The transcript of Dialogos Radio’s interview with journalist and geopolitical analyst Alex Christoforou, co-founder of TheDuran.com. This interview aired on our broadcasts for the week of January 19-25, 2017. Find the podcast of this interview here.
MN: Joining us today on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series for our first English-language interview of 2017 is Alex Christoforou, co-founder and writer for the online news website TheDuran.com. Alex, happy new year and thank you for joining us today on our program.
AC: Happy new year and thank you for having me.
MN: President-elect Donald Trump is set to take office, amidst a climate of intense anti-Russian sentiment in the United States and in Western Europe. During his presidential campaign, Trump spoke out in favor of improved U.S. relations with Russia and with Vladimir Putin. Do you believe that Trump will make good on this pledge?
AC: That’s an interesting question, and I think that’s something that everyone’s debating right now, how sincere he is in creating an atmosphere of detente between the U.S. and Russia. The first thing is that Obama was absolutely terrible for U.S.-Russia relations. He pretty much threw the whole relationship back into the Cold War era. Trump has got a lot of ground to cover, and there’s a lot of forces at work right now which are adamant about not having Trump create an atmosphere of detente with Russia. So Trump is really in a tough position here, especially given the last two or three weeks of the initiatives that the Obama administration took up, which is really an effort by the outgoing administration to box Trump in.
They’ve created a hysteria of Russian hacking which has no evidence whatsoever, no evidence has been presented to the public at all. You have various media outlets really publishing a lot of fake news about Trump’s relationship with Putin and Russia. The fact is that Trump has never even met Vladimir Putin, so they create this almost “bromance” kind of relationship between two world leaders, in which case both of them have never even met. So you have this interesting dynamic of the Obama administration trying to box Trump in to a hostile policy towards Russia, so that if Trump does decide to approach Russia with a much friendlier foreign policy and a much more workable foreign policy, right away Trump is going to be labeled by the mainstream media, the establishment media as a Putin stooge, as a Kremlin stooge, as a Russian “useful idiot,” and they’re going to point fingers and say “look, we told you so, Trump is the Manchurian candidate of the Kremlin.” It’s all absolutely ridiculous, to be honest.
My opinion on all of this is, sure the Kremlin was relieved to have Trump win the presidency, but not for the reasons that people think. Putin has made no secret of the fact that he wants a good partner in the United States and that the last eight years, especially the second term of Obama, the last four years, have been very tense between Russia and the U.S. So Putin is probably looking forward to having a world leader that he can speak with on equal terms. Obama definitely was not that world leader. Without a doubt, Obama and Putin did not get along. I think from that standpoint, Russia understands that in Trump they may have a leader that they can speak with. On the other hand, there’s this misconception that Russia was happy to see Hillary Clinton lose. This is false. Yes, Hillary Clinton was a dangerous prospect for a U.S. president. She was very bullish, very much a war hawk on Russia, especially with regards to Syria and the Ukraine, which are two geopolitical regions that are extremely important to Russia. But saying that, Putin definitely got the best of Obama on just about every single foreign policy initiative that the two countries faced in the last eight years. So, the Kremlin pretty much knew that it if was going to be four years of Hillary Clinton, it would be a very easy go as to dealing with the U.S. on various challenges that the two countries faced.
On the one hand, I think they’re looking forward to Trump, and speaking with a world leader that they could work with. On the other hand, I think there’s a big part of Russia and a big part of the Kremlin that says “we really ran over Obama pretty easily” as far as geopolitics is concerned, and Hillary Clinton likely would have been a lot easier of an opponent to deal with. Will Trump stand by his word? I think he will. I think he’s so far proven that he’s a man of his word, and he seems very bullish in his view of the world. He’s a negotiator and I think he’s going to want to do deals.
MN: Some of President-elect Trump’s cabinet picks, as well as his incoming chief of staff, have seemingly expressed divergent views from those of Trump with regards to Russia, to which Trump stated that his cabinet choices are free to express their own views, and not his. What do you make of Trump’s selections, and do you believe they will serve as obstacles for Trump?
AC: That’s a good question. He’s appointed a lot of generals, he’s appointed a lot of people that are antagonistic towards Russia, one being “Mad Dog” Mathis, but he’s appointed other generals and other people in high positions like Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, who as far as we know is very friendly towards Russia, and has done a lot of business with Russia as the CEO of ExxonMobil. Trump said it himself, that he’s allowing his cabinet to really speak their minds and I think he’s going to listen to what his cabinet says, and at the end of the day I think he will be the one that makes decisions.
I think you definitely have a cabinet that’s got mixed feelings about Russia, a cabinet that’s very deep in its military experience. That could be seen as a good thing or a bad thing. One thing that military people seem to understand is the price of war and the risks of war, and that’s a good thing. They’re just not flippant about going into war because they understand what’s at stake and the human tragedy of war. On the other hand, military cabinet picks tend to be a lot more hawkish and a lot more eager to project America’s military superiority.
I think at the end of the day, Trump will await people’s opinions, but I think the buck will stop with him. At least that’s the impression that I get as to what type of leader he will be. I think all the decisions will begin and end with his final word. It’s going to be, once again, another wait-and-see, but all signs show that he’s going to take a very CEO type of approach to running the country.
MN: In recent days and weeks, American troops have been mobilized in Germany and in Eastern Europe, the Russian Ambassador to Turkey was murdered and the Russian Ambassador to Greece lost his life under unclear circumstances, we had Russian diplomats that were expelled from Washington, and of course the now-infamous accusations of Russian hacking and meddling in the U.S. elections. How has Russian president Vladimir Putin responded to all of this, in your view?
AC: Brilliantly, I think. The diplomat that died in Greece was actually a very underreported news story. Very very few mainstream media outlets even picked up on that story, and it was, from what I’m seeing in the Greek media that’s reporting on it, under very unclear, very suspicious circumstances. No one really knows much about it. So that was an interesting story that was not picked up.
Vladimir Putin’s response to all of this has really been wait-and-see. He was well within his diplomatic range and his diplomatic standing to retaliate against Obama’s kicking out of the 35 diplomats and the closing down of the two Russian locations in the U.S., but he didn’t. He took a very smart attitude of “President Obama is gone in two or three weeks, let’s wait and see what Trump says and what Trump does when he comes into office.” I think Putin is really just saying, you know, let’s lay low, let’s not take any type of action against what the U.S., what the Obama administration has done, let’s just wait for Trump and deal with the next president going forward.
It has been, in my opinion, such childish behavior from Obama towards Trump and towards the transition that it’s been extremely toxic, and Obama should not have been doing these things. It’s been very childish of him, and I think he’s lost a lot of respect from a lot of people on the world stage, as just being a very spiteful and childish world leader. He should not have taken these actions against Russia with only two, three weeks left in office. He should not have tried to sabotage Trump’s transition, and he should have really worked with the Trump administration to create a smooth transition. Obama’s been extremely divisive and he’s not helping the overall sentiment in the U.S. and the overall division in the U.S. over a very divisive election.
MN: Where do you believe all of the anti-Russian fearmongering can lead and where do you believe that those who are propagating it want it to lead?
AC: It can lead to a hot war. It’s definitely led to a cold war. The last thing we want is a hot war. You have two nuclear powers who are inching closer to each other in conflict, and I think that needs to be scaled back, and scaled back right away. I think we’ve already seen various proxy wars between the U.S. and Russia take place. We saw it in the Ukraine, we saw it in Syria. We already see the two sides engaging with each other, though they’re not engaging directly with each other. NATO troops moving up to Russia’s border is very provocative. We should never forget that the last time forces amassed on Russia’s border was during World War II, and during that war we cannot forget that Russia lost 28 million people. They paid a very, very heavy price for defeating Nazi Germany on the Eastern front. So if there’s one thing that there’s any red lines that Russia is very firm about, it’s about having troops amassed on their border, and the other red line was about having any countries that are bordering them, for example the Ukraine, be integrated into NATO. These are red lines that Russia has been very firm in saying may not be crossed.
Saying that, Trump has really got to enter office and really has got scale back the aggressive posturing of Obama. The media has helped to portray Russia as the aggressor, but when you take a step back and see who has provoked all the conflict in the various hot spots of the world, Russia has been very reactionary. The Ukraine was a coup d’etat. The U.S. and the EU overthrew a democratically elected government. That’s a fact. It’s indisputable, and that coup d’etat was initiated by Victoria Nuland and Ambassador Pyatt in Athens. This coup d’etat was instigated by a neocon faction in Washington. It’s hard to say whether Obama was in the loop or not. Obama was very poor in foreign policy and has often portrayed himself as being very disengaged from foreign policy, so whether he was loop as to what was going on in the Ukraine is a big question mark. Nevertheless, the U.S. overthrew a democratically elected government. They put in place a far-right government, and some factions of that far-right party are openly fascist and neo-Nazi, and Russia reacted. Syria is the same thing. In Syria, you see a situation where the United States, with the help of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, went to overthrow a secular sovereign leader once again, internationally recognized by the United Nations. They went to overthrow that leader, and they created chaos. Russia, once again, reacted to that, to the facts on the ground, and you have what’s been a complete disaster in Syria.
You have a very deep state, neocon faction in the U.S. that’s combined forces with this Hillary Clinton-neoliberal faction to create a lot of tension between U.S.-Russia relations. You have the mainstream media, which is in the tank with the neoliberal Hillary cabal from the get-go, fueling the fires of Russian hysteria, but the situation is anything but Russia being the aggressor. Russia has actually reacted to the facts being created by these neoconservatives and neoliberals that have really just run roughshod over the world disastrously, in Syria, in Libya, in Somalia, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in the Ukraine. It’s been one disaster after another, and Putin has been very correct in really castigating the United States and saying, during his UN speech, “do you realize what you’ve done?” That’s a profound statement, in telling the world this cannot continue, this regime change policy, this constant war-like attitude towards the Middle East has to stop, otherwise we’re going to turn a cold war and various proxy wars, into hot war. The mainstream media is not helping, that’s for sure.
MN: Quite a few issues to tackle there…let’s turn first to Syria. Where do things stand in Syria at the moment?
AC: Well, in Syria you had a situation where Russia came in, they pounded the hell out of ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Of course, Al-Qaeda, a.k.a. Al-Nusra, a.k.a. the “moderate rebels” that the mainstream media seems to love, were lumped in along with ISIS as terrorist groups, which they are. Russia did not separate the two, and they took over military operations within that country along with Iran and the Syrian army. They defeated these terrorist organizations in Aleppo, they liberated and gained control of the city. The people in Aleppo were extremely happy, they were celebrating. These are things that were not reported in the establishment media. All the reports were saying that Assad was going to Aleppo and burning people. All these things have been proven to be 100 percent false. Aleppo is now under the sovereign, internationally recognized control of the Syrian government, and now that they have control of the major cities in Syria, you’re going to see a campaign to push ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra out of the country, towards the east of the country.
Russia has now worked with Turkey to hammer out a ceasefire plan and a plan towards peace. Interestingly enough, the United States was left out of this deal. This is a huge blotch on Obama’s foreign policy record. Here you have for the first time other powers in the region, Russia, Turkey, Iran, actually hammering out a peace deal without the United States. For Obama and John Kerry, this is probably the lowest point in their foreign policy record over the past eight years. Not only did they destroy a secular, internationally recognized country, a secular nation that gave women rights, that gave freedom of religion to the all the people, that had health care, that had university education for all, and they destroyed that country by trying to move it into the hands of Al-Qaeda/Al-Nusra. But, they also were pushed out of the peace plan for that country. So, it’s been a terrible record for Syria. Hopefully, the Syrian people can get rid of ISIS, can get rid of Al-Qaeda’s foreign invaders, and can get back to being the secular and peaceful nation that they were. It’s been a disastrous six years for the Syrian people.
I just want to make one more note, as far as the way that the press and the media has been covering this war. It was not a civil war. What happened in Syria was an invasion. It was an invasion of foreign jihadist, Wahhabi, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra forces, and they destabilized the nation and destroyed what was one of the few secular, stable nations in the region. This is a huge point. It’s very, very good that Syria did not go the way of Libya.
MN: Ιn the closing days of the Obama administration, outgoing Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was dispatched to broker a solution regarding Cyprus. But before we talk about what’s been happening in Cyprus though, you mentioned Victoria Nuland a few moments ago…who is Victoria Nuland and what was her role in the Ukraine?
AC: She overthrew the government, plain and simple. I mean, we have it on tape. Do we not have her calling the ambassador of the Ukraine at that time, Geoffrey Pyatt, pretty much telling him who’s going to be in government? They were going over all the government appointees, they said the famous words about the EU, the people that they talked about being placed into government were the people, in fact, that were placed into government. Victoria Nuland overthrew a democratically elected government.
The previous government, as corrupt as it may have been or as unpopular as it may have been by 50 percent of the population that saw it in unfavorable terms, was still a democratically elected government. Ukraine was going to have elections in a years’ time anyway, so what happened in the Ukraine was extremely regretful. It was the most blatant and obvious coup d’etat that has probably happened in the last 100 years. This doesn’t only come from me, it comes from Stratfor and CIA analysts as well, who have also said that the Ukraine was a U.S.-run coup d’etat. That was Victoria Nuland’s position. She threw the Ukraine into complete chaos.
MN: Victoria Nuland seems to have been one of the major players in these talks which were held in Geneva regarding the potential reunification in Cyprus. What went on in these talks and who were the major players who were participating?
AC: If there’s one person that has taken the Cyprus reunification talks very seriously from the U.S. side, it has been Joe Biden. He’s shown a very big interest in solving the Cyprus problem. Joe Biden, as a politician, has always historically been very warm with the Greek-American population, and he seems to take Greek foreign policy issues very much to heart. Victoria Nuland has shown an interest in solving the Cyprus problem, though I would caution that Victoria Nuland does not seek a Cyprus solution because she wants to create peace within the island of Cyprus. She sees things more from a geopolitical standpoint, of making sure that Cyprus is aligned with Western Europe, with NATO, and used as very much a geopolitical tool against Russian influence within the region. That’s Victoria Nuland’s position as far as Cyprus is concerned, and how she sees her place in creating a Cyprus solution in relation to being used against any Russian influence towards Southeastern Europe.
The players involved in solving the Cyprus issue are, of course, the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots, and along with them are the three guarantor states, which are the United Kingdom, Greece, and Turkey. For this solution to crystallize, it’s my belief that the framework of having a “guarantor nation,” in other words to guarantee the peace on the island between the two communities, those guarantor nations have to be removed. You can’t have an independent, sovereign nation and have three countries, the UK, Greece, and Turkey, overseeing their security. Cyprus has to fall under the security arm and under the stability bar of the European Union, and the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots need to find peace between the two communities. That means that the 40,000 Turkish soldiers stationed on the island obviously have to leave, the Greek soldiers that are stationed on the island have to leave, and Cyprus has to find its path towards being a unified player, a unified nation within the European Union.
The negotiations right now are taking place between the two communities, the UN is very actively involved, and we’re very close to hammering out a deal between the two communities. The guarantor nations, Turkey, Greece, and the United Kingdom, will most likely be called in to oversee and to weigh in on whatever deal is finalized between the two sides. I believe that the concept of having “guarantor states” of a sovereign nation is going to be a thing of the past, and I think Cyprus will be a sovereign nation and member of the European member states as one whole country, not a divided island anymore. Victoria Nuland are on the way out, so I think whatever influence she had in the negotiation process is all but over. Rex Tillerson, as the new Secretary of State, will take over from here on out, and we’ll see how engaged they are or how disengaged they are. They might just let the negotiations fall under the complete umbrella of the European Union, and they may just agree with whatever the two sides agree to and whatever the European Union sees fitting for a Cyprus solution.
We’re close, we’re very close, and we’ll see how things play out. There’s a few issues at hand that they have to hammer out, very sticky issues, very tough issues, but we’re very, very close to seeing a unified Cyprus.
MN: What would the framework of this proposal be, from what was being reported, and what was the role of Russia during this process?
AC: I’ll start with Russia first. During this process, I think the Russian foreign ministry has been supportive. They do support the solution to a single state for Cyprus and solving the Cyprus problem. Russia has taken the position of being explicit to say that the solution should not be rushed into, so they’ve cautioned both sides to take their time and come to a fair and equitable solution that guarantees the sovereignty of a single united Cyprus. They haven’t been as engaged as, say, Victoria Nuland or the Secretary of State’s office from the U.S. side, but they have expressed support and interest to see the Cyprus solution be resolved in an equitable and fair manner.
Saying that, what you’re looking at is a bi-zonal, bi-communal federal state, so you’ll have one country, but think of it like a “United States of Cyprus,” as the best way to look at a Cyprus solution. In more simplistic terms, you’ll have a two-state solution. Each state will have its laws and certain powers to govern their side of the island, but you will also have one executive branch, which will also govern the island as a whole; a whole member of the international community, of the European Union, of the United Nations. You’re really looking at a “United States of Cyprus,” and that’s the solution that will most likely be brought to the table. Think of it almost like a two state United States, and that’s what you may be looking at.
MN: Where do things stand at the present time with regard to Russian-Turkish relations? Is Turkish president Tayip Erdogan once again turning away from the US/NATO/EU sphere and moving towards Russia?
AC: That’s a good question. Erdogan, he’s something else. I think Erdogan is a survivor, he’s extremely controversial, he’s a very tough person to deal with both for the Russians and for the Americans. There’s no doubt that Erdogan has been hot and cold with Russia. They’ve had huge moments of disparity and very tense moments in recent months, but they’ve also found ways to bridge those gaps and to move past those tense moments. The same holds true with the U.S. Erdogan has been playing the U.S. hot and cold as well for the past six months to a year.
I would say two or three years ago, Erdogan had a vision of a “grand Ottoman resurgence,” a grand Ottoman empire in which Turkey would have influence over Syria, over Iraq, et cetera. I think now Erdogan has been forced to scale that vision down, and I would say that now Erdogan’s number one concern is the Kurds in the north of Syria. His number one foreign policy initiative in relation to both Russia and the United States is that he cannot allow a Kurdish state to form in the north of Syria and the north of Iraq. That would be disastrous for Turkey and would probably lead to the breakup of Turkey, given that Turkey has, I believe, an estimated 25 to 30 million Kurds who reside in the borders of the Turkish state. Having any type of autonomous Kurdish region in the north of Syria and the north of Iraq would be a red line that Erdogan would caution both the United States and Russia cannot be crossed.
Erdogan has scaled back his grand Ottoman vision and is now looking more to consolidating his power in Turkey and making sure that the Turkish state remains intact, without any Kurdish interference. Russia, with regards to Turkey, it’s been hot and cold in recent months, but they keep the channels of communication open. The same holds true for the United States. Erdogan is not an easy world leader to deal with. That’s just a fact.
MN: You are currently speaking to us from Greece. It’s now been just about two years since the SYRIZA government took over power in Greece. How do you evaluate the current situation in the country and the first two years of SYRIZA’s reign in office?
AC: I think that it’s been terrible. Greece has been in an eight or nine year period of slow suffering. We’ve seen the country pretty much hollowed out economically and socially. It’s been just an economic crisis that seems to be never-ending, and you see it on the ground when you’re in Athens. The shops are closing, the people really have very, very few options as far as employment and earning an income. The SYRIZA government, in my opinion, has done everything in its power to make sure that the public sector is okay but the private sector is just marginalized and, I would say, almost demolished. The taxes have just become so sky high that it’s just destroyed any form of entrepreneurship, any form of desire within the people to start businesses, to run a business, because you just can’t pay the high taxes to keep that business open.
I think the SYRIZA government has been everything that you would expect from a radical left government, and I don’t say that in a good way. It’s not looking good for Greece, and they definitely need to figure out a way to either remove themselves from the euro—not the European Union, to remove themselves from the euro—and find a way to get back to some sort of economic sustainability, or they need to find a way to get that 350 billion euro debt wiped off the books, and that’s not going to happen. Germany has been very firm on their stance over the debt. But as long as that debt is hanging over the Greeks’ heads, that situation will never improve. It just cannot, it’s fiscally impossible.
MN: Before wrapping up, let’s talk about The Duran. This is a new online news initiative and you are one of the co-founders of this site and you write for the site as well. Share with us a few words about it.
AC: The Duran is a publication that we started about seven or eight months ago. Myself, Peter Lavelle, Alexander Mercouris and Vladimir Rodzianko are the co-founders of The Duran, and we take an approach to geopolitics and news from a realpolitik standpoint. In other words, we try to see things from a very logical standpoint. The site is not about feel-good values and what should be right and what should be wrong. It takes a look at news from a perspective of how the world is and from the perspective that nation-states have interests, nation-states approach each other with those interests in mind, some states are big and powerful, some states are not big and powerful. The way the world works is not so much through what I would say has been, the last eight years, a value-based kind of outlook, that our values are morally superior to your values. We take an approach that each nation-state has certain interests and they’re going to deal with each other with those interests in mind and create a realpolitik type of an approach to world order.
The Duran is definitely not looking at things from the left, but we’re also not looking at things from the right. We try to take a much more balanced approach and just look at things from a very logical standpoint in terms of how we cover the news. We’re 100 percent independent. We’ve been accused of being Kremlin stooges or Russia stooges. That’s not the case. We’re very transparent and open with our readers, we have live events with our readers where they can ask us questions via Facebook Live. We don’t try to hide our positions as to how we see geopolitics and the news that’s coming out of the U.S., Europe, et cetera, and we challenge people and leaders to give us their leaders and to engage in debate. That’s the only way we’re going to understand what has become a very complicated world, and it’s not going to get easier. There’s a lot of moving parts, and we’re moving away from U.S. hegemony to a more multipolar type of world order, where China has become a world power, where Russia has become a world power, where the European Union is in a bit of disarray, where the United States with Trump and the election just got through a very divisive period, so it’s a very challenging time to cover news, but it’s also a very interesting time to cover news.
MN: Mr. Christoforou, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today here on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series, and for sharing your analysis and insights with us. Best of luck with your work with The Duran.
AC: Thank you very much, it’s been a pleasure to speak with you, and best of luck to you and to all of your listeners out there.
Please excuse any typos or errors which may exist within this transcript.