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Time is of the essence to get more help to Ukraine, Zelenskyy adviser says

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Since 2019, an American lawyer named Andrew Mac has served as a Washington, D.C.-based adviser to Ukraine's president.

ANDREW MAC: I took on this role thinking that it would be low-key, you know, once-in-a-while type of role. And when I took the role on, it was one week before the impeachment scandal hit.

INSKEEP: President Trump faced impeachment for his phone call to Volodymyr Zelenskyy in 2019. Later came Russia's military buildup and then the Russian invasion. We called Andrew Mac during another dramatic week. Russia's withdrawal from the Kyiv region revealed the killings of civilians. President Zelenskyy challenged the United Nations to do more. And as we just heard, Ukraine's foreign minister is asking NATO for more weapons. So how do Ukrainians rate American help so far? Andrew Mac talks of three phases - first disappointment, then gratitude and now concern about the future.

MAC: By the time it became clear that Putin was planning this huge attack against Ukraine, the weapons started to flow. But that was quite late. I think, if I'm not mistaken, U.S. weapons started en masse to come into Ukraine in the second half of January. So basically, you know, it was late - better late than never. But having said that, you know, the Biden administration has been extremely helpful. Obviously, you know, time is of the essence.

INSKEEP: When I follow the speeches and interviews of President Zelenskyy, it seems to me that he's saying two things about Western aid. First, thanks very much for all the support. I recognize how important it is. But second, what is the matter with you? Why are you not doing more? Can you speak to that side of the equation, the frustration?

MAC: Well, I'll do my best. You know, I obviously don't have the authority to speak directly for the president, but I'll give you my best take on it. So here's the situation. You know, in addition to the military confrontation - right? - which, actually, Ukraine has done exceedingly well. And all the predictions were that Kyiv would fall in a day or two and Ukraine would collapse within three days.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

MAC: Thankfully, that has proven wrong. And actually, it looks like at least the first battle of Kyiv has been won by the Ukrainian side. So this is very unexpected. However, despite this, you know, seeming victory, we see several things that are troubling. One is we believe Putin is regrouping. He has no intention to call it a day and say, oh, I tried. It didn't work. Putin has completely monopolized control of the Ukrainian Black Sea coast. But let me be blunt. If the Ukrainians are not able to export their products - you know, their food products, their metal products - from Odesa to the rest of the world, Ukrainian GDP will be hit. The Ukrainian economy will not be able to stabilize. You know, Putin could very well lose the ground war, but he could economically cripple Ukraine. The alternative supply routes that Ukraine has via Poland and other neighbors in the West are not sufficient to make up for the giant ports in Odesa.

INSKEEP: This is really interesting because you're telling me that there are some ways in which time is not on Ukraine's side.

MAC: Well, I think that's right. You know, I hear a lot of analysis that time is not on Putin's side. The Russian economy is going to, you know, head to Soviet-era levels in 6 to 12 months. You know, unfortunately, the Ukrainian economy, unless it gets significant assistance or the Black Sea ports are unblocked via a naval presence - unless that happens, then, you know, Ukraine will be economically not functioning in a matter of months.

INSKEEP: So as this becomes a longer war, Ukraine is going to need more economic aid.

MAC: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: Is there a different form of military aid that Ukraine will need than it has needed in the opening weeks?

MAC: Well, the conventional wisdom now is that the battles that are being prepared, literally in the coming days or week in the East - in the Donbas region especially - will be - it will be the modern version of Stalingrad. Ukraine is going to need a lot more heavy artillery, tanks. They're going to need planes. They're going to need helicopters. They're going to need everything you need to fight a significant land war in a confined area.

INSKEEP: I want you to know we had Jon Finer, the deputy national security adviser, on the program this week. And my colleague A Martinez raised this question of MiG fighters, Soviet-era fighters that Ukraine flies now. And there was talk for a while of transferring some old fighters from Poland to Ukraine. The United States said they didn't want to be the intermediary for that. But Jon Finer insisted this is not off the table. Let's listen to some of what he had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

JON FINER: So just to reiterate, because I think there's some misunderstanding about this, the United States does not have MiG aircraft, and the United States has not said no and could not say no to other countries transferring MiG aircraft to Ukraine. Other countries have not yet made the decision to do that. The United States certainly wouldn't stand in the way of it. But what our military believes at this point is that the weapons and the systems that are going to be most effective for the Ukrainians are going into Ukraine en masse. And you are seeing the results of those transfers of weapons on the battlefield in real time.

INSKEEP: Andrew Mac, what do you make of that analysis?

MAC: I will say that out of all the NATO countries that border Ukraine, in general, Poland has been the one who's most aggressive in helping Ukraine on all fronts, including the military front and taking, I think, quite a bit of risk. That the Polish government, you know, even if they have the intention to transfer planes, would seek some kind of - you know, if not assurance because they already have it under NATO - but would seek some kind of understanding that those planes would be replenished by the U.S. or by NATO, I think, you know, for me, that's a logical request for the Poles to make.

INSKEEP: Do you assume that the time frame that you need to think about is not months but years?

MAC: Oh, that I don't know. So what if we reach a stalemate on the ground in the East in, let's say, two months, and we have an agreement that's not really an agreement, but it's more like a cease-fire, very similar to the DMZ, for example? Who is going to invest in Ukraine if you have a no man's zone located somewhere in eastern Ukraine with the possibility of new conflict - with a new conflict happening at any moment? So I think that's why Ukraine needs to have the solid support and continued assistance of the West.

INSKEEP: Andrew Mac, adviser to Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, thanks so much.

MAC: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.