AUGUSTA, GA (WJBF) Augusta University political scientist Craig Albert is our guest on The Means Report. Dr. Albert explains what’s happening in Ukraine as the war with Russia continues. He talks about the reasons for the war and why the U.S. is involved. Watch our interview and remember to watch The Means Report Monday afternoons at 12:30 on NewsChannel 6.
Craig Albert of Augusta University, thanks for coming back to break this down. I know that you’re an expert in this area, and we need you because it’s confusing. Glad you’re here.
Thanks for having me.
Let me ask you just a general question. First of all, why is this war happening? Ukraine and Russia appeared to coexist for a long time, and now they’re not. What happened?
Briefly, there are a couple of theories. One is that Russia just wanted to extend this sphere of the Russian Federation back to what he thinks is its historical borderland.
Yes, so President Putin thinks that Ukraine is a part of historical Russia. He has some right in to believe that. The historical group, the Rus, were founded in Kiev in about the 10th century. But both sides have always fought over who the Rus actually were, Russians or Ukrainian. But he thinks he should own all that territory, and in fact, he thinks the Russian Federation should own all the territory of the former Soviet Union. And so one theory is that he wanted to reinvent the Soviet Union under the guise of the Russian Federation by extending the territory into all those lands. So that’s the first major point. The second is that he was afraid of NATO, and that if NATO was going to eventually include Ukraine, President Putin wanted Russia to incorporate it first to block NATO extension. So in the West, we don’t fear NATO, but in President Putin’s mind, he fears NATO. So if we look at it from his perception, that could be a possibility of why he went into Ukraine.
Is this latest iteration of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine one that started back in 2014, or is it one that started a year or so ago when we all in the United States started to hear a lot about it? It seems that America’s involvement has escalated in the past 12 months. How long have they been fighting?
I think it actually goes back to 2008 Russia-Georgia War.
Where Russia was trying out some of its tactics, especially some of its cyber and signal operations that it had just invented in 2006, 2007, applied them in Georgia in 2008, in anticipation of coming into Ukraine in 2014, which was certainly the beginning of what we started seeing last year. That was the test run to get Crimea in the southern to establish a seaport, southern bases, to be able to supply logistics for what would be almost 10 years later, the full invasion of Ukraine.
All right, so you touched on this in your first answer, but why the US interest and involvement? Is it kind of a, “No, no, Russia, there will be no world domination on our watch.” Why do we care?
Anytime you have a major power involved in a conflict, it creates concern for the international communities. Russia is a major power. So if it’s used in its military, if it’s using in cyber operations, if it’s killing civilians, the United States has to pay attention to that because it’s a major power. Just like if China got involved in a major war, the United States would have to be, you know, taking a look at that and making sure, what are they gonna do, what are they possible of? It’s a way the United States to measure Russia’s capabilities as well in case they ever threaten NATO allies or the United States.
Are allies around the world helping us with our efforts to thwart this Russian invasion? It just seems like America gets all the headlines. What do you know along those lines?
Well, NATO itself and the European Union are doing a massive amount of work. Surprisingly so. I don’t think I would’ve thought this five or 10 years ago, especially with former President Trump, have been asked them to increase their defense budgets. If you remember that, we spoke about that several times. But they did. And now they’re able to supply ammunition to Ukraine. They’re sending, not forces, but logistical supplies. They’re sending artillery shells. Tanks are coming over. They’re giving ’em strategy, tactics, doctrine updates. So at least for NATO and the EU, along with the United States, Ukraine is definitely being helped. And some of what we call the Five Eyes Alliance in the cyber community, along with New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain. They’re really in there, really helping the cyber capabilities.
If you look at a map, you see Russia, which is just this massive country. You see Ukraine, which is by comparison small. Do you think Russia thought this would be over by now?
Yeah, President Putin’s initial plan was a three-day march to Kiev, in which case he thought he would decapitate the regime, and it would be over. And that’s why he didn’t go so overwhelmingly destructive the first few weeks of the war, including with his cyber capabilities, he left the infrastructure intact. You can see that’s a shift now. He started, in fact, on Thursday morning, he started a massive rocket attack, missile barrage of about 85 missiles on infrastructure sites inside Ukraine, again, to knock out the infrastructure, kind of to decapitate the morale of the people to stop any type of electricity, any type of power supply, any type of cyber capability as well inside Ukraine.
So you may have just answered my next question, which is, why doesn’t Russia just bombard Ukraine with shock and awe and end this? Is that starting to happen maybe?
I think you see it starting to happen in the industrial infrastructure zones. Russia doesn’t want to do that. President Putin doesn’t want to do that because his goal is complete occupation, which means he kind of has to live with the people there afterwards. And so you don’t want partisanship, rebellion, any type of insurgency, any type of gorilla activity to spawn up, if Russia comes in and takes over completely successfully. You have to live and coexist with those people. But if you completely wipe them out, if you completely wipe out the cities, you’re gonna cause a counter effect once you come in and peacefully occupy the zone.
What do you think President Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, meant a few weeks ago, and I know little clips of it have been played where he essentially said, “Hey, if this keeps going on, United States, your children, your sons and daughters will be coming over here to fight and die for this.” Can you add some context to that? Do you think that that’s where this is headed years down the road?
President Putin seems to want to push his territorial ownership of the Russian Federation. And so the idea, the theory out there is that, if he takes Ukraine successfully, he’ll go right through Moldova next. And then if he’s successful in Moldova, and in Moldova, if you look on a map, there’s a little part that’s occupied by Russia inside the country of Moldova that borders Moldova and Ukraine itself. It’s called Transnistria. So Russia military folks are there. It’s in another country. It’s a owned, occupied territory by Russia. So if Russia creates a complete corridor from Russia through Ukraine through Moldova, now Russia Federation borders NATO once again in that area. And then the idea is that he might go for the Baltics. Because he believes, President Putin believes, or at least he says so in his speeches in national rhetoric, that the Baltics are his. And so the idea is if he’s successful through Ukraine and through Moldova, then the Baltics might be next. Sweden, Finland might be next. So he says these are his territories. And so I think it’s smart to take him at his word and prepare for defense of that.
Do you think that President Putin waited until the outcome of the presidential election here in the US to see who won to decide whether to go on the offensive or not? Would we be having this conversation if President Trump was still in office, or do we know?
That’s a great question. I don’t know if he waited or not. I think he was planning this. He certainly would’ve been more cautious if President Trump was still in power. Let me explain that, is that it was very hard to understand President Trump’s foreign policy initiatives, what way he would go. And so people thought he was a bit, no one could tell what he might do. So he had, and purposefully, he did not want other nation states, other nation states’ presidents to know what his plans would be with allies or enemies. And so I think President Putin would’ve been a little more cautious on the idea that President Trump might not have liked it and have done much more than perhaps President Biden. People, international leaders thought President Trump was a bit too aggressive in that area. And if you challenge something that the United States stood for, that he might react pretty harshly. But once again, we don’t know if President Trump would’ve thought Ukraine was in the United States’ national interest. So it’s something that it’s either or type of question.
You know, depending on which part of Twitter you pay attention to, we’re either sick of giving money to Ukraine, we the US, or we want to give them more. Do you think there’s a limit to the American citizens’ patience when it comes to sending money and other things that you’ve already mentioned over there?
It might be. I think that the community should know. It’s not like we’re sending dollar bills over there. We’re sending, you know, artillery shells. We’re sending some kind of tanks, artillery systems themselves, anti-missile defense systems. So all of that. So it’s not like we’re just sending American tax dollars in that respect. We’re sending armed military equipment. Eventually the United States is gonna have to start making that again, which is gonna bring back manufacturing, which is gonna bring back more infrastructure projects in the United States to replenish all the weaponry that the United States has sent to Ukraine. So in the long roll, in the long road, it actually helps the United States’ economy by doing this.
Hey, the face of the United States, our president, Joe Biden, made a surprise trip to Ukraine not too long ago. What do you think about that? What do you think the message is that that might have sent to the world community?
I think it shows the United States is standing by Ukraine no matter what. Look, that has only happened two times in combat before in the last 30 years. One time President Bush visited Iraq, I believe, during combat operations. And one time President Obama visited Afghanistan during this combat op operations. So it’s not often that a president goes to an active combat zone. Which was really surprising of this, is that President Biden went to a combat zone that was not a direct involvement of the United States. You know, we do not have conventional forces on the ground in Ukraine. So I think that sent a huge message, and, of course, President Putin understood that and massively bombed Ukraine the next day.
Yeah, my last question about Ukraine and Russia is to take us into the minds, if you can, of Russian people. Are they happy with their day-to-day lives with President Putin? Is life good for them over there?
It’s hard to tell. The polls, of course, are biased in favor of President Putin. He greatly wins his presidential elections by 80, 90% because it’s a semi-authoritarian, if not totalitarian regime. So it’s hard to gauge the public’s understanding of what’s going off. Russia also controls the media situation. So this conversation couldn’t take place freely inside Russia because Russia controls the state propaganda machine. They control the newspapers. They control the internet. Social media operations are controlled, monitored, and you will get arrested if you are a citizen and you say something contrary to the Russian Federation. In fact, if you just say Russian soldiers performed poorly in this area of Ukraine, you’ll get fined $500.
You know, it’s funny that you mentioned that because I thought this conversation wouldn’t likely happen there. And I’m grateful that it did here, and I’m grateful that you took the time to explain it to us. I feel like I have a much better feel for that conflict there. So thanks.
Absolutely. Dr. Craig Albert from Augusta University.