BOZEMAN - Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul spoke in Bozeman on Tuesday to discuss his past meetings with Vladimir Putin and his thoughts on the ever-evolving war in Ukraine.
McFaul grew up in Bozeman and graduated from Bozeman High School. Years later, he served our country as a U.S. ambassador, accompanying President Obama, then-Vice President Biden, and other country leaders to Russia.
“People are always asking me to explain Putin,” McFaul said. “I’ve known him for a long time. Putin has been paranoid of the expansion of democracy for a long, long time.”
McFaul recounts meetings with Vladimir Putin and notes that he "humbly" says that no one knew just what Putin was thinking. As to the beginning stages of the war in Ukraine, McFaul feels that Putin — and the Biden Administration — were surprised as to the strength of the Ukrainian people.
“The night before he invaded, (Putin) said he had two goals: He wanted to destroy the Ukrainian military…and de-Nazify—his words for a regime change,” McFaul said. “We are now in the fifth week of this war and he has achieved neither of those things.”
Now, the city of Mariupol is under heavy assault, McFaul said. He notes that the evil and cruelty we are witnessing today has not been seen in Europe since World War II.
“They’re kidnapping citizens of Mariupol, according to the Ukrainian government, and marching them to Russia,” he said.
In terms of the sanctions that the United States has enforced, McFaul says that it is a method to ensure understanding of the gravity of Russia’s decisions.
“Sometimes you have to do what’s right, even if there’s not an effect in the immediate term, and that’s what I feel about sanctions,” McFaul said. “There has to be some price to pay for this barbaric war.”