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U.S. To Send More Heavy Military Equipment To Eastern Europe


Reading the headlines this week, you could be forgiven for feeling a flashback to the Cold War. The Obama administration announced plans to deploy more heavy weapons, more armored vehicles and more troops to Central and Eastern Europe. An increase of close to $3 billion in military spending, all of it aimed at Russia - specifically, at deterring Russian aggression in the region. And that's why we have brought in our next guest. Evelyn Farkas was until last year the top Russia official at the Pentagon. She's here with us in our studios. Welcome.


KELLY: What signal was this meant to send?

FARKAS: Absolutely a signal to our NATO allies that we are with them and obviously a very strong signal to Russia that we want to deter them. I think what's exciting about this, Mary Louise, is that, you know, here we were all of us focused on Iowa and the next president and what's the next president going to do and who's it going to be. And this president signaled very strong to us, hey, I'm still in the game. This is a very bold move. He almost quadrupled - actually more than quadrupled - the spending on deterring Russia through our exercise program and these deployments.

KELLY: You just used the words bold and exciting. I know that when you were at the Pentagon you were pushing hard for the U.S. to push back more aggressively against...

FARKAS: Right.

KELLY: ...Russian aggression. Do you feel like this is now the right balance?

FARKAS: I think this is absolutely a fantastic step. There are other things that we need to do, and I believe that the administration is working also on those aspects of our approach to Russia. And obviously none of this work is going to be completed in this administration, sadly, mainly because the Russian perspective is not going to change in the next year or so. But this is absolutely such a strong, exciting signal that the president's sending, and of course the Pentagon's been working hard on putting this package together for a while.

KELLY: Well, let me push back on that from a couple of fronts. First off, for Americans listening who have been tracking these developments, Russian aggression in a place such as Ukraine, for example - not a NATO member state - why does that pose a direct threat to U.S. national security that we should be spending so much money?

FARKAS: Yeah, I mean it stems from the Kremlin's perspective on their role in the region. They would like to control economically and politically their neighborhood, which includes, unfortunately, Baltic states which are NATO allies. They have been, as you know, over the last - well, since 2008 when they invaded Georgia - they have invaded their neighbors and occupied their territory. Twenty percent of Georgia's territory's still occupied. Of course, we know the situation in Ukraine because it's more recent. They're still in Crimea, they're still in eastern Ukraine. And so our NATO allies who are on the Russian periphery - and that includes not just the Baltic states but Poland, Romania, Bulgaria - they feel very threatened by Russia. And they feel that if Russia gets away with what it's done elsewhere that they might try this again in a NATO context.

KELLY: We have not heard an aggressive Russian response yet to this American move. If you could see into Vladimir Putin's mind, what do you think he's calculating?

FARKAS: Well, I think that this will obviously serve as notice to him, and he will take note. And he will probably respond by increasing Russian exercises. That's usually what they tend to. And we'll hear some rhetoric coming out of the Kremlin. But I think it will really make him stop and take note. And I do think that the Russians have a healthy respect for Article Five, which is, of course, the fact...

KELLY: Article Five of the Collective Defense NATO Treaty...

FARKAS: Exactly - that we will come to the defense of our NATO allies, all of us together. But this is a signal that we're still in the game and we're putting more in. And that has to do with the dynamics of any kind of potential conflict.

KELLY: You will know that critics are pointing out that this is a lot of money - close to $3 billion in addition spending - a lot of money that will not be going toward what may be more immediate threats such as ISIS expansion in the Middle East. Is that a fair criticism?

FARKAS: I don't think so because if you look at what they announced just now, the Pentagon, Secretary Carter announced over $7 billion to fight ISIL, and then also...

KELLY: ISIL, another term for ISIS.

FARKAS: Exactly - and other terrorist organizations. And at the same time, all of the resources we're putting into Europe can also be aimed at targeting terrorism. So it's not as if what we're doing to deter Russia can't also assist with other challenges.

KELLY: OK, thanks so much for coming in.

FARKAS: Thank you.

KELLY: That's Evelyn Farkas, who advised three secretaries of defense on Russia policy from her post as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.