August 4, 2023
August 4, 2023

Currently, NATO has 31 member countries and there are four countries that have declared their desire to join the alliance, which includes Ukraine. Over the years, Ukraine has sought to move away from Russia’s sphere of influence and align itself more closely with the West. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, a record 82% of Ukrainians support joining the alliance. Ukraine formally announced a bid for fast-track membership in September 2022. Those who argue “yes” say admitting Ukraine would protect the country from further aggression, affirm its sovereignty, and solidify its alignment with the West and the rest of Europe. Those who argue “no” worry that doing so would provoke Putin and escalate the conflict, destabilizing the region, and that Ukraine doesn’t yet meet NATO’s standards regarding military capability, political stability, and commitment to democratic values.

Against this backdrop, we debate the question: Should NATO Admit Ukraine?

  • 00:00:06

    Gillian Tett

    Hello and welcome to an Open to Debate discussion about a really crucial question, which is this, should NATO admit Ukraine or not? Now, it’s not an easy issue at all. We’ve all watched the events unfold in Ukraine during the last year or rather last 500 plus days, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with absolute horror. And most people around the world have a sense of apparition for the bravery of the Ukrainians and a strong desire to see the war end.

  • 00:00:41

    But the question of how the world will end, and what that means for the future of Ukraine and the Western allies is very unresolved. Just recently NATO met in Lithuania to discuss what was happening with the alliance, and whether it’s time to admit Ukraine or not in the future, and it ended up with a pretty inconclusive set of comments.

  • 00:01:05

    So today, we’re gonna be talking about whether it is indeed time to admit Ukraine into NATO or not. We have two fantastic people to take different stances on this crucial question and debate it. On the one hand answering yes, NATO should admit Ukraine, we have the founder of the Renew Democracy Initiative and the former World Chess Champion, Garry Kasparov. And on the other side saying no to the question, should NATO admit Ukraine, we have senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and professor of international affairs at Georgetown University, Charles Kupchan.

  • 00:01:44

    So thank you both for being here today, and thank you for giving up your time to talk about this crucial question. And before we dive into the heart of the debate, I’d like to ask you each for one minute, just say very briefly what motivated you to agree to come on the show today and talk about it? Um, perhaps I can start with you Garry. Why do you care about this issue so much?

  • 00:02:07

    Garry Kasparov

    I think it’s my moral duty. I was born and raised in the Deep South of the USSR, city of Baku, uh, capital of Azerbaijan. I’m half Armenia half Jewish, but my mother’s tongue, my education, my cultural historical ties are Russians. And I moved to, uh, to Moscow after, um, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and I have to say that we had great expectations back in 1991, but unfortunately the Soviet Union has collapsed, but Russian Empire has not. And this war, I believe must become the last war Russian Empire, because there will be no peace in the, uh, in, in Europe, and actually in the world, before Ukraine wins the war and makes, uh, Putin regime obsolete. And as a Russian, you know, someone who believes that we all bare responsibility for the heinous crime committed by, by Putin’s regime in Ukraine, I think I have to be here and I have to argue for Ukraine.

  • 00:02:57

    Gillian Tett

    Right. Well, thank you very much indeed, Garry. Charles, what motivates you to be here today?

  • 00:03:02

    Charles Kupchan

    Uh, I agree with, with Garry that what’s taking place in, in Ukraine provokes moral outrage, it’s, uh, an unabashed act of aggression by Russia. And I think we as Americans need to have a very fulsome debate about where we should locate American power, American purpose in pushing back against Russian aggression. Uh, and I think the conversation that we’re about to have in this show is one that needs to happen. And I hope it informs thinking both within the US government and the public at large about the way forward in Ukraine.

  • 00:03:40

    Gillian Tett

    Well, thank you both very much indeed. Let’s start you Garry, um, I’d like you to layout exactly why you think that it’s we should be answering yes to the question. Should NATO admit Ukraine? Over to you, Garry.

  • 00:03:52

    Garry Kasparov

    Uh, I have to agree with, uh, Charles that, uh, this is a debate that, that we ought to have, actually not today, but many, many years ago. And, uh, it all started not, uh, on February 24th, 2022, with full-fledged Russian invasion of Ukraine, not even in 2014, uh, when Putin annexed Crimea and, and ignited war in Eastern Ukraine. We have to go all the way back to the collapse of the Soviet Union. And it was a time where, you know, where people in the free world, especially Americans, they had no idea how to deal with the collapse of the Russian Empire.

  • 00:04:24

    And we all remember the infamous, uh, Bush 41 speech, Chicken Kiev, where he warned against separation of Ukraine from the Soviet Union back in the, in the summer of 1991. Again, they didn’t know how to move forward because they grew up in… during the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union was something that, that belonged to the Sci-Fi books, not for, for, for, uh, realpolitik. Uh, and, uh, since 1991, you know, 32 years, and we cannot, you know, pretend that we are discussing now Ukraine membership in NATO separate from what’s happened.

  • 00:04:55

    Ukraine was forced to give up nuclear weapons back in 1994, uh, receiving guarantees from America, Britain and of course Russia for the territory integrity. Uh, Ukraine was attacked in 2014, uh, uh, mm, mm, uh, Crimea was annexed and, uh, the response from the free world was mute, so big deal. And, um, now this war, I believe, you know, just, uh, has more at stake than simply territorial integrity of Ukraine. It’s just not a matter of justice. It’s the trend of, of global history, whether we’ll see authoritarians, people who do not respect the rule of law and international borders prevail.

  • 00:05:32

    And any Putin’s territorial gain in Ukraine means that he will win and that will be watched by China and every other dictator around the globe or Ukraine wins. And we, we understand that Ukraine could show all the bravery and we all have to, uh, take our hats off for the bravery and resilience of Ukrainian people and for phenomenal leadership of Ukrainian government led by President Vo- Volodymyr Zelensky. But to win the war, you need logistics, you need weapons, you need ammunition, you need, uh, food. I mean, you need all sorts of material supply, because half of Ukraine has been decimated by, by, uh, uh, Russian, Russian missiles, Russian drones, Russian artillery.

  • 00:06:11

    And, um, also, while supplying, uh, all these to Ukraine, we have to identify what is the goal of this war. And that’s where we come short. And that’s why, as you said, uh, uh, Gillian, there were inconclusive remarks in, in Vilnius. And that’s where we, we, we split with Charles and others who believe that you have to find a way to appease Putin. There is no way to appease Russian dictator. There’s a history, history of Vladimir Putin, even if we don’t go back to the ’90s, that proves that his goal was, is and will be to destroy Ukraine, to eliminate Ukrainian statehood and to amalgamate Ukrainian and Ukrainian nations. They don’t exist according to Vladimir Putin. His propaganda keep… keeps repeating it, has keep… has been repeating it for, for years.

  • 00:06:55

    And that’s why, again, we should look at, at this war as, as a game where, uh, like chess there’s no draw, there’s no tie, either we win or we lose and Putin wins. And admitting Ukraine to NATO, and by the way we’re not talking about immediate admission, we talked, uh, uh, about accepting the fact that Ukraine already belongs to NATO because NATO was built back in 1949 with one purpose only to save free Europe from Soviet, uh, uh, aggression. And now Ukraine has been fighting this very war single-handedly.

  • 00:07:24

    And that’s why I recognize, I recognize this fact. It’s very important for the integrity of NATO. Thanks God there are other countries already in Eastern Europe that have been admitted to NATO on time. And the fact that Ukraine is still waiting its, its, its, its, its turn, even despite all the sacrifices, makes the situation much worse. And that’s why I believe that accepting the fact that Ukraine’s admission to NATO is a matter of time, and immediately after Ukraine’s victory we must do it, was, was, was the right decision that unfortunately has not been made in Vilnius.

  • 00:07:52

    Gillian Tett

    Thank you very much indeed, Garry, for that very passionate set of remarks. Charles, tell us why you disagree that Ukraine should not be admitted to NATO at the moment, or indeed in the foreseeable future?

  • 00:08:04

    Charles Kupchan

    I’d like to lay out, uh, four main arguments, Gillian. The first is to ask what core American interests are at stake. And I think that President Biden was right at the beginning of this conflict to say that, “The United States will stand by Ukraine for as long as it takes, but we will not put our own boots on the ground. We will not enforce a no-fly zone. We do not wanna go to war with Russia and risk World War III over this, even though we will go the distance to support Ukraine.” And I don’t think that the conflict has changed that assessment. I think that is the right judgment.

  • 00:08:41

    And we have to be honest, if Ukraine joins NATO and a single bomb falls on Kiev, the commitment to collective defense kicks in. The United States then has a treaty-based obligation to go to war against Russia, or it can decide not to go to war, but then NATO unravels because it has not stood by its commitment to collective defense. I don’t think we want to impose on the United States and its NATO allies those pretty unattractive choices, war with Russia or not going to war, but letting NATO deteriorate.

  • 00:09:18

    Secondly, I think we have to ask how this war is likely to end. And even though I would like to see Ukraine achieve full victory, I think the full restoration of Ukrainian sovereignty and defeat of Russian forces is unlikely that simply because of the power asymmetries, Russia is a much stronger, larger, wealthier country. We’re seeing, as we speak, how difficult it is for Ukraine to carry out an offensive to get to the Sea of Azov, the border, and to restore its 1991 territory.

  • 00:09:52

    We therefore have to ask, what would NATO membership do to this war? And I think it would prolong it, because the Russians have made clear from the beginning that they do not want NATO on the other side of their thousand-mile plus border with Ukraine. I don’t think that’s unreasonable. The United States, after all, spent most of the 19th century pushing other powers out of its neighborhood. And the… a long war here does impose serious long-term costs, and I’ll just tick them off. Ukraine is being destroyed even as it defends itself. 30 to 40% of its economy has been taken down. We need, I think, to worry about the risk of escalation, the possible use of nuclear weapons, a wider war.

  • 00:10:38

    Third, this is a polarizing war. Russia and China are now set against the United States and its democratic allies while the Global South stays on the sidelines, we’re really headed toward a very unpredictable fluid multipolar landscape. And this is a war that comes at the expense of other key US priorities, including balancing against and containing China in the Far East.

  • 00:11:06

    Third point, NATO unity is at stake here. And I think the West’s strongest suit and standing up to Putin has been that the allies have stood shoulder to shoulder. There is no consensus inside NATO about admitting Ukraine. That’s why the Vilnius Summit Communique was inconclusive. We do not want to take an issue on which there is no agreement and divide NATO over this question of Ukrainian membership.

  • 00:11:34

    Finally, we, I think, have to worry about the domestic blowback of this war, refugees, high inflation, energy and food shortages, it’s by no means clear that NATO membership for Ukraine could be ratified across all NATO members, including in the United States. And it’s worth keeping in mind that the two leading Republican candidates for the presidency, Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, are none too interested in continuing strong support for Ukraine. And as a consequence, NATO membership for Ukraine may not pass the Senate. We don’t wanna go down that road unless we know we can deliver.

  • 00:12:10

    Gillian Tett

    Well, thank you both very much indeed for laying out your arguments so strongly. We’re gonna take a brief break now and we’ll be back very soon. Welcome back to Open to Debate, where we’re debating the question, should NATO admit Ukraine or not? We just heard opening statements from Garry Kasparov and Charles Kupchan, and they both laid out their arguments very forcefully. Um, Charles has essentially argued, and apologies if I miss out any crucial points here, that w- NATO should not be opening its doors to Ukraine right now because for arguing from the perspective of America, America doesn’t want to go to war with Russia over Ukraine.

  • 00:13:03

    Um, he has grave reservations or doubts about whether Ukraine can actually defeat Russia completely and push it back to the 1991 borders and get to the Sea of Az- Azov. He argued that the US probably has other priorities to worry about like China. He’s concerned about whether NATO unity will be essentially threatened by this issue and also whether it’s even possible to get the question of Ukrainian membership to N- NATO approved by the Congress given that many Republicans appear to be currently quite opposed.

  • 00:13:36

    On the other side, Garry has argued that essentially the West has let Ukraine down many, many times in the past, um, and tried to appease Putin quite wrongly in his view, um, most notably by persuading or forcing Ukraine to give up its nuclear weapons back in 1991 with some kind of security guarantee that, of course, now seems absolutely worthless. He’s argued that if NATO does not stand strongly by Ukraine, even to the point of admitting it in the future, then essentially it will have appeased authoritarians in a way that will give more incentive to dictators around the world to essentially, um, go head-to-head with the West.

  • 00:14:18

    He’s argued that it’s pointless trying to appease Putin or to worry about the nuclear threat because Putin has a long history of trying to terrify people. And he’s also argued that effectively Ukraine is already fighting for NATO and championing the interests of the West, if you like, doing its dirty work for it and that indicates why Ukraine is already effectively part of NATO, if not formally part of NATO, and should be admitted in the future.

  • 00:14:44

    So two very different but quite well worked out lines of argument. I’d like to perhaps start with Charles and ask you Charles, um, do you think the West should actually try to appease Putin right now by cutting a deal quickly to bring the war to the end, as some people have been arguing. Do you think that it’s time to simply recognize that Ukraine has to give up half of its land, um, and simply go forward by trying to reach some kind of rapprochement with Russia rather than pursuing a policy of confrontation?

  • 00:15:17

    Charles Kupchan

    I, I do not believe that the West should appease Russia, nor do I think that the West has been appeasing Russia. In fact, I would say that Russia has already been dealt a strategic defeat. Ukraine is gone for good. Ukraine consists of 44 plus million people who want nothing to do with Russia and have left the Russian fold for good. The question is when and how that reality, uh, fi- finds a stable equilibrium. And I think the US and its allies are on the right course. Keep the arms flowing.

  • 00:15:51

    Give Ukraine the ability to defend itself in a way similar to Israel, where the United States does not have a defense guarantee to Israel, but ensures that it has military superiority. Lay out a pathway to EU membership so that Ukraine sees its place in the future in the West and play the long game here. You know, I’m not precluding the possibility that Ukraine could one day join NATO, just as we never recognized the Baltics as part of the Soviet Union. They’re now members of NATO and free and independent democracies. Let’s play the long game here. Let’s work to get Ukraine back in control of its territory. But my judgment says that that outcome is best achieved ultimately at the negotiating table, not on the battlefield.

  • 00:16:40

    Gillian Tett

    And before I turn to Garry, ’cause I know he has very different views on this, but if you did go into any kind of negotiation with Russia in the future, be that about trying to reclaim all of the land inside the 1991 borders, or whether there was some kind of attempt to agree to give up part of, say, the Donbas and Donetsk areas to Russia, which at the moment the Ukrainians are ruling out, let me say.

  • 00:17:05

    But let’s imagine there was that discussion. Why on earth would the Ukrainians ever agree to anything or have any confidence about any kind of agreement lasting if there was no security agreement in place or they had no way of actually knowing that they have the ability to protect themselves, you know, by being a member of NATO. Charles, what… how would you answer that?

  • 00:17:29

    Charles Kupchan

    I, I mean, I, I share the view of Washington, the Biden administration, nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. This question of how this war ends is up to the Ukrainians. And I would by no means preclude the possibility of the restoration of territorial integrity. But I think it’s gonna take time and it’s probably gonna wai- wait, uh, a new Russian government and the end of the Putin regime.

  • 00:17:53

    But I do think that after this offensive reaches its limits as it, as it is likely to do later this year, after more many thousands of Ukrainians have died, the Ukrainians may come to the conclusion that for now, they are better off pursuing an armistice, rebuilding the 86 or 87 or 88% of the country that they end up having under their control and then playing the long game. And they will have from the United States and its NATO allies economic and military support for the long run. They need to outweigh Russia until there is a regime with which they can do business.

  • 00:18:31

    Gillian Tett

    Garry, what would you say to that?

  • 00:18:33

    Garry Kasparov

    I don’t know where to start because Charles in five minutes had so many contradictory statements that I’m just trying to figure out what, uh… what’s, what’s my first move. I’m really puzzled, you know, just I mean, even having a statement about US Senate, it’s not about Trump and DeSantis. Majority of the Republican senators are fully supporting Ukrainians’ membership in NATO and I’m not talking about Democrats. So there will be no issue in the Senate, but just as a, as a side comment.

  • 00:18:57

    Again, Charles ignores the fact that there was a history and, and the fact is that Ukraine is suffering today is very much a result of the policies of several administrations. That’s why I don’t wanna go back to the ’90s because both Bush 41 and then Clinton and Bush 43 even, they had to deal with a different reality. They… Again, they, they yet to see the rise of Putin. But clearly it’s, it’s all began with Obama who just wanted to make a peace with all dictators on, on this planet. Putin made, made very, very clear his plans to stop any country that had a desire of joining NATO to be attacked and occupied. Aggression against the Republic of Georgia was awarded by a reset policy.

  • 00:19:35

    And Charles was not a neutral observer in this conversation. He has been arguing for years that the whole world policy must be decided by the concept of powers. Let’s welcome to the 19th century. United States, European Union, Russia, China, India and Japan. The rest, forget about them. Thanks God Baltic nations have been admitted, otherwise we would see Russian tanks now rolling on the streets of Riga, Vilnius and Tallinn. Eastern Europeans knew it, they have been shouting, nobody paid any attention. And of course, you know, now we are, we are seeing these results, and, and Ukrainians are paying enormous price.

  • 00:20:09

    So next, Israel, did I hear correctly, Israel? Israel that receives enormous amount of American help, and he’s dealing with Hamas or Hez- Hezbollah, not with Russian army. Charles, you know, was on the record saying Ukraine would not survive for, for two weeks. That was a report in Raff… RAND Corporation. Then, you know, “Oh, Ukraine will never, you know, reclaim some territories.” So we had policies that have been in place that were both, both morally wrong and geopolitically mistaken.

  • 00:20:39

    So now trying to say that U- Ukraine must wait, and by the way, wh- wh- where do you, where do you find any goodwill on Putin’s side? You know, this is, you have a problem with math, this is not one plus one. It’s that Putin will not go anywhere be- before Ukraine wins the war. And Putin made it absolutely clear, no return even to the, um, um, mm, line of February 24th. That’s… That has been repeated by Russian propaganda as an official Russian position and maybe Charles knows something we don’t know because as we understand he has probably other, you know, sources of information that are not available to ordinary citizens. Maybe he knows something about Putin’s position that, that, that, uh, that we have be… we ha- we have to be informed.

  • 00:21:20

    Gillian Tett

    Well, what about the question of whether the prospect of having NATO in Ukraine is going to leave the Russians so permanently threatened that there will never be peace. Because, you know, the word Ukraine is sometimes translated in Russian as meaning the borderlands or to the edge, and for the Russian psyche it’s often been seen as a buffer between Russia and the West. And so there’s a line of thought that says that the very i- idea that the buffer zone, the borderlands might be going to the West was always going to be very threatening to, to the Russians and always gonna provoke a reaction. Do you think that has any merit?

  • 00:21:57

    Garry Kasparov

    Absolutely not, because if you look at the Ukrainian army there’s so many ethnic Russians fighting on that side. Ethnic Russians, uh, and, and of course, many more Ukrainians who always had Russian as a mother’s tongue. They are fighting for their country Ukraine. Ukraine by the way, already forged as a nation. A Jewish president, many Russian officers, ethnic Russian officers, Crimean Tatars, Hungarians, I mean, God knows, and there’s so, so many nationalities there, they are Ukrainians.

  • 00:22:25

    So it’s not a war, you know, for Russian, uh, strategic interests. This is a war to restore Russian Empire. And by the way, you know, if you look at the distance between NATO countries and major Russian cities. Tallinn, Estonia is just, you know, 150 kilometers from S- from St. Petersburg. Now Finland joi- join NATO. No, no, no, it’s not about NATO being close to, to Russian borders. By the time Putin annexed Crimea, there was not a single American tank in Europe. NATO was a paper tiger. Everybody knew it. But exactly because NATO looked so weak, and Obama was willing to make a deal, and then, of course, I don’t ever mention Trump, Putin decided that he could do whatever.

  • 00:23:03

    And now every inconclusive meeting like in Vilnius, every sign of hesitation and delay and weakness doesn’t help us to end the war, it provokes Putin to go even further. And by the way saying Putin lost already. Tell Putin that, tell Russian propaganda. They don’t know they’re losing. They believe they will win war of attrition exactly because American administration is not supplying ha- Ukr- Ukraine with weapons it, it so badly needs to win the war as soon as possible.

  • 00:23:31

    Gillian Tett

    Right, I mean, Charles, what would you say to that that basically, um, Garry’s argument that it’s wrong to say that admitting Ukraine into NATO would threaten Moscow, because frankly we’ve just seen Finland join NATO and we’ve just seen Sweden, and of course, the Baltic Republics are there already. And as somebody who started my journalistic career in the Baltic Republics, I know that, that how just how close they are to Moscow. What, what would you say to that, Charles?

  • 00:23:55

    Charles Kupchan

    Well, you know, there’s a… an ongoing debate about whether the enlargement of NATO made sense going back to the, to the early 1990s. I think that the United States and its allies could have done more to anchor Russia in the post-Cold War settlement. But I would agree that what Russia has been doing makes it clear that bringing in Poland and the Baltics, uh, was, was the right thing to do and provides them a guarantee against Russian aggression.

  • 00:24:27

    But I do think that it’s too easy to basically express moral outrage and call this an act of, of imperialism because there are terrible things going on all over the world, whether in Myanmar or Syria or Yemen or Sudan, and we need to pick our fights carefully and we need to make tough, difficult judgments about the nature of American interests, uh, that are at stake. And I think one of our challenges here is to keep American commitments in proportion to the interests at stake. And my judgment suggests that giving Ukraine the ability to defend itself for the long run is the right way to go, because the alternative bringing Ukraine into NATO likely does open the door to a direct war with Russia and potentially World War III.

  • 00:25:19

    Gillian Tett

    Very quickly, I’d like to ask you and then I’ll ask the same question to Garry. Do you think Putin would use a nuclear weapon if NATO became more involved or if Ukraine seemed to get more support overtly from NATO or more pro- promises from NATO?

  • 00:25:32

    Charles Kupchan

    Um, I, I think that the Biden administration has been right to keep an eye on the possibility of escalation but I also think it has been right to play it down and that’s because I think that Russia is already losing a war against Ukraine alone. It is not in my mind a good bet for Russia to take on Ukraine plus all 32 NATO members once Sweden gets in, and so I don’t think that Russia wants a wider war. One question I would put out there and I’d be interested to hear what Garry thinks, what if Ukraine does make it all the way to the Sea of Azov and then threatens militarily the Crimean Peninsula? If Putin is faced with the loss of Crimea, I think it means the end of Putin. Under those circumstances it’s at least conceivable to me that he would consider the use of a nuclear weapon.

  • 00:26:25

    Gillian Tett

    Um, Garry, would you agree that Putin is serious when they talk about nuclear weapons? Do you think they’re bluffing Garry or is that a real risk that should influence the discussion about whether to admit Ukraine or not?

  • 00:26:36

    Garry Kasparov

    I would agree with the word consider. Uh, will Putin consider? Yes, absolutely. Um, I don’t want us to ex- exclude it from, from calculations. It’s… Why is not going to happen? Because it’s not Putin’s decision alone. And by the way, the Prigozhin march to Moscow showed to us that nobody wants to die for Putin. It’s a mafia state and, uh, people are… let’s say, generals and those who be… are, are responsible for executing Putin’s order to use tactical nukes, I guess we’re talking about tactical nukes, not about strategic, of course, they know now that they will die and that’s not what they have in mind.

  • 00:27:14

    Americans are definitely following it, and, uh, again, I can hardly imagine, actually I cannot imagine a Russian admiral and general, all of them are multi-millionaires, uh, with properties abroad, with… and with, with, uh, fat bank accounts are, are pushing the button knowing that there will be, um, a devastating response that will end their lives.

  • 00:27:33

    Gillian Tett

    Right, I mean, can I quickly a- I’ve got, I’ve got another question I want to ask you. Garry, when I was in Kiev recently, um, there was a lot of discussion obviously about NATO and about security guarantees, and what a number of European leaders pointed out to me was that, um, in fact Israel doesn’t have any formal membership of a group like NATO. There’s almost nothing written on paper, um, that re- protects Israel. Um, it said there’s a lot of implicit guarantees for America. And in some ways that works better. Why wouldn’t that work better within Ukraine to simply have implicit guarantees rather than explicit membership of NATO?

  • 00:28:10

    Garry Kasparov

    I think the answer is obvious. Israel is a dominant military power in the region. They never ad- admitted it, but we know they are in possession of nukes. Nukes, 1,600 nuclear warheads Ukraine gave up under American pressure back in 1994. That was more than United Kingdom, France and China had combined at the time. So, um, Israel deals with regional threats. Obviously, they’re, they’re natural, but America is still, you know, contemplating how to protect Israel against Iran.

  • 00:28:38

    Ukraine is dealing with Russia, even with all, you know, disrespect for billion Russian generals and ver- very low morale and preparedness of Russian troops, it’s still Russian army. And that’s, that’s why, again, it’s just what kind of guarantees you want to put on paper without backing them with, with real force because the war is yet from being over and it’s a war of attrition in Putin’s mind, which he still thinks he can, he can win. Um, it’s a situation where Ukraine will have to, uh, to receive ironclad guarantees and unfortunately the experience Ukrainians had with, with America and Europe, um, is not, uh, very reaffirming.

  • 00:29:15

    Gillian Tett

    Charles, I’d like to bring you in. Do you not agree with Garry that the West has a moral obligation to let Ukraine into NATO given how badly it let Ukraine down by making it give up nuclear weapons? And are you not worried that simply prevarication in this way will simply reinforce Putin’s desire to keep running the clock down until the West gets tired?

  • 00:29:37

    Charles Kupchan

    Well, I think the United States does have a moral obligation to Ukraine, not so much stemming from the deal that, that you mentioned where they gave up their nuclear weapons, but because Ukraine is an emerging, struggling democracy that has been attacked by its neighbor. And I do believe that the United States is fulfilling that moral obligation successfully by giving Ukraine the ability to defend itself. And Ukraine has performed very admirably on the battlefield.

  • 00:30:10

    But I do think that we do have to assess the situation with a certain dose of realism. F-16s, more tanks, more body armor would very unlikely change the course of this war. If Ukraine is not going to achieve total victory, if Ukraine is not going to expel every last Russian soldier, then we need to have a conversation about what comes next. And that’s why I believe we should be introducing a diplomatic element to this not because I think Ukraine should give up territory, but because I don’t wanna see Ukraine continue to suffer death and destruction. And I do believe that in the end of the day trying to get an armistice moving from the battlefield to the negotiating table holds the most prospect of getting Ukraine whole and free.

  • 00:31:05

    Gillian Tett

    Well, thank you, Charles, and thank you, Garry. When we come back, we’re gonna bring in some more voices to move the conversation forward. So stick with us, we’ll be right back and looking at this crucial question of should NATO admit Ukraine or not?

  • 00:31:39

    Welcome back to Open to Debate. I’m Gillian Tett. I’m with the Financial Times, and I’m joined today by Garry Kasparov and Charles Kupchan to debate the question, should NATO admit Ukraine or not? And I’m now gonna bring in some other voices from the audience to ask some questions about whether or not Ukraine should indeed be in- invited or not. Um, perhaps I can start by bringing on some of the journalists who are with us today, who’ve been tracking this story very closely. I know that we have Lili Bayer, who’s a senior reporter for NATO in Central Europe from Politico in Europe. Um, Lili, would you like to ask a question to the two panelists?

  • 00:32:19

    Lili Bayer

    Yes, thank you so much for the fascinating debate. Um, I have a question. I was very curious what you think about Russian domestic, uh, public opinion. Should NATO decide to invite Ukraine to join even after the war, how would that impact what ordinary Russians think of the West, and would such an invitation perhaps undermine negotiations with a possible future Russian regime?

  • 00:32:45

    Gillian Tett

    Um, Garry, what about Russian domestic public opinion? Do you think the Russians all believe what Putin says?

  • 00:32:53

    Garry Kasparov

    I don’t know. And I believe nobody knows because I don’t think we can trust, uh, opinion polls in Russia. What you can indicate by looking at Russian social media, the support for war, passive support for war is growing. For a simple reason, people have to adjust, otherwise they, they could get crazy. Russian propaganda doesn’t talk about Ukraine. Russia is fighting war with NATO. That’s been repeated 24/7. So, um, the only way to change Russian public opinion is to kill the idea of Russian Empire in their minds.

  • 00:33:22

    Gillian Tett

    Um, I’d like to turn now to Joshua Shifrinson, who is the foreign affairs contributor, um, he’s written a piece called Don’t Let Ukraine Join NATO, which is pretty clear cut in its views. But Joshua, do you have any questions for either of the debaters?

  • 00:33:35

    Joshua Shifrinson

    Ye- yes, and thank you both for taking the time today. Um, I, I guess I have a question that comes back to the deterrence. Mr. Kasparov noted that Mr. Putin is both extremely reckless, but also easily deterred. Those two things can’t both be true. You can’t be both highly reckless and easily deterred. So I’d be curious to hear from both parties, um, where do they come down on this? Is it the case that Russia is very reckless, in which case we might as well be up front that taking Ukraine to NATO is gonna be extremely expensive and extremely risky, or is it the case that Russia is easily deterred, in which case there might be other avenues besides NATO membership for Ukraine that the West ought to pursue?

  • 00:34:13

    Gillian Tett

    Garry, do you wanna jump in there first and then we’ll ask Charles that question.

  • 00:34:16

    Garry Kasparov

    Yeah, I, I, I always, uh, get an- angry when people compare Putin, you know, a- was a chess player. I insisted that Putin kept playing poker and in poker you can be reckless and easily deterred. What you should do is call the bluff. Putin, uh, is reckless because for so many years, actually for more than two decades, he met no opposition. He bluffed, raised the stakes, having a very weak hand, and the other side always folded cards. So, uh, just, you know, called the bluff. That’s what happened, by the way. We see his, uh, ingenious plan of taking Kiev in three days, by the way, which, uh, was also the expectation of, uh, Americans and Europeans. He failed. And now the deterrence means that, you know, Ukraine, you know, be will be well armed.

  • 00:34:59

    Gillian Tett


  • 00:34:59

    Charles Kupchan

    Uh, Josh, you know, uh, I, I think that we all need to be wisened up about Putin in the sense that he had a reputation as being a tough guy, but calculating. That’s one of the reasons that many analysts myself included weren’t expecting him to try to invade Ukraine and gobble it up, uh, but he did it. And that does show a level of of recklessness and unpredictability that we have to take into consideration when we consider whether this war could escalate and whether we should give them long-range missiles and give Ukraine a green light to attack Russia proper.

  • 00:35:41

    We just don’t know where Putin is and how he is likely to respond. And is… this is a tough call, right? If Putin had attacked Berlin and Paris, I think we’d all be saying, “Let’s throw off the gloves and go to war,” right? When Putin went into Syria and Libya, we really didn’t raise it much of a, of a stink because we said “This isn’t our fight.” Ukraine is somewhere in that gray zone and I think thus far we’ve gotten it right. Help Ukraine defend itself, but don’t go to war with Russia.

  • 00:36:13

    Gillian Tett

    Right. So I’d like to bring in John Lyman, who is the editor-in-chief of the International Policy Digest. John, do you have any questions to ask the two debaters?

  • 00:36:22

    John Lyman

    I do. Uh, thank you for this enlightening conversation. This is for either, either of you. Um, is too much, I guess, emphasis being put on NATO membership being a cure-all to Ukraine’s problems, meaning corruption will still be a problem and Russia will probably continue to back separatists in Eastern Ukraine. Once the war ends, whatever aspect of peace comes to Ukraine, um, would EU membership be wiser to help Ukraine rebuild and deal with its economic woes ’cause it will have some? Thank you.

  • 00:36:57

    Gillian Tett

    So Charles, let me ask you first, ’cause I think you’ve already commented on this. I mean so do you think we’re better to stop talking about NATO membership and talk about European Union membership instead?

  • 00:37:06

    Charles Kupchan

    I mean, I think NATO membership is gonna stay on the table. The doors will remain open, but my best guess is that the formulation they came up a- with at Vilnius is going to stand for a while because there isn’t a consensus. And in the meantime the EU has begun to move forward. It has indicated that is prepared over the long haul to admit Ukraine. And I agree with John that in many respects Ukraine needs a prospect of membership in the EU in part because it will help Zelensky or whoever comes after him introduce tough economic and political reforms.

  • 00:37:45

    Gillian Tett

    Garry, what about you? Would you think it makes more sense to talk about European Union membership rather than worry about NATO membership?

  • 00:37:53

    Garry Kasparov

    I can’t even answer the question. As we speak Russian missiles landing, uh, on Ukrainian cities. Are you talking either about European Union membership with a nation where people go back to… go, go to bed and they don’t know whether you can wake up in the morning? Wake up. What kind of business you’re talking about? Corruption in Ukraine? If Ukraine were corrupt, Biden would be the president. Zelensky would have cut deal with Trump.

  • 00:38:19

    So it’s, it’s, it’s responsibility of the free world to defend Ukraine, help Ukraine be- being defended, because it will not end on Ukraine. Oh, Berlin, Berlin and Paris? What about Vilnius? What about Riga? What about Tallinn? And by the way, what about Taiwan? Putin wins in Ukraine and we all know that Xi Jinping will not hesitate because America will prove to be weak, and American weakness always led to the conflicts not the other way, other way around. Yeah, Ukraine will join European Union. Of course, it’s a very rich nation, and they prove to be, you know, just it’s very resilient and hard-working and, and heroic. But first they have to, to leave, to survive before you can talk about economic prosperity.

  • 00:39:00

    Gillian Tett

    Right. Right. We’re gonna bring in now, Gary Wasserstein, who’s not a journalist but is a private citizen who’s been providing aid to the Ukrainians, and I understand is also keen to ask a question of both the debaters. Um, Gary, over to you.

  • 00:39:14

    Gary Wasserstein

    Yes, hello, uh, and thank you for allowing me to join. Uh, I’m currently in Warsaw, uh, where I’ve been a good part of the last 18 months since the beginning of the war. And before I ask a question, I wanna make a statement, and the statement is that e- everybody has to understand how much suffering is going on and there has to be some moral fiber in the way the US approaches this issue. So my question is should we provide a no-fly zone, or NATO provide a no-fly zone over Ukraine? I’m not asking for us to put boots on the ground, but a no-fly zone would create a level playing field, uh, where Ukraine could defend themselves, uh, in a proper way, uh, rather than seeing all of the civilian areas being targeted by Russia and destroyed. Why not, uh, a no-fly zone?

  • 00:40:15

    Gillian Tett

    So, I mean, Charles, let me start with you. Um, should there be a no-fly zone over Ukraine given that we’ve had no-fly zones in other areas like northern Iraq?

  • 00:40:25

    Charles Kupchan

    Well, I think we all share Gary’s concern and empathy for the suffering and the conversation that we’re having here is really how most effectively to bring it to an end. Uh, one school says Ukraine should have a no-fly zone, we should have whatever they need to win. Uh, my view is that a Ukrainian victory is an unrealistic prospect. We need to stare that in the face and as a consequence think about how to find other ways to bring the suffering to an end.

  • 00:40:59

    I think a no-fly zone would be inadvisable simply because it would put NATO aircraft, NATO air defense systems in direct conflict with Russia. So it is effectively putting US boots on the ground. It is effectively having the United States enter the war. And as I’ve indicated, I support the Biden administration’s decision to give an enormous amount of aid, military assistance to Ukraine, but not to move toward a direct conflict between NATO and Russia.

  • 00:41:33

    Gillian Tett

    Garry, what would you say to that? I mean, do you think it’s too dangerous to put, if not boots on the ground, then, um, American wings in the air to support a no-fly zone, or is that the only way to stop the bombardment and the terrible suffering in the Ukrainian cities?

  • 00:41:48

    Garry Kasparov

    Uh, it was the only way back in March, April 2022, when America was not giving any weapons to Ukraine. Uh, today, again, uh, um, Ukraine could, um, be armed, uh, with their own military jets. Uh, the fact is that F-16s will not arrive on, on the front line earlier than spring 2024, gives you an indication. So how this administration has been conducting, uh, this war and, and what, what kind of outcome they had and still have, uh, in mind.

  • 00:42:20

    Uh, what is very important, Charles briefly mentioned it, is that, uh, America will, will lift restrictions of Ukrainians using Western weapons attacking Russia proper, he says. It’s not Russia proper, it’s those legitimate military targets. Russia has all the bases, uh, 10, 20 miles away from the border on the Russian side and use it because they’re immune. You cannot touch them to attack Ukrainian civilian infrastructure. Let Ukraine fight the war without their hands being tied on their back because America makes conditions on the weapons that are being supplied.

  • 00:42:55

    And by the way it’s not about the cost. All these weapons they are… they’re, they’re rusting, um, um, American storage. We’re not talking about F-35, it’s F-16. So again, there’s so many things can be done, but it’s all about tools. It’s all about tactics. First ma- that, that it should be done, it had to be done, is to declare the goals of this war. And the administration is yet to say clearly, “Ukraine must win.” Not this ambiguous, “We should stand with Ukraine as long as it takes.” “Ukraine must win and this victory must include the full liberation of Ukraine, reparations, uh, and also military criminals brought to justice.” That’s the definition of the war. That’s the way war is being conducted. That’s what, uh, FDR and Winston Churchill said in Casablanca back in, in January 1943, facing Wehrmacht in 1943, not Putin’s, um, army that is proved to be not, not the second one in the world.

  • 00:43:53

    Gillian Tett

    Thank you both for your both passionate arguments. Thank you for those great questions from the audience watching. Um, now the time to come into the end and draw it to a close with your closing remarks for both of you. So Charles, tell us in two minutes why you are convinced that now is not the moment for NATO to admit Ukraine?

  • 00:44:14

    Charles Kupchan

    Well, let me start off just by thanking you, Gillian, and Open to Debate for having this program because I think that we do need to have an open and free conversation in the United States and elsewhere about the path forward in Ukraine. And I do feel that at times our debate here is truncated and not as open as it should be. So thanks again for, for hosting this conversation. Uh, I believe that Russia has already been dealt a strategic defeat, that US strategy has so far been enormously successful in helping Ukraine defend itself. It should stay on that course and continue to give Ukraine what it needs to defend itself and to fight against Russian aggression.

  • 00:45:01

    I do think that letting Ukraine into NATO opens a Pandora’s box of questions about the prospect of war between Russia and the United States. I think the United States can help Ukraine achieve its objectives and ultimately restore terri- territorial integrity by continuing on its current course. I think we need to prevent the perfect from becoming the enemy of the good. Ukraine has performed exceedingly well on the battlefield, as I’ve said, I think the prospects of a full victory are unlikely. I disagree with Garry, I think the United States and others are running up against hard limits on military capability.

  • 00:45:45

    One of the reasons that we started to transfer these controversial cluster munitions is because we’re running out of traditional artillery. So, uh, bottom line here is our strategy so far has worked. We should continue it. We should try to move Ukraine from the battlefield to the negotiating table and then restore Ukrainian sovereignty in the long run, most likely when Putin is no longer in control of Russia.

  • 00:46:11

    Gillian Tett

    Well, Charles, thank you, and thank you for hitting the two-minute absolutely precisely. Garry, over to you. Tell us exactly why you think in closing that Ukraine should be admitted to NATO.

  • 00:46:24

    Garry Kasparov

    Uh, the record of realism is a record of failure. And I can just quote, uh, Charles, “Striking bargains with repressive regimes does require making moral compromises. Doing so is justified, however, by the concrete contribution to international stability that can result.” 10 years ago, stability, huh? Look at Syria, uh, look at Ukraine, I mean, look around the world. So that’s the result of, of the so-called realism. And again, there’s so many quotes, I don’t wan- want to go over that.

  • 00:46:51

    So I think it’s just, we have to realize that these 32 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, demonstrated to us that evil doesn’t die. It can be buried for a while under the rubble of Berlin Wall, but the moment we lose our vigilance, the moment we try and be complacent, realist, it sprouts out. So Putin cannot be dealt in any other way but a direct military defeat. So anybody who says the opposite simply ignores the fact that Putin has no appetite for any compromise. Putin is war. As long as Putin stays in the office, the war will continue. Putin cannot be taken seriously at, at the negotiating table.

  • 00:47:27

    And now speaking about this NATO membership, because that was the essence of this debate, I said it was not about immediately admitting NATO, uh… Ukraine in- into NATO. It’s about accepting the fact that Ukraine will become a NATO member at the end of this, uh, of this war. And the reason it ha- it hasn’t happened in Vilnius, and let’s be very honest because Ch- Charles thi- avoided this, this conversation, is that American administration is still planning to negotiate with Russia using Ukrainian NATO membership and the sovereign Russian debt, that is $300 billion plus that’s sitting, uh, uh, unfrozen, as the, as the bargaining chips.

  • 00:48:05

    And that- that’s why, yeah, without clearly stating the goal of the war, we cannot even discuss issues about NATO and others, because we have to be very clear, there’s no other way to end this war but Ukrainian victory. Glory to Ukraine, glory to heroes.

  • 00:48:18

    Gillian Tett

    Well, thank you both very much indeed. And that concludes our debate. Um, I’d like to thank both of our debaters, Garry and Charles, for approaching this with passion and fervour. Both of you have a long historical track record of looking at this part of the world, um, but you approached this debate with an open mind and listened to each other. So, thank you for bringing your thoughtful disagreement to the table, um, for being in short, open to actual debate. Thank you.

  • 00:48:46

    And thank you to the audience for your thoughtful questions. And thank you to all the listeners who’ve tuned in to this episode of Open to Debate. As a non-profit, Open to Debate works to combat extreme polarization through civil and respectful debate, and it’s generally funded by listeners like yourself and the Rosenkranz Foundation and the support of Open to Debate. It’s also made possible by a generous grant from the Laura and Gary Lauder Venture Philanthropy Fund.

  • 00:49:17

    A lot of people have worked together to bring this to air. Rob Rosenkranz is our chairman. Clea Conner is CEO. Lia Matthow is chief content officer. Marlette Sandoval is our editorial producer. Gabriella Meyer is editorial and research manager. Gabrielle Iannucelli is our social media and digital platforms coordinator. Andrew Lipson is head of production. Max Fulton is production coordinator. Damon Whittemore is engineer. Raven Baker is events and operations manager. Rachel Kemp is chief of staff. And last but not least, the theme music is from Alex Clements. And I’m your guest moderator today, Gillian Tett. We’ll see you next time, championing more types of debate. And heaven knows, in these polarized times, we all need to be open to debate. Thank you.



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