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Zelenskyy aims to shore up support with White House, Congress and American people


Let's go now to Richard Haass. For the last 20 years, he's led the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations. Richard, so apart from making this in-person appeal for more military support, what do you think President Zelenskyy hopes to gain from this visit?

RICHARD HAASS: Probably two things. He wants to shore up Ukraine support in the Congress, above all with the Republicans who will soon be taking over the House; more broadly, with the American people. This war has not really resonated deeply, for example, in our recent midterm elections. Virtually no one was voting on the basis of the war. And then secondly, he wants to push President Biden and the administration to be more forthcoming in providing certain types of weapons systems, above all, longer range missiles and the like, that can attack Russian forces anywhere in Ukraine or even in Russia.

MARTÍNEZ: So let's take that apart for a second. The two parts of - the first part of your answer when it comes to trying to appeal to the incoming Congress, how do you think he's going to do that? What do you think he's going to say, considering that Kevin McCarthy, who wants to be the next House speaker, has already said no blank check for Ukraine?

HAASS: Well, again, I think there's a majority of Republicans who support the - our support for Ukraine, as do the overwhelming majority of Democrats. He's not going to win over the far right, which has these odd pro-Russian tendencies. But I think he'll wrap himself in everything from Churchill-like rhetoric. This is very consistent with American values. I think he will argue, more than anything else, he is not just fighting for Ukraine. He is fighting for the United States, for our values, for democracy and for our security. I think that will be his argument.

MARTÍNEZ: And so that can be wrapped up with the message for the American people. Because it sounds like it's going to be one and the same.

HAASS: Absolutely. And the idea that - you know, I think there's a view in both - in parts of both parties that somehow what we do in foreign policy is taken out of the account that ought to be dedicated to domestic challenges. And what I think Zelenskyy is going to try to do is say that's not the right way to look at it. What you do in the way of providing security and stability in the world is good for you Americans here at home.

MARTÍNEZ: Why do you think the Biden administration has been reluctant to send Volodymyr Zelenskyy long-range and offensive weapons for the war?

HAASS: The Biden administration's been trying to thread a needle from the get-go. How do we support Ukraine? How do we support the norm? The territory is not to be acquired by force, which is what Russia is all about. At the same time, how do we avoid triggering some larger conflict with Russia? And that's what this is all about. We want to give Ukraine enough to defend itself. We want to make sure Vladimir Putin does not succeed in extinguishing Ukraine's sovereignty and independence. But the Biden administration from the outset has been wary, to use President Biden's language, about starting World War III. And that's the balance they've been trying to achieve here. It's the reason, for example, we ourselves are not involved in the war directly but only indirectly through arms sales (inaudible).

MARTÍNEZ: President Biden, though, yeah, he's vowed to continue to support Ukraine as long as Russia continues their war. Considering the new makeup of the Congress, I mean, how will he be able to deliver on that?

HAASS: Well, again, I'm not worried about that. I think that - I think, you know, Vladimir Putin bit wrong in several ways, not only overestimating his own armed forces, but I think he underestimated Ukraine. He underestimated Europe. And he underestimated the United States. You know, this is not Afghanistan, whatever you thought about that. There is widespread support. For sure, there's going to be a couple of voices on both sides of the aisle who are going to oppose this for whatever set of reasons. But, again, I think we're pretty robust in our support. We're providing over a billion dollars a month in military aid, as well as a billion dollars a month in economic aid. And I believe that is - I believe that is sustainable.

MARTÍNEZ: So you mentioned Vladimir Putin. Ten months since Russia invaded Ukraine, he has not scored really quick or easy battlefield wins. What do you think he does next?

HAASS: He plays for time. Putin basically says he can keep Russia in the war. He controls the narrative pretty much at home. He's been able to live with sanctions, in some ways doing end runs around them, still selling his oil, for example, his gas, even though he lost some markets in Europe. And he basically saying, I want to break the back of Ukraine. That's why he's attacking all these civilian sites, electricity sites, water sites and so forth. He wants Europe to get cold this winter, hoping that breaks the will of Europe. He wants the United States to get tired of the war, hoping these isolationist tendencies here at home prevail. So Putin feels that time is his friend. He just wants to hang in there long enough until he believes the tide will turn. It's our challenge to make sure that calculation proves wrong.

MARTÍNEZ: You know, I think with any war, we're always kind of looking to see where the motivation is for one side or the other to continue to fight. In this case, Richard, where do you think the motivation is for either side to compromise and to look for maybe some kind of peaceful resolution?

HAASS: I don't see it. In order for negotiations to succeed - and I've been involved in all sorts of negotiations as a former U.S. government official - you need the leadership of the various sides to be both willing and able - two important characteristics, willing and able - to compromise. I don't see either side as willing. Putin could compromise, I believe, if he wanted to, but he does not want Ukraine to succeed as a Western-oriented, market-oriented Slavic country. That sets an example he doesn't want to live with. He's worried he would look weak at home. So Putin wants to hang tough. Zelenskyy and the Ukrainians, 85% or more, they want every square inch of their country back, including Crimea, which Russia took in 2014. So at the moment, I don't think diplomats, no matter how capable, have much of anything to work with.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. I suppose if, as Vladimir Putin said, that Ukraine doesn't really exist in his eyes, I guess that's not really much of a starting point.

HAASS: (Laughter) That's not exactly a precondition for successful diplomacy, no.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. International sanctions, some of the toughest in history, have been put on Russia. I don't know if they've really made that much of a dent in their resolve. Does the international community have any other ways or any other options that they - at their disposal right now?

HAASS: Now, first, your point is exactly right. We tend to exaggerate what sanctions can accomplish. Yes, they've taken some toll on Russia's economy, but as we've seen in many cases, if governments are willing to pay a price, they'll just hang in there. And that's what's happening here. Plus, you can work around sanctions. Russia, for example, is selling a lot of oil and gas to places like China and India. The only thing we could do is continue to provide economic and military support to Ukraine to basically persuade Putin that time isn't on his side. And even that may not work. We may ultimately have to wait for new leadership in Russia to emerge, be it by natural or unnatural causes, because I don't see any sign that Vladimir Putin is prepared to compromise.

MARTÍNEZ: Richard, last thing really quick - it's been 10 months. How do you think the war has reshaped the international balance? How's the world different now?

HAASS: What the war has done is showed the continuing relevance and strength of alliances. It's showed that there still is a West and NATO against Russia, with Japan and other countries against China. That has been perhaps the most positive aspect of this war. At the same time, it's showing that war itself can still happen, which is anything but positive.

MARTÍNEZ: Richard Haass is the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. Richard, thanks.

HAASS: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.