This is a time when we definitely rely on what we used to call our “Russia hands” during the Cold War. They don’t come any smarter than Andrew Weiss, the James Family chair and vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he oversees research on Russia and Eurasia. He is also the Library of Congress chair in U.S.-Russia relations. Among other government posts at the National Security Council and the State Department, he’s served under the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. Weiss has spent considerable time in both Russia and Ukraine and is widely acknowledged as one of the leading Russia commentators in the United States.
Speaking with TNR editor Michael Tomasky late Friday morning, Weiss didn’t mince words about Putin’s aims in the rapidly evolving—and dire—situation in Ukraine. Putin will not be content, Weiss says, to settle for annexing a few autonomous states in the Donbas. Rather, he asserts, Putin’s aim is clear, and has been so for a long time to those who study the region and have paid attention to the Russian president’s rhetoric: He wants to destroy an independent Ukraine. Weiss thinks Biden’s proposed sanctions will have real bite and will “have spectacular effects.” At the same time, Putin “is loaded with cash”—some $630 billion in oil reserves. What Putin’s doing could portend a “horrible crisis” that will consume the Biden administration and other Western governments for years.