What Can NATO Do To Stop Russia's Moves Into Ukraine?

David Greene talks to Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, about the NATO summit and how to handle the crisis in Ukraine.

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Don Gonyea. NATO is having a bit of a throwback moment. With the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, leaders of the alliance are discussing how to defend Western Europe against Russia at a summit that's getting underway today in Wales. We're joined now from the NATO summit by U.S. General Philip Breedlove, NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe. General, welcome to the program.

U.S. GENERAL PHILIP BREEDLOVE: Thanks, Don. Glad to be with you this morning.

GONYEA: So far this year, Russia has annexed Crimea from Ukraine, and NATO says its military is fighting with separatists in eastern Ukraine. Given that Ukraine is not a member of NATO and is unlikely to become one, what are NATO's interests here, and are you saying that Europe is at risk?

BREEDLOVE: Well, NATO's interests I think are exactly what you just sort of alluded to in that is we've always looked for a Europe that is free and a Europe that is able to choose its own destiny and a Europe that is wide open for all to participate in trade economics, etc. And what we see in what's happened recently in Ukraine is what we thought would never happen again. A nation has massed a military force on a border - a recognized border - it crossed that internationally recognized border and annexed at the point of a gun a portion of another sovereign nation. We thought this kind of thing was over in Europe, and so NATO now has to consider what does this mean.

GONYEA: So NATO's a military alliance. No one wants a military confrontation with a nuclear power like Russia. So what can NATO do here?

BREEDLOVE: So NATO is both a political and a military alliance, and what you have seen clearly is that the NATO nations, alongside other European Union nations, have brought to bear some fairly important restrictions on Russian activity, and that is good. And I think what you will see from the summit is that NATO, among other European nations, will begin to take even more striking measures if we continue to see the overt Russian business being done inside a sovereign Ukraine nation.

GONYEA: We're hearing from lawmakers here in the U.S. and from people in the administration that the U.S. may supply sophisticated Javelin antitank missiles to Ukraine. Can you confirm that?

BREEDLOVE: I will not. I think that it would not be good for me to get out in front of our nation's leaders here at the summit, but I would tell you that many nations are looking at bilateral aid - both lethal and nonlethal. And then NATO will also be looking at its aid to Ukraine as an alliance. And all of that should be announced over the next, say, 36 hours.

GONYEA: OK. Probably the most nervous members of NATO are the ones on Russia's border - the Baltic States; Poland is in there. They all say permanent NATO bases on their territory would get Russia to take those borders more seriously. Why not do this?

BREEDLOVE: Well, clearly what we have done in the short term is put together assurance measures that are used until no longer needed and currently my headquarter's tasks are maintaining those assurance measures through the end of this calendar year. I fully expect that we'll be tasked today or tomorrow to extend those assurance measures until we come to those long-term adaptions that will be discussed as a part of the readiness action plan here by our senior-most leaders. And so that readiness action plan will look at options for forward-based forces on a rotational, persistent basis. We haven't used that permanent word, but all of these things will be discussed across the next two days.

GONYEA: General, thanks for joining us today.

BREEDLOVE: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

GONYEA: General Philip Breedlove is NATO's supreme allied commander. He joined us on the phone from the NATO summit in Wales.

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