JUDY WOODRUFF: Today, the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization turns 70 years old.
In Washington, NATO’s foreign ministers endorsed
support for Ukraine, the site of Europe’s
only active war.
Here’s Nick Schifrin.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Seventy years ago today, the
world’s longest-running military alliance
was signed into existence, and President Truman
vowed NATO wouldn’t be a threat to the Soviet
HARRY TRUMAN, President of the United States:
There are those who claim that this treaty
is an aggressive act on part of the nations
which ring the North Atlantic.
That is absolutely untrue.
NICK SCHIFRIN: But, today, as it did 70 years
ago, NATO is taking steps opposed by what
is now Russia.
And nowhere is that more obvious than Ukraine,
now five years into a war between the Ukrainian
military and Russia-backed separatists.
Late last year, Russian ships rammed Ukrainian
ships in waters both navies are legally allowed
And, today, NATO announced major steps to
support Ukraine, including stepped-up presence
of NATO ships, surveillance of the Russian
navy, and training of Ukrainian troops.
That is in addition to $250 million of assistance
in the U.S. defense budget, including radar
systems, refurbished Coast Guard cutters,
and tactical vehicles.
And to talk about this, I’m joined by Kurt
Volker, former ambassador to NATO and now
the special representative for Ukraine.
Welcome to the “NewsHour.”
Thank you so much.
KURT VOLKER, U.S. Special Representative for
Ukraine: Thank you very much.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Why is it in U.S. interests
for NATO to support Ukraine, which isn’t,
of course, a NATO member?
KURT VOLKER: Well, the first thing is that
NATO is a defensive alliance protecting its
members, as President Truman said.
And when you see that there is a conflict
going on in Europe, that a country’s borders
are being violated, that is something that
should be of concern to NATO.
We want to see Europe where everyone’s sovereignty
is respected, where people are secure inside
their own countries.
Russian aggression against Ukraine is, therefore,
a threat to security in Europe as a whole.
NICK SCHIFRIN: But NATO, as you know, has
not been unified over Ukraine.
You have front-line states in the east who
have wanted to be more aggressive against
Russia, states like Germany, France, U.K.,
and perhaps, to a certain extent, the U.S.,
who wants to be a little more cautious.
Is NATO really doing enough to have an impact
on Russia’s behavior in Eastern Ukraine?
KURT VOLKER: Well, two thoughts on that.
First, I think it’s not quite fair to say
that NATO has not been unified on Ukraine.
And, in fact, just this week, the NATO foreign
ministers approved the Black Sea security
approach for NATO, which is in part about
showing support for freedom of navigation
security in the Black Sea, and that bolsters
There has been unified European Union and
U.S. sanctions on Russia because of their
invasion of Ukraine.
Some countries, like the United States, have
provided lethal defense equipment.
Some haven’t, but there’s generally a unified
approach, and then also to implement the Minsk
agreements and restore Ukraine’s sovereignty
and territorial integrity.
So, NATO is pretty united on that.
NICK SCHIFRIN: There is a flip side, of course,
to this argument that says the U.S. is — and
NATO is doing too much.
And the question is, why should the U.S. risk
provoking Russia over Ukraine, again, a non-NATO
member, and Ukraine that, as President Obama
put it, Russia would always care about more
than the U.S. would?
KURT VOLKER: Well, I think what we care about
is for people to be able to be free, to have
democracies, to be secure in their societies.
And so the Russian bear — it’s not a question
of our poking the bear.
The Russian bear has taken a chunk out of
And what we’d like to see is, Ukraine be able
to get its territory back and to be able to
be safe and secure within its own borders.
This is not a threat to Russia.
It’s not poke to Russia.
It’s about Ukraine being a sovereign country
that has a right to its own security.
NICK SCHIFRIN: You have said yourself Ukraine
needs to get better in order to…
KURT VOLKER: Absolutely.
NICK SCHIFRIN: … to resist Russian interference,
corruption, of course, being the top of the
You had a recent scandal where members of
the national security council were siphoning
enough money that was supposed to go to military
Is Volodymyr Zelensky, a former actor who
is now the front-runner in the presidential
election this month, the person around whom
Ukraine can coalesce?
KURT VOLKER: So, what we have now is an election
in Ukraine similar to elections that we have
seen in France or with the case of Brexit
or even in the United States.
It’s a candidate who has established himself
as against the establishment vs. the incumbent
president, who is saying that, you know, I
have worked hard, I have made a lot of accomplishments,
we have more to do.
And now the Ukrainian public is faced with
Do they want someone who is just going against
the establishment, promising massive reform?
Or do they want someone who maybe has been
disappointing to them in some respects, but
has done more on reform than anyone else has
in Ukraine for the past 20 years and stood
up to Putin?
NICK SCHIFRIN: You’re talking about the incumbent,
KURT VOLKER: The incumbent president.
So, they have got this choice in front of
And what’s great about this is, this is a
truly democratic election.
We don’t know how this is going to come out.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Zelensky is a total novice.
What’s to stop Russian President Vladimir
Putin from testing him, or using this moment
as a way to somehow change the status quo?
KURT VOLKER: Well, I think we can assume,
based on Russia’s behavior up to now, that
they will continue to test whoever is the
president of Ukraine.
They — they have invaded.
They have taken territory.
They keep the fighting going.
You see all kinds of propaganda, R.T., Sputnik,
The whole — the whole toolbox is on display
NICK SCHIFRIN: Are they manipulating the election?
KURT VOLKER: They’re trying to.
And kind of, you know, like in a lot of countries,
the Russians are involved.
But, at the same time, it’s very hard to mess
with people’s own sense of their own interests.
And I’m not sure they had an impact in the
I’m not sure they will have an impact in the
NICK SCHIFRIN: Kurt Volker, former ambassador
to NATO and current special representative
for Ukraine, thank you very much.
KURT VOLKER: Thank you for having me.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And as part of our NATO anniversary
coverage, Nick Schifrin talked with the foreign
ministers of former adversaries Greece and
North Macedonia for their first ever joint
You can watch it on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour.