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NATO chief warns of heavier fighting in 'new phase' of Ukraine war

NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a press conference at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday.
Francois Walschaerts
AFP via Getty Images
NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a press conference at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday.

Updated April 8, 2022 at 2:16 PM ET

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told Morning Edition that he anticipates heavier fighting in the weeks and months ahead as the Ukraine war moves into a "new phase."

He believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin "totally underestimated" the strength of Ukrainian forces and the support of its Western allies. But he doesn't think Putin has changed his overall aim of controlling Ukraine — and now the Russian military has changed its strategy to focus in on the east.

"What we have seen so far is extremely bad. It has caused a lot of casualties, civilian suffering, destruction," he said. "But the scale and the scope of the fight we may see in Donbas will be even much heavier and even more dangerous."

Stoltenberg said now is the time for NATO allies to reinforce the Ukrainians, both by providing them with advanced weapons systems and resupplying them with basic necessities like fuel, ammunition, food rations and medical kits.

Interview highlights

On the war's predicted duration

It's President Putin who is responsible for this senseless war, and he can end that war tomorrow by withdrawing his troops and sit down and engage in good faith in negotiations for a political solution. But you have to be realistic and realize that that's not very likely. So therefore, we need to also be prepared for the long haul. And it's hard to predict. Wars are always unpredictable. But this can last for months and even years, and that's reason also why we need to continue to provide support to Ukraine and be prepared for doing so for a long time.

On the long-term impact of the war on Russia's relationship with NATO

There's no way we can go back to the meaningful dialogue we tried to establish with Russia for many, many years. We need now to continue to talk to Russia, to address issues like deconfliction, to prevent incidents and accidents — and if they happen to ensure that they don't spiral out of control — and also, of course, talk to Russia on issues like arms control. But the kind of dialogue and even more what we strive for to establish a better relationship with Russia, that doesn't have any meaning in the current situation.

On the morale of the Ukrainian people

I'm impressed by the courage and by the strength of not only the Ukrainian armed forces, but also the Ukrainian people, and not least the Ukrainian leadership. And its high spirit, morale has, of course, been absolutely essential for the strength in the resistance we have seen from Ukraine.

This interview was produced by Taylor Haney and Sean Saldana and edited by Raquel Maria Dillon.

The digital version of this story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

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Olivia Hampton
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.