John E. Herbst, director of the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, and Matthew Rojansky, director of the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, join Washington Post associate editor Karen J. DeYoung to discuss Ukraine’s politics, policies, and options going forward. The panel analyzes Russian President Putin’s motivations, the United States’ role and policy options, and Ukraine’s internal struggles and reforms.
John E. Herbst on the threat from Russia and why the United States should provide arms to Ukraine:
“…the greatest challenge to national security in the world today is the revisionism of Mr. Putin…they have ambitions that go well beyond Ukraine. They claim the right to defend Russians and Russian-speakers wherever they reside. …Mr. Putin has conducted provocations against the Baltic states, and his ambitions go beyond Ukraine. You provide weapons to Ukraine, you increase the price on Mr. Putin for his aggression. That gives him less to fight with elsewhere, wherever that elsewhere may be.”
John E. Herbst on U.S. policy vis-à-vis Ukraine:
“My argument is that we need to have more serious leadership on this issue in Washington. …this is the signature foreign policy crisis of this administration. And while they've done well on sanctions, they've done very poorly on the larger security geopolitical aspect of this; whether in terms of helping Ukraine fight aggression or getting NATO prepared for possible Russian games beyond Ukraine.”
Matthew Rojansky on Putin and Ukraine:
“I don't think that Putin has another ten years or twenty years. I think the Ukrainian project is a ten year or twenty year project, just as the European project was a half century project. …if we can get an end to the fighting in the immediate short term, if we can transform this urgency…but more important than that, an overwhelming majority of people are committed now to this vision of European integration. There's even a pretty large preponderance that wants to be in NATO. That is a transformation of the Ukrainian domestic landscape. That creates an opportunity to actually fulfill a reform vision in Ukraine that has never happened in twenty-five years.”
MODERATOR: Welcome. Thank you all, and I know you're all really interested in Ukraine because you have waited out the weather over schedules and cancellations and here we finally are. And of course a lot of things have happened even since we were originally scheduled to do this.
Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. You all I think know the rules which are to turn off your cell phones, and this session will be on the record. I will make some introductory remarks, talk to our panelists a bit, and then open the floor for questions. And there will be further instructions before the questions start. And we will end promptly at 1:30.
Our subject today is "Inside Ukraine." And obviously, that's a very timely topic. I think we couldn't have two better panelists to talk to us. Not only about what's happening inside Ukraine, what should happen, what the future may bring, and, equally important, what's going on inside Russia. You have their bios in the papers that you were handed. But let me just give you some high points.
Ambassador John Herbst to my immediate right is director of the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council, with law experience and extensive research and writing in Central Asia, Ukraine, and Russia, as well as distinguished diplomatic service in the region, including as Ambassador to Ukraine from 2003 to 2006.
Matthew Rojansky is Director of the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center, and he was the founder of the Ukraine program at Carnegie. He's an expert on U.S. relations with the states of the former Soviet Union, especially Russia and Ukraine. He too has extensive experience in the region and has written a great deal on it, which I'm sure you're all familiar with.
Before we hear from them, I just thought I'd give you a brief update on the latest events regarding Ukraine. As you know, last month's recommitment to the Minsk Agreement has only been partially implemented. And I use the word "partially" euphemistically. While there has been more or less a ceasefire and some movement of heavy weapons in some areas, fighting has continued. The United States and its allies and the United Nations have charged a continuing flow of weapons across the Russian border to the Russian-backed separatists.
After he met this morning in Geneva with Secretary Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said that weapons were being withdrawn from the front lines. As his government has said many times, he called on Ukraine to distance itself from what he called "nationalist extremists in its ranks," and to get to work on promised political and economic reforms for the Eastern part of the country.
Secretary of State Kerry has just finished a news conference in which he said that the Russians had cherrypicked the areas in which there had been an actual ceasefire and weapons had been withdrawn. He, as you know, last week accused Russia of lying about its support for the separatists. This weekend, he accused Russia of what he called "craven behavior" and "undermining the ceasefire."
He also said he spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov about further sanctions, and said that he thought that there had to be something substantive that everybody could agree on happening—he said it two different ways. First he said "in a matter of hours". And then later he said "in a matter of days".
The leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France, who negotiated both of the Minsk Accords have scheduled a telephone conference later today to talk about its status and—to talk as well about a new gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine says that Russia's been violating the agreement on gas they signed last fall. And the Russian energy minister is due to speak this afternoon with the EU energy chief.
Meanwhile, as you all probably know, the United Nations today issued a report in Geneva saying that there were credible reports indicating a continuing influx of heavy weapons from Russia into the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The report estimated that more than 6,000 people have been killed since last April, and that from mid-January to mid-February alone this year, at least 842 people were killed and 3,400 were injured.
As we all know, President Obama has said that he's weighing a decision on whether to supply the Ukrainian military with at least defensive lethal weapons that have been requested by Ukraine.
I wanted to start by asking Ambassador Herbst, you were among the group of notables who recently urged the President to make that decision as a necessary means of restraining Putin and Russia. Obama said he wanted to wait until he saw the outcome of the newest iteration of the Minsk Agreement. Do you think he's waited long enough, and is it time to move?
HERBST: He's—he's waited far too long. The ceasefire was violated overwhelmingly by the Russian side, not simply the separatist side. And, in fact, it's a fiction to talk about them as if they're two separate entities. The war in Ukraine is led by, financed by, equipped by Russians, and there are substantial Russian troops in Ukraine.
The ceasefire, according to the quote, unquote, separatists does not apply to the one area where all the fighting was going on, the Debaltseve area. And of course, they conquered Debaltseve before the fighting began to quiet down. Mr. Putin is afraid of Russian casualties. The Russian people have shown in numerous polls conducted by the Levada Center in Moscow that they don't want Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. Mr. Putin is lying to his people about his Russian troops being in Ukraine. And casualties are a serious matter for Mr. Putin.
Mr. Nemtsov was assassinated on Friday. Not because he was a great opposition leader, but because he was going to issue a report characterizing the Russian troops who were going to be—who were fighting in Ukraine.
So providing weapons to Ukraine will mean more Russian casualties, which will increase the cost on Mr. Putin as a political vulnerability. And there's really no downside to providing such weapons, because we're already accused by the Russians not just of providing weapons to Ukraine, but of having American special forces fighting in Ukraine.
DEYOUNG: Is that the—is that really the only reason why it's a good idea, because it will increase Russian casualties? Because I think there's pretty widespread agreement that they're not going—you know, that Ukraine can't win against Russia. So is that the primary reason to do it?
HERBST: The point to this, the greatest challenge to national security in the world today is the revisionism of Mr. Putin and his (inaudible) Moscow. They have ambitions that go well beyond Ukraine. They claim the right to defend Russians and Russian-speakers wherever they reside. And Russian-speakers reside in great quantities in two Baltic allies, Estonia and Latvia. They also (inaudible) substantial number in Kazakhstan.
Mr. Putin has conducted provocations against the Baltic states, and his ambitions go beyond Ukraine. You provide weapons to Ukraine, you increase the price on Mr. Putin for his aggression. That gives him less to fight with elsewhere, wherever that elsewhere may be.
DEYOUNG: Do you—Matt, I've heard a couple of speeches that you've given recently. And you've said that—that arming Ukraine would be courting disaster and would be pushing Putin into a corner. Can you explain that a bit why this is not a good idea?
ROJANSKY: Sure. Thank you for the question and for this opportunity. I'm not—if I've said that, I want to go back and check. Because that's not quite the way I think about it. I do nonetheless disagree with the recommendation, respectfully. And even though I find some of the analysis to be pretty persuasive. And I definitely share Ambassador Herbst's conviction that this is a major security challenge globally and for the United States. I don't know if I would put it as number one, but it's up there. There's no doubt that it's up there.
I guess I have probably three clusters of concerns right now. But the first thing that I would say—and I think this is important at this moment. You started us in a kind of cross-section snapshot, where are we right now. Where we are right now is that—this is just a factual statement—this question is functionally moot for the moment.
And what I mean by that is the White House made its disinclination to send weapons very clear from what, two, three months ago? I think we've heard that. That hasn't changed. I think they've been very smart. I agree and would support what the President and Secretary Kerry have done in terms of this intentional ambiguity, right? Using the fact that it's been raised—you know, unlike Mr. Putin, we don't control the public discourse in America. And once the implicit threat has been raised, use it, negotiate in the shadow of it. That was very smart.
I think it's also moot because it's clear that Paris and Berlin are not behind it right now. And in that sense, that they also support continuing to kind of wait and see as far as Minsk is concerned. You know, look, the problem with Minsk is that you can characterize it more or less however you want, right?
If you want to characterize it as a complete failure, you can do that. This is a confirmation bias problem, right? If you go in looking for an opportunity to say well, there's been some shelling, there's been continued fighting, so we have no ceasefire. That's an accurate statement. We have no ceasefire, right? The shooting hadn't stopped.
On the other hand, if you want to say we have progress, right? People are alive today who wouldn't have been alive if we hadn't had a Minsk process. The line has stabilized in place where it wouldn't have done so if we didn't have a Minsk process.
And I would say very importantly, we have a reaffirmation in a document, that you now have major international players including, importantly, Russia. That's not to say that you that you take that promise to the bank. But at least it's a statement that endorsed a framework for the next stage, right,for what does the timetable look like for how you get to a new shape of Ukraine in which the separatist entities and the government in Ukraine could actually coexist. And then the government in Ukraine can get about its business, which is fixing Ukraine.
DEYOUNG: And why would that—why would that process not be helped, rather than hindered, by increasing the defensive capabilities of the Ukrainian military?
ROJANSKY: Yes. I'm—I am all for increasing the defensive capabilities of the Ukrainian military. I want to be very clear about that. And that kind of speaks to—to kind of the first concern that I have out of—out of three that I'm—that are sort of at least worth raising here.
And this is one where I'm really open to being persuaded. But I'm genuinely concerned that the proposal to send weapons, this particular proposal to send these particular weapons, we don't know how it ends in terms of what happens to the weapons. Are they used effectively by the Ukrainian military? And I know that—I know that senior Ukrainian security officials told the group that went and visited—because Ambassador Piper had mentioned this to me, this is what they want. OK. I've been working with Ukrainians for a long time. They tell us a lot of stuff about what they want. (Inaudible), you know that too. OK. It doesn't necessarily translate to this is exactly what's going to make the best difference that we can right now pound for pound.
But the bigger concern is what happens to the weapons in this conflict zone? So we saw—what was it, about a week, week and a half ago, that one of the three counter-battery radar systems the United States has already sent—and by the way, there was chatter about this two weeks ago already. It was confirmed. It was front page in the New York Times—is now in separatist hands. Right?
So we have a kind of concern about an Afghanistan scenario, where once you put the weapons into the conflict zone, what happens? Do you just end up with a lot more people dead? Do you end up with a lot more civilians dead?
My second concern is the Russian reaction. And I want to be very clear about this. I don't mean I'm worried we provoke Mr. Putin and he gets madder. Right? Mr. Putin's as mad as he's going to be, right? He is a cold, calculating, very difficult, nasty adversary. I would say let's presume that he's going to escalate. Let's presume that he's going to behave absolutely as badly as he can.
Then the question you have to ask is OK, if Russia is prepared to go to the nth degree and to escalate against Ukraine and against what it will then perceive as, in fact, you know, explicitly a Western-backed Ukraine—though I agree with Ambassador Herbst—that argument is already made—and the Ukrainians lose anyway. Do we want to have been called out? Do we want to have been in the position where we threaten hey, we're going to send weapons. Of course, we're not going to send boots on the ground. We're not actually going to intervene to stop you. But we've been called out. Our credibility's on the line, and the Russians still win.
And then the last—the last concern I have—and this is—this is sort of related, is to what degree is the debate about this one particular policy step a substitute for the conversation we began to have earlier? Which is, what in fact, does the West really need to do about Ukraine? What is the strategic vision for Ukraine? What's the conversation about Ukraine? I'm concerned that there's a false choice being set up here. If you support Ukraine, you're going to send a bunch of crates full of missiles. And if you don't do that, then you're appeasing Putin the dictator.
Turns out, there are some other options. And some of them are pretty decent options. And I hope we can talk about those.
DEYOUNG: Well, I'd like to ask both just to sort of go back and as scholars and people who know a lot about this part of the world over a long period of time to look back just briefly on how we got here and—and whether we truly understand what Russia is up to and—and what—what role Ukraine plays in that.
Sometimes I think that with the sanctions and everything, we—we sort of project what we think would happen if similar actions were taken against this country; that if the economy tanked really badly in a way that was related to an aspect of foreign policy, that people here wouldn't stand for a government that did that.
Are we—are we just projecting onto a system in Russia that really doesn't work that way? And at the same time, we're accusing Putin of really being embarked on the first or second or third step, depending on how you look at the past ten years, say, of expanding Russian influence in the region into the Balkans, into—into the Baltic countries, and into other eastern Europe places.
How much truth is there to either of those things, in terms of what the reaction's likely to be in Russia and what Putin thinks he's doing? Whichever of you would like to talk about that.
HERBST: I will, if you don't mind, answer your question. But also, answer something that Matt said.
Yes, I'm associated with a group that argues for the supply of weapons, defensive weapons, to Ukraine. Not missiles, by the way. And I think it's part—but that's only part of the broader strategy that I would recommend. And that's a strategy based upon the challenge we're facing.
And again, I think the fact that the world—one of the world's two largest nuclear powers with one of the world's largest armies and the sixth or seventh or eighth largest economy in the world has dismantled borders in two European countries within the last six years, suggests we have a serious national security problem. I say easily the most serious compared to ISIL, which is getting all the attention, compared to Iran, even compared to North Korea. And if I think if we understand that, we need to understand that the danger we're facing requires a serious multifaceted response. The weapons to Ukraine is just one aspect of it.
The second point that you make, which is on sanctions. Sanctions will seriously hinder, seriously weaken the Russian economy, especially given the drop in oil prices. A third element that we need is a NATO policy which recognizes the danger. What we did at Wales was highly inadequate to the danger we face. There should be a review of the U.S.-Russia relationship in NATO. Excuse me, the Russia-NATO relationship, the doctrine. There should be much more serious deployment of Western forces to the Baltic States, which are vulnerable if, in fact, the Russians wanted to move. And again, we should be providing arms to Ukraine.
And finally, the fourth element of our strategy should be a wrapping up of radio free Europe, radio liberty, all the information apparatus of the West. Because Mr. Putin is running the most comprehensive propaganda campaign in world's history. And he is an admitted admirer of Joseph Goebbels.
Now, you ask are we simply mirror-imaging as we look at what we should be doing with Mr. Putin. And the answer is no. We know this: We know that Mr. Putin made a quote, unquote, implicit deal with the Russian people, I give you prosperity, you give me the right to do whatever I want in power. And he's not delivering on prosperity. And the sanctions make it harder for him to deliver on prosperity. That's point one.
Point two, again I already mentioned that his—the Russian people do not want to be sending soldiers to fight fellow Slavs in Ukraine. So providing Ukrainians a way to create more casualties is a serious impediment to Mr. Putin's aggression.
And—and finally, if you understand that Mr. Putin's ambitions go beyond Ukraine, even the fact that he could escalate in Ukraine and quote, unquote, win, he'll pay higher price for that in terms of soldiers lost, in terms of equipment lost. He'll pay a high price for that around terms of strengthening the spine of Europe to maintain and strengthen sanctions.
We need to understand that the problem we're facing is not a Ukraine problem, it's a Putin problem. And the way we beat him is in Ukraine. Thank you.
DEYOUNG: You want to --
ROJANSKY: Sure, yes. So—so just on the last one, I think about it a little bit differently. I'm actually very glad to—to have the door open to kind of the broader set of policy responses, because I think it gives us an opportunity to talk about OK, so why, in fact, does Ukraine matter, right? Why should we bother having a longterm interest in Ukraine? You know, is Ukraine a part of Europe that we want to be committed to? And why does Europe matter to the United States?
The sort of questions that, you know, you ask when you're having a serious policy conversation. And when you're contemplating, by the way, committing the kind of resources that I think we would both agree actually will be needed. And here we're talking about the sort of tens of billions scale of resources.
You know, let's not forget how much money the West put into the former Warsaw Pact countries and the Baltic States coming out of 1989 to 1991 to get the result that we can all be pretty satisfied with today, which is that we have more or less, plus or minus, have, you know, a pretty functional, big Europe. The default glide path towards that has broken down. We can't do the same thing again and expect the same result.
In terms of the Russian side of that equation, sanctions have absolutely worked, but depends on how you define "worked", right? So sanctions can do three things. One is they can send a message. They have sent a message. They have sent a very strong message. The Russian economy is hurting. It is not exclusively because of sanctions. It's not even exclusively because of sanctions and the oil price. It's because sanctions, the oil price, and ridiculous structural dysfunction within the Russia economy that any of us who've worked in Russia for the last twenty-five years have known about and seen, in fact, getting worse.
That message has been sent. I think a message has been sent, by the way, to countries other than Russia that might contemplate 'do we want to change borders by force, do we want to take this little piece of territory, do we want to muck around in our neighbors?'
It's not to say that we'll stop them, right? And this is the problem we have, too; we have to think about, you know, this Putin problem, as Ambassador Tefft defines it—excuse me. Ambassador Herbst. That's a compliment, by the way. I think very highly of --
HERBST: ... put that on John. He's got (inaudible).
ROJANSKY: I think very highly of both; that, in fact, you know, there is the possibly when your—when you're interlocutor or your adversary simply isn't deterred.
And that's sort of point number two. Do we change Putin's behavior through sanctions? The answer so far has been no, right? It's hard to foresee a sanctions scenario that by itself transforms Russia's behavior in Ukraine. For a whole host of reasons. But I would just leave you with one, which is that this has become existential for within Russian domestic politics. In other words, if Putin loses in Ukraine, it's pretty clear that that's the beginning of the unraveling of Putin's power and of the Putin system in Russia.
It's much more than just the calculus 'I keep you rich, fat, and happy and, you know, you vote for me'. It's also the idea that he is a czar, right? He is infallible. His vision for what was going on in Ukraine was always right, remains right, his predictions for what happens next and his interventions are all right. And if we prove that to have been wrong, that will be the beginning of the end. But the Ukrainians bear the biggest burden there.
And then I think the third piece of it is what, in fact, happens if that comes to pass. So sanctions, what happens in Ukraine, a lot of other factors can affect whether the Putin regime is long for this Earth.
If it's not, then we have to start asking some questions that are going to completely transform this strategic conversation in Washington. What do we think about weak Russia? What do we think about a disfunctional Russia? What do we think about a Russia that's breaking up into multiple Russias? An intensely nationalist Russia? A caliphate in the north Caucusus? An oil-rich, population-poor Siberian Russia?
These kinds of scenarios become actually quite real and quite scary when we look at what's happening to the Russian economy and the impact that this Western punishment that we're talking about, in fact, can have. You put all of those together.
And then I would just say one last thing, which is that if you look at—at what happened this weekend, this really tragic murder of Boris Nemstov. And let me also say, I mean, I'm still in shock from that; right? I mean, this—the man was the definition of, like, life; right? He was very alive. Huge personality.
Whatever you thought about his politics or his methods, to see him made into a lifeless corpse stood up—you know, lying down but pushed up right in front of the view of the Kremlin, it's—it turns your stomach, and it tells you that Russia has changed. Russia is different today—Sunday morning than it was on Saturday.
And so my message here is, Putin has, in fact, opened a can of worms with Ukraine, with the rise of this angry Russian nationalism which is absolutely committed to a victory in Ukraine at all costs that is probably going to be a bigger problem for him and the stability of Russia, to be totally frank, than it is at the end of the day for the West. But that also becomes our problem. That is huge, huge problem.
DEYOUNG: Well, I think this gets to some of the things that you were talking about, Ambassador. Is it—is it—because of some of the possible problems that—that were just outlined, is it OK for the West to at this point allow Russian—Russia to have a substantive influence in Eastern Ukraine? I mean, for a true federalist system in which that part of the country is under Russia's sway. Is it—or has it gone past that point? Do we need to put him more in his place and not allow that to happen?
HERBST: OK. I think there's some implicit understanding in your question, which are in my judgment not quite on target.
What you have in Ukraine is a Russian, again, led, financed, partly staffed, and certainly equipped war against Ukraine. And the reason why you have that is because the people of the East did not rise up against Kiev. So what you're really asking is, can the West live with Mr. Putin essentially having control because he established—he ran this hybrid war in Ukraine's East?
The answer to that is yes, but there's one person who can't accept that, and that's Mr. Putin because that's not his objective. His objective in Ukraine is this: his preferred objective, he cannot achieve, which is to have a government in Kiev which is compliant to his wishes. And he cannot achieve it because a substantial percentage, 80-90 percent, of the Ukrainian people despise him intensely. And I'm speaking diplomatically when I use that formulation.
So his lesser objective, which is perfectly acceptable to him, is to make sure Ukraine is destabilized. What he cannot accept, given his outlook, is a Ukraine, even a truncated Ukraine, which is stable, democratic, prosperous, and looking westward.
That's why—you know, this is now March. You've had this crisis in Ukraine's east for over eleven months. That's why, despite efforts from every statesman west of Moscow to reach out to Mr. Putin, we have never heard what he needs to stop the fighting. Because what he needs is not a specific territorial objective. It's this objective of did he stabilize Ukraine. And obviously, that's not something you can say in polite circles.
So, I mean, I've said—I've been on record of saying that if I was in Ukraine, I'd seek to cauterize the East. Give Mr. Putin east. In fact, I'd say you annex it. You paid for it, you broke it. But of course, he doesn't want that. He can't accept that. He needs to continually move beyond the borders he controls in Ukraine's east to destabilize the country.
And people don't seem to understand this here. And again, his objectives go beyond Ukraine. They go throughout the entire post-Soviet space and maybe else. He is the number one menace to global security today. And until it's understood in Berlin, in Washington, London, Paris, we're not going to have the right policies.
DEYOUNG: I have lots of questions. But did you—did you want to respond, specifically?
ROJANSKY: No. I mean, look, I think—again, I agree. We—we have a—we have a Putin problem. We also have a Russia problem. And we also have a Ukraine problem. The problem is we have all of those problems.
And—and what that tends to suggest is—you know, again, foreign policy's hard. That's why we have these kinds of conversations. We've got to figure out, you know, what are your priorities? And then you've got to talk about timing.
So my sense is there probably is a way or less to bring the fighting to an end. And I am reasonably—I'm not satisfied. That's not the right word. But I'm relieved at the degree to which Minsk actually has delivered a reduction in violence. It is not complete. We need to see more. But that gets me thinking in terms of timing and sequence.
And I actually think there's a way. Because the beauty of the situation—maybe the irony of it—is I don't think—I don't think that Putin has another ten years or twenty years. I think Ukrainian project is a ten year or twenty year project, just as the European project was a half century project.
And I think if we can—if we can get an end to the fighting in the immediate short term, if we can transform this urgency—you know, Ambassador Herbst mentioned polling numbers, right? So yes, you're right. A huge number of people hate Putin. A disturbing number of people even now don't like Russians. Big problem, right, when you have—your biggest neighbor.
But more important than that, an overwhelming majority of people are committed now to this vision of European integration. There's even a pretty large preponderance that wants to be in NATO. That is a transformation of the Ukrainian domestic landscape. That creates an opportunity to actually fulfill a reform vision in Ukraine that has never happened in twenty-five years.
Because the thing about the EU and NATO, if you take them seriously, is that they are reform agendas. That's what they are, right? Yes, there's Article 5. Yes, there's economic benefit that comes with the EU. But in essence, they are roadmaps to reform. They are how to become a modern Western European, you know, or Northern American-type country.
If Ukraine, in the sort of middle term of this strategy, can transform that anger, the urgency, everything that comes out of the war and the feeling of frustration that they have now into the kind of resolve they've never had before. Never, ever. And I mean on the elite level and the level of society to fulfill the reform agenda, that will be a victory, no matter what Putin continues to do. No matter how much trouble he keeps stirring up, that's the victory scenario in the middle term.
In the longer term—and here I have to say something that's difficult, but it's reality. The longer term is you need to have a vision for reconciliation and reintegration within Ukraine and between Ukraine and Russia. And if you don't have that, if you say "oh, well, how can we talk about that because we're at war"? Then you condemn yourself to a vision of Ukraine that will be a failure, I promise you that. Because Ukraine isn't Poland. It is not 99 percent Polish and Catholic. And it never will be.
DEYOUNG: Let's go to questions from the floor. If you could, I'll point to you. And then if you could wait for the microphone and identify yourself and your affiliation. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Thank you. Bill Courtney with Rand. Very good presentation.
Mariupol is roughly twenty times larger than Debaltseve. The Russians had a harder time taking Debaltseve and also the Donetsk airport than they thought. The Ukrainian military resistance at first was feckless. Now, they appear to have learned something about fighting in urban-like environments.
If Putin's goal is (inaudible) or even a land bridge to Crimea, Mariupol has to be the next strategic target. Do you think Putin would be willing to take the risk of taking on a city that large?
ROJANSKY: Please. I'm --
HERBST: I don't think there's any question. It's probably implicitly evident in what I've already said; that Mr. Putin is going to strike elsewhere in Ukraine because he can't let things stabilize. He cannot have a true frozen conflict, because his objective is to destabilize the country. Mariupol seems to be the next objective.
And by the way, I can in no way share Matt's optimism about the ceasefire. Because we had—when there have been quiet periods in the ceasefire—remember, we had in Donetsk one ceasefire from early September. The quiet periods have been used by the Kremlin to send substantial assessments of advanced equipment.
The most quiet period was between, like, December 9 and January 9. And that's when the Kremlin sent in hundreds of missiles, tanks, armored personnel carriers. Because their objective is to go further into Ukraine to destabilize the country.
Bill's right that the Ukrainian forces have fought pretty well. Russia's lost a lot of people. And the separatists have quote, unquote, lost a lot of people at Donetsk Airport and the Debaltseve. If they try to take Mariupol, they'll lose even more.
But there will problems elsewhere. And Mariupol seems to be the most likely, although not the only place where they might strike.
DEYOUNG: Matt, did you want to --
ROJANSKY: Yes. I mean, my only—my only thought on Mariupol specifically was that it was about two weeks ago this conversation was in full swing about, you know, is Mariupol the next Debaltseve. And, you know, I had a conversation with a Ukrainian friend where he just basically pointed at the map. And he said, you know, this land bridge thing is a fantasy. Maybe it wasn't a year ago. Maybe Novorossiya a year ago seemed like it could happen and it would be this sort of boomerang-shaped thing that would go all the way to Crimea and even to Odessa and even to Transnistria, right? This is a complete fantasy. It's not going to happen.
The reason it's not going to happen though is not because the Russian military couldn't if they wanted to grind into dust everything between the border and Odessa, right? I mean, they have the hardware to do it. And if they're ordered, they'll do it and it will be a horrible catastrophe. But it won't end, right? It will be an endless, insurgent-type war of the kind that Ukraine has actually seen through a number of different phases of its history. And it would be a total nightmare.
Now, is it utterly—can I guarantee you right now Mr. Putin will not do that? No, I can't. It is within the realm of possibly. It seems to me that if the conversations about Mariupol—and this is the one thing that I find a little irritating about the kind of Mariupol-is-next, Mariupol-is-next mantra, is that that would seem to me to be very unlikely. It doesn't track with the path so far.
I do think—and if I could just comment on—on this phrase that Ambassador Herbst used about, you know Putin cannot let things stabilize. Putin has to open a new front. He has to attack somewhere. You know, that might be right. The problem with that, if that's the reality that we're dealing with, then there is only one solution to this, and that's regime change in Russia.
And that's an exceptionally fraught and dangerous solution for the West. That's where I say we have to have a much bigger conversation. And I'm prepared to have that conversation. But I'm not prepared to put the cart before the horse and commit to policies that lead to that without knowing where we're going.
DEYOUNG: Hand up here. Yes.
QUESTION: One thing that's different in the --
DEYOUNG: Can you identify yourself?
THE DEFENDANT: I'm sorry. Anton (inaudible) from (inaudible).
One thing that's different in the toolkit of American foreign policy ten years ago and today is that the U.S. is not only becoming energy independent, but it can export. And it can export lots of gas, et cetera.
What signal would it give to Putin—just fantasize here for a moment—if the United States made it clear that it would be prepared to do the (inaudible) the Berlin airlift and say if you run short of gas, we'll provide it no questions asked. Money, we'll discuss later, but it will be there. Which it could do.
HERBST: A very interesting question. I'm not—I'm not an expert on hydrocarbons. But I'm not certain the United States, even in its new hydrocarbon wealth, has the ability to supply all of Europe's needs with either liquified natural gas or anything else.
Having said that, I concede your point. And I agree, if we were to open up our energy for export—which we'd have to do by law—that would be a strong signal not just of support for the Europeans vis-a-vis dealing with the problem of Russian control over gas supplies to Europe. It would also probably bring a drop in natural gas prices over the world. So I strongly support it.
DEYOUNG: Yes sir.
QUESTION: Bob Blake. Nobody's mentioned Germany yet. And for our prime minister, where—it seems to me that that's a key element there. Where are things now, not only with—with her and with her party, but with the German business community? What—what kind of—of limits does that make on our own policy?
DEYOUNG: I think—and and I would like to expand that question just a little bit.
You mentioned NATO, Ambassador. It would seem to me that NATO is pretty far from having any kind of consensus about—about what to do about expanding its activities in its eastern members. And I think that the same disagreement exists on—on some of these economic questions as it does on—on the—on the—the military questions.
So I wonder if either or both of you could address that with Germany and the larger question of Europe.
ROJANSKY: Sure. Yes. OK. So on Germany, I can't speak as a Germanist at all. But I will say that gosh, it's probably almost a year ago at this point that I wrote a piece—I think it was for CNN—in which one of the main points I made about how you actually deal with the security dimension and strategic dimension of this crisis boils down mostly to kind of 'let Europe lead'. Which might sound very much like the sort of, you know, leading from behind. You know, America should—not at all, right?
The rationale on my side is I very much think of the European project, of the post-world War II era and in particular, the post-Helsinki era, to be the number one achievement for American national security in—at least in this part of the hemisphere. And for that reason, I think kind of wagging that dog, you know, from the American tail, was always going to weaken a project that's already under threat; for its own domestic reasons. You know, within Europe, the (inaudible) and all that business. But also for the challenge that Mr. Putin has posed. So I am extremely pleased—extremely pleased—with Merkel's leadership role here.
Let me just say quickly three things. One, short term, my understanding is that the German business community will absolutely remain a check, a break, but not a brick wall on Germany moving forward with enhanced pressure on Russia. That's probably not a bad thing. Part of what I envisioned when I thought about European leadership in this crisis was just how much more—how much less political and how much more sort of deliberate Germany has to be when it thinks about what it does vis-a-vis Russia. That's a good thing. I like that style of decision making.
Middle term, a German colleague of mine who you all probably have heard from here in this town, Constanze Muller, says the German—and I think she's right. She says, "the German-Russian strategic partnership is over." Right? So I think of that as being a kind of middle-term phenomenon. It's much than they've fallen out of love but could fall back in love tomorrow. But it's not saying Germany and Russia will be foes for the next centuries.
But for the foreseeable sort of decades ahead, Germany and Russia are not going to be holding each other's hands in each other's respective economic development the way that they have, quite frankly, since even the Soviet era. Remember Adenauer / Khrushchev; right? This stuff has come to an end.
In the very longterm, I nonetheless believe that Germany and Europe more broadly will also have to play a leadership role in rethinking what Europe looks like. What a new kind of concert of Europe means, right? If you look back at European history, you cannot escape the conclusion that every fifty to 100 years, European powers have to get together in the light of changing and shifting power and shifting pressures and figure out what are the rules of the game for Europe.
Russia has to be at that table, whoever is at the helm of Russia. Germany has to be at that table. I hope we're at that table. But it's not going to be our table. It's going to be Europe's table.
HERBST: I would agree with everything Matt said. But I would add a few items.
Of—on Germany. When Chancellor Merkel was here a couple weeks ago and saw the President and it was clear from what they said publicly that while Germany would not agree and they would not support, would not send weapons to Ukraine, they would accept an American decision to do so and it would not lead to any serious problems between Germany and the United States. And they would work to—the Chancellor would work to maintain unity.
I've been going to Berlin since this crisis began. And I can tell you this —reaffirm Matt's point that the—there's been a change in the calculations in the Chancellor's office, as well as the public. There's a much bigger appreciation of the problem that Mr. Putin represents. Although I don't think they understand it completely, but they've come a long way.
The last point, and one area I do disagree with Matt, which is that the proper response for dealing with this crisis absolutely requires American leadership. Because every time in the post-Cold War—excuse me—in the post-war world, even going back to 1945, when you've faced a serious security challenge in Europe, it was American leadership that was required.
Chancellor Merkel has been in the lead because President—our president has given her that role. Now, if he does not understand that we face, you know, an extraordinarily great crisis from Mr. Putin, then he doesn't have to get involved. And therefore, he's let her lead. But given the fact it has to be a strong security response to the Kremlin; response within NATO as I described, response as part of a group for arming Ukraine, the United States has to be out in the lead. And without that, you will not have the proper policies.
DEYOUNG: But do you think the President doesn't understand?
HERBST: I would say the policy demonstrates that the understanding is not as strong as it should be.
DEYOUNG: Diplomat. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Lloyd Hand, King and Spalding. In trying to be brief, sometimes it leads to oversimplistic questions. I understand—-- first of all, I should say thank you for a very informative analysis assessment, prescriptions.
It seems to me it boils down to this central question of the risk management of providing lethal defensive weapons and what the consequences may be. Or when you look at alternative sanctions—I mean the leverage, it's sanctions.
With the divisions you just described within Europe, I'm reminded of a conversation I had with an ambassador of one of the countries who's intimately involved in those discussions. And what he said is, neither Europe nor the U.S. is willing to go to war over Ukraine.
If that's a fact, it seems to me that the leverage, from what you have said, that involves less divisiveness among the parties, is increased sanctions. Now, I heard what you said about maybe the sanctions are a third of the economic plight. But if—if what I read about the continued—or lowered—decline in oil prices is correct, about another eighteen months to two years, nobody probably knows beyond that, then it seems to me that there's less risk in managing these unlikely choices, to increase the leverage in which it seems that all the parties are in agreement.
Just taking advantage of the sub-minor question. Going back to initially we were talking about Kerry saying that Lavrov was lying. Don't we have, with advanced technical means and advanced technology, the capability of determining unquestionably the extent of Russian troops and equipment in Ukraine and the ability to make that known so that there's no equivocation about that? Thank you.
ROJANSKY: Excellent question.
DEYOUNG: Would you like to address that.
ROJANSKY: Excellent questions. Yeah. Well, but thank you. You've got it. This is great.
So number one, we have—OK. I'm not privy to classified information, nor am I revealing any here. We have a lot more than the United States government is publicly revealing about what is actually going on on the border, on the ground on both sides; who has been responsible for some of the different massive civilian tragedies and infrastructure destructions that we have seen.
Why we have been so parsimonious about it, even to the point of releasing kind of ridiculously grainy satellite images that people in the blogosphere are making fun of because it's so obvious that it's not at all what our capabilities can do, I don't know. I don't understand. Because it seems to me that when you're in what is clearly an information war, a war in which sometimes what matters more is the spin that's put on things than what actually happened; more clarity, more transparencies is very much to our advantage.
If we have a policy that's grounded in reality. If our policy's grounded in an imaginary scenario that isn't actually provable and based in fact, well, then, you want to conceal something. But that's exactly the wrong message to send to the Ukrainian people and the Russian people. Because they're already predisposed in this kind of post-Soviet cynicism and konspiratzia, the sort of conspiracy rumormongering, et cetera, to assume that we are, you know, doing more than we say we're doing and more so on and so forth. So I would absolutely argue for enhanced transparency and enhanced information. You know, eyes on the ground. Very simple.
One positive note on that—and again, Ambassador Herbst can accuse me of being the—the eternal optimist here. The OSCE special monitoring mission now is about doubling down on its staff. That's really, really good. And specifically, I saw the announcement because a friend who happens to be in the personnel department there sent it to me. They are specifically looking for people, at least from the U.S. complement, with national/technical expertise, who know how to deal with satellite intel issues. That's an extremely positive step. It's something I've been calling for for nine months or so.
And just very quickly on your question about the spectrum of the threat, this has been one of my concerns all along. Which is, you know, let's assume, as my colleague Andrey Illarionov likes to say, Putin is, you know, a mugger, a bully in a dark ally, right? If you're going to up against someone like that and your response is going to be a threat back down or else, it shouldn't be a threat that says 'back down or else defined as between this and this, but nothing more than that'.
And that sort of is my concern with the whole discussion. We will only ever get approval to send weapons—I want to be very clear about this. We'll only ever get approval to send weapons if there is an ironclad guarantee about what the ceiling is on that; that it doesn't lead to a mission creep that ends up with American boots on the ground. We know that. So why threaten something that you know is inherently limited when you're going against an adversary who sees this as a survival issue? It seems to me it just won't work.
HERBST: Great question, great answer. But let me offer some additional, not necessarily completely consistent, observations.
First of all, I agree with you that sanctions are a good tool. But that doesn't mean that providing weapons is not a good tool. And, in fact, we have created mischief for people who needed mischief created around the world, for example, during the Reagan years with the Reagan doctrine. We provided arms to folks fighting Communist allies, whether it was in Angola, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, Namibia, Tanzania, to some real effect.
And the fact that Mr. Putin is willing to spend more of his treasury on it doesn't mean that these methods are not going to take a toll. Which is what we want to do. We want the aggressor to pay a price. That's point one.
Point two on intel, Matt's absolutely right. We should be providing more information. Just like the White House should not be talking about the Russian incursion into Ukraine; it should be taking about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I don't know why we're not doing it. I do know this, however: If we accurately describe what the Kremlin is up to, the pressure on the President to take more effective action will grow. And he clearly does not want that to grow. That's point two.
Point three, Matt's part—Matt's observation, with which I agree, that it's foolish to say you're giving weapons if at the same time you're saying you're giving X amount of weapons and you'll never give more. That would be a mistake. And I tend to agree with Matt when he says that's the only way we're going to do it. And the only reason why that's true is because there's a failure of leadership in Washington. If Washington understood the gravity of this crisis, it would maintain that ambiguity, even as it sends weapons into Ukraine.
My argument is that we need to have more serious leadership on this issue in Washington. And that's lacking. That's unfortunate. Because again, this is the signature foreign policy crisis of this administration. And while they've done well on sanctions, they've done very poorly on the larger security geopolitical aspect of this; whether in terms of helping Ukraine fight aggression or getting NATO prepared for possible Russian games beyond Ukraine.
QUESTION: Anya Schmemann, American University. So most conversations about Ukraine turn into conversations about Russia, which is understandable. But let's focus for just a minute on our sick patient in front of, Ukraine.
Even if there is a successful ceasefire, Ukraine has significant challenges. What does Ukraine need to do to solve its economic problems, its political problems, its military problems? And how do you assess Poroshenko's own future?
ROJANSKY: Sure. Thank you, Anya. So I have been working on this Ukraine cluster of problems for a while. I was what, sadly, I think, will be the last Title 8, that is U.S. Federal government-funded fellow to work for Ambassador Tefft in Kiev before he left and then went to Moscow.
And I worked on this problem called "corporate raiding." And you can kind of imagine from the name what that is. It's sort of like a hostile takeover, but with a lot of guys with guns and with an extremely murky can sense of, you know, kind of corporate rules grafted on top of it.
That problem, believe it or not, is worse in Ukraine now than it was under Yanukovych. And it was extremely bad. It was a tens of billions of dollar scale problem under Yanukovych. It's worse now in part because everybody's fighting over the spoils of what Yanukovych and the family left behind. But more so because the irony is, at least under Yanukovych you had a kind of monopoly on force. Now you have private armies. Which means either the oligarchs are literally sending their private—their boys with guns to take stuff that belongs to someone else that they want, or, they're just for hire. You just have a lot of people with a lot of guns, and you have a general atmosphere that lacks any real sense of rule of law. This is on a high level, but this is also on a low level.
So, you know, what do you do about that? Well, it's a huge problem; right? This isn't something you flip a switch, you know, in an IMF program, click, you know, nine months later we're done, right? This is a deep-seated kind of—here's one way I put it. When, you know, Sasha, the Ukrainian businessman cannot wait to drive home to complain to his wife about the corrupt official who's trying to, you know, extort a bribe from him at work and he gets stopped by a traffic cop because he's speeding a little bit; when his instinct stops being 'slip the guy 500 hryvnia so he can get home faster and keep complaining', and becomes 'I'll see you in court, I'll follow the rules, I'll pay the fine', et cetera, et cetera—in other words, a bottom-up change—then we have different Ukraine. We're very, very far from that.
In the short term, some simple things you could do; right? The Rada has already passed a reform package. But at the last minute—and this doesn't surprise me at all, given who's in this Rada and the fact that, you know, a huge proportion—I won't specify how many because I don't know—are very much under the sway of the most powerful and now well-armed oligarchs in the country.
They stripped out the criminal penalties for the most critical pieces of this reform package, including the law on beneficial ownership. It's a very important law, because it says who owns what. Otherwise, everything's held by a hundred different layers of shell corporations, and you don't even know who owns something to begin with, right?
This is not beside the point, guys. Violence in Ukraine, chaos, corruption, it all happens over who gets to own and control the sources of national wealth. I mean, Ambassador Herbst knows this story very well from his time as ambassador. So that's the first thing you fix.
The other thing you fix is, you have a vision for getting the guns out of the hands of the people who shouldn't have them, and for getting some kind of national project, some kind of something in the way of national reconciliation, so that people who live in one part of the country don't feel like they have to raise private militias and rely on these local kingpins—warlords. Warlords are the right term. We should call them warlords—in order to defend them against people in another part of the country.
And I'm not only talking about Donbass versus the rest of Ukraine here. I wish it was that clean a division. It's nothing even remotely like that. So the scale of this problem is actually so enormous, Anya, that this isn't the kind of thing that, you know, the IMF experts are going to just write up a list and Yatsenyuk and his emergency cabinet meeting last night can, you know, adopt all of these things as new law, sign the papers, and they get $17 billion and it's done. It's nothing even remotely like that. I'm sorry.
DEYOUNG: Did you --
HERBST: I'll answer much more quickly. The differences in Ukrainian population between east and west is much less than many commentators have expected and assumed. And while there's a need for a certain amount of autonomy in the east, especially in the Donbass if Ukraine ever reestablishes control over the Donbass, that is a manageable problem.
The problem of overall reform of Ukraine is an enormous issue. And it's as important as defending Ukraine against the Kremlin's aggression. On reform, you certainly have the best government and the best Rada in Ukraine's history to address this. You certainly have at the lower policy level and among many Rada members legitimate reformers. And that's wonderful, for the first time in Ukraine's history.
It's also true that Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk represent the best leadership that the country's ever had to address reform. But it's also true that they may not be good enough. I know them well. I think they both understand that reform is important. I think they're also both used to dealing in the back rooms and in the corrupt ways that have been critical to success in the country in the past.
I give Poroshenko reasonably high marks as a national security leader dealing with this Kremlin aggression. I would give him at best a C-minus as a reform leader. I wouldn't give him an F. Because, in fact, the --
HERBST: Well, no. Because the legislation put before the Rada was not bad. It represents an improvement, even with the problems that you referred to. The point is, however, it's not good enough, in my judgment.
I think that the West has a policy of tough love on this subject, which is not followed sufficiently closely. I think that the—it was not a coincidence, as the Soviets used to say, that Christine Lagarde offered the IMF package as Poroshenko was wavering on signing Minsk Two, which was a disgrace as a document if you look at the things put on Ukraine.
So I think for reasons of sympathy on the security side, the IMF and the West has not been as tough on the reform side as it should be. And that's a problem. So to my mind, coming back to Matt's need to have a policy which encompasses everything, the West should be much tougher on the security issues in the ways I've described. But also tougher on the reform side. This will be the fastest path both to contain a revisionist Mr. Putin and putting Ukraine on the path which will have it developing—I agree with Matt, not as nicely and as neatly as Poland, but along that track.
DEYOUNG: We only have a few more minutes. And so why don't we take two or three questions and just give your questions in a row. And then I'll turn the floor over to our two speakers.
QUESTION: Hans Binnendijk from SAIS and Rand. So I'd like to follow up on the question about Germany and Mariupol.
A number of conservative German politicians close to Chancellor Merkel have been talking about what you might call the Mariupol test. That is, if the Russians break out of the current area in which they're in and we see an effort to take Mariupol, that would be the trigger for both their support for the provision of defensive lethal weapons, but also for an increase in economic sanctions.
And that kind of an approach would tend to bring together the allies, rather than divide them, and would also have the—would contain, rather than try to roll back, which is very hard to do as much as I'd like to. So just give me your thoughts on why that wouldn't work.
DEYOUNG: And do we have one more? Yes.
QUESTION: Jason Rockett, Greenmantle. The one side of Russia that we haven't really spoken about is the eastern side. And historically, the U.S. has used its relationship with China and Japan to put pressure on Russia in cases where Russia was applying pressure on Europe. We haven't really seen any of that in the last year. And I was wondering what kind of practical and realistic optionss do we have there with our allies?
DEYOUNG: OK. Who would like go first on that?
ROJANSKY: Sure. OK. Just on—yes. On Mariupol test. If I understood your actual question at the end correctly, you're saying why wouldn't, then, additional sanctions and weapons work at that point?
QUESTION: Do you support the idea?
ROJANSKY: Do I support the idea. So my answer to that is basically—so I think your analysis of the Mariupol test is probably right. I think that's an accurate diagnosis of European and American politics at this moment. Which is part of why I said for now, it's kind of moot in watching them. But that's only for now. If we get to that, if think you're right, we'll have transatlantic unity.
I think you can put the line wherever you want to put it. You can put it at Mariupol. If you want to put it another hundred kilometers in, you know, pick another target, Sloviansk, you can do that too. My question is still going to be—and to get me onboard, whatever the policy is, is going to be OK, what then? What is the vision?
So if the vision is, so then we're going to send X amount of weapons, then I actually agree with Ambassador Herbst; A, you need to preserve genuine ambiguity within the threat so that it's a real threat. But you have to know why it is that you're prepared to escalate to that level; to X amount of weapons, to X-plus-ten amount. And then to whatever it might take to get ultimately where you probably need to go—and this is where I sort of hedgingly and cautiously probably also agree with Ambassador Herbst—that Putin probably isn't going to stop. He probably will look to open another front.
And if that's the case, you really have to be committed. And if you're committed, you have to know why you're committed and think about where it ends. If it does end with us being in a proxy war or a real war with the Russians. If it does end with scenarios where we are looking to undercut the Putin regime so much, including, you know, backing internal opposition to the hilt, taking him out, whatever those strategies might look like, this is—you see, I'm saying—so this is scary stuff, right?
But we're through the looking glass here. Once we declare—what I don't want to do is I don't want to declare an American line and then answer that with either nothing or with something that is very clearly inadequate that he—you know, he says I see your rockets—not missiles. Sorry—I see your rockets and I raise you more rockets.
That's the scenario I don't want to be in, right? So if we follow through, we have to know why we're following through and where it ends. And I would hope, in fact, Europe is in the lead in that conversation. Not because I'm afraid of American leadership. I agree on every rhetorical and political level. And if I were writing speeches for the President, I'd write them very differently. But because I think Europe has a much better sense of where it ends, and why it matters where it ends. You know, our neighbors are Canada, Mexico, and fish. Their neighbors are Russia. They know how this stuff works.
And then just on China—not a China expert. The one thing that I have observed—you know, obviously, we've got—we have Japan and South Korea to the extent that we were going to have them. It's always going to be less than we want and slower than we want. But the problem that I see with China—I talk to a lot of Chinese journalists much more so lately because they're always very eager to know what are we going to do in terms of sanctions.
My sense is not only, you know, is there this sort of schadenfreude that the Chinese are thrilled to see this Russia-West, you know, partnership come apart at the seams. But there's also a sense that the Chinese are the first major global economy to begin hedging against the Western-dominated global financial and trading system, that they look at the sanctions and they read it a little differently than we do. We say Russia has broken the rules and so Russia is outside the system and so Russia has to be punished.
They look at it and they say no, no, no, the rule was this was going to be an apolitical system that was going to be a level playing field for all of us. You, the West, have violated that rule by making it political. So we are going to, on the margins at least, shift resources out of the system and try to come up with an alternative. That's—it's just one more thing we have to take into account.
HERBST: OK. I'll start with China. I'm not sure that there's much of a card for us to play with China. Because China's actually one of the beneficiaries of this current crisis. Whether it's because Russia may be willing to sell them gas at a reduced price or it's because as Russia tears up the international system, China sees precedence it can use in the seas nearby. So I don't think they'd be a balancer for us against Mr. Putin.
Regarding Hans' point, I think the Mariupol test would be wonderful. I think that would finally have Europe setting down clear lines and letting Mr. Putin know in advance that he pays a higher price for aggression. And I agree as well with Matt's point that it need not be Mariupol, it can be somewhere else.
Because again, for reasons I provided for analysis—per analysis I provided, Mr. Putin's not going to stop. So he will run up against that line. And that will begin to establish, in Europe as well as hopefully in Washington, the strong policies we need to deal with him. Hopefully in the Ukraine. But if not in Ukraine, then beyond Ukraine.
And I don't share Matt's view that it'll be a national catastrophe and loss of American prestige if we provide weapons and Mr. Putin nonetheless conquers parts of Ukraine. We've done that in the past and we've let people know in the past yes, we are willing to provide weapons for conflict X, but not put American soldiers on the ground.
But as part of a long game to keep Mr. Putin in check, it's a smart move. And the downside is relatively small. In fact, the downside really doesn't exist. Only in the minds of people who are overly cautious and don't want to see the real danger.
ROJANSKY: Wait. No—no, I have to disagree with that. Because --
DEYOUNG: Briefly, because we're really out out of time.
ROJANSKY: Because I think the downside is for Ukraine, right? So—so Anya had the right question about what happens to Ukraine. And the downside, if all we get is a massive upsurge in fighting and Putin wins anyway and Ukraine remains dysfunctional anyway is we end up with 50,000 more dead Ukrainians. That's a pretty big downside.
HERBST: But the Ukrainians want it. They're asking for it.
ROJANSKY: Well, again, that's to my point. With all due respect to my Ukrainian friends, you know, that may not mean that we should give it to them.
HERBST: ...father knows best.
DEYOUNG: I think we're all going to have occasion to be back here and continue this conversation. So thank you all very much. And particularly, thank you so much to our speakers.