“This Is Gonna Get Us ALL Blown Up!” Jeffrey Sachs On Russian Invasion | Transcript

Jeffrey Sachs criticizes US policy on Ukraine, calling for negotiations, while Piers Morgan bluntly questions his leniency towards Putin compared to the US.
Jeffrey Sachs On Russian Invasion

Economics professor Jeffrey Sachs, with his extensive experience in the geopolitical arena, unsurprisingly doesn’t take the official US policy on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at face value. Sachs calls for negotiations on Putin’s recent ‘peace’ deal, which demands Ukraine cede large areas to Russia. However, our ever-blunt Piers Morgan insists on poking the bear with pointed questions, wondering aloud why Sachs isn’t as harsh on Putin as he is on the US and pointing out the curious lack of invasions of NATO members by Putin. Sachs counters with a historical diatribe, detailing Western provocations and the long-standing Russian perspective on NATO as a threat, painting a picture where the US is the ultimate instigator of global chaos. So, in the end, Piers, maybe it’s not so simple as “bad guy Putin, good guy NATO,” despite your best efforts to frame it that way.

00:00 – Introduction

01:50 – Putin’s plan for peace

08:20 – “The US started this!”

15:10 – NATO encroachment or Russian propaganda?

21:30 – American Interference

27:20 – Will joining NATO save Ukraine?

* * *

PIERS: President Putin wants peace, at least that’s what he wants you to believe. The Russian dictator has, for the first time, outlined his terms for a ceasefire in Ukraine. He’s demanded the complete withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from four regions currently occupied by Russia, which it claims to have annexed.

Italy’s Prime Minister, Georgia Meloni, speaking at this weekend’s peace summit of world leaders, said he’s effectively telling Ukraine to withdraw from Ukraine. But if Putin’s real aim was to feign innocence for his apologists and score another propaganda victory, he may have been successful.

To debate all this, I’m joined by Professor Jeffrey Sachs. Returning to Uncensored, Professor, great to see you.”

JEFFREY: Oh, it’s great to be with you. Thank you so much, Piers.

PIERS: We had a great reaction to our last debate, which was as lively and provocative as I hoped it would be, so I hope we’ll get the same again now. I just want to ask you this: Putin’s peace plan isn’t really a peace plan. What he’s saying is, all the land I have illegally stolen, I want to keep. Isn’t that what it boils down to?

JEFFREY: Well, there are two issues. One is no NATO enlargement, and the second is this territorial issue. It involves Crimea and what they claim is the four regions of Russia. To my mind, this is overwhelmingly about the first issue, about NATO, because that’s been the issue on the table for 30 years. Territory was not on the table until two years ago, but for 30 years, NATO was on the table. I think the territorial issue, if I may say, is probably negotiable, at least in part. Of course, there’s been a war going on for 10 years now and an escalation during the last two years. I think the non-negotiable parts of what Putin is saying, I would guess, are really non-negotiable, so we have to think about them. NATO will not enlarge to Ukraine, and I think Crimea is non-negotiable for Russia’s core security interests and perceptions and history.

So, I think what’s really absolutely core to what President Putin is saying is he would like to stop the war. He doesn’t want to take over Ukraine. He doesn’t want to take more of Ukraine. On the combat line right now, on the contact line, he doesn’t control all four of these provinces, and I doubt that he would insist on that. I do think that he would hold out for Crimea. Almost every Western analyst and expert agrees with that, and there are many reasons for that. But what I do think is at the core of this all along is Russia, throughout its history, has always believed in keeping some safety from the West, which has repeatedly invaded Russia. After the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, the US and Germany had said to Gorbachev and to Yeltsin, ‘We won’t expand NATO one inch eastward.’ But then, like always with the United States, they lied, they cheated, and they started the expansion. And then, the Russians—I was observing this all along—the first expansions, which were in Central Europe, didn’t come too close to Russia. They said, ‘We don’t like that. You cheated. You told us no, but okay, that’s Hungary, Poland, and Czech Republic.’ That was 1999 under Clinton. But then it just kept coming and kept coming and kept coming, and they said with rising decibels and rising fervor, ‘Stop coming closer.’ Their ultimate red line has been consistent. It is Ukraine and Georgia. Why? Well, it goes back, Piers, to the British Empire, to 1853 to 1856, actually, to Lord Palmerston. He had an idea: surround Russia in the Black Sea, render Russia’s fleet in the Black Sea in Sevastopol, which was there in 1853 just like it’s there in 2024, render it essentially inoperable, control the Dardanelles. This is a long story. Then Russia is a second or third-rate power. President Putin is responding to what has been a British imperial attempt for 175 years and a US attempt since 1991, basically to surround Russia with NATO. And what Putin has been saying is, ‘Don’t do that. Stop. Leave Ukraine as a kind of buffer zone.’ Ukraine was perfectly happy with that. Public opinion was perfectly happy with that. They didn’t want to join NATO. In 2009, they elected Viktor Yanukovych, who promised them neutrality, which was the promise that Ukraine itself had made in declaring its independence, that they would be permanently a neutral country because they’re in between West and East. They’re in between Europe and Western Europe or the European Union and Russia. So they wanted just, ‘Okay, we’ll be neutral.’ But then the United States did team up to overthrow Yanukovych in February 2014, and that’s when this war started. That’s when Russia stopped saying, ‘Well, we’ll lease a base in Crimea.’ Rather, ‘We’ll take back Crimea. We don’t want it to fall into NATO hands,’ just like they did not want Sevastopol to fall into Palmerston’s hands. So this is basically a long, long story. I think the rest is negotiable. I basically think either the US and Europe don’t understand what they’re doing, which is not impossible, or they’re still on what has been a 30-year neocon agenda, which I know about in detail, which is, ‘Get NATO all the way to surround Russia,’ because that was the plan of Zbigniew Brzezinski and Dick Cheney and others going right back to the 1990s. They still want to do it, and they think they can still accomplish this.”

PIERS: All right. With respect, you’ve given a very, very long answer, but I come back to my initial question, which is ultimately, you know, I’m listening. You’ve been through a lot of the history there, and some of the points are arguable, but a lot of people I’ve heard express similar sentiments about some of the background to this and about Russia’s concern about the encroachment of NATO. The US started this, and so on, but it doesn’t change the fact that Russia illegally invaded a European sovereign democratic country that has helped itself to vast swathes of the land. The latest polls show that the vast majority of Ukrainian people do not want to cede an inch of the land that’s been taken to Vladimir Putin or the Russians. And yeah, he can say, ‘I was concerned about NATO encroachment,’ but NATO hadn’t actually encroached. So he is preemptively doing this. And if ultimately he’s allowed to take this land, what message does that send the rest of the world, the rest of Europe, the other neighboring countries to Ukraine? Why should we have any confidence after Crimea, after Georgia, after Ukraine now, that he wouldn’t just carry on attacking and invading other neighboring countries? That’s where I find your—I wouldn’t say trust, I don’t think that’s the right word—but you seem very reliant on accepting Putin’s worldview rather than perhaps the stark reality of the barbarism with which he’s executed this war.”

JEFFREY: Yeah, maybe because I know too much about the United States. Because the first war in Europe after World War II was the US bombing of Belgrade for 78 days to change borders of a European state. The idea was to break Serbia, to create Kosovo as an enclave, and then to install Bondsteel, which is the largest NATO base in the Balkans, in the southwest Balkans. So the US started this under Clinton. We will break the borders. We will illegally bomb another country. We didn’t have any UN authority. This was a ‘NATO mission’ to do that. Then I know the United States went to war repeatedly, illegally, in what it did in Afghanistan, and then what it did in Iraq, and then what it did in Syria, which was the Obama administration, especially Obama and Hillary Clinton, tasking the CIA to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. And then what it did with NATO illegally bombing Libya to topple Muammar Gaddafi. And then what it did in Kyiv in February 2014. I happened to see some of that with my own eyes. The US overthrew Yanukovych together with right-wing Ukrainian military forces. We overthrew a president. And what’s interesting, by the way, is we overthrew Yanukovych the day after the European Union representatives had reached an agreement with Yanukovych to have early elections, a government of national unity, and a stand-down of both sides. That was agreed. The next thing that happens is the opposition, quote-unquote, says, ‘We don’t agree.’ They stormed the government buildings and deposed Yanukovych, and within hours the United States says, ‘Yes, we support the new government.’ It didn’t say, ‘Oh, we had an agreement. That’s unconstitutional, what you did.’ So we overthrew a government contrary to a promise that the European Union had made. And by the way, Russia, the United States, and the EU were parties to that agreement. And the United States, an hour afterwards, backed the coup.

Okay, so everyone’s got a little bit to answer for. In 2015, the Russians did not say, ‘We want the Donbas back.’ They said, ‘Peace should come through negotiations,’ and negotiations between the ethnic Russians in the east of Ukraine and this new regime in Kyiv led to the Minsk II agreement. The Minsk II agreement was voted by the UN Security Council unanimously. It was signed by the government of Ukraine. It was guaranteed explicitly by Germany and France. And you know what? And it’s been explained to me in person. It was laughed at inside the US government. This is after the UN Security Council unanimously accepted it. The Ukrainians said, ‘We don’t want to give autonomy to the region.’ Oh, but that’s part of the treaty. The US told them, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ Angela Merkel explained in Die Zeit in a notorious interview after the 2022 escalation, she said, ‘Oh, you know, we knew that Minsk II was just a holding pattern to give Ukraine time to build its strength.’ No. Minsk II was a UN Security Council unanimously adopted treaty that was supposed to end the war.

So when it comes to who’s trustworthy, who to believe, and so forth, I guess my problem, Piers, is I know the United States government. I know it very well. I don’t trust them for a moment. I want these two sides actually to sit down in front of the whole world and say, ‘These are the terms,’ then the world can judge because we could get on paper clearly for both sides of the world. “We’re not going to overthrow governments anymore,” the United States needs to say. “We accept this agreement,” the United States needs to say. Russia needs to say “we’re not stepping one foot further than whatever the boundary is actually reached,” and NATO is not going to enlarge, and let’s put it for the whole world to see.” You know, once in a while, treaties actually hold.

PIERS: Okay, listen, I hear you, and it’s an argument you’ve espoused on Russian State TV as well. I’ve heard you do that.

JEFFREY: Yeah, absolutely. I tell it everywhere.

PIERS: Right, so, and that’s fine. You’ve been consistent, I get that. But actually, isn’t this, if you look at it a different way, a perfect illustration of why there should be NATO encroachment, actually? Because if you go through the history since the start of World War II in 1939, it was Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union that invaded Poland. In 1940, the Soviet Union invaded the Baltics. In 1940, the Soviet Union annexed parts of Romania. In 1956, the Soviet Union invaded Hungary. In 1968, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia. Now, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Hungary, or Czechoslovakia did not invade Russia or the Soviet Union. No threat emanated from those countries, but they were attacked by the USSR/Russia. And that’s why these countries wanted to join NATO. And since they joined NATO, none of them has been attacked by Russia again. So, if you were putting all that into the mix here, you might say that’s a perfect illustration of NATO power deterring Russian aggression and that actually if Ukraine had speeded up its membership of NATO, which many of the people in Ukraine were actually keen to do, if it had done that, it might have had the protection against the illegal invasion by Russia. So, in a way, you could flip your argument on its head and say it almost proves the opposite, which is that by not being part of NATO, Ukraine was vulnerable to the very attack that then happened just as it lost Crimea. And my fear with Putin is I don’t trust him as far as I could throw him. I take your point about American military activity. I was the editor of the Daily Mirror newspaper in England, which led the campaign against the Iraq War, which I thought was a senseless illegal invasion as well. And I’ve been very critical of America. So, you know, it’s not like I’m a great cheerleader for what America’s done on the military stage. But purely looking at this situation with Ukraine, I just don’t see why allowing Putin to keep all this land is a good thing.

JEFFREY: Yeah, I’d ask you to consider a couple more dates. One is 1955, a fascinating date because, in 1955, Austria very cleverly agreed to permanent neutrality on the basis that the Soviet Union would go home, and in the state treaty, they adopted neutrality, and the Soviet Union went home. And that’s why Austria wasn’t part of the Iron Curtain for the decades that followed, because they adopted neutrality and non-NATO membership. Now, it’s fascinating, and I don’t want to take us into a long digression, but the idea of the Soviet Union then was actually not only with regard to Austria, but it was more strategic. What they were saying was “do the same with Germany, which just killed 27 million of our people.” After all, this was 1955, just 10 years from the end of World War II. “Neutralize Germany, don’t make Germany a rearmed cornerstone of something called NATO, but make Germany neutral, and then we can end the Cold War.” And this was no less the recommendation of no less, I should say, than George Kennan himself, the author of containment. George Kennan, for years in the second half of the 1950s, said, ‘We’re missing the most obvious point. A neutral Germany, the Cold War could end.’ He went on Wreath Lectures in the BBC to say this. I think it was 1957 if I remember correctly. And this is fascinating. We missed the opportunity to end the Cold War decades earlier.

The other date that I would urge you to think about is 1962 when the Soviet Union came close to the United States in Cuba. The US said, “Monroe Doctrine. You don’t come anywhere close to our hemisphere.” We nearly had nuclear Armageddon in 1962. The Soviet Union was doing nothing different from what the United States was doing in Turkey. It was placing nuclear offensive missiles or weapons near the border of the adversary. Khrushchev said, “I don’t want war with them. I just want to do what they’re doing to us.” It nearly led to nuclear annihilation. It’s good for superpowers to keep a little distance. The United States is expansionist. If you say the Russians are expansionist or the Soviet Union is expansionist, keep a little space between them. And that’s what President Putin has been saying for more than two decades: keep a little space, be prudent. We don’t want the United States right up against our border. And the US has really provoked it, not only overthrowing a Ukrainian president, bad judgment in my opinion, but also unilaterally walking out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, unilaterally placing Aegis missiles in Poland and Romania. And when Russia says, “What are you doing? You’re breaking the whole security architecture,” the US says, and I quote, “It’s none of your business what we do.” NATO’s none of your business, Russia. That’s the formal, literal position of the United States of America. America, that we can go anywhere with any third country, including Ukraine or Georgia, we can put our missiles wherever we want. It’s none of your business, Russia. Well, come on, Piers, this is going to get us all blown up if we don’t have a little bit more common sense.

PIERS: Okay, but here’s what I’m struck by. Talking to you a couple of times, I find you fascinating to talk to, by the way, and I know you have a deep knowledge of all this, albeit you have some interpretation of what’s going on that’s different from what I have, but I respect your knowledge and your scholarship on this. But I’m just struck that your language towards Russia and Putin is nowhere near as censorious as it is about America, about your own country.

JEFFREY: It’s true.

PIERS: But I think that, you know, when I sit here in England, I think it’s so weird to see such a learned American professor who seems to think that America is the real problem here, not Vladimir Putin and Russia, when many other people would think the complete opposite.

JEFFREY: Piers, the problem is I was born in 1954, and I’ve seen nothing but US wars of choice and CIA ops my whole life. And since I became an international development specialist more than 40 years ago, I’ve seen many of them up close, and I’m tired of them. You know, a very good book written in 2017 by a professor at Boston College named Lindsey O’Rourke has the title Covert Regime Change. She studies, Piers, no fewer than 64 covert regime change operations by the United States, almost all of them CIA-led. 64 during the period 1947 to 1989. I’ve had heads of state say to me personally, Piers, “They’re going to take me out,” was the term that one of them used. And I assured them, this president in Haiti, Haitian president, “No, no, no, we’re going to get all this sorted out in my naive way.” They walked this president, this was Aristide, out to an unmarked plane, flew him 23 hours in this coup that the US arranged to the Central African Republic, and in broad daylight launched a coup. And when I tried to get The New York Times to at least cover the story, I wanted to read about it. I was told by the reporter on the beat, “Oh, our editors aren’t interested in that.” So, you can have coups in broad daylight. I’ve seen the United States launch wars all over the world that Americans and others don’t even know were caused by the United States. It was only decades after the fact that Zbigniew Brzezinski told us that he had urged, successfully, Jimmy Carter to support the jihadists, the Mujahideen, to try to overthrow the government in Afghanistan in 1979 to lure the Soviets into a trap that would be their Vietnam. We messed up Afghanistan for more than four decades in that little typical US regime change.

PIERS: Okay, but Professor, look, here’s my question. If you feel so angry about so many, as you put it, illegal military operations, invasions, whatever you want to call them by the United States, why do you not also feel that same level of anger when Vladimir Putin, for whatever political reasons he wants to come up with about fears of NATO encroachment, blah, blah, blah, when he launches a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which is now a sovereign democratic European country?

JEFFREY: Well, it’s not a democratic country.

PIERS: But it had a democratic election, far more democratic than Russia.

JEFFREY: It did. It did a while ago. Under martial law.

PIERS: It was certainly far more of a democracy than Russia has been in recent decades. You would certainly accept that, wouldn’t you?

JEFFREY: Look, I think the point is…

PIERS: So my point is, why are you not as censorious about Putin doing the thing that you feel so angry about what you say America’s done?

JEFFREY: All I want is when Putin says, “We’ll negotiate, and here are our terms,” I want the United States to say, ‘We’ll negotiate, but we have different terms, but we’ll sit down with you.’ That’s all I’m asking.

PIERS: But his terms, as reported by Russian State media on Friday, are the complete withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from the territories of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson, after which peace negotiations can begin. I mean, that’s just…

JEFFREY: You know what, I don’t believe…

PIERS: That’s just taking a quarter of the country, or even a third, and saying, “I want to keep it.”

JEFFREY: Okay, yeah. So what are our terms for negotiations? Come on, this is negotiations.

PIERS: “You don’t get to keep any of it” would be my terms.

JEFFREY: Well, fine, but the bottom line is something else. The bottom line is really about NATO. So this is, you know, if the plan…

PIERS: Okay, but that’s my point. My point is,

JEFFREY: If the plan of Biden is, ‘Of course, we’re going to keep pushing NATO,’ then there’s no peace. Then we’re just in open war, and the one that dies is Ukraine in the end.

PIERS: But maybe, or maybe rather, like all these other countries that the Soviet Union invaded, maybe if Ukraine becomes a fully paid-up member of NATO, it actually stops Russia from being so aggressive constantly, whether it was Crimea in 2014 or whether it’s all these areas now. In other words, you know, power in NATO deters Russian aggression, just as it lost Crimea.

JEFFREY: I’m telling you the following in my assessment. First of all, it can’t become a member of NATO in the midst of a war. This is anyway NATO doctrine. But if they took Ukraine as a member of NATO, we will end up in nuclear war, just like we nearly ended up in nuclear war over the Cuban Missile Crisis.

PIERS: Why would we? For the same reasons we didn’t…

JEFFREY: Because, for the Cuban Missile Crisis…

PIERS: …common sense prevailed, right?

JEFFREY: No, it didn’t. By the way, it almost didn’t prevail. Everyone was for war except for a very small handful of people, including, thank God, John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev. And that was just about all that saved the world. But the reason is, for Russia, Ukraine is their 2,100-kilometer border, and they view this as an existential issue. I can tell you, for the US, this is a game. This is the game of Risk, if you know that board game. This is Brzezinski’s game spelled out in 1997 in his article in Foreign Affairs called “A Strategy for Eurasia.” Let’s corner Russia. This is their game. For Russia, this is existential. This is right on their border. They don’t want the United States right on their border.

PIERS: Again, sorry to jump in, but again, this is your interpretation of that. But the other interpretation could be that to stop Russia from invading its neighboring countries, that’s what NATO is about. And it’s proven very successful. All those countries that were attacked before haven’t been attacked since because they’re part of NATO. So, this is…

JEFFREY: It could be.

PIERS It’s the other argument.

JEFFREY: It could be. You are right. But then it could be nuclear war. That’s all I’m saying.

PIERS: But why would Vladimir Putin, who is, according to Elon Musk, the richest man on Earth and loves his material things, whether it’s [?] or super yachts or whatever it may be, why would somebody with that mentality, in other words, not an Islamic fundamentalist who has nothing, who wants to kill himself for the cause and believes he’s going to, you know, meet 70 virgins up in wherever they end up going, why is somebody with Putin’s materialistic, capitalistic mentality, why would he even contemplate Armageddon and losing everything? That’s not what he’s about. He hasn’t got that mentality. He’s not someone…

JEFFREY: Well, I think it’s useful for all of us, and you, and everybody listening, to go online and read a memorandum by one of our best diplomats, William Burns, who happens now to be CIA Director, but in 2008 was the US ambassador to Russia. He wrote a secret memo back to Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State. Julian Assange enabled all of us to see the real discussion, not the superficial pattern and narrative. He explained this isn’t about Putin, this question of NATO, this is the entire Russian political class, everybody. And the memo famously is called ‘Nyet means Nyet.’ For Russia, this isn’t Putin, this isn’t one person, this isn’t a lark. This is viewed by Russia as existential. This is viewed by Russia as, “Do not stand on our borders, period.” Especially now that the United States has abandoned unilaterally the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. It has abandoned the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Now Stoltenberg is, who’s well, anyway, he’s just parroting the US saying, “We are going to stock up on our nuclear armaments.” They’re not going to accept it. It’s not Putin. It’s Russia. And by the way, you would feel the same way in their position. And the United States absolutely felt the same way when that was tested.

And we have this doctrine, by the way, which is even more remarkable. Since 1823, we’ve said, “No foreign powers in the entire Western Hemisphere,” not just on our border, but the entire Western Hemisphere. And that doctrine, that Monroe Doctrine, was reiterated, I was sitting there when Donald Trump reiterated that in the UN General Assembly. That was for the whole Western Hemisphere. So it’s perfectly understandable, and it’s not about Putin. This is about Russia’s absolute core national security. “Don’t come up to our border.” Perfectly sensible.

PIERS: Professor Sachs, great to talk to you again. I find our conversations fascinating.

JEFFREY: Wonderful to be with you. I really, really enjoyed it. Thank you.

PIERS: I really appreciate it. Thank you very much.


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