Russia will succeed in its invasion of Ukraine, national security expert KT McFarland predicts. And once Russian President Vladimir Putin takes Ukraine, he won’t stop there, she says.
“I think [Putin’s] going to start looking to the Baltics, those three little countries—Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania,” McFarland says on “The Daily Signal Podcast.”
America is now in another Cold War with Russia, one that the United States has not prepared for as well as it should, according to McFarland, whose government posts in national security date to the 1970s and who was deputy national security adviser early in the Trump administration.
McFarland joins the podcast from the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, to discuss Putin’s ultimate goal in invading Ukraine and what America should be doing in response.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: It is my honor to be joined by KT McFarland. She is the former deputy national security adviser under President Donald Trump. KT, thank you so much for being here.
KT McFarland: It’s an honor and a pleasure. And Virginia, if I could just say, as a proud woman of a much older generation, it really is great for me to see a woman in your generation who’s taking advantage of the things that my generation … I’m a retired lady, OK? But in my generation, we had to fight for [opportunity]. There were women who were not in the national security field, they were not in broadcasting. And then to see someone like you who’s making full use of those opportunities, it makes me feel really proud.
Allen: Well, the Lord opens doors and it’s exciting to get to walk through them. And thank you for what you have done to forge that path forward for people like me.
McFarland: Thank you.
Allen: It’s a privilege to get to talk you today. I want to dive right in and talk about what is happening with Russia and Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has launched a full-on invasion of Ukraine. What is Putin’s ultimate goal? Is it just to take over Ukraine? Does he have a larger mission in mind? How far do you think he’s going to go in order to achieve that goal?
McFarland: The thing about Putin, so I’ve been studying Putin for 30 years, and he wrote a graduate dissertation. So he was in the KGB and then the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s. He left the KGB, went to grad school, and he wrote a dissertation.
And in the dissertation he said, “Here’s how we’re going to make Russia great again. We are going to take the oil and natural gas and natural resources of Russia, take them out of the arms of the oligarchs, put them under state control.” The government of Russia will use those energy resources to do two things. One, to make Russia rich, because it would export export oil and natural gas to Europe, which needed it. And No. 2, it would give them political leverage.
And that’s exactly the road map he’s followed for 30 years. His ultimate goal is to break the back of NATO and to separate the United States from our European allies. And to not only restore Russia to greatness in his mind, but to really just undo the Cold War victory.
We may have won, we think we won the Cold War. He thinks that was only Cold War 1.0. He’s in Cold War 2.0 and he plans to win that one, and he is going to use it with his energy resources and his vicious, brutal invasion of Ukraine.
I do not think he stops with Ukraine. I think he digests it and then I think he’s going to start looking to the Baltics, those three little countries, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania. There’s a very narrow, I think it’s like 100-mile-long corridor that goes between Russia and Kaliningrad, which is a Russian port on the Baltic Sea. So I think that’s where he looks next.
Allen: So then are we looking at entering another Cold War …. with Russia?
McFarland: Oh, Virginia, I think we’re in the Cold War with Russia. The question is if he goes after those three nations that I’ve said—Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania—they are our NATO allies, so we have a treaty obligation. We, the United States, Germany, France, Canada, [have] to come to their defense. And that’s what Putin wants to break.
Ukraine, for him, is an easier thing because it’s not a NATO ally. I think that his ultimate goal though is, if he gets Ukraine and the Germans don’t help and the French don’t help, he’s going to say, “Well, I’ll go for the rest of it.”
Allen: How concerned should we be about Russia’s use of nuclear weapons?
McFarland: Well, [with] any nuclear power you should be concerned with their nuclear weapons. I mean, I taught nuclear weapons at [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] in the ’70s, so I certainly have been worried about that forever. I think the far more likely thing that Putin will use is his energy weapon, the cyberattacks and the hackings. And every time he’s done cyberattacks, the United States, especially in the last year, we’ve sort of raised an eyebrow but done nothing much. And that’s … the direction, I think, it goes next.
But whenever you have nuclear powers, you have to remember there are nuclear weapons and there are consequences. I guess my big concern now with regard to Putin in Ukraine is that somebody miscalculates, that he miscalculates.
Allen: That Putin miscalculates.
McFarland: Yeah. Putin has overreach, overstretch.
Allen: What would that lead to?
McFarland: OK, so let’s say, for example, Putin is now, he’s been in Ukraine. He thought he would [have] sewn up by now—it’s not sewn up by now. What if he has massive cyberattacks on Ukraine? Now with those cyberweapons, we’re kind of new to this world of cyberweapons. Would it spill over to Poland? Would those cyberattacks hit the U.S. banking system? If so, what is our response? We’re kind of in uncharted territories and that’s what I’m concerned with.
Allen: And are we prepared for cyberattacks, for whatever Russia could throw out?
McFarland: I don’t think we’re nearly well prepared enough … [In] Russia, China, everything is under the control of the government, right? Even if it pretends to be an independent company, it’s not. It’s under the control of the government and the government’s cyber offenses and defenses.
In the U.S., we have that separation between government and private sector. So if you’re a bank, let’s say you’re a small bank somewhere in the Midwest and you have a cyberattack, who’s defending you, right? Nobody. Maybe you tell your customers, “Well, change your password,” but nobody’s really defending you. So the difficulty the United States has, it’s our strength but it’s our great weakness, is that we do not have a national policy of how to defend against a cyberattack.
Allen: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, he’s digging in his heels. He’s staying with his people, he’s not leaving the nation. Is Ukraine prepared to fend off Russia? Can they withstand this full-on affront from Russia?
McFarland: Not for long, but God bless the Ukrainian people. Everyone assumed that they would cut and run; that the leaders, Zelenskyy and the other leaders of Ukraine, would disappear with their suitcases full of cash and be bought off and then replaced by Russian puppets. Everyone assumed that the Ukrainian military would throw down its arms and kind of disappear into the subways of Kyiv. That’s not happened.
Actually, I was in touch with some people who are with the mayor of Kyiv, [Vitali] Klitschko, last night and they are fighting street to street in Kyiv. So I think that the Ukrainian people are really just an inspiration to the world. Ultimately, sadly, I think Russia wins, but God bless the people of Ukraine.
Allen: Yeah, their courage is true inspiration.
McFarland: Their courage is inspirational to everyone in the world.
Allen: Yeah. Well, the State Department, they have said that they’re going to provide up to $350 million in immediate support for Ukrainian security and defense. Is there more the U.S. should be doing?
McFarland: Well, there’s more that the U.S. should have done. It’s too late at this point. I mean, we could have given them more lethal weapons in the last year. President [Joe] Biden and then President [Barack] Obama before him did not give Ukraine what we call lethal weapons. They would give them soft powers—blankets, food stuffs.
Trump actually reversed that and gave significant lethal weapons, offensive and defensive weapons, to the Ukrainians. There’s not much more we can do at this point. I mean, this is all going to be over in the next 72 hours.
Allen: So, if you could sit down and talk with President Joe Biden this afternoon, how would you advise him?
McFarland: Well, they’d never let me in the White House, Virginia. You know that.
Allen: Well, but if they would, what would you advise him to do right now?
McFarland: If he really wanted to break the back of Putin and to stop Putin now from doing the next step—I think Ukraine is lost, has been lost. But to stop him from doing the next power grab, go to the American people and say to the American people, “I’m reversing course. When I came into office, I shut down American oil and natural gas. I shut down the export of liquified natural gas around the world. I’m reversing course. I’m going to reopen the Keystone pipeline. I’m going to reopen American energy. I’m going to increase the number of terminals of liquified natural gas exports.” So that’s what he would say to the American people: “We’re reversing course today.”
He should then say to the Europeans who are dependent upon Russia, he should say to them, “Look, you may have liked the fact that you were getting your energy from your neighbors in Russia. But look at the price this has caused you, political price. How about we help you? Even at our expense, we will build liquified natural gas terminals in Europe. You can have American natural gas, liquified natural gas. It’s cheap, it’s clean, it’s reliable. And then get off of the Russian blackmail.”
And then I think what I would tell them is to go to the Russian people and say, “Look, here’s the deal. When America becomes energy-independent again, which we can do in a very short period of time, we are going to drive the price of oil and natural gas down. You are going to be bankrupt. We are going to encourage the Saudis to pump for more oil as well. And so Russia, you’re finished.” And that would be the way to deal with the Russians.
I worked in the Reagan administration when we won the first Cold War, and the way we did it was pushing the price of oil down, bankrupting Russia, preventing Russia from getting bank loans, and then finally preventing the export of American technology to Russia. That’s how we won the first Cold War. We can win the second Cold War exactly the same way.
Allen: Is China a wild card though in the equation that’s different from the first Cold War? How should we be thinking about China’s involvement? Should we be concerned about China?
McFarland: That’s about the only thing we should be really concerned with. Look, for 20 years, we’ve been fighting the forever wars in the Middle East and we took our eye off the real strategic threat, which was China. We always thought—I mean, 20, 30 years ago—”Well, we’ll help China modernize. They’ll get rich, they’ll have a middle class, then there’ll be an open society, a trading partner with ours, just like what happened with Japan and Korea and Germany.”
That wasn’t China’s plan. China’s plan was, “We’re going to get rich and then we’re going to really go after American power in the world.” So I think our greatest strategic adversary is with China. Not a China that wants to compete, but a China which wants to crush and replace.
Allen: KT McFarland, thank you so much for your time today.
McFarland: It’s been great.
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