Espreso. Global

U.S. is crossing Russian red lines step by step, deterring Russia from taking further escalatory steps — diplomat Bryza

5 May, 2024 Sunday

Matthew Bryza, former US Assistant Secretary of State, and former Director for European and Asian Affairs at the US National Security Council, in an interview with Anton Borkovsky, host of the Studio West program on Espreso TV channel, spoke about Trump and Biden's support for Ukraine, as well as diplomacy from China and Switzerland


The US gave the go-ahead: the Congress, the Senate and Joseph Biden signed an extremely important package on both money and finance. But ATACMS will also be delivered, although they were a certain red line, the Kremlin tried in every possible way to prohibit the transfer of long-range missile systems to us. And so Washington made a historic decision.

Yes, definitely, it is a historic decision. And you and I were anticipating it for several months. We may recall that way back in October last year when Speaker Johnson was just becoming Speaker, I expressed concern that he had consistently voted against military aid for Ukraine. However, what happened was the weight of his responsibilities helped him look at the need to help Ukraine in a different way. So he was under tremendous pressure from President Biden, but also was persuaded by President Zelensky and by Evangelical Christians, specifically Baptists from Ukraine, and over time, he simply needed to come up with a way to negotiate an agreement within the US political system. And he succeeded. He showed great skill and strategic vision. I think we should now be much more comfortable that the US Congress is aligned with the US's strategic interest in helping Ukraine. 

ATACMS, we learned last week that they had already been provided by the United States separately from this latest aid package, but secretly at the request of the government of Ukraine. That is a very important step, obviously, because it will force Russia to move back its supply depots further from the front line. It will also enable the Ukrainian forces to target more command and control centers of the Russian forces, as well as perhaps the Kerch Bridge. So this is definitely, as you said, another Russian red line that's been crossed. But so many Russian red lines have been crossed, and I think by crossing them step by step, the Biden Administration has deterred Russia from taking further escalatory steps. And so I think now the question is, of course, as I'm sure we'll talk about, can Ukraine get enough soldiers on the battlefield, and also why hasn't Russia been able to break through during these six months when Ukraine was so short on ammunition?

We are extremely grateful to the United States for everything they do for us. But it is clear that Russia is preparing for another escalation – they fired a ballistic missile with a cluster munition at Odesa. In other words, Russia is demonstrating that they are ready to raise the level of escalation and commit barbaric crimes against civilians. I would like to hear that Washington understands that Ukraine will have to be reinforced with missile and anti-missile systems, air defense systems – we do not have enough Patriot systems to close the sky over the peaceful cities.

Yeah, I mean, bringing additional Patriot batteries is something that's being discussed right now. And of course, the Biden Administration understands how barbaric, to use your word, these attacks on the civilian population are, as well as on the energy infrastructure. The whole world sees that, and every time Russia does that, it loses more prestige internationally. So the additional Patriot systems, I think, are going to be coming, as are F-16s later in this year, which will make it more difficult for Russia to use those glide bombs that have been so devastating on civilians in Ukraine. And I think we should look back to the period a year ago or so when before the HIMARS were provided by the United States, Russia was able to pound Eastern Ukrainian towns and cities with its artillery because Ukrainian artillery couldn't respond, and didn't have long enough range. That's all changed now, not only with the HIMARS but also with the ATACMS. So Russia, yes, is trying to maintain escalation dominance, as the cliché goes, but can only do so now by targeting civilians. It's been all these months, as I was saying a little while ago, six months or so without any additional significant assistance from the United States to the Ukrainian military. Russia has made some gains past Bakhmut, and we know that there's a lot in play right now. On the other hand, it has not succeeded in significant gains. Ukraine has held them off, and now Ukraine is going to have much stronger capabilities. So Russia tries to escalate by hitting innocent civilians, but it can't escalate on the battlefield.

At the Swiss Peace Summit, Russians and Russian allies are unlikely to be represented. But will the Chinese be there as observers? How will the agenda in Switzerland be different? To what extent will Europeans be prepared to defend their independence and sovereignty in the event of a threat, since the Russians are extremely powerful in threatening both the Baltic states and Central Europe?

First of all, the Swiss, in my experience mediating conflicts in the Eastern European space like Abkhazia, Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh, always want to play a role. They perceive themselves as highly effective mediators, which often proves to be true. Therefore, I don't believe there's cause for concern regarding the Swiss convening European and American officials. This doesn't necessarily imply a softening of Europe's stance against Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

I believe the key leaders in Europe, such as Emmanuel Macron, Olaf Scholz, and others like Giorgia Meloni, are fully dedicated to supporting Ukraine in its struggle against Russia. When assessing the level of assistance provided to Ukraine, it's noteworthy that the UK and Germany rank second and third respectively. Their commitment remains steadfast. Across European leadership, there's a shared understanding of the potential threat to the Baltic states posed by Russia if NATO's deterrent is perceived as weak, as we've discussed previously.

During my tenure at a think tank in Tallinn, Estonia, funded by the Estonian Ministry of Defense, our primary concern was the possibility of Putin replicating his actions following Russia's 2014 invasion of Ukraine. We feared a similar incursion into Eastern Latvia or Estonia, mirroring Crimea and Donbas, involving a military operation conducted by "Little Green Men," with denial until it was too late, potentially leading NATO to face the choice of nuclear conflict with Russia or accepting Russian control over less significant territory.

Initially dismissed by many Europeans, this scenario is now acknowledged as a credible threat. There's a growing recognition of the need to demonstrate to Russia that NATO remains united and vigilant, prepared to defend its territory against any Russian aggression.

President Macron said that it was possible that European or French soldiers could be deployed in Ukraine. This was wrapped up in powerful diplomatic "papers", but it is possible that they will have to help us on land.

Macron has undergone a remarkable transformation, transitioning from attempting to serve as the European intermediary capable of dissuading Putin from his invasion efforts. The memorable instance of the "world's longest table" epitomized this endeavor, symbolizing Putin's apprehension of contracting COVID from Macron during their Kremlin meeting. Presently, Macron has emerged as one of the staunchest advocates for confronting Russia.

However, when considering Macron's statement, I didn't interpret it as a declaration of France's readiness to deploy troops to Ukraine, nor did I perceive such readiness from any NATO member state. Rather, I understood it as acknowledging the possibility under certain circumstances, particularly if Russia persists in its current behavior.

As we previously discussed, there's a conceivable scenario where coalitions of NATO member states, acting outside the NATO framework but exercising their sovereign prerogatives, might intervene at Ukraine's behest if pushed by Russia. In this context, Macron's statement appears to affirm the feasibility of such action. Conversely, a categorical rejection of any NATO member states' deployment to Ukraine would weaken the deterrent message that Ukraine's Western allies seek to convey to Russia.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit to the People's Republic of China was very important. We do not know what Blinken and Xi Jinping discussed, but there are public signals: Blinken de facto warned Xi Jinping that he should not pretend that China is not helping Russia because it is providing it with everything it needs for the war against Ukraine, except weapons and personnel. Blinken asked not to do so. In response, Xi Jinping said that China and the US should be responsible, respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of other states, and so on. What did Xi Jinping really mean? How far will the US be willing to go to discourage China from supporting Russia?

China hasn't provided Russia with full support all at once. In its peace plan, particularly the first one concerning Ukraine, the primary emphasis on preserving territorial integrity reflects China's self-interest regarding Taiwan. Consequently, Russia's invasion or invasions of Ukraine have placed China in a challenging diplomatic position. While China, alongside Russia or with Xi Jinping aligned with Putin, seeks to collaborate in challenging the rules-based international order established and maintained by the United States, Xi Jinping is unwilling to endorse the undermining of Ukraine's territorial integrity.

To navigate this complex situation, China has been cautious to avoid openly violating G7 sanctions. Secretary Blinken felt compelled to publicly caution China against supplying Russia with any military assistance it might require. Unlike Iran and North Korea, China hasn't been a significant provider of ballistic missiles or drones, nor have there been substantial reports of China supplying large amounts of ammunition, a practice observed with North Korea.

China finds itself walking a diplomatic tightrope, a stance mirrored by Blinken. His visit to Beijing is aimed at continuing efforts to reduce the previously heightened tensions in US-China relations. This strategy aligns with the series of visits by US ministers or cabinet-level officials to China before the meeting between Biden and Xi Jinping near San Francisco last November. The current US approach aims to ease pressure on China while conveying the message that excessive support for Russia may entail diplomatic consequences and possibly other penalties.

Xi Jinping is now going to Europe to visit Serbia, Hungary and France. He also plans to meet with President Macron. What does Xi Jinping's visit mean? We can only guess what he might talk about with Hungary and Serbia. But what will he talk about with Macron and what will it mean for Ukraine?

I don't think that there's necessarily much that's so relevant to Ukraine with regard to these visits to Europe by Xi Jinpin. France is a big country. It's got the third-largest economy, I guess, in Europe, and in the G7, the second largest in the EU. Macron has been playing the role that we talked about. At first, he was trying to talk Putin out of the invasion of Ukraine. Now, Macron is very staunchly opposing Russia. Xi Jinping wants to re-energize China's efforts to win friends through its economic power. The Belt and Road Initiative is more or less suspended because it was getting to be too financially risky for Beijing. It is intriguing, however, that Xi Jinping is going to visit Serbia. As we all know, Serbia is one of the closest friends of Russia in Europe. But at the same time, President Vucic has been trying to increase Serbia's economic autonomy, especially when it comes to natural gas. He is looking, believe it or not, to Azerbaijan to provide non-Russian natural gas via Turkey and Bulgaria. So Vucic too is walking a tightrope. But at the end of the day, yes, of course the Serbs are among Russia's most loyal friends in Europe. They also don't want to be swallowed up by Russia. So I think Xi Jinping is similarly looking for angles. He's looking for opportunities not to undermine Russia, but also not to be frozen out of economic opportunities in Europe because of too much support for Russia.

What is happening in Russia now? There are very different signals coming from the Kremlin, but what they are doing on the battlefield now shows that they are ready to continue the war for Ukrainian lands, sparing neither soldiers nor resources. We have no illusions, but maybe something can demonstrate that the Kremlin is hesitating or that the Kremlin would not be ready to wage a very long war?

Putin perceives that halting now would pose an existential threat to him, potentially even physically. However, as previously mentioned, the Russian offensive lacks success. In essence, there is minimal progress. While they are advancing, the pace is sluggish. It has taken them approximately a year to move just about 16 kilometers beyond Bakhmut. Their inability to launch a successful offensive without additional mobilization poses a significant challenge. The last mobilization witnessed hundreds of thousands of men fleeing Russia, indicating internal troubles for Putin. Currently, his forces are essentially stagnant, despite some advancement. The hope is that the Ukrainian forces will persist in resisting the latest offensive, and with the arrival of additional military assistance, the dynamics will change, affording Ukraine some breathing room to push back Russian forces.

But think about it, even if Putin is able to mobilize, let's say, another 100,000 soldiers for an offensive. What about the experienced commanders? There aren't enough. So many have been killed and wounded. So even if you bring more people into the army, you need more commanders if you're on the Russian side. They need to produce much more artillery shells, artillery ammunition. My understanding is right now, they're producing only half of the 155-millimeter and 122-millimeter artillery rounds that they would need to mount an offensive. Yes, they're producing more than Ukraine. Yes, they're firing five times the number of artillery shells that Ukraine is right now, but significant escalation would demand a much greater output. Therefore, it is anticipated that Russia will struggle to make substantial territorial gains, while Ukraine's military capabilities continue to strengthen. Looking ahead, 2025 could potentially witness a Ukrainian offensive. Crucially, if Ukraine manages to target the Kerch bridge and sever communication lines between Russia and Crimea, it could prompt a shift in Putin's approach, potentially altering his commitment to relentless civilian attacks and war crimes against the Ukrainian population.

​​How should we react to a publication in the American press about the recommendation of some American officials to official Kyiv not to attack Russian oil refineries?

I think that was a really unwise request or warning from the White House for Ukraine not to target deep into Russian territory, target oil refineries. It comes across as so selfish and so arrogant, and fundamentally, it's strategically unwise. Of course, I understand that President Biden really wants to win the election in autumn, and I think that's best for all of us, for all friends of Ukraine, if he does win. But the importance of undermining Russia's fuel supplies to me far outweighs whatever potential marginal increase there might be in the price of refined products, meaning gasoline, in the United States before the election in November. There are so many reasons why oil prices, and then why refined products, so benzene prices rise or decrease, and the elimination of a relatively small supply in global markets of Russian refined crude oil or gasoline or diesel cannot possibly be big enough to have an impact on the US elections. So strategically, I think the political team of President Biden panicked, and probably there was an argument over along the lines of you people who want to enable to welcome Ukraine targeting Russia's refineries, don't you know, you'll be out of a job, and there will be no President Biden in the second term, and therefore no help at all for Ukraine if oil prices rise too highly. That's true. But if oil prices rise too high, it's a global phenomenon, and it's not because your oil refineries in Russia have been damaged.

A historic summit will take place in Washington, DC, during the Russian aggression against Ukraine. We hope that this summit will define our status and prospects for joining NATO as soon as possible. Sweden and Finland managed to join in record time. Of course, this is a responsibility for the rest of the community, because in time of war, Article 5 would have to be invoked.

My understanding is that the alliance is planning to use this 75th Anniversary Summit in Washington, of course, to underscore how it's the most successful political-military alliance in history and has prevented any major war between its member states and Russia or the Soviet Union. The second part is, of course, that I think that the Summit will underscore the need for and, in fact, pledge more assistance, political and military, to Ukraine. But in terms of membership, yeah, exactly, because Ukraine is not a member, well, then NATO hasn't really been very helpful to it. I have not heard that there are plans to provide any shortened path for Ukraine to become a member of the alliance, and I don't think there's going to be any talk about that at the summit.

When it comes to Sweden and Finland, you need to keep in mind that they were completely ready for membership. They had been for decades building their military capabilities. Finland has one of the most capable militaries in all of Europe, with a massive number of artillery units along the border with Russia and a very capable Air Force based on US F-18s. Sweden also has a very capable military and for the last decade and a half, has essentially made a pledge that's akin to Article 5, even though it's not Article 5 itself under NATO. In other words, Sweden had pledged to come to the military aid of any NATO members that would be attacked, even though Sweden is not yet a member of NATO. So they were militarily completely ready to join NATO and to become a provider of assistance to the rest of the alliance.

Of course, Ukraine is in a different position. It needs our help from the NATO family to maintain sovereignty and restore territorial integrity. And so it's not at all likely that in the middle of a war, NATO is going to accelerate Ukraine's membership. But I think NATO should make it very clear at the 75th Anniversary Summit that not only is the old cliché still valid that Ukraine will become a member of NATO, but that NATO is ready to help Ukraine do that. But after this war is won by Ukraine, because it's important also that NATO not play into Putin's false narrative or his lies that it's NATO that caused the war in Ukraine when, in fact, we all know that it was a war of choice or war of aggression by Vladimir Putin in an attempt to eliminate the state of Ukraine.

What should be the strategy of official Kyiv in its relations with the administration of President Joseph Biden and the possible administration of Donald Trump? We need to protect our national interests. We are grateful to the Biden administration, but we understand that Donald Trump and his team can have a serious impact and in six months, to put it delicately, we don't know what could happen in America. 

Tucker Carlson has been doing strange interviews one after another, including with people from Russian culture and Russian influence: a few days ago he recorded an interview with the fascist Dugin.

Ukraine is doing exactly the right thing. Its strategy toward the Biden Administration, which will be the strategy for the Trump Administration as well, is to keep underscoring both the moral and the strategic need for the United States to continue helping Ukraine. It's hard to imagine any US president who would be more supportive of Ukraine than Joe Biden. I mean, as we recall, he was the point person in the Obama Administration for US Ukraine policy after the previous Russian invasion of Ukraine. And as I've said to you before, having had the honor to work with him directly in the past, I have seen how committed he is to the NATO family and to deterring Russian aggression in the neighborhood.

If Trump is re-elected, though he's much less supportive in principle of Ukraine. And of course, he was impeached because of the way he was behaving with President Zelenskyy, I mean the first impeachment of President Trump. However, having said that it was not Barack Obama who provided any military assistance to Ukraine after Russia's previous invasion. It was Donald Trump when he first authorized the transfer of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine. And also this time, when Speaker Johnson finally said he's going to put the Ukraine assistance package to a vote, Donald Trump did not oppose it and, in fact, said positive things about Speaker Johnson after the vote to provide the assistance to Ukraine went through. I think even Donald Trump, as unpredictable as he is and as sometimes as problematic as he is with regard to Russia, I think he understands that the United States needs to keep on supporting Ukraine as much as possible.

As far as Tucker Carlson goes, he's totally discredited in the United States. His interview of Vladimir Putin humiliated himself, and he's seen as a stooge, as a clown who is in Putin's pocket. And yet, the fact that he would interview Mr. Dugin underscores that. The interview with Vladimir Putin was absolutely disgraceful. Carlson behaved like a schoolboy looking up to Michael Jordan or Lionel Messi, and people saw that and realized he's a fool and he's in the pocket of Vladimir Putin, and his journalistic career is finished. He has a following among some very far-right-wing conspiracy thinkers, but otherwise, he is finished. Don't worry about him.

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