Max Bergmann on the Latest From Ukraine

This week, Daniella and Max Bergmann discuss the latest from Ukraine, the confirmation hearings of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, and recent insights from the House January 6 Select Committee.

Part of a Series

This week, Daniella and Max Bergmann, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, break down the latest from Ukraine, including what the fighting on the ground actually looks like; the strength of the U.S. and European responses; and what the future holds for Ukraine, Russia, and President Vladimir Putin. Daniella also reviews the historic confirmation hearings of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and recent insights from the House January 6 Select Committee.

Learn more about the podcast here.


Daniella Gibbs Léger: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to “The Tent,” your place for politics, policy, and progress. I’m Daniella Gibbs Léger. I know we’ve been talking a lot about Ukraine lately, but today we’ve got an expert in the house, and we’re diving even deeper. Max Bergmann, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, is here to talk to us about the factors that contributed to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; what’s happening on the ground in Ukraine and in Washington as policymakers respond to the crisis; and possible endgame scenarios for this conflict. I think this one is going to be really helpful if you’re stuck in this swirling vortex of Ukraine headlines like I am, wondering what it all means and where this conflict is headed. So please do stick around for that. But first, let’s get to some news.

I want to talk a little bit about Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation process. Yes, you’ll remember that despite the quote-unquote “decorum” Republicans promised in her confirmation hearings last week, her hearings were anything but. Between hours of child pornography talk and other “Are you kidding me?” moments courtesy of the Republicans in the room, the history of this moment got lost a little bit, I think—that is, until a few Democratic senators took the microphone. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) did a great job emphasizing why Judge Jackson is not only qualified and deserving of confirmation, but why her story is so inspiring. Here’s just a snippet of his comments:

Sen. Padilla, audio clip from the Senate confirmation hearing: Now, this confirmation hearing has been a reminder that for people of color, particularly those who have the audacity to try to be the first, often have to work twice as hard to get half the respect. Judge Jackson, I offer that with your talent and exemplary qualifications on full display, if my colleagues truly believe in maintaining the legitimacy of the Supreme Court—if they really care about Americans’ faith in the judicial system—they will see that even if they may disagree with you on a particular area of the law, that you’re exactly the type of judge that should serve on the Supreme Court.

Gibbs Léger: And of course, if you’ve been on the internet, you’ve probably heard Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-NJ) remarks by now. Judge Jackson and everyone with a heart was moved to tears. I gotta roll some of that tape again because I will never get tired of listening to it.

Sen. Booker, audio clip from the Senate confirmation hearing: As it says in the Bible, “Let the work I’ve done speak for me.” Well, you have spoken. You started speaking as a little girl, watching that man right there try to raise a family and study law, while your mama supported everybody. You spoke in high school when you started distinguishing yourself. And you know what you said when they told you you couldn’t go to Harvard? “Watch me.”

Gibbs Léger: This stood in stark contrast to the disorganized Republican ramblings of the week. As you may remember, senators like Ted Cruz (R-TX), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Josh Hawley (R-MO) jumped on a whole host of factually inaccurate and offensive talking points, lecturing Judge Jackson—a Black woman—on race, asking her how religious she is, and cherry-picking select cases to try and infer that she’s been lenient on sex offenders in child pornography cases. Reminder: She’s not, nor would she have the backing of scores of police unions, Republican attorneys general, or conservative judges if there was any issue with her record. It is all absurd. But that being said, Ketanji Brown Jackson is in a great spot. Both Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Susan Collins (R-ME)—not two of my favorite people—recently announced that they support her confirmation, and some senators, like Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) or Mitt Romney (R-UT), seem more like possible Republican “yeses”. Most people expect that she’ll get all the votes that she needs to be confirmed to the high court. Judge Jackson’s public popularity is sky-high. A Gallup poll this week found 58 percent of Americans support her nomination to the Supreme Court. That’s 10 percentage points above the norm. And when she’s confirmed, she’ll be the most popular appointment since Chief Justice John Roberts in 2005.

So, the Senate Judiciary Committee votes on Monday to advance her nomination to the floor, and most expect for the full Senate to confirm her to the Supreme Court before they leave for Easter recess. So someday soon, we may be talking about Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. But I have to be honest, Democrats gotta do a little more to champion this incredibly important moment for our country. It’s the first Black woman that will ever serve on a Supreme Court. This is huge. And it’s a campaign promise that President Biden delivered on—and that is very significant. So, Democrats need to talk about this constantly, over and over again. They should be replaying clips of Republicans basically harassing her at her hearing. And the American public needs to know how important this is. But I also have a message for Democratic senators not named Padilla or Booker: I was a little disappointed in you. I’m not gonna lie. Y’all needed to do a full-throated defense of Judge Jackson with your Republican colleagues in the room. I need to see the same fire and heat that we saw from Republicans when they were defending Brett Kavanaugh. Don’t even get me started on Brett Kavanaugh. But they stood by him, and they not only defended him—they tore Democrats apart for asking legitimate questions. So, if they can do that over legitimate questions, y’all can do it when Republicans are asking racist, ridiculous, out-of-line questions. You need to show some fight here. Go talk to Sen. Booker, go talk to Sen. Padilla, and get some of their vim, get some of their vigor.

Alright, speaking of justice, I gotta talk a little bit about the work of the January 6 committee. There’s been a lot of movement from the House committee investigating the insurrection at the Capitol in the last couple of days. So, in case you missed it, the committee is likely to seek out an interview with Ginni Thomas—that is, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas and, I might add, a full-blown January 6 conspirator. Newly obtained texts from Ginni Thomas to Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff under Trump, show she obsessively hounded him to overturn the 2020 elections. Now, we’ve known for a while that she was involved in the events of January 6. She went to the rally; she participated in groups that helped advance the quote “Stop the Steal” campaign. But what these texts reveal is that she also used her powerful connections in the executive branch to try to manipulate the results of a free and fair election. We know she was texting Mark Meadows QAnon conspiracy theories and emailing Jared Kushner on the regular. Even more disturbing, in one text, she claims to have talked about these issues with her “best friend”: a name that Justice Thomas has been on camera using to refer to Ginni. Need I remind you, Clarence Thomas was the only justice to vote against releasing Trump’s January 6 records—hm, records that may have included these texts from his own wife. I know there’s a lot going on in the world, but why am I not hearing more about this? Why is this not the top of every single newscast? And why aren’t Democrats—all of them—screaming about this from the rooftops? Now, I will give credit where credit is due. I have seen more people talking about it just in the past day or so. But I’ve been pretty outraged for a while about this. Again, this goes to my earlier point: Vim, vigor, heat—I need to see it, people. At the very least, Ginni Thomas should cooperate with the January 6 committee if they do decide to call her in for questioning. And Justice Thomas needs to recuse himself from all January 6-related decisions going forward. These two have got to be transparent and sharing about what they knew, and when they knew, about January 6 with the committee.

Now, I could go on for hours talking about Ginni Thomas, because there’s a lot there to unpack. But there’s more information about the committee that we should talk about. On Monday, the House committee unanimously referred two former Trump aides, Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino, to be held in contempt of Congress for ignoring their subpoenas. Scavino, an incredibly close Trump adviser, strung investigators along, while Navarro published details about their effort to overturn the election in his book instead of cooperating with the committee. He also gave TV interviews talking about it, but he won’t go to the committee. Also this week, federal Judge John David Carter of California found that the former president likely broke the law by trying to stay in power when he ruled that Trump’s former attorney, John Eastman—one of the masterminds of Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election—had to share over 100 emails to the January 6 committee. This is the first acknowledgment by a federal court that Trump’s actions around January 6 may have been illegal. Now that’s the careful court terminology because to all of us, it’s pretty obvious that what Trump and his cronies did was blatantly criminal. And, just the other day, The Washington Post reported that there is an over seven-hour gap in the call logs that Trump officials turned over to the January 6 committee on the day of the insurrection, as it was happening on Capitol Hill. We know that Trump was on the phone constantly with people that day. So, where are the records? It’s pretty curious, huh? So, you will be able to watch the space in the coming months when the January 6 committee’s public hearings start. As we saw on the first and second Trump impeachment trials—remember, Trump was impeached twice—I suspect seeing and hearing witnesses talk about the lengths to which Trump and his minions tried to overturn a free and fair election will have a huge impact on the American public. This is a man who cannot and should not be allowed back into the White House.

If there’s anything else you’d like us to cover on the pod, hit us up on Twitter @TheTentPod, that’s @TheTentPod. I’m excited to announce that going forward, we’ll be posting transcripts for “The Tent” each week. You’ll note in the description when transcripts are available, and you can access them by clicking through to the episode website from your streaming service. Stick around for our interview with Max Bergmann in just a beat.

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Gibbs Léger: Max Bergmann is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and our top expert on Russia and Ukraine. During the Obama administration, he served in a number of different positions in the State Department, where he helped lead Ukrainian security assistance efforts. He also led the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s Moscow Project, which examined Russian interference in U.S. and European elections. Max, it’s so great to have you back on “The Tent.”

Max Bergmann: It’s great to be back.

Gibbs Léger: So, there are so many factors, both known and unknown, that led to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. One group of factors you’ve addressed extensively is Donald Trump’s close relationship with Russia during his campaign and his presidency, and how he emboldened Vladimir Putin during his time in office. I want to play a quick clip from your podcast for the Moscow Project called “The Asset,” where you talk about the 2016 election of President Donald Trump in reference to Ukraine.

Bergmann, audio clip from “The Asset” podcast: For Ukraine, the election of a pro-Russian American president was petrifying. Ukraine was fighting a war against Russia and its proxies in the east of the country. Russia had seized and annexed Ukrainian territory in Crimea, and Russia was doing everything it could to undermine Ukraine internally—power outages, cyberattacks, and concerted disinformation campaigns. The election of a pro-Russian American president, of Donald Trump, therefore posed an existential threat to Ukraine’s very survival. The Kyiv Post later summarized, “In the days since the election, the mood in Kyiv remains grim, as Ukrainians and foreigners fear the worst if Trump decides to mend relations with Moscow.” By November 2016, Donald Trump’s affinity for Putin was no secret.

Gibbs Léger: Could you put this in context for us? How did we get from there to a full-on war in Ukraine, and how are Donald Trump and Republicans in part responsible for where we are today?

Bergmann: In episode three, we went back and looked deep at the origins of Vladimir Putin. And I think that’s really critical to understanding this war and understanding the entire crisis. And what we have to understand about Putin is—it became a little bit of a stereotype, but he is sort of rooted in the KGB. And when he emerged and gained power, it was sort of on the backs of the Russian intelligence services that really were trying to essentially make Russia great again, wanted Russia to be as powerful as it was during the Soviet Union, and viewed the United States as Russia’s main adversary. And then, when we think about Ukraine, and how much it means to Russia and the Russian state—you know, Putin, his entire 22 years in office, has been about trying to make Russia stronger, to make the Russian state strong. And the one area where he’s totally failed is related to Ukraine. In 2004, there was the Orange Revolution in Ukraine; and then, in 2014, we had the Maidan Revolution in Ukraine—these two pro-democratic revolutions. And the strategy that Putin has employed over the last eight years to try to bring Ukraine back under his thumb simply hasn’t worked. And so, he was sort of put to the breaking point here, where Ukraine was pivoting toward the West, wanted to have nothing to do with him. And so, I think that’s why we see this war.

And then to bring this back to Donald Trump, one of the things that I think was fundamental and central to the entire Trump presidency and the 2016 election was Donald Trump’s hostility toward Ukraine, the fact that Paul Manafort, who was his campaign chairman, was a key adviser to the discredited and disgraced former President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled in the Maidan Revolution, and it was revealed Manafort was being paid millions and millions of dollars by the corrupt Ukrainian government, which is effectively the pro-Russian government. So, we see these sort of direct links between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. And I think what you saw when Zelenskyy was elected in the spring of 2016, is Donald Trump—just months after Zelenskyy comes into office—immediately seeks to extort him, seeks to pressure Ukraine to gin up a fake and phony investigation into then-Vice President Biden because Biden had indicated that he was running for president. I’m sorry, I said 2016 before—Zelenskyy was 2019. And the end result is that Ukraine is part of this huge political scandal that results in Donald Trump’s impeachment, where effectively Donald Trump is using U.S. security assistance as this kind of lever to extort the Ukrainian government. And I think one of the direct lessons from that, for Zelenskyy, was that—imagine if you had just come into office, and the president of the United States is extorting you—and it’s not just him, but it’s people who work for him—you would not have a lot of trust in the U.S. government. And one of the things that I think Zelenskyy and the U.S. and the Biden administration sort of struggled with in the lead-up to this crisis is Zelenskyy didn’t believe Russia was going to invade, in part because he didn’t trust U.S. intelligence. And I think you have to go back and look at the connections that he had in his first engagement with the United States, with the U.S. government, was with Donald Trump trying to extort him. And I think ever since, we’ve been trying to sort of get over that and try to rebuild relations, but it hasn’t been easy.

Gibbs Léger: So, what other geopolitical factors—you know, besides Trump’s direct involvement with Russia—you know, what other factors are at play here that we should be thinking about?

Bergmann: Well, I think the critical factor is that what Vladimir Putin sees in the United States and sees in Ukraine is real concern over Ukraine becoming a successful democracy. That’s in part why he has provided support to far-right, illiberal, right-wing leaders all over the world, including Donald Trump but also Viktor Orbán in Hungary, and that the success of a pro-Western, pro-EU, pro-NATO government in Ukraine is seen as a direct threat. Because if there can be democracy in Ukraine, why can’t there be democracy in Russia? If Ukraine is thriving, why isn’t Russia thriving?

So, we see this sort of constant effort by Putin to undermine Ukraine, to view Ukrainian independence of Russia, of Moscow, as kind of a direct threat to Russia’s global credibility. And I think that that has sort of been a critical underlying factor in this, and that one of, I think, the major mistakes that Putin has made is to underestimate the strength of democracy, to underestimate actually the strength of the West, of the United States, of the European Union, in this crisis. Where I think what he thought that would happen is that they would just sort of march in—Russian forces—that he would fire off some missiles, they would quickly be able to get to the capital Kyiv, capture Zelenskyy—and look how strong Russia is, and everyone would sort of back down. And the assumption also is that the West would never really take a punch, you know, would never accept that it’s gonna have to have some economic losses, that implementing sanctions against Russia is going to cause economic blowback on the Europeans and on the West, and no, they’re not going to do that—this sort of assumption of Western decline, of Western weakness. And I think what we’re seeing is that no, you know, Europe isn’t weak—that if it sees that the EU is at stake, if democracy is at stake, it’s willing to step up. And same with the Biden administration, leading this sort of global effort to isolate Russia. So, I think all these series of bad miscalculations were part of the same strategy that led Putin to kind of invest in trying to interfere in the 2016 election, trying to support Donald Trump, and trying to undermine American democracy, because they ultimately see a successful democratic West, a successful democratic Ukraine, as a direct threat to Russia itself.

Gibbs Léger: So, let’s talk a little bit about what’s happening right now. The Biden administration and U.S. lawmakers have been monitoring what’s happening on the ground very closely. And we’ve all seen some really devastating footage coming out of Ukraine. But we’ve also seen incredible bravery from the Ukrainian people—and honestly, some kind of embarrassing strategic blunders and defeats of Russian forces. So, how would you say right now—with the caveat that things are literally changing by the minute—but how is the war progressing on the ground right now? And what does the fighting look like?

Bergmann: So, I think this is a total quagmire for Russia and for Vladimir Putin. I think he’s now facing essentially a conflict on a number of fronts—first, obviously, in Ukraine—and this is not going well. They thought they were going to be able to just steamroll the Ukrainians. That’s not the case. And the Russian fatalities that they’re experiencing are incredibly significant. If the numbers are, that have been put out by some Western intelligence agencies, by NATO officials and other European defense officials, of roughly 10,000 fatalities—I mean, that is more than Russia lost in all of the Afghan wars in the 1980s. That’s more losses than the U.S. suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan in the entire 20 years of war. So that is just a jaw-dropping amount of deaths. And then you would have to add on top of that POWs and other people that are injured, the vehicle losses. And every time they fire right now a cruise missile that has a semiconductor in it, it’s going to be very hard for Russia to sort of replace that. So, I think the losses that Russia is experiencing on the ground are incredibly significant. The reason why that’s happening is because they underestimated the resolve of the Ukrainians, who have spent the last eight years preparing for a Russian invasion.

When I was in the State Department in December of 2014, I actually went to Kharkiv, which is now being bombarded by Russian forces. And I went to the Ukrainian-Russian border, met with some of the Ukrainian border guards there, and they were digging anti-tank trenches. And that was in December of 2014. They were preparing for this potential invasion. And I think the other added aspect of this is that—another part of what I worked on the State Department was providing security assistance to Ukraine. And over the last eight years, the U.S. has gone from sort of having no security relationship with Ukraine to a really robust one, where we have done lots of training, we’ve helped them with various sort of logistical aspects of their military, and now we’re, you know, flooding them with the advanced weaponry that is just making a huge difference on the battlefield: the anti-armor weapons that they’re using, the javelins, NLAWs. If Iraqi insurgents had had that, in Iraq, the casualty rate for the U.S. would have been way higher. So, it’s going incredibly badly, I think, on the ground for Russia.

But then there’s a second front, and that’s the home front, where the economic sanctions have been incredibly devastating. We’re going to start seeing factories starting to close down because they can’t get machine parts. There’s been a run on things like sugar. And while the Russians are finding ways to get around those sanctions, I expect that what we’re going to start seeing is the sanctions tightening again. It’s a sort of a series of whack-a-mole: You put in place sanctions, they try to figure out a way around it, and then you gotta sanction whatever way they got around it, whatever company they’re using as a cutout. And I think we’re gonna see a lot of that. But so, what that means for Putin at home—you have an oligarch business class full of very wealthy people. Many of them are sycophants of Putin, but many of them aren’t. Many of them are schemers, are connected to sort of Mafia groups of the past, and are outraged that they’ve just lost tens of billions of dollars. So that class of people is going to be upset. The average Russian that is going to be furloughed in their factory job is going to be incredibly angry. And maybe they don’t blame Putin, but they’re probably going to blame their local mayor, their local governor, their factory, the factory owner, so that’s going to cause a lot of internal trouble. And then the security services of the regime, the FSB, that was in charge of intelligence of Ukraine, there’s some reports that some of these people have been put under house arrest, some of the leadership. But they’re being thrown under the bus. And then you have the Rosgvardiya, which are basically the, you know, the people that go out with batons and crack heads of protesters in Russia that protect the regime from the people. Well, they were sent into Ukraine and just got completely chewed up and have suffered tremendous casualties. So, you have these kind of pillars of the regime that are all under strain. And I think that for Putin is incredibly unnerving. And he’s got to be really concerned about how this continues to play out and about his own internal stability now.

Gibbs Léger: You know, you touched on the amount of assistance that we’ve been giving Ukraine over the years. And, you know, the Biden administration has sent $2 billion in military assistance, that Congress just recently passed a $13.6 billion Ukraine supplemental funding bill. We’re working with our European allies, we’re opening our doors to Ukrainian refugees, and offering money to Europe to help deal with the refugee crisis that’s happening right now. So, as you think about, you know, you talked about the whack-a-mole strategy of sanctions—so, when they find a loophole, you go and you shut down that loophole. But do you think that there’s more that Ukrainians need from the West to hold off the Russians?

Bergmann: You know, I think there’s probably always something more that can be done. But I think that the Biden administration has just done a phenomenal job here, and the strategy that they’ve employed is working and working well. And I was quite critical of the Biden administration when it came in because it attempted to essentially pursue a quote-unquote “stable and predictable relationship” with Russia and really focus on China. I sort of thought it was missing the potential threat of Russia. But once they saw the tanks forming along the Ukrainian border, they have both led a tremendous global response to this crisis, both leading and partnering with the Europeans. The sanctions response was stronger than anyone expected. And the military response—the security assistance that the United States is doing—you know, to provide more than a billion dollars in this short a time of security assistance is just a jaw-dropping amount, especially when you think about it, it doesn’t involve any real sort of big-ticket items. It’s not including fighter jets. This is all, sort of, mainly small arms or, you know, anti-armor weaponry. And what we’re doing is basically, we’ve set up kind of a logistics base on the Polish-Ukrainian border, where we have sort of a Berlin airlift-type operation of just flying equipment in. And where this equipment is coming from is off the backs of U.S. forces, that we are literally taking it out of the stocks that are used by the U.S. military, putting it on a plane, and giving it direct to Ukrainians. So, this is exactly the same kit that U.S. troops would use. And that is having a tremendous impact on the battlefield. And so, you know, look—I think people are going to be constantly thinking about what more could be useful.

But there’s also some constraints, that while we all want to go in and help the Ukrainians, the fact is that Russia has nuclear weapons, and they have a leader in Vladimir Putin, that probably has a very nice bunker somewhere. And so, this notion that we can go in and create things like a no-fly zone—which effectively means war with Russia, because it means taking out Russian aircraft, it means taking out Russian-surfaced air missile systems, which means killing Russians—it means Americans will die, it means World War III and the potential for a nuclear exchange. So, I think we’ve done an exceptional job in pushing the boundaries of what we, you know, have been in the past willing to do, but also being conscious that we need to avoid an escalation that could, you know, lead us to oblivion. So, I think the administration has recognized that. I think they were right to say that U.S. troops couldn’t go in, but then also right to say we’re going to provide as much support as we can to the Ukrainians.

The last thing I will just say here, is that oftentimes, right now, everyone becomes sort of an armchair general, where they are looking at Jane’s Defence Weekly, or looking at, why don’t we provide this fighter jet or MiGs or tanks? You know, there are weapon systems that, you know—this is the account I dealt with at the State Department, where people have good ideas, or politicians want some sort of high-end system. And then there’s all sorts of reasons why it doesn’t make any sense. This is why you then go to the military officers that are like, actually, we don’t have the tires to replace it, we don’t have the bolts that are needed to attach the equipment. So, none of this actually would be usable. And also the last thing you want is to provide the Ukrainians with systems that they can’t just, you know, plug and play. The last thing you want to do is to, you know, be looking at a manual as you’re being shot at to try to figure out how to actually operate something. It’s a little bit like you if you use an iPhone, and if someone were to just give you an Android, and you’re being shot at and asked to make a call, like, that’s not a situation you want to be in. So, you need to give them the stuff that they know how to use. And I think that’s what we what we’ve been doing.

Gibbs Léger: OK, that’s a really good analogy, because I was given an Android once, and I literally was like, I don’t know what this is. What am I supposed—how do I make a call? I want to end, you know, just thinking about stuff you touched on about how this could possibly play out. You know, there have been multiple rounds of attempted peace talks with varying degrees of success and failure. These latest talks in Turkey between the Russians and Ukrainians seem to be making some sort of progress. But there are tons of factors at play. So, you know, I want to ask, how do you think this ends? I also want to get your thoughts on the recent—I don’t want to call them talking points, but I don’t know what else to say—the talking points that suggest that Vladimir Putin was really only interested in Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine. So, like, if he gets that, it’s a victory. So, what do you make of that? How do you think this will end? And, you know, what is this going to mean for Putin?

Bergmann: Well, to start with the latter point, that’s just totally absurd. It was clear that this was a regime-change war, that Putin sent in his forces and had 200,000 troops amassed around the border, and then sent in tanks in columns on all different lines of axes from Ukraine’s north to its east to its south, because he thought he was going to be able to get to Kyiv and take out Zelenskyy in a matter of days, and that he was going to take control of Ukraine. And so, when he starts to say, “Oh, actually, this was just about reclaiming some territory—never mind the 10,000 Russian troops that may have died and the dramatic loss of equipment and the massive sanctions that are destroying our economy and has made us a global international pariah—that was all to just sort of take Mariupol.” No, that completely doesn’t make any sense. But I think it’s overall a good sign, because what it means is that the Russians are trying to find a face-saving way out of this quagmire and are going to try to find some way to sell this to the Russian public and to the international opinion that to try to spin a potential defeat by the Ukrainian military as a potential success. Now, I think we still have a ways to go in this conflict. I think there’s a lot of unknowns still. We don’t quite know the state of the Ukrainian forces. We know that the Russian forces are being attrited quite significantly; they have lots of losses. But we don’t know if that’s the same—if Ukraine is also suffering really severe losses. We have seen signs of some of that, but, you know, reporting in Western intelligence agencies are very loathe to kind of provide us a clearer battlefield picture.

But, that said, I think this war is now going to shift to a focus more on Ukraine’s east, on the Donbas region, on potentially connecting the Donbas to Crimea. And so, I think, where Putin and the Russians now see a way out is to try to say, “Look, well, we have invaded Ukraine. We’ve really depleted their military. We’ve sent a clear message. And we’ve taken a lot more territory. Therefore, this is a victory for us.” The challenge, I think, for Ukraine is whether they’re going to be willing to accept that. And I think that this is why I’m sort of skeptical about peace talks going anywhere right now. Because if you’re Ukraine and Russia is changing its war aims, making it clear that it has very minimal needs, well, you know, you’ve already been fighting them for eight years, and so, I think they will keep fighting. And I think it’ll be very hard for Zelenskyy to make territorial concessions. I think there may be some willingness by the Ukrainians to say, well, you know, we’re probably not going to be part of NATO. So, we’ll agree to not try to join NATO. Because if Ukrainian territory is under Russian control, it’s going to be hard to join NATO no matter what. So maybe there’s some concessions there, maybe Russia is looking to make a deal. But even if a deal is sort of cut, I don’t even know if the war ends.

There was some peace agreements through the Minsk process after 2014 and 2015, and the fighting continued. So sometimes wars don’t end; we just lose focus. You know, we can’t rule out a potential total Russian military collapse. But I think we’re headed for somewhat of a stalemate. But, that said, that would, I think, be a bad outcome. But where we thought we were going to be a month ago, when this war began, was that Ukraine was going to be dismembered, and the government was going to be on the run in a matter of hours. And the fact that it has stood strong and has fought back an invasion force by a global superpower and its massive military might, I think, is just awe-inspiring and something that we shouldn’t lose sight of, and that no matter what, Ukraine is going to need Western support in terms of money, to rebuild and also to restrengthen their military because this could happen again. And I think that that’s what Ukraine has to reckon with—that if Vladimir Putin stays in power, they always have to be nervous that Russia may just try to invade again. So, I think it’s unclear how this plays out. But I think Ukraine is going to be determined to continue, to survive, and I think that should inspire us all.

Gibbs Léger: And I love to end on an aspirational note. I wasn’t sure we were gonna make it with this topic, but I like it. Max Bergmann, I want to thank you so much for joining us on “The Tent.”

Bergmann: Thank you so much, Daniella.

Gibbs Léger: As always, thanks for listening. Be sure to go back and check out previous episodes. Before we go, we have to talk about the Oscars. I mean, you didn’t think that I wasn’t going to talk about the Oscars, did you? But I’m not going to talk too much about the slap heard around the world. I will just say this about that: I did not think it was possible for people, no matter what side of the issue you are on. There were disgusting, awful takes on every side. Even when I agreed with a particular position, I’m like, but your take is dumb. So, I’m not going to get into that. I’m going to talk about how ticked I am that this moment overshadowed Questlove’s win for best documentary, and his beautiful and moving speech about pulling this together, and that this incident sort of robbed him of that moment, because we were all looking through Twitter to be like, “What just happened? Did that really just happen?” I feel bad for Questlove. I love him. I love The Roots. He’s an incredibly talented human being. And he deserved to get his flowers, and he didn’t in the way that he should have.

And speaking of getting flowers—Oscars, Academy, if you’re listening, don’t do what you did this time ever again. Don’t you dare make some of the categories be presented before the primetime telecast so that these folks can’t get their moments, live, in the room with everybody else. And don’t say you did it because you’re cutting down on time, because last I checked, that ceremony was still over three hours. Figure it out, cut some of the other stuff, cut some of the other skits, cut some of the nostalgia stuff. This is, like, the one time where people get to shine in their craft, that they’re not recognized. And they should be because without makeup artists, without editors, without all the folks to make movies what they are, to make the magic that we see on screen, there wouldn’t be movies. Kudos to people like Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield, who got there early so they could be in the room when these incredibly talented people got their awards. And did you know that Samuel L. Jackson got an Oscar, a Lifetime Achievement Award? How the hell are you not going to put that on air? There was a lot going on at the Oscars. And you can go to Twitter and just go down that rabbit hole of nonsense about what happened with Will Smith and Chris Rock. But I prefer to save my outrage for the fact that it was still too long, and you robbed some creative people of their moment truly, and for that, shame. That’s it for this week. We’re still in the pandemic, people. Please be mindful of that, and take care of yourselves, and take care of those who can’t get vaccinated for a variety of reasons. Remember that these people exist, and they have a right to live too. So, let’s be kind to each other, all right? Take care, and we’ll talk to you next week.

“The Tent” is a podcast from the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It’s hosted by me, Daniella Gibbs Léger. Erin Phillips is our lead producer. Kelly McCoy is our supervising producer. Tricia Woodcome is our booking producer. And Sam Signorelli is our digital producer. You can find us on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.


Daniella Gibbs Léger

Executive Vice President, Communications and Strategy


Erin Phillips

Broadcast Media Manager

Kelly McCoy

Senior Director of Broadcast Communications

Tricia Woodcome

Former Senior Media Manager

Sam Signorelli

Policy and Outreach Associate, Government Affairs

Explore The Series

Politics. Policy. Progress. All under one big tent. Produced by CAP Action, “The Tent” is a news and politics podcast hosted by Daniella Gibbs Léger and co-hosted by Colin Seeberger. Listen each Thursday for episodes exploring topics that progressives are focused on.


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