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Where is the U.S. military aid heading to Ukraine making the most difference?


OK. We're going to spend the next few minutes talking about the consequences of the foreign military aid going into Ukraine. And for that, I am joined by Barry Pavel. He is the director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He worked on the National Security Council under Presidents Bush and Obama.

Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

BARRY PAVEL: Thank you, my pleasure.

MARTIN: Where do you see U.S. military aid going into Ukraine making the most substantive difference on the ground right now?

PAVEL: Well, I think we're right now in what I would call sort of a manufacturing and resupply race at this point. The two sides are pretty entrenched. And to me, the key question is whether Russia can resupply and rearm its military forces faster than the United States, its NATO allies and others can supply, train, where it's necessary, and enable the transport of weapons and ammunition so the Ukrainian forces can use those weapons. The weapons are changing also as the warfare terrain is changing. And so this is really a different phase than the initial phase. This is really about resupply, training and ensuring that each side gets - is using the weapons that it needs in this new terrain.

MARTIN: Explain what is so complicated and challenging about just getting the weapons into Ukraine, about those transfers.

PAVEL: Well, it's a lot. And, you know, we don't know the details, and we shouldn't look to the details too much. But some of the systems the Ukrainians are already trained on, so they're - especially the Soviet-era systems. And the U.S. and NATO allies have been supplying a lot of that. But there are some other systems where they do need some training. So that training needs to be conducted somewhere. The supply needs to be given to the Ukrainian forces somewhere.

And then the transport across the vast expanse of western Ukraine, which one would assume - there's only a few options. It's by air, where that's necessary. But especially for heavy equipment, that's not possible. So then it's railway; and it's roads. And so for railway - you know, each side knows what's going on here. And so you're seeing them try to weaken the other side's efforts. You see Russia starting to attack railway hubs.


PAVEL: We've seen that over the last week. And to me, that's very, very concerning. You've seen some fuel depots go up - you know, explosions at fuel depots in Russia, where, to me, it looks like the Ukrainians are targeting, you know, critical logistics hubs and lines and supplies. So how does Ukraine protect its railway hubs?

MARTIN: Right.

PAVEL: Is it missile defenses? Is it air defenses? Is there - are there other routes? So I think that's really an important question going forward.

MARTIN: I want to ask - the U.K.'s Defense Ministry is out with a new assessment saying a quarter - 25% of Russian troops engaged in Ukraine are now, quote, "combat ineffective." How did that happen?

PAVEL: The Ukrainians are just mounting a valiant and very agile defense. In the first phase, they were moving forces where they were needed. They were countering these Russian offensives. And so I think it's just been a really effective - and no doubt, with some support from NATO and the West - but I think it's been a very, very effective defense effort that has really stymied the Russians. But it's - this is not over. And Russia has numerical superiority. But the Ukrainians, I think, have a lot more on their side. So I'm relatively optimistic that the Russians will not achieve their goals. And their goals are to push as far westward from where they are in the east as possible.

MARTIN: Let me ask you. Last week, Russia sent a letter to the U.S. And according to The Washington Post, the letter said that U.S. and NATO weapons shipments to Ukraine were, quote, "adding fuel to the conflict" and that there would be, quote, "unpredictable consequences." I mean, Putin has said as much since the beginning of this war. Are you surprised that Russia hasn't retaliated in a big way yet against countries militarily supporting Ukraine?

PAVEL: No, I'm not. I'm not one of those whose - there are many who are somewhat hysterical about all the Russian threats, including the nuclear threats. I'm not one of those. Putin knows what NATO military capabilities are. He respects NATO military capabilities. He's got his hands full with fighting Ukraine. He does not want another fight with a much, much, much larger and more capable set of forces. So I think we should take those threats seriously. Don't ignore them completely, but I don't consider them to be significant and meriting a new type of response.

MARTIN: Barry Pavel of the Atlantic Council, thank you so much.

PAVEL: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.