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Can Ukraine Outright Win a Conventional War? Why is the United States still Buying Russian Oil? Scenarios for How the Ukraine Conflict Could End; Is Canceling Russians An Effective Way to Punish Putin. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired March 05, 2022 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia.
Can Ukraine outright win a conventional war? Or will it have to be by underground resistance?
Joining me now to discuss that and more is Admiral William McRaven. He was a Navy SEAL for 37 years, rising to the commander of all U.S. Special Operations Forces including the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Admiral, good to see you again. Thank you so much for being here. There's a lot to discuss. And let me can begin with this.
President Zelensky last night said that NATO was, quote, "weak and lost" for not imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Is he right?
ADMIRAL WILLIAM MCRAVEN, RETIRED U.S. NAVY FOUR-STAR ADMIRAL: Thanks, Michael. It's good to be with you.
Well, one, NATO has been providing a lot of support. They've been providing financial support. They've been providing lethal aid. You see the NATO countries accepting the refugees as they're coming across the border.
So I understand President Zelensky's concern. Of course, from - from the Biden administration standpoint, I think, you know, from NATO standpoint if you impose a no-fly zone then there's the potential to expand the fight rather than to contain it.
So while I, again, I can appreciate President Zelensky's difficult position. I think for now, not imposing a no-fly zone is probably the right way to go.
SMERCONISH: Can Ukraine outright win this war?
MCRAVEN: Yes, I mean, I just -- it depends on how you define win. The fact of the matters is from a conventional standpoint, you know, the Russians clearly have overmatched the Ukrainians in terms of pure combat power. But winning means, you know, can - if you define winning, can they kind of take over and subjugate the Ukrainian people, I don't see that happening.
The Ukrainian people are standing tall. They are fighting hard. As the Russians began to move into Kyiv and Kharkiv, they're going to find themselves in an urban combat environment. And - and the urban environment is going to favor the Ukrainians because you know they know the alleyways, they know the buildings, they know the streets. You'll be channeling conventional forces.
And at the end of the day, the question for the Russians is, can they sustain the morale of troops? Can they sustain the willpower of the Russian people in order to continue this fight? That remains to be seen. And I would say right now, the longer this fight goes, the better chance for the Ukrainians to have - of winning it.
SMERCONISH: Do the Ukrainians have the ammunition? Do they have the manpower that they require?
MCRAVEN: Yes. Again, if you're talking conventional force on force, the answer is probably no. But if you're talking about a long partisan guerilla insurgency, I think the answer is yes. Because you're going to find, again, we talked about NATO earlier, NATO is going to continue to provide the lethal aid necessary for, I think, the insurgent force, the - the guerilla warfare that will continue on after the conventional fight has subdued a little bit. And that, I think they will have the ability to continue to fight. And this is going to be very, very difficult for the Russians.
SMERCONISH: Admiral, hearing you so far, it sounds to me like your assessment is that this is Afghanistan on steroids for the Russians?
MCRAVEN: Yes. You know, I think it remains to be seen. Obviously, Ukraine is not Afghanistan. And so, I want to be careful about those analogies. But I think where you do see a bit of an analogy is the fact that the Russians can very quickly get bogged down in Ukraine because of the will of the Ukrainian people. Because of the willingness of NATO to kind of support the Ukrainians to provide them lethal aid, to provide them funding, provide them avenues in order to continue to fight. So it is going to be exceedingly difficult for the Russians once they, you know, close in on Kyiv and Kharkiv, and the other major urban areas because once they get into an urban fight, again, I think the fight favors the Ukrainians.
SMERCONISH: Admiral, I've been reading about the dispatch of these so- called death squads who reportedly have been given a sign of trying to take out Zelensky. My question for you is it necessarily in Putin's best interest to try and take out Zelensky?
MCRAVEN: Absolutely not. One, President Zelensky has shown remarkable courage. Remarkable stamina. I mean he really is -- is a shining example for all Ukrainians. And frankly, for the world right now. But if you take out Zelensky, you're going to make him a martyr. And I think you're going to find the Ukrainian people will fight even harder, if they lose their president, particularly this remarkable man that's standing up in the face of Russian aggression.
SMERCONISH: A year ago, you said the following. You said, I am often asked, where do I think the greatest external security threat is and I always point to Russia. At that time, you also said of Putin that he had outplayed us. How had he outplayed us? And is he outplaying us now?
MCRAVEN: Yes. Well, to answer your question, he's absolutely not outplaying us now. And this is - it's interesting. When you go back and you take a look at how Putin has kind of played the game, the great game, as we call it, on the world stage. I would say he kind of outmaneuvered the world in Crimea, and the Ukraine, and in Syria, and to some degree in Venezuela.
And when I say outmaneuvered, he has always ended up in a better strategic position as far as Putin was concerned. But he is going to lose this war no matter how it unfolds because he has become an international pariah. He has - he has got these withering economic sanctions that have been enforced upon the Russian people. He's finding that the Russian people don't really support this war. The Ukrainians are prepared to fight. And he's made NATO stronger.
So no matter how this war ends and I hope it certainly ends quickly and in the favor of the Ukrainians. But no matter how it ends, Putin has lost. I don't see him continuing to be an effective leader in Russia once this is over.
SMERCONISH: Admiral, I'm sure that during the course of your long nearly four-decade distinguished career that you've been briefed on his profile and personality.
SMERCONISH: I'm not going to ask you for any insights in that regard. But I do want to ask this. Have you noted changes in what you're seeing from a distance of Vladimir Putin?
MCRAVEN: Yes. I would have told you before this unfolded that Putin, while sometimes reckless was always a rational actor in the classic kind of political science vernacular. But he did things that once again, he could see a strategic outcome that would favor him and Russia.
Now, you have to wonder two things. One, is he still a rational actor because there was nothing about this maneuver to take Kyiv and to try to subjugate the Ukrainian people? That seem to be rational. Or did he just miscalculate? Did he really think that they were going to be throwing rose petals at his feet as the Russian soldiers came in.
So I think it's really a little too hard to tell right now whether or not he has truly imbalanced because he has been, you know, alone for two years. He's been living in an eco-chamber or whether he just fundamentally miscalculated.
The problem is, if in fact, he's no longer a rational actor, this makes it very difficult for NATO and for the U.S. to try to judge and to figure what his next moves might be. And this is why, back to your question about the no-fly zone, we have to be very cautious about not putting Putin in a position any further than he already is, where, you know, he fights like a trapped animal and does things that are - that are even more egregious than what he's doing now.
SMERCONISH: Final question. Can you envision a scenario in the future wherever again Vladimir Putin meets face-to-face with an American president?
MCRAVEN: You know, I certainly can't envision it right now, Michael. As I said, he's become an international pariah. And I can't imagine anybody, any world leader, meeting with him, unless it is to negotiate his departure from Russia. So, I don't see it happening with an American president. Certainly, no time in the - in the near or even mid to distant future.
SMERCONISH: Thank you for allowing me to cover so much ground in a relatively short period of time. I really appreciate it.
MCRAVEN: You bet. Thanks, Michael.
SMERCONISH: Admiral William McRaven.
What are your thoughts? Tweet me @smerconish or go to my Facebook page. Hit me through all the social media. We'll do our best to cover some ground during the course of the program.
Catherine, what do we have?
After Biden's speech I realize it's over for Ukraine. Sadly we are going to watch Putin plow and destroy Ukraine. The world is afraid of Putin. We let him do what he did for 20 plus years with no consequences. Russia realizes it can't invade conventional so destroy it and kill millions.
Listen. Rashane, Sr., I don't think the Admiral wanted to just say outright that it's a gloomy picture long term to be able to thwart Russia. But what I heard him say with his training and expert eye and experience is that the insurgency here is something that's not going away.
Let me ask it this way. Do any of us really believe that long term, Russia controls Ukraine? Long term? Because I don't. I absolutely don't. I think that in the end, the resilience that we're seeing from the Ukrainian people might not allow them an outright victory. Probably won't. But long term, time is on their side. At least, I hope.
Up ahead, ever since Putin's invasion of Ukraine, the world has anxiously watched worrying how it might end. Well, "New York Times" columnist Thomas Friedman says there are three possible outcomes. And he's here to explain.
Plus, why is the United States still buying Russian oil? Cutting it off is one of those rare issues that actually has bipartisan support. I'll ask an expert what might keep President Biden from taking action.
And I want to know what you think. Go to my website at smerconish.com. Answer this week's survey question. Should the United States ban all Russian energy imports?
SMERCONISH: Why is the United States still buying Russian oil? In 2021, 3 percent of America's crude oil imports came from Russia. And in this era when nothing gets bipartisan support, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been calling for the Biden administration to ban Russian oil. One such bill was introduced by Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski and another - and pardon me, with Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, asked about this issue. Speaker Nancy Pelosi had this to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I'm all for that. Ban it.
UNKNOWN: Ban the oil -
PELOSI: Ban the oil coming from Russia, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: So, why hasn't the president moved to make this happen.
White house Press Secretary Jen Psaki told John Berman on CNN's "NEW DAY" the following.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What he does not want to do is topple the global oil markets or the global marketplace or impact the American people more with higher energy and gas prices.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: But the prices are already surging. According to AAA, the national average for a gallon of gas today, $3.92. That's up 37 cents since the invasion. And the price could soon match or surpass the record that was set in 2008 during the financial crisis, that was $4.11. In Los Angeles, it's already been spotted as high as $6.65.
If the U.S. does stop importing oil from Russia that supply deficit must be made up somewhere. And Republicans and Democrats have different opinions about that.
Democratic Senator Ed Markey's bill to cut off Russia oil offers no alternative except to move toward a quote, "truly energy independent future."
Whereas Republican Senator Roger Marshall's plan would ramp up domestic production, restart the Keystone XL Pipeline and remove, quote, "burdensome" regulations from American energy producers.
The U.S. ban would have decidedly less impact on Russia than if all countries agreed to sanctions. Russia is the world's number two oil producer. So if it's largely symbolic and there's bipartisan support, why isn't the Biden administration taking this step.
That brings me to this week's survey question at smerconish.com. Should the United States ban all Russian energy imports?
Joining me now is Helima Croft, managing director and global head of commodity strategy for the Royal Bank of Canada Capital Markets.
Helima, thank you so much for being here. Is there more to it than just the American domestic political ramification?
HELIMA CROFT, MANAGING DIRECTOR AND GLOBAL HEAD OF COMMODITY STRATEGY, RBC CAPITAL MARKETS: I think President Biden is really concerned about the broad inflationary impact of this crisis. And I think he is concerned about any signal that could drive prices higher. But as you just pointed out, we do not take a significant quantity of crude from Russia.
The reason why we are taking Russian barrels, it's a heavier barrel. It actually replaced Venezuelan barrel because we embargo on Venezuelan barrels coming into the United States. So it's not huge in numbers. We could get more barrels from Canada, from Brazil. It would take a little bit of time. But we can back-fill this.
The bigger issue I think for the Biden administration is a broad-based concern about disruptions of Russian energy flows. But we are already seeing that. These sanctions that have been put in place are already causing companies to say we do not want to do business with Russia. So we're already seeing Russian exports oil and gas fall.
SMERCONISH: Is part of the explanation also that it would put our allies in an uncomfortable position, meaning, we're not as energy dependent on Russia, as is say, Germany. We can fill the void, but they would have difficulty doing so.
CROFT: I think that's absolutely correct. I mean, if you want to look at which countries are very, very exposed to Russia in terms of economic dependence, Germany is like the case study for this. 34 percent of Germany's oil comes from Russia. 32 percent of their natural gas from Russia. 50 percent of their hard coal from Russia. That's why German officials are out saying, we do not want measures to ban Russian oil exports but if the United States does it, other countries have already said they would do it. Canada is doing it. If it much with the U.K. to potentially do this. That puts the spotlight on Germany and Germany's unique economic ties to Russia.
SMERCONISH: Helima, set me straight on something else. The Keystone Pipeline, does it belong in this conversation? Because I hear some say, well, why don't we just turn it on and draw that oil.
CROFT: I mean, the problem with Keystone is, it is not completed. Where the construction was actually proceeding was on the Canadian side. Furthers by President Trump was unable to get Keystone finished. Were there issues with U.S. ports in terms of Keystone.
But getting Keystone XL bring it again, is not going to provide immediate release of these prices. It has to be built. Canadian oil is already coming to the United States. I think Keystone XL is about a broader symbol about support for the U.S. oil and gas sector. We can talk about whether we should have, you know, greater permitting for, you know, U.S. natural gas exports.
U.S. liquified natural gas has been in increasing volumes into Europe, helping them deal with their situation now involving Russian imports. But again, if Keystone XL could not provide immediate relief even U.S. production. Prolific U.S. production cannot provide immediate U.S. relief.
If U.S. producers start putting more rigs to work that oil is not coming for another six months. Hence why we have calls to countries like Saudi Arabia. If you need immediate barrels to back fill the loss of Russian exports, only a small number of countries can quickly provide barrels.
That's why there's concerns about inflation. That's why they're concerned about much higher energy prices. Russia is very, very difficult, on a global scale to replace right now.
SMERCONISH: Is it the takeaway for Americans, we don't want to be -- we don't want to be dependent upon anybody else, whether it's the Middle East, vis-a-vis oil going back for the last 30 years or more. And we don't want to be reliant on - we want energy independence. And we want to be able to do that with an eye toward fighting climate change?
CROFT: Absolutely. I mean this is the mix that the United States is now trying to come up with. What is the optimal (audio gap) this week? Think about moving towards this climate goal. The U.S. oil and gas production.
Now prolific U.S. production, it did shape U.S. foreign policy. When we think about energy independent. But that said, there were always some limits to it.
And thinking about President Trump. We talked about American energy dominant. But he still had to call OPEC, when he exited the Iranian nuclear agreement and needed more barrels quickly to back for an Iranian loss.
Remember when oil prices to last in 2020, and U.S. producers were really facing a difficult path forward. production.
President Trump had to call the Russians. He had to call the Saudis and say get back together, get this production cut done.
So energy independent does provide. You know, you need foreign policy opportunities for the United States but there are still limits. And again, if we think about this Russia crisis right now, 5 million barrels of Russian exports, but potentially could come off this market. And the question is, who can quickly feel that if we want to keep energy prices contained to any extent.
SMERCONISH: Helima Croft, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time.
CROFT: Thank you for having me.
SMERCONISH: More social media reaction now. Catherine, what do we have? From the Twitter-verse, I believe.
We ban or accept that we partially funding the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Right. We ban or we accept the fact, it shoots and leaves that we are right now funding the tempted genocide. I think that's probably - I think that's probably true. I - I anticipate that the administration if you read the tea leaves this week and listen to what the president said, what Jen Psaki has said, I think that they are going to make this move. I think that they need to make this move. I don't think it's as straightforward as it has been presented.
And I think another factor here is that progressives don't want to, understandably, give up ground that they think they've made vis-a-vis climate change. But these times demand, I think, that we do that which we otherwise would not be doing.
I want to remind you to go to my website. Is this survey question going to be as lopsided as some think it might? Should the United States ban all Russian energy imports? Go vote. I'll give you the result at the end of the hour.
Up ahead, how will the Russian invasion of Ukraine end? Pulitzer Prize winning "New York Times" columnist Thomas Friedman says there are three possible outcomes. He is here to explain.
Plus, Russian performing artists in opera, ballet, classical music have had their events cancelled and even been fired by arts organization because they wouldn't condemn Putin. Should taking the political stance be a job requirement for an artist, or is this going too far?
SMERCONISH: How might the battle for Ukraine end? This week, three- time Pulitzer Prize winning "New York Times" columnist Thomas Friedman wrote that he can envision three possible outcomes.
Namely, the full-blown disaster. In this scenario to wipe out Ukraine's current existence, Putin kills however many people as it takes and destroys whatever of Ukraine's infrastructure he deems to be in his way.
Or the dirty compromise. If Ukraine continues to keep the Russian army from winning and the economic sanctions start deeply wounding Putin, both sides make some concessions to avoid more tragedy. In Friedman's example in exchange for a ceasefire and withdrawal of Russian troops, Ukraine would give up eastern areas already under Russian control and vow never to join NATO.
Or salvation. In which the Russian people taking a cue from their Ukrainian neighbors' resistance, rebel and oust Putin from office.
One way this last scenario might play out was floated by Senator Lindsey Graham on Twitter and on Hannity.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): And the only people that can fix this are the Russian people. Easy to say, hard to do. But I'm begging you in Russia, unless you want to live in darkness for the rest of your life, be isolated from the world, be an abject poverty, you need to step up to the plate and take this guy out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Graham receives such widespread bipartisan criticism that the next day, he dialed it back to Putin should, quote, "be in jail."
Thomas Friedman joins me now. He's the author of seven bestselling books, including "The World is Flat" and most recently "Thank You for Being Late."
Tom, thank you so much for being here. In the piece that brings us together today, you wrote the following and you're speaking with regard to the oligarchs.
"Either they collaborate to oust Putin or they will all share his isolation cell. The same for the larger Russian public. I realize that this last scenario is the most unlikely of them all."
Why is that most unlikely of the three scenarios?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN, COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, first of all, Michael, great to be with you.
The reason that it's unlikely is just I think Putin has surrounded himself by layers and layers of security. If I can figure this out that this is Putin's war and therefore it only ends when Putin is gone. He's figured it out as well. And so, I think he's extremely hard to get to in terms of both popular uprising in Russia or from within his inner circle. And so, it's nothing you can count on at all.
SMERCONISH: You're the one who famously told us that the world is flat. How has technology, how is connectivity impacting these events that are unfolding?
FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, I argued in an earlier piece, Michael, this is the first -- this is like an 18th century war in a completely wired world. Something very visceral and primitive about what Putin is doing, it's almost like an honor killing in kind of a traditional village. He basically say to Ukraine, you fell in love with the wrong guy, Mr. European Union. I'm going come and get you. I'm going to beat you senseless and drag you home.
It's really like an honor killing. But it's happening in this incredibly flat-wired world. And so what happens is you now not only have nation states imposing economic sanctions on Russia, these super powers, but you have super empowered individuals amplifying those very same sanctions on their own. You alluded to one, cancelling Russian artists or singers or dancers. That isn't part of any U.S. economic sanctions. That's being done by individuals.
Now, you have companies who are afraid of their employees, for good reason. And their employees are saying, "Excuse me. I saw this video of Ukraine, atrocities on TikTok. I've posted on my Facebook page. Then I went into Slack and I discussed it with my fellow employees. We don't want to work for a company that's doing business with Ukraine."
And so, as a result, it becomes like Disney saying, we're not sending you our latest film. You get all -- you get FIFA, the world sports federation saying, you're not going to participate in the World Cup. So you have superpowers and super-empowered people now all getting together in a kind of a giant geopolitical cancellation of Vladimir Putin and Russia.
SMERCONISH: Some people are looking at these events as a justification for more NATO expansion. I've been going back and reading some of your past columns about NATO and what took place in the '90s. And yours is a cautionary tale, right?
FRIEDMAN: Absolutely. Well, you know, going back to the early '90s when the Berlin wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed, there was a group of policymakers and policy wants, basically, in Washington, who is a small group, but who opposed NATO expansion. There's people like Sam Nunn and Bill Perry, secretary of defense for President Clinton. George Kennan, the architect of our whole containment policy. Academics like Michael Mandelbaum. And I really supported and gave voice to those people because they are making a simple point, Michael.
What just happened -- I'm talking about with the collapse of the Soviet Union. We had a democratic revolution in Russia. We dreamed of this, you know, ever since the end of -- since 1917 in some ways and Russians did this. And shouldn't we be working first and foremost to try to bring a democratic Russia into an inclusive European security structure? Why should our first impulse be to expand NATO into its face?
Now at that time Russia was weak. And what George Kennan warned was Russia is weak, but when Russia is strong it will resist this. Now having said all of that, I don't believe this move is primarily driven by Putin for reasons of NATO expansion because he was told by the Americans -- privately French and Germans, no one was going to expand NATO into Ukraine. They understood this was a bridge too far.
This is something if you listen to Putin's recent speeches, Michael, very primitive, very primordial. Ukraine is part of my Russia -- motherland, part of my Russian identity. And I will bring Ukraine back into the bosom of mother Russia one way or another.
SMERCONISH: Tom, there was a -- there are a lot of comments appended to the piece that you just wrote about the three possible outcomes. Catherine, put up that reader comment that interested me. I want to read it to him.
Here's one that stuck out to me. A person who said, "There's another potential ugly outcome. Russia levels Ukraine's cities and the west does little to help but offer admiration for Ukrainian courage and perhaps a few more infantry weapons. Ukrainians will likely feel completely abandoned and equally mad at Russia and the west." What do you think of that?
FRIEDMAN: It's a very smart comment and it's part of the hellish geopolitics around this story. Do Americans want to go to war for Ukraine? Yes, they will not buy Russian goods. Yes, they will cancel Russian ballerinas but are they ready to send their sons and daughters to do that? I think not, unfortunately. And, you know, it's part of the tragedy where Ukraine finds itself.
In the long run I believe that, you know, Putin will fail. I think he's got four choices right now, Putin, lose early, lose late, lose big -- excuse me.
SMERCONISH: You faded on me. Yes. Finish your thought. You faded on us.
FRIEDMAN: I think Putin has four choices right now, lose early, lose late, lose big or lose small. But those are his choices because his thesis has been proven utterly wrong. Everyone knew it was -- that Ukraine was a country dominated by a Nazi clique. Just remove that Nazi clique and the Ukrainian people will rush back to Russia.
That is not the case. That's not the reality. Therefore, Putin can only win by permanently occupying Ukraine which will keep Putin permanently isolated, which will be very dangerous for the world because Russia is a country that spans 11 time zones, has the most nuclear warheads in the world, and is one of the top two or three oil and gas producers. We have never lived in a world, Michael, where a country this big and powerful was made a pariah state.
SMERCONISH: I think you're tracking a lot of what Admiral McRaven was saying from a military standpoint as well. Two bright guys. Thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it.
FRIEDMAN: Happy to, Michael. Thank you.
SMERCONISH: Checking in on your social media reaction. From the world of Twitter what do we have?
Putin has to go. The planet will be in an elevated state of nuclear risk until Putin is, ahem, removed from power.
Sadly, I think that's probably true. Even though I don't think Lindsey Graham should have said it, right? It's one thing for him to think it. It's another thing for him to have said it. I know your comment wasn't directly in response to the senator.
I want to remind to you make sure you're answering this week's survey question at my Web site at Smerconish.com. Should the United States ban all Russian energy imports? Seems like a no-brainer. A little more complicated after heard from my guests.
Still to come, there has been a spike in threat and vandalism against Russian-themed restaurants all across America. At a time when Russian performing artists are being banned from stages around the country and the globe, should this retribution be aimed at Russian citizens or just Vladimir Putin?
SMERCONISH: In the wake of Vladimir Putin's deadly assault on Ukraine, there have been widespread cancellations of Russian nationals in the arts and in the sports. In fact, Russian Foreign Intelligence director Sergey Naryshkin claimed this week that his country is a victim of cancel culture. The Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall will no longer stage performers who have supported Putin. The Royal Opera House in London cancelling a planned Bolshoi Ballet residency. Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, a longtime supporter of Putin who refused to condemn him or the attack, had performances cancelled at both Carnegie Hall and the Vienna Philharmonic, and was fired from his position at the Munich Philharmonic.
The Met announced that one of its star sopranos Russian Anna Netrebko had to withdraw from upcoming performances although she had called for peace and voiced opposition to the war. She didn't mention Putin and the Met said that she was -- quote -- "Not complying with the Met's condition that she repudiate her public support for Vladimir Putin while he wages war on Ukraine."
Before stepping down she posted this on Instagram. "Forcing artists, or any public figure, to voice their political opinions in public and to denounce their homeland is not right. This should be a free choice. Like many of my colleagues, I am not a political person. I am not an expert in politics. I am an artist and my purpose is to unite people across political divides."
Is any of this fair to Russians who had nothing to do with Putin's decision and where do you draw the line? As Tyler Cowen wrote in "Bloomberg Opinion" -- quote -- "What about performers who may have favored Putin in the more benign times of 2003 and now are skeptical, but have family members still living in Russia? Do they have to speak out?" Also could this be contributing to unhealthy anti-Russian sentiment? Disturbingly, there have now been attacks on Russians-themed businesses in America. In Washington, D.C. the Russia House Restaurant and Lounge was vandalized twice last weekend and what is believed to be anti-Russian rhetoric posted now on the walls. In San Diego, the Pushkin Russian Restaurant has also been receiving threats threatening to blow up the restaurant. Traktir in West Hollywood, it serves Russian/Ukrainian cuisine has been getting threatening phone calls and the owner, who came here from Ukraine in 1975 when it was still part of Russia, is looking to cover the sign saying "Russian cuisine" with the Ukrainian flag.
Joining me now is William Watson. He's a retired professor of economics at McGill University and columnist for the "National Post" of Canada for which he wrote this piece called "Cancel Putin, not Russia." Professor, tonight by pure coincidence, I'm going to see the Washington Capitals play ice hockey. When Alex Ovechkin comes out on the ice, what am I supposed to do?
WILLIAM WATSON, RETIRED PROFESSOR OF ECONOMICS, MCGILL UNIVERSITY/COLUMNIST THE NATIONAL POST: Well, I don't like the Capitals so I hope you boo. But, you know, it's a difficult -- Republicans buy sneakers, too. You know, I think there are calculated reasons why sports figures don't want to become political. And there are personal reasons. They're not very political, some of them. They concentrate on a slap shot or hitting a curveball.
Those are hard things to do and maybe they don't want to be interested in politics as well. So I kind of favor the idea that sports figures are sports figures and they stay out of politics. It's kind of annoying when they let us know their little political preferences of one kind or another. If they have been active in the past it's kind of convenient that they fall silent at a bad time when their heroes or people they voted for in the past, if they had the opportunity to vote, are doing things that are wrong. And -- but I think these are individual choices.
And I don't like the idea that people have to step up and make a loyalty oath and say, "I do condemn Putin." For a natural born Canadian living in Canada, it's very easy to say, "I condemn Putin." For somebody who has family in Russia, is Russian, has a long history there that takes a little bit of courage, I think.
SMERCONISH: Here's what you wrote in part, "Piling-on can be exhilarating but it's important to try to retain a sense of fair play. Not all Russian expatriates are oligarchs. And maybe not all oligarchs are crooks, whose gains were necessarily ill-gotten. Or as Joe Biden put it his State of the Union speech, more biblically, ill-begotten."
So how would you define it? Give me the standard by which you think we should be looking at these individuals.
WATSON: Well, you know, we're a rule of law society. The British government, from what I read in the British press, is very eager to go after the oligarchs and seize as much property as they can. The problem they're having is that lawyers within the British governments say, "Well, you know, they haven't officially done anything wrong. Their crime may have been to steal Russian wealth 30 years ago, but within Britain they're not breaking any laws."
I think we have to maintain ourselves as a rule of law society. Putin is the guy who is breaking the law. If people -- if Russian citizens operating in North American or around the world don't want to comment I don't think we have to force them to. On the other hand we're perfectly free to say, "Well, you're not going to sing for us this season," even though the singer in question has appeared at the Met 192 times, I read.
SMERCONISH: Can't the market decide this? I mean, you're a former economics professor. Why not let her sing? And if you're offended by that, then don't buy a ticket.
WATSON: Don't buy a ticket. You know, if you're running an opera, you're probably worried that there are going to be demonstrations. I sound a little bit like university now. We can't invite this unpopular speaker because there may be demonstrations and that will be expensive.
Well, you know, you have to decide. Her argument is she provides art. She tries to bring people together. That's what art does. It expresses people's humanity to each other. And in the furtherance of art, you might want to let her sing.
But that's, you know, it's a private decision, you make that decision. You should be sure, though, that you're not engaging in an act of cowardice, you're just keeping your head below the parapet. Because the mood right now is that anybody who says anything nice about Russia is going to -- it's a cancel culture phenomenon. You're going to get hit, too. So, just be sure that you're certain of your conviction and it's coming from a good place, and not a bad place.
SMERCONISH: Professor Watson, thank you so much. I appreciate you being here.
WATSON: My pleasure, Michael. Thanks for asking me.
SMERCONISH: Checking in on your social media. What do we have? Twitter again.
Everything we do to prevent ordinary Russians from participating in global activity is meant to filter back to Putin where he learns that his own citizens are being harmed by his war efforts.
You know, Gil Good, I'm going to quote Potter Stewart. For me this is again pornography. "I know it when I see it." I'm would have let the Met singer sing. Unless she's standing up today and buying into what Putin is doing in Ukraine then I'd feel differently. Ovechkin, I'm not going to boo the guy because of his past association with Putin. I'd feel differently if he were supportive of what Putin is doing right now in Ukraine. Still to come, more of your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments. And we'll give you the results of the survey question. You still have time to go vote right now at Smerconish.com. Should the United States ban all Russian energy imports?
SMERCONISH: Time to see you responded to the survey question this week at Smerconish.com. Should the United States ban all Russian energy imports?
Here's the result. Yes, I mean, I figured it was going to be that kind of a no-brainer. Wow. Almost 30,000 people having voted. That's pretty significant. And I think it sends a message to the president, right?
I'm not shocked by it. I'll simply say this, "I think that's the right answer. But I think it's more complicated than it has been presented." And I think Americans are prepared to pay more at the pump to be supportive in an indirect way of Ukraine vis-a-vis Russia.
I also want to say that I like what Philip Bump said in "The Washington Post" on this issue. "One way to reduce the need to import oil is to reduce the need to use oil at all."
Catherine, what do we have from social media?
"I see in this survey it's almost unanimous to sanction Russian energy exports and I am all for it. But I don't want to hear a bunch of bellyaching talking about how high" -- you know, that's true -- "and that it's the president's fault."
The White House is obviously very concerned about the rising gas prices already and inflation at a 40-year high with the midterms coming and that's why, you know, President Biden, in part, that's part of the reason why he doesn't want to do what we're talking about here. But maybe to this individual's point it actually insulates the White House because now the White House gets to say, well, yes, you're paying more at the pump, but it's because of this crazy situation with Ukraine.
Quickly, one more, if I have time for it. Has it ever crossed your mind that our country is so divided that this Ukrainian issue is bringing this country together?
Valerie Fitzgerald, it used to be that our divisions domestically stopped at the water's edge. Those days seem to have gone away and this incident, maybe it's a silver lining, seems to be bringing us back together.
I'll leave the survey question up for the rest of the day. Register for my newsletter while you're there. See you next week.