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"We shouldn't lie to each other and think Putin is just bluffing"

2022-01-21T08:43:44.962Z

Fiona Hill was the Russia adviser to three US Presidents. In the face of an imminent invasion of Ukraine, she warns against doubting Putin's resolve - and says what the West should do now as a matter of urgency.



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Fiona Hill: "What we need is a coordinated response."

Photo:

Julio Cortez/ AP

SPIEGEL:

Ms. Hill, Russian President Putin has massed almost 100,000 soldiers on the Ukrainian border.

How dangerous is the situation?

Hill:

Very dangerous. Vladimir Putin would not do such a thing unless he was willing to act. That doesn't mean he'll deploy all of his troops. Putin plans for contingencies. But if you doubt Putin's resolve, it's worth remembering what Russia has done over the past few decades. Putin invaded Georgia in 2008 and intervened in the war in Syria. His secret services have done things that were not thought possible. They used extraordinarily potent toxins to assassinate ex-Russian agent Sergei Skripal in Britain. Alexey Navalny survived a poison attack, but that doesn't mean there was no intention to kill him. There's a lot of nefariousness in the Russian systemand we shouldn't lie to each other and think that Putin is just bluffing.

SPIEGEL:

What exactly does Putin want to achieve?

Hill:

First, Ukraine should never become a member of NATO. This is a demand that Putin has been making for a long time. Second, Putin sees NATO as a kind of extension of the United States. A document that Russia sent to the US government in December not only states that NATO should refrain from expanding further into states of the former Soviet Union. It also demands a withdrawal of material and troops, which would result in the neutralization of the armed forces in Eastern Europe. And that brings me to my third point: I think what Putin really wants is to push the United States out of Europe. In 1994 the last Soviet troops withdrew from Eastern Europe and the Baltic States. That was always unacceptable to Putin. So he triespushing the US out of Europe, just as the Soviet Union was pushed out of Eastern Europe nearly 30 years ago.

SPIEGEL:

How should the West react to that?

Hill:

First of all, we have to state that this is not just about Ukraine, Russia or the USA.

This is an attack on the system of international relations as it was established with the United Nations after World War II.

The core of it is that one country tells the other that it has no right to exist.

This is a kind of politics as we know it from another century that led to two world wars.

It is a threat to all states that have gained their independence and sovereignty after the collapse of a great empire.

We are therefore faced with a fundamental question here.

We need a common response that makes it clear that the world has changed.

SPIEGEL:

But there is no such thing as a common answer.

The US government is open to supporting a Ukrainian insurgency with arms in the event of a Russian invasion.

The federal government refuses arms deliveries.

Doesn't that undermine a powerful anti-Putin coalition?

Hill:

Yes. What we need is a coordinated response. Because it is Russia's goal to play everyone off against each other. If the German government does not want to supply weapons for historical reasons, it could help launch a much more powerful diplomatic initiative. Germany shares responsibility for the situation we are in now. It was Angela Merkel who opposed an action plan for the accession of Georgia and Ukraine at the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest. At the same time, however, it did not prevent a compromise that held out the prospect of both countries joining at some point, albeit without a concrete timetable. I believe that our problems can be traced directly back to 2008, when everyone involved was trying toto find a face-saving compromise. This has led us to the disaster we are now witnessing.

SPIEGEL:

Did Joe Biden make a mistake when he refrained from imposing further sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline?

Many Republicans then accused him of being too soft on the Germans and Putin.

Hill:

Biden was concerned with German-American relations.

When Donald Trump was still in the White House, the more pressure he put on and the more he talked about the subject, the angrier the Germans became.

Biden's calculation was that the Germans should decide for themselves.

And the Germans must be aware that the pipeline is a political lever in the hands of Russia.

SPIEGEL:

Olaf Scholz, a social democrat, has recently been in the Berlin chancellery.

The SPD is the party of détente and has – at least in part – repeatedly shown understanding for Putin's "fear of encirclement".

Do you think that the change of power in Germany was part of the calculations in the Kremlin?

Hill:

I think Putin is taking advantage of many changes.

He sees that the USA - also due to the withdrawal from Afghanistan - gives a weak picture.

Britain is at odds with France and most of the EU.

Poland is at odds with Brussels.

And then there is Angela Merkel's abdication and the formation of a coalition in Berlin in which there are different opinions.

Of course, Putin knows that there are many in Germany who sympathize with the Russian perspective.

SPIEGEL:

Can you understand that the Europeans are angry that there were negotiations on the Ukraine crisis in Geneva, where only Russia and the United States sat at the table?

Hill:

If we look to the future, we need more meetings involving Europeans. And these conversations must also be thematically broader. Because this is not just about Ukraine, but about the transatlantic partnership and the rules of international cooperation. Don't we care anymore? We complained about it when Saudi Arabia invaded Yemen. We complained about that when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. But this is on a much larger scale: after Russia, Ukraine is the largest country in Europe, with 45 million inhabitants. If we allow Ukraine's independence to be violated, then it opens a door and other states believe they can follow Russia's example.

SPIEGEL:

You know Putin well and have written a biography about him. Many Germans also remember Putin as the man who gave a speech in German in the Bundestag in 2001, in which he advocated close cooperation with Europe and the United States. Do you think history could have taken a different turn if the United States and the West had been more adept at dealing with Putin?

Hill:

I think one problem is that Putin has been in office for over 20 years.

The people around him have basically remained the same.

Putin has now seen five US Presidents.

God knows how many changes of government there have been in European countries.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't have more government changes in Europe and the US, certainly not.

But every time someone comes into office, they have to repeat the same demands.

And sometimes people have new ideas too.

That alone poses problems for us.

But of course we also made mistakes.

MIRROR:

Which ones?

Hill:

The Iraq war in 2003 was a real turning point for Russia. I think the US invasion was a serious strategic mistake. I'm sure many Germans see it the same way. The war fundamentally changed Russia's view of the United States, because it was known that Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction. Because of this, Putin concluded that Washington had gotten into the

regime change

business. This made Russia extremely suspicious because it was believed that the United States now also wanted to overthrow the government in Moscow.

SPIEGEL:

Russia is currently perceived as a world power, but in reality its gross domestic product is just slightly higher than that of Spain. Do you think the threat from Russia will go away on its own as economic power dwindles and fossil fuels become less important?

Hill:

First of all, I don't think the importance of oil and gas is going down anytime soon.

We will have to diversify our energy sources, but that will take time, let's be honest with ourselves.

That is why Russia is trying to take action now.

At the moment it is winter and there is an energy shortage because Russia does not sell additional oil and gas, but only supplies what it is obliged to do in the supply contracts.

At the same time, Russia sees that Europe has committed itself to relying on renewable energy sources through climate protection agreements.

This will cause Russia's influence through commodities to decline.

SPIEGEL:

So the West just needs a little patience?

Hill:

I don't think so.

Russia will always find a way to use its

hard power

, be it militarily, with cyber attacks, or in space.

So we should not assume that Russia could be weakened.

Right now, Russia is perhaps in its best position in years.

It has the military capabilities to defeat all of its neighbors except China and the United States.

That's why it's so important for NATO to stand together.

It's not about seeking confrontation with Russia.

But Russia tends to intimidate others when it believes it has a military advantage.

Source: spiegel

All news articles on 2022-01-21

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