Espreso. Global

Republican political blackmail harms US more than Ukraine, but assistance will continue - diplomat Bryza

17 December, 2023 Sunday

Matthew Bryza, former US Assistant Secretary of State, former Director for European and Eurasian Affairs at the US National Security Council, in an interview with Anton Borkovskyi, who hosts Studio West on Espreso TV, spoke about the political crisis in the United States and how it will affect aid to Ukraine

What is happening in the world and Washington? We do not have time to respond to different and contradictory signals. The Kremlin is triumphant and preparing to prolong the war, and they feel the weakness in the West's decisions. We in Ukraine are extremely worried, as we depend on the US for assistance. 

It's a crazy situation in Washington completely unexpected by me and completely unexpected by the Washington political elite because support for continuing military and financial assistance to Ukraine is very strong throughout the Congress.

So what has happened is that a small group of extreme Republicans, Trump supporters, the so-called MAGA group have been able to politically blackmail President Biden by saying okay, we know you want this assistance for Ukraine, maybe we do too, but we're not going to allow it to pass unless you give us what we want on protecting America's Southern border. We're talking about Ukraine's borders. We want to defend them. Yes, but let's defend the United States's borders first. I think this is ridiculous. It's irresponsible and it's damaging America's reputation globally, but it's also a reality.

What signals are sent from the Kremlin to Washington? Who else is Putin signaling besides Trump? And how much does this affect aid to Ukraine?

Putin is very happy. He said during his big press conference yesterday, which he skipped last year because Russia was doing so poorly on the battlefield. He held a big conference this year and he said he's confident Russia will win the war because the United States is going to lose its patience in supporting Ukraine. I think he's wrong in that, and the Republicans, who are causing this political mess with regard to Ukrainian assistance, are going to suffer politically. But that's no comfort for Ukraine. So this big political mess in Washington is a big gift for Putin, first and foremost, because it damages Ukraine's ability to continue its offensive, but secondly, because it also undermines US leadership globally and undermines the US's ability to be the so-called leader of the Free World. It's the most shameful moment I can recall in my entire adult life for American foreign policy.

I take your assessment of the situation extremely seriously. Therefore, I would ask you to answer honestly what you think Ukraine should expect from the United States in the next few months. Does Biden have a "plan B"?

There's not a plan B. What he needs to do and I hope he will do is to agree to what the extreme Republicans want in terms of changing his administration's policy on immigration along the US's Southern border with Mexico and providing more money for the Southern border. I'm not pessimistic about whether or not the assistance is going to come to Ukraine. I am worried about the timing because it takes some weeks for this negotiation to take place, but knowing President Biden, I think in the end he's going to agree to being politically blackmailed and will give the Republicans what they're demanding on protecting the US's border with Mexico so that he can get that assistance for Ukraine. 

And that's a terrible precedent in American domestic and foreign policy. But I think Biden will end up giving in in the end and Ukraine will get that money. It's just a question of exactly when.

On the other hand, there are concerning signals from the expert community that the Armed Forces should prepare for a multi-echelon defense. This means that we may not receive additional offensive weapons. It appears that the United States does not want to raise the degree of escalation. There have been consultations in third countries. Perhaps with the participation of Orban, or with the help of our Chinese comrades, where it was said that the rapid receipt of F-16s could fundamentally change the situation at the front. 

I don't think that the Biden Administration cares at all about what the Chinese say or Victor Orban says. Victor Orban is generally very much disliked in Washington because what he's doing is so obviously pro-Russian. Who knows what sort of corrupt relationships are driving this but he has no credibility in Washington. 

No, I think in some ways, even worse for my own country, what's happening is just a very parochial political case of blackmail by President Trump's extreme wing of the Republican party that frankly has destroyed that political party that I once loved. It is not strategic at all. It's a terrible example of US domestic political dysfunctionality, but I am confident that Ukraine will get the F-16s and will get the longer-range missiles. But it's ridiculous that Biden's Administration has always taken so long to accept Ukraine's requests for these weapons. Had they just in the beginning provided these weapons, there would be a much different situation on the battlefield and to Ukraine's advantage, of course.

On Thursday, Putin spent several hours telling Russians how he has been successful in his war against Ukraine and gave no sign that he is ready to negotiate. What is your vision of a diplomatic way to end the war?

I don't think so at the moment. Xi Jinping is trying to strengthen his partnership with President Putin to weaken the United States globally. And what's happening between Xi Jinping and Putin is similar to what's happening in the US Congress with the Republicans, precisely because Biden wants this support for Ukraine, the extreme Republicans are against it. Similarly, Xi Jinping who would welcome an end to the war, wants to undermine US leadership and Biden's leadership in the world. So he's going to stick still with Putin. Having said that, I believe that Xi Jinping, like Erdogan here in Turkey, would like to see the war come to an end. But for now, Xi Jinping is very happy to partner with Putin, not push Putin to negotiate, push Ukraine to negotiate and give up its sovereign territory while all the time weakening the United States. Unfortunately.

Biden talks about the unwavering determination of the United States, but who will actually pay the necessary amount of money to the Ukrainian budget to support our army and to our country's macroeconomic development? If there is a debate in the United States that ends with a reduction in funding, how active will Paris and Berlin be?

There's a debate right now going on in the European Council about the money for Ukraine that Victor Orban is blocking the 51 billion euros or whatever it is. I think he's going to give in. He is always behaving in a non-strategic way for the transatlantic community and in a selfish way just for himself and for Hungary. So the deal he's going to cut is to either agree outright for the entire European Union to provide its funds to Ukraine or he has no choice if individual member states decide to provide the money to Ukraine. But it's very clear that many EU member states are going to provide Ukraine with assistance regardless of what Victor Orban says. As you say Germany is among those, France is among those, the United Kingdom is not in the EU, but they will, and the Nordic States as well, as President Zelensky visited Oslo yesterday and the Nordic leaders said they will provide assistance to Ukraine. And I do believe that the United States will as well. It's simply not politically possible that the United States will end its support for Ukraine. It's just that the US is delaying its assistance because of this silly internal political debate that I mentioned before.

Whether there are groups in the West ready to listen to Putin's propaganda? How steadfast is the West on the Ukrainian issue?

In the United States, there are extreme Trump-supporting Republicans, as I said before, who will support anything that is against Biden. That's part of the problem and they will never change. 

Then there are unknown political operatives all across the transatlantic family in the United States and Europe who are paid bribes by Russian services to take their positions and every day we see more stories about that. I'm not saying any American politicians are taking money from Putin, but certainly, in Europe, it's happening and it could be happening in the United States. But what I'm trying to say is that at the end of the day, not just the moral, rectitude and power of Ukraine's cause, which is its survival, is going to eventually bring all of us in the transatlantic community to provide Ukraine the assistance it needs, but the strategic imperative will also drive us in that direction. There are people making the argument that by destroying so much Russian military capacity Ukraine obviously is not only doing the difficult horrible deadly work of making us all safer, but is making it less likely that Russia will move on after Ukraine and attack NATO territory. Smart people understand that, and we just need a little time to work through the ridiculous pre-election politics in the United States.

What do they say about General Zaluzhnyi in the United States? And what could Biden and Zelenskyy have possibly discussed?

As for me, the scandal over General Zaluzhnyi's use of the word “stalemate” - it's not only in Washington, also in Ukraine - has fed into the debate about whether or not President Zelenskyy is offering an unrealistically positive assessment of the situation on the battlefield. The United States and our allies have really good sources of information as to the Ukrainian people thanks to social media. And it's clear that right now the offensive is not progressing on land. Although it is in the Black Sea. And Ukraine's creativity and its maritime drones and airborne drones have really imposed a lot of damage on Russia's Black Sea Fleet forcing it to redeploy away from Ukrainian territory and to Novorosiysk. That's a story that doesn't get enough coverage. But on land, the Russians have had time to dig in their defensive positions and make it much more difficult to dislodge them. And we in the West are not helping Ukraine because we are not providing air cover through F-16 and other fighter jets and the longer-range missile systems that are needed to allow Ukraine to succeed. So I think that it's important for President Zelensky to be as honest as possible with the Ukrainian people and with the United States and our NATO allies that Ukraine is fighting courageously and effectively. And no NATO military would attempt to do what Ukraine is doing without air superiority, which means Ukraine must get F-16s and longer-range missiles as well.

Prospects for implementing lend-lease as a certain insurance mechanism. Have American lawmakers already taken all the necessary steps to start lending weapons to Ukraine?

I think it's possible. Yes as you say that was the way the situation was moving politically in the United States a year ago, but now as we get into the crazy circus of the US presidential election, everything becomes unpredictable and depends on negotiations like the one we've been talking about - about Biden changing his policy on defending the US's Southern border in exchange for Republican extreme Republicans agreement to assistance for Ukraine. And at this point, who knows what's going to happen. I mean when we spoke a couple of months ago Mr. Borkovskyi, I was saying that the fate of assistance for Ukraine depended largely on who would be chosen as the next speaker of the US House of Representatives. And the two candidates who were in play at that time - neither of them made it. The one who did become the Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, is a strong supporter of President Trump, and he really wants to force Biden to make this sort of politically humiliating deal to change policy on immigration into the United States in exchange for support for Ukraine. And this battle is going to play out for the next several months, unfortunately.

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