INTERVIEW: ‘I am not convinced that Russia will easily win’ in Ukraine: James Zogby

Sahar Zahran in Washingtom DC , Friday 8 Apr 2022

Dr. James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute, told Al-Ahram daily newspaper that he believes the current bloodshed in Ukraine could have been avoided and, regardless of who emerges the victor, another world is beginning to take shape.

Sahar Zahran


Ahram: After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, is there a new world taking shape in the near future?

James Zogby: First, because I do not know Russian President Vladimir Putin’s way of thinking, I am not sure that what is happening in the Ukrainian arena will end or how will it end. Is it just an attempt by him (Putin) to teach NATO and Kyiv a lesson or does he really have regional ambitions in Ukraine? If he was aiming at teaching the lesson then he might agree on a ceasefire and try to get to a midpoint for the current crisis.

But if his objective is an inclination towards expansionism like the Soviet era, then the situation would continue in the form of pushing southwards in an attempt to capture Odessa, thus putting the adjoining and [landlocked] Moldova into danger also. And because the Ukrainians will continue to fight, as long as this battle continues, the probability that resistance would be a long-lasting feature of this conflict. Here, the conflict might spill over to neighbouring countries, and at its heart Moldova.

A: The conflict has already seen harsh sanctions imposed on Russia and a flow of weapons and lethal drones to Ukraine. What is next?

JZ: In the beginning, the USA could not take action solely but I believed that at the moment Moscow’s intention was clear through mobilising its troops on its western borders coinciding with tens of intelligence reports confirming that the Russians were about to invade the country (Ukraine). NATO should have sent its forces to the eastern and northern borders of the latter without waiting for a request from the ruling authorities in Kyiv. Being a member is not a precondition for asking for help and this was a fatal error. However, if what I have mentioned was done, Putin would have backed off. But, unfortunately, the lag and absence of any direct challenge from the West delivered a clear message to the Kremlin that the door was open for invasion.

There are several events and factors that led us to what we are living through right now. The most prominent is the American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, because they left the USA weaker and less respectable and with a drained army. There is no doubt that the Bush Administration’s arrogance and snubbing of international law have provided justification to others to do the same. The Iraq War's second by-product is ushering in a nascent multi-polar world order accompanied by the USA’s weakness and China’s and Russia’s emergence in a status that enabled them to secure their role as independent players. Due to the USA’s attacks on Libya leading to the overthrow of Gaddafi’s regime, this oil-rich country became a Mediterranean-friendly ally to Russia. The Libyans were shocked and felt betrayed as a result of this American action. In the context of the USA acting solely and arrogantly, it became obvious that expanding NATO constitutes a threat to Russia.

As for justifying its defense of Ukraine as being a defense of international law and human rights and democracy, the USA never applied these concepts regarding the acknowledgment of the Palestinian people’s freedoms and rights. These double standards are unfortunate and must be addressed. However, it does not invalidate the soundness and the urgency of defending the Ukrainian people’s rights. Despite the double standards of others, we can not permit ourselves to issue judgments according to this same evil logic and selectively acknowledge the rights of some and deny them to others.

A: What are the consequences of this conflict?

JZ: We do not know how it will end. However, if it does not end soon, the Ukrainians will continue to fight and this in its turn will have negative consequences on Ukrainian society and all the Baltic states. The prolonged conflict will also affect Russia which thought it was so close to devouring the Ukrainian cake.

A: Will this step encourage China to open the Taiwan file and take similar measures?

JZ: I am afraid that Taiwan is now in greater danger than ever before. In case this scenario takes place, it would be a tragedy if this tiny democratic country fell victim to its neighbour. We have followed recently what would be the case if China devoured Taiwan. If China felt that it can accomplish this without any direct challenge or long-term consequences, what we fear might occur!

A: How can we see the crises that the Middle East suffers from in the light of this war?

JZ: America has actually turned its back or it has seen that it is better to reduce its image in the Middle East. This is also another by-product of the Iraq War. The US’s role was reduced and the two world superpowers are applying a hands-off manner and regional powers began to flex their muscles: in all the current conflicts, countries line up against other countries forming different, feuding groups. In short, America did not only lose its ability to lead but was obliged now to retreat. 

A: There are those who believe that Russia is now more ready to contain NATO, especially much more than a few years ago. And at the same moment there is an American and Western retreat. Do you agree with this viewpoint?   

JZ: This is not clear. What is clear is that Ukraine will pay a heavy price in this conflict. For I am not convinced that Russia will easily win or will win at all. I believe that NATO is rejuvenated and might feel more inclined now to behave in a more decisive way in case any of its members came under attack. Once again, I repeat that if this situation continued and this is very likely, Russia might come out in a weak status such as what happened when the USA withdrew from Iraq. The difference lies in that it is difficult for Putin’s mentality to accept defeat and this might drive the world into hell.

A: What’s the effect of all this on the Palestinian cause?

JZ: Nothing will happen to this cause. Israel has a right-wing government that doesn’t acknowledge the two-state solution. The USA gave an authorisation to Bennett to remain so without even making an announcement about it because they are afraid that they might weaken him if they exerted pressure upon him and the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are more interested in protecting their fiefdoms and have no vision for the future or a strategy to reach this destination. Our opinion polls show that Palestinians want unity but unity can not be based on the merger of two self-serving entities. Thus, the Palestinian division, which is deepening, will remain as the headline and there is no new life except by enabling the Palestinian society. This means holding open, fair, and free elections.

A: Are you still optimistic about the promises Biden made regarding the Palestinian cause when he was running for the presidency?

JZ: Definitely not.

A: Some see that the conflict between Russia and the West is a conflict based on oil and natural gas, what is your opinion?

JZ: Having an impact on the natural gas supplies is a natural outcome of this conflict, not its cause. 

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