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World

As Tension Grows, Should U.S. Offer 'Lethal Aid' To Ukraine?

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now, an appeal to Washington to step up military assistance to Ukraine. It comes from eight people, a combination of scholars, former U.S. diplomats and military officers, who regard Russia's actions in and against Ukraine as the gravest threat to European security in more than 30 years. That's a quotation from their report released today. One of its authors is Ivo Daalder, former U.S. ambassador to NATO and now president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. And Ivo Daalder joins us from Chicago. Welcome to the program.

IVO DAALDER: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: You and your organization as well as the Atlantic Council, the Brookings Institution, propose arming the Ukrainians with anti-tank missiles, drones, radar that can spot Russian rocket launchers. How would that assistance alter the outcome of the conflict in eastern Ukraine?

DAALDER: Well, it would give Ukraine a capacity to defend itself against a growing onslaught not only from separatist forces, but from Russian forces. In the last few weeks, we've seen large amounts of heavy weaponry and artillery and tanks being flown into Ukraine, and we've seen an escalation of the fighting. We did a fact-finding mission to Ukraine to see what they needed in order to defend themselves, and this report is the result.

SIEGEL: Does this proposal amount to an admission that sanctions simply have not deterred and will not deter Russian behavior here?

DAALDER: Well, clearly, sanctions haven't deterred them yet, but I think sanctions are very much part of a coherent strategy. We need to continue to have the sanctions, and we need to provide for some forms of defensive lethal aid to enhance the capacity of Ukraine to defend itself, because it's that combination that will lead to a chance to have a real negotiation, to have a real political solution to this conflict because that is, ultimately, what we all want.

SIEGEL: But your report speaks of raising the cost to Russia. It seems as if you don't really think the Ukrainians could withstand an all-out assault from Russia, but they could inflict more losses if they had better weaponry.

DAALDER: That's correct. We don't think that we could provide the kinds of weaponry or training in time for Ukraine to defend against an all-out assault by the Russians. But what we'd like to do is to have Ukraine's capacity be sufficiently strong that Russia is confronted with the choice to so escalate and, therefore, so raise the cost on itself to achieve its military objectives or, alternatively and preferably, to negotiate a political solution that is real and lasting.

SIEGEL: What if they called Washington and the Ukraine's bluff on this and just said, no, we'll escalate instead? What happens next?

DAALDER: Well, hopefully, the defensive arms that are being provided would then inflict the kind of cost on Russia that would have an impact. We know from the situation that happened last summer that the one thing Mr. Putin is most concerned about is Russian casualties. Russian soldiers who were killed were brought back in middle of the night. They were buried in unmarked graves in the middle of night in Russia. And we know from the history in Afghanistan and other places that when Russian soldiers die, then the cost and the debate in Moscow and in the rest of Russia will go up.

SIEGEL: Is there a danger that once the talk gets serious in the United States about aiding the Ukrainians, but before the aid is actually approved and it's done, that there would be some incentive to the Russians to act in a big way and get in there before the Ukrainians had better arms to defend themselves with?

DAALDER: Well, I think the history of this conflict up to this point is that Russia has escalated at each and every turn, even without us trying to do anything to prevent that. They are the ones who annexed Crimea, supported separatist forces last summer, then actually invaded with large numbers of regular troops. Perhaps the time has come for Ukraine to be able to deal more effectively with such escalation and, by that, deter it.

SIEGEL: Ambassador Daalder, thank you very much for talking with us.

DAALDER: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: Ivo Daalder is former U.S. ambassador to NATO. The proposal for lethal military assistance to Ukraine would cost $3 billion over three years. You can hear reaction to that proposal on tomorrow's Morning Edition. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.