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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 1/28/22

Guests: Nina Khrushcheva, Chris Miller, Constanze Stelzenmuller, Evelyn Farkas, Daniel Fried, Terrell Jermaine Starr, Alexander Vindman


The Last Word special edition, Putin`s Endgame; Unfolding crisis in the Russia-Ukraine border where Russia has at least 130,000 military troops along the Ukraine border; Vladimir Putin wants NATO to leave Eastern Europe and to never let Ukraine join NATO. Nord Stream plays into the Russia- Ukraine conflict as Eastern Europe is Russia`s largest customer and this could affect and disrupt gas supply in Europe.



AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC HOST: That does it for us tonight. Rachel will be back here on Monday and I`ll see you tomorrow night at 8:00 eastern for my show "Ayman" when my guest will be actress and comedian, Margaret Cho. Now, it`s time for a special edition of "The Last Word," Putin`s End Game. Good night.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Good evening and thanks for joining us for the special hour. You`ve seen the headlines about Putin and the footage of Russian tanks headed toward Ukraine. And you`ve surely seen the Maddow show coverage of the Irish fishermen versus the Russian navy. So you`re aware there`s a crisis unfolding on the Ukraine-Russia border, but how much do you know about it?

This hour we are going to deliver a crash course on the situation. Covering everything from Putin psychology and internal Russian politics, to NATO and the Nord Stream Pipelines to the first impeachment of Donald Trump. All of this is context to understand what is happening right now as President Biden weighs the American response to this crisis.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: If he were to move in with all those force, it`d be the largest invasion since World War II. It would change the world.


VELSHI: It would change the world. One thing is clear, this situation was created by Vladimir Putin. And what he decides to do will determine if the world changes or not. Here is where the situation stands right now. There are currently 130,000 Russian troops along the border of Ukraine. This current escalation started in November.

This is happening around Ukraine, but it is not just about Ukraine. In December, Putin released a list of demands for America and its allies which included removing NATO troops from Eastern Europe and barring Ukraine from ever joining NATO. The U.S. and Europe said no. Yesterday, President Biden told the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, that there is a distinct possibility that Russia could invade Ukraine in February to which Russia responded today by saying, if it were up to them, there would be no war.

So we start tonight in eastern Ukraine, near the Russian border. That`s where we find NBC`s Richard Engel who joins us live. Richard, we know the background, what`s happening now?

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: There is a game of wait and see. And the Ukrainian government, Presidents Zelensky, today gave his clearest comments yet saying that the Ukrainian people should ride this out. That they shouldn`t be overly concerned. That this is something that Russia does periodically. That it masses forces. That it holds military exercises near the border. That it`s a kind of psychological warfare and that they shouldn`t give into the bait.

And it`s left the people here in Ukraine, not just to the east, but across the country, wondering is he right? It`s very tempting to believe that. That`s what many people want to believe or is something else going on? Is the United States, are all of these European countries, NATO countries, are they correct in their concern and they are starting to wonder if their president is downplaying the crisis so that there is not an economic collapse here, so that there is not capital flight, and so that his political rivals don`t jump at him and cease the moment.

Because what I`ve been told by numerous officials is that Putin`s goal, ultimately, is to collapse Zelensky`s government and put a more pliant government in place. Put a more pro-Russian regime here like he used to have, like he has in Belarus, like he has in Kazakhstan. And that Zelensky is standing in the way of that.

So one way to do that would be to collapse his government from within by putting pressure, psychological pressure, organizing some sort of coup, or taking a piece of the country, making it a failed state, and then hoping there is a change of government that way. We`re taking the whole thing.

VELSHI: Richard Engel, you are in eastern Ukraine. There is an argument made mostly by the Russians that there are a lot of Russian speakers, pro- Russian people who live in that part of Ukraine who`d be most happy to see a Russian invasion or who`d be happy to live under the Russians or at least a pro-Russian Ukraine. How true is that statement?


ENGEL: So, this is Vladimir Putin`s main argument. And he wrote a lengthy paper about this in July. And it`s about 7,000 words and he goes back to ancient history, talks about the Rus Empire when all of these areas where united, when Russia was a great power, he quoted a prophet saying that "let Kyiv be the mother of all Russian cities."

And he talked about how this country, now an independent country, was an integral part of the Russian people. It had its own cultural heritage, but it all formed part of the greater Russian kaleidoscope, and that it is a conspiracy, it is a plot, it is NATO, it is the west, that is leading Ukraine astray.

It is teaching Ukrainians to hate their own Russian history. It is teaching them to abandon their own roots and to hate themselves in a bit of a critical race theory kind of way that he is saying that Ukrainians are teaching pro-Russians to hate their own heritage.

Now, there are two areas in this country where there are large Russian speaking, Russian identifying populations. One in Crimea. That was taken over and annexed, and there was quite a large pro-Russian population there. It had deep connections to Russia. The Russian Navy had -- long had ports there.

Another area, not very, very close to where I am here. That was taken over indirectly. These are these two, they called them independent republics, the Ukrainians called them a separatist areas, that are where Ukrainians live, but they identify with Russia. They are run by Russia. They have Russian troops in them. These are two pockets inside Ukrainian territory.

This other area, all around eastern Ukraine, it is what is in dispute right now, and Vladimir Putin says that these areas, where I am, where there are many Russian speakers, Russian and Ukrainian or two different languages, quite a bit of overlap, but they`re different languages, in this area it is generally Russian speaking. And this is the area that Putin is talking about and the Russian media are talking about, saying that the Ukrainians are denying the people here their right to be proud Russians, to identify us Russians.

Now, how true is that? It`s very difficult to know. I was in a small village the other day. I was speaking with three women there and they all are Russian speakers. And they said yes, we are -- we consider ourselves Russian, but we don`t want Vladimir Putin to invade this country. We don`t want a war, not in our name.

VELSHI: Richard Engel, I know this is your job, but we`re always deeply appreciative for the context that you bring. I know I personally turn to you when I need to understand these things. It`s early in the morning and it is cold, and we appreciate that you are there on the front lines of this developing situation. Richard Engel for us in eastern Ukraine.

So, if what happens next is up to Vladimir Putin, the questions remain about what he wants and what his next move is going to be. And for that we turn to Michael McFaul, the former United States ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014. He`s an MSNBC international affairs analyst, and Nina Khrushcheva, she is a professor of international affairs at The New School. Good evening to both of you. Thank you for being with us.

Nina, I want to pick up where Richard left off. There is an argument made by Vladimir Putin across the entire length of Russia`s western border with European countries, some of which are NATO countries, some of which -- a few or a couple of which are not, that Russia doesn`t want NATO on its borders and that some of the people in those countries don`t want NATO and western troops on their, or armaments in their countries. What`s the truth of that situation to your sense?

NINA KHRUSHCHEVA, PROFESSOR, INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS, THE NEW SCHOOL: Well, thank you, Ari. From my point of view, of course, the argument is that Russians don`t want NATO on their border. That`s for sure. However, the countries that are not Russia on that border, Vladimir Putin is behaving, in fact, convinced even those who didn`t wanted before to want it now just in case.

We already heard even north East European countries, but Finland for example that never wanted to be part of NATO, then said well, if Putin behaves this way, we may consider to become a NATO member as well. So in some ways, he himself exasperates the crisis that he then says he needs to be solved because the west comes very close to the Russian borders, as he puts it, right to the Russian doorsteps.


VELSHI: Ambassador McFaul, there are concerns, obviously, the Russian president has come out and said, hey, this isn`t nearly as serious as the Americans are making it out to be. There are others in Europe who thinks it`s only serious, but imminent. Nina has made the point and some comments that she made earlier and that this could end up like World War I where it was a tinderbox anyway, but it almost broke out by accident. There is a lot that can go wrong here that could trigger a war of the scale that President Biden is talking about.

MICHAEL MCFAUL, MSNBC INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: You are right. That`s one of the most horrific scenarios, and when you have 130,000 troops, fully armed and you start moving NATO forces close to them, accidents can happen. Most certainly, when I was in the government, in the Obama administration, we worried about that a lot when we had American planes and Russian planes flying in Syria.

But I do -- I think that`s not likely. Most certainly, I am convinced that the Biden administration is not interested whatsoever in a military conflict with Russia. And the forces that they are talking about sending to our NATO allies are designed to reinforce our Article Five commitments in a defensive posture, not to bleed into whatever conflict, god forbid, might happen in Ukraine.

VELSHI: Nina, you have made the point that you also don`t think that Vladimir Putin is looking for a war here or a military conflict, but that he senses that he is taking seriously in the west when he speaks militarily or flexes military muscle.

KHRUSHCHEVA: Yes. And that seems to be his kind of modus operandi. Every time when he feels disregarded, he thinks, well, a tank or two or 10 or 1,000 will probably change the equation, and so far it has. Because the only thing we`ve been talking about for the last three months is that potential war.

So, he does get the point that suddenly everybody pays attention to him. I think in this particular case, the way it works now, he overplayed his hand. I don`t think that he wanted a war, he wanted an invasion. He may consider something that your correspondent was talking about sort of the (inaudible), where people identify as Russians despite of Ukraine, east Ukraine, if it comes around.

But I don`t think -- I don`t think in this particular case right now, that was his kind of primary goal. The primary goal was to say, Barack Obama called me original power a long time ago. So, if I`m original power that`s my region, you get out of here.

And now finally, I have done a lot of military advancement, I can fix it. I can stand my grounds. So I think that was his original goal. But at this, point it seems like he overplayed his hand because, there is a cycle of escalation and I don`t see how now is going to be easy for him to get out all this troops not only out of Ukraine border from Russia, but also from Belarus and elsewhere.

VELSHI: Well, that`s a -- Michael McFaul, this is your line of -- line of expertise, right? When you get out of something that looks like it`s about to become military engagement, you need some diplomacy, you need some way of pulling out. Does that way still exist?

The U.S. Government and the Russians have not stopped talking. NATO and Russians have not stopped talking. There are conversations underway. Is there a sense that this could end in some way that doesn`t involve anybody firing any missiles or guns?

MCFAUL: Well, before I get to that question, I want to state categorically that I don`t know what Putin wants. I don`t know what he`s decided. President Biden doesn`t know. The director of the CIA doesn`t know. I don`t think Sergei Lavrov knows, the foreign minister. And from my experience dealing with Putin in negotiations, I don`t think he has made his own decision yet.

I think that he likes this uncertainty. He likes that we`re all talking about, you know, negotiating with ourselves, making counter proposals. He likes to watch that. And a very important thing that Nina alluded to, think about what we`re not talking about tonight. We`re not talking about that he annexed Crimea. We`re not talking about that he is supporting separatists, let`s call them what they are. It`s a civil war.

Think about, you know, they declared their independence. We`re not talking about the 14,000 Ukrainians that died. We`re not talking about the Georgian War in 2008, assassinations that he has ordered in European capitals. He`s changed the channel on us, right? And so already, from a diplomatic, and I would say from a kind of narrative perspective, he`s won because we`re all talking about NATO expansion versus not. So that`s the first thing.

The second thing though to answer your question now, of course, there is room for diplomacy. I think the Biden administration has played this rather smartly. They are doing the coercive things, building up our soldiers there, sending military assistance to Ukraine, I think those are right.


And at the same time, they have taken a pretty bold decision, criticized by many in my world, by the way, as appeasement, but they have taken in my view the right decision to respond to Putin`s two treaties, right? One is supposed to be with NATO, one supposed be with the United States. And they even wrote it down, just like Putin commanded it. They even wrote it down. They sent it in yesterday. And from what I understand, in those documents, there is room for negotiation if Putin wants to negotiate.

VELSHI: Stand by both of you. We want to do a quick break out here on something that our viewers may have heard about. You may not quite know how it figures into the current crisis with Putin. It`s called Nord Stream. Nord stream 1 is a pipeline. It`s owned and operated by Russia. It transports natural gas from Russia to Germany. It`s been in operation for about a decade.

Nord Stream 2 is a parallel pipeline that`s been built, but it`s not yet operational or online as they say. It`s now potential leverage in the negotiations with Russia. If Nord Stream 2 goes online, that would mean much more gas going from Russia to Germany, which actually could affect Ukraine, it`s not anywhere close to it, in several ways.

For more on that, I want to bring in Chris Miller. He`s the author of "Putinomics: Power and Money in Resurgent Russia." Chris, thanks for joining us this evening. Oil and gas power the Russian economy, but they`re different. Oil can be set anywhere by rail or by ship, but with some exceptions, most natural gas today primarily flows through pipelines like Nord Stream. How does this pipeline that takes natural gas from Russia to Germany, nowhere near Ukraine, play into this crisis?

CHRIS MILLER, TUFTS UNIVERSITY, RUSSIA & EURASIA PROGRAM: Well, right now, Russia is Europe`s biggest supplier of natural gas and most of the natural gas that Russia ships to Europe currently transit via Ukraine through pipelines that date back many decades. Russia`s strategy with Nord Stream 2 is to eventually stop transiting gas through Ukraine and instead ship it directly to Germany.

And that has two implications. One is that it reduces the ability of Ukraine to charge transit fees for shipping that gas. That`s bad for Ukraine`s economy if they lose that revenue. But more important is that it puts Ukraine in a much weaker position when it tries to negotiate energy deals with Russia because it would relying directly on negotiations with Russia rather than being the supplier for all of Europe because that`s where gas is transiting through.

So, Ukraine has been (inaudible) against Nord Stream 2. Many other Europeans have been pushing against it as well. But Germany, thus far, remains committed to keeping Nord Stream 2 on track to become operational at some point later this year because Germany needs Russian gas.

VELSHI: So how does this become a negotiation point in this particular issue right now? For the world that doesn`t want Russia to invade Ukraine, where it is the Nord Stream 2 going online come into it?

MILLER: Well, the U.S. and a number of European countries have been pressuring Germany to cancel Nord Stream 2 as a signal to the Kremlin that we`re not going to tolerate the Kremlin`s use of energy as the political weapon in Europe.

And the reality is that, over the past decade and a half, the Kremlin has used its role as a natural gas supplier to many countries in central and eastern Europe to pressure governments that get on the wrong side of Vladimir Putin, hike the prices for those country`s gas at vulnerable times for their economy or for their political system.

And if Nord Stream 2 comes online, this will empower the Kremlin to do the same with Ukraine to an even greater extent than it does today. So, there is great pressure on Germany right now to cancel the pipeline and doing so would send a message to Russia that there is a unified front among the west that we`re not going to tolerate any pressure on European countries whether military or in the energy sphere.

VELSHI: Is there some way in which western countries can deal with putting this kind of pressure on Russia, which depends a great deal on the sales of petro chemicals, of oil and natural gas to other countries in a way that doesn`t bounce back on them because Europeans end up with feeling the pressure of getting less gas and oil?

MILLER: Well, the thing about Nord Stream 2 is that it`s not currently online and there is plenty of pipeline capacity from Russia via Ukraine to Europe. So, canceling Nord Stream 2 would have no effect on the European energy prices because it wouldn`t lead to a reduction in Russian gas to Europe.

Russia has been saying it will ship more gas to Europe if Nord Stream 2 comes online, but that is just sort of political blackmail tactic by the Kremlin trying to get Nord Stream to approve, trying to increase Russia`s leverage against Ukraine and using energy prices as a tool to do so. The reality is, Europe doesn`t need more pipelines.


There is plenty of capacity currently going through Ukraine and other pipelines that supply Europe with Russian gas.

VELSHI: It may seem odd to somebody watching this right now to wonder why we`re discussing a pipeline between Russia and Germany, but it`s going to become very, very relevant as this continues to unfold. So, Chris, we appreciate your analysis on this. Thanks to Chris Miller, Nina Khrushcheva and Ambassador Michael McFaul for starting us off this evening.

We`ve got much more to cover this hour including a NATO deep dive. The Biden administration`s options and a live report from Kyiv. And most Americans know Ukrainian President Zelensky because Donald Trump was impeached for attempting to use him in a scheme to hurt Joe Biden`s presidential campaign. How much does what happened then play into what Biden is facing today? We will ask the very person who blew the whistle on Trump`s Ukraine scheme. Alexander Vinman at the end of the hour.


VELSH: Ukraine is not a member of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which is a sprawling mutual defense alliance between North America and Europe founded after World War II to counter the Soviet Union. And Vladimir Putin wants to keep it that way. One reason why is that here`s what NATO looked like before the fall of the Soviet Union.

Notice the space between the NATO countries in the west, all those in yellow, and Russia or the USSR as it was in the east. There`s a whole lot of countries in between. Here`s what NATO looks like today. Most of the countries that were in the middle, the former pro-Russian Warsaw pact countries are now facing democratic NATO allies.

But if Ukraine isn`t in NATO, what`s NATO`s role in the current crisis? Well, for more on that, we turn to retired U.S. Navy Admiral and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, James Stavridis.


Admiral, it is good to see you. Thank you for being with us. For those in our audience who don`t have their NATO pact with them, their handbook, there is something that we often refer to called Article Five in NATO which is the thing that says that any NATO country that is attacked, all the other NATO countries will come to their defense. How is that different when it applies to Ukraine, which wants to be in NATO but is not a member of NATO?

JAMES STAVRIDIS, MSNBC CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, there are a lot of countries that would love to be at NATO because so many countries have (inaudible) Russian tanks roll into them. Going back to the cold war, Russian tanks rolled into Hungary. They rolled into the Czech Republic. More recently, they rolled into Georgia. They rolled into Ukraine in 2014.

If I were in Eastern Europe, I would certainly like that Article Five guarantee, Ali. One thing I would recommend readers, Google NATO treaty and read it. You can read it in about 10 minutes. It`s only 14 articles, maybe 30 sentences long. You correctly point out Article Five, an attack on one is an attack on all.

The only time that Article Five has been energized is during 9/11, when NATO jets flew over our cities after the attack on 9/11. So, all of these nations would like to be part of NATO. They are not, where do we end up with Ukraine? Ali, they are NATO partner.

They have deployed with us. Ukrainian troops deployed under my command to Afghanistan, to the Balkans. They have been with us at sea. They have been a very close partner, but not quite a member of the alliance as much as they would like to be. That`s where it sits right now.

VELSHI: What`s the argument on Vladimir Putin`s part? Because lots of those countries, as we showed on that map, a lot of them have become NATO countries in the year since the late `70s. What`s Vladimir Putin`s fear that this one is going to be the one that matters?

STAVRIDIS: He is not really concerned about a NATO invasion. And I spent four years as supreme allied commander. I`d looked at every war plan, classified, unclassified, that NATO has. We don`t have a war plan to go invade Russia. News flash. But Vladimir Putin wants the prestige of kind of rebuilding the old USSR, the Union of Soviet Republics.

And so, he`s going around former republic to former republic, to include Azerbaijan, Armenia, in this case Ukraine, Kazakhstan, all the stans, and trying to put them back into Russian sphere of influence. I don`t think he`s going to be successful with that overall nor should we let him, particularly, in the case of Ukraine.

VELSHI: Admiral, please stand by. Here is where our European allies stand on this. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, spoke with Putin and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in separate phone calls today, in an attempt to defuse tensions. Macron faces reelection in April by the way, but he hasn`t yet announced that he will stand.

The new chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz, took office in December. He says Germany will not supply weapons to Ukraine, but has made clear that a Russian invasion would have a high cost. The British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson is scheduled to speak with Putin in the coming days and has warned that a Russian invasion would be disastrous for Russia.

Johnson has his own problems at home where he is under fire for breaking COVID lockdown protocols. Joining our conversation now is Constanze Stelzenmuller, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Constance, thank you for being with us. I want to understand a little bit about what Admiral Stavridis was talking about as NATO acts as one, and in this particular case, Russia is, you know, assuming they`re going to act as one, but they are not at the moment right now.

There is a little bit of difference and some of it is coming from Germany, which seems to have concerns about taking too hard a line on this right now.

CONSTANZE STELZENMULLER, SENIOR FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: You know, I`m not sure that`s entirely correct. And first off, thank you for having me on. It`s a pleasure and nice to see Admiral Stavridis again. But from what I can see, and I think I`ve been watching this fairly closely. The German policymakers, implementers in the machine room have been working really closely with the administration for months, designing a whole array of sanctions, which is quite a technical business. And I think the corporation there has been very, very close.

There are a couple things that the Germans aren`t keen on and that is weapons deliveries. There they disagree with other allies. And that is, among other things because that`s in the coalition agreement, the treaty on which Olaf Scholz`s unusual three-way -- three party government is based. I believe that to be wrong.


But that is where they are and it would be quite hard for them to counteract their own agreement.

On sanctions, I think it is fair to keep in mind that the exposure of the American economy to Russia is very limited. And so, there would be a massive disparity in the blow back, the economic impact of economic sanctions between the United States and Europe.

And within Europe, there is also a disparity of the two countries probably most hard hit by sanctions would be Germany and Italy. Yet they are sticking with those plans.

VELSHI: Admiral how do you -- I mean there is an element of this where Vladimir Putin would claim some sort of strategic victory if he could just sort of muddy the waters with NATO countries. Is that going to be effective? And who holds that together? Who sits there and says, ok, let`s not fall for these tricks that Constanze is talking about where some of these countries will be harder hit than others if there are economic sanctions or military activity.

Who holds the glue together that says to Vladimir Putin, we are here, we are NATO, this isn`t going to happen.

ADMIRAL JAMES STAVRIDIS, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Well you are exactly right to point out the Ukraine crisis has an element of internal Russian politics. It has an element of regional activity to include trying to control Ukraine.

But a third important component, and an objective of Vladimir Putin, is exactly what you point out, Ali and that Constanze illuminates so well which is how can from Putin`s perspective, how can he create these divisions? How can he enhance the degree of separation between the allies? And oh, by the way, create real divisions here within the United States as well.

So the answer to the quiz question, who holds NATO together, let`s hope it is the United States. And this is why it is so important that, the United States has returned full force, supporting the NATO alliance, following a period of kind of back and forth, frankly, during the Trump administration.

I will close by saying Constanze is absolutely correct on the difficulties and the wind whistling through Germany. I would say it is also in France where there is a kind of a secondary agenda that is at play here to demonstrate that Europe can be somewhat independent from the United States.

It is very important that the U.S. in this moment step up, hold this coalition together in the face of the pressure from Vladimir Putin.

VELSHI: It`s important conversation because for a lot of Americans who say why is this our issue, and why is this our problem. Your point that NATO joined in the defense of the United States in the wake of 9/11 is an important reminder to us as to why that alliance is so crucial.

Thanks to both of you. Admiral James Stavridis and Constanze Stelzenmuller.

The options in this crisis for President Biden when we come back.



VELSHI: On March 3rd, 2020, Biden`s 42nd day in office, Ukrainian news reports said that pro Russian Ukrainian separatists were prepared to use preemptive fire on Ukrainian military targets. Less than two weeks later, NATO launched a series of huge military exercises involving American troops. It was called Defender Europe 2021.

Putin was mad about that, but in April the Russian troops stood down. They left the border. Then, on November 13th, Ukrainian president Zelensky announced that Russia had once again put 100,000 troops on his country`s border. Tonight, that number is 130,000 according to Ukraine`s military. And President Biden and his team are weighing what Putin will do next.

Tonight, we are bringing you world-class analysis from the realms of defense and diplomacy. For that I am joined by Evelyn Farkas, secretary of Defense for Russia, Eurasia and Ukraine, former deputy assistant secretary of defense, and former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. Evelyn, good to see you again. Thank you for being with us.

There are a lot of people in the United States who see this as binary. Is the United States getting involved in another war that may not be clear to everybody as to why we are getting involved. Do you think that there are a series of actions that the United States can take ranging from sanctions to things that resemble military action that could actually resolve this?

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well Ali, thanks for having me on. And I think I just want to reiterate what my colleague Ambassador McFaul already said earlier. You know, the Biden administration, NATO, is not interested in any military fight with Russia.

What is at stake here are core principles of the international system, the sovereignty of the states like Ukraine, the sanctity of borders, international borders, and Russia has already violated Ukraine`s sovereignty. They annexed Crimea illegally, something that has not happened since World War II, that is to say and annexation of a neighboring country since Hitler did it.

And so we are standing up for Ukraine`s rights. We should have put on a more sustained effort frankly speaking after 2008 when Russia invaded Georgia, but nevertheless we are where we are.

So what we need to do, what I have written elsewhere, and many other people have said is we need to make sure that we have an active deterrent so that we communicate to the Russian government the price they will pay if they dare launch any kind of operation into Ukraine again.

Second of course, the sanction package to punish the Russians if they go in. And I believe the Biden administration is devising one that is robust, much more robust than we have had in the past.


FARKAS: And then third, again, this idea of having an active diplomacy at the U.N. to confront Russia with a global condemnation, and to demand from Russia that it rollback, ultimately, from Georgia and from Ukraine, which we can effect through military means, but over time perhaps hopefully we can diplomatically, and using economic pressure.

VELSHI: All right. You talked about economic pressure. So let me just take a quick break out on sanctions right now.

I want to bring in Ambassador Daniel Fried who was in charge of coming up with the sanctions against Russia in 2014 after Putin annexed Crimea from Ukraine, when he was coordinator for sanctions policy at the United States State Department.

Ambassador Fried, thank you for joining us. I think when some people hear sanctions, it feels anticlimactic compared to military force. But is Russia worried about the kinds of sanctions that they could face if the world unites against them with the United States at the helm?

AMB. DANIEL FRIED, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO POLAND: Yes. They are worried, and they should be. The sanctions the Biden administration has prepared in negotiating with the Europeans are a lot tougher than the ones we implemented under Obama.

And if my guess is right, and I think it is, it would hit the Russian economy hard. That is not a joke especially since the Russian economy already has started suffering from the first sanctions we put on and it`s stagnant because Putin does not run a real economy. He runs a kleptocracy who makes its money out of oil and gas.

So these sanctions would hurt. I think Putin knows it. And I think the Europeans, as Constanze Stelzenmuller said, are going to stand up and join with us. So this is a strong tool if Putin starts a war against his neighbor.

VELSHI: What is your sense of what actually works? Because we have sanctioned Russia before and it did not work. What is different this time around? The president did say last week that maybe we will prevent Russian banks from -- or Russian government entities from trading in U.S. dollars. What is the thing that is really going to decide to either bring them to the table, or move their troops off the border?

FRIED: The sanctions we put on during the Obama administration were moderate. The Russians backed off a bit for a time. And now, Putin is back with a much more serious threat to Ukraine.

The first war never ended, but he is threatening to launch a much bigger one. The Biden administration has prepared much heavier sanctions than the ones the Obama team prepared.

Those would I think cut off a lot of the Russian state banks from the dollar, and that means from the world banking system. That is a pretty heavy slap.

Another thing the Biden administration is planning to do is export controls. No microprocessors. That means no chips to go to Russia. That is another big sanction.

We don`t take this stuff lately. But Putin is threatening a war, and the point that my colleagues have made all evening on your show is that this needs to have consequences. And the Biden administration, I think skillfully, is beginning to roll out some of what it has in mind, the better to deter Putin from action.

Will it work? I don`t know. But it certainly will not work if we`re passive, and if we seem to be weak, divided, and uncertain of what to do.

VELSHI: Ambassador Fried, thank you for your analysis, your expert analysis on this.

I want to go back to Evelyn Farkas and Ambassador Michael McFaul. Ambassador, you know, typically if there is a smaller country that is under threat from a larger country, they would welcome urgent talks from others to whom they may turn for defense.

But there is something weird are going on that I need you to help my viewers understand in Ukraine. We have the president of Ukraine saying hold on U.S., you guys are hitting the panic button too fast. I want to read to you from the "New York Times", where it says Zelensky`s complaints were echoed by his top security official, Oleksii Danilov (ph), who said in an interview that panic is the sister of failure. Quote, "That is why we are saying to our partners, don`t shout so much, he said, do you see a threat? Give us ten jets every day. Not one, ten. And the threat will disappear."

Translate this for us. What is this message that we are getting from the Ukraine about how to handle Russia?

AMBASSADOR MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO RUSSI: Well, President Zelensky, I want to remind our viewers, he is not a professional politician. He is a TV star who was elected just a couple of years ago. And he is in a very tough situation right now. He is damned if he does, he is damned if he doesn`t.

He does not want the Ukrainian people to panic. He doesn`t want there to be bank runs, Ali. He doesn`t want people to leave the country. By the way, some are.


MCFAUL: And so he doesn`t want the panic button. At the same time by doing nothing, they are doing more than that, but not calling out the reservists, not going to the metro stations, if there is bombing you go to the metro stations in Ukraine.

And not doing that he runs the risk of his people not being prepared should God forbid there be this giant military intervention.

So, he is trying to thread that needle, and also he ahs been saying since the Biden administration came into power and just so, you know, I hosted President Zelensky here at Stanford over the summer, I saw him the day after he saw President Biden, he has been asking for more military assistance for months.

And so, he wants, you know, just like the quote you just had, he wants ten more jets, he wants more anti aircraft, he wants more ability to deter the fight rather than talking about the threat that might or might not be coming.

VELSHI: We appreciate your expertise on this. Evelyn Farkas and Ambassador Michael McFaul, thank you very much for your time tonight.

Coming up next, we are going to get a report from Kyiv on how the capital is responding to the escalation. And our final guest, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman.



VELSHI: At the top of the hour, we talked with Richard Engel who is on the front lines of the Russian-Ukraine conflict in eastern Ukraine. Now, we head 500 miles away to Kyiv, where Terrell Jermaine Starr is there.

He has reported extensively in the past on U.S.-Russian politics. He now hosts the podcasts "Black Diplomats". He is a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council Eurasia Center.

Terrell, good to see you. Thank you for being with us. You know, we have talked a lot about alliances and international pressure and the former Soviet Union. But to a lot of Americans, this is a matter of an independent country, a sovereign country, that has once been invaded already, whose neighbors have been invaded, and maybe invaded again. To a lot of people, that is all they need to know about this. That the United States needs to be back on the world stage, saying that can`t happen.

TERRELL JERMAINE STARR, ATLANTIC COUNCIL EURASIA CENTER: Well, nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, thank you for having me on the show.

And so the main thing that people have to realize from what Ukraine (ph)and what the Kremlin is doing, is that this is a part of Putin`s (INAUDIBLE) colonial project and what does that mean? Basically, Ukraine was a former colony of the Soviet Union and yet they were a colony, we tend to think about Africa as a colonized state.

And the reality the former (INAUDIBLE) Central Republican of the Soviet Union, they actually function as colony and so what Ukraine means for Putin is that if he does not take full political control of Ukraine, then that means that his dream of this Eurasia union, which is a modernized version of his kind of throw back to the USSR cannot happen because Ukraine was (INAUDIBLE) of the USSR then.

And for contemporary reasons, it would be a red basket (INAUDIBLE) today. Ultimately, if this project -- if Putin is able to come in and attack Ukraine again then this is going to mean, not only a further recolonization of Europe for Ukraine but also for the rest of western Europe because keep in mind that Germany was also split in half. Some in the USSR could have fears there as well on that side at the time.

VELSHI: All around that part of the world that you are in right now, people, whether they`re in NATO countries or independent countries or democracies or otherwise, they all fear and remember what that looks like.

Terrell, good to see you. Thank you for joining us. Terrel Jermaine Starr in Kyiv.

Regardless of how much you knew about Ukraine coming into this hour, you definitely know our final guest. He was born in Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union. His family immigrated to the United States, where he and his brother both joined the army.

He became one of America`s foremost experts on eastern Europe and Russia. And he is the reason that America knows about the now infamous phone call between Donald Trump and then president elect Zelensky that led to Donald Trump`s first impeachment.

Joining us now Is Retired Lieutenant Colonel, Alexander Vindman. Colonel, good to see you. Thank you for being with us again. I want to explore with you this argument that Vladimir Putin and people like and around him are making, that there are Russian speakers and pro Russian people who live in a lot of these countries along Russia`s western border, including in Ukraine and that they want to extend their umbrella of protection over those people. Nothing more.

LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN, FORMER DIRECTOR FOR EUROPEAN AFFAIRS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Well, that`s true. It is a very complex history. Russia was an empire before it was a communist state and Soviet Union.

When it was an empire, it got expended in all cardinal directions of Moscow -- north, east, south, and west. And in colonizing those territories, it`s settled the Russian populations there.

In Ukraine, there is a fairly significant Russian population. There is also a large ethnic Ukrainian population in Russia.

So on this spurious notion that Russia has some sort of duty to protect Russian speakers throughout the world, it could find itself in commitments everywhere, where it think that Russians are being abused.

But that is their perspective of an empire and a colonizer. That`s that time locked past -- the Soviet Union ceased to exist more than 30 years ago. And Russia still hangs on to this sense of exceptionalism of that empire. Until it changes its perspective, it`s going to find itself at odds with both its neighbors and the alliances that are around it, in particular, the Euro-Atlantic alliance NATO.

VELSHI: You know, a lot of people, even in the United States, are saying, why is this our fight? Why don`t you let the two of them fight it out and whoever wins win? Tell me why that does not work for you.


VINDMAN: Well, if we look at the recent history under Vladimir Putin, he has been in office for over 20 years. It has been a constant study of creeping aggression against U.S. interests, against European stability.

He started with somewhat modest aspirations, looking to overturn or to place his own man into Ukraine into leadership during the armed revolution. He failed. He then started to escalate the amount of coercive power he`s using.

He launched an invasion against Georgia. He has maintained frozen (INAUDIBLE) in many countries. There are six of them around Russia`s periphery. And now, he is creeping up closer to Europe`s borders. Europe is Americas closest ally. Its major trading partners are Eastern European allies that we do have a firm commitment to, with regards to NATO Article Five are really concerned about Russian aggression.

They have already committed to support Ukraine. We could see this expanding into something much more substantive. And then, we also need to remember that he has attacked U.S. interests directly. Whether that was the 2016 election interference -- election interference, bounties on elected (ph) soldiers, attacking U.S. troops in Syria. All these things are increasingly provocative and it is just because we have not really pushed back on his aggression.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, it is good to see you. Thank you for your analysis this evening.

We will be right back.



VELSHI: Thank you for joining us for this hour. I have learned a lot and I hope you did too.

"THE 11TH HOUR" starts now.