What scares Putin most is democratic and pro-Western Ukraine
Daniel Hoffman is the fellow at the Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He is a former Chief of Station and Senior Executive Clandestine Service Officer with the Central Intelligence Agency, which included five years in Moscow. His combined 30 years of distinguished government service included high-level positions not only within the CIA, but also with the U.S. military, U.S. Department of State, and U.S. Department of Commerce. Assignments included tours of duty in the former Soviet Union, Europe, and war zones in both the Middle East and South Asia. During this time, Hoffman developed substantive expertise on geopolitical and transnational issues related to the Middle East, South Asia, Russia, counter-terrorism, and cyber and counter-intelligence. Now in the private sector, Mr. Hoffman remains highly regarded for his policy experience and his work with foreign officials in the regions where he served.
1. What's your view on Zelensky's presidency so far?
The biggest challenge for President Zelensky, who ran on an anti-corruption platform, is to rid Ukraine of corruption and not allow industrialists like Ihor Kolomoyskiy to influence Zelensky's government for his own purposes. The other big challenge for him is dealing with Russia. Ukraine and Russia are at war, with Russia attacking Ukraine on various fronts since 2014. The Kremlin annexed Crimea and supported separatists in Donbas mounted cyberattacks on Ukraine's infrastructure, power grid, ministries. Russia also mounts all sorts of other intelligence operations inside its territory. Ukraine is under siege from Russia and its own corruption from within. These are the two things that Zelensky has to deal with, and it is too early to say if he will be successful or not.
2. Can Ukraine break away entirely from the Russian influence, or you think that it is not possible given the Russian past?
What scares Vladimir Putin most is a democracy, and nothing scares him more than a country with a sizable Russian speaking population like Ukraine trying to join the E.U. and NATO and building a functioning democracy. So what Vladimir Putin wants is for Ukrainian democracy to fail and ensure Ukraine is either subordinate to Russia like from the old-Brezhnev doctrine days or cease to function as a state.
3. How can Ukraine counteract Russia's hybrid warfare techniques more effectively? What can it learn from the West?
I think the West needs to support Ukraine economically, militarily. The E.U. and the U.S. need to stand with Ukraine to help Ukraine deal with the complex challenges of being under siege from Russia. The second thing is that Ukraine needs to ensure good governance practices at the domestic level. Ukraine's corruption is a vulnerability, which Russia will seek to exploit.
4. But don't you think that Ukraine has tried to deal with corruption, and it has not brought significant results?
I would highlight the case of Valeria Gontaryeva, former Head of the Ukrainian National Bank, who has been ruthlessly targeted. How Ukraine protect its citizens, most especially Gontaryeva will determine whether Ukraine can be trusted as a source of commerce and investment.
There is a significant money laundering case in Ohio regarding Privatbank and Ukrainian oligarch Kolomoysky. There are a lot of issues out there, and a real challenge for the Ukrainian government is to find a way to take steps to eliminate endemic corruption.
5. What do you think the future holds for Ukraine?
We shouldn't allow U.S. domestic politics or Russia to get between our two nations. We need to build strong relations between Ukraine and the E.U. countries and the U.S.