Biden draws a line on Ukraine, but how will Russia view his message?

As President Biden on Tuesday reiterated the repercussions Russia would face should it invade Ukraine, we get perspectives from two foreign policy experts. Leon Panetta, former secretary of defense and director of the CIA during the Obama administration, and Angela Stent, who was on the State Department's policy planning staff during the Clinton administration, join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We now get two perspectives on all of this.

    Leon Panetta was secretary of defense and director of the CIA during the Obama administration. He also served as White House chief of staff during the Clinton presidency and earlier as a member of Congress. And Angela Stent, she was on the State Department's policy planning staff during the Clinton administration and served as a top U.S. intelligence officer focusing on Russia during the George W. Bush administration. Her latest book is "Putin's World." And she is now a professor at Georgetown University.

    Welcome to both of you to the "NewsHour."

    Secretary Panetta, to you first.

    The message that President Biden delivered today, how should the American people read that?

    Leon Panetta, Former U.S. Secretary of Defense: I think it's a very important message to send at this point in time.

    Look, we're at a pivotal time here and a dangerous time with regards to the United States, with regards to the Ukraine, with regards to our allies and Russia. And what happens here will tell us a lot about the future.

    And so it was important for President Biden to send a very tough, clear, concise, and honest message to Russia that the United States and our allies remain strong, remain unified, and, if they decide to invade, that they will pay a heavy price. That's a very important message for Putin to hear at this point in time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Secretary Panetta, is this — it your sense that the president was doubling down on what he has said before? Is he underlining it?

    I mean, how do you read what came from the president today that's different from what he has said before?

  • Leon Panetta,:

    Well, I think it's obvious that, in dealing with Putin, you have to deal with him from strength. For too long, Putin has read weakness on the part of the United States and, as a result of it, took advantage of that in Georgia and the Crimea, in Syria, and against the United States in a cyber war.

    What's happening today is that the United States and our allies are drawing a line that makes very clear to Russia that if they decide to invade, they will pay a very heavy price. That's a very important line to set with Putin.

    And I think, because of that, I think we have, in many ways, disrupted his strategy. He likes to operate in the dark, and now he has to operate in the open, and that makes it much more difficult for him to have his way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Angela Stent, having studied Vladimir Putin for as long as you have, how do you believe he will receive this message that the West is drawing this line, that the U.S. is serious, that it is not going to meet aggression by just sitting back?

    Angela Stent, Director, Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, Georgetown University: Well, I think President Biden today reiterated a message that he has already sent to President Putin.

    You know, on the one hand, we have all been responding to Putin's agenda since he presented these two treaties in December and demanded concessions on NATO enlargement and NATO drawing to where it was in 1997. So, in that sense, he can sit there and see us running around responding.

    But I think he has inadvertently united the alliance in a way that it hasn't been united for many years. It's really heartening to see NATO unity on all of this. And even on the questions of sanctions, where there are some differences with Europe, we're pretty united in a tough response.

    So I think that may have caused him to think twice about what he wants to do, although there are some people who argue that he never really meant to invade anyway and that he did this in order to get us to the negotiating table. We're only going to know that in a week, in a few days' time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But if — so, your — again, your interpretation is that this message coming from President Biden, coming from NATO may have Vladimir Putin rethinking what he's going to do?

  • Angela Stent:

    Well, it may also make him realize that there are real negotiations on offer.

    I mean, today, when he was speaking, he sounded as if he took that very seriously, and that he may get — he may feel he can now get more concessions, even though he may not get what he wants in terms of NATO making guarantees never to enlarge.

    So he may now think that this puts him in a bargaining position that could be advantageous for Russia as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And back to you, Secretary Panetta, Leon Panetta.

    In terms of drawing a line, we have seen the United States draw lines before that then it was not prepared to back up. How much does it matter that the West fulfills what it says now will be the consequences if Putin and the Russians move aggressively — further aggressively into Ukraine?

  • Leon Panetta,:

    It's absolutely essential that, when the United States and now with our NATO allies have drawn a line, that they stick to that line, and implement what they say they're going to do.

    And I don't have any question right now that both the United States and our allies will implement very tough economic sanctions that will have an impact on Russia and its economy. They have already taken steps to provide defensive weapons to reinforce our NATO position with our forces and to continue to support the Ukraine with training and other assistance at this moment in time.

    So I think we have shown that we are going to stick to what we're saying, and that's a very important signal to send not just to Russia, very frankly, but to China and to our other adversaries.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And to Angela Stent, is this a message that Vladimir Putin is likely to be intimidated by? I mean, how much punishment can he, is he prepared to take?

  • Angela Stent:

    I don't think he's going to be intimidated by this.

    I mean, the Russians, I think, have already factored in the sanctions. They may not realize the full repercussions of them, but they do have over $600 billion in hard currency reserves. They have China who will back them up, even though I think China would prefer that there not be an invasion.

    I don't think he's intimidated by that, and I do believe this — what kind of sanctions are imposed if there is a military incursion will depend on what kind of military incursion it is. And if it is more limited just into the area where you already have Russian portions, in the Donbass, I don't think he will get the same robust reaction from all of our allies.

    If it's an all-out assault on Kyiv, then I think you would.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And to Secretary Panetta, I mean, some people are looking at what's going on right now and have the sense that Vladimir Putin is holding the West by a string, that he's threatening one thing, not moving, saying, I will do this, I will do — leaving everyone guessing.

    How long can — how much can the West afford to, frankly, have that situation go on?

  • Leon Panetta,:

    Well, that's right out of Putin's playbook. That's what he's been doing for years.

    You know, he is KGB. And he operates pretty much as a former KGB agent, which is to basically assume that everybody's after him and that what he's going to do is try to undermine the United States and our allies. That's where he's coming from.

    Look, we're not going to change Putin. You know, we passed that point a long time ago. But when you're dealing with a bully, it's very important in dealing with a bully to make clear that he can't have his way. And I think, if we can do that, that perhaps we might open up a period here where Russia and the United States and our allies can, in fact, negotiate some real important steps related to security both for Russia and for the United States.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Angela Stent, finally, how possible do you think that is, knowing — again, knowing — having studied Putin as much as you have?

  • Angela Stent:

    So, I think it is possible that we could sit down with the Russians and talk about more general security issues, arms control, and things like that.

    But I do think that we should also recognize this is going to be a long, drawn-out process. If there is no invasion this week or next week, it doesn't mean that the problem is over. The Russians can continue to intimidate Ukraine, to make demands, and to move their troops back and forth.

    So this is — we're talking about a much longer-term discussion about what European and Euro-Atlantic security architecture look like over the next decades. And that will take a lot of grit and attention to it. And we won't be able to be distracted from it, or we shouldn't be.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it certainly has our attention right now. And it looks like it will continue, certainly for the near future.

    And we thank both of you for joining us tonight. Angela Stent, Secretary Leon Panetta, thank you.

  • Leon Panetta,:

    Yes, thank you.

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