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Ukraine still standing despite two years of Russian onslaught: former NATO spokesperson

24.02.2024 10:30
Despite two years of Russia's massive invasion, Ukraine has managed to regain half of its lost territory and proudly stands as an independent state, former NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu has told public broadcaster Polish Radio in an interview.
Oana Lungescu
Oana LungescuPhoto: MAURIZIO GAMBARINI/dpa via PAP

'It was a dark day, but NATO was prepared'

Oana Lungescu, a former NATO spokesperson who is now a security and defence expert at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, talks to Polish Radio's Brussels correspondent Beata Płomecka.

Two years ago, when Russia invaded Ukraine, you were at the centre of the decision-making process. You were at NATO headquarters, serving as the spokesperson of the Western military alliance. What do you remember from that day?

It was a very dark day. It was a shock. But it was not a surprise because we had had intelligence at NATO since November 21 about Russia's massive mobilization of forces along Ukraine's borders. And there was no reason for that. It could not have been done for an exercise as the Russians were claiming.

So that's why, ever since the end of 2021, we had been publicly briefing. We took an unprecedented decision to declassify large amounts of intelligence. So on the 24th of February we were prepared.

The readiness of our troops had already been raised since December, so that in the morning of the 24th of February, which was a very short night, because I certainly didn't sleep that night. I was expecting it to happen around four o'clock in the morning, as it did. Then, obviously, we alerted the secretary-general and the North Atlantic Council.

The North Atlantic Council met that morning and within hours of the launch of Russia's full-fledged invasion of Ukraine, we triggered our defence plans from the Baltic to the Black Sea. We put our troops on further alert, and so we were ready to make it clear to Russia that NATO would defend every ally.

At that time, we didn't know what would happen. What was the atmosphere at NATO headquarters? Did people believe that the Ukrainians would defend themselves?

The atmosphere was very somber, but I think in terms of NATO it was very determined. But it's true that I think very few people at that time expected Ukraine to fight as bravely as they have and to be able to resist and push back this massive Russian invasion.

So what we see now, two years on, is that although the situation on the front is difficult, Ukraine remains an independent state. Ukraine has managed to recapture around half of the territory that Russia had taken. And Ukraine is doing very well in destroying Russian air and naval capabilities, and has opened this corridor along the Black Sea to resume its grain exports to the rest of the world.

So while Russia's objectives have not changed, Ukraine remained standing.

Ukraine asked for military support from the very beginning. But there were long discussions among allies whether to send tanks, fighter jets and other equipment. Some were reluctant. But now Ukraine is getting all this weaponry. Is there anything that could have been done better and quicker?

Obviously, these things evolved. Support for Ukraine evolved as the war evolved, and wars are unpredictable. So allies had to assess the situation as it was at every stage and then try to support Ukraine in the best way possible.

You can argue that certainly we should have done more in terms of ammunition, because if you don't have ammunition, it's very hard to hold your ground. So I think we see that in Europe, but also across the whole coalition of countries supporting Ukraine—that just the basics, ammunition, fuel, these things keep the campaign going and help Ukraine defend itself.