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Ex-NATO Chief: 'We Will Never Recognize' Russia's Annexation Of Crimea

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Soviet Union and Western allies may have shared a common enemy during World War II, but they didn't share common values. Communists supported by the USSR began to threaten elected governments in Europe after the war. And in 1949, Western states created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO served as a bulwark against Soviet expansion throughout the Cold War. Our next guest is the civilian who led the NATO alliance when tensions with Russia began to heat up again over Ukraine. Anders Fogh Rasmussen served as NATO's secretary general from 2009 to 2014. He joins us from Switzerland. And sir, the West made common cause with Stalin to bring down Adolph Hitler. Why can't they get together today to honor Russian sacrifices and victory in Europe Day?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Of course, we should all remember and commemorate the Russian sacrifices during the Second World War and the fight against Nazis in Europe. On the other hand, we all strongly regret that Russia of today has violated not only international law, but also the security architecture we built after the end of the Cold War by attacking Ukraine. And that's the reason why Western leaders, obviously, have to send a very clear message to the Kremlin.

SIMON: You're also the former prime minister of Denmark. Does Denmark feel threatened by Russian ambitions?

RASMUSSEN: Well, recently the Russian ambassador to Denmark stated publicly that Danish military vessels might be targets of Russian nuclear weapons. It's incredible that an official representative of the Russian Federation can make such statements. I prefer not to take such statements seriously. But having seen the Russian behavior first in Georgia and now in Ukraine, unfortunately, we do have to take such statements from Russia seriously. So maybe we don't feel a direct or imminent threat, but, of course, we feel intimidated by such unacceptable statements from the Russian side.

SIMON: And let me ask you as a diplomat to try and adopt the perspective of the people right across the way, too. NATO staged large-scale antisubmarine war games off the coast of Norway this past week. British forces are on exercises in Estonia. Does this make Russia feel encircled?

RASMUSSEN: Well, all these exercises should be seen as a response to numerous Russian violations of NATO airspace, suspicious submarine activity close to NATO borders and partner borders in the Baltic Sea. So it's a defensive measure, but I think a quite natural response to all the intimidation we have seen from the Russian side.

SIMON: Has Russia inhaled Crimea, and despite its protestations, is there nothing NATO can do? Have they just reconciled themselves to that fact?

RASMUSSEN: We will never reconcile to that fact. We will never recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea into the Russian Federation. Actually, you can compare it to what happened during the Second World War. The Soviet Union illegally annexed Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into the Soviet Union. We never recognized that and eventually, the three countries became free and sovereign nations. And I think the same goes for Crimea. It's an illegal act, and it should never be recognized. This non-recognition from our side will remain an obstacle to normalization of relations with Russia for quite some time.

SIMON: Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who is, of course, the former secretary general of NATO, now chairman of Rasmussen Global. We reached him in Switzerland. Thanks so much for being with us, sir.

RASMUSSEN: You're welcome. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.