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What are Putin's immediate and long-term objectives in Ukraine? Expert panel discusses on "Intelligence Matters"

On this episode of Intelligence Matters, host Michael Morell moderates a conversation among a panel of experts including former Deputy Secretary General of NATO Rose Gottemoeller, former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Russia and Eurasia Andrea Kendall-Taylor, and former senior CIA operations officer John Sipher about the state of the Russia-Ukraine crisis and whether diplomatic options remain viable. The panel evaluates Russian President Vladimir Putin's immediate and long-term objectives and discusses how deterrent measures might be enhanced. They also discuss possible post-conflict scenarios in the European security landscape. This episode was produced in partnership with the Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy, and International Security at George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government.

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Rose Gottemoeller on Putin's motivations: "This is a this is a 'Look at me' moment for Putin and getting attention. He was seeing, I think, the United States passing Russia by and pivoting to Asia. Well, what has he done in recent times? He's shown us, he's gone off and had a great big summit meeting with Xi in Beijing. So this whole crisis has kept Russia, and it's kept Putin, before the global community on the front pages of the newspaper now for a long time. And I think that's part of what is going on here."

John Sipher on avoiding escalatory spiral: "The goal is going to be to make sure it's extremely painful for Putin, but to try to avoid some sort of escalatory spiral that we get caught into because, obviously, gas supplies are the immediate lever that Putin can pull. But I am also really worried about cyber. And so if we really do go after Russian banks, might they wield cyber tools to go after our banks? And so there is that needle to thread where it has to be painful, but how do we also prevent this kind of this escalatory spiral? 

Andrea Kendall-Taylor on long-term implications: "This to me is a signal that we're going to be in for a long, hard slog with President Putin. He's more brazen, he's more aggressive. He's willing to use his military. That's the lesson that he's learned. You learn that you use your military, you get the United States and Europe to the table to have the discussions that you want. S I may be thinking slightly past this most immediate crisis, but we've got to rethink entirely what our U.S. and European policy approaches [are] to Russia." 

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"Intelligence Matters" transcript - Experts including former Deputy Secretary General of NATO Rose Gottemoeller, former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Russia and Eurasia Andrea Kendall-Taylor, and former senior CIA operations officer John Sipher

Producer: Olivia Gazis

MICHAEL MORELL: Let me get the discussion started by asking, and Andrea, we'll start with you. Why is Putin doing this? Why is this so important to him and why now? What's behind the timing?

ANDREA KENDALL-TAYLOR Yeah, a lot to unpack there, and no simple answers.

First of all, it's great to be on this panel with these guests. I feel really honored to be with them tonight. So thank you for having me.

But I think first and foremost, this is about Ukraine. This is about keeping Ukraine in Putin's sphere of influence and in his orbit. I think it's an intensely personal issue for Putin. He has tried and failed repeatedly to increase Russian influence over Ukraine over his 22 years in power. So I think he sees this as quite personal and that this is his time to reassert influence.

But we have to underscore it's about Ukraine, but it's also about more than Ukraine. I think that very much for Putin, this is about revisiting the end of the Cold War. This is about reversing time. It's about rewriting the security order. It's about reinstating spheres of influence in Europe. And I think the 'Why now?' question, I think we obviously don't know exactly what it is. I think in terms of the Ukraine question, when Putin sees what's happening in Ukraine, he can see that trends are not moving in a direction that's favorable to Moscow. So his intervention, particularly in 2014, had the opposite effect of only hardening Ukrainians' desire to reintegrate into Euro-Atlantic institutions. So he sees quite clearly that things are not moving in his direction.

And so I think if he judges, if he has to interfere and intervene to right that trajectory, from Moscow's perspective, that now is the time to do it before the Ukrainian military continues to enhance its capabilities.

But I also think it's, you know, I personally think that there are legacy issues at play here. I think Putin is thinking long term. I think he believes that he is the last Russian leader who would be willing to take such risks to reassert Russia's role as a great power. And so I think for him, the time is, his clock is ticking, time is ticking. And so he is getting ready to break things. I mean, I think he really sees this. He sees the West as being in decline. He sees the United States is distracted. He sees the transatlantic relationship as under strain and he is leaning in now, I think, to accomplish these very maximalist objectives because I think that he views this as the opportune moment to do that.

MICHAEL MORELL: John, do you want to add anything? And maybe at the same time, give us your perspective on Putin, the man who are we dealing with here?

JOHN SIPHER: I'll just add, you know, I would think I totally agree with Andrea. I think Ukraine is moving further and further away from Russia. It's on the upswing. It's showing itself to be a model of moving to the West, which is bad for him and his people. So I totally agree with that.

I also do think some of this crisis is built into the way we previously dealt with Putin. I think he's essentially - as we look at he's been in power now, 20 years, the last 10 years, he's been essentially in a political war against us. And he's continued to take quite aggressive attacks and actions against us. And every time he's done something, we've only pushed back to the point where we didn't want to push him too far. We thought, maybe if we own it, we're getting some concessions or accommodations. Maybe he'll come around. Maybe he'll change.

And in retrospect, it looks like he saw that as weakness. That is, if he decides to sort of yank our chain, he'll get something out of it. We don't show great strength. We really don't push back. And so now he's he's sort of thrown down the gauntlet and we have less means to sort of deter this type of action.

And you add to that, I think he sort of despises the EU and Europe, thinks they're weak, he sees that the US pulled out of Afghanistan. You see what happens here domestically; January 6th is kind of things he sees. Americans are very inwardly focused. Most Americans are not interested in another foreign war. So timing wise, I think all these things come together in his view of our weakness, a view of European weakness. Plus, just like Andrea said, you know, Ukraine is moving further away: if not now, when?

Putin the man. I think that's something we can talk about more as we go along here. But one of the things I like to focus on when I talk to groups is he's a Chekist. He is a career KGB officer. He's someone who takes pride in the beginning of the Bolshevik state security services that use brutality to keep the regime in power at all costs. And many of the things that we've now seen and focused on since 2016 in terms of disinformation, sabotage and subversion, deception, these things we've seen, these are things that were used by the Soviet security services and actually even the tsarist security services before that.

So, he came from a background that tried to use these aggressive, overt tools of intelligence services, of security services to weaken their enemies from inside. And in fact, they use them against their own people, too. And so I think when we look at Putin, we need to think of him, as with his KGB and Soviet background as well. So I think that's that's something we have to always keep in mind.

MICHAEL MORELL: So Rose, Andrea and John talked about why this is important to Putin. Why is this important to the United States? There's been a little bit of debate here, right, about whether this should matter or not to us. What's the answer to that question? Why does this matter to the United States and why does this matter to the American people?

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: Before I dive in on that, Mike, I'd like to just comment, because I do feel and I know we'll probably get into this in our discussion, I do feel that we are still seeing some opportunity for diplomacy to make a difference here. And in fact, I see some perhaps growing momentum in that direction. We can have a debate about that, but that implies that Putin is not irrevocably on the path that both Andrea and John have laid out.

There is also an aspect of resentment here, I think, and part of what is going on, in my view, is Putin - well, we have Khrushchev all those years ago banging your shoe on the table. This is a this is a 'Look at me' moment for Putin and getting attention. He was seeing, I think, the United States passing Russia by and pivoting to Asia. Well, what has he done in recent times? He's shown us, he's gone off and had a great big summit meeting with Xi in Beijing. So this whole crisis has kept Russia, and it's kept Putin before the global community on the front pages of the newspaper now for a long time. And I think that's part of what is going on here.

He is, you know, he is feeding his own resentment in some ways by making sure that he's causing a lot of trouble for a lot of very important people who have, from his perspective, been ignoring him in recent times. So that means I think that there is an opening still for diplomacy, as long as it does involve the kind of pageantry and symmetry that we are seeing, including several Europeans going off to to Moscow this week and a continuing attention from the top leadership in Washington as well. But I think to my mind, it's worth it to keep the possibility of diplomatic progress open.

Now why is it important to the United States? The United States, of course, came out of World War II the dominant global figure and global country, the superpower that was able to define the institutions that have governed us internationally since World War II. I think that system is worth preserving and of course, evolving it in the direction that makes it also modern and able to cope with the current situation.

But all of those principles for which we stand independence, sovereignty, the ability of nations to continue to develop stable relations with their neighbors without having to be caught in the web of the sphere of influence. I think these so-called sometimes democratic principles are worth fighting for. It's worth the United States and its NATO allies, its allies in Asia, standing up for these principles and the institutions that that group grew up to support them.

So to my mind, that is first and foremost why this crisis matters to the United States. It also has to do, of course, again with the China connection, and that Putin and Xi seemed to be marching off in the direction of new rules or no rules. In other words, they are rejecting these post-World War II institutions. They want to remake them in their own image. And I think the United States and its allies has to stand also in defense of the institutions and what they mean in terms of supporting democratic principles.

MICHAEL MORELL: Let's get into the debate a little bit, Rose, that you started. I'm wondering if you all think that Putin has made up his mind about how far to push this? And if he's made up his mind about specifically what he wants to do or whether he sees his options as still open and if so, what are those options that he sees?

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: May I just say a word, perhaps mention why I think there may be a bit of a growing momentum in the direction of diplomacy. Putin, in recent times, including in his press conference or a couple of weeks ago, has been talking about that he was going to take the advice of his military, of his military experts. And in just in the last couple days, we've begun seeing emerge retired military people - I've seen two such public media interventions in the last two days one from General Ivashov, who most of us remember is not a particularly nice guy. But the gist of these communications is to say that this is not going to be easy for the Russian army, and invading Ukraine is not a particularly good idea.

So, in some ways, the combination of Putin stating quite publicly that he's going to ask his military experts for advice and then this kind of early shaping of the media environment with retired military people kind of warning against the invasion - it's beginning to look to me like Putin is trying to open up space so that he can make a decision to say we should proceed down the path of diplomacy and be magnanimous about it, because of the advice he's receiving from his military experts. So early days yet. But I'm interested to see if my view of this shaping of the media space is going to gain any ground in the coming days.

ANDREA KENDALL-TAYLOR: I hope Rose is right, but I am more pessimistic. I think based primarily on what we see happening on the ground, we can see the security situation around Ukraine continues to deteriorate on a daily basis. You know, Putin is clearly the master of optionality. He has created a series of options, and he could certainly take different paths. And Rose is right, maybe there is some opening for more diplomacy here. But I think what I see is that Russia is continuing to build forces on its borders and thinking back to my intelligence community days - if you were setting up a list of indicators that you would expect to see before a major military invasion, I think we're ticking through those indicators pretty quickly and we're, you know, we're on those proximate indicators that you would see before a significant invasion.

And so some of the things we're seeing, you know, first and foremost, we're seeing the arrival of large numbers of personnel. And that's important because what Russia has done to this point is to preposition a lot of equipment that they didn't necessarily have the people in on it. And we're seeing Russian soldiers showing up in extremely large numbers. We're seeing the appearance of the Rosgvardia, which is the National Guard, and that signals to me that they, you know, that gives Russia for the capability to hold territory. That's who you send in behind the front lines when you're looking to hold territory.

Presumably in eastern Ukraine, we're seeing, you know, in Crimea, the Russian military down there is now on its highest state of readiness. We're seeing the arrival of significant naval assets, including things like amphibious assault ships. Those ships can't stay there forever, right? And they've sailed all the way down from the north through the Mediterranean and now into the Black Sea. They're fully loaded. They're ready to go. You know, I don't know why Putin would go through such an elaborate build up this way to get to this point if he wasn't intending on using all of these assets. We're seeing the arrival of all of the logistical infrastructure communications. We had the report about blood supplies showing up. So all of these kind of enablers, the logistics, all of these things that are kind of proximate indicators.

And I'm not a Russian military expert, but in talking to my friends who are, signs that help you distinguish between a military exercise - because by the way, the military exercise starts with Belarus shortly and will continue through the 20th. But signs like, things like gasoline tanks on the back of their tanks that give the tanks extra distance, you don't need those for exercises. And so there's little telltale signs, I think, that I hear to suggest, you know, this isn't just about the exercise with Belarus or other things. They are really positioned for an invasion should they so choose.

And I, you know, I unfortunately think kind of that window is narrowing. If Putin wanted to pocket concessions, I feel like the time for that was maybe three or four weeks ago before the West has kind of flooded Ukraine with weapons and other things. So, you know, again, I don't it's hard to know if a decision has been made, but kind of given the sustained build up in the types of things we're seeing. I feel pessimistic and kind of agree with the intelligence community and what Washington is saying that we're pretty much in the window now and over the next two to three weeks, I think invasion is more likely than not.

MICHAEL MORELL: John, your view?

JOHN SIPHER: It's interesting, this is so hard because, you know, in a Western perspective, what he thinks he's going to gain from this is crazy, like it doesn't seem to make sense, and he looks at this differently than we do. So trying to get into his head is very hard.

And frankly, at the end of the day, it's his decision. He is the ultimate decision maker. And then none of us are going to get into his head ahead of time. But I think one thing is the last 10 years has shown us is that he's never going to be satisfied. There's no diplomatic answer or negotiation that's going to make him say, 'Oh, this is good, I'm comfortable and I'm going to sit back in my country and be happy.'

He can only be deterred, I believe, like a bully who is going to just keep pushing and pushing. He has to be scared of what deterrents mean. There has to be threats that are credible to him that he thinks going to hurt him. So there's all sorts of things that are important to him. I think he wants the U.S. out of Europe. I think he wants NATO to be weaker, NATO to go away. I think he wants countries on his border to be vassals, to be supportive of Russia, namely Ukraine.

But at the end of the day, I think this is about political survival. You know, he is a dictator. He doesn't have a good sense of his people because he doesn't have elections. He doesn't have those things that allow a democratic government to understand and get a feel for how things stand. And so, you know, he has to start looking at - I think the administration's done a good job and the allies have done a good job of trying to put up as many things together to show that there's a price to be paid here. He's going to be a pariah. He's going to be damaged economically. There could be a nasty insurgency in Ukraine. Body bags may find their way back to Russia and cause problems for him.

So, you know, as I look at it, you know, there's enough there that would make someone who is conservative and trying to stay in power sort of back away. And one of the things he has going for him here is the thing I mentioned up earlier is he could do this any time. Essentially, he can push us, push us, push us, he can back down. We'll all think it's great. And then a year from now, he can play the same game again.

MICHAEL MORELL: Maybe I'll just finish this piece with my own comment here and then ask Rose one final question. There's plenty of times when when I went to the Sit Room with the views of our analysts that something wasn't possible diplomatically, only to have our diplomats actually achieve it. So that's the kind of thing I'll throw on the table.

But Rose, do you think diplomatically, do you think there's space for an agreement where the U.S. does not essentially give away Ukraine and Putin doesn't fully back down? Is there space for such an agreement?

ROSE GOETTEMOELLER: The other thing that is clear, and in some ways, I agree with how it's been described so far by John and Andrea, he wants to remake the European security architecture in his concept. Now some of the ideas he's put out on the table, I think, are very good ones. The Russians are suffering some regrets for having killed the INF treaty. I believe they're concerned about the advent of new deployments of intermediate-range ground-launched missiles in Europe. And Putin himself put an offer on the table to remove the missiles that we have stated are violations the so-called 9M729 or SSC-8 to remove that missile from Europe and put in place verification measures to ensure it's not there.

So, you know, he's put some offers on the table of things that he says Russia would be willing to do.
By the way, that's now been joint - Xi and Putin together agreed that there should be perhaps some constraints on enough missiles in both Europe and Asia. That's probably the most interesting thing that came out of the Beijing summit, from my perspective.

So in other words, there's some useful stuff that Putin has been proposing that we should be willing to explore. And as far as I can tell from hearing what our diplomats have to say, we have put a clear message out that we are ready to start negotiating on some of these things.

We have issues of principle as well. And it means that we are not going to respond to a demand that there be no further NATO enlargement and no enlargement involving Ukraine. We are not going to move or budge on some of those untenable demands, but there's a whole lot of territory that Putin has staked out himself or his diplomats have staked out that I think we can do some useful work on and indeed some parts of the European security architecture I think not only deserve refurbishment, but they demand refurbishment, such as modernization of the Vienna document confidence-building measures.

So yes, there's there is territory that he has staked out himself. He should now take yes for an answer because after some years of hesitancy, NATO itself, as well as the United States, are willing to engage on some of these issues.

But the other point I'd like to make here is there has to be reciprocity. Putin cannot direct demands of NATO or demands of the United States and expect us to do the heavy lifting. Of course, it has to be a reciprocal kind of arrangement that would come out.

JOHN SIPHER: Can I add something quick? Frankly, I think we would have been glad to negotiate all of these things without this threat, without a threat of war. I mean, these are issues we brought up before, we were glad to talk to Putin about those kinds of things. So I think diplomatically, they all should be there if Putin wants to use that opportunity to back off to move away from this. But I don't think it's the INF or something that will change his mind that, 'This is so great, I'm now comfortable and it's all good.' I think if he chooses to move towards these negotiations, which he could have had anyway, it's just a way to back off for now because he's seen that the price of taking action is too much.

MICHAEL MORELL: OK, so if he does decide to invade - so we're beyond the negotiations. Wwe're beyond him successfully orchestrating a coup in Kyiv, right? We're beyond all that and he decides to invade. What will his objectives be? And given those objectives, what will the invasion look like? Who wants to take that first?

ANDREA KENDALL-TAYLOR: I'll jump in and try and definitely welcome other ideas. So, you know, my understanding of what he is looking to accomplish is two things one, he wants autonomy for regions in the East, and that's going to require some sort of constitutional change. To get that, you're going to have to topple this one state government or have some sort of kind of commanding military position to force that.

And as he has stated over and over again, he wants Ukraine out of NATO. And so I think in order to accomplish those maximalist objectives, it will require a significant land invasion that would likely look to kind of encircle Kyiv. And then the question becomes, once his troops are in that kind of commanding position, the question to Kyiv and to the West is, What do you want to negotiate now?

And so I think I've seen kind of coming out of the congressional briefing that got read out from last week that I see a kind of warning about a pincer movement where they really can come around from three sides. They've got the attack from the north and from the east and obviously from the south through bases through Crimea. So I think to me, if he is actually looking to accomplish that most maximalist objective, that is likely what it would be.

MICHAEL MORELL: John, do you agree with that and does he hold that territory? Or does he change the government in Kyiv and leave?

MICHAEL MORELL: Yeah, that's a good one. I mean, I think the one thing we can probably guess is it's not going to look like what we think it'll look like. You know, he, again, he's always trying to use these, you know, sabotage and all these other different ways of doing things and trying to sort of keep his enemies off balance.

I don't think - again, this is Western thinking, though - of course, I don't think he wants to invade and hold that country because then he risks again body bags. He risks a long term insurgency. He risks the kind of things that we faced in Afghanistan. But I do think he can achieve a lot of goals if he chooses to go in by essentially destroying the military, making the government unstable, maybe having a government fall and even pulling out very quickly because I think is then weakened Ukraine and any future Ukrainian government has to think this could happen again.

And so I think he can achieve his goals without having to occupy the country. And I just want to add one thing here is that I think we in the West and especially United States are a little too cavalier about this. I think we're sort of foolish if we think there can be a major war in Europe, a bloody war with huge refugee flows and these type of things without NATO, the U.S., others somehow getting involved in this.

I mean, in 1950 in Korea, we said Korea wasn't part of our zone of interest; we wouldn't fight. And we found ourselves there for a number of years. I'm not suggesting that's what we're going to do here, but the notion that he's going to go out and it won't really, you know, that NATO's fine, we're all fine. I just find it hard to believe. I think it's going to be uglier and more dangerous than that.

ANDREA KENDALL-TAYLOR If I can add one thing before we go to Rose, and I definitely want to hear what she has to say. I mean, I think it's a very low probability scenario, and I agree with John that I don't think he necessarily wants to hold territory like, you know, he just wants to achieve these objectives, increase his leverage in any future negotiations, and then he would be able to withdraw.

There is a low-probability scenario in my mind, though, that really haunts me, that sticks in the back, which is, what if he does want to occupy eastern Ukraine? I mean, so you look at the context in which this is happening, you look at what's happening in Belarus, for example. You know, there's 6,000 troops there that they'll surge to about 30,000. I know Putin has kind of promised that those troops would leave after the exercises, but I'm not convinced that's the case.

And so he's really managed in the last, you know, since Lukashenko's fraudulent election, where he's been Lukashenko's only lifeline, he has totally eroded Belarussian autonomy and he's not leaving. And so what if he is in this legacy mindset? What if Putin really is looking to increase his control and influence over Belarus? Take all of eastern Ukraine, and now he holds a swath of territory. He's bumped his periphery out significantly, return these historically kind of Slavic heartlands to the Russian territory.

Again, I think it's a low probability, but it nags me in the back of my mind and kind of to get back to John's Western thinking - we all think that's outrageous. It is full of risks. Of course it is. But that's the one scenario that really kind of nags me and keeps me up at night.

MICHAEL MORELL: Rose, I want to ask you, if he does invade, is there any doubt in your mind that the U.S. would not follow through with the threat of significant sanctions? Do you know? Do you think the UK would join us?

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: Yes. And more than that, I think the NATO countries --

MICHAEL MORELL: And do you think the EU will join us because they didn't join us in 2014?

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: I think the EU is poised to join us. Everything that I am hearing, at least from colleagues in Washington, is that the allies and partners in Europe, including the EU and its organizations, are really standing firm and they are ready to move on some quite significant sanctions actions well beyond anything that was contemplated in 2014.

The watchwords are start high and stay high, so they are planning working very closely together to extract some significant - I would say financial penalties, might not extract but impose some significant financial penalties on the Russian Federation. So this is all about deterrence, clearly at the moment, but I think I do see really much more significant cohesion with the European countries than I have seen in the past.

MICHAEL MORELL: And the impact of those sanctions on the Russian economy. How serious do you think those would be? 

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: From what I hear, they are going after the banking system, so there will be very significant, very significant impacts on the Russian economy.

MICHAEL MORELL: And then what do we expect Putin's response to those sanctions to be? What's his next step?

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: Of course, there will be some retaliation. No doubt in those areas where Putin can retaliate, the energy sector is front and center there. But there are other areas, too. You have to remember that titanium production, for example, is very much front and center as part of how the Russian Federation earns its keep these days. So there are critical minerals that are important to Western economies as well.

So there's definitely going to be some pain on the western side of the equation, but the focus is on trying to think ahead about ways to mitigate that pain. Now, really understanding that there will be retaliation from Putin's Russia - if I may just add one point on the previous exchange about how the invasion could unfold. I don't want to leave the discussion without flagging hybrid methods as well, because I think, of course, day in, day out, we're always at NATO, always at a level of hybrid activity that is, as we think about it, neither peace nor war, but really bent on causing serious mischief in NATO's cyber networks and elsewhere so that I can definitely see ramping up as a prelude to military invasion.

But it is an area that I think we are neglecting really to think about how those, the kinetic and the hybrid will fit together. And I think that's going to be an important part of how we foresee such an invasion as well.

MICHAEL MORELL: John and Andrea, your thoughts on Putin's pushback against sanctions.

ANDREA KENDALL-TAYLOR: I agree with Rose. You know, he's got the oil weapon, you know, one of the skills he's had as a Chekist, as a former intelligence officer, this hybrid war where he's weaponized social media and he's weaponized corruption, he's weaponized financial networks, he's weaponized all these type of things against us. We're going to see a lot of that. We're going to see cyber attacks. We're going to see, you know, trying to disrupt and cause trouble around the world, supporting violent groups and all these type of things.

Frankly, a lot of them, sort of like our ability to threaten that we're going to do sanctions, He's seen it before these kind of attacks we've seen before, it's just going to be ramped up. And so it's serious. But you know, nonetheless, we have to make sure that the pain is larger for him to try to deter him here.

JOHN SIPHER: Andrea, I agree with that. And also one more point on the sanctions, though the other thing Rose is right I think the focus is going to be the financial institutions and that will have kind of immediate economic pain for the Russians and hearing people talk about, you know, if our last set of sanctions, I think estimates say about to cost Russia about two to three percent of their GDP, that is what they're talking about. This time will be far and away above above that kind of financial economic impact.

But the second piece that they're also putting on the table is this export controls discussion. And by that, you know, they will go after things like semiconductors, going after sectors of the Russian economy that drive growth and then that feed the defense budget and the aggression abroad. So they're looking to have immediate impact, but there is going to be a longer term impact and they are going to go after and squeeze these sectors of the economy going after things that Putin cares about dearly, like by making it harder for the regime to innovate, that'll hurt the defense industrial complex. So it's both immediate impact, but there's going to be long-term costs as well. So that's important.

I think the key is, yes, start high, stay high. The goal is going to be to make sure it's extremely painful for Putin, but to try to avoid some sort of escalatory spiral that we get caught into because obviously gas supplies are the immediate lever that Putin can pull. But I am also really worried about cyber. And so if we really do go after Russian banks, might they wield cyber tools to go after our banks? And so we're going to that. There is that needle to thread where it has to be painful. But how do we also prevent this kind of this escalatory spiral?

MICHAEL MORELL: And that's exactly the question I wanted to ask. One of the things the White House leaked, you know, for deterrence effect was the fact that that CIA would be in a position to train Ukrainians to fight Russians. And I ask that not to ask whether that's possible or not or whether we will do that or not. I ask it in the context of, is there a scenario you worry about with regard to escalation. Rose?

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: Well, taking us back to my concern about the hybrid space, I think, frankly, here it is difficult to know. And there's been some concern in my mind that if the attacks do start in that hybrid space, then there is the possibility of some escalatory pressures. But there's also the possibility that we won't take sufficient deterrent action in that space. Time and again, it's difficult to judge the direction of attack. The focus of the attack. The extent of the attack and attribute from whence came the attack. So it worries me that - not so much that that we will get into an escalatory spiral in that space, but that we will be insufficiently able to deter.

Asking about now, well, how do you deter in cyberspace? OK, well, maybe we start to apply a few economic levers there. And that's the hard question from my perspective. I do worry, and I have to say, I think NATO's been doing some really hard thinking about this. I do worry about spillover also.

And John mentioned the possibility of - perhaps, I'm sorry, Andrea, it was you as well - that there would be implications, serious implications for data from any Russian attack on Ukraine, kinetic or otherwise. And so I think that that is something that worries me very much as well.


JOHN SIPHER: Yeah, Russians have always been very good in the past of, you know, when we tried to push back, they've often pushed back very quickly, so hard. And Michael, you've seen this on Russian expulsions of diplomats and our expulsion of intelligence officers after there's been a large espionage case or something. For example, when we arrested Robert Hanssen, the FBI special agent was spying for the Russians, we wanted to punish the Russians by kicking out a bunch of intelligence officers. Well, the next day, the Russians kicked out, you know, more Americans, and we kicked out Russians, and then we backed down because oftentimes we don't hold together, even internally in the US government, certainly amongst allies.

When the Russians, they're serious, we've often sort of backed away. In this case we can't do that. If we feel pain from the Russians, if we back off, Putin's just going to see that as weakness and continue to push for more and more of what he wants here.

One of the reasons I think we are seeing some of this leaking of intelligence and these types of things where the administration has sort of leaked it, that we have insight into some of the stuff they're trying to do, to do a false flag attack or do these kind of things, I think it's part of the deterrence factor that - showing them that we have real insight into what's going on in the Kremlin in there and that he ought to take that into his calculus, that we may be better poised than he thinks we are.

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: I just want to fully agree with John. I am quite impressed with some of this rollout of intelligence, which I think has in this, this interim period, while we're waiting for Godot or whatever we're waiting for at this moment - we fear an invasion, of course. But the deterrent effect of these kinds of roll-out of intelligence, I think is very, very important at this moment. I'd be interested actually, Andrea, from your experience, and Mike and John, what you would have to say about that. But I think it's an important use of this tool.

ANDREA KENDALL-TAYLOR: Yeah, just on the deterrent piece, I mean, the other deterrent we haven't talked about, so it's obviously sanctions, export controls, Rose is talking about our kind of intentional leaking to take away that pretext of surprise, which I think has been quite effective, as Rose said.

But the other thing we're doing is putting forces into the region, right, to strengthen the eastern flank just for the reason that Rose said, because of the potential of spillover. I think that was a really welcome sign from the administration to try to start taking steps to reinforce the eastern flank.

I think it serves two functions, one, I think it is a deterrent. And alongside sanctions, we've clearly communicated to Putin that if he invades Ukraine, we will increase our force posture in Europe. And I actually think that's the more deterring step rather than sanctions. It's basically telling Putin, 'You do this action, you invade Ukraine, you might get a small win in Ukraine, but you're going to entirely change the security picture that you're facing in ways that Russia won't like.'

And so I think any we've heard the administration kind of communicate that when they put these forces in Romania and Poland, that that was a down payment on what would be to come if he does invade. So I think from a deterrent perspective, that was also a really welcome step. It's a welcome step from the kind of preparedness perspective to try to be ready to manage any potential spillover, so that that's another, I think, was a strong move from the administration that maybe could have come sooner. But better late than never.

JOHN SIPHER: Just one quick piece, Michael, here, is Putin for the last actually in his entire term in office has been claiming that the United States and the CIA and the State Department, rather than interfering inside Russia, that we've been causing - You know, he's been blaming his economic problems on the CIA and others are causing problems inside that we're supporting opposition groups. He's jailing people because he says they're Western agents and sources. He knows that's not true. You guys know that's not true. We have not tried to do those things to Mr. Putin.

But, you know, we can. And so I think one of the big deterrent factors that could be here - and I don't know how you would message to somebody like Putin is to say, "We're going to change the way we do this. We've tried to accommodate you. It's not going to work. You're a KGB officer. You understand the Cold War, you've been pushing it for your entire term."

"We're able to also support opposition inside. Countries were also able to do these kind of things, cyber attacks. And then, you know, we're able to take your money away and steal it and do all those kind of things that you claim we're doing. We can do those. And if you want to play this game hard, we do have the capability to do it. And you know we haven't done it so far, but, you know we can."

MICHAEL MORELL: Yeah. So maybe that's going to be your answer to the next question - we're going to do one more Round Robin and then we're going to go to audience Q&A. And my last question is, if you could give President Biden one piece of advice going forward here, what would it be? Let's start with Rose.

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: It goes back to the remarks I made earlier about Putin wanting the global attention and the high-level attention, and actually President Biden's been good at this. He was willing to meet with Putin in Geneva back in June, and that has gotten us started on a couple of worthwhile tracks, such as dealing with these ransomware attacks.

I actually agree with comments that were made earlier. If you know Ukraine is invaded, then all bets are off in terms of trying to make any progress with Russia on our bilateral issues. But I think there has been some success in my own arena of a strategic stability dialogue. I like the way they have been able to get off the ground with some worthwhile discussions through the fall.

But again, all bets are going to be off. But I only say that to point out that Biden's been willing to have his contacts with President Putin, to speak with him on the phone, to meet with him when it's worthwhile. And I think that would be my advice to keep that channel open because we're going to need to have channels of communication open no matter how bad it gets.

ANDREA KENDALL-TAYLOR: Yeah, that's a great one. I mean, I agree with Rose that the diplomacy to keep the channels of communication open is a really important one. And to do that as long as humanly possible, to continue to explore these options to find alternatives that might avert crisis. So that's definitely a piece of it, which I think we see the Biden administration doing quite clearly.

And I mean, I guess it's I don't know if it's good advice because I think they're already doing it, which is kind of preparing also to buckle down for what's going to be a long confrontation with Russia. And I think that's going to be true no matter what happens in Ukraine, actually.

You know, even if this is kind of a long slog and they maintain this force posture on the border and start grinding down Ukraine's economy and grinding down our nerves, I mean, I see this as a really important turning point in U.S.-Russian relations. This administration came in wanting to pursue a stable and predictable relationship with Russia that was prudent at the beginning. But when they built a force posture in April, that was a pretty clear signal that Putin wasn't interested in that kind of relationship.

So regardless of what happens, if we do find a diplomatic path out of this or if it's a full invasion, I think we need to entirely shift and rethink what the U.S. and European approach to Russia is going to be.

Because I think, you know, this to me is a signal that we're going to be in for a long, hard slog with President Putin. He's more brazen, he's more aggressive. He's willing to use his military. That's the lesson that he's learned. You learn that you use your military, you get the United States and Europe to the table to have the discussions that you want. So I think I guess for me, I may be thinking slightly past this most immediate crisis, but we've got to rethink entirely what our U.S. and European policy approaches to Russia.


JOHN SIPHER: I remember I was working in CIA's Russia House and there was sort of a worldwide operational thing when 9/11 happened, and I can remember talking to our head of the clandestine service saying, 'Hey, there's a lot of things that Russians are up to here, a lot of espionage, a lot of sort of covert attacks and things, you know, now there's going to be so much focus on terrorism. We're going to lose a lot of sort of support here.'

And I remember him saying, 'Don't worry, Putin will always come around and do something to force us to pay attention to them.' And it's exactly what we're seeing here.

So I think, just like Andrea said, the administration wanted to focus on China. The previous two administrations wanted to move towards Asia, all these type of things. Putin is almost like Kim in North Korea. He is going to make himself relevant. He's going to use, you know, attacks and other things to make us pay attention to him.

So we're going to have to continue to invest in Europe. We're going to have to try to tighten up our banking and other sectors so that this elite capture where he uses dirty money in London and in other states to try to get people and all of these sort of sabotage subversion tools against us is - you know, we can't give it up.

So we're going to have to continue to focus on it. And I guess the thing I'd said to you before: I think you can't be tough enough with Putin. And I think threatening him with the kind of covert stuff that he does to us is something we should consider.

MICHAEL MORELL: Yeah. And I guess the one that I would put on the table is I think I would ask the president to think about preparing the American people here a little bit because this is not going to be pain-free for American citizens. Oil prices are going to go well above $100 a barrel and people are going to want to know why they're sacrificing, which is why I asked the question earlier, 'Why is this so important,' right? I think the president's got to be out there talking about it, and all of his aides.

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