As the world waits for Ukraine to begin its anticipated spring counteroffensive against Russia, NATO Deputy Secretary-General Mircea Geoană is cautioning China not to provide military support to Moscow as Russia continues its brutal and illegal invasion.
“We have not seen yet signs of China delivering military weapons to help Russia, but we know that discussions are going on,” Geoană told VOA in an interview Friday. “This will be a very, very serious decision by China that will be affecting not only their relationship with us, but the reputation of China and the rest of the world.”
Russia is the “aggressor” in the Ukraine war, and arming Moscow is “something that we condemn very, very, very, very strongly,” he said.
At the Pentagon Monday, Pentagon press secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder told reporters the U.S. has communicated to China about “the negative consequences of providing lethal aid to Russia.”
“Not only would it extend the duration of this, of Russia’s illegal occupation of Ukraine, and result in thousands of innocents killed in Ukraine, [it] would also squarely put them in the camp of countries that are looking to eliminate Ukraine as a nation,” Ryder said.
In April, responding to persistent Western concerns that Beijing would provide military assistance to Russia, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang said China would not sell weapons to either side in the war in Ukraine.
Geoană, who supports Ukraine joining NATO, told VOA that countries such as Ukraine and Georgia should “have no veto from an external power like Russia about their own destiny.”
“The truth of the matter [is] that it’s not Russia’s business what kind of decision I make for my own country. It’s up to me, to my people, to my elected leaders, to make a decision where and how I want to live my life,” he said.
Russia, which spans 17 million kilometers (10.5 million miles) and 11 time zones, will never be “encircled by NATO,” he added, calling suggestions as such from Russia “propaganda.”
Officials say Ukraine has been conducting shaping operations ahead of the planned assault.
Geoană told VOA the front lines in Ukraine were “fluid,” with NATO seeing indications of Ukraine gaining territory along the western side of the embattled city of Bakhmut.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged patience as Ukraine continues to delay the offensive.
“We still need a bit more time,” he told reporters last week.
Geoană told VOA he trusts the judgment of the Ukrainian leader.
“We know that Ukraine has the capacity to launch a successive counteroffensive, but we also know that Russia has the capacity to put forward a significant resistance,” he said.
Military experts believe the war in Ukraine will increasingly pit quantity against quality in the coming months.
Dutch Admiral Rob Bauer, NATO Military Committee Chair, told reporters last week that Russia will “have to focus” on larger numbers of conscripts and poorly trained mobilized people while using older weapons like the Cold War era T-54 tank, which he said is still plentiful in Russia’s stockpiles.
“The Ukrainians focus on quality with Western weapons systems and Western training. That’s the big difference,” Bauer said.
But NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, U.S. General Christopher Cavoli, says that while Ukraine has severely degraded Russian ground forces, “in other domains, the degradation has been much less noticeable.”
Lessons learned from Afghanistan
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine came just six months after the U.S. and international forces’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, which resulted in the Taliban retaking control of the country.
Geoană told VOA that NATO members are “obliged” to learn lessons from the Afghan withdrawal, which he called a “difficult” and “traumatic decision.”
“We should not turn a blind eye to the things that we have done well and things we have not done well,” he said.
More than 120,000 people were evacuated in August 2021, but tens of thousands of Afghan allies were left behind. An Islamic State terror group attack on Kabul’s international airport during the evacuation killed more than 170 people, including 13 U.S. servicemembers, and a U.S. drone attack that was meant to target the attacker instead killed 10 civilians.
“I have colleagues in NATO that are still having a difficult time knowing that we left so many Afghans back,” he said.
Since the international pullout, the Taliban have restricted women’s access to education and banned women from working with international aid groups. Poverty has been rampant.
Army General Michael Kurilla, the head of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this year that Islamic State’s branch in Afghanistan, known as Islamic State-Khorasan, would be able to conduct terrorist attacks in Europe and Asia “in under six months with little to no warning.”