Are Putin’s Sanctions Countermeasures Working? Chat with William Wohlforth, Part 2

Okay. Let’s talk about the sanctions. What do you think of Putin’s countermeasures to the sanctions so far? He forced so-called unfriendly countries to buy Russian oil and gas with rubles. Uh, how long do you think he can insist on that?

The EU has responded. So, that was back in March, and the EU responded and said that they would refuse to settle the accounts into rubles because essentially, if you do that, then essentially you’re in some ways kind of insulating Russia from the financial sanctions. And, um, and so far it’s unclear to me what’s happened. Putin claimed, about a week ago, that the Europeans were not settling up in rubles. So, the status of that particular move by Putin is unclear to me at the moment. In other words, the news that I had seen, and even from the Russians themselves, is that Europeans are continuing to insist on payment in convertible currencies. But the Russian overall response has been sort of effective in the near term, particularly in defending the ruble and other defensive measures they’ve taken against these sanctions. However, the Russian central bank chief yesterday, the head of the Russian state bank, I think it was yesterday or the day before yesterday, essentially said in no uncertain terms that all of these measures are temporary in nature that Russia has taken and that the costs to the Russian economy are going to be quite spectacular and compounding and escalating in the weeks and months ahead. So, you can expect the bite of those sanctions to get tougher and tougher and tougher for Russia, according to Russia’s own officials, with each passing week.

You talked about Russian central bank. The West has frozen much of Russia’s, you know, over 600 million dollar foreign reserves held in foreign banks. But this, I mean, has not really crushed the Russian economy. China won’t freeze Russia’s, you know, foreign reserves held in [unknown phrase]. And because Russia still makes money from energy sales, its economy is getting by. The ruble now even bounced back to its pre-war value. So, do you think, you know, you just said this could be successful, but it would not be long lived. Is that right?

Yeah. I mean, the ruble bounce back is the result of very high interest rates being paid on ruble holdings, ruble assets, and capital controls. I mean, basically you’re putting on capital controls and you’re turning the ruble into a, into a domestic-only currency. In some sense, the long-term effect is to cut off the Russian economy from the world even more. The more you make, uh, impose these capital controls. So, that’s essentially a limited, that’s an option, that is an option for maintaining the ruble’s value that is not going to be sustainable forever without a significant cost to Russia’s ability to act in the international economy. You know, Russia needs to supply its inputs for everything that it creates. We still live in a globalized economy. There are still such things as supply change, and Russia is part of this. Indeed, there’s speculation that even Russian military production requires some degree of access to imports. And they’re not getting any of these now and therefore the ramified effects throughout the Russian economy of their inability to obtain these key inputs is, according to the Russian central banker herself, going to be escalating with each passing month.

Hmm. Okay. What do you think of Putin’s measure to link the ruble and gold? I mean, he said that the central bank will buy gold at a certain price with ruble from, I mean, at least until June 30th.

And from whom? Who wants to own all those rubles? That’s the question. When you have capital controls on the ruble, the ruble’s only really particularly useful for people inside of Russia. So, the question is who is now holding rubles is gonna want to transfer those rubles into gold? So, I don’t know. The international finance can have many tricks and many schemes within it, but to my mind, I’m not seeing that as a lifesaver for the Russian economy. Bottom line is you have an unprecedented set of sanctions against Russia, and they do take time to work. And as I’ve stated, we’ve now had the mayor of Moscow, we’ve had the deputy prime minister and we’ve had the Russian central bank head all say that, “get ready for feeling the bite of these sanctions.They’re going to hit and they’re going to hit hard.” So I–essentially, in some sense–defer to them and their expertise. In fact, in a way, they’re kind of brave to be even saying these things since they’re cutting against the line that Putin wants to send out that we can handle these sanctions, no problem.

Yeah. Yeah.

It should be stressed that it’s not clear that any of this is going to materially affect Russia’s ability to continue to prosecute the war. So, if the idea of these sanctions is to stop Russia from any kind of immediate action in the coming weeks or months in Ukraine, that’s not their capacity. That’s not their strong suit. Their strong suit is a longer term imposition of costs, such that if Russia’s contemplating trying to continue this campaign over really long periods of time, that the costs are gonna be very, very high for the Russian economy.

Mm-hmm. If Russia stops the war, do you think the sanctions will come off right away?

I’m worried about that. I mean, that goes back to what I was, how I was responding to your earlier question about Western, how the West can help try to find a resolution. If you put Russia in a position–again, I don’t like, you know, it’s very hard to have much feeling of concern for Russia’s wellbeing given that that country is responsible for this horrific war. On the other hand, if you wanna try to find a settlement of some kind, there ought to be some thought given to the upside for Russia. In other words, not just imposing costs but suggesting benefits if they are to cease this action in Ukraine. And so for that, saying it’d be nice if these sanctions were contingent, namely saying, “we put these sanctions on you because of what you were doing in Ukraine. If you stop doing that, we’ll take the sanctions off.”

Unfortunately, I’m not seeing any kind of talk of that nature because of the first part of the Zelensky speech that you referred to some time ago, his outrage at seeing that mother looking down the well and seeing her son. The emotions that are elicited by what Russia is doing in Ukraine are so intense that the feeling now is a desire simply to punish Russia and isolate Russia indeterminately. And as much as I can understand those emotions, I don’t think it’s prudent to act in this way. I think it’s better to suggest the possibility, the conditions under which the sanctions would be relieved. Certainly we should say explicitly that if the Ukrainian government agrees to a deal with Moscow, we will certainly, at the behest of the Ukrainian government, reduce these sanctions.

Hmm. What if the Ukrainian government does not require the West to reduce the sanctions? If, they say, you know, this is your decision?

Yes. Well, that gets to this tricky point of does the West want to actually be pressuring Ukraine to accept some kind of deal that the Ukrainian government does not want accept? Do we want to tell Zelensky that, “Hey, you know, the deal that Russia’s offering right now looks pretty good to us, and we really think you should accept this deal. In fact, you’re being unreasonable if you don’t accept that deal. You’re not being a responsible statesman.” I would love it if that scenario were to happen. In other words, for this to happen, we need to have some sign from Russia that there is some remotely plausible deal, some remotely acceptable agreement that Russia’s prepared to accept. And if we see some language like that, then it’s not inconceivable to me that we would really strongly urge Ukraine to begin to talk about such a deal. But we see nothing of the kind right now.

On the contrary, I think it’s very important to recognize that we’re seeing rhetoric from Russia, from Russian commentators and even some Russian officials, that literally does sound like genocide. I mean, I don’t use that term lightly, but there’s talk that basically says any assertion of an independent Ukrainian national identity is by definition Nazi, and our job is to de-Nazify Ukraine. If you hear talk like that from your so-called bargaining partner, how can we possibly be pressuring Ukraine to accept the deal? But if Russia starts to talk more reasonably and unless this kind of, if it were to cease, this kind of crazy talk about Nazis in Ukraine, then the West certainly would be in a position potentially to put some pressure on the Ukrainian government if the Ukrainian government is the one that seems to be blocking a deal.

When you talked about the tough talk from Russia about the genocide and stuff, do you think that’s also Putin’s thoughts?

Yeah. I mean, look, Putin’s rhetoric fed this kind of talk. It began last summer with an article he wrote on the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians. Its very extreme nationalist take or view of the relationship between the Ukrainian nation and the Russian nation was in that article. And we moved on and on from there. There’s been a ceaseless strain of Russian state propaganda which supports this idea that essentially equates the assertion of an independent Russian, I’m sorry, an independent Ukrainian identity that is not part of the Russian world, that any assertion of that kind is essentially Nazism, fascism, unacceptable and needs to be destroyed. They are denying the right of an Ukrainian government or intellectual, or an educator or anyone to assert the idea that yes, we Ukrainians are independent of Russia. And in fact, we’re not really part of the Russian world. We’re part of the West. That sentiment, they are saying in Russian propaganda, is in and of itself Nazi. And that propaganda line is official Russian government propaganda. And the head of that government is named Vladimir Putin. So, he has to accept some responsibility for this.

Do you think Putin regretted his war?

I hope he does. I mean, I have no idea. He, of course, would never admit to this in public. When you are a personalistic dictator whose claimed rule in part is based on power and just the ability to continue ruling, but your claim to legitimacy is partly based on the image of a highly competent leader, as someone who is smart strategically, is a grand master of the game of politics, and when your legitimacy hinges upon this image, you are never going to admit that you made a catastrophic strategic blunder of historic proportions. However, I very much hope he recognizes that it was a blunder in private, and I hope he’s seeking a way to get out of this with a modicum of prestige intact so that he can go home, lick wounds and rethink his approach. I don’t know that’s the case, but I certainly wish it were the case.

I think Putin is a very puzzling figure. If you listen to his speech, I mean, a lot of his speeches a few years ago made a lot of sense, to me at least. I mean, he was talking about the country, the direction the country is taking, and he talks about some of the problems the West has and, uh, their way of dealing with it, and direction of the country and stuff like that. I think it all made a lot of sense, but, um, on the other side, he has this dictator authoritarian instinct in him that I think the West has not paid enough attention to. What do you think?

I agree. I actually have read and carefully studied many, many, many of Putin’s speeches about international position of Russia and how Russia has been treated, particularly by the United States. I have assiduously and carefully read the writings of public affairs and foreign policy commentators in Russia who articulate this viewpoint. And I view a lot of it, much of it, as completely reasonable, but none of it justifies what they’re doing in Ukraine. I think you can hold those two views in your head at the same time that yes, Russia has, actually does have some legitimate, reasonable complaints about its role in the world since 1991 or since 2001 or whatever year you wanna pick. You can agree with that and also say, but seeking to dismember Ukraine in 2014, fomenting a rebellion in Ukraine in 2014, and now attacking Ukraine and blowing up cities in Ukraine is not a good way to deal with those problems. So, yes, I do think we underestimated, potentially, the emotion, the degree to which Putin was willing to take drastic steps. And perhaps also, frankly, the degree to which Putin and his high command underestimated Ukraine’s position as a state with an identity of its own and with institutions that function, particularly with a military that functions. All of those are blind spots of Putin that many of us observing his foreign policy did not see as clearly as we probably should have.

Hmm. I think Putin probably had one huge miscalculation. That’s the stiff resistance of the Ukrainian people. If he thought he can get away with this, if the work can be finished very soon, very quickly, then, you know, maybe this is not a bad thing for him to do from his point of view. You know, his relations with the West and how it didn’t work out and all these supposedly grievances and stuff. If he can solve all these problems with a quick war with no real consequences afterwards, I mean, from the previous experiences, that might not be a bad thing for him. But he miscalculated how the West just solidified after the stiff resistance of the Ukrainians.

That’s right. The fundamental miscalculation had to be. The only way we can make even any sense out of what Putin did was the fundamental miscalculation was about Ukraine. Because the West’s response is a result of the Ukrainian response. Had the Ukrainians not been so powerful and brave in their resistance to Russia, had they not been so effective to force Russia to fight hard, you wouldn’t have seen this Russian, this, uh, Western response. So everything, the fundamental miscalculation, is a miscalculation about Ukraine, a blind spot, an inability to see the Ukraine that really existed and only seeing in the mind of Moscow, in the mind of Kremlin, seeing only the Ukraine that they thought existed, that they wished existed, that they imagined existed, but not the real Ukraine. That was a profound and deep blind spot that led them into this quagmire, led them into this disastrous war.

I can tell you, interestingly, there were people in Russia in February writing articles saying don’t do this thing. This is crazy. In fact, there was a wonderful article by a former, by a retired Russian colonel in the Russian armed forces who was retired from the general staff of the Russian armed forces who wrote a whole article saying stop talking about a quick two to three day invasion of Ukraine. It’s not gonna work that way, folks. It’s going to be, if you do this, it’ll be a total disaster. And he wrote this article in early February. So, there were people in Russia who could see what a disaster this would be, but it’s just Putin and his leading circle didn’t see it that way, as you suggested. The only way we can make sense of this is they literally thought they could make this thing happen very quickly, get a regime change, and the West would sort of protest and be bothered about it, but ultimately come around and accept a pro-Russian government in Kyiv.

Right. Right. So that just means Putin is isolated. He is not getting good intelligence from his people.

It’s one of the, it’s one of the problems of a personalist regime like this where the personalist, the person, the figure, the person who’s running the country has been in power for 22 years is that you cultivate around yourself, the leader cultivates around himself, people who are very compatible, who think the same way, and it gets harder and harder for people to bring to the leader contrary or uncomfortable or unwelcome assessments and opinions.

Yeah. That’s bad for Putin, but it’s also bad for the world. Let’s talk about how the world would change after this war. Do you think even before the war broke out, we were still living in this America-dominated unipolar world order?

I think much less dominated than it used to be. I still think there really remains one country in the world that truly does still stand above most others, indeed, all others in certain areas. I mean, you can see this in the financial area of dominance, there’s still layers of technological and economic strength, still some military advantages the United States has when compared to contenders, even China, but these advantages are far slimmer than they were in the 1990s, in the first decade of the two thousands. So, no question about it this unipolar era is not as robust and strong as it used to be. Indeed, I find it very unlikely that Russia would have contemplated an attack like this if the United States had been as strong and as dominant as it was in the early two thousands, let’s say,

Huh. Okay. So, I mean, America’s weakening and also, I mean, do you think President Biden played a role as well? If, uh, Trump is in power, do you think Putin would do a thing like this?

Nobody knows. I mean, that’s one of these speculations. We have no idea what role in the Kremlin’s thinking was played by, uh, their assessments of a given U.S. president. When I look at the carefully articulated analyses coming from highly connected Russian analysts, I see a rather different story. I see a story where they were thinking, you know, Biden’s a kind of realistic guy. He understands America really needs to focus on China and, therefore, he needs to kind of deal with Russia. And therefore, now is a good time to push for a renegotiation of our position, vis-a-vis NATO and Europe. And so, all of these analysts saw that buildup around Ukraine culminating in January and February as simply an attempt to bargain and get a better deal. What they did not expect, these analysts, was the actual invasion of Ukraine as it actually happened.

So, I’m not sure the assessment of Biden was, oh, he’s weak, he’s a pushover. It was more like, perhaps–again, speculating–that, oh, this president is one we can deal with. The problem with Trump was that it was a hard administration to negotiate with because it was so dysfunctional and kind of all over the place and hard to get its act together. In addition, you could argue that Trump was so hostile himself to NATO that you could calculate– again, this is all speculation–but you could calculate from a Kremlin perspective, like why should we upset the apple cart here? Why should we invade or do anything dramatic? Trump’s gonna do our job for us by, uh, if he gets elected to a second term, he’s gonna do something that’s gonna destroy NATO, which for us is a big part of the problem.

Interesting. Okay. So, we were talking about the world order after this war. If Russian, if Russia in the end is seen as the loser of this war, wouldn’t an America-dominated liberal world order be strengthened?

I think it will be given a kick in the pants. I think it will be given a little bit more, a little bit more esteem. I’m not saying you’re gonna restore this supreme self-confidence that the liberal world order had back in the 1990s when we were talking about a kind of an inexorable march towards democracy and globalization. But I do think that if Russia really ends up having a very, very costly and tough slog in its attempt to take territory from a sovereign neighbor, and if you–and by the way, and if we see that result happening in part because of the United States’ continued abiity to put together global coalitions, to impose intense economic costs, to dramatically funnel effective military technology to the victim, in this case Ukraine–if this result is seen as a result partly of American leadership, then yes, this rules-based order under the auspices of American leadership will receive a bit of a boost.

Hmm. Okay. Talking about the American-dominant liberal order, do you think there’s anything America should reflect, do you think there’s anything that America should reflect on in terms of its effort in supporting and spreading democracies around the world?

I really do. I mean, I can hold two views in my head at the same time that Ukraine is right, Ukraine is the victim, Russia is wrong, this is Russia’s war, and it is a disaster, a mistake, and, in many ways, a crime. I can hold that view while also holding the view that the United States and the West should reflect on how it dealt with Russia in the past, how it dealt with European security and indeed how it dealt with Ukraine. I mean, again, we will argue forever whether the NATO issue was really important or not important in explaining this decision. I happen to think if you were to wind the clock back long enough, back to the 2007, 2008 period, a more proactive, more thoughtful Western policy would have told Ukraine that membership of NATO is not in the cards, and we need to come up with an alternative arrangement.

It’s just possible that if we had worked hard at it, we might have ameliorated or reduced the intensity of this problem between Russia and the West that puts Ukraine in the middle of this. But we didn’t do that. We didn’t put the effort into it. We didn’t think Russia was really worth it. It wasn’t strong enough for us to bother. We had other issues. We had war on terror. We had all these other things going on. So, I do think there is a cause here for reflection on our policy for a difficulty that America sometimes has in accepting trade-offs and saying, you know, we really can’t have both this principle and also this other principle at the same time. So yes, I completely agree that this should be an occasion for a little bit of introspection and some circumspection going forward as to how we conduct ourselves.

Hmm. And also if Russia, I mean, this is another scenario. If Russia was perceived as the winner of this war, what kind of new world order are we going to see?

Well, Russia has, again, Russian officials, leaders and commentators and intellectuals have been telling us forever, really, but really strongly since 2007, 2008, that they’re very, very dissatisfied with a U.S.-led so-called unipolar type of world. They want a multipolar world. They want a European security order in which the United States is either absent or has a much smaller role. They want a much larger role for themselves. If you look at the treaties, the draft treaties, they put forth back in February, in the lead-up to this invasion, you could see the kind of order that they wanted. They wanted one in which NATO would back away, in which Russia essentially had a sphere of influence, in which even countries that are part of NATO but joined NATO after 1997, even those countries would not host any permanent NATO forces, would not station certain kinds of weapons, et cetera, et cetera, you get the story. That’s the world order that Russia wants. And that’s the world order that, if they win, they’ll seek to create. They have been very clear about this for many, many years. They do not like a U.S.-dominated world. They want a world in which there are multiple centers of power and that Russia is one of those centers of power.

So, if Russia is perceived as the winner of this war, you think an America-dominated unipolar world order will come to an end?

Well, it depends on what you mean by winner. I think the answer to that question is if they just gain some sort of dominant position in Ukraine, so they “win” in some sense of defeating the Ukrainian military and somehow getting–whatever the outcome is–a slice of Ukraine. They take Donbas. If they succeed in doing that but the rest of Europe solidifies, and Finland and Sweden join NATO, and NATO gets stronger, in no sense could you call that a weakening of this world order. It will be a much worse situation for Russia in which the world will be very much more severely divided into different camps, in which Russia will be excluded from much of the global economy, and in which Russia will be poorer and Russia will be isolated.

So, a victory in that sense, it seems to me, just purely a victory in Ukraine without gaining some sort of understanding with the West and some sort of allies within the West, within Europe, won’t get them this new world order that they seek. That’s why I see this as such a strategic blunder, because the only way Russia can really get what it says it wants, which is an equal role as a respected pole of power in the world, is by agreement with the West, by having the West talk to it and make bargains with it. But invading countries and killing people and blowing up cities makes it so much harder for the West to be able to do that. It puts a barrier in the way of any possible negotiation with Russia and makes the West inclined to just sort of isolate it. So it’s really, the invasion has really worked at cross purposes. So, to get back to your question, it’s not clear to me that a military victory in Russia, I’m sorry, by Russia in Ukraine would end this moment, would dramatically end this so-called U.S-led rules-based order that we keep talking about.

Hmm. Okay. So all around, this is a bad deal for Russia. Putin just had one miscalculation. Okay, go ahead.

Sure. When you do wars of choice, that is to say you choose to fight wars that are not really necessary, that are optional wars, and when you misjudge the country you’re invading and end up losing or not winning, it’s bad for you. So, to take an example, the United States did this in 2003 by invading Iraq. If we rewind the clock and the U.S. never invades Iraq, my guess is if we run that alternate history, America’s position as the global leader would’ve been much stronger than it turned out to be because ultimately, our ultimate failure to achieve our objectives in Iraq really hurt the U.S. position. So, similarly, a dramatic Russian decision to invade Ukraine and not get what it wanted, not get what it sought and only bearing costs, will harm rather than help Russia’s international position. For sure.

Mm-hmm. What about China? Do you think a China-Russia alliance would last? I mean, is China the beneficiary? I mean, can China benefit from this war either way?

Yes. I mean many Russian, I’m sorry, many China analysts and analysts of the Russia-China relationship tell me, and they write and analyze, produce analyses, that say that China, in some sense, benefits here in that this whole crisis in Europe prevents the United States from that laser-like focus on China that was the original intent of the Biden administration. In Washington, DC, there are plenty of China hawks who really want the United States to refocus on China, and Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine has essentially distracted that. So, that side of the coin, that side of the equation, is good for Russia, I’m sorry, good for China, helps Chinese, gives China greater freedom of action. However, the costs imposed on the United States, the sanctions imposed by the United States, the deepening attention between the United States and Russia also put some stress on the Russia-China relationship and put up Chinese diplomacy, in some cases, in a very awkward position.

So, it’s a double-edged sword. But I’ll put it this way: Russia has no choice here. If it’s going to continue in Ukraine, it doesn’t have a westward option anymore. It used to. You know, there used to be this idea that Russia can kind of dance between China and the West and so on and so forth. That’s over for the time being, which means Russia has no choice. Now, if you connect the dots, what does that mean for China? If Russia has no choice, it means China is in the upper hand in this relationship to a greater degree even than before, which means China will be able to dictate, to a much greater degree than before it was willing to do, the terms of the Russia-China strategic partnership.

For example, if Russia has nowhere else to go, then China can try to, Chinese state-owned corporations and other entities that have to deal with the potential for secondary sanctions, they can tread a very careful line and try not to ruin their business plans via too much support for Russia. And they can do that and know that it’s not like Russia has another option. There’s no other great power Russia can go to. Only Beijing. And so, I think that’s going to play into the terms of their strategic partnership.

Yeah. Russia is trapped.

In a way.

Well, thank you, professor. These are all my questions. Do you have anything else to add?

No, I very much enjoyed the conversation.

Alright. Thank you, professor.

You’re most welcome.

Does Putin Want an Off-Ramp? An Interview with William Wolhforth

Simone Gao:
Thank you, Professor Wohlforth, for joining Zooming In again.

William Wohlforth:
Happy to be here.

Simone Gao:
Um, you know, the Russians gave an ultimatum to the last remaining Ukrainian troops in Mariupol on Sunday, and they basically said either lay down your weapons and leave or die. Uh, obviously no Ukrainian soldiers have left. Ukraine’s president Zelensky said that the already difficult negotiation would end if Russian soldiers killed the remaining Ukrainian troops in Mariupol. Uh, he also said atrocities witnessed after Russian retreat from Kyiv soured the negotiations. Putin admitted that the negotiation had reached a dead end. So, what do you think will happen next?

William Wohlforth:
Everything depends on the battle over the Donbas, which is now getting underway by all accounts. The initial blows, the initial artillery barrages and attacks, are beginning to prepare for what may well be the decisive battle of this war, at least that’s what most observers think. Negotiations will not be possible, as each side thinks that it is likely to do better in this particular battle than the other side expects it to do. And so with both of them essentially unable to agree to terms until they test their strength in this sad and tragically bloody battle to come, I don’t expect much to occur on these negotiations.

Simone Gao:
Hmm. So everybody, everybody is watching the battle in Donbas. If Russia does take Donbas, would you think it will make the war more difficult or easier to end?

William Wohlforth:
It is, um…I don’t know exactly what will happen. War, as everybody who studies it will tell you, is the province of the deepest kinds of uncertainty. So, it’s not at all clear to me that Russia will succeed in taking the Donbas; however, should it succeed in essentially reliably conquering those provinces and keeping Ukraine from any significant counterattack, we could then see a situation of a kind of a stalemate where the war simmers on and no one is willing to reach an agreement, or there could be some temporary ceasefire. But it’s still hard for me to see any Ukrainian government formally acceding to the succession of those two republics and their acquisition by Russia, and have that Ukrainian government stay in power. So, I would expect–again, forecasting is difficult–that if the scenario you set forth actually occurs, we’re likely to see a kind of a stalemate and a percolating, ongoing conflict. One final point, though, is we are so uncertain about this war that we don’t even know if Putin is necessarily going to be satisfied with the acquisition of Donbas, if that’s indeed what he does. In other words, for all we know, if he succeeds in conquering this part of Ukraine, he will simply bide his time and build up his forces and attempt yet further attacks. We just do not know at this stage.

Simone Gao:
What about if Putin cannot succeed in the Donbas area? Would he just give up?

William Wohlforth:
It’s just very hard for me to see, right now, the avenue by which he would simply give up and say, “sorry we ever invaded Ukraine. I really deeply apologize for this. We’re all going to go home.” Nobody who studies Russian foreign and security policy thinks that scenario is likely. So, somehow, for the Russians to be willing to stop this, most people think there’s got to be some measurable gain. Now we don’t know exactly what that sort of line or that threshold is, what is necessary to get Russia to sort of declare victory and go home. But most people think that a minimum is some kind of arrangement under which Putin can claim to have saved or rescued or protected the residents of the Donbas, which he claims were under threat from Ukrainian authorities.

Simone Gao:
Hmm. In a situation like this, I mean, I just saw in a CNN interview with Zelensky, he was commenting on a video clip in which a Ukrainian mom discovered her son’s dead body in a well. Zelensky said as a father, he couldn’t watch it because it made him want to fight and kill. But as president of a country, he needs to do his best to stop the war. So, I mean, obviously this is a very, very difficult situation for him. If you were the advisor to president Zelensky, how would you advise him? What is the, what is the truly good thing to do right now?

William Wohlforth:
You know, I think that statement that he made is one of many that he has made to continue to project the image of a person who is willing to talk and not come across as a person who literally is sort of blood thirsty to fight to the death. He has already given way on the question of Ukraine’s international status. Namely, we have heard Zelensky suggest the possibility of a neutral Ukraine. Now that was coupled with a request for security guarantees that would look very much like NATO membership, but still it was a start. And so, I think that that is exactly how I would advise them. In other words, if I were so presumptuous as to do so, that to maintain that implacable commitment to the fundamental sovereignty of Ukraine while at the same time suggesting we’re willing to talk about Russian security concerns that are legitimate, that don’t involve the destruction of Ukraine or the subjugation of Ukraine. That’s exactly the face that he needs to show both to Moscow and to the rest of the world.

Simone Gao:
Hmm. And at this point, what do you think is the moral and truly prudent action the West should take?

William Wohlforth:
You know, I think that the West is, should the United States and its allies need to be, I think what they’re doing is completely understandable. That Russia’s clearly in the wrong here, let’s be honest. Even if you agree that it had some legitimate security concerns in the past, none of those justifies what it is doing to Ukraine, to Ukrainians, to Ukrainian people. And so, under those circumstances, it seems to me absolutely right and proper that the West should aid the government of Ukraine in defending its sovereignty up to the limit that we judge will not cross some threshold that would elicit a major Russian escalation. But we should also, I think, suggest that the punishment that we are imposing upon Russia with these sanctions is contingent. Namely, that we would remove these sanctions if Russia were to agree to a deal that could be accepted by the Ukrainian government. So, I think we need to both raise costs on Russia but also suggest a future in which Russia could live as a normal member of the international community if it only would revisit this decision to invade Ukraine and accept some sort of reasonable settlement.

Simone Gao:
Hmm. Talking about those possible settlements, a few weeks ago–from the terms the Kremlin had given–it seemed like Putin had shrunk his goals in Ukraine, at least he was not seeking regime change anymore. Now it seems, I mean, as you said, the biggest obstacles are the ownership of, you know, of course, Crimea and the status of the Donbas area. So, I mean, do you think these two sides could still reach some kind of agreement on those two issues? Or do you think it could only be decided by the outcome from the battlefield?

William Wohlforth:
Unfortunately, I think–as I said before and I’m sad to say it–but I just don’t see…the two sides are just way too far apart for any kind of agreement to emerge. And it’s possible that the distance between the two sides will be reduced depending on the outcome of this battle. If one side performs dramatically better than expected–let’s say, for example, as I hope is the case, Ukraine just really performs very, very well, as it has done so far, better than expectations and Russia literally is not in a position to continue the campaign–it could be that the trend that you’ve mentioned of Putin reducing his war aims could continue and we could imagine the two sides coming together on an agreement. But right now, before the outcome of this battle is known, it’s hard for me to see that happening.

William Wohlforth:
And finally, I have to say that I’m, I just remain a little bit uncertain about where Putin stands here. Some of his spokespeople and even he has used language that it seems to be refocusing Russian objectives on this Donbas question. As if, as you say, that the war aims have been reduced. But some of the rhetoric emanating from Moscow commentators and even some officials really sounds blood curdling as opposed to what they mean by de-Nazifying and demilitarizing Ukraine. So, are we really certain that the whole object can be, in fact, reduced to Donbas or, as I hinted at earlier, could it be that he wants a cease-fire after seizing Donbas, build up forces and keep going? We really just don’t know that yet. I hope that it’s true that his war aims are being tempered by the realities on the ground, but we’ll just have to wait and see if that’s really the case.

Simone Gao:
So, you don’t think Putin is seeking off-ramp right now at all? He wants to fight it out?

William Wohlforth:
I’m not seeing evidence of off-ramps yet by Putin. That is to say, summarily he rejected some of the key bottom line Ukrainian demands, way back when these negotiations were still going on and when the sides were leaking to the press what was being discussed in Turkey and in Belarus many weeks ago now when these negotiations were going on. At that point, I didn’t see off-ramp kind of talk. And so far from Moscow, we haven’t heard specifics as to what’s being talked about short of, as we suggested, a complete dismemberment of the country. Recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. And, by the way, it’s important to recognize these are not the region that are these little separatist republics that exist, but the entire constitutional regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. And so far, I can’t quite see how a Ukrainian government could agree to that until, as I suggest, unless something quite dramatic happens on the battlefield.

Simone Gao:
Hmm. You know, many people are worried about this and they see, they are worried that if Putin is not seeking an off-ramp or does not have an off-ramp right now, they’re worried about the possibility of him using nuclear weapons. Regarding that, I have a question. I mean, if Putin only talks about nuclear weapons, it could be a effective deterrent. Once he really uses it, I mean, do you think he will be retaliated against by nuclear weapons from either the U.S. or NATO? And if so, wouldn’t that put Russia on the fate of nuclear attacks, which could lead to its total destruction? So, if that’s not Putin’s real goal, he wouldn’t really use nuclear weapons. Am I right?

William Wohlforth:
Well, it’s important for us to clarify what we’re talking about when we talk about nuclear use. If, by nuclear use, you mean some big strike, something that hits a NATO country or hits the United States with nuclear weapons, then I think you’re right. This just doesn’t seem to be in the cards. I just, I have a hard time envisioning how Putin could ever see such use as working out for Russia or even for him personally. However, the scenario that most people worry about is, let’s stipulate, for this conversation, let us suppose that Putin actually really just cannot or will not or refuses to or feels unable to reduce his war aims and be satisfied with less than total victory in Ukraine, or at least a substantial victory. Let’s suppose that’s the case. We don’t know that it’s true. Let’s suppose it’s true. And let’s suppose that Ukraine continues to do very well on the battlefield. And let’s suppose the United States and the West continue to pour weaponry into Ukraine.

William Wohlforth:
Well, in that case, people worry he could resort to a small yield tactical, so-called, nuclear weapon in Ukraine as a kind of shock and awe approach that would somehow upset the apple cart and somehow lead to some sort of quick resolution or capitulation. And so, then the question becomes how would we, the West, respond to a small yield nuclear use inside Ukraine as a kind of demonstration or a kind of, again, shock tactic to try to bring some sort of resolution to the crisis? I think it would be very hard for us to escalate to nuclear use ourselves in response to such a small nuclear use on Ukraine. I also think that it’s very unlikely that he will choose this. I’m just suggesting that it’s, of all the scenarios discussed, it seems to me the most likely of a relatively unlikely potential.

Simone Gao:
Hmm. So, I mean, that’s very, I mean, doesn’t sound very good because if Putin does use technical, I mean, if Putin does use tactical, uh, nuclear weapons and the U.S. would not retaliate with the same weapons, then what does that lead to? Ukraine just has to surrender at that time because there’s no way they can fight that way?

William Wohlforth:
I’m not sure. I think there may be ways of calling the bluff of Russia, of escalating in response to that–to potential tactical nuclear use against a non-nuclear power, namely against Ukraine–I think there are possible ways the United States and potentially its allies could escalate in response that would be much more than we’re doing today. So, for example, I believe it’s quite…so, the economic sanctions front. Believe it or not, there are economic sanctions that have not been used yet that could be pretty devastating to Russia–what is called, somewhat confusingly sometimes, the nuclear option on sanctions–which would essentially be, of course, cut entirely the cutoff of Russian gas export. So all, basically, Russia’s main revenue streams to the West would be cut off. Or cyber escalation, where the United States maintains lots of things in the back pocket that it’s not doing. Or conventional escalation where the types and nature of intervention in Ukraine would increase. Or possibly even intervention via actual troops. In other words, there are escalatory ways, there are responses to a Russian escalation to tactical nuclear use that are not themselves replying with nuclear weapons that might be very, very, very bad for Russia. And so, my hope is that that sort of escalation is sufficiently credible to deter Putin from even considering this tactical option.

Simone Gao:
Hmm. You talked about the West just totally cut off Russian oil export. You’d think in a scenario, nuclear scenario, the European countries would be on the U.S. side to do that. We can, you know, agree on that.

William Wohlforth:
I do. I think people, scholars, who study these things debate, sort of, the normative or ethical prohibition on nuclear use against a non-nuclear state. Sometimes this is referred to as the nuclear taboo, and people debate its strength. How strongly will the moral approbation of such use affect countries’ decisions. And I think that if you look at this pattern of events thus far, you can see that as Russian actions in Ukraine get more and more extreme and there’s more and more civilian casualties, more and more innocent victims, you’ve seen a ramping up of the Western response. And if Russia then moves to a nuclear use–particularly as, very likely, civilians are potentially victims–I cannot imagine German public opinion would not simply compel the German government to reverse its position on accepting Russian gas, just to name one potential response. So, I do think you’d see real solidarity on the part of the West in response to an unprovoked nuclear attack against a non-nuclear country, Ukraine, that is only trying to defend its own sovereignty. No good explanation on the part of the Russians as to why they’re doing this. So, yes, my expectation is that that would be a credible deterrent for Putin and that, therefore, he’s unlikely to do it.

Oil Prices Soar, but American Oil Producers Are Not in the Mood to Drill, Why?

As the war in Ukraine continues into its second month, fears about global oil shortages and costs continue. European countries that have been deeply dependent on Russian oil are now looking for quick alternatives and looking to countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran and Venezuela to provide them. In the case of natural gas, European leaders are also reaching out to what Campbell Faulkner, chief data officer at OTC Global Holdings, calls “the Saudi Arabia of natural gas”—the United States—to do more to help their ailing NATO allies. 

Although the United States ranks 4th in proved natural gas reserves, behind Russia, Iran, Qatar, and Turkmenistan, it is the biggest natural gas producer in the world followed by Russia. 

President Biden has heeded the European leaders’ call for more natural gas from America. He committed to send 15 billion cubic tons of liquefied natural gas to Europe through the end of 2022. He has pledged to increase that total to 50 billion cubic tons per year through 2030.

But that commitment comes amid rising gas and oil prices in the United States and ongoing pressures on the shale oil industry. Despite what Bloomberg calls “vast shale fields holding a seemingly endless supply of natural gas and giant terminals capable of liquefying it and shuttling it abroad,” the U.S. shale oil industry has spent decades caught in a boom-and-bust cycle that threatened to undo the entire industry as recently as 2020. 

In the late 2000s, new technologies introduced in the U.S. oil and gas industry, like horizontal drilling and advanced hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, led to the boom of a “shale revolution.” In big shale states like Colorado, this revolution brought with it a six-fold increase in production between 2010 and 2019, according to Chase Woodruff of Colorado Newsline. That production increase drove down prices and, as Woodruff reports, “in 2018 the U.S. made the world’s top oil producer for the first time since 1973.”

These new drilling technologies were not cheap, though, and the required capital for the technologies and operating expenses came, in many cases, from Wall Street. Investment money flowed freely in the early excitement of the fracking boom. But investors soon soured on oil companies’ use of their capital to fund production with little regard for investment returns. And as early rounds of funding dried up, publicly traded companies simply issued new stock to balance the books, a habit that sent many investors packing.

Then came the chaos of 2020 and, alongside it, a sharp decrease in the demand for oil amid COVID lockdowns. The price of crude oil has once dropped to below $0 dollar a barrel in the United States.

46 American oil and gas companies filed for bankruptcy that year. Many more were involved in mergers and acquisitions that began even before the pandemic and continued well into 2021. The companies that remain, says reporter Irina Slav, “rearranged their priorities from ‘growth at all costs’ to ‘returns above all’.”  We are now in a time, says Slav, “when investors are wondering if it’s even worth it to stay in oil, what with the energy transition and [environmental, social, and governance] commitments.” 

To hold on to current investors and encourage new money coming in, the shale industry has shifted its business model. This shift can be seen clearly in their financial results reports of 2021 and investor outlook documents in 2022. Language like a “new return of capital framework” or “new shareholder return framework” or “updated stockholder distribution strategy” permeate these documents. And despite the now surging oil prices, oil executives and analysts doubt we will see a change in this new industry direction. Says Scott Sheffield, CEO of Texas-based Pioneer Natural Resources, “Whether it’s $150 oil, $200 oil, or $100 oil, we’re not going to change our growth plans.” So, despite the oil and gas industry as a whole having 9,000 unused permits to drill on federal lands, they have no intention of using them to help ease the gas shortage created by the conflict in Ukraine.

They have little reason to, given the sentiments President Biden has made so clear in prioritizing alternative energies. Biden has consistently mentioned his belief that fossil fuel industries will be obsolete within 30 years and committed his administration to the work of energy transition. 

In November 2021, the Biden administration proposed reforms to the country’s oil and gas leasing program that would raise costs for energy companies to drill on public lands and water.

The report completes a review that Biden ordered in January. The president directed a halt to new federal oil and gas lease sales on public lands and waters, but a Louisiana federal judge blocked the administration’s suspension in June.

To make his intention more clear, In his recent Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, Biden provided a more than $65 million investment in clean energy and the electric grid. That investment will go to upgrading the U.S. power infrastructure, expanding renewable energy, research and development for advanced transmission and electricity distribution technologies, and the promotion of smart grid technologies. Investments are also made in “next generation technologies like advanced nuclear reactors, carbon capture, and clean hydrogen.”

No new investments were made in the fossil fuel industries or the technologies that support them. And now, with global need climbing and no viable energy alternative, Biden is pleading with U.S. oil companies to ramp up production. Shale oil producers aren’t buying in, and for good reason. The industry needs funds to survive, and those funds will not come from Washington. They will come from shareholders and those shareholders “have been very clear that that money is theirs and they don’t want them to spend it on growing supply.” 

A Zooming In audience member summed it up quite bluntly: who wants to drill and be attacked, vilified and the profits taken by socialist? Hmm, another way to look at it.

I’m your host Simone Gao and I’ll see you next time.

Putin Arrests Intel Officers; Time for U.S. to Discourage this War to Be Fought to the Bitter End?

Simone Gao: (43:59)

I just saw from, uh, LinkedIn in, uh, a, a news broke out. This is not verified yet, uh, that Putin has, uh, put, um, one of his, uh, senior intelligence officer under house arrest, because he provided not good intelligence about Ukraine before the invasion. So Putin got the impression that the, the Ukrainian people will kind of, uh, even welcome this invasion as like a liberation act from Russia’s part, but it turned out that, uh, they were met with stiff resistance and the Ukrainian people do not like this invasion at all.

Michael Desch: (44:38)

Yeah. I mean, ID heard that story, um, earlier this morning, um, and again, um, you know, uh, I don’t have, uh, great sources in Moscow and I’m certainly not in pres president Putin’s head, uh, on what he was thinking. Um, I do think that, you know, the, the Russians hoped, uh, that, you know, by, uh, a use of military force, they might be able to, uh, cut out, uh, or, uh, scare the Ukrainians, uh, without much fighting, um, you know, and I think that’s what they hoped initially. Um, but I also don’t think that they, uh, were counting on that. I mean, the size of the, uh, force that the Russians built up, uh, you know, look like they were preparing that if things didn’t work out, that they would, uh, you know, go to war and, uh, fight, uh, for what they’re trying to achieve.

Simone Gao: (45:48)

Hmm. In other words, they’re very, they have great resolute. They have a great result.

Michael Desch: (45:56)

Well, we’ll see, you know, how long that resolve holds because, um, you know, uh, there are certainly significant casualties, um, and the war is going slowly, although, you know, no war goes quickly. If you look at, uh, when the United States invaded Iraq in, uh, 2003 in late March, it wasn’t until, um, may, uh, early may that, you know, we sort of declared victory there. So, and, you know, of course our advantage militarily over Iraq was, uh, significantly greater than the Russian advantage over the Ukraine.

Simone Gao: (46:42)

Hmm that’s right. So this is gonna be a long war. And do

Michael Desch: (46:46)

You, it could be,

Simone Gao: (46:48)

Do you see, uh, Putin give up at some point or he thought he wouldn’t get what he originally expected? So he would adjust his goals, like, like there, uh, three demands from, um, the criminal recently. I’m sorry.

Michael Desch: (47:09)

Yeah. Um, again, one would hope that, uh, that would be the, uh, the case, the, you know, war, um, is bloody and terrible as it is as, uh, you know, the German, uh, uh, philosopher of war, uh, KLAS famously argued. It’s a continuation of politics by other means and a continuation of diplomacy and bargaining. Um, and sometimes, uh, you know, uh, before a war two potential combatants, uh, you know, aren’t sure, uh, what the balance of power is between the two sides and the balance of resolve. And so they go to war and war in a way clarifies that, and that makes negotiation possible. And that’s what we’ve gotta hope comes out of, uh, this.

Simone Gao: (48:13)

Right. Um, why did you think Putin make the military move now?

Michael Desch: (48:21)

I, I think, um, you know, they, the Russian military was watching the, uh, uh, build up, uh, and improvement to the Ukrainian military and, you know, was, um, you know, uh, understood that, uh, the longer, um, they waited the, uh, more capable that force might be. It’s also possible that they feared that a better armed and better trained Ukrainian military, um, you know, could, uh, go on the offensive in the Don boss and maybe even, uh, Crimea.

Simone Gao: (49:03)

Okay. And do you think, um, president Biden and our disastrous exit of, uh, from Afghanistan as the play does all?

Michael Desch: (49:14)

No. I mean, the, uh, president Putin is well aware that, uh, uh, a lot of, uh, great powers have, uh, left Afghanistan with their tails between their legs, whether to the British empire and the 19 nine or in the, uh, 19th century, uh, or, uh, Russia in the, or the Soviet union in the 1990s, uh, or, uh, the United States. So, no, I don’t, I don’t think that they put connected those two things.

Simone Gao: (49:49)

Hmm. That’s interesting. So, um, let’s talk about the, um, recent Russia demanded three things now, neutrality for Ukraine, decriminalization of the country. Let me say this again. Russia demanded three things now, uh, neutrality for Ukraine of the country recognition of breakaway regions and loss of crime. First, all does Ukraine cannot have a military?

Michael Desch: (50:28)

Well, um, uh, neutral Finland, um, had a, uh, a military, a small military, but, uh, a capable one, um, Japan after the second world war, uh, you know, uh, the United eights rewrote its constitution. So, uh, it couldn’t have a military, it had self defense forces. So, um, I, and again, not knowing how the Russians would define it, but, you know, I think, uh, de militarized, uh, Ukraine would not mean Ukraine without any military capability. That’s certainly possible

Simone Gao: (51:13)

Maybe put purposely, uh, I mean, maybe put in intentionally, put this term, do not explain this term very much, very clearly. So it has a room to adjust and step

Michael Desch: (51:29)

In. Right, right. And that’s the art of democracies to use, uh, ambiguity creatively.

Simone Gao: (51:38)

Right. Uh, but I mean, in either sense, do you think Ukraine will accept a terms like that? The militarization of the country? Uh,

Michael Desch: (51:50)

Uh, not in the sense that, uh, you know, it would have no defensive military capability. I mean, if, uh, what the Russians expect is Ukraine to become Costa Rica, which doesn’t have an army, uh, that it seems to me, a nonstarter probably was before the war, but now in the war, it certainly is.

Simone Gao: (52:17)

Hmm. Based on Russia’s,

Michael Desch: (52:19)

But that, but, uh, just to finish the thought, uh, that doesn’t mean that, um, limits on its military would be, uh, unacceptable.

Simone Gao: (52:31)

Hmm. Based on Russia’s, uh, demands right now. Can we tell what Putin’s real goals are in Ukraine, for example, is it to prevent a NATO expansion into Ukraine or to, you know, revive the so-called Russian empires glory by reclaiming lost land or divert, uh, domestic pressure political pressures, uh, or all of them, because, uh, put this facing reelection in 2004, uh, 2024,

Michael Desch: (53:03)

Well, you know, uh, political acts like this are always the result of, uh, multiple factors and all of those things could be a part of the calculation. The important question, which we can’t really answer is what’s the relative importance of each of them I would’ve guessed. And I think I would still guess that, um, prime in, uh, Putin’s mind is gone. It’s part of Russia. I think he would negotiate a way, uh, Hans and Donette as part of, uh, some sort of, uh, federal arrangement in Ukraine. Um, and I think he’d do it for two reasons. You know, I don’t think he wants to next those, uh, uh, republics to Russia. Um, you know, they they’d be almost more troubled than there were, but I think he also count on, you know, the more pro Russian people in those countries as, uh, being, uh, a check on the, uh, you know, the pro Western, uh, elements of Ukrainian, uh, society.

Michael Desch: (54:23)

Um, so, and I trying to control all of Ukraine, I think would be impossible for Russia. I think even the area east of the Neer, um, is gonna be very hard, uh, for Russia to occupy and control. Um, and the further there west, you go in Ukraine, uh, the more overwhelmingly pro Western and anti-US the sentiment of the population becomes. So I find it hard to, uh, believe, um, that, uh, Putin, you know, thinks that Russia could control all of Ukraine and, you know, the fate of, uh, uh, Ukrainian president Yna Kovi indicates that installing a puppet and Kiev, uh, is not a reliable strategy that, you know, they could be ousted as he was, uh, by the myON uprising or voted out of office. Um, and so if, if he’s thinking about this whole thing, uh, in a rational, strategic way, uh, the end game would be, uh, a negotiation, um, that, uh, limits, uh, the size of the Ukrainian military force and keeps it out of NATO. Um, but you know, once wars begin, they take on a dynamic of their own. Um, and also my, uh, more optimistic scenario depends on some assumptions about Putin’s mindset that, you know, we can’t know if they’re right or not, but that’s my instinct.

Simone Gao: (56:13)

Hmm. So do you think, um, I understand, uh, you, you think, uh, that Putin from the very beginning never thought, um, never thought that he could, Russia could occupy the whole Ukraine, but what, what about his, uh, three demands? Do you think those demands are, are his goals always, or they have changed because the outcome of from the battlefield is not what he has expected so far?

Michael Desch: (56:43)

Well, the, the one demand you didn’t mention is, uh, what he calls deification. Um, and, uh, you know, that’s

Simone Gao: (56:54)

The most talk about that anymore.

Michael Desch: (56:56)


Simone Gao: (56:58)

I mean, um, from the recent, the latest Kremlin spokeswoman, uh, from the latest, uh, uh, claim, um, I mean the latest claim from the Russia side did not include the, the deification anymore.

Michael Desch: (57:15)

Right. And that’s an important, uh, modification of demands. I mean, that, uh, demand was always is, uh, you know, both the most amorphous, you know, what exactly, uh, were the Russians talking about in terms of, uh, you know, Nazis and Ukraine, um, and also potentially, you know, the most difficult to deal with because, you know, if you were equating, uh, Nazi with Ukrainian nationalism, that would be the majority of the Ukrainian people. So, um, you know, the, the it’s, uh, a good thing that, that seems to be moving off the agenda.

Simone Gao: (57:59)

Hmm. So Putin is adjusting, his goals

Michael Desch: (58:03)

Seems like it. Yeah.

Simone Gao: (58:08)

Um, now the EU accepted Ukraine as a member, how is that going to change things?

Michael Desch: (58:15)

Not at all.

Simone Gao: (58:18)

Okay. Why

Michael Desch: (58:19)

It could, uh, make a difference in terms of, uh, postwar, um, Ukraine, which, you know, will make available to Ukraine, even more resources to, uh, rebuild the country. Um, and maybe, you know, uh, a, uh, a deal could emerge in which the Ukrainians, um, you know, uh, are given by the Russians or allowed by the Russians EU membership, uh, in exchange for, um, NATO membership, not being on the table. Um, and you know, that could be part of a, uh, uh, a settlement.

Simone Gao: (59:08)

(twitter clip)Um, although, uh, the Ukrainian army has made a great, I mean, although Putin has met, um, you know, unexpected a stiff resistance from the Ukrainian armies and, uh, civilians, but the Ukrainian armies are not winning either. So as time goes on, do you think America and NATO should still encourage Ukraine to fight to the end?

Michael Desch: (59:39)

I think that’s the, uh, the big question, um, you know, both strategically and morally, uh, that we in the west, um, need to, uh, engage candidly. Um, and I’ll, I’ll premise what I say, uh, with the assumption that, uh, Russia, uh, can continue to bring overwhelming military force and that the ability of the Ukrainian army even, uh, with, uh, Western military support to continue to fight, uh, you know, at the level of intensity they are, are now, uh, is gonna decline. And also just the human cost of this war, uh, on Ukrainian civilians, uh, continues to, uh, to be catastrophic. So if you, the, if the Ukrainians cannot win militarily, which I don’t believe they can, um, and if prolonging the war means, uh, more, uh, Ukrainian civilian deaths, then it seems to me, uh, you know, we ought to be thinking, uh, about ending the conflict as soon as we can. And that can all only end, uh, by a quick defeat, which I don’t think will happen by either side or, uh, by a negotiated settlement. I think, uh, we really need to be, uh, pushing towards a negotiated settlement.

Simone Gao: (01:01:19)

Hmm. But now it doesn’t seem like that’s a America is trying to do. I think it’s almost, uh, politically impossible to walk back from the current stance that, uh, Putin is imoral invader. Uh, we need to support the Ukrainians to fight, to, to win this battle, to fight to the end, to show the, and all that stuff. It’s very important. It’s very, it’s almost impossible to walk back from that stance and say,

Michael Desch: (01:01:50)

You’re, you’re right. It’ll be very difficult. We’ve painted ourself into a corner, um, you know, uh, in, in making exactly those arguments. Um, on the other hand, uh, very few wars are fought to the bitter end and eventually, um, you know, uh, people are even in the, uh, United States are gonna come to the conclusion, um, that there’s gonna have to be, uh, some sort of settlement. And I would think that, um, if it hasn’t already started in the Biden administration, uh, it will soon, um, that, you know, pressure to, uh, think about, uh, negotiated off ramp for this war.

Simone Gao: (01:02:42)

Hmm. Okay. And you, you see, uh, that is the only way out of this.

Michael Desch: (01:02:49)

Yeah. Well, and look, um, president Biden, courageously in my view, uh, stuck with the withdrawal all from Afghanistan, even though, uh, he got a lot of criticism for it, not only in the chaotic weeks before and after the evacuation of cobble, but, you know, when he started talking about it, but, you know, the American public was just tired of the war, um, after 20 years. Um, and, uh, the stomach, uh, of the, uh, not only the American public, but the European public, uh, for this war, uh, is, uh, you know, going to, uh, wither, um, over time as well, you know, right now in Poland, um, you know, to their credit, uh, they’re welcoming, I think, over a million now, uh, Ukrainian refugees, but, you know, over time with more Ukrainian refugees, that’s gonna put more of a burden, uh, on Poland or Romania or Hungary. And, and, uh, they’re gonna get tired of that. Um, and so, uh, and I think the, you know, the Ukrainian people are gonna get tired of it as well, too. So, uh, a solution that maintains Ukrainian sovereignty and, uh, especially in domestic politics, uh, you know, could be attractive, whether it is now or not. Uh, I’m not sure, but I think it will become so as the war grinds on.

Why Putin Chose to Invade Ukraine Now? Was NATO Expansion to Blame? A Chat with William Wohlforth

thank you, professor workforce for joining zooming in today.

Very happy to be with you.

Okay. Today I wanna talk a about the situation in Ukraine, uh, you know, after the collapse of the Soviet union, should Russia take the Soviets place and still be viewed as a major threat to the security of Europe? Why has NATO decided to expand eastward all these years?

Well, that’s complicated because at first NATO did not really regard Russia as much of a threat after the collapse of the Soviet union and its reasons for expanding were really about kind of making Eastern Europeans and central European countries like Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and ultimately others to feel a little bit more secure in an unstable post cold war atmosphere. You know, um, Watchers of this with long memories may recall the Bacan wars of the early 1990s. And people thought somehow extending NATO guarantees eastward would reduce the propensity for such conflicts, but ultimately, um, yes, uh, as relations between the west and Russia deteriorated more and more one saw the argument that ultimately at the end of the day, the core purpose of NATO is to deter or prevent any kind of Russian advance or attack or aggrandizement westward into Europe.

Hmm. That that’s interesting. So you think Russia was, I mean, I mean, still is a threat to the security of Europe.

Well, yes. Uh, and Europe is at least, uh, Russia sees Europe and sees NATO as a threat to itself. And, uh, NATO countries see Russia as a potential threat to them. So it’s a mutual perception of threat, uh, between the Western, uh, between the Western Alliance and

Right, right. Uh, another aspect to this is, I think it’s fair to say that NATO expansion and especially EU expansion was not just the decision of those member states and America. It was also the wishes of the Eastern European countries that were under a former Soviet union previously, and they wanted to become democratic societies and be connected to the west. So, I mean, should NATO bear the blame of expanding eastward alone

You’re, that’s totally fair. There is no question that, uh, there was a big demand for NATO and, uh, perhaps even a bigger demand in some places for the EU. It was demand driven in many ways. Although obviously these two institutions were happy to welcome members, as long as they met, you know, the criteria that all the existing members agreed upon. So I really do think that it’s easy now to go back and try to rewrite history and say, maybe NATO shouldn’t have expanded. Maybe the EU should have held back from trying to expand, but you’re absolutely right to focus on the reality of a big demand for these institutions, from those countries. And it’s very hard to say, no, particularly if the countries really do look like they’re ready for member. Um, just a quick point here is that, you know, this is a problem that Russia has long had Russia and the Soviet union. And zarus Russia. Even before that always say, uh, the, the leaders of, of Russia, either from St Petersburg or Moscow, they always say they want to have friendly neighbors, but they face a problem. They neighbors are often wanting to go west and that then puts Russia in a bind. How can I make these countries live in my sphere of influence if they really don’t want to, that’s been a perennial dilemma of the foreign policy of the Russian empire, the Soviet union, and now today’s Russian Federation for literally centuries.

Well recently, just on that, the, the United States and Britain agreed to embargo, uh, Russian, uh, oil exports to their own countries, but that hasn’t been extended more widely. The reason is clearly fear of, uh, energy shortage and driving energy shortages and driving prices up to high to feed inflation and lead potentially to an erosion of the support for sanctions within domestic societies. It’s a, it’s a delicate political balance, the Western countries that are opposed. And by west I’m including all the allies we’re talking about Japan, we’re talking about Australia, et cetera, et cetera, South Korea, and more, but this, this coalition is trying to impose costs on Russia, but not imposing so many costs on their own population that ultimately these sanctions become unpopular and they’re removed to sustain the sanctions. They must be politically sustainable. And for many countries, embargoing Russia’s petroleum exports, gas and oil would potentially generate such economic cost that they would, these, these governments would be in fear of losing public support for their stance against Russia.

Right. Uh, I’m talking about in 2006, I mean two, no, 2006. So, um, in 2014, right after, um, Russia annex crimee do you think America at that point knew Putin’s intention regarding Ukraine and had a coherent strategy to deal with him?

No, we did not know his intention. There were some who thought his intention was to bring Ukraine under the sphere of influence of Russia. There are some analysts, both inside and out of government who actually feared that Huta, uh, Putin had a grander objective of incorporating the entire country back into some sort of reconstituted Soviet, uh, a Russian empire, but people were uncertain because after all, what he was doing in 2014 was still relatively low cost operations for Russia. So it was hard to know how intently he was fixated on this Ukraine issue. It was difficult to know how far he would go. It was difficult to know how resolved he was on rectifying, what he regards as this historical injustice or this historical problem of Russia, of Ukraine’s westward drift. And so I think the, the United States and many of its chief allies, um, kind of were de debating among themselves about the strength of, of Putin’s intention. That debate wasn’t really solved until two weeks ago,

Right. Uh, but after crimee the us and NATO should at least know, Russia is determined to stop the NATO expansion. Then why were we still arming the Ukrainians to provoke Russia?

Well, we were attempting to make Ukraine a tougher nut for the Russians, for Putin to crack. We were trying to make it a, that to raise the cost of Russia, to Russia, of seeking a military solution. We were seeking to respond to Ukrainian demands for aid. After all Ukraine was at war it’s a sovereign country. It was asking for aid and of a military nature from its friends around the world. There was nothing illegal about this, nothing underhanded. It was all out in the open. So the United States figured, um, if Russia’s gonna play hardball by annexing territory, namely crimee and intervening in Eastern in Ukraine, the Don bass, well, we can play hardball too, and we can bolster the Ukrainian’s ability to resist by transferring some of these weapons. The problem with that is it seems to have created in Russia, in the Kremlin, in Putin’s mind, a fear, not just of Ukraine in NATO, but a fear of NATO in Ukraine.

In other words, in the speeches, you saw the Russian leadership give in the lead up to this invasion, you saw them saying, you know, this whole issue of Ukraine’s membership in NATO is kind of a, a, a, a, a, a red herring, because what’s happening. As we’re sitting here, debating NATO is Western countries are aiding Ukraine and making crane essentially a part of the Western security structure. Now to finish this off in defense of the United States and the others who were aiding Ukraine, really the weaponry that was being transferred was not particularly threatening to Russia. It was really sort of, I mean, there’s no such thing as a purely defensive weapon, but these weapons were pretty much to defend Ukrainian territory. It was kind of hard to see how they would be a threat to Russia. And in short, in some, the us did exercise a little bit of care in the kinds of gear and hardware that was given to the Ukrainians up until the invasion.

Hmm. So do you think NATO expansion justify Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine?

No. I think NATO expansion to Ukraine. I think that Bucharest declaration, I’m not sorry that Bucharest, uh, uh, NATO declaration that we discussed at the beginning of this interview. I think those were mistakes by, uh, by NATO. I don’t think NATO should have offered this promise to Ukraine, if it couldn’t actually keep it. I, and it couldn’t, everybody knew it. So they kind of didn’t do Ukraine any favors by suggesting membership when it wasn’t really happening. So that’s a blunder, that’s a mistake. We shouldn’t have done it, but in no way, does it justify this brutal invasion. I think frankly, Russia is the main one at fault here. I don’t think it’s particularly controversial to say it. They faced no threat from Ukraine that justified this ruthless and bloody use of force. Indeed. I think that a lot of the fault, frankly, lies with the Kremlin, their policies in 2014, the annexation of crimea the cyber attacks they did on Ukraine, their intervention in Eastern Ukraine, the Don BOS region, their attempt at election Medling and information war against Ukraine. All of these policies have just pushed Ukrainians more and more favorable towards the west. If public opinion in Ukraine was split regarding their relationship between Russia and the west back before 2014, it’s not split anymore. And the reason for that primarily is what the Russian government has done to Ukraine. So I think really most of the blame for this falls on the Kremlin, and certainly there’s no justifying this, this brutal attack on a country. That, again, just in no way, presented a serious national security threat to, to Russia as of 20, uh, 20 21, 20 22.

Right. Uh, I think we can definitely see an escalation. I think we can definitely see an escalation on Putin’s part regarding Ukraine from, you know, 2014 to 2022. So why do you think Putin made the military move right now?

There’s uh, no one knows. We have to be very, very, very careful here. Uh, uh, I have read and listened to his speeches. I listened to his top officials. I have, I, I go, I used to, before the pandemic travel to Russia all the time, have many good friendships and connections to Russian international relations scholars. It’s important to recognize that top Russian political commentators connected experts, uh, did not expect this to happen. Uh, so why, why he did it? People don’t know there’s two basic arguments here. Argument, number one is he saw it that as a propitious, a, a good time to move because he had his army ready because he thought China Xing ping would have his back and help him out if there were any sanctions, because he had a $630 billion, uh, foreign currency and other, uh, reserves that he could draw upon, should he face sanctions.

Because he feared that Ukraine was moving faster and faster west, and he had to move now because energy markets were tight. You know, you can put this list together of things that sort of give you this idea of now is the time to move rather than later. Um, but there’s a second argument. And that is that, especially once he isolated himself, that is say, once president Putin, isolated himself, uh, in the pandemic times, he became ever more kind of closeminded, uh, ever more insulated from contrary views and began to obsess on historical matters and his legacy in history, and some sense became a somewhat different and more risk acceptance leader than he was prior to this isolation. I mean, what, how many, how many leaders of big countries, you know, write, you know, 10,000 word essays on historical subjects and cite all kinds of ancient documents and ask their aids to go pull documents from the archives so they can make these elaborate historical arguments. It began to seem a little weird. So those are the two different kind of stories as to why now and why he took such a fateful and costly and ultimately disastrous both for Russia. And as, especially for Ukraine, a decision that he did, uh, two weeks ago,

Do you think president Biden and Afghanistan also played a role?

People say they thought that that suggested, uh, uh, an administration that was in disarray or incompetent. I don’t really buy that. Frank, I think, uh, an it’s possible that the most important thing that by the administration conveyed that may have, uh, incentivized or not incentivized, the more, most important message coming from Washington that may have fed into Putin’s decision was the consistent message that we want the focus on China, not Europe over and again, Biden officials said, look, we need to sort out our relations with Russia. Let’s get this thing settled. Let’s kind of get the Europe thing, quiet it down so we can do what we really wanna do, which is deal with China. And that might have fed the impression that the Americans would sort of kind of accept it. Ultimately if Russia could achieve quick, relatively low cost regime change operation in Ukraine, of course, that turned out to be a pipe dream, but that’s one of the arguments. I frankly think this idea of Biden as a rational kind of real statesman, who wants to focus on China is far more important than any inferences that Moscow might have made from their disasters handling a of the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Hmm. Uh, you know, let’s talk about today. Uh, Russia demonstrate, I mean, Russia, Russia demanded three things, basically neutrality for Ukraine, demonetization of the country and recognition of, uh, break rate regions, break way region regions and loss of crime here. First of all, I was wondering, uh, what does de militarization mean? Does that mean Ukraine would no longer have a military?

Well, these demands, first of all, are, uh, uh, uh, articulated by Putins, uh, spokesman, Demetri, PEs golf, and they are coming out of reports of the negotiations in Turkey that recently took place and negotiations in villas that recently took place between Ukrainians and Russians. They haven’t a been able to even agree on such basic issues as safe, safe passage corridors, uh, not to mention a ceasefire and certainly not to mention an actual settlement to the crisis. So we don’t really know what Russia’s bottom line actually is. I would say that, um, that, um, by demilitarization, we, we, we just don’t have it spelled out yet what they have in mind. Uh, I think it’s probably fair to interpret what they mean as a severance of any Ukrainian military cooperation or connection with NATO or any NATO country, uh, not necessarily to mean that Ukraine can’t have any military at all, but just that it can’t have any military that has any connection to the west. And I think that’s a non-starter for Ukrainians. I mean, think about it. If you were just invaded by a huge neighbor, I mean, to be told that your only way to settle the crisis is to de militarized is simply an invitation, uh, to UK Ukraine to continue fighting.

Right. Uh, what do you think of Russia’s demands, uh, from what they said, or do you think Putins mango for this invasion is to stop the NATO expansion or to revive the Russian Empire’s glory by reclaiming lost land or both.

I can tell you what I hope and I think I, and I think there is at least some evidence for this hope. What I hope is is that Putin will attenuate and reduce his demands in light of the unexpectedly potent resistance put up by Ukraine and the clear evidence that overwhelmingly Ukrainian society has very, has no receptivity whatsoever Russia’s role as a ruler over Ukraine, or as a, a kind of a, a overlord over Ukraine. I mean, we’re seeing such potent evidence for this, that one hopes that Putin will see that he miscalculated and therefore will reduce his aims because to go back to your original question, I originally would, if you had asked me that a year ago, I would’ve said yes, if we could make Ukraine neutral, that will settle the whole problem, but then this, uh, in over the summer and this fall in winter, we started getting these speeches from Putin about all the historical things about how Ukrainians and Russians are really one people about how the state of UK Ukraine doesn’t really have any organic essence to it.

It’s really a, a confection, a creation of the, you know, vagaries of history. We really shouldn’t take it very seriously. I mean, why did he say those things? I mean, if you say those things, you’re basically saying to Ukraine, I don’t accept you as a real country. Right. And so when he started saying those things, I began to worry that his aim actually was this much more grandiose aim, reintegrating Ukraine, one way or another into the Russian state. Um, but now I’m hoping, and there’s some evidence that you just cited regarding the negotiations that are underway. I’m hoping that the Russian leadership will scale back its demands in the face of the powerful resistance by the Ukrainians and the overwhelmingly powerful response by so many countries around the world.

What do you think would be put in bottom line in Ukraine?

Just don’t know. I’m hoping the bottom line could be something like, uh, arm neutrality for Ukraine, so are not, not a Ukraine that is de militarized and can’t defend itself, but a Ukraine that could have a significant military, but that would, uh, be, uh, constitutionally or by international agreement. Um, not able to join any block, either Russia or a Russian led block or the, the NATO block that he would be, uh, that he would pro I he’ll always will demand car. I think, uh, the Ukrainian leadership might exceed to that then some kind of autonomy, uh, some kind of special recognition for those Eastern statelets, uh, he might insist upon their full, uh, succession from UKrain. I mean, he’s already recognized them farcically in a way as independent states. I think those might conceivably be thought of as a bottom line. I don’t, I don’t know because you’re also seeing rhetoric coming from Moscow that suggests they really want to subordinate Ukraine in a kind of definitive irreversible way that it seems almost no treaty could possibly deliver. So I’m uncertain about that, but there’s at least hope that they would settle on those demands. Now will the Ukrainians accept them? They’re pretty tough demands for any Ukrainian leadership to accept, but we’re seeing at least some movement in that direction in recent days.

Yeah. Um, how do you comment on poor mental state? I mean, he do, he definitely demonstrated the will or, you know, the, he doesn’t care too much about, he doesn’t have a lot of problem killing civilians. That’s what I’m talking about.

Oh, no, he never has. I mean, if you look back to I, he was a freshly minted prime minister and president when they ramped up the war in that breakaway or attempted breakaway province in Russia. And, uh, they flattened grows need to rubble, uh, no problem. And if you look at what the Russian military did in EPPO and Syria, they, they leveled that city. This is a person who has absolutely no qualms whatsoever about laying waste, uh, to a, to a city. Uh, and I can imagine he would, well, we already see his willingness to undertake such operations or to, to, to, to order or accept such operations in Ukraine, but regarding his mental state. I don’t know, obviously, but I would say I have no evidence and no good reason to believe that he cannot calculate costs and benefits. I mean, I think you saw a miscalculation.

He thought the west was more disunited than it was. He thought Ukraine was, uh, more, uh, uh, collapsible and less resilient than it was. And so he made some mistakes. So it’s possible that he can update his cost benefit calculations in the face of new evidence. I see no evidence that he’s incapable of doing that. So I’m not quite as freaked out as some are by the potential for him to be somehow crazy or have lost control of his senses. But again, as I stress, this is all based on circumstantial evidence rather than some sort of, uh, analysis of, of blood Putin on some couch somewhere. I mean, it’s just not possible.

What about the nuclear threat? Do you think he really could do something like that?

Uh, he wouldn’t do that in response to simply sanctions or in response to us sending, uh, various, uh, uh, defensive weaponry to Ukraine. Um, but he wants to remind us that he has these things. And so on two occasions he’s made reference to the nuclear option. Uh, there’s no evidence, according to us intelligence, that’s been discussed of the actual chains in the alert status of the Russian nuclear force. It’s simply kind of a reminder like, Hey, Wes, just to, so you don’t forget, we’ve got these nuclear weapons, I’m just trying to draw some red lines here. I do think they would apply, however, if the, uh, military of any NATO country, but especially the United States began actively operating in the skies or on the territory of Ukraine. Then you’re starting to get into escalation territory, but you’d have many, many steps to go even from, uh, scenario in which us and Russians were fighting, Americans and Russians were fighting directly. You’d have many steps from that, uh, to any situation in which nuclear use would become something that I think he would seriously contemplate.

Hmm. Interesting. How effective are the sanctions?

Well, sanctions, um, uh, work over a long term. I mean, they, you have these financial sanctions, they tend to hit hard right away, and then people kind of adjust and then you have these commodity sanctions. So sanctions on all kinds of goods that, uh, Russia, uh, would normally export and import. And, um, and those generally take quite a while to actually affect the target. So the sanctions are impressive. Uh, the financial sta sanctions are still working their way through the system, both the global financial system and Russia’s financial system, the degree to which they’ll be able to compensate and find work arounds the degree to which China will help out all of these remain somewhat uncertain. But I think the consensus of sanctions experts is that sanctions are going to work. If they work at all in imposing, in affecting the actual calculus of the Russian leadership, they’re going to work at a much slower pace than military events on the ground, uh, put differently. They, they’re not gonna on their own stop Russia from doing essentially whatever it wants to try to do militarily on the territory of Ukraine. It’s a sad truth, but it’s one that most experts accept. It’s the anticipation is looking forward to the future and thinking about the cumulative cost of sanctions over the long run it’s that that might affect calculations in the Kremlin regarding the terms they’ll seek from Ukraine to end this war.

Hmm. Uh, you know, I heard some analyst say there’s only one person in this world that can influence president Putin and that’s Xin P I mean, do you agree with it? And, uh, how much support, uh, do you think China is giving Putin right now?

Well, that’s a question for China experts, uh, and experts on the CNO Russian relationship, you know, uh, not to deflect your question at all, I’ll answer it. But I would say that this is such a re an important strategic partnership between Beijing and Moscow. Now that there are actually people, experts who spend all of their time, I’m just studying this relationship. That’s a sense sign of its geopolitical geo-economic importance. Um, I’m seeing some subtle signs that the Chinese leadership is kind of like trying to hedge a little bit here. They’re a little bit reluctant to endure the threat of secondary sanctions that is sanctions on Chinese firms, if they deal with certain, uh, commerce with Russia. And so you’re seeing a little more hesitation, but at the end of the day, my reading of the situation of these experts who study this relationship is that China, although is uncomfortable with some aspects of that.

Uh, Shing will be very reluctant to abandon Putin and do anything that would be the kind of that Putin would see as having caused him to have to surrender. And you, I can’t, I mean, most people cannot imagine the Chinese leadership doing such a thing to their key, great power rival in Moscow, especially since in some sense, Moscow’s success in pushing back against the west is in some sense, helping China because it’s deflecting American power from relocating into its region. So there’s a kind of geopolitical benefit to China of this, uh, China, Russia fallout, although China will want to insulate itself from as much of the economic fallout from this as it can. And that’s where we see some and subtle evidence of kind of backing away from completely 150% support, you know, a, a partnership without limits, as they said at Beijing. But I think at the end of the day, I to repeat and the, to emphasize the people who spend their time studying this Alliance cannot imagine being, playing the role that you suggested. People think namely as the person who literally causes Putin to give up on his Ukraine gambit very hard to imagine that happening.

Hmm. Um, you know, uh, America has made it clear, uh, it’s not going to impose no-fly zone over Ukraine. And, uh, you know, now Ukraine, I mean, although Putin has met a steep resistance from the Ukrainian army and, uh, civilians, but Ukrainian army is not winning either. So do you think America and NATO should still support Ukraine to fight to the end

If the Ukrainian, uh, leadership, and as far as we can tell, uh, in these crazy circumstances, as far as we can judge Ukrainian society wants us to continue aid them. I think we should continue aiding them. They have a, they are a sovereign government. That’s been attacked viciously and in an unprovoked fashion, uh, by a neighboring great power. They, as a sovereign country, have an absolute right to ask for assistance when they are under Dures. And we are together with many other countries providing a large amounts of such assistance. And so that, to me, as long as it is something that at the Ukrainians want and is not going to risk escalation of this crisis into a us Russia war, uh, I, I think it is absolutely, uh, uh, uh, the best, uh, policy to follow.

Hmm. How do you see the way out of this?

The only way out of this is for Ukraine and Russia to find terms that they both can accept, and it sounds banal, but somehow, each has to conclude that a deal with the other that is on the table is better than the continuing bloodshed and war. And they seem to me as best as I can judge to be far away from that for now each, you know, know, especially, I think Russia needs to tone down or reduce its expectations, but the problem is each side has a story. It can tell itself as to how it can continue the fight. I mean, Russia has this huge army. It can keep going. As I said, the sanctions are not gonna physically stop Russia from continuing the fight. They have a lot, unfortunately, sadly tragic, a lot left. They can do. They might still Harbor this idea that they can pumel bludgeon bomb, Ukraine, society into submission, and somehow extract some sort of victory from this Ukrainians based on their extraordinary performance so far.

And based on some evidence of poor morale and training on the part of the Russian army might include that they can continue fighting and keep imposing costs on Putin, such that he’ll agree to a deal closer to what they want. So that’s how wars end you should watch out and keep an eye out for negotiations about, uh, corridors, uh, for humanitarian relief and especially for talks about a potential ceasefire. These sometimes, um, it can lead and morph into actual peace negotiations. And so it can be a subtle process where they first negotiate the immediate crisis, and then kind of it spreads into trying to find a general settlement and certainly the international community, including the United States and all of its allies and others, including China, India, the whole world, a Turkey is putting itself forward. Israel should provide their good offices and their resources to try to support such a deal.

How likely is it for the Ukrainian army to drive Russian military out of their country? I mean,

I don’t think it’s, I don’t, I don’t think it’s likely at all. All they can do is make it as costly as possible to the Russians. The I’m, I’m not a military expert. I think you’re gonna talk to one. I mean, but everyone who’s spent any time studying military operations knows that an offense in this kind of, well in any situation, offense is much harder than fence. In other words, the exchange ratio of losses tends to be on the side of the, uh, uh, uh, of the favor of the defender and able to inflict more casualties on the, uh, on the attacker than the defender. And so Ukrainians to switch over to the offense and start driving these gigantic armored forces out of their country would be an extraordinarily difficult thing to do on the other hand, in their cities and in their forest and in their mountains and the west, their mountains and Russia isn’t there yet, but anyway, in their cities and in their forests and in their fields, and they can inflict terrible losses on the Russians, as long as the Russians are the ones trying to advance. So I think that’s where you’re gonna see the conflict going in the near term.

Hmm. Okay. If that happens, do you think, uh, the Russians will eventually give in

Again? I just don’t know. I think that, um, uh, I, I don’t see the signs yet, uh, that the Russian general staff and the top military leadership and the political leadership of Russia under Putin have sort of reached the end of what they think they can do with this military operation. I mean, they’re, they’re trying to do something. They are trying to encircle Kia. They have more cards to play. Unfortunately, these cars are bloody and in some cases, uh, inflicting untold misery and death upon civilians, but they have cards yet to play that they can, that they can, that they can attempt to try to force Ukraine, uh, into submission. And so I, I hope that this is not true, but I I’m afraid if I had to bet, I would say that they are going to attempt to play some of those cards before you see any willingness on their part to really give up on some of their demands.

Last question, how will Europe and the world be different after this?

Well, this is a terrible answer, but it’s the only honest one. It depends on how this conf uh, this conflict ends, how this conflict is seen to end how the world sees the conflict as, as ending. If Russia easily wins, what it wants, gets everything it wanted, uh, with a military assault directly on a completely defend, uh, innocent, defensive, uh, country like Ukraine and wins. That will be in some sense, a blow to the entire order for which the United States and allies say, they stand to their position in the world to their, if you can use an old fashioned word to their prestige, the, the, the, the esteem in which they’re held and, and the respect for their power, if the west, and especially the Ukrainians, but help by the west, kind of, in some sense, are seen to have won this crisis. It will, in some sense, it might be seen as Buttressing their position reversing, uh, their perceived decline up to this point, showing that that thing we call the west is still meaningful.

It’s still United, and it can still really impose horrific costs on countries that seek to on actors that seek to harm it. So that’s essentially partly what’s being fought over here is how this conf thatconflict will seen, will be seen to have ended. Will it be seen to have ended a as a kind of further push against the American led order, a further move towards multipolarity in the international system, or will it be seen as ending kind of in some sense, revivifying, rejuvenating strengthening, ratifying the position of the United States and its allies in the world. That’s, what’s at stake. And until the, we see how it ends out, uh, until we see where the bottom line is, where the bargaining comes out, we won’t know in my, if I had to predict it would be, in fact, it will ne be seen neither as a decisive victory for one side, nor as a de decisive victory. For the other side, they’ll be competing interpreter of this outcome, but again, that’s a, a rank guess.

These are all my questions. Do you have anything else to add?

No, I think that was comprehensive. It was a great conversation.

Oh, thank you. Thank you, professor.