Former Gov. Jim Gilmore considers the Russian invasion of Ukraine “the most serious crisis” in Europe since the Soviet Union divided and walled off Berlin more than 60 years ago.
Gilmore also calls the movement of Russian troops into two Ukrainian regions a “precise” parallel to Nazi Chancellor Adolf Hitler’s intervention in the Sudetenland as a pretext for Germany to occupy the Czech province in 1938 as prelude to invading the rest of Czechoslovakia and then Poland the next year.
So Gilmore — who served for two years as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe — hopes western attempts to defuse the crisis don’t repeat British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s mistake in appeasing Hitler with a diplomatic compromise ceding sovereign territory.
“The consensus can’t be either a war with Russia on one hand or surrender like Neville Chamberlain on the other,” he said in an interview Wednesday.
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Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who succeeded Gilmore as governor in 2002, said Gilmore “has been pretty clear-eyed about Russia, unlike some of his friends in the Republican Party.”
“I think Jim Gilmore is right that it is the most dangerous time, at least since the Berlin Wall, if not the end of World War II,” said Warner, who is playing a major role managing the crisis as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
While his most pressing concern is the unknown ramifications of Russian cyber-attacks that could cause damage beyond Ukraine, he said, “You could end up with a major shooting war in Ukraine. ... You don’t want to go down that path. You don’t know where you’ll end up.”
Gilmore, a Republican, has been critical of President Joe Biden for his handling of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian buildup on Ukraine’s borders, but he strongly supports the president’s decisions to impose heavy economic sanctions on Russia, the deployment of U.S. troops in Eastern Europe and the delivery of what he called “defensive weaponry” to Ukraine.
If Russia invades the rest of Ukraine, as he expects, the former governor said, “We should have absolutely no commerce with Russia whatsoever and neither should our allies. We shouldn’t even be speaking to the Russians.”
Gilmore scorned members of what he calls the “isolationist” wing of the Republican Party, such as Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., for dismissing the importance of the showdown over Ukraine to the security interests of the U.S.
He said Hawley and Fox News talk show host Tucker Carlson “are wrong on Ukraine” for defending Putin’s pretext of sending troops into the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as a defense of Russian security from encroachment by NATO.
Gilmore is more forgiving of former President Donald Trump, who appointed him ambassador to OSCE. This week, Trump spoke admiringly of Putin and his dispatch of Russian troops into the Ukrainian regions as a “peacekeeping” force.
“He thinks Putin is smart; that doesn’t mean he thinks he’s right,” Gilmore said of the former president. “Trump has always been reckless with his language.”
Gilmore dismisses Putin’s talk of peace keeping and Russian security against NATO as “baloney.”
“The notion of ‘you’re threatening us’ is for suckers,” he said.
Gilmore, who served as a U.S. Army intelligence officer in West Germany in the early 1970s, said Putin has a much larger goal than helping Ukrainian separatists in the two regions.
“His goal has been for quite a long time to reassert the Russian empire in Europe and make Europe subject to Russia’s political will,” he said.
Gilmore considers Putin’s actions in Ukraine — as well as the occupation of Crimea in 2014 — a repudiation of the Budapest Memorandum that President Bill Clinton negotiated with Russia and Britain in 1994 to guarantee the sovereignty of Ukraine territory in exchange for the country giving up nuclear arms.
The former governor says Biden’s mistakes were to grant Putin a summit meeting last year, lift sanctions that Trump had imposed on Russia for the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline to Europe, and wait too long to begin imposing economic sanctions over the troop buildup on Ukraine’s borders.
But Gilmore said he is heartened by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s decision to suspend Nord Stream 2 in response to the invasion. On Wednesday, Biden imposed U.S. sanctions on the company building the pipeline.
Warner, an ally of the president who criticized his handling of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan last year, said, “I think Biden has played this well.”
He is especially heartened by the cooperation of the U.S. and allied intelligence services in publicly countering Russian disinformation, and the president’s efforts to bolster the NATO alliance he said Trump had undermined.
“NATO is stronger than it has been in decades,” said Warner, who just returned from an international security conference in Munich and meeting with British intelligence officials in London.
Gilmore also praised Biden’s efforts to bolster NATO and guarantee security to its members if they are attacked.
“I think we are better off than we were,” he said. “NATO has rallied.”