Drayton asked what Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goal is and if he is trying to strengthen his country’s national identity.
“National identity historically has been very anti-western,” said Khrushcheva. “Basically Russia always defined itself by what the West is not. And Putin has really been doing 150 percent of that.”
Drayton went on to ask if the United States and Russia have reached Cold War levels of tension.
“I think we’re at a post-Cold War low,” said Pomeranz. “I’m not quite sure we’re at Cold War levels yet. But just when you think the relationship can’t get any worse, it does.”
When asked what US interests are in Russia, Pomeranz explained that “America has interests in working with Russia in solving various issues around the world—in Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, and North Korea. And we have, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, worked with Russia to address those issues.”
Syria has been a major sticking point between the two sides. Russia, along with China, has blocked nearly every resolution passed by the US at the United Nations on the conflict raging in the country. Both sides have used Syria as a proxy war against each other.
Another issue of contention has been the asylum of Edward Snowden. The US wants to try him on espionage charges for leaking National Security Agency secrets. But after he recently requested an extension for his asylum, Moscow granted permission for him to stay an additional three years.
Pomeranz added “the other thing is that the United States has strong allies in Europe. We want to support Europe and the territorial integrity and the borders that exist there.”
The crisis in Ukraine has by far sparked the strongest discord between the US and Russia. Ukraine is split on pro-Russian and pro-Western lines, and both Moscow and Washington have taken advantage of those allegiances.
Khrushcheva agreed with Pomeranz saying that “Ukraine is a buffer zone between Europe and Russia, something that during the Cold War Poland was. Poland was the last line of defense for the West, now Ukraine is the last line of defense for the West, as it is for Russia.”
Drayton asked the guests about Putin’s support at home and where we go from here.
“A lot will depend on the level of support that Putin maintains inside the country,” said Pomeranz.
Khrushcheva said that Putin has about 80 percent support. “I don’t see too much love for Putin, but at the same time, there’s a lot of fear,” she said. “Not so much fear of Putin himself, but fear that if he goes, Russia will descend into chaos. But so far, he stands for Russian pride, and that kind of national pride is very important to the Russians.”