Or alternatively you could say sure, I’d love to talk with you at length, Isaac.
This is really impossible to excerpt, but here’s maybe my favorite bit: (Bold is Chotiner; italics Mearsheimer):
I was interested in that article because you say the idea that Putin may eventually go after the rest of Ukraine, as well as other countries in Eastern Europe, is wrong. Given that he seems to be going after the rest of Ukraine now, do you think in hindsight that that argument is perhaps more true, even if we didn’t know it at the time?
It’s hard to say whether he’s going to go after the rest of Ukraine because—I don’t mean to nitpick here but—that implies that he wants to conquer all of Ukraine, and then he will turn to the Baltic states, and his aim is to create a greater Russia or the reincarnation of the Soviet Union. I don’t see evidence at this point that that is true. It’s difficult to tell, looking at the maps of the ongoing conflict, exactly what he’s up to. It seems quite clear to me that he is going to take the Donbass and that the Donbass is going to be either two independent states or one big independent state, but beyond that it’s not clear what he’s going to do. I mean, it does seem apparent that he’s not touching western Ukraine.
His bombs are touching it, right?
But that’s not the key issue. The key issue is: What territory do you conquer, and what territory do you hold onto? I was talking to somebody the other day about what’s going to happen with these forces that are coming out of Crimea, and the person told me that he thought they would turn west and take Odessa. I was talking to somebody else more recently who said that that’s not going to happen. Do I know what’s going to happen? No, none of us know what’s going to happen.
You don’t think he has designs on Kyiv?
No, I don’t think he has designs on Kyiv. I think he’s interested in taking at least the Donbass, and maybe some more territory and eastern Ukraine, and, number two, he wants to install in Kyiv a pro-Russian government, a government that is attuned to Moscow’s interests.
I thought you said that he was not interested in taking Kyiv.
No, he’s interested in taking Kyiv for the purpose of regime change. O.K.?
As opposed to what?
As opposed to permanently conquering Kyiv.
It would be a Russian-friendly government that he would presumably have some say over, right?
Yes, exactly. But it’s important to understand that it is fundamentally different from conquering and holding onto Kyiv. Do you understand what I’m saying?
Yes John, and that’s the problem.
Pride never helps; it only hurts.