The Islamic State launches a counterattack in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk, as the battle to retake Mosul intensifies. Ecuador cuts off Internet access to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. And the president of the Philippines says his country is pivoting away from the U.S. A panel of journalists joins guest host Derek McGinty for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
NATO yesterday released satellite photos showing Russian forces poised near the border with Ukraine. That comes as Ukraine’s acting president says pro-Russian protesters who disarm and leave occupied buildings in the country’s eastern region will not be prosecuted. The world’s biggest democratic parliamentary election gets underway in India. Afghans turn out in strong numbers for their presidential and provincial council elections – including a large percentage of women. And Rwandans mark the twentieth anniversary of genocide. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Nathan Guttman Washington correspondent, Channel 1 Israeli News and The Jewish Daily Forward.
- Susan Glasser editor, Politico magazine.
- James Kitfield contributing editor, National Journal, Atlantic Media's Defense One and the National Interest; senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Ukraine's acting president says pro-Russian separatists who disarm and leave occupied buildings in eastern Ukraine will not be prosecuted. Afghanistan's election turnout is high as voters defy the Taliban and the world marks the 20th anniversary of genocide in Rwanda. Here for the international hour of the Friday News Round-Up, James Kitfield with the National Journal and Atlantic Media's Defense One.
MS. DIANE REHMSusan Glasser with Politico magazine and Nathan Guttman with Channel 1 Israeli News. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, happy Friday, everybody.
MS. SUSAN GLASSERWell, thanks, Diane.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDHappy Friday.
MR. NATHAN GUTTMANThank you and happy Friday.
REHMGood to see you. James Kitfield, what do you make of these satellite photos released yesterday by NATO showing that the Russian military equipment is all lined up near the border with Ukraine?
KITFIELDWell, we've seen this playbook and it's been recent with Crimea. So it's very concerning. And if you look at, you know, people who look at those photographs what is really intimidating about that is they've got all their combat service support, medical units, et cetera. The kinds of thing you would need if you're actually planning on pushing them across the border. It's not some exercise with just, you know, some a few units.
KITFIELDIt's actually -- it looks like an invasion for us. And the secretary general of NATO came out very strongly and released those photos and had some very strong words about we're not buying this argument that these are troops there for an exercise. Secretary Kerry said that the, you know, pro-Russian militants who took the government buildings in three cities were instigated by Russian special forces and Russian instigators. You know, probably they're equivalent of the KGB now and it looks very dicey. I mean, this is a very, very tense moment.
REHMTense moment. Nathan, how tense? How likely are those troops and that equipment to cross the border?
GUTTMANWell, I think President Putin succeeded in surprising everyone once before, so nothing should be taken off the table. It doesn't seem likely right now, at least in my eyes, that he'll really want and go into eastern Ukraine with a military force. And it could help as a backup for support or to threaten and to support those separatists within the eastern part of Ukraine that have already taken over two government building and are seeking more autonomy or greater autonomy from Kiev.
GUTTMANIt could also send a message to those in Kiev that it's time to give these people more freedom or more independence or more pro-Russian affiliation because there is this military threat right there on the border.
REHMSusan, Kiev is offering the separatists amnesty. What difference is that going to make?
GLASSERWell, I'm not sure it's going to make a huge difference. It seems to me that Russia has a very carefully orchestrated plan that they are now carrying out. It is primarily one to destabilize the government of Ukraine by destabilizing the regions in which Russians have the greatest influence. It is a political agenda at the force of a gun and 40,000 troops on the border. So, you know, I think it has the capabilities, it seems, of an invasion force.
GLASSERThey're clearly not on a camping trip. But right now, what we're seeing, I think, is a classic Soviet playbook, Soviet-Arab playbook of political, internal destabilization of a country with the implicit and very, you know, explicit threat of physical force if that -- if those political demands are not met. And what Russia essentially seems to -- seeks to do right now is to talk about greater sovereignty for the Ukrainian regions because they believe that they'll have the ability to influence outcomes there and to be able to more or carve off spheres of influence piece by piece by doing so.
GLASSERAnd that's why you have places with the most Russian speaker like Donetsk are where these protests have broken. I think it is significant that Secretary Kerry has come out and explicitly accused the Russian government of fomenting and orchestrating -- these are not some grassroots protests that we're seeing.
REHMSo if you've got Secretary Kerry saying these things, warning Putin, warning Russia not to meddle, what difference is that making?
KITFIELDWell, I mean, in a crisis like this, it's important that you sort of show your cards and say, you know, we know you're doing this. And I think that was very helpful for Kerry to say and I think it was helpful for the secretary general to say, we're not the least bit persuaded about your propaganda or your talks about exercise. We know what this is. So everyone's cards are on the table. So if he does move, everyone is going to sort of say, all right, you know, we saw this coming and here's what we're going to do. And it's...
REHMWhat are we going to do?
KITFIELDIn that case, it would probably be sanctions and probably very, very serious sanctions that really do start to sort of look like a Cold War again where we basically see them as an absolute adversary who are upsetting the world order, the post-Cold War world order and they are our adversaries. And that would be -- it would hurt us. It would hurt the economies of Europe, very dependent on Russian energy.
KITFIELDIt would hurt Russia very bad, whose economy is not that good. So no one wants to go there, but you clearly have got to do something that basically gut and dismember Ukraine. You cannot sort of turn your back on that. And there's no, really, military option for us.
REHMSome military experts are arguing that Putin is making this move because he sees the U.S. cutting back on military forces, military spending. What's he doing, Nathan?
GUTTMANWell, he could be viewing that. But, again, even if the U.S. wouldn't be cutting back on its military -- on its investment in the military and on the budget, it would be able to carry out a war if needed. But it doesn't seem like a likely scenario either way. So I think Putin understands that the U.S. has no interest in actually moving militarily against them. And, therefore, there is this move to destabilize Ukraine.
GUTTMANAnd when you add to that the recent warning that he just put out about cutting gas supplies and, by extension, to Europe, you understand that he doesn't have only the political and military power, but also the economic power to influence them.
GLASSERWell, I think that's an important point that Nathan just raised. Obviously, this is not the United States' immediate backyard, its Europe's immediate backyard and it poses an imminent threat of both economic blackmail which Putin is already using in terms of the gas supplies. Remember that Germany get nearly 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia. So this is a very serious threat of economic blackmail.
GLASSERAnd secondly, I think it is important to remember that the U.S. has very limited tools in the tool kit and that's part of why actually I think you're seeing this very escalated rhetoric from Secretary Kerry and others right now because that's almost all we had at this point is the bully pulpit. We're extremely unlikely to undertake certainly military measures. And even on the economic front, we've had a very hard time of wrangling the Europeans even to impose the sanctions that we've already imposed as a result of the annexation of Crimea.
GLASSERAnd that's the other thing that I think bears remembering here. One of the things that Russia is doing, and by the way succeeding at right now, is changing the conversation. Notice that we are not talking about the annexation of Crimea, the taking of a whole piece of another country's territory under, you know, the threat of a gun, under basically a military occupation.
GLASSERThere's going to be a report in the next few days that the UN will put out talking about the fact that Russia rigged the referendum vote in Crimea. Look, you know, there were 97 percent approval for the referendum in Crimea. It was held in 10 days time, you know, with a bunch of Russian soldiers there pointing guns at people to make sure they voted the right way. We're not talking about that anymore.
KITFIELDYou know, it's a little simplistic to say, well, we're cutting our defense budget and we're withdrawing troops from Europe, so Russia decided to act. It's not really the way it works here. But I mean, it is an unfortunate juxtaposition of images when we are pulling not only two heavy tanked brigades out of Europe and he looks West and he sees basically withdrawal, retrenchment and weakness.
KITFIELDAnd so that -- it does factor in this calculus here. We learned from Georgia in 2008. In his near abroad, if he's willing to act, there are things that he -- you know, he has advantages that we don't have from being half a world away. Having said that, I've talked to some former NATO senior officials, including the former sec here and the former ambassador and both said we should be rethinking -- I think NATO is rethinking maybe sending some of those American troops back to Europe.
KITFIELDAnd we got to think about NATO's original mission, which was deterrence. And it was deterrence against an aggressive Soviet Union, and now deterrence against a Russia that seems determined to rewrite the rules of the world order post-Cold War.
REHMAnd would U.S. troops make up the majority of those troops?
KITFIELDOh, absolutely. I mean, you know, our ground forces are -- we are still the -- not even the first among equals. We are the leader of NATO. And everyone is looking to us for reassurance. The poles, the Balkan states are looking for U.S. troops on their soil to make sure that the red line that we do have, which is you will not cross a border of NATO, because that is -- you know, we are treaty-bound to defend any NATO country if that happens. So reinforcing that commitment in a very visible way right now would be -- do a lot to sort of steady the nerves of the Europeans.
GLASSERWell, and in fact, that's an obvious. If Putin really wanted to be provocative, you know, making some sort of a foray into the Baltic, showing and underscoring the fact that while the U.S. is legally bound to defend the Baltic states and other eastern European NATO members. In reality, there's very little we could do to Putin because of physical proximity and all the other reason we just discussed.
GLASSERHe could be in the Baltic states instantly and there's basically nothing that we or any other NATO member could do about it except protest after the fact. And, you know, so Putin has the ability to underscore that reality in a way that would of course be extremely politically disruptive to the existing order.
GUTTMANJust to add, with all the talk about the lack of a military option, economic sanctions that are being discussed such as like sectoral economic sanctions against whole sectors of the Russian economy. Even though they'll be very hard to implement and it will be hard to get the Europeans on board, they can be very, very significant. I mean, Russia isn't Iran. Russia cannot sustain this kind of downsizing of its economy if these sanctions are put into place. So this is a certain kind of deterrence.
REHMNathan Guttman, he's Washington correspondent for Channel 1 Israeli News and the Jewish Daily Forward. Short break here. We'll talk about the elections in Afghanistan when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back to the International Hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Susan Glasser, editor of Politico magazine, James Kitfield, contributing editor at National Journal, Atlantic Media's Defense One and the National Interest. Here's our first email from David who says, "I can't help thinking the Ukraine crisis has allotted similarities to the invasion of Iraq with manufactured evidence. From what I understand, Russia always has 40,000 troops on the border. Is it possible that the west has ulterior ambitions?"
KITFIELDWell, I don't think the west, in this case, has -- well, I mean, the west does want Ukraine basically to be a close trading partner. This whole thing started with the European Union offering a sort of association agreement that would sort of incorporate Ukraine into the wider sort of economic sphere of the European Union. Putin had a problem with that and we're off to the races. But...
REHMBut what about those 40,000 troops?
KITFIELDOh no, those 40,000 troops do not sit on that border.
REHMDo not sit on that border.
REHMAll right. Okay. So that is not a legitimate conspiracy theory. Let's talk about the Afghanistan election. Despite Taliban violence beforehand, huge majority of people turned out, and especially women, Nathan.
GUTTMANYes, definitely a success. It's very rare to talk about success in the context of Afghanistan but it seems that these elections were successful. Fifty-seven percent turnout, relatively few reports of problems and irregularities in the polling stations and very few complaints. So basically it does seem that these were some kind of democratic elections there, and we're still waiting for the results. But at least the turnout and the procedures suggest that yes, these were -- this is good news.
REHMNow more than half of those voters were women, Susan, so where was the Taliban? Why didn't they seek to disrupt those people from voting?
GLASSERYou know, it is a fascinating question. I certainly -- I was just thinking about that, that you would ask that question now. And I think you have to look to Pakistan and I think you have to look next door where Pakistan, as you know, has been a very troublesome U.S. ally, but also has really had key role, you know, supporting over the years the militants in Afghanistan. And wreaking havoc really with their neighbor next door.
GLASSERClearly I would say some sort of a decision was made more or less to allow these elections to go forward. It'll be interesting to see -- remember, we haven't seen the results yet.
GLASSERAnd so there's the possibility of a runoff. We don't know the final figures. Both of the two leading candidates we understand to be Ashraf Ghani, the former World Bank official, Karzai cabinet official, very -- lived in the United States for many years, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah who was originally the foreign minister of the northern alliance.
REHMBut the Karzai choice did not make those two finalists.
GLASSERThat's right. The Karzai choice, as I understand it, is at the moment in a distant third place. So I think we have to first of all understand, will there be another round of balloting? And if so, perhaps that would be the moment at which the Taliban chooses to strike. I think it's a very interesting, you know, sort of set of decision points that we'll come to over the next few months in Afghanistan.
KITFIELDWell, let me pick up on this theme of -- you know, we don't often celebrate successes here on Friday News Roundup in the international sector.
REHMTrue. You're absolutely right.
KITFIELDSo this is an unmitigated success, an unmitigated good news story that in front of really vicious Taliban intimidation tactics, they did kill 23 people on Election Day. The vast majority of Afghans came out who were eligible -- at least a large percentage of them came out and voted in the face of the worst kind of intimidation when some people wondered, would they be coming home that afternoon.
KITFIELDAnd that shows something that the Afghans have told me constantly is that, you know, the Taliban's good at launching spectacular murder spectacles. But they have very, very little support in the country, you know, less than double digits. And this would reinforce that. So it's altogether a very hopeful sign.
GLASSERAnd this is -- I think you have to remember as well that this is not the same kind of civil war situation now. It could -- it always has the potential to escalate to that but I think that's a very important point that James has just made, that it's basically not a civil war. The Taliban has been a small minority, more or less insurgent group funded by outside forces by the way, wealthy Gulf Arabs. Pakistanis have given them crucial support and physical safe haven. And so that's not the same thing at all as an indigenous civil war.
GLASSERNow remember, Afghanistan has been fighting more or less in various iterations since the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. And so the hunger of people to end this is enormous. And I think that's part of the explanation for why there was this incredible vote this week.
GUTTMANAnd also in terms of U.S. policy, Washington doesn't have a horse in this race. But if the two frontrunners are Ghani and Abdullah, the two of them are seen as people that will be willing to sign the bilateral agreement with the United States. It will allow in the positioning of U.S. troops even after the withdrawal. And that is definitely something that America wants.
REHMWhat's that number? It's about 14,000 that the U.S. wants put there...
GUTTMANThat's the number that's being discussed, yes.
REHMYeah, all right.
GLASSERYeah well, remember that Karzai had agreed to this. He was the one who negotiated this deal with the Americans and then has refused to sign infuriating the Obama Administration so much that basically President Obama came out with a very unusual statement, clear fit of pique and said, you know what? We're not -- we're done with Karzai. We're just going to wait this out.
REHMYeah, yeah. And it was because of that lack of agreement as to who had jurisdiction if U.S. military committed some wrongdoing.
KITFIELDYeah but, I mean, Karzai knew that was a redline. That we saw from Iraq that is a redline we will not cross. And he was just using that as a way to keep himself more relevant with his process. Once he signed that deal late last year when he was supposed to sign it, he would've been total lame duck. He was able to keep his leverage and keep everyone guessing is the game he plays.
KITFIELDAnd listen, he's got the hardest job in the world so I go back between feeling total frustration with him but also a bit of sympathy. But anyway, he's about to be gone. And all of the candidates said they would sign that deal. Every candidate that ran basically said they will sign that deal. So that's basically good news for Afghanistan. And it is something that we want because we want to still have those counter terrorism operations functioning.
REHMSo when might we have a final decision as to who wins?
KITFIELDWell, I think we're going to have to see if someone got over the 50 percent mark probably within -- before the summer and, you know, in the next few weeks, probably two to three weeks. But, you know, if there's a runoff it might run into the early summer.
REHMI see. All right. Let's talk about India's election which happens to be the world's biggest democrat parliamentary election. It's underway now. It's going to take a while, Susan.
GLASSERWell, that's right. It's a very interesting situation though because you basically have a widespread expectation in India and internationally that there's going to be a major change that comes out of this election. And there is the view that controversial figure Narendra Modi and his party are likely to sweep to power. And that that would make a big shift from the congress party, you know, that they're looking for India basically to revitalize its economy. It was one of the great powerhouses over the last decade.
GLASSERIt has -- that growth has stalled in contrast with its neighbor and rival China. And there seems to be a sense that that's the record that Modi is running on as a governor of one of India's economic engine states. He's run on that record and not emphasizing the Hindu nationalism that has also powered his party.
GUTTMANYeah, definitely. Well, first of all, something about the elections themselves, 850 million people voting. And it will take more than a month...
REHM...just to cast ballots.
GUTTMANRight. So it's a very big deal just in terms of the logistics and the operation behind it. And of course they show the economy seems to be front and center, as is the issue of corruption. These are the two things that Indians are concerned about. And this is maybe one of the reasons that Modi from the BJP Party seems to be getting a pass on the issues of Hindu nationalism and his troubled past regarding accusations as he was involved or authorized killing of Muslims during riots in Gujarat.
GUTTMANHe's a person who was denied a visa to the United States because of his involvement in these issues. But since he positioned himself as the business-friendly candidate who can save the Indian economy, that seems to be the card that he's going on and it seems to be working for him.
KITFIELDAnd the second major candidate, his last name is Gandhi so he's sort of running on the sort of legacy of his grandmother, I think, who was the prime minister as well as another relative was a prime minister. So another Gandhi running but I think maybe because there is so much corruption in India and because, as Susan said, it has faltered compared to the other bricks, the other big developing country economies, that maybe there's a little bit of fatigue with this sort of hereditary sort of -- you know, this we need another Gandhi. We may be facing something similar here.
REHMAll right. And speaking of identities and who is allowed into this country, the U.S. congress voted to deny a visa to the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations. Tell us why, James.
KITFIELDWell, because this individual took part -- was involved in the taking of the U.S. hostages as a young man back in 1979, held those 52 Americans for 444 days. You know, it just goes to show there are long memories on both sides of this antagonistic relationship with Iran. What's peculiar to me is we're involved in these very, you know, in depth discussions with Iran on this nuclear program. And they're going pretty well apparently.
KITFIELDThere has been some -- the latest round broke up on both sides that progress has been made. It's curious to me why Iran would want to sort of poke its finger in pour eye at this particular point. And congress reacted with a unanimous vote to say, you know, this guy cannot enter the United States. Now the Obama Administration may or may not sign that, but they definitely sent a signal to Iran that this guys is quote unquote "not viable." And they very much want Iran to sort of take him off the table so it doesn't lead to a more sort of out front diplomatic crisis.
REHMWhat does Iran say about this man, Susan?
GLASSERWell, you know, it's very interesting. I haven't seen their latest reaction to this but I think James is right to put it in a context of these nuclear talks. Remember, we're on a very strict deadline here. We agreed with Iran basically on a six-month time period to try to actually agree. And so that runs out this summer. And I think that, you know, you have to view it in that context. There are obviously many hardliners inside the Iranian government, just like there are hardliners in the U.S. congress who are meditating very strongly against a deal. And they are really looking to disrupt in any way possible the prospects of a deal.
GLASSERAmerican obviously, there are many who are deeply suspicious that Iran is really not serious about ending and curtailing its nuclear program, but sees this as an effort to buy time and space to recover their economy. There are many Iranians, of course, who have a long term interest in seeing the United States as the permanent enemy of their state and are not interested now. So I think that's an important context for this dispute.
GUTTMANThere's also of course a legal question about can the U.S. bar a foreign diplomat from coming to the United Nations. Himself, Hamid Abutalebi said that he only served as a translator during the hostage situation there, that he wasn't instrumental in taking Americans hostage. But the United Nations headquarters in New York doesn't -- it is a place that enjoys some kind of an exterritorial status.
GUTTMANThe United States does have, according to a 1947 law does have the ability to prevent people from coming to the United Nations but it's difficult and unusual. And it could be a little bit more complicated than we think.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I mean, does the U.S. have the authority, the ability to negotiate with the UN to try to keep this guy out or not?
KITFIELDWell, my understanding is we have the ability to deny someone access to our country through a visa. We can do that. But as Nathan says, it's very controversial because we have granted that, you know, we are the host of the United Nations because we have let very unsavory people, including Iran's previous president who we didn't like too much either, who was a firebrand anti-Semite. But we sort of -- the UN is a special case as is places like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
KITFIELDSo it will be controversial if it comes to us actually having to deny it, which is why the administration would very much like Iran just to take him off the table.
GLASSERWell, and on some level, exactly, we've just come up with another negotiating point. It seems like that, generally speaking, is what happens. There's a negotiated settlement and negotiated solution to something like this. It gives us something else to talk about and wrangle with Iran. But I do believe that the United States does have the authority to do this, but it sets a big controversial precedent in order.
REHMSo to be continued, how soon might we know as to whether this envoy is going to be allowed in or not?
GUTTMANWell, the next step is for President Obama to sign or not sign the bill congress handed him that denies this diplomat entry to the United States. He can choose to do that or not. In the meantime, that would give some time for negotiations or discussions with the UN and the Iranians to maybe change the name or withdraw or come up with another solution.
REHMAll right. And, Nathan, this marks the 20th anniversary of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda with a week of mourning. Remind us what happened.
GUTTMANWe're talking about 20 years ago 800,000 people, most of them ethnic Tutsis, some moderate Hutus were murdered by extreme Hutu members in a very short period of time. And I guess what strikes many people now, when you look back at it two decades after, is how the world sat back, how the United Nations withdrew its forces in France. The United States did not play a constructive role.
GUTTMANWe saw President Ford and President Bill Clinton even apology for the -- for standing on the sidelines while this was going on in Rwanda. And now in these week-long commemoration ceremonies going on in Rwanda, people are trying to remember both the horrors of the genocide and take lessons from the words in action and from the kind of incredible recovery of the nation of Rwanda.
REHMAnd of course we have the war continuing in Syria, the kinds of refugees fleeing. And the U.S. set that redline and still going on.
GLASSERWell, that's right. I think it's very important to make that reminder, Diane, because this has been a slow motion killing. It has not attracted the attention and the second-guessing and the incredible embarrassment, I think, that western powers had when we look back on Rwanda. Two-hundred-thousand plus people have been killed in Syria over the course of the last several years.
GLASSERAnd yet, unfortunately, that has not caused a greater will to act. It has really in effect actually caused many westerners -- I get it all the time here in Washington, people throw up their hands and say, but who can we support? You know, what can we do? It's hopelessly complicated. There's no one who can really oppose the Assad regime.
KITFIELDYou know, I find this very sort of disconcerting that this comes when we're looking at Syria and actually doing nothing. You've got Samantha Power at the United Nations who wrote the book on genocide, yet she's unable to get the administration to do anything about what's happening in Syria. It's disappointing.
REHMShort break. When we come back, it's time to open the phones. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back. We'll go right to the phones to Baton Rouge, La., and to Katrina. Hi, there. You're on the air.
KATRINAHello, Diane. First, I have to say that you are a national treasure.
REHMOh, you're very kind. Thank you.
KATRINAAll right. I heard a Russian specialist say that the invasion of Ukraine was primarily about domestic economics and maintaining Putin's power base. She said that after the Olympics faced opposition because the Russian economy is really in crisis, and that starting a war simply took everyone's eye off that crisis. And if Russia actually swallowed Ukraine, there would be catastrophic failure. So when I heard recently that Russia was trying to force Europe to pay tens of billions of dollars of Ukraine's debt, you know, it really brought that up. So I wonder, could your guests comment on those comments?
KITFIELDI don't -- my understanding of it, and I've done some research on this, is slightly different. I mean, he -- after the afterglow of the Olympics, this is the last thing he wanted. But there was this tug-of-war between the European Union and the Eurasian Union, which is Putin's sort of self-described economic bloc, he sees that as basically his legacy issue. And when it became clear that Ukraine joining the European Union through the succession of this association agreement, basically it was an either/or. You could not play in both camps.
KITFIELDThat he, you know, if you remember, he went to Yanukovych and offered him $15 billion, of which he lost $3 billion, which he gave him as a down payment, and basically to get Yanukovych to say, okay, no we're going with your Eurasian Union. That's how bad he wanted it, $15 billion worth. And, of course, that sparked the protests that then led to Yanukovych getting knocked out. So it was kind of a snowball effect of various things. But it's been very clear that he views his near abroad as a place where he wants Russia to have special privileges. We've pushed back against that and we got into a tug-of-war over it.
REHMAnd here's another comment on that from Larry, who says: "Putin's aggression is a result of NATO expansion and fear it would continue. Our responses are amateurish and dangerous." Susan.
GLASSERWell, first of all, on NATO expansion, I think it is true that this is something that has infuriated Russians ever since the very end of the Cold War in 1991. They believe that there was an agreement that was violated at the very start in 1991 by the Americans not to push NATO east, not to continue to define it as a, in effect, an anti-Russian organization. They have viewed its encroachment right up to their very borders as, in effect, encirclement. And so it's true that that is one, if not the motivating force. I think that there are -- the prospects of further NATO expansion are very remote, of course, at this point.
GLASSERAnd, you know, realistically speaking, neither Ukraine nor Georgia had any reasonable chance of NATO accession. And, of course, that's definitely not going to be the case going forward. But I just -- I did want to go back to the previous callers point, because I think she does make one important point about Putin, which is that it is about his influence in -- his sphere of influence in the near abroad, but it is also about his domestic political standing. The thing that Vladimir Putin does fear more than anything else is internal instability in Russia itself, the maintenance and stability of his regime in Russia is paramount cause for him.
GLASSERAnd he views any instability and revolution that occurs in Ukraine -- and that is what has happened in Ukraine, is another revolution -- he views that as potentially a direct threat to the ever-potentially restive Russians themselves. And so I think it is a motivating factor there too. So it's -- I wouldn't discount that.
REHMAnd speaking of sanctions, Sue in Bay Village, Ohio, says: "Why don't we advocate cancelling Russia's hosting of the 2018 World Cup? Putin wants to showcase Russia. Such a threat might be a better response than saber rattling." Nathan.
MR. NATHAN GUTTMAN:It definitely could be. I mean we saw how important the Sochi Olympics were for Putin, how much money and effort he put into it. So definitely the question of image and international standing does play a certain role in his considerations. However, once the Olympics were over, he went forward with taking over Crimea. So it's not the only consideration he makes. Again, in canceling that, cancelling the G8 meeting, anything like that can serve to somehow downgrade Russia's international standing. And it will take its toll on Putin. But it doesn't seem to be a decisive factor right now.
REHMAll right. And to Bill in Blountstown, Fla. Hi, you're on the air.
BILLHello. How are you today?
BILLIsn't one of the possible tools in our arsenal our abundance of natural gas? I mean wouldn't it be possible to start sending natural gas to Germany and Europe, that depends on Russian natural gas, so they're not quite in such a vulnerable position?
KITFIELDThat's something that's being looked at very closely. But it's not a near or even midterm solution. It would take years to have the terminals to be able to export all of that natural gas to Europe. You're seeing Europe -- Britain is talking about, you know, fracking now to get more energy independent. So, again, if we're approaching something like a chilled, if not a Cold War, with Russia, all of these things are going to be on the table.
KITFIELDYou know, you'd very much hope you don't go there, but we're seeing once again that Putin's playbook is to use oil as a weapon. And if he's, you know, if he's doing things that upset the world order in Europe's back yard, yes, that has to be a part of the long-term solution.
REHMAnd here's another email, this from Jonathan in Washington D.C. He says: "Beyond the annexation of Crimea, discuss what Putin has actually gained and what he's lost." Nathan.
GUTTMAN:It's a very interesting question. He definitely gained some standing as the tough guy of the region, which could help him in the short term and could allow him to cash on it in a certain way. But looking at the broader position, I'm not sure his gains are that significant. He's facing personal -- his surrounding -- the people in his close circle are facing personal sanctions by the United States and Europe. And he's getting a lot of negative attention. And I guess the question of what he gained or lost has to do with what his final goal is. What does he want to achieve from this move?
GUTTMAN:If he wants to somehow reinstate this greater Soviet era in the federation type of regime in the area, I don't think he got much closer to that, because he has small gains on the ground, but a lot of international attention and pressure.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Halil in Detroit, Mich. Hi, there. You're on the air.
HALILGood morning, Diane. A wonderful show.
HALILYeah, I have a quick question for your respected panel. Congress is proposing a new set of laws against Hezbollah of Lebanon. We already have plenty of terrorism laws, and as I reviewed this law, it sounds more like it's targeting Iran indirectly. As you well know, a few months ago, Congress wanted to impose sanctions against Iran and decided not to because of the negotiations. Is this another attempt by the right in Congress to impose indirect sanctions and derail the talks?
GUTTMAN:Well, there's definitely, in talk in Washington and in Congress about dealing with other issues that have to do with Iran. And many of the people that are raising this are people that were opposed to the idea of negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran from the start. But others are just concerned about other issues that they have with the Teheran, be it human rights issues or be it the support that Iran gives to terror organization: In Hezbollah in Lebanon, we saw support for Hamas in Gaza.
GUTTMAN:So this type of legislation, in a sense, could bypass the idea of freezing sanctions because of the nuclear issue and try to impose in the backdoor some kind of sanctions or limitations based on Iran's support for terrorism.
KITFIELDI would just note that Hezbollah is already on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. No American business or American individual can do any kind of business with them. They are not granted -- their people are not granted entry into the United States. They are under a lot of American sanctions as it is and for good reason. I mean, we're seeing they are propping up Assad in Syria. They are really the enablers of his slaughter of civilians in Syria.
REHMAll right. And to Valdosta, Ga. Netaly, welcome.
NETALYHi. Hi, Diane. Wonderful show.
NETALYI have -- I wonder could, you know, the -- would military action be -- if Germany took leadership and they had an emergency meeting, NATO could decide that to somehow expedite and grant membership to the Ukraine that provides a pretext -- it's led by NATO, Europe. You know, it's their -- they can handle it in that way. The U.S. has, you know, I mean, for 50 years we held the fort during the Cold War. So now it's going to be another era like this. Maybe Europe can lead the way.
GLASSERYou know, I wouldn't bet one penny on Ukraine being granted NATO membership and certainly not by Germany. You know, in many ways, the German attitude toward Russia is one of the biggest single problems that the United States diplomacy is encountering and trying to find ways of dealing with this crisis, because the Germans are so dependent economically on Russian gas, on Russian energy supplies. They have proven to be very unwilling to impose what we would consider even to be relatively modest or straight forward economic sanctions on the Russians, they are so afraid of retaliation.
GLASSERRemember, Putin has spent the last decade plus buying influence in Germany. The former prime minister of Germany is, in effect, you know, an agent on behalf of Russian interests. He's paid by Gazprom, the Russian state gas monopoly. This is a country that has been the single biggest obstacle. They have zero desire really to come to the aid of the Ukrainians. Arguably, in fact, it is the Europeans who are to blame for this crisis, because they really botched and mishandled the negotiations with Ukraine toward the EU accession agreement.
GLASSERThey were trumped by Putin in what became a bidding war that they didn't understand or expect was occurring. And Putin trumped them by offering $15 billion on much easier terms to the Ukrainians. That's what happened, that broke down the talks and that brought the people out into the street in the first place in Ukraine and led to this revolution. So arguably, it's Europe that's created the problem. And unfortunately, it's very unlikely that the Germans are going to be the ones to solve it.
KITFIELDAnd let's not forget that Angela Merkel, who's the leader of Germany, you know, grew up in Eastern Germany, where her an Putin, when they meet, speak German, because he was, you know, posted there as a KGB agent. NATO is not going to expand into -- we went through this in 2008, where we -- there was a big NATO summit. We were going to fast-track Georgia's entry into NATO.
KITFIELDAnd Putin, you know, basically invaded Georgia, you know, sawed off two provinces that were Russian -- pro-Russian, and, you know, trumped us, because, you know, there is a stipulation in the -- if you want to join NATO, you have to contribute to the overall positive security of the NATO Alliance. Well, if NATO let Georgia in, we'd immediately have been in a confrontation with Russian troops that are on Georgian soil. You know, I should say, also, that Ukraine, you know, NATO membership was not on the table. What Putin is showing here is that even the Western European economic sphere he sees threatening, and that's what prompted this crisis.
REHMJames Kitfield, he's a contributing editor at the National Journal. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's an email from Ross who says: "Am I the only person who thinks Vladimir Putin doesn't care at all about whatever economic sanctions we throw at Russia?" Nathan.
GUTTMAN:No, he's probably not. That's something that many people are saying, that Putin is playing by his rules and that he doesn't care what the West does or can do. I think the other approach to this question would be, when will he start caring about sanctions and about economic pressure? Right now he has no real reason to worry about them because we didn't reach that point in which sanctions really hurt him. There's a small pinch, but there's no great pain for Russia right now.
REHMHow are the Russian people themselves faring? What's they economic status? How healthy is their economy?
GLASSERWell, remember that this is the whole reason why Vladimir Putin has managed this long run in power is that, economically speaking, the Russian people are much, much better off than they were when Putin came to power in 2000.
REHMAnd how did he do that?
GLASSERWell, you know, primarily, Russia remains an oil-and-gas economy. It is a natural-resource driven economy. And, you know what, it was $20 a barrel when he came into office and, you know, look, when you're staying consistently in his tenure in office over $100 a barrel, you're talking about transforming the economy for the better. Many people are very critical of Putin not having used that energy windfall over the last decade to invest in Russia's infrastructure, to invest in education, in its human capital.
GLASSERSo, you know, it has real serious long-term economic problems on the horizon. But the bottom line is, you have to understand that that really is a key driver of Putin's consistent popularity over the years. And, you know, if you want to look at what the result has been of annexing Crimea, well, perhaps not surprisingly given the enormous flood of propaganda on Russian media, Putin's approval ratings have shot dramatically up, not down.
REHMInteresting. All right, to -- finally, to John in Danielson, Conn. Hi, there.
JOHNHi, Diane. How are you?
REHMI'm great. How are you?
JOHNIt's good to hear your voice...
JOHN...on the phone. Yes. Isn't Crimea an economic black hole for Russia? And wouldn't Ukraine be a larger hole?
KITFIELDWell, I think the point on Crimea, you know, it was really about the -- it's its Black Sea Port. It's the only warm weather port that Russian war ships have. And so that was -- it's strategically important to Russia. And it's historically, psychologically very important to Russia. Ukraine, not. Ukraine's got an economy. It's got a lot of industry in the east that is, you know, dependent on Russia for it's -- to sell products to. So there is a lot of economic activity between Ukraine and Russia. And I don't think it's -- you would consider it a black hole for Russia.
KITFIELDBut, I mean, if he gets in a long, drawn-out conflict and Ukraine gets into a civil war between its east and west, I mean, he may find that he's got a hornet's nest around his head too.
REHMHere's the final email. This, from Sue. She says: "There's a very, very long history between Crimea and Russia, going back to 1783, that is not the business of us in the U.S. Russia is being surrounded by NATO countries and asking Russia to give up Sevastopol, Crimea, is like asking the U.S. to give up Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and that the vote to make Hawaii a state was rigged.
GLASSER(laugh) Beware analogies in...
REHMAll right. Thank you all so much. Susan Glasser, editor of Politico magazine. Nathan Guttman, Washington correspondent for Channel 1 Israeli News, The Jewish Daily Forward. James Kitfield, contributing editor at National Journal. Also a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and the Congress. Thank you all so much.
KITFIELDHave a great weekend.
GLASSERThank you, Diane.
REHMHave a great weekend and thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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