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A former NATO ambassador gets into Putin’s head

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A former NATO ambassador gets into Putin’s head

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Ambassador Volker: “The worst-case scenario would be for Russia to launch a major invasion of Ukraine that attempts to take over the whole country and re-subordinate Ukraine to Russia, as was the case with the Soviet Union. This would cause , you know, massive fighting inside Ukraine Ukrainians are much more capable than they were in 2014 and 2015. There would be internal resistance in Ukraine, and there would be a lot of help to the Ukraine this time compared to 2014, 2015, when it was Crimea and the invasion just in the Donbass, so I think countries are much more willing to help, that would lead to a wider conflict with Russia, which could even cause Russia to consider next, as part of its doctrine, the deployment of nuclear weapons, which could really escalate in a huge and terrible way if that were to happen. I don’t think that scenario is likely. I think what is much more likely is that Russia will invade it Ukraine, but does it in the south, the east, maybe some fronts in the ni e too, tries to take more territory, does it quickly and then tries, or is ready to then have a new ceasefire -fire. I think they are interested in connecting Crimea with reservoirs north of Crimea, which used to supply Crimea with water. And I think they are interested in connecting Crimea by land with Donbass and Russia. This would include taking, for example, the entire coastline of the Sea of ​​Azov, the city of Mariupol, and it would create a contiguous territory that would connect all of that to Russian territory itself. And then we will see if he leaves it at that, if he recognizes it as an independent state of Novorossiya or if he decides to annex it to Russia. I think a lot of these things are possible then. Even doing that, there would be substantial fighting, there would be people killed, there would be refugees that Ukrainian forces would retaliate. It will be a big messy war if they do that. But Russia has superior military forces, especially superior air and naval forces, and I think it is in a position to prevail. But I think that’s a more likely scenario, and that’s what I think the efforts of the administration, NATO and European allies are all trying to prevent now.”

On Putin’s motives

Ryan Lizza: “There’s a lot of talk, and we heard it recently from President Biden, that he [Putin] is motivated by the reintegration of all former Soviet states. I want to know if this is Putin’s accurate understanding over time and decades, that he has a slightly less ambitious view of what can actually be salvaged. I don’t think anyone really thinks that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania will ever go back there. He would have to be—correct me if I’m wrong—deceived enough to believe that. Give us a bit of background on your upbringing in “Putinism” and what is your take on his goals and intentions here and what drives them. »

Ambassador Volker: “It is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Soviet Union this year. December 30, 2022 will be the 100th anniversary. The Soviet Union was founded on the territory of the former Russian Empire, and I think it is trying to build a greater Russia on the territory of the former Soviet Union He has already taken over the security of Belarus He has taken over the security forces of Kazakhstan He has taken over part of the Georgia. Already he’s taken part of Ukraine. He’s occupying part of Moldova and I think he’s stepping up his efforts to do more. So that’s one thing, it’s to rebuild a bigger Russia. The second thing is, I think he doesn’t like the European security order that’s been in place since the 1970s with the Helsinki Accords. If you remember, after World War II, there was an agreement with Stalin at Yalta to divide Europe into an east and a west and there was [these] two spheres of influence. I think the Helsinki Accords actually changed the principles in Europe and said no, look, every state is a sovereign state. Every state has the right to its independence, has the right to choose its own security direction. There should be no change of borders by force, no threat or use of force in Europe, no interference in the internal affairs of other countries. All of these principles that were established in 1975 – not necessarily fully implemented because the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union were still there – but these were principles agreed with the Soviet Union, with NATO, with the Warsaw Pact. And when these countries had the chance to be free after 1989 and 1991, many of them chose to be democracies, market economies, to align with NATO, to align with the EU and to be part of a collective self-defense entity in Europe. Putin wants this reversed. He wants to return to Yalta. He wants to regain a Russian sphere of influence recognized by everyone in Europe, and that is what his proposals to the United States and NATO in December [2021] are all about.”

On geopolitics and timing

Ryan Lizza: “One question is why now and why with Biden, rather than with previous US presidents? What do you think it was about that moment that prompted him to this decision? There are a lot of comments out there, especially from the right, that the Afghanistan pullout kind of motivated that move because it made Biden look weak in the U.S. Others take the opposite stance and say, well, actually , the pullout from Afghanistan made Putin realize that Biden was very aware of where the U.S. military should be in the world, and perhaps now is the perfect time to get Biden to commit to that at what the European security architecture should look like and maybe rethinking that So why now, and how do you think the change of US President has changed his way of thinking?

Ambassador Volker: “Well, that’s a great question because he invaded Georgia in 2008. He invaded Ukraine in 2014. Since then he’s kept the fighting down. But that’s a new level of threat. And I think there are several factors here. One of them is [that] he sees weakness in the United States and Europe. Here he sees a lot of attention to national issues and domestic unrest in the United States over our own democracy. So it’s also an opportunity. You mentioned Afghanistan, and I think that’s an important factor: that he saw that the United States didn’t have the courage to exert force. That we are fed up. We want to step back. We weren’t even prepared to keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, and the chaos that ensued when we pulled out, I think, is something that everyone saw, including Putin, and he is said, OK, the United States is no longer determined to exert power in the world as it was, and that this situation may not last forever. Russia gradually weakens over time. Ukraine is gradually getting stronger over time. NATO can bounce back, America can bounce back. So now is a good time to act.”

On the answer

Ryan Lizza: “Let’s talk about the NATO response so far, and specifically the White House response. Let’s start with your sort of overview of how Biden has handled this crisis so far. You’ve been critical at first. I think you’ve been a bit more complimentary more recently, but give us your perspective on where they’ve succeeded and where you think they’ve failed so far.”

Ambassador Volker: “Well, you know, what I think is positive right now is that we’re finally getting into a proactive mode, and that’s what I would criticize as well. I don’t think we’ve gotten there fast enough. We saw the Russian army build- already in the fall, and we knew it was a threatening step. It was December 17, I believe, when Russia presented its proposals to the States States and NATO demanding this rewrite of the European security architecture. I think we should have been very clear immediately. These are unacceptable. We are not negotiating on this, and we should have put in place elements that would strengthen our position on the ground so that it would be clear to Putin that we not only reject these proposals, but that we stand up for our principles. That’s where I think we are today. We now have President Biden activating 8,500 U.S. troops We have countries NATO who are deploying forces to the eastern part of the alliance to help reassure the allies there. Some allies in the east are now transferring the military equipment we gave them to Ukraine with the blessing of the United States to do so, and the United States has increased its security assistance to Ukraine. These are all things we could and should have done in December, and I think we would have had more of an impact on Putin’s thinking than we see today. I still think that we also have the possibility of applying sanctions to Russia.”

A former NATO ambassador gets into Putin’s head

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