“What is at stake is is that for the first time, since the 1940s, the United States is no longer writing the rules of how the world operates,” Vittert said. “That makes the world a much more dangerous place. Cold War 2.0 has started.”
Putin’s spokesman said Friday that he is prepared to negotiate directly with Ukrainian officials to establish a possible “neutral status” for the country as Russian troops inched closer toward the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.
Vittert said the world should not underestimate Putin or believe what he says given his track record.
“We underestimate Putin or we don’t listen to Putin at our own peril. Remember, this is a guy who just a week and a half ago was saying he was pulling all of his troops off the border because the exercise was over,” Vittert said.
The assault, anticipated for weeks by the West, amounts to Europe’s largest ground conflict since World War II. It could also portend the emergence of a new “Iron Curtain” between the West and Russia, with global repercussions.
The relationship between Ukraine and Russia has evolved in the more than 20 years since Ukraine has become its own nation. 87% of those born after independence was declared in 1991 identify as Ukrainian while 21 percent of those born before 1991 call themselves “Soviet people.” But this does vary by region, 80% of Western Ukrainians want to be economically tied to the EU versus just 26% in eastern Ukraine.
Vittert said Putin is using propaganda and spreading falsehoods to paint a very different picture in Russia in order to rebuild the Soviet Union, similar to the way Adolf Hitler did prior to World War II.
“If you look at the way Hitler talked about Czechoslovakia, the way Hitler came to power and the way Hitler talked about uniting the fatherland of Germany and avenging World War I, it is the exact same language. It’s the exact same justifications that Vladimir Putin is now using to justify going into Ukraine,” Vittert said. “Vladimir Putin has said time and time and time again, that he does not view stopping at Ukraine as his end goal. He’s talked about reuniting the greater Soviet Union, which includes Poland, that includes the Baltic states that are now members of NATO.”
The U.S. and other global powers slapped more sanctions on Russia as punishment for the Kremlin’s actions. But Vittert warns tougher action may be needed.
“Has the famous appeasement of Hitler already happened? Is letting Putin take Ukraine the appeasement of Putin that we will all come back to remember and regret?” Vittert said.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This story is developing. Refresh for updates.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.