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Russia's military is now encircling several Ukrainian cities

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Russia continues its advance on several Ukrainian cities this morning. The capital, Kyiv, is still in Ukrainian hands, but Russian forces have made gains on much of the country's southern coast. Speaking yesterday on CBS News, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the West is doing all it can to help Ukraine, including supporting Poland so that that country can send fighter jets to Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

ANTONY BLINKEN: That gets a green light. In fact, we're talking with our Polish friends right now about what we might be able to do to backfill their needs if, in fact, they choose to provide these fighter jets to the Ukrainians.

MARTIN: Retired Admiral James Foggo was commander of U.S. Naval Forces for Europe and Africa and a NATO commander based in Italy, and he joins us this morning. Admiral, thanks for being here.

JAMES FOGGO: Good morning, Rachel. Thank you for inviting me.

MARTIN: We hear there Ukraine's been asking for more air power. Do you think these fighter jets that could come from Poland would make a real difference?

FOGGO: I do, Rachel. These are probably the MiG-29 or the Sukhoi version of Soviet-era fighter jets. But the bottom line is the Ukrainian pilots know how to fly them, and I think they proved themselves to be very proficient to this date. They've had some attrition in their ranks because they've been subject to the attacks by the Russian Air Force on their air bases. And so I think this will help tremendously in the fight.

MARTIN: Every action that the U.S. and NATO takes, though, has to be so carefully crafted to anticipate Putin's response. I mean, are you worried how Putin would interpret and react if a NATO member sends fighter jets to Ukraine?

FOGGO: Well, yes, I think everybody's worried about that. And the biggest concern in the last few days was President Zelenskyy's request for a no-fly zone. Everybody was worried about that because, first of all, Putin said that a no-fly zone would be an act of war. You know, I know a little bit about no-fly zones, having participated in one down in the Libya campaign, and there's two aspects to it. One, you just can't establish it and say it's in effect. You have to go in and take out any enemy air defenses that could possibly threaten NATO or U.S. or, you know, Ukrainian aircraft. That's one. So you're going to put a missile on top of a Russian launcher and kill Russians. No. 2 is you're going to take out enemy aircraft in the sky. And again, that could be NATO, U.S. or Ukrainians downing Russian aircraft. That would lead to provocation and altercation between NATO and the United States and Russia that would lead to World War III.

In this case, I think replenishing the ranks with equal equipment is fair game. Certainly, the Russians have upped the ante by bringing in mercenaries and by bringing in other countries, like Belarus. They're currently operating from there. So I do not see this as something that would lead to an escalation in terms of World War III.

MARTIN: Ukraine's President Zelenskyy has also warned that Russian forces are planning to bomb major defense industry production sites, and many of these are in heavily populated areas. They're not just out there in the hinterlands. At this point, does it surprise you that Russia seems to be targeting areas regardless of potential civilian casualties? I mean, in some instances, we're seeing reports that civilians who are trying to flee are actually being targeted directly.

FOGGO: Well, I think it should surprise me, but it does not. The Russians are ruthless. They have been that way for a very long time as part of their history. They certainly took a beating in World War II and gave it back to Germany as they invaded. And those lessons learned have come forward today. They have no due regard for collateral damage. That's a big difference between them and us. We operate our armies, air forces and navies in the field with ethics and with an eye on morality. They do not. They are bombing civilian areas and large cities and small towns, destroying houses, hospitals, museums, schools. They've killed kids. They're killing civilians, and they're killing grandmothers and grandfathers. And they're not allowing for a humanitarian evacuation. This is egregious, and it constitutes war crimes.

MARTIN: So where does this go, then? You're talking about this asymmetry. If Russia is behaving, as you just described, as a terrorist organization in some respects, not playing by the Geneva Conventions, the rules of war, how does the U.S. and NATO calculate responses?

FOGGO: Well, we have two major objectives in the U.S. and NATO right now. One is support the Ukrainian people in the defense of their territory and, two, support NATO allies and partners and reinforce the Eastern Bank. So by supporting the Ukrainian people, you've seen an incredible flow of lethal arms. Just last week, the president signed in a $350 billion package. Seventy percent of that stuff has already moved directly from the United States into Ukraine. We've never seen it that fast before. The Javelins, the Stingers, the ammunition - they're fighting with that. And so they've got to continue to attrit Russian forces to the point that Russian forces can no longer make these attacks on cities, either with ground forces and tanks and armored personnel carriers or missiles. The Ukrainians have got to hold out.

MARTIN: We have just a couple seconds. Russia now has the city of Mariupol in the south, the port city. Do you expect a sea landing or an attack on Odesa?

FOGGO: President Zelenskyy has warned everybody this will happen. The Russians are perfectly postured to do so with six amphibious assault ships and support ships in the Black Sea. If they go ashore, those ships will put tanks, troops, armor, artillery ashore. But then they're going to move on to major objectives, which is the cities. So I see a fight coming, but I see the Ukrainians defending Odesa.

MARTIN: Retired Admiral James Foggo commanded U.S. naval forces for Europe and Africa. Thank you.

FOGGO: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.