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Former NATO secretary-general wants to see Ukraine admitted to NATO quickly

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

NATO nations have been reluctant to make Ukraine a full-fledged member during Russia's war there. They're worried about escalating the conflict. But the idea just got a high-profile endorsement. A task force co-headed by a former NATO secretary general called on NATO members to invite Ukraine into the alliance this year. Earlier, I spoke to that former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen about why he is urging member states to start the process of making Ukraine a NATO member this summer. I started by asking him what makes the move so urgent now.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: It is urgent to start accession talks with Ukraine to show Putin that not only do we want to support Ukraine for as long as it takes, but also with as much as it takes. Let me stress, if we extend an invitation to Ukraine at the upcoming NATO summit in Washington, D.C., in July, it does not mean that Ukraine will join NATO overnight.

FADEL: How does the calculation change for Russia if the process begins to bring Ukraine into NATO?

FOGH RASMUSSEN: We want to deprive Putin of an incentive to continue the war. I mean, until now, he calculates that if he continues the war, then he can prevent future Ukrainian membership of NATO because Putin has listened to voices within NATO that have cautioned against extending an invitation as long as the war is going on. So consequently, Putin has concluded that, I will continue the war to prevent Ukraine from becoming a member of NATO. By extending an invitation, we tell Putin you cannot avoid the inevitable. Ukraine will join NATO, so better stop the war. And that way, I think an invitation will pave the path to peace.

FADEL: Now, some people would disagree with you. There are NATO members that feel that admitting a country into the alliance that is actively at war would put NATO members in direct conflict with Russia. I mean, what do you say to them who say starting this process is actually just going to antagonize Russia more?

FOGH RASMUSSEN: Putin and his cronies have used the threat of escalation and nuclear saber-rattling to deter bold action from Ukraine's allies. Of course, this is not to say we should take discussion on nuclear weapons lightly, but also recognize how Russia uses threats as a political weapon to cripple us into inaction. So what I'm suggesting is to call his bluff. Obviously, the crucial issue will be how to implement the famous Article 5. Article 5 in the NATO Treaty that states that we consider an attack on one ally an attack on all. So we will have to determine how to implement this Article 5 in the case of Ukraine that is already at war with Russia. And that's exactly what should be determined behind closed doors in a direct negotiation between Ukraine and NATO allies in a NATO-Ukraine Council.

FADEL: French president Emmanuel Macron said in February that, quote, "nothing should be ruled out," unquote, as far as Western troops going to Ukraine. I mean, Estonia, Lithuania seem to agree with the French president. Is the U.S. increasingly at odds with Europe when it comes to how to respond to Russia?

FOGH RASMUSSEN: Based on my experience as NATO secretary general, I think that's exactly the way to make our deterrence credible, not to exclude anything because you have to keep your adversary in uncertainty about your intentions. So that's why President Macron's statement makes sense. Personally, I don't think we have reached a point where deployment of NATO troops is necessary. But on the other hand, why should we exclude using NATO trainers and personnel to repair, destroy military equipment, etc? I don't think we should exclude anything.

FADEL: Former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, thank you so much for your time.

FOGH RASMUSSEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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