Strobe Talbott, President Bill Clinton’s architect for Russia policy and deputy secretary of state from 1994 to 2001, had an insider’s view of U.S.-Russian diplomatic relations and the tumultuous Yeltsin era. Talbott is the author of The Russia Hand: A Memoir of Presidential Diplomacy(Random House).
Bill Keller of The New York Times says Talbott “has a cast of principals suitable for Shakespeare, or at least Rabelais: Bill Clinton, the polymath president and man of vast appetites. Boris Yeltsin, the boozing novice democrat. Vladimir Putin, the enigmatic spymaster and heir to the Kremlin. Warren Christopher. Well, never mind Warren Christopher.” Bill Clinton met with his Kremlin counterparts more often than had all the U.S. presidents from Harry Truman on. Talbott, an old Rhodes Scholar pal of Clinton’s and one of his most trusted advisers, was there at every step. Using his journalist’s skills, Talbott describes the stormy period of Russian-American relations firsthand, quoting Clinton’s comment “We can’t ever forget that Yeltsin drunk is better than most of the alternatives sober.”
Closed-door meetings between Clinton and Yeltsin helped shape the crucial events of the 1990s, including NATO expansion, missile defense, the near-meltdown of the Russian economy and the Balkan wars. Talbott describes the behind-the-scenes tensions as Yeltsin perilously managed personal relations with the Russian military and Parliament. “He (Yeltsin) was both a very big man and a very bad boy, a natural leader and an incurable screw-up. All this Clinton recognized, found easy to forgive, and wanted others to join him in forgiving.”
A former Time columnist and Washington Bureau chief, Talbott also is the translator-editor of Nikita Khrushchev’s memoirs and the author of six books on U.S.-Soviet relations. He is the director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization and will assume the presidency of the Brookings Institution later this year. In addition to his Rhodes Scholar Award to Oxford, Talbott has received the Edward Weintal Prize for Distinguished Diplomatic Reporting and the Overseas Press Club Award.
Strobe Talbott was interviewed at Kentucky Author Forum by David Halberstam, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and noted author. Halberstam is a past author guest of the Kentucky Author Forum.
Halberstam describes Talbott’s book as follows: “Fascinating and compelling reading – this book is at once a serious political-science text and a work of high comedy. Strobe Talbott has given us a marvelous window on a rare moment of important and delicate diplomacy between the United States and Russia and, more important, those two most unlikely partners, Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin.”