Russia has invaded Ukraine, and President Biden will address the nation today. To break down what it all means from a national security and intelligence perspective, hosts Paris Alston and Jeremy Siegel were joined on Morning Edition by Juliette Kayyem, a former assistant secretary for homeland security and the faculty chair of the Homeland Security Program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Alston: Juliette, yesterday, when you were talking with our colleagues, Jim and Margery on Boston Public Radio, you said that President Biden has been taking the approach of not looking at what Putin says, but instead what he does. So, what now?
Juliette Kayyem: So, he did it. I think if anything, our intelligence has been remarkably clear that this was the intention. Now, there's no nice way to put this — we have the largest invasion on our planet since World War II. This is significant. This is no joke. Russia is trying to erase Ukraine, essentially.
And someone said to me, [Putin] can't afford to lose. And I think that's one of the shocking aspects of this — what is his end game? And it is to not lose. And we kind of know what that looks like because the Ukrainians are a free country, they are going to fight back. So we are just seeing the beginnings of something that I think is going to be quite, quite brutal because there's no check on Putin at this stage.
Jeremy Siegel: President Biden will be addressing the nation later today and discussing the U.S. response. What is the message that he needs to convey to both the American people and the Ukrainian and Russian people?
Kayyem: The first message will be, I think, to the Ukrainians that they are not alone. I think that's primary. I think the challenge here is China, which has been trying to balance — it had said that it respects Ukraine's territory, but in the last 24 to 48 hours, China has been less than forceful in its condemnation of Russia, that we don't know where China is.
I think the second [message from Biden] is to the American public — that elements within the American politics that are suggesting that this is somehow not a big deal or are supportive of Putin, including the former president, really are aligning with the enemy of the United States at this stage, because of the disruption to a tenuous and sometimes imperfect post-World War II order that we had all come to expect.
I think there'll be a third piece, which is, what can Americans expect on our end? Biden has been clear there will be no military engagement, [but] there will be covert engagement. We've already trained a lot of the Ukrainian military. There will be potential for cyberattacks and other, "non-kinetic" attacks by Russia to try to just make noise at this stage. Whether they rise to the level of us requiring a response, I think the jury is still out. Hearing Putin talk about “de-Nazification,” alleging earlier that this was going to be a limited liberation of Donbas and other areas that are close to the Russian border, and now seeing the Russian military in Kyiv and all the major cities in Ukraine — this is a full-out war at this stage, and the Ukrainians are an independent country. They're going to fight back.
Alston: And how prepared is the Ukrainian military to fight back, Juliette?
Kayyem: Military analysts and military assessments that I have read [say Ukraine’s military is] a well-organized army for obvious reasons. It's had support from our NATO allies as well as us in terms of training. We've been funding more aggressively in the last six months as we've been tracking Putin's intentions.
Aerial bombardment of civilian cities, which is what we saw last night, is hard to defend against because the civilian population is going to move. But you're going to see both more formal military response by Ukraine on air and land. But what you saw the Ukrainian president say yesterday, which is: Anyone who can fight, fight. You are going to see hand-to-hand combat. And I think the challenge or the scary part of this is, it seems Putin is ready to engage in that. I think that the destruction of Ukraine is the goal here and how this ends or what his end game is just unclear at this stage.
"In the last 24 to 48 hours, China has been less than forceful in its condemnation of Russia."-Juliette Kayyem
Siegel: You mentioned that Biden was clear about there not being direct military action from the U.S. As someone who has spent time in the White House, you were part of the Obama administration, what are the conversations going on inside the White House right now?
Kayyem: The White House has convened people like me. I've been on White House meetings every other day trying to brief us on what their thinking is. I think the primary goal, which I think they've been successful at, is to not lose the alliance. And so the ratcheting up of the sanctions has been appropriate because we wanted to make sure we didn't lose any European countries, and NATO, because maybe they had a doubt whether this was in fact going to happen. Now it's happened. And I think that they've been successful in keeping that coalition unified.
But as I said, we have been clear that there will be no military action on the U.S part. I think that that message will be loud and clear today by Biden. There have been almost no major missteps by the Biden White House. They've been clear about the intelligence. I think Putin's been shocked about how good our intelligence has been about what his intentions are.
Their biggest challenge is, of course, domestic politics — some piece of the Republican Party seems to want to blame Biden for Putin's aggressive actions. I've been pleased that more responsible members of the GOP have been out forcefully in the last 24 hours, and I don't say this just for pure political gain. It matters that that the United States be unified and that our political parties be unified in condemning Putin. Putin will use our divisions, as he has in the past, to support what he's calling “de-Nazification” and stopping Ukraine from getting a nuclear weapons.
Alston: All right, Juliette, thank you so much.