Ukraine Fights Back (with Michael McFaul)

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Julián and Sawyer condemn the anti-LGBTQ policies constructed by right-wing conservatives in both Texas and Florida, including the so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. They also welcome Michael McFaul, Stanford University professor and former US ambassador to Russia, to get an unvarnished take on the “young war” waging in Ukraine and to learn how its courageous residents are faring amidst the chaos.

Follow Prof. McFaul online at @McFaul.

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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Michael McFaul, Julian Castro, Sawyer Hackett

Julian Castro  00:13

Hey there. I’m who Julian Castro.

Sawyer Hackett 

And I’m Sawyer Hackett.

Julian Castro 

And welcome to OUR AMERICA. Before we get started. Lemonada Media the company behind our show has a new series that our team is excited to support. After 1954 explores what happened after the historic ruling of Brown versus Board of Education, we talked about desegregation. But did you know that 38,000 Black educators lost their jobs in the wake of that 1954 ruling? We didn’t until we heard this timely and moving five-part series. I encourage you to check it out, After 1954, wherever you get your podcasts. Now, this week on the show, we’re going to talk about the latest in the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. And we’re going to be joined by one of the foremost experts on the two countries, former US ambassador to Russia in the Obama administration, Michael McFaul, but first we want to talk about the GOP his latest assault on LGBTQ Americans. Folks have probably heard about Florida’s don’t say gay bill and the Republican effort in Texas to prosecute parents of transgender children. Sawyer, what’s the latest on that?

Sawyer Hackett

Yeah, so the Florida senate is currently debating the Parental Rights in Education Act, which is widely become known as the don’t say gay bill in Florida. The bill would prohibit any kind of discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade classrooms. There were these massive protests against a bill in Florida on Monday, more than 500 students walked out of classes at Winter Park High School, and they’re more planned throughout the week. Governor Ron DeSantis hasn’t committed to sign the bill 100%, but he has defended it from critics saying, quote, how many parents want their kids to have transgenderism or something injected into the classroom instruction. Also in Texas, Governor Abbott is seeming to double down on his administration’s efforts to investigate transgender children and prosecute parents of trans children as quote child abusers. After Greg Abbott’s primary victory. Last Tuesday, one of his top advisors, David Carney called attacking transgender children as, quote, a winning issue for the governor saying it’s, quote 75% to 80%. Winter, this is why Democrats across the country are out of touch. So clearly, Republicans are not backing down from these horrific laws, they see some sort of victory and then Julian, what did you make of this of these latest fights? And I guess more importantly, what do you think the impact will be on children?

Julian Castro  02:40

They’re discussing. This is the same kind of vitriolic, awful attack, that the GOP, you know, has used as its playbook over any number of years. I mean, it’s not an accident that this is happening during an election year. They always pick communities that are vulnerable that they see as politically polarizing, and also that they see as weak politically, and they go after him. And it’s both to satisfy that base of theirs. And they think in the end, that when the numbers come through that they add up well for them. You mentioned Dave Carney, who’s been a longtime advisor, he was an advisor to Rick Perry, and then now an advisor to Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas. I mean, this is cynical politics at its worst. And I think the effect is that give that legislation in Florida that don’t say gay bill is allowed to go into effect. So much of the progress that has been made, especially with the youngest generation of making people who are part of the LGBTQ community, feel more accepted, feel like they have a role in our society and a part in our future, just like anybody else, so much of that progress is going to be rolled back because this piece of legislation would basically prohibit teachers in the classroom from teaching or talking about issues related to the LGBTQ community. It’s just, it’s horrible. And in Texas, the idea that you would go after parents for pursuing gender affirming care. The Republican Party used to be the party that stood up, they said for parents’ rights. It’s also ironic that on the one hand, they’re doing this playbook right now on parents’ rights in schools. They did that in Virginia with Youngkin. Abbott has talked about that. DeSantis talked about that two days ago. And at the same time, they’re talking about criminalizing the actions of parents and punishing them jailing them for trying to do what’s in the best interest of their child who is transgender. You know, there has been some, I think, ray of hope and all of this in Florida a couple of days ago, hundreds of high school students walked out, they mobilized our young people. Right?

Sawyer Hackett  05:03

I think you’re right that like, yeah, it goes against what all of the progress that we’ve been making over decades. I mean, I think it’s these kind of laws are just so absurd as anybody who’s under the age of, I don’t know, like 40-50. I mean, they’re it they just strike as, you know, politics of a completely gone generation where we used to, you know, bully kids who are gay, and that’s still happening, obviously. But I think they’re much more accepting these days, kids that even very, very young ages, even in elementary schools have kids who are who have different sexual orientations or gender identities. I think it strikes kids as just completely absurd. And it’s using GOP politics, to juice that anger towards kids at a time where they’re making extreme progress. And the adults are not, you know what I mean?

Julian Castro 

It really is the worst type of bullying of using your political power to bully vulnerable community. The good news in Texas is that five district attorneys in I think the five largest counties in the state recently said that they would not enforce any kind of criminalization of gender affirming care by parents, including the DA Jo Gonzalez of their county of my home county, which includes San Antonio, that was good, because in Florida, what they have is legislation this Don’t say GI bill in Texas, this was an interpretation, made by first the Attorney General Ken Paxton, and then seconded by Governor Greg Abbott, but there is no legislation out there. And so essentially, it’s non-binding. I’m glad to see that these district attorneys have pushed back. Because, you know, it’s great. And we need citizens to push back. And that’s what they’re doing in Florida. There’s some of that in Texas, but it’s also important for our elected officials who have authority of their own. I have no doubt that if this bill passes in Florida and is signed by Governor DeSantis, that it’s gonna end up in court. Same thing with the attack on transgender children in Texas.

Sawyer Hackett  07:20

Yeah, I mean, you made the point earlier about like they seem to think that there’s some sort of political advantage here. I think that they don’t, I think that this is the Republican Party manufacturing support for this kind of thing. I mean, look at the two states, it’s taking place in Texas and Florida, with two governors who both think that they’re going to be president one day, neither one of them is going to be president. I think that they don’t think that this is going to be a winning issue for them. But I think that they think it’s a winning issue in their base, that they, I think that these both of these bills would pull absolutely terribly across the American public. But this is about appealing to that MAGA wing of the party. Should Trump not decide to run for president that one of these two can show hey, look, I’m really mean to trans kids, like look at how great I am to the Republican Party. I think this is critical race theory. This is defund the police. This is another one of their culture, war issues, culture war politics, where they think we don’t want to play defense because it might be a dividing issue. It might be a wedge issue for voters out there. I don’t think it is anymore. I mean, I really don’t think that prosecuting parents of transgender children is in any way a 75% to 80% polling issue, like David Kearney says, I think that this even in Texas, this policy would pull absolutely abysmally. And so I think Democrats would be mistaken, to not speak up, you know, and do everything possible to push back on this. I think the DOJ needs to be doing far more to push back on these kinds of bills. I think that President Biden needs to be more outspoken about these kinds of he didn’t say anything about that in the State of the Union, about either of these kinds of policies. So I think it falls into the category. And we’ve talked a lot about this on the show about these culture, war issues, these, you know, kind of dog whistle politics, not necessarily racial dog whistles, but dog whistle politics, intended to silence Democrats and like, push support around these old retro grade, you know, Republican culture wars, and I think we just have to fight back. And, you know, we can’t be quiet about it.

Julian Castro  09:15

Kudos to those high school students in Florida, that organized their own walkout from school and marched in protest of this piece of legislation. And also to those district attorneys in Texas who have to get elected in their own right, and, you know, are showing some political courage, although, you know, they’re in counties where probably, as you say, the numbers would support them, politically, of being against the Attorney General and governor’s interpretation of the law. In other words of targeting transgender children and parents, but still, I mean, I’ll tell you, I’ve seen it so many times where a politician would have the majority support on something for taking a stand, and they still choose to remain quiet. Politics is weird. You know, I mean, politicians become weird. They become very paranoid about the loss of any kind of support. And if they think something’s controversial, a lot of politicians suddenly lose their spine. So I was glad to see in this case that these district attorneys stood up and said, no, we don’t agree with the Attorney General, the governor in Texas, and we’re going to push back.

Sawyer Hackett  10:28

Yeah. And I think we also have to connect it back to why they’re doing this. I mean, right now, you see Beto, O’Rourke pushing Abbott on this power grid failure on, you know, his incompetent handling of that of how hundreds of Texans died. At the same time, he’s collecting millions of dollars in campaign checks, from oil CEOs. You see, I think people like Beto connecting the dots between these policies and Abbott’s attempt to cover up those failures of his and I think Democrats, we can turn these issues which, you know, we have to fight back on from a moral standpoint, we just cannot be silent. We can also turn them into winning issues expose the GOP for pushing this kind of politics to hide their failures, I think we can do both. I don’t think that we necessarily have to shy away from every fight just because we’re gonna be on the defensive.

Julian Castro

Yeah, no, I mean, I agree. And the Republicans are vulnerable on this. You know, I fundamentally agree with you that when the case is made that the majority of Texans majority of Florida of Americans won’t agree with these politics. And speaking of Florida, there was a zoom the other day that United States senators were invited to participate in with Ukrainian president Zelensky. And at the beginning of the Zoom, the participants were asked not to publicize or post on social media about that meeting, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio. And I think one or two other Republican senators decided to take it upon themselves. And to throw this up on Twitter, I think Rubio tweeted an image of this. He’s rightly received a lot of backlash for doing it. Talk about immature actions by politicians. Now, you know, this isn’t on the same scale as what we were just talking about. It’s not a piece of legislation and so forth. But still, I mean, just one more example of that these guys keep acting like children instead of public servants in office.

Sawyer Hackett  12:36

Well, and I think these big nash, international crises tend to highlight just the kinds of people that have been elected to even some of the top positions in the United States government. I mean, last week, also Lindsey Graham, sending out that tweet thread, where he suggested that, you know, Russian citizens need to take this into their own hands. And you should assassinate Putin. I mean, I don’t think anybody would disagree that, like, you know, that Russian citizens need to be out protesting in the streets and doing everything they can to hold Putin accountable, of course, but he sounds like the drunken guy at the end of the bar, like, somebody just needs to take this guy out. I mean, this is a United States senator who was one of John McCain’s best friends. And he is suggesting to his, you know, millions of people on Twitter. Oh, that we should just go out there and assassinate the guy.

Julian Castro 

Also, let’s not pretend that there are a lot of ordinary people thinking that right? Like non-politicians, right? Like they’re like, Okay, but you are in a position of public trust. You are one of the most recognized yeah, high profile American United States, senators that steeped in foreign policy that, you know, used to be considered a serious policymaker. There’s a difference between what people might hey, you know, would this be interesting, whatever, and what you actually do when you’re conducting yourself as a public servant, as the United States Senator?

Sawyer Hackett  14:01

Well, yeah. And I mean, we’re going to get into this with Ambassador McFaul because I saw him talking about it on MSNBC the other day, but, you know, when somebody when a United States senator says something like that, you know, Russian propaganda outlets, take that, use that manipulate it, share it to every single Russian citizen in the world as justification for what they’re doing in Ukraine, because, you know, McFaul sees this as and I think, rightly so as a proxy against, the West as a proxy against the United States. And when you have United States Senators out there saying that the Russian president should get whacked in the streets, like, of course, they’re going to use that, of course, that benefits him in this invasion. So I’m looking forward to the conversation with Ambassador McFaul because I think he can shed a lot of light on the motives behind this, what is helpful, what isn’t helpful from the leaders of this country, United States senators, so I think it’s going to be a really good conversation.

Julian Castro 

Absolutely. I’m excited about this interview. Stick with us. We’re going to have former Obama administration Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, with us to talk all about the Russia Ukraine situation, give us the latest.

Julian Castro 

Welcome back to OUR AMERICA, Michael McFaul is a leading expert on Russia, American foreign policy and democratic development around the world. He’s a former US ambassador to Russia under the Obama administration, and currently a professor of political science at Stanford University. He’s the director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies there, and the Peter and Helen being senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, which is also located at Stanford. He’s also the author of the book from Cold War to Hot Peace, and American ambassador in Putin’s Russia. You may have also seen him on MSNBC. We’re glad to welcome him here to our America. Ambassador. Welcome to the show.

Michael McFaul  16:17

Thanks for having me.

Julian Castro 

Yeah, it’s great to have a fellow Stanford alum. You know, you went to college at Stanford, and you learned start learning to speak Russian and developed your interest in Russian politics during the 1980s, initially.

Michael McFaul 

Yes, I’m that old. Yes. Thanks for reminding everybody.

Julian Castro 

Well, I mean, it was a time when we still had the old Soviet Union. And President Reagan once referred to the Soviet Union as the, quote, evil empire. Compare the Soviet Union of that time of the 1980s, to the Russia of today under Vladimir Putin and everything that we’re seeing in Ukraine, just what is your initial comparison of what a lot of people remember from back then? And what we’re seeing today?

Michael McFaul 

Wow, that’s a great question. That’s a big question. And in fact, my last book was called from Cold War to Hot Peace, that’s title because I was trying to compare and contrast, right? Because there’s some things that are similar. Some things are different. Just talk about a very personally, I grew up in Montana. And I was scared to death of what Ronald Reagan said, when he called the Soviet Union, the evil empire, I worried that we were going to blow up the planet. And so when I got to Stanford as a 17-year-old kid from Montana, by the way, my first trip to my California ever, I was that’s what animated me. And I had a theory that if we could just understand the Soviets better, we might be able to reduce tensions. And so my first trip abroad was to the Soviet Union, the summer of my at the end of my sophomore year, where I went there to study so that I could see the Soviet Union and meet Russians Soviets, and see for myself, this proposition that they all hated us. And I tell you that because I then learned two things. One, I learned that dictatorships are worse than I thought, I want to be honest about that I’m you know, as pretty, I was pretty leftist character back, when I was an undergraduate at Stanford, I probably shouldn’t get into all the details of some of my thinking then. But being left or right is different from being democratic, or autocratic. In 85′ spent more time in the Soviet Union and learned the evils of autocracy. But I also learned that even with difficult countries like the Soviet Union back then you have to have some kind of engagement. You have to talk to them.

Michael McFaul  18:52

And one of my mentors here at Stanford later in life was George Shultz, who when I was an undergraduate was the Secretary of State for Ronald Reagan. And George taught me about this, we need to have connectivity, even with our biggest adversaries at the time it was the Soviet Union, so that we can avoid really horrible things based on misperception and misunderstanding. And I say that to you, because you know, today, one of the things I’m really worried about is how little connectivity we have right now with Vladimir Putin. He’s saying some very scary things right now. Even at the height of the Cold War, we had those communication levels. We all agreed that nuclear war means we all suffer. We all connected to those ideas. And we had mechanisms of crisis management, and crisis prevention that we put in place. Sometimes they broke down. So during the Cold War, they really broke down when Brezhnev invaded Afghanistan. This reminds me a lot of that Putin has overreached in going into Ukraine, but I worried, but you know, at the same time that I 100% support what the Biden administration has done with military assistance, I actually want them to do more. I want 100% support what they’ve done on sanctions, I want them to do more. And I worry compared to the even during the Soviet days, we had more connectivity with that regime. And I want to look for avenues that we have ways to talk to him directly. Sometimes we use surrogates during the Cold War days, to make sure that we don’t stumble into an even larger war.

Sawyer Hackett 

So Ambassador, we’re recording this conversation on Tuesday, but just a few hours ago, we found out that Congress is moving forward with a bill to ban Russian oil to punish Russia in some of these global trades. Even though Russia doesn’t account for a huge amount of American energy. It’s already, you know, compounding, high gas prices here at home. There’s been talks about the administration making some inroads with some other countries, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iran to shore up some of those losses. What do you see is the impact of all of that taking place at home? And do you think it hurts our moral credibility to be, you know, finding other places to get this oil that we may not have had a great history with in the past?

Michael McFaul 

Well, first, I completely support the ban on Russian imports of oil, we should have done that a long time ago. It’s not a big part of our economy. And in fact, a lot of it is just that we exported again, as refined products. I don’t think a lot of Americans understand that. So just from a moral point of view, we could not be sending American dollars to Vladimir Putin to underwrite and fund his war, where he’s committing crimes against humanity in Ukraine today. And you know, I hear about inflation. And I would say two things, cutting off this oil will not lead to appreciably at all to inflation. Remember, oil is a global market. So just us cutting off is not going to have a direct impact on that. But to sometimes you got to do things for moral reasons, you know, and anytime I get the chance to talk to the American people directly, you know, you just need to ask the simple question, are you prepared to pay a few more pennies, to fill up your gas, to support those that are fighting Putin’s war? Most Americans rally to that because they understand that this is not just a fight for freedom in Ukraine, I think it has giant implications for the future of the international order. If Putin wins in Ukraine, we’re going to be spending tons more money on our defenses, so that to reassure our allies and Europe, it’s just that simple. So we’re gonna have a lot less credibility with our allies and partners in Asia and the Middle East. I think it’ll create more instability in other parts of the world. If we embolden autocrats that they think that they can just use military power, and challenge us and show that we are a paper tiger that we’re not willing to stand up for these things. So I think the long term negative economic implications of not taking the right steps now are much greater than the short-term costs. And to the list of countries that you just said, those are all autocracies. I want us to be talking more to our democracies. I want to see more energy production from Mexico, from Canada, from South Africa, from Australia. I think this is an area where you know, we can work with our democratic partners to alleviate the inflationary pressures, not just those autocratic countries that you mentioned.

Julian Castro 

And that’s a great point. Yesterday afternoon, and you mentioned it a few moments ago, but one of the things you tweeted was that it’s time for the US to do more, more weapons, more sanctions. Now we have this announcement by President Biden about a ban on oil imports from Russia. So clearly there continues to ratchet up sanctions. In terms of more weapons. What would you like the US and its allies to do for Ukraine?

Michael McFaul  24:10

Well, I’ll just use my voice has to represent with my friends in Ukraine, including those sitting in bunkers with presidents Zelensky right now are saying they have fought a heroic battle so far. I think the whole world has been surprised at how well they have fought the invading Russian Army and Air Force. I think Vladimir Putin is surprised, and the way we buy time for sanctions to have effect and put pressure on Putin at home is we have to help the fight inside Ukraine. And I want to say something kind of blunt. From one of my friends, just so you know, you know, here at Stanford since 2005. That’s when our first Ukrainian visitor came. The Institute I run at Stanford, we have been running a training program for Ukrainian activist, government officials kind of mid-career people. I think we’re over 300 people that have been through our programs now. So that means Stanford has this unique network of friends on the ground in Ukraine today. And on the night that Putin began his campaign, one of my friends in Kyiv, said, you know, Mike, it’s great to see all your unity in the West, but you’re all unified on the sidelines, you’re watching this contest, you’re not with us directly in the fight. And she said to me, I can’t believe we have to fight this guy alone. And I think that’s a really important message for Americans to understand, I support the president’s decision, I do not think we should try to impose a no-fly zone, because I do not think it is in our interest for an American and pilot to shut down a Russian pilot, and precipitate a direct war with Russia.

Michael McFaul 

I think the President’s right on that. But anything short of that I think we should lean into. And what they say they need is they need more support to fight in the air, so that they need more stingers for the low flying weapons, they need other kinds of systems to help with air defenses, you know, most of those are probably going to be more of a long-term solution than a short-term solution. They need help with weapons to fight artillery. So again, I’m not a general. So I don’t want to pretend to be one on your podcast, but I know some very smart four-star generals. And one of them literally just an hour ago, he was telling me what they need is K3637 counter fire radar. That’s the best weapon we have in the West to counter those long-term artillery. Those are the ones that are really bombing Ukrainian cities right now. So just any military support that we can provide the better and in the short term, the most important thing that has to be shipped to there, in my view, my personal view, obviously, is the MiG-29 that Poland has, they have 27 of them. Altogether, our NATO allies on the frontlines, their former communist countries have about 70 of them from what I understand. Secretary Blinken, the other day said we Greenlight that transfer, but the Pols want us to enhance their air defenses in return, I think that’s a very legitimate concern. And so I believe we should we should provide them with S16 and other anti-aircraft weapons that we can help to protect our NATO ally that is on the front line here. You know, right on the border with Ukraine. So those are the things that I think we should do immediately.

Sawyer Hackett 

You mentioned the no-fly zone. And I want to dive into that just a little bit, because it seems like there’s this effort by folks to like mainstream this argument. You know, this morning, Politico reported on this open letter to the Biden administration, from foreign policy experts advocating for this limited no fly zone to protect these humanitarian corridors. But as many people pointed out, if you enforce a no-fly zone, you’re essentially, you know, showing a willingness to engage militarily directly with the Russians. So can you tell us just for our lay listeners, why a no-fly zone isn’t really an option for the United States unless we want a full-scale war?

Michael McFaul  28:25

Yeah, and I do this delicately, I want to emphasize that these are not easy choices. And they’re not easy choices, when I have to interact with my friends in Ukraine, asking me to help be on podcasts like yours and advocate for a no-fly zone. And sometimes those conversations end in tears, because their families are being killed right now. It’s hard for them to understand why this is such a heavy left. And I also, you know, I used to work at the White House used to work at the National Security Council. And it’s easy for, you know, people sitting out in Palo Alto like I am to pop off telling them what to do. I know how hard these decisions are. I just I just said something very simple, you know, send the F16. You know, come on Secretary Blinken. Come on national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, just do that. I know. It’s easy for me to say that. And it’s very hard to do that in real time. And I want to say in general, I’m extremely impressed with what the Biden administration has done to help lead the free world to do what we’ve done on military assistance, what we’ve done on humanitarian assistance, and what we’ve done on sanctions, I think I frankly, am shocked that we have made so much progress in so little time. We’re only in week two of this war after all, I think it’s been quite amazing. And I think it’ll go down historically especially on the sanctions as the most comprehensive punishing sanctions ever levied against a foreign country ever.

Michael McFaul

But I didn’t answer your question yet. I do know that letter. I know that people that sign that and I think it’s a clever argument that they’re making. on the humanitarian side, I would say two things to that, one, they haven’t achieved agreement about those humanitarian corridors yet. So until there’s an agreement on it, I think that’s a risky undertaking. Two, I want to see the United Nations more involved in these humanitarian quarter discussions, I think they should be participating in the negotiations between the Ukrainians and Russians. So that there’s a third-party neutral party that is blessing and endorsing, and then providing evidence for violations when these humanitarian quarters are attacked. And they have been so far. So we need to, I think there’s a greater role for the United Nations to play. But on the very specifics, Putin has made it very clear that if an American pilot shots down a Russian pilot, he will consider that an act of war. And so that is a threshold, that is a big threshold, we should not do it lightly. We’re talking about the only superpower, nuclear superpower in the world. And if we do take that, by the way, I strongly believe that it should only be taken with an act of Congress, I just testified this morning, I heard lots of tough talk. And I said, well, okay, if that’s your view, then you should take a vote, to declare war on Russia, and do your constitutional responsibilities here, and not just leave this all on the Biden administration.

Julian Castro 

You mentioned of course, this is the second week of this war. It’s a very young war, so to speak. But already, we know that at least 474 civilians have been killed. In the invasion, more than 2 million Ukrainians have fled their own country, into neighboring countries as refugees. And the International Criminal Court, which Russia doesn’t recognize as a legitimate body, but as part of the UN is collecting evidence of war crimes. What do you think is the goal of those investigations? And do you think that anybody will be held ultimately accountable for these war crimes? If they find some?

Michael McFaul  32:37

Yeah, those are tough. That’s a tough question. I don’t have a clear answer to that. First, on the humanitarian side, I would just underscore what you said, this is the largest humanitarian disaster in Europe since World War Two. And I think Americans need to understand the analogy of what is going on in Europe today is the beginning of World War Two. It doesn’t mean it’ll escalate the way World War Two did. But if you go back and you read the way we were talking about Hitler’s invasion of Poland in September 1939, this reminds me of that. And I say that one to hesitate, that I do not predict that this will lead to a greater confrontation. In fact, I would say it’s unlikely. But that’s exactly what people were saying in September 1939. And just remind your listeners, we didn’t even get involved in the war for two more years after that. We just watched this or proceed. And I just think there’s a lot more history is young war. That’s a good adjective. It is that it’s we’re only two weeks in and tragically, I think we’re going to be talking about this for months and maybe even longer. And therefore, we need to prepare to do a weekend on this humanitarian disaster. I applaud our European allies, that they are providing temporary protection and refugee status to these Ukrainians flooding in. I think eventually that question will come to our borders and to our country, too. And we need to do what we can to help those Ukrainians who are dislocated. On the harder question. I think it’s very important that the documentation begins now. And what is different about this work compared to 1939? Is the whole world is watching. We have videos every day, the atrocities are easier to record because of that, and that should be gathered up and accumulated without question, as far as I’m concerned, whether it leads to anybody being held accountable. I don’t know the answer to that question. For the simple fact that Putin runs a very repressive autocratic regime inside Russia. I think the only way he would be held accountable if he was no longer in power. And I’m not prepared to predict that where we’re at today would lead to him Someday not being empowered. It’s just too early to make those kinds of predictions yet.

Sawyer Hackett 

Ambassador, I want to touch on China’s role in all of this, because I know that that’s something that you’ve been fairly outspoken on. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has yet to, like fully condemn Russia for this invasion. They abstained from voting on that UN Security Council resolution demanding that that Moscow stop the invasion. Is this reluctance by China part of a relationship that they have with Russia? Or is it more that they don’t approve of the West’s coalition and pushing back against Russia. Because that coalition may turn on them at some point, you know, with regards to Taiwan, or another potential conquest of China’s?

Michael McFaul 

Yeah, those are great questions. Just like with Putin, it’s hard to read Xi Jinping his intentions, I would say a couple of things. First, the analytic point. And then the prescriptive point on the analytic point. Xi Jinping is trying to have his cake and eat it too. This is a very classic Chinese position. So did not support Putin. And that UN General Assembly vote, right? Didn’t want to be part of that rogue set actors, but also didn’t condemn it by voting with us. Right, he abstained. And, you know, he toggles back and forth, and his government toggles back and forth between saying, we support international rule of law and the international system. And also we support our ally in Russia, I see that as a giant contradiction. Xi Jinping cannot claim with any legitimacy, that he supports the international system, the international order, and at the same time, support a leader who has annex territory, who has recognized regions of a foreign an independent sovereign country as being independent countries, who has now invaded a country for with or without cause, and who is now committing crimes against humanity. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. You’ve got to make a choice. And I think we should the world, not just us, we should be trying to do everything we can to compel Xi Jinping to make that choice, because I think she’s in ping could actually help them this war. I actually think he’s the only leader in the world that Vladimir Putin respects. And if he and his direct engagement with Vladimir Putin said, you know, continuing, this only makes it worse for you, sue for peace now, before things get worse. I don’t predict it would happen overnight. But I think that would be a lever of influence on Putin that, frankly, no other leader in the world has. But that’s not my prediction. That’s my prescription not my prediction.

Julian Castro 

I mastered in the two minutes that we have left. Just a quick question about the individuals involved here. We know that war is about so much more than just a couple of individuals that affects so many more people in their lives. But you’ve had the opportunity to sit across the table from Vladimir Putin have dealt with him as ambassador and other occasions. And also you hosted a year or so ago. President Zelensky. They’re at Stanford. So you’ve taken the measure of both of these men. What do you make, just briefly of each one, and in the context, especially of our hope for peace?

Michael McFaul  38:21

You know, that’s interesting. I hadn’t thought about that till you just posed the question. There’s probably not that many people in this world that’s spent time with Zelensky and Putin. There’s two worlds don’t usually intersect, right? Well, I’d say two things. First, Putin and then Zelensky, and that’ll be a good place to end. I’ve known Putin for a long time I met him in 91′, I have written about him since he became president. I wrote my first article, warning about him taking Russian autocratic direction in March of 2000. And I worried in an article in the summer of 2000, that he might become the world’s next Milosevic. And I was criticized a lot for that phrase, by the way. And when I became ambassador, I was criticized a lot for that phrase. How can the President Obama send an ambassador to Russia that has compared our president to Milosevic. Tragically, that was an optimistic assessment. In many ways, he’s repeating the mistakes that Milosevic made exactly in this kind of war. And here we are. And I would just say that Putin is not been the same person. He’s changed his views over the years.  I want to emphasize that that he was not always fixated in this way that he is now. But he is a man that’s motivated by ideas. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard in the last two weeks about Putin, the rational actor, I just don’t know what that term means. I don’t know what people are trying to understand. I do not think he’s a rational actor. I think he has just thrown away is entirely legacy with this war I really, I do think that, he could have preserved a legacy of the Russian leader that brought Russia back from the horrible days of the 1990s and restored Russia as a great power, even if one that was, you know, in confrontation with us, and neither one of them is autocratic. But now he’s turned Russia into a rogue state. And he’s killing children in Ukraine, I’m sorry, but where I come from, that’s not rational. That is evil. And I think we need to understand that is the kind of person we’re dealing with in Russia, and do everything we can to put pressure on his society to make him reconsider and to help the Ukrainians win their war. With respect to Zelensky. You know, people think of me as a Russia guy, right? Because I was ambassador. But, you know, I actually wrote my first book about Ukraine. Here it is published in 2006.

Julian Castro  40:59

Revolution in orange.

Michael McFaul 

The origins of Ukraine’s democratic breakthrough. And I just say that, because I’ve been going to Ukraine for many decades as well. I’ve known most leaders there. And I would say two things for the American people, three things the American people that know. One, Ukraine has had an incredibly vibrant civil society that has built democracy under the most incredibly hard conditions, it would be easy to build democracy after a democratic breakthrough after the collapse of the Soviet Union. If you had us as a neighbor, you know, you have Ukraine in Canada, but they have Putin as a neighbor, and he’s been trying to crush their democracy, literally since 2004. And that’s why he invaded, he invaded to try to crush their democracy, what they call the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, vibrant, democratic society. Number two, president Zelensky. I think he is one of the bravest heroic figures of our lifetime. It’s an honor of a lifetime that I got to spend an afternoon showing him our beautiful campus, by the way. And then for anybody that’s speaks Russian. He said that Michael, Stanford, […], which means this is an incredible place. He loved our campus, just so you know, he was like he was in love with this place. And before this war, we were working on ways to cooperate to build a kind of university, like Stanford in Ukraine, literally, we were in negotiations about trying to help them.

Michael McFaul  42:38

And there is never he is, you know, sometimes leaders meet the challenge. And sometimes they don’t, president Zelensky is, it is just an honor of a lifetime that I had the chance to meet him. I know for a fact, he just saw one of my tweets in Russian, because I got a photo from him reading it. And he is watching and he needs our military support, but he needs our solidarity too. And then third, I just want to end on speaking about the Ukrainian people, every single day. Throughout this war, probably 20 or 30 times a day, I’m in touch with Ukrainians. We have a lot of Ukrainian students here at Stanford, by the way, they’ve been to my house several times, every single day, you hear a story of just utter bravery against all odds. Ukrainians jumping on tanks, as they roll through their cities, with flags saying to the Russians, you will never, you will never win here. If you want to be inspired by heroic people. Look at what the Ukrainian people are doing. And because of that, you know, we’re pretty bad in political science about predicting the future. By the way, soon as the CIA, I worked in the government, they’re not very good at revolutions and understanding the ends of war either. But one thing I know for sure, the Ukrainian people will never submit to Vladimir Putin. He may take care of someday, I hope he doesn’t, it may happen. He may take Kharkiv. He may even take Lviv out in the west for a while. But the Ukrainian people will fight him forever. Sometimes they’ll fight with guns. Sometimes they’ll fight with acts of civic nonviolent resistance, but he will never subjugate this country, because these people have shown that they will fight for their sovereignty. They will fight for their land, and they will fight for their democracy forever. And we should be inspired by them, and to do whatever we can to support them.

Julian Castro  44:43

Ambassador Michael McFaul, thank you so much for lending your insight to us on our America, and we’d love to have you back when that next book comes out.

Michael McFaul 

Okay, let’s do it again, sometime. Great conversation. Bye. Bye.

Julian Castro 

Take care.

Sawyer Hackett 

So thanks, again to Ambassador Michael McFaul, for joining us As always, you can leave us a voicemail sharing some of the stories that you care most about. Maybe it’s a story about inspiring Ukrainian citizens that Ambassador McFaul was talking about. Leave us a voicemail at 833-453-6662 that’s 833-453-6662 and as always make sure 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.

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