The AP Interview: Fiona Hill claims Putin has many options
WASHINGTON (AP), -- Even if Russia's President Vladimir Putin is stopped from ordering a full-scale invasion, he will not give up on Ukraine. Fiona Hill, a Russia scholar, said that he has "a whole bunch of options" and can do so.
Hill stated that Russia could strike Ukraine with paralyzing cyberattacks to cripple its economy and even poison its president in an interview with The Associated Press.
Hill's sober assessment about the Ukraine crisis, which she believes is far from over came as President Joe Biden warned of a Russian invasion of Ukraine in just a few days. Russia is thought to have around 150,000 troops close to Ukraine's borders. Western leaders claim that Russia has sent thousands of troops to the country despite declaring that they were returning some to their bases. Hill, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and coauthor of a book on Putin, is widely considered to be one of the most respected experts on Russia. She was a senior director for Russia in the National Security Council under President Donald Trump during her time of government service. She was a witness in Trump's first impeachment investigation and was critical of his actions regarding Ukraine. However, Ukraine has been increasingly looking to the West since 1991's breakup of Soviet Union, and has aspirations to become a member of NATO and the European Union.
This would be a terrible loss for Putin, who believes that Russians and Ukrainians are "one people".
Hill stated that Ukraine is Russia in the Kremlin's thinking, and Putin in particular. "So by all means, Russia intends that Ukraine be completely and utterly surrounded.
"It is possible that Russia may choose to invade."
She stated that it was clear that the Russians were trying to invent a pretext for invasion.
She stated that reports about Ukrainian forces conducting shelling operations or other types of warfare are likely to be used as a pretext.
Russian-backed separatists fighting for eastern Ukraine claimed that there was an increase in Ukrainian bombardment on Thursday and that they fired back. The claim was denied by Ukraine, who claimed that separatists had shelled its forces and struck a kindergarten. However, they didn't fire back. The kindergarten shell was called a "big provocation" by Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian president. Hill, who was a national intelligence officer at that time, stated that the U.S. had warned Georgians about the Russians' intent to create a conflict in order to give them an excuse to launch military action. The provocation was not stopped by the Georgians.
She was highly praised by President Joe Biden for his handling of the Ukraine crisis. U.S. officials accuse Russia of plotting a "false flag" operation to create an excuse for invasion. They also detailed Russian preparations for an assault.
Hill stated that he believes he has dealt with the situation as best he could. He also said that it was quite smart, and it had been able to keep up with Russian disinformation by providing information.
She stated that Biden is in an unusual position compared to other leaders who might be meeting Putin for the first-time. Biden was a vice president when he met Putin and was involved with U.S. policies toward Russia throughout his decades as a senator.
Hill stated that Putin has "practically outfoxed, outsmarted an awful number of people over the past 22 years" by using his KGB experience and "Biden is well aware of this."
She said that Trump thought he could charm Putin. But it was Putin who manipulates people and not the other way around.
She stated that Biden was correct to reiterate his warnings about Russian aggression while he attempts to prepare the United States and its European allies for a pushback.
"If he doesn’t repeat them, they all will think everything is fine. Everyone is now looking for a way out. All of us are looking for a solution. It's unlikely that there will be one. Putin declared war on us."
She stated that it is possible for the Biden administration to prevent a full-scale invasion of Russia by convincing the Kremlin the costs would be too high.
"But Putin could choose to take other paths than those that were before him, such as cyber operations or subversive activities. They could poison President Zelenskyy, Ukraine. They could try to poison President Zelenskyy of Ukraine," she stated, noting that a former president of Ukraine was poisoned by dioxin while he was running against the Kremlin's preferred candidate.
She suggested that Putin could also try to "squeeze the Ukrainian economy until it collapses". A collapsed economy would be a disaster for Zelenskyy's domestic business. The Russians could then hope that Zelenskyy is overthrown by the internal forces. Hill stated that this is what happened in Georgia.
Hill stated that Putin could also keep Russian forces at Ukraine's borders, and place nuclear-capable missiles near Belarus' border to maintain the pressure.
"So the situation is very complex and the Russians know that they can keep the pressure up, hook or by crok, to get what they want in Ukraine. We must be vigilant and push back.