U.S. war aims shift in Ukraine — and bring additional risks The U.S. now believes Ukraine can win, a significant change in thinking, and is rushing in weapons. This raises the risk of widening the conflict, analysts say, and may destabilize the global economy.

U.S. war aims shift in Ukraine — and bring additional risks

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LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the war in Ukraine should leave Russia weakened and become a, quote, "strategic defeat for Vladimir Putin." U.S. officials are spelling out those goals more clearly since Ukrainians managed to push Russian forces back from the capital, Kyiv. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: After his long train trip from Poland to Kyiv and back, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was asked this week whether U.S. goals in Ukraine are shifting.

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LLOYD AUSTIN: We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can't do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.

KELEMEN: And the U.S. wants to help Ukraine win.

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AUSTIN: We believe that they can win if they have the right equipment, the right support.

KELEMEN: The U.S. is rushing in equipment, long-range artillery and ammunition as the battle shifts to the east and the south of Ukraine. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told senators Tuesday that it takes just a couple of days to get approved weapon shipments into Ukrainian hands now. He also said NATO allies are united.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: The challenge now is making sure that we not only sustain that, but that we build on that, and I believe we will.

KELEMEN: A former deputy secretary general of NATO, Rose Gottemoeller, says Russian President Vladimir Putin has united the alliance in a way that surprised her.

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: Putin has created the 180-degree opposite effect of what he wanted. He wanted NATO pushed back to its 1997 lines. And instead, he has a NATO more coherent, more together, more resolved to work together to really defeat this threat to its partner, Ukraine.

KELEMEN: Speaking via Skype, Gottemoeller said that's already a loss for the Kremlin. Sweden and Finland may soon join the alliance. And with all the weapons and training that NATO is providing, Ukraine is getting closer and closer to the transatlantic alliance.

GOTTEMOELLER: If I were to bet the U.S. and NATO military industrial complex against the Russian military industrial complex, I would say that the United States and its NATO allies can stay in it for the long haul, but it will be a big investment of resources and a big investment of time.

KELEMEN: Western sanctions could also have a long-term impact, weakening Russia's economy and its military industrial base. But there are risks, says Samuel Charap of the RAND Corporation.

SAMUEL CHARAP: We don't want Russia to be a total basket case, reviving the sort of loose nukes fears of the 1990s and so on, or to become an incorrigible international spoiler because it can cause us a lot of problems everywhere else.

KELEMEN: Charap says, at some point, Ukraine might want the U.S. to ease up on sanctions if that will help them reach a negotiated settlement with Russia. He also warns that the sanctions and arms shipments could provoke a more direct confrontation between Russia and NATO.

CHARAP: Because of the lack of clarity about where the red line is - because we're, you know, operating here without any precedent - nobody knows where - what step - if there is a step that will, you know, sort of send Putin over the edge, so to speak.

KELEMEN: And that makes this moment a dangerous one. Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, says no one should underestimate the possibility of a nuclear confrontation. State Department spokesman Ned Price says those comments fit a pattern of bellicose Russian statements.

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NED PRICE: These certainly are provocative statements. We think they are deeply irresponsible. We deem them to be a continuation of the Russian government's very clear attempts to distract from its failure in Ukraine.

KELEMEN: Eventually, the U.S. and Russia have to start talking again, says Gottemoeller, who served in the Obama and Clinton administrations and negotiated with Russia.

GOTTEMOELLER: I do think, at some point, we are going to have to reopen to some discussions with Russia, at least about constraining and controlling nuclear weapons, and see where we can go from there because it's not in our interest to have a great big pariah state with nuclear weapons.

KELEMEN: But she says it's difficult to see how talks could take place now, while Russian forces continue to bombard Ukrainian cities and towns.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

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