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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

NATO Weighs Options In Ukraine

This week, leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are reviewing proposals from NATO’s military chief to respond to the crisis in Ukraine.

Today, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the organization plans to beef up defense plans and multinational training exercises. It also will use “appropriate deployment” of NATO air, land and naval forces if necessary to reassure member states nearest Russia, which has amassed troops on the border with Ukraine.

Rasmussen would not comment on whether NATO would create military bases in eastern Europe. NATO wants to show that it backs allies in the region, but it doesn’t want to provoke Russia into further escalation.

Retired U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis, who is former Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to discuss the situation in Ukraine and NATO’s next moves.


  • James Stavridis, retired U.S. Navy admiral, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University and former Supreme Allied Commander at NATO. He tweets @stavridisj.



From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.


I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW. In a few minutes, strangers thrown together a year ago are fast friends now, and they pause to consider the impact of the Boston bombings.

HOBSON: But first, a question: What can the West do about Russia in Ukraine? Today, pro-Russian gunmen and Ukrainian Special Forces exchanged what's been described as heavy gunfire at a small airport in Eastern Ukraine. And Ukraine's acting president announced an anti-terrorist operation to root out separatists. Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied that his troops are on the ground in Eastern Ukraine, so the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, is weighing its options.

Joining us now is Admiral James Stavridis, the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. He's also dean at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. Admiral, welcome.

ADMIRAL JAMES STAVRIDIS: Thanks, Jeremy, great to be with you.

HOBSON: Well, what can NATO really do here?

STAVRIDIS: Well, let's start with what they probably won't do, which is to actually put boots on the ground to defend Ukraine because Ukraine is not a member of NATO.

HOBSON: Right.

STAVRIDIS: There are 28 nations in NATO. Ukraine is a good friend and partner, but not within the alliance. So an actual armed defense of Ukraine is probably not in the cards. But what can NATO do? It can do quite a bit. It can do intelligence-sharing, information-sharing. It can provide mentors, assistance and advice to the Ukrainian military. It can provide logistics support - so fuel, food. It can provide ammunition, small arms, night-vision devices, communications gear.

And I think a very important thing would be to help with cyber-protection, because Ukraine is under significant cyber-attack. And then lastly, the alliance can reassure those members of the alliance who border Russia by moving troops into those countries and conducting exercises around the periphery.

HOBSON: Do you think that if it was Bulgaria that was facing the situation that Ukraine is - and Bulgaria is a member of NATO, as of 2004 - that NATO's response would be different, that it would be able to put boots on the ground or would put boots on the ground?

STAVRIDIS: Yes and yes. The response would be different, and often, people put this in the context of Estonia, which has a significant Russian-speaking and ethnically Russian population, a minority, but a significant one. I have no doubt in my mind that the alliance would collectively defend any of its members.

It's under treaty to do so, Jeremy, and Article 5 in the NATO treaty says an attack on one nation will be regarded on an attack on all. And I think Russia understands that.

HOBSON: Still, if NATO is not going to put boots on the ground and can only, as you say, reassure the neighbors and send supplies and help out in other ways, is it really going to be a reassurance to other countries in the region that if Russia steps in, NATO will back them up?

STAVRIDIS: I think it's reassuring, certainly for the NATO members. For the non-NATO members - say, a country like Moldova, which is outside the alliance and is right next to Ukraine - I think they're understandably very worried, and that, Jeremy, is why it's important that we lean as far forward in assisting the Ukrainian military as we can.

HOBSON: How much more difficult is it for NATO because of the denials about who exactly are occupying these buildings in Eastern Ukraine? Or the idea that if NATO steps in and goes too far, that Russia could respond based on what NATO is doing?

STAVRIDIS: I'm not overly concerned about either of those points. I think the facts on the ground are increasingly clear. You can go to websites, for example, and see actual recruitment in Russia for people to come and be part of these supposed Ukrainian protestors in Eastern Ukraine. And let's face it: We saw this already in Crimea.

And I'm not overly concerned about Russia's reaction. I mean, it's Russia that has really conducted the provocation here and invaded a sovereign country and gone on to annex a significant portion of it, the Crimea.

HOBSON: You have said that counterinsurgency lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan can be used here. Explain.

STAVRIDIS: Well, we all, in the West, have learned a great deal in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, that first and foremost, you have to build a coherent, strategic communication narrative. So what Ukrainian government ought to do is be talking to the Russian minority in Ukraine about why a unified Ukraine and one that is oriented toward the European Union is a better place to be.

Second, the Ukrainians can be assisted in all the mechanisms that I talked about, but at the end of the day, it has to be Ukrainian forces that do the job. That's what we've learned in these insurgencies. So that means training, assistance and support without us taking on the lead in this type of thing.

HOBSON: Admiral, how do you see this unfolding?

STAVRIDIS: I think that Vladimir Putin wants to destabilize Eastern Ukraine, but he does not want to invade it, because he realizes economic sanctions and consequences of yet another invasion are too great. So I think he will fight by putting Special Forces in, trying to build an insurgency, which in reality, will be Russia-trained, equipped and organized.

And I think over time, the government in Kiev will be able to push back on this insurgency because: A, it's false; and B, the actual number of Russian speakers left in Ukraine, once you take Crimea away, are less than 15 percent. So there's not a big groundswell for this.

HOBSON: That's Admiral Jim Stavridis, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University and former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. Admiral, thanks so much for joining us.

STAVRIDIS: Thanks, Jeremy, great questions, really appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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