This episode of “Ukraine Through the Eyes of Others” features Steven Moore, a seasoned political strategist, international social entrepreneur, and political opinion researcher with extensive experience across more than a dozen countries.
During his seven-year tenure on Capitol Hill, primarily as the chief of staff for former Rep. Pete Roskam (R-Ill.), Moore emerged as a potent force in GOP circles. Beyond his political endeavors, he demonstrated a commitment to Ukraine by founding the Ukraine Freedom Project—an NGO dedicated to delivering humanitarian aid to frontline towns at the start of the full-scale Russian invasion.
In this interview, Moore shares his perspectives on the United States’ support for Ukraine, unravels the origins of Russian propaganda in U.S. broadcasting, and articulates his ideas for implementing a more effective sanctions system against Russia. The conversation not only illuminates the current state of Ukraine but also offers valuable insights into the intricate interplay between geopolitics, economic development, and societal resilience.
– Steven, can you tell me when you first came to Ukraine and what your impressions were?
I lived here in 2018 and 2019 and loved it. It was a great place. The energy here is so different from any place else I’ve been. I’ve been to 60 countries, and I’ve noticed that the Ukrainian people are exceptionally entrepreneurial, creative, and innovative, and there are so many incredible brands. The culture is real.
– You also have an organization that is called The Ukraine Freedom Project. And you’ve delivered more than a million dollars worth of aid in different parts of Ukraine, including frontline towns. How does someone like you, a foreigner, come in on day five of the full-scale invasion and set up a far-reaching and effective NGO here? What are the challenges you have faced?
When I arrived, the expectations were low. Having spent almost two years as a civilian in Iraq during the early stages of the war, this marked my fifth experience in a war zone—six if you count Congress. With a clear understanding of the situation, I immediately started assisting my friends in reaching critical areas like Kyiv and Kharkiv. However, I soon discovered that the major international organizations, typically effective in such crises, were not meeting expectations. Within three weeks, all my friends seeking safety were secure. At that point, I questioned my next move: “Do I simply claim victory and leave?” Then, a friend of a friend reached out to me from Bobritsia, a small village near Kyiv. They were struggling to obtain medical supplies for a local clinic. Initially hesitant to go to the front, I suggested contacting the Red Cross. To my surprise, he asked, “Who?” Eventually, I personally invested $6,000 for medical supplies on my credit card before we began fundraising and delivering them. Notably, the boxes received were not from the Red Cross or the UN but from St. Mary’s Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Recognizing a pressing need, I took initiative to address it, and that has been my focus thus far.
– And in terms of raising funds for your NGO, who are your top donors? Do you have big investors or is it mostly crowdfunding?
I’ve got a thousand donors, so I will be in trouble here by naming specific people. And it would take a long time, so just people I know who are good-hearted and want to see Ukraine win. And a lot of my friends would like to be here. I was in a fortunate position where many things came together that I could go and help.
– Were they interested in Ukraine before?
Yes and no. While some had an interest, their primary focus is on freedom. A significant number of my colleagues on Capitol Hill entered politics driven by a commitment to freedom, a core value I share. To illustrate, I spent two years in Iraq and an additional three and a half years in Muslim countries post-September 11, 2001, with the aim of helping the Muslim world find non-violent solutions to their problems. After this experience, I had the Arabic word for freedom tattooed on my calf. Being present in Ukraine provides me with the opportunity to embody my commitment to freedom, a value widely shared among people in the United States.
– I’m aware that you’ve traveled extensively in Ukraine. Can you share some stories that have left a lasting impression on you?
Certainly, there’s my friend Dennis. In 2019, when I was here, he was my gym trainer and the person who would pick me up at the border. Dennis had been in Donbas in 2014 and was well-acquainted with handling an AK-47. When I reached out to him from Romania, just outside Chernivtsi, asking for assistance, he immediately came to get me. We collaborated to aid people in evacuating, working closely with the Kyiv Territorial Defense, where he played a significant role. Subsequently, he joined the Ukraine Special Forces, enduring two injuries but persistently returning to service. Despite witnessing and participating in harrowing experiences out of necessity, Dennis maintains a sense of humor and exudes positive energy.
People in the United States must understand the complexity of the situation in Ukraine. I often convey that Ukraine is both better and worse than they might think. Kyiv, where we are now, functions admirably as a city and is a pleasant place to be. This is a stark contrast to my experience in March of last year when there were constant threats, checkpoints, and artillery sounds — Kyiv was far from an ideal place then. Presently, Ukraine is better than anticipated, but it also faces severe challenges, especially in places like Saltivka, Izium, and other areas extensively damaged by the Russians.
Colonel Douglas McGregor’s assertion that the Russians treat Ukrainians gently when captured is surprising, considering the first-hand accounts I’ve heard. I can easily connect with five individuals who have been tortured by the Russians. Astonishingly, those who have endured such torment tend to take it in stride, focusing on practical matters like dinner plans after sharing their ordeal. The resilience of the Ukrainian people is truly remarkable, evident in their innovative spirit and the unique initiatives they pursue.
– How do shows like Tucker Carlson’s, which discuss content that appears to be either blatant Russian propaganda or misinformation, secure funding? What is the source of support for such shows, and do they genuinely comprehend the situation before speaking on behalf of Ukrainians?
Taking Tucker Carlson as an example, you often find dubious statements made by criminal propagandists on their shows one day, only to see Tucker presenting those same ideas the following day. This creates a symbiotic relationship in the realm of propaganda. Considering Tucker’s substantial net worth of $400 million, one might question how much money is deemed sufficient. The interconnectedness between certain media figures and questionable sources raises concerns.
I personally interacted with Tucker Carlson about a decade or so ago when we collaborated on a project. We both have roots in San Diego, and back then, he was a charming individual. However, considering recent developments, I don’t know what happened to him.
– How do individuals in the United States can counteract the influence of figures like Tucker Carlson, given his significant platform, even after his move from Fox News to Twitter, where he remains highly effective? The extensive reach of his content and the way it is received poses a challenge.
Many Americans, unsure of whom to trust, lack the time or means to investigate the situation thoroughly, as some, like myself, have done here. The trustworthiness of news media in the United States has diminished across the political spectrum, leaving people uncertain about where to find the real story. In a landscape where trust is eroding, what strategies can be employed to discern and challenge misinformation effectively?
– Today, in the Republican Party, we see very different actors that have little to no understanding of foreign policy such as MTG, and other people who are very actively advocating against the support of Ukraine. I wonder, as an insider, how do you deal with this divide from within?
Both within and outside of Congress, influential entities like the Heritage Foundation, once renowned for thoughtful foreign policy analysis, seem to have shifted their approach. Instead of producing detailed and insightful papers, they now advocate for hazardous policies through memes. This shift is evident in their opposition to the $25 billion request for additional aid to Ukraine. Such opposition is perilous as it undermines the coalition supporting Ukraine, and someone needs to stand up against it.
I, representing a small NGO, emphasize to anyone who will listen that entities like the Heritage Foundation or individuals like Tucker Carlson do not accurately represent the broader Republican Party or sound foreign policy. This stance is crucial, as the erosion of support for Ukraine’s cause could embolden other aggressors, like Xi Jinping considering actions in Taiwan, especially if the coalition backing Ukraine dissipates in the next 18–24 months. It’s essential to counter these narratives and emphasize a commitment to responsible foreign policy.
– You’ve said multiple times that the aid to Ukraine is one of the best uses of your tax money. Can you elaborate on that?
When assessing concerns about the allocation of funds and weapons, it’s crucial to consider the broader context. Over the past two years, approximately $40 billion has been allocated for weapons and security measures in Ukraine. In comparison, the U.S. Department of Defense will spend a staggering $800 billion this year alone. The aid to Ukraine represents only about 3% of this substantial budget. What makes this investment worthwhile is evident in the outcomes. Ukraine now controls 87% of its land, and the UK Ministry of Defense estimates that Putin’s warfighting capability has been degraded by half. To put this in perspective, the U.S. Department of Defense has spent $800 billion annually for decades, in part to deter Russia, yet this massive expenditure hasn’t prevented Russia’s actions in places like Georgia. Therefore, aid to Ukraine emerges as one of the most effective measures in deterring Russia.
Even if there are concerns about potential misspending, the result is that a mere 3% of the U.S. Department of Defense budget has significantly degraded Putin’s war-fighting capabilities. This underscores the effectiveness of the partnership between the U.S. and Ukraine in countering one of America’s major adversaries over the years. The success in Kyiv is a testament to this partnership, where the U.S., Europe, Japan, and other contributors provide the necessary weapons, and Ukraine commits the lives of their finest individuals to safeguard their country.
– Shifting to the topic of Ukrainian elections during the war, the Ukrainian Constitution explicitly prohibits conducting polls during active war due to various challenges, including economic ones. What are your thoughts on this matter, or how is it discussed within your circles?
Frankly, nobody’s talking about the elections in Ukraine right now among my circles on Capitol Hill. I’m talking about the US elections. One of the things that people talk about is that Zelenskyy is persecuting Christians, which is nonsense. And what’s happened is the Russians have taken the narrative of arresting Russian Orthodox priests who are spying for the Kremlin and saying that’s persecution of Christians. And again, it’s just nonsense. So, this is a tough time to have elections. I think that’s kind of up to the Ukrainian people to decide. On the other side, this is a democracy. People want to vote. People want to express their opinion. I don’t have a good answer to it.
– How do you feel about the upcoming US elections?
There’s an interesting lineup of Republican candidates, each with their own merits. Tim Scott, whom I know well and supported in his first-ever election to the U.S. Representatives, is regarded as a stellar individual. Nikki Haley, known for her foreign policy acumen, particularly stood out in the last debate. Mike Pence also earned praise for his work in Ukraine. On a more light-hearted note, Chris Christie, while entertaining, is seen as unlikely to win due to his persistent critiques of Donald Trump.
Now, there’s a newcomer on the scene, Vivek Ramaswamy. I stayed up until 6 a.m. to watch debates here in Kyiv, and Ramaswamy’s performance struck me as overly eager and somewhat uninformed, especially on Ukraine. Despite his insistence of having the answers, it became evident that his knowledge about Ukraine was lacking. Hopefully, any anti-Ukraine narrative he pushes will not gain traction.
In general, there are efforts within the United States to bring Ukraine into the national debate among Republicans. However, this is perceived as unhelpful as it tends to be inaccurate. Some are expressing concerns about the national debt in relation to the proposed $25 billion for Ukraine, representing a mere 0.3% of the federal budget. Meanwhile, the discussion overlooks the significantly larger spending on COVID over the past years, totaling around twice the amount allocated for this year alone ($6.9 trillion). The focus on the $25 billion for Ukraine, rather than the substantial COVID spending, raises questions about the effectiveness of Russian propaganda in shaping the narrative.
– Pivoting to the topic of the effectiveness of sanctions. Despite significant sanctions imposed on it, the Russian economy persists, and Western-produced microchip semiconductors are still finding their way into hands that use them to kill Ukrainians. How can we strengthen the sanctions system to prevent this?
It’s noteworthy that numerous U.S. and international corporations continue to conduct business in Russia, with many maintaining substantial manufacturing plants there. For instance, Gillette Razors’ major manufacturing facility is in St. Petersburg. To address this, there should be a level of public outrage in the United States similar to that seen in response to other social issues. This collective voice can be influential in shaping corporate behavior.
Concerning the evasion of sanctions and the flow of microchips, Switzerland emerges as a key player. Kyle Parker, a less well-known figure, has been instrumental in countering Russia’s actions. Notably, he is the legislative staffer responsible for drafting the Magnitsky Act legislation, enabling targeted sanctions against specific individuals involved in wrongdoing, particularly in Russia. Kyle, whose wife is from Kharkiv, actively considers sanctions that can benefit Ukraine and shares insights regularly on Twitter.
Switzerland, despite claiming neutrality, plays a significant role in facilitating the flow of goods, including microchips, into Russia. They hold control over $48 billion of Russian assets from oligarchs, with seven of them frozen. While Switzerland asserts neutrality, its financial gains from sanctions on Russia reveal a more complex reality.
– How can we, as consumers, collectively generate awareness and make a significant impact on brands like Gillette and Procter & Gamble? It’s crucial for people to understand that their purchasing decisions can inadvertently support the Russian war machine.
Procter & Gamble, for instance, has contributed at least $5 million in taxes to the Russian government as of 2022. To put this into perspective, the cost of a Kaliber missile or a Shahed drone is approximately $20,000. By drawing attention to the financial contributions made by companies like Procter & Gamble to the Russian government, we can encourage folks to reconsider their support for these brands.
– Military tech is a hot topic in the USA and here in Ukraine. What are your thoughts on that?
I have two thoughts on this matter. Firstly, there is a notable pent-up demand among investors in the United States for opportunities in Ukraine, particularly in the military tech sector. The Ukrainian military’s increasing expertise in developing and utilizing weapons against near-peer adversaries like Russia has garnered interest. Investors aspire to be part of this progress. However, apprehensions about corruption serve as a significant deterrent. Corruption manifests in various forms, and a zero-tolerance approach is crucial.
To facilitate foreign investment and ensure a brighter future for Ukraine, it’s essential to address corruption effectively. Ukraine is currently at a critical juncture, with the potential to attract substantial foreign investment or continue to be perceived as one of the most corrupt countries globally. It’s encouraging to note that there is hope for change on the corruption front. Conversations with soldiers at the frontlines indicate a commitment to integrity around American weapons, with a prevailing sentiment of intolerance towards corruption.
However, the battle against corruption is not over. While there is a shift in attitude among the Ukrainian people, with a growing unwillingness to return to old ways, continued vigilance is necessary. The aftermath of war poses challenges, and there are still individuals employing corrupt practices. The Ukrainian people must remain actively engaged internally, driving out corruption and solidifying the positive changes underway.
– How do you envision Ukraine post-victory, both domestically and on the international stage?
It’s a compelling question, considering the immense challenges posed by this devastating war, resulting in the loss of many remarkable individuals. Despite the tragic circumstances, there is a silver lining. Before January 2022, only 7% of Americans could pinpoint Ukraine on a map. Now, awareness about Ukraine has significantly increased, bringing attention to its potential.
Throughout the war, the Ukrainian IT sector experienced remarkable growth, a trend that persists. With a wealth of intelligent, thoughtful, creative, and innovative individuals, Ukraine is a potential hub for the IT industry, akin to Silicon Valley in the East. The human capital is evident, and the commitment to not revert to old ways is a sentiment shared by many Ukrainians.
I recall a conversation with a young woman on the street who expressed a collective resolve: “We’re not returning to the old ways. Too many people are dying.” This sentiment reflects the shared determination among Ukrainians. I’ve chosen to live here, foregoing opportunities in the United States. This decision is driven by my faith in the Ukrainian people and a desire to contribute to the transformative developments unfolding in this nation.
– Is there something you’ve learned about Ukrainian culture you’ve been mistaken for, like Russian culture before?
“Ya liubliu (I love) borsch”. I don’t even like beets. But I like borsch. I’m learning Ukrainian. I like cappuccino, so “moloko bez laktozy, bud laska (lactose-free milk please)”. And I’ve come to appreciate a lot of the things. I tell my friends that Taras Shevchenko is like Ukraine’s George Washington. He’s a poet and I like the poet culture and that many things are named after poets here. Someone said, “Why are they spending the money on taking the hammer and sickle off the Motherland statue?” I responded that it seemed like a good idea to me. Let’s completely erase Russian and Soviet influence from Ukraine because that’s kind of part of the narrative: “Oh, Ukraine’s really part of Russia.” No, no, it’s not. There’s a great book, “The Gates of Europe” by Serhii Plokhii. I read that book, and every chapter answers why Ukraine is independent.
– And lastly, what is your favorite place in Ukraine?
I was just recently in the Carpathians. It’s adorable, a beautiful part of the world. And what I like about Kyiv is that you can walk everywhere, there are places to walk, and people are out. And interesting people are doing exciting things on the street. You’ve got street artists, some people are playing the cello, really talented musicians everywhere. I like just being outside in Kyiv, walking around, feeling the vibe, the energy, the beauty, and the history. What’s not to like about Kyiv? Except for the occasional Russian missiles.
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