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‘Putin is playing mind games’: Former U.S. Senator Max Baucus weighs in on Ukraine crisis

For 36 years he was a U.S. Senator. For three years he was the US Ambassador to China. But he still tells people to call him Max.
Posted at 5:35 PM, Feb 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-17 19:35:04-05

(NOTE: This is part 1 of a 2-part interview with Max Baucus, former US Senator and Ambassador to China)

BOZEMAN - As Montana’s longest-serving senator, Max Baucus has seen a lot of history.

For 36 years he was a US Senator. For three years he was the U.S. Ambassador to China. But he still tells people to call him Max.

MTN News visited with Baucus right before he started a legacy interview as part of Honors Presents, from the Honors College at Montana State University.

In a wide-ranging interview, Ambassador Baucus talked about some of the pressing issues in the United States - and a couple of world events, including the uncertainty and tension over Russia invading Ukraine.

As Americans have been encouraged to leave and the staff at the embassy in Ukraine ordered to evacuate in recent days, Baucus offered his take on the situation.

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As Americans have been encouraged to leave and the staff at the embassy in Ukraine ordered to evacuate in recent days, Baucus offered his take on the situation.

“He’s playing mind games with all of us in the west,” Baucus said of Russian President Vladimir Putin. “He’s hoping in doing so, he’ll pressure maybe Germany and other countries to acquiesce. A little pressure (on) Germany to continue to buy that natural gas from Russia. Maybe do a deal with France. In a way that just gives him a little more leverage. A little more presence in Europe and slightly weakens Europe as a power, vis-a-vis Russa.”

“My best guess?” Baucus added. “There’s not going to be a military invasion. Maybe a little incursion here and there.”

Baucus brought up recent history in his view of Russia’s recent actions.

“When Russia annexed Crimea, I knew they’d get away with it,” Baucus said. “In this case, with all the troops that Putin is amassing on the borders, Belarus or whatever, and because of the response among NATO countries and particularly by the United States, my best guess is that Putin is not going to invade.”

“When Russia annexed Crimea, I knew they’d get away with it,” Baucus said. “In this case, with all the troops that Putin is amassing on the borders, Belarus or whatever, and because of the response among NATO countries and particularly by the United States, my best guess is that Putin is not going to invade.”

“Rather, this is an attempt by him to add a lot of pressure on NATO countries,” Baucus added. “A lot of pressure, for example, on Germany and the US and there’ll be some political pressure in addition to the military presence on the border. There could even be some cyber pressure within Ukraine. So, in that end, he’s weakening Europe psychologically.”

“And that will give him, he hopes, a little more power,” Baucus said of Putin. “A little more the ability for Russia to regain some of, in his view, lost stature, lost status.”

“He is able to project power, Putin is,” Baucus said. “Partly because he’s just so tough and he’s able, frankly, to bully countries pretty well.”

“But he’s playing mind games with all of us in the west,” Baucus said. “I gotta tell you, China is watching the United States very, very closely. Europeans are watching the US very, very closely and if they see the US in their view, starting to decline a little bit, that’s going to empower them. They’re going to take some actions they otherwise would not take.”

“It’s (like) the old Pogo cartoon,” Baucus said. “‘I looked them (in) the mirror. ‘I have seen the enemy and the enemy is us.’ We’ve gotta take care of this ourselves. That’s what this all comes down to.”

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MTN News visited with Baucus right before he started a legacy interview as part of Honors Presents, from the Honors College at Montana State University.

With his knowledge and experience of serving as an ambassador to China, Baucus weighed in on COVID and China’s responsibility.

“We just don’t know whether it came from a lab, intentional or escaped, or whether it came from animals in China,” he said.

“I don’t know,” Baucus added. “I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure.”

“My best guess is it escaped from a lab,” he said. “Certainly not intentional. It’s very possible it came from animals, wet markets in China.”

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