As the war in Ukraine shifts into a third month, Roman Popadiuk is frequently asked to prognosticate on how much longer it might last and how it will end.
It is a valid question for a former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, who has the distinction of being the first person to have the diplomatic role after Ukraine achieved sovereignty following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Popadiuk doesn’t have a crystal ball but he predicted that the war will eventually reach a stalemate. Diplomatic negotiations will follow but “Russia is not going to want to give back any territory and Ukraine will want it back.”
As a result, “we may just see a pause…”
Popadiuk joined Republican U.S. Rep. Roger Williams in a discussion about Ukraine at the Fort Worth Club on Monday. Williams represents Texas Congressional District 25, which stretches from Fort Worth to the Austin area.
Moderator was Kasey Pipes, who served as a policy advisor to President George W. Bush and was author of the 2004 national Republican Party platform. Pipes is currently a partner and co-founder of High Water Strategies, which has offices in Fort Worth and Washington, D.C.
Popadiuk and Williams discussed a variety of topics, including the leadership of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky; U.S. military aid to Ukraine; the U.S. response to the invasion; expanded NATO involvement; and the potentially disastrous but unlikely use of nuclear weapons in the war.
The son of Ukrainian parents, Popadiuk was born in a displaced persons camp in Austria and emigrated with his family to the United States. He expressed a harsh view of Putin, calling him “a killer” who is bent on “destroying America” based on observations of others. Popadiuk has never met Putin.
Williams told a story that he said aptly described Putin’s ruthless nature.
Although Williams has not met Putin, he said Bob Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, told him of an encounter with the Russian president during which Putin admired Kraft’s Super Bowl ring. According to the story, Kraft told Putin that the ring came from winning a championship football game. Putin asked to see the ring; Kraft took it off and handed it to Putin.
“Putin put it in his pocket and never gave it back,” Williams said. “Putin is walking around with a Super Bowl ring. That tells you everything you need to know about Putin.”
Both Popadiuk and Williams were complimentary of Zelensky’s leadership, determination and tenacity.
Popadiuk said Zelensky’s background as a television comedian helped him win global support.
“He plays well to an audience, Popadiuk said. “He knows how to galvanize people and has great support throughout Europe” and elsewhere.
Williams said he attended a congressional video conference with Zelensky and said he was struck by his commitment to continue fighting.
“He talked about how he will never give up,” Williams said.
Regarding U.S. involvement, Popadiuk said, “we were too late.
“History will show, if we knew all that we did know, why didn’t we get there sooner?” Popadiuk said.
Williams agreed that the U.S. was late responding to Russia’s threat against Ukraine.
“If America is the most powerful nation in the world then we need to be on time and not late,” Williams said.
However, Williams expressed reservations about the amount of money that is being spent to support Ukraine in the war as well as depletion of the U.S. weapons stockpile.
“It will take 10 years to rebuild our inventory,” Williams said. “Now Taiwan needs our help against China.”
Williams acknowledged that he voted against the two aid packages, worth $54 billion, that were put to a vote in Congress.
“We need to help Ukraine but we don’t know what the money is going for,” said Williams, who has served in Congress since 2012.
Williams, an auto dealership owner and former Texas Secretary of State, blamed the war on the Biden administration’s display of weakness in its messy withdrawal from Afghanistan, as well as political divisiveness in this country.
“Putin saw all this and thought America wouldn’t fight back,” Williams said. “Putin is afraid of (former President Donald) Trump” and likely would not have invaded Ukraine if Trump was still president.”
Popadiuk, who sidestepped political commentary, said he is amazed, but not surprised, that Ukraine won’t give up. That speaks to Ukraine’s dedication to its independence.
But he predicted that the $54 billion in aid the U.S. has given Ukraine is only the beginning of what the country will need.
“The rebuilding process in Ukraine, rebuilding all that infrastructure, will be enormous,” Popadiuk said. “Hopefully, the world takes some of Russia’s frozen assets and applies them to that. “
Besides serving as a U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Popadiuk served on the National Security Councils of former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
After retiring from from a career in the Foreign Service, he served as executive director of the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation at Texas A&M University. He is currently president of the Diplomacy Center Foundation, a private-public partnership with the U.S. Department of State to design and build the National Museum of American Diplomacy in Washington, D.C.