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Ukraine will prevail over Russia and we will help them, NATO official says

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A question once posed about the war in Iraq now looms over the war in Ukraine. How does this end? To a large extent, that is Russia's problem. Russia chose the war and has suffered heavy losses. But of course, it matters to Ukraine and to members of the NATO alliance. So how can NATO countries affect the outcome now? NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana is on the line. Good morning.

MIRCEA GEOANA: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Is your side winning?

GEOANA: Winning will - it will prevail. And what the NATO allies and partners of Ukraine in Europe and around the world - assisting Ukraine to prevail in this conflict that is - as you mentioned, is not their invention. It's a Russian imperial fantasy based on the idea that the Ukrainian nation does not exist, based on idea that the West will be not as united as we are today and basically feeding false narratives in our public opinions that this is NATO's fault. So Ukraine will prevail, and we'll help them do that.

INSKEEP: But I'm just thinking through the situation now. Clearly, Russia has failed in many of its goals, has suffered catastrophic losses on the battlefield, is presumably also suffering from sanctions. And yet, from a certain Russian perspective, they control more territory than they did 2 1/2 months ago. They control some large portions of Ukraine and don't seem to be going anywhere. Do you see the way or the moment they would be pushed back or forced to stop?

GEOANA: We have to remember that the original intention and the current intention, at least in President Putin's mind, was either the occupation of the whole of Ukraine or at least, at minimum, getting rid of President Zelenskyy and his government. So from this original intentions of Putin and the reality today, that's a huge strategic failure for Russia. They lost the battle for Kyiv. Now, after seeing the Donbas and in southern Ukraine, their fierce fight - and Ukrainian forces are also, in some places, mounting counteroffensive. I cannot say how long this thing will drag. It depends on many things.

But as Russia is depleting its forces, depleting its ammunitions - and also, the morale of the Russian troops is at the lowest, I think, that probably ever existed in the Russian army historically. This is indication to us that in the end, Ukraine will prevail. How you define success and victory - this is up to President Zelenskyy and his people. We are helping them fight the war, prevail in this war. And the terms of some form of political conclusion sometime down the road - they belong to President Zelenskyy and his brave people.

INSKEEP: Granting just what you said, that it belongs to Ukrainians and the president there to decide, it seems to me there's two plausible end states that you could push for. One is to push Russians entirely out of all of Ukraine. But the other is to push them back and leave them only in control of the parts of Ukraine they seized in 2014. Is it imaginable that that could be the solution, pushing Russians back to the borders that they claimed in 2014?

GEOANA: Yeah, there are, again, two dimensions to this conversation. The first one is the balance of power and the results on the battlefield. And here, we are convinced, and we have confidence, that Ukraine would eventually prevail on the battlefield. The second dimension, which is always important, is the political discussion. And this is, again, up to President Zelenskyy and his judgment to define where he feels strong enough to engage with Putin, if Putin wants to engage, on a position of strength and eventually coming out with a political solution. But for the time being, we see the dynamic of this war going in Ukraine's favor. And the more the Russian attrition continues and the more equipped and trained the Ukrainian army is, the odds, I think, by the day, go in Ukraine's favor. And we do everything we can as NATO allies to support that end of this conflict.

INSKEEP: Deputy Secretary General, as everybody knows, NATO nations would like to avoid an escalation of this war, would like to avoid other countries being attacked or Russia getting an excuse to attack other countries. And given that, is there any risk in how very, very open NATO nations have been about their support for Ukraine - not just sending weapons, but news leaks indicating the U.S. helped to target a Russian ship and other things?

GEOANA: Secretary General Stoltenberg and myself and the leadership of NATO - we have a triple obligation. The first one is to continue to support Ukraine. And this is working very, very well. The second obligation is to defend NATO territory and populations. And the third obligation we have is to avoid the risk of escalation...

INSKEEP: There we go.

GEOANA: ...And having a war between NATO and Russia. And all three fronts can be done and will be done together, helping Ukraine, defending allies and avoiding escalation with Russia.

INSKEEP: One other thing to ask about here - what is your plan to safely accept Finland or Sweden as new NATO members, if they should request NATO membership? It seems there could be a tricky transition there.

GEOANA: The two countries are very close partners to NATO for many, many years. We've been exercising together. We've been exchanging strategic, political and military issues over time. I can say one thing. If they decide to ask becoming members of NATO, our response would be very warm, and the process would be very expeditious. And people might ask why we would eventually do this in a very compressed timeline. For the very reason I mentioned at the beginning - both countries are strong democracies. They have impeccable militaries, and they have a level of interoperability already with NATO that is just at the highest levels. So my anticipation, if they decide - it's their democratic right to choose their destiny. And as the policy of NATO, open-door policy is a reality of NATO.

INSKEEP: A couple of NATO nations tried to cultivate good relations with Russia. Could a single NATO nation block the membership of Finland or Sweden?

GEOANA: NATO is an organization working by consensus. But I have not sensed any opposition from any of the member states and the allies in NATO. So it is my anticipation that if they decide, allies will be acting quickly, receiving them warmly, and this will be in unanimity.

INSKEEP: Mircea Geoana is deputy secretary general of NATO. Thanks for your time, sir.

GEOANA: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.