This week on High Noon with Inez Stepman, Inez is joined by Boris Ryvkin, former national security advisor to Senator Ted Cruz and an indispensable voice of explanation on the Russian invasion of Ukraine that is putting the world into crisis. Combining Russian, Ukrainian, and English sources with his own prodigious knowledge of history and foreign relations, Boris talks listeners through the intertwined historical roots of Russia and Ukraine, the likely differences in thinking and national character between Russians and the West, and what is likely to come next for Ukrainians resisting invasion. Stepman and Ryvkin also discuss the future of the U.S.-led global order in an era when America’s institutions seem ideologically captured and its elite foreign policy class incompetent. 

If you’re feeling a bit lost in the wildly swirling reports from the front lines, this episode of High Noon with Boris Ryvkin is a must.

High Noon is an intellectual download featuring conversations that make possible a free society. The podcast features interesting thinkers from all parts of the political spectrum to discuss the most controversial subjects of the day in a way that hopes to advance our common American future. Hosted by Inez Stepman of Independent Women’s Forum.


Inez Stepman:

Welcome to High Noon, where we discuss controversial subjects with interesting people. And unfortunately, we are going to be discussing the invasion of Ukraine, which seems to be one of the only topics that we can really get into in any depth with the news cycle these days, unfortunately at the expense of what the Ukrainian people are suffering right now, given this invasion from Russia. And because of that, I want to bring on as my guest this week, Boris Ryvkin, who’s a friend of mine, but also has been one of the best and most reliable commentators giving us analysis from both Russian and Ukrainian language sources, as well as Western and English sources in this whole sort of conflagration that as much as anything has been confusing with regard to information and what’s even happening on the ground.

Boris is a Sole Member of MonteFly Holdings LLC, he’s also the former National Security Advisor to Senator Cruz. And his policy analysis has appeared in National Review, National Interest, Business Insider, as well as The Diplomat. And like I said, he’s one of my go-to’s and has been for a very long time on relations in this part of the world, and I think his analysis has become just that much more important given what unfortunately we are seeing over there. So, welcome to High Noon, Boris.

Boris Ryvkin:

Hi, Inez. Thanks for having me.

Inez Stepman:

You’re very welcome. So, I wanted to start out just by asking you to give an overview for people in America who don’t necessarily have the background that you do in this part of the world. What is the brief history of Russia and Ukraine? How are they either related or not to each other? How have those distinct national identities developed perhaps over more recent history? And what ties them together long-term? And how do each of these sides really see the other one, whether they see each other as brothers or as distinct national entities? I know that’s a very, very long history, but if you could give us just a brief overview.

Boris Ryvkin:

Sure. I think that relationship has gone through a number of different phases beginning with who is a Russian? Who is a Ukrainian? Who is a Belarusian? Because Belarus is the kind of third part of that family of Slavic peoples if you want to call it today. I’m going to put the Polish factor to the side for now, because that’s also a key part of the history that I’ll touch on a tad later.

I think that there was the Soviet period when all of these different countries were constituent republics of the Soviet Union. Prior to that, they were part of the Russian Empire, as it developed. Despite different political changes, they each maintained their separate languages, cultures, identities, and distinctiveness as peoples, even if there were differences as to at times who Ukrainians would consider to be Ukrainian versus depending on Ukrainians who just spoke Ukrainian, for example, or Ukrainians who spoke both Russian and Ukrainian or only spoke Russian, or Ukrainians who weren’t Christians versus let’s say Jews who lived for a few centuries in what was the Pale of Settlement, which was this area wherein the Russian Empire Jews were restricted to living, and that covered a lot of territory of what is now in Belarus and Ukraine, and that issue.

So it’s been a very complicated multi-phase type of messy relationship over time, but I think that the consensus has certainly emerged after the Soviet Union collapsed for the most part and these countries became internationally recognized separate sovereign independent states, that these really are very peaceful, very closely related brother peoples. And that’s the way that they’re called in Ukraine, we’re certainly called in Russia, братские народы (bratskiye narody) in Russian, brother peoples who are very closely aligned, have a very close intimate relationship, know each other very well. I think by current estimates, something like 30% of Russians have family members in Ukraine, which is just incredible.

So, in some respect, it’s almost like close to being one and the same people. They’re different, but numerous families have one parent from one country, one parent from another country, repeatedly exchanges between sister cities between Moscow and Kyiv and the rest, which makes this an especially debilitating painful conflict for those of us who were born there, have family who came from there, or have some kind of cultural, emotional family connection to all of this, because it’s really just tearing people apart completely unnecessarily, and it might poison relations for a very long time to come.

And just in terms of stepping back for a brief more technical historical overview of this, in terms of Ukraine specifically, there was a period, really the kind of, I would call inflection point, turning point for Ukraine’s emergence as a nation and national identity, which is still at the core, how that nation views itself in many ways. Really happened between around… we have to go back to maybe the 16th, 17th centuries, I think really.

I mean, it preceded that to a great extent. But those were I think kind of the key moments where a lot of this developed when this… Now I’m going to bring the Poles in for a moment. Where at the time, Tsars Russia, especially in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, was really a Eurasian backwater, it wasn’t really a European state, wasn’t recognized as being a kind of economic player, a cultural player. And really to a large extent, Russia, Rus in Russian, sort of the origins of Russia, owe a great deal to what came out of Ukraine, what came out of Kyiv. Kyivan Rus’ was really the origin or sort of the founding state, the founding political entity, national entity that eventually developed into what we know as Russia today.

So, that connection is always there at the center, but the Russia that emerged at that time was really kind of an irrelevant secondary player. And the dominant state power in Eastern and Central Europe then was called the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. So all of the countries today that comprised the Baltic States, which would be Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and the vast majority of Belarus. And then eventually, almost all of modern-day Ukraine, and then some other countries in Southern Europe that exists today, were all part of this huge Polish Imperial State.

And that was an economic powerhouse, it was really the center of cultural, political activity. And by the standards of Eastern Europe at the time, it really developed, by relatively speaking, more liberal types of institutions in terms of how the citizens, the subjects interacted with the monarchy, and the kind of local self-government, without getting into too many details. So, it was a clear break from what was happening in Tsars Russia, which was always very, very centralized and oriented toward absolutism of the reigning monarch.

And Poland, as part of its imperial expansion, took over large parts of Ukraine and there were major tensions that broke out into some very bloody conflict over time and a lot of misunderstandings, there were deep religious differences, most Ukrainians were Orthodox Christians, most Poles to this day, of course, are Catholic. And that caused a lot of problems, the way that Poland opted to rule over Ukraine, not really understanding how Ukrainian society at that time was organized. And over time, that led to a very, very poisonous relationship that boiled over into a huge popular Cossack uprising led by someone who became a kind of Ukrainian symbol of national liberation, independence, Bohdan Khmelnytsky, who was a Hetman who was… In Ukrainian, that’s the leader, the chief of a large kind of group of community of Cossack groupings or nations.

And he led this huge revolt against the Poles, which really was very, very devastating in terms of the number of people who were killed and destruction of Polish cities, and what have you. And that was a really critical shift in both Ukraine’s identity as a separate independent entity, and that eventually developed into their views of their own nationhood, Poland’s relationship with Ukraine, and more importantly, Russia’s relationship with Ukraine. Because as part of that conflict with Poland and the emergence of effectively the first truly independent Ukrainian state in a very long time, the Ukrainians made a deal with the Russian Tsar for protection, effectively that they would be nominally independent, but functionally, they would just have autonomy within a growing, what eventually would become the Russian Empire, in exchange for assistance in defeating the Poles. And that relationship between the Ukrainians and the Russians formed the core of what has continued really until the end of the Soviet Union fundamentally.

So, from that point up until Ukraine regained fully its independence, if you will, in 1991, when the Soviet Union broke apart, Ukraine was always in one form or another connected politically to Russia with very, very brief periods where that wasn’t the case, but those really lasted just a couple of years. And that from a historical perspective really goes to the heart of specifically Vladimir Putin’s view of what Ukraine is and isn’t, and the view of those who are trying to a large extent either justify, explain, whitewash, not really, in my view, put into proper context that what Russia is engaged in now is an overt interstate war of aggression, and instead have tried to paint this as some kind of extension of a civil war inside Ukraine, that why should we really… This is a distinction without a difference, Ukraine and Russia are pretty much one and the same.

And it’s really important to tease that out because that really forms the core of the ideological narrative that I think many in our part of the world, Western countries, but definitely in the United States, have just not really bothered to engage in. So, that really is where the history becomes very important.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah, there’s maybe one bit of sort of let’s say Putin’s propaganda that I want to discuss with you before we move to the actual what’s happening on the ground today. And that is the second part of his justification, right? is the “denazification” of Ukraine and of its current government under Zelenskyy. Now, it’s not maybe because both of us have both Slavic and Jewish background, right? It doesn’t come to a shock to us that there is considerable flirtation with the far right in Eastern European countries that often there are strong currents of antisemitism, that’s not a shock, but can you address for us the claim that Ukraine’s current government is somehow very deeply embedded with Nazis? What is the role of another one of controversial Ukrainian national hero, Bandera’s… in all of this, the stuff that we hear on the internet about brigades of either Far Right or Nazis.

So, to what extent does Nazism exist in Ukraine? To what extent is Putin using it as a rallying cry, perhaps another, to try to… As everything in that region seems to be, always tie everything to World War II, to the Great Patriotic War. I guess, why don’t you sort out a little bit of fact from fiction for us on that claim?

Boris Ryvkin:

Sure. I think we have to divide this into a few parts. It’s not really a monolithic one set of reasons, or monolithic kind of overview, or attempted explanation for why he’s doing this and the Russian state media has tried to run with that narrative, and how it emerged and why they’re repeatedly coming back to this particular way of looking at the situation and what’s happening.

So I think the first piece is just kind of starting from the end and going back a bit to the beginning. So, there is a… in the case of Putin, personally, a few deep personal resentments and grievances. There is a sense that Russia is not treated with “respect” by the Western powers. That the Western powers can get away with everything. And that Russia, despite having a nuclear deterrent, despite covering 11 time zones, despite having basically being a resource depot, oil and gas in particular, for European countries and elsewhere, that Russia is not able to get… For some reason, is held to a different standard and is not able to do that which the Western powers have repeatedly done themselves hypocritically and tried to in his case justify using the same, what I would say, political technologies, the same type of spin and explanations as he’s doing now.

So, I want to kind of briefly go back to the situation that happened in Yugoslavia in 1999 and Kosovo. So there you had the Western powers, NATO, Britain, and the U.S. in particular, this was during the Clinton administration, claiming that there was a genocide of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo by Slobodan Milošević, who was then head of Yugoslavia and government of Yugoslavia. And that justified a humanitarian intervention to stop that genocide, which led to a bombing of Yugoslavia, and eventually Kosovo being put under UN control, being split off from Serbia, and eventually recently, a number of years ago, becoming an independent state, which most Western countries have recognized.

And Putin points to this, he’s repeatedly referred to that precedent. He’s also referred to Iraq of 2003, he’s referred to Libya. And if you notice a lot of the official rhetoric that he has used in his own addresses, statements on why this invasion “from his perspective” had to happen, that it was Russia defending itself against, like you said, and we’ll dig deeper into that in a second, Nazis and ultranationalists and drug addicts, he actually added that one too. And officially, Russian media is not allowed to refer to what’s happening in Ukraine as a war right now.

So, it uses this specific technical term that Putin used to describe it, which is a special military operation. So that’s meant to say that, “We’re targeting these evil Nazis. In targeted attacks as a humanitarian intervention, we are peacekeepers, we are liberators, we’re liberating the besieged humiliated…” as Putin called them, “residents of Eastern Ukraine in this Donbas region, which is in the regions in the Eastern part of Ukraine, in the Donetsk Basin as it’s called, from these evil forces. And this is a humanitarian intervention, so against the genocide.” Literally, that’s his official position.

So you notice this is exactly the same rhetoric, almost verbatim, that the Western powers used in Yugoslavia to intervene over Kosovo. So, on the one hand, this is him definitely trolling the Western powers and the international community saying, “Well, if you use that rhetoric for a war that I don’t consider justified, why can’t I get away with it?” And it’s also lashing out at that grievance, why could they do it and why can’t I? Even though from his perspective, clearly there was no genocide in Kosovo, that was just a classic realpolitik type of power grab move by the United States and NATO, exactly the same thing as he’s doing now. So why can’t I do what they’ve done? So that’s one aspect of why he’s using this rhetoric cynically, very, very cynical.

The other element is that there’s I think a fundamental misunderstanding of Putin himself of what Ukraine is and isn’t. And that gets to the historical kind of overview that we had a couple of minutes ago, that he fundamentally believes as an ideological matter, that Ukraine is a fake country. He said that himself, he believes Russians and Ukrainians are basically the same people, that a distinction without a difference. And that Ukraine is essentially the birthplace of Russia. The two countries belong together. And that what happened in 1991 with the end of the Soviet Union, which is basically like what happened with the end of the Russian Empire was an aberration that needs to be corrected. That Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia should be in one new federal union state, with Russia being at its head with him being its president, or basically leading its policy. And that’s just the way that it should be as an ideological matter. And that’s the way that he thinks in these sorts of somewhat neo-Soviet, neo-imperial terms.

So that’s another reason why from his standpoint, the only people who would disagree with this are these ultranationalist Nazis because when you think of Nazis and that rhetoric, that’s why he keeps referring to Bandera, you just mentioned. Although interestingly, he can’t even pronounce Bandera correctly. He keeps referring to these Banderites, he calls them Bederites. So there’s actually a town in Ukraine called Bender. So he keeps referring to Banderites, and everybody’s sort of joking in Ukraine. So, I don’t know what he has against the residents of Bender, they’re kind of like three and a half people that are there, it’s not really a big deal. So, either he’s just confusing us, he’s got everything mixed in his mind from Catherine the Great to Bandera to the Soviet Union. It’s all in there in some kind of rather weird alphabet soup.

But from his perspective, that’s the way that I think he views what’s the Ukrainians, Ukrainian national identity, and that issue is an ideological matter. That the only people who would oppose unity with Russia are these, as he calls them, nationalist formations, neo-Nazis, these Banderites who are there creating problems for the Ukrainian people who actually want Russia to liberate them. And so, the government that Ukraine put in place after the Maidan, as it was, that 2014 political revolution in Ukraine. And we’ll touch on that I think maybe in a second in a bit more detail, if you want, the origins of that.

From Putin’s perspective, whoever should be ruling in Ukraine should be taking instructions from him in Moscow. And so, the president of Ukraine, Yanukovych, in 2014, who was asked that he fled, I mean, he basically lied to the public, he betrayed the public’s trust, he then brutally, lethally, tried to smash peaceful protests, and then that led to months of popular uprising and protests that eventually led to him fleeing to Russia to be protected, safeguarded by Putin. But from Putin’s perspective, everything that came after Yanukovych was illegitimate. He calls it a anti-constitutional coup and said that despite the fact that there have been two national elections in Ukraine since then that were free and fair by every standard, and of course, in Russia, there hasn’t been a free and fair election since, if you want to be generous, 2003. Putin doesn’t care about that. And his perspective is that whoever rules in Kyiv in Ukraine should be taking his orders.

Yanukovych was his man. And so, everybody who came after him who don’t view him as their boss, supervisor in effect, which Zelenskyy, the current president, certainly doesn’t, and his predecessor, Poroshenko, who he defeated with 75% of the vote in the last elections, he didn’t, that’s not something that Putin wants to tolerate ultimately. And that’s sort of the second piece of that. So from Putin’s perspective, this is again another deep personal resentment that in 2014, with all that happened with Maidan and what came after it, he felt himself personally betrayed. In other words, Yanukovych promised that he would drop all plans to move toward Europe, switch over and move closer toward Russia, that that whole thing was settled.

And then you had this random… From Putin’s perspective, because Putin doesn’t believe that people are actually subjects themselves, he doesn’t really believe that people on their own can actually rise up as individual citizens and disagree with the government’s policy. So from his perspective, something else had to be at the forefront of all of this, of what happened in 2014 and what came after. So, he blames the United States, NATO, these ultranationalists. There have to be some other forces there, because the idea that the Ukrainians themselves don’t actually want to be part of Russia, and as he would term it, the new Russian, the Russian world, or Novorossiya, or the new Russia, whatever new state he wants to build. To him is not something that he can understand, it sort of falls outside his calculus. So that’s the second part of the personal grievance that he has.

The first was why is the West getting away with what I’m trying to do here? And I’m not allowed to. And the second part is this about what Ukraine is innocent, and his complete lack of understanding of Ukraine. So, the third part of this is what relevance politically real role and influence do these any actual nationalist parties or groups have in Ukraine today? And to a large extent, they were very influential because they were armed and better organized in 2014, during that Maidan rising against the protests against Yanukovych that led to his removal and his fleeing the country and the changes that happened since then.

But over time, they’ve lost a lot of political influence. I think most of those parties barely even pass the parliamentary threshold, they maybe have a few deputies in the Ukrainian parliament. They really are on the fringes, they’re there, but to say that they in any way represent even close to a majority, much less a significant minority of Ukrainian public opinion, is absurd, especially considering who the current president is. I mean, which is again, we keep coming back to this, but it’s kind of just says something about the cynicism of what’s going on, that you have someone who’s not exactly coy or shy about hiding that he’s fully Jewish, winning 75% of the vote in the last Ukrainian election, winning a majority in every single region of Ukraine with the exception of one in the very far west against Poroshenko in that election, and him being referred to as a drug addict and a neo-Nazi by Putin.

That pretty much tells you a lot of what you need to know about what’s happening here. And nobody disputed that Zelenskyy was elected president. I mean, there were people who hate Zelenskyy, continue to criticize him. I was a very vocal critic of Zelenskyy for quite a number of years since he was elected in 19… really almost from the beginning, even some of his former allies were very disappointed, he had an approval rating before the war broke out of about 40% and falling, but nobody disputed that he was elected president of Ukraine, including all of these so-called neo-Nazi, whatever you want to call them, ultranationalists, or more nationalists parties in Ukraine.

So, really to kind of get into the technicalities of how influential these people are, is really investing in… I mean, I’m going to say this, and I know we might get some pushback here, we warned about this, he’s falling for it, he’s painting a narrative, but it’s really true, this is disinformation. I mean, this is a pure absurd level of disinformation and deflection equivalent to the Russians referring to what’s happening in Eastern Ukraine as genocide, supposedly, and then claiming what they’re doing right now is a special military operation, that they’re peacekeepers, this is an anti-fascist liberation. So if you want to believe that, if you want to get into what is the membership of this infamous Azov Battalion, that’s reported on quite frequently in the Ukrainian Army? How influential is the Azov Battalion today? And what does all of that mean? What do they got?

I mean, this is just respectfully repeating almost verbatim, if you watch Russian state media, which I think many of these people who are repeating this don’t, some of them are just bots, I think, but some of them probably don’t and they’re just not informed of what they’re saying. That’s literally what they’re saying. And in fact, Putin in his address, most recent one, commenting where he called on the Ukrainian military to stage a coup against the democratically elected government of Ukraine. In other words, nobody disputes that the election was free and fair. You can hate Zelenskyy, like him, but he has a democratic mandate, whatever you want to say about what he did subsequently in his term.

Putin openly called on the Ukrainian military to stage a coup, out Zelenskyy, and he’ll negotiate with them. And he prefaced that call to mutiny, commit treason openly, by saying that the Russian Army isn’t actually fighting the Ukrainian military. So, as far as Putin is concerned officially, what the Russian Army is doing is fighting, as he called them, nationalist formations who are using civilians as human shields. So the Ukrainian Army, I guess, is on the Black Sea coast, playing hopscotch or paragliding, I don’t know what the Ukrainian Army is doing as far as Putin is concerned. But apparently, they’re not really doing anything. There are these nationalist formations of Nazis running around that he’s fight.

Although it’s kind of interesting that apparently… And we’ll talk more about this maybe near the end, in terms of what’s happening now. Today, there was very dramatic escalation of indiscriminate artillery barrages of civilian neighborhoods and infrastructure in Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine, and now Kyiv as well, using Grads and Smerch. These are the kind of a short, long-range artillery batteries, and kind of artillery munitions. And against residential neighborhoods, apartment buildings. A mall was shot at with the sort of mass artillery fire in Kharkiv. And the majority of the Kharkiv population of that city is Russian-speaking, ethnic Russian, the people who Putin is supposedly looking to liberate from the Nazis. He’s reducing their residential neighborhoods to rubble.

So, when people jump on this and they start to get into play along, choose to play along with what I call political technologies, as I would… And that’s sort of the language of the KGB, I’m going to sort of employ here. They’re basically feeding into that nonsense deflection. It’s really cynical, it’s absurd, it’s not factual. And it essentially feeds into this narrative that the Ukrainians don’t really know what they’re doing. That they’ve been held hostage apparently by the small fringe group of elements, and that it’s not the Ukrainian nation that’s now resisting a war of aggression, and it’s not the Ukrainian nation that can decide for itself what it wants to go, and it’s not the Ukrainian nation that elected the Jewish guy, Zelenskyy, in the last election. That they’re not really subjects, they can’t make those decisions for themselves and also completely.

And if that was the case, by the way, then the Russians would not be suffering the kinds of losses that they’re currently suffering, in men and material. Then this war would’ve been over in a few days. And in fact, that was Putin’s original thinking, in my opinion, that he really counted on all of this being over in maybe two, four days maximum. This would be a very, very quick campaign. Why? Because the people would be out there with flowers, greeting the Russians as liberators. And in fact, you have literally the entire country, tens of thousands of people, engaged in really a patriotic war effectively now against Russian aggression, which is exactly what it is. And we have to call it that. And if that wasn’t the case, then Putin would be making far greater progress than he is. So, you can just see all of these internal contradictions and make your own inferences from that.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah, that was actually where I was going to go next. I was going to ask you whether this inability of Putin’s to confront the fact that there is broad resistance right down to civilians arming themselves to attempt to thwart a Russian takeover in Ukraine, his inability to confront that, how that’s affecting how he’s prosecuting this war if, as you say, he expected it to go more quickly. What is the state where we’re having this conversation on late Monday afternoon, this will only be released on Wednesday, so there very well may be some twists and turns, and some situation may be very different on the ground in two days than it is right now.

But as of now, is there any hope for Ukrainian resistance here, or is this essentially a turning point where Putin realizes actually his original plan of trying to prosecute this very quickly and getting greeted as a liberator, that’s not going to happen? It seems like we are seeing, especially in the last 12 hours, a turn towards more aggressive bombardment and targeting of civilians. I guess, is there a series of events where this plays out where Ukrainians have any hope of keeping some part of national sovereignty and avoiding, I guess, a worst-case scenario for them? And then on top of that, what factors does that depend on and what factors do you think are going to guide Putin and how he responds to this realization that in fact, Ukrainians don’t want their country to be controlled by Putin’s government?

Boris Ryvkin:

Yeah, I think that it really is a question of what other red line is Putin prepared to cross, how far is he willing to go with this, where he is mentally. And I don’t even like to usually get into that kind of psychoanalysis and not really a question for me, but I was one of the people who was convinced he wouldn’t actually go through with an invasion, or at least didn’t think he would weeks ago, that this was an extreme form of saber-rattling to extract concessions again, he’s done this time again and backed off repeatedly from the Western powers, because he, I thought, would internalize exactly that the scale of the resistance that he would be confronting, the body count, the loss in equipment, that this would not be a blitzkrieg, this would not be an easy cakewalk operation of a few days.

Now I’m not really sure anymore. And I thought then he might even opt for some kind of a limited incursion, limited offensive outside of those separatist republics in Eastern Ukraine from Crimea, but the fact that he went literally toward the worst-case scenario and opted for this regime-change war of aggression to take Kyiv in a few days, kill or forcibly exile the government, and then put the country under occupation for all intents and purposes, I think the goal would be to take the Central and Eastern parts of Ukraine, annex some more territory there, maybe all of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, maybe a land bridge between Crimea and those separatist areas, just formally annex all of that to Russia. I think that might have been the original plan that he came up with.

And then install effectively a Vichy type state like the Germans had in half of France during World War II for a few years, which would be nominally independent, but functionally governed by a puppet. And there were a few candidates that were floated around already. We know who they were. From the Kremlin who would be basically like a Yanukovych, who would be taking instruction from Moscow on most policy issues, and maybe some part of modern Ukraine in the west that would hold out because you have the Carpathian Mountains, so the topography is more favorable toward a kind of protracted gorilla partisan resistance effort there. And with some more Western support, they would be able to hold out. So it would be kind of like Yugoslavia during World War II or Vichy France effectively, that’s how Ukraine would be partitioned and occupied and administered.

I think that judging by what has been done, that was the plan that he came to. And I think that he came to believe… I thought that he would internalize how much resistance he would be facing, the popular patriotic war type, national call to arms and scale, and the professionalism also and determination of the Ukrainian regular arm. But I think he didn’t. At this point, I have to acknowledge that he just didn’t anticipate it, he may have just bought into his own musings, his own assumptions about how quickly this would all go, and how receptive to this invasion most Ukrainians would be.

So I think now, based on what he has said yesterday, openly engaging in nuclear blackmail, so floating, raising the nuclear card, although people were tweeting about arm again. I mean, that wasn’t exactly what he called for, in terms of putting Russia’s nuclear weapons on high forces, on high alert, that wasn’t exactly… There’s no need to hide in your basements yet, but just to let people know as if we didn’t already, that the deterrent, that’s there. So, he’s pulling out the nuclear card. He’s done this now twice in the space of about a week. And the escalation today with the indiscriminate bombing of these civilian neighborhoods and civilian targets, to me, says he’s prepared for another throw of the dice.

He’s open to doubling down. His original plan clearly has failed, based on the sources that I follow, Russian sources, Ukrainian, but especially Russian sources who get leaks from inside Russian intelligence agencies and from who have some understanding of the Kremlin’s current thinking. He’s fuming. In other words, he really doesn’t understand why this is going not according to plan. And I think he’s prepared to double down. He sent… Those who kind of even follow this a bit, Ramzan Kadyrov, who’s the strong man, brutal puppet of Putin who runs Chechnya, he’s brought him and his special operations troops into Ukraine to assist with occupation duties and to hunt down the Ukrainian leadership to spread terror as well, and now of course with this artillery escalation.

So, I think he’s prepared to double down. I don’t know if he’s prepared to go all the way. At this point, honestly, I think he kind of has lost sense of reality. I mean, again, I usually would not say this, I really do not know what his psychological profile is at this point. What worries me personally is the fact that there are Russian sources, commentators in Russia who are Kremlin critics, who do this for a living and trying to understand the various moves, who very soberly over the last 24 to 48 hours have said… but especially over the last 24 hours, that they do not put the chance of his actually making the decision to use nuclear weapons at zero. So, there could actually be, even if it’s a two to 5% chance of him actually going for the button, they do not rule that out at this point.

And for a number of reasons, that his understanding now of what is rational has so greatly diverged from our understanding of what is rational. That that really could be a game-changer that nobody really considered or factored in, even as late as a week ago. But in terms of on the ground, I do think his original plan failed and now he’s definitely lunging for another big push to try to conventionally break resistance. He doesn’t want I think to be dragged into a bloody urban battle over the large cities, that would mean terrible casualties. I mean, Kyiv has a population of over two and a half million people, tens of thousands of small arms, Molotov cocktails. I mean, there would be people firing from every window and basement and corner, tanks are really useless in that kind of environment.

I mean, this would be very, very difficult for the Russians to sustain. This is going to be Afghanistan, this is going to be the Chechen Wars again, this is going to be like some of what they faced in Hungary in 1956. I mean, this is the stuff of nightmares for them. They don’t have I think the ability to sustain that. They might eventually decide to lay siege to some of these cities, if they can’t capture them, to try to maybe starve the population out, I don’t know, that’s been floated by some experts. But I think right now he’s still at the phase where a big escalatory push might still bring about a turning point and break resistance and demoralize the population enough to see a kind of a weakening slackening of resistance.

The original plan was we take Kyiv, Zelenskyy and his government flee, or we kill them, we install our administrator. And that would demoralize… The other cities would quickly surrender, and most of the remaining resistance would melt away. And now I think it shifted to, let’s double down through these more conventional means to sow enough chaos and panic to break the remaining will to continue on. But if this continues on for much longer, maybe another week or two weeks, certainly, and this becomes more of a kind of war of attrition, as it’s called, the more of a protracted type of situation, I’m not sure if he’s going to be looking for an off-ramp. And those discussions might already be happening inside the kremlin.

I think that the repeated waving of the nuclear card, I think is making people nervous. Some of the targeted sanctions are definitely causing, I think, in my view, a lot of problems for the inner circle. So it really is just a case of trying to align his own risk calculus, how far he’s willing to go versus how far almost everyone in his inner circle, the factions in the Kremlin, are willing to let him go before they intervene. And what kind of guarantees could he potentially be given to leave the stage? You know, that, “I’m 70, I think it’s time for me to step back and I won’t be “running” in 2024, won’t seek another mandate and “continue on,” and maybe it’s time for me to find an exit.” That, or again, I hate to say it, but there’s just too many unknowns now.

Inez Stepman:

You know, it strikes me that at least for me personally, and I don’t know nearly as much about this as you do, I’ve always thought that Putin is quite popular in Russia, and I think he has been quite popular in Russia. I know that there has been some large-scale resistance. Navalny certainly has been, especially with his grand sacrifice, which again, we’re seeing with Zelenskyy. There’s nothing that speaks I think to Slavic peoples quite like individual courage and sacrifice. And Navalny going back into Russia knowing that he would be put in prison, but even so, my kind of baseline assumption was always, no, this is a fundamental difference between the West and Russia. In terms of national character, expected Putin to remain quite popular and resistance to be there, but not as substantial as I think many in the West would like to think, in terms of what’s important to lots of people, either in America or in the Western Europe, in terms of liberal democracy and freedom and all of those things.

I have been surprised by how much anti-war sentiment there seems to be in Russia against this war. And then also, I mean, you mentioning here something that I would’ve thought even five or six days ago, I would’ve thought is completely unthinkable, that this may really threaten Putin’s regime in Russia. So one, what do you think the situation is in terms of support or opposition to this war within Russia? And then two, the big thing we haven’t even touched on yet is, those of us in the West, America, Western Europe, the EU, NATO, what could we have done to prevent the situation where we are now talking about a non-zero chance of nuclear war? And two, what should we be looking at doing going forward? And what are the risks of, for example, placing the kind of sanctions that we have on Russia? What are the advantages? How should we think about our calculation in the West in terms of how we can affect this war and what the potential risks of doing so might be?

Boris Ryvkin:

Sure. And when I say non-zero chance, when I’m referring to Russian sources, I’m not referring to the Russian state media, the usual kind of official line of, we have this number of nuclear submarines and this number of ballistic missiles and… just to remind everyone of what our capability is, I’m talking about sober independent commentators and analysts who are not paid to just repeat the Kremlin talking points. And more rhetoric, they’re there to more kind of in a balanced manner, intellectually assess what’s going on. And that’s what they’re beginning to say. That’s what really put me on guard because otherwise I certainly wouldn’t give it any more thought than any other noise.

I think to start with what we could’ve done; I’ve said from the very beginning of this, that we should have taken the absolute toughest, hardest position that we could have possibly taken. From the front-loading of sanctions to arming the Ukrainians to the teeth and their whole variety. I mean, the Ukrainians were in the process of developing a more advanced capable air defense system, for example. I mean, the fact that we haven’t been working with them to develop that for years and now we’re playing catch up on that front and now you have the Europeans sending fighter jets to Ukraine, which breaks with their long-standing policy. And now you have the Germans basically overnight after being prodded on by multiple American presidents over years, now the Germans are committed to spending a hundred billion dollars on defense, now they’re going to spend more than 2% of their GDP on defense, meeting their NATO commitments. It shouldn’t have taken Russia invading another European country for them to do it, but apparently, better late than never.

So, you’re seeing a lot of this beginning to take shape, and you can push back and say, “Look, whether Biden…” And this isn’t a partisan point, it doesn’t matter who the American president was, that maybe given all of these divisions among the Western powers, which Putin, by the way, concluded would remain, would be there to result in watered-down sanctions that would slow the response down, which would allow him to very quickly… If the war would last only two to four days as he originally thought, then the Western response I think would’ve not been fast enough, I think. And that was his original calculus or part of it.

What could we have realistically done, say in the US, if you have Draghi in Italy lobbying to exclude Gucci from luxury brands from sanctions? I mean, if that’s where the Europeans were as of a week ago, right? much less where they were a few months ago, I mean, what could the U.S. reasonably have done to actually organize any kind of serious… with teeth, really proper Western response on the front-end to inhibit this? I’m not sure, but I think certainly on the militarization, if you want to call it, the arming of Ukraine and getting them prepared for this, I think we shouldn’t have spent days telling everyone Russia is about to invade, Russia is about to invade as we heard from Blinken, from Biden.

I mean, that means you have no deterrents. If you’re insisting that Russia is about to launch this scale of an offensive, then you’re basically admitting that you couldn’t have done anything or can’t do anything to prevent them from doing. So maybe that’s almost an admission that we didn’t do enough from the beginning, the fact that they kept doing it for days. So this should have been done weeks or months ago. And there were obviously political reasons because everything in America is political. Everything. And I’ve complained a lot about this, that we seem to care less about these sort of larger strategic questions, historical questions, everything is about infotainment and personalities.

Oh, the reason Biden didn’t do this was because of Trump, or Burisma, or this or that, because that’s easy. Instead of going into a difficult analysis of what could have been done, this is what we waste our time on instead. So I think that that should have been done months ago if not years ago, really. And we should have taken a very tough position in terms of signaling clearly what would happen immediately upon Russia doing what it did, and already beginning to introduce those countermeasures before the final decision was made. We didn’t do that. As I like to refer historically very briefly to what happened in 1960 when another then Soviet leader, Khrushchev, was threatening to nuke London and Paris over West Berlin.

He said, “We’re going to wipe out the American troops in West Berlin, we’re going to nuke European capitals unless the Western powers relinquish their rights effectively to control over West Berlin.” And de Gaulle, then the French president, took the hardest possible line on that and made it very clear what would be happening if Khrushchev was foolish enough to actually move beyond bluff to some sort of action. Like, that needed to be the position taken from the beginning. The fact that we didn’t and we wasted our time on legalese and trying to parse through this, even if at the time we thought he wouldn’t invade, I think was a terrible mistake. And then on the… I’m sorry, the first question that you asked in terms of how this would end for Russian anti-war sentiment, right?

Inez Stepman:

Right. How does this interact? Because now we do have a situation where it seems like we’ve put very painful sanctions on Russia, the ruble is crashing, there are serious economic consequences at home for Putin now because of taking this action in Ukraine. To add to what frankly surprised me, in terms of… And I’m not saying it’s the majority, I have no idea how representative it is, but I will say that the level of anti-war sentiment that I saw surprised me in Russia.

So, what are his options now if he is going to, as you say, probably enter a second phase of this war, where he is going to double down, he’s going to target civilians, he’s going to make much more vigorous conventional war on Ukraine, and at the same time he’s going to deal with massive economic problems at home and potentially a population that is already disinclined to this war? I mean, how do all those pieces fit together? And what are the dangers of that, of an unstable, let’s say, Russian regime?

Boris Ryvkin:

I think that certainly in the large cities, for the most part, Putin has lost them politically now for many years. I mean, to be generous, maybe a decade since he was “reelected,” brought himself back into power in 2011, 2012, and then you had these huge hundred thousand plus, hundreds of thousands of people protesting in the large cities in Moscow, et cetera. And they were forcibly broken up. And that kind of was seen as a real turning point for how the authoritarian progress would continue inside Russia itself.

I think the large cities are largely… are heavily opposed to the war, to war period, very hostile to the Putin regime. More generally, I think people there, for the most part, understand what’s happening. Young people definitely understand what’s happening I think disproportionately. It’s because it’s the nature of that kind of state, it’s difficult to get accurate assessments of public opinion, maybe there are a couple of independent pollsters who are under tremendous political pressure as well to understand what’s happening in the countryside with Putin’s traditional base.

And as I’ve always said, the thing that would get those people out on the streets and begin to really apply mass pressure politically on the regime that would make it start to either reconsider, think twice, et cetera, would be bodies coming home. And there are now on this… Well, Ukrainian accounts, I think, latest estimates are close to 4,000 dead. And this is only over a few days of this war happening. I mean, if you consider how many the troops the Russians lost in Chechnya over two years, and the number that their self-casualties are suffering now, dead, wounded, prisoners, et cetera.

And so, the Russians have only I think until yesterday, didn’t even acknowledge that there were any casualties. So they’re actively hiding, they’re taking extreme measures to hide. The casualties, who’s been killed? How many have been captured? They’re bringing up their reports in British press of Telegraph and others I think of a mobile crematorium that was being brought up to incinerate the bodies of the dead Russian soldiers, to again reduce the number of casualties so that… And then their families would be told they were missing in action, we don’t know their whereabouts, they don’t know.

And so this is all an effort to prevent that from hitting what’s left of his own popular base of support. I think traditionally even with everything that’s happened by taking the most independent assessments of opinion inside Russia, I think Putin has a steady maybe 30 to 35% base of support, more or less. I think that’s beginning to crack, but that core base I think is there.

And a lot of those people get their information from state-run media, almost exclusively, to the extent they’re even paying attention to politics. Many of them are apolitical, many of them share some of these ideological nostalgia dreams of how things used to be, the certainties of the past, and buy into some of the rhetoric. And their view is as long as Russia is “strong,” it’s fine that my living standards aren’t as high as I would want them to be, and I’m still living in a shack, or that things haven’t really progressed or materially improved for me and my family, but there are larger forces at work. So, that, unfortunately, is still a base, but what that population won’t forgive the regime for is if their fathers, sons, brothers, uncles come home in body bags. And that’s why the regime has been taking extreme measures, like I said, to limit that from happening and to confuse these people.

But there has been clearly a surge, even from people who prior to this were keeping quiet. Those who were close to the regime who were apolitical wouldn’t comment on any of these things, no matter what really happened, where they should have commented I think. They’re coming out now opposing the war, even if not openly critical of the regime saying that this is a criminal war of aggression, et cetera, calling it what it is. They’re just at least coming out and saying, “I’m anti-war,” and being active in whatever channels that they can be active in.

So, you’re definitely seeing this, but… and to close that circle, part of the motive here for Putin is a deflection from the fact that he has been disinterested, in my view, in dealing with Russia’s domestic problems for years now. I think the COVID situation has only made him a bit more detached, moving more into himself. He’s really not that interested with what’s happening inside the country. I mean, Russia has enough structural problems as it is that he could be tending to. He prefers to be the epicenter of attention on the world stage, he prefers these types of deflections he’s done this time and again. And this is one of those foreign adventures to deflect from problems at home. And so, that’s what he was hoping for here.

Another repeat of 2014 with Crimean, that kind of a quick victory, everybody was coming to him, Russia would be again taken seriously and “respected,” as I said at the beginning of our talk. And to a large extent that was another kind of deep motive for him to at the same time dramatically accelerate repression inside Russia. So, on the issue of why can’t more people come out? How mass is the opposition to the war, unfortunately, things that could have been done even in 2014 and were done, really can’t be done for fear of arrest and threats to physical safety in Russia today.

So, even sole individual pickets that are under Russian law permitted without any prior registration or consultation with the authorities, they were swept away by the police in a matter of minutes. And these protests that spontaneously erupted in the large Russian cities, in Moscow and Petersburg, almost immediately after the war broke out, they were really suppressed with the speed and ruthlessness that I think we haven’t seen in a while. And you mentioned Navalny, for example, he’s now nearing the end of his latest trial, where he is due to be convicted and imprisoned for further 15 years. So, I mean, as far as he’s concerned, Putin is intent on ensuring that he never sees the light of day again, and he’s kept in a communications blackout. So, this is what I call late-stage authoritarian fatigue, maybe a political scientist might call it that. That you have a massively increased level of repression inside the country and a greater eagerness to deflect with these kinds of adventures, militarily beyond.

And for that and the other reasons that we talked about, he decided to make this move. And that’s why, what I see happening is, I would like to still rule out the worst-case outcome, and I think we should still rule all of that out. I mean, everything that’s happening right now is surreal. It’s hard for me to even like soberly continue this analysis because I’m just pinching myself, I can’t… For those of us who have roots over there, it’s just 1941, although it’s just kind of ghosts of the past coming back to haunt us, right? Sorry. But I think the best-case scenario would be I think that this is politically for him the beginning of the end.

I think that he internationally is isolated in a way that wasn’t the case before, I think he miscalculated on that. And I think that this will be maybe not immediately, maybe it’ll take longer than many think it will, but this could be a real turning point that he really went too far, he really overplayed his hand. And the people who matter in this case are those inside the Kremlin, among the security establishment, the intelligence establishment, the more influential oligarchs, the people on his security council with whom he has made the collective decision to launch the invasion. Enough of them, a critical mass of those people have to intervene and effectively sideline, whether that is through with guarantees from Western countries, or some other promises of… I don’t know, even though I would prefer that not to be the case. But whatever to begin that process, I think that is ideally the best way that this will end.

Do I think that there will be some kind of violent 1905, 1917 revolution in Russia over this? I don’t think so, but honestly, I mean, if thousands and thousands of casualties do come home and he loses that remaining 30 to 35% support base and they come out, mothers come out into the streets, I don’t know. This isn’t new to Russian history, I mean, this has happened on a number of occasions. It ended very badly when these things happen.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, for example, came out basically saying that it’s revolution or nothing, or something, recently, to the extent you care about his opinion. But yeah, I mean, I’m not sure that there will be a situation where you have hundreds of thousands, millions of people in the streets, Putin will understand, take the temperature, and willingly move aside. I think if there is going to be a change, it’s going to have to happen at the top from within the inner circle, giving him an ultimatum, which I think that what we’re seeing now in my view almost increasingly flailing decision to escalate and double down, could actually be closer than we think.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. To be clear, I wasn’t suggesting that there would be like revolution in the streets, although as you say, it’s not wholly foreign to Russia’s history, of course, but his regime seems weaker in a way that I haven’t seen, at least and I’m not as close an observer as you obviously of this, but I was surprised by some of the seeming weakness of his regime at home, where I had assumed, as you say, that there were essentially long-standing opposition and dislike within the cities, but that fundamentally his position was more secure. And if there’s a non-zero possibility of nuclear war here, there also seems to be a non-zero possibility that Putin will not be the fixture on the world stage that he has been for basically my entire political awareness.

But I wanted to close with a discussion about us here at home. I’ve definitely been among the people who is very, very disillusioned with American institutions, not only American politics, being Republican or Democrat, but with the ideological capture of American institutions, the incompetence of American institutions, and particularly a foreign policy establishment, that seems both ideologically wedded to what I would call as an anti-American creed, but also just unable to carry out the functions that they’re supposed to be doing in any kind of minimally competent way for a world superpower.

So, bracketing all of that and saying, okay, well, I am one of those who is very disillusioned with our regime in the classical sense. I guess my question here is, can an American-led order abroad endure all if American institutions are so ideological and corrupt and hollowed-out, and trust in those institutions is that an all-time low? And the second part of that question would be, how ought we to think about essentially anti-American regimes abroad when we’d so mistrust our own, right? We’ve started to see this now on let’s say the New Right, right? That, sure, Putin is an autocrat, but our media at home may not be getting thrown into jail, but they certainly don’t publish, they choose not to publish largely, the corporate media here chooses not to publish anything contrary to the narrative that our regime wants. Right?

You start to see these moral equivalences, which I think go too far, but more fundamentally the question of, can we trust our own regime at all to represent our interests abroad? I think for the first time, I think one of the reasons you see people repeating things that are being run on state media, even if they’re not getting them from Russian state media, these things now sound more reasonable, Putin’s propaganda sounds more reasonable to people who are totally disillusioned with the American regime at home.

So, how do you think about that question about our own trust in not only our government but our entire elite and ruling class and a foreign policy establishment that has been so deeply wrong so many times in the last 30 years?

Boris Ryvkin:

Yeah. Starting with the second part of that, I think you’re completely right. I think that people have become desensitized, they’ve become dejected, they’ve become used to believing the absolute worst from our I think very shoddy corrupt media and political establishment for the most part. We haven’t had a serious foreign policy conversation in the United States, national conversation I think since the end of the Cold War, since 1991. The American public has not been treated like adults, we’ve basically been told to assume a certain status quo in foreign affairs without getting into the details that certain things are permanent. They’re like the sky being blue or the earth revolving around the sun. And you’re not really supposed to question any of these things. For example, the long-standing debate on what’s the purpose of NATO?

So when Tucker Carlson once asked on a show, “Why do we even have NATO? Why can’t I ask that question?” And he was immediately assailed by, “You’re not allowed to ask that question.” And so, people are looking at themselves and saying, “Well, why can’t I ask that question?” And then by… So, you should and the people who have that other position on NATO and its importance and its mission and what they want to do with it or don’t want to do with it, should be in a position to intellectually engage on those questions and have that conversation. And I think unfortunately we’ve seen so much actual propaganda, genuine fake news on our end, and talking about the New Right, who have become almost connoisseurs in identifying fake news or disinformation or whatever.

So when you see a CNN article praising the resistance of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, what do these people think? Well, we’ve seen this all before. I mean, if it wasn’t Zelenskyy, they’d be praising like they praise the guy from Iraq, who we were supposed to pretend was some kind of democratic warrior, or the Afghan president who we financed to the tune of tens of millions of dollars was robbing his country blind, and unlike Zelenskyy fled with a fleet of cars and a helicopter, stuffed with 170 million in cash when the Taliban were on the outskirts of Kabul. And that was someone who we basically propped up.

And so, naturally, the reaction is, well, why isn’t this exactly the same movie? Kind of to your point. And I think there’s a lot of truth to that. And I commented on that, which is basically, take a step back and you should be able… You have to make the intellectual leap to parse through this information with a cynical eye, even if you and I sympathize with that, they’ve hoodwinked us time and again in the past. We’ve been let down, we’ve been misled leading to terrible human and financial consequences for the country and for international position.

So, why should we believe a word of what they say here now? And why should we care? I think that’s also kind of part of that narrative. And that’s a perfectly reasonable position to have, except you still need to not go to the other extreme. In other words, you don’t then need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. You don’t have to go from one extreme on that pendulum to the other extreme. That there are circumstances in which no, these people are actually resisting in against the war of aggression versus some other case where the CNN reporter, who operates within a three by five card of what can and can’t be said about these things, might not be very worldly, I don’t know. Just because somebody at CNN calls everything a fight for democracy, doesn’t mean everything is a fight for democracy. Just like everything isn’t a civil war and just like everything is an establishment plot or something, you know?

So, I mean, if you want to be a serious analyst, I think you have to take the leap to try to parse through these differences, and understand Ukraine is Ukraine, Iraq is Iraq, Syria is Syria, Libya is Libya, China is China. I mean, that I think is evidence of maturity in how you process this information. And I think that’s something that there’s so much information. There’s been so much noise, there’s been so much deceit and actual disinformation, that people naturally don’t know who to believe or what to believe anymore. And they find themselves just repeating things, because like, exactly, I agree with you, it sounds reasonable.

I mean, they’re Russian speakers. I think it was… I don’t remember who made that comment on… It was on Newsmax or somewhere else. I think it might have been… I don’t remember. I think he was one of the official for the Trump administration, I forgot who was, basically saying, “They want to be part of Russia. They speak Russian in Kharkiv and Eastern Ukraine, ethnic Russians. It’s a civil war. They want to be part of Russia. These guys want to be part of Ukraine. Why are we wasting our time? Let the Europeans deal with it.” And yet, we’re seeing of course in Kharkiv right now people who are so desperate to be part of Russia are being indiscriminately shelled with Grad rockets and artillery, apparently just to emphasize the point by the Russians who really, really want them to be part of Russia. And apparently, they were so enthusiastic about it that they had to be bombed with rockets and artillery. Right?

But yet, if you’re not able to recognize these nuances, that sounds perfectly plausible, right? Like we had with Afghanistan, like we had with Iraq, like in Syria, where we were told everyone who opposed Assad would be Jefferson. And of course, we knew that that could not be further from the truth, right? But then… And you weren’t allowed to acknowledge that, right? And to say that everyone who is on the side of Ukraine or fighting in Ukraine is a Jefferson or a Madison, no, they’re not, but that doesn’t mean you then swing to the other side of the pendulum to say Ukraine is not a democracy as I answered.

Well, Ukraine is not a democracy because Zelenskyy had a… He wanted to imprison Poroshenko, tried Poroshenko, and put out a warrant against him. He was trying to close down some media channels that were very critical of him, or that disfavored one of the oligarchs that was more influential in Kyiv and in his government, et cetera. Well, first of all, in the case of that Poroshenko incident, a court in Ukraine prevented that from happening. So they ruled that these charges that someone wanted to bring against Poroshenko for treason, he’s actually now there with the territorial army unit in the streets of Kyiv fighting or at least patrolling. But he was brought up on treason charges. And a court in Ukraine ruled that those had no merit.

Do you think for a second that would’ve happened in Putin’s Russia against one of Putin’s political opponents? Right? Or in China for that matter? And yes, Ukraine is not Denmark. I don’t think anybody is admitting that it is, but to call even Zelenskyy an illegitimate president or somebody who wasn’t freely and fairly elected and to say that Ukraine doesn’t have basic institutions that we would consider liberal or democratic, it’s just wrong. It’s a flawed democracy. I described it actually citing Boris Nemtsov, who was a famous Russian opposition figure who was assassinated in 2015. Actually, anniversary of that was yesterday, tragically.

He compared Ukraine to a truck on a very bumpy pothole-filled Ukrainian road rumbling along toward Europe with three people who hate each other, trying to grab the wheel, and yet the truck continues meandering down that road. That’s what Ukraine is. Of course, it’s a flawed country. It’s been independent really properly for 30 years. It doesn’t quite know exactly what it is. After this conflict, I think it’s going to answer those questions a lot better and a lot more clearly for sure, but I think… And there’s an incredible amount of national unity from what I’m seeing on the ground. But to then just basically say Ukraine is another Afghanistan or Iraq or Syria, I think it just shows a level of laziness or almost corruption that it’s almost difficult to know how to engage with that.

And sadly, I think that there has to be some way, the only way that I can think of to overcome that is to just give people accurate information, engage with them as adults, and try to get them to better parse through this overload of material that they’re having to understand when they don’t know a lot of the context, and you don’t expect them to know a lot of the context.

And on the point about where does the U.S. go from here on the world stage in its position? I mean, I think that depends on us, I think it depends on how we prioritize our national interest, I think it should lead to a much more serious forward policy conversation nationally, not just when people are running for president, and not just reduced to America strong, bad guys weak, America democracy, bad guys evil-doers… I mean, we can’t do that anymore, right?

I mean, and part of why I’m happy we’re having this discussion here is we can move beyond that. We have a format where we can really move beyond that kind of third-grade level of if you want to call it commentary to something much more substance, and that people can understand it. This is something that is important for the U.S. in terms of our interest, in terms of our economy, in terms of our trading relationships, in terms of our partnerships, in terms of our physical security, we have to care about this versus this, which is far less important, meaning it’s an issue, but we shouldn’t lose a tremendous amount of sleep over it, we shouldn’t dedicate too many resources to dealing with that.

And we have to be able to do that to discriminate much better and understand what our real threats are, not the things that we would like to waste our time on, but actual problems so that when these kinds of crises occur, we’re not constantly playing catch-up, we’re not caught by surprise and having to scramble to figure out a response that we would… or as I would say, we need to do foreign policies strategically.

And for most of American history, we’ve been very bad at doing that. We’ve always been… Crisis happens, we respond. And after that, we go back to sleep and turn on the football game. Like the people who are in the foreign policy business, we need a new establishment involved with that, we need people who are looking ahead 10, 20 years, not 10, 20 minutes, and also looking at these issues not from the standpoint of comms and optics constantly, who’s tougher, who’s weaker among our politicians, but just purely, cerebrally, in terms of what our national interests are. And I think that how we’re reacting to this now and where this may eventually go, will really help and accelerate that process.

Inez Stepman:

We can only hope. And of course, there’s no rule that there’s only one bad guy at any time or any type, or only one type of way to be a bad guy, right? That’s the other kind of fallacy that I personally have been frustrated by, by some commentators that I normally find very interesting and actually have something very good and substantive to say on the domestic side on American politics, but seem to have not be able to distinguish between critiquing their own regime and assuming that every grievance against the American-led order for the last a hundred years must therefore have some merit.

And I think those two things are very conceptually different, they can be as you have so well in the last hour or so distinguished for us, those things can be separated, they indeed need to be separated if America is going to make it not only domestically, but to actually be able to be a world superpower, and to keep any semblance of an American-led order in the world. So, Boris, thank you so much for coming on. People can follow you on Twitter, @… I think it’s… Is it BRyvkin?

Boris Ryvkin:

Correct. Yep.

Inez Stepman:

They can follow you, @BRyvkin. And then I believe you are in the works of launching your own Substack with this kind of analysis on this and many other…

Boris Ryvkin:

Actually, I have to add a little caveat. It would be a Substack, but it would be more focused on commercial commentary, legal mergers, and acquisitions, corporate-type commentary, what I used to do rather than just pure politics or policy.

Inez Stepman:

Okay, sorry. Then that was my bad, but yes, you are going to be launching a commentary site and you will continue to write in all the places that I listed in the beginning. And you can find Boris’s commentary day-to-day, especially he’s been, as I said in the beginning, an invaluable resource for me personally, in terms of, I just go to Boris’s feed and a couple other folks that I actually trust to get a sense of how this war is progressing in Ukraine, to get level-headed analysis that is not bought in ideologically either with sort of our domestic foreign policy establishment, but also aware of, as you say, sorting through some of the disinformation that exists in terms of Putin’s regime and the fog of war on the ground. So, I’ve personally found it really, really helpful. I highly recommend that all of my listeners go and follow Boris on Twitter as well. And so, Boris, thank you so much for coming on High Noon.

Boris Ryvkin:

Thanks so much, Inez. Take care.

Inez Stepman:

And thank you to our listeners. High Noon with Inez Stepman is a production of the Independent Women’s Forum. As always, you can send comments and questions to [email protected]. Please help us out by hitting the Subscribe button, and leaving us a comment or review on Apple Podcasts, Acast, Google Play, YouTube, or Be brave, and we’ll see you next time on High Noon.