Talks to End War in Ukraine Are Collapsing as US Seeks Regime Change in Moscow

As the United Nations warns about the devastating global impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, talks to negotiate a peace settlement appear to have collapsed. Despite a stronger Ukrainian defense than expected, Russian President Vladimir Putin seems determined to press ahead. Both sides seem focused on gaining military victories and territorial victories. The U.S. continues its massive weapons imports into Ukraine, costing millions of dollars. “It does seem that the United States thinks that Ukraine should be supported in its war effort, not its negotiation effort, until the very end,” says Nina Khrushcheva, professor at The New School and the great-granddaughter of former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. She also discusses the current Russian civil society and the faulty intelligence which led Putin to invade Ukraine.


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

AMY GOODMAN: The New York TimesIt is reportingTalks to end war in Ukraine are dead. The Russian and Ukrainian negotiators are further apart than ever before. Russia claims that Ukraine has not yet responded to the draft peace agreement it submitted on April 15th.

The TimesAccording to reports, Ukraine has been supported by a flood weapons from the United States of America and its allies. The U.S. Senate is expected today to vote to approve $40 billion more in military and economic assistance to Ukraine.

Currently, leaders from France, Germany, and Italy call for negotiations to end the conflict. On Friday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz wrote on Twitter, “There must be a ceasefire in Ukraine as quickly as possible.” He made the comment after a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron told the European Parliament Europe’s duty should be to achieve a ceasefire, not wage war with Russia. Mario Draghi, Prime Minister of Italy, supported the call for negotiations to end the war.

We turn to Nina Khrushcheva (professor of international affairs at The New School) as co-author, as the war in Ukraine enters its 85th day. In Putin’s Footsteps: Searching for the Soul of an Empire Across Russia’s Eleven Time Zones. She’s also the great-granddaughter of the former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Recent pieceIn Foreign Affairs is headlined “The Coup in the Kremlin.”

Professor Khrushcheva, could you start by commenting on some European Western allies like Germany and France? While we know that the talks between Russia, Ukraine, and France have collapsed, Can you talk about what’s happened and what you think needs to happen to bring this to a close?

NINA KHRUSHCHEVA:Amy, thank you very much.

Germany faces a difficult task in trying to balance Russia and Ukraine. Olaf Scholz recently stated that Putin is not ready to negotiate and that Ukraine is not willing to accept a forced settlement. So, Germany, on one hand, does want to or does advocate for negotiated settlement; on the other hand, it depends — it almost seems like it depends who Olaf Scholz talked to the last moment.

I think Italy has come up with an interesting — I think it was five articles proposal of how you can negotiate. And it is possible, what I’m hearing at least today from Moscow, that Moscow is seriously looking into it. It’s not clear whether they are going to accept it.

It’s not clear whether the negotiations will rise up again, because, for now, it seems to me that both sides appear to want to have more military victories, or small victories as they are, and they think that for now they — for example, Russians feel that they can take a little bit more of Ukrainian territory, and Ukrainians feel that they can — for example, the Ukrainians just expelled the Russian forces from — the remaining Russian forces from the city of Kharkiv. So the Ukrainians feel that it’s possible that they can in fact free out some of the Ukrainian territory already taken, already taken by the Russians.

So, what we know from wars from time immemorial is that when there is a decision to keep on with taking territory, freeing territory, it’s very difficult — it’s very difficult to get to actual negotiations, because military wins, or military desire to win more territory wins.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Nina, could you respond to those who say, “Let’s talk about the role of the U.S. in pushing for negotiations” — first of all, if the U.S. has been doing that? And second of all, respond to those who say that U.S. policy now has completely shifted: Whereas initially it was about defending Ukraine, it’s now about defeating Russia. Are you in agreement with this? If so, what kind would it be? What would Russia’s defeat look like?

NINA KHRUSHCHEVA:You are most welcome. I actually don’t think it’s shifted. I think it was pretty obvious from the beginning that the United States was — it didn’t expect Russia to be doing so badly, or the war going so slowly, in a sense, and Putin having less victories than initially expected. Remember the calculation on the American side that Kyiv would be — could be taken by the Russians in three days. I mean, you know, it hasn’t been taken at all so far and doesn’t seem to be in the Russian plans whatsoever.

I believe that the idea of regime change was American from the beginning. And that’s what the sanctions were, the sort of the consorted and massive sanctions, that the Russians call it the economic weapons of mass destruction, have been all about, kind of this idea that the Russians would get so traumatized that they would just get to the streets and sweep Putin away, or the oligarchs would get very upset because their yachts are taken away and then — and just go and have a coup.

So I don’t know if the United States’ position has changed. It became — probably became more vocal the more they talked to Ukrainians. And also, I mean, Ukrainians have shown — not that it was a surprise to me, I must say, but Ukrainians have shown incredible resilience. So, after the negotiations seemed to be going well, the Russians pulled out of the Kyiv areas. And that was — you know, for the Russians, they say it was the idea that they’re just going to help negotiations, but it was taken by the Ukrainian side and the American side as the Russian defeat, and then the more weapons went into Ukraine.

So I think the United States, it doesn’t seem to be interested, or at least I haven’t seen any interest in, in fact, negotiated position, because they do think Ukraine can win or should win, but also, as one of the anchors, American anchors, TV anchors, told me, is that: “How do we get rid of Putin?” And my response was, “We may not, because it’s not a Hollywood movie.” I mean, you know, not everything ends with a Marvel character victory. The United States seems to think that Ukraine should be supported during its war effort and not its negotiations effort until the very end. It seems that Ukraine’s victories and losses are much greater than initially expected.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Nina, you mentioned now the sanctions, the sanctions that the U.S. has imposed on Russia, and what possibility they had to weaken Putin’s position. You are in regular contact with people in Russia. What are the effects of these sanctions for ordinary people? What impact have they had upon the regime?

NINA KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, they couched — the regime has couched the sanctions well enough. I mean, clearly, there’s not enough — or there is no Western products whatsoever. I was told. I haven’t been in Moscow since then, but I was told there’s just gaping holes in all these luxury and nonluxury Western stores all over in Moscow and all over other Russian cities. So, that’s not a pretty picture. And it does seem to be very upsetting — not “does seem to be,” it’s very upsetting for the Russians. You know, McDonald’s, the symbol of kind of Russian global — Russia joining the global American formula, the McDonald’s shop, store — McDonald’s restaurant on Pushkin Square in the center of Moscow just got closed. But what Russians were able to do — and I don’t know how, you know, because it’s not really — it’s only three months. It hasn’t been enough time to really see the consequences. But that McDonald’s now is just going have a different name, and they say 90% of what McDonald’s was doing is going to be done there. So, the symbol of McDonald’s is gone, but the products may remain and still seem to be remaining.

But what it does for the Russians, I think, is that they become very angry at West. They’re angry at Putin for what he put them into, but when the West closed, I mean, it’s a summary punishment of all Russians, whether they support the war, and a lot of them do not support the war. And that makes them very angry at the West and very upset at the West, because they feel like they’re completely squeezed between the rock and the hard place. They don’t have a place to go. They don’t have visas. They don’t get any consideration when trying to flee abroad. And a lot of them who did flee abroad at the beginning of the war, in February and March, now have to come back, because they can’t open bank accounts and so on and so forth. The U.S. and other Western nations should investigate this issue. It is how to strengthen civil society in Russia, rather than completely destroying it.

AMY GOODMAN:Professor Nina Khrushcheva. You wrote a pieceIn Foreign Affairs called “The Coup in the Kremlin: How Putin and the Security Services Captured the Russian State.” Why don’t you lay that out for us, and how you think it shapes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

NINA KHRUSHCHEVA:Amy, I’m grateful. It’s a really long piece. It’s a long piece. KGB lieutenant colonel when he took over the position first of the prime minister in ’99 and then became president of Russia in 2000. It was in many ways a success. KGB coup. And I start my piece with him joking, speaking to the security forces for their kind of unofficial, and then became official, holiday on December 20th, that the order — that the security forces’ order of infiltrating the highest echelons of political power in Russia is now achieved. So, that was a joke, but it was not a joke, because a lot of people who oversaw or have been overseeing, you know, oil and gas industry and the cosmos industry and so on and so forth, the bank industry, they were Putin’s friends and colleagues, former friends and colleagues from KGB.

But I argue that what happened on February 24, was, as i call it, an accident. FSB-on-FSBcoup, because even if the KGB people — and I call KGB summarily security forces people — were in charge, it was also kind of a handpick operation. You can push harder, you can back, but they also understood that Russia requires security. Russia should have a strong security apparatus, but should also be part of the global community. And therefore, it wasn’t really summarily being suppressed in any and all forms.

Some security personnel, or all of them, may not have been available for duty on February 24th. They were not — we know that they were not ready for that. It was Putin’s decision. The collective security apparatus saw it as a signal that Russia’s oppression is their primary concern. Russia is the only state that can withstand the West’s demands or withstand its attacks, the way they are being presented. This is how the functional autocracy, which existed until February 24th, has been replaced by an inexplicably blind and faceless security bureaucracy.

And that’s what this war in Ukraine, in addition to everything else, is all about. And so, one of the things that is interesting that, you know, there’s expectations that, well, if Putin is gone, it’s going to get better. Well, it may get less toxic; I don’t think it’s going to get better, because once security is in charge of Russia — we’ve seen it over centuries of history — in charge of Russia, it’s not giving its power that easily. Russia may be less toxic for the world, but Russia is still far more oppressive inside Russia.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Nina, could you say — you just said that the decision to invade Ukraine was Putin’s decision. What was the basis for his decision? Because many have pointed out that this was — of course, it’s catastrophic for Ukraine, but also catastrophic for Russia. What kind of intelligence were these security officials giving him that allowed him to make this decision, which appears to have gone — the invasion seems to have gone quite differently from how they might have imagined?

NINA KHRUSHCHEVA: Absolutely. And that’s — I mean, I wrote about it in the piece, but I also wrote about it in previous pieces that I do — do a column for Project Syndicate — sort of explaining this, because Putin, as I said, a KGBMan, so that was run almost like a clandestine operation. Only a few people knew the truth. In fact, the army itself didn’t know when it’s going to go, whether it’s going to go full way into Ukraine or just the eastern parts of it.

It is also absolute power that corrupts absolutely. Putin has been at top of the country for 22 years. They’ve been security forces that were feeding him information about Ukraine and its Nazi president or Western control, Western-controlled government, and how ordinary Ukrainians are suffering from that kind of Nazi-type oppression, because nobody really in their right mind believed that Putin would go and do this, because that really is, as you said, I mean, not only destroyed Ukraine, it also completely — and Ukraine will rebuild, and Ukraine will be better than ever, but Russia is just destroyed for decades, if not for centuries to come, because nobody is going to believe us that we are in fact going to become a normal country one day.

That intelligence was what he needed to hear. This means that Ukraine is about ready to give up and embrace Russia as the leader in the pan-Slavic state Putin imagined. And that is, I mean, I think — it’s not enough time has passed, but I think from when there is more time passed, it would be one of the most incredible research in history, how on Earth this complete disinformation, misinformation resulted in this catastrophic decision for — not just for Ukraine, not just for Russia, but also for the world at large.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Nina, could you talk a little bit about the response within Russia, to the extent that you’re aware of it, not among the people so much as among officials? An old Russian colonel appeared to be critical of Russian perceptions and the security state’s response earlier this week. This is a video.

MIKHAIL KHODARYONOK: [translated]First, I must say that you should not use informational sedatives. Sometimes, you may hear of a moral psychological breakdown within the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Their mood is allegedly very close to a crisis. This is not true, to be mild. … The situation for us will clearly get worse. … The biggest problem with our military and political situation is that we are in total geopolitical isolation and the whole world is against us, even if we don’t want to admit it.

NERMEEN SHAIKH:Nina, could that be your response, especially since he was on state television? And then he appeared again a couple of days later, just on Wednesday, and seemed to express a very, very different opinion, and so there’s been speculation that he was warned not to speak out in this fashion.

NINA KHRUSHCHEVA: Absolutely. I mean, he was — good for him. He absolutely was warned not to speak out in this fashion and talk about the Russian isolation, because what we hear from the officials who — originally, on February 21st, when Putin announced that Russia would recognize the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk republics, his security council seemed to be — I think we spoke about it on this program — seemed to be in a complete shock about it. But, you know, then they immediately — not immediately, but soon enough, kind of settled down, figured it out. Some were warned. Some were threatened. Some just didn’t have any other place to go, in a sense. Then suddenly, what he said is now considered treason. And the officials who were initially shocked now say that treason can be committed if you speak negatively about the Russian special military operation or the Russian forces and military forces that are not moving as fast. Those who were critical of the country’s actions, or left it, are guilty of treason.

So, with the officials, there is some — I mean, clearly, there is inside dissent, but very rarely you can hear it publicly. We hear more and more from those officials with terror in their eyes about how they are supporting Russia and motherland.

Just now, the iconic, iconic character, Yuri Shevchuk, who was the icon of Russian hard rock, just had a concert in which — and before that, he spoke what motherland in fact means to him and spoke against the war. After the concert, he was instantly detained. He was immediately taken into custody. He is now being sued. He is the Russian rock’s icon.

It is a martial order that is not being declared as such, but it affects everyone. It affects people who try to protest and can’t, because they’re immediately detained, the celebrities and, of course, the officials and the oligarchs. That’s why from the oligarchs, I think only three — and I write about it in my Foreign Affairs article — only three have actually spoken mildly or forcefully against the war, and the rest are silent and accepting. That’s the KGB force.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Khrushcheva,, you’ve studied Putin. Your book is In Putin’s Footsteps. What about the family exposure? It’s so rare to learn about, for example, the sanctioning of his two daughters, of his longtime girlfriend. What does that do to him?

NINA KHRUSHCHEVA: Nothing. Nothing.

AMY GOODMAN:Let me ask you one more question. At the end of your book, since we have so little time, you talk about Kremlin officials saying that this will end the way the Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan in the late ’80s. What does that look?

NINA KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, that looks like they withdrew from Afghanistan after 10 years of a horrible war in ’89 with, you know, tail between their legs, completely humiliated. We also remember that the Soviet Union fell in 1991. And so, that’s what those officials, who don’t speak publicly but sometimes speak to people like me, say they envision this regime will fall. What they don’t know is when that happens.

AMY GOODMAN:Finally, I want to share with you a comment that George W. Bush made before we close. It was Wednesday. The speech he gave at the Presidential Center in Dallas was about the invasion of Ukraine. But it took an unexpected turn.

GEORGE W. BUSH: The result is an absence of checks and balances in Russia and the decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq — I mean of Ukraine. Iraq. Anyway. I’m 75.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s video of Bush’s comments. They’ve gone viral. The former Ohio state Senator Nina Turner responded, tweeting, “George W. Bush just admitted to being a war criminal of the likes of Vladimir Putin, then laughed. Sickening.” Professor Khrushcheva, your response?

NINA KHRUSHCHEVA:Yes, I agree. And actually, the Russians have been playing that clip and, you know, with the comments, “Look who’s talking.” So, that’s what their response is, is that, you know, “You’re lecturing us on our unjust war, and look what you have done all around the world.” And I think, you know, I go back, as I always do, to my former mentor, George Kennan, who wrote an article in Foreign Affairs, too, in — I mean, “too” — wrote an article in Foreign Affairs1995, it was called un-American principles. And so, you know, when America does things like it did in Iraq, then people like Kim Jong-un, people like Putin would go in and say, “Well, America can do it. Why can’t we?”

AMY GOODMAN:Nina Khrushcheva, professor at the New School of International Affairs, is co-author In Putin’s Footsteps: Searching for the Soul of an Empire Across Russia’s Eleven Time Zones, great-granddaughter and former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. We’ll link to your pieceIn Foreign Affairs headlined “The Coup in the Kremlin.”

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