The Doorstep: Can Putin Be Stopped? with Atlantic Council's Melinda Haring

Mar 2, 2022

Atlantic Council's Ukraine expert Melinda Haring joins "Doorstep" co-hosts Nick Gvosdev and Tatiana Serafin to discuss where we are one week after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a large-scale invasion into Ukraine. What are the key takeaways after a week of intense fighting? Can the U.S. and Western allies do more to stop Putin's advance? How will the war re-shape U.S. domestic politics as midterm season begins?

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Welcome, everyone, to this edition of The Doorstep podcast. I am your co-host, senior fellow at Carnegie Council, Nick Gvosdev.

TATIANA SERAFIN: And I'm Tatiana Serafin, also a senior fellow at Carnegie Council, with a very special episode of The Doorstep today on Ukraine, what is happening a week after Russian tanks rolled in, with special guest Melinda Haring, the deputy director of the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center, who is just back from Warsaw and who has been talking to people on the ground in Europe and is now back in Washington, DC. She is going to share with us some very important information and updates.

I am very excited to hear what Melinda is thinking and doing these days, Nick, especially after Biden's State of the Union, which happened to be a little light on encouraging us Americans to think about Ukraine in our day-to-day. What do you think?

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: I thought that the speech was very interesting. It started with almost a callback to the great days of the Cold War, the United States putting together a global coalition in defense of peace and freedom throughout the world, that Ukraine is on the front lines of the struggle between freedom and autocracy and that Ukraine's struggle is really everyone's struggle. The rhetoric was there, but then we started to hear a little less about some of the concrete details of what the United States is prepared to do. We heard what the United States is not prepared to do, which can make sense: We have to be prudential, we are dealing with a state which has nuclear weapons, but, on the other hand, it was a stirring call to action with some pieces missing.

It was also very interesting in that it included a number of the themes that we heard from the administration over the last year. We heard a lot about allies with regard to standing up against Russia. We didn't hear a lot about allies working together on technological cooperation, how we're going to tackle climate change, or how we're going to tackle the fuel crisis, the energy crisis, that is upon us. We heard a lot about U.S. manufacturing and, in some ways, a sense of continuity with the Trump administration, a bit of "America First," at least when it comes to the economy, which kind of clashes with this invocation of allied partnerships in a common struggle.

It was interesting for what we heard and didn't hear in the speech. I think for those who were looking for more clarity about what the United States is prepared to do beyond certainly the very devastating sanctions which have been imposed on Russia, which will have a cost on Russia's power, but whether or not that will affect Putin's calculus in Ukraine remains to be seen. I still think that, in some ways, we got the beginnings but didn't get a fully satisfying answer.

TATIANA SERAFIN: In all my social feeds there are more questions. There is definitely more support for doing more in Ukraine across the board, across the political spectrum that I am seeing. I personally didn't see it reflected in Biden's speech, at least from some of the chatter that I'm seeing online. People are doing way more specific outreach, way more specific humanitarian efforts, and these are the things that I think will make a difference.

They are also, surprisingly, very upset that the United States isn't doing more militarily. I know that is a line that the United States doesn't want to cross in Ukraine and that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) doesn't want to cross because of the threat of nuclear weapons with Russia, but I am hearing on the ground, Nick, that people want more military action. We will hear more about that and other things from Melinda right now.

Thanks so much again, Melinda, for joining us. I want to start off by saying we are one week into a world war. Some people are calling it "World War III." I want to recap, to start off our conversation by asking: Where are we? Online people sometimes don't look at when things are posted, when articles are posted they might be reading incorrect information or old information. Where are we on March 2, one week after the tanks started rolling into Ukraine? Can you tell us what you see after one week?

MELINDA HARING: Thanks, guys, for the chance to be here. It's a real pleasure. I haven't seen Nick in seven years, so we have to do this more often.

There are a couple of headlines that stick out. We have been at this for a week. There haven't been that many casualties. One casualty is too many, of course, but there haven't really been that many casualties; that's one of the things that I think is quite surprising. I think the Russians' tactics are also quite surprising: it looks like the Russians are playing with their B team, maybe their C team, and we can talk about that in a little more depth. Just let me give you the headlines.

We have 2 million refugees, and the number is increasing, and it is likely to go as high as 7 million. The times and the waits are very, very long, it's about two days on the border, and there are some reports that there is not good sanitation in some of these places, which I think is really alarming.

I am really, really worried that Vladimir Putin is really angry and is likely to engage in Grozny-style tactics next. Those are the tactics he used in Chechnya in the 2000s, and that means indiscriminate bombing in big cities, especially in Kyiv and Kharkiv, which is the second-largest city in the North. What that means is that if you are in Ukraine right now, you need to get out and go to the European Union as soon as possible or seek refuge in the mountains. The situation is going to get much worse and, unfortunately, there is not a whole lot the West can do.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Can I touch on that? We just had the president's State of the Union. On the one hand, a very rousing rhetorical defense of freedom, of Ukraine as a victim of aggression, "We stand with Ukraine, Ukraine is part of the democratic community," and then the president also established a series of "and these are things we will not do," including sending troops.

You said there is not much that the West can do. Sanctions have been imposed. Do you have a sense that there is much enthusiasm—one of the things you do with the Atlantic Council is you are one of the people meeting in capitals all throughout the Western world, you encounter parliamentarians, members of Congress, and people from the executive branches—is there a sense that there is a limit as to how much support they are prepared to give Ukraine? We have already heard that American troops on the ground is off the table, but other ideas have been proposed—no-fly zones, shipments of more advanced weapons. What's your sense of how far Western governments, the United States and other European and NATO allies, are willing to go?

MELINDA HARING: Nick, I think I should say there are real limits. What I mean by that is that the West is not going to be able to stop Vladimir Putin.

Biden has said very clearly that we're not putting U.S. boots on the ground, but there are some options short of that. We have some military fellows here at the Atlantic Council, and they have reminded me that there are military options that President Biden has not ruled out if we are creative and wise. If the situation continues to escalate in the kind of scenario that I was talking about—and I hope that it doesn't. Please don't misunderstand me, I am not a cheerleader for war, but this is the direction I see it going in. If it does escalate, President Biden could use the U.S. Air Force and he could use ships that are not that far away to fire back, to prevent the loss of massive amounts of life. I don't think we're there yet. I don't think the Biden administration is willing to consider ideas like that. Those ideas are too radical right now. It's good that they are going to resupply with weapons, that's wonderful. It's not enough, though, and this administration is not open to arguments for a no-fly zone.

We just saw that the Europeans wimped out. They said that they were going to send jets and then they wimped out. Everyone is afraid of Vladimir Putin, and the real discussion is: What the hell is up with Vladimir Putin?

Nick, you have been studying him as long as I have, and this is not the Vladimir Putin that we have been studying since the end of 1999. He has changed. He is a risk taker, but he is a cautious risk taker. He was in the intelligence services for many years. He is not a sexy spy. He is a loser. They put him in Dresden, you have to remember. Don't make Vladimir Putin into James Bond—he's not, he's not at all—but he is isolated and paranoid. He was paranoid before COVID-19 and he is even more paranoid now.

One of the most interesting things that I have sort of fixated on is his discussion with Emmanuel Macron. When he met with Emmanuel Macron, not only did he require Macron to have three PCR tests and they sat at the ends of this enormous table—everyone has been making fun of it—but Putin wouldn't stop talking about Russia's "historic grievances."

Macron would say, "How about we talk about a ceasefire agreement or a peace agreement?"

And it was back to: "What has the West done to me? What has NATO done to me?"

Maybe the West is just really naïve. Putin has been making these demands and saying these kinds of things since the Munich speech. This is a long time, and maybe we just didn't want to believe it.

There is an argument that Putin has been planning this for a long time and waiting for his moment, and there are a lot of reasons why this is the right moment now for him to strike. He is not going to get a more advantageous moment than when the West is completely weak and he can get away with it.

He also sees the writing on the wall. If he doesn't strike now, Ukraine is moving in a Westward direction. Sixty-two percent of Ukrainians want to join NATO. I think part of his calculation is that he wants to end the Westernizing drive in Ukraine on his own timetable.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Is it just the West's problem, though? I have been reading reports from Asia. There is mixed messaging. Japan is helping. Australia is onboard, at least with refugees. If he sees a weak West, what is happening in Asia? Is the support of China also bolstering him to even make these nuclear threat demands more?

MELINDA HARING: China is a problem. Vladimir Putin and Xi have a complicated relationship. They have this very long bromance. We have these enduring conversations in Washington about how hot and heavy it is. There is a new paper by Dr. Harley Balzer that we just published at the Atlantic Council, and I think it's an excellent paper. He says that, yes, on the presidential level there are very strong ties, but go deeper, go deeper, go deeper, and those links are not as deep as one might expect. He thinks it's much ado about nothing. So, yes, they take photo ops, they give each other necklaces, they drink vodka together, but these countries want fundamentally different things and when it gets really serious their interests are much different. I would like to believe that argument very much.

Japan has really stepped up with sanctions, and I think they are going to do more. I think people are motivated by the images coming out of Ukraine and the human suffering, but is it the West's responsibility? Yes, it's our real estate, right? Putin wants to reshape the European security architecture. That's what he's doing here. He is trying to destroy NATO or break the unity of NATO—it depends on how you want to put it—he wants to humiliate the West, and he wants to be the boss in Europe. So, yes, it is our problem.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Melinda, you were in Kyiv right before the invasion, re-invasion, or continuing invasion. You were able to meet with parliamentarians, people in the government, and actors in civil society. People are asking now, "What does a possible settlement look like?" What's your sense of what Ukrainian society and the political establishment are prepared or not prepared to offer to get an end to the fighting? Or is it a sense that this really is an existential struggle and that Ukraine can't give in on some of the demands not only that Russia was making but that prior to Putin's invasion some Europeans seemed open to with regard to a pause on NATO, federalizing Ukraine, or the Minsk settlements they were thinking about doing? What was your sense of the mood in Kyiv?

MELINDA HARING: Nick, they're both no-gos. You're right that behind the scenes, before Russia invaded Ukraine last Thursday, there were attempts from Western governments to press Kyiv to capitulate on NATO, to freeze it for a certain period of time. They got a "Hell, no!" Then there was pressure to implement the Minsk Agreements.

I think it is worth reminding your viewers that the Minsk Agreements are two agreements that were passed when Ukraine was very, very weak in 2014 and 2015, and these are agreements that were signed by the French, the Germans, the Ukrainians, and the Russians. The Ukrainians will not implement them because they are disadvantageous to Ukraine and will tear the country apart. When there was private pressure to implement Minsk, again the answer was "No."

I don't think there is any room for negotiation on either of these items, especially after last Thursday. Why should Kyiv give in? There is no reason. Why should they take Moscow at its word? Putin said he wasn't going to invade. He is not a credible negotiator. Would you take him seriously? I certainly wouldn't. He sent his former culture minister to negotiate. What kind of joke is that?

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Not exactly the seriousness that you would convey that you are sending your top diplomats.

MELINDA HARING: Send Lavrov if you're serious.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I think to the point of who they are sending, let's go back to that question. I was really, really curious about you talking about "B team" and "C team." We know that, unlike 2014, when they sent in mercenaries, they have sent in their regular army. But talk to us about this B team/C team idea and why this might be why we're hearing, Melinda, about logistics problems, potential desertions, and that sort of thing.

MELINDA HARING: The headline here is that Vladimir Putin thinks he understands Ukraine better than he actually does. The Russians made all kinds of stupid calculations.

When you go to war, it's not just about tanks, it's not just about men and women on the ground, and it's not about all the cool military gear. There are a lot of assumptions that go into war, and their assumptions were wrong.

The Kremlin said: "This is going to be a piece of cake. We're going to roll in, we're going to get rid of Zelenskyy, and we're going to install a pro-Russian leader." In Kyiv the rumor was that it would Viktor Medvedchuk, I don't know if that's true or not. There are rumors now that the Russians want to install Yanukovych, the former thug that Ukrainians threw out in 2013–2014, to which Ukraine will say, "We will fight to the end of our lives. There is just no way that he will ever be accepted."

The broader point is that the Kremlin doesn't understand Ukraine. Ukraine has fundamentally changed since 2014, when there was the Euromaidan Revolution. Ukrainians firmly rejected the Moscow sphere of influence. They want to be part of Europe. I'm not going to recapitulate that whole series, but violence was used against students, their parents came to the square, it was a long, drawn-out process that lasted three months, very cold, and it ended in violence. Eventually Yanukovych fled to Moscow, new elections were held, and since then Ukraine has been pushing through a lot of reforms.

Are they perfect? No, and I am very critical of them. Before last Thursday I was one of Zelenskyy's fiercest critics. He sucks on domestic reform, he is terrible on anti-corruption reform and judicial reform, but he is a damned good commander-in-chief and he has impressed, I think, the world and the nation with his physical courage and with his unflinching stiff upper lip. He knows that he is a sitting target and he is not moving.

Let's go back to the B team. The assumption was that Ukrainians wouldn't fight. If the Russians had read a newspaper, they would know that that's false because the Razumkov Centre, one of the best public opinion polling centers in Kyiv, found that 45 percent of Ukrainians would stay and fight, and we are seeing that. There is a fierce resistance.

Are they going to be able to fight the Russian military? They don't have the same kind of equipment. They have AK-47s. It's not perfect. When you compare Russian forces versus Ukrainian forces, the Ukrainians can't compete. The Ukrainian Air Force is tiny, the navy is minuscule. But you have to remember Ukrainians have been fighting for eight years, this is their home turf, they are much, much more motivated, so, yes, it's never going to be a fair shot, but they have a chance. They really have a chance because of these different circumstances.

The question really is: How long can they hold out? We know that Moscow is trying to take Kyiv, that's the big goal, and to get rid of Zelenskyy, and we know that the West is not going to put troops on the ground and are not going to implement a no-fly zone. So this really comes down to the courage of individual people, of individual Ukrainians, ordinary Ukrainians—doctors, lawyers, accountants, people who are on the streets and who are fighting for their country.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: The point you made about Zelenskyy's image—and really, more than anything else, for many ordinary Americans who don't otherwise follow the news, people have been captivated by the image of a young president, very clearly courageous, telegenic obviously because of his previous career in the entertainment industry, and I think that has been part of this groundswell of support that we have seen in the United States towards really taking an interest in Ukraine. Certainly you see that on social media.

But I have a very cynical colleague who then looks at all of this and says: "This is all superficial, domestic U.S. support is superficial." He pointed to the very careful exempting of sales of oil and gas from some of the sanctions, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC+) today meeting indicating that they are not going to make any major increases. Does the Biden administration get constrained over time with what it can do if it is going to be facing, as you noted earlier, supplies of energy to world markets and food prices going up?

Being based in Washington, you talk to members of Congress and you talk to their staffs, do you have a sense that their constituents are in for the long haul, or that this is a popular issue today but in a few weeks or a few months the level of domestic U.S. support for Ukraine may drop off? What are you hearing in DC, and also from people in the administration, as they're looking at what's going to be a pretty tough midterm season?

MELINDA HARING: Nick, I think I'm even more cynical than your friend. I see a lot of this in the limitations of U.S. options through that political lens.

This is a midterm year, we are not very far away from those elections, and Biden has a foreign policy problem after Afghanistan. He is going to be raked over the coals by the Republicans if he loses Ukraine, so in that sense they have to get this right. There are a lot of reasons why Biden knows that he has to get this right. Politically he is going to have a really hard time. COVID-19 hasn't magically disappeared, the economy hasn't picked up to the extent that he wanted, and now he has the possibility of World War III on his hands. I think that's one of the reasons why there is so much pressure to get this right.

I also think that Biden really cares about this crisis. When he was vice-president he was in charge of Ukraine and Ukraine's reforms. He knows the brief. He cares about the brief. This is personal to him. Then, if you look at his long history in public service, foreign policy is his jam, and he cares about freedom and democracy in the world. I think for those three reasons that's why this is personal, and I think the White House does care and is involved.

Congress is all-in and their support has not wavered at all. There is an extremely strong caucus on Capitol Hill. They are amazing. The constituents are very vocal. I have no worries about Congress getting squishy at all.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Your cynicism then comes with the general American public, however, yes?

MELINDA HARING: No, the American public is awesome. Seventy percent of Americans really care about this. I think it's simple: Do they want boots on the ground? No. People are still upset about Iraq and Afghanistan, and there was no reckoning for all these public intellectuals in Washington making the case for war.

I am very proud of the fact that I did not support the Iraq war. I am a registered Republican. I thought it was stupid. But there has never been a reckoning for these public intellectuals and people who made the case for war. These people should not be in think tanks, and they should not be making arguments, but that's a side issue.

The American public cares about this issue for a simple reason: We fought the king, we didn't want to be supplicants, and the Ukrainian people don't want to be supplicants to the Russian tsar. It's that easy. That's why this message really resonates with the American people.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I want to switch to a journalism question here. What is your thought on coverage? What are you reading? Where can our audience and where can we share good information? There is a lot of disinformation and propaganda going on. I think Putin tried to shape the narrative before he went in, but he was unable to. People very aggressively fought it, Biden included, by publicly sharing information. But there is, as we talk about, the "fog of war." There are on TikTok videos—maybe they're true, maybe they're not. Where are you getting your information, and how do you grade the coverage of this war so far?

MELINDA HARING: It depends on your language abilities. If you want good information in English, I think CNN is doing a hell of a job. They have correspondents all over the country. You probably will never have me on this podcast again, but I don't have a TV in my house, I'll admit it. I decided to change my old-fashioned ways and get a TV during this crisis, and I love their coverage in Kyiv and in Lviv. I think it is just first-rate and they are bringing in really good experts, and some of the presenters are really empathetic and they understand the stakes here. I think National Public Radio is doing a pretty good job, and The Washington Post and The New York Times are doing phenomenal work.

I think the Kyiv Post and Kyiv Independent, both smaller papers in Ukraine, are reliable and I trust their coverage. If you know Russian or Ukrainian, Novoye Vremya, the liberal magazine in Kyiv, is phenomenal.

And then there are publications in Moscow which show what is going on there. Ekho Moskvy just got shut down, but they were totally reliable, and then The New Times in Russia is also fantastic as well.

Those are the places that I go. Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty is amazing. They have first-rate coverage.

Then there are just individual reporters that I always follow what they're saying and doing. Christopher Miller with BuzzFeed is my favorite reporter in Ukraine. He knows the beat better than anyone else. He's reliable and he's fearless. He is fabulous.

The defense reporter for the Kyiv Independent is also very good on Twitter, and he is all over the place.

I have colleagues on the ground. I would encourage you to follow Michael Bociurkiw who is in Lviv, Terrell Jermaine Starr is on the ground, and then Vladislav Davidzon is on the ground, so the Atlantic Council has three people on the ground. These are not accredited journalists. These are people who have decided to take a risk and tell the story, to their great honor and courage.

TATIANA SERAFIN: What about the story or how Putin is trying to control the narrative in Russia? Part of what we talk about a lot is that in order for something to shift in Russia the population will have to, like Navalny did, rise up.

How will they rise up? Two ways: If they feel that the casualties in Ukraine are exceeding any sort of narrative of we should be in there or if body bags start coming home. I think that Russia is trying to temper coverage of both of those in Russia. And the fact also that Russians receive information, traditionally socialist countries receive information, they're not really so much going out to seek information, and now the people who do seek information are blocked on Twitter and Facebook.

How can the narrative in Russia shift? How can we get information? That's what I worry about on the information side. There is a military way that we can try to shape things or a fundraising way, but then this information war is where I worry. What are some of your thoughts there?

MELINDA HARING: I think that's one of the most crucial questions. Thank god for cat videos because they're keeping YouTube free. I had a conversation with Vladimir Milov recently, and he said, "If it weren't for cat videos, the Kremlin would have disabled YouTube." He said, "I had to use YouTube the other day to unlock my apartment door because I locked myself out." He said, "Ordinary Russians are keeping YouTube free." That is where the opposition puts its videos and is able to communicate with ordinary people. There are big worries in Moscow that that is going to be throttled, so that is something to keep your eye on.

But honestly, [Tatiana], the U.S. government and Western donors need to put a huge amount of money behind a Russian-language television station. There is a huge need for it right now. However, there are a couple of caveats. TV in Russia and Ukraine is more expensive than it is in the United States, so it's very hard to compete. The production values on Russian and Ukrainian TV are much higher than U.S. TV, so you might have three cameras, and they're coming at you with different angles, it's visually more interesting, but it's more expensive. The reason why is that it's funded by oligarchs, who have endless money to dump on TV.

Are we going to be able to compete with multiple angles? Probably not. But can we produce a damn good product? Definitely. It's time for Congress to pony up and to get serious about this. This is not a three-year commitment, this is a 20-year commitment or maybe a 30-year commitment, and there are some good ideas in Washington already on how to do this.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Just as you are mentioning that—again it's spilled milk—but the point that you made too that these are long-term investments. A while back there was talk and proposals based in key Russian language centers outside of Russia that are still part of the Russian cultural space to do this. Of course, no one wanted to pony up the funds because it was expensive and the like, but it does point to the fact that when crises happen capabilities just don't spring up overnight, you have to have prepared for them, you have to have resourced them. Whether that's military capabilities or, as we are seeing increasingly, I think what we're learning from the invasion is how much the informational aspect of conflict is rising in importance.

MELINDA HARING: Absolutely. Nick, if you don't mind, I'm going to two-finger it and say it's vital that we keep research centers open for people to study Russian and Ukrainian. Ten years ago when I was at Georgetown as a grad student, I had to beg to go study Russian. My stipend didn't even cover my groceries for the summer and it didn't cover the textbooks. It was the smallest, most miserly stipend I have ever received for a summer program. We got through it. I didn't eat very much that summer.

It is really, really hard to be a Russia/Ukraine specialist. There are just so few jobs, and if you're talented—my friends all think I'm crazy. They're like, "Why didn't you go to law school to make real money?" When you love something, you do it and you find a way to stay in a job that is not necessarily super-advantageous. There are very, very few chairs to be an expert on Russia and Ukraine because we haven't put the money in this.

It takes a long time to build expertise. This is not something you can turn on overnight. We have good expertise in the U.S. government, but our expertise in the thinktank communities and the analytical community could be much, much stronger if we had made that investment 10 or 20 years ago.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I think that trickles down. It is something I have really been looking at, schools—elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools—are putting together one-pagers on "Understanding the Russia-Ukraine War." Is it a one-pager, and how do you become an expert when you don't speak the language or when you're not studying it? That really concerns me on how the general public is going to understand the crisis because I think there's a disconnect between fact-checkable information and a TikTok meme.

MELINDA HARING: Absolutely. I wouldn't belittle the TikTok memes. There is a lady who did a TikTok video, and I have been on TV constantly in the last week, and she got far more videos with one silly TikTok video, and her information was completely accurate, and she was able to talk to a crowd that I will never have access to. So god bless her. Keep doing the TikTok videos.

But the analytic community also is prissy and entitled and doesn't speak a language that Americans understand. You have to get away from the Washingtonspeak of "Russia wants to rewrite the rules of the European security architecture." What does that mean? It means that Russia wants to be the boss of Europe, and you have to be able to explain to Americans why this matters and why they should open their wallets now.

The think tank community needs to put away its Ivy League degrees and start talking in normal English to people about why this crisis matters because Americans are generous and they will understand why this matters immediately.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: It just reminds me. We have had your colleague Ash Jain talking about this very issue of how do you connect foreign policy to the doorstep and precisely this point about language and also the highfalutin' terminology, to say to Americans, "This matters to you because it impacts your security, it impacts your pocketbook, it impacts the type of world that you live in and that you want for your children" That's the type of thing.

And again, coming back to the State of the Union, the president, I think, talked the stirring rhetorical language of defense of peace and freedom throughout the world, but I don't know that at the end of the opening section on Ukraine he really made that doorstep case to Americans as strongly as he might have. That is surprising, given the people around him, starting with the national security advisor, who has always had this thing about we have to make foreign policy relevant and connect it to the interests of the American middle class and working families.

That is exactly why we appreciate you coming on to a podcast appropriately named The Doorstep to try to get that message out to the extent that even we can try to reach out to the generations who don't necessarily watch PBS NewsHour anymore but that will watch TikTok.

MELINDA HARING: Nick, I think it's even more surprising, though, for the everyday president. Joe Biden is an average guy. He didn't go to the Ivy League, and he uses ordinary language, and he is sort of an "Aw, shucks" kind of guy, so the fact that they missed that is, I think, a pretty gross oversight.

If you need to boil it down, why does this conflict matter? This conflict matters—I have a seven-year-old daughter, and I don't want her to live in a world where "might makes right." If Vladimir Putin rolls in and takes over Ukraine, what do you think the world is going to look like? It's going to be a mean, nasty place. The descriptions of Hobbes are going to be our world. And the Chinese can't wait to stir stuff up in the South China Sea and take Taiwan. That's one reason.

Number two, I would like to avoid World War III, and I think everyone else would. If the crisis gets out of hand, Vladimir Putin is really unstable right now and no one can predict his behavior. He is threatening nuclear weapons. Will he attack Washington, DC or Omaha, Nebraska? Probably not, but I would say there is a 50-50 shot he pulls out a tactical nuke in Ukraine. I hope that's wrong. I hope that I'm being paranoid, but it's very scary, and we need to be prepared.

I think the third reason is that we have an obligation as humans to help refugees and people who are suffering, innocent victims who have done nothing wrong. There are going to be millions of refugees right now, and if we can help them as humans we have to do it.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I think that's a great place to end our podcast. We very much appreciate your time and hope to have you back when this is all over.

MELINDA HARING: It's going to be a while, I hate to say, but I'd love to come back. Thank you for the opportunity. Thank you for what you're both doing.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Thank you for coming on.

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