The likelihood that Russia will invade Ukraine seems to be growing by the day. If Russia indeed attacks Ukraine, how should the United States and Europe respond?
Joining me to take on that question and more are four excellent speakers:
Andrew Weiss, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Nina Jankowicz, of the Woodrow Wilson Center
Jim Goldgeier, of Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation.
Melinda Haring, of The Atlantic Council
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Transcript lightly edited for clarity
What is Happening in Russian-Ukrainian Affairs that has Caused So Much Concern in the Last Couple of Days?
Mark Leon Goldberg [00:02:19] Then, Andrew, I wanted to start with you. First, can you briefly introduce yourself so folks can hear your voice?
Andrew Weiss [00:02:25] Hi there, Mark. It’s Andrew Weiss. I’m vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, D.C.
Mark Leon Goldberg [00:02:31] Thanks, Andrew. So, Andrew, what has been happening on the Russian side of things, militarily and politically, in these last few days that is provoking such deep concern in D.C. right now?
Andrew Weiss [00:02:44] So I think it’s important for people to back up a little bit beyond the events the last couple of days and look at what’s happening in Ukraine as we’ve written in a recent paper as the single biggest piece of unfinished business for Putin’s long tenure as Russia’s leader. And so for him, the idea of Ukraine today isn’t so much that it is a threat, it’s more this, what they’ve described in Russian about the absorption, pogloshcheniye in Russian, of Ukraine into the West and the possibility that over time, the amount of money the West is providing to Ukraine for modernizing its military, intelligence, cyber, and political subversion capabilities over time, that’s going to be a threat to Russian national security. So in Putin’s mind, if we were to be in his shoes, it’s better to deal with that threat now, at a time when he sees Europe divided, sees the possibility of a major political set of bumps and crises that would await Joe Biden if this were all to happen, and the fact that it’s not really a fair fight on the on the battlefield so better to go now than maybe in 10 years.
Mark Leon Goldberg [00:03:52] So what’s happening now militarily, for example, why has the tenor of alarm in D.C. sharply increased just over these last couple of days?
Andrew Weiss [00:04:05] Russia’s put in place the forces that it would need to conduct a serious military operation against Ukraine and what that operation will entail we’ll all find out at the same time. It’s possible that it could involve certain disruptive tactics that look more like something that’s intended to shroud Russia’s responsibility and therefore maybe create a pretext for military action. There’s possibility of steps to provoke the Ukrainians into a reaction, and that would again give the Russians pretext, or it could look like just a full-scale invasion. But Russia has put in place all of the military tools it needs to conduct a new major military operation and then I think the thing over the weekend that really set people on edge was the arrival of Russian troops in Belarus, which basically sets in motion the possibility of another northern front and that puts Russian forces within striking distance of Kiev.
Why does Russia want to invade Ukraine?
Mark Leon Goldberg [00:04:57] So basically, you have Russian forces on like three out of four sides of Ukraine at the moment.
Andrew Weiss [00:05:03] Yep. And you know, as I said a moment ago, there’s really no easy way out of this trap that the Russians are putting the Ukrainians in. There’s no way for the Ukrainians to over match what the Russians are capable of doing militarily and given that the United States and our NATO allies have all signaled really clearly that we don’t intend to be directly involved militarily in this conflict, it’s not a very promising picture for the Ukrainians. But then, you know, it all depends on what the Russian military goals are and the tools they would be using to achieve them.
Mark Leon Goldberg [00:05:38] Thanks. Nina, I want to turn to you now. Could you briefly introduce yourself so folks can hear your voice?
Nina Jankowicz [00:05:43] Hi, good afternoon, Mark. Good afternoon, everybody. Nina Jankowicz, I’m the global fellow at the Wilson Center, affiliated with the Kennan Institute and the Science and Technology Innovation Program. Most of my work focuses on disinformation, and I’m the author of the book How to Lose the Information War.
How does disinformation factor into the possible Russian invasion of Ukraine?
Mark Leon Goldberg [00:05:59] Thanks. So, you know it’s often the case, or at least it seems from my perspective, that Russian disinformation campaigns sometimes precede actual ground invasions. What are we seeing right now in terms of Russian disinformation campaigns vis a vis Ukraine?
Nina Jankowicz [00:06:16] Yeah, you’re absolutely right on that mark. I think Russia views the informational front as a critical front in all of its military operations, and that’s not necessarily new, right? All of our militaries do that to some extent, but they’re very adept in Moscow at using the new technologies of social media to target the most vulnerable populations. Now, that looks a little bit different this time around than it did during the first invasion of Ukraine in 2014. Back then, we saw a lot of bots, a lot of trolls, a lot of inauthentic amplification. Now we’re seeing a lot more coming through official channels because I think the target audience, in addition to domestic audience—which I’ll talk about in a second—the target international audience is European and Western elites and changing kind of the narrative of and the framing of this conflict. So, we’ve seen an uptick in Russian language media monitoring about Ukraine’s supposed aggression or NATO expansion, which again is setting the stage for this conflict being about NATO and that’s what we’ve seen in these discussions over the past couple of weeks focusing on rather than the fact that Russia unilaterally is funding and perpetuating this conflict and building up troops on Ukraine’s border, and also priming the Russian population for a potential invasion. What’s interesting, though, according to recent Levada Center polling, is that 50% of Russians don’t believe a war with Ukraine is likely and it does seem a little bit like appetite for a war with NATO is increasing—that’s about 25%, up from 19% in 2019—but there’s not a whole lot of support for this conflict among Russians right now. And so, I think it’s an important thing for Putin and his advisors to consider, you know, what is the cost of this going to be at home? Generally, President Putin has gotten a bump with his foreign adventurism, but it’s not so clear cut this time. And with Russians coming back in body bags and the economic costs that the West is prepared to impose on Russia, I think the situation, as I said before, is a little bit murkier. And then one other thing that I’ll mention before we turn over to Jim is that we have seen some interesting cyber activities in the last week that really do resemble a lot of what we saw, let’s say, in Estonia in 2007 or in the five day war with Georgia in 2008, as well as at the beginning of the annexation of Crimea in 2014, a number of Ukrainian government websites were defaced but behind that defacement, a lot of servers and computers were taken hostage in ransomware attacks demanding bitcoin kind of similar to what we saw with NotPetya in 2017. So, these sorts of activities generally do indicate that some sort of escalation is coming. The Ukrainians have pointed to the Russians, other Western allies, the Brits and the United States, have not yet attributed the attack to Russia officially, although some officials have told me, you know, we’ve seen this movie before, which I think points to one of my favorite quotes from an interlocutor that I interviewed in Estonia: “If it smells like a dog and barks like a dog, it is probably a dog.” So, I will leave you with that before we open it up more broadly.
What are foreign powers and NATO doing to try and stop Russia from invading Ukraine?
Mark Leon Goldberg [00:09:41] It’s the duck test that that’s the iteration of that I’ve heard: walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, swims like a duck. So, Jim, given what Andrew said about what’s happening politically and militarily and what Nina has described as this sort of cyber and disinformation effort that seems to presage an actual attack on Ukraine, what has been happening in the diplomatic space over this last week or so to perhaps deter Russia from mounting this this attack? I know as we speak, Secretary Blinken is in Kiev. What can we expect from that meeting and a meeting later this week scheduled with the Foreign Minister of Russia, Sergei Lavrov, which I believe is happening in Vienna. So, Jim, can you paint the diplomatic space for us, and you’ll need to unmute.
Jim Goldgeier [00:10:37] So thanks for having me on. Great to be with Nina and Andrew and you. The Russians put out these big demands, you know, publicly seeking new treaties, new agreements with NATO and with the United States and demanding that the United States and NATO respond with some kind of legal guarantee, whatever that means, that NATO would not take Ukraine in as a new member any time. And there were also other demands as well with respect to deployments of missiles and other military assets. So, what we saw last week was a series of meetings that the U.S., within the context of their strategic stability talks, and NATO and Russia had a meeting, and then there was a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE. The Russians were rather dismissive of the talks. You know, the United States tried to keep the diplomacy going, and you have, as you mentioned, Secretary Blinken’s in Europe, in Ukraine. I believe he’ll be in Berlin and then he’s meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov. The German foreign minister also met with Lavrov yesterday. You know, the big question is are these maximalist demands that Putin has put out that he knows NATO will not agree to. There’s not going to be a NATO agreement that it will foreswear ever taking Ukraine in. That’s just not the way NATO works, the original NATO treaty is open to any European state that can meet the criteria of the alliance and contribute to alliance security. Everyone knows that Ukraine is not on a path to membership, there’s no way it’s coming in any time in the foreseeable future as a member of NATO, but NATO’s not going to formally close the door. I mean, the open door is part and parcel of NATO’s existence and so Putin put that out there and demand a public response from the U.S. And NATO because he knows it’s going to be rejected and then that’s a pretext. Or is it out there in the hopes that there are other things that can be negotiated? And the United States is perfectly willing to negotiate on issues like missile deployments, on scope and scale of military exercises, and on other confidence building measures to account the security interests of NATO members of Ukraine and of Russia. That’s something the United States and NATO allies are willing to do, and the question is, is Putin willing to have those kinds of conversations? Or is he insisting on something that is simply not there for him to get?
Mark Leon Goldberg [00:14:01] So I mean, as Blinken and Lavrov meet later this week is there in the realm of possibility, like a face-saving diplomatic out for Russia at this point, given that they’ve already made this maximalist demand that Ukraine never be permitted to enter NATO?
Jim Goldgeier [00:14:23] Well, I guess the question is, is there diplomatic language? I mean, given that Ukraine is not coming in for the foreseeable future, but NATO’s not going to be willing to say never, is there language that can be agreed upon that makes it clear that there’s some kind of moratorium, whether NATO sort of agrees to that, whether Ukraine asks for that in return for something from Russia in terms of security guarantees. I mean, you know, given that they’re not coming in presumably for the rest of Putin’s presidency but NATO’s not willing to say never, there’s some kind of diplomatic language that can be found. It seems like there could be if the Russians were willing to negotiate on what that language would be.
What is the Biden administration doing to stop Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?
Mark Leon Goldberg [00:15:22] So, Andrew, I wanted to turn back to you and ask you what suite of policy options are the Biden administration weighing right now? I mean, we’ve heard, for example, you know, Blinken and others warned of very serious consequences. I don’t know what exactly like the nomenclature were, but it’s a serious response, a mega response of some sort. What are policy options to your knowledge that the Biden administration is currently weighing?
Andrew Weiss [00:15:57] So the administration right now is looking at what the Russians are doing and basically, like everyone else, waiting and they keep saying it’s all up to Putin. What they’re hoping is that by calling attention to Russia’s actions, the Russians are going to have to struggle to explain what they’re doing and so far, the Russians have not been able to do that. They’ve pointed to phantom threats, and they claim that their military activities are just normal exercises. None of that is convincing. In the meanwhile, the administration is trying to build maximum unity with European partners on a series of sanctions that could be imposed depending on what Russia does. That’s great, but we’ve seen plenty of sanctions since 2014, so the bar for sanctions to really shift Russia’s strategic calculus here has to be set pretty high. At the moment I think there’s reluctance and division in Europe, particularly coming from the Germans about how much pain to impose and all of this is happening against the backdrop of concerns about the health of the global economy amid inflationary pressures and a very real energy crisis in Europe. Given Russia’s central role as one of the key energy suppliers to Europe, there’s going to be a lot of reticence, particularly from the Germans and other major economies, about imposing sanctions that might somehow trigger a Russian supply interruption where the Russians pulled European gas supplies at risk or throttled them as there’s evidence they’ve been doing so. The administration is trying to talk about unity, trying to talk about massive costs, but we’ll just have to see what comes out of the other end. I think there’s plenty the U.S. and the United Kingdom can do unilaterally, particularly aimed at the Russian financial system and causing disruption there, but the Russians have been preparing for this day for the better part of eight years, and so they’ve been salting away hundreds of billions of dollars, literally 640 or so billion dollars in their piggy bank, which is roughly equivalent to 40% of GDP. They’ve been detaching their economy from various nodes that might make it at risk of trouble if the United States, for example, were to try to seize Russia’s assets in U.S. banks, things like that. So, the Russians have hardened themselves to make their economy less vulnerable, and they know that they have this get out of jail card, which is their role as an oil and gas supplier to the world economy. So ultimately, the other track that the administration is talking a lot about is steps to help countries that are already in NATO by putting more U.S. forces, or NATO forces, there to reassure them, as well as to beef up our ongoing military cooperation with Ukraine. All of those things, I think, are necessary and reasonable, but they won’t be sufficient for changing Putin’s mind about whether to go.
What could change Putin’s mind about invading Ukraine?
Mark Leon Goldberg [00:18:50] And I want to bracket that last response about what would be sufficient to change Putin’s mind in a moment. I want to, though, turn to Nina. You know, given that much of this conflict is taking place in like the information space, as it’s called, what are we seeing from the United States in Europe in terms of countering this disinformation and countering cyber threats from Russia towards Ukraine at the moment?
Nina Jankowicz [00:19:24] Yeah, it’s a good question. I mean, I will start by saying that I definitely think it’s important to view the cyber threat and the informational threat or the influence operation threat separately. Often, cyber operations can inform influence operations, but they should be looked at and countered in two different ways, and we’ve been a little bit more active on the cyber front. It’s not something that is as politically divisive here in Washington, so it’s a little bit easier to get the ball rolling on that and of course, we’ve seen some pretty significant ransomware attacks in the United States over the past year, which have led to some movement in Washington. On the influence side, our allies in Europe have been a lot more active than the United States has been, and that is in part because of the politicization of disinformation and quote unquote fake news during the Trump era and kind of the reticence of Congress, in particular, to act in ways that would allow the U.S. private sector to take more action against some of this content. We’ve seen Facebook and Twitter get a little bit more active in taking down inauthentic accounts, but there’s still a very wide information laundering system that exists here in the States. And that’s our biggest weakness right now: these preexisting fissures in society that countries like Russia are very, very happy to amplify and exploit. In Europe, the UK has done a really good job, I think, and countering disinformation. They have made their national security doctrine based on this fusion doctrine, which brings in folks from across government, not just informational comms. folks, but folks who are focused on foreign policy, folks that are focused on the financial sector or even their scientists working on things like poisonings, if you look at the Skripal poisoning in 2018 to really debunk and set a really, I would say, compelling counter-narrative to what Russia is doing. So, to use Skripal as an example in 2018, when that happened, there was a lot of communication from various organs of the British government talking about all of the contradictory and ridiculous narratives that Russian officials and Russian media were putting out as to how the whole poisoning happened and that kind of really depressed the logic of Russia, or the purported logic of Russia in in the public’s mind. So, they’ve been doing a good job. And then I think there’s just a lot more appetite politically to do counter influence activities, to invest in things like resilience building in local populations, and what we’ve been seeing here in the United States in the last couple of weeks, to my dismay, has been a lot of, ‘well, we should give Russia a taste of its own medicine and fight fire with fire’ and I think that is really dangerous thinking. One of the best things we have on our side is the moral high ground, which we’ve ceded a lot of over the past couple of years, right? I don’t think we should willingly give that away by creating these sorts of false operations, by parading as Russians on the internet, the way that Russia has paraded as Americans by attempting to influence political processes and things like that. We should be responding with truth, be responding with, you know, investigative journalism, uncovering the ways that Putin and his cronies have stolen money from the Russian people. All of that is going to be a lot more powerful than any hackneyed, really poorly put together meme that we can put on the internet.
Mark Leon Goldberg [00:22:56] I mean, that seems to be like a worthwhile long-term strategy but in the near term, like tomorrow, Russia may well start to send troops over the Belarussian Ukraine border, over the eastern border. Jim, Andrew sort of ended his remarks by saying that essentially the suite of policy options available to the Biden administration and to Europe right now are generally insufficient to dissuade Russia, Putin from mounting this invasion and as Nina articulated like the long game, like tomorrow, as I said, Russia could invade. What can or should the United States do should Russia tomorrow send troops over the border?
Jim Goldgeier [00:23:50] Well, I think the United States and its NATO allies are then just going to be put in a position where they’re basically sort of doing some version of the containment policy that we had during the Cold War, where we’re trying to shore up NATO allies, also, you know, providing more military assistance to Ukraine so that it can defend itself as best it can, which obviously is going to be very difficult for them to do that in the face of a Russian military assault. And as Andrew pointed out, there will be additional sanctions put on. Putin presumably has already priced that in so, you know, if he decides to go, he will already have priced in the expectation of additional sanctions. So the options aren’t great and just getting back to the whole diplomacy side, which I think the U.S. has done pretty well in recent weeks, if this was just a discussion about European security, I think there would be things available to have a conversation that could continue and could address security concerns on all sides but if this is about Putin wanting to bring Ukraine into the fold and ending the possibility of it functioning as an independent, successful independent country, if he wants regime change in Ukraine, if it’s really about those things internal to Ukraine, and Russia’s relationship with Ukraine, then there’s not a lot that the United States can do. And so, the question is, is that the driver? Or is there some possibility that he really does want to have a serious conversation on European security?
Are Swift sanctions a good option to stop Russia from invading Ukraine?
Mark Leon Goldberg [00:25:45] I guess maybe one question for Nina and Andrew: that sort of diplomatic nuclear option is would be what, like Swift banking sanctions against Russia? Is that plausible? Nina, I don’t know if you’re following this, Andrew, I don’t know if you’re following this, but the idea is essentially to use America’s control over the international banking systems through Swift to shut Russia out from the system.
Nina Jankowicz [00:26:14] Yeah, it’s my knowledge the Biden administration has taken Swift sanctions off the table but there are a lot of folks, and I would be interested to hear Andrew’s opinion on this as well who focus on kleptocracy and anti-corruption measures, that say directed sanctions, that particular Russian banks, as well as high level Russian officials, might be more effective in the long term. Again, whether they’re enough to shift Putin’s calculus, only Putin can answer.
Mark Leon Goldberg [00:26:40] Andrew, is swift off the table, as Nina suggested? And more broadly, if indeed Russia invades Ukraine tomorrow, how should the U.S. and Europe respond? What would be an optimal policy option?
Andrew Weiss [00:26:55] There’s all this fixation on silver bullets, and Swift has become one of those big silver bullets, the other one is the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany. And so, there’s a lot of myth making about these steps. Swift is, just for people who haven’t focused on how the international payment system works, a messaging service, it’s not the mechanism by which a Russian bank accesses dollars or actually settles a transaction with a counterparty. It’s a way of communicating the details of the transaction and it’s been used as a pressure point against smaller economies like Iran so there’s precedent for doing it. But the idea that you could somehow, you know, neato presto, detach Russia from the global economy with that single tool, is misplaced. On the day it happens, there would be some disruption but within a very short period of time, there are other mechanisms, including a Chinese alternative system that Russia could sign up for, or they could just pull out the old fax machines and Telex machines that they have in their closets, to conduct various types of commercial operations. The challenge for the Biden administration is actually getting harder as the course of the taping of your podcast, Mark, unfolds. There’s a story that just appeared on the Financial Times website…
Mark Leon Goldberg [00:28:30] Oh, you dropped off.
Andrew Weiss [00:28:30] …The Europeans basically need. Hi, can you hear me?
Mark Leon Goldberg [00:28:34] Yeah, we can hear yes, yes, the Financial Times website. I’ve been focusing exclusively on this space, what happened?
Andrew Weiss: [00:28:37] The Financial Times has an article out in the last few minutes saying that the French President Macron today has proposed a separate European security pact between Europe and the Russians and basically, you know, putting a pretty big wedge between the United States is trying to accomplish between the US and Europe on the one hand and Russia on the other. So, you know, we didn’t need the Russians to plant the wedge, we have the French president doing it. That is, I think the most challenging part of this. How do you get different parts of Europe to see the threat we’re all facing from Russian aggression and revisionism and the fact that the Russians are in business and are willing to go to war to accomplish very destabilizing goals? Sanctions are a tool, but they can’t be the replacement for an effective policy that both shores up military deterrence, that, as Jim alluded to, helps contain and constrain dangerous Russian activities and capabilities, and that helps countries that are caught between the two who are on this, you know, this kind of gray zone between where NATO and where Russia is, helps them manage a very complicated and dangerous security situation. There aren’t going to be, as I said a second ago, silver bullet tools in Joe Biden’s backpack. What he’s going to be dealing with is a question of less bad tools and less bad outcomes as he manages through this problem. And then the final part of this, which is, I think, not getting enough attention, are the domestic political ramifications and will a war in Ukraine trigger the kind of political partisan theater that we saw after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan? I’m not a U.S. politics person, but something tells me that there will be a serious domestic component to all of this.
When could Russia begin to invade Ukraine?
Mark Leon Goldberg [00:30:32] Thank you. Nina and Jim, in our final minute, are there any particular events or inflection points that will suggest to you in the coming days how this situation will unfold? Except of course Russia actually sending troops over the border, is there any other sort of signal that you’ll be looking towards that will suggest to you how this situation may unfold? And, Nina, I’ll start with you.
Nina Jankowicz [00:31:02] Yeah, one thing we’re going to be monitoring in the disinformation space, or the information space, as it were, is looking at some of the open-source movements of troops and military equipment and seeing how that’s telegraphed by officials and advisers to the Kremlin. I think when we see an echo of some of the same narratives coming from sources closer to Putin—I’m not talking about like Maria Zakharova or any officials—but folks that are giving him advice, I think that’ll be an indication that things are kind of escalating. So, looking for that coordinated response of both kinetic and informational assets.
Mark Leon Goldberg [00:31:46] Thanks. And Jim, what are you monitoring in the coming days or weeks?
Jim Goldgeier [00:31:50] Well, I’m most interested in whether the Russians are continuing to be willing to have conversations with Western, and particularly American counterparts, like the meeting between Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov later this week. There were Russian officials who described last week’s meetings as, you know, a dead end and that they didn’t do what was what was needed. And are the Russians willing to continue talking? Will they continue to set up new meetings to follow, to have real negotiations? Or are they going to just pull the plug on that? If they pull the plug on further conversations, then I think we can expect the worst.
Mark Leon Goldberg [00:32:39] Well, Jim, Nina, and Andrew, thank you so much for your time. I’m going to turn the mic over to Melinda. Go ahead, Melinda.
Melinda Haring [00:32:50] Hey, Mark, thanks for the chance to be here. Hi, Andrew, Nina, and Jim. This was a fabulous discussion and I love the opportunity to play cleanup. So, I have six little points. I think you have some great questions, Mark. The first one was why is everyone freaking out in Washington now? And the answer is that we’ve reached a point of no return. It’s pretty clear that the open-door policy is not going to fly, and we just fundamentally disagree with Moscow about NATO membership, and there’s no cute diplomatic way around that. Another piece that is really interesting that I’m watching is, what’s the mood like in Europe, in Kiev? And the mood in Kiev is a mix of fatalism and disinterest. So, we have a guy on the ground there, and I would encourage people to watch Vladislav Davidzon’s posts. He’s in Kiev now, and whenever he tries to talk to people about the Russian escalation, they don’t want to talk to him or they say, ‘we’ve lived with it for eight years, this is no big deal.’ And then Europe itself doesn’t seem to be as anxious about this as we do. You also asked what would change Putin’s mind and it has to be a mix of deterrence and sanctions. It’s not just sanctions, and that’s where the Biden administration, I think, is screwed up. They haven’t provided enough deterrent and our speakers are right that Swift is off the table. If Putin were to go into Ukraine, we should cancel Nord Stream 2 immediately, we should have done that before, but we should do it now, and the U.S. should support the Ukrainian insurgency with weapons, training, and intelligence. And the thing that I’m watching is the military drills in Belarus in February. I think that will show if Putin hasn’t gone into Ukraine before, then I think that’s a data point to watch. Thanks a lot for the chance to be here.
How do Russian military drills in Belarus factor into the potential Ukrainian invasion?
Mark Leon Goldberg [00:34:39] What are these military drills in Belarus and why are they that potential inflection point for a potential invasion?
Melinda Haring [00:34:48] So a lot of the military planners, there’s a really excellent report that I’d recommend your readers check out, it’s called Russia’s Possible Invasion of Ukraine, and it talks about the different ways that Russian troops could go in, and one way is through Belarus. So, the worry now is now that there are Russian troops, a lot of Russian troops in Belarus, that that could be a date by which they would strike. There’s supposed to be an ordinary military drill in February, but a lot of people are worried it’s not ordinary. The other piece to though, Mark, that we haven’t talked about is a Ukrainian insurgency. So, if Russia goes in big time with the Air Force, with tanks, they can do whatever they want in Ukraine. They can take Ukraine very quickly. They cannot hold Ukraine very quickly so this is one of the big issues that a lot of analysts are looking at, is how deep would the insurgency run. There’s some new polling that’s very interesting. It says that only 9% of Ukrainians would go abroad, more than 50% of people would fight or engage in some kind of civil disobedience. So, I think that’s another factor that Putin is weighing as well when he tries to decide what to do.
Is it possible for Russia to occupy Ukraine?
Mark Leon Goldberg [00:35:58] Please stick around as a speaker as well to field some questions if you’re able. But Melinda, on your comment: so, Putin is supposed to be this great strategist, right? Yet recent history has demonstrated that invading and occupying a foreign country tends to not end well. So, it’s like the end game here of Putin. I get that he’s trying to bully the West, I get that he has these like ideological aspirations of Greater Russia and to fold Ukraine into his sphere of influence but when push comes to shove, it seems like it’s going to be very difficult to occupy Ukraine with Russian troops.
Melinda Haring [00:36:39] Not difficult. Impossible. You have to remember this is year eight of the war and Ukrainians know how to fight and they know how to resist. If you look at the history of Ukraine, I don’t think Putin can take the whole country. I think he could go to the Dnieper, it’s the river that splits Kiev, but then past the Dnieper, partly as a result of history and geography, the landscape gets more mountainous, and there’s just a very strong sense of identity, and there would be an enormous insurgency. So, he knows he has these limitations. Another piece, though, and I’d be curious to hear what Alex has to say is, Ukraine has changed a lot since the Euromaidan in 2014, and I don’t think Moscow really understands modern Ukraine very well. So, I think there is a possibility that Moscow will miscalculate, and they’ll screw up. They’ll assume that there’s greater support for Moscow because maybe there was in the past, but there’s been a massive change in Ukraine. This new sense of identity that transcends East-West, transcends language and it transcends religious identity as well.
Mark Leon Goldberg [00:37:52] All right. Thank you all for listening. Thank you to our four speakers. And unfortunately, it doesn’t look like this issue is going away anytime soon. I will return and revisit this crisis as it unfolds in the coming weeks, for sure. And just again, a note on this Twitter space. So, thousands of people participated in this space, and one thing that I really appreciated was how good the audience is. So just to give you a little anecdote, Melinda, ahead of time, agreed to stay on to answer questions, but there were lots and lots of people in the space. She told me ahead of time, at times she had to leave other people in the space who are also Ukraine-Russia experts affiliated with think tanks and journalism outlets stepped up and started to field questions as well. Again, just drives home how wonderful the audience is that has congregated around this podcast and around now, the Twitter space. This is an audience of foreign affairs professionals, and just thank you so much for tuning in and staying with this podcast for so long. All right, we’ll see next time. Bye!