Jan 24, 2023

Behind the Tensions Between NATO Nations Over Tanks for Ukraine Transcript

Behind the Tensions Between NATO Nations Over Tanks for Ukraine Transcript
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The United States and other NATO countries are preparing to send a large package of weapons to help Ukraine fight back against Russian forces as that war enters its eleventh month. Read the transcript here.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):

As Ukraine reels from the latest Russian attacks, including one on a residential building that killed more than 40 people, the US and other NATO allies are preparing to send a huge package of heavy weapons to help the country push back against Kremlin forces. The package includes new air defenses, new armored vehicles, and around a dozen British tanks. But so far the US and Germany have been hesitant to send their top line tanks despite warnings that Russia is expected to ramp up its attacks in the coming months. And please, from Ukraine’s president.

Speaker 2 (00:34):

Tragedies are outpacing life. The tyranny is outpacing the democracy. Russia needed less than one second to start the war. The world needed days to react with forced sanctions. The time the free world uses to think is used by the terrorist state to kill it, the world must not hesitate.

Speaker 1 (01:04):

So why are the tanks that Ukraine says it needs the big issue? And will that even be enough to beat back Russia’s advances in the months to come. Joining me to help break this all down are Carol Saivetz, a Senior Advisor at MIT Security Studies Program, and a Research Associate at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian studies and the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute and Emily Channel-Justice Director of the Temerty Contemporary Ukraine Program at Harvard’s Ukrainian Research Institute. Carol, let’s start with you, why are tanks the focus of the moment?

Carol Saivetz (01:42):

I think tanks are the focus of the moment because, if you remember, the war started on February 24th, so there’s a lot of anticipation of a renewed Russian offensive within the next several weeks, months, whatever. And the feeling is that the tanks that Ukraine has actually been asking us for all along are the way to halt that next forthcoming attack. The interesting thing to me is that I think Biden has been very careful and equilibrating I guess, not getting to a point where we are engaged directly with Russia, on the other hand, obviously helping the Ukrainians. The last I saw this afternoon was that the Germans have said to the polls, well, you can go ahead and export the tanks, we won’t stop you, but we’re not giving them. So-

Speaker 1 (02:32):

And Carol, we should say that, a decision may be made between now and later this evening. But this seems to be a moment, Emily, where we’re talking about a principle as President Zelenskyy essentially said, stop bargaining about numbers, it’s time to open up a principle of supply. What does that mean?

Emily Channel-Justice (02:55):

Well, what President Zelenskyy really wants to see is all of Ukraine’s NATO allies taking the same line, because that I think is what would really show Vladimir Putin once and for all that the West is on Ukraine’s side and that Russia cannot win. And so while certainly Zelenskyy is going to be very happy with the tanks that countries like Poland have already committed to giving, as well as the increased support from Finland, Estonia, some of Ukraine’s other smaller allies, having German support for example, goes a really long way in showing that united front and showing that these allies will really stop at nothing to help Ukraine win this war.

Speaker 1 (03:35):

So Carol, what’s behind Germany’s hesitation? We should explain also by the way, that Germany can export its own tanks, but they need to give permission to Poland to re-export what they have given Poland. These are the Leopard twos.

Carol Saivetz (03:50):

Exactly. Which is why it was important when the Germans stated today that they wouldn’t block Poland from exporting the tanks to Ukraine. There was no explicit permission. It’s with a wink and a nod. Please go right ahead. Just we’re not going to do it. I think there are two issues here. And I’m not a German expert, but there’s a long history of Germany wanting to engage with Russia, think back to Billy Bronte and the Ozpolitic and everything else. And they’re very hesitant to be out there, in front of everybody else. The Germans are also the most dependent on Russian oil and natural gas. And even though they have done very well in trying to reduce that dependence, I think they’re afraid that they could trigger even more significant reductions in Russians supply.

I think ultimately they will come along. I think that there’s a lot of pressure on Schultz to supply the tanks. And let’s not forget to go back, Liz, to something that you said before. The British are also supplying their top of the line tanks to Ukraine as well. So it may not be as much as Ukraine would like, but I think that there’s certainly going to be more than there is now, and hopefully that would hold off any kind of Russian offensive. And we are sending any number of strikers of different kinds of military vehicles, just not the M-1 tank.

Speaker 1 (05:18):

So logistics was raised by the US fuel supply as a reason, one of the reasons they were not going to be supplying the tanks, but the Russians also seem to acknowledge logistics problems, problems with tanks. It seemed like an unusual thing for the Russians to say, well, you’re going to have trouble with all that anyway. Almost acknowledging their own problems. Carol, do you see something unique in that?

Carol Saivetz (05:50):

The Russian army turned out not to be the army that we all thought it was going to be as we saw certainly last year and throughout the fall. I think the issue, and I forget which is which, I’m sorry, that the US tanks use a different kind of fuel from the Leopards and there are repair stations already established to repair the Leopards if they’re damaged during the war. And there isn’t such a system in place for the US tank. So-

Speaker 1 (06:17):

It is more complicated than people would assume. It’s not just lob some heavy-duty equipment, there is a lot-

Carol Saivetz (06:23):


Speaker 1 (06:24):

… That goes along with it. So, Emily, some people look at this situation and might say, why string this out? If the Ukrainians are properly supplied, this can all come to an end much faster. So from your perspective, why does this need to be a delicate dance at this point?

Emily Channel-Justice (06:45):

Well, I think there’s still a lot of conversations especially in Europe, about what will prompt Vladimir Putin to end this war. Emmanuel Macron himself and French president has been hesitant. He’s been one who’s mentioned giving Putin an off-ramp, certainly ramping up the military aid for Ukraine is indicating that Europe no longer has any interest in providing an off-ramp. And so I think it’s to some extent, not cutting off any options. However, I think that the European leaders are also starting to understand that Putin could stop this war at any point. Russia could stop this war at any point, and they are choosing not to. And in fact, we’re most likely to see a ramping up of the Russian offensive either around the anniversary of the war or sometime in the spring potentially.

So I think it’s also, there’s more of an understanding that the support for Ukraine needs to be more definitive. Ukraine’s Western allies need to be more united, and hopefully that will not only prevent damage from further aerial strikes, civilian targets, infrastructural targets that we’ve been seeing over the course of the past few months. But it would potentially make it a lot easier when the time comes for Ukraine’s offensive to retake those territories that still are occupied by Russia. Ukraine would have an advantageous position and could then take those territories back much more easily.

Speaker 1 (08:13):

But you talk about Putin. Putin has shown no willingness to back down. Quite the contrary. He wants to restore the former Soviet Union. He’s threatening the former Warsaw pact members, but they in turn seem to be doubling down in a way. There’s a host of countries who are digging in, Poland is ramping up its production of weapons. Now, Emily, how do you interpret the spillover effect on these former Warsaw pact countries?

Emily Channel-Justice (08:48):

Well, these are the countries that know intimately what it would be like to have Russia, first of all, control their whole political economic system. They know that from experience, but they also are the closest to Ukraine. They know what would happen if Russia wins in Ukraine. Poland will be next. This is something we talked about a lot, I think at the very beginning of the war. And as it’s become entrenched, we’ve stopped thinking about the great geopolitical threat that we’re seeing now. But I still believe that if Russia somehow manages to take over Ukraine, which I really don’t think is likely at this point, but if they do and if they believe that they can, then democracies like Poland will be next. The bolted countries will be under threat next. And so I think these countries are trying, they’re doing just a really admirable job of advocating for Ukraine, on behalf of, Ukraine to the other countries that have more economic and military power to support Ukraine. I think they really understand in an existential level what is at stake here.

Speaker 1 (09:53):

Well, Carol, right now we don’t seem to be at a moment where we’re talking about peace, but should the question of pursuing peace, has that been totally lost? It doesn’t seem to be the moment for that, but what is the answer to those who still say we should be pursuing peace?

Carol Saivetz (10:13):

I honestly don’t know how you pursue peace at the moment. The Russians are clearly not interested in any peace negotiations. At the point, I guess in December when Putin listed a bunch of priorities and then the Ukrainians did as well, there was no overlap at all between the minimal conditions for even starting negotiations. And I think Emily is absolutely right at this point. It’s become much more of a, I’m not sure existential is the right word, but it’s become much more of a philosophical fight about democracy and about not wanting to succumb to the authoritarian government and the brutality of the Russian regime at the moment.

Speaker 1 (10:57):

And another thing we haven’t heard that much about Emily are migrants, there has been a massive outflow of Ukrainian migrants, but Russia may be pursuing this strategy, this pressure on civilians. Ukrainian civilians seem to be withstanding a lot of this, but do you think that is a targeted attempt to destabilize in some way? Is Russia could be pushing on the migrant issue, attacking civilians more, finding other ways to undermine European support through the pressure of migrants?

Emily Channel-Justice (11:38):

Absolutely. I think there are two parts to the way of looking at this question. Certainly there’s this push to hit civilian infrastructure in an attempt to demoralize Ukrainians, make them less likely to keep fighting. I don’t think this is a strategy that’s working. From what I’m hearing from people who have remained in Ukraine, they’re just as apt to continue the fight however they can. Certainly, they’re exhausted, they would like this war to be over, but that tactic hasn’t worked. So what I would maybe anticipate is really a Russian disinformation push to start targeting those large migrant populations in countries like Poland, in countries like Germany, to try to somehow present those Ukrainians who have fled Ukraine and who are still refugees right now, present them as some kind of a problem or some kind of a drain on the system in the European countries that are hosting them.

Again, I’m not sure that a tactic that will work because those countries and especially their civilians have really united around helping Ukrainians. But at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Russia use whatever informational tactics they can to try to stir up sentiment. Especially now that they see European leaders turning a little bit more aggressively against Russia. They want to make sure that there’s some public opinion that still supports Russia, and I think we’re seeing that disappear over the course of the past few months.

Speaker 1 (13:08):

And Carol, how do you interpret moves from a country like France, which is now announcing they want to modernize their military, they’re going to make good on the 2% contribution commitment to NATO. It seems like Ukraine is triggering a more global military escalation. How do you view what France is doing?

Carol Saivetz (13:34):

Well, I think it has to do with the whole history of NATO over the last 15 or 20 years. NATO was an organization in search of a mission, when the Soviet Union collapsed, it went out of area, was involved in Afghanistan, and all of a sudden there’s this war on NATO’s doorsteps. And so I think the NATO countries are actually waking up and saying, well, you know what? I think we better do something about this. And certainly every US administration has talked about burden sharing and meeting the 2% GDP going towards the military. And I think the threat is real. Can I go back to the refugee question for a sec?

Speaker 1 (14:14):


Carol Saivetz (14:16):

We have to remember that in 2015 when the Russians started helping Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, they created a refugee crisis and it worked to their advantage. They were able to use and use anti-Muslim feeling and the European countries both against the migrants and to stir up right wing like Marine Le Pen in France, et cetera. This time it’s not working. I think they’re hoping it’s going to work by bombing the civilian infrastructure and everything. X number of Ukrainians have fled across to the Polish border or to the Hungarian border in the hopes that people will be resentful that government resources say in Poland are being used to help these migrants. It’s not working this time. I think Emily’s right that down the road there could be information tactics and everything, but right now all the Russians seem to be doing is galvanizing public opinion against them and in favor and in support of the Ukrainian population.

Speaker 1 (15:13):

So we have very little time left, but I want to ask you, it’s obviously a crystal ball kind of question. If all the military might is there, if the Ukrainians were to win, what would a boxed in Putin do? He would be boxed in. We tiptoed past the conversation about nuclear threats or veiled nuclear threats, but what would a win mean for Putin? He doesn’t seem like somebody who would walk away quietly. So Carol.

Carol Saivetz (15:47):

Thank you. We don’t know. There’s no answer there. We’re already beginning to see cracks within Russia. The very fact that some of the fighting is being led by Mr. Putty Guiuan, who’s Putin’s buddy. The Wagner group that’s not regular Russian army, and there seems to be some skirmishing, at least verbal skirmishing between Guiuan, [inaudible 00:16:15], and Shoigu the head of the, Minister of Defense and everything. I think Putin would be afraid, but I’m not sure that there’s enough unanimity among the other Russian leadership that could lead to, heaven forbid, a battlefield nuclear use or anything like that. I just don’t see us getting there.

Speaker 1 (16:35):

Emily, you want to dive in on that one or? You have about 30 seconds.

Emily Channel-Justice (16:40):

I hope you’re right. I think I’m inclined to agree. The potential for some power struggle within Russia, I think it actually looks more likely with some of these disagreements about who is running the military, who should be leading the fight. Putin is obviously not delivering on what he promised, and a Ukrainian victory is going to make Ukraine so much stronger. That’s going to make Russia very fearful.

Speaker 1 (17:10):

All right, Carol Saivetz, Emily Channel-Justice. Thank you very much.

Carol Saivetz (17:14):

Thank you.

Emily Channel-Justice (17:15):

Thank you.

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