Transcript: Global Women’s Summit: The Fight for Russia: Hillary Clinton Talks with Women Challenging Putin

Transcript: Global Women’s Summit: The Fight for Russia: Hillary Clinton Talks with Women Challenging Putin

Updated: 15 days, 3 hours, 3 minutes, 32 seconds ago

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MS. CLINTON: Welcome. Wow, that’s a great introduction.

[Applause]

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MS. CLINTON: I'm Hillary Clinton, and I cannot tell you how absolutely delighted I am to be interviewing these two remarkable women, and we're going to dive right into it, because I could literally talk to them for hours, but we don't have that much time.

I think you got a bit of a taste from the videos as to what we have in front of us: two remarkable women, veteran Russian journalists, Galina Timchenko; and activist/investigator, Maria Pevchikh. And you also saw an excerpt from the remarkable documentary about Alexei Navalny. Maria works with the Anticorruption Foundation that Navalny started.

And let me turn first to you, Maria. I want to talk about your work at the Anticorruption Foundation and the linkage that you see between your efforts to expose corruption, and the authoritarian, totalitarian, dictatorial reign of Vladimir Putin. But first, let's get an update about Alexei Navalny. He's now been in prison for the last year-and-a-half. He was just, as I understand, sentenced to another 14 days in solitary confinement. I personally believe he's in constant danger, because he's imprisoned by the same people who tried--thankfully, unsuccessfully--to murder him. So, when was the last time you heard from him? How's he doing? What can you tell us about what's happening with him?

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MS. PEVCHIKH: Of course, of course. I wish I had a little bit more of a cheerful news to share about Navalny, but the situation, frankly, isn't good. So, he has been in prison for almost two years, now, and the last two months--more than two months--he has spent in solitary confinement. So, that's a punishment mechanism for various prisoners, for those inmates who don't behave according to the prison rules and he's being given these rolling 14 days sentences in the solitary confinement for things like not having his shirt buttoned up or not introducing himself properly or not addressing a prison guard in an appropriate manner, and things like that.

He's, at this very second--he's in a very small room, six-by-eleven feet big. It's just concrete walls and a tiny little window very close to the ceiling. There is a bed in this room that at 6:00 a.m. every day he's being chained up to the wall so he cannot lay down, he cannot sit in it. There is a stool without a back. There is a small table. And the only two possessions he's allowed there, a book and a mug. So, that's literally everything he has in his life as of now. For 35 minutes a day, he's allowed to use pen and paper and these are the most precious 35 minutes, because this is when he writes letters to his family, to his friends. He responds to some letters that he might be getting in prison.

And for the past eight or nine weeks, like, we've had zero communication with him.

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MS. CLINTON: Well, you know, he authored a very important op-ed for The Washington Post--

MS. PEVCHIKH: Correct.

MS. CLINTON: --that appeared on September 30th, and I, for one, thought it was extremely impactful because he talked about Russia after Putin. And I personally, after having watched the documentary and been so moved by his journey, was happy to read him throwing it into the future. Like, you know, we have to think about the future. We can't give in; we can't give up, even though he's in that six-by-eleven-foot room.

You worked on investigations for the Anticorruption Foundation, now, for a number of years. And you have exposed, as we briefly saw, all kinds of corruption that is directly traceable to Putin. Tell us the role that you see corruption playing in keeping Putin in power, because sometimes people try to divide that. They say, well, there's corruption; it's terrible and we should do something about it. Then, there's authoritarianism and all--you know they're linked. So, describe that to our audience.

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MS. PEVCHIKH: They aren't only linked. I am personally--I'm convinced that corruption is the root cause of everything that has gone wrong with Russia. And without corruption, without this carefully built, corrupt monster that Putin built over the years--he started very early on and he had 20 years to come up with a pretty sophisticated, you know, network of bribes, money, kompromat, and things like that.

And I am pretty sure that, without corruption--well, I mean, he wouldn't be president at this point. There would be no war. There won't be any political murders. Russia will be very, very different without it, because with--corruption is such an important mechanism for Putin to sustain and remain in power. Right now, he's sending those corrupt generals to be in charge of this war, the war that wouldn't be possible, as I said, I think, if there were institutions working, if a president, if a head of state was accountable to the parliament or the government or to his people. But none of that is there, because over the years, very carefully and very deliberately, Vladimir Putin has been destroying our democratic institutions and corrupting the system so it works only in his favor.

MS. CLINTON: Well, Galina, as a journalist, you have been sounding the alarm about Putin and what he was doing to Russia for many years. And I think it's especially important to point out, as the video did, that you were fired from your job in 2014 because you were one of the very few people--and I include not just people in Russia, but literally around the world, who understood the significance of Russia's invasion of Crimea.

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And I think, you know, your work since then has been incredibly brave, but that moment, describe to us how you knew that this invasion, what happened in 2014, was critically important. And then, you had to go outside Russia to continue reporting on what was happening.

MS. PEVCHIKH: You know, in 2014 when this so-called Crimea annexation or joining of Crimea, according to Kremlin, started, we realized that there is not first attack to the freedom of speech, to the freedom of press. And we continued publishing all the articles and reporting from Crimea and from Ukraine. And one day, the owner of our media called me and said, I have to fire you under the direct order of Kremlin because you are number one. You are the most popular. It's almost TV, and Kremlin do not want to have media out of their control. So, from this second, you are not editor-in-chief anymore. Get off.

So, and then we realized that this Crimea question divided country, that what Putin did, he just cracked the country and the nation in the question of Crimea. It was some kind of temptation to the nation, and nation unfortunately agreed. So, we decided--personally, I decided I am too old and too tired to fight every day with FSB, police, and so on. So, we decided to go to Latvia, it's the neighbor country and it's in European Union, and start from the scratch.

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So, it was eight years of fighting and I used to say that our war started not half-a-year ago, not eight months ago, but more than eight years ago, and we are fighting today.

MS. CLINTON: And the organization that you started, Meduza--

MS. TIMCHENKO: Yes.

MS. CLINTON: --continued to report on what's gone on in Russia and then, because of the invasion of the Ukraine at the end of February, you have been reporting about what's happening.

And I think it's really significant that you have a lot of attention from readers and viewers inside Russia. Talk a little bit about how many people you're reaching.

MS. TIMCHENKO: You know, maybe it sounds strange, but we solved the problem of reaching audience inside Russia, because after a week after the war started, we were blocked in Russia, total in--twice, twice--under the order of general prosecutor office and Russian regulator. They blocked us twice but still we--from the very beginning, we decided that we are multi-platform media and we are broadcasting from every platform we could reach our audience. So, we upgraded our mobile application and now we have more than million--million-and-a-half, actually, downloads of our application and we have built-in mechanism of avoiding blocking. So, we could freely broadcast inside Russia. And on every platform, from Messenger to email, newsletters, from podcasting to YouTube--it's not blocked in Russia, still. So, we are broadcasting and now we could reach, in this October after mobilization was declared, we had pre-war numbers, more than 15 million users per month read Meduza, even on desktop and additionally on every platform.

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So, more or less, we succeed, but we realize, as eight years ago, that it's just a start of attack. It's not finished, you know, and we realize that they will continue the attack on the free press.

MS. CLINTON: And Maria, a lot of the work that you've done with the Anticorruption Foundation, you post on YouTube.

MS. PEVCHIKH: Yes.

MS. CLINTON: And YouTube is still available in Russia, and you also get tens of millions of views. So, talk a little bit about how you've been able to continue to break through the wall that Russia's tried to construct to keep both of you from reaching Russian citizens.

MS. PEVCHIKH: Well, there is YouTube, and it's still standing. So, the trick with YouTube is that you cannot block just one video on it. If you want a video out, like, I don't know, on our investigation about Putin's palace, however, [unclear], Putin wants it's gone, it means that he needs to cancel the whole thing. So, the entire YouTube will be down, and YouTube, weirdly, have a very, very good penetration in Russia and loads of families, loads of households are using it for non-political reasons. They are using it to show cartoons to their kids. They're, you know, on repeat during breakfast, you know, have your iPad, have a look; let's talk in an hour. Loads of people are using it for, you know, just domestic stuff, from like cooking shows, entertainment show--

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MS. CLINTON: Recipes.

MS. PEVCHIKH: --for everything--recipes, correct. Like, I mean, Russian TV is pretty bad.

[Laughter]

MS. PEVCHIKH: So, you kind of--you're looking for an alternative, right? And YouTube is a great alternative. Travel shows, cooking shows, anything you think of. And we're talking about approximately 80 million users that YouTube has. So, Putin and Kremlin, they have a dilemma. What do they want more, that Putin Palace video gone, or 80 million upset users? Predominantly women, predominantly--and you know, like, the demographics is bad, as well. The demographics are the very same people who support Putin. You don't want to upset them.

So, we've been using and utilizing this dilemma a lot, and we've been publishing our investigations online. We don't just, you know, read them out. No, no, no. We try to make them fun. We try to make them watchable. We try to--in every script of every investigation--and we published over 170 of them at this point.

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MS. CLINTON: I love them. I mean, they have music. They have villains. They have all kinds of activity.

MS. PEVCHIKH: Yeah, yeah, yeah, no, that's true.

MS. CLINTON: And sometimes, you know, when he was not in prison, Navalny would pop up and say, "Can you believe this?" You know, I mean, they really are attention grabbing and I think that's important.

MS. PEVCHIKH: Thank you. Thank you very much.

MS. CLINTON: So, Galina, you told us something in preparation for today that the Russian journalists inside Ukraine covering the war are all women.

MS. TIMCHENKO: Yup, yup, yup.

MS. CLINTON: Because Russian men are banned from going into Ukraine. How has that shaped the coverage that you've been seeing?

MS. TIMCHENKO: You know, at first, it put me in a great responsibility for their lives and safety and security. And for sure, Russian male journalists are prohibited to enter Ukraine in any case.

So, we had three--four--women journalists. They reported from the warzone, from besieged cities, from Kyiv, under bomb attack, and one of them, she left the besieged City of Chernigov in the last group of civilians and then city was closed. So, we send her for rehab and, after three days, Bucha happened and she returned and she investigated this rape--rapes and this torture that women of Bucha survived, or not survived, unfortunately. And it was very scary. This war we could see through women's eyes. And in total, it's our side to this war. It's women's face of this war. It seems to me it's for the first time in modern history, we could see war through women eyes, and it's our women and Ukrainian bravest journalists who are facing death, but continue to report.

MS. CLINTON: Wow.

[Applause]

MS. CLINTON: You know, Maria, you've said that if today's level of sanctions had been imposed when Russia invaded and illegally annexed Crimea, that you're not sure that this current war would have happened. Can you explain what you mean by that? Because you're a Putin watcher. You've studied him. You know, this panel, I think, was originally called, you know, "Two Women against Putin." It really should be "Three Women Against Putin," so, but you know a lot about him insofar as it's knowable. So, what do you mean by that, about Crimea?

MS. PEVCHIKH: I think that Putin's decision to invade Ukraine now in February consisted of a number of assumptions--not such a--two, three.

Some of them were that Ukrainians will be greeting Russian army with flowers and cakes and pierogis and, I don't know, and giving them hugs in every city. That was clearly a lie provided to Putin by generals, I don't know, special agents or whoever has taken money from Putin to actually pay for this and organize this and then do this in the end. Obviously, there was a very wrong assumption about the strength and capability of the Russian army. Again, corruption, in this specific case, thank God. And the third thing, Putin thought that he will get away with it.

And that is not the most unreasonable assumption, if you think about it. After Crimea was annexed, I mean, what, like, they sanctioned 50 mates of Putin who have billions of dollars, and they moved billions of dollars to a different jurisdiction, some were to, I don't know, Arab Emirates, or just to Russia, sometimes. Actually, it wasn't that bad. Then, after Putin got away with shooting down MH730 Boeing and 333 Dutchmen and Malaysian people--citizens being killed over Ukrainian sky by a Russian missile. And that has been proved, and that's--the court, the Hague Court, has solved this case. Putin got away with this quasi war in the eastern Ukrainian Donbas. Again, talks, deep concerns, we all have heard it so many times but, in the end, if you analyze it, the reputational loss, the economic loss of sanctions up until this point weren't significant. You could almost neglect them.

So, these sanctions that happened--that were imposed after the invasion of Ukraine, okay, now we're talking. This is something that actually is a big problem for Putin and Putin's inner circle and the economy and everything, and the closed borders are the problem. The brand and et cetera leaving are a problem. All of that adds up to actually a good set of sanctions which, sadly, came too late. And that--we cannot really fix that. I'm not trying to tell people off or just complain or anything like that. All I'm trying to say is that we just need to acknowledge that the world has been late with that, and we shouldn't be late again. You know, that's never too late--sanctions imposed today are better than sanctions imposed tomorrow. And now that the wave of those sanctions is kind of thinning a little bit. They are not as robust; they are not as often; and they don't feel imminent anymore. I'm urging every government, every institution responsible for that to not let this go and continue--continue doing that and continue applying pressure on Putin's regime.

MS. CLINTON: Well, because I think we've learned some very difficult lessons as to how far he will go left unchecked, not held accountable, acting with impunity.

So, let's sort of fast-forward a minute, because I mentioned Alexei Navalny's article about a post-Putin Russia. He advocates a parliamentary system--what he calls a parliamentary republic. Galina, what do you see, post-Putin, assuming we keep the pressure on and don't give in too quickly? And just as we were walking out here, we saw a news alert that missiles had crossed into Poland and two Polish citizens were killed.

Poland is a NATO country. The Polish National Security Council is meeting as we speak. And this--my friends in the Baltics have been saying this for years. You're now living in Latvia; Maria's living in Lithuania. They've always been warning about what Putin is capable of doing.

So, how do you see this in the future?

MS. TIMCHENKO: You know, maybe I could sound a little bit sad, but I do believe that Russia has to learn this lesson from the scratch. There will be acceptance and atonement, first. And only after that, we could build the real beautiful Russia of the future, first learning lessons and atonement. We have to repair connections. We have to repair trust, if it's possible. We have to prove to the world that Russia is worth fighting for her future.

So, it's all about that.

MS. CLINTON: Yeah. Well, Maria, I'm going to give you the last word because I very much agree with your connection of corruption and what we're now seeing coming out of Putin.

When you think about counteracting Putin, you talked about sanctions. What more should the international community, and particularly the United States and NATO, try to do to counteract not just what he's doing now, but to prevent him, as Galina was saying, from doing anything further?

MS. PEVCHIKH: It's a very, very complex question. And essentially, the answer is known to anybody just on their own very level. You guys know. Journalists, activists, politicians, government officials what can be done within your scope of power.

Do we need more sanctions? Absolutely. You know what we need more than that? We need those sanctions actually being enforced. We need those people who help corrupt government officials from Russia avoid and evade the sanctions, we need those guys to be caught, as well. We need, for example, British Government officials, to be catching the lawyers and enablers and all the other, you know, agents, people who help to run this corrupt system set up--setting up those blind trust funds, or making these, you know, blind deals when the property is owned by someone you don't really know who that is--

MS. CLINTON: Like, for example, buying a floor on the Trump Tower, just an example.

MS. PEVCHIKH: Absolutely, absolutely.

MS. TIMCHENKO: Good example.

[Applause]

MS. PEVCHIKH: That shouldn't be tolerated and that shouldn't be--that shouldn't be--you shouldn’t be turning your head away from it.

Russian corruption stopped being Russian problem. We've been saying it for years and I could see why sometimes there was this approach that, let's just leave them alone. They're doing so well economically. Let's just not look there and let Vladimir Putin be. I remind you, the World Cup in Russia, the football World Cup happened, like, what, four years after Crimea was annexed? It was a great holiday. I mean, everybody came.

So, what I'm trying to say is there are a lot of ways to do it. Or, you can sometimes--I don't know, there are activists in the room. Sometimes your best decision is to actually go and stay--go stand in the middle of your city with a poster saying something very important to you. Sometimes it's, I don't know, spreading, sharing this information if you have access to Russian readers, Russian audience. You know, sometimes it's just about not being lazy to repost something and write a little message, you know, do watch that; do watch this film; do watch a documentary.

MS. TIMCHENKO: Leave messages.

MS. PEVCHIKH: So, all of us have their own ways of contributing to it. My way is investigations. I cannot do--I'm not qualified to do anything like that. I just investigate corruption. Galina's way is brilliant journalism.

And there are so many other women, and men, of course, who found their way against all the odds, against all the pressure and risks and they're still continuing to fight Putin. And I admire all of them.

MS. CLINTON: And I admire both of our guests so much, Maria and Galina.

[Applause]

[End recorded session]

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