Marshall Billingslea on Ukraine war: West should listen to Estonia more

Photo: Rauno Korju / ERR

While much more needs to be done in prosecuting sanctions against Vladimir Putin's Russia and to bring the Ukraine war to an end, to Ukraine's advantage, those united in their opposition to Russia's actions could do a lot worse than listen to Estonia on how to proceed, former Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing at the United States Department of the Treasury Marshall Billingslea says.

Speaking to ERR's Tarmo Maiberg after the Finance Intelligence Unit's (FIU) annual conference, Billingslea said: "If there is one enduring benefit of this horrific situation, I would hope that western Europe and the U.S. learn to listen to the Baltic States, about all things Russian."

While support for Ukraine is bipartisan in the U.S., more could be done, Billingslea, a Republican, said.

"My party in the U.S. has been very supportive of President Biden's work, but we are very critical, that we don't think he's doing enough. And more than half of Republicans think that President Biden can and should do more – even within his own party (ie. the Democrats-ed.), around a third of them think that he should do more."

One concrete example Billingslea brought out related to Rosatom, the Russian nuclear energy state corporation.

He said: "The Biden administration is continuing to waive sanctions on Rosatom, which is not only the civilian nuclear state-owned enterprise in Russia, but also the organization that maintains their nuclear weapons, and they stand to reap billions of dollars in providing assistance to the Bushehr nuclear reactor program in Iran, while Rosatom is yet another of these loopholes in the sanctions regime, and yet another way that the Russian federation brings lots of money in, to keep the war going."

Sanctions evasion – for instance via ship-to-ship oil transfers off Malta and three-way – continues to be a major issue.

The reduction in the Russian crude oil price cap proposed by Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas was: "A good effort, it was well-intentioned, the prime minister made a big effort on this."

At the same time, Billingslea said, it would not go far enough even if it were to become a reality.

"[Kallas] had of course been promised by the EU that there would be an automatic revisiting and reductions – that is not happening, so I think it's fair at this stage to say that we need to try something new, we need to go down the path of a full ban with secondary sanctions on people who continue to buy Russian oil, and with sanctions available for financial institutions that process Russian energy transactions," Billingslea continued.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant put out on Vladimir Putin, while a welcome development, did not change all that much – for instance partly because the U.S. is not a signatory to the court, which has at times in the past prosecuted "politicized" cases against U.S. service-people, he added.

While much attention focuses on Russia, this does not mean that its ally, Belarus, should evade sanctions either – though in this case primarily due to that country's dismal human rights record and its continued support for the Russian war effort.

Care should be taken, for instance, to avoid Belarus being a conduit for Russian products which are then relabeled, as a further way of evading bans – a type of care which, again, the Baltic States know better about how to handle than most other countries.

"I greatly support Lithuania's insistence that we make sure that we target fertilizer coming out of Belarus. If we weren't to do that, you would find suddenly a lot of Russian fertilizer becoming Belarusian fertilizer. Closing those loopholes – in cases like this, the Baltic Nations really do know best," Billingslea went on.

As to the nuclear threat, for instance Russian threats to use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine and bearing in mind the fact that it has disregarded all treaties on NBC weapons to which it has been party – the START II treaty, sometimes called New START, is now "dead" Billingslea noted – while this should always be taken seriously, what NATO is doing is adequate.

"The NATO pillar of a nuclear deterrent is made collectively with the whole alliance; I think for now the nuclear posture we have, both the posture that NATO itself has, as well as that of the U.S. and the U.K., is the right one," he said.

Overall, "in the US while there are some very vocal isolationists and others, in general, in the US, the view is that we need to support Ukraine to victory. Now who defines victory – that is defined by President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people," Billingslea said.

"Estonia proved you could donate all of your artillery, as Estonia did, or all of your stinger missiles, as Latvia did," he continued, by way of example of how aid can be provided even from small countries.

"My personal view is that [taking back Crimea and all the Donbas] is exactly right, but my personal view does not matter – what matters is what the duly elected President of Ukraine and his people want, and we should support them to achieve that, but we should strive to accomplish all this, not within five years, but within the next year."

"The goal here is very simple: The goal here is we must bring Russian atrocities in Ukraine to an end; we need to win this war. And to win this war, we need to do two things: We've got to supply the Ukrainians with all the weaponry that they want – not which we think they need – but what they want, and we need to crush the Russian economy. And we can do both," Billingslea added.

Marshall Billingslea was talking to Tarmo Maiberg. The full video can be watched by clicking on the player up top.

Marshall Billingslea was the Trump Administration's nominee to be Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, and has previously served as a U.S. Senate staffer and as a Department of Defense official.

His career has also included time in various Pentagon posts during the George W. Bush administration.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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