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Interview: Francis Fukuyama Says Putin Playing A 'Very Duplicitous Game'

"I think that it's really time to figure out how to supply some serious military equipment to Ukraine," Francis Fukuyama told RFE/RL.
"I think that it's really time to figure out how to supply some serious military equipment to Ukraine," Francis Fukuyama told RFE/RL.

In his 1989 essay "The End Of History?" renowned political scientist Francis Fukuyama suggested that the world might not be seeing just the end of the Cold War but the triumph of liberal democracy as the final form of human government.

Amid talk of a Cold War revival, Fukuyama, now a senior fellow at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford University, spoke with Marina Vashakamdze, RFE/RL's bureau chief in Tbilisi, about Russia, Ukraine, and NATO.

RFE/RL: Do you think the West could have made better use of the years after 2008 [since the Russia-Georgia war]? Could Europe at least have become less vulnerable to Russian leverage?

Francis Fukuyama: I think the main point of leverage that the Russians have is gas, obviously. They [Europe] have been doing things in terms of alternative pipelines and allowing the gas to flow backward as well as forward, so Ukraine now is much less vulnerable to a Russian cutoff than it was a few years ago.

But I think in terms of the global gas market, there's much more to be done because the United States has become a major producer of natural gas and we don't have a fully-developed liquefied natural gas market. And so, in order to reduce vulnerability of Western Europe to cutoffs of Russian gas, I think that's something that could've been started earlier. I'm pretty confident that everything that's happened in Ukraine has stimulated much more interest and hopefully much more investment in this area.

I think the other thing that really needs to happen is that NATO needs to return to being a real military alliance. I think that it hasn't been for a couple of decades now. It's been more of a democracy club or democracy-promotion organization. But in terms of actually thinking seriously about how to defend countries against external aggression -- I think we need a lot more work in that area.

WATCH: Fukuyama speaks to RFE/RL in Tbilisi:

Fukuyama Says Putin Playing A 'Duplicitous Game'
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RFE/RL: What do you think will be happening now with Ukraine and Russia? Other neighbors? Can you try to outline possible scenarios?

Fukuyama: [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is playing this very duplicitous game of keeping the level of intervention low enough that it doesn't attract major attention and pushback from publics in the West, and he's been fairly successful at that. I think he does not want to lose, but I think we have to also be aware of the fact that he could escalate much more rapidly and in a sense he's already passed the point where he can draw back, I think, particularly easily.

Right now, people are thinking, "Well, the problem is only going to be in eastern Ukraine, and protecting, let's say, a corridor to Crimea or something." But he could go much farther than that. He made this statement apparently to [European Commission President Jose Manuel] Barroso about his ability to take Kyiv in two weeks, and I think nobody has taken that kind of scenario seriously, but I think we need to think about it.

RFE/RL: Do you think more should be done by NATO?

Fukuyama: I think that it's really time to figure out how to supply some serious military equipment to Ukraine and training and things of that sort. I think the Germans have been dragging their heels on this, and the United States unfortunately as well, but I think the time has really come to do that.

RFE/RL: Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban started to use the term coined earlier by American journalist Fareed Zakaria -- "illiberal democracy" -- drawing comparisons to Putin's "sovereign democracy" and raising concerns that he might unwillingly be offering some kind of ideological assistance to Putin when he most needs it. Are these Hungarian developments something serious and should the West worry about this?

Fukuyama: I think what Orban said was terrible. This is a country that is a member of the EU that is, in theory, signed up to the kinds of liberal democratic standards that the EU stands for. [And then] he suddenly announced that he doesn't want the "freedom" part of liberal democracy.

This is very serious, and I think the Germans and in particular [Chancellor] Angela Merkel have been soft-pedaling Hungary because they don't want to upset their coalition within the European Parliament, the center-right parties. But I think there really has to be a mechanism in the EU for disciplining countries like Hungary that purport to want to be part of the club but don't accept the values of the club.

RFE/RL: In your interview with "Magyar Narancs" published in Hungarian, you indicated that, while Prime Minister Orban was the only one who openly spoke about the illiberal system, there might be other leaders who quietly entertain similar ideas. Why do you think Prime Minister Orban decided to expose such attitudes so straightforwardly?

Fukuyama: Hungary under Orban, when Fidesz came to power several years ago, has been moving steadily in this direction where they have a strong parliamentary majority and they basically want to be able to exercise power without observing any of the checks and balances that should exist in a proper democratic system. And I think he's just trying to cast around for an ideology that justifies him in using power in this fashion, and I'm afraid that there are other democratic leaders that have that temptation that they get power and they want to exercise it without having to worry about checks and balances.

It's particularly disappointing in Hungary's case because I think everybody thought this was one of the most successful transitions -- that Hungary had returned to Europe after a long period after it wasn't allowed to join, absorbed the values of modern Europe. But clearly this wasn't the case.

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