The Doorstep: Is the U.S. Already at War? with Politico's Nahal Toosi

Mar 10, 2022

As we enter week three of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Nahal Toosi, senior foreign affairs correspondent for "Politico," joins "Doorstep" co-hosts Nick Gvosdev and Tatiana Serafin to evaluate the ways in which the U.S. is already confronting Russia--economic warfare, information warfare--and how this is impacting other areas of foreign policy. Is the Biden/Harris administration nimble enough to take on multiple global crises or "black swan" events?

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 here at Carnegie Council.

We are going into week three of the Ukraine-Russia war that has dominated headlines, but there are many things happening around the world, and today we have a special guest, Nahal Toosi, senior foreign affairs correspondent for Politico, coming back to speak with us about the state of the world in week three, so I want to go to her real quick.

But, Nick, I want to talk about our next book talk. I feel like we haven't, because events have superseded us, but I leaned in hard to the idea of soft power as changing the world more than tanks and boots on the ground—oops, maybe I was wrong—but this book is still great, Red Carpet: Hollywood, China, and the Global Battle for Cultural Supremacy. Erich Schwartzel is joining us next week at a special book talk on Tuesday evening at 6:00pm ET. Please join us. I think this book is really important in terms of understanding China's strategy.

China hasn't been as much in the headlines over the last couple of weeks, but believe me China is there in ways that we are going to talk about with this book, in ways that I think are important at The Doorstep, because we all stream movies and China's role in Hollywood is really important. So please go to carnegiecouncil.org to sign up for our Book Talk. You don't have to read the book beforehand. We will be talking a bit with Erich Schwartzel and asking him questions. Our book talks also can be viewed on carnegiecouncil.org. We have had a lot of "follow the money" book talks so far this year, so please do join us.

Nick, do you have any comments on soft power versus hard power? I feel like I have been off a little bit on my game. What about you?

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: I think people who overestimated soft power, to say that soft power could defeat hard power, were a bit over-optimistic, but soft power matters, narratives matter, information matters, and movies matter. The fact that in Kyiv the city government is going to be screening movies in the subway stations that are being used as bomb shelters when the city comes under air and artillery attack shows that there is a recognition that winning conflicts is not only about hardware, although you need the hardware to do it, but it's also about the narratives you create and the morale that you inspire.

I think, going back to our book talk for next week, that what is critical for people to understand is if you control the narrative, even in very subtle ways, you do shape attitudes and you do shape outcomes. I think one of the things, as we talk with Nahal coming in, is our attitudes about everything from conflict, war, escalation, and refugees are shaped by the narratives that we consume, and then they do have an impact on what our policymakers are prepared to do but also what our policymakers think of as the lines that they are not prepared to cross.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I think that is a great segue. Let's go to Nahal to talk a little bit more about these narratives.

Thanks so much for joining us, Nahal. It's so great to see you again. I think it has been about a year or so, and what a year it has been—whoa!

I want to start out with your great piece and we want to get your insights today as our link into Washington and what is going on there. You wrote a really interesting piece that I think our audience will really appreciate hearing about. Your question was: "How far can the United States go in Ukraine before it's at war with Russia?" That is on so many people's minds. That is all my Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feed talk about. What do you think? What was your conclusion?

NAHAL TOOSI: Honestly, I think we're already at war with Russia. I have a difficult time with people who are like, "Whoa, but legally we're not a participant." I just find some of this stuff a bit hair-splitting, I guess.

I think it is kind of strange to say, "Well, we're only offering this type of intelligence as opposed to that type of intelligence, and we're only offering these types of weapons as opposed to that type of weapon."

The whole concept of war, I think, is something that is truly evolving, and I feel like we have been in a state of war with Russia for a long time. That is my reporter opinion, if that's even a thing; I mean in theory I'm not even supposed to have an opinion.

The people who matter are people like Vladimir Putin and President Biden. It sounds like so far both of them feel like they are not quite at war with each other, but they are trying to bring pressure in different ways on the other, including Putin basically saying, "Hey, if you do A, B, or C, I will consider you a direct participant in this conflict."

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: It does seem there is more than a hint of the Cold War in this, where the two main actors don't confront each other directly, they have to figure out on what level they can confront each other indirectly. But then, of course in Washington the Cold War was a 45-year period. Joe Biden, as I like to remind people, came to the Senate during the height, or at least in the second phase, of the Cold War. He was there in the 1970s when we had the war scare over the Yom Kippur War. He was there when we nearly came to a nuclear incident in 1983.

Do you have a sense that there is a generational divide in whom you're talking to, that the older someone is, the more that they not only remember the Cold War or that they were in fact in government at the time of the Cold War, that that is giving them a different perspective than younger generations that either have vague memories or no memories of the Cold War? When people talk to you about we're going to navigate this, do you get a sense that there is a generational divide at play?

NAHAL TOOSI: I do, in the sense that I think a lot of the younger people really don't necessarily understand the kinds of sacrifices that had to be made in the past, but I also think there are attempts to try to reconfigure the past.

To answer your question more directly, do I think Joe Biden thinks of the Cold War and what that meant? Yes, absolutely. I think that's one reason why he says, "I'm not sending U.S. troops to fight in this conflict," because, as he put it, that's going to trigger World War III. He remembers that. That's why people are not too worried but they pay attention when Vladimir Putin says he's putting his nuclear forces on alert.

I think that is also why when the Biden Administration came in, they were determined to continue dealing with Russians on things that they could deal with, a huge part of that being nuclear issues—so the Iran nuclear deal, not to mention strategic stability, which is the euphemism for nuclear talks with the Russians themselves, with whom, I believe, we have only one treaty left right now that involves those types of weapons. So yes, I think this is very much in the forefront of Biden's and his people's minds.

I think there is a level of politics though that is getting into this. Already you are seeing Republican lawmakers in particular push for things like giving these fighter jets over to Ukraine. These are Polish fighter jets—there has been a whole saga over this—and some of them are calling for things like no-fly zones.

These are all things that seem really good on a political level because you can tell everybody, "See, I said we should be more hawkish and we should do this and that." But the people who know how these things work say, "Look, if we have a no-fly zone, we are inevitably going to have a direct clash with Russia, and that could escalate as well."

The fighter jets thing is more subject to interpretation, but so far the Biden administration seems to think that doing this could escalate things in a way that they don't want to escalate with Russia.

Again, I do think it is a factor, I think the nuclear element looms large—when you hear about stuff coming from Chernobyl and other nuclear facilities, everyone gets on the edge of their seats —but politics is affecting it, especially among perhaps some younger-generation folks.

TATIANA SERAFIN: We mentioned costs and at what point do you change from we're not getting involved to getting involved? Is there or have you heard a point where the refugee number is too big, or is the human cost not even discussed? I think that's what we're seeing a lot at our doorstep, a lot of discussion about the human cost. Certainly, The New York Times put out that story of the family that was killed on the bridge, and that is resonating, kind of "Whoa," reverberating across the board, bipartisan talking points. Is that going to move anybody at the top or not?

NAHAL TOOSI: This is a really, really, really good question. The way I see it, there are two things that could drag the United States into a direct conflict with Russian forces. One is if Russia attacks the United States or a NATO country in an actual direct attack.

That being said, let's say they stage a strike on one person or one unit in Poland or something, there can be a way to react from NATO that is equivalent or proportional but which doesn't necessarily lead to more and to a bigger war, or it could get worse. That's one traditional way.

I think the other way is this humanitarian issue. My reporting indicates things are getting really, really bad. I am actually working on a story about this. The Russians are increasingly targeting critical infrastructure, and their method seems to be what they have done in places like Chechnya, Syria, and elsewhere, which is basically to just level the cities. They are going for siege tactics, so you could end up seeing millions of people besieged. You are already seeing hundreds of thousands if not millions, I guess, besieged in places.

We are talking potential for starvation, serious, serious issues, and once that starts getting increasingly into the public's mind, there are going to be calls for the United States to do something—maybe a temporary no-fly zone over some cities so that we can get some food in, or the responsibility to protect doctrine coming into play—and that is going to be really hard to resist because you're talking about human suffering.

But this is also Joe Biden, and people forget that he really does have a very realist streak in him. He is the same guy who said we should not intervene in Libya when Qaddafi was about to go to Benghazi and slaughter all those people. He didn't want to interfere in Egypt during the Arab Spring revolution; he said we should stick by Mubarak. He pulled out of Afghanistan despite calls about what that would do to Afghan women or anyone that the Taliban didn't like. So perhaps Joe Biden has a higher threshold for some of the suffering that might come down the line in a place like Ukraine.

Again, these are also not necessarily binary things. There are ways that the United States could say, "Look, we are definitely going to increase our support for humanitarian organizations, but we're not going to impose a no-fly zone." So there are things in between that can be done.

Something really weird about these humanitarian situations is it's like that famous saying that "one person is a tragedy, some million people is a statistic." Right now there are all these people suffering, but it doesn't quite necessarily capture the imagination, but then one photo of one kid or of a tragic family will get to people's heartstrings. You never know down the line what it is that could galvanize people to demand more action by the United States.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: I think it's interesting that you pointed out that for the president and for some of the people around him who were in office during the Obama administration this isn't their first look at a humanitarian crisis. You mentioned the pullout from Afghanistan, and of course we know that most Afghans are now on the verge of starvation, and we know that there are humanitarian crises in Myanmar and in Ethiopia. Is there a sense that, as you said, Joe Biden tends to track not wanting to intervene and then an incident happens that pushes the United States? Usually, as you said, it is connected to a photograph or an image of a tangible human being, not a statistic, whether it is the boy drowning off the coast of Greece or the people who were killed in a Damascus suburb.

Following up on Tatiana's question, do you get a sense that at some point the mood in Washington will overwhelm the president's caution and prudence about not wanting to get involved, or do you think that, as we did with Syria, we essentially step aside and let the crisis play out? What are you hearing from people about the depth of resistance to getting more directly involved—with the caveat, as you said, there are lots of things that are being done in between? We are shipping weapons, we're sharing intelligence, but again do you get a sense that the momentum is building and that it is just a matter of time, or do you think that the Biden team is going to try to ride this out the way the Obama administration essentially rode out criticism on Syria?

NAHAL TOOSI: Within Washington I don't get the sense yet that the humanitarian side is getting the attention and concern that it could get, the levels that it could reach. Now I'm talking about the power players like Congress or whatever. Obviously, within humanitarian organizations there is a lot of concern.

Over time do I think this could get worse and that something could happen that could trigger a response from lawmakers? Yes. But I've got to tell you I simply don't think Biden at the end of the day is going to do anything that would involve U.S. troops going into Ukraine. I just feel like that is a line he's not going to cross, and he has shown, as he did in Afghanistan, that he will be stubborn about this type of thing. Think about people begging him to not finish this pullout or do more or whatever, and he was like, "No, I'm going to do this, we're leaving," despite the tragedy there. I just feel like for him there is a line he won't cross.

The other thing is, yes, at a certain point, as sad as it is to say, this is going to fall off the headlines. Right now there is tremendous attention being placed on this war, understandably, but over time this is going to fall away, kind of like Syria—I mean think about that, there were horrible, horrible things happening, but they just weren't breaking through, and a lot of people just wanted to look away because at a certain point you feel like there is not a heck of a lot you can do and that if you do try, you could actually end up making things worse.

TATIANA SERAFIN: This is a tough question for me and I have been struggling with this. I think this crisis is a little bit different because—this is really difficult to say—media organizations, Europeans, are racist fundamentally, and that the crisis won't fall away from the headlines as quickly as Syria did. It's a difficult topic. I'm wondering what your sense is.

Part two of that also is that it is closer to Europe and they are letting more refugees in towns across Poland and Romania. The United Kingdom just had a bunch of people come, Zelenskyy spoke to the House of Commons yesterday, a historic first.

There are many reasons why it's different, but I would like to address it because you said it might fall off the headlines or it probably will. I do want to talk about, with you especially in the media, this idea that we are covering this differently because of this inherent racism.

NAHAL TOOSI: That's a very tricky topic. Sure, I do think that racial attitudes do drive some of the reaction especially to the refugees. There is also a part of me that hopes that maybe one reason that there is so much coverage and so much attention is because we've learned that these things deserve coverage and attention.

It is kind of weird though, because I am giving this collective "we," as if the media operates like a monolith, and we don't. I am competitive with people in my own newsroom, much less like other news organizations, so it's a little bit weird to be saying that.

Some of this is access, too. I feel like there are more independent media organizations in Europe as opposed to in the Middle East. Some of this is structural. Some of it is, "Well, we have people there" versus "We don't have anyone there."

Take a look at Myanmar, one of the stories that I follow pretty closely, and think about what happened to the Rohingya and also what is happening there now. The country is in meltdown. Some people are saying it's like the "Syria of Asia," but there is not as much access. You literally can't get the kind of access that you need, so that affects coverage as well.

I think Ukraine is a different situation, but I don't think it is the first story where social media has—no, there have been other wars where social media has played a role—but I do think some of it is about simple access.

The racism thing? I have to tell you, it has been really interesting. I was a refugee as a kid and I found it fascinating how people react to that word. I remember during Hurricane Katrina some people were referring to the people who were fleeing New Orleans as "refugees"—not legally per se, but in a conventional sense they were, because anybody can be a refugee, just like anybody can be an employee or something like that. But there were others saying, "Oh, no, no, no, if you call these people "refugees" that's racist." I just remember thinking: What's racist about the word "refugee?" I don't understand.

Now you are seeing this different language: "Oh, the Afghans were 'migrants,' but the Ukrainians are 'refugees.'" Okay, so now it's okay to be a refugee? It's just mind-bending.

I hope that everybody in the media and in government does bear in mind the importance of using proper language that respects everyone's humanity.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: That's a great point. We can code switch words depending on the situation, like when we want to welcome you you're a "refugee," when we want to keep you out you're an "economic migrant," and how that plays out I think is really important.

I want to jump to Iran, which you mentioned in the opening. We have the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the sanctions placed on Russia, and Russia announcing its own counter-sanctions again. We have seen that this really has created panic in energy markets, everyone is watching every day in the United States at their local stations as the price keeps ticking upward.

We have these very dramatic shifts in U.S. policy, where all of a sudden we're in a hurry to get the Iran deal done, to get sanctions off of Iran, so it can send more energy; a complete reversal on Venezuela, where all of a sudden, after insisting for several years that Juan Guaidó was the legitimate president of Venezuela, a senior delegation goes to speak with Nicolás Maduro; we see this with suddenly Mohammed Bin Salman is going through a rehabilitation process where his human rights violations are just little peccadillos perhaps now to be swept under the rug, but it would be really nice if Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would increase their production of oil.

Do you have a sense, from what you're hearing, what you're reporting, and what your colleagues are hearing, that we are almost moving into a Biden version of "Drill, baby, drill"—if it's not drilling here in the United States, getting others to drill and get more oil—and that that is becoming a driving factor because the administration, again going back to politics, midterm elections coming up, is looking and saying that high gas prices doomed Jimmy Carter in 1978 and 1979, and that perhaps the Biden administration doesn't want to repeat that and is willing to compromise its own positions in order to get countries to get more energy out into the markets?

What are you seeing? Is there a kind of oil direction that you're seeing in U.S. policy where we're willing to leave a lot of stuff on the side if it means that we'll get more oil into markets and those prices come down at home?

NAHAL TOOSI: It certainly seems that way from the reporting. I wrote something about how to weaken one kleptocratic oil-rich dictator we are turning to another kleptocratic oil-rich dictator whom we were earlier trying to weaken. It's like an Escher drawing for foreign policy.

I have to tell you. When I heard about the Maduro stuff, I was genuinely shocked. Part of me was like, Venezuela's oil production right now is not that great, it's not that big a percentage that we would need to take this reversal on. I am still puzzled by that. I can tell you that the Venezuelan opposition feels incredibly betrayed by what the Biden administration just did.

It is worth noting, though, that there was one other factor involved with Venezuela, which was the prisoners that they have. Some of this was tied up in trying to get some of those people freed from the Venezuelan system.

I was also floored when I heard the report that Biden was weighing visiting Saudi Arabia. I feel like this administration says that human rights is at the center of their foreign policy, but there are so many examples of them just not living up to that at all. They have their caveats to that, and some of it might make a lot of logical sense, but it is also kind of like, "Well, then maybe they just shouldn't say that because you come across as hypocritical." I don't know.

Yes, politics is part of this. They are worried about gas prices. Already some Republicans are making it clear they're going to blame Biden for rising gas prices.

That being said, let's not forget that Biden did announce a ban on Russian oil imports. That was something that he didn't necessarily have to do, though there was growing pressure, so the fact that he did that suggest that there are some risks he's willing to take on this front.

Bottom line, though, the Biden administration does still really care about climate change and shifting to renewable energy. The way they see it, I think, is definitely not, "Oh, we're going to have 'drill, baby, drill' forever." They see this more as, "We need to ease this shock to the system that is happening right now, this is definitely not a long-term thing, though."

If they were crafty about it, they would definitely seize the moment to have a better long-term plan for shifting to renewables. I am surprised we haven't heard more from John Kerry, our special envoy for climate, during all this.

We are going to have see where this goes, but, yes, I think they're balancing a lot of different factors, which is normal for this administration. They are always thinking about ten different things that could impact whatever it is they're doing, so it's never this black-and-white thing that everybody wishes that it was, like "This is why they did it." No, there are like 10,000 reasons why they did it.

It's hard to write these stories sometimes, I've got to tell you. It's so hard. It's like, "Why can't everything be simple?"

TATIANA SERAFIN: With all this pivoting, though, are they falling down? You can only multitask so much. Where are the cracks that you're seeing?

I've been reading that Asia is falling out, and we have had so many important elections—South Korea just yesterday and a big change in government there—and then the elephant in the room, China. How is the administration managing all these different balls here?

NAHAL TOOSI: Forget the administration. How am I managing? I am sort of kidding, but honest to god, I have been so obsessed with Ukraine that I can barely tell you what else is happening right now. My great fear is that some crazy thing is going to happen in Brazil or someplace and I am going to be completely unprepared.

This administration, like many others before it, constantly says, "We can walk and chew gum at the same time," but that's such a stupid thing to say because chewing gum is really easy and walking is pretty normal for most people. We are not asking them to walk and chew gum. They are being asked to walk on one of those ropes across Niagara Falls while juggling and having flame balls thrown at them. It is really complicated.

How China is going to deal with all of this—they are watching this Ukraine issue very closely—is definitely going to affect how they're going to deal with the Biden administration going forward.

Shifts in the Middle East. People want to just put the Middle East aside, but it's not going away. There is constant regional tension involving Iran and the Arab States, the Houthis in Yemen. Those things are still happening.

The Iran deal is another example. If it doesn't come together, the instability in that region is only going to get worse. That would be my analysis. I could be wrong about that, but that would be my expectation.

So they are trying to balance a lot. Do they have cracks? I do think it is possible that something might happen that they're not prepared for.

Remember last year when there were protests in Cuba and there was the assassination of Haiti's president? Those were completely shocking events that came out of nowhere from the Western Hemisphere, especially the protests in Cuba. The administration, to their credit, they reacted, they dealt with it, they are still trying to deal with it, but I remember one of them calling these like "black swan" events for them.

So, yes, it is still possible that they are going to have these kinds of issues that are going to come at them. And they still don't have ambassadors in a lot of places and they still aren't fully staffed in a lot of places, thanks in large part to Republicans blocking their candidates in the Senate, but also to their slowness in nominating people. So they're not even at full strength.

The other thing I would point out is that the National Security Strategy legally was supposed to come out last year—nobody follows that law—but they were hoping to put it out in the first quarter of this year. That still could happen, it's still March.

But they basically have been trying to figure out how to incorporate Russia in this document now because originally it was supposed to be mostly about China. The people who spent most of 2021 writing the National Security Strategy did not envision a major land war in Europe spawned by Russia, and now they are having to figure out how to incorporate that in their National Security Strategy. And watch, they will release it and there will be some crazy thing that happens in the Arctic and it will be irrelevant immediately.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I think that nimbleness factor may not be there.

Another piece that you tweeted I want to mention, to bring it full circle to your original article, is Mark Brzezinski at the helm in Poland and, to your point, Nick, the Cold War Part Two. You know how there are all of these revivals of shows from the 1980s going on right now? I feel like I'm living in a 1980s revival. Isn't that weird? But apparently he knows what he is doing, and it's good that he is in Poland.

NAHAL TOOSI: Mark Brzezinski is our new ambassador to Poland. He is a Polish speaker. He was ambassador before to Sweden. He is the son of Zbigniew Brzezinski. I personally don't know him, but people seem to think he knows what he is doing and that he is in a good spot. But, yes, it is weird. You are like seeing these names, and it's like, "What year am I living in again?"

We also have Vladimir Putin who has been with us for 22 years, and Joe Biden who has been with us forever. If you are a young person trying to get ahead in national security, you have to wonder how many spots there really are available for you.

I have to tell you the reason I tweeted out that Brzezinski story was not because of Brzezinski, but because my colleagues reported that Gordon Sondland, our famous former U.S. ambassador to the European Union who got caught up in the impeachment scandal—they quoted him—apparently said he is in touch with Volodymyr Zelenskyy's advisors, which is like: "Why? Why are you involved?" I just found that amazing. It's like Gordon Sondland is still taking a role in Ukraine policy after everything that has happened. These guys never leave. I guess once you get a taste of this stuff, you always want to stay.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Potomac fever.

I think probably takes us very much out of the realm of what we're discussing here, I will just mention that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has become a great reputational launder for people from the Trump administration. Who would have thought that? After January 6, if you were associated with the Trump administration you were kind of a persona non grata, and yet all of a sudden a crisis, and among the talking heads, the pundits, and the experts brought in are, as you said, a cast of characters—Gordon Sondland, Kurt Volker, the "three amigos"—from impeachment who are back.

I think that also speaks to, as you said, there's something about the way Washington itself works. We may not be as nimble and agile in the 2020s as we are going to need to be moving forward, precisely because the world is dynamic in a way that doesn't necessarily conform to the way someone sitting in a boardroom on the banks of the Potomac would like it to be. But that's a great point you raised.

Also you said "black swans." When Mark was appointed to Warsaw, I don't think people figured that was going to become the center of things, and yet, he happens to be, for all of the factors you point out, the right person in the right place at the right time for doing that.

But, as you said, are we missing someone? It's still fascinating that we're already a third of the way into the administration and positions aren't staffed. As you said, if something happens in Brazil, something happens in Tanzania, something happens in Thailand—I don't know necessarily if those are staffed or not—in some ways we are not fully recovered and up to speed and playing catchup. That is disturbing. We're lucky that Mark is where he is and at the right time, that he made it there in time through the Senate, but we may not be so lucky when the next crisis hits.

NAHAL TOOSI: Yes.

To your point about changing people's minds on things, think about all of the lawmakers who defended President Trump when he tried to hold up military aid to Ukraine, which led to the first impeachment process, and now a lot of these same lawmakers are basically all about helping Ukraine and why haven't we helped Ukraine more.

I can't stress enough the partisan politics involved in a lot of this. It's really wild how that can truly affect policy, which for foreign policy is still strange, because it used to be that for the most part when it came to national security and foreign policy, you didn't have these sorts of deep partisan divisions.

But I will say, on the other hand, it is showing a lot of unity too among Republicans and Democrats in their support for Ukraine. The Ukrainians are like: "Fine. You're with us now? Fine. We'll take it. We need the help."

TATIANA SERAFIN: Before we close out—you touched on it—there have been other wars fought through social media, but I do think that this particular war is unique because of the information flow on so many different platforms, and the fact that people are so much more aware of the word "fact checking" and of making sure that we're getting accurate information, and also seeing the Russian disinformation machine saying that the attack on the hospital yesterday was propaganda and that the West was "too emotional," which is a direct BBC translation of Lavrov's speech today in Turkey. So fascinating.

I want to ask, where do you get your information, who do you trust, for our audience? I think it's really important for our audience. You mentioned that we have been at war. The Russians have said this is economic warfare. We have talked at The Doorstep about economic warfare. I think it's also an information war, though we might not have boots on the ground. Where do you get trusted information?

NAHAL TOOSI: My news reading habits are mainly the traditional types: The New York Times, The Washington Post, Politico, of course, Politico Europe, our sister publication; The Wall Street Journal to some extent.

I don't have cable, so I don't watch cable news ever. I don't think I have the sort of energy to watch that, although CNN, from what I hear, has done some pretty good work on the ground. I just find generally that reading is the better way to get information.

I also go to the actual source of things. This is what I often encourage a lot of people I talk to to do who are wondering about news media consumption. I'm like: "Look, you don't have to read my story about what Biden said. You can literally go to whitehouse.gov and find his speech and read the actual speech." I often go to the government bodies themselves.

I know the way the Russians work in the sense of their propaganda. I do look at Russian media, but obviously with a very careful approach, because I want to see the way they're dealing with this. That's just something you have known for years because you have watched what they have done, what they have said, and how often it has just not been true. That's just a matter of experience.

I know people who basically watch RT in America and really fell for it, and I would try to explain to them: "Look, this is a Kremlin mouthpiece, this is not an independent source of news."

I don't know what it is going to take in some cases for people to go to more trusted news. It's going to be really difficult.

Two things I will say. I have to tell you I don't know if I necessarily believe everything the Ukrainian government is saying. They seem to be using their own disinformation tactics—and I understand why; they are fighting their own propaganda war against Russia—so when they say there were 10,000 Russian troops killed or whatever, I don't know if I necessarily agree that that is accurate.

I do think it's important to look at a variety of sources before you stick to one or decide that you agree on something or believe something.

The people whom I worry about most are Russians themselves who are in Russia and who really are increasingly cut off because of some of the moves that Vladimir Putin has made in recent days. They really are struggling to obtain anything that is not Kremlin-engineered propaganda, and they are the ones that I am really concerned about.

You hear these stories about Ukrainians who have relatives in Russia, and the Ukrainians are calling them, telling them, "Look, my town is being bombed," and their relatives in Russia just don't believe them because that's not what the Russia media is telling them. That is kind of terrifying.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I completely agree.

Thank you so much for joining us today. This was super-helpful, I think, in putting context into what is going on for our audience.

On a personal level, it is so great to see you, and hopefully we'll meet in person and not over Zoom soon.

You may also like

U.S. & Russian New START delegations (Rose Gottemoeller center in red jacket) on April 9, 2010 in Geneva, Switzerland. CREDIT: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/us-mission/4505055469/in/photostream/">U.S. Mission Photo by Eric Bridiers</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/">(CC)</a>

OCT 19, 2021 Podcast

Negotiating the New START Treaty, with Rose Gottemoeller

As the U.S. chief negotiator of the New START treaty, Rose Gottemoeller's new book is an invaluable insider's account of the negotiations between the ...

JUN 18, 2021 Podcast

The Doorstep: Cryptocurrencies & Global Decentralization, with NYU Stern's David Yermack

Cryptocurrencies are dominating headlines with El Salvador recently announcing Bitcoin as the country's legal tender and Biden and Putin discussing ransomware and crypto at their ...

SEP 25, 2020 Podcast

The Doorstep: Financial Scandals, Trump vs. Biden, & What To Do About China

Hosted by award-winning professor of journalism Tatiana Serafin, with international relations scholar and Carnegie Council Senior Fellow Nikolas Gvosdev, The Doorstep is an innovative international ...