NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg issued some shocking words over the weekend which the Kremlin will likely take as a threat. "NATO is not looking for war with Russia. But we have to prepare ourselves for a confrontation that could last decades," he told German daily Welt am Sonntag on Saturday. His words also reflect a new emphasis and drive among NATO planners for European countries to urgently invest more heavily in defense and domestic weapons production, as is happening for example in Germany and France.
So far, defense leaders and officials from NATO countries have tended to speak about a time frame of the conflict lasting "years" - but to hear Stoltenberg tell the West it must brace for a war going on for "decades" is somewhat unprecedented.
"If Putin wins in Ukraine, there is no guarantee that Russian aggression will not spread to other countries," Stoltenberg continued, echoing an assumption that's been a persistent talking point out of Zelensky and his Western backers.
He urged that to prevent this future scenario, the allies must ramp up support to Ukraine and member states must invest in NATO military infrastructure. "Deterrence only works if it is credible. As long as we invest in our own security and remain united, we will continue to deter any form of aggression," Stoltenberg said.
Interestingly the words followed on the heels of the Tucker Carlson interview with Vladimir Putin wherein the Russian leader appeared to appeal directly to the US government saying he is 'ready' for sincere talks to end the war. "We are willing to negotiate," Putin had told Carlson and said in reference to the Biden administration: "You should tell the current Ukrainian leadership to stop and come to the negotiating table."
But Putin also emphasized that the West must understand it is "impossible" to defeat Russia in Ukraine. Putin's point was that no matter the timeline, and how long the war gets drawn out, it will be the same result of a Russian battlefield victory.
The White House was quick to bat down Putin's apparent overture as insincere. "Despite Mr. Putin’s words, we have seen no actions to indicate he is interested in ending this war. If he was, he would pull back his forces and stop his ceaseless attacks on Ukraine," a White House official told The New York Times this weekend.
From the start of the war it has remained a key talking point of Western pundits and leaders to assume Putin is driving an 'expansionist' war that threatens the rest of Europe. This has resulted in some leading European allies to drastically increase their defense spending and arms production, as Stoltenberg is still encouraging with his latest comments.
Zelensky too has long said that if the West doesn't stop Russia in Ukraine, then EU countries are next to be attacked. But Putin in the Carlson interview rejected the idea that he's leading an expansionist war or based on 'imperial ambitions'. He said in response to the accusation that it's "out of the question".
He addressed it specifically in the following: "Only in one case, if Poland attacks Russia. Why? Because we have no interest in Poland, Latvia or anywhere else. Why would we do that? We simply don't have any interest."
Stoltenberg's latest words on Putin's motives and intent contradict his own prior assessment. Back in September during a speech at the EU Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, Stoltenberg very explicitly explained that Putin made the decision to invade Ukraine because of fears of NATO expansionism.
NATO Sec-Gen Jens Stoltenberg declares the Ukraine proxy war a fight for NATO expansion and the limitless right to place military installations on Russia’s frontiers - something no Western power would accept from an adversary pic.twitter.com/ZaJFBjQnre— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) September 22, 2023
His surprisingly frank comments at the time were as follows:
"The background was that President Putin declared in the autumn of 2021, and actually sent a draft treaty that they wanted NATO to sign, to promise no more NATO enlargement. That was what he sent us. And was a pre-condition for not invade Ukraine. Of course we didn’t sign that.
The opposite happened. He wanted us to sign that promise, never to enlarge NATO. He wanted us to remove our military infrastructure in all Allies that have joined NATO since 1997, meaning half of NATO, all the Central and Eastern Europe, we should remove NATO from that part of our Alliance, introducing some kind of B, or second class membership. We rejected that.
So he went to war to prevent NATO, more NATO, close to his borders."
These prior words implied Russia saw itself as acting defensively in Ukraine. And yet now Stoltenberg claims that Putin fundamentally has an expansionist war in mind that will eventually see more European countries come under direct threat. However, at this point not even tiny Moldova has been invaded by Russia, which many pundits have long predicted.