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Transcript: Fiona Hill and John Sullivan on "Face the Nation," Feb. 19, 2023

Fiona Hill and John Sullivan on Russia and Ukraine
Fiona Hill and John Sullivan on Russia and Ukraine 08:11

The following is a transcript of an interview with Fiona Hill and John Sullivan that aired Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023, on "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN: We're now joined by Dr. Fiona Hill, a Trump administration National Security Council adviser on Russia, and former U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan, who is now a CBS News contributor. Good morning. Good to have you both here. Fiona Hill, I'd love to talk to you first. Secretary Blinken admitted Russia is not isolated, it's getting support from China, it's getting support from Iran. So, does that mean the West's main tool here, sanctions, are failing?

FIONA HILL: Well, I think sanctions was never the only tool that we had, I mean, diplomacy, as well as the military support for Ukraine. And I think, you know, what we heard from Secretary Blinken and, you know, the fact that he's just been at the Munich Security Conference, underscores the fact that we're going to have to really up our diplomatic game. Because, you know, as you're suggesting here, a lot of other countries just don't buy that there's as big an issue as we see with Russia's invasion of Ukraine. I mean, they're always making comparisons with, you know, the great power competition among the United States and Russia and China and seeing it as part of that. 

And I think, you know, what Secretary Blinken and other members of the administration have been really striving to get across is that it's not part of that same- the United States isn't fighting over Ukraine for any kind of competition with China and with Russia. They're trying to help Ukraine liberate itself. That's the message that we have to get across. And, frankly, if Russia gets away with a land grab in Ukraine, it makes the world unsafe for every country imaginable that has a territorial dispute, including, of course, all of the neighbors of China in the South China seas and East Asia, and many other countries as well. India, and China have a major dispute in the Himalayas, for example. And what we really have to do is to work with those middle powers, the countries in the UN General Assembly, to make that point that we're trying to help Ukraine liberate its territory from an unprovoked aggression.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Ambassador, you heard from the Polish Prime Minister, this concern that not just the blast radius from this conflict, but that there will be some pushing of it beyond borders, maybe not over invasion, but destabilization. 


MARGARET BRENNAN: When you were in the administration, you left in September, there was talk about the surrounding countries also being targeted by Russia. Do you think that's underway now?

SULLIVAN: Absolutely. I mean, we've seen the- the story earlier this week about a potential effort by the Russians to undermine the government in Moldova. We've seen overflights by Russian missiles that were attacking Ukraine that have gone over the territory of other countries that aren't parties to the conflict. But this is a long standing concern by Poles, by Eastern Europeans, have always felt threatened by that colossus on their eastern border by Russia. They've always described it to me as when I was deputy secretary, they felt that they were on the front lines against this Russian- imperialist Russian state.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, but this feels differently when you were here with us. Last time, you said when you talked to Secretary Blinken, February 19th of last year, he asks you 'How are you feeling?' You said it feels like August 1939. You saw the Polish Prime Minister invoke Hitler.

SULLIVAN: Right- Yes. So, what happened on February 24th last year, Putin pushed all of his chips to the center of the table. He went all in. You'll recall before February 24th, there were- there was speculation about 'Yeah, there'll be maybe a limited incursion into Ukraine.' Putin went all in he went full World War Two, World War One scale. This is war, and we're going all in we're going to take down the Ukrainian government, we're going to subjugate the Ukrainian people, and by God, we're going to do with Ukraine what we wish, because Ukraine isn't a country, Ukraine is part of our "Russkiy Mir." We're going to do with it what we wish- what we want to, and you, the United States, EU, NATO, anybody else, you can't stop us,

MARGARET BRENNAN: And he's betting on a short attention span here in the West, here in the United States. Vladimir Putin is set to give an address Tuesday, it's going to be his first State of the Nation since the war began, very same day, President Biden is going to give a speech in Poland. What's the message you expect, and should be delivered?

HILL: Well, I think what Putin is going to deliver is a message that picks up on what Ambassador Sullivan's just said, he's going to depict this as a great patriotic war of you know, they use interchangeably fatherland war, protection of the motherland. In this case, Putin has been actually trying to say that this is the third invasion of Russia, after Napoleon and the Napoleonic Wars back in the 1800s, and then Nazi Germany. So, he's actually portraying this as an existential threat for Russia. So, what we would imagine is that he's really trying to mobilize the Russian population in support of what he's depicting as the fight for their lives. Now, President Biden's gonna have to counter that. We have to counter that narrative, not just in Europe. And you know, as we've heard from the Polish Prime Minister, we've heard from many other European leaders, they do see things in the same term as a rerun of World War One and World War Two in the sense of an unprovoked aggression by great power in Europe. But they've got to basically and President Biden's got to convince the world, the whole world at this point, not just Europeans, that we're in a fight to help Ukraine liberate itself and that everything that Putin is saying is a distortion of history, and a fact.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Ambassador when- when you talk about the war in Ukraine, politically here in the United States, President Biden gets attacked by Republicans in particular for being too slow moving to approve certain types of weapons, fighter jets, for example, for a year have been debated about whether to give them or not. Is this too slow moving, if we are actually in this incredibly important moment?

SULLIVAN: Well, it is an incredibly important moment and I think some of the criticism has been fair, it has been, I think the administration, which I was a part until recently, has been a little slow, has been cautious. President Biden, the- the marching orders we got at the start of this conflict was he wanted to do everything we could to support Ukraine, but he didn't want to work with Russia. And that's the careful balancing act that we've with- the administration has been going through--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But Vladimir Putin doesn't want a war with the United States either.

SULLIVAN: Well, Vladimir Putin says he's already at war with the United States. He says the reason that he invaded Ukraine is that Ukraine, put up to it by the United States, was going to invade Russia, Ukraine was going to develop nuclear weapons, the United States and Ukraine were developing bioweapons. The times that he will use the word war, to discuss what's happening in Ukraine, is when he says the West, the United States and all of its vassals, the word they use, is actually at war with Russia. When he talks about the special military operation, that's the response by Russia to the war that the United States is already waging, through its Ukrainian proxies, as they say, the United States wants to fight against Russia to the last Ukrainian and it's- it's all made up

MARGARET BRENNAN: And those are the words you're gonna be listening for on Tuesday when he--

SULLIVAN: He's going to- absolutely. Fiona's absolutely right. It's- it's going to be rallying the Russian- Russian people to- to- and to support the fatherland in this what he considers 'existential war' that he's engaged in in Ukraine.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Dr. Hill, I mean Ukraine's foreign minister said at Munich, 'the true end to the war will be when Russia's president comes to key falls to his knees and begs for forgiveness.' That does not sound like Vladimir Putin.

HILL: No, but perhaps, you know, 90 years from now, some Russian president might do that. And I'm saying 90 years because actually, Ambassador Sullivan and I have some Irish heritage, and it took 90 years for the Queen, Elizabeth the Second, to actually come and ask for forgiveness in Ireland, in a very highly symbolic way for you know, many of the conflicts. It's not inconceivable that at some point, some Russian leader, not in the immediate future, would in fact ask for forgiveness for what's been done in Ukraine. We saw German leaders after World War Two, you know, eventually asked for similar forgiveness at war memorials, including in the Soviet Union and in Russia itself. But it is true that when Russia drops as a country, these Imperial aims, then this will finally be over, but it won't be anytime soon.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you. It's hard to believe we're a year into this conflict. We will be back in a moment.

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