Former NATO Ambassador talks about Russia’s interference in presidential elections

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While the debate as to whether or not Russia interfered with the 2016 Presidential elections is over, the extent of their involvement is still a matter of controversy.

“I think the Russian intervention started early on, and it was to be disruptive and challenge America’s confidence in their own institutions,” says Kurt Volker, executive director of the ASU McCain Institute and former NATO ambassador. “That’s the heart of it… The fact that Russia was doing this is very aggressive, very intrusive, something that does need to come to light and something we need to take very seriously.”

Volker believes the various institutes investigating this situation are coming to the bottom of things and will expose them. He thinks this event will help in the long run because it will teach the American public what to look out for in the future and train them to have a higher degree of awareness and skepticism.

While Russia may view the United States as being weak because of how the country takes its time and has its own inside quarrels, Volker says it’s to the country’s advantage. He thinks those internal disputes makes us stronger as long as we remain transparent.

Russia has partnered itself with Iran and the Assad government in opposition to the Sunnis and anyone working with the U.S. Volker says it’s necessary for these groups to establish stable dividing lines and who owns what in order to decrease the blood shedding rates.

There was escalating tension between the U.S. and North Korea going into the Olympics. Volker mentions there was an effort from North Korea by joining their athletes with the joint Korean team. Volker wonders if it was an attempt to pull South Korea from the U.S., but he doesn’t see that happening. Vice President Mike Pence attempted a meeting with the sister of Kim Jong Un, but North Korea backed out.

“I think there’s more going on here,” Volker says. “There’s a combination of strength and trying to negotiate at the same times the people might not see.”

TED SIMONS: RUSSIA INTERFERED WITH LAST YEAR'S U.S. ELECTIONS, THAT MUCH IS INCREASINGLY CLEAR DESPITE SKEPTICISM FROM THE WHITE HOUSE. BUT TO WHAT ENDS IS RUSSIA SPREADING THIS KIND OF MISCHIEF HERE AND AROUND THE WORLD, AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR U.S. FOREIGN POLICY? TIME TO TALK FOREIGN AFFAIRS WITH KURT VOLKER, FORMER NATO AMBASSADOR AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF ASU’S MCCAIN INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL LEADERSHIP. WELCOME BACK AND GOOD TO SEE YOU AGAIN.

KURT VOLKER: THANK YOU TED. GREAT TO BE HERE.

TED SIMONS: THE IMPACT OF RUSSIA’S INTERFERENCE IN THE U.S. ELECTIONS, WHETHER YOU CALL IT COLLUSION OR WHATEVER YOU WANT TO CALL IT, THE FACT IS WE HAVE 13 INDICTMENTS. I MEAN SOMETHING WENT ON HERE. THE IMPACT OF ALL THIS?

KURT VOLKER: I THINK AS A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE SAID, AND I AGREE WITH THIS, THE RUSSIAN INTENTION STARTED EARLY ON AND IS TO BE DISRUPTIVE AND TO CHALLENGE AMERICAN'S CONFIDENCE IN THEIR OWN INSTITUTIONS. I THINK THAT'S THE HEART OF IT. AND THEN WHEN YOU LOOK AT IT, I DON'T THINK YOU CAN SAY THEY HAD ANY PARTICULAR IMPACT. THEY SEEM TO BE GOING AFTER A LOT OF PEOPLE IN A LOT OF DIFFERENT WAYS. IT'S HARD TO PINPOINT ONE THING. BUT THE FACT THAT RUSSIA IS DOING THIS IS VERY AGGRESSIVE, VERY INTRUSIVE, SOMETHING THAT DOES NEED TO COME TO LIGHT AND SOMETHING WE NEED TO TAKE VERY, VERY SERIOUSLY.

TED SIMONS: IS THE PRESIDENT TAKING THIS SERIOUSLY ENOUGH?

KURT VOLKER: WELL I CAN'T SPEAK TO THAT. WE HAVE INSTRUMENTS OF GOVERNMENT INVESTIGATING THIS. WE HAVE EVERY INSTITUTION LOOKING AT THIS. WE HAVE TRANSPARENCY GROWING ON THE ISSUE. WE HAVE THESE INDICTMENTS. I THINK ULTIMATELY AS A COUNTRY, THE AWARENESS FACTOR HERE ALREADY DILUTES FUTURE IMPACT. I THINK WE ARE GOING TO HAVE LAW ENFORCEMENT ENTITIES WATCHING THIS.

TED SIMONS: WHY ISN'T, I KNOW YOU CAN’T SPEAK FOR THE PRESIDENT, BUT WHY ISN’T THE PRESIDENT CONDEMNING THIS AT THE LEAST?

KURT VOLKER: AGAIN, I CAN'T SPEAK FOR THE PRESIDENT AS TO WHAT HE IS TRYING TO DO WITH THIS OR NOT DO WITH THIS. I DO HAVE A LOT OF CONFIDENCE THAT WE ARE GETTING TO THE BOTTOM OF THINGS AND WE’RE EXPOSING THEM. AND I THINK THAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO THE AMERICAN PUBLIC BECAUSE THEY'LL SEE THINGS IN THE FUTURE, RECOGNIZE WHAT THEY ARE. THERE WILL BE A HIGHER DEGREE OF AWARENESS AND SKEPTICISM.

TED SIMONS: ARE THE RUSSIANS LAUGHING AT US RIGHT NOW?

KURT VOLKER: I THINK SO. I THINK THEY MISUNDERSTAND OUR INSTITUTIONS. I THINK THEY SEE THINGS LIKE THIS. THEY SEE US TAKE TIME. THEY SEE US HAVE INTERNAL DISPUTES, AND THEY THINK THAT SOMEHOW MAKES US WEAK. THE REALITY IS THAT I THINK THOSE KINDS OF INTERNAL, TRANSPARENT DEBATES IN OUR COUNTRY ACTUALLY ARE WHAT MAKES US STRONG.

TED SIMONS: IT MIGHT MAKE US STRONG, BUT OUR STANDING IN THE WORLD, IF RUSSIA IS INDEED LAUGHING AT US, HOW DO OTHER COUNTRIES SEE US? AGAIN, I KNOW YOU DON’T SPEAK FOR THE PRESIDENT, BUT WE HAVE A PRESIDENT THAT WILL NOT CONDEMN RUSSIA AND WHO’S APPROACHING THIS ISSUE CURIOUSLY TO SAY THE LEAST. WHAT IS THE REST OF THE WORLD THINKING ABOUT ALL THIS?

KURT VOLKER: THIS IS VERY INTERESTING BECAUSE I THINK THERE IS A GREAT DEGREE TO WHICH THE LANGUAGE AND THE RHETORIC AND THE PERSONAL STYLE OF THE PRESIDENT IS SOMETHING A LOT OF PEOPLE FIXATE ON. AND THEN WHEN YOU START GOING ISSUE BY ISSUE, WHAT HAS THE UNITED STATES DONE AND WHERE ARE WE, THERE IS A GREAT DEAL OF REASSURANCE AT THE SAME TIME. TAKE THE ISSUE THAT I’VE WORKED ON, NATO, THE PRESENCE OF U.S. FORCES IN THE BALTIC STATES IN POLAND HAS INCREASED IN THE LAST YEAR. WE’VE LIFTED THE ARMS RESTRICTIONS ON PROVIDING DEFENSIVE ASSISTANCE TO UKRAINE, THAT’S VERY SIGNIFICANT. SANCTIONS ON RUSSIA HAVE ACTUALLY BEEN INCREASED. SOME OF THE CLARITY OF LANGUAGE ABOUT WHAT RUSSIA'S ROLE HAS BEEN, FOR INSTANCE, INVADING AND OCCUPYING EASTERN UKRAINE, THAT'S INCREASED. YOU HAVE COUNTRIES LIKE POLAND OR LITHUANIA THAT ARE ACTUALLY A LITTLE MORE REASSURED NOW. IF YOU FLIP THAT TO THE MIDDLE EAST, THEY’VE SEEN AN INCREASE IN U.S. ENGAGEMENT IN SYRIA, MORE ACTIVE ROLE IN FIGHTING AGAINST ISIS. THAT HAS ALSO LIFTED CONFIDENCE.

TED SIMONS: AND YET IN THE MIDDLE EAST, RUSSIA IS THE MAJOR POWER BROKER THERE. WHO’S SIDE ARE THEY ON?

KURT VOLKER: RUSSIA IS ON RUSSIA’S SIDE.

TED SIMONS: ALRIGHT. OTHER THEN THAT THOUGH, YOU REALLY NEED A PROGRAM TO FIGURE OUT THE PLAYERS HERE.

KURT VOLKER: WELL RUSSIA HAS ALIGNED ITSELF WITH IRAN AND THE ASAAD GOVERNMENT IN SYRIA, AGAINST THE SUNNIS AND ANYONE THE U.S. IS WORKING WITH. RUSSIA'S INTEREST IS HAVING A GOVERNMENT IN SYRIA THAT IS WILLING TO HOST A PERMANENT RUSSIAN MILITARY PRESENCE. WITH ASAAD IN POWER AND WITH IRAN'S BACKING, THEY HAVE THAT.

TED SIMONS: WHAT ABOUT TURKEY?

KURT VOLKER: TURKEY DOESN'T LIKE ASAAD, WANTS ASAAD OUT OF POWER, DOESN'T WANT TO SEE THE KURDS IN SYRIA ARMED AND CONDUCTING ATTACKS, ESPECIALLY TOURIST ATTACKS, IF THEY CAN MAKE AN ACCOMMODATION WITH RUSSIA ABOUT THE KURDS, THEY’RE WILLING TO MAKE THAT ACCOMODATION.

TED SIMONS: UNTIL THAT HAPPENS, TURKEY IS ACTUALLY MOVING INTO SYRIA TO GET AT THE KURDS AND IN THE PROCESS ARE ATTACKING RUSSIAN FORCES THERE.

KURT VOLKER: THEY’RE ATTACKING RUSSIAN AND U.S. SUPPORTED FORCES INSIDE SYRIA WHICH THEY VIEW AS SPONSORING OR SUPPORTING GROUPS THAT CONDUCT TERRORIST ATTACKS INSIDE OF TURKEY. IT’S A VERY CONVOLUTED ENVIORNMENT. I’LL SAY IN THIS. PEOPLE MAY HAVE NOT SEEN IT BUT LAST WEEK SECRETARY TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE WENT TO TURKEY AND HAD A PRIVATE MEETING WITH PRESIDENT ERDOGAN. I THINK THIS WAS EXACTLY THE TOPIC OF CONVERSATION TO TRY TO GET AN UNDERSTANDING FROM TURKEY, WHAT ARE WE TRYING TO DO HERE? CAN WE ALIGN OUR EFFORTS? CAN WE UNDERSTAND THAT WE DON'T WANT ASAAD IN POWER. WE DON'T WANT THIS RUSSIAN ROLE IN THE REGION, IRANIAN ROLE IN THE REGION, CAN WE TOGETHER?

TED SIMONS: LAST QUESTION ON SYRIA BECAUSE THE REPORTS OUT OF SYRIA, IT'S A KILLING GROUND IT’S GETTING WORSE.

KURT VOLKER: AWFUL.

TED SIMONS: WHERE DO WE GO? WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN?

KURT VOLKER: ULTIMATELY, I’VE SAID THIS ON YOUR PROGRAM BEFORE, MY PERSONAL VIEW, YOU NEED STABLE DIVIDING LINES INSIDE THE COUNTRY AS TO WHO CONTROLS WHAT. THERE’S GOING TO BE AN AREA, THAT’S INEVITABLE NOW, THAT THE ASAAD GOVERNMENT CONTINUES TO CONTROL. THERE WILL BE AN AREA THE KURDS CONTROL. WE NEED AN ARRANGEMENT WITH TURKEY THAT THEY FEEL CONFIDENT THAT THOSE ARE NOT GOING TO SUPPORT TERRORISTS ATTACKS AND THERE IS A THIRD AREA THAT OTHER SUNNI GROUPS CONTROLS. IF THEY CAN ACTUALLY UNDERSTAND WHO CONTROLS WHAT AND STABILIZE THE LINES, THAT SHOULD AT LEAST TAMP DOWN THE KILLING.

TED SIMONS: WILL THERE BE A KURD STATE INVOLVED?

KURT VOLKER: VERY HARD TO SAY.

TED SIMONS: THAT WOULD SEEM TO SOLVE AN AWFUL LOT OF PROBLEMS.

KURT VOLKER: IT WOULD ALSO CREATE A LOT OF PROBLEMS. WE SAW WHAT HAPPENED WHEN THE KURDS IN IRAQ HAD A REFERENDUM, EVERYBODY STOOD UP AGAINST THEM. YOU’VE GOT TO BE CAREFUL ABOUT THAT. IT'S SOMETHING THAT HAS TO BE LOOKED AT.

TED SIMONS: COUPLE OF MINUTES LEFT HERE. EVERYONE IS WATCHING THE OLYMPICS. IT’S ONE BIG SHOW OVER THERE. IT'S HAPPY AND PEPPY AND BURSTING WITH LOVE.

KURT VOLKER: IT'S THE OLYMPICS.

TED SIMONS: YEAH. IT’S THE OLYMPICS. IS THIS A P.R. COUPE FOR NORTH KOREA?

KURT VOLKER: WE'LL SEE WHAT COMES AFTER THIS. I THINK WHAT’S VERY INTERESTING IS THAT WE HAD ESCALATING RHETORIC AND TENSIONS BETWEEN THE U.S. AND NORTH KOREA GOING INTO THE OLYMPICS. THEN WE HAD THIS GESTURE OR TWO FROM THE NORTH KOREANS, PUTTING NORTH KOREANS IN THE JOINT KOREAN OLYMPIC TEAM, HAVING KIM JONG UN'S SISTER GO THERE. DEFINITELY A P.R. AND CHARM OFFENSIVE. THE EFFORT IS TO PEEL SOUTH KOREA AWAY FROM THE UNITED STATES. I DON'T SEE THAT HAPPENING. I THINK THE QUESTION IS DOES THIS LEAD TO SOME NEW CONVERSATIONS AFTER THE OLYMPICS THAT LEADS TO MORE OF A RESOLUTION TO THE ISSUES, OR DO WE GO BACK TO THE SAME CONFRONTATION AS BEFORE?

TED SIMONS: STILL A POWDER KEG IN THAT PART OF THE WORLD?

KURT VOLKER: IT IS. NUCLEAR WEAPONS ARE A DANGEROUS THING. NORTH KOREA SEEMS INTENT ON HAVING THEM. I DON’T THINK IT’S SOMETHING THE U.S. IS GOING TO LIVE WITH IN THE LONG RUN.

TED SIMONS: PRESIDENT TRUMP, I KNOW YOU DON’T SPEAK WITH THE PRESIDENT, BUT PRESIDENT TRUMP HAS SPOKEN FOR HIMSELF CALLING THE NORTH KOREAN LEADER EVERYTHING FROM FAT TO A CRAZY PERSON, ROCKET MAN, THE WHOLE NINE YARDS. IS THAT IN ITS OWN WHACKY WAY EFFECTIVE?

KURT VOLKER: ALL I CAN SAY THAT IT WAS INTERESTING THE NEWS THAT WAS OUT TODAY THAT VICE PRESIDENT PENCE WAS WILLING TO HAVE A MEETING WITH KIM JUNG UN'S SISTER, AND THE NORTH KOREANS BACKED OUT OF THAT.

TED SIMONS: WHY?

KURT VOLKER: UNCLEAR. THEY JUST DID. AND THIS WAS NEWS JUST COMING OUT. THAT’S VERY INTERESTING BECAUSE WE GET THESE STORIES, WELL THE PRESIDENT SAYING AND REX TILLERSON DON’T NEGOTIATE, NORTH KOREA IS CRAZY, THEN TILLERSON TRYING TO PUT DIPLOMATIC WORK TOGETHER. IT TURNS OUT THE VICE PRESIDENT WAS WILLING TO MEET WITH KIM JONG UN'S SISTER. I THINK THERE IS MORE GOING ON HERE WITH THE ELIMINATION OF STRENGTH AND NEGOTIATING AT THE SAME TIME THAN A LOT OF PEOPLE MIGHT SEE.

TED SIMONS: BELOW THE ROCKET MAN, FAT GUY, CRAZY GUY -- THE UNDERTOW IS WORKING.

KURT VOLKER: YOU CAN QUOTE WHAT THE PRESIDENT SAID, PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH QUOTING REAGAN.

TED SIMONS: ALRIGHT. CRAZY WORLD OUT THERE.

KURT VOLKER: IT IS CRAZY AND DANGEROUS AND WE NEED GOOD PEOPLE.

TED SIMONS: THAT'S WHY WE NEED YOU HERE. APPRECIATE IT.

Kurt Volker: Former NATO Ambassador; Executive Director, ASU McCain Institute

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