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It’s Time to Bring Russia in From the Cold

Is it in the West’s interests to bring Russia in from the cold? Or should we be on our guard against an ascendant, belligerent country on Europe’s borders?

Isn’t it time we took a more intelligent approach to Russia? You don’t have to be a fan of Vladimir Putin or support his invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea to see that an accommodation with Russia might be a good thing. Many would argue that it’s the West that is to blame for the bad blood between Russia and the West in the first place. Ever since the Wall came down, NATO has been expanding eastwards without any regard for Russia’s security interests. Russia’s actions may appear aggressive and expansionist to us, but in Moscow they are seen as a defensive strategy. Surely it is in everyone’s best interests if we understand that. As for the recent US airstrikes on Syria, Trump may have wanted to look tough on the world stage, but the conciliatory line he took towards Russia during his campaign was far more constructive. It’s easy to paint President Putin as the bad guy here, propping up the murderous Assad, but his main aim is to end the civil war in Syria and defeat ISIS. Does the West have anything better to offer?

That’s the case for improving relations with Russia. But should we come to an accommodation with a foreign power which threatens our Eastern European partners and goes so far as to meddle in last year’s US presidential election? The problem is not that the West has been too expansionist towards Russia, but that it hasn’t stood up to Putin’s aggressions. After failing to act over Ukraine and Crimea, the West is now confronted by an emboldened Russia which is helping Assad wreak destruction against captive Syrian civilians, and trying to destabilise Europe at this volatile moment by cultivating populists such as Marine Le Pen and extremist groups sympathetic to its interests. Russia is an unpredictable, dangerous power and should be kept at arm’s length.

For this major debate, Intelligence Squared put together a stellar line-up. Making the case for rapprochement with Russia was Vladimir Pozner, one of Russia’s best known television journalists and a former advocate for the Soviet Union, and Domitilla Sagramoso, a leading expert on security in Russia; arguing against them were be Michael Hayden, former director of both the CIA and the NSA, and Radek Sikorski, who was Poland’s foreign minister from 2007 to 2014.

The debate was chaired by BBC World News presenter Nik Gowing.


For the motion

Vladimir Pozner

Russian television presenter and author

Russian television presenter and author, known as the ‘face’ of Russia. Raised in Paris and New York, he moved to the Soviet Union in 1952 and became well known in the West as a spokesperson representing and explaining the views of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. He now hosts a popular weekly interview show on Russian television.

Domitilla Sagramoso

Expert on conflict and security in Russia

Lecturer in Security and Development at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. She is an expert on conflict and security in Russia and Eurasia, and on terrorism in the Russian North Caucasus. She has also examined Russia’s relations with NATO and the EU. Her forthcoming book is Russian Imperialism Revisited: From Disengagement to Hegemony.
Against the motion

Michael Hayden

Former Director of the CIA and the NSA

Former Director of the CIA and the NSA under Bill Clinton and George W Bush, and a retired United States Air Force four-star general. He now serves as a Distinguished Visiting Professor at George Mason University, and is the author of Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror.

Radek Sikorski

Former Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs

Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2007-2014 and Minister of Defence from 2005-2007. A key architect of the European Union’s foreign and security policy, Sikorski is now a Senior Fellow at the University of Harvard’s Center for European Studies.

Nik Gowing

Presenter, BBC World News

Nik Gowing has been a main presenter for the BBC’s international 24-hour news channel BBC World News, since 1996, where he presents The Hub with Nik Gowing, BBC World Debates, Dateline London and location coverage. For 18 years he worked at ITN where he was bureau chief in Rome and Warsaw, and Diplomatic Editor for Channel Four News (1988-1996).