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NATO Sec. Gen. Stoltenberg talks about Sweden and withstanding Russian pressure

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

Sweden joined NATO this week. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg tells NPR its membership makes the alliance better equipped than ever to withstand Russian pressure. But as Teri Schultz reports, he's also warning allies the best way to battle Moscow's military is to do more to help Ukraine.

TERI SCHULTZ: No sooner had the Swedish flag gone up at NATO Headquarters Monday than Russian President Vladimir Putin started the retaliatory measures he'd warned would come. On Tuesday, the Russian Defense Ministry released a video shot from the cockpit of a bomber flying close to Finnish airspace. Wednesday, Putin said he'll redeploy troops along the border with Finland, forces that had been withdrawn and sent to fight in Moscow's war on Ukraine. Speaking at NATO Headquarters, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg wasn't rattled.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Most of the Russian troops are preoccupied in Ukraine, and they hardly have any extra land forces to threaten any other country. Having said that, of course we closely monitor what Russia does, and we'll always be vigilant and present.

SCHULTZ: But security analyst Charly Salonius-Pasternak, from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, says it would be a mistake to underestimate Russia.

CHARLY SALONIUS-PASTERNAK: Russia has quite clearly gone into a wartime production economic mode. It depends how the war continues in Ukraine, but they're able to move much faster than we are.

SCHULTZ: NATO nerves are fraying over the animosity Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump displays toward the alliance, the holdup of U.S. assistance to Ukraine and the seeming inability of Europeans to deliver more shells to Kyiv, which Stoltenberg is increasingly criticizing.

STOLTENBERG: The best thing we could do now to protect ourself is to help the Ukrainians to defend themselves, partly because by providing Ukraine with ammunition, with weapons, the Ukrainians are destroying large part of the Russian combat capacity.

SCHULTZ: You're annoyed at the lack of ammunition deliveries to Ukraine.

STOLTENBERG: Yes, of course. It is a big dilemma. And that - we have the capacity to supply Ukraine, but NATO allies are not supplying Ukraine with enough ammunition. So this is a question of political will.

SCHULTZ: Analyst Salonius-Pasternak says it's actually a greater provocation for Russia if European NATO countries do not produce more weapons.

SALONIUS-PASTERNAK: There's a great danger that Kremlin will miscalculate but look at this and say the Europeans collectively do not have the wherewithal to even do something that would be economically beneficial to them, that is, pay their own defense industries to really get on a even pseudo-wartime footing.

SCHULTZ: Arming themselves now, he says, would be the best insurance these weapons will never be needed.

For NPR News, I'm Teri Schultz at NATO Headquarters in Brussels. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Teri Schultz