As the conflict in Ukraine turned into what NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg described as a “brutal act of war” by Russian forces, NATO will have to stay alert to spillover from Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, warns Stanford scholar Rose Gottemoeller.

Rose Gottemoeller discusses what the Russian invasion of Ukraine means for the people of Ukraine and the rest of the world. (Image credit: Getty Images)

The primary goal of NATO and the U.S. must be to prevent the invasion from expanding into a general war across Europe, said Gottemoeller.

Here, Gottemoeller, who served as deputy secretary general of NATO from October 2016 to October 2019 prior to joining Stanford, talked to Stanford News about the threat the Russian invasion poses to the people of Ukraine and the rest of the world. She also discussed how NATO will have to balance deterrence and defense of its own territory with a goal of not being drawn into escalation.

Gottemoeller is the Steven C. Házy Lecturer at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and its Center for International Security and Cooperation. Before NATO, she served for nearly five years as the under secretary for arms control and international security at the U.S. Department of State. While assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification and compliance in 2009 and 2010, she was the chief U.S. negotiator of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with the Russian Federation.


What does this invasion mean for the people of Ukraine and for the rest of the world?

The invasion is an enormous tragedy. Ukraine has made significant progress toward being an independent country with a healthy economy and political system, despite the corruption and mismanagement that still has been plaguing it. This invasion threatens to undo that progress, but Putin does not care. He joined forces with Bashir Al-Asad to prevent Syria’s civil war from going against the government, destroying the country in the meantime. He will throw all the power of Russia’s armed forces against Ukraine with the intent of flattening any resistance. If the country is destroyed in the process, he will not care.

For the rest of the world, it means that Russia has withdrawn from being a player that contributes to global order. It is ironic, but just as Putin was plotting the invasion, Russian negotiators were working with their U.S. counterparts to restore the Iran nuclear deal and doing so in a positive fashion. We cannot expect such contributions to continue because Putin is transforming Russia into a pariah state.


The invasion has raised concerns that this could turn into the largest war in Europe since WWII. What do you make of that assessment?

We must do everything we can to ensure that this invasion of Ukraine does not turn into a general war in Europe. NATO will do what it can to deter and defend its own territory, but it will have to stay alert to spillover from the territories of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. Airspace incursions, for example, will have to be met with a rapid response – not to shoot, but to let intruders know that NATO is alert and ready. NATO air policing in the Baltics and Black Sea has had plenty of practice at this in recent years, likewise with Russian cyberattacks and other hybrid actions. NATO will be put to the test, but it knows what it is doing. The main goal will be to defend against spillover without being drawn into escalation.


What diplomacy options are still available?

The best diplomacy options are currently those that are holding the NATO allies closely together: the NATO summit meeting being held on Feb. 25 and the European Union’s summit meeting held today, Feb. 24 to decide on a package of strong and tough EU sanctions. Likewise, drawing other allies and partners together is important; It is a good thing that countries far afield such as Japan are joining in imposing sanctions on Russia. We also need to be proactive in certain cases where Putin has been trying to drum up support. For example, he evidently called Prime Minister Modi on Thursday in New Delhi and spoke to him at length. Since India is a key member of our “Quad” grouping in the Indo-Pacific, we should be sure that we engage him on this matter.

We have pressed the “hold” button on diplomacy with Russia for the time being. If Putin shows readiness to deescalate and resume talking, then we should see what is possible. But not now.


What will motivate Putin to back down?

Across the world, people are rallying for peace in Ukraine, including Russian citizens who gathered in front of the Russian Consulate on Istiklal Street and held a silent protest on Feb. 24, 2022, in Istanbul, Turkey. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Everyone has been asking what is motivating Putin for the past two months, and it has evidently been several factors, from his sense of long-standing grievance with the West to his deep desire to reconstitute the Slavic heartland. What has not motivated him is a push from the people of Russia. Now, however, that push might develop in the opposite direction and domestic factors might begin to develop some influence. Three have been in evidence today: First, the Russian stock market has crashed and Putin has had to meet with his business establishment. Second, Russians are coming out on the street in major cities and protesting the invasion with the cry, “Ukrainians are our brothers.” Third, the mothers of young conscripts have taken to social media to express grief and alarm at what might happen to their sons. They have long been a force to be reckoned with, ending the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1989 and the Chechen wars of the 1990s. If anything will motivate Putin to back down, it will be domestic factors such as these. Our sanctions now are for punishment, not deterrence.


What does deterrence from NATO and the U.S. look like?

The main goal of NATO and the United States must be to prevent this invasion from developing into a general war in Europe. Strong deterrence and defense at this moment mean being ready to respond to any spillover from the conflict – NATO must also do everything it can to bolster resilience against hybrid methods such as cyberattacks and misinformation campaigns. NATO needs to keep hitting back in the information space to convey a strong message that the alliance is ready to defend its members.


WWII ended with the use of nuclear weapons. In light of Putin’s warning to the U.S. and others that Russia is a powerful nuclear state, what needs to happen to ensure that nuclear weapons won’t be used this time?

The taboo against nuclear weapons use has been strong since the horrors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima became clear to the world. For that reason, I do not see this conflict escalating to the nuclear level. But to ensure that it does not, the United States must be strong and firm in every step that it takes, along with its Allies, to indicate that we are ready for anything.