With Ukraine’s counteroffensive making slow, grinding progress, President Zelenskyy will meet with U.S. officials this week in search of long-term assurances “that once he pushes the Russians out of his country, they won’t come back,” says USIP’s Ambassador William Taylor, adding: “The ultimate assurance … is membership in NATO.
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.
Laura Coates: I'm joined now by former Ambassador William Taylor, Vice President of the Russia and Europe Center at the US Institute of Peace. He was a former ambassador to Ukraine. Ambassador Taylor, welcome back and good morning. How are you?
Ambassador William Taylor: Good, Laura, how are you doing?
Laura Coates: I'm doing great. Thank you so much. We understand that President Zelenskyy is set to visit lawmakers in Washington this week may also make an appearance in New York, of course, for that highly anticipated event that is happening as well. I wonder, you're just now back from Kyiv recently, tell me what is the state of affairs there in terms of just the political climate in the atmosphere among the Ukrainians?
Ambassador William Taylor: Laura, the Ukrainians, as you know, have been fighting for 19 months. They are grimly determined, Laura, they are determined that they're going to win this war. They know, they know that in order to win this war, they needed support of the Americans, of the Europeans, of NATO, of the rest of the alliance that the Americans have put together, so they are very appreciative of that. And they are determined that they are going to win. So, when President Zelenskyy comes here this week, as you just said, he's going to be making that case, that this is important for us, it's important for them, it's important for the world’s international security. And he's going to be he's going to have the people, the Ukrainians behind him when he makes that case.
Laura Coates: You know, I wonder what the impact on the sentiment towards the United States and of course, his request for more funding will be given that the government shutdown here is still looming, and the most recent, at least House bill that has discussed did not include the White House requests for 40 billion in additional funding for natural disasters. And, of course, the war in Ukraine, which Senate leaders are desiring of. Does that impact, you think the way in which Zelenskyy may approach his case?
Ambassador William Taylor: It makes it urgent; it makes it clear that he has to make the case to all Americans. He's comfortable listening, you know, he's gotten assurances from the administration, and he's gotten assurances from the Senate. He's gotten assurances from many of the leaders in the House that this will pass. But he knows he's got to make this case. He knows he's got to appeal to Americans, he knows that he's got a fertile field there that the Americans want to support Ukraine, the Americans want to oppose the Russian bullying of a smaller nation. But he knows he's got to make this case.
Laura Coates: What is it that is most needed? In terms of the aid, we're talking about.
Ambassador William Taylor: Right now, there's sort of two things, Laura, there's a short term need most needed, and there's a long-term need. The short-term need is for the weapons that he needs in order to push the Russians out of his country. He's in the middle of a counter offensive right now. And it's making slow grinding progress, but it's all three of those. It's slow, and it's grinding, but it is progress. He's making progress in pushing the Russians back. In order to do that, he needs the continued flow and even increased flow of ammunition for his artillery, these long-range missiles that that have been coming that have been under discussion for some time, that there's some indication that they'll be coming, they'll be an announcement this week, and they can come. So that's in the and then he needs antiaircraft, the Russians are bombing Ukraine, and he needs the weapons to knock those bombs out of the sky before they explode. That's in the short term. In the longer term, he needs assurance, Laura. He needs some kind of indication that once he pushes the Russians out of his country, they won't come back for years. And to get that it's the assurance that the Americans, that the Europeans, that others can give him that will allow him to deter another attack from the Russians.
Laura Coates: And that assurance is in the form of continued backing or in the form of a rollout of continuous supplies and ammunition and weapons for a counter offensive? I'm trying to get understanding of what would be the ultimate assurance that would signal to of course, Vladimir Putin, not just the psychological aspect of Zelenskyy, but the psychologic psychology of Vladimir Putin to not strike again.
Ambassador William Taylor: The ultimate guarantee, the ultimate assurance, exactly you're that's exactly the right question, Laura. The ultimate assurance, guarantee is membership in NATO. Putin will not attack NATO. He knows that that would be suicide, and he's never attacked NATO. So, he will not attack NATO and if Ukraine is in NATO, I should say when Ukraine is in NATO, because that decision is made. The only question is when, when Ukraine is in NATO, that will be the guarantee. That's the answer to your question. How do we guarantee? Ukraine in NATO.
Laura Coates: What are the prospects of Ukraine ever being a part of it?
Ambassador William Taylor: Very good. Very good. So, the NATO Summit last July in Vilnius made it very clear, clearer than it had been before. There have been some promises, made since 2008 to Ukraine that NATO is that you're going to begin just sometime. Well, that was 2008 and nothing really happened. But last July, in Vilnius, the NATO Summit said you will be in and it's going to happen, your future is in and now the only question is what happens at the next summit, Laura, which will happen this coming next July of next summer in Washington, when they will, Ukrainians expect, hope and can anticipate being invited to start the process invited to start the talks. The accession talks, membership accession talks that we'll get them into it. That's the message to President Putin.
Laura Coates: Now, you talked to NATO and EU officials about Ukraine in the session while you were in Brussels, what was the nature of those conversations? And as much as Ukraine feels upbeat about joining? Did the NATO EU officials also feel that way?
Ambassador William Taylor: They did. They absolutely did both actually turns out both the EU and NATO officials felt that way. The EU is going to give a strong signal by the way this is separate but it's going to give a strong signal this fall to Ukrainians to begin the accession talks exactly what has to happen for them to get into the EU. That's a long process. But that process can start like this January. And if NATO, it turns out, Laura, so interesting in Vilnius, most of the NATO nations, most of the NATO members in Europe, were ready to give the invitation to Ukraine to start the process to join NATO. There were only two members of NATO that were hesitant. And that blocked consensus, sadly, one was the United States and the other was Germany. But that is a strong foundation to build on over this next seven or eight or nine months until the summit next July. And so yes, the NATO, the NATO officials are upbeat, just like the Ukrainians are that this will happen next July.
Laura Coates: You know, the fact that we have all the funding going towards Ukraine, and as we know, there's there is universal condemnation, it seems of a Russia but the idea of there not being universal support for funding indefinitely, is a real concern. I think, for many people looking at these issues and what it would take to ultimately push back Russia to not cede any territory to the Russians whatsoever. And a lot of that has come down to the counter offensive and the ability to gauge the success of it. Obviously, from where I'm sitting and from where the American electorate are viewing it, we're getting information about it, but the length of this invasion, I think, at times, leaves us unable to really understand and measure the success of the counter offensive. Do you get a sense of how to quantify in many respects, the counter offensive, and the success of Ukraine with the funding they have so far?
Ambassador William Taylor: Laura, there is no nobody wants to accessible that counter offensive more than Ukrainians. They have been preparing, training, building up their capabilities, and they're fighting it the way they see it, to be frank, and they're doing it in a in a way that many observers many military experts see is it makes sense. That is, they are pushing here, they're probing there, they've got a major effort down in the south that moves toward the Sea of Azov where they will cut off the Russians and their supplies to Crimea. So, the Ukrainians want it to happen. They're pushing as hard as they can, they don't want to just throw their soldiers into a meat grinder like the Russians have done. So, the Ukrainians had this idea, and they want it done. And the metric that you asked for, it's we should watch what the Ukrainians are doing. They are making, as I say slow, grinding progress making progress, and we just need to keep the support coming. We need to keep the support. They still got time this even this this season, this fighting season. They got time to make some more even more progress and it could happen. The Russians, Laura, are more tired, have lower morale, have bigger problems than Ukrainians. So, you can look to see the Russians flagging as well.
Laura Coates: Do you have a sense of what impact the weather change is going to have now on all this, I remember very keenly, when we first learned of the invasion, we were all sort of learning in real time, about the terrain, about the impact of the weather, about the seasons, and the ability to either mount a defense or repel the offense, have a counter offensive, and all the like, they have always been consistently against a kind of clock where one's leverage is determined by the season and what can be done throughout that. Are we at another crucial point in time where the weather and the changing conditions could swing the leverage again?
Ambassador William Taylor: So, remember, last year, about this time, the Ukrainian counter-offensive at that time, against Kharkiv and then against Kherson, two major successes. That was done, that was done in the fall and then you're exactly right, you're in the wet season, when the rainy season and later in the fall, things kind of slowed down. That could happen. The Ukrainians, however, will not stop. If it rains, they still fight. They know they need to push the Russians out of their country, they will still fight. It'll be a different kind of a fight; some wheeled vehicles will not be able to go through the mud. Most track vehicles can. They can still do the kind of battle, though it'll be a slower, different kind of a fight, but they will continue this fight. They know they have to win. They know they have to get the Russians out of their country and reclaim their territory.
Laura Coates: Finally, what do you hope to see, what will you be looking for specifically today or this week, when the world leaders are meeting in New York City for the UN General Assembly, and I note that I believe, Presidents Zelenskyy is planning to make an in person appearance at the meetings as well, President Biden to then be the only leader of the permanent five members of the UN Security Council in attendance. What will you be looking to hear and see?
Ambassador William Taylor: President Zelenskyy will make a strong case to the UN, to supporters and skeptics alike, that this fight, this war that the Russians have imposed on Ukraine, they didn't ask for it. He will make the case that this battle, this fight, this war that the Russians are undertaking against Ukraine affects all nations. If nations want a world where big nations don't invade small nations, if big nations don't colonize small nations, then Ukraine has to win. And President Zelenskyy will make that case for a rules-based order and opposed to colonization. And I think that will reverberate in the UN.
Laura Coates: Really important to hear your perspective, in particular Ambassador William Taylor, thank you for joining us so much this morning. I appreciate your time.
Ambassador William Taylor: Laura, thanks for having me.