US Must Not Use Ukrainians as a Foreign Policy “Tool,” Sanders Adviser Says

As the Russian invasion into Ukraine enters its second-week, we now turn to examine the Biden administration’s response to the crisis. Biden has repeatedly condemned Russia’s invasion and opposed unprecedented sanctions on Russia in what some have described as a form of “economic warfare.” While President Biden has ruled out sending troops into Ukraine, the U.S. is directly aiding Ukraine militarily. CNNThe Washington Post reports that the U.S. recently delivered hundreds of Stinger antiaircraft missiles to Ukraine. Wednesday’s White House meeting was interrupted by President Biden who answered questions.

REPORTER 1: Do you support permanent U.S. military presence in Poland and other Eastern European countries now, after what’s happening in Ukraine?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We’ve always been there. We’ve always been in all the NATO countries.

REPORTER 1: I’m talking about permanent bases.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: No, that’s a decision for NATOTo make.

REPORTER 2: Do you think that —

REPORTER 3: Mr. President, what did you mean when you said —

REPORTER 4:Are you open to the idea of getting rid vaccine mandates?


REPORTER 5: Mr. President, are you considering banning Russian oil imports?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN:Nothing is off the table.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Matt Duss, foreign policy adviser for Senator Bernie Sanders. He’s also a Ukrainian American. His father was born in Germany as a displaced person camp in 1945 after his family fled Ukraine.

Matt Duss, welcome to Democracy Now!Can you respond to the overall situation and then to the U.S. response?

MATT DUSS: Well, I mean, I think your previous guests described the horrifying situation in Ukraine right now, which is just — we’ve just passed over a week of this Russian invasion. We’re seeing more shelling of Ukrainian cities. And this is from — you know, Putin justified this invasion claiming that he was there to liberate Russians and Ukrainians from a fascist government. We don’t need to tick through all the various justifications he has given, but I think Ukrainians, obviously, knew that was false, but I think Russian soldiers themselves now should be questioning whether that’s false.

As for the U.S. response, I think we’ve seen, you know, even in the months and certainly the weeks leading up to the invasion, a very energetic diplomatic response from the United States to work with allies in Europe, NATOAllies, but not just NATOAllies with allies from Asia to prepare a sanction response. The sanctions response has been very aggressive, I believe. It’s become not just sanctions on Putin and his government and oligarchs around Putin, but over the week we saw serious sanctions cutting off a number of banks from the SWIFTAs your guest stated, it also effectively blocks sanctions on Russia’s central banks. So, these are very, very serious measures, and I think we’ll have to watch now how Putin decides to respond.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Matt, as you know, many have called for more — many in Ukraine have called for, minimally, more punitive sanctions, including an embargo on oil and gas exports. Europe is, of course, dependent for most of its gas and oil — 40 and 30%, respectively — from Russia. And Russia’s revenues, of course, also come from the sale of these oil and gas reserves. Could you talk about whether you think that’s likely, and, even if these sanctions are imposed, whether that is likely to deter Russia?

MATT DUSS: Right. No, I think there’s two. One, is it possible? And I want to say it’s very possible, although that is something that is going to hit European countries much, much harder, and, frankly, it’s going to hit the United States much harder. And, you know, it’s going to raise the price of gas. It’s going to raise the price of goods. That’s certainly not an argument against it. I mean, if we are serious in imposing costs on Vladimir Putin and the Russian government, then everything is on the agenda. I think it also gets at the importance, ultimately — and this is something my boss, Senator Sanders, has talked about — to use this moment to shift more aggressively to green energy and deny these authoritarian regimes, not just Putin but a broader set of petrostates, the revenues they require to rule.

But getting to the second point: How does this impact Putin’s calculation, the Russian government’s calculation? That is a real — you know, that’s a question I have, as well. I think Putin has, unfortunately, laid out a number of very, very expansive goals and has not really left himself — I mean, it’s hard to see how he would climb down from the very expansive agenda he’s laid out. Many of you may have heard his speech last week on the eve before the invasion. He basically laid out his theory that Ukraine was not a country and that this is part of the Russian imperium. You know, and he would not be the first leader to walk back from some very wild — you know, this kind of wild agenda. But as of right now, it’s unclear to me how he might do that.

We should also be aware of the potential impact these sanctions will have on not only the regime, but also on the working people of Russia. This is, I think, a broader concern that progressives have about these kinds of sanctions tools, because if the theory of the case is that you will put pressure on the people who will, in turn, put pressure on their rulers, it’s not quite clear how exactly that works when you’re dealing with governments that are simply not responsive to the will of their people, as is the case in Russia.

AMY GOODMAN: Matt, I wanted to ask you about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comments on MSNBC Monday, talking about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

HILLARY CLINTON:Remember, the Russians invaded Afghanistan in August 1980. Although no country invaded Afghanistan, there were many countries that provided arms and advice. There were even advisers to those who were enlisted to fight Russia. It didn’t end well for the Russians. As we all know, there were other unintended outcomes. But the fact remains that the Russians were forced out of Afghanistan by an insurgency that was very motivated and later funded. … I think that is the model that people are now looking toward.

AMY GOODMAN: “Unintended consequences,” Matt Duss?


AMY GOODMAN: Again, that’s the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

MATT DUSS: Yeah, I would just respond to that by saying it didn’t end well for the Russians; it really didn’t end well for anyone, least of all the people of Afghanistan themselves. So, I certainly understand this may — you know, this invasion may backfire, ultimately, on Putin and on the Russian government, but I think we should not see this in terms simply of using the Ukrainians as a tool of our foreign policy and our conflict with Russia. My goal is to end the fighting as soon and as efficiently as possible, and to use all diplomatic options available to us to end it. This should be our focus.

AMY GOODMAN:I wanted to ask you a quick question on oligarchs. You spoke of the Russian oligarchs. You also mentioned the oligarchs from both sides.

MATT DUSS: Mm-hmm, yeah, that’s right. What does it mean to be an oligarch? It’s a very wealthy and politically influential person, just in its broadest definition. There is certainly a group of oligarchs who have a lot influence in Russia. And let’s understand, one of the reasons why these oligarchs do have such power and wealth and influence is in large part because of the kind of neoliberal shock therapy that was applied to Russia in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, backed often by U.S. economists, who effectively auctioned off — who urged Russia to auction off the people’s property, and it was gathered up by these oligarchs for their own wealth. And Putin — you know, this led to such an economic collapse and economic hardship that this, in turn, enabled the rise of a strongman like Putin, who gathered the oligarchs under his own control.

This is certainly not the first instance of this scam by the United States. Let’s understand, this kind of shock therapy has been applied in a number of countries around the world and has produced similar authoritarian outcomes. Now, having said that, I think we also have — you know, in our political system, while it is certainly not the same as Russia’s, to say the least, we have a problem here of large concentrations of wealth and the political influence that that can buy in our system.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Matt, I’d like to conclude by asking you about what you imagine the trajectory of this conflict might be. I mean, what Hillary Clinton said about unintended consequences and, of course, also about the defeat of the Russians in Afghanistan by — the Soviets at the time in Afghanistan is wrong. Many people believe that this could be the same outcome. Despite the fact that the Americans and Europeans have ruled it out, they are flooding Ukraine full of weapons. And Russia, Putin doesn’t show any indication of backing down, because, as you pointed out, it’s not clear how he would save face or, indeed, how at this point the Russians can extract themselves. What do you think a solution would look like? And do you think it’s likely?

MATT DUSS: Yeah, well, hopefully — I mean, the goal here, whether one agrees with it or not, I would say that the Biden administration’s approach here has been fairly consistent for some time, which is to make clear to Putin that this invasion will be much more costly than he might have imagined. Putin sees this right now, I believe, both in terms o the strength and breadth the sanctions have been placed on Russia with the U.S. working together with its allies around globe, and also in terms o the resistance from Ukraine. Some of the casualties you have seen are quite remarkable, as I believe you saw. There are estimates that the number of Russian troops who were killed in combat is around 7,000. These numbers are alarming. But let’s just understand, 7,000 would be as many troops as the U.S. lost in Afghanistan and Iraq, almost combined, in nearly 20 years.

So, in terms — so, the logic here is, you know, understanding that the Ukrainians themselves are resisting the Russian invasion. I believe they have the right to do so. I believe the goal should be, or we should keep our focus on: What are the steps that will end this fighting the quickest, and continue to support diplomacy. Yes, the Ukrainians agreed to meet again with the Russians at the Belarus border to find a diplomatic resolution that ends the fighting. But, to be very honest, as I said earlier, given the aims that Putin has laid out, it’s unclear to me if he is ready to take that offramp. So, for the time being, unfortunately — and it’s enormously painful to say this — but it’s hard for me to see how this stops anytime soon.

AMY GOODMAN:Matt Duss, thank you so much, foreign policy adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders. Matt Duss hails from Ukraine.

Coming up, could Russia’s war in Ukraine spark a nuclear catastrophe? Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has warned if a Third World War is to take place, it’ll be nuclear. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Gonna Be an Engineer” by Peggy Seeger. It is Women’s History Month.