John E. Herbst

  • Paul Manafort’s Ukraine Connection

    Long before Paul Manafort served as Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign chairman he worked for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian former president of Ukraine.

    It was in this role that Anders Åslund, a resident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, first met Manafort.

    Manafort would seek advice from Åslund, who served as an economic adviser to the government of Ukraine from 1994-1997, on matters of economic policy. Åslund recalls Manafort as “highly intelligent and absolutely ruthless.”

    “When the Ukrainian oligarchs heard Manafort was advising Trump they knew Trump would win the [US presidential] election” in 2016, he said.

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  • The Only Thing Catalonia and Crimea Have in Common Is the Letter C

    A Bloomberg piece in October titled “Why Catalonia Will Fail Where Crimea Succeeded” by Russian writer Leonid Bershidsky is an example of moral equivalence run amok.

    He compares two completely unrelated events—referenda in Crimea and Catalonia—as though they bear any similarity, and as though they carry the same moral weight.

    “The Catalan situation draws comparisons with that in Crimea in 2014, and they are not as easy to dismiss as Catalan independence supporters might think,” he wrote.

    Yes they are.

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  • China’s Belt and Road Initiative: An Opportunity for the United States

    The United States must seize the opportunity presented by a Chinese initiative that envisions the creation of land and sea routes that will span three continents and link more than sixty countries, according to experts who participated in a panel discussion at the Atlantic Council on October 4.

    Making the case for engagement with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Gal Luft, co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, said: “[The BRI] is a generational project and it will take a long time,” but, “the US needs to engage now.”

    “We don’t have to agree to every component of the Belt and Road… we don’t have to buy into the whole package,” he added.

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  • Should the United States Arm Ukraine?

    While analysts agree that diplomacy is the ideal route to ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine, they disagree on whether the United States sending defensive weapons to Ukraine will achieve that end.

    On September 22, the Atlantic Council, in collaboration with the Charles Koch Institute, hosted a debate between experts: Should the United States Arm Ukraine?

    The divisive prospect of sending US weapons to Ukraine as further defense against Russian aggression in the Donbas could, according to those in favor, defend US interests on the world stage. Alternatively, countered those opposed to the idea, it could escalate the conflict in a manner detrimental to US national security.

    Analysts both for and against sending weapons to Ukraine argued that a decision must be predicated on a consideration of what is in the best interests of the United States, yet the opposing sides diverged on how to achieve those ends.

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  • Dealing with the Far-Right in Germany

    Atlantic Council experts share their take on the outcome of the German elections. Here’s what they have to say:

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  • Herbst Joins RTVI to Discuss Lethal Weapons in Ukraine


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  • Ukraine Needs Arms, Not Cheap Arguments

    The United States is seriously considering giving Ukraine lethal defensive weapons, and this is the right move. Over the last month, Michael Brendan Dougherty and I have debated this issue here and here.

    In his latest response, Dougherty tries to rack up a quick win. He claims that experts issued a report arguing for arming Ukraine in 2015 and warned of a “worldwide conflagration” if this did not happen. (I was a co-author of that report.) He also claims that Ukraine did not receive the assistance and “most of us are still walking about.”

    That is cute, but misleading. First, the report does not predict a “worldwide conflagration.” It carefully says that deterring and defending against Russian aggression is the surest way to avoid “a regional or even worldwide conflagration.” The use of the word “even” shows that we think a worldwide conflagration is a longshot. Second, Dougherty’s understanding of international timing is superficial. Our report did not specify a date for a dangerous clash. By Dougherty’s logic, Winston Churchill, who began to sound the alarm about Hitler in 1934, should have been skewered as an alarmist in 1936 since Germany had not yet launched World War II.

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  • Correction Unnecessary

    Bloomberg View columnist Leonid Bershidsky is unhappy and he has been tweeting.  Specifically, he demands a correction to my August 8 post that criticized some of the points in his opinion piece arguing against sending defensive lethal weapons to Ukraine. He claims that he “did not argue” what I said; he has “no idea how” I could have “read that stuff into” his piece; and he politely requests that I “either change that paragraph or remove the inaccurate reference to” his column.

    Mr. Bershidsky doth protest too much.  You can decide whether or not I misconstrued what he was saying.  Here is what I wrote:

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  • Putin Lashes Out

    Will Russia’s reaction to US sanctions be short-lived?

    [Editor's note: US President Donald J. Trump signed the new sanctions bill on August 2.] 

    The Kremlin’s reaction to the new US sanctions indicates that Russian President Vladimir Putin is in a “lashing-out mood,” that, while unsettling, will be short-lived, according to Daniel Fried, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Future Europe Initiative.

    “I would not take this terribly seriously,” said Fried of the Kremlin’s mandate on July 30 that the United States must cut 755 members of its diplomatic staff in Russia. “These kinds of diplomat wars seem important at the time,” he added, yet, when comparing the current situation to a similar diplomatic fallout between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1980s, Fried said it is clear that Russia’s response will not have long-lasting detrimental effects.

    Fried described how “the Soviets tried this,” adding that “this sort of thing captures headlines.” While “it works in the short run; it doesn’t work in the long run,” he said.

    “For now,” however, “we’re going to be in a rough period,” said Fried, a former sanctions policy coordinator at the US Department of State.

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  • Setting the Record Straight about Reform in Ukraine

    Evaluating reform in Ukraine is akin to taking a Rorschach test. For Kremlin propagandists and their witting or unwitting acolytes in the West, Ukraine is an irredeemably corrupt place. To young reformers in Ukraine and some of the country’s well-wishers, progress in transforming the country is agonizingly slow and always in danger of reversal. And to Ukraine’s top leadership and those who worry most about defending the country from Moscow’s aggression, the country has achieved exceptional progress in very difficult circumstances.

    Each of these points of view can be supported when the country’s situation is viewed from a particular angle. But a careful, comprehensive look at the circumstances and dynamics of Ukraine’s reform efforts results in an assessment that is ultimately positive.

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