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NATO Summit: Growing Calls for Tougher Military Response to Russia

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg arrives for a media conference ahead of a NATO summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels, March 23, 2022.

NATO leaders meet Thursday in Brussels for an extraordinary summit on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, amid growing calls for the West to take stronger military action to support Kyiv's forces.

The civilian toll of Russia's invasion grows by the day. If the killing continues, the West will have a moral obligation to get involved, says Fabrice Pothier, a former head of policy planning at NATO and now a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

"We could prevent those massacres and those possible deaths if NATO were to be willing to actually take on a little bit more risk," Pothier told VOA.

"The question is how morally right it is that NATO is standing on the sidelines when a major European country is being invaded and occupied by Russia. And I think on that one the answer is pretty clear: it's just not right and NATO should and could be much more creative in putting pressure on the Putin war machine, even if we are not to deploy NATO boots on the ground," Pothier said.

NATO Summit: Growing Calls for Tougher Military Response to Russia
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Pothier says NATO could start by effectively blockading Russia and cutting its international trade links. "I think we should control more access on the Baltic and the Black seas. Especially the Baltic, it's critical to Russian trade. Seventy percent of Russian trade goes via the Baltic. Obviously they will not let that happen easily but I think we are geared, we have the plans, we have the capabilities to do so."

Pothier added that NATO should play Russia's own game. "We can do much more in terms of basically cyber operations, so the hybrid-type warfare, which (Russian President Vladimir) Putin has been associated with for some years but where actually we also have assets, in order to disrupt the Putin war machine," he told VOA.

U.S. President Joe Biden last week announced an additional $800 million in security assistance for Ukraine, including Stinger anti-aircraft systems and armed drones.

Kurt Volker, Washington's former ambassador to NATO and the U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations until 2019, told VOA that Ukraine needs a broader range of weapons.

"More air defense systems, including those that operate at higher altitudes. More shore to ship systems to take out some of the Russian naval ships in the Black Sea. I do believe that the MiG 29s and other fighter aircraft should be provided but we're not quite there yet. I understand the arguments against the no-fly zone, but I think we should not take it off the table," Volker said.

Neighbors carry pieces of broken window from apartments damaged by shelling, in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 23, 2022.
Neighbors carry pieces of broken window from apartments damaged by shelling, in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 23, 2022.

He added that the supply of military equipment to Ukraine needs improved coordination. "NATO could provide something of a clearinghouse function, and it could provide an assurance of delivery by creating a safe place for that in Poland and ensuring that it arrives successfully in Ukraine."

Moscow again threatened to use nuclear weapons Tuesday "if its existence was threatened."

NATO leaders should use Thursday's summit to make clear its response, says Pothier.

"It's a nuclear alliance that has no intention to use nuclear weapons in that conflict – and that the use of nuclear weapons in that conflict will fundamentally change the nature of the conflict with devastating consequences for all parties," Pothier said.

Volker agrees that the alliance must issue its own red lines, "(that) any use of chemical or biological or nuclear weapons by Russia in Ukraine would be met with a military response."

Western leaders fear any escalation could lead to direct confrontation between NATO and Russian forces and a conflict between nuclear-armed powers. But some argue NATO must take on more risk now – or face a far greater threat if Russia succeeds in capturing Ukraine.