John Bolton about the War in Ukraine: "Trump is in part responsible for this conflict"


PULS 24 Anchor Thomas Mohr talks to Former US-President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton about the war in Ukraine.

Thomas Mohr: Joining us now via Skype from Washington DC is John Bolton, former US-Ambassador to the United Nations and former National Security Advisor. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining our program.

John Bolton: Glad to be with you.

Mohr: Let me start with your personal experience with Vladimir Putin. You first met the Russian President right after 9/11. So, you know him personally for about 20 years. Do you still feel like you KNOW him since he started this war last week?Bolton: Well, you know, there’s a lot of psychoanalyzing going about what’s causing his behavior, I always found Putin to be very cold blooded, very realistic, he used to follow his own train of thought, he told me on several occasions: You have your logic, we have our logic. I don’t see any reason to think he’s not still pursuing what he considers to be a rational policy. You know, you can follow a rational policy and still be wrong. And I think he made a number of mistakes in this conflict, underestimating what the response of the West would be, overestimating the performance of the Russian troops. But I’m not prepared to say he’s got mental problems at this stage. We may find out later.

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Just to add one historical footnote about that famous table, where president Macron and chancellor Scholz sat at one end and he sat at the other end, it’s exactly the same table that he used in the first meeting when I was there with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and every subsequent meeting that I’ve had in that room. So that table was not brought in especially for the purpose of distancing Macron and Scholz, that’s just the table you meet at. Normally across the center, rather than at the end.  

Mohr: Since you find that not so much changed in his behavior, did Putin become a rogue or was he ever since?

Bolton: No, I think it’s a mistake for us not to understand how strongly he and many others feel about Ukraine and Belarus and what Putin himself said back in 2005, when he said the breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.

You know, you need to listen to what your adversaries say! And I think he’s been on a plan ever since then to re-establish Russian hegemony – if not sovereignty over the territory of the former Soviet Union.

So I think that’s what he’s after, I think it’s a strategic objective for him, he is willing to bear very high cost for it – and he is bearing very high cost. I think we need to think strategically as well, Putin sees a weaker NATO as a stronger Russia – so for everybody, whether you’re in NATO or not, this is an important conflict in Ukraine, but it’s about more than Ukraine as well.

Mohr: Can you anticipate what Putin is capable of? Three days ago, his nuclear forces were put on high alert.

Bolton: Listen, whenever a nuclear power talks about changing the status of its nuclear weapons its only prudent to take it seriously. I could imagine scenarios, for example if things are even worse in Ukraine now than they seem to be for Russia’s military, where use of tactical nuclear weapons might come to mind.

But I think you also have to be as objective as you can, I think part of this speaking of increasing the nuclear alert was to try to intimidate westerners, to try and say you’re on such dangerous ground that we may resort to some kind of nuclear attack and I think it’s intended to try and back the west off, so you have to make your best judgment of what he really means. I think this is largely a bluff at this point, but I think we have to bear it under constant analysis, if it looks like it may be trending towards something more serious.

Mohr: Right now the West is responding with sanctions, US-President Joe Biden addressed the nation last night. After stopping Nord Stream 2, freezing bank money and blocking oligarchs, the US-airspace is closing for Russia. Russian currency is down, trade is down, stocks are down. Are these effects strong in the long run, when Russian elites become aware that supporting Putin means losing wealth?

Bolton: Well, I certainly support all the sanctions that have been announced, what their real effect will be unfortunately is open to question. I’ve been a strong advocate of sanctions and helped get them put in place against Iran, against North Korea, against the Maduro regime in Venezuela – sadly all of those regimes are still there.

So I think the Russian economy can take a substantial hit, and an authoritarian leader like Putin just cares less about the consequences and a lot depends on the implementation of sanctions.

You know, the best day a sanction has is the day it’s announced.

Just as one example, there’s a long article in the Washington Post today about how sanctions were imposed by the United States against Oleg Deripaska some four years ago, and yet houses in the Washington area, known to be owned by him or shell companies, are still in his hands four years later.

I applaud the sanctions, I think it’s all to the good, I would have imposed even more, but we need to see if we can sustain it, if our willpower will hold out or as I think Putin may be hoping, because of Europe’s dependence on Russian hydrocarbons, that the European and broader western resolve will weaken, once actual conflict in Ukraine is over.

Mohr: Did the West lack preemptive action or measures that actually would have avoided the invasion itself?

Bolton: Yes, the threat of post-invasion punishment, which is basically what Biden and other western leaders threatened was not persuasive to Putin, obviously he sent Russian forces into Ukraine and I think there was reason for him to be skeptical of these threats: In 2008 Russia invaded Georgia and there were next to no consequences. In 2014 Russia seized the Crimea and put forces into the Donbass region and there were next to no consequences. Just this past summer, he watched NATO and the United States withdraw from Afghanistan in a catastrophic decision – a debacle of an operation. And then he hears threats that if he goes into Ukraine there will be serious consequences, I don’t think he believed them. I don’t think we took that into account.

I think he could have been deterred with stronger measures earlier, with more weapons and more assistance and more NATO forces being put in to Ukraine. Not necessarily to be there and fight, but to help train and work with Ukrainian forces that would have led the Russian generals on the other side of the border to look through their field glasses and see American and other NATO flags and say: I wonder what that means?

Mohr: What if Donald Trump was president instead of Joe Biden, would the American response to Russia’s aggression be the same? Because Trump says, this whole conflict wouldn’t have happened.

Look, Trump’s in part responsible for this conflict, it wasn’t the major cause but the turmoil that he created in 2019 by holding up 250 million Dollars of US-security assistance, weapons and weapon-related materials, in order to put pressure on the Ukraine government to find Hillary Clintons computer server and pursue investigations about what Hunter Biden was doing in Ukraine. By injecting Ukraine into the American 2020 election really made it impossible for over a year to have serious discussions with Ukraine about what they faced in their neighborhood, what the threat from Russia was and I think Trumps attacks on NATO had the effect of weakening it.

Americans are by about 99 to 1 in agreement with Trumps argument that NATO members should meet their commitments they voluntarily made to spend two percent of their GDP on defense – all of us agree on that.

Trump didn’t like NATO, he came close to withdrawing from it and I think Putin saw the weaknesses that Trump had helped cause, he saw the turmoil. Ukraine obviously during an American election in 2020 would have been foolish to try and do anything that would affect the election, but he felt that if Trump were reelected, that that would be an opportunity to go after Ukraine. The consequences would have been worse with Trump. I think Biden is pursuing an incorrect policy, to be sure. It’s really like comparing apples and oranges but its wrong for Trump to say it would have been different. It’s just as it always is, about Donald Trump.

Mohr: There are still elections to come this year, the midterms: Can the Republican party, your party, still support a Donald Trump labelling Vladimir Putin as genius or savvy, and while knowing the danger of Russian interference in American elections, call it collusion, call it meddling?

Bolton: Look I think this is another embarrassing statement by Trump, I’m being polite about that.

Through my Super-PAC I’ve been doing nationwide public opinion polls – we’ve done four since last April, measured in a variety of different ways, asking real voters out in the country: support for Donald Trump among Republicans support has been declining steadily and I think it will continue to decline – it’s not at zero, that’s for sure, and it’s not going down as fast as I would like to see it go down, but it is going down.

Americans vote looking forward, they’re gonna wanna know this November who’s gonna deal with 7.5% inflation? Who’s gonna deal with the aftermath of COVID and two years of lost education because of the teacher’s unions not being willing to do in-person-teaching? What are we going to do about many other problems we face?

They’re going to vote looking forward, they don’t want to relitigate the 2020 election. I’m quite optimistic about how the house and senate races will turn out but it’s still a long way to November, so a long campaign to come.

Mohr: Given the joint reaction of the West including US and EU: Do you see a renaissance of the old unity across the Atlantic?

Well, I certainly like to believe that, but Europe’s continued dependence on Russia, to this day as the war goes on Russia’s still pumping oil and gas and still receiving the revenues from it.

The EU sanctions against Russian banks not using the SWIFT messaging system for payment transfers is only against eight or nine Russian banks, two of the top three Russian Banks are not affected by it. So, I think this is a signal that people want to support Ukraine, but not if it gets too inconvenient.

I think that’s true in the way the Biden administration has approached it, they’re scared of doing what they should do, which is put a stake through the heart of Russia’s energy sector. Because they are worried about higher gasoline prices, high inflation. In this country it’s bad politically for the party in power.

These are all signals to Russia, that is not a strong a unity as the rhetoric makes it out to be. He’ll be assessing that on a continuous basis, day by day.

Mohr: Regardless of the military outcome of this war: Did Vladimir Putin fail in dividing the European Union?

Bolton: Yes, I think so far that’s true, there are other measures that show miscalculations on his part, for example a poll in Finland showing for the first time, a majority of Finns, 53%, wanting to join NATO, in the last poll they took in 2017 it was 19%. We hear that the possibility of joining NATO is up in Sweden as well. I don’t know what the polls are in Austria, perhaps you could tell me!

These are reactions that Putin did not anticipate, but to the extent that there’s any benefit rising out of this invasion and the tragedy it’s causing in Ukraine, it’s the greater realization in many parts of Europe, that there is a threat.

I hope it results in understanding the nature of the global threat, too. There’s a Russia-China-entente in place and it’s going to have significant consequences for all of us going forward.

Mohr: Does this war change the role of China in particular in a new world order?

Bolton: China has been asserting itself in the Indo-Pacific, the older policy of Deng Xiapoing from the 1980s which they called “hide and bide” – hide your capabilities and bide your time – is obviously not something they’re following. Countries in the region feel threatened by China, Taiwan in particular is a target. You’ve seen some remarkable developments in the past couple years, the QUAD (India, Japan, Australia, United States) is getting together, people are worried about China. This entente between China and Russia, if it grows stronger is something that inevitably should draw us into more of a global strategy with the threats that we see emerging.

ribbon Zusammenfassung
  • PULS 24 Anchor Thomas Mohr talks to Former US-President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton about the war in Ukraine.

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