The Path Forward in Ukraine

Heritage Explains

The Path Forward in Ukraine

Jim Carafano’s Report From Kiev

What is going on with the war in Ukraine? We hear about a counteroffensive, but what does that mean? How much longer will the Russians continue to fight? Should America continue to support Ukraine’s defense efforts? On this episode, Jim Carafano answers these questions and talks about his recent visit to Ukraine—giving us a vivid, insider look at the streets and communities where war is being fought. It’s a special interview you won’t want to miss.  

Tim Doescher: From The Heritage Foundation, I'm Tim Doescher and this is Heritage Explains. On February 24th, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. Wall-to-wall coverage, talking heads, infographics, previously recorded carnage being played over and over again. It got the royal media treatment, that's for sure. Now, over six months later, tens of thousands of people killed, millions of Ukrainians fleeing their homes, and tens of billions of dollars worth of damage, where do things stand? After it became clear that Ukraine was going to put up a fight, Russia began to lose ground. Recently, Ukraine launched a counter-offensive to reclaim territory Russia took, enabling Kyiv to seize the momentum in the war. Here's ABC News.

ABC News: Ukrainian forces claiming to have retaken more than 40 towns in just a matter of days. Tonight, we've learned that, in some cases, they have pushed Russian soldiers right back into Russia. Reports of those Russian troops fleeing in disarray, some surrendering in some places, leaving heavy equipment behind in the east near Kharkiv, the second to largest city. The images tonight, look at this, people greeting Ukrainian soldiers with hugs.

Doescher: But, as many have said, this war is far from over. That means the U.S. must determine what our involvement going forward looks like. As Congress continues to debate over more funding for the war, what is the sensible amount, especially given all of the challenges with the U.S. economy right now? How do we protect against corruption and make sure accountability is attached to funding?

>>> Winning the Peace in Ukraine

Doescher: Jim Carafano is a Heritage Explains regular, and also the Vice President of the Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy here at The Heritage Foundation. He recently returned from a trip to Ukraine. He has an up close and personal perspective of the damage, the devastation, and the challenges moving forward. On this episode, he paints a vivid picture of the situation, and gives next steps for the U.S. leaders to consider in moving forward with our support of Ukraine's defense. You don't want to miss this. But first, listen up.

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Doescher: Jim, man, it is so good to have you back in the studio. Every time I have you come in here, it's always a relief because I know it's going to be a substantive, but also just an all around good interview. So again, thanks for being here today.

Jim Carafano: Well, it's nice to be back, and to be back all in one piece.

Doescher: Yeah, absolutely. You have been on the ground in Ukraine, recently. You've seen up close and personal, the stakes. You've spoken with the highest levels including President Zelenskyy. But, just taking a step back from all of the minutiae that I'm sure that you were introduced to, what is your overall takeaway from this trip?

Carafano: It's funny because I was in the army for 25 years, and 25 years I was never in a war zone.

Doescher: Wow.

Carafano: I've been in two war zones in the last two months. This is not how I was envisioning my retirement years.

Doescher: Right.

Carafano: As everybody knows, because you can read the newspapers, the Ukrainian military went on the offensive. This is called a counter-offensive. That means, somebody attacks you, they take ground away, and then you do a broad counter-attack to take ground back. They have taken back significant amounts of territory. So what does that mean for the long-term? Well, just like in Game of Thrones, winter is coming. When winter kicks in, it is very hard for the people that want to attack. It's a lot easier to defend than it is to attack. The Ukrainians are going to hold a lot of ground as the winter comes in, and the Ukrainians know how to fight in the winter. They've been fighting the Russians for eight years in the winter.

Carafano: So, it's pretty clear. I think everybody, including the Russians, recognize at this point that there is going to be an independent Ukraine going forward. So, that's not up for debate. The other thing is, and this is really true. One of the places we went to was the main hub where all the military aid goes into Ukraine. Lots of people have said lots of things about aid. But I will tell you this, the military aid goes to the Ukrainian military, and it's used to fight Russians. End of story. I think that's demonstrably true. There would be no Ukraine today if it wasn't for the US military aid. Now, the Ukrainians are fighting and dying for their own country. But, you have to have weapons to fight. In particular, it's the US weapons that have kept them in the game. So if there is a Ukraine today, it's because of US military aid.

Doescher: You mentioned a counter-offensive, and that leads into my next question. Who is winning this war? Russia came on strong, you saw the pictures in Mariupol, and shelling, constant bombing, but then you start hearing words like counter-offensive. So, can you say who's currently winning?

Carafano: Well, not to be a weasley guy here, but winning and losing are textbook things. You read a chapter in your high school textbook, and World War I starts on page one of the chapter and it ends on page 30, and that's not how real life is. So it's difficult to talk about winning and losing, as if it's a baseball game and at some score we're done and we go home. It's also difficult to predict. War is a competition between two sides. So anybody who says, "Well, this is what's going to happen." Nobody knows that for sure. Most of us are just doing play-by-play, to be honest. But if winning means an independent Ukraine that can stand, that is done. I think that seems pretty clear at this point.

Carafano: If you look at the Russian military, they've really burned through the professional Russian military force, and now they're actually putting conscripts in the military. People see this thing recently, where the Russian said, "We're going to immobilize 300,000 people." Which, in part, means they'll have to go out and find these people and drag them in. But what does that mean in real terms, in terms of what we call combat power? Well, first of all, you have to collect them. You have to put them somewhere, house them, feed them, get uniforms for them, equip them, train them, organize them, and then send them into battle. That's not going to produce any real military capability for the Russians anytime soon.

Doescher: I was reading an article about some of the protests that are taking place. The Russians have been jailing people who have been protesting against going to war. We've heard about the shooter at the Military Recruitment Center, the shooter at the school, all of this happening right now as almost a pushback from inside Russia. So, I can't see this going well for them right now.

Carafano: Let's not overplay this. But, when you add it up, it's just more bad news. There is internal dissensions, not going to stop Putin from prosecuting the war, but he's creating this internal dissension and he's not really getting much military capability for that.

Doescher: Right.

Carafano: Remember you're taking 300,000 men, and more because people are fleeing the country. I was with a guy the other day from Azerbaijan. I think it was visa-free travel between Russia and Azerbaijan. An airline ticket from Russia to Baku today costs $10,000.

Doescher: Oh, my God.

Carafano: Because, people are just trying to get the heck out of the country. So we have this enormous economic dislocation on an economy that's already not doing well. People can say whatever they want about sanctions. Sanctions are having impact, taking 300,000 people more, and more, out of the economy and disrupting is just going to have a more negative impact. So you've got political isolation, sanctions not going well in the battlefield, internal turmoil and a struggling economy. None of these put Putin in a stronger position.

Doescher: Take us to the streets of where you walked-

Carafano: Sure.

Doescher: In Ukraine. Give us a sense for what you saw, how you perceive things, and how they're perceiving things, people on the ground there living.

Carafano: I would say two things. One place we went to was Bucha, which is on the suburbs of Kyiv, which was the high water mark of the Russian incursion to try to take the capital. Stunning, because of how close it actually is to Kyiv. But also, the town was really just beaten up really bad. It was also the site of one of the mass graves. That, to me, is one of the takeaways here. We support the Ukrainians because it's in our interest to do that. The reason for that is, for Putin, it's not about the Ukraine. He wants to reabsorb the Post-Soviet states. He wants dictatorial control over sensory Europe. He wants NATO to dissolve. He wants to push the United States in the sea. If, by helping Ukrainians, we stop that, that is in our interest.

Carafano: What does China want? China wants exactly what the Russians want. China's not mad at Russia because they invaded Ukraine. They're mad at the Russians because they didn't win. China wants a Europe that's divided, distracted, weakened, that's a bad partner for the United States. So, in helping the Ukrainians, we are helping ourselves. But even beyond that, because the day we left, there was another mass grave discovered. Hundreds of people murdered, thrown into a hole, some of the tortured.

Doescher: Wow.

Carafano: We have to remember, Putin is a global actor. If anybody thinks that this leader, who is completely vile and dangerous, that just unleashing them on the world stage to do whatever they want, wherever they want, whenever they want, that somehow that's not going to come back and hurt us someday, that's just nuts.

Doescher: Yeah, it's not safe.

Carafano: If we help push this guy back a bit, that's in our interest to do that. The other thing I would just say, we were in the capital, in Kyiv, and it looked like Tuesday. People are going about their business, living their lives. People, to the person, I think are very determined to fight, and save their country, and get back in. Which is one of the reasons why the number one thing the Ukrainians are asking for right now is air defense, because they want people to be able to come back to their country, go back to work. Half the economy's gone offline. So this is a very resilient, patriotic, nationalist people, half of whom are ethnically Russian, who are really determined to fight for their country. This is not like Afghanistan.

Doescher: Well, I was just going to ask you, I wanted to pick up on where you left off with China. Also, Iran, because those are two key players that you mentioned. Way back when we had this interview in late February, we talked about the stakes, and now we're here. Have we seen any more development of China's involvement here, or Iran's involvement here? Or, has that been pretty much dormant?

Carafano: Well the Chinese, really, this is just more bad news for them, a whole thing of bad news. So they're deer in the headlights here. The Iranians are interesting because there was a lot of news that the Iranians were selling or giving drones to the Russians.

Doescher: Right.

Carafano: Well, that had two impacts. One, it gave the Ukrainians a lot more targets, because the Ukrainian drones turned out to be not all that great. But the other is, the Israelis who were sitting on the sidelines, a lot of countries are against it, because they don't necessarily want to antagonize Russia.

Doescher: Why?

Carafano: Well, because of the Iranian involvement and helping the Ukrainians out, it's really pushed the Israelis to help the Ukrainians out more, so that's been good.

Doescher: All right. So we've heard reports on Putin's health, and I don't know if any of that's substantiated, or if it's just out there in the ether and it's nothing. But if there is a health issue there, and Putin somehow is done, does this thing just end? Is this really just Putin? This is him driving it, nobody else? Or, does this continue even if he's gone?

Carafano: Well, not necessarily, because there are a lot of other people in the country that were for this. It's funny you should raise this issue because, as we speak this weekend, we saw not just demonstrations in Russia, rioting in Iran against the regime, and even talk in China about a kudeta against the President. So in the three most aggressive authoritarian regimes in the world, we have basically problems for all of them on the home front, which is interesting. What do you make of that?

Carafano: I really recommend people read a book by a guy named Naton Sharansky called, The Case for Democracy. Because one of the things he points out is that, one of the characteristics of these regimes is, when they do collapse, it happens all of a sudden. Nobody can really predict it, and there's a reason for that. It's because in other societies and governments, we know where things are going because there's access to information. But in authoritarian regime, not only is there not access, even people in the regime often don't know right what's going on.

Carafano: So that's why everybody's surprised. The Czar of Russia, Mussolini, everybody's surprised when things collapse. So I'm not one who's thinks that we can reliably predict when the day for these people [inaudible 00:15:24] up. But I do think one of the interesting things today is, just years ago the Russians, and the Chinese, and the Iranians were trumpeting the alternative to democracy and free enterprise, and look at them struggling now.

Doescher: Wow.

Carafano: So, that's a bit of good news.

Doescher: Well Jim, I wanted to thank you for coming in here today, and giving us your perspective on this. It's a great check-in, and we're going to continue to track it as we do this. But anyway, thank you so much for being here. If you have anything else to leave us with, I want to give you that, because this trip is really a seminal moment in heritage research and heritage perspective. So if we can guide those who listen to this program, which is a lot, I wanted to give you that chance.

Carafano: Look, there should be bipartisan support for Ukraine because it is in US interest. But I got to tell you, I am honestly disappointed in our government. It's not meant to be a partisan political comment or anything else, but this administration has no heart for this. They were really dragged into it. Mostly what they want to do is throw money at the problem. We need to be so much better than that. We need to help the Ukrainians, but we need to do it in a way that's smart. We need to not needlessly burden the US taxpayer, and we need to think about helping build a Ukraine that is a net contributor and not a foreign policy basket case.

Carafano: I look across this administration, I don't see that kind of leadership there. So as grateful as I am for the aid, I do think our administration has mismanaged the war. I don't think we should be patting them on the back. I think we should be holding them accountable. So I'd like to see Congress debate more, argue more, dig into this more, to make sure that we're doing the right strategy and we're spending the right money in the right way.

Carafano: I think we, as liberals and conservatives, ought to be coming together, demanding that from our government. Not just having a partisan position that says, "Well our president, so we like what he's doing." "We didn't vote for this guy, so we don't like what he's doing." Nobody should be satisfied with what our government is doing. We should all be arguing for a laser-like policy that really puts America's interest first, and it's not politics-leading.

Doescher: Jim, thank you so much for being here this episode.

Carafano: Thank you.

Doescher: That's it. That's a wrap for this episode of Heritage Explains. Thank you so much for listening. Go ahead, hit that like button. Share our podcast. Leave us a comment. Do all those things that we ask you to do each and every episode. We greatly appreciate it. Also, head over to the show notes. I've linked to some of The Heritage Foundation work that we've done on Ukraine, as well as what's happening right now in Congress in terms of funding Ukraine. Michelle's up next episode, and we'll catch you then.

Heritage Explains is brought to you by more than half a million members of The Heritage Foundation. It is produced by Michelle Cordero and Tim Doescher, with editing by John Popp.