New sanctions loom in the US-Russia standoff — what does the spat mean for the world, and is there an end to it? We talked to Dr Mathew Burrows, the veteran CIA analyst and former National Intelligence Counselor.
Sophie Shevardnadze:Mathew Burrows, the CIA veteran analyst and the former National Intelligence Counselor, welcome to the show, it's really great to have you on our programme. The world is no longer split in two any more like during the Cold War, and clearly the U.S. isn't leading the world, like it tried to in the 90s – so should we be bracing ourselves for chaos in this new multilateral reality?
Mathew Burrows: 'Chaos' may be a strong word, certainly instability because I don't think we have achieved some sort of equilibrium. U.S. is trying to find the new role for itself, other powers as well.
SS: Why is it so bad? We've had a leaderless world for many centuries before and we were fine…
MB:Well, that leaderless world had quite a few wars in it. And, obviously, I think, our own appetite for conflict is very very low these days and public is more eager to see economic improvement than they are to get into a fight with a neighbour or other powers in the world.
SS: How volatile is the current state of U.S.-Russian relations? I mean, do you see more sort of stability within this confrontation, or is it teetering on the unpredictable and dangerous?
MB: It's certainly unpredictable. I would say it's potentially dangerous if it keeps at this low level of non-cooperation. You know, we've had differences before, but we've also been able to talk to one another and we also had those channels of communication. At the moment even between non-governmental bodies there seems to be a very low level of communication between the two of us.
SS: Is it as bad as during the Cold-War era? Or even worse in a way?
MB: It's worse in a sense that there is no communication. I think it's different. The U.S. really sees its peer competitor as China, so in some way it's not as concerned (and I don't share that belief) about Russia, they see Russia as a declining power, and therefore the power that in their minds we shouldn't have to pay that much attention to. So that is a very dangerous situation.
SS: Donald Trump, who looked like he could be a blessing for Moscow-Washington relations during his campaign, is now conducting the Russian business in an even more adversarial manner than Barack Obama. Why such a u-turn?
MB: I think he's hemmed-in. I'm not sure that he has changed his views. I mean, his views were always that we should be trying to cooperate together. But he's a weakened president. There's an ongoing investigation as, I'm sure, you know, about whether there was a collusion between his campaign and Russian authorities. So he can't voice any argument for better relations.
SS: But I mean, he's the President of the United States. Who can hem him in? If he wants to have a good relationship with Russia, he should have a good relationship with Russia. Doesn't his word mean anything? What kind of president is that?
MB: This is the definition of a weakened president. You know, he has Congress which passed sanctions almost unanimously. He couldn't veto it and so he has to abide by that legislation. He can't actually voice much sentiment for better relations with Russia without implicating himself in some sort of conspiracy with Russia or collusion with Russia.
SS: Can the Russia investigation, coupled with possible Democratic gains in the 2018 midterm elections in the U.S., bring matters to a crisis point – an impeachment trial even?