Retired General Breedlove says NATO must not capitulate to Russia

Washington — The United States will host a NATO summit in Washington next week, at which more military support for Ukraine in the face of Russia’s ongoing invasion will top the agenda. 

Douglas Jones, deputy U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, told VOA earlier this week that NATO will put forward “concrete ways” to accelerate Ukraine’s eventual membership in the alliance. 

Retired U.S. Air Force four-star General Philip Breedlove was the commander of U.S. European Command and the 17th Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO Allied Command Operations from 2013 to 2016.  

In an interview with VOA, Breedlove said that NATO should use next week’s summit to detail how it will help Ukraine “win the war against Russia and to expel Russian forces from Ukrainian lands.”  

Allowing Russia to keep that Ukrainian territory it has occupied would amount to “capitulation,” Breedlove said, adding that whoever wins the U.S. presidential election in November must remember that capitulation to Russia’s ambitions in Ukraine “is not a way forward.”  

The following transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity: 

VOA: What are the main challenges for NATO ahead of the summit in Washington? 

Retired four-star U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove: I think the main challenge is going to be how to move forward with Ukraine. There are quite a number of NATO nations that want to get started on Ukraine’s program to join [NATO], there are other nations that are not ready for that yet. And so I think that the compromise is this “bridge” to NATO, whereby Ukraine will be invited to join in the headquarters on a U.S. base somewhere. I hear that maybe Wiesbaden [Germany] is that place. More importantly though, since there will not be a formal offer to Ukraine for membership, the members of NATO are going to need to discuss how do we begin to guarantee the security of Ukraine. 

VOA: How do you think the elections in Europe and the U.K. will affect — and maybe already have affected — NATO’s immediate future?  

Breedlove: So I would broaden that scope. In elections in America, elections in many of our countries, we see a growing nationalistic trend, some isolationist trends, and these are all going to have to be addressed by NATO as a body. Because the strength of NATO is solidarity first, and so we have to figure out how to maintain that solidarity in the alliance when we have several nations that are now challenging norms. NATO has always made it through this. I remind people — and some of my French friends hate it when I do — but we were once thrown out of a capital of a NATO country. And so NATO has faced challenges in the past.  

And I think that NATO will survive this current set of issues as well and frankly maybe be stronger. The absolute audacity, the criminality, the inhumane war that [Russian President] Mr. [Vladimir] Putin is waging on Ukraine is in a way drawing NATO closer together, even though there are less than perfect conversations about how we should go about fixing things. Broadly now, people understand what Mr. Putin is, what Russia represents, and the problems that this is going to give us in the future. And we see nations now realizing that they have to invest in their defense.  

VOA: According to Politico, some Trump-aligned national security experts are saying that he is “mulling a deal” where NATO commits to no further eastward expansion, specifically into Ukraine and Georgia, and negotiates with Putin over how much Ukrainian territory “Moscow can keep” in exchange for a cease-fire. What would that mean for Georgia and Ukraine?  

Breedlove: So, what you’re talking about, to me, amounts to capitulation. I don’t believe that Mr. [Donald] Trump would capitulate in quite that manner to Russia and give in to all of Russia’s demands. I think what we need to focus on is what changes in respect to Russia in these conversations, remembering that Russia is a nation that amassed its army, marched across internationally recognized borders and is now trying to subjugate one of its neighbors. I do not believe that even Mr. Trump will sign up to that as an end result. 

At some point we will have to sit down at the table, and what it looks like coming away from the table, I think, is a long way from being determined. And I do not believe that the American people will support capitulation. … And so I think that whoever is the next president, as their team sits down to try to resolve this, we’re going to have to remember that capitulation is not a way forward. 

VOA: If Georgia’s domestic political problems grow, what effect will that have on its prospects for joining NATO? 

Breedlove: I think that the question should be asked like this: if Russia’s interference in Georgia’s internal affairs continues and gets worse, what does that mean? Because I believe that there is Russian bad money and Russian bad people and politics involved in Georgia right now. Georgia is a hybrid warfare battleground whereby Russia is trying to use all manner of influence to drag Georgia away from the West and to regain control of Georgian politics. 

VOA: It’s clear that during next week’s summit, Ukraine will not be offered NATO membership. But apart from the offer to establish a “bridge” at a NATO base, what do you think can be done to bring Ukraine and NATO closer together?   

Breedlove: Well, the first thing to do is to help them win this war. Our policies are very weak. We say things like “we’re going to be there for as long as it takes” or “we’re going to give them everything they need.” What we fail to say is — we’re going to be there as long as it takes to do what? We’re going to give them everything they need to do what? And that “to do what” should sound something like “to completely defeat the Russian forces inside of Ukraine and drive them back behind Russia’s borders.” But we are not doing that. And so one of the most important things about this upcoming summit … is that we need a demonstrative public declaratory policy on how we would support Ukraine to win the war against Russia and to expel Russian forces from Ukrainian lands. 

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