Of Course Journalists Should Interview Vladimir Putin | Opinion

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  • Source: Newsweek
  • 02/07/2024

While I was in Moscow last December, people who had just been to the ghastly front-lines in Ukraine recounted stories of how members of the same family were often seen fighting against one another from dueling trenches: blood relatives of the same Slavic clan speaking the same language—Russian—hurling explosives in opposite directions over the same desolate no-man's-land.

How anyone could look at this situation and come away with triumphalist notions of war grandeur, rather than a deep sense of avoidable tragedy, seemed like a cruel farce. So that was exactly the sentiment I conveyed to the Russian hosts of the meeting I attended, some of whom did harbor such triumphalist notions (those present included a senior-ranking Kremlin official).

"Chatham House" rules were stipulated for the gathering, precluding me from making any public disclosure of the attendees' identities or what anyone else specifically said. But I can certainly reveal what I said: that the war in Ukraine was an obvious disaster for all involved. The brutish, World War I-style trench warfare that had become the war's grisly signature cannot possibly warrant any other conclusion. That was a message I was happy to deliver in Moscow, just as I'd be happy to do in Kyiv, and had previously done in Washington, D.C.

I explained to my hosts that when the opportunity to come to Russia arose, I accepted without hesitation, because bilateral relations between the world's leading nuclear superpowers had perilously deteriorated since the invasion of Ukraine. The grand cosmological treatises articulated by some of the meeting's participants, about how Russia was waging a godly war of civilizational purification, were both wildly over-aggrandized and beside the point, I argued: A giant, man-made calamity was unfolding in real time, and it could always get exponentially worse given the ever-present risks of escalation.

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