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Former U.S. Ambassador To Russia Discusses New Sanctions Against Russia


We're joined now by Ambassador Michael McFaul, who was U.S. ambassador to Russia during President Obama's second term. Welcome back to the program.

MICHAEL MCFAUL: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: What do you make of these new sanctions today?

MCFAUL: I think they're the correct response. I applaud the Trump administration. That's not a phrase I get to use very often, but I think this is right. It doesn't mean it's going to change Putin's behavior on all these matters, but at least it's the right, correct response to what special counsel Mueller indicted these people for. They have to be sanctioned as well.

SHAPIRO: Correct response but might not change Putin's behavior - is there anything the U.S. could do that would conceivably change Putin's behavior?

MCFAUL: Well, the first thing we have to do is to understand correctly what Putin is doing in the world. I think we've been lulled after the end of the Cold War thinking, oh, he's problematic, but it's no big deal, whereas I see it very differently. He is challenging the norms of the international system - annexation in Ukraine, meddling in our elections, intervening militarily to prop up a dictator in Syria and now allegedly poisoning a former Russian official. He is behaving in a extraordinary way that I think we need to come to grips with. We're going to need a long-term strategy for pushing back and containing Putin and Russia these days.

SHAPIRO: As you say, Putin is accused of having poisoned or ordered the poisoning of other Russians who were in the U.K. while you were ambassador. The debate was about Alexander Litvinenko. And it took years for the U.K. to publicly attribute that poisoning to Russia and then months more for the Obama administration to sanction anyone. Ultimately new names were added to the sanctions list just 10 days before President Obama left office. While you were ambassador, did you urge the White House to do more?

MCFAUL: Yes. I was part of that camp. And remember; during the Obama era, we had a period of good cooperation and positive cooperation with Russia when President Medvedev was in the Kremlin. That all changed in 2012. And I was one of those that thought we had to push back.

SHAPIRO: How do you explain Trump being relatively quick to sanction people after a poisoning attributed to Russia and Obama, who is generally thought of as being tougher on Russia, being less quick to do so?

MCFAUL: Well, I don't see it that way. I think the Obama administration with Angela Merkel and the rest of the EU responded appropriately when Russia annexed Crimea and then invaded eastern Ukraine. That's the first time ever that we began to sanction Russian government officials. Before then, not in our 200 years plus of bilateral relations had we sanctioned, for instance, the chief of staff in the Kremlin. So that was - I would have liked to have seen it done faster, but that was the appropriate response. By the way, also enhancing NATO and supporting Ukraine - that three-pronged approach was the right approach.

What's interesting to me about the Trump administration is on policy. The administration - the current administration is basically following the same policy as Obama and, in a couple of instances, doing more, such as sending lethal weapons to Ukraine. But the president himself doesn't seem to endorse that policy. He never speaks about it. He never tweets about it. And so you have this real disconnect rhetorically between President Trump on the one hand and the policy of the Trump administration on the other.

SHAPIRO: So do you think that these new sanctions announced today are a shift on his part?

MCFAUL: We'll see. So far, he hasn't spoken about it at all, nor has he spoken directly on the record about the poisoning, nor has he spoken about the new weapons that Putin announced just two weeks ago. So there have been plenty of opportunities for the president to tweet his outrage. And so far, he hasn't chosen to do so.

SHAPIRO: Well, Ambassador McFaul, thank you for joining us today.

MCFAUL: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: Ambassador Michael McFaul is now a political science professor at Stanford. And his book coming out in May is called "From Cold War To Hot Peace: An American Ambassador In Putin's Russia." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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