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How Should U.S., Europe Respond To Russian Aggression?


The crisis in Ukraine took center stage at a security conference in Munich today. The question of how the U.S. and Europe should respond to Russian aggression generated some heated debate. German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she does not think it will help Ukraine if the U.S. or others send defensive weapons. She says there is no military solution. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Just back from a trip to Moscow with her French counterpart, Merkel wasn't making any guarantees that President Vladimir Putin is ready to agree to or adhere to a peace plan for Ukraine. But she also made clear - through an interpreter - that she doesn't think Ukraine can win this on the battlefield, even with extra help from abroad.


ANGELA MERKEL: (Speaking German through interpreter) The problem is that I cannot envisage any situation in which an improved equipment of the Ukrainian army will lead to a situation where President Putin is so impressed that he will lose militarily. I have to put it in such a blunt manner.

KELEMEN: She later met with Vice President Joe Biden, who told the Munich Security Conference that diplomacy is worth an attempt, but Russia should be judged by its actions.


JOE BIDEN: Too many times President Putin has promised peace and delivered tanks, troops and weapons. So we will continue to provide Ukraine with security assistance, not to encourage war, but to allow Ukraine to defend itself.

KELEMEN: The Obama administration has not yet decided whether it will give Ukraine defensive weapons. Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, accuses the West of fueling the crisis, and a top Russian lawmaker, Konstantin Kosachev, denied that Russian tanks and troops are even there.


KONSTANTIN KOSACHEV: Where are the evidences? There are no evidences. And no, there are no Russian troops in Ukraine.

KELEMEN: Also on that panel was U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, who shook his head in disbelief and urged the audience not to, quote, "legitimize this garbage."


LINDSEY GRAHAM: The Russian position is intellectually unsound. It is factually untrue and people are dying.

KELEMEN: The South Carolina Republican, who's part of a large congressional delegation here, took some by surprise with his pointed remarks about the German chancellor.


GRAHAM: Do you really believe any of this you've heard? Are you worried about upsetting people who would just lie to your face and could give a damn about their neighbor and the rule of law? How about trying to help somebody that you actually do have something in common with?

KELEMEN: Graham says Congress wants the U.S. to beef up Ukrainian defenses and soon. As for the French and German diplomatic efforts, Graham says the Europeans can go to Moscow and, quote, "talk until they're blue in the face." But this, he says, isn't working. Vice President Biden was far more diplomatic, though he says Russia is testing the U.S. and Europe, and everyone needs a different approach.


BIDEN: We have moved from resetting this important relationship to reasserting the fundamental bedrock principles on which European freedom and stability rest.

KELEMEN: Borders must be recognized, he says, and no one gets to assert a sphere of influence. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Munich. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.