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ICYMI: Rubio Joins Andrea Mitchell Reports
Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) joined Andrea Mitchel Reports to discuss the latest on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. See below for highlights and watch the full interview here.
On the most noteworthy developments of the war in Ukraine:
“I think what’s happened in the last week is really unprecedented. The Russian economy is headed towards collapse. The ruble most certainly is. That’s something I don’t think anybody, including Putin, anticipated. I think he thought he would get hit hard, but not this hard. There are a couple things we have to start thinking through.
“I think the first is … the unique aspects of this refugee crisis. [The refugees are] largely women and the elderly and young children, whose fathers and husbands are still in Ukraine, and may make it back, may not. Who knows when they’ll be reunited. And so that’s a unique aspect of it. These are people that, a week ago, were living normal lives, going to school, running their businesses, going to work, and a week later find themselves in a tent city. That’s something we certainly need to keep an eye on, and [we should] provide all the assistance we can, with everybody around the world, to help them in the short term.
“The second [thing] is, Putin can’t win. He’s headed [in] one of two directions here. He’s either headed towards a very costly military victory, or he’s headed towards a quagmire, [in] which his military can’t achieve victory. Even [with] the costly military victory, he’s going to have to stay there forever and face an insurgency. He’s not just fighting another military, he’s fighting 40-something million people that don’t want his forces there.
“And no matter what [Putin] does, he’ll never be able to install some puppet traitor government that he can just get up and leave behind, because the Ukrainians will overthrow them and kill those people…. No matter what, there has to be a real legitimate Ukrainian state that we have a relationship with. I don’t know why we can’t be open and say we will support them, even if it’s an insurgency.”
On how the United States should support Ukraine:
“An armed engagement between the United States or any NATO country and Russia is World War III. I don’t think anybody is talking about [sending in American troops] and frankly, the Ukrainians are not asking for American troops. What they are asking for is that we continue to supply and equip them.
“I’m not saying that by any means this fight is over. I think the will to fight, which is one of the hardest things to measure in any conflict, is extraordinary on the Ukrainian side. There are real and growing questions about the morale and the technical capability, the logistical capability, of the Russian forces. That said, if in fact Putin is able to achieve … a military victory, that doesn’t mean he’s won. Because he’ll face Ukrainians that will fight him, and we need to continue to provide them with whatever we can provide them with to carry that out.
“There will be a legitimate Ukrainian government no matter what happens militarily on the ground. But I still think there’s open questions about how long and how costly this is going to be for Vladimir Putin, from a military standpoint, in Ukraine. I think the costly war situation is probably his best case scenario, and that’s not a very good one.”
On the increasingly erratic nature of Vladimir Putin’s character:
“[Putin] is almost 70 years old in a country where the average man makes it to 72. He sees his legacy as being the man who brought Russia out of the ‘90s humiliation into great global power status [and] restored Greater Russia. Ukraine is a big part of [his legacy]. He viewed this as his last opportunity to do it.
“I think this is a person who calculates very differently than he did five or 10 years ago. You’ve seen in his own statements, this a man who’s always prided himself on emotional control, and he showed very strong flashes of anger. That was apparent for everyone to see.
“And the isolation piece is important — not just the physical isolation — like most authoritarians, [Putin] is not a man whose underlings bring him the truth or bring him bad news. It’s my sense that he thought he would be greeted in parts of Ukraine as a liberator, and that the Ukrainian resistance would quickly collapse, and that Zelenskyy would flee to outside the country, and that by now he would certainly control Kyiv. And none of that has played out.
“I don’t think we should fall into the trap of assuming that Putin today would make the … same decisions he would have made five or 10 or 15 years ago. A lot of the people that were thinking that way were the ones saying there’s no way he’s going to invade, because it didn’t make any sense. [Invading Ukraine] might not make any sense if [Putin] thought like an American, but he doesn’t. He thinks like someone who wants to be a great historic figure, like Catherine the Great, in Russian lore. That’s how he’s viewing things, and that poses some real potential dangers of escalation.”
On the possibility that Russia will deploy tactical nuclear weapons:
“That’s the military doctrine of Russia. It’s a written doctrine that basically says, in any conflict with NATO, if [the Russians] begin to lose, as they would in a conventional fight, [they are to] use battlefield nuclear weapons to escalate and force everyone to the negotiating table.
“I am concerned about the fact that [Putin] is someone who’s country’s deeply isolated now. [The Russians’] economy is in freefall, they’re suffering humiliations on the battlefield. instead of making Russia look like a great power, they look incompetent in many ways. What are [Putin’s] tools available to equalize the situation and [give himself] some bargaining leverage? They’re not very good ones.
“He doesn’t have economic tools. He can either escalate [militarily] into something horrifying, threaten or carry out cyber attacks against the West, including the United States, [or] he can threaten to use battlefield nuclear weapons. I think that’s the least likely option of the three. But that’s their doctrine, and I think [Putin] was reminding us of that [by putting his forces on alert].
“I think no matter what [Putin’s] state of mind is, I think he understands if he were to use tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield, that most certainly would trigger potentially the Third World War, and he wouldn’t go down as a historic figure because there wouldn’t be anyone else to talk about it, on his side or ours. So I think he prefers not to escalate to that point.
“But you worry that when someone begins to run out of escalation options, and they’re left with things like some attack in space, an attack in cyber, that these things begin to escalate…. Right now, the Bosphorus is being closed off by the Turks. What if the Russian navy decides to ignore that order and proceed through, and they’re confronted by NATO ships? Now you have a NATO conflict.
“There’s some real danger embedded in this. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stand up to [the Russians], that just means we need to be aware there are dangers of escalation that maybe are being a little underappreciated by some.”