Senator Nunn’s Interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Regarding Ukraine

Senator Nunn’s Interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Regarding Ukraine

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Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC: Secretary of State Blinken today contradicting Russia’s claims that it is pulling back some of its troops from the Ukraine border and warning that Putin could act at any moment.

Joining us now, former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia, co-chair of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, and Admiral James Stavridis, former NATO supreme allied commander and MSNBC analyst. Welcome both.

Senator Nunn, we have found that round-the-clock diplomacy for weeks now has perhaps deterred, perhaps delayed, but has not found a way to really diffuse this crisis and get the Russian troops back so far. What should the US do to convince Russia not to invade Ukraine?

Former Senator Sam Nunn, NTI: Well, I think we have to tell the Russians we’re willing to listen to their legitimate security concerns, and I think the Russians need to pull back their heavy forces from the border. Pulling troops back is not enough, because they can fall back in on the equipment. So moving heavy forces out is a signal we should be watching for.

Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC: Let me follow up on that. Should we start agreeing to negotiate the terms of any future Ukraine entry into NATO, since there is nothing imminent, it’s not going to happen for six years or a decade, they’re not ready? They haven’t proved that their democracy is strong, that they’ve fought corruption. So should we begin talking about that or does that, as the US has been claiming, you know, is that a nonstarter because it undermines the role of NATO?

Former Senator Sam Nunn, NTI: Well, Russia should not have a veto. Ukraine and NATO need to make the decision about future membership of Ukraine in NATO. But I’ve always felt, not just with Ukraine, but with all the countries that have come into NATO, or may in the future, that the threshold question about NATO membership should be whether this would increase stability in Europe or whether it would decrease stability and possibly lead to war?

And of course, other considerations are also very relevant. Can we defend, and what is the country going to do to defend itself? From an American point of view, what are the European allies going to do? I think it’s very important we not go back to the position we were in the 1970s and 1980s where we were relying on the early first use of nuclear weapons, because our conventional defenses were very inadequate to be able to defend without relying on nuclear weapons. That’s a very, very risky policy for the whole world.

Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC: Admiral Stavridis, was the NATO expansion a mistake? Did it make us more vulnerable and Europe less secure?

Admiral Stavridis: I don’t think so, and I agree with Senator Nunn’s criteria. He’s laid it out very, very well. I think bringing in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria –

these are former Warsaw Pact countries. I think bringing them into NATO meets all the criteria that Senator Nunn just articulated. They served under my command when I was supreme allied commander. Their forces – they are professional, they’re capable.

I further agree with Senator Nunn that we ought to tread very carefully as we go forward. But we cannot cede the membership card to Vladimir Putin. That is not going to work; that’s not going to be stabilizing. And I think if we want to come down in a diplomatic way, we need to put other options for conversation on the table, including Conventional Forces Europe, control of intermediate cruise missiles, our ability to perhaps bring back the Open Skies Treaty. There’s plenty we can talk about. Vladimir Putin has to make the decision he wants to talk, not go to war.

Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC: Senator Nunn, you’ve been so instrumental in denuclearizing Ukraine and, you know, Ukraine held most of the nuclear weapons from the former Soviet Union, and they were dismantled. What concerns do you have, though, about the tactical nuclear weapons that are in the battlefield?

Former Senator Sam Nunn, NTI: Well, I wish we could get rid of all tactical nuclear weapons, short range nuclear weapons on both sides – Russia’s side, as well as in the whole region west of the Urals. As the Admiral said, I totally agree to get rid of the short-range intermediate range missiles. That’s in the mutual interest of both countries and of all countries in that region.

We’ve got to focus on building mutual security, and the very bad signal coming out of all this is: Russia was part of an agreement with the United Kingdom and the United States when Ukraine gave up the physical possession – they did not have operational control over their weapons, but they gave up physical possession of their weapons. That was a very big move, and in exchange for that, their security was recognized and their sovereignty was recognized by all three of those countries.  Now, it’s a very bad signal when one of those signatories actually is threatening to invade.

So that’s a very bad signal, and we’ve got to mainly focus on building mutual interest and mutual trust in Europe, and there are a lot of mutual interests. To do that, we need to define the security of all of Europe, that would include certainly Ukraine and certainly also Russia.

Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC: Well, it’s just the start of a very important conversation. Thank you so much, Senator Sam Nunn. And of course, Admiral Stavridis.

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