Australia Today with Steve Price – US Intelligence on Putin



Subjects: How US intelligence is getting information on Putin

STEVE PRICE, HOST: Peter Khalil is a regular with us on the program. Represents the people of Wills in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. Worked with Kevin Rudd in national security. We’re going to talk about the issue with Ukraine in a moment, Peter. But from a distance it seems that the federal and state divide, which is I think been really illuminated during COVID, is alive and well, where both arms of government don’t seem to be able to talk to each other for a common purpose.

PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WILLS: Yeah, g’day Steve, you’re right, this has been a theme, a problem for the Federation over the last couple of years. It’s been really exacerbated with the pandemic. But with the floods, with the bushfires, it’s not too hard mate. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. And, you know, we are, and people can take it as they will,we’ve got a disaster ready fund if we win the election, we’ll put in place what’s called an ERF a new disaster ready fund, up to 200 million a year invested in disaster readiness. So, you’re ready to go when these things hit. And the Federal Government, working with the state agencies and the departments and so on, are coordinating our efforts.We’ve got the plans in place, the contingencies in place. It’s not too hard, it’s not rocket science. And one of our big criticisms of the Morrison government is that they have failed to plan for many of these crises and they kind of react at the 11th hour or the last minute and it’s welcome, the announcements he’s made for relief and so on.But it’s ad hoc and it’s not quite right because it hasn’t been a contingency plan in place for this kind of thing with the federal government doing what it needs to do. So that’s, I guess, where my criticism is of the government response.

PRICE: We were just talking to Steve Krieg, I don’t know if you caught it, the mayor of Lismore. He makes the point he’s on, he gets $50,000 as a nominal fee to be mayor. He’s got public servants up there now trying to run this recovery operation on $300,000 or $400,000 a year, he said, they’ve got no idea what they’re doing.

KHALIL: It’s madness, I didn’t catch the last of it. But you know, if we’re putting in that 200 million if we win, it’s about investing in flood levies, it’s about evacuation centres, culverts, and drainage systems, all of this stuff that needs to be done. I don’t give a crap whether it’s the state government or the federal government that gets this stuff in place.But Australia faces, has always faced, a lot of these natural disasters and we’re getting more and more of them happening. Let’s put the elements in place to ensure that we keep Australians safe. And when these disasters hit, we have a response that’s ready to go and that requires a bit of pre-planning. So, it’s not rocket science.

PRICE: Don’t we have 5 billion in some fund somewhere that earnt 800 million in interest? Not $0.01 of it’s been spent.

KHALIL: Well, he hasn’t spent any of it.


KHALIL: I don’t know. You should ask. Get Scott Morrison onto your program. Ask him.

PRICE: Yeah, in your dreams. Let’s talk about Ukraine with your former national security hat on. I’m just watching this, and it looks to me like a repeat of Nazi Germany storming across Europe in the Second World War. I never thought we’d see this again. It seems to me that Putin is just determined to grind these people into the ground.

PRICE: I was speaking earlier in the program to one of the global charities that got in, they got to one hospital just over the border from where they are in Poland. And they said it was extremely grim. Where do you see this going?

KHALIL: Yeah Steve, you’re right in your analysis and this is horrifying. This war is going to, it is already a humanitarian disaster. And Putin is just ramping it up even further. He is upping the ante; he is trying to draw the rest of the European states into the war to make it a broader conflict outside of Ukraine. It’s almost like he’s goading the West here with what he’s doing. You know, they bombed a maternity hospital yesterday, among many, many other examples of attacks on civilians. This is a disgrace. Now, I just got back from Washington, D.C., I was with the Intelligence and Security Committee, our parliament’s committee, a bipartisan delegation. We met with congressional leaders, the US Senate. We met with the White House, national security officials, all the intelligence agencies. The one bright spot there by the way at Congress was the one bright spot of bipartisanship was the actual united position against Russia and in support of Ukraine. It really has galvanised the US system to a certain extent, which is very partisan, as you know, to support Ukraine and I think they were surprised as we all were, by the courage of the Ukrainian people, Ukrainian Defence Forces, the Ukrainian President Zelensky, and their resistance to Putin’s aggression. So where do you think it’s going to go? You ask that question. I think it’s going to get worse. Unfortunately, Putin has no diplomatic path. And even if you tried a diplomatic path, the West couldn’t reward his aggression by giving him the concessions that he seeks. So, he’s going to get more and more aggressive and it’s going to become more and more horrific. And we must provide the support to the Ukrainians to resist. The point is this question around boots on the ground. The president has made it very clear there will be no U.S boots on the ground and that the support is going to be limited to military aid, weapons, logistics and humanitarian aid to support the Ukrainian Defence Forces.

PRICE: But there might not be anything left to save. I mean, you’ve seen these pictures of major towns that have been completely blitzkrieg with bombs. You got Mariupol in the south today where they’re bombing a maternity hospital. You got scenes of kids and families sheltering in the underground without any water. They’re getting water from the rain on the roof.

KHALIL: Yep. So, I asked these questions in D.C. of the people that we met. And one of the points that we were discussing was the support with European fighter jets to the Ukrainian Air Force. The problem, of course, was that if it was, it was piloted by Polish pilots or your other NATO member pilots, Putin would see this as a declaration of war by the NATO member states and draw in the rest of the West. This is the calculus that’s being addressed in all the capitals around the world, there’s a degree of Western unity against Putin and in support of Ukraine. But there’s also a strategically important calculus around not allowing this to expand out into a broader land war in Europe. And remember, Russia is a nuclear armed state. If he has the excuse to use a tactical nuclear weapon or other types of banned weapons in other parts of Europe. So, this is how horrific and tragic this whole thing is. And the decisions that are being made now are very consequential Steve. We’re at an inflection point here. I mean, I would say the good thing I saw was Europeans suddenly muscle up in a way they haven’t for decades. I mean, Switzerland, which we all know has been neutral, has suddenly taken sides. Finland, all of the European states have suddenly, and Germany have stood up and started to provide aid to Ukraine.

PRICE: Even Turkey.

KHALIL: Yeah, it’s a big step.

PRICE: It is a big step. It would appear that the only way that this is going to be resolved in Ukraine’s favour, because clearly, yes, they can resist for only so long I’d imagine, they are going to be in a situation where they have to wait it out and hopefully all of these sanctions that are on the Russians, including the US, saying no more oil from there you’ve got, McDonald’s and all the credit card companies and all the luxury goods saying we’re not going to trade with you. We need the Russian people to rise up against Putin and sort it out. That’s the only way really this is going to be fixed in a peaceful way, right?

KHALIL: Yeah, that’s a good point, because you’ve already seen a million Russians, very civic organisations sign a petition against the war. You’ve seen protests in the streets of Russian cities. The Russian people are not necessarily supportive of this, but there is a kind of information bubble in Russia. And Putin has become more repressive since the war started where they basically shut down any protests.So that’s the big question mark. How much will the noose tighten on Putin internally? Will the Russian military say, well, hold on a second. You know, you’ve put us into this war and some of the generals start to push back on Putin, how much is it a case that he’s the mad man in the bunker, he’s hearing what he wants to hear, and other elements of the Russian system think, no this guy’s time is up.I don’t know the answer to that question. I do know that the tragedy is that the Ukrainian people are the ones defending their country, but also fighting for the rest of Western Europe and pretty much the free world and democracy. And we’re giving them aid, we’re giving them military aid and assistance and cyber security systems, all the rest of it.How long can they hold out? I suspect there might be an insurgency in Ukraine against Russia. Russia can’t occupy Ukraine; they cannot occupy a country of 40 plus million people. So, this is a matter of time now. But the pain and suffering are wholly with the Ukrainian people. And we have to do everything we can to support them.

PRICE: Great to tap into your experience. Thanks a lot, Peter. We’ll talk soon.

KHALIL: Thanks Steve.