TALLINN - The US ambassador to NATO, Julianne Smith, told BNS in a interview that no one can predict the developments in the crisis between Ukraine and Russia and we have to be prepared for any contingency, while it's specifically the unity of NATO that is the main strength in standing up to Russia.
AT A TIME WHEN UKRAINIAN AUTHORITIES KEEP TRYING TO CALM THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY AND SAY THAT AN INVASION BY RUSSIA IS NOT LIKELY, THE US RHETORIC SEEMS TO DIFFER VASTLY WITH INTELLIGENCE SERVICES REPORTING OF AN IMMINENT THREAT. WHY TWO SUCH DIFFERING POSITIONS ON SUCH AN EXPLOSIVE SCENARIO?
Well, I see it in a slightly different way. I feel like the conversations we're having here at NATO headquarters showcase a tremendous amount of unity in terms of how allies are looking at Russian behavior and Russian aggression. The allies are united in the fact that Russia is the one building up tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine's border, they're united in their message of dialogue and de-escalation. They are also united in the work they're doing in deterrence and reassurance.
In terms of Ukraine, we have heard similar conversations occurring between Ukraine and countries in Europe, between Ukraine and the United States. I think where we all can agree is this build-up around Ukraine is something we're all concerned about. No one can predict what's going to happen, not single one of us, but I think we can all say that it's suspicious, it's troubling, and for that reason we're going to push for de-escalation while also focusing on deterrence.
SHOULD THE GRIM PROGNOSIS OF THE US COME TRUE AND AN INVASION BEGIN WITHIN DAYS OR WEEKS, WITH A FULL BLOWN WAR ENSUING BETWEEN UKRAINE AND RUSSIA, THEN WHAT ARE THE CAPABILITIES OF NATO AND THE US IN PARTICULAR TO ASSIST UKRAINE?
Well, it's been multifold. The US has been working very closely with its allies in Europe with the focus on the consequences Russia would face if it opted for that path. We have worked tirelessly in recent weeks with our allies on a pretty steep set of, a start set of sanctions that the Russians would face. Simultaneously the US and select countries, including Canada, the UK, and others, like Estonia, are providing assistance to Ukraine, security assistance. We're constantly evaluating their needs and focusing on that.
In terms of NATO alliance, we, too, are preparing for all contingencies. While the door is open to dialogue, NATO is also looking at Russian playbook, our common experience and dealing with it. We're looking at their preference to rely on cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns.
So we're talking about the ways in which to respond, ways in which we will continue to reassure our allies in Central and Eastern Europe, but also what we would do collectively to deal with the dramatic impact that this would have on European security.
So it's a multi-faceted approach, it includes multiple organizations and individual countries, so that we can collectively respond if it comes to that.
I'M SURE THERE ARE MANY PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN ASKING THIS QUESTION, ESPECIALLY IN THE BALTIC STATES. WILL THERE BE ANY ACTUAL MILITARY RESPONSE IN THE CARDS, GIVEN THE NUMBER OF ADDITIONAL SPECIAL FORCES AND TROOPS BROUGHT IN RECENTLY?
Well, there are two things going on here. You've heard President Biden say that the US will not be moving troops into Ukraine, he's been very clear on that. He's focused on ways in which the US working with allies can impose cost on Russia.
But separate from that, you've also seen the announcements in recent days where the US and other allies in the alliance have decided to reinforce the eastern flank. That's an evolving process, the news last week was on Poland and Romania and a small set of forces in Germany, but obviously SACEUR and my colleagues at the Pentagon are constantly reevaluating the security situation and will see what more will be required depending on how Russia responds.
MAYBE A LITTLE PROVOCATIVE QUESTION, BUT MANY PEOPLE IN THESE PARTS OF THE WORLD SNEER AT THE RHETORIC THAT THE US AUTHORITIES ARE USING, SUCH AS "ACCORDING TO THE US INTEL" OR "SOURCES," OR THE LIKES. IT SEEMS TO BE THE PARADOX OF MOST SPECIAL SERVICES AND INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES THAT THEY OFTEN SPEAK OF THE THREAT IN ORDER TO PREVENT IT, YET MORE OFTEN THAN NOT IT REMINDS OF THE STORY OF THE BOY WHO CRIED WOLF. HOW COULD THE US GET RID OF THIS SNEER?
Well, the strategy on the part of my colleagues in Washington is really to share as much information as possible, we believe we have some unique site pictures on what's happening just on the border between Russia and Ukraine. We've been very deliberate in our attempts to share intelligence, share information with our partners and allies, but other allies also are welcome to come to the table, we've worked closely with other partners throughout Europe so that they can share what they're seeing. What's most important is we all look at what we're seeing and we try to reach a certain set of conclusions.
Obviously we cannot determine what Putin is going to do, only Putin knows that. But what's important now is for all of us to say that look, I'm seeing this, and another ally comes forward and says, I'm seeing that. Let's put that information together and use that to prepare ourselves for every contingency. I think that's the best approach. All we can do right now is to talk, keep those channels of communication open and share that information that we have. So we can agree to the common approach for it. And in that sense I think we've done a pretty good job. I think we've been united, 30 allies stand united in how they're looking at the current challenge and we've shown a considerable amount of resolve in recent weeks as well.
WHAT DO YOU THINK, THE OLYMPICS, THE NOTION OF NO WARRING DURING THE OLYMPICS, WILL THAT IMPACT ANYTHING AT ALL? REGARDING THE INVASION.
It's hard to say. I mean, the only thing I can say at all about the Olympics, I mean who knows when and if Putin will choose to take action on Ukraine. Hopefully he will not, but it's again impossible to predict, but what troubles me is when I see China and Russia united in their approach. They issued a joint statement, it was interesting that it included a line on NATO, kind of jointly opposing future rounds of NATO enlargement. What we've seen in recent years is those two countries coming together -- they've always had a bit of a marriage of convenience, but increasingly it seems like they're learning from one another, we're looking at the tactics that each one uses. And so, we'll be watching this relationship very closely in the weeks and months ahead and trying to better understand how they could or will work together on this particular challenge.
SHOULD THE INVASION OCCUR, WHAT COULD BE THE SCALE OF THE HUMANITARIAN CRISIS THAT THE WORLD, MAINLY EUROPE, THAT IS, MUST BE READY FOR. WHAT IS THE LIKELIHOOD OF A MIGRATORY CRISIS POTENTIALLY INVOLVING MILLIONS OF REFUGEES?
I do think that if Putin chooses to go into Ukraine for another invasion, it would have a major impact on European security more broadly. It would in essence erode the fundamental principles that sit at the foundation of European security and the transatlantic relationship, that there could be some destabilizing effects immediately, you mentioned refugees or IDP's. We could see huge numbers of people exiting Ukraine, obviously moving into Europe, towards Europe, whether it's Central and Eastern Europe or beyond, and for that reason we do need to be prepared for any possible contingency. This is not a crisis that can be looked at or responded to in isolation. What happens in Ukraine will have an impact on Europe as a whole and that's why it's important for us to be doing this work here in the NATO alliance to prepare for those contingencies.
WHAT ARE THE FURTHER PLANS TO RAISE THE LEVEL OF NATO DETERRENCE IN EASTERN EUROPE AND THE BALTICS?
As I said, we recently announced some decisions on the part of the US; other allies are looking at what more we can do. But this is a work in progress. Each and every week we sit down here in the alliance, we listen to our allies in the Baltic states, we listen to our allies in other portions or parts in Central and Eastern Europe, we're constantly evaluating the security situation. And NATO is ready to respond and hear those concerns, what assurance might be necessary. So, I don't have any specifics to go into and announce at this moment, but what I can say is that it's an evolving conversation and it's ongoing.
IN CONCLUSION, IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH OUR READERS?
Yes, I would say that the US deeply values and appreciates the relationship that it has with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. It appreciates the steps that these countries take inside the alliance to meet their security commitments and particularly on defense spending. We appreciate that there are thought leaders in a number of areas, including some of those on hybrid tactics, energy security, cyber attacks. We appreciate that they always come to the alliance with ideas and innovation. And I hope, folks back in the Baltic states how much the US appreciates that and will continue to work closely with all three of those countries, not only on the current challenge but on future challenges as well.