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How NATO and U.S. allies are responding to the crisis in Ukraine


As the situation in Ukraine continues to unfold, President Biden met with NATO leaders today. The group condemned Russia's attack on Ukraine and said they'll deploy additional forces to NATO's eastern flank.

Amanda Sloat is the senior director for European affairs on the president's National Security Council, and she joins us now. Welcome.

AMANDA SLOAT: Thank you.

RASCOE: Let's start with that NATO meeting. NATO leaders said they'll continue to provide political and practical support to Ukraine. What does that support look like in this moment?

SLOAT: So the meeting today was a powerful demonstration of transatlantic unity, with the 30 NATO allies joining together with close partners Finland, Sweden and the European Union to discuss obviously the terrible events that we're seeing unfolding in Ukraine, as well as to reaffirm NATO's strong commitment to Article 5 in the security of its eastern flank allies. The allies very much welcomed the U.S. announcement of additional deployments to the eastern flank. Many of them announced their own similar deployments.

And in terms of security assistance, it was an opportunity for President Biden to reinforce the continued security assistance that we are providing to Ukraine, as well as economic and humanitarian assistance. And it was also an opportunity for other allies to indicate the continued assistance that they were providing the EU, of course, on the economic side and many of the NATO allies continuing to provide their own security assistance to the Ukrainian government as well.

RASCOE: And so the U.S. is providing Ukraine with rifles, ammunition, anti-tank missiles. Is the U.S. looking at additional military assistance at this time for Ukraine?

SLOAT: So the U.S. has already provided over $650 million in security assistance to Ukraine over the past year alone. The assistance that we are providing, including the items that you mentioned, such as ammunition, is continuing to flow into Ukraine, continuing to go to the Ukrainian military. And we are remaining in very close contact with our Ukrainian partners across all levels of government, including through the Defense Department to their Defense Ministry, making a continued assessment of their needs while we continue to flow our security assistance in.

RASCOE: So you feel like that's enough at this time with the threat that they're facing.

SLOAT: Given the threat that they're facing, they obviously have incredible needs. And that's why part of the message of President Biden to the NATO allies was that we are continuing to provide security assistance and that it's important for NATO's allies to also continue stepping up and providing security assistance to Ukraine.

RASCOE: I want to turn to sanctions because today the U.S., the EU and U.K. said they would sanction Russian President Vladimir Putin himself. But sanctions haven't seemed to deter him so far. So why would this action do what these other sanctions haven't?

SLOAT: You know, we've always felt that sanctions were going to be an important tool. And I think sanctions can have a deterrent effect, and they can also have an accountability effect. And given the very egregious steps that Putin is taking against Ukraine, it is right that the international community impose economic costs on Russia. It is something that we and our international partners has always been very clear that was going to be the case.

President Biden announced an initial package of sanctions earlier this week in response to President Putin's recognition of these so-called breakaway regions. We announced a further package of sanctions after hostilities started. And then today, following the continued escalation of Russian violence against Ukraine, as you said, the United States, in partnership with the EU and others, included an additional set of measures, including actions taken to sanction President Putin and members of his national security team, which is very directly holding accountable those that are responsible for these heinous actions against Ukraine.

RASCOE: So much of Russia's economy is based on energy and the money they get from that. Without sanctions on the Russian energy and with energy prices soaring because of this conflict, isn't Putin still benefiting from the situation, like, if there are no sanctions on Russian energy?

SLOAT: So our approach with sanctions has always been to punish the Russian regime and not to punish the American people or the international community. And so we have been continuing to impose very targeted sanctions, including the ones that are targeting the Russian elites today, that are targeting Russian banks. And we have been taking steps to mitigate that. And on the energy sector, one of the things that the administration has been very clear on over the last year was Nord Stream 2, and the United States in partnership with the German government has now taken steps to ensure that that pipeline is not going forward.

RASCOE: But is the U.S. boxing itself in in a certain way? You want to protect Americans from higher energy prices, but if you don't do anything on Russian energy, Russia still gets that money.

SLOAT: Well, the thing with energy, especially in Europe, is that it's a symbiotic relationship. Russia needs the money from the European countries in order to purchase their energy. So we have been working very closely with the Europeans to try and take steps to mitigate that. And no option is off the table.

But as I said, our sanctions are designed to harm Russia's economy, not ours. And starting with energy could actually benefit President Putin and pad his pockets. And quite frankly, as you say, given already high oil and gas prices, there is a risk that cutting off Russian oil and gas will drive prices up, which is simply to Putin's benefit. But that said, no option at this stage is off the table.

RASCOE: Turning now to Ukraine's political future, President Biden held a 40-minute call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy today. Do you expect Zelenskyy to leave the country under any circumstances?

SLOAT: That obviously is going to be a decision for President Zelenskyy as this conflict continues to unfold. At the moment, he and his government are staying in Ukraine. We are seeing incredible stories coming out of Ukraine, of the Ukrainian people rising up to fight against Russian aggression. And President Zelenskyy is doing everything possible, both in terms of rallying the Ukrainian people to stand up against Russian aggression, as well as to rallying the international community, which is continuing to condemn Russian aggression.

RASCOE: In the about - we have about a minute left. U.S. intelligence was correct that Russia was planning to invade Ukraine, but Russia keeps saying that it doesn't intend to occupy Ukraine. What does the intelligence indicate as Putin's plan from here?

SLOAT: Well, I'm not going to get into what we are seeing in terms of our intelligence. But certainly, as you said, we have been warning over the last number of weeks and months, including a very vivid speech by Secretary Blinken to the U.N. Security Council last night, about what we had seen as Russian's intentions. And so far, all of that has been continuing to unfold, and the Russian aggression is continuing to sweep across Ukraine. So right now, we are focused along with the rest of the international community on holding President Putin to account and continuing to call very strongly for this aggression to cease.

RASCOE: That's Amanda Sloat, special assistant to the president and senior director for European affairs on the National Security Council. Thanks for your time.

SLOAT: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.