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Katrina vanden Heuvel on Putin’s “Indefensible” Invasion & Why NATO Is at the Root of Ukraine Crisis

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The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel, who has reported on Russia for decades, says many observers were “shocked” that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an invasion of Ukraine, calling it an “indefensible” decision. President Biden ordered strong sanctions on Russia in response, but he has also heeded critics’ warnings not to send troops to Ukraine in order to avoid a world war. Vanden Heuvel says that it’s vital that instead of further military escalation, there be a “diplomatic escalation” to resolve the crisis and end the war.

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

AMY GOODMAN: As we continue to cover Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we’re joined by Katrina vanden Heuvel, editorial director and publisher of The Nation magazine, columnist for The Washington Post.

Katrina, you’ve reported for decades on Russia. You last joined us a few days ago. On Friday, the situation in Ukraine looks very different. Lay out your response to what you call in your latest piece “Putin’s Invasion.”

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: I will tell you that people who have studied Russia for decades — I think of Ambassador Jack Matlock, who was on your program — were surprised, if not shocked, even by the recognition of the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk republics, but the special military operations which occurred early morning U.S. time on, I believe, Wednesday have really shaken a community which did see, if there was any glimmer of light in all of this madness, an upsurge of diplomacy. And I think the abrupt ending to that has marked an indefensible military operation, which we’ve heard about in very human terms.

NATO is clearly at the root of the crisis. Putin, in his speech, rambling, aggrieved speech the other day, talked about NATO several times. You’ve heard it from your guests. The sadness — and war is a crime, a tragedy and a defeat — is that it wasn’t on offer, the NATO position for Ukraine, and so there’s this delusional quality.

I do think the humanitarian story has to be focused on very clearly. The questions to President Biden at his press conference yesterday, as I understand, it was all about military operations and sanctions. But the displacement of perhaps more millions of people than we discussed is going to be — upend Europe and be very grave with implications.

I want to pick up on one of your — the Ukrainian journalist, who was powerful. It is the case that it is a different moment in Russia. This is not 2014 in Crimea, when the seizure of Crimea led Putin to soar in popularity. This is a different Russia — COVID, economic problems. There’s protests across the country, Amy, as you spoke of, more than 1,500 protests in 50 cities — obviously, Moscow, St. Petersburg, more people. But also very interesting, for example, we’ve talked about Novaya Gazeta, the independent newspaper. It came out yesterday in Russian and in Ukrainian. It is part of a group called Syndicate-100, Reporters Without Borders, and issued a very tough statement. A hundred municipal political figures around the country have protested Putin’s special operations. And there are more. So this is growing. This is not going to boost Putin’s popularity. I don’t want to say “never,” because in the first few days of war, things always happen of boosting quality.

But I do think — and I’ll finish — the momentous implications for our country, for Europe, for Russia, for Ukraine — I mean, you’re looking at the risk of nuclear war; I know you’re going to talk about that — NATO, more U.S. troops on the frontlines perhaps. NATO will soar in, you know, demand for a while. Energy — we’re going to see higher oil and natural gas prices, and there will be a pressure to increase reliance on fossil fuels. What do we do about that in terms of coping with climate change needs, the crisis which we don’t pay enough attention to? And Ukraine and the economy — these sanctions may well have collateral damage in Europe and our country, and that could be — and, of course, renewed militarism. If there’s anything bipartisan at the moment in Washington, D.C., it’s this renewed militarism, adding more weapons, adding more money to the defense budget. My column ends, at TheNation.com: Let’s find a way forward. There has to be — there has to be a way to talk, even on the margins, about conventional force agreements or the international nuclear INF — not today, but let us keep that diplomatic escalation, not military escalation, in mind.

AMY GOODMAN: The Intercept’s Ken Klippenstein reported Wednesday, Saudi Arabia is working with Russia to drive up gas prices amidst the Ukraine crisis. He interviewed Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution and former CIA analyst, who said, quote, “Putin and [Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman] have much in common, including murdering their critics at home and abroad, intervening in their neighbors by force and trying to get oil prices as high as possible. … Putin will do MBS a great service if he invades Ukraine and sends oil prices through the roof.”

Meanwhile, The Daily Poster had a report Thursday on how “Biden’s Ukraine Plans Face Wall Street Roadblock” to sanctions aimed at Putin and his oligarchs, and that noted, quote, “inflicting financial pain on Putin and his wealthy cronies could force the Russian government to the negotiating table. But while such a move might help deter further Russian incursions, Biden faces a significant obstacle: corporate lobbyists’ success in shrouding the American finance industry in secrecy, which makes it far easier for Russian oligarchs and their business empires to evade economic sanctions.” Can you comment on this, Katrina?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: No, this is serious. This is very serious. The price of oil is over $100 a barrel. There’s no question that this is Russia’s, you know, quote, “ace in the hole.” No, I mean, I think this — the one thing I’ll say about the sanctions, the oligarchs — this is an interesting point, because Putin has tried to repatriate their money for years. This may play a role. And I think it’s critical to understand the complicity of a U.S.-European-Saudi corporate structure in enabling the oligarchs to loot, to hide money. That could not happen without — it doesn’t just, you know, happen on its own. So this is a serious issue, and there is great reporting. And Russian media, two or three major papers, have been part of it — you know, Pandora’s Box, the international consortium of investigative journalists.

I will say, however, one thing: It may push Saudi Arabia and Russia together, but I think the larger story is how this may — these events of the last hours may push Russia and China together. I think that’s a big story. They’re not going to be partners. They’re not going to be friends by any measure, but there is a transactional element. As Russia, seeing the Westernizers inside Russia undermined in the last years by different factors, Putin will turn east most likely. And that’s not just to China, but it’s to parts of the world which the NATO-Western crowd doesn’t consider often legitimate, but it’s real. I noticed that China, I believe, is going to buy massive amount of wheat from Russia. And there will be other purchases, not just from China, that will enable Russia, sadly, probably, to overtake the sanctions. But, Amy, the real problem with sanctions, as we know, is sanctions are another form of warfare. And they often — and I’ve seen this over the years — hit ordinary Russians, who then do feel that the U.S. or those sanctioning are the enemy.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much, Katrina vanden Heuvel, editorial director and publisher of The Nation magazine. We’ll link to your latest piece in The Nation, “Putin’s Invasion.”

Coming up, Russian troops have seized the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, that disaster. We will talk about nuclear power and nuclear war in the midst of this Russian invasion. Stay with us.

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