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In this episode, Nolan and Aram discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with guest Arthur Martirosyan. Arthur is a negotiation and mediation specialist with over 27 years of experience in the design and implementation of strategic dialogue programs with sides to the ethnopolitical conflicts in Chechnya (Russian Federation), South Ossetia and Abkhazia (Georgia), Israel-Palestine, Iraq, Kosovo (Serbia), Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ukraine among others; and a trainer in leadership, negotiation, and cross-cultural communication for public and private sector clients with The Bridgeway Group (http://bridgewaygroup.org/).
The complex history of the Russia-Ukraine conflict is important to help understand the identities of both Russia and Ukraine. Arthur explains how history has led to Ukrainians fighting for their independence on multiple occasions. The complex history lends itself to an internal Ukrainian divide between pro-Russian Ukrainians and Ukraine itself. Depending on who you speak to, the Russian narrative and the Ukrainian narratives of their history will vary greatly.
We cannot view the Russia-Ukraine Conflict as an independent negotiation. There are multiple layers and levels of complexity: national, regional, and global. One of Russia’s interests is to redesign the European security architecture. Russia wants to maintain a buffer between NATO countries and, therefore, does not want Ukraine or other Eastern European countries to join NATO. A number of external stakeholders, such as the United States and China, have some level of involvement at this negotiation table.
Vladimir Putin is playing a game of brinkmanship. His reputation is at stake and he needs to ensure that if he clearly draws a line, he must act if anyone crosses over the line that he drew. Should the world be negotiating with such an actor? Before we can answer this question, Arthur suggests first “step to the balcony” and then, pulling from Robert Mnookin’s “Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate When to Fight”, ask ourselves five questions to determine if you should negotiate:
There is no doubt that the speedy unity of the world to place sanctions on Russia across all aspects is taking its toll on a now isolated Russia. Russia will continuously evaluate its alternatives as they continue their advance in Ukraine. In its most simplistic form, Russia will continue to advance in Ukraine until their interests are met potentially through options at the negotiating table, or via Putiin’s alternatives of escalation, a protracted engagement, and continued violence.
Arthur believes there were several opportunities for Russia and Ukraine to negotiate to avoid the current conflict. The first in 2015, and more recently from December 2021 to February 2022. Due to a lack of trust between the key players, it is difficult for either party to believe a negotiated agreement can occur. The first step to getting these parties to rebuild some trust would be to establish what Arthur calls “tactical trust” – what can happen now to allow both parties to believe a negotiated agreement would be enforced. What that outcome might look like – a demilitarized zone, permanent secession of disputed areas, or something entirely different – depends heavily on a number of factors both internal to Russia and Ukraine, as well as continued international assistance and involvement.
[Update: Since recording this episode, both Russia and Ukraine have reached an understanding for the need to coordinate humanitarian corridors around encircled cities. Arthur’s assessment is that it is a positive move, which, if implemented, might allow the sides to create a measure of tactical trust, potentially enabling them to tackle more contentious issues. Both Russians and Ukrainians are interested in the evacuation of the civilians for slightly different reasons. While a number of spoilers still exist for any potential peace arrangement, there is hope that time and space may create the opportunity for a negotiated settlement.]
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Nolan Martin : Hello and welcome to today's episode of the NEGOTIATEx podcast. Really good one here, and I'm just gonna get right into it. Turn it over to Aram to introduce our guest.
Aram Donigian : Yeah, thanks Nolan. So today we have an opportunity to just take a timeout from where we've been and talk about what's going on in Ukraine right now. And I'm just very appreciative to our team for being flexible, but also to our guest (whom I'll introduce in just a moment) for adjusting his schedule to be with us. A week ago, Russia invaded Ukraine and I have former students that are Ukrainian. They reached out trying to take action. They're based here in the US, wanted to get involved, trying to help with policy and, and other things to back home for them. And so I reached out to a group of fellow negotiators to see who might have some connections with folks who have done work there. And I was very fortunate to be connected to our guest today.
And I asked him if he'd come on and just share some of his insights through a negotiation lens. We're hearing so much in the media from different talking heads, about different objectives and different backgrounds to really just kinda look at this problem set now and what's occurring in Ukraine through the lens of negotiation. So our guest today is Arthur Martirosyan. Arthur is a negotiation and mediation specialist with over 27 years of experience in the design and implementation of strategic dialogue programs. He has been everywhere from Russia to Georgia, Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Kosovo, Serbia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ukraine and many other countries. He is a trainer in leadership negotiation, cross-cultural communication for both public and private clients in several dozens of countries. He speaks nine different languages. He has a master's degree from Yale and international relations, and he has worked with some of our colleagues at conflict management group, Mercy Corps and now the Bridgeway group. So Arthur, thank you so much for joining us.
Arthur Martirosyan : Thank you. It's a pleasure and honor to be with you. Very troubling times. But I think we need to be talking from the negotiation perspective about what's going on. It's very important that we do not forget that if there is a way out, it's gonna be at the negotiation table.
AD : Arthur before getting started into discussing Ukraine, would you be willing to share with us just a little bit about your background? How did you get into the field of negotiation and specifically, how did you get working in this region of the world?
AM : Well, I was born in the Republic of Georgia in the former Soviet Union in Tbilisi. My ethnicity is Armenian. And then as you mentioned, I came to Yale for my degree, actually I was one of the first students from the former Soviet Union at Yale. And then at about the time of graduation, one of my professors recommended that I talk to his colleague, Professor Roger Fisher, who needed a consultant on conflicts in Georgia. And that's how I joined the conflict management group. It was in 1994. I thought in the beginning that it would be just a couple of years, just gaining practical experience of what I've been exploring theoretically. But then, this work really dragged me in. I think I went not just through transformation in my perspective of what can be done in conflict management but also personal transformation. I came in as a somewhat skeptic about this can-do approach and the approach to conflict management, as I was seeing it from a more scholarly perspective at Yale’s conflict resolution programs. But as I started to work, especially with Roger, Bill Uri and many other colleagues- I'm sure that most of the names from the Harvard negotiation project and Harvard law school colleagues that we share, we know and I've been blessed to be able to work with so many talented and gifted people in very different conflicts. And I could see that if you do the process right, chances are that you will get good outcomes.
AD : Yeah. That's, that's wonderfully said, so thank you for that path. And I do wanna make sure everyone knows that I didn't just have to ask you to be on because you are a fellow Armenian, but that is definitely a plus. So again, Arthur, thanks for sharing a bit about your background.
NM : Hey Arthur, as we kind of get started here, I was hoping to kind of set the stage for us to understand the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Does that go back to 1989 or is it, you know, further than that, or is it sooner than that and just kind of set the groundwork for understanding that in a negotiations context?
AM : Well, history is very important for understanding this conflict because it's part of the identity- both Russian and Ukrainian identity. And there's no surprise. I mean, when you have a conflict, the sides have very different interpretations of that history. We could go back to medieval history or even earlier maybe, but I don't think it's that important. What's important is the history of nationalism and imperially, the Russian imperialism and Ukrainian nationalism. That's probably around the end of the 19th century through the First World War and the formation of the Ukrainian nation as a political nation has its beginnings there, I think, attempts to create an independent nation state during the First World War towards the end of the First World War were abortive, as you know, it didn't survive for too long as many others in that space because, they quickly came under the Soviet control and, it's paradoxical but under the Soviet Union, the current configuration of Ukraine, if we look at its territory, it had the biggest gains in the Soviet period.
Well, history is very important for understanding this conflict because it's part of the identity- both Russian and Ukrainian identity. And there's no surprise. I mean, when you have a conflict, the sides have very different interpretations of that history. We could go back to medieval history or even earlier maybe, but I don't think it's that important. What's important is the history of nationalism and imperially, the Russian imperialism and Ukrainian nationalism. That's probably around the end of the 19th century through the First World War and the formation of the Ukrainian nation as a political nation has its beginnings there, I think, attempts to create an independent nation state during the First World War towards the end of the First World War were abortive, as you know, it didn't survive for too long as many others in that space because, they quickly came under the Soviet control and, it's paradoxical but under the Soviet Union, the current configuration of Ukraine, if we look at its territory, it had the biggest gains in the Soviet period.
We begin with 1939, a very important point of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact when Poland was divided by Nazi Germany and Bolshevik Soviet Union. It was the gain of Western Ukrainians at that time. And it was a very traumatic experience- an experience that not many Russians want to really appreciate. But imagine one day you wake up and you are told that you are a citizen of a different country and that country now looks at you as a petty bourgeois nationalist, as an enemy of the communist ideology. And at best since your relatives or parents are sent to Siberia, what would've been the response to that? And then comes World War II, no surprise that many Ukrainians after that traumatic experience of communicating with really turned against the Soviets, but it is not like they were fighting for the Third Reich.
They were fighting for Ukraine and the Ukrainian nation state. When they saw that Nazi Germany had no designs of giving them the independence they turned against Nazi Germany too. So they were fighting the Soviets, they were fighting Nazi Germans, and it's a very complex history. So I don't wanna spend all of our time discussing that history, but it's important to understand how it now impacts the identities. We talk about this war. And often in the media, I read that yes, Russia invaded Ukraine, but there is also a subset of formally Ukrainian citizens from Donbas who've been in conflict with Kiev and who have now joined the Russians. So it kind of has this element of a civil war because much of the fighting in Donbas right now is done by those Luhansk and Donetsk and these are mostly Russian-speaking Ukrainians and this divide of religion, in the West Catholic and Orthodox, Orthodox in the East.
Although I don't think for the East it's so much the religion that matters, but the language definitely does, and it was played, you know, the language as a factor in this conflict played a huge role. So where we are now with history, I mean, as I said, if you talk to Ukrainians, you will get a history that you won't recognize if you had spoken to a Russian before that, because the Russian narrative is very different from the Ukrainian nationalist narrative. So there is a clash of these narratives and they play a much bigger role for both Ukrainians and Russians than it may now look from the outside. Because for Russians the history of the Second World War, and especially in the last decade or a couple of decades when Putin turned that into one of the cornerstones of the new Russian identity- the memory of the war, 40 million people dead.
I mean that’s still traumatic and still has its presence. And that memory, again as I said also, is politically manipulated. And unfortunately the leaders of Ukraine from the outset from ‘91 to the date were not able to find some motives with the Western Ukrainian nationalists and the Russian speaking pro-Russia groups to find some kind of balance. It was either dominance of one group over the other with grievances really driving the political process to a zero sum game or it was really seen as a field for Russia to intervene and to pick and choose someone who would drive Ukraine closer to their interests. So yes, history, I mean we need to pay closer attention to both narratives and maybe find some places where it's possible to reconcile if it is possible.
I remember on one of my trips to Ukraine, I happened to be in Lviv, that's Western Ukraine on May 9th. And there was nothing really big happening on that day, except that people were not really happy about it being celebrated as a holiday in Russia. And on the same day, later on the same day I was in Donetsk on business. And, for them it was the biggest holiday. So they have not only a clash of narratives- their identities, they have an anthropological clash almost of worldview, of vision for Ukraine and its relationship with both Russia and Europe.
AD : You know, Arthur. As you started to lay out part of the complexity of this from a negotiation perspective. So often we think of the different parties involved and we can think of countries, certainly Ukraine but also Russia regionally. Then as we think about Russia and you know, other European countries, we see Germany taking some actions that are that unique and new. And then if we think more globally about the role of China and NATO and the US, is it helpful at all to think of all of those as separate yet connected negotiations? How are you putting all those different players together? What do you think about it?
AM : You're right. I mean, this conflict has multiple layers. I mean, and if it's almost like this matryoshka doll- the bigger doll is certainly the conflict over Russia's attempt to redesign the European security architecture, and obviously their conflict with NATO over expansion then under it is Ukraine. Russians, I think in the nineties were not powerful enough to throw the challenge that they have thrown to NATO and to the US right now. And therefore it was kind of a grievance that they had to live with. So with Putin and, him getting much stronger in military terms, anyway, not as a superpower because you, if you look at Russia and many other variables of power, it's still the economy and population. But it is no match to NATO, but given that it's a nuclear power and given the technological achievements that they had in designing new weapons systems, I think he decided that it's time to throw that challenge.
And within that challenge was the perspective on how they want to see the future of the Russian empire. We should call things as they are, it is an empire. And I think their approach was something that international relation theorists explained by an abbreviation N U P I M B, which means No Unfriendly Power In My Backyard. So essentially they were viewing Ukraine, Georgia, and all these conflicts to a large degree were dependent on their perspective that these countries and others may be joining NATO and seeing it as a threat to their security and no matter how much NATO countries and the US were giving them assurances that advancement was not a threat to them, they were not persuaded that it was not. So Ukraine is not just another foreign country for Russians, obviously. And I think, they do have some kind of a red line on what they will be doing if Ukraine were to try to join NATO or become a NATO member and not so much the European union maybe, although that was also painful for them.
Part of this Russian pain comes from a bigger issue, which is that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they haven't been able to come up with any attractive model for that backyard that they want to have influence in. If it's all about market economy and democracy and liberal values, why should any of these countries look at Russia when the West offers better transition plans, visions of what these countries should be. So if you don't have a vision or nothing to offer, the Russian model definitely is not acceptable for countries that do not have the same resources. So the Russian plutocracy and corruption and the model - they have a very vertical model that they have built, and maybe other models would've not worked in an empire- it is not acceptable to Ukrainians, it is not acceptable to Georgians.
And that's where you also have this kind of a clash of ideas. So now there are other players it's very important to understand, or as we say, in a negotiation to read the game, right? So we want to understand what this game is and whether it is possible to change or not. Many Western observers have been quietly, quite rightly, describing Putin's game as brinkmanship. Yes, it is brinkmanship. And if we want to understand what drives brinkmanship, I think we can turn to some of the literature on Sicilian mafia and Diego Gambetta provided probably the best insights into that kind of mindset. So what's important for that kind of a player is the reputation. If he makes a threat, or if he draws a line, he'd better deliver because others are watching and it's not a single or a one-off game of chicken run or other zero sum games, it's an iterative game.
So China is watching and not only China, everybody else is watching- whether Putin after drawing the red line is going to act on them or not. He did in 2014, he probably thought that that should be enough to secure a weak Ukraine. That it would not be possible for Ukraine to become either an EU member or NATO member, because it has open conflicts. And if you look at the EU criteria or NATO criteria countries that have, and right now with Ukraine there are five candidates and Ukraine, just yesterday got the candidate status with the EU to begin the negotiation for joining. So, the stumbling blocks for Serbia, for North Macedonia and others are the conflicts, the succession and the problems with the neighbors and so forth. So in the Russian thinking that should have been enough to stop Ukraine's desire to move West. But even with the change of administrations after elections, when Zelensky was elected, they had hopes that this should be enough and now they could negotiate with Zelensky on their turns, but it didn't quite work out that way.
And as time went by, they could see that. It's almost like this classical paradigm of Athens watching Sparta become stronger, and it has protectors. It has very powerful protectors who strengthen Sparta. And you know, that one day, they might be challenging you, militarily, not Russia but, you know, the talk of repeating military operations against Crimea. There's a very powerful moral that the Ukrainian elite, political elite, have been talking about for a long time and moreover in their military doctrine and foreign policy doctrine. Obviously they were talking about how they're gonna bring back, not only Donbas or the parts of Donbas that were occupied by Russia or Russian proxies, but also Crimea, and now, if you go back to Putin and his mindset, it's not just about the economy for him as much.
It's about his name and his legacy. How is he going to go down in Russian history- as the man who not only brought Russia up from its knees, from the humiliation of the collapse of the Soviet empire, or is he gonna be remembered as the one who really accommodated and led NATO and Russia's adversaries? This is their narrative, obviously it's not me speaking now to advance any ideas. So it's, as I said, it's very complex, but we in the business of negotiation need to understand how the other side thinks. And that doesn't mean that I have to agree with everything that they say, or it's not substantive merits of their claims, but I need to understand how they're thinking, because if I don't, I would not be able to change that.
Now, a big question is, did the west misread Mr. Putin? There is, you know, volumes of literature on who is Mr. Putin from 2001. And some of the best books have been written by my former colleagues, Fiona Hills text, Angela Stent, and many others have written about Putin. Did they really misread him? I don't think it's so much about misreading. I mean, I was rereading Henry Kissinger's essay that he wrote on March 5th, 2014, when the conflict over Crimea was in a very intense stage. And I think he then got so many things right, but policy makers, because of the clash over other issues with Putin, not just Ukraine- we need to bring back the whole history of the US presidential elections, his role and perspective on Putin has soured as a somewhat evil and crazy player. But you know, that craziness is also part of zero-sum gaming.
And that's his favorite game. If you are playing a zero sum game, you need to not only say what you're gonna do, even if that's unthinkable, you have to make sure that the other side understands that it's credible. You're gonna do it. You're gonna do it. So obviously we now can talk whether this war was possible to avoid or Putin could have been brought to a table to change his mind on things. We can certainly analyze some of that, but a bigger question now for me is Zelensky and he's negotiating not directly, but through his representatives, can they negotiate and can the West negotiate with Putin and this brings me to probably one of the best conceptual frameworks on that issue provided by Professor Bob Mnookin in his seminal text, Bargaining with the devil, right?
We need to understand, is it negotiable or not, and how to really think about the issue of negotiation right now? I think it's more of a reaction to the sanctions and the severity of sanctions. One could say that if they didn't work in 2014, they probably won't work now. And my take on this is that in 2014, I was skeptical about the sanctions tell you why, because there were so many loopholes and opportunities for Russia to soften the blow from those sanctions that they were even counterproductive in some ways, in retrospect, because in the Russian thinking and perspective, if these are your sanctions, if these are the losses that you frame for us, then instead of trying to avoid those losses will act on avoiding the risks of losing Ukraine, risks to our security and so forth.
And so they thought that this time, maybe they were surprised by the unanimity of the West and they now use the term, the collective west. So how unanimous they were in the approach and even Germany that is now in pain, price of natural gas is over $2,000 per thousand right now. So it's very painful. They stood altogether. That's one surprise, probably for Putin, well with some maybe still softer on sections than others, but most surprising was the scale of this protest in the Western countries. And, you know, it's on, um, on the level, it's about their athletes, the cultural exchanges. So it's almost Russia in isolation and that probably was, and airspace closed, right? And I think the US is closing its airspace too for Russian civilian aircraft. So, it's isolation, but I think they were preparing for these sanctions.
It's not like, I mean, he made the decision and was not thinking about what's gonna be the next move. Next play was gonna be, maybe he was surprised. But as I said, I mean, we need to still be asking those questions that Mnookin has the five questions. And one of them is essentially on the alternatives, and, and what's gonna happen to our interests and do we have interests, that is gonna be to come to a cost to us and on economic issues, it's paradoxical that even right now, as we speak the warfare, very intensive warfare warfare that Europe has faced since- natural gas flows from Russia through Ukraine, to Poland and to Germany. And in fact, it's at its peak of exporting. So I'm leaving the economic stuff out. I'm not an economist to discuss it, but I can certainly see areas where without systemic cooperation, we may be not able to achieve our goals.
And that probably would be other negotiations. In Iran there could be negotiations on climate change. Because you cannot isolate a country the size of Russia and really speak about effective measures to prevent climate change. And there are many others. I haven't done a systematic analysis of what's at stake here, but I encourage most people, especially in our field-negotiation, to think about it from that perspective rather than, you know, and I understand the emotional outbursts, but we have to be cold headed. It's difficult for me. I can tell you because every day I get the news and I take my news, not just from the media, I try not to get into the media. I take it from my colleagues and friends in Ukraine. So I don't need to be told how stressful, emotionally difficult it is when missiles are flying, when civilians are dying. And when you not only don't know how to escape- being blocked in an urban area, but you don't even know what to put on the table for your kids. So emotionally it's difficult, but again, I encourage everybody to take a step to the balcony and, that's what we do professionally and say, so what's at stake for us and what it means even for Ukraine, if they don't negotiate right now, what it's gonna be like.
AD : Well, you've offered so much there in terms of why Putin's making this choice, because it certainly feels like an alternative move by Putin to go to war. The sanctions are also kind of an alternative choice in why that might be. And then I appreciate the complexity, both of the issues involved and then all the different countries and parties. And I think it's helpful for folks to understand just how broad and challenging this is. A couple days ago, Arthur, you know, there was a five hour negotiation between representatives of Russia and Ukraine. If you could imagine being in that room, what were they discussing? And is there really room here for some sort of creative solution that's better than some compromise that takes us back to 2014?
AM : Look, we don't know much about what was negotiated. Some reconstructive work is possible. I'll start with a very simple proposition. It would not make sense for the Ukrainian delegation to cover the distance. And they went from Poland to Belarus. So instead of traveling 300 kilometers, they traveled 1300 kilometers to get to that room for five hours. The Russians could have provided their narrative in five minutes and Ukrainians in less than 15 seconds. So, I mean, but if they're getting to the table, we understand that they have things to discuss. And obviously one of the themes was how to end hostilities, how to end this war.
My sense from following the reactions of Zelensky, after the team came back and at that table, by the way, these two teams representing presidents were negotiating- they were taking breaks to call the Presidents and to consult with them on what was going on at the table. So, we can understand that you make a call when an option is on the table, right? Otherwise, I mean, you can respond to almost anything, but you cannot react to an option without checking with your boss. In this case, President Zelensky and President Putin were also taking that time to talk to European leaders. We know that Putin talked to Macron at that time. And Zelensky called several including President Biden, Macron and Chancellor Scholz- again, a very complex setup of the table.
Right. And, so what were they negotiating? the theme is obvious- how can they come to a negotiation? I mean, what's the perspective? I wouldn’t say Russia has a BATNA here. They have a WATNA- it's a worst alternative to negotiated agreement because war is not serving one of the most important, I mean, at least at the propaganda level discussed issues, right? So we are not going into Ukraine to occupy or to kill civilians. We have another agenda, but as the world continues, as I said, more civilians are killed and more hatred there is- even for the people who probably were more loyal to and had good relationships with Russia and it's natural. I mean, that's the reaction. So it's a what now, but as they negotiate with Ukrainians, they want to show to them that if Ukraine does not accept and we know what they want Ukraine to accept, then Ukrainian WATNA is going to get to what my Israeli colleagues call Sh-ATNA. a shitty alternative to negotiating, sorry, my bad.
AD : That's a new one. I hadn't heard that one.
AM : Right? So that’s what's essentially going on at the table. Look, it's gonna worsen for you because our military is gonna take more territory except what we have right now, the option, the package that we have on the table, or it will be worsening by the day, you will be missing an opportunity. And, so the goal of Russia is doing it by its military campaign on the ground. Every day, we hear that they are blocking another town, they're moving. Some analysts even are suggesting that there may be a repeat of what Ukrainians experienced in 2015 when some of their brigades were taken in a pincer move, you know, were encircled and then decimated and the Minsk agreements were signed under those circumstances.
And that's why Zelensky, when he came to power, was saying, we cannot accept those means of agreement because they were signed with the gun at our head, but they are right now, again, negotiating. And the gun is not at the head, the gun is shooting. It's not aimed at the head yet, but it's shooting now why Russians would negotiate then with zillions came and by the way, Putin is avoiding talking to Zelensky directly. Why would he negotiate? And, well, as I said, I mean, he also wants to end this quickly because if it doesn't it's, I don't know. There are some very nasty scenarios of urban warfare and casualties. I mean, if you start bombing, like, it was happening in Syria, Iraq, and other places, and you cannot take cities otherwise, as we talk, they haven't started the storm of Mariupol yet, but it's encircled.
And most likely, this half a million population city is not evacuated and is gonna see urban warfare from their basements. And I dread to think what the number of casualties might be- and we see the same happening in Kharkiv, by the way, this is the negotiation. And back to my question, why is he negotiating? One is that, and the other is he needs Zelensky. That might sound paradoxical, but he needs Zelensky. Why? Because if Zelensky signs, essentially, I mean, they try not to frame it as capitulation. So they are avoiding that, but we all understand what it is. If he signs it. He is the legitimate president of Ukraine. He is accepted by the West. And so the West will accept what Zelensky does. So this is the thinking behind these negotiations and they didn't end. Just the other day, they were supposed to negotiate this morning, but the second round has been postponed now to tomorrow, I think. Are they gonna be able to negotiate these terms that I narrated or not very much depends on what happens on the ground because, um, the Ukrainian military almost made a desperate counter attack move last night to get to
That's right now in the depth of Donetsk, an area controlled by the military. So they were trying to demonstrate that we are there, we are gonna fight, and it's not gonna be easy for you, Moscow, to do so. Both sides are facing these dilemmas, how they're gonna act at the table. As I said, much depends on what's gonna be able to happen beyond the table. And unfortunately, I think the West doesn't have any say in this because they can continue with the sanctions, but they're not gonna stop Putin. They're not gonna stop Putin because as I was talking about Gambetta study, his reputation is now at stake, and there is no easy face saving. There is no golden bridge that can be built for him to walk back from this. And this is a tragic and an unfortunate moment in European and maybe world history.
And, he's trying to show also to the West: “You think I'm crazy, but I showed you that I did what I told you I would do. And if you try to intervene militarily, I'm gonna respond.” And that's why they were kind of, putting it on DEFCON2, the nuclear testing, and, showing what they're capable of doing and kind of resolve don't test us. If you do, we are gonna respond nuclear, any player trying to intervene, supplies of weapons, arms- I don't think it's gonna be that problematic. Although the West is also very careful in NATO countries, Poland, Hungary, um, Romania, Bulgaria, they've said, they're not gonna be doing that. others have agreed to, but, you know, how can you deliver those things, to Ukraine? You see Poland as countries neighboring to them, right?
There is no military infrastructure, airports, air fields, almost all of them, have been, either destroyed or under attack. So when it comes to demilitarization of Ukraine, I can see how maybe with huge losses to both sides, Putin can achieve that goal. His second goal, though, is very problematic. I cannot really understand how they want to achieve that, but that is also on the table for Zelensky. And they're talking about de-Nazification. This is again, quote unquote, better term de-Nazification of Ukraine on par with, Nazi Germany, post, World War II. How do they see that happening? The Soviets and _______ after, World War II, when aren’t able to suppress, um, the Ukrainian nationalist underground movement, which was, a movement, warfare, not at times very intensive, but it was a pain, a royal pain in, for the Soviets and, you know, the last one to come out from underground and surrender was in 1962. 1962.
So don't test the resolve of Ukrainians to resist. This is, this is gonna be, this is gonna be a headache. And, you know, some, some Western observers have been, throwing in, this theme of Ukrainians fighting as part of the Soviet red army in World War II and, how many, heroes of the Soviet Union they provided and whatnot. So they are capable fighters, have history and, maybe even unlike Russia, their kind of military traditions go back to their Cossack history. And, I think, I mean, you could say, what does it have to do, because that's where they, you know, that that's their source of inspiration kind of their worldview, that the, Ukrainian is a Valiant soldier who does not, does not yield, fights to the very end.
And that's why I'm saying this war is not gonna give the results that Putin wants to achieve. Maybe, maybe he can, he can, even dismember the country, but part of it will still remain Ukraine. And part of it will still be, as he says, posing that same threat. So he is not, I mean, the best way would've been to negotiate all the issues. And to be frank with you, I'd say that most of the issues could have been negotiated. The first opportunity was lost in 2014 when Russia overreacted. And the second one was obviously from December to February 24th, there were lots of missed opportunities to negotiate, but by and large, they came out of distrust, not only distrust of Zelensky, Yukschenko before him that Putin and Russians have, but also distrust to NATO.
We cannot trust your word because you promised, NATO would not advance an inch in 1990, your, unification of Germany. And yet NATO is here again, this is their narrative. I'm saying if we wanted to really persuade them that that concerns are baseless- there could have been and things done, to, um, address those concerns. And some of them are probably legitimate. You would not be able to persuade them otherwise by removing our military hardware to East European countries. And that's not a threat to you. And there is a question: what, what's the threat that you're trying to address by moving it there, who's threatening you? And in that discourse, again, the security discourse that I've been following, they have this huge issue of the US viewing Russia as an adversary, especially after 2014. So trust is a huge issue. And I think at war it's very difficult to gain even the tactical trust.
And that's why they have been trying to bring people, at least one name was circulated that he was not at the table, but he was there that both sides thought that he could be trusted. That's Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich. He moved from the UK to Israel and he has huge contacts and huge relationships and businesses both in Ukraine and Russia. And that's an attempt to kind of, to bring someone who would allow the parties at least to look at the tactical trust, because trust is not there. Very difficult to negotiate in a crisis. when you do not have trust and crisis negotiators know that they need to establish it, the tactical trust, I mean, not, deep, maybe, trust long term trust, but a tactical trust, right? What is it that you can do right now to show that you're gonna stay by what you're gonna commit at the table? So this, this is the biggest challenge, and I don't know how the next round is gonna end. That's tomorrow.
AD : We were counting on you to tell us how it's gonna end looking into your crystal ball and, and letting us know how this plays out from the outside.
AM : And what I gave you is, my reconstruction now, I, I do not insist that this is the only right way of looking at what's happening there. Yeah. I'm saying that I'm skeptical, I'd say again, to quote my teacher Roger Fisher, it's, 60:40 for success, tomorrow. And I don't know which way is, 40. Okay. I'd say I'm skeptical that they're gonna be able to, to get things going. Although, you know, there is some promising element in there too, because, the European union has set Ukraine now on a fast process of negotiating the acceptance to, I dunno how fast that can be, but I can also imagine that that issue was also discussed at the table. So imagine, well, for instance, Russians are saying, okay, accept what we are telling you, and we don't have any problems with you going to, um, European Union or, deciding your future, however you would want.
So is it persuasive? Can Zelensky trust that that's gonna be happening? They're not gonna go and grab more and I'll throw even one issue that acted as a spoiler in this and maybe accelerated because in the beginning of this brinkmanship game, Putin's thinking was that, “look, I'm putting my military in Belarus and the border with Ukraine. And that should be enough of a threat for the West and for the US primarily and Ukrainians to take it seriously.” And then he saw that not only his ultimatum proposition or demands on the security issues with NATO and Ukraine were not accepted, that they were essentially rejected except, some, minor things, you know, and, um, we need to understand that this is also the art of priorities, right? Politics as the art of possible, and policy as art of priorities.
So for him at that point it was obvious that now he is trapped because not only internally, he has drawn red lines that he should go in and he went by the way, probably it was so fast that we probably lost track of chronologically. His next move was- “I'm recognizing the independence of Donetsk and Luhantsk, not intervening yet militarily. I'm still standing there, I'm recognizing them.” And that was an even stronger signal that he might not even, but is almost inevitable now. And what was Zelensky doing on those days? He went to a conference in Munich where he essentially said that it's a bluff. It's not serious. I mean, you remember that Biden was telling him it's imminent. Our intelligence says it's imminent. And he was saying, no, they're not gonna do it. It's probably a bluff. Moreover, at that very conference, he started to talk about revisiting the Budapest memorandum on denuclearization and security guarantees that were offered by nuclear powers to Ukraine at the time, signaling that they might look into becoming a nuclear power back into Putin's head.
This is a huge threat right now, even probably a bigger threat than NATO membership because Sparta now is not gonna be able to go and do what Croatians did in Crimea in three days, but they are gonna have a huge deterring factor. So this is the time that's why he was saying, I didn't have a choice. I don't believe there are such situations, no choice, but he framed it to his own population that we didn't have a choice. This is the only choice that is the only choice we know there are nuclear power plants in, in Ukraine. The first one they got in control was in Chernobyl. And it's not reported that much in Western media, but it's now the Russian military and Ukrainian staff are jointly overlooking Chernobyl- the one that had the disaster during the Soviet time, but there are other nuclear power plants. And fighting right now goes around. And it's close to another nuclear power plant. There is also a nuclear power plant in Rivna. And does it mean that they're gonna get in control of all nuclear power plants? I'd say right now, at least that's their plan. That's their plan.
AM : Well, it's a war. And I think there is not much, I don't know what the, military strategies in NATO and other countries are thinking about doing right now. Weapons supplies they're running out of their javelin and, stinger, kind of stockpiles, Ukrainians, resupply them with more of those- kind of show Russians that there are even some, volunteers or, soldiers of fortune from all over Europe that are forming a Foreign Legion of Ukraine. But I don't think those are gonna be really significant in terms of the military. I'm not a military expert, but given the superiority in the sky and preponderance and the sheer power that Russia is able to unleash on Ukraine. I think, unfortunately it's gonna be a matter of time until they destroy it if it continues.
The question is how long can the Ukrainian, very capable, military resist? You know, when you are running out of your oil diesel for your, tanks and, armored vehicle carriers when the sky is not yours, when, you know, you are also running out of ammunitions and when you, your troops are not coordinated, how long can you survive? Maybe they can, in the gorilla warfare move, but in terms of, organized, kind of military resistance, I think it's just a matter of time. And yet, I mean, back to your question, because I think it's a very important question. Sometimes people say, so what can we do now? It's not the right time to do this or that. And I think the time is right for doing things, and for us negotiators too, because we should probably look beyond the military phase of this escalation of this conflict and look into what else is gonna be negotiated once guns stop shelling.
No, I'm very sympathetic to Ukrainians. My granddaughter came from school yesterday. And I'm just gonna show you her drawing here. I daily get, as I said, the news and, it's, it's really, it's really difficult. I have to meditate daily to stay in my sane mindset, but this alone is not enough. Yes. I know that Ukrainians really appreciate all the help. Apple stopped selling their products to Russia. Two thumbs up, Ukrainians are very appreciative, but that is not going to stop the war. And I cannot stop the war obviously, but as a negotiator, I can think on the questions that I already posed, questions that I posed. There are five actually from Bob Mnookin on that conceptual framework, Do we negotiate with the devil?
And I'm inclined to think right now that yes we are, and you probably know this, history. And that was a debate between Roger Fisher and Bob Mnookin. I remember that in 2001, when George Bush received an invitation from Afghanistan from Taliban, Mulla Muhammad Omar to negotiate. Roger, and I think, Bob Mnookin were invited by the Administration to brainstorm- they asked, should we accept? Should we not accept? And at that time, well, Roger is from the school of, you know, you negotiate, you always need to negotiate. And that's what he was saying there, yes, we need to negotiate with the Taliban. If they want to negotiate, we need to negotiate. And Bob Mnookin was of a different opinion. Obviously Bob's opinion prevailed at that time. Right. But we know that, um, as time went by almost 20 years, maybe less, we still have to go back and negotiate with, Taliban.
So here too. Again, I mean, it will require a very serious analytical effort to analyze, not emotionally react to what Russia is doing. But to think is the West is going to negotiate with Russia. And if so, why? Is Ukraine going to negotiate with Russia? And if Russia and Ukraine make a deal, some, some kind of a deal. I mean, I don't know about ending the war, would that signal to the West that they need? I'm just thinking about if Ukraine is going to become an EU member and is going to negotiate. There are so many things, not just energy, that will depend on how they settle with Russia. Are they gonna negotiate? Are we gonna all negotiate? And if we are gonna negotiate on what and how to think about those negotiations, because isolation, I think works, but it's not the best, the best, solution to the problem. By the way, one of the fathers of containment, George Kennan, one of the wisest US diplomats, he was ambassador to Russia.
He was a very key thinker on containment. He was saying that isolation is counter productive. We need to keep the Soviets engaged with us, because if we are engaged, we still can influence. If we are not, we're not influencing them. So with that, I mean, I'm not saying we need to do that right away. I don't think the Russian actions should not be condemned. I don't say that we should not be putting our best effort to stand by Ukraine. I'm saying we need to think also as negotiators so that this war still has, believe it or not, a potential to escalate further. And I would not want to go back to the theme of Guns in August of 1914 when nobody really wanted to start a war, but it started. Here one mistake, two mistakes, and we are not gonna have an opportunity to revisit it and go back because this war might be, disaster for the world.
AD : Thanks, Arthur.
AM : Thank you.
NM : Absolutely. I appreciate Arthur. Thank you for sharing. And thanks for all your insight into this.
AM : My pleasure.
NM : Truly impactful listening to you explain everything. So Aram, I'll, I'll turn it over to you. Do you want to close this thing out?
AD : Well, I just want to thank you, Arthur, for your time and, and insights. It's certainly given us a lot to think about, and I know for, for those listening, a lot of things just to kind of, to ponder and, and consider, um, you know, what's, what's next, and what sort of conversations we can be having certainly want the Ukrainian people to know our thoughts and prayers are with them and, and we're can you, you need to support them from a distance and for, Ukrainians living in the United States to know that if there are ways we can help support that community and that desire to help, we wanna be doing that too.
AM : Absolutely.
NM : Yep. Absolutely. All right. Well, Arthur, thank you so much for joining us in today's podcast. We really appreciate it. There's no, no better way to close it out than everything that you already said. So definitely thank you again for your time, and we'll see you in the next episode.
AM : Thank you. Thank you. Good luck.
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