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Retired U.S. Admiral James Foggo analyzes Russia's attack against Ukraine


Russian forces have been mounting a large-scale attack on Ukraine. They've been moving across the Ukrainian border from the north and from the east. They've also been attacking from the south, from the Black Sea in Crimea, and they're shelling cities and airfields throughout the country. We're going to try to understand the military strategy here with retired Admiral James Foggo. He was formerly commander of the U.S. Naval Forces for Europe and Africa and a NATO commander based in Italy. Welcome.

JAMES FOGGO: Thank you very much, Ailsa, and thanks for the opportunity to comment on what's going on in the Ukraine.

CHANG: We're so grateful to have you with us. I'm curious - as you've been watching this attack unfold, has anything surprised you in the last 24 hours or so? Or is this invasion advancing how you would have anticipated?

FOGGO: You know, sadly to say, it has not surprised me. I think I was one of the individuals among many, but there were still others that held out hope that Vladimir Putin would not do this, that he would not attack a country that was a sovereign democracy that's done really nothing to deserve this treatment. But it has played out the way I think it would - I thought it would play out in modern-day, 21st-century warfare, starting with cyberattacks to decapitate the leadership and separate political leadership from military leadership from troops in the field. And we saw that all last week - you know, a disruption of service operations for Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Rada, the parliament. And that continues to this day.

Additionally, last night, when the hostilities broke out, we saw strikes in the form of missile strikes - short-range ballistic missiles, Kalibr cruise missiles, like our Tomahawk cruise missiles - that attacked military headquarters, command and control elements and also airfields - lots of airfields around the country.

CHANG: Yeah. Yeah.

FOGGO: In order to do this, the Russians have to have air superiority. You're also seeing images coming in, from the many reporters on social media, of radars that were taken out - probably early-warning radars or surface-to-air radars. And the Ukrainians do not have the benefit of the Patriot missile, which you've heard about for years and years, that defends our troops out in the field against attack from the air, nor do they have anything like Iron Dome in Israel, which puts a shield over Israel when they're attacked by rockets from Lebanon or Hezbollah. So...

CHANG: Well, can we talk about that? Because the Ukrainian military - I mean, it has been substantially strengthened since Russia annexed Crimea back in 2014. But in your mind, are Russian forces still easily capable of overwhelming Ukrainian forces at this point?

FOGGO: Well, the speculation is that the odds are overwhelmingly against the Ukrainians with 200,000 Russian troops and all that armor - the aircraft, artillery and tanks. But what's really happening on the ground, the reporting that's coming in, is that the Ukrainians are fighting, and they're fighting hard. They have the home-team advantage because this is their land. Somebody invaded them. Imagine what you would do if that happened in this country. We would fight for our freedom. And they are fighting. They're fighting hard. There's reports coming in of Russian armor being destroyed, Russian helicopters being destroyed, potentially Russian aircraft or a transport being destroyed - a big fight over the Hostomel airfield that's southeast of Kyiv. And who knows whose hands it's in right now? But the Russians, they aren't just rolling in there with ease. And the Ukrainians are putting up a pretty good fight.

CHANG: Well, we are standing, from our Pentagon correspondent, that, in addition to other weaponry, Ukrainian officials have been looking to acquire more Stinger missiles, which are very effective at shooting down helicopters. But even if they get that additional weaponry, are we still in a situation where Ukrainians will never be an even match for the Russian military?

FOGGO: Yeah, it's hard to be an even match for the Russian military when they have so much preponderance of force. But the Javelin missiles, the anti-tank missiles that went in there - and a rush to get those in there in the last couple of months - those are very effective against the Russian army. The Stingers are very effective, as you said, against helicopters, and the Russians know that from Afghanistan. That's one of the reasons they were defeated in Afghanistan because they did not have superiority in the air. They could not provide close air support to those troops on the ground. So these MANPADS, whether they're Stingers or another kind of missile, a man-portable air-defense system - those need to continue to flow to the Ukraine so that they can continue to fight.

CHANG: Let me...

FOGGO: If this thing turns into something else, like an insurgency, it's going to go on for a long time.

CHANG: OK, well, let me ask you this. President Biden has said - reiterated today that no U.S. troops will be sent to Ukraine. But should the U.S. be building military presence in neighboring Poland and Romania? We have about a minute left.

FOGGO: Absolutely. And we're doing that because we do not want the spillover effects to impact any of our NATO allies in the Baltics, in Poland, in Romania. Moldova is the only thing between the Ukraine and the Russians and NATO. That would trigger an Article 5. That, as the president has said, if there is an interaction between - a kinetic interaction, a fight between Russian troops and American troops, it could trigger a world war. So we need to reinforce our allies and make sure that this crisis is contained just to the Ukraine and continue to support the Ukraine with lethal weapons. The economic sanctions on Russia...

CHANG: Right.

FOGGO: We're hitting them hard. We need to continue to do that...


FOGGO: ...And the political support and the moral support.

CHANG: All right. That is retired Admiral James Foggo, former commander of the U.S. Naval Forces in Europe and Africa. Thank you very much.

FOGGO: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.