Former Moscow chief of station on the state of play in Ukraine

On this episode of “Intelligence Issues,” host Michael Morell speaks with former senior CIA operations officer and Moscow station chief Rolf Mowatt-Larssen in regards to the seemingly trajectory of the struggle in Ukraine, together with the potential for a negotiated peace — or harmful escalation. Mowatt-Larssen affords insights on Putin’s choices, potential rifts amongst his intelligence businesses, and protracted rumors in regards to the Russian chief’s well being. Morell and Mowatt-Larssen additionally talk about Western involvement within the battle and the lingering potential for the Kremlin to make use of weapons of mass destruction. 


  • Getting into a “interval of uncertainty”:  “[W]e’re heading right into a interval of uncertainty, the place either side are going to attempt to discover what’s eluded them up to now.  Ukrainians are going to attempt to discover one thing that they’ll flip to the offensive. They’re uninterested in being on the defensive, in fact. They need to take again territory. They have nothing to barter in a settlement apart from their territory, they usually’re unwilling to present that up.  For Putin alternatively, he is received to do one thing greater than take some extra land, which he did in 2014 in japanese Ukraine. He is received to discover a method, a navy means, to attain one thing he can name a victory.”
  • Deterring a nuclear battle: “I believe you may make a robust case that use of nuclear missiles, weapons in Ukraine, is an existential menace to NATO. I believe Putin has to imagine that we would reply that method. I am not saying we should always. I will go away that to the brighter minds and individuals who must work at proper now from the president on down and our NATO allies, too. However they must be keen to. And Putin must know that the U.S. and NATO is keen to get entangled if Putin does sure issues. So possibly that might be a type of deterrence that is largely been misplaced since this struggle started. In different phrases, the concept that Putin should be deterred from considering he can use nuclear weapons with the intention to have this nice, say, escalatory impact he is in search of and get away with it.” 
  • Potential long-term insurgency: “The usual is, can [Ukraine] make the insurgency so painful – which has occurred to nations like ours in my lifetime a number of instances – Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq – the place they do not need to keep they usually endure one other Afghanistan-style defeat.  That is doable – the place they must voluntarily go away. Sadly, that might take years. I do not see any indicators that Ukraine will not struggle these years to seek out that acceptable final result for them. Whereas the Russians don’t have anything to struggle for. The Russian children, the Russian troopers don’t have anything to struggle for. “

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MICHAEL MORELL: Rolf, welcome again to Intelligence Issues. You now have the excellence of being the visitor on the present who has been the quickest to do a repeat efficiency. And we actually recognize you taking the time once more.

ROLF MOWATT-LARSSEN Properly, Michael, it is an honor and I hope I do not go away you or your friends dissatisfied. Thanks for having me again.

MICHAEL MORELL: Now, you, the primary time round, have been one in every of our hottest friends. So I believe you actually enlightened individuals to what was taking place in Ukraine and I stay up for form of an up to date dialogue at the moment.
And I would begin by asking you to present us the arc of the story of the struggle in Ukraine up to now. Deliver us proper from the invasion to the place we at the moment are and possibly finish by telling us precisely the place we’re on the bottom at the moment. 

ROLF MOWATT-LARSSEN Properly, I believe we began with one other strategic shock for all the world. Although Putin’s build-up went for weeks to invade Ukraine, I believe there was an underestimation of his intentions, his plans, and due to this fact a giant miscalculation on everybody’s facet precisely what would transpire as soon as he lastly crossed that border from Belarus and commenced to invade.

And so the false assumptions that we now know to be true – and I do not assume these might be disproven over time – is that that, initially, that Ukraine’s will, their indomitable will, is just isn’t going to be denied. And I believe some individuals doubted that.

Second, I imagine that we underestimated, as I stated, you already know, Putin’s – the scope of his intentions.
Third is an enormous overestimation on the Russian navy – each its will to struggle and its skill to struggle.
And at last, which has turned out to be an especially vital a part of the story is NATO’s unity, which Putin severely underestimated.

So, mainly, I believe we have hit a stalemate, and that is the place we at the moment are within the coming days. And we’re watching either side jockeying to see who can break that stalemate.

And I will add one different ingredient which will deeply have an effect on the calculations as to how you can break a stalemate and what either side may attempt to do, and that is the altering nature of struggle. Michael, I do know you and I sat round on the 5:00 conferences after 9/11 watching the U.S. navy and our intelligence individuals struggle a brand new form of struggle in Afghanistan. I believe we’re discovering 20 years later that we’re combating a brand new form of ‘we’ – that means the world, however Ukraine, initially, is combating a brand new form of struggle in on its territory, the place expertise has turn out to be an uneven means to defeat a a lot bigger, well-armed navy power.

As a tanker in Germany within the Nineteen Seventies, imagine me, I am watching the tanks. I cringe each time I see the tank numbers getting hit with missiles and watch the drones take out tanks and artillery and kill Russian generals. And I say to myself, ‘With these sorts of uneven means at their disposal, it is given Ukraine this super, nearly euphoric increase in morale.’

So we’re in a stalemate that favors Ukraine.

MICHAEL MORELL: Yeah. And we will all have to regulate, proper, to the brand new realities. Each military on the planet goes to have to consider what this implies for them.

ROLF MOWATT-LARSSEN: Proper. I believe it will be a giant mistake – as I did, I will simply throw myself into this dialogue – considering that wars might be fought the best way we fought the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and notably in Europe.

We’re discovering in a classy surroundings like Europe – I am not saying the Center East just isn’t refined, however militarily it is a a lot greater problem to struggle there than it’s to struggle within the Center East – and we’re seeing issues come into play like sharing of intelligence, like the facility of social media, of how individuals share data, how they’re utilizing cell telephones on the battlefield for every kind of functions. In Europe, it is a a lot totally different proposition than anyplace else. And I believe it favors the defender total.

MICHAEL MORELL: Rolf, this stalemate is happening in japanese Ukraine. That is the place Putin has shifted his focus for the second. Only a query for you: simply because his tactical targets have shifted to japanese Ukraine, you do not imagine his strategic targets have modified, is that right?

ROLF MOWATT-LARSSEN: No. He is deliberate this his total rule. That is turn out to be very clear now. It has been his intention from the very begin to make a strategic transfer in Ukraine. After 20 years, he is been working towards this in Chechnya, within the second Chechen struggle. In Syria. He was satisfied his navy would are available Ukraine and carry out in that form of method as they did in these two fronts. And so he is simply now making an attempt to reckon with the very fact they’re incapable of doing that.

However his different goal, and I believe that is usually misplaced in commentary, it was by no means all about Ukraine and it wasn’t about Ukraine becoming a member of NATO.

That is Putin’s bid to problem the West and NATO’s – what he considers to be their lock on international order. That is why aligned himself with China, an analogous autocracy in his eyes, so carefully. And that is what he is making an attempt to interrupt. He is making an attempt to interrupt what he considers to be the West and the Western liberal governance mannequin’s grip on international order.

MICHAEL MORELL: And that goal stays strong for him. That is what he is nonetheless all about.

ROLF MOWATT-LARSSEN: Sure. And I might simply say – we’re in graduation, going into invocations and commencements across the nation – and essentially the most, not less than the, I name the craziest, within the sense of fascinating, graduation I’ve ever learn or heard of, was Alexander Solzhenitsyn in 1978 at Harvard. I like to recommend to your listeners to go Google that and discover that and skim it. It is form of a tricky learn.

I really feel sorry for the scholars who needed to hear it, however it’s an extremely intense description of form of the Russian soul and the way it’s longing on this world. And positively I am not evaluating Putin to Solzhenitsyn by any stretch, however there is a component of Putin’s alienation from the West in Solzhenitsyn’s personal alienation first from the Soviet Union after which from the West when he got here to dwell in america.

MICHAEL MORELL: Okay. Rolf, wanting ahead 4 to six months. What are the eventualities that you just see? What are the eventualities which are the almost certainly going ahead right here?

ROLF MOWATT-LARSSEN: Properly, sadly, escalation and uncertainty. We have simply heard the top of nationwide intelligence Avril Haines and CIA Director Invoice Burns, amongst others, stress that we’re heading right into a interval of uncertainty, the place either side are going to attempt to discover what’s eluded them up to now.

Ukrainians are going to attempt to discover one thing that they’ll flip to the offensive. They’re uninterested in being on the defensive, in fact. They need to take again territory. They have nothing to barter in a settlement apart from their territory, they usually’re unwilling to present that up.

For Putin alternatively, he is received to do one thing greater than take some extra land, which he did in 2014 in japanese Ukraine. He is received to discover a method, a navy means, to attain one thing he can name a victory. And everyone on the planet in all probability proper now who’s following this in any respect, is aware of that Putin up to now is being defeated on the battlefield. So he is received to discover a method to break that. So when either side are on the lookout for one thing dramatic, we’re more likely to see that and doubtless be a bit unprepared for what is going on to occur within the subsequent 4 to six months.

MICHAEL MORELL: Is time on anyone’s facet right here particularly?

ROLF MOWATT-LARSSEN: Sure, I do imagine it’s. I imagine Putin believes it is on his facet. And the rationale he thinks that method is as a result of he is at all times relied on a struggle of attrition, which is what we’re in now.

He did that in Syria, did it in Chechnya. After which, in fact, that turns into the genocide and struggle crimes that we’re seeing now emerge, and we have now seen nearly from the start in Ukraine.

Whereas for the Ukrainians, they’re combating for his or her existence they usually’re now victims of genocide and struggle crimes. So I would say it is on their facet. For those who take a look at the historical past of invading armies since World Struggle II, nobody’s emerged victorious that is invaded one other nation and stayed there. So I believe Ukraine will win in the long run.

MICHAEL MORELL: So, inside this sort of near-term future, Rolf, that you just outlined, how involved are you about actually two several types of escalation? One can be an growth of the struggle from simply Russia and Ukraine to NATO versus Russia. And the second can be Russia’s use of weapons of mass destruction – particularly, Russia’s use of tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

ROLF MOWATT-LARSSEN: Michael, that is my greatest concern. And I believe they’re two built-in types of escalation. One will in all probability trigger the opposite.

Which means – and I will put it in a film scene, one thing we might have seen far more dramatically in John F Kennedy’s presidency with the Cuban missile disaster. I hope that President Biden, together with Austin, Burns, Blinken, different key advisors, have already sat across the Oval or the Sit Room and had a deep dialogue of what they are going to do if Russia does hearth that tactical nuclear armed missile in Ukraine, on the Ukrainian military. As a result of we have now to know the reply now.

They clearly should not be making an attempt to determine that out within the aftermath of an assault. I believe the important thing questions they must ask themselves in that assembly – and in addition, as vital, talk about with our NATO allies who must be a part of any determination for what can be a threshold, I would not use the phrase crimson traces, I believe we have all realized that that is in all probability unwise to set crimson traces – however what can be the edge the place NATO will not less than have to think about becoming a member of the struggle formally.

I believe you may make a robust case that use of nuclear missiles, weapons in Ukraine is an existential menace to NATO. I believe Putin has to imagine that we would reply that method. I am not saying we should always. I will go away that to the brighter minds and and individuals who must work at proper now from the president on down and our NATO allies, too.
However they must be keen to. And Putin must know that the U.S. and NATO is keen to get entangled if Putin does sure issues. So possibly that might be a type of deterrence that is largely been misplaced since this struggle started. In different phrases, the concept that Putin should be deterred from considering he can use nuclear weapons with the intention to have this nice, say, escalatory impact he is in search of and get away with it.

MICHAEL MORELL: Is {that a} message that he wants to listen to publicly or is {that a} message that may be despatched privately? How do you concentrate on that?

ROLF MOWATT-LARSSEN: I do not assume it is sensible to ship it publicly. I’ve to confess, I have not thought this absolutely via, so I do not need your listeners to too deeply financial institution on what I am saying. However I am very assured saying that I hope that message is being despatched clearly in high-level channels between the U.S. and Russia and with different NATO companions.

I might use probably the Gerasimov-Milley channel, that is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Workers, in fact, Normal Milley and his counterpart Gerasimov in Russia, or probably the Austin-Shoigu Channel. It is essential these channels of communication stay open regardless of how dangerous this struggle will get particularly for this query.

And I believe Russia wants to grasp – past Putin, the opposite key leaders within the intelligence companies and the navy want to grasp – that in the event that they use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, they’re existentially threatening themselves. There is no have to do it. However they threaten themselves in the event that they use nuclear weapons as a result of at that time, all restraint on NATO’s half must be reassessed.

MICHAEL MORELL: So our good good friend from the Belfer Middle, Graham Allison, wrote a bit, I do not know, per week or so in the past, two weeks in the past, the place he outlined a state of affairs the place Putin destroys one Ukrainian metropolis with a nuclear weapon after which says to the Ukrainians, ‘Give up otherwise you decide your Nagasaki.’

And that is not a state of affairs that I’ve heard different individuals speak about by way of using nuclear weapons. You hear individuals speak about utilizing it as a final resort when the Russian military is in dire straits. However it is a totally different form of use of nuclear weapons right here. How do you concentrate on Graham’s state of affairs?

ROLF MOWATT-LARSSEN: Properly, as you already know, Michael, I’ve the deepest respect for Graham. And I believe it is value posing these sorts of inquiries to get everybody considering of the form of world we’re residing in out of the blue – that Russia has imposed on everyone, not simply the Ukrainians, how we’re all concerned.

I hope it would not come to that. And I do not need to particularly handle that besides say, after I say Russia is existentially threatening itself, I do not simply imply militarily. If Russia escalates to utilizing weapons which are banned and are all not simply morally and ethically considered prohibitive, however by arms management agreements and by the norms of what all governments have accepted – autocracies and democracies alike – that you could’t win a nuclear struggle, then I do not see how Russia returns to some sense of normalcy when this struggle ends, in the event that they resolve to make use of nuclear weapons in the midst of the struggle.

And that is one other consideration Putin has to take beneath advisement. He cannot win if he makes use of these weapons and there is not any battlefield reversal he can change through the use of them.

MICHAEL MORELL: Rolf, by way of managing the chance of escalation, how do you assume the Biden administration has executed right here? Do you assume they have been too cautious? Do you assume they have been nearly proper? How do you concentrate on that? Has it advanced over time?

ROLF MOWATT-LARSSEN: I believe it has. I would prefer to see us attempt to do at the moment what we’re contemplating doing tomorrow to assist the Ukrainians, every little thing in need of forcing NATO intervention or triggering some type of Russia assault on NATO. I do not assume that is in anybody’s curiosity.

So I believe the Biden administration has executed an excellent job of balancing being very proactive with being cautious. And I do not assume that is a sin to watch out in a struggle like this, given the stakes we have been simply speaking about.

And the opposite consideration, the place he is succeeded essentially the most admirable in my thoughts, is in holding NATO collectively -by continually speaking to our allies, continually informing them of what we all know in a really credible method, in different phrases, it is credible should you give them data that seems to be true. In any other case, it isn’t. 

So the Biden administration has been fairly good at offering intelligence not simply to the Ukrainians, however to our allies that is saved them abreast of the scenario and confirmed time and time once more to be proper. To allow them to’t afford to make a giant misstep in these areas. It is a very delicate steadiness of being very proactive, very supportive of the Ukrainians in each method doable, however with out triggering NATO’s intervention.

I believe that we will proceed to stroll that tightrope. And I might simply say it might be good to remain on the facet of being extra proactive than cautious as a result of, in any case, the Ukrainians deserve our full help.

MICHAEL MORELL: So, Rolf, let’s change gears right here just a little bit to a few questions in regards to the residence entrance in Russia.

Very first thing I need to ask you is, I do know you’ve got spent quite a lot of time with SVR officers and their predecessors within the KGB through the years. You realize them as individuals in addition to anybody else I do know. And I simply marvel, how do you concentrate on how they’re eager about what is occurring? What do you assume their mindset is, watching this?

ROLF MOWATT-LARSSEN: You realize, that is a query I like to consider in my spare time, since you’re proper: I do know some and I can connect faces to this. And I will develop that to say additionally the Russian individuals, as a result of for me, having lived for over 4 years of my life within the Soviet Union and in Russia, it is actual. They’re individuals. And I image them and I image the SVR officers I do know -that’s the overseas intelligence officers, on your listeners who do not know that there are three most important companies in Russia.

The overseas intelligence officers have been a part of the KGB that served in embassies all over the world. They have been those who recruited and dealt with spies like Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen. And I think about lots of them are horrified – quietly horrified. I do not assume any of them are in all probability speaking about it until they’ve very, very shut family and friends they’re keen to share their views.

Others, in fact, are in all probability supportive, as you’d count on. However I believe there’s in all probability a major pressure of dissent and concern in that service particularly, as a result of they’re uncovered. They perceive the form of absurd propaganda being spewed by the Kremlin. They know that the concept that that is some kind of navy technical operation the place we’re simply speaking about doable nuclear struggle is so ridiculous that it is laborious to imagine educated individuals would imagine it.

And these individuals have served, for essentially the most half, these officers have served within the West and know what’s being described would not match actuality. So for them, I believe they’ve a selected drawback shopping for into what Vladimir Putin is saying.

MICHAEL MORELL: Rolf, there was a really fascinating article a few weeks in the past about rising pressure between the Russian navy and the FSB, which is the inner service, the previous inner service a part of the KGB. Actually, you despatched me the article and I questioned should you might inform people what the article stated and what you concentrate on it.

ROLF MOWATT-LARSSEN: Sure, in fact, Michael, I discover this notably fascinating as a scholar. And, in fact, having been concerned a lot of my profession with all of the Russian companies. And it bears mentioning that each one the companies – not in contrast to different nations, together with to some extent ours – are rivalrous.However the rivalry now between, as you describe, the FSB – that is the a part of the previous KGB, was known as the second chief directorate, they did counterintelligence – that is the half Vladimir Putin was a part of when he was a lieutenant colonel after which later the director of the FSB. After which there’s the GRU or the navy companies within the navy.

They do not are likely to coordinate what they do very nicely, or attempt to, even. And proper now they appear to be – I might describe it as what seems to be an all-time excessive in rivalry and even rifts creating, the place Putin is exhibiting, for instance, some indicators that he is not trusting parts of the FSB.

Why? As a result of, first, they let him down by not understanding the actual scenario in Ukraine. It was their accountability to know what was happening and have brokers positioned throughout the nation who would inform him the actual scenario of Ukrainian help for a Russian invasion. And clearly they received that spectacularly unsuitable. That was an intelligence failure of epic proportions.

However then after the struggle started, it turned clear to me – and that is an, I might say, an expert guess, intuition right here – that there are parts which will help Ukraine on this, possibly Russians with Ukrainian backgrounds or not less than there have been leaks from sources contained in the FSB, which there’s a lot much less more likely to be within the navy companies.

So I believe Putin is taking a giant gamble in permitting, if it is true, if these press reviews are true, the navy to train extra authority, together with over parts of the FSB, as a result of his supply of most important help of energy in Russia is the inner safety service, the FSB, not the navy service. So there is a gamble on this, however he should be annoyed sufficient to take that probability.

MICHAEL MORELL: One of many issues that struck me within the article was frustration in components of the navy, a perception that they have been being held again from going all out in Ukraine. And it form of struck me just a little little bit of, Vietnam-like, proper, the place individuals felt they have been being held again from absolutely taking it to the enemy. That struck me.

ROLF MOWATT-LARSSEN: Sure. And I believe there are lots of facets of it. One in every of which is, I believe the Russian excessive command must be surprised and dismayed with its efficiency. They usually’re looking for different explanations, ‘Oh, they don’t seem to be letting us do what we have to do to win the struggle’ form of considering. I believe we have seen that and – nothing to that excessive in our nation, however any nation that is combating a struggle when the military is just isn’t succeeding, the fingerpointing begins.

I believe one other side of it, although, is there is a fervor for taking again components of the Soviet Union within the navy that is unmatched within the Russian institution. And there are what we might name far=proper, very sturdy, far-right ingredient within the Russian navy that just about reaches form of a spiritual fervor and in reality, does have a spiritual form of connotation to it, which you do not see in many of the Russian institution to the diploma you do within the navy.
And people parts should be agitating notably strongly for, you already know, doing what it takes it doesn’t matter what it takes. And we have even seen some irresponsible members of the Russian Duma, the parliament and the media calling for, I would say, loopy issues like unleashing nuclear weapons on London and issues like this in the identical form of, I name, determined zealotry.

MICHAEL MORELL: And so Rolf, I’ll speak just a little bit about some polling. We have all seen the Russian authorities polling that exhibits Putin extra standard than ever. However I noticed a ballot not too long ago that was not a Russian authorities ballot, and I do know you’ve got seen it as nicely.
And to be to be truthful, it was taken not lengthy after the preliminary invasion. So it is just a little dated now. However for our listeners, this is what that ballot stated – and by the best way, this was a nationally consultant ballot that was executed by some teachers.

And what the ballot discovered is that just a little over 50% of the oldsters polled stated that they supported Putin’s particular navy operation. I suppose that is the best way the query was phrased. However they didn’t maintain that feeling notably deeply, notably strongly.

In distinction, there was about 20% of the oldsters who stated that they opposed the struggle, they usually did so with with deep feeling. They used phrases like ‘disgrace’ and ‘guilt’ and ‘anger’ in explaining their emotions about what was taking place.
And the remainder of the oldsters, I suppose, 30%, did not have sturdy opinions, however they however use phrases like ‘unhappiness’ to explain how they have been eager about that. And would simply like to get your tackle the polls we have seen from Russia and this one particularly.

Yeah. You talked about that the ballot was taken on the outset, and I will simply must interject right here: that is my most idealistic facet of getting been in intelligence for some since 1983. Time favors fact. Proper. And within the last evaluation, time is in opposition to Putin right here, too, as a result of the increasingly more physique luggage come again, the increasingly more apparent it turns into from Web, social media and different sources of data that it is all lies, the extra individuals will swing over.

So now the cynical facet. After I lived within the Soviet Union, I turned as cynical as any Russian. If a bunch of Russians received in a line to purchase one thing, I received within the line simply because there was a line, and it should imply there’s one thing good. And I might whisper all the best way to the entrance, ‘Hey, what’s up there?’ So, you already know, we adapt fairly rapidly to conditions and no Russian from the Soviet interval to at the moment – even accounting for the very fact many Russians weren’t alive in the course of the Soviet interval – will survive lengthy by saying to any pollster that they do not help the struggle.

So I do not actually know how one can conduct a significant ballot, whether or not it is a Russian ballot or outsider ballot. Nobody’s going to let you know what they actually imagine. The 20% who did admit they really feel strongly in opposition to it are brave. They in all probability unburdened themselves by saying it, however the overwhelming majority of individuals are simply going to get in that line and watch, see how this goes. And a part of that, that is misplaced in these polls can also be the realities of Russian demographics. There is a huge distinction of opinion, I am certain, between the younger and the previous.

There’s one other giant distinction of opinion between rural and concrete. One of many issues I did not understand – so I have been studying articles in latest weeks in regards to the breakdown of the totally different models in Ukraine – is that they’re disproportionately drawn from rural areas.

And the rationale for that’s as a result of these younger, lesser-educated, younger sons of villages throughout Russia come from extremely conservative households that do not actually have a voice. And as they unfold these losses and graves round Russia, it is much less seemingly to attract quite a lot of consideration and anti-war emotions than if the youngsters are from Moscow and St. Petersburg. So there’s the ingredient of that divide.

And the one factor I can guarantee you is that Russians are very resourceful, like anyone all over the world, to find sources of actual data and information – notably youthful individuals. And that is the place the hope goes as this drags on, is that the anti-war sentiments will proceed to extend. And in vital areas.

I am certain the educated elite, you’ll name it, additionally the oligarchs, individuals like that, are in all probability by and huge very in opposition to the struggle. They simply cannot say it or they are going to lose their cash or worse. Or, within the case of the assume tanks and authorities advisors, a number of intrepid ones have in actual fact spoken out in opposition to the struggle already. I form of make a psychological word of these courageous individuals, as a result of that is how the world turns is, is discovering extra individuals are keen to talk out in opposition to falsehood and aggression.

MICHAEL MORELL: What’s your sense of how a lot correct details about the struggle is moving into Russia?

ROLF MOWATT-LARSSEN: I might are likely to imagine we’re underestimating it. You realize, Putin and the Russian censors cannot cancel the Web. And it isn’t nearly saying Fb just isn’t accessible anymore or another determination that, or Twitter or one thing. There are methods to get the data out.

There are quite a lot of Russians that know lots of people on the skin, quite a lot of Russians know quite a lot of Ukrainians. Quite a lot of Ukrainians know quite a lot of Russians. So I imagine the phrase is spreading. And once more, over time, increasingly more, the reality will get out.

And folks – it isn’t a matter of being educated or not educated or in a metropolis; I am not making an attempt to make these distinctions within the high quality of thought. When individuals hear actual data they usually examine it to what they’re being instructed, over time, they’ll start to discern which sounds extra believable. And I believe we’re seeing that course of in Russia now.

There are a lot of – for instance, I am stunned myself with simply what number of totally different platforms there are for data to get into nations from the Web nowadays and even totally different sorts of social media platforms that the authorities in all probability do not even know exist.

MICHAEL MORELL: So two last questions on inside Russia, Rolf. The primary is Putin’s well being. A lot of dialogue about this within the media. I used to be struck a number of days in the past when Invoice Burns was giving a public speech after which took some questions.
He answered lots of these questions very overtly, however when someone requested him about Putin’s well being, he dodged it. And that made me marvel for the primary time, actually made me marvel for the primary time, about Putin’s well being. I am simply questioning what your considering is about Putin’s well being.

ROLF MOWATT-LARSSEN: I am glad he dodged the query, Michael. I might hope CIA is aware of one thing, proper? I might – I imply, ideally, all that cash that the American individuals are investing in intelligence, which might permit us to place sources shut sufficient to possibly even seize his well being file or components of his precise file, and we might know a part of the reply, if not the reply to the query.

However I do not assume beneath any circumstances, the director of Central Intelligence ought to simply inform the American people who. And by extension, it will be, I believe, a really large mistake if we start to make selections based mostly on assumptions of what this doable illness or this situation may provoke by way of his considering.

It is that complete, nearly hysterical query of, ‘Is Putin insane? Is he out of his thoughts?’ I attempt to keep away from all that. I do watch, I’ve to confess, I am hooked on watching – I communicate fluent sufficient Russian the place I can watch each video, watch every little thing.

I do not see something that I might name persuasive, definitely not what some individuals describe as slurring or any of that. No. I take heed to what he says. Most of his, when it comes out, for instance, Easter and different events, and it appears to me talking like he at all times has, very clearly, very plainly, very immediately. So I believe it is a hazard in over-speculating on the well being factor. And to that extent the US authorities is aware of the reply, I respect the very fact they’re holding it to themselves.

MICHAEL MORELL: And your ideas, Rolf, on any near-term to medium-term menace to Putin’s rule?

ROLF MOWATT-LARSSEN: I believe we have now to begin with the belief – once more, I am not aware of something. And if I used to be conscious of something happening, whether or not inside Russia or that the U.S. was conscious of, understanding that the U.S. just isn’t going to undertake regime change as our coverage, I can say categorically I believe that isn’t going to occur. I have been requested that query by many individuals, and I do not assume it ought to, I do not I believe the Russian individuals –

MICHAEL MORELL: I agree with you.

ROLF MOWATT-LARSSEN: — And the Russian individuals have to make the choice as to who their chief is. It might probably worsen every little thing if the U.S. was concerned in any method in making an attempt to take away Putin from energy.
That being stated, I might be additionally very stunned if there’s not one thing happening beneath method, not less than by way of need. And the issue with it’s there may be solely three or 4 or 5 individuals who could make it occur. And also you’d must look again to the unsuccessful coup makes an attempt in fashionable Russian historical past in 1991 and 1993, the place laborious liners tried to overthrow first, Gorbachev and second, Yeltsin in ’91 and ’93, and did not did not succeed, though the hardliners had help in ’91. Anyway, the KGB chairman, Vladimir Kryuchkov, and the chairman of their Joint Chiefs of Workers, Akhromeyev, Marshal Akhromeyev, have been concerned immediately within the coup they usually nonetheless didn’t overthrow Gorbachev.

So I am not saying it could actually’t be executed. I am not saying it isn’t a risk, however I do not assume we will hold our hats on that final result. We simply must say the appropriate issues and do the appropriate issues that possibly individuals in Russia, within the last evaluation, will resolve to chop their losses and exchange Putin with one other chief. However that is up for them to resolve.

MICHAEL MORELL: So, Rolf, a few final questions right here. And in our previous few minutes – and this is perhaps the hardest query of all – how do you assume this factor ends?

ROLF MOWATT-LARSSEN: It’s a robust query, Michael, and I in all probability – after we hopefully can look again on this within the not-so-distant future, we will see that I am proper – as a result of I’ll say I believe Putin has began a struggle he can’t win. How lengthy it takes is, in some sense, as much as him as a result of the Ukrainians shouldn’t be anticipated, and the West mustn’t make any calls for on Ukraine to settle, in need of regaining its full sovereignty.

And they need to have their full sovereignty again, particularly in mild of the struggle crimes and Russian efforts that – even committing genocide in opposition to the individuals of Ukraine. And the West mustn’t strain Ukraine, as we form of did, to just accept the Minsk agreements, which in a method gave Russia a gateway to plan this invasion and take a part of Ukrainian sovereignty away with the Minsk I and II accords.

I do know that sounds harsh, however I believe now that we’re right here, we have to begin assessing what we did and the way it contributed to this struggle that Ukraine’s making an attempt to struggle.

The opposite a part of it, although, is I believe it is already been a strategic defeat for Vladimir Putin. Why do I say that? First, as a result of, are you able to think about a state of affairs the place he is combating a struggle in his personal thoughts to regain affect again in Ukraine, struggle the affect of NATO and the European Union, and Finland and Sweden need to be part of NATO? I did not think about, I could not think about that.

I could not think about a state of affairs the place a number of European nations, together with Germany, which I believe Russia was relying on to stay an power companion it doesn’t matter what, are wanting long-term for impartial power sources apart from counting on Russian oil and fuel.

It has been a catastrophe, might be an excellent greater catastrophe over time for the Russian economic system. The fee might be incalculable. It is laborious to think about, notably if any of those escalatory eventualities we have talked about, Michael, happen- notably one thing like nuclear or chemical weapons getting used – that by some means Putin returns in favor in some kind as a normalized world chief. How is Russia represented after this struggle is over, until Russia can discover a method out of form of reversing what’s occurred up thus far?

So I believe it’s a strategic catastrophe for Russia in a method that it is going to take Putin and the individuals who help him a while in all probability to acknowledge. And I am simply afraid earlier than he acknowledges it and takes steps to chop his losses, that he’ll escalate to even greater – make it much more troublesome to get out of this mess.

MICHAEL MORELL: In answering the primary a part of the query on how do you assume this ends, are you saying that you just imagine that Ukraine can truly win militarily and drive the Russians out of Ukraine?

ROLF MOWATT-LARSSEN: I am unsure what profitable militarily seems like, so I am unsure that the Ukrainian military will attain a stage of combating skill to expel the Russians utterly, militarily, from Ukraine. That does not appear seemingly, notably in japanese Ukraine and possibly even southern Ukraine.

However that is not likely the usual. The usual is, can they make the insurgency so painful – which has occurred to nations like ours in my lifetime a number of instances – Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq – the place they do not need to keep they usually endure one other Afghanistan-style defeat.

That is doable – the place they must voluntarily go away. Sadly, that might take years.

I do not see any indicators that Ukraine will not struggle these years to seek out that acceptable final result for them. Whereas the Russians don’t have anything to struggle for. The Russian children, the Russian troopers don’t have anything to struggle for.

They’re already struggling to switch {hardware} misplaced on the battlefield due to sanctions. They usually cannot produce tanks and artillery items and and drones and issues as quick as we’re supplying Ukraine.
So though the navy steadiness of energy is shifting in Ukraine’s favor, neither is it logical or does it look doable for Ukraine to really militarily expel the Russian military from the nation.

So I suppose one other hope for an final final result is to return to a negotiating desk the place there’s some kind of armistice or settlement that might be applied in phases. And I do not know what that appears like, frankly, Michael, however we have to hope there may be some form of a negotiation on the desk that will be acceptable to Ukraine and Russia. I am unable to see the outlines of that settlement proper now.

MICHAEL MORELL: Rolf, thanks a lot for becoming a member of us. Once more, this has been extremely insightful.
And for our listeners, I simply need to remind people about two books that Rolf has printed. The primary is his memoir, ‘A State of Thoughts: Religion and the CIA,’ and the second is a satire in regards to the spy video games between CIA and the KGB known as, ‘Vampires Rule!’

And Rolf, I will inform people who between the final time you have been on Intelligence Issues and this taping that I’ve learn ‘Vampires Rule!’ and it’s it’s so a lot enjoyable. It truly is.


MICHAEL MORELL: And folks can get each of those books at Amazon. So, Rolf, thanks once more for becoming a member of us. Actually, actually recognize it.

ROLF MOWATT-LARSSEN: Thanks, Michael. It has been a pleasure.


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