NATO to deploy more troops near Ukraine as Russia’s military aims remain ‘out of reach’

NATO announced Thursday it was increasing the number of multinational troops that will be deployed to four NATO member countries near Ukraine, including Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. Retired Lt. Gen. Doug Lute, who served on the National Security Council staff and was U.S. ambassador to NATO during the Obama administration, joins Nick Schifrin to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now we turn to Nick Schifrin, who has more on the day's developments.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    As we reported, NATO announced today that it was increasing the number of troops in four NATO member countries that either border Ukraine or are near it.

    With me now to discuss these new deployments and what's come from the snap summit at NATO, retired Lieutenant General Doug Lute. He had a 35-year career in the army and served on the National Security Council staff during both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. He also was U.S. ambassador to NATO during the Obama administration.

    Doug Lute, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    So, as Jane just said, NATO is deploying more battle groups to Southeastern Europe to four countries on the Black Sea or Ukraine. That is Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. That doubles the number of battle groups that have been deployed in the past to Northeastern Europe, which were approximate deployed in 2014.

    So what difference does it make sending NATO troops to Southeastern Europe?

    Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute (Ret.), Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO: Well, I think these troops have a twofold purpose, Nick.

    First of all, to the NATO allies themselves, it is a visible, physical, tangible reminder that NATO has their backs. These are now front-line stakes states because they have land borders or Black Sea borders with Ukraine.

    And so they are front-line states by way of conflict there. And the notion here is that NATO has your back. There is a second message, though, and that's to the other side, to President Putin, that, in fact, NATO is right there, alongside these four allied states. And he should disabuse — be disabused of any notion that he could take some sort of limited incursion in these NATO states without actually encountering NATO forces themselves.

    So, it is a twofold message.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    NATO announced also today that it would send materiel to Ukraine to try and prevent it and protect it from a chemical weapon attack.

    Of course, as we noted in Jane's piece, President Biden said today that the U.S. would respond to a chemical weapons attack. But he was ambiguous as to how the U.S. and NATO would respond. Do you think it is wise to keep that ambiguity?

  • Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute:

    I do. I think ambiguity is our friend here, for two reasons.

    First of all, any NATO or U.S. response to a chemical or biological attack would be — would have to be proportionate to that attack itself. So, it is not — you can't decide that proportionality in advance. It will depend on the attack.

    And then, second of all, I think it is useful to impart a bit of ambiguity, a bit of uncertainty in the mind of President Putin and his military planners as to exactly what our response might be. It is not a bad thing to have him guessing a bit.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And when you say proportionality, I assume you mean there could be a minimal response by NATO if there is a — if you will, a minimal chemical attack. I hate to even say that.

    But there's different levels of chemical attacks and there would be different responses based on that, right?

  • Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute:

    Right. Exactly right.

  • Nick Schifrin:


    And of course, if the U.S. responds to some kind of nonconventional attack, does that not increase the chances of U.S. NATO forces being in direct confrontation with Russian troops?

  • Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute:

    Without doubt.

    And that is why this is such an important step. I think it was important today to hear from both NATO leaders, but the president himself, that there will be a response. But as we have already discussed, this question of ambiguity is also useful.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Multiple senior officials tell me that Russian goals remain the same, at least according to what they see, that Moscow, Putin, the Kremlin still want some kind of regime change in Ukraine.

    But does the Russian military have the capacity to actually achieve that in Ukraine anymore?

  • Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute:

    I don't think so.

    Based on the performance, their performance in this first month, I think their offensive capability is largely grinding to a halt. And the option they have now is to hunker down around the Ukrainian cities and essentially besiege those cities with artillery fires, rockets, missile fires and so forth.

    But the aim, I think, initially was to actually control those cities and place a Putin-friendly puppet regime, and those aims are simply now out of reach.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And senior U.S. officials tell me that the Russians are one running out of precision-guided missiles. Some of them have failed because of corruption in manufacturing. And they do fear exactly what you just said, that the Russians will dig in and be able to pummel cities.

    And, unfortunately, they say Ukraine will be unable to effectively evict the Russians if the Russians hunker down. What does that say about where we are going in this war?

  • Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute:

    Well, I think it underlines the importance of logistics, which is too often a sort of a misinterpreted or discarded factor in warfare.

    But a siege campaign, the rockets, the missiles and the artillery rounds that the Russians will depend on, have to come from Belarus or Russia. And they have to transit relatively vulnerable logistics lines. Basically, they are road-bound. And it's these road-bound resupply convoys that are exceedingly vulnerable to interdiction by the Ukrainian forces.

    And that is where the Ukrainians have an advantage.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And they have been taking that advantage, thanks to a lot of Western weapons as well.

    Doug Lute, thank you very much.

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