A look at what's behind the sudden strain in relations and why lawmakers can't agree on just how big of a threat Iran now poses to the U.S.
Guest Host: Susan Page
Ukraine’s prime minister is flying to Washington this week to meet with President Obama. Plans for the visit come as the White House warns that Russia will face increasing international pressure if it presses ahead with a referendum to annex Crimea. Some say U.S. and European sanctions, which would freeze the assets and visas of Russian officials, could be a blow to Russia’s flagging economy. But others warn Moscow could retaliate by seizing American and European assets or cut exports of natural gas to Europe which heavily relies on Russia for energy. Guest host Susan Page and a panel of experts discuss the West’s response to a power struggle between Russia and Ukraine.
- Ivo Daalder President, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and former U.S. Ambassador to NATO in the Obama administration.
- Juan Zarate Senior adviser, Center for Strategic and International Studies and former deputy national security adviser and assistant secretary of the Treasury in the George W. Bush administration. Author of "Treasury's War: The Unleashing of a New Era of Financial Warfare."
- Fiona Hill Senior fellow and director, Center on the US and Europe at Brookings Institution and co- author of "Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin"
- Matthew Rojansky Director, Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
- David Herszenhorn Correspondent, The New York Times reporting from Uglich, Russia
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on vacation. NATO's Secretary General is calling the crisis in Ukraine the gravest threat to European security since the end of the Cold War. Joining me to discuss the West response to a power struggle between Russia and Ukraine, Fiona Hill of Brookings and Matthew Rojansky of the International Center for scholars. Welcome.
MS. FIONA HILLThank you.
MR. MATTHEW ROJANSKYThank you.
PAGEFrom the BBC in London, President Obama's former U.S. ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder of the Chicago Center on Global Affairs. Thanks so much for joining up.
MR. IVO DAALDERGreat to be here.
PAGEAnd from a studio at Harvard in Cambridge, former deputy national security advisor to President George W. Bush, Juan Zarate of the Center For Strategic and International Studies. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. JUAN ZARATEThanks, Susan.
PAGEWe're going to be talking about the situation in Ukraine and what's ahead. You can join our conversation later, our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. You can always send us an email at email@example.com or find us on Facebook or Twitter. First, joining me from Uglich, Russia is David Herszenhorn. He's a correspondent with the New York Times. Thanks so much for being with us, David.
MR. DAVID HERSZENHORNIt's great to be with you.
PAGETell us the latest on the situation in Crimea and Ukraine. What is happening today?
HERSZENHORNWell, we've got some indications now that Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister in Russia, is willing to get back to talking with his counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry. We also see Russian forces appearing to consolidate their grip on the Crimean peninsula, reports of a hospital being seized in Simferopol, the capital.
HERSZENHORNWe know that this has been going on for several days now. Additional Russian forces are arriving. This is all ahead of a public referendum to be held on Sunday on either secession, breaking away from Ukraine and become part of Russia, or staying with Ukraine but with much greater autonomy. There's really no choice there, as many people are remarking, nothing that will ask for sort of the status quo.
HERSZENHORNIn the meantime, the White House has invited the acting prime minister of Ukraine, the new provisional government in Kiev, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, to visit the White House on Wednesday, sort of doubling down on American support for the provisional government. And so this showdown with Russia will continue over the next few days, at least through this public referendum that's coming up.
PAGESo there's no question that the referendum will be held.
HERSZENHORNThere's no question the referendum will be held. Indications are that it will probably result in the public ratifying what the local parliament, the regional parliament has already done, which has they want to go, they want to be part of Russia although that's not entirely clear in part because it is a very diverse region, a sizable minority of ethnic Ukrainians, a smaller minority of Crimean Tatars. But still, you know, this is being presented as a fait accompli.
HERSZENHORNAnd so what we may see is that people who are more likely to oppose this decision to join Russia actually not turning out and voting, thinking that the decision has already been made, which the regional parliament is presenting it to be the case. Already in Kiev, the government has said this parliament is illegal. Everything that it's doing is illegal. They've asked the court to issue arrest warrants for the acting prime minister of Crimea seeking to basically invalidate everything that's happened down there so far.
PAGEWhen the Ukrainian prime minister meets with President Obama this week, what will he ask the U.S. to do?
HERSZENHORNWell, there's no question they want continued support in the international area, for the U.S. and Europe to stand as tough as possible against Russia. We certainly see the United States trying to do this. Phone call to China, for instance, looking for support, looking for backup in telling Vladimir Putin this is a violation of the sovereign rights of Ukraine. It's an infringement on their territory.
HERSZENHORNOf course, we've seen the U.S. and Russia in reverse roles, most notably in Kosovo where the United States was willing to recognize the breakaway of Kosovo, Russia arguing that no, this, in fact, was a violation of the sovereign rights of Serbia. So we've seen, you know, countries play different sides of this question of sovereign rights versus self-determination, and it will continue to be a hot dispute going forward. We have seen no signs that Russia is letting up.
PAGEOne last question, David. What about Russia's threats to stop the inspection of their nuclear arsenal? What do you make of that?
HERSZENHORNWell, look, Russia is making clear that, you know, it will use basically every lever and strategic option available to have an influence over the future of Ukraine. This goes back to November when Vladimir Putin thought he had won, fair and square, using soft power. He'd convinced then-cousin Viktor Yanukovych not to sign this sweeping political and free trade deal with the European Union and instead go with closer ties to Russia, accept aid from Russia.
HERSZENHORNAnd then, by his view, the West stepped in and fomented revolution on the streets of Kiev, and it led to the situation where the president was ousted, Yanukovych, and we have the situation that we have now. So it's one other level, I think, in thinking this ongoing debate where Russia's saying, look, we're going to look to really draw a line here. I think part of what you see Putin thinking about is NATO expansion and just not allowing any possibility that NATO will expand into Ukraine, especially not into Crimea where he's got, you know, very important military bases.
PAGEDavid, Herszenhorn, thanks so much for being with us.
HERSZENHORNGlad as always.
PAGEDavid Herszenhorn, he's a correspondent with The New York Times. He was speaking with us from Uglich, Russia. Well, Juan Zarate, tell us how seriously should Americans take this situation.
ZARATEWell, Susan, I think very seriously. I think, in the first instance, it's a question of what Russia's intentions are in the region, not just with Ukraine, but in its near abroad, questions as to what Vladimir Putin intends with not just this move, but with his power grab. And so it's both a threat from Russia and a question of what is to come. And I think that's of concern.
ZARATEIn the immediate term, the most concerning part is what happens in the Ukraine? Are we likely to see civil war break out? Is there going to be instability and war in Europe? And that, of course, is the most immediate concern. But I think, broadly speaking, it's a question of what is Russia doing here and long term? How can we treat Russia? Is Russia going to be a partner, a foe, a competitor or a little bit of all those things? And so all of that is incredibly important for U.S. foreign policy and certainly for our allies in the region.
PAGEMatt Rojansky, what about the question I asked David Herszenhorn on the Russian threats to suspend inspections of its nuclear arsenal? Is that alarming?
ROJANSKYYeah. I think it's very concerning. It's, in a certain sense, not surprising, though. I think it was clear to Putin from the beginning that this was going to be a line crossing maneuver. As soon as he occupied Crimea, as soon as he sought to trigger and deepen the divisions that we see within Ukrainian society in order to effectively undermine the sovereignty of this new government in Ukraine, he was declaring that all bets were off.
ROJANSKYHe's in an era of real confrontation over what is a major prize for Russia. And it's not just about Ukraine. This is about domestic politics in Russia. This is about rejecting the model that says people can pour out onto the streets, they can express their frustrations and grievances and they can change a government. That's a model Putin cannot accept, certainly not in what he calls a brotherly Slavic country.
ROJANSKYBut it's also about Putin's promises and guarantees. This is a guy who has innovated this concept of Eurasianism. He wants a Eurasian union in which Ukraine would be an absolutely vital part. And if Ukraine goes the other direction, if it joins the European Union, if it perhaps ultimately joins NATO, then it demonstrates that Putin's promises and his vision lack credibility. And that, for him, is the beginning of the end of the strength and the image that he needs to rule in Russia.
PAGESo, Ivo Daalder, you're the former U.S. ambassador to NATO. What is this likely to mean for NATO, looking ahead?
DAALDERWell, clearly, this is a wakeup call to all of the allies, all 28, four of whom border Ukraine, five of whom border Russia. And a number of them, particularly the newer allies in the Baltic states and Poland, have been saying for many years that there's an issue here that people need to pay attention to, that this is not the time to relax our guard in the defense field, that this not the time to reduce our defense spending, but that this is a time to make sure that everybody stands together.
DAALDERAnd in that regard, I think the last week has shown that there is a willingness on the part of the European allies to stand together united to make sure that at least when it comes to NATO territory, there is no question as to who is going to be defended by whom.
PAGEWell, there are three Baltic states now part of NATO. If they are attacked, what would NATO need to do? What would the U.S. need to do under its treaty obligations?
DAALDERWell, under its treaty obligations, all countries that are members of NATO have an obligation to regard an armed attack against one as an armed attack against all, so there would have to be a military response to defeat the attack and to restore the status quo ante.
DAALDERI think because we have shown that we take this very seriously, including by deploying additional aircraft to Poland and to the Baltic States, because we have spent some serious amount of time within the NATO alliance in the past few years to develop contingency planning for the defense of the Baltic States as well as to exercise -- just a few months ago, NATO did a big exercise on defending the Baltic States and Poland. I think the message is clear in Moscow that there is at least one line, which is the one that separates NATO territory from that of non-NATO members.
PAGEFiona Hill, you are co-author of a book about Vladimir Putin, "Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin." And we saw that President Putin and President Obama had two long phone conversations last week, but they really see this from such a different lens. It's like they're talking about different situations. Tell us about that.
HILLThey are actually talking about different situations because it all depends on one's perspective. I mean, clearly, we're approaching this in all the ways that we've been talking about here already this morning from the perspective of international laws, as we see it. We're looking at other precedents. We're seeing here that what happened on the ground in Ukraine was the outcome of really what we see as being a legitimate protest movement.
HILLFor Putin, as Matt had suggested, he has a very different lens on this. He doesn't see protests as legitimate. Putin has actually created a system inside of Moscow and Russia more broadly where the only valid expression of people's opinion comes through the election process. Elections actually do matter in Russia.
HILLPutin also pays a lot of attention to public opinion polling just to kind of get the gauge of the overall sentiment, and he tries to cut off any likelihood that people will go out on the streets. He sees protests outside of these frames as illegitimate. And so what he sees in the Ukraine is an illegitimate overthrow of the government.
PAGEFiona Hill, she's director of the Center on the U.S. and Europe at the Brookings Institution. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation, and we'll go to your calls, 1-800-433-8850, our toll-free number. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Joining us this hour to talk about the situation in Ukraine, Juan Zarate, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He's former deputy national security advisor in the George W. Bush Administration. And Ivo Daalder, he's president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO.
PAGEWith me in the studio, Matthew Rojansky, director of the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. And Fiona Hill, director of the Center on the U.S. and Europe at the Brookings Institution. Fiona, tell us, what is Putin's ultimate objective? What does he hope to achieve in this crisis?
HILLPutin's not the kind of person who fixes one endgame. He's got lots of different options here. All of them actually come out in a way that he may ultimately be satisfied about, and that's why we have to be careful. As we've already said, he doesn't want to see Ukraine moving towards the E.U. or to NATO ultimately.
HILLHe wants to make sure that there are clear messages sent to people on the ground in Ukraine that this is not the way to basically change their government or to actually change the relationship with Russia. And actually, for the purposes of the domestic audience, he doesn't just want to show that this is illegitimate in Ukraine and to basically dissuade people from taking to the streets in Moscow.
HILLHe also wants to show that the instability in Ukraine, that the economic collapse that we're seeing and the political uncertainty about the country's future is directly a process of protest movements. This is a message to people at home to basically say, look what happens when you try to basically change the order. You get chaos. You get instability. You get the risk of civil war. And I'm the person who's protecting you from this happening.
PAGEHas this made him more popular in Russia?
HILLWe'll have to see. Actually, he was at the height of his recent popularity just before the events in Crimea. When he came out of the Sochi Olympics in part because of all the naysaying in the West about the Olympics and the fact that it actually came off as really, I think, on all accounts, a resounding success for him, he got a major bump in his popularity ratings.
HILLHe's just under 70 percent right now, which is his highest in a long period of time. So I think he felt that he had actually a position of strength to take this action in Crimea. We'll have to see for the latest polling after that as to how this has really had an impact.
PAGEYou know, we think of American presidents as paying a lot of attention to their job approval rating. Is the same the case with President Putin?
HILLIt's even more the case because at least American presidents are rooted in a party system. In Russia, there is not party system that upholds the presidency. The president stands alone. He's directly elected. And so it's really a direct Democratic relationship. He has to look at all times about what his popular legitimacy is holding.
PAGESo, Juan Zarate, how far do you think President Putin is prepared to go? I mean, if this situation -- could the situation, the crisis in Crimea, be followed by an attempt to annex other parts of Ukraine?
ZARATEI think that's the fear. I think the concern is that this is a move on the chessboard that moves toward eastern Ukraine, which is why officials in the United States and elsewhere are looking very closely at the military movements of the Russian forces on the ground in Crimea and elsewhere. But I think, in the first instance, the reality is that the action is happening in Crimea.
ZARATEAnd as Fiona pointed out, this is a very interesting moment because what you have playing out both in the conversations between Presidents Obama and Putin and in the larger debate is a battle of legitimacy, legitimacy over certain international norms and principles, with Putin ironically making the argument, I think, at some point here after the referendum in Crimea that this is a -- not only a duty to protect Russian citizens there in Crimea, but also a reflection of the self determination of the Crimean people, if the vote comes out in favor of annexation with Russia.
ZARATEAnd so I think he's moving the chessboard slowly and methodically, but I think the first move here is to make the move of annexation of Crimea both possible and legitimate. And it's in that context of legitimacy that you see this playing out internationally.
PAGEWell, Matt, this argument that Russia needed to move to protect Russian citizens, Russian -- ethnic Russians in Crimea, is there a basis for that?
ROJANSKYIn Crimea, it doesn't appear so far that there is. Crimea is, of course, overwhelmingly ethnic Russian. It is a Russian-speaking region. What that means is even Ukrainians and Tatars in the region basically use Russian day to day which means the basic important goals for Russia were never under threat. Were they in danger in other parts of Ukraine? Perhaps.
ROJANSKYThere's no question in the course of the Ukrainian revolution -- you can't separate the events of Crimea in the last week from what's happened in Kiev over the past three months. There have been some scary forces in action. There have been some far right nationalist folks acting out. And I think Putin is expressing on behalf of Russians everywhere some concern about what those folks are up to and what their goals may be.
ROJANSKYThe irony of the outcome of his action though is he has zapped any credibility from those concerns and credibility in international institutions so that now he has a small handful of fringe allies in places like Crimea, perhaps in places like Kharkiv and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine who out of fear may side with Russia. But the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians now actually see the Ukrainian revolution as theirs. So he has given ownership and credibility to something that he fears.
PAGEIvo Daalder, here's an email we've gotten from Richard. He's listening in Charlotte, N.C. He says, "Now we're again talking of NATO as a bulwark. But to what extent do you view the continuation and expansion of NATO after 1989 as part of the cause of the current tensions in Europe?" What would you say to Richard?
DAALDERWell, there clearly is a view in Moscow that the expansion of NATO has been part of the problem that the Russians have faced. I would basically say, if I were living in Lithuania or Latvia or Estonia or Poland today, I'm a lot happier and feel a lot safer by the fact that I am a member of NATO than if I hadn't been. After all, what we have seen in the last few days is the development of a new doctrine, the doctrine that says that Russia has the right, indeed the obligation, to protect not only the Russian citizens but Russian-speaking people wherever they may or may not be under threat.
DAALDERIf you live in Lithuania or in Latvia where you have a large Russian-speaking minority, that is an ominous development, and it is only the fact that these countries are members of NATO, that they sit around at the same table with the United States and Germany and France and the U.K., that they are breathing a little easier these days.
PAGESo, Ivo Daalder, what is there -- is there a consensus now among western powers about how to respond what the west can do at this moment?
DAALDERYeah, I think so. I think we -- in one week's time, I think you have seen the United States, Canada, and Europe coming together on a pretty clear strategy. That strategy is, in the one hand, to keep open the possibility of a diplomatic solution.
DAALDERYou've seen the attempt to form a contact group, which would include Ukraine and Russia, as well as some western powers, to have a negotiating process put in place in order to return to the status quo ante with guarantees for minority rights and protections with observer forces from, for example, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in which both Russia and the Ukraine are members.
DAALDERAnd at the same time you have seen a steady increase of pressure by the United States which announced sanctions just last week and by the European Union, which has said that, unless things measurably improve, unless there is a diplomatic process, unless there is a halt to the referendum, there will be financial and other sanctions imposed on Russia. So it's this two-track decision, on the one hand keeping open the possibility for a diplomatic solution and on the other hand enhancing the pressure on Russia to come to the table and get to that solution.
PAGEWell, Juan Zarate, what -- can economic sanctions work? The sanctions that President Obama unveiled last week got some -- were mocked as being pretty limited.
ZARATEWell, I think they can, but it depends on how far we're willing to go. And I think the realization that the Russians can bite back is quite clear. And it's certainly something that President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov have already talked about, warning of the boomerang effect of any sanctions. But I think they can work if we're willing to bite hard and to bite hard in a way that makes illegitimate certain set of Russian activities to include some of their banking activities, activities tied to their oligarchs, that may have ties to organized crime, money laundering.
ZARATEKeep in mind the scrutiny that Russian bank accounts got during the Cypriot banking crisis. And so there's a whole host of things that can be done to target Russian individuals, entities, companies and even banks with a whole series of treasury tools that we have at our command. But, again, it depends on how far we're willing to go. And certainly the Europeans are much more sensitive to this given the oil and gas weapon that Russia has, the weapon that they've used in the past. The trade ties, the importance of Russian investment in places like London.
ZARATESo all of these things matter. And I think the Russians have been rattling the financial saber a bit signaling that not only would they consider taking measures against western interests in Russia, but I think there's a veil threat of a broader financial warfare campaign that Russia could engage in. And I think all of those are considerations, but there's no doubt that the ability to taint and isolate Russian entities and businesses is within our power. We just have to be willing to do it.
PAGESo is there a division, Matt, between the United States and the European Union on how far to go and what pain the west might be willing to absorb in an effort to punish Russia?
ROJANSKYI think, on the level of rhetoric at this moment, there is, but in a sense that's both understandable and appropriate. It's understandable, of course, because, as Juan mentioned, there will be a boomerang effect, I mean, to the extent that the West can freeze Russian individual or corporate assets. Russia can do the same thing. This is not the Cold War. It is not the Soviet Union. And there are billions of dollars of western business interests tied up in Russia. And the Russians can attack those interests, and they will.
ROJANSKYThey made it clear in the past, for example, in 2012 when the United States imposed the so-called Magnitsky Act sanctions on the Russians, that there would be disproportionate effect in Russia. In fact, there were not only on financial interests but on human interests. That is, they banned adoption of Russian babies by American adoptive parents. So there will likely be very severe consequences, I think, that will hurt both sides and will hurt Europe more than the United States.
ROJANSKYBut the -- perhaps the rational reason for that apparent different is that the Europeans have a different approach, I think, in negotiating with the Kremlin. Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, has been, I think, frequent and forceful in her discussions with Putin and relatively effective to date. And I would want that channel to continue because that really is the way that we'll get to a diplomatic off ramp. A lot of onus now has shifted onto Germany. Hopefully Germany can live up to that test.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Well, Fiona Hill, we have the administration and Congress moving toward approving some bailout money for Ukraine. Do you see a problem with that, some potential unexpected consequences? For instance, could that bailout money end up being used to repay their debt to Russia?
HILLWell, these are some of the big issues that we have to think about right now. We have to be very careful how we structure this. We have to be very mindful of how that money is going to be used. As you were pointing out, there is this very large debt that Ukraine has to Russia for gas purchases. There are all kinds of other issues about how will this be implied also on the region level because across Ukraine there are regional differences in the economy.
HILLWe'll have an issue about Crimea and how will we handle then if there is indeed a decision on March 16 about independence for Crimea or, in fact, even unification of Crimea with Russia. What happens to Crimea's share of the debt, for example, that Ukraine basically owes at this particular point? Will there be some move for Kiev to have to take over, in many respects, responsibility of all the debts and all of the other restriction issues?
HILLWe're going to have to tread very carefully here. We have to be very careful about raising expectations. We have to be very careful about making big announcements about the amounts of money that are necessarily going to be flowing towards Ukraine.
HILLAnd given the overall situation in Europe were there's a great deal of crisis still across the board in the euro zone, especially countries like Greece under the European Union members. We're going to have to tread very carefully on how we handle the issues of Ukraine's debts because that will set a precedent for the ongoing discussions that we have with other highly indebted European countries.
PAGELet's go to the phones and take our first caller. We'll go first to Eona -- Elona who's calling us from Bethesda, Md. Elona, you're on the air.
ELONAHi. Can you hear me?
PAGEYes, we can hear you. Please go ahead.
ELONAYes, thank you. I have actually three points, if I may. First of all, there is absolutely no threat to minorities in Ukraine. Saying it, it's paddling Putin's propaganda. That's first. Second, no one out of your group mentions Budapest Memorandum. United States, United Kingdom, and actually Russia, guarantee it, Ukraine's territorial integrity and independence in 1994 in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear arsenal which were 2,000 warheads.
ELONASo you cannot just -- you can't get all its obligation. It will fill its obligation. It gave up all nuclear weapons. So now you simply cannot brush off your hands of Ukraine because it will be diplomatic default. No country will take seriously negotiating with United States or United Kingdom if it cannot keep its guarantees.
PAGEElona, thanks so much for your call. Let me just ask you. Are you from this region yourself?
ELONAWell, I am originally from Ukraine, but I've lived in the United States for over 22 years.
PAGEAll right. Well, Elona, thank you very much for your call. What do you think about the point that she was making, Fiona?
HILLWell, it's a very valid point about the Budapest referendum. This has been brought up many times. She's right that we didn't mention it in this discussion, but this has actually been on the table in a major way ever since the crisis started to unfold and has being -- the point is being made many times, including in discussions at the highest levels of the White House with President Putin.
HILLThe Russians have now rejected the validity of the 1994 Budapest referendum saying that because Viktor Yanukovych has being toppled in Ukraine and that this current government is not legitimate, that in actual fact, none of these agreements that the Ukrainian government has entered into now have validity.
HILLNow, this gets back to Juan's point earlier on that we're in these battles for legitimacy. So everyone is picking now on their favorite agreement that actually, in fact, supports their own position. So the Budapest referendum is only one of many that we now have on the table that actually also underpin our obligations towards Ukraine.
PAGEHere's an email from Michael who writes, "How does the U.S. president, on one hand, praise the actions of a mob chasing a legitimate president from Kiev while, on the other hand, condemn an elected parliament calling for a referendum in Crimea?" A very different perspective from this listener, Matt.
ROJANSKYRight. This is exactly the problem. I remember it was the Friday before last when President Obama issued his first statement on this crisis from the White House. And I thought everything about the statement really struck home, except one line where he talked about the universal right of all human beings to decide their own future.
ROJANSKYAnd I thought, oh, darn it. Because, you know, in Russian interpretation, certainly in Crimean separatist interpretation, that applies to them just as much as to anyone. And that's the problem we're in here. As Fiona said, it's sort of choose your precedent. Choose your international legal justification. And I think the reality is politics, the reality is security, and the reality is economics.
ROJANSKYIf I were making decisions now on behalf of the European Union or the U.S. government, I would urge more than anything for the government in Kiev not only to constantly reassure minorities in Ukraine that they are in fact protected, that there is a place for them in the future of Ukraine, but to capture the moment of opportunity, not to lose the attention of the International Community once again.
ROJANSKYRemember, in 2004, we had another revolution. And very soon after that Orange revolution, Ukraine fatigue set in, and it was because the Ukrainian government didn't seize the opportunity. They didn't reform, and they didn't become a modern effective system that could join the west.
PAGEThat's Matthew Rojansky, director of the Kennan Center at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll ask our panel of experts and analysts to assess how the Obama Administration has handled this situation so far. And we'll take your calls, 1-800-433-8850.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me in the studio: Fiona Hill from the Brookings Institution and Matthew Rojansky from the Woodrow Wilson Center. And joining us from the BBC in London, Ivo Daalder from The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and from a studio at Harvard, Juan Zarate, who is a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
PAGEI'd like to just go around the horn and ask this entire panel what you think that the job that the Obama administration has done so far in handling this crisis. Ivo Daalder, you worked for President Obama. How do you think he's done?
DAALDERI think he's done what he needed to do. He needs to -- he needed to do, it seems to me, three things. First, he needed to establish what was at stake here. And he did that from the day one, in fact from the moment that he took the podium, even before the crisis took its form a week ago. He defined what this was about, a clear violation of international law, something that simply could not be -- could not stand.
DAALDERSecondly, he reached out internationally to make sure that his analysis was going to be the analysis of our allies, of our partners, of our friends. He spent an awful lot of time on the phone. He sent Secretary Kerry to Europe, first to Kiev and then to Paris and Rome to speak not only with our allies but also with Russia to see if there was a political opening.
DAALDERAnd then, third, he put forward a dual strategy that, on the one hand, said there is a possibility to get a diplomatic solution but, on the other hand, to increase the pressure, and started on the economic front to impose sanctions, worked with the Europeans to make sure that they would follow the same line, and united NATO around the important idea that there is a fundamental commitment that we all have to the defense of all of our allies.
DAALDERAnd that too is something that they put together. So I'd give them strong marks for making sure that we knew what this crisis was about and were able to respond as forcefully as we have seen in the last week.
PAGESo you'd give the president an A?
DAALDERWell, you know, I'm not in the grading sense. But I think he did what he needed to do. And I left my college days behind. I'm glad he did what he did. And I think he did it well.
PAGEJuan Zarate, you've worked for President George W. Bush, both at the White House as a deputy national security advisor and as an assistant secretary of the Treasury. How do you think President Obama's done?
ZARATEWell, this is a difficult situation, no doubt. And I think the reality is this is, you know, a situation on Russia's borders. President Putin has been the first mover on all the things we've seen to date. And so I think it's difficult for any administration to deal with a situation like this. We saw, obviously, the Russian incursion into Georgia and the situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008 under the George W. Bush administration. So these are difficult situations. That said, I would be a little bit more critical than Ivo.
ZARATEI think there's a real sense that President Obama has come late to recalibrate and reassess the relationship with Russia -- that we have been a little naïve and a little bit behind the curve in terms of not only President Putin's intentions, but the sheer power politics of what's at play in Russia and beyond.
ZARATEAnd I think the reality is, on the ground in Crimea -- despite all the debates we've talked about in terms of legitimacy and the things that President Obama and certainly the United States cares about in terms of international norms and law -- at the end of the day, President Putin is moving on the ground with sheer power, with forces to control, and with machinations behind the scenes.
ZARATEAnd I think, to the extent that we are being outmaneuvered in that regard -- by we, I mean not just the U.S., but NATO and European allies -- that obviously hurts our credibility on the ground there. It hurts our credibility with allies and really is a blow to the ability of the United States to affect international norms and law in a way that I think this administration really cares about. And so, you know, I'm up here at Harvard grading students. I would give not a very good grade at this stage. But it's a difficult situation, no doubt.
PAGEWhat's a not a very good grade at Harvard? I mean, at Harvard, everybody makes "A"s, right?
ZARATEWell, I'm not going to actually give a grade, but we're not passing because I think the reality is, in a week's time here, we may see Russian flags flying over Crimea, with President Putin unwilling to budge and an inability to negotiate him down, other than to try to budge him with some of these measures that are going to be incredibly hard to take and costly on our side. So, at the end of the day, if Russia annexes Crimea, it may, you know, isolate Russia to a certain extent. But President Putin has gotten what he wants.
PAGEWell, Matt, what do you -- how would you assess the administration so far? And we have heard a lot of criticism from Republicans on the Hill, especially in the Senate, saying the military response ought to be more muscular.
ROJANSKYRight. Absolutely. Of course, it's easier to criticize when you don't have your finger on the trigger and are not responsible for taking the decisions. Look, I see the difficulties the administration's in. As someone who does teach and does grade students, I always have to think about the elements that go into that because I'm always cognizant -- students are going to come back to you and ask you why, justify this grade. So, you know, I see four pieces. First is risk mitigation and risk management. And that is preventing a disaster from happening right now, today, where you have heavily armed camps.
ROJANSKYYou have potentially radical fringe forces that might provoke something, might see the benefit to provoking something. So I think getting international observers, getting the OSCE in there as quickly as possible is vital. You know, there, I think the administration's made some efforts. It's good that they're even using the term OSCE, the Helsinki organization. But they haven't succeeded in getting observers on the ground. That's vital. Second is the principle, the message.
ROJANSKYYou know, I mentioned before, Obama is talking about the universal right of people to decide their own future. But he's not drawing a clear line. What's the difference here? The difference is about process. This referendum will not be a legitimate process because there are armed men forcing people to act in ways that the leadership wants. This is not a legitimate process, even if there is one, for Crimea to express its will.
ROJANSKYThird is consequences. What kinds of sanctions, what kinds of punishments, what kinds of costs is the president actually going to impose on Putin and on Russia for the actions that they've taken? There, it's very delicate, right? There is this boomerang fear. It is a two-way street. And, yet I think the United States needs to be far firmer about what, concretely, those costs will be. And then, finally, the long-term game.
ROJANSKYAnd here, I think, is where I'd have to give the administration the lowest possible grade. And that's in supporting Ukraine's transition. No matter how these events come out, there will be a Ukraine. And there's a Ukraine that's going to need to develop financially and it's going to need to transition from being fundamentally a dysfunctional post-Soviet economy, a basket-case of government and corruption.
ROJANSKYAnd they're going to need a lot of money to do that successfully, with monitoring. So far, we've promised $1 billion of loan guarantees. That's not even new money. That's simply the promise that we will back up Ukraine's ability to borrow, from whom, right? I think we need to be looking at a far bigger package.
PAGESo, I've had not much success in actually getting a letter grade so far. Would you have a letter grade in mind?
ROJANSKYYeah, I think I'd put the Obama administration somewhere in the C, B range.
PAGEAnd, Fiona, you're nodding your head. Do you agree with that?
HILLYes, I was thinking the same thing. But, you know, when you grade people, you grade them on a curve as well. And you also look at the performance of the others around them. And I have to say that there is no government since the collapse of the Soviet Union who had actually managed the Russian case particularly well. We actually, excuse me, have been in this situation before in the 1990s and all the way through, in fact, to the early 2000s.
HILLVladimir Putin is actually managing to succeed where his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, failed in asserting the right of Russia to protect the interests of Russian speakers wherever they may be found. In the 1990s, as I think Ivo and Juan and certainly Matt will remember, there was a similar case made in the Baltic States.
HILLThis was actually one of the reasons why NATO enlarged to encompass the Baltic States because, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we have a very large Russian-speaking minority left behind in all three of those states. The Russians back in 1992 asserted, even at the peak of Boris Yeltsin's seeming friendship with the United States, that Russia had the right to protect the interests of those speakers.
HILLIt was also the case in Moldova. They even asserted it in places like Kazakhstan, in Central Asia, and certainly everywhere around the periphery. Yeltsin didn't have the wherewithal to actually effect that declaration. And it was quite easy for us then. We actually basically succeeded by default. We wouldn't have got very good grades on this because Russia was actually too weak at the time, economically, militarily and politically, to basically press its advantage.
HILLPutin is now doing -- he's actually, probably got the B+ and the A- grade -- I wouldn't give him a full kind of A because I think he's actually, you know, probably reaping problems from the future. But he learned from the past mistakes of his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, and he's making sure he doesn't repeat them.
PAGELet's go to the phones and let one of our listeners join our conversation. Let's go to David. He's calling us from Tampa Bay, Fla. David, thanks for holding on.
DAVIDHi. Thank you, Susan. And thanks for taking my call and to all of you on the panel, thank you. I wanted to talk about a couple of areas, one, the resorting to the use of force, and to the agreement, such as with Budapest. The idea that this Obama administration, or any American administration, can chastise another government for resorting to the use of force is breathtaking hypocrisy. And I don't want to spend too much time running down it, but we are now bombing, violating the sovereignty of Pakistan, killing hundreds of innocent civilians.
DAVIDWe're bombing Yemen, killing, among other things, American citizens. We've been bombing Afghanistan for 13 years. And, oh, we just killed five Afghani troops. And, oh, we just killed people at a wedding party. We've been -- we shattered Iraq, and the violence continues. And I could go on. With regards to the Budapest Agreement, there was an agreement with Gorbachev and Reagan about not bringing NATO, a military organization alliance, up to the borders of Russia. That was abrogated.
DAVIDAnd the idea that this -- the weakness now that Yeltsin -- I'm glad you brought that up -- exhibited, the idea that any Russian government is going to allow NATO to take control of Sevastopol, or their warm water port that has been in the either Russian country or their sphere for the -- for hundreds of years, is a dangerous delusion. And I'll take my answer off the phone, or online.
PAGEDavid, thank you so much for your call. I wonder who on the panel would like to respond to the points that David made. Fiona, go ahead.
HILLLook, I think the points that David brought up are very important because this is exactly the Russian perspective. There is some validity to some of these points here. In fact, we'll all recall that Putin spent a great deal of time -- or certainly his advisers and people around him -- in crafting an Op-Ed for the New York Times, laying out exactly this position.
HILLAnd, you know, apart from perhaps the very last paragraph, where he criticized the U.S. for, you know, kind of exceptionalism -- when Russia itself and his policies also being based on a certain sense of Russia's uniqueness -- I think, you know, most people could have agreed that he a fair point in the way that he'd laid out -- the way that the United States tends to shoot first and basically ask questions later.
HILLAnd certainly the issue of the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, you know, some of the other decisions that have been made, there's an awful lot of disquiet, I think, as David has really articulated, in this country about some of the actions that the U.S. government takes. The issue about NATO expansion is quite complicated. And perhaps we should ask Ivo to comment on this as well.
HILLIt's certainly the case that many in Germany -- including one of the former German defense ministers, Volker Rühe, and others around them -- do believe that there was an undertaking made to Gorbachev during the course of the discussions about the reunification of Germany and Germany's inclusions into NATO that NATO would not expand.
HILLAnd, fortunately, a number of historians and others -- experts -- have gone back and looked at all of the documentation on the U.S. and other side, and can find no evidence whatsoever of any actual undertaking -- any agreement. And this is also the case with other European leaders. So I think we have a question here about interpretations, and certainly viewpoints.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Ivo, let me turn that question over to you.
DAALDERYeah. I think Fiona has the historical record right. And this is clearly something that has been in dispute. Whether there was a guarantee given to Gorbachev about the enlargement of NATO, there was never one given by the United States nor, indeed, by the alliance as such. And the fundamental principle of alliances of international politics is that states should be able to decide for themselves what their alignments are. This is not something that should be decided by other countries.
DAALDERIt really isn't Russia's right to prevent any country from becoming a member of NATO if that country wants to become a member of NATO and, indeed, if NATO countries want to include them as members. This is a process that has been going on for, now, some 20 years, in which countries have freely decided, on their own, that they would like to become members of NATO, and which the NATO countries themselves have freely decided that that is either a good thing -- in the case of the Baltic States and Poland, Hungary, and others -- or that the time is not right yet.
DAALDERAnd, indeed, NATO has made a number of decisions not to include other countries in NATO for the moment. And that includes Georgia and Ukraine. When Mr. Yanukovych was elected four years ago, he announced that Ukraine would not align itself either with NATO or with Russia. And NATO accepted that because it is the policies of governments that decide whether or not to align, not the policies of neighbors.
PAGEI wonder if there is a way out. Is there a way for President Putin to save face but back off, addressing the West's concerns about this? I mean, is there any reason for -- to see some hope about what might happen next? Juan, let me ask you that question.
ZARATEWell, certainly that's the hope. And the talk of a diplomatic off-ramp has been out there. And I think the issue here has to do with, as Henry Kissinger put it in his very good Op-Ed recently, of finding a modus operandi that respects and treats the Russian interests in the Ukraine -- their concerns over instability, their concerns over movement toward the West, their undermining of Russian interests, whether it's military or economic or otherwise.
ZARATEAnd so the issue here is, is there a face-saving way out for everybody that continues to help the Ukrainians in terms of creating stability and sovereignty for their country. You know, one option you could see, for example, is if the referendum comes out with the result of greater autonomous rights, but not secession. And that could be a very neat and convenient way for everyone to say, look, Crimea deserves great autonomy like the Basque states of Northern Spain, for example.
ZARATEBut they're not going to become a part of Russia. And maybe that's a helpful solution. And Russian rights, in terms of Sevastopol and other military bases, are preserved. But this is very delicate. And I think, again, Putin is the prime mover here. And I think, in some ways, he's going to be dictating the course here and whether or not off-ramps are even viable.
PAGEMatt, if the U.S. and other Western powers manage to devise an off-ramp for President Putin, is it clear that he would be willing to take it?
ROJANSKYThere's no guarantee. But there is a precedent. Everybody talks about Georgia in 2008. That was actually an unusual situation. The Russians, in principle, don't like the idea of territorial separatism. They have more to lose from that then they do to gain. Think just about Russia's North Caucasus, which we talked a lot about around Sochi, where there are a great many separatist forces. There's another precedent, and that's Transnistria in neighboring Moldova. In 2006, Transnistrians held a referendum. Ninety-nine percent said that they wanted to be independent.
ROJANSKYThey wanted to leave Moldova. And they wanted to, so-called, freely associate with Russia. The Russians never recognized that. The Russians never tried to actually take Transnistria. They left their troops there. But they said they continue to respect Moldova's territorial integrity and sovereignty. It's not ideal.
ROJANSKYBut I would imagine, given the tens of thousands of Russian troops in the region right now, given the undesirability of further fighting and conflict, if the Russians simply say, look, you've held your referendum, we've heard you. At this point, we're not going to annex Crimea, and we're going to continue our nominal position, which is, we respect Ukrainian territorial integrity and sovereignty. For the moment, that's an acceptable outcome.
PAGEA lot more to talk about, but our hour is up. I know this is a topic we'll be returning to on "The Diane Rehm Show" in the days and weeks ahead. My thanks to our panel. Fiona Hill, Matthew Rojansky, Ivo Daalder, Juan Zarate, thank you all for being with us this hour.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
Most Recent Shows
And why this period of American history offers important lessons for today.
Alabama now has the most restrictive abortion law in the country. What the new law – and others like it around the country – mean for the future of abortion rights.
As the stalemate continues between House Democrats and the White House, are we heading for a "constitutional crisis"?