The Good Fight
🎧 Anne Applebaum on How to Fight Back Against Dictators Like Putin

🎧 Anne Applebaum on How to Fight Back Against Dictators Like Putin

Anne Applebaum and Yascha Mounk discuss Putin’s sputtering war effort

Anne Applebaum is a staff writer for The Atlantic and a Senior Fellow of the Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University. In her books — most notably Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine and Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe — she has chronicled the terrible human costs of past attempts by Russia to dominate countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

In this week’s conversation, Anne Applebaum and Yascha Mounk discuss the changing nature of Russia's dictatorship, what it would look like for Ukraine to win the war, and how democracies can defend their values in a world of resurgent authoritarianism.

The transcript has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Yascha Mounk: It's been a month since the beginning of the war. What is the state of war today, and how is that different from what we might have expected four weeks ago?

Anne Applebaum: We know exactly what the Russians expected four weeks ago. We know because the US Defense Department had a leak of some kind. There was a very specific battle plan, which involved the taking of Kiev in three to four days, and then the conquest of all of Ukraine (including Western Ukraine, all the way up to the Polish border) within four to six weeks. We know that after three or four days, already there were articles written celebrating the conquest of Ukraine and the reunification of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, one of which accidentally appeared on a Russian website and was quickly taken down. So we know what the plan was. And I have to say that that was also what most American analysts thought would happen. I got into an argument with one of them right before the Munich Security Conference. It was about a week before the invasion. I said, “Well, don't you think the Ukrainians are going to fight back?” And he said to me, “You live in a bubble. You only know your Ukrainian friends, and you don't see the wider picture.” And I said to him, “Maybe you live in a bubble because you read Russian military documents all day long.” 

Anyway, I was right. Or partly right. The war is not over yet. But clearly the plan was based on Putin's assumption and the assumptions of many other people that Ukrainians would not fight. Putin thought this because he thinks Ukraine is not a real country; these are not people who will defend themselves. They don't care, they're not invested enough in the nation to defend it. The Americans thought this because they were looking at Russian estimates of how many weapons they have, and the Russians so outnumber the Ukrainians both in amount of just pure stuff they have and also numbers of people. 

What nobody really counted on was, first of all, the Ukrainian army having fought over the last eight years. There are a lot of veterans, there's a lot of military experience. It's not just one of those post-Soviet armies that has never done anything. Also that the ongoing eight-year war with Russia had changed Ukraine. Ukrainians understood both from the Russian occupation of Crimea and from the Russian occupation of Donetsk, that Russian occupation would be an end of their lives as they know it. They understood that this would be the end of not just Ukraine as a country, but also of democracy, of the more open lifestyle they'd enjoyed, the more free press they'd enjoyed, the more free conversation they'd enjoyed, and really have enjoyed, over the last decade, much more so than Russia. And so they know they're fighting for something that's existential, it matters to them. And it matters to them a lot more than it matters to the Russians who are coming over the border, especially some of the younger conscripts who, at least in the initial wave, didn't understand why they were there at all. 

So it really is a war where what you're fighting for, and whether or not you care about it, matters a lot. The fact that Kiev is still standing and the country is not conquered is a testament to that.

Mounk: So clearly, one of the real things that mattered in, at least so far, allowing Ukrainians to defend their country very effectively, is the will to fight; the leadership, which has been, I think, more courageous and inspirational than we might have imagined. But it has to go beyond that. So clearly, Ukraine's army is a lot stronger and more professional than many had assumed, and Russia's army also seems to be a lot weaker and more sclerotic than many assumed.

Applebaum: Yes, I think what we're watching is the effect of corruption. We know how it affects the Russian economy, but it also affects Russian society and Russian bureaucracy. And it also affects the Russian military; it seems very likely that Russian generals were stealing. And they were lying about how many troops they really had, and how much stuff they really had and how well it was being maintained and cared for. Money was, no doubt, being spent. But some of it clearly disappeared, because things that they were supposed to have, they don't have, including troops who were meant to be there. We thought that the 150,000 troops gathered around the borders of Ukraine in the run up to the war were all professional soldiers. It turns out that wasn’t true, but that was how they were listed in Russian documents. And so somebody was lying. This is a political system that is based on a really profound corruption, on the assumption that whoever you are, whatever your job is, you have the right to steal as much as you possibly can; to get it out of the country, to buy a house in the south of France or whatever you can afford. And everybody does it, including, clearly, some of the army leadership. I think that the failure of the Russian army is a reflection of the society more broadly. 

Mounk: It feels to me that when you were at the Munich Security Conference, and this American official was saying, “Well, obviously Russia is going to be able to conquer most of Ukraine very quickly,” that obviously determined what the United States and Western countries’ aims of the war were: to inflict a little bit of damage on Russia, perhaps to make a war last a little bit longer. There didn't seem to be a realistic prospect of actually allowing Ukraine to win the war. 

You've recently argued that it is now time to shed those assumptions and actually play for keeps, and actually empower Ukraine to win the war. What would it look like for Ukraine to win the war, and what kind of action does it take from Western nations and others to empower Ukraine to do so?

Applebaum: Yes, so that article was an argument for a shift in thinking. The Americans believed that it would be over quickly—you'll remember that they even offered to help Zelensky escape the country. He refused, famously saying, “I don't need a ride out. I need more ammunition.” We need not just the White House, but the rest of the West to shift their thinking away from, “How do we damage Russia and make this as painless as possible and end the war quickly?” to understanding that Ukrainians can win, and to begin to think about what winning looks like and to help them get there. I am not an expert in military strategy. I am told that there are more sophisticated weapons that we can get to the Ukrainians. I will stay away from the subject of whether we should intervene ourselves, because I don't think that's realistic at this point. There's too much fear of Russian escalation, and the use of nuclear weapons, in Washington. We might regret that that fear exists, but it's there. Where's the Berlin Airlift of today? Where are the enormous supplies of food and help that we should be offering to Mariupol and other cities that are under siege? I'd like to see more of that. I would like to see sanctions being targeted more specifically at the war effort. A temporary ban on buying Russian oil and gas—particularly now that it's getting a little warmer and gas is not so crucial in Europe—would be a huge statement. It would be one that would be felt quickly by the Russian budget. We've successfully frozen their foreign reserves. But they're still making billions every day from selling natural resources, and ending that is one of the few things we could do that would have an instant effect. The sanctions, as they are now, will have a longer-term effect over many months. But that doesn't help us in the next two or three weeks. 

I'd say even more than that: beginning to figure out what a postwar Ukraine looks like. And I admit that this is difficult. How do we ensure Ukraine's borders? How do we give the Ukrainians some sense of security? How do we make sure that Russia doesn't come back again? What are the deals that can be done? People talk about giving Putin an off-ramp, but I don't think that's exactly what we're talking about. Putin can decide what the narrative is inside Russia. So he can say, “Well, I wasn't really trying to conquer all of Ukraine, all I wanted was recognition of Crimea” or something. He could do that if he wanted to. Of course, for the Ukrainians at this point, offering him any concessions at all is going to be very politically difficult for Zelensky. There are other politicians in Ukraine who are already starting to say, “Over our dead bodies—not one inch of territory will be given up.” And I have to say, if you look at how the Russians are behaving in the territories that they've conquered, you can understand why. 

One of the things that to me, as a historian, is really horrifying is watching the Russians do in eastern Ukrainian cities exactly what they did in eastern Poland, Hungary, the Baltic states, and East Germany, right after World War II: decapitating the top of society; arresting the mayors, museum curators, intellectuals, journalists, and then using random terror on everybody else. This is how the Soviet occupation was conducted in Central Europe after the war, and they seem to have the same playbook here. And so, for the Ukrainians, giving up any territory means that you're giving people over to a regime of terror. And that has to be very difficult for any politician. But finding a way to end the war might involve that. 

Mounk: There was a very clear and specific goal in the actions of the Soviet Union in the post-World War II period: they wanted to erect a communist regime. Part of the point was that it would be subservient to the will of Moscow or the Kremlin, but another part of the point was a set of ideological goals for what those societies would look like internally. 

What is the nature of the Putin regime today? It started off as just a kind of kleptocratic dictatorship. There's an argument being made that Russia is quickly turning into a kind of totalitarian society, but one without a very strong ideology. It does not have the strength of ideology that the Third Reich or the Soviet Union had. What do you think Russian society is going to be like after the war if Putin stays in power? What would following the same Soviet playbook without its ideological foundation look like?

Applebaum: I have actually been arguing for about 15 years that there is a kind of ideology of Putinism: there is a theory of history, an economic theory, and a kind of politics. The theory of history is that Russia was robbed at the end of the Soviet Union when it broke up, the 1990s were a disaster (when the West sought to destroy Russia), and then Putin began to rebuild Russia. There's a kind of resentment and nostalgia that work together. To explain everything that's happened in the last 30 years, there's a kind of fake democracy and fake capitalism. There are some of the forms of capitalism, but in fact, the economy is controlled from above by a group of oligarchs. There appear to be democratic elections, but in fact, the outcomes are predetermined. You have a managed economy and a managed democracy. And there is an elite behind it who controls things, like puppet masters.

This, of course, reflects very much a KGB way of thinking about the world, and it’s actually how Putin thinks. It's the system he's tried to create inside Russia. When he sees, for example, democratic activists demonstrating in Russia, he doesn't think that those are spontaneous grassroots, or Russians representing a different point of view. He thinks, “Oh, they're organized by the CIA.” He doesn't believe in any spontaneity, in any natural activity, in anything grassroots. The society is managed and controlled, and the energy of the propaganda is not so much for things as against things: they're against Western democracy, they're constantly looking to expose and undermine Western politics and European politics and Western international institutions, including all the institutions set up after World War II that were designed to prevent situations exactly like this one: the language of human rights and negotiation, the laws on war, and so on. They're setting themselves up as a kind of realist power that is opposed to all those things. Inside Ukraine, they will find very few collaborators. They will find people who will collaborate not because they believe in the ideology as such, but because they understand that they too can be part of this elite that makes money out of the system. Although I did read that one potential collaborator in one of the East Ukrainian cities has been shot by Ukrainians. So it's a much more dangerous thing to be than you would think. 

Putinism is not an ideology in the old Marxist-Leninist style. It doesn't have elaborate texts to go along with it. But there is a set of ideas: people understand what they are, and people act in accordance with them. 

Mounk: I'm trying to make sense of what that actually looks like as a society. And I don't think the answers to that are obvious. So the most salient models I have of different kinds of dictatorships are on one side, something much more like what you were describing Russia feeling like five or 10 years ago, in which you can't do anything that endangers the rule of the dictator, but it's perfectly acceptable in this society to say, “I don't care about politics. I have my family and I play soccer on the weekends. I don't really think about politics very much.”

Then there's a second kind of regime which is totalitarian, which is actively trying to indoctrinate the population. And so in those regimes to say, “I just don't care about politics,” is actually suspect. You need to parrot the line of the regime more actively. It feels to me like what you're describing emerging in Russia now, is a kind of strange hybrid in which Putin is trying to achieve the level of control that is more typical of totalitarian regimes without having that proactive mobilization of all of society in the service of some kind of ideology. While I take your point about the negative ideology that Putin has, none of those points of belief you listed are a potential basis for mass mobilization of society. The regime is too cynical for that. So is this a new type of dictatorship, will Putin be pushed towards inventing an ideology? It's not clear to me how those things are actually going to work together and practice?

Applebaum: You're right. What has succeeded for Putin up until now has been, actually, the deliberate creation of apathy. Russian propaganda has been designed for the last decade, not to mobilize people, but to make people feel like, “Oh, I don't want anything to do with any of this. And I'm just better out of it,” often through the constant and cynical undermining of Western language and Western ideas. You think there's an alternative in Western Europe? There's not. You think there's something better out there, democracy? There's not. And also the elimination of any alternative to Putin: People look around, they don't see anything else. What is there? There's Putin or there's chaos. There's Putin or there's war. That's all been very deliberate. 

But I agree with you that that is now a kind of problem for the regime. And they're actually trying to solve it in a somewhat strange way. One of the oddities about the war was that in the run up, there was no discussion of it. On the contrary, Russian television was telling people, “Oh, this Western propaganda, that's American intelligence about coming military operations, that's all a lie. It's not true.” That didn't build support. There's no mass creation of hatred of Ukraine (which would have been very difficult). They didn't do that. And even in the first few days of the war, they didn't say they were at war. In fact, they still haven’t said they're at war. They say it's a special military operation. They don't tell people what's actually happening there. Instead, what they've done is they've created this very strange “Z” campaign: people wearing Z's on their gym clothes, or painting Z on the side of their car. This is the Z that was painted on the side of the tanks that were headed for Ukraine. They've taken that and made it into a symbol. I find it strange in a number of ways. One is that it seems to me that they're using that instead of the Russian flag. Why aren't they putting the Russian flag on this operation? Because they're a little nervous about it. It's not going the way it was supposed to go.

Mounk: You can abandon the Z, but you can't abandon the flag. 

Applebaum: That's right. And if they decide at some point that the Z thing isn't going very well, it can just go away. We can move on and we haven’t involved the honor and glory of Mother Russia. Putin's name even isn't on it. It's just this strange Z which, by the way, is not a letter in the Russian alphabet. It's a Western letter. It seems very artificial. There are these videos that are very fascist looking, but don't seem very authentic. There was a big rally at a stadium and that also didn't seem terribly authentic. Just like everything in Russia is fake—they have fake elections, and they have fake capitalism—now they fake totalitarianism, as well. They may think that just doing that kind of veneer of propaganda will be enough to scare people. The point is to scare people, make them stay home, don't have them come out into the street. It may be that they don't want to motivate people to do anything, you know, they just want them to shut up, they want to make sure there's no rebellion, there's no protest, nothing goes wrong, people just stay home and are silent. Particularly if economic sanctions do kick in, they'll want that. 

In my view, this is a problem that the Russians themselves haven't solved: now that they are abandoning this kind of managed democracy, this kind of faked democracy that they've had for two decades, what replaces it, and what's the point of it? So is the point just to control people? Is the point to send a message to the west? Is the point to motivate people? Again, they're still not telling people that there's a war on, they're still not saying, “this is a big national effort, and we must all pitch in.” They're still not calling for massive contributions to the war campaign or whatever. They're not doing what the Ukrainians are doing: the Ukrainians have have asked every male person between the ages of 18 and 60 to stay inside the country, and to help the war effort. And the Russians aren’t doing that. They have started talking about wider conscription, but they haven't done these draconian things yet.

Mounk: How does that relate to the question of an off-ramp for Putin? As long as he stays in complete control of the country and feels confident that he can stay in complete control of a country, he might be able to declare victory and say that the special military operation has succeeded. Subjectively, Putin has to feel that he can agree to what objectively would be a humiliating deal, and sell it to the Russian public without endangering his own rule. 

Do we know anything about whether Putin's command of the Russian state apparatus is sufficiently firm, and whether he feels that it is sufficiently firm? Because if one of those conditions is not true, it doesn’t seem to me that Putin is going to choose any form of off-ramp.

Applebaum: He's clearly paranoid about something. The fact that he's appearing at those long tables, 10 meters away from his generals—either he's scared of getting COVID from them, or he's scared of assassination. Neither one is a good sign. And he's making these paranoid ranting appearances on television. Those are not signs of somebody who's 100% confident that everything's going really well. This weird Z campaign doesn't look like what a healthy, secure dictator does. On the other hand, I do think that he controls the narrative inside the country. Again, they've not told the Russians there's a major campaign on, they've not told them that 10,000 Russian soldiers have died. They're right now still at the point where Putin could say, “I've achieved X or Y—it stops.” And he could pull them out. He hasn't put Russia's name, or his own, on the line. All these things give me some hope that if he wanted to end it, he could. I don't know. And I don't think anybody knows. None of us can know what's in his head about how existential or how important this war is to him.

It's been pretty clear to me for years that he perceived Ukraine as a kind of existential threat. In a way, it was very hard for outsiders to understand. But Ukrainian democracy was something that he took personally, and it was kind of an insult. “Here's our former colony, and they've chosen a different political system. They've chosen to be integrated with Europe.” He understood that as an attack on him and his autocracy and his authority. He's made that clear for a decade. But the question is, how much? Can he decide that he can tolerate Ukrainian democracy? Can he revert back even to the position he seemed to have around 2010-11, when he seemed initially willing for Ukraine to have some kind of relationship with the EU, and seemed to be in favor of a Ukrainian trade agreement? That was the first step that Ukraine took towards a relationship with Europe. He didn't object to it. Then he changed his mind. He decided he objected to it, and really, it was that objection that created the backlash that then created the Maidan and the revolution in 2014. 

The question is whether he can return to that previous level, or whether this is now so encoded in his brain by the two years he spent in COVID isolation, reading weird bits of history written by God knows who. And he's now on some mission to recreate the Russian Empire? I just don't know. He's certainly been capable in the past of making rational decisions based on a relative understanding of risks and so on. I mean, he's never been a huge risk taker, even when the things he’s done surprised us: whether it was the invasion of Syria, which he did knowing full well there would be no response, or the invasion of Crimea, which was a total surprise to everybody (almost everybody, actually—not the Polish government. But almost everybody). All of that was calculated, even the attack on the US election, the use of disinformation, and the support for far-right parties in Europe. 

All of that was a kind of calculated risk. Whether he's now crossed into some other realm of thinking, I just don't know.

Mounk: Putin has always been more willing to cross moral and political lines, but he actually hasn't taken on a vast risk for his own country. Perhaps, in Ukraine, he just miscalculated: he thought the war wouldn't be a huge risk either, because within three days he would be in Kiev, and clearly the appetite for sanctions was limited among the European countries who had made excuses for everything else he had done across the world. And so he just miscalculated; it's not that he was willing to take on a much bigger risk, he just didn't think the risk was that big. Or was he actually willing to take on a completely different level of risk because it was so important to him? I don't think that it's obvious which of those two it was.

Applebaum: No, I can only guess. My guess is that on three counts, he's had very bad information for the last several years. Number one: on the nature of modern Ukraine, about which he knows nothing. He's never been there. He doesn't know any of its leaders. Nobody else around him does, either. They've been telling themselves for decades that Ukraine is a fake country, and they don't have any idea what it's really like. And here, in this sense, it's like Shakespeare. He's a leader isolated from reality. He's surrounded by yes-men, probably everybody around him was also saying Ukraine is a fake country. And so he believed that. I think, similarly (and probably thanks to Trump) he believed that the West was more divided, and less likely to support Ukraine than he expected. He watched over four years of the Trump administration as Trump attacked NATO and talked about taking American troops out. A lot of the Republican Party supported Trump in those efforts, or didn't push back. There was a lot of dissatisfaction with American leadership in Europe and so on. He watched all that happen. He probably thought, “This is not a united Alliance, they're not that interested in helping the Ukrainians, they won't do anything.” 

Finally, I'm sure he believed his propaganda and the propaganda that he can hear coming from Fox News and other places that Joe Biden is a weak, elderly person who's really out of it, has dementia, and so on. I'm sure those three miscalculations were part of his misreading of the situation. I imagine some of his information comes from the US media, and from European media. If you listen to French or German media, you can hear a lot of whining about America and American leadership. And if you listen to American media, you can hear a lot of stuff about how Joe Biden has dementia. He informed himself through those kinds of partisan sources and miscalculated. That would be my guess.

Mounk: Let me get back to Ukraine and the potential for a deal here. What does it look like for Ukraine to win? One model for winning a war is to invade the country that first attacked you and force them to agree to a total surrender. That's how we dealt with the Third Reich, and that is clearly not going to happen here. Nobody is talking about Ukrainian troops making forays into Russian territory (let alone to Moscow), so victory would have to involve some kind of deal. Given that Putin's appetite for risks seems to have grown somewhat, given that it does appear that Ukraine is at least very important to his goals, and that he will probably be licking his wounds and plotting revenge: what kind of deal could give Ukraine the security assurances it needs, so that this nightmare is not just going to restart five or ten years from now?

Applebaum: That's the million dollar question. I don't have an answer that I can give you. Ukraine has started to hint at what it's looking for, which is some kind of status, whereby it has, if not a NATO security guarantee, then some security guarantee from some neighbors, maybe from Poland and Scandinavia, maybe from some coalition of the willing in Europe. They want some reassurance that this won't happen again soon. Obviously, they will need Russian troops to withdraw. I don't want to speculate about a border deal, because I feel that's for the Ukrainians to accept, and not for me to tell them what to do. But maybe there would be some border deal, or some deal about Crimea, maybe the West lifts sanctions, and so on. There would have to be some negotiation about borders, about the safety of Ukraine, about the neutrality of Ukraine, and about the sanction regime. Somewhere in that mix, there might be something that—after some period of time and failure—Putin might decide he can accept.

Mounk: You hinted earlier at some skepticism you have about how serious Western Europe is about maintaining the sanctions for as long as they may be needed. I have been inspired by the response in Western Europe, and I've been positively surprised by the response in Germany. But like you, I worry that there's a huge difference between what these countries are willing to do in the opening phase of a brutal war a few hundred miles from their borders, and what that will look like in three or five years; whether Germany is actually willing to end its holiday from history; whether Italy is actually willing to wean itself off of Russian gas. 

How optimistic are you about how Europe will act in the coming years, and what should European leaders do to contain the danger from Russia in a sustainable way?

Applebaum: I do agree with you that the transformation in Germany is remarkable. I wrote this at the time: things that seemed impossible three days earlier suddenly became possible because of the war, Zelensky’s eloquence, and Ukrainians showing how much they value our values. I think that moved people a lot. Public opinion made a huge difference. I am particularly worried about the oil and gas question, because I do think that it's going to become clearer, maybe even quite soon, that we have to cut off at least Russian oil and maybe Russian gas. In other words, the war might require that the Russian regime ceases to have any way of earning money. That would inflict a lot of disruption in European politics. The French have an election. Italian politics is always pretty nutty. The Germans wouldn't like it either. I'm worried that that would lead to some dissension and division inside the West. In the event of Russian use of chemical or—god forbid—nuclear weapons, I can imagine divisions about what the response should be. I am not privy to any private conversations about it. I'm sure there are lots of them, in fact, taking place among the main NATO countries, but there will be differences of opinion as to what we should do and how we should respond. I do worry about the stability of the coalition over time. Paradoxically, the worse that Russia behaves, and if they do use some weapon of mass destruction, that will also have a galvanizing effect on Western public opinion. But I do worry about the ability of leaders and democracies to take a big economic collapse if that's what this war causes.

Mounk: I read this morning that there's an initiative in the Bulgarian parliament to stop the heinous practice in some EU countries of people from outside the EU being able to invest in the country (often by buying up some real estate, actually relatively small-ticket stuff) and becoming eligible for EU citizenship as a result. That's been one of the ways in which Russian oligarchs and dodgy oligarchs from other countries around the world have been able to buy their way into EU citizenship and therefore protect themselves in important ways. 

It seems to me that we have to make it harder for those who profit from these corrupt regimes to go and enjoy their wealth around the world. But what would a broader strategy of pushback—of making sure that democracies actually protect their values and take the fight to the Putins and the other dictators of the world—look like?

Applebaum: I think there are three elements of a pushback. Number one is what you've just hinted at: ending kleptocracy, not just changing a few rules and making it harder, but really putting this whole thing to an end; end these practices of giving people visas, shut down the tax havens, shut down the anonymous companies and the shell companies. These things only exist because they're created legally, and so we can uncreate them. Of course, they can still have them in Dubai or wherever, but it would make a huge difference if US citizens were not allowed to invest in them and US lawyers and accountants were not allowed to deal with them. That would end a lot of it overnight. Putting an absolute end to international kleptocracy is number one, and that's not just about Russia. It's about lots of other countries. 

Number two: we need to completely rethink the way that we communicate with the world. We in the West are very lazy about assuming that everybody else just accepts our values, or they automatically think that borders are inviolable and that's some kind of rule created by the UN. But the UN doesn't work anymore. The UN has been systematically undermined, especially by China, but also by Russia and the other autocracies. There is no liberal world order; the only world order is the one that we can create and define and explain. In the US, I've argued that we should think very differently about how we manage, for example, our foreign broadcasters and our understanding of foreign countries. There's a whole division, which is now part of (I think) the CIA, or some piece of the US intelligence community, which analyzes foreign broadcasts and media but then keeps all the analysis secret—that kind of junk is over, we need to do all that openly. We need to have a much better understanding of who the Russians are, how the Russian internet works, who we can speak to there, who are possible allies. They might not only be the liberals in Moscow; there might be some other people. The same is true in China and elsewhere. In other words, we need a completely different understanding of how we communicate, how we talk to the outside world, and how we put out information. 

Thirdly, I think there needs to be some rethinking of military strategy. This is not my forte, there are other people who will understand it better. But one of the reasons Russia invaded Ukraine was because Ukraine didn't offer sufficient deterrence. Deterrence was what kept the Cold War relatively peaceful, there was no war in Europe because of it. We now need to look around at other vulnerable countries and places and or including Europe itself, and think about how we deter invasion. How do we prevent it? And part of preventing invasion is the investment in weapons. And I know that sounds kind of paradoxical, and Dr. Strangelove and so on. But unfortunately, it's true. Two weeks before the war, I went on a German television program and I said, everybody, of course in Germany wants peace, and dialogue. “Okay, You want peace? Then arm Ukraine.” If Ukraine had been armed in a way that made the Russians frightened, there would have been no invasion. There would be no war. We need to rethink how we use our incredibly advanced weaponry and the amazing US military and how we deploy it in a way that really does encourage peace. 

Those are the three areas that we need to to think about. The question of autocracy is complicated, because not all autocracies are equal and we will have alliances with some of them. That's going to be inevitable, but thinking harder about how they work together, how we can divide them, and how we can prevent them from acting as a network (as they're beginning to do now) has to be part of our thinking, too.

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Podcast production by John T. Williams and Brendan Ruberry. Podcast cover image by Joe O’Shea.

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The Good Fight
The podcast that searches for the ideas, policies and strategies that can beat authoritarian populism.