It was during that deposition for Trump’s first impeachment that Hill called Trump’s blackmail call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, “really kind of my worst fears and nightmares” in terms of an “effort not just to subvert the national security process but to try to subvert what really should be a diplomatic effort.”
Hill’s insightful, informed discussion of the issues, and her explanation of how Russia and Ukraine both saw Trump’s efforts to manipulate the situation for his own benefit, made her a standout witness. In later interviews, Hill explained how she warned Trump that Vladimir Putin actually wants to use nuclear weapons and that Russia’s threats to Ukraine couldn’t be ignored, but needed to be met with a “major international response.”
This time, what Hill has to say isn’t all about Putin’s ability to manipulate men who are easily bullied, but about how Putin himself has defined the illegal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in a way that means the U.S., NATO, and the world can’t afford to step back.
As she points out, a hallmark of Putin is that when something he does turns out to be a failure, he doesn’t step away. He doubles down. “[Putin] always takes the more extreme step in his range of options,” said Hill, “the one that actually cuts off other alternatives. Putin has often related an experience he had as a kid, when he trapped a rat in a corner in the apartment building he lived in, in Leningrad, and the rat shocked him by jumping out and fighting back.” It says something that Putin identifies with that rat.
The Russian dictator insists on fighting even when, as in this case, “he’s also the person who puts himself in the corner.” In spite of extraordinarily high casualties (Hill notes that some estimates now show Russian losses at over 90,000), Putin isn’t taking steps to reduce future casualties. Instead he’s throwing more bodies at the situation. Russia ran through many of it’s best trained, best equipped forces in the opening weeks of the war. Now it is mobilizing untrained men, most of them out of shape, many of them elderly or ill, and forcing them to the front with only the slightest nod toward training. The families of some of those who were “recruited” following Putin’s big mobilization speech have already received death notices.
For Hill, Putin has launched himself into a no-win situation, but he’s unwilling, or even incapable, of stepping away. His only end game is one in which he leaves on his own terms. Putin doesn’t just want to win the war, he wants to crush Ukraine. To “cow” people into submission, erase their culture, obliterate their boundaries into “Novorossiya,” and “remove Ukraine from the map and from global affairs.” And just because what’s happening in Ukraine doesn’t fit the image people have for a World War III—one dominated by an exchange of strategic nuclear weapons—that doesn’t mean what’s happening is any more dismissible than the events that generated past world wars.
“We’re having a hard time coming to terms with what we’re dealing with here,” said Hill. “This is a great power conflict, the third great power conflict in the European space in a little over a century. It’s the end of the existing world order. Our world is not going to be the same as it was before.”
Putin doesn’t accept the boundaries of the world as they are now drawn. He’s willing to drag the world into food shortage and an economic crisis, and he’s willing to at least threaten nuclear war to see that the boundaries are redrawn in his favor. These actions and desires are indistinguishable from those that drove World War I and World War II. Just like the men who kicked off those wars, Putin expected things to go easily and in his favor.
“I’m sure Putin thought he would have been unassailable with a quick, victorious war,” said Hill. “Ukraine would be back in the fold, and then probably after that, Belarus. Moldova as well, perhaps. There would have been a reframing of the next phase of Putin as the great czar of a reconstituted ‘Russkiy mir’ or ‘Russian world.’”
Only that didn’t happen. But it still could, if the U.S. and other allies falter in their support of Ukraine.
Hill: This goes back to the point I tried to make when I testified at the first impeachment trial against President Trump. There’s a direct line between that episode and now. Putin has managed to seed hostile sentiment toward Ukraine. Even if people think they are criticizing Ukraine for their own domestic political purposes, because they want to claim that the Biden administration is giving too much support for Ukraine instead of giving more support to Americans, etc. — they’re replaying the targeted messaging that Vladimir Putin has very carefully fed into our political arena. People may think that they’re acting independently, but they are echoing the Kremlin’s propaganda.
The full discussion with Hill is definitely worth a read.
If accurate, this would be less than a quarter of the pre-war population. (Note: “right bank” in this case means on the right when looking downstream, so the west bank of the Dnipro River at Kherson is also the right bank.)
Ukrainian forces are still busy in Kherson.
Unclear how this relates to everything else going on, but if collaborators and Russian officials are loading onto those boats, the control of the occupation government may already be breaking down—particularly if the panic level is high.
Update: 11:15PM ET
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