Ian Kelly, former U.S. ambassador to Georgia and ambassador in residence at Northwestern University, joins the podcast to discuss how 75 years of European foreign policy "literally changed overnight." What triggered the crisis in Ukraine -- and what does it mean for the global order? Ambassador Kelly describes Vladimir Putin's response to dissent within Russia and offers how he thinks the White House should act.
Below is a full transcript of the conversation, including time stamps. Full audio is posted above.
Mohamed Younis 00:07
For Gallup, I'm Mohamed Younis, and this is the Gallup Podcast. In this episode, we continue our series of conversations on the war in Ukraine and what it means for the shifting global order. Ambassador Ian Kelly is ambassador in residence at Northwestern University. He is also a retired senior foreign service officer who last served as the U.S. ambassador to Georgia from 2015 to 2018. He's also heavily involved with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the OSCE, which will be playing a critical role in trying to get this situation in Ukraine under control. Ambassador Kelly, it's great to have you on the show.
Ian Kelly 00:47
Thanks for having me.
Mohamed Younis 00:49
Let me start by asking what I've been asking all of our guests these past few episodes on Ukraine. What surprised you in the current conflict in Europe thus far?
Ian Kelly 00:59
Well, I think like everybody else, this conflict has been just a, like an automatic weapon fire of surprising things. But I would, I would say that the thing that has surprised me most is how in a number of countries, 75 years of European foreign policy is basically, well, virtually changed, literally changed overnight. If you look at the, especially the speech of Olaf Scholz, the new chancellor of Germany, he … what, what really struck me is how he said how Putin singlehandedly changed the historic German guilt and then proceeded to double the German defense budget and also agreed to send large amounts of Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and Javelin anti-armor missiles. And then there are, there are others, other countries that changed their policy: Switzerland, 200 years of, of neutrality. They did nothing to, to sanction Hitler, and they sanctioned Putin.
Ian Kelly 02:27
And Sweden … Sweden in World War II didn't provide arms to anybody, actually gave raw materials to Hitler, and they're sending lethal arms to Ukraine. And then Finland … Finland is now debating whether or not to join NATO after 75 years of scrupulous neutrality. And then the other big surprise is just the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, how he has emerged as the Churchill of this, of this horrible, horrible war. And he really has done what Edward R. Murrow said about Churchill, and that's that he has, he has militarized the … it's probably the wrong quote, but militarized the Ukrainian language and sent it into battle, with these daily videos that he has. It has really put the Russians back on their heels and drawn a stark contrast between a forthright, democratic leader and an isolated, dishonest, aggressive Russian leader.
Mohamed Younis 03:50
A lot of people are now contemplating what many experts -- your whole career, folks as yourself -- have been really dealing with for the last 20, 30 years, which is: What really triggered this crisis? Is it … trying to kind of put national … our patriotic, you know, lens that everybody brings into the world aside and thinking objectively, sort of … what brought this on? Was it, is it that NATO stretched east too quickly? Or, which of course is the Russian view, but also is not just, you know, a made-up story. That is true, that those, those events did take place. Or was it triggered more by the West's, some would say, timid response to other events within this strategy for President Putin and this moment right now for Russia -- which is, seems like what we saw in the caucuses in Grozny in Georgia, where you were intimately familiar with what happened there and were in the middle of that. Syria, Crimea …. So, is it that NATO has moved too quickly or has it been that they've, we've been, as NATO, too timid to deal with these situations?
Ian Kelly 05:04
Well, I would, I would agree with the second part of your question. I think that there's a direct line from 2008 when the West failed to impose costs on Putin for invading Georgia and violating its, its territorial integrity. We basically did nothing. In fact, we did worse than nothing. The incoming administration, rather than imposing costs, actually said, let's reset our relationship with Putin. And that was a huge mistake. Regarding the first part of your question, I think that, you know, our, our big mistake has been to allow Putin to hijack the narrative about NATO. He paints NATO as an aggressive anti-Russian organization, an offensive organization, whereas it really, it was set up in the late '40s to consolidate and protect a community of democracies against an expansionist, totalitarian power.
Ian Kelly 06:09
And then in the early 1990s, it brought in those countries, those former communist countries that wanted to join that community of, of democracies and wanted to consolidate and integrate into that community. And I just think it's a, it's a complete falsehood and just a … it's an excuse that Putin gives to invade Ukraine. He is a pure and simple aggressive expansionist and irredentist in the sense that he believes that Ukraine is Russian territory. So that's where we have to keep, that's where we have to keep the narrative. Not that this, this falsehood that NATO is trying to destroy Russia. That's ludicrous.
Mohamed Younis 07:11
It's, it's remarkable how, you know, one, I think, just reflecting, myself, one of the ways in which NATO has really proven itself to be a defensive force is how it united so quickly. In recent history, there's a lot of drama in NATO. And it really was … you know, obviously the rhetoric of President Trump was, was really new to people, but those issues weren't new. The funding issues weren't new, but it's remarkable how as soon as there was a real perceived threat, you know, that alliance really came together to do exactly what it was designed to do, which is to take a defensive posture toward this kind of action. What additional steps should, in your view, Washington or just generally the West be taking right now to bring this situation into more … under control, basically.
Ian Kelly 08:05
Well, I mean, so far, the Biden administration has done an outstanding job in coordinating our actions with, with our allies in Europe and with our G-7 partners. In some ways, these were the easy things. Now of course, there will be some economic pain even in our own countries, but they are not, they are not moves that are really laden with risk. And my concern is that these, these sanctions, at least in the short to mid-term, are not going to stop the war. What we need to do is … I think we need to do what we probably should have done way back in December as the invasion force was being assembled on three sides of Ukraine. And that's done some intensive training of the Ukrainian armed forces in air defense.
Ian Kelly 09:11
We've given them Stingers; those are great against helicopters, but they can't, they can't really hold off the real threat, which is surface-to-surface missiles, and of course, you know, fixed-wing aircraft. So, I mean, I would like to see the administration send the trainers back and bring in patriot missiles. We are not going to stop Putin with just economic measures. We have to match force with force. I'm not arguing for imposing kind of a shootdown, no fly zone or anything like that, but do more to help the Ukrainians on their own territory stop this, this unequal battle that they're, they're fighting for their lives.
Mohamed Younis 10:05
You teach a course called "Controlling the Russian Narrative, Stalin to Putin." How hard is it to keep the current narrative for President Putin, right now, going, with his own public? Is this moment really different than past crises of, you know … for Russia in the post-Soviet era?
Ian Kelly 10:24
That's a great question. And it is very different. And Putin's response to dissent right now, I think, is both chilling and, and interesting, or indicative, I should say. He, you know, in previous wars, he tolerated some low-wattage radio stations and low-circulation newspapers and also tolerated a lot of free speech on the internet. That has changed, again, overnight. So he has closed down those, those low-wattage radio stations and low-circulation newspapers. He has begun to take action against social media, slowing down Twitter, blocking sites on Facebook. And that's because these previous violations of sovereignty -- 2008 in Georgia, 2014 in Ukraine -- were either of short duration (Georgia was only about a week) or were bloodless. If you look at the takeover of Crimea, they invaded and took over a big chunk of Ukraine without firing a shot.
Ian Kelly 11:42
This is very different. And Russians who have access to the internet are getting a flood of very disturbing images and information. So, you know, that, I think, is going to be a real challenge, and that's why they've taken these extreme actions of closing down media and restricting access to Western internet sources.
Mohamed Younis 12:11
That's Ambassador Ian Kelly, ambassador in residence at Northwestern University. Sir, it's great to have you on the show.
Ian Kelly 12:18
Mohamed Younis 12:20
That's our show. Thank you for tuning in. To subscribe and stay up to date with our latest conversations, just search for "The Gallup Podcast" wherever you podcast. And for more key findings from Gallup News, go to news.gallup.com or follow us on Twitter @gallupnews. If you have suggestions for the show, email email@example.com. The Gallup Podcast is directed by Curtis Grubb and produced by Justin McCarthy. I'm Mohamed Younis, and this is Gallup: reporting on the will of the people since the 1930s.