Russian President Vladimir Putin’s mobilization of thousands of extra troops for the war in Ukraine will escalate the conflict and his threat to use nuclear weapons was “dangerous and reckless rhetoric,” NATO’s secretary general said on Wednesday.
Jens Stoltenberg said that Russia’s first mobilization since World War Two was not a surprise but that it would escalate the conflict that began with the Russian invasion on Feb. 24.
Stoltenberg said Putin’s moves demonstrated “that the war is not going according to his plans,” Russian troops were ill-equipped and lacked proper command and control, and that it was clear that the Russian president had made “a big miscalculation.”
Putin called up 300,000 reservists to fight in Ukraine and backed a plan to annex parts of the country, hinting to the West he was prepared to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia.
“We will make sure that there is no misunderstanding in Moscow about exactly how we will react. Of course, it depends upon what kind of situation or what kind of weapons they may use. The most important thing is to prevent that from happening and that is why we have been so clear in our communications with Russia about the unprecedented consequences,” Stoltenberg said, referring to any Russian use of nuclear weapons.
In an address to Russia earlier, Putin said: “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will use all available means to protect our people – this is not a bluff.”
Russia possesses “lots of weapons to reply,” Putin added.
Stoltenberg said NATO would “not engage in that same kind of reckless and dangerous nuclear rhetoric as President Putin” as the 30-nation defense alliance was not seeking confrontation with Russia, simply trying to protect Ukraine and prevent an escalation of the conflict.
“The speech is an escalation but it is also not a surprise,” Stoltenberg said of Putin’s remarks. “Therefore, we have been prepared. We will stay calm and continue to provide support to Ukraine. The speech of President Putin demonstrates that the war is not going according to President Putin’s plans. He has made a big miscalculation.”
Putin’s speech followed mounting casualties and battlefield setbacks for Russian forces, who have been driven from areas they had captured in northeast Ukraine in a Ukrainian counter-offensive this month and are bogged down in the south.
“It’s hard to see a solution in the short term, as long as Russia doesn’t accept that Ukraine is a sovereign, independent nation,” Stoltenberg said. “So I’m afraid that the only way to end this war is to prove that President Putin will not win on the battlefield. When he realizes that, he has to sit down and negotiate a reasonable agreement with Ukraine.”
Stoltenberg said that members of the alliance had provided unprecedented support to Ukraine and the NATO allies now needed to replenish their stocks of weapons and ammunition.
As NATO was prepared for a “long haul” in dealing with Putin it was now in close dialogue with the defense industry to build back its stocks of materiel.
Stoltenberg said China is among the security challenges that NATO needs to face up to but doesn’t see China as an adversary.