With more than 100,000 Russian troops and heavy military equipment amassed on the Ukrainian border, the President of Russia Vladimir PutinThe threat of invasion forced the President Joe Biden and the NATO alliance into a defensive position, the rest calibrate the appropriate response to the Russian ruler. As tensions rose last week, an 11-person bipartisan parliamentary delegation traveled to Brussels and Kyiv to assess the situation. In the group there are congressmen Tom Malinowski, a former diplomat and State Department official who now represents New Jersey. Malinowski spoke to Vanity Fair about his interactions with U.S. allies and Ukrainian officials, and shed light on current geopolitical dynamics and the options President Biden has at his disposal.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Vanity Fair: Can you talk a little bit about the congressional delegation you and ten of your colleagues went to in the area? Is there anything you can share about people you’ve met or things you need to keep in mind while you’re there?
Representative Tom Malinowksi: We went as a bipartisan delegation, Democrat and Republican, to deliver a pro-Ukrainian message, to make it clear to the Russians that what Putin is doing is only to raise their resolve. and that of our NATO allies against any potential Russian aggression. I was impressed that Putin was so successful in uniting people around him against him. He unified the Ukrainians; Despite their political and linguistic differences, the people of Ukraine are completely united in their desire to defend their country against this potential attack. He unified the European Union and the NATO alliance. He even united Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress, which is a feat.
Was there anything surprising or unexpected that you learned during your trip?
What the Ukrainians emphasized to us is that they have lived through this for 7 years now, since the 2014 Russian invasion. Sometimes it seems to Americans that Ukrainians don’t panic in the presence of people. of more than 100,000 people. troops ready to attack along their borders. But they point out that Russia invaded their country years ago, that they lost more than 10,000 people in the fighting that followed, and that they were constantly subjected to so-called mixed wars – attacks. network, attempts to destabilize the government. In recent weeks, a campaign of fake bomb threats, is being called into schools, shopping malls and offices around the country to disrupt people’s lives. So they’re pretty stoic about it. They know this is serious, but they want us to understand that they’ve been going through this for a while and they don’t want to give Putin a cheap victory by ruining their economy and undermining our democracy. they simply threatened invasion without actually moving a single tank across the border.
President Zelensky downplayed those tensions, dismissing the idea that an invasion was imminent. There is one address where he tells Ukrainians to “take a breather” to “calm down”. What are your thoughts on the location where he was attacked?
I understand where he comes from. He worries that if people panic too much, they will start taking money out of the banks, they will start to leave the country, and the investment in commercial deals with Ukraine will end. In fact, it would be as if Ukraine were under economic sanctions, even if Russia never invaded. So again, he wanted to deny them that cheap victory. At the same time, we emphasized to him and others in the government that they must consider the possibility of a full-scale invasion of Russia and that they need to be prepared for that. My feeling is that they understand that very well.
There is unity against Putin, against Russia. But there also seems to be a growing chorus – from some on the left, from Russia, from some in Ukraine – that it is the US and President Biden that are causing tension and promoting the idea of a military conflict. impending impending doom. What are your thoughts on that story?
It would be as if someone pointed a loaded gun to your head and then blamed you for causing stress by complaining about it. Russia has not only piled troops and tanks along the Ukrainian border on three sides. It’s packed with logistics units, blood banks, everything you need to launch an invasion of the country. Then complaining that the people who point it out and express the alarm are responsible for causing stress is ridiculous. But it’s also a classic example of misguided propaganda, which no one should commit.
The United States is in a very different place than it was 15 years ago; In the US, there’s really no interest in pulling the military abroad, especially, with the novelty, I think, of the troop withdrawal in Afghanistan. Can you feel what President Biden thinks about the situation and his considerations?
It’s important to note that no one asked for American troops to go to war in Ukraine. When we met President Zelensky in Kiev, that was one of the first things he said: “We are not asking you to fight for us. We are perfectly prepared to fight for our country. What we’re doing The requirement is that you do everything you can to prevent Russia from attacking us — threatening sanctions, helping us build our own military, and you working hard on diplomacy to give the Russians a turning point if Putin finally decides to take an action.”