Monday, March 3, 2014 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | NEXT: XL Dissent: 398 Youth Arrested at Anti-Keystone XL...
2014-03-03

Who Is Provoking the Unrest in Ukraine? A Debate on Role of Russia, United States in Regional Crisis

Topics

Guests

Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale University, author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. His latest article for The New York Review of Books is titled "Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda."

Ray McGovern, former senior CIA analyst whose duties included preparing the President’s Daily Brief and chairing National Intelligence Estimates. He was an analyst of Russian foreign policy for the first decade of his 27-year career with the CIA. McGovern is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

DONATE →
This is viewer supported news

Russia is vowing to keep its troops in the Ukrainian region of Crimea in what has become Moscow’s biggest confrontation with the West since the Cold War. Ukraine’s new prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said Russian President Vladimir Putin had effectively declared war on his country. Concern is growing that more of eastern Ukraine could soon fall to the Russians. Earlier today, Russian troops seized a Ukraine coast guard base in the Crimean city of Balaklava. On Sunday, the new head of Ukraine’s navy defected to Russia. To talk more about the crisis in Ukraine, we speak to Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder. His latest article for The New York Review of Books is "Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda." We also speak to retired CIA analyst Ray McGovern. He focused on Russian foreign policy for the first decade of his 27-year career with the agency. He recently wrote an article titled "Ukraine: One 'Regime Change' Too Many?"

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Russia is vowing to keep its troops in the Ukrainian region of Crimea in what has become Moscow’s biggest confrontation with the West since the Cold War. Russian troops seized part of the Crimea Peninsula without firing a shot as the Parliament in Moscow gave President Vladimir Putin a green light Saturday to proceed to protect Russian interests following the ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Crimea houses a major Russian naval base and is the only Ukrainian region that has an ethnic Russian majority. It was a Russian territory until it was transferred to Ukraine in 1954, during the Soviet era. Ukraine’s new prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said Putin had effectively declared war on his country.

PRIME MINISTER ARSENIY YATSENYUK: This is the red alert. This is not the threat. This is actually the declaration of war to my country. And we urge President Putin to pull back his military and to stick to the international obligations and bilateral and multilateral agreements that were signed between Ukraine and Russia.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier today, Russian troops seized a Ukraine coast guard base in the Crimean city of Balaklava. On Sunday, the new head of Ukraine’s navy defected to Russia. Concern is growing that more of eastern Ukraine could soon fall to the Russians. Putin sent troops into Crimea in defiance of President Obama, who addressed the crisis Friday.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are now deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside of Ukraine. Russia has a historic relationship with Ukraine, including cultural and economic ties, and a military facility in Crimea. But any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing, which is not in the interest of Ukraine, Russia or Europe. It would represent a profound interference in matters that must be determined by the Ukrainian people. It would be a clear violation of Russia’s commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty and borders of Ukraine, and of international laws.

AMY GOODMAN: The Obama administration is still debating how to respond to the Russian troop movement. In an initial step, the United States and other G7 nations said they are suspending preparations for this year’s G8 summit in Russia, due to take place in Sochi in June. Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. is considering placing sanctions on Russia and kicking Russia out of the G8. Ukraine’s envoy to the United Nations said Kiev may ask for international military support if Russia’s military action expands.

To talk more about the crisis in Ukraine, we’re joined by two guests. Timothy Snyder is back with us, professor of history at Yale University, author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. His latest piece for The New York Review of Books is titled "Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda." He’s joining us from Vienna, Austria.

Joining us from Washington, D.C., is Ray McGovern, a retired CIA analyst. He was an analyst of Russian foreign policy for the first decade of his 27-year career with the agency. His later duties included preparing the President’s Daily Brief and chairing National Intelligence Estimates. McGovern is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. He recently wrote an article for Consortium News called "Ukraine: One 'Regime Change' Too Many?"

Let’s start with Professor Snyder. Can you explain what’s happened until this point?

TIMOTHY SNYDER: Well, revolution and then counterrevolution. Ukraine was governed by probably the most financially corrupt regime in the history of the world, which by the end of its rule was not only physically oppressing, but finally killing its citizens as they attempted to exert pressure by way of exercising their rights to speech and assembly. This president left after an agreement, according to which presidential elections were going to be called, leading to a change of power where power shifted in Ukraine from the streets to the Parliament, where it resides now. The constitution in Ukraine has been changed such that Ukraine has now become, instead of a super-presidential authoritarian regime, a parliamentary democracy, and elections have been called for this coming May.

What happened immediately after that was an entirely unprovoked Russian military intervention on part of Ukrainian territory. The goal of this seems to be twofold—first of all, defensive, from Putin’s point of view, to prevent this sort of thing from happening again in Russia. If you can create the image of chaos in Ukraine—and, of course, invasions have a way of creating such images—then you came make Russians believe that what’s happened in Ukraine is entirely unattractive. The second goal, the long-term goal and the more offensive goal, is to propound an alternative idea of what European civilization means. Putin and his advisers and the Russian press have made very clear that they understand Ukrainian events not just as an expression of Ukrainian interests or ideas or aspirations, but as part of a decadent European civilization. And by decadence, they mean rejection of Christianity, advocacy of the rights of ethnic and sexual minorities. They’re making it very clear that this is what they oppose, and they seem to be trying to draw a line in Ukraine. Of course, these issues are not central to Ukrainians themselves. What Ukrainians were campaigning for was something like the rule of law. And what they’re concerned about now is also very simple: namely, the territorial integrity of their own state as it’s being invaded by an outside force.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about moving forces into Crimea? How significant is this, Professor Snyder?

TIMOTHY SNYDER: Well, it’s probably the worst thing that has happened in Europe since the Yugoslav wars. It’s a desperately dangerous thing to do. For one thing, it’s a violation of all conceivable international law and standards. It’s a violation of the Charter of the United Nations. It’s a violation of the Helsinki Final Act. It’s a violation of multiple treaties between Ukraine and Russia, including the one by which Russia has basing rights in Ukraine. It’s a violation of the 1994 agreement between Ukraine, Russia, the U.S. and the United Kingdom, according to which Ukraine, which was then the third-largest nuclear power in the world, gave up all of its nuclear weapons, filled up its silos and planted daisies on the top of them. So, what this precedent shows, among other things, is if you give up your nuclear weapons, you’re inviting invasion from neighboring powers. That’s a horrible lesson, apart from anything else.

But what this is is an entirely unprovoked act of military aggression in the middle of Europe between—where one very large military power is engaging or provoking another very large state. What has already happened is quite bad. For no reason whatsoever, one state is being asked to concede part of its territory. But Russia, the aggressor, is asserting for itself the right to continue to invade the country to protect the ill-defined rights of very flexibly defined people, who, by the way, are not asking for any intervention. On the contrary, there’s a very long petition by Russian-speaking Ukrainians going on now in which they explain that they do not need any external interference, especially armed interference, to protect their rights. The governors of Ukraine’s eastern provinces, who are themselves Russian speakers, are also making this point very clearly. So, what we have now is one of the worst things that’s happened, and it threatens to get very, very, very much worse.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re speaking with Professor Timothy Snyder of Yale University and Ray McGovern. Ray McGovern is a former senior CIA analyst whose duties included prepping the President’s Daily Brief for President George H.W. Bush. We’ll be back with them in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our discussion about Ukraine with Ray McGovern, former senior CIA analyst, whose duties included preparing the President’s Daily Brief and chairing the National Intelligence Estimates. He was an analyst of Russian foreign policy in the first decade of his 27-year career with the CIA. So, Ray McGovern, your assessment of what’s happening now? And talk about it in the context of your background.

RAY McGOVERN: Well, thank you, Amy. I think Professor Snyder was quite right in talking about the haze surrounding what’s going on inside the Ukraine. What I can speak to is how the Russians look at the Ukraine and how incredibly sensitive they are to what they perceive as threats to its frontier, to its near frontier, and particularly to republics that were once a constituter part of the Soviet Union, back in the days when I started analyzing the U.S.S.R. So the Ukraine is something special, not only historically, not only economically, politically, but for all kinds of strategic reasons.

Now, the question is: Who’s provoking this unrest? And, you know, what I know is that you really have to stick close to the evidence. And in this case, we have incredible evidence, based—based on an intercepted telephone conversation. And who’s speaking? Well, it’s the assistant secretary for European affairs, Victoria Nuland, talking to the ambassador—our ambassador in Kiev. And what she’s saying here—and I’ll just read one sentence: "Yats," Yats, Yatsenyuk, "he’s the guy. He’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the guy you know"—I guess as opposed to the guy you don’t know. Now, guess what. A few weeks after that, Yats—that’s Yatsenyuk—has become the interim prime minister of the Ukraine. Well, if I were a Russian, I would look at that and say, "Hmmm, who’s responsible for a lot of this?" I’m not saying that the National Endowment for Democracy is completely responsible, but they are a catalyst.

And when you have 65—count them, 65—projects in the Ukraine funded with $100 million, if I were a Russian, I would say, "Hmmm, looks like they’re trying to do with the Ukraine what they did to the rest of Eastern Europe," what the U.S. pledged not to do, and that is to pluck these countries off one by one and have them join not only the European Community, but NATO. The Russians aren’t going to stand for that. And, you know, the people advising Obama might have warned him that you go a bridge too far when you threaten a strategic interest the Russians consider so sensitive as the Ukraine.

AMY GOODMAN: Timothy Snyder, your response?

TIMOTHY SNYDER: I guess a lot depends on what you think Russia’s strategic interests are. I would say that Russia’s strategic interests would involve trade with Ukraine, stability in Ukraine. These are not things that are going to be improved by the military occupation of all or part of the country.

I would draw attention to the basic fact that Ukraine and Russia are different countries. Americans and Canadians have a lot in common, a lot of Americans and Mexicans have a lot in common, but that doesn’t mean that we start speaking about frontier zones. We know what borders are. It doesn’t mean that we start speaking about the interests of English-speaking people in Canada or Spanish-speaking people in Mexico, then claim we have a right to invade, or vice versa. Ukraine is a sovereign state. Russia’s direct military interest in Ukraine is its base in Crimea. That base is secured by international treaty until 2042. One of the provisions of that treaty is that Russian forces are not to move beyond the borders of that base, which they have now done. That’s one more agreement that they violated.

In terms of the question, who is provoking what, I’m very happy to hear that telephone call cited. Imagine just how much evidence the Russians have of what the U.S. was doing in Ukraine, given that they had access to that telephone call. That was the best bit they could come up with. And in the context of the time, what that telephone conversation showed was that the Americans were, A, not up to date about what was happening in Ukraine and, B, unable to influence events happening in Ukraine, because at that time, as opposed to weeks later, what was being discussed in that phone call was an offer by the then-president of Ukraine to Klitschko and to Yatsenyuk, which they refused. The Americans were telling them to accept it, and they refused it. If you just read the transcript of that phone call, that’s very clear, what was actually happening. And remember, that’s the best thing the Russians could come up with to show that the Americans were behind the scenes.

The answer to the question, what provoked this—and this is very important—is Russian foreign policy doctrine. Russia wanted Ukraine to become a member of something called the Eurasian Union. The Eurasian Union is a dictatorship club. In order for Ukraine to be a member, Ukraine had to become an authoritarian regime like Russia. Russian financial aid preceded, and seems very likely to have been the cause of—and Russian financial aid is in the billions, it dwarfs anything the National Economic—the National Endowment for Democracy is doing in Ukraine—was made contingent upon Ukrainians’ authorities oppressing and killing their own citizens. If that were not the case, if there weren’t huge Russian money backing the killing of Ukrainian citizens, there would not have been a revolution in Ukraine. Russia would still have a leader it liked in Ukraine. Russia brought this on itself by overreaching. And one of the reasons why Russia is invading Ukraine now is to make sure that we forget all about that. If Russia had not overreached in Ukraine, it wouldn’t have provoked the revolution which it’s so unhappy about now.

AMY GOODMAN: Ray McGovern, your response?

RAY McGOVERN: Well, I’m glad that Professor Snyder mentioned Canada and Mexico. Flip this over and consider Putin or Lavrov, the foreign minister, handing out chocolate chip cookies to violent demonstrators in Mexico City or in Ottawa or in Toronto. You know, our near frontier is sacred to us. We even used to have something called the Monroe Doctrine. And so, mirror-image that to how Russia looks at things and how they feel tricked, really tricked, when in a position of weakness in 1990, 1991, Gorbachev said, "All right, all right, East Germany, we’ll pull our troops out of East Germany. You can have a reunited Germany, if that’s what you really want. But, you know, let’s stop there. Let’s not get the Warsaw Pact countries into NATO." And, of course, that’s precisely what we did.

And so, you don’t have to be paranoid to be a Russian and say, "Now, wait a second. Here’s this conversation." I’d say it’s a very telling conversation. It goes on to say, this fellow, Yats, you know, Yatsenyuk, he knows about economics: He used to be head of the central bank, and he knows he’s got to do suicide politically because he’s got to—he’s got to cut back on things—no more food stamps, equivalent, that kind of thing—so that they can meet the conditions of the IMF and Western Europe. You know, it’s not so hazy. It’s a choice between the EC and Western Europe and the Western Ukraine and the Soviet Union. And in this case, the Soviet Union has all the cards. And so, somebody [inaudible] should say to the president, "Look, Mr. President, you know, however much we would like to have regime change according to our own wishes, there are strategic realities that we have to remind you of, Mr. President. And one of them is that Putin and no Soviet leader is going to abide NATO infringing on the Ukraine."

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a part of the recording, the intercepted phone conversation between the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, and Victoria Nuland, the top U.S. diplomat for Europe.

VICTORIA NULAND: Good. So, I don’t think Klitsch should go into the government. I don’t think it’s necessary. I don’t think it’s a good idea.

GEOFFREY PYATT: Yeah. I mean, I guess, you think—in terms of him not going into the government, just let him sort of stay out and do his political homework and stuff. I’m just thinking, in terms of sort of the process moving ahead, we want to keep the moderate democrats together. The problem is going to be Tyahnybok and his guys. And, you know, I’m sure that’s part of what Yanukovych is calculating on all of this. I kind of—

VICTORIA NULAND: I think—I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the guy—you know, what he needs is Klitsch and Tyahnybok on the outside. He needs to be talking to them four times a week. You know, I just think Klitsch going in, he’s going to be at that level working for Yatsenyuk. It’s just not going to work.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Victoria Nuland speaking to—and Victoria Nuland is the top U.S. diplomat for Europe, speaking to the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt. And that conversation, to the shock of many, ended up on YouTube—not clear who hacked that phone conversation. We’re talking to former CIA analyst Ray McGovern and Yale University Professor Timothy Snyder. Professor Snyder, you said the conversation showed sort of how out-of-control the U.S. was, but there she is talking about who should be the next leader, and that’s exactly who ended up being the next leader, Yatsenyuk.

TIMOTHY SNYDER: Yeah. The reason that Yatsenyuk became the prime minister of Ukraine is that he received the majority of votes in the Ukrainian Parliament. That’s how things normally work. It’s not so difficult to predict who’s going to be the next president of the United States, for example. Other countries look on; they have their favorites; they make estimations.

The other things that she said in the phone conversation that you just cited did not happen. Klitschko is not kept out of politics. He’s most likely going to be the next president of Ukraine, providing that the Russian military occupation doesn’t prevent presidential form elections. He’s the overwhelming favorite. So he’s not going to be at home doing his political homework. He is going to be the most important person in the country. On the other things which she described as should happen, aren’t happening, either. So, if this is our piece of evidence that the Americans control everything, it’s a very, very thin piece of evidence. And remember, whoever is collecting that evidence—I don’t think we really doubt who that is—had much more than that, and this was the very best thing that they could find.

I think it’s very important that we Americans, or we people on the American left, don’t reduce everything to being the Americans did this or the Americans did that. This revolution happened because Ukrainians made it happen. Ukrainians are actual people living in an actual country. They believed that what we did, by the way, was far too little. The complaint that Ukrainians on the Maidan had about both the Americans and the Europeans was that we were way too hands-off. They complained that we were far—they complained that we were far too close to the Russians, that in effect we were helping the Russians hurt them. And that, I’m afraid, is much closer to the reality.

I was struck—I was struck that—we just heard talk about the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union has not existed for a quarter century. The Soviet Union ceased to exist in 1991. In December of 1991, the authorities of what became Russia accepted the borders with Ukraine. This has happened before. Other states have fallen apart. Legally, you draw up borders. You don’t then, 25 years later, talk about how you might want those borders to be a little bit different. You have to respect the agreements that you’ve actually made. The Soviet Union doesn’t exist anymore. Whether it seems to exist in people’s minds, now, that’s a problem. It’s a problem whether it’s there or a problem whether it’s here. But international law in these questions is absolutely clear, and there’s just no way in the world that somebody giving out cookies on the Maidan justifies invading a country.

AMY GOODMAN: Ray McGovern?

RAY McGOVERN: Well, I appreciate the lesson as to how the Soviet Union doesn’t exist anymore. Russian interests exist, and they have since the ninth century, OK? That’s where Russia began, you know, Kievan Rus’, in Kiev. And so, this goes back a long way.

Now, fast-forward to today. Who is Geoffrey Pyatt? Well, Geoffrey Pyatt is one of these State Department high officials who does what he’s told and fancies himself as a kind of a CIA operator, because now the CIA doesn’t do much of this stuff, and so State Department have to do it. Now, who is he? He was in Vienna. What was he doing in Vienna? He was orchestrating the election of Amano, Amano to be head of the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, because they didn’t like Baradei, the guy that they tried to get rid of earlier. But they knew that Amano—and it’s clear from cables from Vienna, from Pyatt, released by WikiLeaks, that Pyatt was glowing and saying, "Amano is so happy for all our support in making him head of the IAEA, and now he’s asked us for a little bit more money, because he’d like to fix up his office." I mean, it’s so apparent what State Department types now are doing, in a self-styled sort of covert action, political action sort of thing, so to create the right results. And the IAEA is a big deal, OK? Pyatt played a very crucial role in that, and now he’s doing the bidding of the likes of Victoria Nuland, who I would describe as a neocon, prima donna assistant secretary of state for European affairs who is doing our country—doing no one any good, cookies or not.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to comments made by Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations over the weekend. This is Vitaly Churkin.

VITALY CHURKIN: The best way to resolve the crisis is to look hard again at February the 21st agreement and try to do things the way they were described there. They need to have a constitutional dialogue and process of forming a new constitution. They need to refrain from conducting a hasty presidential election, which most likely is going to create more friction within the country. They need to stop trying to intimidate other regions and other political forces. They need to show—not just to declare, but to show—in their actual policies that this is about national reconciliation, this is about national unity, this is about territorial integrity of Ukraine. They need to work towards establishing a common ground there. But unfortunately, so far, we don’t see that in practice. We hear some decorations to that effect, but we don’t see that in practice.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin. Professor Snyder, your response?

TIMOTHY SNYDER: Well, very briefly on what was just said, this business that Russia started in the ninth century, and therefore Russia has interests, strikes me as very strange. I mean, if we take our history back to the ninth century, then we’re in—you know, then we’re in England or wherever. In the ninth century, Kievan Rus’ was in Kiev. That’s the history of Ukraine, as well as Belarus and Russia. Certainly things that happened in the ninth century are not a reason why Russian soldiers have to be bearing weapons in Ukraine today. If one is concerned about the control of atomic energy, one should be more concerned about the control of nuclear weapons. In 1994, Ukraine voluntarily gave up its nuclear weapons. In exchange, Russia promised not to intervene on Ukrainian territory. This has now been violated. And this is bad in itself, and it’s a very bad precedent.

In terms of what the Russian—the quotation from the Russian diplomat, first of all, I think it’s for us rather than the Russians to judge whether the Ukrainians are making progress in these directions. By "us," I mean all observers around the world. The Russians have intervened with military force, which makes them questionable observers of stability. They’ve intervened on the grounds that they have the right to attack any country and change—and I’m quoting now from what the Russian Federal Duma said, its Parliament—"until the social and political order is satisfactory." That’s an extraordinary, extraordinary mission.

But as far as what’s actually happened in Ukraine, it has been restored to parliamentary democracy. Presidential elections are scheduled. The only thing that will stop them from happening is the Russian military intervention. And in terms of bringing everyone together, in Eastern Ukrainian cities, people are speaking Russian—speaking Ukrainian as a gesture to the West. In West Ukrainian cities, people are speaking Russian as a gesture to people in the east. The governors of the eastern provinces are speaking about the necessity of keeping the country together.

This was a revolution. This is something very unusual, and it’s all going to be passed over now because all we’re talking about is intervention. This revolution was started by a Muslim civil society activist. It has ended with a Jew as prime minister of the country. Along the way, Ukrainians, but also Russians, Belarussians, Armenians, Poles, others, have taken risks and died. This was a popular revolution, which included all kinds of people from all over the country, most of them ordinary people. And it’s resulted in the possibility of pushing Ukraine forward towards what Ukrainians themselves actually want, which is a rule-of-law society. It seems that rather than being distracted by our slightly self-obsessed notions of how we control or don’t control everything, we should pay more attention to the actual political progress that has been made and then defend the very standard and normal standards of international law. That part isn’t very complicated.

AMY GOODMAN: Ray McGovern?

RAY McGOVERN: Well, a couple of things. You know, it really depends more on who seizes control of these uprisings. If you look at Bahrain, you know, if you look at Syria—even Egypt, to an extent—these were initially popular uprisings. The question is: Who took them over? Who spurred them? Who provoked them even more for their own particular strategic interests? And it’s very clear what’s happened to the Ukraine. It used to be the CIA doing these things. I know that for a fact. OK, now it’s the National Endowment for Democracy, a hundred million bucks, 62 projects in the Ukraine. So, again, you don’t have to be a paranoid Russian to suggest that, you know, they’re really trying to do what they—do in the Ukraine what they’ve done in the rest of Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

The other thing is, you know, Professor Snyder talks about the parliamentary vote, voting in the new government. Well, he must know that that was a rump vote. I think it was—I think it was unanimous, something like 253 to nothing, which, you know, really is sort of a nostalgic look back at the votes that I used to count in the Soviet Union. There’s something very smelly here. And people should realize that it is murky, but Russian interests are paramount here, and if the president thinks that he can face down Vladimir Putin on this issue, he’s in for a sorry miscalculation.

AMY GOODMAN: So I guess the question is where this is all headed now. Speaking on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry strongly condemned Russia’s actions in Ukraine and threatened punitive political and economic measures by the international community.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: It’s really 19th-century behavior in the 21st century. And there is no way, to start with, that if Russia persists in this, that the G8 countries are going to assemble in Sochi. That’s a starter. But there’s much more than that. Russia has major investment and trade needs and desires. I think there’s a unified view by all of the foreign ministers I talked with yesterday, all of the G8 and more, that they’re simply going to isolate Russia, that they’re not going to engage with Russia in a normal, business-as-usual manner, that Russia is inviting opprobrium on the international stage. There could even be, ultimately, asset freezes, visa bans. There could be certainly a disruption of any of the normal trade routine. There could be business drawback on investment in the country. The ruble is already going down and feeling the impact of this.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Secretary of State John Kerry on Meet the Press. Professor Snyder, so where do you see this headed, and the response of Putin to perhaps the possibility that they won’t go to Sochi, that Russia could be thrown out of the G8?

TIMOTHY SNYDER: It’s very hard to predict political systems that are tyrannies. I will just point out a couple of things. The first of these is that every step that Russia has taken thus far in Ukraine has turned out to be a miscalculation that has turned against it. The calculation that if you pay $15 billion and then ask your Ukrainian ally to oppress and kill people, that didn’t turn out the way that Russians expected. And the reason it didn’t turn out that way is because Ukrainians resisted. And then Russia ended up having to face a revolution, which it provoked, although it didn’t mean to provoke.

I take it that the goal of intervening in Crimea was to show the world how unstable and chaotic Ukraine is. That’s not working. The Ukrainians have accepted this with remarkable calm. They’ve asked for help. They’ve declared, quite understandably, its legitimacy. But they’ve remained remarkably calm. And now you see more pro-government and more pro-Ukrainian protests all around the country, by everyone, which is understandable. When you get invaded, that tends to promote national unity. I think what Putin was counting on was the creation of bloody pictures on the—for television cameras, so that Russians would understand just how horrible things are. What I worry about now is that in order to get those pictures, he’s going to have to use even more violence. The problem with Russia protecting what we so casually call its interests is that Russia keeps pushing itself forward and forward and forward into situations that Putin himself has not anticipated, and then he finds himself doing things which are probably even worse than he actually planned.

Where this is going for Russia is not good. It’s certainly—whether or not the Western states get it together to impose sanctions, this is going to be a disaster for the Russian economy. It’s very possible that Russians are going to be denied normal visas, and therefore travel around Europe. It’s very likely, indeed, I think, that the Russian elite is going to feel a hit, with freezing of accounts and things like this. Putin will try to argue that all of this just confirms his own view that Russia is all alone as a kind of superior national civilization facing a world conspiracy which, depending upon the mood and depending upon the audience, is either made up of Nazis or gays. The international response will only make him try to confirm that kind of ideology. But in the long run, this is not something which most Russians, I think, are going to see as very sensible. Most—even most Russian strategists were saying the kinds of things that I’m saying right now, that it didn’t make sense to use military force in Ukraine. When the consequences of this go beyond the immediate exuberance of this temporary victory, when the consequences of this begin to reach the Russian population, I think Putin is going to have a problem. I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. I would just repeat: Everything that he has done in this crisis thus far has had the opposite consequence of what he himself has intended.

AMY GOODMAN: Ray McGovern, The New York Times is reporting that Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, spoke to President Obama after she spoke to Putin. And reports of that call, she said she was not sure he was in touch with reality. She’s talking about Putin here. She referred to Putin as "in another world." Ray McGovern, if you could respond to what Professor Snyder said and where this is all headed? Could we see a new Cold War?

RAY McGOVERN: Well, you know, a lot of the people looking on what’s happened in Ukraine and how the EU and the IMF were trying to sort of wean the Ukraine, taking advantage of its basket-case economy—you know, a lot of people remember the old Pravda saying about the forces in the United States, wall-streetski krvopijci, OK? "Wall Street bloodsuckers." Well, they know what’s happened in Greece. They know what’s happened in many other parts of Western Europe. And whether the Ukrainians, when they come to their senses, really think that the harsh measures that Yats has already threatened to introduce serves their economic and their political best interest, that’s a big question for me.

Now, the rest of it, it seems to me that we need to realize, number one, that the Russians hold very high cards here, not only military cards, but Western Europe is still largely dependent on gas from—natural gas from Russia, that goes through the Ukraine, and that Russia has lots of leverage on this kind of thing. Another thing is that Western Europe is not slavishly devoted to the United States the way it used to be, despite what Angela Merkel said yesterday. They had the NSA scandal. There’s been permanent damage done to the trans-Atlantic relationship. And I don’t think that we’re going to have a very willing coalition of the willing to impose economic sanctions against the United—U.S.S.—against Russia.

Now, the last thing I’ll say is that when these kinds of things happened, you know, in the old days, we used to get the stakeholders around the table, OK? And it’s got to be Putin, and it’s got to be Obama, and it’s got to be the head of Ukraine, past and present, and the stakeholders in the immediate vicinity. We should be able to work this kind of thing out. That seems to have been just kind of washed away from the considerations of politicians. Once that’s done, once you remove the neocons like Kerry, who almost got us in a war with Syria, and Putin bailed us out, OK, once you get away—get the tchinovniki, the bureaucrats, out of the picture, then you have a chance to sit down and say, "OK, now, what are the real interests here? Do we really want an acrimonious relationship because of the Ukraine? Let’s work things out." It’s a really difficult situation. There’s the Western Ukraine. There’s the Eastern Ukraine. But before, we were able to work this kind of thing out. Let’s do it again.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Of course, we’ll continue to follow this issue. Ray McGovern, former senior CIA analyst, whose duties included preparing the President’s Daily Brief and chairing National Intelligence Estimates. He daily briefed President George H.W. Bush. He was an analyst of Russian foreign policy for the first decade of his 27-year career at the CIA. And I want to thank Professor Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale University, author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. We’ll link to your latest piece in The New York Review of Books called "Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda." He was speaking to us from Vienna, Austria.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to Washington, D.C. There was a major protest against the Keystone XL pipeline outside of the White House. More than 400 people were arrested. We’ll find out who. Stay with us.

Show Full Transcript ›
‹ Hide Full Transcript

Creative Commons License The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.