Putin on the Blitz? (with Nayyera Haq)
Julián and Sawyer chat about mask mandate removals in cities and states nationwide, the Canadian trucker protest energizing North American right-wingers, and Texas early voting amidst new election restrictions. They also welcome Black News Channel host and former Obama State Department advisor Nayyera Haq to address the growing tension between Russia and Ukraine that’s worrying international diplomats.
Follow Nayyera online at @nayyeroar.
Keep up with Julián on Twitter at @JulianCastro and Instagram at @JulianCastroTX. Sawyer can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @SawyerHackett. And stay up to date with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @LemonadaMedia.
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Nayyera Haq, Julian Castro, Sawyer Hackett
Julian Castro 00:13
Hey there. I’m Julian Castro.
And I’m Sawyer Hackett.
And welcome to OUR AMERICA. This week we talk about the latest on COVID. The so-called freedom convoy of truckers in Canada, and the start of early voting in the Texas primaries. And later in the show, we welcome broadcaster and former Obama State Department advisor. Now era Hawk to address the growing tension between Russia and Ukraine. That’s worrying international diplomats. A lot of big stories to cover today, Sawyer, but the real question is, this is what I want to know. Did you catch the Super Bowl?
I did. I did watch the Super Bowl. I you know, I’m not a big football fan anymore. I wouldn’t say that. I’m a regular viewer of football on Sundays.
But are you a regular viewer of any sports? Like? I asked this guy like half the time. Hey, did you catch? You know, the basketball game last night? You played football. You played football in high school, but you’re not a big fan?
I played football and basketball in high school. And I would say that those are the sports I watched least now. I prefer like watching hockey and watching baseball these days, which I didn’t play either of those in high school. But yes, I watched the Super Bowl. I thought it was a good game. I thought the halftime shows was incredible. What did you make of it?
Yeah, I mean, look, I didn’t have a dog in the fight, so to speak. I didn’t follow the Rams; I didn’t follow the Bengals. So I wasn’t rooting for either team. You know, I like the Eagles, by the way, which is a heresy down here in Texas, like the Eagles because my brother when we were young, took the Cowboys early on. So I had to take a different team and ended up with the Eagles. But I thought the game was good. I mean, it was for anybody that just wanted to watch a good game. It was good because it came down to the last few minutes in the fourth quarter. You know, two teams that were well matched. Also, a lot of people watch for the TV commercials, but I didn’t think the TV commercials this year were particularly memorable, except for that dumb crypto commercial with the damn QR code that was like moving around the screen. I actually like put my phone up to catch the website but then my common sense hit and I actually didn’t go to the website. I say what the hell you doing you’re gonna go to this like unknown website, you know, like probably get a virus or something and shit.
Sawyer Hackett 02:39
I was wondering who is going to be the one that falls for that who’s gonna be the one.
Probably like millions and millions of people did that.
I can’t stand this like shameless like plug by all of these celebrities like on cryptocurrency. I mean, Larry David had a commercial. It’s just kind of embarrassing. It’s very thrifty. It’s very like, I don’t know, very capitalist. This crypto stuff. I mean, I think is fascinating. Maybe we should have somebody on to talk about crypto. You know, another episode?
Like remember when all the ads were all the dot coms, like, you know, that GoDaddy, and it’s like, whatever the fad is, and we’ll see, you know, with crypto, a lot of people swear by it. They say it’s gonna be around a long time. It’s the thing of the future. I will you know; they’re definitely dominating the Superbowl ads. The halftime show was good.
Yeah, I loved it. I mean, as a, you know, 90s baby, I enjoyed seeing some of my favorite, you know, rappers up there. I love that. The NFL told Eminem, he couldn’t take a knee, you know, in a Colin Kaepernick esque fashion. And he did it anyway, I love that. You know, I love seeing all of them together performing. I thought that the halftime show was one of the best in my opinion. It’s one of the best that I’ve seen. But I saw a great tweet or post or something about how like, all of these 90s kids who are watching the Superbowl probably thought like, oh, finally, they don’t have some old guy up there playing these. They have music that I listened to. And then we all had this realization that like, oh, shit, I’m the old guy now. Gen Z is like, Who the hell are these guys?
Julian Castro 04:19
The Rolling Stones. And I mean, I remember when they had Michael Jackson on in the early 90s. And yet, he had always for whatever reason, it seems to be artists that are not I mean, some of them are way past their prime, but that, like even the ones that are very popular at that moment are not exactly in their prime. But I think they hit the right note this time because they had multiple performances, you know, but at that they were on the same stage. That set that they use was like fantastic set of basically, I think Compton in the neighborhood there in the LA area. So I mean, it struck a chord with a lot of people. So the Superbowl is over. And, you know, we look forward talking down the road on this show about Brian Flores lawsuit alleging discrimination against Black coaches in the NFL, the NFL can’t run away from the real issues that it has, you know, kudos to everybody involved in the Super Bowl. But, you know, we’d be remiss if we didn’t say, look, you know, there are real issues with that league as well.
Yeah, for sure, we definitely need to do a deep dive into some sports issues. There’s just so many things on the domestic and international front these days to cover but we wanted to start by talking about, you know, the latest on COVID. There’s obviously been a number of different changes to COVID restrictions across the country in the last few weeks. A number of different cities have taken steps to loosen those restrictions. On Wednesday, New York announced that they would end the state’s indoor masking rules that was followed by the governor of Massachusetts announcing that face coverings would be optional in school, DC has ended its vaccine requirement for businesses and restaurants. And the governors of Illinois, Rhode Island and Washington have also loosened restrictions. We should mention that those restrictions have also been loosened around the world Ontario recently ended a vaccine requirement. So has Israel, Norway, England, this sort of Swift change has come as the omicron variant has loosened its grip on the nation. Dr. Fauci recently said that most states are expected to have hit their peak or soon hit their peak of Omicron cases. But we’re still seeing close to 200,000 new cases a day and some 2500 deaths from the virus. So there’s a lot of debate right now, especially I think, in the Democratic Party about whether these states and cities are making the right moves. Recent polling has shown that Americans are exhausted by the pandemic, have a deep desire to return to normal, the nation has pretty much split 46% say, Americans should quote learn to live with the pandemic, which is a dark thought. And 43% say, quote, we need to do more to vaccinate, wear masks and tests. So Julian, what do you make of all of these major cities and states loosening restrictions? Do you think it’s the right time? Do you think it’s early? What are the politics of this?
It makes me a little bit nervous, frankly, look, the best policy, when you’re dealing with public health, when you’re dealing with a pandemic that has already killed more than 900,000 Americans, is you have to follow the science. And the science has not always been very, you know, clear. And there have definitely been mistakes and hiccups and like right wing loves to point out all the times when whatever the CDC said, may not have exactly turned out to be that way. But there is no question that masking works, it helps to reduce the spread. There’s no question that getting vaccinated helps to protect people from especially hospitalization and worse. I think that a state would do better to wait until the omicron variant fades to lift some of these masking mandates, and certainly should continue to promote vaccination. Now, you know, here in Texas, and I was just in Florida the other day in states like Florida, I was in Arizona. I mean, they haven’t had mask, mandates, indoors, or outdoors, of course, for a long time, if they ever did maybe in the early days of the pandemic. To me, I think, look, we’ve already come this far. And so if you’re a mayor, or if you’re governor, I still believe that we’re at the point where caution is the best policy, the thing I would hate to see is that you loosen up now before the Omicron variant is basically gone. And then we go into another wave with another variant. And it causes all of the problems economically and socially and educationally that we’ve had to grapple with these last two years.
Yeah, I mean, I think we have to understand the urgency of you know, parents who have had their children in schools with masks or at home, you know, in virtual learning for the last two years, there’s anxiety, there’s tremendous amount of anxiety and depression about being caught in this abnormal lifestyle for the past couple years. Of course, we understand that sentiment, but at the same time, and ideally, you know, these decisions about loosening restrictions would be made around the transmission of the virus, but we don’t have all of the answers to that still, even two years in and, of course, there’s political considerations in a midterm year, that we’re still stuck in the pandemic that of course it’s still affecting our economy. But you know, you just mentioned Texas, Texas obviously has one of the lower vaccination rates I think is in the bottom quarter of states in terms of vaccination rates. And Texas is now I think, probably in the next few days going to pass California for the total number of deaths in the state. And it just highlights I think that while the virus may not be a part of our everyday lives in the next few months, you know, in terms of if you’re vaccinated, it may not be impacting you. There’s still a lot of people dying from this. And there’s still a lot of people who can’t get vaccinated because they’re too young. It’s still a threat to people’s lives. And we have to take it seriously. And political decisions about reopening has to be made based on science. And I think the White House and the Biden administration has stuck with that. And I think it’s smart to stick your ground on that. But I think some of these democratic governors and mayors, they’re worried about COVID backlash and what it means for their seats.
Julian Castro 10:53
Yeah, I mean, that’s true. They have a lot of constituents that I’m sure expressing their frustration. There are a lot of people who are still very concerned and rightly so. And who want those policymakers to follow the science. This is not going to last forever. And it does look like we see daylight. But I’m saying right now that if it were me, I’d rather be safe than sorry. And apply that for a little while longer.
Right. And we’ve seen states that have made steps, you know, especially red states that have made steps to reopen too early. And I remember that happened in Texas, that that Governor Abbott, you know, ended the mass requirements and businesses, I think that was more than a year ago, and immediately there was a huge spike in cases that was obviously during a different wave, not the Omicron wave. But we’ve seen that happen before. And I think it would be dangerous to just to act like we’re back in normal times when you know, we have under 1000 COVID cases a day. But you know, while we’re on the topic of COVID, I wanted to talk about the story at the US Canada border. Since January 28, Canada’s capital city of Ottawa, and the US border with Canada has been under siege by this convoy of angry truckers, I’m not sure if you’ve been following this, but they’re protesting these vaccine mandates for truckers and, you know, calling for the freedom convoys, calling for an end to all COVID restrictions and the resignation of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. But this protest, I say that in quotes, because it’s not this organic grassroots thing has ballooned into this far right demonstration. You know, you can see these demonstrators waving Nazi flags and Confederate flags. And it’s inspired some of these small offshoots in the US copycat demonstrations. But while the protest has received a lot of attention, especially in the press, there’s been a lot of reporting that has shown that this is not a grassroots thing, but rather this AstroTurf campaign by you know, dark money groups, foreign countries, far right extremists to put COVID back in political terms, and that these people are essentially being used as pawns in some sort of larger scheme here. But that has not stopped people like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz from praising these demonstrations calling for them to take place in the US. The crisis has largely subsided. You know, Canadian officials have made a number of arrests, they broken up this blockade. But I think it signals something deeper and darker in our state of politics right now in the far-right movement, in the ability for these groups to AstroTurf this outrage in the public and for the media, essentially, to not understand it right away, you know, because it took a long time for us to understand that this wasn’t organic, what do you make of all this? I mean, it’s a weird, fascinating story, but it’s been getting so much coverage in the press. And I don’t think the real story has sort of broken through to the public yet about what this is.
I mean, this seems to come from that same problematic brew of disinformation, plus clever astroturfing. Plus some sincere sentiment, I have no doubt that, you know, a lot of the folks out there, these truckers, they don’t want to have to abide by a vaccine mandate or mass mandate. At the same time by one analysis, something like 90% of truck drivers in Canada are actually vaccinated. To me that just demonstrates that these folks as passionate as they may be if we’re giving them, you know, the benefit of the doubt, they only represent a small fraction, even of truckers of people in their industry. And their actions have probably turned off a great percentage of Canadians. It’s unfortunate that these guys clogged up this Ambassador Bridge. It’s unfortunate in the United States that you had Republican politicians encouraging truckers or others to do the same kind of thing to clog up cities in this country. These are the same people that constantly derived the Black Lives Matter movement and others who are protesting on the streets of our country, peacefully protesting. I hope that what we get out of this is that these type of protests are within people’s rights. But once you start causing this kind of chaos and disruption, you know, you’ve really overstepped the bounds of what you can legally do. And that’s not going to be tolerated in Canada. It’s not going to be tolerated in the United States. It looks like it’s subsiding. You know, they’ve made arrests. I think they’re clearing that bridge. And hopefully, that’s the end of it.
Yeah, I think the thing that concerns me most about this is that you mentioned like 90% of truckers in Canada are vaccinated. I mean, but this story got so much attention that it seems like these far-right groups, these foreign countries, they’re able to just manufacture the outrage, and use the small little fringe.
Julian Castro 15:52
You have a point. That’s right. Yeah, that is a good point. I mean, it’s already gotten this far before people recognize that this was basically fake, you know, engineered the whole way through.
Well, and you know, it has reverberations here, the same thing happened on January 6, I mean, these are people who are believing misinformation, they’re believing lies, they’re believing outrage, and then, you know, these countries are exploiting that anger, to have political consequences in the US and the media, I think, hasn’t developed a sort of test for these kinds of stories, for these kinds of demonstrations to be able to tell whether they’re organic or genuine. And ultimately, it gives a huge megaphone to these crazy fringe people to change the course of our politics in the US. And that’s dangerous. It has dangerous consequences. It plugged the board of this time, but you know, it stormed the Capitol before it can do other things. This outrage machine that Republicans have weaponized. It’s just kind of scary. And so I, it’s a story that I think is interesting. We should continue to follow it.
And the thing here is right, like, sometimes they turn on this right-wing propaganda machine, they grow outrage in the country. And it pays dividends, I don’t know that this one is going to pay them any dividends.
It’s definitely not going to pay dividends.
We thought the same thing about January 6th. But you have people that are running in Republican primaries right now that are, you know, outwardly proud of the fact that they participated or their colleagues participated in January 6th, and you have polling for the midterms, that actually makes it look like Republicans might, you know, could do fairly well. I take your point. I mean, I don’t think that the media are well equipped to deal with these kinds of ginned up stories from the right wing, you know, because they cover action, they want to go cover the conflict of what these guys are doing. They’re on that bridge, and this is what’s happening. And even if Yeah, there’s a little bit of explanation underneath it, but they’re still gonna go out there and give it all of this life, this coverage, right, and turn it into both sides kind of thing. And in that sense, these guys win.
Sawyer Hackett 18:21
And then you have these, you know, craven, corrupt politicians, people like Ted Cruz, who will latch on to any story like this, that shows, you know, energy behind some sort of right-wing issue, who wants to use it for their own political gain? You know, never mind the fact that it’s plugging the US border. It’s, you know, I’m not really sure exactly what the economic implications of this blockade would be, but I’m sure it’s contributing to supply issues. I’m sure it’s contributing to price issues. But you know why we’re talking about Ted Cruz, let’s talk about Texas this week. You know, early voting began in the primaries in Texas. There’s obviously a number of big races, we have the statewide races for governor, Attorney General, lieutenant governor, but also some big congressional races that I think are sort of a big test for progressive politics in Texas. What’s your analysis of the Texas primaries as we head into this this season in midterm year?
Well, I no doubt I mean, there’s some races to watch here in Texas. It’s been quieter than usual. And so I’m glad to see that candidates on the Democratic side are amping up their get out the vote efforts, efforts on social media but also traditionally making phone calls. I saw that Beto’s campaign. They had set a goal of making 2 million different voter contacts among Texas voters in the month of February. They accomplish that in 12 days, and now they’ve set a goal of 3 million. Jessica Cisneros, who’s running against Henry Cuellar out in the 28th congressional district that you know, we just talked to her. It stretches from Laredo, which is on the border all the way up to parts of San Antonio. So a big part of South Texas. She and Greg […] who’s running for the 35th congressional district. It’s Austin and San Antonio. They joined AOC at a rally here in San Antonio over the weekend. She was out here to pump up the troops and you know, get folks block walking and phone banking.
Sawyer Hackett 20:27
Yes, I saw her dancing to some Selena.
Yeah, I saw that video. Yeah, look like she could, you know, dance to […]. I think she tweeted out that Ted Cruz could never pull that off. I’m sure she’s right about that. But look, I think so far after the first day, the turnout is a little bit low. So I hope that folks will get out there and vote. One of my worries is that all of this justifiable spotlight on the many ways that Texas Republicans are trying to suppress the vote, trying to shortchange people have the opportunity to vote may chill, people from even going out there and casting a ballot in this cycle. Especially not to mention that you have real problems, like the fact that in some counties, 40% of the requests for mail in ballots are being rejected, because of this idiotic new law SB1 that has made it harder to get a mail in ballot. There was also some news about that the other day here out of the Western District of Texas, judge rejected part of that new voting law that Republicans passed. That essentially relates to the ability of folks to encourage mail in balloting and said that it’s basically unconstitutional. That’s going to be appealed. I’m sure. That’s not look like that’s going to have a direct impact on the primaries, although that could affect what happens in the general election in November. If you’re in Texas, or in any of these other states where early voting has started. Hope you’ll get out there and exercise your right to vote. It’s important.
Sawyer Hackett 22:18
Yeah, I mean, I think you’re right that you know, turnout may be down. I think part of it has to be that there isn’t a ton of competitive primaries at the statewide level. Obviously, there’s the you know, Jessica Cisneros race in Texas 28 And Greg […] race in Texas. 35. Abbott may have a little bit of trouble with some of his primary challengers. But it’s pretty clear that the Democrats, you know, have a nominee for those top three races. But yeah, I’m sure that that SB1 is having a chilling effect on participation. I think, you know, for folks who haven’t followed this, essentially, the new law requires that ID that you use, for registering to vote, whether you use your social security number or your license number has to match what the state has on file for you in your voter file. And so when you request that ballot, when you request to mail in ballot, it has to be that exact same number. That is just a completely like cynical way for them to use, you know, the complexities of our voter registration system to suppress the vote. And I saw, you know, Lina Hidalgo from Harris County said that 40% of ballots are being rejected in some of those precincts. So it’s a little scary. I mean, you know, Republicans in Texas told us that SB1 wouldn’t suppress the vote, we’re seeing 1000s of mail in ballots be rejected. You know, they told us that it wouldn’t be the end of Roe versus Wade when they passed SB8. But, you know, I saw over the weekend that there’s been a 60% reduction in abortions in the state, and that these clinics are essentially backed up and can’t even provide services to the people who need them. I mean, this is a huge election in Texas, for those statewide races, of course, but, you know, we could see the entry of a Greg Casar and Jessica Cisneros, to you know, progressive sort of champions in Texas into Congress. I think that would be a huge change of pace for the state. After a long couple of years that we’ve had in Texas.
Julian Castro 24:14
No doubt they are the face of new, bold, progressive leadership, but the guy got elected. So it’s time to vote. After the break, we’ll talk to Nayyera Haq, Chief foreign affairs correspondent and host of The World Tonight on the Black news channel about the situation with Russia and Ukraine.
Nayyera Haq is chief foreign affairs correspondent and host of the nightly newscast The World Tonight on the Black news channel, as well as the Sirius XM talk show host Nayyera previously served as a senior director in the White House and Senior Advisor at the State Department under the Obama administration. Her work has been published in outlets like The Daily Beast, cnn.com, Refinery 29, and The route, Nayyera, welcome to the show.
Great to be with you, Secretary Julian Castro.
Yes, thank you so much for joining us, now, like, we want to dive into the situation in Russia and the Ukraine in just a second. But first, tell us a little bit about your history. This is the first time on the show, your first time on the show, how did you get involved in foreign affairs? And what I want to know is ultimately, why did you make the transition into commentary and media? After all of your experience, having worked in the State Department as an advisor, just tell us a little bit about that.
Nayyera Haq 26:05
So I actually started as a local organizer way back when in domestic politics, and I was keenly aware of the idea that our government does so much for us here in the United States. And part of that’s because my parents are immigrants, they come from Pakistan, and the time that they came, it was a dictatorship. And the systems weren’t working, they weren’t serving people. And I just by luck of where I was born, right, being born American, gave me an opportunity I would not have otherwise. And so I was always curious about that. It’s like, Alright, let me let me be an intern let me be an organizer, let me be in politics and ended up making the first part of my career about that until I landed, doing communications work with the Obama administration. And actually the Obama campaign, when it first started, part of why I sought doing communications work was to help bridge that disconnect. The idea that there’s all these big things that happen in this massive system that we as average people don’t understand, and that needs to be communicated. So that I did all the things that you mentioned, in my bio, I ended up because of that understanding of what it means to be a global citizen, while being an American, ended up pursuing a path forward in foreign policy in the Obama administration, and worked everywhere from State Department, Pentagon to the UN, and saw some of our most complex challenges up front and also saw why it is that people look to the United States for hope, but also why people often distrust the United States, given our history of intervention, and how we talk one way and our actions show something else. So fast forward to the end of the administration, I was not going to work in a Trump administration, I’ll tell you that.
That was a very common sentiment, I know, among many folks.
And so I decided there that all of this stuff that I know, is still relevant and important. And I love connecting with people and having these conversations. And so that’s what I do now is I share that information. But with that lens of what it means to be marginalized, what it means to not be rich, and White, and you know, all of those things that carry a certain status in American life that now we are facing that same struggle that I often saw, as a diplomat, trying to strengthen overseas, right, democracy strengthening, free and fair elections, you know, income inequality, protection of human rights, those are things, those are challenges here. And we’re dealing with that here tonight. My dad, I remember even said a few months ago, like, you know, we survived, and we got through this in Pakistan, we can do that here too, and that there was a sense of hope in that. But it also broke my heart, because the promise of America is supposed to be better and bigger than just surviving through your government doing something to you. So that is what brings me to you today.
Julian Castro 28:51
Well, and your experience, as you point out, undoubtedly has given you quite a perspective on the challenges that we face, here at home in the United States. And also these days. And based on your background, real perspective on what’s going on around the world.
One of the things I’m also keenly aware of and you may appreciate this, though, is the how extremist and populist movements take advantage of cultural ideas and stories that we tell ourselves, and how those can get really out of hand if they’re not checked with something, and doesn’t actually have to be a governmental check. But at least the people who know better need to be pushing back. And so that’s the part of what has happened in Pakistan in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world that I have seen take root here in the United States that has me very worried about our future.
Yeah. And you know, we spend a lot of our time on the show talking about domestic politics. On the center stage right now, of course, is the situation in Russia and its potential invasion of the Ukraine. Maybe for our listeners who haven’t spent as much time on this story as they do on some of the more prominent domestic issues, can you just give us like the 30,000-foot view of what’s happening between Russia and Ukraine.
Nayyera Haq 30:13
So here’s what we’re dealing with right now with Russia. Vladimir Putin has been in office for at least four presidencies. So and he is also of the mindset of the old KGB. He has the understands American politics in some ways better than many, many of us do. Because it was his job effectively to look at the adversary, which is the United States and understand where the fractures were that Russia could take advantage of. So that’s the mindset that we’re dealing with. He’s also a dictator. There is unofficial, the other parties have been outlawed. There is a Duma a parliament, but they effectively do what he needs and wants them to do. So it is democracy in name only, despite the fact that when the Soviet Union fell, there was great hope that Russia could be a true democracy. So that that is what that is who Putin is. That is what Russia is right now. He has never really forgiven the Europe or the United States for the collapse of the Soviet Union. And what he saw as its power on the world stage, there was a piece of Ukraine that Crimean peninsula that ages ago, had been cut and given to Ukraine as part of a deal. And he claims that that’s ethnically Russian. You can probably get away with that as some historical analysis. And Putin got away with that back in 2014, by just rolling in and annexing the place and just saying it’s now it’s mine, he was punished at the time, and massive air quotes on that term punished. And this was during the Obama administration, I was up at the UN watching all of this unfold and how we were going to respond. And the punishment was, he got kicked out of the club called the G8, which was the organizing body of all of the world’s biggest economy.
So he got kicked out of the fancy club, and it became the G7. And he had some sanctions put on some of his friends and consequences there. But that was it. So you fast forward, nearly a decade later, and Putin sees a potential opportunity. And so he’s using many of the same narratives that Ukraine used to be part of the Soviet Union, that there is a many multiple groups in Ukraine that want to be part of Russia, just this week, the Russian Duma voted to recognize claims of sovereignty for two sections of Ukraine. And that is now seen as part of the propaganda of creating a veneer of oh, look, these people want to be part of Russia. And he has a big stick to carry, right, he has 130,000 troops just hanging out on the border of Ukraine. He has the other border of Ukraine effectively under his control with Belarus, like his best friends are doing military exercises there. So the Ukrainians are effectively surrounded, and they are looking at NATO, the military alliances that came out of World War Two, say, hey, help us out. They actually back in the day. This is according to the Budapest treaty, you might hear about, had given up their nuclear arsenal for the promise of protection. Now, that was a promise. It’s not a signed and written treaty. But that’s where some of the why is the United States getting involved comes in legally a little bit morally as the world asked Ukraine to do a lot to appease Russia. And now you have Germany and United Kingdom and France and the US. Each of the leaders have talked to Putin directly. They have tried diplomacy; they have now readied sanctions to hold them accountable. And so now they’re just waiting. Everyone’s literally waiting to see what is Putin’s next move going to be? But the question is, what do you do with 130,000? Troops of like, why would they be there if you weren’t trying to intimidate, trying to be aggressive or potentially do the thing you’ve already done before, which is expand your invasion.
So Nayyera, can you give us a little bit of an update on just what the latest on the situation is? I know that the NATO Secretary General said on Tuesday that he sees reason for cautious optimism after Moscow signal some willingness to continue these talks. I saw just a few minutes ago that Vladimir Putin said that Moscow is ready for talks with the US and NATO about missile deployments, and military transparency. But the US is obviously warning that you know, they could launch an attack any day now. So what how do you see this playing out? Is there any sort of hope for this ending with no military conflict?
Nayyera Haq 34:28
There’s always hope for diplomatic breakthroughs as long as people are talking and I do genuinely believe that. But the talking has to be done in good faith. So talking with like, while he was talking with the leader of France, that he launched military exercises in Belarus and so that’s part of the both of these problems are happening at the same time. There is you know, heading into winter, and as winter sets in, it becomes more and more difficult to have a physical invasion. So now analysts are looking to see what actually can be done with troop deployments. That’s part of why the idea was circulating that this might even happen before the Olympics, because at some point, it becomes just physically too difficult. But you can counter that with Yes, that’s what you have 100,000 troops for. But you also have missiles that can go from multiple cities and mosque out into Ukraine. So the latest thinking, and this is based on Putin’s past behavior, what is indicated now, and what is actually on the ground, is that there will be some type of attack on Ukraine, potentially, with some missiles, maybe some ground troops, and that the goal is for Putin to just install for the capital to fall. And then for Putin to install a government that is more favorable to him. So he’s not trying to absorb old world style and run an empire, he just wants people on in his area, who will do exactly what he wants them to do. And that contrasts with Germany, for example, Germany on the border, and they are keenly aware of what Russia can do and what an invasion looks like, we tend to forget that their capital city was split between, right, he Western democracy and Soviet Union, so that historical memory is very strong, but 60% of their energy comes from Russia. So it’s a real calculus for them to say that they’re going to stand up against Russian aggression, that they’re going to do something and fight. But their chancellor just said this week, that this is what this is what NATO, this is, what the allies are for is to defend each other. So it comes down to at this point, there’s lots of maneuvering, lots of what they call off ramps and opportunities. But it really is, how do you change someone’s fundamental mindset? You may be able to delay it, but at this point, everyone is preparing for what they consider to be the inevitable take invasion of the Ukraine.
Julian Castro 36:42
I mean, what do you figure is Vladimir Putin’s end game, you know, they wage war against Georgia, you mentioned Crimea in 2014. Now, we’re in 2022, and it’s your potential invasion of the Ukraine. What do you think his endgame is?
There is an existential issue here. And President Biden has mentioned this as his framing of how he looks at foreign policy. And that really is the battle between democracy and autocracy on the world stage. You have China and Russia on the one hand, and you know, the United States, despite its struggle, still talking about what democratic values should be, and you have the European allies. And that is the existential fight. Putin has always seen the United States as the enemy, absent maybe three or four years in the Trump administration in which the United States was still an enemy, but it was not getting in his way. He was able to get some of the treaty hold backs that he wanted. His poor personal relationship with Hillary Clinton was clear in the 2016 election and just the targeted attacks that he had made. I like to remind people the Muller report, did actually find massive Russian engagement and intervention in our election. It just didn’t say it was outright collusion with Trump. But let’s not forget, it absolutely was done, 17 US intelligence agencies point to multiple times that Putin was using what people like to call soft power, but that’s using things, internet, cybercrimes these activities, propaganda, expert propaganda artists, to manipulate and maneuver American ideas based on algorithms on Facebook, right? So using specifically targeting, creating fake Black Lives Matters accounts that seemed extra militant to drive white voters away from the Democratic Party. So they are keenly aware of what the United States is. Putin himself is a white supremacist. You know, the machismo, the chauvinistic attitude, he effectively outlawed LGBTQ expression in his own country. He has outlawed the opposite political party, and that this is he’s out journalists are under attack every day. So he is trying to mold not just the United States, but the world in that image. And this is where you start to see the alignment of the Republican Party. What used to be the party that was all like, oh, my God, we’re pro Rocky, we hate Drago, right, like all the Reagan stuff of anti-Russia, it’s now flipped on its head. It’s that white supremacy chauvinism that is very much being echoed in right wing spaces right now. And that’s where these two extremist movements meet. And that’s the real danger, that Putin’s aggression in Europe faces for the United States.
Well, I am glad you mentioned that because, you know, to watch some of these clips come in a Fox News, Tucker Carlson and other hosts. I mean, if somebody like were transported from 1985 to now, and you know, from the Reagan era to now and they saw this quote unquote Conservative Movement and what it’s about and how it stands on Russia, almost cheerleading and giving, you know, credence to the narrative that Putin is putting out there, it’s amazing what a 180 that movement has done.
Nayyera Haq 40:05
Yeah, it is completely switch turned on its axis this used to be a coup. I mean, the left was the maybe we should hold back a little bit and the right was absolutely we are the beacon on the hill of American democracy we got to stand up for this overseas and it’s flipped now. Where now you have a progressive case for, hey, maybe we should help our allies. We’re not saying we need to go to war, but we should probably work with our allies and make sure that they just don’t get taken over by these other dictatorships. And you have Tucker Carlson, the entire Fox machine, you have the Conservative Political Action Committee hosting their annual conference in Hungary. Tucker Carlson hosted from a full week there, Hungary is the example of how a modern democracy becomes a fascist dictatorship. They literally voted to give powers for life to Viktor Orbán, the parliament, their Congress, gave up their powers and gave them to Viktor Orban for life. They are also white supremacist, and Tucker Carlson and the Conservative Political Action Committee are holding this up as an example of this. This is what conservatism should do next in America.
John McCain would be rolling over in his grave, I think.
Reagan called the Soviet Union, the evil empire. And today you have these guys, you know, that rally the conservatives, basically cheerleading.
Yeah, let’s talk about the US positioning on this issue. Obviously, you know, President Biden has sort of drawn a pretty hard line against US troops playing a role in all this. But the US has said that they will stand with NATO allies and defend NATO territory, obviously, Ukraine is not a NATO member. And, you know, obviously, they will impose any sort of financial or political sanctions on Russia if they do invade Ukraine. But what do you make of this response? Right now, the US’ response right now, it seems like the White House has largely just sort of put the ball in Putin’s court. And we’re just sort of waiting to see what happens next.
Nayyera Haq 42:08
A big part of this is also was getting the allies on board, right? Because this is ultimately their territory and their space, but also their personal risk, Germany, 60% of its energy right there, gas prices are going to go through the roof, they will likely have blackouts and all sorts of other issues, if Russia, you know, if Russia goes to war in Ukraine. So that took some time that diplomacy took some time to really convince Europe that appeasement was not the way to go. But they’ve tried that before historically, and it did not go the way they wanted to. And to really paint that understanding of Putin’s mindset and what we’ve seen him do and make those predictions going forward. The other part is that this has been considered is Putin’s stated desire that he wants certain security guarantees. His definition of a security guarantee really means a toothless Ukraine, and a NATO Alliance that’s not really ready to respond to any aggression. So I don’t know how you get those two things to meet. Already, Ukraine’s membership in NATO has been pending for 13 years, right? Like it’s like the longest ghosted relationship you’ve ever seen. And it’s not going to happen. So that’s known, maybe declaring that, that okay, I guess we’re not going to join NATO. Like, that’s one of the things that Putin keeps saying is I want the security guarantees. But, again, what he really wants is to be the strongest player in Europe. And that’s fundamentally not something the European Union, the Britain, United States have been allowed to happen for a whole host of democracy reasons, but also for economic reasons, right. So that the tools in the toolkit, if they’re not military, which, you know, the United States has also given more than $650 million of military support to Ukraine, it’s not boots on the ground, but it’s Javelin missiles, Stinger missiles, right. There’s 3000, at least US troops that are now been moved in position in Poland and Romania to help support and coordinate so military resources and intelligence is there and available. But the United States can say no, we are not at war, we do not have boots on the ground. So that seems to be the way to, you know, thread the needle and sanctions this time that actually target Putin, who was one of the richest people in his country, really crippling his economy. And that’s the challenge is that he might not care if his economy collapses, right? Because if he’s at war in Ukraine, he might be able to tell his people the West is the problem. But that’s the dangerous calculus that dictators play, is that their people end up suffering for their megalomania.
Julian Castro 44:43
And you talk about the effect on people. How have Ukrainians themselves responded to the threat of an invasion? I mean, if Russia did invade, you know, it’s not very likely that another country, a major, a western democracy is going to come to its aid, as far as you can tell, what is the mood there, among Ukrainian people?
So the mood is that they have actually effectively been in some version of war since 2014, a piece of their country was taken over. There have been Russian militants fighting Ukrainians in the Donbass region. 14,000 people in their country have died as a result of Russian military aggression. So they will tell you, folks, we’ve already been invaded like that. It’s just not that formal announcement and big hoopla that you all are expecting. But this is something we live with and the threat of this every day. With that said, they know there now have the President’s Alinsky mentioned this yesterday as the stoicism but also the preparation. And so for seeing colleagues and reporters on the ground, you can find lots of images of literally people gathering in churches and gathering in public space has to do their own version of military drills and exercises so that this is very real for them. And they are hoping and truly looking to the United States in Europe to help them out because again, they give up a significant portion of their military arsenal, their deterrence and nuclear weapons to appease Russia already, they’ve given up a piece of their country already. And they like you know what you guys keep saying that democracies and sovereignty and all of this stuff is important. Are you gonna put your money where your mouth is?
Sawyer Hackett 46:26
So, Nayyera, you’re obviously an expert on both international and domestic politics. So I want to make sure to ask about the politics of this at home. How do you think a Russian invasion will sort of play in US politics? We saw what happened with the situation in Afghanistan? Obviously, there’s like oil implications and gas price implications for a Russian invasion. How concerned should do you think Democrats and President Biden should be about the backlash to an invasion at home?
Inflation is already an issue, gas prices are already increasing, as you know, the markets are adapting for realizing that something’s about to go down in Europe. And so you’re starting to see gas prices, you know, kick up a little bit, gas prices absolutely will increase with Europe, in a crisis in that regard, supply chain issues are going to be worse. The key thing for Biden administration to do is to put the blame where it belongs, which is on Russian aggression, right? This is not US policy, that can be changed to really counter for something that is the fact that we’re in a global economy, right, we are interconnected in a way and we get more and more connected as we go on over the year. It is not the 1930s you can turn your back and nothing will happen to you until you’re forced to be in the war. So it’s mitigating what that world looks like. There’s zero appetite, zero political appetite on either side of the aisle, for a loss of American life. But I think there genuinely is an appetite to see a United States that is standing up for something, right? That is a unified in a sense of ideals, and the ideals of democracy, and that we, the story we tell ourselves about being the good people in the world, this is an opportunity to tap into that story in a way that Afghanistan, and that draw down on what’s happened since you know, has broken everyone’s heart and nothing, nobody thinks that anything good came of that in the end. Now you do have an act of right wing, that is ginning up support and attention for Russia. I mean, you can see not just Fox News, but right-wing commentators and writers online saying, well, you know, Putin has a point, we would not tolerate a military in our backyard in in in Mexico or Canada like that. But again, they’re showing themselves because they would like to attack other countries, right? They would like to be able to use military to quell protests and to stop journalists from doing their job and to have America only look and appear a certain way. So that in some ways it exemplifies the divide we have here in the United States. But it’s also an opportunity for the Biden administration to really stand up for the values that sensible people and folks who are progressive and just you know, open about American life. We need to see someone stand up for that. And what’s happening overseas is another opportunity to do that.
Nayyera Haq, thank you so much for joining us today. Giving some insight on Russian aggression over the Ukraine.
Thank you both. Thank you appreciate it.
Well before We leave you a little bit of good news. And the good news this week is hey, Spring is almost here. I couldn’t believe it. Over the last few days I was in Florida and then in Arizona and I saw something that I really hadn’t seen in a long time, sun and a beach together. And then in Arizona, I think it was like got up to almost a five degrees. Y’all know how hot it can get in Arizona in the summer, but it was only 85. But Sawyer, you know, it almost inspired me to actually go out and play around of golf, which I never do.
Sawyer Hackett 50:38
I would love to see you swing a golf club.
You’d have plenty of laughs because I suck at it.
I suck too. That’s okay. But yeah, we had a couple really nice days, 65-degree days here in DC followed by a day with snow so we’re kind of all over the place, but it does. It is nice. You know, it feels like spring is on the horizon. I just booked a trip in April to go to Iceland. So I don’t know why I’m punishing myself heading back. I was looking for a vacation. You know, I’ve been to Iceland before, I loved it. But yeah, I probably should have picked somewhere warmer. Because I think everybody is waiting for spring everybody’s looking for summer. It’s been a long winter you know, dark winter with COVID and a lot of bad news but I think everybody is excited about some warm weather coming back.
You better get out of that warm weather climate soon; I got my tan already. The Gauntlet is thrown down for you to get yours. Leave us a voicemail, sharing the stories you care about most right now at 833-453-6662. And don’t forget to subscribe to Lemonada Premium on Apple podcasts.
We’ll see you all next week.
OUR AMERICA is a Lemonada Media Original. Our Producer is Xorje Olivares, with executive producers Jessica Cordova Kramer, Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Julian Castro. Mix and scoring by Veronica Rodriguez. Music is by Xander Singh. Please help others find the show by rating and reviewing wherever you listen and follow us across all social platforms at @JulianCastro, at @Sawyer Hackett and at @LemonadaMedia. If you want more OUR AMERICA, subscribe to Lemonada Premium, only on Apple podcasts.