>> Can Vladimir Putin be stopped?
This week on "Firing Line," the ruthless march to Kyiv as Russian forces continue their assault.
[ Explosion ] And Ukrainians fight to defend their independence.
>> [ Speaking in Ukrainian ] >> An unfolding humanitarian crisis.
More than 2 million already forced to flee.
William B. Taylor served as the US ambassador to Ukraine under three administrations and was a key witness in President Trump's first impeachment.
>> Ukraine is a strategic partner of the United States -- important for the security of our country.
>> So, what more can the United States and its allies do... >> We remain united in our purpose -- to keep pressure mounting on Putin.
>> ...and how far will the consequences reach?
What does Ambassador William Taylor say now?
>> "Firing Line with Margaret Hoover" is made possible in part by... And by... Corporate funding is provided by... ...and... >> Ambassador William Taylor, welcome to "Firing Line."
>> Thank you, Margaret.
It's great to be here.
>> Ambassador, it's been more than two weeks since Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.
While Russia continues to make advances, Ukraine has demonstrated incredible resistance under the leadership of President Zelenskyy.
I have heard you say that you Ukrainians are fighting for freedom while many Russians don't know what they're fighting for.
You are the former US ambassador to Ukraine and a decorated Vietnam veteran.
From your perspective, how long do you estimate Ukraine can continue its resistance?
>> Margaret, they will continue their resistance... Each individual will continue his or her resistance to the end, I will tell you.
I will not say that in a week or two or a month or a year that they'll stop resisting, Margaret, because as you just indicated, they're fighting for something more than what the Russians are fighting for.
The Russians -- actually, the soldiers, they're not sure why they're fighting.
They've showed up and they thought they were on an exercise somewhere.
The Ukrainians are fighting for their land.
So, in answer to your question, Margaret, they're going to resist to the end.
>> President Zelenskyy has risen to the moment as a courageous wartime leader.
You have met President Zelenskyy numerous times, even as recently as this past January.
Based on your personal interactions with him, what insight can you share about Zelenskyy's state of mind right now?
>> When I saw him at the end of January, this year, he was... a different person in some respects.
He was focused, he was determined.
I would even say, Margaret, grimly determined.
He knew what was coming.
He knew that there were 150,000 Russian soldiers on three of his borders.
So he was focused really on the capabilities of his military.
He was also, Margaret, just confident, very confident, in the Ukrainian people's willingness, determination to resist.
>> Do you think he's a different person?
>> He's clearly the same person.
He's clearly still charming as I found him at first.
He's clearly...a deep Ukrainian patriot.
But I will say that he has stepped up.
He has stepped up into this role, if you will, into this -- into this national leader -- indeed, an international leader.
He has motivated his people to resist and to fight by staying there.
One of the things he's done is he will not leave Kyiv.
He sees the same thing we all see, which is these columns of Russian tanks and artillery coming toward Kyiv from several different directions -- three different directions -- and he's staying there.
And he's taking photos!
He's taking selfies.
>> [ Speaking in Ukrainian ] >> He took a video with the background of a very famous building -- every Ukrainian knows that building.
And he took it right there.
He was making a statement -- he's not leaving.
>> Are you surprised, ambassador, at how powerfully Zelenskyy has met this moment?
>> Remember that two years ago.
three years ago he was a businessman.
He was in entertainment.
He had never held political office until -- until 2019.
So -- So, this is an amazing transformation.
I mean, to lead a nation at war against one of the two most powerful militaries in the world has brought out something in him that he probably was surprised.
He is probably surprised at his own ability to step up into that leadership role.
He's probably surprised a lot of Ukrainians, and they're very pleased to be surprised that they're proud of him.
>> Another aspect of this war is how Zelenskyy has harnessed new technology to appeal to allies abroad.
You know, you mentioned him standing there taking images of himself, live images of himself, in front of iconic Ukrainian buildings.
But he has also Zoomed into the United Kingdom's parliament, he's Zoomed with United States senators.
He's taking advantage of this technology to make his case to the world in a way that we've never seen anything like it before.
How -- What do you make of it?
>> This is a new generation, Margaret, you're exactly right.
He's, what, 44.
He's coming from a young world.
He's coming from a technologically competent world.
He's got the technique.
He's got the leadership.
He's got the personality.
He's got the charm.
He's got the -- he's articulate.
So, yeah, he's the man for the hour.
>> President Zelenskyy has repeatedly called for a no-fly zone, which would compel NATO countries to patrol the skies over Ukraine.
You signed an open letter to the Biden administration with more than two dozen foreign policy experts calling for a limited no-fly zone over humanitarian corridors in Ukraine.
Now, Putin has said that he would consider the establishment of a no-fly zone by a third party a "participation in an armed conflict."
So, how do you have a limited no-fly zone enforced without triggering a wider war?
>> So, one thing you do is you let the Russian military know what you're doing.
Let the Russian military know that we don't expect them to be flying missions, combat missions, over humanitarian corridors that they've agreed to, and that we will res-- we're not out for a confrontation.
They're not out for a confrontation, Margaret.
Neither side is looking for conflict with each other.
We both know that that would be a terrible mistake.
And that would be the way that we could do this.
Now, let me just say further that my colleagues and I, as we thought about this and we recognized the -- the -- the gravity of the situation and the tragedy of the humanitarian situation that we see on the ground... We've all been watching these horrific scenes coming out of Mariupol' and other places over the last days.
And we wanted to make a statement that recognizes the importance of NATO support -- of US support, NATO support, for the Ukrainian people for those humanitarian corridors.
Now, we've also said that maybe that doesn't work, and there's all indications from the administration that that's not an option that they're ready to pursue.
We understand that.
Now, it turns out it's not just -- it's not even mainly from aircraft that this bombardment is taking place.
It's -- It's missiles.
It's intermediate-range ballistic missiles.
And US war planes, NATO war planes are not effective against missiles -- cruise and ballistic.
So, the issue here that we're trying to highlight is that's the problem.
There may be other weapons systems, and there are other weapons systems, that would do an even better job than aircraft to try to stop that bombardment by those missiles.
That's what we were trying to do, Margaret.
We're trying to highlight that issue.
And of our solution is not accepted, then they'll look for others.
But we've been -- we've been eager to push on ourselves and to support the basic request that President Zelenskyy has made.
>> To your point, President Zelenskyy tweeted out a video in the aftermath of a Russian missile attack on a Ukrainian hospital and maternity ward in the town of Mariupol', as you just mentioned, and he wrote in his tweet...
The mayor in that city says more than 1,200 residents have been killed so far.
Does the US have blood on its hands if it doesn't come to Ukraine's aid in a more substantial way soon?
>> So, Margaret, we need to do everything we can.
We need to do -- make -- provide every weapon system, provide every support to Ukraine.
They are on the front line.
They are fighting the Russians.
They're fighting the Russians alone.
And they are on the front line for us, for NATO.
So, yes, we have -- we have responsibility.
We have a -- I think, Margaret, we have a moral responsibility to support them and to ensure that they win in the end.
>> You have said that the US should've done more years ago... in terms of arming Ukraine, including sending anti-aircraft missiles like stingers.
You know, had we done more... to supply arms and weapons to the Ukrainians over the last several years, do you think we would have a conflict now, or would the nature of the conflict be different?
>> Margaret, I think we'd probably still have the conflict now, and the reason that I say that is that President Putin has made it pretty clear that he has this obsession to control, dominate, reabsorb Ukraine.
This was going to happen, in my view, Margaret, whether or not we provided those weapons earlier.
We tried to deter him.
We thought that he might be deterred.
We thought that President Biden made it very clear to President Putin in a phone call at the end of December about what kind of sanctions would go on him and what kind of weapons we were then really ramping up into Ukraine, and what kind of military forces we were moving from the United States to NATO allies on the eastern flank.
We made it very clear what the costs would be.
And we thought that he might be deterred, because we thought that -- that he was, you know, a rational actor -- and he may be still a rational actor, but his evaluation of the cost and benefits are clearly different from ours.
And he went in anyway.
>> President Biden said in December that he would not send US troops to fight in Ukraine.
And this position is a position that he has stood by, but... some have made the case that taking that stance so early on cost the United States the advantage of strategic ambiguity.
Is it fair to say that taking US troops off the table must have factored into Putin's decision to invade?
>> You know, I'm not sure.
I'm not sure it did.
Again, in my view, he was going to invade in any case.
>> About a month ago, before the invasion, I read a quote from you where you said that you believed that Putin would blink.
Did you believe that deterrence was working?
How has your thinking changed?
>> Margaret, I was wrong.
I did think that they would blink.
Now, I -- I [indistinct] it.
I said 55/45 against an invasion.
That was my analysis of the -- of the odds.
But you're absolutely right.
I did think that the costs to Putin, the costs to Russia of an invasion would be enough to let -- to push him toward another solution.
And I made the case that there were negotiations that could happen, that were available to him, to address some of the -- some of the problems he said he had.
He said he had problems with NATO or even American missiles in Ukraine that might threaten Moscow in seven minutes.
That's -- We could address that.
We could have addressed that.
He said he was concerned about US bombers flying too close to the Russian border.
We could address that.
So, yes, I thought that the costs in terms of a number of Russian soldiers that were going to die and are dying, that the costs he would pay to his economy, he is paying -- I thought that those costs would have been enough to push him towards negotiations to try to go another way.
And I was wrong.
He invaded anyway.
>> So, why do you think he did?
>> I think he has an obsession, a mission...to dominate Ukraine.
The most important part of the Soviet Union that the Russians lost when the Soviet Union broke up, that was -- that was his goal.
That is his goal.
>> I mean, what you've referenced is...that we did have a failed deterrence strategy.
What are the consequences, ambassador, of this failed deterrence strategy beyond this conflict?
And I'm looking China and Taiwan...and, frankly, America's standing in the world as the defender of democracy.
>> Margaret, this is why it's so important that Ukraine win this fight and win this battle, win this war.
This is why it's so important.
First of all, for Ukraine and Ukrainians.
They're an independent, sovereign nation, and they should continue to be an independent sovereign nation, and we should support them with everything we have.
Undoubtedly, President Xi in Beijing is watching very closely what happens between Russia and Ukraine.
President Xi probably thought, President Putin probably thought that the United States, after having withdrawn from forever wars and having withdrawn from Afghanistan in a way that was not pretty, maybe they both thought -- President Xi and President Putin both thought that the United States was going to pull back from its -- from its global leadership role, pull back from the world, withdraw into itself, focus on America first.
Maybe that's what they thought.
If so, President Putin is undoubtedly surprised -- undoubtedly surprised that the United States has stepped up into the leadership role of this alliance, undoubtedly surprised that the alliance has accepted that role again by the United States, undoubtedly surprised that not just the NATO alliance, but Europeans as well as Asian countries, as well as Japan, South Korea, Australia.
This is an international alliance against President Putin, and I imagine that President Xi is noticing that.
President Xi is in an interesting position.
He has not supported Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The Chinese have a lot of investments in Ukraine.
A lot of investments in Ukraine.
And those investments now, after this invasion, many are destroyed.
Investors are fleeing.
So China is watching this.
They're uncomfortable because of the economics.
They're uncomfortable because of the -- of the mistake that they probably see Putin making.
They don't want to be tainted by this.
They're even -- Their companies are even begi-- are now so far abiding by these embargoes.
So, this is all to say it's a complicated situation for the Chinese to be in.
But I'm sure they're watching, and I'm sure they are seeing the United States is not stepping back, and I'm sure they're seeing the tough defense that the Ukrainians are putting on, and that's surprising and probably disappointing to them.
>> Some speculate that Xi may be the one global leader that still has the ability to influence Vladimir Putin.
Do you see an opportunity in that relationship to bend this conflict towards some kind of a resolution?
>> Margaret, I do.
I think that President Xi, because of this kind of...big brother, little brother relationship, the Chinese are clearly in the driver's seat in that relationship... and President Putin knows it.
And President Xi could use that.
I don't know if he wants to use that or if he will use that.
He could use that, that relationship, that influence, to make it clear to President Putin that he's made a major mistake.
So, this is a strategic blunder that the Chinese, in particular President Xi, can point out to President Putin, and it's probably -- he may be the only one that could point that out.
So, yes, I think that there is a possibility, and I think that President Putin could probably find a way with that kind of pressure from the Chinese -- President Putin could probably find a way to do what you said, that is kind of stand down... declare that he achieved what he wanted to achieve, go to the negotiating table, and that, I'm sure, President Putin could convince the Russian people that it's okay, that actually he won.
He could convince them of that, I'm sure.
President Xi could have a major positive effect on this conflict.
>> You know, in 1990, United States Secretary of State James Baker told Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that in exchange for German reunification, NATO's jurisdiction would not move "one inch to the east."
That's a quote.
There is a postmortem happening now about whether NATO expansion in the 1990s, including many of the Warsaw Pact countries, played some role in aggravating the United States' relationship with Russia and ultimately igniting Putin's current aggressions.
Now, you worked at NATO in Brussels, and in 2008, you encouraged the Bush administration to give Ukraine the chance to join NATO.
So, how do you reflect on that argument now?
>> I believed then -- I believed in the '90s that NATO is a defensive alliance that provides security for its members.
And I think that's right.
And I also think that the Warsaw Pact nations that you just mentioned and even some of the -- of the nations like the Baltic states -- Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia -- they're worried about their security.
They've asked themselves, "How can we secure ourselves?"
And they say, "There's an alliance.
There's a defensive alliance that we are now free to at least apply to."
A Europe whole and free?
That was a vision.
In my view, that was a good vision.
And to say yes to those applicant nations, I think that was the right decision then.
I think it's the right decision now.
I don't think that -- that Russia's invasion, that Putin's invasion -- Let's be clear.
It's Putin's invasion.
It's not clear to me at all that Putin's invasion was the result of NATO expansion.
>> You just said you believed it was the right decision then and it's the right decision now.
So, to be clear, you believe that Ukraine should be on the path to NATO membership now?
>> I do.
It's not gonna happen soon.
The amazing thing, Margaret, is everybody knows -- Ukrainians know that it's a long process.
The Ukrainians know that it's not any time soon...that -- that they're going to be in NATO.
And yet that was the reason that Putin gave for invading -- for killing tens of thousands of Russians as well as Ukrainians.
He's killing tens of thousands of civilians in order to try to prevent something that everybody knows is not gonna happen soon?
But your question is do I think that Ukraine could apply?
>> In 1988 in the original "Firing Line" that was hosted by William F. Buckley Jr., the panelists debated whether the right was better able to deal with the Soviets than the left.
One of the participants was the former UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick.
Take a look at what she said.
>> The fact is that US relations with the Soviet Union... were better under Dwight Eisenhower than under Harry Truman... better under Richard Nixon than under Kennedy/Johnson... and they are better under Ronald Reagan than they were under Jimmy Carter.
I believe that Republican presidents deal better with the Soviets because they deal from realism and they deal from strength.
>> So, since the end of the Cold War, ambassador, and in particular in the most recent incarnation of the Republican party led by President Donald Trump, the GOP has taken on a remarkably different posture towards Russia than it did in the 1980s.
And I wonder how you reflect on the change, the political change, within the Republican party with respect to authoritarian expansion since the Cold War.
>> So, Margaret, this political question is -- is -- is, uh... is not one that I normally like to engage in.
What I will say is that the relations that Ambassador Kirkpatrick described, good and bad, between political parties over time, that's changed.
That changed on the 24th of February, 2022.
That changed when the Russians invaded.
President Putin has isolated himself, has transformed himself into a pariah that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats nor any -- virtually any democracy -- maybe not even the Chinese as we talked about earlier -- can support.
He's probably unified the Republican party.
He's probably unified the US political spectrum... in opposition to him.
What we're looking at today is a pariah nation that has to be contained and deterred, as we had done in earlier times successfully, but this is a new -- a new time, and it will unify the United States against Russia.
>> Ambassador William Taylor, thank you for joining me on "Firing Line."
>> Margaret, thank you very much for having me.
>> "Firing Line with Margaret Hoover" is made possible in part by... And by... Corporate funding is provided by... ...and... ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ >> You're watching PBS.