Speed Reads

Keep Calm and party on

CNN's Clarissa Ward tells Stephen Colbert why Ukrainians aren't panicking about Russia, what Putin wants

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that the U.S. and its NATO allies ignored his three key security demands in their written response to his concerns about Ukraine, but suggested he is willing to continue discussions to ease tensions sparked by his buildup of at least 100,000 troops along Ukraine's borders. 

"Yes, you must address his three key requirements: Give. Me. Ukraine," Stephen Colbert joked on Tuesday's Late Show. "Things are tense," and Russia claims "the U.S. is exaggerating the threat. But look how many troops Russia has all around Ukraine. That's a lot of red! If this were an ad for T-Mobile, I'd consider switching carriers."

Oddly, Ukrainians don't seem all "that concerned about Ukrainian sovereignty being crushed to dust under the iron heel of Vladimir Putin," Colbert said. "Throughout this crisis, their president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has been strangely relaxed, and according to CNN's Clarissa Ward, his people are following suit." So, he asked, "are we on the brink of a major Russian invasion of its western neighbor, plunging the world into the most dangerous standoff since the Cold War? Or is the U.S. making a mountain out of a molehill that Vladimir Putin has surrounded with 100,000 troops? When we return, we'll ask CNN's Clarissa Ward via satellite from Ukraine."

"You've talked to the Ukrainians — how are they feeling about all this?" Colbert asked Ward. "You would expect there to be an all-out panic, right?" she said. "But what's interesting in Ukraine is that people have been living with the threat of Russian aggression for eight years" and "I think that until there are actually bombs falling or shots being fired," Ukrainians will view this as a war of political rhetoric.

Ward said if Putin does invade, "the most likely scenario" is he'll justify it with a "false flag" Russian attack on Russian-passport-carrying Ukrainians. Colbert asked if Ward thought Putin was testing Biden, like Soviet leaders used to do with new presidents, and she said that's a possibility, because "Putin is always trying to push buttons like that, and especially with each president." She had some other theories, but "at the end of the day, you always end up coming back to the same thing, which is: What is President Vladimir Putin thinking right now?" Ward explained what Putin thinks about Ukraine and why he won't let it go.