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.