Ambassador William Taylor on the State of Russia’s War with Ukraine
As fighting intensifies in eastern Ukraine, USIP's Ambassador William Taylor says the war is now "a race … between the Ukrainians trying to get new weapons coming from the United States and other NATO nations while the Russians try to move through the eastern part of the country."
U.S. Institute of Peace experts discuss the latest foreign policy issues from around the world in On Peace, a brief weekly collaboration with SiriusXM's POTUS Channel 124.
Julie Mason: So pleased to welcome back to the show Ambassador William B. Taylor. He's vice president for strategic stability and security at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He served as U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009. Ambassador, good morning. Thank you for joining me.
Ambassador Taylor: Morning, Julie. It's good to be here.
Julie Mason: Can you give us your assessment of the war as it stands?
Ambassador Taylor: Sure. We're in really the second phase. First phase, Ukrainians won decisively when the Russians tried to take the capital Kyiv and depose the president of Ukraine, President Zelenskyy and the Russians failed. The Ukrainians won that first round. The Russians then reassembled on the Ukrainian east, and they've been gradually moving through two of the [inaudible] out there. What this is is a race, Julie, between Ukrainians trying to get the new weapons coming from the United States and other NATO nations while the Russians try to move through in the eastern part of the country. That's kind of where we are right now.
Julie Mason: And, you know, some interesting headlines over the weekends, Zelenskyy believed that some in his government were conspiring with Russia. Russia threatening doomsday again. And you believe, sir, that the parties should sort of be nudged toward negotiating an end?
Ambassador Taylor: I don't.
Julie Mason: You don't?
Ambassador Taylor: I don't believe that they should be nudged. The Russians should be nudged, but the way the Russians get nudged is by success of the Ukrainians on the battlefield. No one should be nudging President Zelenskyy at this point. He's the one who's going to decide when it's right to negotiate. If he were to negotiate right now, Julie, if he were to go for a ceasefire right now, he would be ceding some 20, over 20, percent of Ukraine to the Russians and rewarding them for their aggression. No, I don't think now's the time for negotiations.
Julie Mason: Zelenskyy has said that as a precondition, Russia must go back to its position where it was like on the day of the invasion, like basically back to factory settings.
Ambassador Taylor: That's correct. And that's exactly right. And he's going to do that either by the Russian's deciding they're going to pull back, or more likely, in response to a counter offensive that the Ukrainians are mounting right now. The Ukrainians are starting to push the Russians in the south and if they can push the Russians back to the dispositions of February 23, which is the day before the Russians invaded, then that would be the time to start negotiations.
Julie Mason: It seems almost hopeless. You know, Putin does not like to retreat.
Ambassador Taylor: He doesn't like to retreat, but he may not have a choice. He doesn't get to choose. This is what happens when you make a big mistake. When Putin blundered by invading its neighboring nation, he made a big mistake that he's going to have to pay for. He's going to have to figure out how to get out of the bind that he's put himself in. The economy is doing badly. He's not doing great on the battlefield. He's grinding through. Ukrainians are getting the kind of support now, finally, from the West that they've needed all along. President Putin does not have a strong hand.
Julie Mason: No, he doesn't. Do you have a sense for how effective U.S. assistance has been for Ukraine?
Ambassador Taylor: I do. I do by talking to the Ukrainians and the Ukrainians are very, very pleased about this new assistance that's arriving. They're pleased at the old assistance. At the first part of the of the war, as I mentioned, when the Ukrainians pushed the Russians back out from around Kyiv, the capital, they used anti-tank weapons and anti-aircraft weapons supplied by the Americans and by NATO, and they were very successful. In this new phase, this new phase where artillery is the big weapon, those heavy-duty long-range artillery pieces are now coming into the Ukrainian side. And the Ukrainians are pleased with the earlier versions, the earlier anti-tank and anti-aircraft, and they're very pleased with these long-range weapons called the Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, the HIMARS, and that's allowing the Ukrainians to destroy the Russian infrastructure back where they are holding up all of their equipment. Their ammunition, and those ammunition dumps, and equipment bases are now vulnerable to these new weapons that the Americans are providing. And the Ukrainians are very pleased.
Julie Mason: They still want those jets.
Ambassador Taylor: They want the jets. They absolutely do want the jets. And they want in some way to defend themselves against aircrafts and missiles. And that is coming. It's coming slowly. Julie, even these HIMARS, that I just mentioned, came too slowly. The Ukrainians are very pleased that they're there. They wish they had been there earlier. And they also wished that they had the anti-aircraft weapons, whether they're jets, or whether they're anti-aircraft weapons, that's what they need.
Julie Mason: Ambassador, back to the idea of negotiating an end to this war. Someone, maybe even you, was on a show recently saying that most wars in our time come to a negotiated end. I think, in our minds here in the U.S., like the best outcome would be just Ukraine with a glorious victory and Russia defeated and sent packing back to Russia. That seems unlikely.
Ambassador Taylor: Seems unlikely. Not impossible, but unlikely, I would agree. And again, there are opportunities for negotiations when the time is right, when the Russians are pushed back. And that can happen. These heavy weapons that we just talked about, Julie, are enabling the Ukrainians to mount a counter offensive, and that could well have the effect that you're talking about. What President Biden has indicated he wants, our goal, the United States' goal, is a democratic, independent, sovereign, prosperous Ukraine with the means to defend itself. That's achievable. That's achievable.
Julie Mason: Huh, well, the predictions are from the Pentagon, that this could be a very long slog in Ukraine. Do you have any concerns about U.S. resolve?
Ambassador Taylor: The United States recognizes the importance of Ukraine. It's important as a country of 44 million people. It's important as a defense against Russia's further incursions into Europe. It's important to demonstrate that our democracy can support their democracy. This is really what it is. Ukraine is on the front lines. And I believe that the United States, even though it's painful, even though it's costly, will continue to provide the support to the Ukrainians that they need in order to succeed.
Julie Mason: Ambassador William B. Taylor, thank you so much for joining me this morning.
Ambassador Taylor: Thank you, Julie.
Julie Mason: Really great to talk to you.