A war is raging in Europe. Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Arguing that Ukraine was controlled by nationalists and Nazis, Russia sought to seize major cities including the capitol, Kyiv, and trigger a regime change. After failures to achieve these objectives, Russia now appears to be regrouping its forces to target Ukraine’s eastern region. Russia’s aggression has resulted in significant civilian deaths, the alleged commission of war crimes, and the displacement of millions of Ukrainians. The invasion has also unified the West, with Germany pledging to increase military spending, broad sanctions against Russian leadership and industry, and discussions in Sweden and Finland about joining NATO. Our experts will review events to date, what we can expect from the Kremlin, the Biden administration’s policy, and what comes next. Please join us for this timely conversation.
- Michael Allen, Managing Director, Beacon Global Strategies; Former Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Counter-proliferation Strategy, National Security Council; Author, Blinking Red Light: Crisis and Compromise in American Intelligence after 9/11
- Prof. Angela Stent, Director, Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies; Professor of Government and Foreign Service, Georgetown University
- Moderator: Matthew Heiman, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary, Waystar Health; Senior Fellow and Director of Planning, National Security Institute
As always, the Federalist Society takes no position on particular legal or public policy issues; all expressions of opinion are those of the speaker.
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Ryan Lacey: Hello, and welcome to The Federalist Society’s virtual event. This afternoon, April 15th, 2022, we discuss Ukraine in Crisis. My name is Ryan Lacey, and I’m an Assistant Director of Practice Groups at The Federalist Society. As always, please note that all expressions of opinion are those of our experts on today’s call. Today, we are fortunate to have an excellent panel moderated by Matthew Heiman whom I’ll introduce briefly. Matthew Heiman is the general counsel and corporate secretary at Waystar Health. He is a senior fellow and the director of planning at the National Security Institute at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School. Previously, Mr. Heiman was vice president, corporate secretary, and associate general counsel at Johnson Controls and lawyer at the National Security Division at the US State Department. Mr. Heiman has a bachelor’s degree and a juris doctorate from Indiana University and is a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
After our speakers give their remarks, we will turn to you the audience for questions. If you have a question, please enter it into the Q-and-A feature at the bottom of your screen, and we will handle questions as we can towards the end of today’s program. With that, thank you for being with us today. Mr. Heiman, the floor is yours.
Matthew Heiman: Thanks, Ryan. And I’m delighted to be joined by two experts for a very timely discussion. Let me introduce Dr. Angela Stent first. Angela is a professor emeritus of government and foreign service at Georgetown University. She is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and she co-chairs the Hewett Forum on Post-Soviet Affairs. Angela also had a distinguished career in public service. She served as the national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the National Intelligence Counsil. She also served at the Office of Policy Planning at the US Department of State. And Angela has a very distinguished academic career with a number of other highlights including being a member of the Senior Advisory Panel for NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe. If you’d like to know more about Angela and her background, I’d invite you to look at her bio on the website of the Federalist Society.
We’re also joined by Michael Allen who’s the managing director at Beacon Global Strategies. And in public service, Michael was the majority staff director for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Prior to his service at HPSCI, he was the director for the Bi-Partisan Policy Center, successor to the 9/11 Commission. Mr. Allen also served at the White House for seven years in a number of roles related to national security policy and legislation. Included in that time was service on the National Security Counsil where he served as a special assistant to the president and senior director for counter proliferation strategy. Mr. Allen also serves on the board of advisors at the National Security Institute at GMU.
So we have two excellent speakers. I’m looking forward to this discussion. And what I’d like to do is start with Angela. And I’d like to get your perspective Angela on sort of how did we get here? Meaning, how did we get to the point where we have an open war in the Ukraine with Russia invading Ukraine? And is there anything in hindsight that the US, the Europeans, or NATO could have done to prevent this outcome?
Prof. Angela Stent: Well, thank you for inviting me to be on this panel. What we see now is the culmination of a set of grievances that Vladimir Putin has nursed -- well, at least since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and which he made quite clear in his speech at the Munich Security Conference in 2007. The idea that the United States was dominating the world in a nefarious way and that basically, Russia was being denied its rights and really also a right to a sphere of influence in a post-Soviet space. So Putin famously said in 2005, “The collapse of the Soviet Union was the 20th century’s greatest geopolitical catastrophe. Why? Because it left 25,000,000 Russians outside of Russia including 11,000,000 Russians in Ukraine.” And Putin has never believed that Ukraine is a separate country or that Ukrainians are a separate nationality, and he has been determined to ensure that Ukraine doesn’t leave the Russian orbit. And so you had that in 2004 with the Orange Revolution. You had that, of course, with the annexation of Crimea, and now you have this war.
So these ideas and his belief that Ukraine belongs to Russia, that’s been there for a long time. But the question is, “Why now?” And I think he, after two years of being more or less in a bunker during Covid -- and we can talk more about that -- he looked around. They were very disappointed in Zelensky. They thought in the beginning President Zelensky would make peace with them on the terms they wanted -- and he had a 25 percent popularity rate at that point. They looked at the United States. They looked at the withdrawal from Afghanistan. They believed the Biden administration was presiding over a hopelessly polarized society -- couldn’t get its legislative agenda through and was going to be distracted. They looked at Europe. That also seemed very distracted with a new German government coming in and a French presidential election. And so they decided that this was the time to strike, based on a number of miscalculations that I’m sure we will talk about, including miscalculating how the US and the Europeans would in fact respond to this.
Could this have been prevented? Well you could go back and say in 2008 maybe the Bush administration should have done more after the Russia Georgia war and then the recognition of these two entities, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. There were high level contacts were cut off after that. But still, the relationship then bounced back obviously when the Obama administration then came in. And then you can say in 2014, “Yes, the Obama administration imposed sanctions on Ukraine. And yes, Russia was kicked out of the G8.” But maybe more should have been done then, because I know when the Russians took over Crimea, the Ukrainians were sort of basically told not to fight back. At that time, maybe they weren’t really in a position to have done anything. Or you could go back and say, “If Ukraine had joined NATO earlier on, this also might not be happening.” But of course, that was impossible because in 2008 Germany and France made sure that Ukraine did not get a membership action plan and then came out with a communique with this unfortunate sentence about Ukraine joining NATO one day and yet did nothing to do that. So, in that sense, maybe it could have been prevented. But I think, if you look at what happened just in the last year, there wasn’t much that could’ve been done to prevent it. I think the US was very -- it was a very sharp move to reveal and declassify intelligence not only to our allies but to the Russians and telling them, “We know exactly what you’re doing,” and to threaten the sanctions. But that did not deter Putin.
Matthew Heiman: Michael, in terms of the Biden administration’s response which Angela started to talk about, I’d just be curious to get your perspective on, has it done enough? Is there more that it could be doing?
Michael Allen: Thanks for the question. And thank you so much for the invitation. And it’s an honor to be here especially with Professor Stent, such a distinguished expert on this particular topic. I think there are two primary ways that you can judge the Biden administration’s response so far. One is the amount of weaponry that has been flown in before the invasion and after the invasion. And then the second is, of course, sanctions and other restrictive measures put on Putin and the oligarchs around him. First, let’s talk about the weapons that have gone in. I think they deserve credit. We have sent enormous amounts of weaponry to the Ukrainians. The Ukrainians are brave and courageous and smart and doing all the terrific fighting, but I do think the west gets credit for putting a lot of defensive weaponry in their hands and training through the years that helped them at least repel the Russians in the first part of their invasion.
There’s one thing that I think we’re going to have to examine over time and that’s whether or not the Biden administration should have supplied additional weapons well prior to the invasion. I’ve heard the case made that they were very cautious, and I understand why. They didn’t want to necessarily provoke Vladimir Putin by shipping in too many weapons. I know they were seeking a stable relationship with Vladimir Putin in the beginning. But I agree with Professor Stent that one thing that was inviting to Putin certainly was the Afghanistan withdrawal, and we may conclude over time that we didn’t give enough weapons to the Ukrainians well prior to the invasion so that perhaps Vladimir Putin would have thought twice. That’s an arguable proposition when you look at Vladimir Putin’s speeches and see how deep seeded his resentment is of Ukraine. Maybe more anti-tank missiles wouldn’t have deterred him whatsoever, but it’s something we ought to look at and talk about going forward.
Second, on sanctions, again, I think the administration deserves a lot of credit. They promised this would be not incremental, that it would be very sudden. They would go high order. And I think they largely have. When I talk to the real sanctions experts around town, they sort of land on, “Hey, you know what? We’re five or six out of ten on the scale in terms of intensity. I’m very glad that they added more full blocking sanctions to certain banks in recent weeks. I’m glad to see us finally designating, blacklisting certain oligarchs and finding their assets around the world. But I think we have to do more, quite plainly. And there are a couple of things that I hope we can discuss more today.
One is, I think the administration is about to get into what we call sectoral sanctions. You’ve obviously seen a little bit on oil and gas. I think they’re going to pivot to mining and minerals next. And two, although the administration -- and probably to their credit -- prizes European unity above all, and it does make sense that we want to move in concert with our allies, I think a thorny issue is, how can we move Germany along faster. They certainly get credit for the speech that Chancellor Scholz gave the Saturday after the invasion when he pledged to increase defense spending and, of course, buy F35s, among other things. And they get some credit, of course, for beginning to ship lethal weaponry. But I feel like we’ve -- maybe the Germans are back sliding a little bit. It feels like there are certain tanks that they’re not willing to share. Some they are willing to share. Others, they’re not. We’re hearing reports that they are the last to agree or sometimes blocking the shipment of other offensive weapons. And you obviously see this on twitter -- not that that’s necessarily representative of world opinion -- but they’re certainly taking it on the chin to seem to prioritize their economy over imports of gas to the German economy.
So I think that we’re doing okay so far, but I’m persuaded, and I’ll end with this, I’m persuaded by experts who say we’re entering a second part of the war where the Ukrainians need to be more offensive. And to be more offensive, they need more heavy weaponry like tanks even MiGs where they would be able to go on the offensive more readily. And I think we’ve got to ramp up in that direction and make sure the Germans don’t block us in that or the sanctions, for that matter.
Matthew Heiman: And just on that note, as we sort of head to this second phase, we’ve seen the reports that the Russians are refocusing in the Eastern region of Ukraine. Angela, I’m curious, from your seat, what do you think Putin does next? What’s his next step?
Prof. Angela Stent: Well, they clearly would like to take the whole of the Donbas region. Right now and since 2014, they’ve only controlled part of those two so called independent republics, Donetsk and Luhansk. And they’d like to take the whole of that territory. I believe that’s where they’re going to focus next. And there are -- a lot of the Ukrainian military station have been there since 2014 when they’ve been fighting this war. Then, I do think they also have their sights -- Mariupol, we’re not quite sure. I mean, the Russians claim that its surrendered. The Ukrainians claim it hasn’t. But obviously they flattened it, and they may be about to take it over. And that would be a strategic gain for them, given its location. And then, their next site could be Odessa. I mean, they’ve tried. They’ve attacked Odessa, then they’ve pulled back a bit. They have effectively by now, cut Ukraine off from being able, as we know, to export, for instance, any of its grain. They’ve made Ukraine, at the moment, into a landlocked country by cutting off Odessa and the access to the Black Sea. And they would like to make that permanent. I’m not sure that they can do that. But I think that that would be their goal.
We have May 9th coming up -- Victory Day. There will be a parade in Red Square, and we know that Vladimir Putin would like to announce victory. I mean, he can announce victory anyway, but I think that he would like to claim that their original goal has been fulfilled and they’ve taken over the Donbas and saved the Russian speakers in the Donbas from the Nazi genocidal Ukrainians. We’ll see whether they can do it. There clearly was a huge underestimation by Putin and the people around him -- or what they were telling him -- of the ability of the Russian military to fight effectively. And there are many reasons for that. One of which is, of course, the corruption that seeps through all of Russian society is also very much there in the military. And so a lot of funds were never spent where they were supposed to be spent. But we’ve seen, really, a very lackluster military campaign, supply lines not working, things like that. Now, they’ve appointed this new commander, Dvornikov. The Russian defense minister Shoigu seems to be very much in the background. There are rumors that he’s maybe not really commanding the military forces anymore. So there has to be some regrouping there. But I think at the moment, the goal is clearly to take over as much as they can in the Donbas, to take all of Mariupol, and then, possibly to have their sights on Odessa.
Matthew Heiman: And this is maybe a question for both of you. I know the US government put out reports saying that Putin was receiving bad advice from his own internal advisors. Is it fair to say that he’s surprised by how difficult this exercise has been, given what we all assume were his original aims which were to knock out the major cities in Ukraine and presumably decapitate the government there? Is it fair for us to assess that he’s genuinely surprised by what a mess this has become?
Prof. Angela Stent: Oh, I think definitely. I mean, the fact that we now hear rumors that significant members of the FSB, intelligence officials who were responsible for things in Ukraine and sending intelligence back to Russia, they’ve been arrested. The whole directorate that Putin formed when he was head of the FSB that dealt with the post-Soviet states including Ukraine seems to be under attack now. And I think we really have to think that the FSB operatives who were in Ukraine, maybe they were so blinkered in the way they looked at Ukraine that they really didn’t understand Ukraine and what was happening there, or they didn’t see the parts of Ukraine where there was really a strong national consciousness and will to resist Russia. And that goes, I think, to a larger problem which is, I think the Russians have never understood the Ukrainians, at least since independence and how Ukraine has been developing since then.
Matthew Heiman: Yeah. And Michael, any thoughts on sort of the surprise factor for the Russian leadership in terms of how events have transpired in Ukraine?
Michael Allen: I think they’re probably the most shocked of all. Certainly, all of us in the west were very, very surprised at just how tough the Ukrainians were. We knew they were battle hardened because of the Donbas region and the fighting since 2014. But certainly, I think, since we were shocked, the Russians must have been shocked that their quick campaign which they seemed to have based on, let’s do a very quick strike with paratroopers to the airports, secure the airports, bring in additional troops, take over the capital, perhaps do a decapitation raid on the presidential office, failed spectacularly. I think we, the United States, helped them with the intelligence about where they were headed and how to do it. But they get credit for the fighting. They get credit, and we have seen it as recently as the last two days when they sunk a warship. They’ve been ingenious in their military tactics. I think it’s a surprise to the west, and it must be a surprise to an autocrat like Vladimir Putin since I’m not sure of many regimes in the world where the president or even an autocrat gets absolutely unadorned truth from his or her subordinates about how things are going. I think Vladimir Putin is surprised and annoyed and maybe that explains some of the things that Angela was mentioning and the reports about intelligence officers under house arrest and shake ups in the military.
Matthew Heiman: And just, I want to pick up on a theme that you touched upon a moment ago Michael, which is, our European allies, in particular Germany, but we’re also obviously seeing reports -- not just reports, but I mean, government discussions in Finland and Sweden about entertaining joining NATO. And I’m just wondering, what should we be expecting from our European allies as we go forward? Will we see an increase or hitting the two percent GDP pledge that all NATO members are supposed to hit in terms of defense spending? Will we see Germany actually begin to ween itself off of Russian fossil fuels? I’m wondering, what can we expect from those countries? And I recognize each country is very different from the next, but I’m just curious as to your thoughts on what we can expect in terms of trend lines.
Michael Allen: Well, we should mention the French election a little bit later but that would be a real disaster if Marine Le Pen is elected given some of her policy positions. But I think its worth focusing a little bit more for now on Germany. And again, I think Chancellor Scholz gets some credit for the speech immediately after the invasion. But I think the United States and all of our European allies have got to hold Germany’s feet to the fire. Theres’s backsliding. They seem to be more nervous, at least Scholz and the social democrats seem to be more nervous about sanctions and about shipping weapons. It’s funny, I mean, who would have thought that the green party of all parties would be the most hawkish, so to speak, on what Germany’s foreign policy and national security policy ought to be.
I’m worried that the Germans will eventually backslide on their new commitments to purchase the F35 to sustain a 2 percent of GDP defense spending plan over time. We have got to make sure that they hold those lines. Something that President Trump brought up a lot -- President Obama and President Bush brought it up a lot. We’ve just got to make sure that they’re in the fight with us. Now, I do think it’s easier, of course. We have a convergence of the threat picture for the first time in a long, long time. Angela can talk about this more, but President Steinmeier of Germany has admitted, more or less, that he made tremendous mistakes in the assumptions that he and other Germans made about the reliability of Vladimir Putin and the wisdom of importing gas by way of Nord Stream 2 and maybe even back to Nord Stream 1. So we’ve got a lot of diplomacy to do to help lead Europe and ensure that the unity that we’re benefitting from now is sustained over the years to come.
Prof. Angela Stent: Can I just add something to that?
Matthew Heiman: Please.
Prof. Angela Stent: I think the problem is that as the sanctions effect Europe and, of course, they’re effecting the US too, but the more the sanctions effect Europe in terms of supply change, gasoline prices, inflation, things like that, the more they hit peoples’ pocketbooks -- and again that’s very much in play in the French election -- I think the more difficult it will be to sustain this coalition. And I think we are aware of that now, and we’re going to have to work extra hard to do it.
Matthew Heiman: And I’m just curious from both of you. You both spent time in government. What does that diplomacy look like? In other words, what is the diplomatic course saying to Germany? How do we hold Germany’s feet to the fire? I assume it’s a mix of carrot and stick. But what practically could that look like, or maybe should that look like?
Michael Allen: Well, the administration clearly is favoring quiet diplomacy, and I’m for that working if it can work. What I’m hearing from Republicans and other sort of hawks, if you will, is that we ought to hold out the prospect of secondary sanctions -- and this would be quite remarkable -- but hold out the prospect of secondary sanctions against Germany and others if they continue to purchase Russian oil and gas over time. I don’t think hawks are even quite there yet, but I think it’s something that the Germans may feel pressure on over time. We’ve begun to see, just in the last 48 hours, rumors or reports out of Europe that they may be able to move quicker than expected on banning the import of oil -- not gas.
Matthew Heiman: Right.
Michael Allen: Oil -- not gas. It’s much easier to do than -- which is I think 50 percent of their economy -- or 50 percent of their gas intake comes from Russia. So that’s a good step in the right direction. But I think it’s everything from quiet diplomacy, to calling them out a little bit, to even over time putting out the prospect of sanctions.
Matthew Heiman: Angela, thoughts on that? If you were advising President Biden right now, what would you be saying in terms of the mix of carrots and sticks?
Prof. Angela Stent: Well, I think at the moment the quiet diplomacy is very important. If we started having public fights with the Germans in the middle of this war, this will play, obviously, into Putin and everybody else’s hands, and I don’t think we will achieve much. I think we also have to be aware that the coalition in Germany -- it was a kind of strange coalition anyway to come together with the social democrats and the greens and the free democrats. But the views on Russia, of course, are very different between those parties. And we see stresses in that coalition and particularly sort of pressure on the foreign minister who is a green, Annalena Baerbock, who wants a much tougher policy. So I think the quiet diplomacy is correct.
I think the Europeans have really woken up and are now genuinely concerned that there could be some form of nuclear exchange here. And there they are, right on the continent with Germany not very far away from the area. And I think that’s something where the US, again probably behind closed doors, probably has to impress on them. If you are genuinely concerned about this, as you probably should be, you have to do whatever you can to prevent that. And feeding the war chest of the Russian Federation with their billions of dollars of energy purchases everyday is really not helping. And so I think the pressure on Germany to agree to cut off, first of all, oil imports, but then, in the longer run, natural gas imports, I think that should continue. I think going to secondary sanctions that would affect Germany, that really should be the last option just because, again, in the situation of a war, I don’t think this would be a very wise move. But I think the Germans have to be aware that that is there in the background.
Matthew Heiman: I’d like to shift gears with the panel for a moment and sort of take ourselves figuratively to the other side of the world which is China. China has been fairly neutral. I mean, they’ve sort of indicated -- obviously, they’ve had a relationship with Putin, but they’ve sort of -- they are sitting on the sidelines. I’m wondering, maybe we can start with Michael, but I’d like to get Angela’s thoughts too. How is China viewing this? And how, in turn, should we be thinking about China?
Michael Allen: Well, one, I think generally, what China wanted out of this in backing Russia was for the west to be embarrassed, to be humiliated. I think they expected Russia to storm in and show the west up. The west can’t do sanctions, the west couldn’t protect Ukraine, and their partnership which now famously “knows no limits” would have benefitted. I think the Chinese are embarrassed, but it almost doesn’t matter if they’re embarrassed because it’s not the nature of their political system to pay a real cost for this kind of thing.
To me what’s most interesting about this is the effect this may have on the China’s calculus vis a vis whether to invade Taiwan. And people argue they could do it this year. Most people say they need a few more years of the right weapons purchases to do it. But if I’m Xi Jinping, and I’m looking at this, I’m saying to myself, “Wow. The west united. They rallied around Ukraine. They shipped weapons galore over to Ukraine, and they’re going to do the same in Taiwan.” People are already saying, “Well, you know what? Maybe this particular kind of surface to air missile is the Taiwan equivalent of the anti-tank missile the javelin. And so we need more of these sort of Taiwanese javelins shipped over.” It’s how to make Taiwan into a cactus that you don’t want to tackle. It’s so fierce that you stay away from it. They might also conclude that, “Wow. Russia really was sanctioned horribly.” And it’s a little bit harder, I admit, to do the same sanctions on China because they’re so much more economically entwined around the world. They have a much more dynamic economy. But nonetheless, Xi Jinping may conclude, “Wow. It’s easier said than done to take another country, and it’s easier said than done to avoid sanctions.” The west will look better. They have more of a shot in the arm here if the Ukrainians are continued to be seen as the victors in Ukraine.
Matthew Heiman: Angela, thoughts on China?
Prof. Angela Stent: Sure. So Putin would not have invaded Ukraine had he not understood that the Chinese would support him. We don’t know exactly what was said when Putin was in Beijing on February the fourth, and the Russians Chinese signed a declaration of partnerships as we said that “Knows no limits.” And I think it’s plausible that the Chinese didn’t really understand what kind of -- or were not told -- what kind of a military action this would be. The only thing that they apparently did ask for Putin to do was to delay until the end of the Olympics which, in fact, had the Russians invaded earlier, might be more advantageous for them given the terrain and the weather then. But I think now what you see is China, I agree, that they are embarrassed by some of this. I think that the specter of a large-scale war in the middle of Europe really is not in their playbook. I mean, they say they respect territorial integrity and sovereignty, and, in the beginning, they said this applies to Ukraine. Ukraine’s part of the Belt and Road project. China, I think, is Ukraine’s largest trading partner. So this is an assault also on a country with which they have good ties.
But, on the other hand, the relationship with Putin and with Russia is very important for Xi Jinping, another autocratic leader, as they push back against what they call US hegemony and the US based world order -- wanting to change that. And therefore, you see the Chinese are repeating all of the same propaganda as the Russians are about why the war broke out, about US designs on Russia and things like that. And they’ve also repeated the fake news, saying that the massacre at Bucha was done by the Ukrainians or by actors, not by the Russians. So they haven’t changed their position, and of course, in the United Nations they’re doing all they can to support Russia and clearly not condemn it for anything.
So I think that going forward, people have suggested, “Well, maybe the Chinese could be mediators in this.” I don’t think they want to play that role. And I think what they are doing, however, is they are complying so far with the sanctions. We don’t have any evidence that they are trying to help Russia avoid them. And we don’t have any evidence that they’re supplying Russia with military hardware which there were rumors about that too. But I would have thought -- I agree with Michael here -- to take away from this vis a vis Taiwan is A, look how the Ukrainians are fighting back. How about the Taiwanese? I bet they’re pretty well equipped. And B, does China want sanctions like the ones that have been imposed on Russia? Even though I agree that we couldn’t impose the same kind of sanctions on them, but still it could be very disruptive for them economically. So this might be something -- a wake-up call in as much as they might think maybe they have to rethink a timetable for whatever they want to do to reunify with Taiwan.
Matthew Heiman: And if we shift our gaze back to the Kremlin and the fantastic disappointment of the campaign from Putin’s viewpoint and certainly not meeting expectations. I’m wondering Angela, does this effect his ability to govern in Russia? Does this make a brittle regime even more brittle? Or can Putin afford to have a disastrous loss in Ukraine and continue on as the essentially the dictator of Russia?
Prof. Angela Stent: In 2020, when Putin changed the constitution and changed it so that he could rule at least until 2036, I, like a lot of other people thought, “Okay. He’s there until 2036 or maybe even beyond.” I don’t really think that anymore. I mean, I think we shouldn’t -- Russians say, “Oh, because of how badly the war’s going, he’s going to be out soon.” We don’t know that. But we do know that there is clearly restiveness among the military who apparently -- many of whom were actually not told about these plans and a lot of other people in other parts of the government in Russia who didn’t know that this invasion was going to take place. So this was just a small group of people around Putin who were fully aware of what was going to happen. And so there are signs of discontent. I mean, the fact that they had to arrest or have arrested a number of people, significant numbers in the FSB. But there are rumors that there are other people who used to be close advisors to Putin are now under house arrest. I mean, there are a lot of rumors. We can’t prove all of them.
I think it would be very difficult for him to stay in power for a long time if he doesn’t achieve his objective, and his objective was the subjugate Ukraine and to have a pro-Russian government in Ukraine and to say that Ukraine for all intents and purposes is no longer an independent country. And since it doesn’t look as if he’s going to be able to achieve that and he’s going to have to come away with less with all the casualties -- we don’t even know what the casualty figures are. But if they are just for the Russians now 15,000 or even more than that, that does have an impact on the country with all the body bags coming back -- not all of them are coming back -- but the ones that are, and with the Russian people facing the problem with high prices and lack of food in the stores and things like that. You would think at least, that at some point that will have an impact. But again, it’s a very repressive system. People are cut off from all real forms of information, and therefore, it could take longer than one would assume.
Matthew Heiman: Michael, any thoughts on that issue -- Putin’s ability to govern over the long haul.
Michael Allen: Well, so I think there’s a -- I’ve read anyway -- there’s a sort of short-term boost in his approval ratings just like there was when he invaded in 2014. I do -- and I think he’s safe, and I can’t see him being overthrown under any plausible scenario. But if he moves forward and this drags on for a longer period of time and his actions become more reckless, it’s increasingly possible -- not probable -- but, I mean, possible that the military could say, “You know what? We weren’t excited about this invasion in the first place. You’ve misused your military. We are getting, in effect, butchered by the Ukrainians. We want this regime to end very, very quickly.” That’s sort of the most likely scenario by which I’ve heard that he could get pushed out of power. I don’t think it’s likely. I think he’s safe because he controls all the security apparatus around him.
But I do think that over time, Russia is such a big loser from this. Not just for all the reasons that we’ve talked about for their economy and their prestige. I mean, just one little item to share. There are estimates of over 200,000 people have left Russia since the war began. It’s a brain drain. It’s their most talent -- primarily the youth, as I understand it. I can see this causing the most talented Russians to conclude, “This is not a good place for me to build a family, get exciting jobs, move forward in a 21st century economy.” And so I think this just continues to hollow out Russia which has bad implications for its leader, but it is hard to see him losing control and not being able to govern at all.
Matthew Heiman: Let me ask one more question, and then, I’ll go to questions from our audience. Sort of to pull out the crystal ball, if the three of us are talking a year from now, what do we think the situation looks like between Russia and Ukraine? I’ll start with you Angela.
Prof. Angela Stent: So I think it’s quite possible that in a year’s time, the war could still be dragging on. I mean, you might have a series of cease fires and temporary lulls in fighting and both sides regrouping. It’s very difficult to see what would induce Russia to withdraw its troops. I mean if the prerequisite for any settlement and the Ukrainians have said they’re willing to talk about neutrality and to talk about the longer-term status of the Donbas and Crimea but the Russians have to withdraw their troops in order for that to work. It’s difficult to see that happening under the present circumstances. So it’s possible that you could have at least a lower-level conflict dragging on as it’s been dragging on in the Donbas since 2014. I hope that’s not the case, but I fear that it could be.
Matthew Heiman: Michael, thoughts about where we might be a year from now?
Michael Allen: Yeah. I largely agree with Angela. I think it’s most likely to be a stalemate. One of the -- true military strategists have concluded something interesting about this war in particular which is that the 21st century battlefield favors the defenders. And if there are virtually -- I don’t want to say it’s a World War One trench warfare -- but if it’s something in close quarters where it’ll be quite hard for either party to advance very far, it’ll be difficult even for the Russians if they take Mariupol to march north to try and envelope the Ukrainians. I think that this will most likely be a stalemate. Now, this could exhaust Russia for some time period. They could call a ceasefire like they have under other diplomatic agreements -- never having any intention of living up to whatever they seemingly committed to. So we should look for that. But I think stalemate is the most likely thing that we’re going to see especially since I don’t know that we’re going to be able to get enough counter offensive weapons to the Ukrainians so that they might be able to move forward against a force that still has some potency, although it is depleted.
Matthew Heiman: Let’s go to some questions we have from our audience. I’m going to go in sort of reverse order. One of the questions is, and this is for both of you, do you think this would still have happened if US and its allies had not discussed Ukraine potentially joining NATO? This was the comment that was made earlier in our conversation. So if that had never -- there was this mention of Ukraine joining NATO but there was never any concrete steps thereafter. If the allies had remained silent on that point, would we see something different happening or would we have avoided the war?
Prof. Angela Stent: I doubt that. I mean, I think NATO was something that Putin’s brought up from time to time and he’s certainly used it as an excuse before he invaded. But just a couple of days ago when he talked about why Russia had done this, the word NATO wasn’t there. It was all Nazis and demilitarization and the west out to sort of seize and attack Russia. So I think he had -- this idea that he has, his belief that Ukraine doesn’t have a right to exist as a separate state and that Russia needs Ukraine as a buffer state as it has over centuries against the west, I think that was there irrespective of the NATO issue.
Matthew Heiman: Michael, is that your sense of it as well?
Michael Allen: I agree. Putin uses this as an excuse for much more deep seeded issues of resentment and believing that Ukraine shouldn’t exist. So yeah, I thought it was a pretext.
Matthew Heiman: Here’s another question from one of our audience members. And that is whether Putin overestimated the ability and willingness of the Russian conscripts to fight the war. Did he assume that they would be able to achieve things they couldn’t? And this sort of goes to the point that, Michael, you made a moment ago from strategists talking about the defender has the advantage. The questioner notes that fighting for one’s homeland is one thing, but this invasion sent a large number of conscripts to take land which they probably have little to no use for. And now these conscripts are facing well-armed civilians and military in Ukraine fighting for their homeland. So Michael, your thoughts on that dynamic?
Michael Allen: Well, the first point is, is that your questioner is absolutely right. Defending your homeland and the personal ardor you have to defend your family outweighs capability every time, I think. Morale is obviously very high among the Ukrainians. Second, just to learn as we have over the last five weeks about the way the conscripts were treated, has led to, I think, the inescapable conclusion that their morale was very low from the moment they were told to go over the border. In many cases, they were in Belarus apparently just for an exercise. They were rerouted. Their phones were sort of surrendered -- they were confiscated, and they were told that they’re being repurposed. They went over into Ukraine, not sure what the purpose was. A lot of people were confused. And now famously, the logistical situation to handle the very basic needs of your soldiers from gasoline for your tanks and food and the rest, spectacularly failed. And that must have contributed immensely to a situation where these Russian conscripts thought to themselves, “What have I signed up for?” Especially in the face of fierce, well-equipped force like the Ukrainians.
Prof. Angela Stent: So don’t forget that, in the beginning, they thought they were going to take Ukraine in 72 hours. Putin apparently did not know that conscripts were being sent. He thought it was just the professional soldiers -- and they do have a professional army now too -- that were going. And then, as the war lasted longer and he found out that conscripts were being sent, he was apparently not happy about this. But obviously, there was no alternative. And, just again to reiterate, these conscripts were very badly prepared for this. They didn’t know why they were there. And so their morale has been very low.
Matthew Heiman: This is another question from the audience and that is whether the Germans are hesitant to take a harder line because of Russia’s history of using biological and radioactive weapons on small scales against individual targets within western nations. Is Germany fearful that supporting action against Putin may lead to Putin causing fear of terrorism and making German politicians targets of Russian intelligence attacks? I don’t know, Michael, if you’ve got any thoughts. Is that part of the calculus on maybe Germany’s reticence to be as aggressive as some of the other European nations are?
Matthew Heiman: Yeah, and just since you raised that point -- I’m sorry. Angela, did you have any thoughts on that question with regard to Germans maybe being concerned about their politicians becoming targets?
Prof. Angela Stent: I mean, I agree with everything that you said. I think you just have to remember that for 50 years until February the 27th and Chancellor Shultz’s speech, there was a consensus among all the mainstream German political parties that the Ostpolitik that had been introduced in 1972 was the way to go with the Soviet Union and Russia. You engage. You try not to escalate things, and you have to have a reasonably good relationship with Russia because of geography, because of history, and then, the belief that economic relations would help this. And the Germans are slowly giving that up. Parts of the German population have already rejected that, but I would remind you that there have only been a couple of countries in Europe where they had large pro-Russian demonstrations. One of them was Serbia which isn’t surprising. And they’ve had a couple of them in Germany -- large numbers of people demonstrating in favor of Russia. And so you do still have the extreme right, the AFD, and the extreme left, the successors of the East German Communist Party who are very pro-Russian. And so sentiment in German society hasn’t maybe moved as far as the government’s policies have, and I think that’s another thing to watch.
Matthew Heiman: I’m going to exercise a moderator’s privilege. I want to follow up on a thread that Michael mentioned in his last response which is, calibrating around weapons and which weapons are too offensive and which ones aren’t. You’ll recall at the beginning of the conflict, or shortly after the beginning of the conflict, Secretary of State Blinken said that there seemed to be US government approval of moving MiGs from Poland to the Ukraine. And then, there was, within I think 24 hours, a very quick walk back from the administration saying, “No. We’re not doing that.” And I’m just wondering Michael, how are they drawing the line between which weapons are okay and which weapons are too offensive? I mean, obviously, we’ve supplied all the weaponry we have. We’ve supplied switchblade drones, but obviously, the MiGs were off the table at least at that time. How do you think they’re drawing that line at the White House?
Michael Allen: So I think it’s changing for the better. They did say that you know what. MiGs seem in character -- the character of the weapon seems more offensive than does an anti-tank missile. And over time, I think, you certainly saw Republicans and even Democrats and people around the world say, “You know what? That is an artificial distinction.” The way we ought to look at this is, how is the weapon going to be used? And I think people began to say that makes a lot more sense and therefore, let’s open up the aperture of what weapons we’re comfortable sending. To that end, you’ve heard secretary -- well, I heard Jake Sullivan on the Sunday shows just this past Sunday not endorse the offensive defensive line again when asked about the MiGs. He said, “You know what? Our objection -- here’s what it is, it’s from, and I understand it, it’s let’s not let MiGs be flown from a US NATO base within German territory flown over NATO territory and land in Ukraine.” That looks like it’s too much of a attack from NATO, or maybe the Russians are going to attack these planes perhaps even over NATO territory as they head towards Ukraine. And so that seems to be where they are on that. To me, just to put the Charlie Wilson’s war hat on, or just to be a sort of a Hollywood script writer wannabe, I’m waiting for the story to break that we figured out a way for the MiGs to be shipped over via train or some other very clever way into Ukraine then they’re going to pop up in an army base somewhere. But it seems like the distinction now is like, okay we don’t have a problem with MiGs per se, we just don’t want them flying directly from a United States base.
Matthew Heiman: Angela, this question might be for you, and I think the questioner is getting at sort of the history of when Ukraine became an independent nation following the Cold War. And the question is, what if any formal treaty assurances did Russia give regarding Ukrainian territorial integrity. Or what formal or informal assurances might have Russian been giving the west about the Ukraine?
Prof. Angela Stent: That’s a great question. So in the 1990s, it was very difficult for Boris Yeltsin, even as president of Russia, to negotiate with the Ukrainian leadership and accept that this was a separate country, but he did. And what happened was first of all, you have in 1994, you have the Budapest Memorandum. This is when Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Ukraine was the third largest nuclear weapons country in the world, if you can imagine that, after the United States and Russia because so many of the Soviet nuclear weapons had been stationed there. So the United States and Russia and Great Britain and Ukraine got together, and they signed a memorandum where Ukraine said, “We’re giving up our nuclear weapons. And in return for that, we are going to have assurances that our territorial integrity and sovereignty will be respected by all the signatories.” So Russia signed a memorandum giving these security assurances. Now, they weren’t guarantees for various diplomatic reasons, but they were assurances.
And then, in 1997, after a lot of hard bargaining, Russia and Ukraine signed a friendship treaty, again with Boris Yeltsin still in power, again guaranteeing territorial integrity sovereignty. They solved a lot of their border disputes then because it had been very difficult for them to agree on the status of some of the parts of the border between Ukraine and Russia. So there were two treaties or memorandum or pieces of paper that the Russians and Ukrainians signed which recognized Ukrainian’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. And, of course, those have now been completely ruptured by Russia. And when confronted with this, the Russians have given different excuses for why this was no longer valid because after 2014 when President Yanukovych fled Ukraine after the revolution, really, against him, the Russians now say, “Well, it’s an illegitimate government in Ukraine. And therefore, we didn’t have to abide by these pieces of paper we signed.” But they did sign pieces of paper.
And the reason why it’s important to remember this is, now Ukraine is asking for security guarantees that, if it says it will give up trying to join NATO, it wants security guarantees from the outside world including the United States, obviously, that, were its neutrality to be violated again -- i.e. if it were to be invaded again -- the guarantors, the signatories of these assurances would come to Ukraine’s help -- assistance. And the problem with that is, it’s really asking for the equivalent of Article 5 guarantees even though it won’t be in NATO. And that is going to be a very tricky problem for the United States and its allies. Although, they’re already discussing this in the Biden administration about how they might handle security assurances, at least in the future.
Matthew Heiman: Another question from the audience, and this may be our last one as we approach the top of the hour, and that is, coming back to the energy policy of Germany and particularly, what was the German motivation to become so dependent on Russian energy given their past history with Russia and Russia’s willingness to use energy export as a weapon? Maybe we’ll start with Michael, and then I’ll ask Angela to comment. Was it purely -- was it going back to the Ostpolitik that Angela mentioned earlier which is, Germany thought this was a good balancing thing -- and probably from a cost perspective it was a decent price to pay for energy that Germany needed -- but I’m just wondering your thoughts, Michael, on sort of the tight rope that Germany tried to walk in terms of importing Russian energy but the dependence that created?
Michael Allen: I think Angela nailed it and so did you just now. Ostpolitik as I understand, Angela is the expert, but is to try and foster good relations through economic activity and it’s not a wholly foreign concept to the United States. Over time, we’ve generally believed that those countries that we have free trade agreements with etcetera, etcetera makes war less likely. It’s not perfect, but that’s a directionally probably makes sense. But in this case, Vladimir Putin had more important designs in mind than maintaining good relations or else he thought that the west wouldn’t care and that the Germans would cave and otherwise not be persuaded to sanction Russia. It probably was a reasonable supposition on Putin’s part given that the west sometimes has a hard time rallying to do very strong sanctions, but he miscalculated, and the west has been rather strong as we talked about at the beginning of the hour.
Matthew Heiman: Angela, final thoughts on that?
Prof. Angela Stent: Yes. I mean, I think you have to remember that, even though the Soviet Union and Russia have used energy as a form of political leverage with the eastern European countries, of course, who are much more dependent even on Russian energy, given the history, that really the first time that Russia used energy as a weapon which did effect Germany was in 2006, and that had to do with a gas price dispute with the Ukrainians. It was between Gazprom and Ukraine, although Gazprom and the Kremlin are very close to each other. And that is the first time that Germans would have felt this. Now, you would have thought that might have been a wakeup call and they wouldn’t have gone ahead with Nord Stream 2. But I think it was, again, part of this belief that it’s cheap gas, it was reliable gas most of the time, and that it’s maybe provided a foundation for an enduring decent relationship with Russia however difficult it was. And it really has taken this invasion, as we know, to get them to not open Nord Stream 2. It was completely constructed and everything. And now, I mean, I think the views in Germany are definitely changing but it will still take them time. They have to find alternatives to being so reliant on Russian gas.
Matthew Heiman: Well, thank you both. It was a great conversation. Angela Stent, Michael Allen, really appreciate your time and insights. And Ryan, I’ll turn it back over to you to close us out.
Ryan Lacey: Absolutely. Thank you so much. On behalf of the Federalist Society, I want to thank our experts for the benefit of their valuable time and expertise today. And I want to thank you, the audience for joining us and participating. We welcome listener feedback by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, keep an eye on our website and your emails for announcements about upcoming webinars. Thank you for joining us today. We are adjourned.
Dean Reuter: Thank you for listening to this episode of Teleforum, a podcast of The Federalist Society’s practice groups. For more information about The Federalist Society, the practice groups, and to become a Federalist Society member, please visit our website at fedsoc.org.