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Speaking at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles, he said he was surprised that Putin went forward with the invasion.
Mnuchin said having met Putin on several occasions, his interpretation was that “this was a giant miscalculation on his side. He never thought he’d end up in this situation. He thought this would be easy without firing a shot. And now he has a difficult time with an off-ramp.” He said it was ironic that “the more successful Ukraine is in pushing him back, the harder it is going to be to create an off-ramp for him.”
Speaking at the packed conference room at the annual event, Mnuchin was asked if he believed the invasion would have taken place during the Trump administration. His answer was similar to that of President Trump, who recently said it would not have happened under his watch.
Mnuchin said, “whether this would, or wouldn’t have occurred under the previous administration, I think it’s unlikely, but I think that’s not really relevant. We are where we are.”
Steven Mnuchin at the Milken Institute Global Conference on May 3 in Beverly Hills, California. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)
The former secretary of the Treasury also said an exit strategy was needed and noted that China could be pivotal in making that happen. “China has to be part of the solution here. I think that President Xi may be one of the few people that has influence on Putin. So, I think China needs to be part of a solution.”
Mnuchin said there was a need to create an off-ramp, noting that sanctions alone were not going to stop the war. He also said he did support military funding to Ukraine.
“I do support military aid. I’m not sure $35 billion is the right number, but I absolutely support it.”
He said more military aid should have been given before the war started and called on the United Nations and others to do more to stop the killing. “I think we need to force the U.N. or U.S. and Europe to go in and say, ‘You know, we’re not going to get into dogfights in the sky, but we are going to enforce corridors to get people out of here so that they’re not getting killed.'”
Also speaking at the panel was former Russian political prisoner and Putin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was at one time the wealthiest man in Russia. He was sent to prison for almost 10 years for what he claimed were political reasons.
Speaking through a translator, he said Putin did not expect such a fight. “We now know that he had been convinced by others that he would be met with people throwing flowers on the streets of Ukraine, or at the very worst, at least, if he would not be met with organized resistance.”
Vladimir Putin “is dangerous,” said former Russian political prisoner and Putin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky. (Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
Asked by the moderator if he thought Putin was sick, the former Russian tycoon said that “a healthy person wouldn’t start a war like that. But he’s not so not normal as to become not dangerous anymore: he is dangerous.”
As for the idea that Putin could use a tactical nuclear weapon against Ukraine, he said, “Yes,” but, “If you ask me if I think whether he would use tactical nuclear weapons (against) Ukraine if he knows that he would be met with an appropriate response, I don’t believe he would.”
Khodorkovsky predicted that there would be uncertain times ahead whatever the outcome of the war and warned that “the world will not be a safe place as long as Putin remained in power.”
Another panelist at the Milken event: Rep. Victoria Spartz. The Indiana Republican, who was born in Ukraine, said despite a strong bipartisan push there was an “extreme level of frustration on both sides.”
She praised her own party’s leadership on getting behind Ukraine. “I have to tell you my Republican leadership did a lot to really raise this issue,” which she said put pressure “on the other side to act and I think that was very healthy to do that because it’s a very serious situation.”