Amid Rising Russia Tension, US May Stumble Into War, Warns Katrina vanden Heuvel

President Biden said Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin will pay a “serious and dear price” if he orders his reported 100,000 troops stationed along the Russian-Ukraine border to invade Ukraine, a scenario Biden says is increasingly likely. This comes as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Ukraine’s president on Wednesday, similarly warning Russia could attack Ukraine on “very short notice.” We speak with The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel, who says the hawkish U.S. approach to the Russia-Ukraine conflict is a waste of national resources, and says the U.S. should pursue diplomacy instead of throwing around threats of expanding NATO into Eastern Europe. “More attention should be paid to how we can exit these conflicts, how we can find a way for an independent Ukraine,” says vanden Heuvel, who calls the Ukraine conflict a civil war turned into a proxy war. “If there is creative diplomacy, I think you could see a resolution of this crisis.”


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be final.

AMY GOODMAN:Wednesday’s President Biden stated that he expects Russia to invade Ukraine. But, he predicted that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not want a full-blown military conflict. Russia has reportedly sent troops to Belarus and placed around 100,000 troops at its Ukraine border. Belarus shares a border with Ukraine. Biden said Washington’s response to a Russian invasion will depend on its severity.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN:Russia will be held responsible if it invades. It all depends on what it does. It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion, and then we end up having to fight about what to do and not do, etc. But if they actually do what they’re capable of doing with the force amassed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia.

AMY GOODMAN: Biden’s remarks about a “minor incursion” alarmed officials in Ukraine. Shortly after the news conference ended, Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, released a statement clarifying Biden’s comments about a “minor incursion” by saying, quote, “If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our Allies.”

During the news conference President Biden also predicted that Russian President Vladimir Putin will send troops into Ukraine. This is Biden answering a question by David Sanger The New York TimesAbout Putin

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN:I believe he doesn’t want to go to war number one. Number two, do I think he’ll test the West, test the United States and NATOHe can do it as much as possible? Yes, I believe so. But I think he’ll pay a serious and dear price for it that he doesn’t think now will cost him what it’s going to cost him. He will regret it. …

I’m not so sure he has — is certain what he’s going to do. He will likely move in, I think. He must do something. And, by the way, I’ve indicated to him — the two things he said to me that he wants guarantees on: One is Ukraine will never be part of NATO?, and, and, two? NATO — or, there will not be strategic weapons stationed in Ukraine. We can do something about the second part. [inaudible]He does what he can along the Russian line or the Russian frontier, in the European part of Russia. …

DAVID SANGER: Mr. President, it sounds like you’re offering some way out here, some off-ramp. It seems like this is at the very least an informal assurance. NATOUkraine in the next few years. And it sounds like you’re saying we would never put nuclear weapons there. He also demands that we move all our nuclear weapons from Europe and stop rotating troops through the Soviet Bloc. Do you think there’s space there, as well?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: No. No, there’s not space for that. We won’t permanently station, but the idea we’re not going to — we’re going to actually increase troop presence in Poland, in Romania, etc., if in fact he moves, because we have a sacred obligation in Article 5 to defend those countries. They are part NATO. We don’t have that obligation relative to Ukraine, although we have great concern about what happens in Ukraine.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s President Biden speaking at his two-hour news conference Wednesday.

Tony Blinken, Secretary-of-State, is scheduled to meet with Sergey Lavrov on Friday. Blinken will meet with some of his associates NATOToday, their counterparts were in Berlin; Wednesday, they were in Kyiv.

To talk about U.S.-Russian relations, we’re joined by Katrina vanden Heuvel, editorial director and publisher of The Nation magazine. She has been reporting on Russia and Russia for the past 30 year. She’s also a columnist for The Washington Post. Her latest piece is headlined “Stop the stumble toward war with Russia.”

In your piece, you write, “In the technical argot of diplomacy, what’s going on in the Ukraine crisis is nuts.” Katrina, can you first respond to what President Biden said, what the White House took back after, and actually what is going on?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL:Amy, let me clarify. First, you just listened, David Sanger. The New York Times, who’s been on the beat to promote a conflict or war with Russia for — with Russia-Ukraine for several years. What’s going on is that the most immediate task is to defuse the immediate crisis. And you can hear in Biden’s — the interstitial pieces of Biden, if you decipher what he said, that there is room, if there was creative diplomacy, if there was as much time spent pondering what Putin is going to do or worrying about the — you know, not even worrying, but ginning up war.

What’s clear is that three presidents — Obama, Trump and even Biden — have said that Ukraine is not a national security, vital security interest of the United States. At the moment, no president will send soldiers or women to Ukraine to combat. However, it has become a proxy warfare. It’s been geopoliticized, when in fact it’s a civil war. This relationship between Russia and Ukraine is one thing, but it also relates to Amy, the bigger issue. NATO expansion. This country was in a heated debate about 1997. NATORussia’s expansion was a warning sign from key Russian officials that it would lead to a new Cold War.

So, here we were. And I think it — you know, we’re living at a time, Amy, of pandemic, of racial division, of staggering economic inequality, of climate crisis. It seems crazy to even consider going to war, or even to consider these two new Cold Wars (Russia and China). And more attention should be paid to how we can exit these conflicts, how we can find a way for an independent Ukraine, free and whole, between East and West, as opposed to all this talk about more military massing on the border, or even — and I’ll end here — The New York TimesAnonymous intelligence sources warned the other day of a false Flag operation, which would provide a pretext for Russian invasion. That is the danger. Why I use the word “stumble” is that it, you know, looks a little like World War I, where some accident could happen. You’ve got two nuclear-armed countries. And I think instead of focusing on troops and this, let’s find a diplomatic — tough diplomatic solution, and let’s begin the arms control work that needs to be done. The INFCould be brought back; it was canceled by John Bolton, Trump, 2019. Today’s the Doomsday Clock announcement. Will it be closer than midnight, which is dangerous? There is still much to do, rather than all this talk of war, troop, troops and troops.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Katrina, we’ll go back in a second to, as you said, a possible diplomatic resolution to the conflict, you know, Blinken’s meetings in the last couple of days, and tomorrow meeting with Lavrov. But you mentioned — and this is a critical issue — the question of NATOSince 1997, there has been an increase in growth. I mean, it’s staggering. Since 1997, there has been a large number of Eastern European countries that have joined: Poland, Hungary (the Czech Republic), Bulgaria, Estonia Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia. Two questions: First, could you please explain why Russia is so concerned about Ukraine joining? NATO? What is the significance, importance, and function of these functions? NATO, now that the — I mean, it’s been decades now that the Warsaw Pact was dissolved?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL:This is the central question Nermeen. You mean, the Warsaw Pact was broken up, so naturally one would assume NATO would be dissolved, and we would find a new security architecture that wasn’t a militarized one. By the way, in 1997, people like Paul Nitze — I mean, Paul Nitze, Richard Pipes, McNamara, these people opposed the expansion. But let’s not forget about that. The expansion of NATOThe expansion of a military institution was dominated by the United States. This isn’t a coffee klatsch. This group brings weapons to the forefront. You need to purchase certain weapons in order to work with the entire operation. There are other institutions that could have created, as Mikhail Gorbachev had spoken of a “common European home” from Vladivostok to Lisbon, which wouldn’t have been militarized.

You all know that Russia, the Soviet Union, suffered 27 million casualties in World War II. Even younger generations are still afraid of being encircled. We also had the Monroe Doctrine. We had our spheres. What if Mexico — what if Soviet troops had — Russian troops suddenly decided to alight in Mexico? Borders are important, especially in the Russian historical consciousness. However, this is a role that is being played right now. Ukraine has enjoyed a special relationship with Russia and Ukraine, which is not the case with other countries. Ukraine is a divided nation. It is a country with the right to be completely independent. But it is very much in — a lot of Russians are intermarried with Ukraine. Ukraine is not Montenegro. It is important to understand that strategic empathy is a term used in foreign affairs. I mean, you try — and if there was standing in the other’s shoes, not condoning, but understanding, I think we would be in a better place.

Finally, Article 5 NATOIt is essential that NATOMembers go to countries that are invading. First, I want to stress that no American president has ever sent American soldiers to fight. There is talk of funding the insurgency in Ukraine. What happened in Afghanistan when we supported the mujahideen.

There are many issues. But, as you all know, Gorbachev had been promised after German reunification. NATOThey would not move one inch to the east. That is to be found in archives — National Security Archive, for example. And there is kind of a thought that Putin is asking for written material because he thinks that might protect him from Gorbachev’s fate. I don’t think so. But, again, I return to the fact that creative diplomacy could lead to a resolution of this crisis. And to have war at the moment is to add war to the other wars, climate, pandemics.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And as far as the negotiations are concerned, Katrina, can you talk about what we know so far about what happened in the meetings between Zelensky and Blinken, and today his meetings with his counterparts in the EU, and what to expect from what might happen tomorrow with Blinken’s meeting with Lavrov? Yesterday, the French President Macron called on the EU to directly contact Russia, contrary to what the U.S. had requested. Could you also comment on this?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL:This, I believe, is very important. It speaks to a diplomatic solution that may be possible to be revived. It could be called Minsk, The Minsk Agreement, or the Normandy Agreement, which was originally Germany France Russia Ukraine and not the United States. But I think it’s a good sign that European countries may have more independence — France, Germany — in working out something with Russia.

And I think, you know, what is happening in Ukraine, I don’t know, except that Zelensky’s rival arrived in Ukraine, Kyiv, the other day, the “Chocolate King,” who was the previous president, and was arrested and is sitting in a courthouse. Why that’s happening now maybe exposes some of the real problems in Ukraine. By the way, Ukraine couldn’t legally enter NATOIts territorial integrity is not complete at the moment.

I think Lavrov — and I’ll get in trouble for this — is one of the most steady and experienced diplomats working today. If Blinken, Lavrov could move beyond the rhetoric, I believe you could see real deals that would lead to a resolution. Perhaps moving back to Minsk or finding EU as a vehicle, or finding the solution. OSCEThe Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. I believe it is positive that there are ongoing discussions, as I do believe the crisis immediately needs to be addressed. It also gives me some space for that to happen.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Katrina, before we turn to other aspects of Biden’s comments yesterday and assessment of his first year in office, one last point on what’s happening now in Ukraine. I mean, the U.S. government and the EU have discussed the possibility to impose severe sanctions on Russia as a first step. There are already sanctions in place. Could you speak about the types of sanctions being considered and the significance of the U.S. potentially cutting Russia off the dollar-denominated international finance system? What would that look like? And how likely is it to happen?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, I think you’re certainly hearing a lot of talk about punitive sanctions, you know, onerous sanctions. First, it is important to realize that Russia has multiple layers of sanctions. In fact, the Democrats have presented their sanctions bill, and I believe Cruz has one.

I believe the SWIFTAlthough Russia could be removed from the global trading system, it could have real consequences. However, this could push Russia closer toward China and an alternative currency which would not benefit the United States or the Europeans.

And I think the — again, in Germany, you have the big issue of Nord Stream, the pipeline. It’s an interesting moment, because that is not yet fully approved. There are still regulatory issues. Germany now has a new government. The Green foreign minister is a Green and opposes the pipeline for environmental and other reasons. This could be done without the United States imposing sanctions.

Sanctions have generally not worked. They have made countries less tolerant of U.S. demands. And I think the whole matter of sanction as a foreign policy, in some cases it’s the equivalent of war. The humanitarian cost must be considered.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there for now and, of course, continue to cover this issue, Katrina vanden Heuvel, editorial director and publisher of The Nation magazine, columnist for The Washington Post. We’ll link to your piecesThere is the latest one, “Stop the stumble toward war with Russia.” Katrina is going to stay with us as we look at President Biden’s first year in office and the Senate’s failure to pass voting rights legislation after Manchin and Sinema sided with the Republicans to block changing the filibuster. Ralph Nader will join us as well. Stay with us.