PART 1: Victor Davis Hanson on Russia-Ukraine: Cutting Through the Information War
What are Vladimir Putin’s goals? Why are the left and corporate media so unified when it comes to Ukraine and Volodymyr Zelenskyy? And over in Beijing, how does China’s communist leadership view the war?
Is this a World War III moment?
In the midst of rampant propaganda and misinformation surrounding the war, there’s also been talk of biolabs and radical right-wing battalions in Ukraine, while President Joe Biden recently caused a stir with his usage of the phrase “new world order.”
And while everyone has been talking about a no-fly zone, it seems to have gone largely unnoticed that Turkey has imposed what’s essentially a no-float zone, blocking Russian warship access to the Black Sea.
We break down all of this and more in this two-part deep-dive with Victor Davis Hanson.
Hanson is also a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and author of the bestseller, “The Dying Citizen.”
Jan Jekielek: Victor Davis Hanson, it’s such a pleasure to have you back on American Thought Leaders.
Victor Davis Hanson, PhD: Thank you.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s talk about the Russia-Ukraine war. There’s a lot of different information flying around. In fact the information warfare in this war is extensive. Why don’t you tell us what your sources are telling you?
Mr. Hanson: Well, I think part of the problem is that journalists, as in the past, have not gone out to the battle lines as they did during the Israeli wars, for example, Yugoslavia. I think part of that is that Vladimir Putin, they’re open game and they will be killed, and we’ve had some shots. So there’s the fog of war that extends to the media.
We don’t really have an adequate picture, but that said, I think the time factor of one month in a way of hostilities that didn’t happen in Georgia, it didn’t happen in Eastern Ukraine, it didn’t happen in the Crimea. But it did happen over an eight-month period in Grozny, Chechnya, and it did happen in Syria, in Aleppo.
So that suggests to us that Putin has underestimated the level of resistance, the level of supply from NATO countries and particularly United States, and border countries on Ukraine’s, in their neighborhood. And more, the will of the west, and the efficacy of these weapons—Stingers, but especially Javelins and Swedish-British knockoff designs.
Put all that together, and he decided that he, I think at this point, will not be able to absorb all of Ukraine, set up a puppet government, and then make it a border state subject to Russian influence. So what’s his fallback position then?
I think it’s to kind of divide the country from Kyiv to the east and destroy it, and raze the cities as we’re seeing Mariupol to Kyiv, and then create a vast wilderness, and say, okay, Ukraine, I can’t absorb you. I don’t want you, nobody wants you now. You’re destroyed.
This is a buffer zone, A from the west, and Western Ukraine and Russia. And B, it’s a signal to the west, in particular former Soviet Republics. If you want to break away, or westernize, or flirt with NATO, or join the EU, you can, but we’re going to destroy you. We’re not going to take you over. We’re not going to try to rebuild your country and you’re going to end up like Kyiv. I think that’s what he’s doing.
You see, he’s got to tell the Russian people that he never wanted to absorb it. He never wanted a puppet government. He never wanted Ukraine back. He’s telling the Russian people now, this was the plan. We could not stand. We could not endure this pro-western aggressive power next to us, persecuting Russian minorities—Russian speaking peoples within Ukraine. So we carved out slices along our borders, we protected them successfully, and then we had to preemptively destroy the country.
And that in his mind will justify these enormous losses that could get up to 20,000 dead in the near future before we’re over. I think that’s what his plan is now. And I think people who said initially, when there was a lot of pundits who said he’ll just decapitate the apparat in Kyiv, he’ll set up a puppet government, it’ll be over in a week. I’ve heard that a lot. That’s not true.
And then the people said that Putin is losing. He can’t win. That’s true, he can’t win according to his original initiative, but he can win according to his fallback position, the way he did in Syria and Grozny, and I think that’s what he wants to do. That makes it very difficult for us because you’re not fighting a rational actor that wants to advance a battle line, or wants to hold and protect territory, or has an ambition to incorporate land that is not one’s own.
It’s more like the Nazi retreat from the Soviet Union, say between the Battle of Kursk, mid-43, 1943 to 45 where the Nazi said, well, we don’t want, we’re going to make it so bad that you’re going to have to go through hell to get to Germany. And they did that as well when they went into Poland in ’39. It was the idea that we’re going to destroy the country.
Mr. Jekielek: It might be difficult for people to understand why destroying the country could be an objective. Although, of course, there’s been many militaries that have done this in the past.
Mr. Hanson: Well, I think we in the west have a problem because we’re rational in our way of rationality. And we look at the UN vote and we say 70 percent of the countries in the world object to this and condemn Russia. But look at it another way by population. There’s China 1.4 billion, there’s India, 1.3 billion, there’s Vietnam, there’s North Korea, there’s Iran.
Do a lot of these countries condemn Russian? No. In fact, if you were to look at the population of the world, you could probably say that half the population or maybe 55 or 60 percent of the population of the 8 billion people on the earth, either have one or two views of Russian invasion.
One, they want it to succeed or two, they’re indifferent to it. But they’re not indifferent to it enough to just say, go ahead and condemn him. They won’t condemn him. They will not condemn Russia. So I think another thing is that we in the west feel that human rights and equality, and dignity of the individual are the normal course of events, and they’re not.
Putin is gambling that people will hate him, maybe, in the immediate present. They’ll say they abhor his tactics just like they abhorred Stalin’s tactics. And then at the end, they’ll say, oh my God, he destroyed Ukraine right under the nose of NATO. And he taught the world a lesson, and he was willing to go to the nuclear brink to do it. That’s what he’s counting on.
I’m not saying I suggest that’s rational, that I believe it. I’m just thinking that’s how his mind is working. And I’m not sure yet that it’s going to fail because most people, unfortunately, human nature being what it is, they’re more apt to be impressed with the displays of power than they are of humanity, and that’s where we are.
I think China is looking at this and saying, on the one hand, we thought it would be easy, and so we were pro-Russian. And then when the sanctions happen, this is kind of good for us, because we can get oil on the cheap, because they’re over a barrel, and they need an outlet for their commercial goods and services. We’ll provide them that at a steep price. We’ll be buying cheap and charging them high.
And once the world sees that Ukraine is absorbed very easily like Georgia, Crimea, that’s a blueprint for us in Taiwan. And now they’re thinking well wait a minute. Putin didn’t tell us it was going to take a month, that he was going to lose 10 to 20,000 soldiers. So let’s just wait a minute. Let’s say in principle we’re for it, but let’s see how this works out because in theory maybe the Ukrainians would fight like the Taiwanese.
Taiwanese could fight like the Ukrainians and maybe we would airlift, we in the West would airlift weaponry to the Taiwanese as we did to Ukraine, and maybe the world would rally around Taiwan as they have the Ukraine, half the world. And maybe we would get sanctioned. That doesn’t bother them except to the degree, it would make it difficult, economically for China.
So they’re now, I think, yes, we support Russia, but we don’t quite support Russia until we can find out who’s going to win. And they may be intrigued by the idea of a Carthaginian solution of completely destroying Eastern Ukraine and saying this is what I do.
Because in their mind, if the Chinese had a choice between a[n] independent Taiwan or a destroyed Taiwan that they were responsible for, they would take the destroyed Taiwan. In other words, they’d say we own Taiwan and we don’t really care that it’s been leveled. That happens. So they’re looking at Ukraine in a lot of different ways.
Mr. Jekielek: I want to talk a little bit about this narrative, that Putin is a madman narrative. Before I go there though, you did mention that 55 percent, let’s say of the world, is ostensibly on this, not supportive at least, but really a lot of these people. I don’t know where, India wouldn’t fit into this, but a lot of these people aren’t actually. They have their own thinking about this.
They’re under regimes that might have dramatically different thinking, right? I just wanted to touch on that because it’s, it feels too quick to say, a whole, billions and billions of people are kind of indifferent or don’t care.
Mr. Hanson: I think about half, though, feel in tune with their governments. In the case of India, they were thinking this was a supplier to us throughout the Cold War, with our war with Pakistan. And they can provide weaponry that’s 70 percent as durable and effective as western weaponry at half the cost. We don’t want to alienate that arm supply.
And I think a lot of other countries, like Iran, for example, think the closer we are to Russia, the more it’s an interlocutor in negotiations about the future of our proliferation projects, the more likely it might put us under the nuclear umbrella.
And then Israel, if it decided to preempt Russia, could tell them in advance, if you go in and take that out, you’re going to be dealt with in kind, it might be something you might not like. So all these countries are weighing the cost effectiveness of isolating Russia and maybe China along with it. And there’s also a residual unease with us.
I think that a lot of times we just assume that people in the west, by that I mean the westernized countries of Asia, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, former British Commonwealth, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, English-speaking peoples, and of course Europe, we all represent a uninterrupted trajectory to sort of a utopia, and that the world will find that end of history narrative convincing, and I don’t think they do.
I think they feel that, and I don’t agree with that, I’m just saying that they feel we butt in their affairs in Afghanistan, or Iraq, or in Libya, or we put pride flags in Kabul or George Floyd murals in Kabul. Yet we’re not strong enough militarily to deserve that cultural dominance.
So now what the world is saying to us, well you dominate our films, and you dominate the internet, and you tell us what is woke, and you do all this. But you don’t even have the power to save Afghanistan or Iraq, or what were you doing in Libya, or Syria, or you can’t stop Putin from doing whatever he wants. So I think that’s where the mood is right now worldwide.
Mr. Jekielek: Okay. So that’s definitely something we have to talk about, which is this challenge to the world order, US-led.
Mr. Hanson: The world postwar order.
Mr. Jekielek: Right, exactly.
Mr. Hanson: That was led by the US, which we all hope that we can both preserve and adapt to changing realities. But we have to be very careful of assuming that everybody agrees with us. It doesn’t mean that they’re right and we’re wrong. They’re wrong, I think, and we’re right.
But we have to be more effective in the way that we communicate what we’re doing and we’re not. And so I think people on the left don’t realize that they can be as culturally imperialistic as people on the right who talk about, we need their oil, or when Trump says we didn’t even take their oil from Iraq, well people are aghast.
Well, maybe they should be, but when they say to a traditional partner, that is the anti-Taliban forces in Kabul, we’re going to have a gender studies program at the University of Kabul, that can be as alienating in a different way. And so in a weird way, the left has been culturally imperialistic, but it doesn’t have the power to back it up. And there’s no media that would criticize them the way that they criticize traditional imperialism.
Mr. Jekielek: The corporate media, mainstream media messaging around this whole situation has been pretty, I don’t know if the word uniform, but of course it’s been very loud and very clear. And frankly, it’s been the same machinery, right, that has promoted all sorts of Trump-Russia collusion. Or frankly dismissed the Hunter Biden laptop as Russian disinformation, ironically, I suppose, or perhaps not. But it’s the same machine that’s basically doing this—making a lot of people, even myself who is actually very sympathetic to the narrative in a lot of ways, skeptical.
Mr. Hanson: Yes. It’s funny that the left almost overnight has embraced the Ukrainian cause, but with the same methodologies that as you said, they went after Russian collusion to the laptop, or dismissed the origins of the COVID virus, or embraced the quarantine and the masking policies.
Part of that is innate to the left. They always have to have a crusade or a crisis that would allow a suspension in civil liberties, or suspension in the give and take of democracy so they can push through an agenda that otherwise doesn’t have 51 percent support, whether it’s green energy, or critical race theory or anything like that.
We know that all these issues they’re pushing right now do not have, whether it’s an open border, or whether it’s suppressing fossil fuel production, it doesn’t have 51 percent support. But it’s pushed on us in times of stress and crisis, and they always thrive on that. So this is a crisis.
But second to this, and more particularly, Russia for a long time has metamorphisized in the left’s mind. And this is ironic because remember Hillary in 2009 in Geneva pushed that jacuzzi button, and said that Bush was basically too hard on Russia. And remember they had been paying Hunter Biden a lot of money that, the wife of the mayor of Russia did. Barack Obama had the hot mic exchange.
So it’s very ironic that the left who had flirted with Putin, and empowered Putin, has suddenly over this same period, especially during the Trump Administration, demonized, not Putin, but Russians. So we’d watch a Hollywood movie, now, the villain is whom. It’s a guy with an Orthodox tattoo and he’s bald head, he’s big and muscular, he talks with a thick Russian accent and he’s every single archetype, typical villain. And so they’ve tapped into that.
They’ve also tapped into kind of a McCarthy idea, and by that is, there’s a lot of conservatives that I don’t particularly agree a hundred percent with, but they make legitimate claims. Some of them will say well, you’re worried about the sanctity of borders, okay. But you don’t worry about the sanctity of our borders. Now, I don’t know where you go from that, that’s where you kind of diverge.
So if they say, then let’s not support Ukraine rather than let’s support both. Let’s secure our border, and we can do the same thing with Ukraine and help them simultaneously. But the point that I’m making is what they say about, we have to worry about us too, becomes you’re pro-Putin. And so I’ve been quite amazed how all of these left wing avenues have been calling people traitors and assets. It’s not new.
John Brennan called Donald Trump, a Russian treasonous actor, and James Clapper said he was basically a Russian asset, so that’s a continuation. But I think we’ve got to be very careful when we get into these hysterias, especially the left. Remember it was the left, who in World War I wanted the ban under Woodrow Wilson’s guidance the speaking of German. And it was the left, the Attorney General of California was Earl Warren and FDR who put Japanese Americans in camps.
Because remember once the left gets going, and because it always traditionally controls the media, there is no critical voice, there’s no impediment, there’s no speed bump to their reification. And it’s really scary. It’s really scary what’s happening now.
And I find myself in the sense that I want to help Ukraine, and a lot of conservatives say, let’s create deterrence. And even though Joe Biden did not arm them in October and November, as people urged him. He cut back on critical armaments to them. He appeased Putin. He begged Putin, please Vladimir, pump oil. Please Vladimir don’t hack us. If you’re going to hack us here’s 16 entities that we shouldn’t be hacked.
Given all that, once he went into Ukraine, you have to unite on the principle to get him out. But people who disagree with that point of view, they’re not traitors. They have different emphases and they’re in a minority, but the left just wants to call them all of these names. And it’s really amazing, it really is. Even far left people on network news, cable news, they sound like George Patton when it comes to protecting the borders of Ukraine.
I welcome that, but I wish they would say 2 million people crossing the southern border in a time of a pandemic without vaccinations, without COVID tests, and in dire need of vast amounts of material support are going to hurt the lower middle classes. They didn’t say a word.
Mr. Jekielek: It kind of strikes me when I look at how this machine, I call it the megaphone in my mind at least, and it works. It actually kind of feels like we’re propaganda, like this is kind of the US contribution to the war in a way.
Mr. Hanson: Yes it is.
Mr. Jekielek: You wonder were all these past efforts also kind of war propaganda?
Mr. Hanson: Well, we always do that. I mean, in World War II, as you know the Soviet Union, when they divided up Poland, they butchered the NKVD. The military and secret police of the Soviet Union went in and murdered 22,000 Polish officers. And that was a fact, and the Germans then, when they uncovered the graves, they tried to publicize that.
And in the United States, FDR went around and squashed Polish American radio stations from beaming the truth, because he thought it would hurt the war effort. So we were perfectly fine, we didn’t find out the actual perpetrators and the common culture till the 1960s.
So that’s what we do. We get into propaganda. And how that relates to Ukraine is that we have, oh there’s a mystical Ukrainian pilot who’s shooting down everybody that is a complete myth. Or we interview one person who says these incredible stories of heroism are, there’s going to be a counterattack, and so we’re getting a one-sided view.
And so what we have to do as supporters of Ukraine, Americans have to step back and say, What is going on? How do we help Ukraine survive? How do we get the Russians out? But also how do we do all that in the context of two directives: stop this slaughter of Ukrainian civilians, and not escalate to a World War III scenario.
And a lot of people who are just quite enthusiastic about going into Ukraine never ask themselves, how long do we want to fight? We fight to the last Ukrainian? Because Ukrainians, well, you’ve noticed they always say that they’re fighting to get leverage in negotiations. And we say, you can’t negotiate with Putin. Well, you probably can, but you can see where their negotiations would go.
Ukraine would say, I don’t want to be part of NATO. Never did. Okay, you win that one Vladimir. And those borderlands are kind of a mistake anyway, there’s a Russian-speaking majority. If you want them, we can’t control them.
And we have to have Crimea, you have to have Crimea, and maybe we’ll make it a demilitarized zone, and have the UN have a plebiscite like they did in the Saarland report. Something like that, and then what do we get of it for all the deaths and destruction? Maybe we won’t have you pay reparations. And what do you get out of it? You go back and tell everybody, you hurt us. And then, Let’s just stop.
And a lot of people in America say, Well, that wouldn’t be good because Putin then got rewarded for his invasion. He has to pay. Okay, he has to pay, but he’s going to pay with the blood of Ukrainians. So if you really want Putin out of Ukraine, and you really want him to suffer a humiliating loss, then what are you going to do to sacrifice for that, besides seeing women and children blown apart?
I think the answer is if you want to assassinate Putin, then think about it. If you want to send warthogs in, think about it. If you want to swap planes so there is early model MiGs in there, think about it. If you want to send ninety person, a hundred person Patriot batteries into there, think about it. And by think about it, I mean, what would you do if you were Putin?
If we do that after we’re already sanctioning him, and then when he escalates, then you escalate. That’s where you want to go, but they don’t think of that. So they get on television and say, we’re going to assassinate him. Okay, well, they said we’re going to assassinate our president. But they never game it out to the next step.
And of course, I think 90 percent of what Putin says about, and when his subordinates mentioned chemical weapons, or he talks about nuclear weapons, it’s bluff and it’s nuclear poker. And it’s an advantage, a nuclear poker as we know, with Trump in North Korea to sound crazy and unpredictable. That was a ruse that Trump used as well.
But we’re not sure about the other 10 percent. And that’s scary because if you’re not sure in a game of nuclear poker where there’s stakes of annihilation and you don’t have near certainty, it’s very dangerous. And so I would give him an avenue where the western world realizes he’s defeated, and he blew it, and he’s humiliated. But I would have an avenue for him to go back rather than try to destroy every Russian.
The other thing finally, very quickly is, when CNN, or MSNBC, or any of the networks say, Russians, if you’ve seen these reporters, they have a big smile on them. There’s a report that dogs are eating Russian soldiers dead, that they can’t even get their, and then they get a general on and he says, well, throughout military history, anytime an army leaves their dead on the field of battle, that’s a defacto admission that they’re defeated.
But we’re talking about human beings that are 18 years old. Some of the Russian conscripts didn’t even know where they were going to go until they were ordered in. They didn’t even know where Kyiv was. And so they get in there and then they’re blown up or wounded, and they’re rotting out there and a dog eats them, and we’re supposed to be happy about that? This is coming from the left. So it’s a very bizarre thing.
Mr. Jekielek: So let’s tackle it directly. The Vladimir Putin is a madman narrative.
Mr. Hanson: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: I keep hearing it. What are your thoughts on this?
Mr. Hanson: Vladimir Putin is not a mad man. He’s an irredentist, he’s a Mussolini in 1930s, he’s a Hitler all through the late thirties. He’s a Greek rational right-winger in 1920 who wanted to go to Izmir and create the Byzantine Empire. He’s Mr. Milosevic in the nineties that wants a Greater Serbia. Take Montenegro, take Bosnia, take Herzegovina and add them all up, and you’ve got Greater Serbia.
So he looks at 240 million people in the Soviet Union, 35 percent more territory, and he says, we were on the world stage. China wasn’t, we were. India wasn’t, we were, and now we have 140 million people. We’ve lost 30 percent of our territory. We have the Ukrainians, the jewel in the Soviet crown. This is where our nuclear munitions were. This is where some of our great shipyards were.
This is where we lost 120,000 men in the seige of Sevastopol, resisting Von Manstein and Army Group South. This was where Babi Yar was where 30,000 Jews were butchered, Ukrainian Jews. So in his way of thinking, I’m going to reclaim all of this territory. And I’ve made a good start with Georgia, I showed the world you can do it. I made a good start with Eastern Ukraine. It was cheap. I did a good start with Crimea.
And he’s thinking, this is my plan. But what he’s not thinking is there were conditions that were unique to each of those prior acquisitions. The price of oil always has to be high and Europe needs oil, and the leadership is either weak in the United States or bogged down. George Bush was bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq, Barack Obama was weak, hot mic, dismantled missile defense in Eastern Europe and Joe Biden, no need to comment.
And the price of oil is high, and NATO is in disarray. So when he went in there, NATO wouldn’t even send Javelin missiles. They are not meeting their two percent. It’s a mess. And so when you have those stars line up, he goes in. And to create this greater Russian empire again, and it’s an opportunistic element, a gambit because he doesn’t have the wherewithal.
His economy is smaller than South Korea’s. He doesn’t have a great army like everybody said he did. He doesn’t have great weapons like everybody said he did. He’s got two things going for him: he’s got a hell of a lot of oil and he’s got 7,000 nukes, and he’s punching above his weight. So that’s what he wants, and I think he can usually get what he wants because people, I mean, they want oil and they’re afraid of nuclear weapons.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, and he also has what I call best in class disinformation.
Mr. Hanson: Yes. But even there though, best in class disinformation, I think the Chinese outdo him.
Mr. Jekielek: Okay.
Mr. Hanson: Because, put it this way, I’ll give you the one example. Take Hollywood that markets its movies all around the world. If he’s so clever at propaganda, why are Russians the butt of every joke in every Hollywood movie? They are the evil people, contrast China.
China says to Hollywood, This actor is too dark skinned. This actor is from a minority that won’t sell well in China. So we don’t want them in the A list. And what does liberal Hollywood say? Okay, fine. We know that’s a fact. They censor the selection of authors based on Chinese dictates.
There’s a lot of Russians that are seven feet tall, more Russians than China. Why aren’t there all these Russian athletes in the NBA? Why isn’t Putin able to use the NBA the way the Chinese are? You can’t get a LeBron James or Steve Curtis to say one negative thing about China, the Uyghurs, because it’s a $5 billion market.
And more importantly, it’s not just that there’s 1.4 billion Chinese, and they’re the second largest economy in the world. They’re absolute students of American popular culture. And by that, I mean, there’s not 360,000 Russian students here.
When you just look at Russia Today, I mean, they get Tucker Carlson interviewing a guest, and they take selective quotes that I think are unfair to Tucker, that’s another question, I do think that. And then they say Tucker Carlson is for us, nobody believes that.
When you look at China’s propaganda, especially about the origins of COVID, their narrative was once again, the United States is practicing systemic racism, and it’s classic anti-Asian, just like during the Yellow Peril of the 19th century and they are discriminating against Asians.
This is coming from a country that put blacks the first week of the COVID outbreak, kicked them out of restaurants, put them away, said that they were under suspect and subject to mandatory testing, and has over a million Uyghurs in camps. So they’re so much more sophisticated students of our culture.
When I get a call writing something controversial in the past from a Chinese consulate official, it’s very sophisticated. It’s very Valley Girl. It’s very, hey, I’m just one of you guys, man. Hey, what’s up? Why do you support the criminal government in Japan? Man, we’re all in the same team. We fought together in World War II. When you talk to somebody from Russia Today, it’s just transparently ineffective.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, so frankly, I feel a little schooled here by you because I think I have to agree with you. Well, let’s actually talk about China, right? And what role China. I keep seeing the narrative, China’s on the fence. It doesn’t seem to me like China’s on the fence here.
Mr. Hanson: Well, on the fence, let’s be clear. They want Russia to win, and they want Russia to establish the precedent that a strong nation can have an irredentist agenda, fancy Italian word for taking back territory that has similar attributes to the motherland and reclaiming a mystical empire. So they’re saying, look world, there’s Russians in Ukraine, it was part of Russia that needs to go back. And that’s why they did it.
So look at Taiwan, it needs to go back and why have all the violence when we could just do it peacefully, and you wouldn’t have to go through this? That’s their narrative. Privately, they’re thinking as the Communist Party always does, what is in it for us in the most amoral, profitable terms. And wow, Russia is the now the largest producer of oil in the world. We need a lot of oil and they have nowhere to sell it. As I said earlier, they need access to markets and a domestic consumptive class.
If the price of oil is $110, we’ll buy some for 90, and we’ll charge them all sorts of surtaxes to bring out, to be able to have access for their exports via China. And that’s what they’re interested in, and then they think if they lose and they’re humiliated, we can deplore the violence that transpired. But if they win, we can say, see what happens when you deny a mother country their lawful rights to readopt their progeny. And that’s what they’re doing.
It’s incumbent upon us in the west to make Vladimir Putin not achieve his objectives. But as I said, not at the expense of the Ukrainian people, it’s their country. So if Zelenskyy tomorrow wakes up under pressure from people and say, we’re being slaughtered. A quarter of us have nowhere to eat. We have no shelter. It’s still a very cold spring.
Then we don’t say, oh no, no, no Zelenskyy you’re fighting for the world. But you said you were fighting for the world. So that’s Putin’s. That’s one of the major players, that’s what he’s thinking, and we’ll see how it works out.
Mr. Jekielek: I want to jump back to Zelenskyy because he’s of course being lionized in the press and so forth, and at the same time he seems to be leading a country in a very difficult situation. Before we go there, just one last thing on China. What is China going to do next in this sort of situation? I mean, are they just going to play it out.
Mr. Hanson: Yes, I think they’re going to play it out. They’re going to sit tight. They’re going to buy a lot of Russian oil. They’re going to try to violate the sanctions with the embargo or the boycott. They’re going to buy and exchange a lot of Russian wheat and natural resources.
They’re going to sell Russia a lot of stuff. They’re going to have a full-fledged, enhanced commercial relationship. They’ll probably have increased military relationship, and they’re going to sit there and see who wins. And they hope Russia wins. But if Russia falters and leaves with a tail between their legs, and the sanctions demonstrate that if you challenge the western financial system, you pay an enormous price.
And then they look at their assets, vis a vis the Russians and say, we’re the second-biggest economy, of course. We have all these advantages that Russia has, but we don’t have 7,000 nukes. We might have two or 300 of them, and the United States and the west is scrambling to enhance missile defense. They’ll just say now is not the time to press it. And so that’s what they’re looking at. They don’t know who’s going to win yet.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, and one of the commentaries I’ve seen from Indian pundits for example, is there’s this whole situation on the border of Kashmir, which we don’t talk about often. I think there’s something like 200,000 Chinese troops deployed there. And the west hasn’t been terribly supportive to us with this Chinese encroachment on India. Maybe it’s Russia that we need to be friendlier towards, what do you think?
Mr. Hanson: Well, it’s traditional that, and this is kind of a hackney thing to say, but Henry Kissinger established, and conservatives got very angry about him. He established this principle that you wanted China to be no friendlier to Russia than to us, and Russia to be no friendlier to China than to us or vis a vis, China had to hate Russia just as much as it hated us, and Russia had to hate China just as much.
And then that triangulation, each party could check the powers of others, and because we were, we had our sphere of influence in Europe, and North America, and South America. Really, we were the advantageous party and we wanted to play them off against each other.
But with Russian collusion and this demonization of Russia, we lost that card. And so we had no major power other than India to play off against China, and India just thought, privately, they thought, well, we agree with you, but you didn’t really show much in Syria, or Libya, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, and you lecture everybody. You’ve lectured in our conservative government about all of these utopian bromides and we get weapons from Russia. So we’re just going to kind of stay out of it. They’re more concerned this way about China.
If we had spirited, muscular leadership in the United States, if we had a deterrent military force, if we were not woke, if we were spending money in the Pentagon on viable practical weapons, rather than on $200 million airplanes, and we have these huge social costs. If we were doing all the right things, then right now as we’re speaking, India and Russia and the United States would have a loose understanding of spheres of influence.
It doesn’t mean you can go into Ukraine, but we would understand that our common enemy, the world’s common enemy is China. But that’s been destroyed by Russian collusion and everything else that’s transpired the last five years.
Mr. Jekielek: I think you probably agree, or you can tell me or not, that China is the real paramount, strategic threat to the US.
Mr. Hanson: Yes. I mean, when people say China is the real threat and not Russia, I always think to myself, maybe it’s because I was a classicist about grammar and syntax, or logic. Okay, let’s quantify that.
So here’s the Belt and Road where China has the major harbors of Europe, whether it’s Naples, or the Piraeus, or going into Rotterdam, where they build the infrastructures and they have their ships going in and out, they control the Panama Canal. What does Russia have as a counterpart? Nothing.
Here’s the Chinese population of 1.4 billion. Here’s 140 million. Here’s the second-largest economy with the highest rate of growth. Here’s a morbid economy, and you can keep going that way. And it all turns out that China, in terms of power and leverage and influence, it’s like a magnitude of 10 to one with Russia.
And so yes, we have to find a way to check Chinese power. It used to be that the Russians were just as suspicious of the Chinese as they were of us. They still are. They have a border with China, we don’t. But we’ve lost that ability, and I don’t want to blame us entirely.
Part of it’s Vladimir Putin, because all of his aims in Ukraine could have been negotiated. I think if he’d sat down, we would’ve probably said NATO’s not going to be incorporating Ukraine into its alliance. There’d be no purpose to it. And we would probably say we understand that you have spheres of influence among 90 percent or 80 percent of Russian speaking people in your border. And we don’t want to provoke you. But that’s ancient history now.
Mr. Jekielek: Okay. So let’s talk about Zelenskyy.
Mr. Hanson: Zelenskyy.
Mr. Jekielek: Precisely. The other piece of it, is Zelenskyy has also been sort of engaging with the west in it, right? And this was some of these narratives that are both popular in Russia, or I guess coming out of Russia and also popular among some Americans.
That there’s a lot of corruption in Ukraine, that there’s kind of strange relationship between the US elite class and Ukraine. I mean, a lot of it is actually documented. And then at the same time you have Zelenskyy stepping up and being, I don’t think you could even argue, a pretty solid leader.
Mr. Hanson: He’s been absolutely brilliant because he starts out with a lot of negatives, and that is Donald Trump would not have been impeached if it wasn’t for Alexander Vindman, Ukrainian-American, and I’m not suggesting that his interests with Ukraine would be very—McCarthy, I don’t mean. But what I’m saying is when he heard a phone call, he had a particular point of view about Ukraine and the United States. Turned out to be wrong because Trump was much better for Ukraine than Biden was or Obama was.
But nevertheless he called the so-called whistleblower and that inaugurated the impeachment. If he was a disinterested player, and was perceived like that, then the Ukraine would not have reportedly offered him 1, 2, 3 times to be Minister of Defence, which he kind of smiled and winked and nodded at.
Or the Ukrainian ambassador in 2016 would’ve not written an op-ed suggesting that people would be much wiser to vote for Hillary Clinton, or there wouldn’t be Ukrainian residents that were key players or advisors in the Steele dossier and the Russian collusion hoax.
So he starts with the idea that people did not like Ukraine interfering in our politics, and they did not like the Biden family incorporated, firing Ukrainian state prosecutors, reaping untold millions off a pretty impoverished population. And engineering a coup of a Russian puppet and bringing in Poroshenko and others. So there was this interaction, interference that was way beyond what the norms.
Mr. Jekielek: Just to be clear, Maidan was supported by the Obama Administration, not necessarily the Biden family specifically.
Mr. Hanson: Yes, but what I’m getting at is when Biden was Vice President, he was selling to the Ukrainians his influence via his son Hunter. Hunter had no market value at all. In fact he had zero market, negative market value. But once he said I have the ear of my dad, and my dad can get you weapons or aid, then they gave Hunter money, and that was clear.
And Biden, when he had that Council on Foreign Relations brag that got him fired, Shokin. So my point is that there was this interaction. So there was not goodwill between our countries, and we had the whole Victoria Nuland story, and all of that we were trying to affect the outcome of Ukrainian government.
So they invade and to be frank, Zelenskyy did not tour all of NATO, and all of the United States to build up a deposit of Stingers and Javelins so that when the war broke out, he had not five or 600, but 10,000. He didn’t do that. He kept saying, they’re not going to invade. Don’t worry. Don’t aggravate them. Okay, that was a mistake.
Once the war started, he got in that olive fatigue t-shirt, and he speaks very good English, and he’s very casual. And so you had these two contrasting images. You had this pale steroid-inflated looking Vladimir Putin, whose puffy, hidden out in some fuhrerbunker with toadies.
And then you had this man going all over Kyiv in the front rank. So you could hear bombs or the sound of fire in the background, and he looked like an American teenager, rough beard going on. And that was very appealing to western audiences. He was multilingual, he could speak Ukrainian, he could speak Russian. Some people suggest some European languages, and English.
And so he took a lot of disadvantages, and he won enormous western support for Ukraine. And that was reified with this supply line through four NATO countries. So they are pouring just a staggering amount of very expensive weaponry. I mean, Donald Trump being the businessman, remember what his complaint was about Javelins, it wasn’t giving them. Biden, when he took office and Obama were worried about the repercussions of arming them with offensive weapons.
Trump was just worried about the cost. They’re $200,000 for the launcher and $100,000 almost for the missile, but he would’ve given even more. But my point is, they’ve got some of the most expensive, sophisticated weapons in the world, and it’s pouring in along with humanitarian aid and that’s all due to Zelenskyy’s public relations genius.
Where I think he’s got to be careful; there’s a thin line between badgering the west to do more and showing unqualified gratitude for what they’ve done. And at sometimes when this stream of weapons comes in and Europe is cut off from Russian oil, and we’re sanctioning, and the oil price goes a little higher every week or so, and he says to his western benefactors, where is a no-fly zone?
And we say in the United States, well, you want us to take F-16s or F-22s and go over there? And Mr. Zelenskyy, there has never been one no-fly zone in world history where one nuclear power told another nuclear power you can’t fly here. They’re always asymmetrical.
We tell Milosevec, we tell Saddam Hussein, we tell the Taliban. We don’t tell Russia or China, you can’t fly here because they’re nuclear powers. And so that’s new, and don’t tell us what to do, because if we do that, we don’t know what the consequences will be. Or when he says, we need Warthogs.
We don’t know what the consequences will be to send A10 American aircraft into Ukraine, or we don’t know what the consequences will be to say, well, we’re not really sending F-15s or F-16s, we’re sending them to Poland that frees up, and you’ve got to make that critical distinction, Mr. Putin. So he’s always asking for escalation, and I understand why he’s doing it. And I empathize, but he’s got to be very careful because he’ll turn off.
When you ask the American people, do you think we should have a no-fly zone? Yes, we should. Next question. Do you think we should have a no-fly zone if we confront nuclear Russia in the air? No, we don’t. Second corollary.
The other thing is when you see, and I’ll just finish very quickly, when you see his attitude toward Israel. So Israel comes out and says, we voted to condemn the Russian invasion. And then Zelenskyy says last weekend: I’m Jewish. I’m empathetic to the Jewish state, but you did not sanction Russia, and how dare you, given our history. We understand that Ukrainians helped the Jews when Germany invaded on June 22nd, 1941.
Stop. Mr. Zelenskyy, you’re very selective. Historically, there was at least a few hundred Ukrainians at Babi Yar helping with the murder of thirty thousand Jews, and you could argue that the Ukrainian national police has a autonomous group that sprung up to aid Hitler, was outsourced task of rounding up Jews 500,000 of which you. So that was one thing.
Second is that all through the last 10 years, it seems like when there’s a critical vote to condemn the United Nations, I mean, in the United Nations to condemn Israel, Ukraine is always voting against Israel. Sometimes on the prompt of the Obama Administration, but they are. And so when Israel looks at this, you are a rock star, we agree, we voted to condemn, but we’re not going to stop the sanctions because we’re not comfortable with some of your history, ancient and modern.
And number two, we’re being attacked all the time from Syria, with terrorists enclaves that’s produced terrorists and missiles, and Russia controls the air space now of Syria. And we are terrified that Iran is going to get a bomb under this bankrupt idea of a new 2.0 Iran deal and Russia is the interlocutor. Think of that. How crazy is that?
We’re supposed to hate the very shadow of Vladimir Putin. And then this Biden Administration turns around and said, we trust him so much. He’s going to negotiate the deal for us. So then the Israelis are saying things like, we tell Russians are so evil that they can’t trade in Israel.
But then we’re going to turn around and say, don’t let Hezbollah shoot a missile at us. Or let us come in and take out a terrorist space, or we’re going to preempt and take out that Iranian nuclear plant, and you’re just going to sit there and do nothing?
And I think more likely Russia will say to the Israelis, okay, you want to sanction us for oil. Then maybe Iran is under our nuclear umbrella. How do you like that? So if you go in there, we will consider that an attack on Russia.
What I’m getting at is Zelenskyy doesn’t understand that empathy and affinity, and support for Ukraine is not 100 percent synonymous with national interest. Three hundred and thirty million Americans, our prime directive is to live another day, not that necessarily Ukraine lives another day. If we get to the point where to save Ukraine by getting Putin out and that triggers a nuclear war, then people will not support that.
So what I’m getting at again is Zelenskyy has got to be more subtle. He’s got to say, I know you’re saying, somebody’s going to listen and say, oh, yeah, it’s easy for you to say Victor, but they’re not bombing your farm to smithereens. I know that.
But he can say that, you and the world have done so much for us. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for this support. We were all belated, we were all tardy, we were all unserious about the Russian threat. Now we’re not.
And I know there’s certain limitations I have to abide by when I ask you for full support, but just do what you can. It’s so much appreciated. He’d be so much more effective than to hector western governments, that they owe him a threshold that could turn nuclear really quickly.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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