Espreso. Global

The U.S. struggle between party interests and Americans' desire to help Ukraine — diplomat Bryza

24 March, 2024 Sunday

Matthew Bryza, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, former Director for European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. National Security Council, tells Espreso TV's Anton Borkovskyi, about the prospects for U.S. assistance and peace talks

The situation in the United States is extremely difficult, and the bidding is ongoing. Recently, Senator Lindsey Graham visited us. Obviously, he made a "trade proposal" but did not bring assurances from Congress that the issue of providing us with macroeconomic assistance would be resolved. And now it is a matter of life and death for Ukraine.

The situation is working as intended within the US government and legal system, where the great power of the United States Congress lies in its authority to determine the allocation of funds, including those for the executive branch. Therefore, when the president makes a request, either through an annual budget or a specific supplemental program, such as aid to Ukraine, Congress must approve it.

Lindsey Graham has long supported assistance to Ukraine and its independence, as well as the restoration of its territorial integrity. However, as a politician, he has shifted from challenging Donald Trump in a previous election to becoming one of Trump's staunchest supporters. Graham recognizes that Trump prefers not simply granting aid to Ukraine but framing it as a loan. Trump has suggested, and Graham acknowledges, that this "loan" may never be repaid. The interest rate would likely be very low, akin to the assistance provided during World War II under the Lend-Lease Act, much of which was never reimbursed by recipient nations such as the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, China, and other allies. Thus, labeling it as a loan is a political tactic. Ultimately, it would still function as aid, but the designation as a loan serves to appease a small faction of extreme Republicans in the House of Representatives who are obstructing a vote by threatening to remove Speaker Mike Johnson from his position. Johnson, fearing the loss of his role, is preventing a vote from occurring. However, it is anticipated that a vote will transpire soon.

When it comes to our mineral resources and the visit of Lindsey Graham, who talks about aid from the United States, there is a feeling that some deep state-the deep American state-would like to solve issues related to mineral resources in this way: mineral resources in exchange for large-scale aid.

No, that theory strikes me as propaganda. It may even have been planted into the Ukrainian debate by the Russians. The United States government has no interest in securing natural resources for itself anywhere on Earth other than within the United States. What the US government does is it endeavors to encourage countries to allow US companies to produce oil, natural gas, and other resources on fair terms. Additionally, it promotes global resource production to meet the needs of the global economy.

So, in this case, I wish the thinking were as strategic as you suggested. Instead, what's happening is a very parochial, narrow-minded political battle in Washington between those who support Donald Trump in the House of Representatives, seeking to demonstrate unwavering support for him, and the rest of the country, essentially the United States populace, which desires Ukraine to receive assistance and recognizes Ukraine's need for it. To put it differently, as important as Ukraine is strategically for the United States, it is not the top foreign policy issue for Biden right now. His primary immediate concern revolves around Israel's conflict with Gaza and the accompanying attacks on Red Sea shipping by the Houthis, which could significantly impact the global economy and diminish Biden's image as he campaigns for reelection against Donald Trump.

However, the most pressing issue concerning the rest of the world in US politics is the border with Mexico. There's a challenging debate underway, with Republicans blaming Biden for inadequate border control, especially now with the collapse of the state of Haiti. There's a prevailing fear in Washington that another significant wave of migrants or immigrants from Haiti will head towards the southern border, making it the number one issue for Biden's reelection campaign at present. Ukraine is indeed important, but there's no deep state conspiracy. It's simply shortsighted US election politics hindering the vote on this aid.

Yes, conspiracy is a very convenient tool for political experts and journalists to consider additional options for the problem. But the bottom line is that there are extremely positive signals from the US President and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. There are a lot of extremely positive signals, but the issues are not resolved. Perhaps some emissary has fulfilled his mission and the United States has received threats from the Kremlin. The process in Europe is ongoing, but it will not solve all the problems facing our country, because Russia is entering a new, even more serious phase of the war.

When there was that threat by Putin to use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine. You're right Bill Burns, a head of the CIA who's a former ambassador to Russia went to Moscow and explained to President Putin that if Russia were to use a tactical weapon, there would be serious military consequences for Russia's forces that the US would impose in other words. It sounded to me like the US would have attacked Russian forces conventionally if Putin had used tactical nuclear weapons, I don't know if that's true. That's just according to reports I heard in very credible news sources like the Washington Post. 

I agree with you that the signals coming from General Austin or President Biden about getting aid for Ukraine are positive. You know that National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has just been with you in Kyiv and it's at the same time that secretary Blinken is on his way to Egypt to try to advance a ceasefire in Israel's war on Hamas.

So the Biden Administration is trying to Signal we are with you Ukraine. We're sending our second most important foreign policy official the National Security advisor to Kyiv as our top diplomat goes to Cairo.

As Lindsey Graham said when he was in Kyiv, he's more confident than ever that there will be a political solution to get aid to Ukraine. The problem is yeah, Ukraine doesn't have time to wait. So unfortunately one of the great weaknesses of our American political system, is that a group of extreme ideological actors in one house of our Parliament can block something that almost everybody else wants to see happen. Certainly a majority of American citizens want to see aid to Ukraine and my understanding is a majority of all the members of Congress want to see that Aid come to Ukraine. Unfortunately, we have to live with this problem in the United States all the time because of ineffective governance because of the way our democratic systems rules are set up. But I think this is we're getting close to a point where the aid will be released by Congress and we'll see Ukraine finally getting more of what it needs.

Putin has reappointed himself as president, and all that's left is for him to crown himself with the Ivan the Terrible hat. Some kind of negotiation moment is brewing, and Russia feels much stronger now than it did a year ago. However, they are trying to organize a big conference in Geneva on the Peace Formula. It is clear that the Russians will not be there, but the Chinese will be there as observers. Over the past few months, Li Hui, China's special representative, has been traveling all over the EU, meeting with all possible representatives of various authorities. What might the Geneva format and the second track, which will be formed by Beijing and Moscow, look like?

I don't know when the Geneva Peace Conference will take place, but I view the agreement of the Swiss government to host it as a positive sign, particularly because it will exclude Russia. So that's good, and it will end up being a sign of support for Ukraine. I think it will probably be a brainstorming session aimed at finding ways to achieve peace in a manner that allows Ukraine to restore its territorial integrity. It's worth noting that even China's so-called peace plan, which was very vague regarding Ukraine, did, in fact, embrace the idea of restoring Ukraine's territorial integrity as its first point. Of course, China has to take that position because of its Taiwan problem.

If you also observe China's behavior since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, China has not behaved like an ally of Russia. Instead, it has acted more like a country that has an understanding with Russia, sharing a common opponent, which is the West and the United States. Xi Jinping is essentially using Vladimir Putin to do the dirty work—the difficult work of fighting a war. China has been careful not to provide Russia with any weaponry and not to violate sanctions because China is very worried about US secondary sanctions. These are the ones that would affect Chinese banks, for example, if they were to violate US sanctions. If Chinese banks were no longer able to access the US dollar or the Swift system or the US financial system, Xi Jinping is worried that he would face his own political earthquake at home.

So, China's presence in Geneva, I believe, is not necessarily a bad thing. It would be much better if China didn't share Russia's desire to undermine the West and the US, in addition to Ukraine. However, I actually hold out significant hope for the Geneva conference, and I am confident that there will not be serious pressure on Ukraine to give up its rightful demands to purge its territory of all occupying Russian troops and restore its full territorial integrity.

What does Russia consider to be a certain achievement of its goals? And how do our friends see Ukraine's victory? Jake Sullivan, President Biden's national security adviser, made a very powerful signal a few days ago: according to him, Ukraine's victory is the preservation of the Ukrainian state, sovereign, democratic, and economically independent. But he left out an extremely important point: the return of our territories temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation. And here we are again returning to the issue of strategic assistance from the United States and our allies - not just assistance, but tactical assistance that will allow us to preserve at least what we have now. Strategic assistance involves fundamentally new types of weapons in sufficient quantities to inflict the most painful defeat on the enemy.

Yes. One thing that I'm highly critical about regarding the Biden Administration is that neither Jake Sullivan nor President Biden have ever clearly stated, "We want Ukraine to win, we want victory for Ukraine." What they always say is, "We don't want Ukraine to lose," but they don't explicitly say, "We want Ukraine to win." So, psychologically, for me, that's too weak of a position. But one reason why they don't define clearly what it means for Ukraine to win or don't even talk about it is because, as they often say, it's up to Ukraine to decide what victory looks like. You're a democracy, so it's your country, your territory, and your people. Therefore, it's up to Ukraine to decide how the war ends and what victory means. 

Yes, I take your point that Russia has resumed a military offensive, but Russia's goal all along has been to survive. After it failed in its first attack against Kyiv in February and March of 2022, and after Ukraine's successful counteroffensive pushing Russian troops out of Kherson in the South and away from Kharkiv in the North, Russia had to literally dig in, dig trenches, and just hope, and maybe even pray, that the United States and our European allies would not provide Ukraine with the aid its brave soldiers need to win. And so that's what's happening now. Yes, that's what's happening. We're not providing you the aid you need, and so Russia is able to hang on and maybe make a few advances. But as I said, I'm increasingly confident that Ukraine is going to get that aid, and it's important that Ukraine use it as wisely as possible. 

I have to honestly share with you what I hear from people in the US military who are strong supporters of Ukraine, who say Ukraine was very inefficiently training earlier, firing off too many bullets and too many shells during training exercises, and needed to use that assistance more economically. Also, there were big concerns about some of that money being misused, being used to buy expensive cars by Ukrainian officials who had access to that money, but those numbers are small. Ukraine will win if we give it the $60 billion in aid and the $40 billion the European Union has promised Ukraine. For me, victory means, in my book, that Ukraine pushes all Russian forces out of Ukraine and fully restores its territorial integrity. But that's easy for me to say sitting in the comfort of my home in Istanbul. The leadership and the people of Ukraine have much more difficult trade-offs to weigh - life and destruction versus territory, and only the people of Ukraine and its elected leaders can decide what that trade-off should look like.

President Erdogan has now managed to bargain for the unprecedented - de facto approval of certain possible American sanctions mechanisms against Turkey in agreement with the Turkish authorities. It is clear that Erdogan is a powerful player. But how powerful will he be and will the Istanbul format, combined with the Geneva format, bear fruit? Is Putin ready, despite all diplomatic attempts, to escalate further and enter an even bigger war?

I think that, yes, I agree with President Erdogan; he has proven to be a very effective negotiator, as we saw when he was able to broker the so-called Ukraine Green Agreement involving Moscow and Kyiv. He wants to play that role. He aspires to be a mediator and sees Turkish foreign policy as aiming to stabilize regions and bring peace, prosperity, and justice. That's his self-image and Turkey's goal. Many people disagree, but I think that is his self-image. So, I believe he will come to Geneva in that spirit, wanting to help broker an agreement if possible.

When we look at Israel's war, he and his foreign minister are also active behind the scenes, trying to broker some sort of agreement. Even as Erdogan is very critical of Netanyahu, still, behind the scenes, Turkey is trying to facilitate an agreement to free more hostages and then be ready to step in if there is a ceasefire, acting as a guarantor power. That's Turkey's aspiration.

So, how powerful is Erdogan? I don't know how powerful Turkey is in this situation. It's not so much a question of raw power because Erdogan isn't going to threaten anybody with military force or economic sanctions. No, it's just that he has proven himself to be an effective mediator, and in the past, both Putin and Zelensky said they welcomed Erdogan's mediation. I think Putin says that Russia is willing to escalate the conflict to force Ukraine to de-escalate. That's Russia's national security and military doctrine, but I don't think, at this point, he's capable of escalating very far.

The one big concern is the manufacturing of weaponry. Russia's economy is now on a war footing; its economy is being redesigned to produce weapons. And so, it's producing something like 200,000, I think 155 mm artillery shells per month. And when the EU increases its capacity, it'll just be producing 50,000 a month. So, Russia can produce a lot of weaponry, but the long-term cost for Russia to its economy is going to be devastating. 

Yes, the economy hasn't collapsed, but that's because so much of Russia's national wealth is being invested now in military production, and that means in goods that are destroyed, which don't help the economy grow. So, the long-term costs to Putin of this war are going to be enormous, and if he escalates, the cost will be even greater. He wants to stay in power for another 12 years, and I can't see how he could survive if he escalates this war.

We see the willingness of the Kremlin elites to continue escalating, the Russian economy has not collapsed. They are now at the end of the late Middle Ages, but they are ready to smear their country with war-they do not want to preserve certain things. What would be the right thing for us to do to activate additional mechanisms, to deepen military economic cooperation with the UK or with the EU, in particular with France, Germany, and Poland within the Weimar Triangle? Or, on the contrary, should we intensify cooperation with the possible next US President Donald Trump? Now we need to develop an additional strategy for relations and specific tactics, to propose and develop them. Of course, the ideal formula is to cooperate with everyone.

I think Ukraine needs the deepest possible cooperation with all of its friends, enjoying unprecedentedly deep cooperation. I was participating in a conference that included a German official just earlier today, and he mentioned that if, let's say, in the autumn of 2021, someone had said the European Union would be investing its own money to help Ukraine procure weapons, people would have thought that he had lost their mind. But that's what's happening now. So, I believe Senator Graham offered some advice yesterday to Ukraine: produce as much weaponry as fast as you can and bring more Ukrainian citizens into the military. He was pushing for the age for mobilizing people to be reduced from 27 to 25. I know that's very difficult politically to do in Ukraine, but it seems like something that must happen.

Additionally, I think it would be useful if Ukraine highlighted more to its friends around the world that it has significantly increased its ability to produce weapons at home. My understanding from an article I read in the Atlantic Council a couple of days ago is that Ukraine is now able to produce $18 billion worth of artillery shells and other weapons per month. However, there's only $9 or $8 billion available in Ukraine's government budget to purchase the equipment and weaponry that Ukraine can now produce itself. So, I believe Ukraine should ask for assistance not only in the form of weapons but also in terms of financial support, allowing Ukraine to produce more and prepare for the long run to deter Russia in the future.

How should we work with Donald Trump's possible new team? There were rumors that he met with Elon Musk. There are issues of teams that may neglect, at least in the non-public sphere, the ethics of international cooperation. We are starting to live in a new time. We don't know what might happen in the United States, but Trump is making contradictory signals, and we see that he is not losing. I would like to wish Joseph Biden's team victory and successful development, but we see that Trump's team is gaining.

What should we be preparing for if the United States may have its own political revolution in six months? It is clear that when we talk about isolationism, we are not talking about political or political science categories; we are talking, in particular, about military and financial aid, which may not arrive. Or maybe vice versa. When Trump says that he has a scenario, a vision, what could it be? How would he be ready to act, for example, when communicating with the aggressor state of Russia?

Nobody knows. Trump doesn’t have a plan. Trump is all about Trump. He's absolutely narcissistic, a completely self-possessed person. Right now, he looks to me like the stronger political candidate, but Biden has been getting more energized and trying to counter concerns among Democratic voters, or among all voters, that he's simply too old. He's been doing a pretty good job of countering that impression. 

Trump faces all kinds of difficulties with the various criminal cases against him. Some cases might actually help him win votes or get his voters out to vote, rather than staying home because they feel that Donald Trump is being persecuted by the US judicial system. But some of the other cases, like the one that alleges he essentially provoked an insurrection on January 6th at the US Congress, will cost him votes. So it's just way too early to tell. But even if I knew that Donald Trump was going to be elected president, I still couldn't tell you. I have no idea what his approach will be to Ukraine. On the one hand, he has said he would end the war in one day if he became president. Clearly, that would mean he would somehow insist on a ceasefire, which may not be to Ukraine's advantage. That must be what he means, although he's never specified. So that's bad.

But what's good is that he is the first US president to have provided lethal aid to Ukraine, in the form of the Javelin anti-tank missiles. That was something President Barack Obama never was able to or never wanted to deliver to Ukraine. And also, right now, President Trump is not saying he doesn't want to help Ukraine. He's saying he doesn't want to help Ukraine for free. In other words, if Ukraine gets something from the United States and from me, Donald Trump, the United States and I should get something from Ukraine. So let's talk about a loan that Ukraine may or may not have to pay back, and not a gift. That's Trump's approach so far. So, what this all boils down to is, I'm not too worried about Donald Trump's approach to Ukraine if he's reelected president, but I am deeply worried about his approach to NATO, which he has previously said is obsolete. And everybody saw in the world what he said so ridiculously a few weeks ago. He said any NATO member state that's not investing 2% of its GDP, the NATO goal, into defense, let Putin do whatever he wants to them, and the US wouldn't protect those countries. That, to me, is heretical. That's heresy of a geopolitical variety. No leader of any NATO member state should ever say something like that, certainly not the most important leader of NATO. So he's very unpredictable, totally transactional, unstrategic, and selfish. But so far, he has not said to stop all assistance to Ukraine. Thank goodness.

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