Max Jeffery Max Jeffery

Dmitri Trenin: the pro-West Russian radicalised by Putin’s war in Ukraine

Dmitri Trenin in 2016. (MSC/Sawka)

The circus of American and European diplomats in Moscow loved Dmitri Trenin while he was on their side. Trenin was a former colonel in a Soviet intelligence agency. He became known in the early 2000s for writing books that argued Russia, diminished after the Cold War, should get friendly with the West by joining Nato and the European Union. He was a pro-West Russian, and it earned him the directorship of the Moscow branch of a rich American think tank, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Trenin built contacts in the Kremlin, wrote for the New York Times, and was in the phone book of every foreign ambassador in the Russian capital. He was telling westerners what they wanted to hear. ‘A Russian who is ahead of his time and the vast majority of his countrymen’, is how a lofty American book reviewer described him in 2001.

Today, Trenin’s hope that his country will become part of the West is finished. Russia has invaded Ukraine and Moscow is edging closer to direct conflict with Nato. ‘There is no going back to where we were’, he messages me on WhatsApp. He’s unwell with a cold so won’t do an interview on the phone. When Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022, many of Trenin’s Carnegie colleagues escaped Moscow to Europe, but he abandoned everything he worked for and decided to back Vladimir Putin’s war. His Carnegie centre in Moscow was shuttered by the Russian government, and no American or European diplomat wants to speak to him anymore. Trenin now says the West is ‘the enemy’, and says it wants ‘not just a change in the political regime in Russia, but also the elimination of Russia as a major independent entity on the world stage’. In the Russian media he toys with idea of detonating a nuclear weapon in Europe.

Trenin blames the West for the last two years of war in Ukraine, and tries to explain his strange about-turn.

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