.
Trump's NATO comments an earthquake around the world
What is the impact of Donald Trump’s waffling on US policy concerning NATO and Ukraine?
What Americans forget is that the rest of the world is really watching. When Donald Trump says what he says about NATO, it’s a lightning bolt, an earthquake around the world. It is destructive and ignorant.
People don’t understand what went into creating these institutions like NATO and what they came from, or what it is they serve. The one thing about World War II was that the very scale of the destruction led people to finally devote their energies to trying to make something better. It’s natural that the sense of urgency will eventually pass as peace comes and those memories get thinner, but NATO is the most successful military alliance in history.
It allows countries with varying degrees of military capacity to specialize. One of the things that Canada specialized in with our navy was anti-submarine warfare. Different countries can have particular skills.
The American president is always trying to get NATO countries to spend more, but what’s interesting is that those who are spending their full share are in the Baltics. These countries are spending up! They’re teeny-tiny little countries, but they go on the NATO missions. So when they hear Trump saying the US might not support NATO, it’s so counter-productive.
Even if the United States is spending more, it’s still a bargain for them to have those partners, both for operational cooperation and for political legitimacy in its missions. Trump’s talk is like throwing out the family jewels, and so contrary to the interests of the United States.
The United States has to be trusted and believed by its allies.
What must be going on inside the government departments, like Defence and State, that have to deal with the fallout of these issues?
I think it’s a crisis.
Trump has compromised himself very seriously in a whole variety of ways, not least of which is the Putin stuff.
But it’s more. I’m not sure that he is sane enough. I can’t decide whether it’s insanity or paranoid personality disorder, which is one step lower, or whether it’s incipient dementia. But he does not have the frontal lobe capacity to control his impulses.
Therefore the likelihood that he would reveal a secret in an urge to show how important he is, is very high. He is not a good security risk.
Do you know what’s really frightening about Donald Trump? I don’t think he has the capacity to be president. He doesn’t have the executive ability. When he was younger he might have been able to do it, which is why we might be looking at something like dementia or some kind of mental breakdown.
Making a circus of the American presidency a very good way to weaken it
The scary thing about Donald Trump is that he would be bored, or that he doesn’t have the ability to do the job and would become a puppet. He’d allow someone else, whether his vice-president or some other person, to pull the strings. That’s even more frightening, because you wouldn’t even know who that is.
America’s enemies today do not want to invade it, they want to weaken it. They want to undermine America’s influence and the example of democracy and democratic values in the neighbourhoods that they want to dominate.
Making a circus of the American presidency is a very good way of doing that.
What are your thoughts on Trump’s comments about nuclear weapons?
At the end of the Cold War, the senior military of the US and former Soviet Union got together to debrief one another and open the archives. It was a very interesting period of history. So much of what they’d known about each other was through intelligence, through spying and reading the entrails.
Once they got together to talk more openly, one of the things that surprised the Americans was when they heard from the Russians that the Soviets had concluded that there was no scenario in which the Soviet Union could fight a nuclear war and emerge as a country.
Now this is not rocket science (laughs) and anybody could tell you that. but that was the thinking of the senior Soviet staff. They were terrified at the prospect of the US launching a nuclear war. The Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons matters, and it’s why the whole Iranian agreement was so important.
So to suggest that these other countries should have nuclear weapons is so destabilizing. Every country that has them raises the risk of them being used.
These are agreements that diplomats and scientists have been working on for years, and the number of nuclear warheads has dramatically reduced. Real countries and real governments are trying to make policy, and trying to understand how to protect themselves.
And this guy comes in, who’s a complete vandal who doesn’t understand anything, and shoots his mouth off.
Money from Russian oligarchs is like money from the mob
Are you concerned that Trump is in hock in some way to these Russian oligarchs who have financed his enterprises?
The risk is that there is no economic activity in Russia that is outside the control of the president, if he wishes to assert it. There is no legal foundation that enables an oligarch to refuse to do something on principle.
It’s like getting money from the mob. They’ve got you. You are in hock to them. There can be a lot of ways that you can be persuaded to do things that are of interest to them.
I can’t imagine what some of those things might be, but the fact of the matter is that a lot of this is dirty money. Some of it comes from legitimate enterprise, but in Russia there is no free and independent business class. The freedom that a businessman or woman has is at the pleasure of the president.
You can never assume that if the president takes an interest in what you’re doing that he can’t get what he wants.
So Putin is going to be very interested in any oligarch who’s financing the president of the United States?
What are your thoughts about Paul Manafort and some of the other figures close to Trump who have background with Russia?
Manafort was in Ukraine when I was there, and he was working for Yanukovich, who was a disappointment. Was that all Manafort’s fault? I don’t know to what extent Manafort gave good or bad advice, but what he is is a link. Yanukovich now lives in exile in Russia, and Manafort has these links.
So here’s the question: What does Trump know about? He puts himself out as being the central figure, and it’s all about him. But then things happen and he says, “Oh, I didn’t really know about that.”
Is that Trump lying because he’s incapable of taking responsibility for anything, or is he the figurehead of an organization where people are running off on their own?
The people he has around him don’t inspire confidence in terms of the independence of his campaign.
Trump getting worse as pressure mounts
Is Trump getting worse?
Yes, I think so, because of the pressure. He’s not setting the pace anymore.
When the Republicans had 16 other candidates, and almost all of them were really weak, it was easier then to take them all on. But now it’s him against Hillary Clinton.
This is it now. It’s not a game.
In the early days he got away with a lot in the media. They were just supine, because he was good ratings. He got to talk to whoever he wanted, nobody ever challenged what he said.
Now people are challenging him, and that’s what backs him into contradicting himself and saying all these stupid things. I think the pressure is getting to him. He’s totally unsuited for public life.
Is the honeymoon over with the media?
I think they feel guilty. They know what they’ve done.