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About the Event: Is there a place for illegal or nonconsensual evidence in security studies research, such as leaked classified documents? What is at stake, and who bears the responsibility, for determining source legitimacy? Although massive unauthorized disclosures by WikiLeaks and its kindred may excite qualitative scholars with policy revelations, and quantitative researchers with big-data suitability, they are fraught with methodological and ethical dilemmas that the discipline has yet to resolve. I argue that the hazards from this research—from national security harms, to eroding human-subjects protections, to scholarly complicity with rogue actors—generally outweigh the benefits, and that exceptions and justifications need to be articulated much more explicitly and forcefully than is customary in existing work. This paper demonstrates that the use of apparently leaked documents has proliferated over the past decade, and appeared in every leading journal, without being explicitly disclosed and defended in research design and citation practices. The paper critiques incomplete and inconsistent guidance from leading political science and international relations journals and associations; considers how other disciplines from journalism to statistics to paleontology address the origins of their sources; and elaborates a set of normative and evidentiary criteria for researchers and readers to assess documentary source legitimacy and utility. Fundamentally, it contends that the scholarly community (researchers, peer reviewers, editors, thesis advisors, professional associations, and institutions) needs to practice deeper reflection on sources’ provenance, greater humility about whether to access leaked materials and what inferences to draw from them, and more transparency in citation and research strategies.

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About the Speaker: Christopher Darnton is a CISAC affiliate and an associate professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School. He previously taught at Reed College and the Catholic University of America, and holds a Ph.D. in Politics from Princeton University. He is the author of Rivalry and Alliance Politics in Cold War Latin America (Johns Hopkins, 2014) and of journal articles on US foreign policy, Latin American security, and qualitative research methods. His International Security article, “Archives and Inference: Documentary Evidence in Case Study Research and the Debate over U.S. Entry into World War II,” won the 2019 APSA International History and Politics Section Outstanding Article Award. He is writing a book on the history of US security cooperation in Latin America, based on declassified military documents.

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Christopher Darnton Associate Professor of National Security Affairs Naval Postgraduate School
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For many people, nuclear weapons feel like something out of a history book rather than a news headline, a remnant left over from the era of go-go boots and rotary phones rather than the age of social media and quantum computing.

But Vladimir Putin’s veiled threats of a possible tactical strike against Ukraine are a stark reminder that nuclear weapons are still a major factor in strategic defense and deterrence policies.

In a geopolitical landscape like this, the perspective of scholars like Rose Gottemoeller, formerly the Deputy Secretary General of NATO and currently the Steven C. Házy Lecturer at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, is more important than ever.

Currently, she is acting as an advisor to the Strategic Posture Commission of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee and to the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Strategy Administration (NNSA), but this is far from the first time she has been called on from Capitol Hill or the executive branch.

From her start as a Russian language major at Georgetown University, Gottemoeller’s expertise in arms control, nuclear nonproliferation, and political-military affairs has made her an invaluable resource to fellow academics and policymakers alike as they work to tackle the nuanced diplomatic challenges of our times.

A Missed Phone Call and a New Career

Gottemoeller’s most recent government service came with a few hiccups. In December of 2008, she was living in a small, bare-bones rental unit in Moscow while she finished the last few weeks of her tenure as the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. Just a few weeks earlier, Barack Obama had been elected to the presidency of the United States, and the interim period of administration-building between Election Day and Inauguration Day was fully under way.

5,000 miles away from Washington D.C., Gottemoeller’s American cell phone rang. Racing across the apartment to try and answer it, the call ended before she could answer. Due to technological constraints at the time, there was no way to listen back to the voicemail on the Russian network.

Recounting the experience on “The Negotiators” podcast, Gottemoeller explained, “All I was thinking was, ‘Oh man, what is that, was the White House calling, or the Obama campaign? What if I’ve just lost my chance?’”

As soon as she landed back at the Washington Dulles airport, she got her answer. A return call to the number put her in touch with Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton’s office, where an offer to discuss the position of assistant secretary responsible for arms control issues was still on the table.

Rose Gottemoeller [left] stands with Hillary Clinton [right] in the Treaty Room at the U.S. Department of State in Washington D.C.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, along with Rose Gottemoeller (left) delivers remarks on the ratification of the new START treaty in the Treaty Room at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on August 11, 2010. U.S. Department of State (Flickr)

“Before I had even collected my luggage, I was on the phone letting them know I would be very glad to come interview with her,” said Gottemoeller.

That initial interview was nerve-wracking, to say the least. Walking into a borrowed New York apartment above Central Park where Clinton had set up her temporary office, Gottemoeller was grilled on nuclear deterrence, U.S. strategic policies, and strategic arms reductions by the future secretary and her two deputies for several hours.

“I thought it was going terribly. It was an exhausting hour and a half,” admits Gottemoeller. “I was convinced I hadn’t done very well.”

But a call the next day proved otherwise. Not only did Secretary Clinton offer her the job of assistant secretary responsible for arms control matters, but also put Gottemoeller’s name forward to the incoming White House to be the chief negotiator for the next strategic arms reduction treaty, what would eventually become the New START Treaty.

The New START Treaty, Then and Now

Formalized in 2010, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, builds on prior agreements put in place between the United State and Russia through the 1970s and 80s to actively reduce and limit the number of strategic nuclear weapons.

As the lead (and first female) negotiator of the treaty for the U.S. side, Gottemoeller knows its strengths and holes better than almost anyone. Building on the progress made by the START I Treaty in 1994, the New START Treaty has successfully reduced the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons Russia to 1,550, a 30 percent reduction from the approximately 6,000 deployed warheads that existed in 2000, and an astonishing 87 percent reduction from the estimated 12,000 deployed nuclear warheads available to the USSR and United States at the end of the Cold War.

Rose Gottemoeller listens during a press conference on Capitol Hill about the New START Treaty.
Rose Gottemoeller led the U.S. side of negotiations with the Russian Federation for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). Getty

New START continues to limit the number of strategic nuclear warheads that Russia and the United States are permitted to deploy, and it sets extensive protocols for monitoring and controlling such warheads in both countries. However, it has proven much more difficult to count and verify Russian warheads once they have been removed from their delivery vehicles and sent into storage.

“One of the major developments moving forward needs to be this more direct kind of constraint and oversight of warheads,” says Gottemoeller. “We’ve made some baby steps in that direction, but there’s certainly more we could and should be pushing for.”

Similarly, while New START has clear protocols for managing strategic nuclear warheads, there are gaps in constraining Russia’s stockpile of non-strategic nuclear warheads. Strategic nuclear weapons, as defined by NATO, constitute “weapons to whose use or threat of use only the highest authority of the State can resort, conceptually and structurally.” In the popular imagination, these are the weapons of M.A.D, or “mutually assured destruction,” which rests on the idea that the United States and Russian hold each other at constant risk of nuclear annihilation. A legitimate strategic calculation, this also serves as the basis for the "nuclear Armageddon" trope of Hollywood.

By contrast, non-strategic nuclear weapons, also referred to as “tactical nuclear weapons,” often carry smaller explosive yields, are carried on shorter-range delivery vehicles, and are designed to be used on the battlefield in combination with conventional forces. It is this type of weapon — not strategic missiles — which has caused concerns in the course of Putin’s invasion and ongoing bombardment of Ukraine.

The Invasion of Ukraine and Nuclear Sabre-rattling

Gottemoeller is clear on the repercussions that Vladimir Putin’s veiled threats of a possible tactical nuclear strike against Ukraine are having.

“Putin and his coterie have been extremely irresponsible in their rattling of the nuclear sabre,” she says. “There's absolutely no reason to be threatening nuclear use in Ukraine. This is a war of choice and invasion that Putin decided to undertake, not something he was provoked into by Ukraine, or NATO, or anyone else for that matter.”

Having watched and worked in Putin’s orbit on-and-off for decades, Gottemoeller believes that Putin and those in his inner circle understand that a strategic nuclear exchange of any kind would be “suicide.” But the escalatory risks inherent in a single tactical nuclear strike are still high.

“Threatening nuclear use, even if it’s a single, non-strategic use, is playing with fire,” warns Gottemoeller. “It’s dangerous. There is still far too much potential for escalation in that scenario.”

Intended or not, Putin’s nuclear posturing has also brought the discussion of nuclear weapons and the policies governing their use back to the forefront for people both in and out of government.

“In some ways, that’s not a bad thing,” Gottemoeller acknowledges. “Younger people in particular don’t pay as much attention to nuclear weapons. They’re much more gripped by environmental threats and the threat of climate change.”

The two existential threats are not unrelated, however. Citing an MIT study, Gottemoeller points out that a nuclear exchange would have a profound effect on the climate, potentially even leading to an extinction event for large portions of the global population.

“The notion that we could see nuclear escalation in this war in Ukraine is very, very serious,” says Gottemoeller. “It’s brought these issues into much sharper focus than it has been since the Cold War.”

Threatening nuclear use, even if it’s a single, non-strategic use, is playing with fire.
Rose Gottemoeller
Steven C. Házy Lecturer at CISAC

Developing Nuclear Policies for the Future

Meaningful nuclear policy has often been born out of such moments of sharp focus. The first major treaty, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), first came into force in 1970 following the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The treaty created the first binding commitments toward the goal of disarmament for the nuclear powers at the time — the United States, USSR, and United Kingdom — as well as setting policies of nonproliferation for an additional 46 party states. To date, a total of 191 states have joined and upheld the treaty, including the five current nuclear-weapon states of the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China.

The work that Rose Gottemoeller is currently undertaking as an advisor to the Strategic Posture Commission and National Nuclear Strategy Administration aims to provide the necessary legwork and critical expertise needed to prepare policymakers for high-level negotiations on future nuclear treaties. New START, currently the last remaining nuclear arms agreement between the United States and Russia, will expire in 2026, and cannot be renewed again without re-ratification by the U.S. Senate. Given the uncertainty surrounding the Kremlin’s actions regarding tactical nuclear weapon use, the importance of providing this type of in-depth policy expertise cannot be understated.

At the Strategic Posture Commision, Gottemoeller is working alongside other experts on a committee chaired by Madelyn Creedon, an expert in national security and defense and former assistant secretary of defense for global strategic affairs at the Pentagon. Working under bi-partisan leadership from both the House and Senate, this commission is in the process of evaluating the long-term strategic posture of the United States. This includes nuclear weapons, but also conventional weapons, trade agreements, economic progress, arms control diplomacy, and other capabilities of United States national power.

In this realm, Gottemoeller stresses that while nuclear weapons will never cease to be important, new defense strategies need to be focused on emerging technologies rather than the nuclear standoffs of the past. Writing in the August 2022 edition of Foreign Affairs, she stresses that:

“New defense innovations promise not just to transform warfare but also to undermine the logic and utility of nuclear weapons. With advances in sensing technology, states may soon be able to track and target their adversaries’ nuclear missiles, making the weapons easier to eliminate. And with nuclear weapons more vulnerable, innovations such as drone swarms — large numbers of small automated weapons that collectively execute a coordinated attack—will increasingly define war. A fixation on building more nuclear weapons will only distract from this technological revolution, making it harder for the United States to master the advances that will shape the battlefield of the future.”

At the National Nuclear Security Administration, Gottemoeller is similarly applying her expertise to develop better policies to monitor the nuclear warheads already in existence. Launched by Jill Hruby and Frank Rose, the leaders of NNSA, the purpose of this review is to determine how to improve the nonproliferation tools and instruments, one of the Biden administration’s key missions. Working alongside partners at the National Nuclear Laboratories, the NNSA is developing innovative ways to monitor and verify constraints on warheads and their delivery vehicles, including exotic delivery vehicles such as the Russian hypersonic Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missile.

“I do really see that there has been a lot of progress in this area and I feel like we are well prepared for a new negotiation,” says Gottemoeller.

The Power of Academia for the Good of Government

Thinking about her own dual career in government and academia, Gottemoeller is quick to point out the immense value that collaboration between the two brings to the policymaking process.

“Over the years, Stanford has been very active in these kinds of discussions and it's been extremely valuable, I think. The academic community plays a super important role for the policy community in Washington,” she says.

In her own recent experience, that has included a meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, alongside fellow nuclear expert Scott Sagan, also of FSI’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC).

Gottemoeller points out that sometimes academics and their institutions can go where governments can’t. These so-called “track-two” settings create opportunities for experts, academics, and professionals from various states to come together for discussion and discourse even if formal “track-one” government negotiations are stalled or stagnant. Even as the war in Ukraine has intensified the divide between the governments in Washington and Moscow, non-governmental experts from the U.S. and Russia continue to meet to ensure lines of communication and understanding regarding key issues remain open.

The academic community can help in dialogues like this. Places like FSI attract very senior figures with immense amounts of policy experience, and we can be a resource for the government back in Washington.
Rose Gottemoeller
Steven C. Házy Lecturer

Gottemoeller believes institutes like FSI and other academic organizations can play a similarly important role in advancing discussion with China, particularly in the realm of nuclear security and weapons modernization. Some of these discussions, such as collaborations between the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Scientists Group on Arms control (of which Gottemoeller is a participating member), are already underway.

“I think dialogues like this are a way in which the academic community can help develop an environment in which the Chinese will then eventually be willing to come to the table in an official government-to-government way,” she explains.

As for her own academic home at the Freeman Spogli Institute, Gottemoeller is grateful for the work the institute and her fellow scholars allow her to do.

“Organizations like FSI and CISAC are a great home for practitioners as well as academic experts. The Freeman Spogli Institute attracts very senior figures with immense amounts of policy experience to come and work here. It’s clearly a resource for the government back in Washington, and I think these groups will continue to play that role very well for a long time.”

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Rose Gottemoeller listens during a press conference on Capitol Hill about the New START Treaty.
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Negotiating with Russia and the Art of the Nuclear Arms Deal

Rose Gottemoeller discusses “Negotiating the New START Treaty,” her new book detailing how she negotiated a 30 percent reduction in U.S.-Russia strategic nuclear warheads.
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NATO Parliamentary Delegation Joins FSI Scholars for Discussion on Ukraine and Russia

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New START: Why An Extension Is In America's National Interest

Failing to renew the New START arms control treaty with Russia “is not a wise direction of travel,” said Rose Gottemoeller, a former Deputy Secretary General of NATO who ranked as one of President Barack Obama’s top nuclear security experts.
New START: Why An Extension Is In America's National Interest
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From a missed phone call in Moscow to becoming the lead U.S. negotiator of the New START Treaty, scholars like Rose Gottemoeller demonstrate the importance of collaboration between scholars in academic institutions and policymakers in government.

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As Russia’s war against Ukraine illustrates, civilians often bear the brunt of suffering in conflict — sometimes directly killed or saddled with lifelong injuries, and sometimes from the destruction of critical infrastructure like hospitals, power plants and sanitation systems needed to survive. International laws of war prohibit targeting civilians — but often fail to protect them in practice.

How can this be stopped? Ireland recently organized the development of a multilateral declaration aimed at better protecting civilians from explosive weapons in populated areas. While it’s not a legally binding treaty, this declaration includes new guidelines developed to improve how international humanitarian law gets put into practice. Eighty countries, including the United States, signed this declaration in Dublin on Nov. 18.

Continue reading at washingtonpost.com.

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If it’s not a binding treaty, how can it influence military action? Here’s what research tells us.

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Steven Pifer
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As Russia’s military faltered and lost ground in its conventional war against Ukraine, concern grew in the West that Vladimir Putin might resort to nuclear weapons.  The Kremlin, however, has real reasons not to cross the nuclear threshold, and its hints of nuclear use have not brought Kyiv’s capitulation or an end to Western support for Ukraine any closer.  In recent weeks, Moscow has seemed to deescalate the nuclear rhetoric.

Russia’s military campaign in Donbas stalled over the summer, and Ukrainian counteroffensives in the Kharkiv and Kherson regions subsequently have liberated substantial tracts of territory.  As the Ukrainian army pressed forward, the Kremlin began to grow desperate, with Putin ordering mobilization of 300,000 men.  Many in the West began to fear that the Russian leader, facing an increasingly difficult situation, might play the nuclear card against Ukraine.

Putin set the stage for this early on. In February, just three days after the Russian army invaded Ukraine from the north, south and east, he ordered a “special combat readiness” for Russian nuclear forces.  In September, the situation deteriorated for Russia, and Putin set in motion his desired annexation of four Ukrainian oblasts (regions), none of which his military fully controlled.  His language, and that of other Russian officials, hinted at nuclear use.

Announcing the mobilization on September 21, Putin stated “In the event of a threat to the territorial integrity to our country and to defend Russia and our people, we will certainly make use of all weapon systems available to us.  This is not a bluff.”  Many observers read “all weapons systems” as including nuclear arms.  Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev on September 27 said that it certainly “was not a bluff” and went on to “imagine” a Russian nuclear strike on Ukraine.

In a September 30 speech, Putin proclaimed Ukraine’s Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson oblasts to be part of Russia and asserted “We will defend our land with all the forces and resources we have.”  In case anyone missed the point, he cited the U.S. nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 as having set a “precedent.”

Those remarks got attention.  On October 7, President Joe Biden commented in a private setting that he saw a direct threat of nuclear use for the first time since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.  Shortly thereafter, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley had conversations with their Russian counterparts.

The Kremlin may want Ukraine and the West to believe that Russia is prepared to escalate to the nuclear level, but it does not want a nuclear war.  Moscow has real reasons not to cross the nuclear threshold.

First, Ukraine does not mass its forces in a way that would create a tempting target for nuclear attack.  More importantly, a nuclear strike is unlikely to achieve the political objective of intimidating Kyiv into capitulation.  The Ukrainians understand all too well what Russian occupation means.  For them, this is an existential fight, and nothing suggests that the Russian threats have undercut their resolve.

Second, the same is true for the resolve of Ukraine’s Western supporters.  The flow of arms and other support for Ukraine continues, and Western officials have pushed back on the nuclear question.  Meeting on November 4, G7 foreign ministers stated “Russia’s irresponsible nuclear rhetoric is unacceptable.  Any use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons by Russia would be met with severe consequences.”  That echoed the message following Biden’s October 7 phone conversation with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that consequences would be “extremely serious” and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s October 13 warning that Moscow not cross the “very important [nuclear] line.”  Russian officials—the senior military leadership, in particular—likely understand that, if they open the nuclear Pandora’s Box, no one can tell what would happen.

Third, Russian officials have to consider the reaction of other countries.  Putin’s close friend President Xi Jinping of China has been very clear in recent meetings.  Xi and Scholz on November 4 “rejected” the threat of nuclear weapons, and Xi and Biden on November 14 condemned Moscow’s nuclear threats.  The G20 leaders’ declaration issued on November 16 said “The use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible.”  Given his isolation from the West, Putin can hardly afford to alienate Xi or other countries in the Global South.  Few would like the precedent of Russia, a nuclear state, using nuclear arms against a smaller, non-nuclear neighbor after its conventional aggression had failed.

There are indications the Kremlin understands that it has overplayed its hand and in recent weeks has sought to tone down the nuclear rhetoric.

Speaking to the Valdai Discussion Club on October 27, Putin raised the question “that Russia might theoretically use nuclear weapons,” called “the current fuss” a “very primitive” attempt to turn countries against Moscow, and commented that “we have never said anything proactively about Russia potentially using nuclear weapons.”  While not exactly true, it was very different from the Russian leader’s September pronouncements.  A November 2 Russian Foreign Ministry statement said Russia is guided by the principle that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” reiterated commitment to the January 3, 2022 statement by the U.S., Russian, Chinese, British and French leaders on preventing a nuclear war, and noted that provocations with nuclear weapons could entail “catastrophic consequences.”

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reported that, in their November 16 meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had stated that nuclear use was “impossible and inadmissible.”  Representing Russia at the G20 summit, Lavrov agreed to the leaders’ declaration that included the language about the inadmissibility of the use or threat of use of nuclear arms.

Russian officials have backed away from the nuclear hints and threats of September and sought to tone down the rhetoric.  This does not mean they might not reemerge, but it does suggest that the Kremlin understands that the use of nuclear weapons would have significant consequences for Russia, and that its nuclear threats failed to achieve their desired political objectives while proving counterproductive for Russia’s image abroad.

* * * * *

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As Russia’s military faltered and lost ground in its conventional war against Ukraine, concern grew in the West that Vladimir Putin might resort to nuclear weapons.

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Steven Pifer
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Ukraine is the victim of an unprovoked and unjustified war launched by Vladimir Putin’s Russia more than eight years ago. The latest stage in this war is the ongoing full-scale invasion that began on February 24, 2022. US President Joe Biden has said the United States will support Ukraine “for as long as it takes.”

Some question this commitment in view of other US priorities and argue that Russia, given history and geography, has a greater interest in Ukraine than does the United States. That latter point may be true, but it ignores the Ukrainians, who hold understandably strong views on the future of their country and have shown that they are prepared to fight tenaciously to defend their freedom. With Russia’s full-scale invasion now in its ninth month, it is vital to recognize that continued US support for Ukraine in this war is both the morally correct position and serves key national interests of the United States.

In 1994, Kyiv agreed to give up the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal, comprising some 1900 Soviet-era strategic nuclear warheads designed, built, and deployed to strike cities and other targets in the United States. Eliminating those weapons mattered a great deal to Washington. The Ukrainian government agreed to their elimination in large part because Russia, along with the United States and United Kingdom, committed in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence, and further committed not to use force or threaten to use force against Ukraine.

During the negotiations that preceded the signing of the Budapest Memorandum, Ukrainian officials asked what Washington would do if Russia were to violate its commitments. US officials said the United States would take an interest and support Ukraine.

Beginning with its seizure of Crimea in 2014 and continuing with this year’s invasion, Moscow has grossly violated the commitments it made in 1994. The morally correct response from the United States is to support Ukraine, as it has done with political measures and economic sanctions to punish Russia along with providing economic assistance, arms, and ammunition to Ukraine. Supporting Ukraine until its military drives Russian forces out of Ukrainian territory or, at a minimum, reaches a point where a negotiated settlement becomes possible on terms that Kyiv can accept, is not only morally the right thing to do. It is also very much in the US national interest.

First, the United States has had a vital national interest in a stable and secure Europe going back more than 70 years. This reflects the core security, political, and economic interests that provided the rationale for the formation of NATO in 1949. A Russian victory in the current war with Ukraine would have a major negative impact on stability and security in Europe. The countries of Europe, most of whom also support Ukraine, look to Washington for leadership. An insecure Europe would command more US resources, military power, and senior-level attention than would otherwise be the case.

Second, other countries are watching how Washington responds to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. China poses the largest strategic challenge facing the United States in the coming decades. If Putin succeeds in Ukraine, that could encourage President Xi Jinping to adopt a more hostile stance. Moreover, should Russia prevail, the resulting situation in Europe would mean that Washington has fewer resources, less military power, and less attention to devote to dealing with the China challenge.

Third, the United States has a strong interest in preserving international norms and a rules-based international order. A key norm in Europe, dating back to the UN Charter and the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, is that large states should not use force to take territory from smaller states. That is precisely what Putin is attempting now. If international norms break down, other autocratic states will likewise be emboldened. A “dog-eat-dog” world without such norms will be a much more difficult place in which to pursue a range of US political, security, and economic interests.

Moreover, respect for basic human rights is an important part of international norms. Russia has waged a brutal military campaign, committing wide-scale war crimes and atrocities such as the destruction of Mariupol. Russian occupation of Ukrainian towns and cities has meant torture chambers, mass arrests, summary executions, filtration camps, and deportations, including of children separated from their parents and sent to Russia for adoption by Russian families. The United States has an interest in opposing such grave human rights abuses and in supporting Kyiv’s efforts to hold those responsible to account.

Fourth, it is not clear that Putin’s ambitions end with Ukraine. In a June conversation with young Russian entrepreneurs, the Russian leader asserted that he was not taking Ukrainian territory but “returning” historic Russian lands to Moscow’s control. The Russian Empire once included the Baltic states, Finland, and part of Poland. If Putin were to prevail in Ukraine, would he be tempted to seek the “return” of other “historic Russian lands?”

In the case of Ukraine, the United States is contributing money and weapons. If Putin’s ambitions were to extend to one or more of the Baltic states, which are members of NATO, the United States would have to contribute money, weapons, and the lives of American soldiers. The United States has a strong interest in stopping Putin’s ambitions in Ukraine.

Originally published on Atlantic Council's Ukraine Alert

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Ukraine is the victim of an unprovoked and unjustified war launched by Vladimir Putin’s Russia more than eight years ago.

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Since Russia launched its most recent invasion of Ukraine in February, Moscow has threatened—sometimes subtly, other times explicitly—nuclear escalation should the war not go its way. Ukraine and the West have to take such threats seriously. But the Kremlin also needs to take their probable responses seriously and would have to weigh the substantial risks and costs of using a nuclear weapon.

Shortly after Russian forces assaulted Ukraine on Feb. 24, Vladimir Putin ordered a “special combat readiness” status for Russian nuclear forces. But it’s unclear what that means since the Pentagon has consistently said it sees no change in Russia’s nuclear posture. The alert may have amounted to little more than additional command post staffing.

Continue reading at time.com

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"The hope is that rationality would prevail, and that senior political and military leaders in Moscow, who may not be so obsessed with Ukraine, would come down on the side of caution."

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Scott D. Sagan
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Vladimir Putin’s nuclear threats have been menacing and apocalyptic. In March 2018, he told an interviewer that he would not start a nuclear war, but if “aggressors” attacked Russia, “vengeance is inevitable.... We will go to heaven as martyrs. They will just drop dead.” When he illegally annexed parts of Ukraine on Sept. 21, Mr. Putin escalated the threat, announcing that if “the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will without doubt use all available means to protect Russia and our people. This is not a bluff.” And then he led the crowd in chanting, “Russia, Russia, Russia.”

President Joe Biden suggested last week that the “prospect of Armageddon” hasn’t loomed so close in 60 years. The remark set off a flurry of public speculation. Are Mr. Putin’s threats serious or mere saber rattling? Are they calculated bluffs to frighten NATO and deter intervention, or bellicose rants from an isolated and unhinged bully?

Continue reading at WSJ.com

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Putin’s menacing rhetoric has alarmed the West, but lessons learned 60 years ago in the Cuban Missile Crisis provide some reassurance

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Steven Pifer
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Seven and a half months after it began, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine has not gone as the Kremlin had hoped. The Ukrainian military has resisted with skill and tenacity, in recent weeks clawing back territory in the country’s south and east. As the Russian invasion falters, concern has arisen that Putin might turn to nuclear weapons.

The nuclear threat needs to be taken seriously. Russia’s conventional forces appear stymied, the country has a large nuclear arsenal, and Putin thus far seems unwilling to lose or retreat. He has, if anything, doubled down, for example, ordering a mobilization and a sham annexation of Ukrainian territory. Moreover, Putin has made a string of miscalculations in launching and executing his war on Ukraine, and his comments have observers wondering if nuclear could be next. But there are reasons to believe Moscow would not press the nuclear button. Such use would not end the Ukrainian determination to resist. It would alienate countries such as China and India that have tried to remain on the sidelines of this war. Moreover, senior Russian political and military leaders understand that introducing nuclear weapons into the conflict would constitute a step into a murky and potentially disastrous unknown.

Continue reading at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

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Seven and a half months after it began, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine has not gone as the Kremlin had hoped. The Ukrainian military has resisted with skill and tenacity, in recent weeks clawing back territory in the country’s south and east. As the Russian invasion falters, concern has arisen that Putin might turn to nuclear weapons.

Authors
Steven Pifer
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On September 30, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed agreements illegally incorporating the Ukrainian oblasts of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson into Russia. He said Moscow would “defend our land with all the forces and resources we have.” He previously hinted this could include nuclear arms. Nuclear threats are no trivial matter, but Ukraine and the world should not be intimidated. The West should respond with political and military signals of its own.

BOGUS REFERENDA

The annexation of the four oblasts came 31 weeks after Putin’s disastrous decision to invade Ukraine and four days after Russian occupiers concluded so-called “referenda” on joining Russia. Those “referenda” were illegal under international law, had no credible independent observers, and, in some cases, required people to vote literally at gunpoint. No account was taken of the views of the millions of Ukrainian citizens who earlier had fled Russian occupation.

On that flimsy basis, Putin declared Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson to be parts of Russia, even though the Russian military does not control all those territories. Indeed, the Russian army finds itself on the defensive and retreating as Ukraine presses counter-attacks. Nevertheless, on October 3 and 4, Russia’s rubber-stamp legislative bodies, the Federal Assembly and Federal Council, each unanimously approved the annexations.

Putin’s territorial grab has two apparent motives. First, he seeks to divert domestic attention from the war’s costs (including tens of thousands of dead and wounded Russian soldiers), recent battlefield reverses and a chaotic mass mobilization. He wants to sell the Russian public on the idea that Russia has gained territory, so it must be winning.

Second, he hopes to dissuade Ukraine from continuing its counteroffensive and the West from supporting Kyiv. On September 30, Putin said the four Ukrainian oblasts would be Russian “forever” and would be defended “by all the means we possess.” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that attacks on the four oblasts would be considered attacks on Russia itself.

Putin has hinted at a nuclear threat, seeking to intimidate Ukraine and the West. Russian declaratory policy envisages the possible use of nuclear weapons in the event of a conventional attack on Russia “when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.” Putin seeks to put a nuclear umbrella over the territories that Russia has seized.

PUTIN’S NUCLEAR GAMBIT

One cannot ignore Putin’s ploy: after all, a nuclear threat is involved. But one should also understand that he has made a serious overreach.

Russia could lose this war — that is, its military could be pushed back to the lines before Russia’s February 24 invasion or even before Russia seized Crimea — and Russia’s existence would not be in jeopardy. Ukraine’s goal is to drive the Russians out of Ukraine. The Ukrainian army will not march on Moscow; indeed, the Ukrainians have been extremely judicious in conducting only a small number of attacks against targets on Russian territory (that is, Russian territory as agreed by the post-Soviet states in 1991 following the Soviet Union’s collapse).

Moscow pundits try to portray the war as a conflict with the West, which they claim aims to destroy Russia. Perhaps it feels better to be losing to the West, not just Ukraine. Still, Western leaders have made clear that, while they will support Kyiv with arms and other assistance, they will not send troops to defend Ukraine. They do not seek Russia’s demise or dismemberment; they want to see Russia out of Ukraine.

Losing the war thus would not be existential for Russia. It could well prove so for Putin, or at least for his political future. The nuclear fear arises because Putin, as he grows more desperate, may see Russia’s fate and his own as one and the same.

However, Putin likely understands that, were Russia to use nuclear weapons, it would open a Pandora’s box full of unpredictable and potentially catastrophic consequences, including for Russia. Moreover, more sober-minded Russian political and military officials understand those risks. Would they allow Putin to put Russia in such peril? The decision to go to war was Putin’s; losing may be existential for him, but it need not be for others in Moscow.

While minimizing nuclear risks is an understandable concern, the West also must weigh the price of acceding to Putin’s gambit. If he can use vague nuclear threats to persuade the West to accept illegal annexations following sham “referenda,” what next? Putin himself has suggested Narva, a city in NATO-member Estonia, is “historically Russian” land. If his ploy succeeds in Ukraine, might he be tempted to seize portions of the Baltic states, annex them, and declare a nuclear threat to try to secure his ill-gotten gains?

WESTERN MESSAGING

Putin seeks to create a new geopolitical reality in Europe, one that few, if any, others will accept. The West should respond with pointed messaging of its own, some of which has begun.

First, Washington has set the right tone. On September 18, U.S. President Joe Biden warned Putin against using nuclear weapons, saying the U.S. response would be “consequential.” U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan reiterated the point on September 25, noting “that any use of nuclear weapons will be met with catastrophic consequences for Russia, that the U.S. and our allies will respond decisively.” Both correctly left the specific nature of the U.S. and allied response ambiguous. Strategic ambiguity lets Russians worry about what might happen.

Washington has sent private messages to Moscow warning against nuclear use. U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley have periodically talked with their Russian counterparts and should now speak to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and to the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov. Shoigu and Gerasimov would be closely involved in any consideration of using nuclear arms. They may well have a more serious understanding of what nuclear use could entail for Russia than does Putin, and what is existential for Putin need not be existential for them.

Second, Washington and Kyiv’s other friends in the West should communicate their position to the Russian people, perhaps in a joint public statement. Such a statement should underscore that the West’s goal is not Russia’s destruction but withdrawal of the Russian army from Ukrainian territory or, at a minimum, a negotiated settlement on terms acceptable to Kyiv.

Third, Western diplomats should engage their counterparts in Beijing, Delhi, and other Global South capitals about Russia’s threat. Moscow needs to understand that any resort to nuclear weapons in a failing war against Ukraine would make Russia an international pariah.

Fourth, the West should increase military assistance so the Ukrainians can press forward and liberate more territory from Russian occupation. In particular, Washington should provide ATACMS — surface-to-surface missiles with a range of 200 miles — with the proviso, as currently applies to shorter-range U.S-supplied rockets, that they not target Russia (in its 1991 borders). But the door should be left ajar for ending that restriction should Russia escalate.

As the Kremlin continues to prosecute a war of aggression and tries to persuade the world that its annexations are legitimate, Putin has chosen to play a risky game. Western messaging should ensure that Russian political and military elites understand that the game poses serious risks as well for Russia and for them personally.

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On September 30, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed agreements illegally incorporating the Ukrainian oblasts of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson into Russia. He said Moscow would “defend our land with all the forces and resources we have.” He previously hinted this could include nuclear arms. Nuclear threats are no trivial matter, but Ukraine and the world should not be intimidated. The West should respond with political and military signals of its own.

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Against the backdrop of Ukraine's counteroffensive and the Kremlin's efforts to illegally annex additional territory, a delegation of members from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly arrived at Stanford to meet with experts and weigh considerations about the ongoing conflict. First on their circuit was a panel hosted by the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) chaired by FSI Director Michael McFaul, with Marshall Burke, Francis Fukuyama, Anna Grzymala-Busse, Scott Sagan, and Kathryn Stoner participating.

The delegates represented thirteen of NATO's thirty member nations, including Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. Top of mind were questions about the possibility of nuclear escalation from the Kremlin, and appropriate repsonses from the alliance, as well as questions about the longevity of Putin's regime, the nature of international authoritarian alliances, and the future of Ukraine as a European nation.

Drawing from their expertise on state-building, democracy, security issues, nuclear enterprise, and political transitions, the FSI scholars offered a broad analysis of the many factors currently playing out on the geopolitical stage. Abbreviated versions of their responses are given below.

Kathryn Stoner, Francis Fukuyama, Marshall Burke, Scott Sagan, Anna Grzymala-Busse, and Michael McFaul present at a panel given to memebers of the NATO Parlimentary Assembly.
Kathryn Stoner, Francis Fukuyama, Marshall Burke, Scott Sagan, Anna Grzymala-Busse, and Michael McFaul present at a panel given to memebers of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly on September 26, 2022. Melissa Morgan

The following commentary has been edited for clarity and length, and does not represent the full extent of the panel’s discussion.
 


Rethinking Assumptions about Russia and Putin

Kathryn Stoner

Right now, Putin is the most vulnerable he's ever been in 22 years in power. But I don’t believe he's under so much pressure at this point that he is about to leave office anytime soon. Autocracies do not usually die by popular mobilization, unfortunately. More often they end through an elite coup or turnover. And since the end of WWII, the research has shown that about 75% of the time autocracies are typically replaced by another autocracy, or the perpetuation of the same autocracy, just with a different leader. So, if Putin were replaced, you might get a milder form of autocracy in Russia, but I don't think you are suddenly going to create a liberal democracy.

This means that we in the West, and particularly in the U.S., need to think very hard about our strategies and how we are going to manage our relationships with Putin and his allies. This time last year, the U.S. broadcast that we basically wanted Russia to calm down so we could pivot to China. That’s an invitation to not calm down, and I think it was a mistake to transmit that as policy.

We need to pay attention to what Russia has been doing. They are the second biggest purveyor of weapons globally after the United States. They will sell to anyone. They’ve been forgiving loans throughout Sub Saharan Africa from the Soviet period and using that as a way of bargaining for access to natural resources. They’re marketing oil, selling infrastructure, and building railroads. Wherever there is a vacuum, someone will fill it, and that includes Russia every bit as much as China. We need to realize that we are in competition with both Russia and China, and develop our policies and outreach accordingly.

KStoner

Kathryn Stoner

Mosbacher Director of the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law
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Confronting Autocracy at Home and Abroad

Anna Grzymala-Busse

Why is Putin in Ukraine? Because the fact that there is a democratic country right next door to Russia is an affront to him. Putin doesn’t care that much about NATO. The fact that nothing happened when Sweden joined is some evidence of this. That’s something to keep in mind as people are debating NATO and Ukraine and Ukraine’s possible future as a member.

NATO membership and EU membership are both wonderful things. But more fundamental that that, this war has to be won first. That’s why I think it’s necessary in the next six months to speed up the support for Ukraine by ensuring there’s a steady stream of armaments, training personnel, and providing other military support.

There’s been incredible unity on Ukraine over the last seven months across the EU, NATO, and amongst our allies. But our recent history with President Trump reminds us how fragile these international commitments can be. In foreign policy, it used to be understood that America stands for liberal democracy. But we had a president of the United States who was more than happy to sidle up to some of the worst autocrats in the world. That’s why we can’t afford to leave rising populism around the world unaddressed and fail to engage with voters. When we do that, we allow far right parties to grab those votes and go unopposed. Whatever happens domestically impacts what happens internationally.

Anna Grzymała-Busse

Anna Grzymala-Busse

Director of The Europe Center
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The Consequences of Nuclear Sabre-Rattling

Scott Sagan

We have to very clear-eyed when we’re talking about the threat, however improbable, of the use of a nuclear weapon. When it comes to the deployment of a tactical nuclear weapon, its kinetic effects depend on both the size of the weapon, the yield, and the target. Tactical weapons range in yield from very low — 5-10% of what was in the Hiroshima bomb — to as large as what was used against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If that kind of weapon was used on an urban target, it would produce widescale effects. In a battlefield or rural area, it would have a relatively small impact.

But in the bigger picture, what any use of a weapon like this does is break a 70+ year tradition of non-use. Those seventy years have been dicey and fragile, but they have held so far. A tradition that is broken creates a precedent, and once there’s a precedent, it makes it much easier for someone to transgress the tradition again. So even if a decision was made to use a tactical weapon with little kinetic importance for strategic effect, I think we still need to be worried about it.

Personalistic dictators surround themselves with yes men. They make lonely decisions by themselves, often filled with vengeance and delusion because no one can tell them otherwise. They don't have the checks and balances. But I want to make one point about a potential coup or overthrow. Putin has done a lot to protect himself against that. But improbable events happen all the time, especially when leaders make really, really bad decisions. That’s not something we should be calling for as official U.S. policy, but it should be our hope.

Headshot of Scott Sagan

Scott Sagan

FSI Senior Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation
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Cycles of Conflict, Climate Change, and Food Insecurity

Marshall Burke

The estimates right now project that there are 350 million people around the world facing acute food insecurity. That means 350 million people who literally don’t have enough to eat. That’s roughly double what it was pre-COVID. The factors driving that are things like supply chain disruptions from the pandemic and climate shocks, but also because of ongoing conflict happening around the world, Ukraine included.

There was an early concern that the war in Ukraine would be a huge threat to global food security. That largely has not been the case so far, at least directly. Opening the grain corridors through the Black Sea has been crucial to this, and it’s critical that we keep those open and keep the wheat flowing out. Research shows that unrest increases when food prices spike, so it’s important for security everywhere to keep wheat prices down.

What I’m worried about now is natural gas prices. With high global natural gas prices, that means making fertilizer is also very expensive and prices have increased up to 300% relative to a few years ago. If they stay that high, this is going to be a long-term problem we will have to find a way of reckoning with on top of the other effects from climate change already impacting global crop production and the global economy.

Marshall Burke

Marshall Burke

Deputy Director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment
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Ukraine After the War

Francis Fukuyama

I've been more optimistic about the prospects for Ukraine taking back territory for more of this war, just because of the vast difference in motivation between the two sides and the supply of modern weapons that Ukraine has been getting. But I don’t know what the conditions on the ground will look like when the decision to negotiate comes. Will Russia still be sitting on occupied territory? Are they kicked out entirely? Or are the frontlines close to where they are now?

As I’ve observed, Ukraine's demands have shifted depending on how they perceive the war going on. There was a point earlier this summer where they hinted that a return to the February 23 borderlines would be acceptable. But now with their recent successes, they're saying they want everything back to the 2014 lines. What actually happens will depend on what the military situation looks like next spring, by my guess.

However the war does end, I think Ukraine actually has a big opportunity ahead of them. Putin has unwittingly become the father of a new Ukrainian nation. The stresses of the war have created a very strong sense of national identity in Ukraine that didn’t exist previously. It’s accurate that Ukraine had significant problems with corruption and defective institutions before, but I think there’s going to be a great push to rout that out. Even things like the Azov steel factory being bombed out of existence is probably a good thing in the long run, because Ukraine was far too dependent on 20th-century coal, steel, and heavy industry. Now they have an opportunity to make a break from all of that.

There are going to be challenges, obviously. We’ll have to watch very carefully what Zelenskyy chooses to do with the commanding position he has at the moment, and whether the government will be able to release power back to the people and restore its institutions. But Europe and the West and our allies are going to have a really big role in the reconstruction of Ukraine, and that should be regarded by everyone as a tremendous opportunity.

frank_fukuyama

Francis Fukuyama

Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at FSI
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Victory in Ukraine, Victory for Democracy

Michael McFaul

Nobody likes a loser, and right now, Putin is losing strategically, tactically, and morally. Now, he doesn’t really care about what Biden or NATO or the West think about him. But he does care about what the autocrats think about him, especially Xi Jinping. And with reports coming out of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that Xi has “concerns” about what’s happening in Ukraine, Putin is feeling that pressure. I think that's why he has decided he needs to double down, not to negotiate, but to try and “win” in some way as defined by him.

In my view, that’s what’s behind the seizure of these four regions. If he feels like he can unequivocally claim them as part of Russia, then maybe he will sue for peace. And that’s exactly what President Zelenskyy fears. Why? Because that’s exactly what happened in 2014. Putin took Crimea, then turned around to the countries of the world and said, “Aren’t we all tired of war? Can’t we just have peace? I’m ready to end the war, as long as you recognize the new borders.” And, let’s be honest, we did.

We keep hearing politicians say we should put pressure for peace negotiations. I challenge any of them to explain their strategy for getting Putin to talk about peace. There is no doubt in my mind that President Zelenskyy would sit down tomorrow to negotiate if there was a real prospect for peace negotiations. But there's also no doubt in my mind right now that Putin has zero interest in peace talks.

Like Dr. Fukuyama, I don’t know how this war will end. But there's nobody inside or outside of Russia that thinks it’s going well. I personally know a lot of people that believe in democracy in Russia. They believe in democracy just as much as you or I. I’ve no doubt of their convictions. But they’re in jail, or in exile today.

If we want to help Russia in the post-Putin world, we have to think about democracy. There’s not a lot we can do to directly help democracy in Russia right now. But we should be doing everything to help democracy in Ukraine.  It didn’t happen in 1991. It didn’t happen in 2004. It didn’t happen in 2014. They had those breakthroughs and those revolutionary moments, but we as the democratic world collectively didn’t get it right. This is our moment to get it right, both as a way of helping Ukraine secure its future, and to give inspiration to “small-d” democrats fighting for rights across the world.

Michael McFaul, FSI Director

Michael McFaul

Director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
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FSI Director Michael McFaul, Kathryn Stoner, Francis Fukuyama, Scott Sagan, Anna Grzymala-Busse, and Marshall Burke answered questions from the parliamentarians on the conflict and its implications for the future of Ukraine, Russia, and the global community.

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