When you get the chance to listen to a smart person with relevant experience, you should take it. The exemplar in this case is Chas Freeman, the interviewee in the video. Wikipedia has an article about him where you can learn something of his background.
I suppose Mr. Freeman might be a Putin puppet, but I doubt it. I disagree with him that Putin has made substantial mistakes in invading Ukraine, but I am eager to promote many of his other observations on the Ukraine crisis. Hence the sharing of this video.
On the question of Putin’s substantial mistakes, I say time will tell.
20 thoughts on “US fighting Russia ‘to the last Ukrainian’: veteran US diplomat”
I really don’t have time to listen to a 52 minute interview. Are there any relevant quotes available?
It’s is actually a decent interview with a well educated career diplomat. I much prefer transcripts rather than hour long interviews or reports, but I think this guy is right (as in correct) in many of his assertions.
He says this war is a proxy war for the US. And, for now, it might be classified as such, but a stretch. Putin started this mess with Crimea. As Freeman says, Crimea was to secure the Russian naval base, not to “rescue” Russians, though that was the pretext.
His beef with Boris Johnson is his insistence on the maintenance of sanctions even if Putin withdraws. Logically, this makes sense as it tosses any incentives for Putin to pull out and negotiate in good faith.
One thing that struck me as interesting is the concept that we should bring Russia into the European fold. Or should have done so after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately I think that is impossible with Putin. Before his invasions, Putin was the ultimate communist and KGB officer. He shed communism and stole billions via safety for compliant oligarchs.
That makes him a thief, a dictator and vulnerable to usurpation unless he keeps a tight rein through state terror. My way or the highway until he is purged.
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There’s a machine-generated transctipt here (it’s pretty ugly):
I’ll pull a few quotes.
“I know people who have been attempted to be objective about this, and they’re immediately accused of being Russian agents. Or to say the price of speaking on this subject is to join the pompom girls in a frenzy of support for our position. And if you’re not part of the chorus, you’re not allowed to say anything. You can’t sing. “
This clip is from the start of the conversation.
Aaron Matte (host):
What is your assessment of the Russian invasion so far and how the Biden administration has responded to it?
Chaz Freeman (guest):
Huge question. I thought in the run up to this that Mr. Putin was following a classic form of coercive diplomacy, massing troops on Ukraine’s border, issuing very clear offers to negotiate, threatening indirectly to escalate beyond the border, not in Ukraine, which the Russians repeatedly said they did not intend to invade, but perhaps through putting pressure on the United States similar to the pressure that the Russians feel from us, namely missiles within no warning distance at all of the capital. Of course, Washington doesn’t have quite the significance in our case that Moscow does for the Russians, but still, I thought that was what was in store. I was stunned when Putin actually invaded Ukraine. I don’t think his troops were prepared for it. There’s no evidence that they had the logistics in place or that the troops were briefed about where they were going and why. So it looks like an impetuous decision, and if so, it ranks with the decision of Tsar Nicholas II, the last Tsar to go to war with Japan, in that had disastrous consequences for political order in Russia, and I think this is a comparable blunder.
There are lots of things being said about the course of the war, which is now about a month old, and many of them are, I think, frankly, tenacious nonsense. For example, it’s alleged that the Russians are deliberately targeting civilians, but I think in most wars the ratio of military to civilian deaths is roughly one to one. And in this case, the reported civilian deaths are about one 10th of that, which strongly suggests that the Russians have been holding back. We may now see the end of that with the ultimatum that has been issued in connection with Mariupol, where, if I understood correctly what the Russians are saying, they were saying surrender or face the consequences. And the consequences would be terrible: leveling of the city.
We don’t know where this war is going to end, whether there will be a Ukraine or how much of a Ukraine there will be, what the effects inside Russia will be. There’s clearly a lot of dissent in Russia, although I’m sure it’s being exaggerated by our media. The war is a fog of lies on all sides. It is virtually impossible to tell what is actually happening because every side is staging the show. The champion of that is Mr. Zelensky, who is brilliant as a communicator. It turns out he’s an actor who has found his role and probably helps Ukraine a great deal to have a President who is an accomplished actor who came equipped with his own studio staff, who is using that brilliantly. And I would say Mr. Zelensky was elected to head a state called Ukraine, and he has created a nation called Ukraine. He is somebody whose perceived heroism has rallied Ukrainians to a degree that no one ever expected.
But we don’t know where this is going. And more to the point, the United States is not part of any effort to negotiate an end to the fighting. To the extent that there is mediation going on, it seems to be by Turkey, possibly Israel, maybe China, and that’s about it. And the United States is not in the room. Everything we are doing, rather than accelerating the end of the fighting and some compromise seems to be aimed at prolonging the fighting, assisting the Ukrainian resistance, which is a noble cause, I suppose, but it will result in a lot of dead Ukrainians as well as dead Russians.
And also the sanctions have no goals attached to them. There are no conditions which we’ve stated which would result in their end.
And finally, we have people now calling, including the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Great Britain, calling Putin a war criminal and professing that they will pretend to bring it to trial. Somehow this gives Mr. Putin absolutely no incentive to compromise or reach an accommodation with the Ukrainians, and it probably guarantees a long war. And there seem to be a lot of people in the United States that think that’s just dandy. It’s good for the military industrial complex. It reaffirms our negative views of Russia. It reinvigorates NATO. It puts China on the spot. What’s so terrible about a long war? You know, if you’re not Ukrainian, you probably see some merit in a long war.
So this is not gone as anybody predicted, not Mr. Putin, not the intelligence community in the United States, which extrapolated war plans from the disposition of forces on the Ukrainian border, not the way the Germans who are now rearming anticipated. It’s got a lot of shock value to it, and it’s changing the world in ways we still don’t understand.
Aaron Matte (host):
So that’s Zelensky saying that he was told by NATO, NATO members, presumably the US, that we’re not going to let you in, but publicly we’re going to leave the door open. I’m wondering, Ambassador Freeman, your response to that?
Chaz Freeman (guest):
…But on the question of what Mr. Zelensky was told, I think this is remarkably cynical, or perhaps it was naïve or unrealistic on the part of leaders in the West. Mr. Zelensky is a very intelligent man, and he saw what the consequences of being put in what he called limbo would be, namely Ukraine would be hung out to dry. And the West was basically saying we will fight to the last Ukrainian for Ukrainian independence, which essentially remains our stand. It’s pretty cynical, despite all the patriotic fervor.
And I know people who have attempted to be objective about this, and they’re immediately accused of being Russian agents. Or that is to say the price of speaking on this subject is to join the pompom girls in a frenzy of support for our position. And if you’re not part of the chorus, you’re not allowed to say anything. You can’t sing.
So I think that this has had very injurious effects on Western liberties and it has enforced an almost I would say it’s totalitarian, but it’s certainly a similar kind of control on freedom of expression and inquiry in the West.
It’s very depressing, really. We should rise to this occasion. We should be concerned about achieving a balance in Europe that sustains peace.
That requires incorporating Russia into a governing Council for Europe of some sort. Europe historically has been at peace only when all the great powers who could overthrow the peace have been co opted into it. A perfect example is the Congress of Vienna, which followed the Napoleonic Wars, where Kissinger’s, geat hero, Metternich. But on the question of what Mr. Zelensky was told, I think this is remarkably cynical, or perhaps it was naïve or unrealistic on the part of leaders in the West. Mr. Zelensky is a very intelligent man, and he saw what the consequences of being put in what he called limbo would be, namely Ukraine would be hung out to dry. And the West was basically saying we will fight to the last Ukrainian for Ukrainian independence, which essentially remains our stand. It’s pretty cynical, despite all the patriotic fervor. and others had the good sense to reincorporate France into the governing councils of Europe, and that gave Europe 100 years of peace. Of course, there were a few minor conflicts, but nothing major.
Aaron Matte (host):
You mentioned the Neonazi issue in Ukraine. Let me quote you from a new article in The Washington Post by Rita Catt. She’s the executive director of the Site Intelligence Group. Her article is called Neo Nazis are exploiting Russia’s war in Ukraine for their own purposes. Not since ISIS have we seen such a flurry of recruitment activity. And she writes this, “In many ways, the Ukraine situation reminds me of Syria in the early and middle years of the last decade. Just as the Syrian conflict served as the perfect breeding ground for groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, similar conditions may be brewing in Ukraine for the far right.” I’m wondering your response to that.
Chaz Freeman (guest):
Well, I think she’s got logic on her side. I frankly don’t know Ukraine personally well enough to know exactly what the definition of a member of the Azov Brigade or other neo Nazi groups is. I think right wing populism is ugly enough in our own country to imagine that it’s even uglier in a country as divided as Ukraine. And I don’t dismiss the whole thing at all because Ukraine has a horrible history of running pogroms first against Jews and then, frankly, against Russians. And so to dismiss the argument that there are people with violent tendencies and great prejudice, ethnic prejudices involved in this fight, it seems to me to be wrong. So I haven’t read the article you cited. I don’t know the author, but she makes sense to me.
Aaron Matte (host):
As a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia. What do you make of their positioning so far? There’s a lot of talk of them essentially moving closer with Russia. A lot was made that MBS refused to take Joe Biden’s call when he phoned him recently, and Saudi Arabia considering accepting payments for oil in the Chinese currency and the implications of that.Your thoughts there when it comes to Saudi Arabia’s apparent shifting stance here?
Chaz Freeman (guest):
Saudi Arabia has been very ill at ease with its US relationship for a long time. The affection that the Saudis once enjoyed in the United States — from a limited number of people, to be sure, — has been replaced by mass Islamophobia. Saudi Arabia has been successfully vilified in US politics. Saudi Arabia’s assumption that the United States would back the monarchy against attacks on it from at home or abroad was thrown into doubt when the United States rather gleefully waw Mubarak overthrown in Egypt. The United States is now a competitor for oil production and exports, no longer a consumer. The murder of Jamal Khashoggi and its attribution to Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince, obviously does not endear him to us or us to him. And so Mr. Biden has refused to speak with him.
So at this point, the Saudis have gone full bore looking for alternative partners to rely upon, and there is no single partner that they can rely upon. But they have every interest in exploring alternative relationships, not just with Russia or China, but with India and others, and they are doing so. The same thing with the United Arab Emirates. It’s bound to the United States in the so called Abraham Accords. It has a reputation well deserved for realpolitiq. It, too, is crafting its own future, and it is not prepared to mortgage that future to American policy, especially when the common view in the Gulf is that the United States is retreating.
This brings us all to back to the Chinese, the Indians, the Brazilians, others who have not got onto the bandwagon hurling invective at Russia. I think the Chinese ambassador the other day was on one of the Sunday talk shows, and to the extent they let him get a word in, he said very clearly, and I agree with him that condemnation does not accomplish anything very much at all. And what is required is serious diplomacy. And what has been missing has been serious diplomacy.
Chaz Freeman final thoughts (heavily edited:)
I think the reliance on our sovereignty over the dollar — our abuse of that sovereignty, if you will — to impose sanctions that are illegal under the UN Charter, which are unilateral, ultimately risks the status of the dollar. And we may, in fact, be at a moment when the dollar is taken down a notch.
Will the dollar hold its value? We have a Congress that repeatedly goes to the brink of defaulting on our national debt. This is not something that inspires confidence. And I’ll add a final factor which I think is very injurious potentially, and that is bankers get deposits because they are fiduciaries. They are meant to hold the deposits for the benefit of those who deposit the money and not to rip it off themselves.
But we’ve just confiscated the entire National Treasury of Afghanistan and we’ve confiscated half of Russian reserves. We’ve confiscated the Venezuelan reserves. Our allies, the British, have confiscated Venezuela’s gold reserves. The Anglo American reputation as bankers as fiduciaries is in trouble.
And so the question is, if you’re a country that thinks, well, maybe you might have some serious policy difference with the United States someday, why would you put your money in dollars? The answer has been there’s no alternative, but there are now major efforts being made to create alternatives. So we’re not there yet. But this is and I don’t want to make a prediction, but I think this is a major question that we need to monitor carefully, because if the dollar loses its value, the American influence on a global level decreases enormously.
Another peek at this issue:
“In a bitter irony, Putin’s war of ‘denazification’ in Ukraine may actually produce a more emboldened and insurrectionist global far right movement.”
“It’s true that the far-right Azov Battalion acquired considerable political capital from its initial participation in the fight in the Donbas. But that political influence faded to such an extent that far-right political parties no longer have representation in the Ukrainian parliament.”
“So, yes, the far right will inevitably seek to exploit the current conflict. But residual affections for Putin and the limited appeal of far-right sentiment in Ukraine will hamper this effort to take over the country.”
It seems by this analysis that the “de-Nazification has, or had, been underway without Putin’s interference.
Far right populism has found more than a few homes. It found one here with the last administration and it lingers on among loyalists.
The reference to “pom-pom” girls seems a bit disingenuous. Putin has squelched dissent, and any news from Russia is both hard to ascertain and loaded with approved messaging from the disinformation masters.
Finally, about Zelensky’s skills. Freeman was very complimentary of his skills and bravery. There are many ways to lead. Two are evident in this war. Communication with confidence and positive leadership versus fear. The classic remarks that some dictators make about not wanting respect, but rather fear, has its weaknesses. In Putin’s case, his isolation and murderous dictatorship does not play well in other countries. So I suppose we could say that Zelenskyy is winning the PR war handily, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. People, countries too, like winners, and honestly, Putin is not a winner on merits.
The latest news seems to indicate that Putin may “settle” for less than conquest. Unfortunately, that is a sign of weakness which may be an issue at the negotiating table.
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RE: “The reference to ‘pom-pom’ girls seems a bit disingenuous.”
Not to me. I’m constantly accued of being in Putin’s pocket.
RE: “The latest news seems to indicate that Putin may ‘settle’ for less than conquest.”
What news is that?
“Not to me. I’m constantly accused of being in Putin’s pocket.”
The positions are not mutually exclusive. 😇
As far as scaling back goals by Putin:
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The Independent article is based on the Ministry of Defense situation report published yesterday in Tass:
But I think Independent’s analysis is flawed: Seizing Kiev was never a stated objective of Russia’s invasion.
On the other hand, liberating Donbas has been a stated objective. Liberation of Donbase is the final step of the military operations there. First you block or encircle the cities. Then you defeat the enemy army in the region. Then you police the area to eliminate remnants of the enemy forces. Then you liberate the area by re-establishing civilian authority.
Independent is confusing the normal flow of Russia’s operation (the completion of Stage 1) with a change of strategy. Or so I see it.
“ Seizing Kiev was never a stated objective of Russia’s invasion.”
The 40 mile convoy head towards the capital must have gotten lost. The surrounding of Kyiv must have been a mistake. Shelling and missiles, a fluke.
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Actually, Kiev is surrounded on three sides. Entering the city (seizing it) isn’t a military necessity.
And getting pushed back.
What makes you think so?
Actual NEWS reporting and not trumpeting of the great reset getting ready to happen…according to RUSSIAN military sources.
get out of your Putin silo and open your eyes.
Check out REAL news sources and it is there. Prove me wrong. That is what you always tell me.