Ex-NATO Ambassador Ivo Daalder on Putin’s Ukraine war

The day Russia invaded Ukraine is the “moment the world changed in a pretty fundamental way,” said former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder, the president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

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The day Russia invaded Ukraine is the “moment the world changed in a pretty fundamental way,” said former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder, the president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, with the unprovoked attack setting a historical benchmark much like 9/11, Pearl Harbor or when the Berlin Wall came down.

Daalder discussed the Ukraine war, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in advance of President Joe Biden traveling to Brussels to join what the White House called an “extraordinary” NATO summit on March 24. Biden will also take part in an already scheduled European Council Summit.

On Friday Biden travels to Warsaw, Poland, to discuss the Ukraine war with President Andrzej Duda.

Speaking on the Sun-Times “At the Table” show, Daalder said, “I think we will remember Feb. 24 really in the same way we remember Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor, or Nov. 9 when the Berlin Wall came down or even Sept. 11, of course, the attacks on New York and Washington and in Pennsylvania, as historical turning points.

“And in order to make sure that we understand what that historical turning point is all about, it’s important that we sit down with our most important allies, which are, of course our allies in Europe.

“And [Biden]’s going there to have a discussion by NATO about how NATO can strengthen its own posture to make sure that Vladimir Putin understands that whatever is happening in Ukraine, there is a very big barrier for expanding that war to include NATO territory.

“It also, I think, is going to be an opportunity to have a discussion about how NATO can do more to help Ukraine to defend itself particularly in providing arms and information.

“I expect the reaffirmation that NATO is not going to get directly involved in the conflict — and also to start thinking about ‘what-ifs.’


“What if Vladimir Putin decides that he is stuck and now needs to do something outrageous, even more outrageous than he’s already engaged — in using chemical or biological agents or, God forbid, nuclear weapons, and how NATO should prepare for that,” Daalder said.

“So I think that’s a big part of his meeting. He’s also of course meeting with the leaders of the European Union, to reinforce the importance of the sanctions regime.

“These need to be tightened every day. It is important that as the outrage and atrocities continue, the pain on Putin and the Russian economy is increased.

“So looking ahead at what kind of sanctions could be implemented, as well as looking at joint diplomatic strategies to isolate Russia on the global way. So it’s really a big effort to continue to mobilize at least the transatlantic community but really, frankly, the entire world community to stand up against this outrage that that we’ve been unfortunately seeing on our television screens and reading about in our newspapers.”


Biden on Wednesday labeled Putin a “war criminal” in the wake of the Ukraine civilian deaths.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday underscored Biden’s assessment.

Daalder said branding Putin a war criminal “won’t change many things in the beginning. In the immediate term, it does put Putin on notice that someone will be held accountable for what are crimes of war there. These are war crimes that are being committed. The WHO, the World Health Organization has just announced that 47 hospitals have been bombed. That’s 47 war crimes individually. Those hospitals are full of people who need water, electricity and medical care that is now denied to them.

“… This is not war where military is fighting against military to take territory This is a siege, a sort of a Middle East or a Middle Age siege mentality in which a city is deprived of food, water and electricity, in which humanitarian corridors are being bombed, so that people cannot and will not flee …

“… And so calling a spade a spade, calling Vladimir Putin a war criminal is, it’s just the fact on the ground.”


Zelenskyy, addressing the German parliament virtually on Thursday, evoked a phrase associated with the Holocaust — “never again,” telling lawmakers if they don’t do more, the words mean nothing. In speaking to Congress on Wednesday, also virtually, Zelenskyy referred to 9/11 and Pearl Harbor.

Daalder said, “So what I think what he’s doing, is, he’s using history in trying to put people in Ukrainian shoes today, by reminding people what they were like in their shoes in their own history, as a means to mobilize support.

“And, you know, he has emerged in the last three weeks as a remarkable leader of his people, but also, in many ways, putting the international community to a test, if not to shame, in order to say: ‘This is not our fight, this is not just our fight, this is your fight, too, and you need to be part of it.’

“And I think it’s very, very effective.”

Watch the full conversation below or on YouTube.

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